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February 25, 2009

Coloma, Love's Recurring Dream


Anyone with a soft spot for moody, sentimental, orchestral pop will be thrilled with Coloma's forthcoming album on Italic, Love's Recurring Dream. Coloma's earlier work for Ware and Klein was wonderful stuff, a mixture of Martin L. Gore's morose arrangements and Cologne techno's swollen pulses. (Though English, the duo is based in the German city.) And the new album is even better and more self-assured. The instrumentation is richer, incorporating piano, electric guitars, drum kit, vibraphones, horns and more, all woven up into a shimmery fabric trimmed with subtle synthesizer tones and judicious touches of dubby atmosphere. I'm still just getting to know the album, which I suspect will be a process that unfolds over a long succession of Sunday mornings (the album's clear natural habitat). Someone close to the band has singled out "Standstill" as a favorite, but for my money the album's finest moment is "Should I Be Untrue," a wonderful, meditative, almost mantra-like song that stacks clarinets and voices in a heaping, multi-layered cake with "REGRET" scrawled in shaky fingerprints across the icing.

Here's the full album, streaming at Fairtilizer. (Use the forward & back buttons to advance through the tracks.)

February 22, 2009

Promos and Purchases, a Partial Recent Recounting


Ruoho Ruotsi, Afternoon Delighting (De'fchild) out now
San Francisco's Ruoho Ruotsi, a name I always have trouble fixing in my mind, has been plying dub with techno for a while now; to be honest, I don't really recall anything much more specific about the earlier singles (aside from their stunning chipboard packaging). But Afternoon Delighting, again on his own De'fchild label, sat me up immediately. Which is funny, because it's not really what you'd call an "immediate" listen. Taking after Vladislav Delay in his most vaporous of phases, and with a touch of Lawrence's melancholic melodies, Ruoho Ruotsi spins up ginormous cotton-candy fluffs of chords, lacing them with distant scraps of voices and ambient sound. Drum machines provide the beats, which remain productively rudimentary—keeping the drums "straight" frees up more room for accidental dub filigree. I don't know what kind of gear he's using, but the sound is wonderful. The title track is led by a charming, hyperactive bassline spanning two octaves, slightly overdriven and cycling through tone colors like an overactive lava lamp. (To throw in a misfit simile I couldn't resist, it's as full as an overstuffed sausage.) The track's bloopy palette reminds me a bit of those killer '80s digi-dancehall tracks on Watch How the People Dancing. "Sweet Bits" is a tough little stepper, a little more typically "minimal"; but "Bramble Bramble" and "Dolores Tristes" are the real winners, aching and expansive. Highly recommended.

Listen/Buy: Zero"

Yukihiro Fukutomi, "Open Our Eyes"/"Nesting" (Mule Musiq) April release
I'd kill for an instrumental of the A-side, for its oblong chords, flashes of brushed metal and a crabwalking bass line that dances warily around the root notes. But that voice is pure cheese! "Open your eyes… I see the light that exists in all of us… Open our eyes. You see, now we've seen too much. We don't feel… Close your eyes and open your inner ones. Open your eyes!" I know it's a Marshall Jefferson cover, but it sounds more like some sort of self-actualization DVD off the New Age shelf, tapping into the most facile strain of house music's "spiritual" tendencies. (When I go out dancing, I'm happy to be moved, in my own way, by the DJ, but the last thing I want to hear is some self-appointed shaman telling me it's time to get down with Gaia. I'll have my revelations on my own time, thank you very much.)

But "Nesting" is something else entirely (and mercifully preacher-free). The groove is in a definite Ricardo-meets-Radio-Slave style: lots of big explosions in greyscale, dubbed-out clatter bouncing down staircase beats, no horizon but the horizon. A trumpet solo slipping all over it like a bar of soap gone soft. "Riffs," such as they are, feel like cave paintings in here. Forget about opening your eyes: it's way better in the darkness. (Also feeling: Fukutomi's remix of Anthony Collins' "Upright Bass," under his Foog alias, for Mule Electronic 58.)

Subb-an, "Sloopy" (Immigrant Records) March (vinyl) / April (digital) release
Charcoal-rubbed machine techno whose greased skip keeps it from feeling four-to-the-floor, even though it is. Lots of hands-on, real-time filtering with the resonance set high. Ravy, screwdriving, and spatiall, with tones that feel like they're coming out of your own skull. A bass and drum jam, really, punctuated by the pitched-down, double-tracked invective to "Bounce," which you do. The John Tejada remix, meanwhile, is all (and only) about motion--identifying the line by the contours of the filters wrapping around it, and tracing that movement back to the fingers that made it. There's a real, classic techno feel to this, with touches of acid, but its insistent squiggle, bearing the convoluting mark of modular synthesis, gives the track an unmistakable sense of identity.

