Thursday, 30 December 2010
Inland Knights are just about to release their latest Drop Music compilation, and it is a very enjoyable listen. As the acceptable face of Funky House (they put both the Fun, and the K-Y into Funky), their floor-friendly tunes bounce about with just enough lashings of funk, bluesy chopped up vocals and flair to still sound relevant. This is route one house music that sounds all the better for it. I've been listening to it on repeat and although there is the odd duff track, they all make one want to get up and shake some ass. Particular favourites include Move Over and Kept Secret, both revelling in a Todd Edwards meets MCDE atmosphere.
Inland Knights - Inland Bites: Knights Classics (Drop Music) (Preview Clips) by Kahua Music
Tuesday, 28 December 2010
Christmas pop tunes are something everyone loves to hate but you can't deny the tiny buzz you get when you hear the first one of the year, even if they have got annoying by the day itself. Having loved the XLR8R Professor Smith's Reggae Xmas mix at the end of 2007, I have always thought it odd that the EDM fraternity never released Christmas themed releases. Here, DJ Koze delivers on the fine A & R work of previous Pampa releases to deliver a very Nathan-not-Nathan Fake track that's got a real yuletide feel, a tad cheesy but interesting enough to be worthwhile.
The Koze track is one to be used sparingly, and may even be overplayed so pungent is its effect, and makes this one of the quirkiest releases I have heard in a while.
Friday, 10 December 2010
Thursday, 9 December 2010
Ok, so first off, it's been a while. I got back to Berlin on 1 August, and spent the next month donating my savings (read overdraft) to the Bar 25 closing collection fund which was naturally fun, if not a little exhausting. Berlin Mach 2 is a little different to last time. Certain key ingredients have changed, for the better I'm sure, whilst other things have remained reassuringly the same. It's been weird returning from the Tropics to central Europe. My listening habits have changed (matured?) and for large periods of time, I no longer felt the need to write about electronic music. One of the most striking things about Berlin, at least as far as electronic music is concerned, is just how damn clued up the crowds are. It's not rare to go to a party and hear the first 4 bars of a track transitioning from the old one, and to see the crowd explode in (on?) ecstasy. Whilst I'm busy scratching my head, trying to locate the beat, the melody, the chords, whatever, I cannot help but think, "Is there really any need for another music blog out there, when there's so many websites that do it all so much better?", especially when everyone else out here seems to be two verses ahead on the same hymn sheet.
So instead of writing over the past few months (here at least: let me assure you I have been writing more than ever elsewhere), I have begun ploughing a different furrow. I in no way consider myself a DJ and certainly not one of even the most minor distinction, but i have enjoyed over the previous six or so months, finally getting to mix and match the tunes I adore so much. Having also had the opportunity to play them out (under the stars on Caribbean beaches, in sweaty Freidrichshain backrooms, and in fusty Neukolln kneipes), it's also been great to see how those tunes, almost all of them made explicitly for dancing, are received by the punters. In all honesty, it's been a blast. So instead of writing more, I thought I would post a few mixes I have made of late.
The first one I made was just as autumn was drawing in, and I hope, reflects that somewhat.
Herbststimmung Mix by gabstargardter
Absolute Reason - Stereodancer [Weaked]
Espenhain (Sgi_s Remix) - Marko Fürstenberg [Baum]
Purple Drank - Axel Boman [Pampa]
Those Eyes - Ethyl and Flori [Quintessentials]
Paper Moon - 51 Days [Touché]
Pressure - Zak Khutoretsky aka DVS1 [Transmat]
Games Dub - Levon Vincent [Underground Quality]
Move To The Beat - Bernard Badie/Sun - Caribou [Mojuba/City Slang]
ZX81 (Ramadanman Refix) - dBridge [Fat City]
Three Blind Rats - Omar S [FXHE]
Things Pass - Basic Soul Unit [Ostgut Ton]
Mortal Trance - Boo Williams [Rush Hour]
Long Time - Inland Knights [Drop Music]
Freek 'N You (MK Dub) - Jodeci [Uptown]
Blind (Serge Santiago Chicago Edit) - Hercules and Love Affair [White Label]
Windowlicker (Run Jeremy Band Remix) - Aphex Twin [White Label]
Sick - Basti Grub & Komaton [Cocoon]
Next up was one I made whilst recovering from the world's most painful ear infection. I couldn't hear so good in my right ear: hopefully that isn't reflected so much in the mix.
Efdemin - There Will Be Singing
Dennis Ferrer - Sinfonia Della Notte
E Dancer - The Human Bond
Lovebirds - The Rat
Jus Ed - I'm Coming (Levon Vincent Remix)
Sascha Dive - Rd's Movement (Randy Watson Variation #4)
Skudge - Melodrama
Terre Thaemlitz - Masturjakor - Dub Mix
John Dahlback - Wet Summer
Alexander Robotnik - Problemes D'Amour (Dub)
Alex Smith - Ultra Fine Two
And finally, this third mix represents some of the slower (dare I say it, world music) jams that have been tickling my cochlea of late. This is strictly non-4/4 and a direct result of my attendance at Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt and the Berlin Philarmoinc.
Alberto Iglesias - Me Voy A Morir De Tanto Amor
Ahava Raba - Nokh A Glezl Vayn
Alomzo "Lonnie" Johnson - Jelly Roll Baker
Andres - Hey Time To Go!
