Friday, 29 January 2010
As mentioned here, RA asked me to compile a list of my music of the decade. Their results have now been published. I'm super glad to see both I and the rest of the RA staff agreed on 'Miura' as THE track of the decade. It really is such a sensational tune; sensual, aggressive, contemplative, and brooding. Here is the little blurb they asked me to write on Nathan Fake's 'Sky Was Pink' (James Holden Remix) which came in at number ten:
10. Nathan Fake - Sky Is Pink (James Holden Remix) [Border Community, 2004]
Remember how in 2004, you were either from Cologne or Berlin, Kompakt or Minus? Well in August of that year, you finally got a chance to be both when Border Community released James Holden's remix of "Sky Was Pink." There was an attention to melody, sure, but with less silliness and more pathos, even menace. There were sideways glances at minimal, those trippy lulls and scratchy warbles, but really that was all they were. This was music that was wholly of its time, without sounding like anything else out there. But more than this, it was dance music for people who hated dance music, a tune for hip-hoppers, prog-rockers and teeny-boppers. To this day, Holden's remix retains an epic universalism that fans of any genre coalesce around.
PS. You can check out a Youtube playlist of the top 100 tracks here, which I would really recommend as there are some monsters on there.
Thursday, 28 January 2010
Here is my latest RA review on Ben Klock's 'Tracks from 07' EP [Deeply Rooted House]
How do you distinguish between house and techno for an electronic music ingénue? Aside from indulging in hackneyed "house is a feeling" cant or drawing mindless parallels between Detroit's industrial heritage and its mechanistic "techno" music, the usual recourse is to play said ingénue some examples. "This," you say as you lower the needle, "is Frankie Knuckles." As the strings and wails and grunts of "Your Love" gently fade out, you cue up the next record, Ben Klock's "Tracks From 07, safe in the knowledge that Berghain's finest always delivers the techno goods. But wait, what's this? "It's house!" you gasp. But is it?
Leaving behind the terser environs of Ostgut Ton, or even his own Klockworks label, Klock opts to open 2010 with a genre-defying return to DJ Deep's Deeply Rooted House operation following on from his more overtly techno-centric Kerri Chandler remix. While you could hardly accuse Klock of bandwagon jumping, there is a definite change of direction on offer here. "Red Alert" opts for techno nomenclature, but the Star Wars organ stabs and cowbell jingle combine to create a dark, totalitarian house anthem, hand-stamped with the cavernous atmospherics Berghain's residents have made their own. "Viscoplastic" meanwhile shows Klock in similarly genre-defying Levon Vincent territory. A shimmering synth variation locks onto a growling hi-hat à la "Games Dub," dry-humping it for all it's got.
House was everywhere in 2009, rewriting the DNA of dubstep, funky, and anything else that crossed its path. In 2010, it also seems to have captured the hearts and minds of techno's most steadfast and recognisable guardians. Ben Klock: techno iconoclast. Who knew such blasphemy could sound this good?
Wednesday, 27 January 2010
Here is my latest review for Little White Earbuds on 'Here With Me', the new EP from Omar-S, 'a stunning micro-statement of intent, an atomic particle of sonic abundance that twinkles brightly amidst its creator’s finest achievements.'
Monday, 25 January 2010
Here is my latest RA review on the Underground Quality night at Panoramabar.
"January," said French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, is the "month of empty pockets! Let us endure this evil month, anxious as a theatrical producer's forehead." Clearly, given the theatricality on show at Panorama Bar, this was not something that concerned Jus-Ed and his Underground Quality crew as they rolled into Berlin to take over proceedings for the reopening of Berghain's illustrious upstairs space. Given that this was an opening night of sorts, following not only the three-week long refurb of Panorama which included the addition of a wooden floor and a devastating new sound system, but also the first opportunity to catch Jus-Ed, Levon and Qu this side of 2010, it would be understandable to see a few nerves on show. Yeah, right!