Radio Slave, "Neverending" (Ostgut Ton) April 6 (vinyl) / April 20 (digital)
I knew it was Radio Slave before the end of the first bar. This is a fact. I'm pretty sure this is a version of his Running Back single; the chord stab certainly sounds the same. You gotta marvel at the control here—this is what he's been aiming for from the beginning, but he's finally got the subtlety down. The action is in the reverb around the cotton-swabbed piano stab, as it folds backwards and forwards in time, expanding, cloaking itself within a cushion of air. Nothing actually happens, at least not on a time scale you can really perceive—just scraps of flash and flutter and the sensation of heft. If there were ever a track tailor-made for the Panorama Bar, this is it. (The Tony Lionni B-side is also a thing of beauty. Both tracks are included on Len Faki's forthcoming mix CD, Berghain 03.)

Adam Marshall, "North at Night" (Cynosure)
Before a flickering background of dubby chords—a lone pair, gauzy and wind-blown—Marshall unrolls an absolute tearjerker of a melody. There's nothing fancy about the tune, which reminds me a little of John Tejada at his most melancholic ("The End of It All"): the drum-machine pattern, with the merest smidgen of 2-step swing to it, patters numbly away, and the voicing remains blissfully uncluttered, with a lone, analog-sounding tone sufficing for the lead, bass and internal harmonies alike. The first six minutes are among the saddest six minutes of music you've ever heard, and then, gradually, samba-inspired drums take over, ushering you by the arm to a place beyond reflection, a zone of pure movement. Absolutely gorgeous.

Moderat, Moderat (Bpitch Control) April 20 release
Upon first putting on the promo CD, I thought that Moderat, the self-titled album from the unlikely combination of Modeselektor and Apparat, sounded a little flat—not compositionally, but in terms of pure sonics—especially given its' members reputations for insidious psychoacoustics. Then I read the press release, which explained that promos are in mono only; for the full stereo experience, one must wait for retail. What do I think of this? It's certainly better than your average promo-bot (if you haven't heard one of these yet, imagine the old Mac Talker voice babbling "This is a promotional copy" every 30 seconds), and it's miles more satisfying than listening to truncated track excerpts, which is all that some labels will send out. (I refuse to listen to excerpts; if I can't hear the full track/single/album, I won't review it.)

It's a curious experience, listening in mono, as though I'd suddenly lost peripheral vision. I'm not sure that I would have immediately identified monaural sound as the culprit for the promo's curiously compressed sound. In any case, I'm eager to hear the real thing; it's easy to think of stereo design as a kind of trickery, an array of bells and whistles to gratify the hi-fi owner's ego. And there's nothing worse than arbitrary, aggressive panning. Done well, however, a good stereo mix really does eke a third (fourth?) dimension out of the music. Apparently part of the reason for throwing a veil over the promotional release of Moderat is a custom reverb algorithm the group commissioned from Kit Clayton specifically for this album; put me down as very curious, indeed. (Musically, the disc is surprising: there's more rock than I expected; less of Apparat's emo; and even a song that sounds improbably similar to Peter Gabriel, circa "Sledgehammer.")

Boxcutter & Kinnego Flux, "A Familiar Sound" (KGO 01) out now

I'm still just beginning to digest Boxcutter's new album Arecibo Message for Planet Mu, which sounds great so far—more akin to Burial's murk than Starkey's lightning strikes, which is fine by me. I respect Planet Mu's ravier side, but the more jagged the material sounds, the more my attention wanders. There's plenty of rave here, in the form of muted Hoover bass and cascading breaks, but it never sounds too strident. 2-step nostalgics will be happy to hear that there's scads of swingy rimshots and oodles of sped-up vocals, sometimes mixed with classic acid, bleep and the ziggy cadences and foggy sound of first-gen IDM. Taken as a whole, it's like a cocktail of subwoofer and helium.