Banda Los Hijos De La Nina Luz - Dejala Corte
Beny More - Encantado De La Vida
Jehst - Bluebells
Bernard Herrmann / Robert De Niro - Diary Of A Taxi Driver
Caetano Veloso - Cucurrucucú Paloma (Live)
Shed - The Bot/Vincent Gallo - Yes I'm Lonely
Solange Knowles - Stillness Is The Move
Kojo Antwi - Proverbs
José Larralde - Quimey Neuquen (Chancha Via Circuito Remix)
Clouds - Elders
Zinja Hlungwani - N'Wagezani My Love
Forest Swords - Hjurt
Fabrizio De Andre & Pfm - I Dieci Comandamenti
Gentle Mystics - Wastebasket
Jah Wobble, Holgar Czukay & Jaki Liebezeit - How Much Are They?
Los Invasores - El Raton
Lil Wayne - Me and My Drank
That's enough for the time being but I will promise to write more and record less.
Wednesday, 28 July 2010
Aside from this, is anyone starting to notice the creeping influence of French house worming its way back into the hearts and minds of the EDM cognoscenti. Ark, Jef K, Pépé Bradock, Chloe, Nôze, and the rest of the Circus Comapny bandwagon have rolled into town and seem to show no signs of leaving. Coupled with this Gallic invasion, we have to add the trend that abounds at the moment of slowing shit d o w n. Nicolas Jaar, MCDE, and nearly everyone else seems quite content to let shit rumble along at 115-120 bpm for hours at a time. I was relistening to Ricardo's 'Blood on my Hands' remix the other day, undoubtedly one of his tamer works, and that clocks in at a staggering 128, a tempo perhaps more readily associated with gurnered I-Tie wraparound-beshaded tech-house than anything current and "housey".
Monday, 12 July 2010
Following on from my Shakira/vuvuzuela/South Africa World Cup rant, Blackdown weighs in with a far more nuanced survey of the current influences in the UK Bass scene, focusing particularly on the cross-fertilisation between South African riddims and grime, post-garage and funky. I can't honestly claim to be aware of any of the producers he mentions other than Mujava, but it is nonetheless interesting to note the influence of Rinse Breakfast shows on the SA yute. It reminds me of one of my favourite articles in Vice (does anyone read that hipster wankrag anymore), 'MOGADISHU MASSIVE: Grime is No. 1 in Hell'.
The journo, Herp J T Smith (?), found himself in Somalia on a surfing trip, and whilst there, found the local kids bouncing around to Boy in Da Corner. As he investigated further, it turned out that one of his local connects, ""Bari" seemed like he had a sweet hook-up in London. He ran home and brought back a stack of crazy tapes that comprised a huge library of unreleased material from "Disssseee" recording sessions. These were tracks that the biggest Grime aficionado in New York would sweat. Tracks that most likely didn't make it to record because the samples couldn't be cleared. The quality was super bad, but as soon as they cranked it up, the Rol Deep Krew was jumping and dancing like it was being piped down straight from the pearly Bose in the sky. We hung with the Grime kids for a while as they strutted up and down the dirty streets of the worst town in the world, rocking the most progressive and relevant music being made in Western culture today."
Ok, pointless 2006 grime-is-manna-from-heaven-hyperbole aside, it is worth pointing out that this scenic miscegenation, noted by Blackdown, isn't exactly new. These future-tanker-marauding pirates and warlords were fully aware of the big boys in the hip hop world - "Somalis don't like American rap much, either. Some of it they were into, like early NWA and Snoop, but they were most decidedly NOT down with 50 or Puffy. They talked about how the American rappers were "niggers," poor and stupid. "We aren't niggers," they told me, so they didn't want to listen to that shit" - but they shunned it in favour of So Solid or Roll Deep. As such, it doesn't seem that surprising, given the astounding reach of the internet etc etc etc, that these comparative trust fund kids in South Africa would be hip to the latest London hop, when their Somali cousins were five steps ahead, jamming to unreleased tracks that most heads in London could only dream of getting hold of. Suddenly this whole globalisation thing seems a whole lot more benign.
Tuesday, 29 June 2010
The DJ Nate profile in this month's WIRE magazine (in which you can also find my vallenato article, and an interesting Dereck Walmsley review of a recently released champeta compilation) is interesting and well worth reading. The article begins by flagging house as a touch stone, but I'm not too convinced. There's very little evidence of a reliance on a kickdrum and the tempo is disorientatingly off kilter. I also wonder how you would go about incorporating one of these footwork tracks into a traditional house or techno set.
It's not that surprising to learn then, that Planet Mu are set to release an album in the not too distant future. With Sherburne raving about the promo tracks, and the future looking exceedingly bright for young Nate, it will be interesting to see if he follows in the footsteps of Wunderkind podcaster and beatsmith par excellence Kyle Hall in joining the dots between mid western dance music and UK bass. To be honest, its lucky Nate seems able to shit out about 3 tracks a minute because based on a brief perusal on Youtube, not all his work is up to the relatively high standards above. However, perhaps the most interesting thing about the article is this revealing comment:
"It's getting to the point where people can make music without even having a real program," he notes, clearly excited by the democracy of it. "[They] use the demo version and still come out with whole songs."
Is that not the germ of the Playstation beat/Grime circa 2002/3 philosophy taken to its logical, corner-cutting extreme? And perhaps more pertinently, what does that say for Juke/Footwork riddims? Flavour of the month, only to be archived by musical taste makers as some sort of DIY, rage doth spew from the streets, nadir never to be reached again?