It is testament to how far UQ have come in the last year that the idiosyncrasies they made their own—personalised shirts and the like—seem increasingly less quaint, and more like a well-defined trademark. 2009 was of course kind to these New York house honchos, but with tracks like Jus-Ed's "Sweetness," DJ Qu's "Party People Clap" and Levon Vincent's...well...almost everything, the artists on show managed not only to stand out from the crowd, but lead the way for others to follow out of the quagmire of deep house mediocrity. And, hell, you know when you see off-duty DJs like Dor, Dettmann and DJ Pete in the crowd that something special is going on.
Entering Berghain is always somewhat of a ritual unto itself, but on Fridays, when only Panoramabar is open, the ritual becomes Herculean, and given the number of people waiting in line by midnight, tonight was a popular chance to give it a shot. Whether or not this was for the reopening or for the arrival of the UQ boys remains unclear, but from the get-go, this had roadblock written all over it. Once upstairs, it was nice to see Levon, Qu and Jus-Ed taking turns behind the decks.
As usual, Jus-Ed was giving the mic a good work out, much to the chagrin of some of the snootier members of the crowd, but his charm and effervescence made these vocal interludes a winning respite from some of the austerity on show at other Berlin nights. Established UQ cuts like "Games Dub" were thrown around with reckless aplomb, and soon a steady head of steam was built up, just in time for Vincent to step up and deliver the first set of the night. As the man responsible for some of last year's most grandiose dance floor moments, a Levon Vincent set is never something to be sniffed at, and true to form, established Strictly Rhythm fare was worked in with newer cuts like his "Double Jointed Sex Freak" to reinforce his reputation as one of the most vital jocks and producers around.
DJ Qu came next, toning it down a tad after Levon's stomptastic ramble, opting for slinkier cuts that placed a greater emphasis on the groove. Handing over to Jus-Ed proved an interesting change. Ed is of course, first and foremost a DJ, but I couldn't help thinking that he seems almost more content these days breaking new artists than trying to cement his own reputation. Either way, he delivered a suitable set, lacking in breathtaking moments, but well above average.
For anyone who attended UQ's night at Tape last September, the label's reputation will forever remain untarnished. Having said that, the night seemed to lack a certain something (Fred P?), and it seemed like the reopening of Panorama had brought with it a less musically concerned crowd. The DJs, the sound system (bar the odd tweak here and there), and even the wooden floor all delivered admirably. Quality? Sure. Underground? Not any more.
Thursday, 21 January 2010
Really feeling Bristolian Julio Bashmore's first outing on Dirty Bird. Interesting to see Funky snapped up by a traditional house/techno label, especially with Martyn's Fabric mix starting to join the dots between UK Bass and more established 4/4. Not sure how long this will continue, and actually how down I really am with it all (maybe because I don't live in the UK anymore?), but 'Um Bongo's Revenge' is a pleasure.
Wednesday, 20 January 2010
My latest IA review on Peter Van Hoesen's 'Entropic Minus Six'. A real banger.
Peter Van Hoesen had a pretty amazing 2009, but on the evidence of ‘Entropic Minus Six’, 2010 is going to be his annus mirabilis. Not only is there a Sendai project to look forward to, but also his next album ‘Entropic City’, of which the four tracks on offer here provide a tantalising glimpse.
‘Terminal’ bangs right from the get-go, and never lets up. Taking cues from the sci-fi aesthetic Redshape touched on in his ‘Dance Paradox’ LP, Van Hoesen ups the ante, delivering a genuine stomper that sounds like aliens conversing with each other in Berghain. ‘Strip It, Boost It’ is also trippy as sin, and shows its creator raising his production game. There is almost (but not quite) too much going on as the track revels in a clinical mash of frequencies. On the flip, ‘Quartz #1’ is the sonic equivalent of a car hitting a brick wall at full speed: twisted metal crumple zoning into nothing. The 12” closes with ‘Defense Against the Self’, a slightly less frenetic workout that nonetheless encapsulates Van Hoesen’s reductionist instincts, a wallop of disencumbered four-to-the-floor techno. If you’re still dusting off the cobwebs from last year, this should be just the tonic to bring you up to speed.