But for now I want to talk about a curious single Boxcutter's done with Belfast multi-instrumentalists Kinnego Flux. (It's also included on Arecibo Message.) You might guess the musical direction by the sleeve, a sort of Pop Art/sci-fi/surrealistic jobbie that's got "cosmic" written all over it. (The cover is the work of UK designers La Boca, whose airbrush-inspired psychedelia you might recognize from their many amazing sleeves for D.C. Recordings, and whose blog is well worth a look.) Sure enough, the track inside is like Stevie Wonder gone aquacrunk, all lubed-up clavinets and fretless synthesizer bass. (I really dig the vocals, but for those put off by a slim resemblance to Jamie Lidell and/or Jamiroquai, there's an instrumental version on the flip.) Despite having a killer chord progression and just as killer sound design, the track's real statement is as a celebration of ornament. Every riff—bass lines, chord clusters, drum fills—switches itself up with virtually every repetition, tripping over accidentals, huffing reverb, mashing into the filters like a body on memory foam. Plaid and even Squarepusher are reference points, for tone color and overall slitheriness respectively, but you could just as easily call it R&B. Amazing track.

Listen/Buy: Boomkat | Hardwax

February 18, 2009

Tonight My Heart


Click on over to Resopal to preview the upcoming release The Mercy Dubz. Produced by Echologist (aka Brendon Moeller) and featuring Spaceape, "The Mercy Beat" (inspired by The The's song of the same name) is a huffing hot-air balloon tethered to a 2-step tricycle. The 12" features two different Echologist versions, MRI vs U.E.S.'s house-leaning "nonDub," and my own "Triple Bypass Dub," decidedly non-4/4 and quite a bit different for me. (There'll be a few digital-only remixes as well, including what must be the weirdest thing I've released yet.) Scroll down the Resopal music player to check out tracks 4 (original), 5 (MRI vs. U.E.S.'s nonDub) and 6 (Philip Sherburne's Triple Bypass Dub). Vinyl is out 3/23 from all fine retailers.

To tide you over, here's a brand new Brendon Moeller DJ mix, featuring tracks by T++, Peter Van Hoesen, John Tejada, Fluxion, Convextion, Pacou and more. Brendon Moeller: Amazing Bass, How Sweet the Sound!

February 16, 2009

What I Like About Wonky

What I like about the "wonky" end of dubstep is how effin' sunny it sounds. Dubstep is supposed to be dark, or so goes the logic ever since Burial became its Prince of Moods (never mind that Burial is hardly synonymous with dubstep—and bearing in mind, in his defense, that Burial's a lot more varied than people give him credit for). Its very name sounds turgid. "Dub-step." The face puffs up for the first syllable and then goes slack. It's a letdown.

But what I'm hearing right now at dubstep's margins—a place that, for the time being, until a better name congeals, we'll just call Wonkyland—turns the screw-face Cheshire.

For starters, it's high-end intensive. When I read Sasha Frere-Jones talking about this stuff in terms of "Lazer Bass," I don't interpret the first term as a modifier of the second—I don't hear lasering bass but rather lasers and bass, searing high ends and cavernous lows. Think of Joker's jagged leads, filling every corner of the treble register with harsh, fluorescent light. (In Joker's Purple Wow universe, there's no such thing as pastel.)

Of course, the low ends are there, suffocating as you like. But a lot of the action is in the midrange, in bright explosions of overtones, as though a factory full of DX-7s were on fire. Where so much dub-derived music (dub techno, dubstep) leands towards the monochromatic, this stuff is a Pantone riot.

As you might guess from a music made by people who occasionally call it "Aquacrunk," this stuff can be really funny. Not too-clever-for-its-own-good funny, like some of Squarepusher's experiments. More "Red Hot Car" funny. Funny in the sense that when you've smoked enough Purple Wow, everything is funny. Joker, Vex'd, Rustie, Zomby—their melodies wear a glassy grin that's hard to resist.

Anyway, this mixtape by Jamie Vex'd has just about everything I like about wonky right now. Those things include screaming leads, pitch-bend, beats that feel like they're telescoping to a full stop, underwater sounds, sounds that sound like bongs in Tron would sound; talcum-clouded handclaps; zipper-factory field recordings; angelic choruses, demonic choruses; back-masking; rimshots; syncopated, Detroity chord stabs; full-on Black Dog homages; chart hip-hop mixed with what I could swear is Disjecta; spangles, icing, fringe, unnecessary cuffs; filter resonance; moments of almost shocking beauty; sirens.