Monday, 28 June 2010
Monday, 21 June 2010
It may be crustier than parent/teacher day at a Steiner school, but yesterday was one of the best dates in the British party calendar. The Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, the pagan celebration of the longest day of the year, is a truly special event (if the weather holds). I went in 2005 with a huge lump of hash, a Platypus filled with two bottles of cheap red wine, and had one of the best nights of my life. There is no amplified music, and instead, it is best understood as an organic rave, with hundreds of drummers from across the country congregating in the centre of the stone circle, and pursuing their own riddim until suddenly, as if by magic, all the drums start communicating with each other, and ever so slowly, they start building up a slow, potent brew of a beat that has as much bite as the hardest techno or drum n bass. If you ever find yourself in Wiltshire in or around the 20th June, and the weather looks good, I would strongly recommend going, you won't regret it.
Friday, 18 June 2010
Can't quite believe this is from Switch working under his Solid Groove moniker. I knew Switch started off working within the realms of house before jetting off into hipster/Diplo/M.I.A/electroreggaehousehop territory but I never expected this. Also amazing to note it was released on Dubisided, a label better known for releasing Nadastrom-esque electro bangers. Still trying to get my head round it all.
Thursday, 17 June 2010
I really feel that Ben Klock is going through one of the most productive periods of his career right now. I've really been enjoying his Berghain 04 mix. Unlike Dettmann's, who I always felt - since 2008 and the release of his much-lauded Berghain mix - Klock has been somewhat in the shadown of, it is not unrelentlessly bleak, with splashes of retro-bleakness thrown in for good measure. I also preferred Klock's album to Dettmann's and I feel his more catholic attitude to what exactly techno can be is more refreshing. He adds lashes of funk which Dettmann wholly ignores or obsucrues with his unrelentless punishment of beats. Check out Elfin Flight from Berghain 04. I think it's quite lovely which is something you would struggle to level against a Dettmann composition. It can be heard here.
Tuesday, 15 June 2010
I've also really been enjoying the Arkpocalypse album by Ark, but can't find any of the tracks on Youtube. I enjoyed the 'Obamark' tune, and also the Misunderstood remix called 'Rising'. My friend Tommy at RA says he doesn't like Nina Simone remixes because he likes the originals so much. I'm inclined to agree with him, but I dig 'Rising' as it uses the sample sample used by Lil Wayne in Tha Carter III to equally devastating effect. I should also begrudgingly point out that I am also quite digging this:
As mentioned in a previous post, I went to Valledupar for the Festival de la Leyenda Vallenta, and I subsequently wrote an article on it for The Wire magazine. There is a jpeg of the article above, but I would recommend purchasing the mag as there are some other really cool pieces in there, including an interview with The Bug.
Sandwiched between the verdant peaks of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the Serrania del Perija mountain ranges in north-eastern Colombia, Valledupar is the capital of the Cesar region and spiritual home of vallenato, an idiosyncratic form of Colombian folk music that is typified by its use of the German accordion. For the last 43 years, the town has annually thrown open its doors to all and sundry in celebration of its best-known export. The Festival de la Leyenda Vallenata is a four-day vallenato bender that brings an influx of well-to-do tourists from across the country who come to sample the delights not only of the music, but also of the entire vallenato culture.
Given the disregard that some Colombians show towards vallenato (although this is changing), it can be surprising to learn how deeply calcified the genre’s mythology has become. According to local legend, the first vallenatero was Francisco Moscote Guerra, or “‘Francisco El Hombre’, as he is most commonly known. Whilst he travelled the region reciting local lore, much like the French troubadours of the Middle Ages, he came across the devil, who challenged him to a duel. After hearing the devil’s rendition, Francisco replied by playing the Lord’s Prayer in reverse, confusing the devil and causing him to explode in a puff of sulphur.
In more historically accurate terms, vallenato is a product of wave after wave of immigration. The three basic instruments – the German accordion; the caja vallenata (a skin drum of African descent); and the guacharaca (a ridged, hollowed-out stick that is scraped with a wire fork) – perfectly represent the fusion of cultural influences that vallenato encapsulates.
The first accordion arrived in the region in 1850. At that time, Riohacha, the capital of Cesar’s neighbouring Guajira region, was a more important port than either Cartagena or Barranquilla, and was used as a base by Austrian, German and Dutch pearl hunters. In need of an easily transportable instrument for their long sea journeys, these adventurous sailors brought the German Schifferklavier accordion (usually made by Hohner) with them, and it soon spilled over into the local communities, a hybrid mix of black slave descendents, Kogi, Aruhaco, and Wayuu indigenous peoples, and mulatto Spaniards.
By all accounts, the accordion hit the Colombian coast like a plague, but as Félix Carrillo Hinojosa, a local folklorist, vallenatero, and the man responsible for getting vallenato recognised at the Latin Grammys, points out, “it was the only invader in our history that hasn’t done us any harm”. Within a couple of years, there were three official Hohner outlets along the coast, but despite the interest, it remained an instrument of the proletariat, the perfect complement to the lackadaisical myth making tendencies of Gabriel García Márquez’s otherworldly land.
Yet for all the lack of specificity surrounding vallenato’s origins, the rules for those competing at the Festival de la Leyenda Vallenata are strictly codified. One of the striking things, particularly for a European, is how analogous vallenato practices are with the culture of the pre-Renaissance and even Hellenic worlds. The Dionysia was the largest of the Greek tragedy festivals, during which playwrights would present three tragedies they had composed especially for the event, often followed by a shorter, comic satyr play. Most of the choral parts were sung, and the winner was chosen by the public. The Festival de la Leyenda Vallenata also partakes in this competitive cultural agenda: the prize, for accordion players at least, is to be crowned Rey Vallenato, literally the king of vallenato. In order to win, they have to excel in one of each of the four aires or rhythms: the paseo, the merengue, the son and the puya. The finals take place in a specially designed amphitheatre.
