Sunday, October 30, 2011

High on hope vs music synchronisation

Last post I introduced famed pianist Liberace’s popularisation of the phrase “Crying all the way to the bank”. The context may have been different, but the usefulness in relation to the modern music industry is the same.  This week Lost in Musik published the second part of their essay on the state of the economy in the electronic music scene. Amidst tales of Ghost Writers, engineering jobs and making money from touring as a DJ was the other possibility for making money by “music synchronisation”, or the licencing of tracks to video games, films and advertising uses. Apparently lucrative, but obviously a somewhat rare event for a producer overall. Selling out in such instances is always viewed as a problem, but there is another dark side to this practice that also deserves discussion.

Now that producers and their publishing companies know there is money to be made from music synchronisation there is a tendency to try and milk it for all its worth. The one off licencing of a track could relieve financial pressure for a long time to come. While there will be little sympathy for product advertisers or mainstream commercial projects trying to siphon the potential of a track to effectively make themselves more money, the  cost of licencing can be high for artistic ventures seeking the right to use a track in a film. A case in point is “High on Hope” a film by Piers Sanderson.

High On Hope - documentary trailer from Piers Sanderson on Vimeo.

The film is a documental history of the burgeoning rave scene in Blackburn, Lancashire in the early 90s and features some extraordinary footage of the warehouse parties taken on a home video by Preston Bob. Shown at several festivals to much acclaim, including the Barcelona In-Edit Festival where it will screen again this year after having won a prize. However, the larger distribution of the film has been impeded by the publishing company’s financial demands to licence the music. While within their rights to command a price, it is arguably questionable to restrict exposure to their music which could potentially increase sales and interest. Furthermore, one of the major criticisms of the music industry in the times of piracy and MP3s has been their lack of foresight and flexibility of business model in dealing with new ideas and potentials for spreading and listening to music.

“High on hope” is currently seeking donations and/or additional financing to officially licence the soundtrack to enable broader release of the film. Donations of £10 will receive a DVD and a link to the film when officially available and can be made at the films official website.

I talked briefly with director Piers Sanderson about some of these issues this week, though more details about the making of the film and problems can be found at the above link.

Floatinghead: Despite winning numerous prizes, you have still found it difficult to find funding for the film. Is this down to the crisis you think or perhaps a certain malaise amongst investors to fund documentary films?

Piers Saunderson: “The problem is that there is a cost to clearing the music and distributers of low budget, niche films are not able to take the risk on paying any money upfront. If the music was cleared I have 3 really good distributers who all want the film. They just don't have £30,000 to lay out for it.”

Floatinghead: You mentioned in one interview that one of the reasons for the (relatively) high price of licencing the music was that the publishing companies want to recoup as much money from tracks as possible to offset the losses of filesharing, for example. Can you comment a bit more on that maybe and do you think they are in a sense working against their own interest by penalising a smaller artistic project such as yours compared to say, a larger or more commercial venture like advertising or gaming etc?
Piers Saunderson: “Yes that is my theory. The music business has lost a huge slice of its income in an area it can’t control - file sharing and who listens to their music - so they are making sure they get maximum revenue from areas that they can control like syncing music in films. As a producer of a film I cannot hide if I use someone's music, I have to pay. I understand this mentality to a point but I have another way of looking at it. There has never been so many films made as there are at the moment, digital technology has meant that it is easier and cheaper to make visual content. Why don’t the publishers open up their back catalogues and allow film makers to use the tracks that haven't had any interest in for years. They could charge a small fee say £50 instead of £1000 and allow them to sell the film through selected distribution film sites (like I-tunes) and have an agreement with the producers and distribution platform to account to the publishers just how much income it’s made and they get a % of total revenue. Surely that is better than making it prohibitively expensive for small independents like myself to use the music. Just think of all the old house music that they still control that isn’t being used. Next year the International Music Seminar in Ibiza have invited me to do a panel with the publishers where I will challenge them over their current business model. It will be interesting to hear what they say.”

Floatinghead: You already have agreements for all the tracks used in the films, but there is no track list yet. Is this intentional to keep the audience in suspense or a legal issue? Is there any plans to try and release the soundtrack as a CD for example?