Jamie Vex'd: Sunday Walkman Mix @ LuckyMe
(#25, click on photo of girl on bicycle with spool of duct tape on its handle to download)

jamie vexd - saturn's reply
rich reason & fantastic mr fox - bleep show
scuba - twitch - jamie vexd remix
starkey - creature
jamie vexd - in system travel
erykah badu - twinkle
darkstar - aidy's girl's a computer
cannibal ox - f word (instrumental)
zomby - fantastique remix
falty dl - to london
shawty lo ft dg yola vs timeblind - lets decay it (dev 79's blend)
stagga - lopside - doshy remix
modeselektor - black box - rustie remix
joker - psychedlic runway
starkey - mutter music vip
naptha - soundclash - grevious angel vip
tim hecker - sundown6093
falty dl - paradise Lost

February 10, 2009

February 2009 Charts


Anstam, "Cree" (Anstam)

DJ Sprinkles, "Brenda's $20 Dilemma (Kuniyuki Dub Remix)" (Mule Musiq)

Zomby, "The Lie" (Ramp)

Timeblind, "Backwardation" (Version)

Juju Christian Treuter, "Earth People" (Juju Music)

Carl Craig & Moritz von Oswald, "Recomposed (Villalobos' 'Uli, Mein Ponyhof' Remix)" (Deutsche Grammofon)

Mujava, "Township Funk (Mark Pritchard's Version Excursion)" (Warp)

Jus Wan, "Action Potential" (Apple Pips)

Instra:mental, "Futurist" ([NakedLunch])

2562, "Embrace" (3024)

From the Archives: Mark Leckey Interview, 2006

In late 2006, as a band called Klaxons floated into pop consciousness on a raft made of glowsticks and fawning press criticism, its sails emblazoned with a fluo-tinted flag emblazoned "NEW RAVE," I decided to see what Mark Leckey had to say about the phenomenon. Some seven years earlier, Leckey had produced Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, a 14-minute video piece based upon British subcultures of the '70s, '80s, and early '90s—principally, Northern Soul devotees, football casuals, and, most importantly, ravers. (For more on the video, including YouTube and UBUWEB links to it, see yesterday's blog post.) Leckey's footage of wild-eyed dancers, mostly culled from TV documentaries, was different from any other treatment of the culture I'd ever seen, avoiding both the typical bourgeois condemnations of the mainstream media and the often inarticulate defenses from the underground. Instead, the dancers, rendered in slow motion and gone murky with poor lighting and Nth generation video transfers, seemed like something from another world. (If they hadn't mostly been white, you could have wondered if they were perhaps Drexciyans, given the way they seemed engaged in a bubbling underwater choreography.) Fiorucci bore the tenderness towards its subject of someone who had most likely "been there," but it also stood at some considerable remove—not just historical, linking rave with other rituals and subcultures that had come before it, but also narrative, as exemplified by a shadowy figure that seems to preside over the video. Leckey, I reasoned, must have interesting things to say about this rave revival. He did.

The context of the interview has dated quickly—not three years later, does anyone care about Klaxons (at least as torchbearers for "new rave," a style that they quickly disavowed as a giant practical joke played on gullible media outlets)? The rave revival never did surface, for better or for worse. (Probably, for better.) Maybe this summer, the second 20th anniversary for the "Second Summer of Love"—given that it stretched from 1988 to 1989, there are all sorts of opportunities for extended media overload—there will be more stirrings. Rave hasn't "struck back," despite the best intentions of the eponymous crew from Jena, Germay, but its memories and, more importantly, mis-rememberings resonate: just consider Zomby's Where Were U in '92?, a non-ironic reworking of classic hardcore styles as viewed through the prism of contemporary dubstep—or, for that matter, Burial's misty-eyed version of the same.

What I find interesting about the question of rave and its infinitely deferred return is less about the music or the style itself, and more about the historical circumstances that allow for unforeseen youth cultures to emerge. Could something similar happen again? My gut says no, but the older I get, the less I understand about youth culture. (For instance, I'm still feeling shaken by my discovery of Brokencyde and "Scene Kids.") In 20 years, will we have a new work, perhaps entitled Hot Topic Made Me Hardcore, to make sense of the MySpace generation?

Last month, Leckey was awarded the Turner Prize.

Mark Leckey MySpace | Wikipedia entry | The Guardian on the Turner Prize


Philip Sherburne: Somewhere I read a quote from you, and I'll paraphrase, saying something along these lines: "I can’t tell if it’s just the age I am, but there’s a sense that what I knew of British pop culture or fashion has finished. It will come back in some form, but I think it's been tainted by historical circumstance." Which is really interesting, because I've been using Marx's historical formulation (tragedy vs. farce) to describe the rave revival: the first time is regarded, in polite company, as a kind of aesthetic tragedy, while the revival is a farce even on its face—it's just kitsch and gaming the media.