Another key part of the competition since the time of Francisco El Hombre’s confrontation with the devil has been the piqueria. Much like hiphop MC battles, the themes explored in these lyrical jousts can make or break the reputations of aspiring vallenateros. In Valledupar, the the official business is split between the Plaza Alfonso López , a shady colonial square in the heart of the city, and the specially designed Parque de la Leyenda Vallenata "Consuelo Araújonoguera", but every street corner is littered with parrandas, hired musicians who serenade the whiskey-guzzling drug dealers and their bored-looking women. Throughout the city, the squawking tones of the accordion are an incessant accompaniment, with the tinny speakers of passing taxi cabs distorting the yodel-like choruses into something eerily dulcet and foreign. In these uproarious surroundings, vallenato can be hard to love, but it’s difficult not to enjoy.
The 43rd Festival was a homage to the life of Rafael Escalona, the founder of the festival and lifelong friend of García Marquez, who once told him that his novel One Hundred Years Of Solitude was little more than a 350-page vallenato. Accordingly, all aspirants to Rey Vallenato were obliged to play one of his compositions.
Julián Mojica grew up under Escalona’s influence, and he is testament to the growth of vallenato in recent years, not only in popularity, but also in credibility. Hailing from the mountainous region of Boyacá, this young accordion player came third in the Rey Vallenato competition this year, but his dedication to the genre is unwavering, despite its relative lack of popularity in the interior of the country.
His supporters however, sum up much of what the festival is about. Gorging on Old Parr, a blended Scotch whisky that is sold almost exclusively in Colombia and which is the drink of choice for most festivalgoers (leading some to rebrand the town ‘Valldeoldparr’), they represent a growing sub-section of the Colombian population: financially independent, free to travel safely domestically, and keen to celebrate their cultural heritage. With their artisanal hats and their flash, imported pickup trucks, they are the modern face of vallenato, both agrarian and moneyed, simple yet sophisticated. As Hinojosa acknowledges, this frisson between high and low culture is integral to the genre’s genetic composition, and part of its enduring charm: “Vallenato is a generous music; noble, humble, simple, but above all generous.”
Thursday, 10 June 2010
Just another quick heads up for a party I'm playing at on Saturday. It's called Candyflip. The facebook page can be found here. It kicks off at 3pm at Rancho Deli in Salgar and finishes early the next morning (Sunday). I'm not entirely sure what time I'm playing at yet. I asked for the sunset slot or late late late. I guess it'll have to be a surprise. I must admit though, I'm a little worried. The rain has been pretty much incessant here of late and an open air rave next to the sea riddled with mosquitoes doesn't bode well, but I'm keeping everything crossed, and hope that God, in his omnipotence, is feeling kind. This one ain't free, but at 10,000 pesos or just over 3 quid, it's not too spenny, and they assure me they have a dope soundsystem lined up. Hopefully see you there.
So I didn't get deported. Crazy really because the guys at the DAS didn't notice that I've overstayed my visa, even though it was quite clearly stated on my Passport when I had to leave the country. It's always a thin line between love and hate with bureaucrats don't you think? So I didn't get deported, but perhaps more worrying, I joined Twitter. That's a lie actually. It turns out I had already joined Twitter and I had no idea. Either way, the bollocks that comes to me when I should be working can be read in its tragi-comic entirety here.
I just finished watching the World Cup Concert (is that what it's called? I'm sure it has some official name that I'm too lazy to look up). Although Colombia won't be attending the World Cup finals, they feel somewhat assuaged in that they have two artists representing them in the aforementioned concert, Shakira and Juanes. I find it offensive that a South African artist wasn't chosen for the official World Cup anthem, but you can't second guess FIFA. I actually wrote an article on the legal wranglings between Golden Sounds, the artists that recorded the original Zangalewa, and Shakira's management which can be read here. That track was a huge hit in Cartagena in the 80s, appealing as it did to the large ex-slave community that surrounds the city. Even so, I very much doubt the FIFA orgainsing committee knew that when they commissioned Shakira to reinterpret it, and even if they did, wouldn't it have been more ethically responsible not to mention fair and just, to have allowed at the very least an African if not South African artist to play with it instead of Shakira, a Colombian of Lebanese descent!?
This got me to thinking what my ideal "off-World Cup" ceremony would look like. I'm still working on the list but I'm certain these two tracks would feature prominently.
Not only are both by South African artists, they also exploded internationally and represent landmarks in regional dance music. My Zimbabwean ex-girlfriend assures me that South Africa is known more for tacky Bonkers-style raves than sleek, minimal Euro affairs. Fine. I can dig that. At least it's indigenous. I just think force-feeding Africans re-branded versions of their own music by way of internationally recognised pop stars is little more than window-dressed cultural colonialism raising its ugly head.
Monday, 7 June 2010
I should be back in the UK soon. I've got a meeting with the DAS to extend my visa tomorrow but there is a pretty high chance I might get deported. I was given 60 days on the 7th April. Tomorrow is the 8th June. I hope they don't give me too much hassle. Either way though, I'm really looking forward to going back home for a bit. What with living in BLN for all that time and then living in the Tropics, I've been pretty far away from the action for a while. There's a new government to inspect, friends to catch up with, pints to sink, glasses to clink, and whole host of other treats to look forward to. Colombia's been great, although a bit of a roller coaster ride of late, and I'm looking forward to reminiscing with people I have a shared cultural history with. God bless the Queen and all that jazz.
Two top Troja tunes. The first is probably no secret to anyone who knows even the slightest thing about salsa. Hector Lavoe. After that its Pupy y Su Charanga combining his nascent singing career with his long-standing interest in real estate (bienes raices) to show those haters that you really can kill two birds with one stone.