Tuesday, 19 January 2010
SFJ singing the praises of xx. Worth noting that he cites New Order as a major influence on The xx, not only because I'm not sure that I agree, but because if one were to agree, it only goes to vindicate the theory outlined below. New Order were both an extension of Joy Division and a complete abnegation of it, musically as well as structurally. After Curtis' death, they were forced to look elsewhere (this term "elsewhere" probably needs elucidation, but I like its purposefully vague quality) for reasons to continue making music. A change of name was coupled with a change of instrumentation, and as this interesting doc posits, that instrument was the synth. The argument is not watertight, because New Order were relative arrivistes on the emerging synth scene of 80s Britain, more bandwagon-jumpers than leading lights. However, as an example of a band looking outside its own sound/scene/genre for a new musical direction, the parallel with The xx is a decent one. Oh, and who knew 'Blue Monday' was the biggest selling ep of all time?
Sunday, 17 January 2010
Indie hasn't registered for me since 'Room on Fire' walked in and out of my life. Living in the UK for the best part of the 00's, indie was impossible to ignore. Morphing out of some idealised post-Britpop, pre-dubstep mindset, into the standard student union, skinny jeans from Next-wearing, Joy Division-yearning, fake Northern accent-touting blatherfest, it thankfully seemed to die over the last year and a half. The dubstep point is an interesting one. Blackdown noted on his Pitchfork end of year review that:
'In the UK, the wobble sound is now the default dubstep position for many fans, as the scene commands a increasing share of the Friday night/student/super club market. With the fanbase expanded far beyond any one core, complaints about deviations from South London circa 2005 or an overall loss of direction feel increasingly irrelevant. Many new dubstep fans neither know nor care about those issues, and complaining about glories past is futile. So fair play to all the brostep ravers 'aving it.'
What strikes me as interesting is that roll back to about 2005/6, and that whole 'Friday night/student/super club market' was moshing its nuts off to the Kaiser Chiefs. Dubstep, or brostep, or whatever has come to dominate the listening patterns of 20-somethings in the same way that indie did before it. Is there a comparison to be made? Well clearly, dubstep is (in its founding at least) a British phenomenon. More than that though, it has been an exportable phenomenon, just as indie was before it. The Kaiser Chiefs and Pete Doherty were not only (attempting to) soundtrack 00's Britain, but also taking their sound on the road, via music festivals, across Europe and beyond. Fast forward to the present day, and what is a music festival in Poland, Germany, Serbia, wherever, without an appearance from say Kode 9, or Skream? More importantly, where did that leave indie? It reminds me of a point made on the mnml ssgs blog:
'like what jay-z said with indie and hip-hop. he said the indie revival is great because it has overtaken hip-hop in innovation which should "push" hip-hop producers into lifting their game'
To my mind, there were three important indie albums released in 2009: xx, Merriweather Post Pavilion, and Bitte Orca. The importance of each album however, had less to do with the bands looking deep into the heart of indie for answers, but actually looking outside it. The xx channeled South London dubstep flavas into their soundscapes, Merriweather looked to house, and the Dirty Projectors (and also the xx, cf. 'Hot Like Fire') to RnB. This outward-looking tendency is the same one that made Vampire Weeeknd's self-titled debut such a thrill. Afrobeat and indie, wtf?
However, what's most interesting is that whilst the so-called indie musicians were looking elsewhere for inspiration, the elsewhere looked to them. When has an album like xx managed to coalesce a positive critical consensus between indie kids, ravers, and experimentalists? Why were Resident Advisor reviewing Merriweather (and giving it 4.5/5)? Why was Solange Knowles covering 'Stillness is the Move'? This outward looking tendency in indie has breathed new life into a dying genre, but more importantly, indie has managed to breathe new life into other genres that previously couldn't have given less of a shit. 'Contra' has just come out one year after 'Merriweather' first dropped, and we have reached a crucial point. This sonically experimental, genre-defying tendency will soon calcify as scenesters start purchasing Highlife compilations en masse, desperately searching for an obscure peg to hang their derivative coat on. Indie as envelope-pusher will die out, just as the case of 'brostep' has shown. But for the time being, let's hear it for tracks like 'Stillness', the moment when the pupil finally outclassed his master.
Friday, 15 January 2010
Klezmer big band post-blues on a deep and dubby house bender. Needs to be reissued.