Mark Leckey: Oh, that's a terrible quote! [laughs]

I don't know, now I genuinely feel too old to speak about it. I feel that the difference between rave culture then and the Klaxons now is, to me, unbridgeable. It's enormous. One is a kind of half-homage parody, from what I can see of it here. Its fan base is like Hoxton, it's Shoreditch, that's about it. Compared to this nationwide insanity for two or three years in the late '80s, you know what I mean? I don’t see how the two… Basically, it seems like a kind of fashion-magazine homage to rave, it seems more like an elegy than anything else. Because it's not that. And that moment has gone, that possibility has gone, of that kind of mass youth movement

You think the very possibility of the mass youth movement has gone?

I think so, I think so. I just think all the historical… that's what I was trying to say in that quote—just the kind of apparatus or the accidents that made it happen in the first place can't produce it anymore. Like, the demographic, the political, the consumption, the proliferation, the consumerism, do you know what I mean…

There was a brand-new drug then, as well.

Exactly, all these things were like a weird chemistry that developed over 40, 50 years, and it's run its course in a way. But that seems really ungenerous of me now, as a midde-aged man, to say that. But I think that's the case.

When you did Fiorucci, what role did rave culture play in the British imagination? I imagine it must have been at its low ebb.

Yeah, everyone thought it was really cheesy. And they still do! I genuinely think hardcore is amazing, brilliant music. To me it's the equivalent to, like, garage [rock] from the '60s in America, you know what I mean? It's all these kids getting all these cheap computers and synths and making this mad garage music. But everyone still thinks hardcore is like a joke. I don't think it is, I really don't think it is.

I'm still interested in this idea of history happening twice – first as tragedy, second as farce. And obviously rave's return is being seen as farce. But you do often get the sense of rave in popular recountings, as precisely a kind of tragedy—like, "God, how did they listen to that horrible music?" It's seen as a tragedy of taste.

I'm gonna try – I've never tried, but this is my theory, right. It's probably not gonna come out right but I'll have a go at it. The difference there is there is that there was something within rave that was cheesy, but that kind of cheesiness was somehow organic or natural. Things like that happened… Basically it's like pop culture is nothing more—it's the hula hoop, isn't it, it always had that element of fad and cheese to it. The difference is now that we take it immensely seriously, so it kinda doesn't allow the cheese factor, to actually let it evolve.

You look at all the best pop moments and there is always something ridiculous about it. Now we're too conscious of the ridiculousness. We don't allow that to happen. Now It's always ironic, or it's quoted. It was a bit more, I don't want to use the word "innocent," but it was. People were maybe more willing to be a little bit more foolish.
That's one of the hindrances now. There's such a surfeit of pop culture, there's such a huge wodge of it that everyone's completely conscious of what it is and what it's made of, and that makes it incredibly difficult for youth culture, as I knew it, to just exist, just be free.

I wonder how much that has to do with contemporary modes of spectatorship. Thinking about the films in Fiorucci, you don't have a sense of those people thinking they're being watched, much less filmed. And now with MySpace, everybody is always posing first and participating second. Rave was about being on display, but not being on display to be captured and recorded and stored and shared.

Exactly, I think so. Yeah, I couldn't say more than that, I think you're right.

Would you say rave and northern soul have followed similar paths to their revival? Northern soul is so wrapped up with nostalgia, and calculated nostalgia… I'm curious to know more about why you chose to pair rave and northern soul in the film.

When I made Fiorucci, even that seems a long time ago, like the idea that mass pop culture could be beautiful, you know what I mean, could be interesting, could be beautiful.

And that was it, the similarity between the two was that they were both working class, mass popular movements. The thing with northern soul is, when I was doing Fiorucci, it was still the original northern soulers, they were the ones giving me the footage. They were still into it, they still do nights over here, they still are dancing at the age of 46 or whatever, they're still going. Northern soul in particular was always the hardest of the hardcore anyway. It was one small town in England, it was very, very underground and local. It took like 20 years before it even filtered into mainstream culture, before anyone knew what it was about. You know, They're basically like miners who started dancing, you know what I mean? It was always pretty hardcore stuff.

I don't know, that comparison with rave stops there because rave was nationwide, worldwide in some sense. So I think there was a big difference; you don't get northern soul in LA, do you. It never traveled like that, it was always a really local thing.