Nikolay is allegedly the tallest man in the world. He's not though. He's 7cm smaller than the tallest man in the world, but that hasn't stopped him being advertised as such by his 'handler' Santiago Maradona, the owner of the Argentine Circus which just rolled into Barranquilla. They arrived the same day as the Colombian League Final, this year contested by Barranquilla's own Junior, in their home stadium, thereby forcing the circus to have to wait 24 hours to pitch their tent. That really sums up everything you need to know about the Argentine Circus. The article I wrote on Nikolay, a twenty-first century attraction at what, let's call a spade a spade, is a travelling freak show, can be read here.
Friday, 4 June 2010
Thursday, 27 May 2010
Just a final call for all those in the Carribbean coast of Colombia this weekend, to come on down to the Patio Tropical at the Alianza Francesa for PROPAGANDA. I will be playing from 12.30am - 2am. Because of the elections, it looks like it will be LEY SECA (ie. no alcohol). However, I'm told by reliable sources that this has made little difference in previous years, and you could always slip a hippy of Ron Medellin in the boxers, the security aren't all that demanding. The Resident Advisor link for the event can be found here.
Monday, 24 May 2010
On Saturday morning after spending the night at Barranquilla's trashiest gay nightspot, I had the pleasure of interviewing Yoani Sanchez, a Cuban blogger who was named by Time as one of the most influential people in the world, and praised by Barack Obama for revealing from within the harsh realities of life in Communist Cuba. The article is in Spanish and I won't be translating, but please endeavour with it, I'm kind of proud of it. Read it here.
Thursday, 20 May 2010
Here's a mix from a good friend, and school buddy of Wunderkind collaborator Gringo, Crimson Fridge. Mixed by DJ Dangerous, and currently being spun on the streets of Frankfurt and Belgrade, expect tough gangster rap with melifluous hooks, and winnowy instrumentals. The mix, including cover art, can be downloaded here.
Wednesday, 19 May 2010
Just a quick heads up for a party I'm playing at here in Barranquilla in just over a week's time. The party is called Propaganda, and I'm closing it out from 12.30am - 2am. If ANYONE happens to be in the area, the party is at the Alianza Francesa, on Friday 28th May. It kicks off at 9.30pm, and its FREE! More information can be found here.
Thursday, 13 May 2010
I'm not entirely sure how one manages to catch a cold when the average daytime temperature hovers somewhere in the mid-30s, but somehow I managed it. Aside from watching BBC News non-stop, I've also been reliving some wonderful past Troja memories. Having been a total of 5 times now, I really can't express how much I love that place. On Friday, I was accosted by the owner who thanked me for my article, told me our table was drinking free all night long, and then dragged me behind the mic and presented me to the public, a truly nerve-shattering experience. This Joe Cuba track gets dropped every time I'm there. There's also a 'Jibaro Soy' version sung by an 8 year old child that I've been trying to track down but can't find anywhere. I've never heard the Son de Baloy there, but I have liked it a long time, and it never fails to cheer me up, even if it can't help clear this godawful cold.
Tuesday, 4 May 2010
I was lucky enough to spend a long weekend in Valledupar for the Festival de la Leyenda Vallenata recently, and I thought I would post one of the articles I wrote for the paper on it. I'm not going to bother translating it as they'll be more to read on it shortly, but for those keen to practice their Spanish, it can be read here.
Thursday, 29 April 2010
On a cold, wet Saturday night in Berlin last January, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Danilo Plessow AKA Motor City Drum Ensemble, and he granted me one of the most interesting and insightful interviews I have ever conducted. Big thanks must go to Danilo for giving me his time, and for his perfect English and impeccable taste in music. PS. He's also a Supreme fan.
What’s Stuttgart like, I’ve never been.
In Germany, the whole jobs situation, all the money is in the south. Stuttgart is a car city, obviously what with having Mercedes Benz and Porsche. The car was invented there so it’s a real, real motor city. In Stuttgart there is a lot of money because of the car industry, not only the firms but also the suppliers. Munich is richer, also from cars, but also from other industry. As soon as there is more money, then attitudes change. Everyone is very conservative, so there isn’t really the biggest party scene.
Did you enjoy growing up there?
I liked it because I was travelling from a really young age. My first gig abroad was at 16, so I never had the feeling that I was caged somewhere. The city is a very romantic thing because in Stuttgart everything is little and small and relaxed. I have my friends there and there is no stress. When I come from a hard weekend I just land there and there are beautiful parks and a lot of green. It’s a very liveable city. It’s nice really because it is home. As far as practical reasons, Berlin is much easier because the industry I’m in is based here and it makes sense to be here you know. My girlfriend lives here and my home for me is my girlfriend.
You started releasing records at 16. How did you get into the whole DJing and producing thing?
Really it was the other way round. I was releasing before I was DJing. At 10 or 11 I started working with software. Back then I was doing hip hop or DJ Shadow-y stuff, and then going more into house, techno and broken beat. I went to a club for the first time when I was about 15 and it was then that I really started to want to start buying records, and then I started getting the vision of how a bass drum can work, the idea that reduction is actually a good thing. I was overwhelmed by the power that a DJ has to move people. I started learning how exactly to move a party as well. Because of the Inverse Cinematics stuff, I started getting DJ gigs so from a young age I was travelling throughout Europe.
What sort of parties were you getting booked at?
Back then, the money was really low. I was often booked in Eastern Europe. I had a residency in Zagreb.
That’s an interesting culture actually because I went to Serbia a few years ago to party, and no one buys records over there.
Yeah they never could. It was impossible to buy records.
It’s all downloads.