Ok, this came out in 2008, but still, the Raw Cuts series, Lonely One ep and the stunning DJ Sprinkles remix (and not forgetting the Beats in Space podcast) all add up to a pretty sensational 2009 for Danilo Plessow. And he busses Supreme.
Thursday, 14 January 2010
Simon Reynolds chimes in with his list for top etc etc of the decade over on his blog, and it makes just as interesting reading as anything else out there. One track that stood out for me (and I don't mean the inimitable Dane Bowers/Victoria Beckham hookup 'Out of Your Mind' [or even 'Put a Donk on It', which is just as worthy of canonical status as the work of McGonagall is to English literature])was DJ Marky & XRS featuring Stamina MC, 'LK (Carolina Carol Bela)'. I've mentioned elsewhere that the work of Trentemøller provided a (somewhat embarrassing) segue into the world 0f 4/4, but really, I was a fairweather DnB fan first. When I say fairweather though, I really mean I listened to one CD on repeat for about four months. That's a lie: I listened to one track from one CD on repeat for about four months. The track? 'Só Tinha Que Ser Com Voce (Cosmonautics Mix)' Now don't get me wrong. I had mad love for 'Barcelona', mad love for 'LK', mad love even for Bad Company et al. I knew the obligatory mandem at University that forced me, almost every time I set foot in their homes, to get stoned and watch old VHS' of 'One Nation' raves at the Milton Keynes Bowl, and Lord knows I was sweating it up with the best of them on Friday nights at True Playaz raves in Fabric, but I was always more of the liquid DnB persuasion: Hospital Records, Movement, the whole shebang. If DnB was on offer, then this particular mandem desired, nay demanded, that it be of the coffee table variety. Retrospectively, that period of my life is one whole cringefest, a seminal building block best filed under 'Dispensable'. Nonetheless, those four months of pressing play, and five minutes later sliding back on my four-wheeled desk chair to press play again, just "one last time" remain, and for that reason alone, I'm gutted I didn't include it in my own end of year/decade bla bla bla.
Friday, 8 January 2010
Here is my first review for Little White Earbuds on Mathew Jonson's 'Ghost in the AI' EP [Wagon Repair]
If one were to single out an overarching narrative for the trajectory of electronic music in 2009, it would surely be the emphasis on the past — on the founding myths and legends that electronic music emerged out of — as a source of inspiration. With disco breaking out from small-scale revival to established Room Two, even Room One fare, with deep house announcing itself as the heir apparent to the ubiquity of mid-decade minimal, and with the cavernously retrospective, Detroit-flecked techno of the Berghain/Hard Wax crew dominating tracklists, it seems that in 2009, the only way to look forward, was to look back. Accordingly, Mathew Jonson chimed in with his take on the theme for Ghosts In the AI, his last Wagon Repair release of the year and the decade.
The EP is the first solo production to come out of Wagon Repair’s new Berlin studios. The eponymous opener couples handclaps with a disconcerting electro warble that aims to growl you into submission. Unlike “Marionette,” which played an elegant game of cat and mouse between the ascending chords and the descending beat, a ruse that was wholly of its time (think James Holden’s “Sky Is Pink” remix), “Ghosts” posits no internal dialog, but instead searches for a middle ground between Drexciya-era electro and late-00’s techno. On the flip, “Technology” is also at once old and new, which is fitting given its curious back story. Apparently created around the time of “Octagon”’s release in 2004 on It Is What It Is, it has only seen the light of day now following a gentle push from Jonson’s brother, Nathan, better known as Hrdvision. The elusive, hard to pin down beat is grounded by a repetitive synth pattern that seems to hint just as much at the dawn of a new age, as the closing of an old one. This unresolved dichotomy is further muddied by the beatless track “The Alchemist,” taken from Jonson’s score to the silent film “Faust,” a fitting companion piece no doubt, but unlikely to give the headphones, let alone the dance floor any cause for concern.
Admirable as Jonson’s endeavour is, the legacy of the past year has shown that creating something new out of something old, and doing it well, is no easy feat. Although the electro Jonson favours here seems more than due a comeback, the EP as a whole feels less like a statement of intent for next year than a footnote to this one.