I didn't know northern soul had survived and persisted like that, I only knew it through Soul Jazz and the collectors, the preservationist culture.

Yeah, It's still going. When I was making Fiorucci I had this conversation at the pub back home, and I was sitting with a 45 year old bloke, and a 19 year old kid, and we were talking about northern soul, and the 19 year old kid was going to northern soul night

In Germany, techno, if not "rave culture" per se, is still going strong. You don't get the same sense of a break or a rupture, it's more like, what is now and what has always been. It's a contnuum.

In Germany it's more political, isn't it, as well. I was always part of that squat culture, so it always had an element of politics, like aspects of rave in Britain did. So rave, when it died everywhere else, continued with travelers and crusties, it carried on with them, and it's only recently died out with them, though you can still go and hear it.

It seems in Germany more they held onto it more through the political strand—just basically anti-establishment.

And of course Berlin allowed that, because of the empty space available. Or Detroit, for that matter

Exactly. That's the other thing why it can't happen in the UK now as well, that kind of access isn't there any more, the squatting laws have changed. Just on that level it couldn't happen again. Whether the will is there or not, I don't know.

Matthew Higgs called Fiorucci "an extended paean to the unadulterated bliss of nocturnal abandon." England, it seems to me, has a different approach to "nocturnal abandon" to almost any other country in the world, though I can't put my finger on it.

'Cos we don't have nocturnal abandon. Everything used to close at 11pm and that made the idea of the night even more kind of illicit, and transgressive. In New York you can stay up all night if you want. In England, even in the '90s or late '80s, pubs closed at 11 o'clock. So just to have a rave that went on deep into the night, you were already doing something slightly, socially questionable. So that produces that kind of exoticness about it. I guess that's what Higgs is referring to.

Then pair that with the discovery of Ibiza…
Exactly! I guess it's that kind of slightly English tradition of the carnivalesque, that kind of excitement of turning things on its head. The thing is, when you do things at night in England then you know that everyone else is in bed. So the world's getting revolved, you know what I mean, it's your turn, so there was that aspect of it. And when people went to Ibiza and they came back, that was the seed they spread: we don't have to keep normal hours, we can stay up all night! We don't have to do this at the times set.

I guess. I wasn't there, I never went to Ibiza. I always wish I'd done it, I wish I'd gone there.

Now it must be different, the prices are outrageous…

I had mates who went there, I don't know if I should bang on about this… The thing with rave as well, is that you did have this weird mix of classes coming together. Like all my old scallies, you know what I mean by scallies?

Uh, no.

Like football hooligans, they all went ot Ibiza and took E and got luvved up, and in England now, I can't imagine that happening now. One, because that kind of class system isn't as clear as it used to be. Britain got transformed a lot through Thatcherism, you know. Rave was something to do with that political transformation. And those things aren't in place any more, that's partly what I was saying. And that's one thing that has gone, that division of class, between like a football hooligan and an indie kid, that's more mixed up.

You have a band, DonAteller. And I see you have covered a few rave classics too?

We just did "Dominator." It's funny you know, because now we've got a MySpace site. We get all these, like new-ravers now coming on, we're like the granddaddy of rave revival or something.

We did "Dominator" by Human Rsource. It was just me and Ed [Laliq], Ed's a lot younger than me but he remembered rave, and he was a big jungle fan, he was involved in jungle. That's the strange thing for me, is that rave—with Fiorucci originally I was gonna carry on up to garage, I think I end with rave, I was gonna carry it on right up to [UK] garage, into jungle and garage, and then I could've carried on into grime, yeah?. That's what's weird is that the two aren't linking up any more. I think grime has maybe killed that tradition anyway, that kind of line of black British dance music, influenced by American dance music, that's what rave was over here, that's who were making all the British rave tunes originally. Like black British kids, well, a mix, people who had been listening to a lot of US dance music all their lives.

And why did grime kill that tradition off?

Its just got too heavy, it's gone hypermasculine. And dance music always needs some aspect of the feminine, and grime has none of that. It doesn't get people, doesn't get women dancing. I read, have you read Simon Reynolds? I think he's great, and he's right. But what's weird for me, the point for me is that there's no, with this new rave stuff it's not linking back to that tradition, which it has to if it's gonna be kind of legitimate in any way.

Ooh, Jesus, that's bad—don't say I said that. I sound horrible. I don't think music should ever be legitimate.