Yeah even back then like 2003 or 4. I grew up buying records and that was completely natural for me. I grew up with the internet but it was really slow. You couldn’t just download music. It was the first time that I could actually understand why people don’t want to pay for music because the guys who organized the parties were telling me “If I order a one-sided record of Moodyman or something and it costs 40 Euros with tax and everything, and I’m earning 400 Euros a month, how can I do that, you know?” I’m not for illegal downloads but in this perspective I can understand it.
There were no domestic record shops I guess.
Well there were a few record shops.
Perhaps in Zagreb and other capital cities, but what if you’re not from there?
I read an article on Umek and he was saying how amazing the first Surgeon records he heard in like 95 or something were. But he grew up under communism and had no access to this stuff for a long time. I think it’s more ingrained in the culture.
Yeah that’s definitely true. But I loved playing there. Nowadays it is getting more standard, and a bit more like the rest of Europe, especially Slovenia which is getting richer and richer, but Croatia was so rough back then. It was like going to a completely different world with all the communist architecture. The mentality is not only about buying records, but suddenly you have so much freedom and they were all really celebrating it. You could play whatever you want and people were having a good time. I also made some really good friends there.
At this stage were you playing more hip hop, or what?
No quite a lot of four to the floor stuff, lots of house and techno. Back then I was also playing a lot of the early broken beat, eclectic stuff, disco even.
About the Inverse Cinematics stuff, it seems clear that there are a lot of hip hop and jazz influences. The youth in Germany, contrary to popular belief, are quite hip hop. Was that the gateway drug so to speak for you into house and techno?
I was playing drums in a school big band, from 10 onwards, and I was also playing jazz standards…(at this stage we are interrupted by an Italian waiter who is sure he saw Danilo in Bar 25 the previous weekend. Danilo assures him it wasn’t him as he wasn’t in Berlin but the man seems pretty sure it was. He says he’s pretty sure that Danilo is a friend of Ricardo’s. We shoot each other a glance. Wrong Ricardo we think in unison. Eventually the waiter gets the hint) … For me, the funny thing was, that a lot of the hip hop guys, they were starting with hip hop and then discovered jazz, because of the samples obviously, and then the golden era of 95-98 with Pete Rock, Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and all these groups. But for me it was jazz and then at 16, I met this MC who got me into the whole hip hop thing, and I listened to it and I said, “Don’t you hear it, this is essentially jazz!” and that got me really excited to start experimenting with hip hop. That’s actually why I started making beats. I could use all my jazz records, and sample them and put them in new contexts.
And the state of hip hop now?
I love hip hop, but I don’t really like the electronic stuff. I love stuff that is a little bit more ambitious. I really respect people like Flying Lotus and Hudson Mohawke, but for me, hip hop has always been more about jazz. For me hip hop stopped in 1999.
It all seems like flashes in the pan these days no? Like Soulja Boy and OJ da Juice Man. One hit wonders that seem to lack longevity.
Since Madlib and J Dilla, there’s not been anything that has been groundbreaking for me. The first house records I heard, I don’t know why, but in my small city, there seemed to be a lot of hold house records, like 8 Ball which often used jazz samples, but in a house context. So that was really the introduction to house for me.
I wanted to ask about your love of Broken Beat. Speaking with Fred P recently, he said it was broken beat that inspired him to start making music again, music from 4Hero, Spacetime Continuum, and Bugz in the Attic. What is it about the freeform nature of broken beat that links with house?
For me, it all comes down to harmonies. Harmonies and a certain approach to music. It doesn’t necessarily have to be broken beat, or hip hop, or whatever. It’s just something that I have found, the whole basis of soul and jazz from the 60s and 70s. The kind of harmonies that are now big in deep house, and in my records, are the same kind of harmonies you get in those original records. Broken beat was also a big rehash of that kind of sound and way of making music. Let’s say Roy Ayers, Coltrane, kind of melodies and harmonies.
It strikes me that there is a similar approach in your music, particularly in the Raw Cuts series, that is more freeform. You may go about making the music in a clinical way, but the aesthetics behind it are slightly chaotic, and thus a better form of self-expression.
Yeah I totally agree. For me, the music that really touches me is music that hits me directly in the heart. For example, I could talk for ages about jazz from the 60s and 70s because there are all these harmonies and all these feelings. Also, just the way stuff sounds. You can still play a Rhodes piano in the 90s, but maybe because it was recorded on such and such tape machine and such and such mixing desk, it sounds different from the originals. I have a very very distinct vision about how music should sound on the basis of harmonies, feeling and attitude. I can find this in music from the 60s, 70s, I can find it in jazz, in disco, in 80s house, when it was more about a sound than actually about the track. House died somewhat for me in the 90s when it got too noodly and too jazzy. The rough, Nu Groove sound disappeared. Thus for me, broken beat was like fusion jazz in the 70s. Fred P and DJ Qu and all these people, the harmonies they use, and the harmonies I use, are very near to all of this fusion stuff.
With the new deep house stuff, which is becoming quite commercialized, do you still think it comes from the heart? I mean do you still think there is this freeform approach, or is it not becoming more like painting by numbers?
You can hear it, you can absolutely hear it. Like I just told you, the sound, the harmonies, everything, if one aspect of it is not perfect, it won’t work. Sometimes, even a little drum hit can disturb it, you know what I mean.
Will deep house as the sound of the moment devour itself then? Will it become too ubiquitous?