But it is strange to me, coming off a huge tradition of electronic experimentation, and people with machines, varying degrees of primitivism, and throw all that out the window and say we're an indie band that covers "Kicks like a mule," it's just odd. It's like you want rave without the music that made it special.

That's why I don't believe 'em. That's why I really don't believe 'em.
They're just indie kids who see a fad coming. You get this weird thing in England, because everyone knows retro accelerates so quickly, it's like you're second guessing when certain trends are gonna come back. You're kinda going, I think rave should come back about now…. And maybe it won't be this time, but in a couple of years time it will come back. And that's what it seems to me more than anything else. I really don't think… Actually I wouldn't want to say anything about that. But it doesn't seem to have that kind of grounding of that tradition of what I was talking about.

What are you working on now?
I'm making a hippie ghost film. Yeah. That's what I'm doing.

You've gone freak folk?
I dunno, I'm trying to do like an exorcism, I wanna… It's partly what I'm saying to you, I want to exorcise, get the last remnants of the 20th century out of my system. You know what I mean? Because I'm sick of it, I'm sick that I still believe in popular culture, that I can still sit here and have this conversation with you. I don't want to do this any more, I don't want to believe in that any more, and yet I do.

What will you do after you've been exorcised?

I dunno, I'll become like, I'll find nature. I'll become a true hippy. I don't know what I'll do. Anyway, that's what I'm trying to do. Is just rid myself of the last remaining zombie lumps of pop culture. So it's just these dead hippie ghosts come and haunt me and taunt me for becoming bourgeois and middle class and the rest of it.

Will it be a feature?

I think it's gonna be a performance. It think it's gonna be me wrestling with dead hippies.

With Neal from The Young Ones

Yeah, it's gonna be like that.

February 09, 2009

Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore

Thanks to Dirty Sound System's Alain Finkiel Krautrock blog for uncovering 2008 Turner Prize winner Mark Leckey's short film Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (1999), finally available online.

Like a poetic reworking of Dick Hebdige's Subculture, the video piece investigates England's dancefloor tribes from the '70s to the rave era, taking in northern soul's furious spinners and rave's pummeled punters, along with designer-label-sporting football casuals. It's less a work of sociology than of hazy impressionism, culled from murky television footage and collaged together with clunky fades and strange, almost off-putting digital trickery. Arranged in a loose chronological order, the piece hovers on the edge of narrative; it's presided over by a shadowy figure that occasionally appears, gazing out over a darkening cityscape, his back turned toward the camera. It's the kind of image one imagines when listening to Burial, given the dubstep artist's penchant for rainslicked urban blight. And in fact Burial shares lots in common with Leckey's Fiorucci, whose soundtrack loops and smears scraps of classic hardcore into a blurry, ambient drone. It is, in short, a stunning piece of work, a kind of tone poem that gives way to layers of nostalgia and bewilderment.

I saw the piece in CCAC Wattis Institute's excellent Mixtapes show in 2003, curated by Matthew Higgs and also featuring work by Wolfgang Tillmans, Oliver Payne and Nick Relph, and Mathias Poledna. (I've published the text of my exhibition review for The Wire after the jump.)

Do yourself a favor and check out the video. It's longish, nearly 15 minutes long, so I'd recommend waiting til you have a bit of time to sink into its rhythm. As funny as it can be, this is no rave lampoon—more like a cross between Zomby's Where Were U in '92? and Baraka. For the time being, you can also download the full video at UBUWEB.

Mark Leckey MySpace | Turner Prize 2008

Philip Sherburne (originally published in The Wire, 2003)

Mixtapes collects four recent video works by young artists dealing with the intersection between music, youth culture and personal experience. Curator Matthew Higgs describes the exhibit as a series of “melancholic riffs on popular culture,” exploring the agonised underside to moments more often portrayed for their celebratory, epiphanal nature. Shown individually for two weeks apiece, the pieces coalesce into an occasionally contradictory whole that’s strange, moving, visually arresting, and often very funny.

The starkest work in the series comes from fashion photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. In contrast to his still photos, which, informed by documentary and portraiture alike, celebrate youth culture through faces and evanescent moments, Lights (Body) examines only the robotic strobe lights of a Berlin nightclub, which flash and pivot in time to a deep House track by Air. Although Tillmans shot the piece over a series of weekends when the club was full, no people ever appear on screen. Their presence is suggested only by the clouds of dust -- which, as the title subtly reminds us, is primarily composed of human skin -- wafting through the lights. On the surface this could be a video for MTV, but behind the style lurks something much darker. To gaze only into the eaves while a crowded club rages on isn’t only melancholy – it borders on the autistic, suggesting a frightening degree of detachment at the heart of the mass experience.

Mathias Poledna’s Acualité looks like a scrap of rehearsal footage of some long-forgotten (and rightfully so) post-punk band, but it was made with actors on a Hollywood soundstage. A charmingly incompetent, mixed-gender band painfully bashes away at a rudimentary set of chord changes (reportedly borrowed from a Red Krayola song) as rotating Steadicam shots slowly churn, compressing the depth of field and sending instruments floating strangely through the foreground. Every action, even smoking a cigarette, seems tentative and perpetually interrupted, and before you know it, the video is halfway through its second loop. This isn’t Waiting for Godot, it’s simply waiting for the coda.

Oliver Payne and Nick Relph, in their mid-twenties, are the youngest artists in the exhibition, but their piece is in many ways the most sophisticated. Mixtape cobbles together surreal images (a shirtless man holding sparklers in front of a cake decorated with the words, “Besht Friends”) with scenes of preteens rehearsing in a rock band, Starbucks workers covering their facial piercings with electrical tape, documentary footage of hunters killing deer, and much more, all set to Terry Riley’s masterpiece of cutup soul, "You’re NoGood." Toward the end, two middle-aged country dancers battle a sweating raver beneath blinding strobes. It’s a hodge-podge, sure, but any one of Payne and Relph’s images is guaranteed to stay with you, even if the whole slips away as fuzzily as a particularly strange dream.

Mark Leckey’s Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore is at once the crudest and the most engrossing of the four pieces. It patches together documentary footage from Northern Soul parties and early raves with shots of football casuals showing their plumage on the terraces, all set to a soundtrack of battered ambiance and club anthems that sounds mixed down from a 10th generation dub. Urban tribes are Leckey’s ostensible focus, given the way he lingers on the brand-name sportswear of the 70s and 80s and the implicit homoeroticism of young mens’ fashion rituals. But the real fascination is in the dancers he captures: amphetamined-up Northern Soul cowboys twirling like tops, ravers whose arms seem about to fly off their bodies, drugged ghosts that emerge from the darkness like coelacanths. These rituals where the body is disconnected from the mind, acted out in the embrace of the crowd, come to seem as alien as any ayahuasca ceremony. They suggest a raw, primal, even threatening instinct lurking in the heart of all youth culture.

February 06, 2009

Feeling: Wildbirds & Peacedrums


In the interest of updating more often, and, shall we say, with a bit more meat on the blogbones, you may see more blurb-style coverage of new discoveries (as though there were any other kind). Here's a first shot across the bow. This isn't out for a few months, but it's worth keeping your ears peeled for.

Wildbirds & Peacedrums, The Snake (Leaf)

From Wildbirds & Peacedrums, Gothenberg, Sweden's husband-wife duo of Mariam Wallentin and Andreas Werliin, comes this out-of-nowhere gem of syche-drone-mistpop bliss, somewhere between High Places, White Magic, and Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, but somehow more muscular. There are shreds of the blues, and gospel and the popping veins of a lithe beat essence courtesy Werliin's percussion; singer Mariam Wallentin has a voice unlike any other, though—and refreshingly—it doesn't wear its uniqueness as a badge of honor. (You could conceivably find comparisons to Kate Bush, Siouxsie and maybe PJ Harvey, but more in the sense that all are such distinctive and embodied voices.) Strange and magical, the perfect listening for waking up at 6am, jetlagged and wired and left with the curious sensation that your soul is drifting several time-zones behind you (pace Cayce Pollard). Oddly, I could easily imagine them being from Portland, Oregon—must be a west coast thing. Out April 13.

Wildbirds & Peacedrums MySpace site | "There Is No Light" video

Beep Bleep


Bleep, Warp Records' MP3 store, is turning five this month, and, proving that it's all grown up, subsuming Warpmart, Warp's former mail-order outlet, in a one-stop shop for digital downloads and physical media alike. (You can see the new site at beta.bleep.com.)

To celebrate the occasion, Warp asked a handful of friends, family and hangers-on (Thom Yorke, Steve Beckett, Kiran Sande, Luke Vibert, Zomby, myself, for starters) to list five favorite records in the Bleep catalogue. The results are occasionally surprising and generally instructive—see for instance Surgeon, wisely repping Bauhaus alongside Scorn and Horace Andy…