First of all, deep house may be ubiquitous in a way because it is everywhere, and a lot of the DJs tend to play a lot of the old classics again, but at the same time, a lot of the music that is big at the moment and thought of as deep house has nothing to do with deep house. It’s like minimal meets house, minimal meets those melodic sounds. Minimal died because there were no more emotions left in it at all, and now you find a little vocal, or a Rhodes, but the basis is the same. But people don’t really care, they just want a thumping bass line. I mean I imagine 90% don’t really give a shit, at least from what I have experienced. But at the same time, the DJs are all excited if something new but from the old days comes back, because they were also all sick of playing minimal. I still don’t have a night when I go out and I just hear real deep house because real deep house is not necessarily what is being released as deep house right now. I mean, let’s say, even the guys I respect and think are really doing something soulful instead of just putting a vocal over a minimal beat. I mean Levon Vincent is not doing deep house, even though he’s not doing minimal. I think there is always in the music industry a need for hype, and to give things a name, but its not really rooted within the reality of the club. You still can’t play a Theo Parrish track, you still can’t play one of the more difficult Moodyman tracks.
Unless it’s got a big break in there or bass line?
Yeah, so you still can’t play a KMS record, even though it may be really dancey, because people will be “Where’s the bass line?!”
When you talk about old tracks, do you have anything in mind, because when I think of seminal tracks that really withstand time, it’s things like Wamdue Project, “King of My Castle”, more than any Strictly Rhythm track.
If you listen to Wamdue Project, or any other track that has withstood the test of time, it’s usually tracks that are more than just a bass drum and a chord. Lyrics, or proper sounds. Maybe that’s part of the reason people want something more out of a track. Something to remember, a hook. It’s funny though because now it’s going in the opposite direction in a really credible way. You could expect vocal house to come back but it hasn’t. It’s something that amazes me, because everything is so conscious and knowing now. It could be that one way it could go, that all this mid-90s diva stuff will be big again but you never know.
If we agree on 2009 being the year of deep house, what will 2010 bring?
I think there are quite a few things that are going to be big, or get bigger. Firstly, there is a bit of a dark techno renaissance going on, the whole Berghain, Dettmann, Klock sound. I think it is only going to get bigger. Also everything coming out of New York right now. Dubstep is also exploding into loads of different subgenres, but shares some of that darkness. Let’s just call it darker electronic music. I also think electro is very similar to this, and that could be on its way back. If 2009 was the year for happiness, 2010 will be darker.
It’s interesting that you think 2009 was the year of happiness, in the context of the global economic crisis and everything going to shit.
Yeah but people need a shelter and music is one way to escape daily troubles, that maybe part of a reason I don’t know.
I read that you said dubstep was broken beat 2.0 which I really like.
No, not dubstep in general, but I really didn’t get the hype about the whole Joy Orbison thing with “Hyph Mngo”. For me, that’s not dubstep. If this was released in 2005 on Laws of Motion, it would have been tiny. Not to disrespect the track, I liked it, it’s not super special, it’s nice, but I don’t really get why it was such a hit.
People say dubstep really intersects with house.
Yeah exactly, and especially in England, coming out of funky, house has been a real touchstone for a lot of the young producers. What do you think of that, because dubstep is getting hard to ignore now, and how does it interact with your music?
To be honest, for every new record I buy, I buy five or six old ones from the 60s, or 70s, so I can’t really speak with any authority on the issue. I have maybe four or five dubstep records. I know a little bit about the stuff that really interests me, but I can’t see the connection there. With Martyn or with Shackleton, I don’t see a house connection. I see a connection with techno, with Basic Channel, with dark broken beat, like with Martyn I really get a techno broken beat, like Morgan Geist did in 2003, or John Tejada. Somehow Martyn programs beats in the same way. I just saw he did a Fabric mix, and he played Nubian Mindz, the perfect example of this music. He’s been around since the late drum n bass days and does this kind of Detroit techno approach to broken beat. For me, the broken beat that has stood the test of time is these kinds of records. I like dubstep, but I can’t really see a house connection. UK Funky I know zero about. I’ve heard of it, but couldn’t name a record. I know that Gilles Peterson is now pushing funky quite a lot, but haven’t had the time to explore it.
The Martyn mix is an interesting one, seeing as it came out on the Fabric mix series rather than the more bass heavy Fabric Live series..
Yeah, I haven’t heard it yet but I also saw there was a Zed Bias track in there. That’s amazing. Of course UK garage came before broken beat and there is a strong link between the two, and now there is a link between dubstep, broken beat, garage, and techno. You looked at the track list and thought, yeah this guy has been around for a while. There’s a lot of people who claim that dubstep is the newest genre out there, and really different from all that has gone before, but I don’t really see it. In the Martyn mix you could see really where it all comes from.
A lot of people say that although techno and house may not mesh perfectly with dubstep, that techno and house can learn a lot from dubstep, that dubstep will push techno and house to innovate. Is there any credence to that?
I can’t say I know enough to comment on that. There are some tracks that have pushed the envelope. I loved the whole Skull Disco thing, which was new and different and weird, and I thought it was really pushing the envelope.
And Shackleton releases on Perlon now!
Yeah and I loved that record. It’s funny, it’s something new, but also going back to the Maurizio, Basic Channel feel, but at the same time, the beats are very experimental. The whole attitude is quite near to Maurizio, especially the Perlon record.
So you’re planning to move to Berlin in the not too distant future. I was wondering what your thoughts or views on the city are as a German, but an outsider from Stuttgart.
Well I first started coming to Berlin to DJ in 1999-2000, and I know it quite well, but it totally exploded over the last few years. For Germans, the main time when it was like, “Berlin is so hip, let’s move there” was between 2003-4 and 2007. Right now its more people from all over the world who move here. If in Stuttgart you were to say tomorrow "I’m moving to Berlin", you would get bad comments, like “He can’t make it here, so he’s moving to Berlin”. I can see why there is bad feeling towards the city, but if you are settled enough and your income is not dependent on the city, it is a real nice place to live. The cultural diversity, the people you will meet, the possibilities are just amazing. You just have to avoid being dependent on the city, because you will end up in a vicious circle, because there is no fucking money whatsoever here. But if you don’t have to worry too much about money, it’s not only unique to Germany, but to the whole world.
I know your record buying tendencies are more rooted in the past, but anyone who is making great records now?
There’s a few. Levon Vincent, and DJ Qu, I thought “Party People Clap” was amazing. I also really like John Roberts from Laid. Shackleton and Martyn are also great. I get sent a lot of promos but all on mp3 and I’m so old fashioned that I don’t listen to them at all. I like what Running Back are doing. I loved the Novel Sound, Deconstruct sound though, it really hit me, especially his Levon’s Mike Denhert remix for Clone. Dettmann’s stuff has also been really great this year. You might expect me to be pushing the classical deep house stuff. As an artist, I do this music myself, and there have been so many copies, so in a way, this year I went more techno and more dark. But that’s what I play out. Production-wise I’m going to focus though on what I’m already doing.
And what’s coming up over the next few months?
I’m trying to limit myself. I mean, I could do so much stuff for labels who I have always wanted to release on, but I have a fear of releasing too much and I think it is better not to releaser too much so people still appreciate my work. Like “Hey have you got the new Motor City Drum Ensemble record?” Well I want to avoid the answer, “Which?”. So I want to have a record that exists in time and is easily identifiable. It’s not only the quality issue. I’m quite quick at making a track but I want to allow myself time to work on it, and develop it. For every track that is released, there a re 50 promos, so I want it to stand out. But I have a couple of remixes, Archie Bronson Outfit, Tiga and Caribou. There’s going to be a new 12”, but I’m not sure on what label. Probably mine, but I’m not sure when or whatever. I need to move to Berlin, take some time off.
How did you find working with Caribou, Archie Bronson, more rocky, less 4/4 stuff?
I just wanted to do it, because I always want a bit of struggle. I’m really excited to work on this rock thing. I’ve done stuff likes this before though, with Inverse Cinematics. You could have a straight to jazz original or you could have a house original and turn it into broken beat. I was always someone who tried to do remixes the hard way, mixing genres to come up with interesting stuff. The Sprinkles thing is the perfect example. The original is almost ambient, and the remix is incredibly dance floor, but its 90% elements from the original in there. Or for example, I did a remix for 2020 Vision and the original is the typical funky, vocal house jam. Instead of doing a house mix, I though fuck it and I did a straight 90s techno mix. I always try to do something very different from the original. I’m open to do everything, even classical or whatever, I just have to like the material, and to have something to work with.
Barranquilla is full of nightclubs of all sorts. From what they call in Germany chici miki places full of the glitterati, to reckless whorehouses, most people's tastes are to a certain extent catered for. One place however, stands out. La Troja is a salsa estadero, essentially a shop front with chairs outside, that plays the best salsa on the Carribbean coast. Here is an article I wrote on it for El Heraldo.
The article can be read in Spanish here.
All the cities in the world have nightclubs, but only Barranquilla has La Troja. Just like the Tiendecita de la 44, also covered in sparkling marimondas and Carnaval bulls, this cradle of salsa on the coast forms an integral part of the city's identity.
Brought up in a salsa home, since I was young the big hits of Willie Colon, Gilberto Santa Rosa, and Grupo Niche would accompany me whenever I travelled with my father.
Nonetheless, there is a big difference between listeneing to my father's time-ravaged salsa cassettes through his 1986 Ford Escort speakers, and being surrounded by cold beers, and the inimitable atmosphere of La Troja.
The magic of the place is that in many ways, it functions as a microcosm of the city it has come to symbolise. From the moment one enters, ushered to their table by the waiters, one notes the old couples, waltzing respectfully with each other, the groups of men speaking animatedly amongst themselves, and the young hipster kids, reintegrating themselves with the rich culture of their forefathers.
Having said that, for a salsa beginner, La Troja is an intimidating place. As there is no dance floor per se, people boogie between the tables and chairs, focusing the view of the spectators on the few who are brave enough to ask a girl to dance.
This professional atmosphere is reinfoced by the shows that take place every couple of hours. In the first a dark girl danced so hard and so fast that she lost her shoes. In the second, a rotund women and her slightly more lithe daughter took turns entertaining the public with their sparkly outfits and rustic routine. On top of this though, on the night I attended, La Troja was hosting two special guests, both salsa experts.
With an exclusive set, Jairo Paba (the voice of Barranquilla's most popular breakfast radio show and quite the personality -Ed) arrived to enjoy some cold beers. Later, a Puerto Rican radio presenter, based in New York, dropped by to play some of his favourite records.
By this time, everyone had drunk enough 'frias' (cold beers) and enough aguardiente that most people were on their feet dancing, clapping and sweating smiles.
This therefore meant, that I could no longer hide behind my Club Colombia, and the time had come for me to join the fray. In England, there is little traditional dance culture (aside form perhaps Morris Men -Ed) as there is in Latin America. The idea of asking a girl to dance in front of everyone so that they could see my impressive lack of rhythm, filled me with terror. Thank God I found a teacher who treated me with patience and understanding, proud to show me the basic steps.
With my shame and embarrassment at last overcome (or at least fogged), I started to get confident. One, two, thre; one, two, three, I counted in my head, making mistakes at every stage. Nonetheless, with every error, it seemed to matter less. In La Troja, the important thing is to try, and at the very least, I can surely say I tired.