Piers Saunderson: “No there is no mystery, there is a track listing somewhere on the Facebook page. If I don't get the required funds needed to clear the music I will go and find 15 tracks that don't have a publishing deal anymore and re do the soundtrack of the film. I don't want to do this as I think what is there works really well at the moment. However I have used the biggest warehouse tunes of the time so perhaps it would be cool to do it with more obscure records. Yes I would like to do a Cd as well but my fear is that will just put the costs of licensing up even more.”

Floatinghead: “You did a secret warehouse screening of the film in Moscow. was that because of legal issues or was it a kind of "marketing" ploy to capture the spirit of the film?”

Piers Saunderson: “It was something that the festival organised. It was a brilliant idea. People phoned a number on the night and got directions to the location just like back in the day. It’s something I would like to do myself  when I release the film. I don’t think they have the same concerns about music licenses in Russia ;-)"

Floatinghead: What next for the film? Will there be more screenings or is the next step dependent on the last funding step? What will you be doing afterwards? Are there any plans for making other films?

Piers Saunderson: “I am still hoping that enough individuals will get behind the donation scheme to raise the money to clear the music. With very little publicity I have had nearly 100 people donate over £1500. What has been really lovely is that it’s come in from all over the world - Japan, USA, Europe, Russia, South America, Australia and New Zealand. I am sure that if enough people find out about this I will get the required donations. People can give just £3 and they will get a free download when the film comes out. That would mean I need £10,000 people to donate to hit the target. When you think about how many people this scene touched worldwide it’s an attainable figure. What has been nice though is that the average donation has been £15 which means that we could do it with just 2000 people. Now all of a sudden that doesn't seem too big a number at all. As you can see I am an optimist, I would never have tried to make this film if I wasn't. I believe in the story, I believe in the ethos of the time. I believe it will happen.

Yes I am trying to make other films. I have been in development with a UK broadcaster for a year on an idea about video games and I hope to do another music documentary at some point, I just need to get the publishers onside before I start it.”

Crate digging II – Fira del disc, Barcelona

Twice a year the show comes to town, the wonderful Fira Internacional del Disc de Barcelona, or the Record Fair. Stand after stand of dusty records from all over Europe, arriving as always just after pay day to make sure there is no excuse for taking home a treasure hoard. One of the best parts of the fair for me is the Dutch seller who has crate after crate of old commercial vinyl for small price. Once in a while you can stumble across some genuine treasure, but otherwise it is a simple way to fill up your collection of Talking Heads, U2, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen or more embarrassing artists like Dire Straits, Paul Simon, UB40 and the like.

As I filed through the boxes and boxes of records, I became aware of many of them bearing the name of the previous owner scrawled somewhere on the cover, like an autograph. A curious fad from the old days perhaps, as I know nobody who would deface a record in this way now. But seeing the illegible name of some other person on the cover made me think how did this record come into the hands of the seller? Did he buy or get given the collection of a dead person? Was it a marriage split up or time to upgrade to MP3? When
was the disc bought and why? When was it played, in which house? In this sense buying the discs is like rescuing a memory from oblivion or even saving a life. At least until the next generation comes. Will the inheritor of my collection respect its memories the same or will some stranger come across them discarded and forgotten in a dusty hall?

INXS – Kick

One of my favourite groups and albums as a kid. I have been on the look-out for a vinyl copy for years and finally found one (in fact I saw two in the same crate). The first question here is why so difficult to find when somewhere between 8-10 million copies were sold worldwide? Maybe it came out as vinyl was entrenched in its nose dive toward DJ-only obscurity? Maybe it is geographically enriched in the US and Australia and thus rarer in Europe? I ask this question as I have also been looking for Def Leppard’s “Hysteria” which sold twice as many copies and I still never came across any, although the poorer and earlier album “Pyromania” is easy to get for a pittance. With regards to “Kick”, I downloaded it illegally earlier this year in a moment of sentimentality and found it difficult to listen to on the iPod as it just didn’t sound like I remembered it. However, here on vinyl and normal speakers I found my anxiety relieved somewhat. The sounds are big even though there is a certain sparseness to the production. It is almost Zen in the way that the instruments are allowed to build a private space in the mix. This is most noticeable with Jon Farris’s guitar which never just mindlessly strums its way through a track, but seems to strike like a cat only when necessary. “Kick” is a landmark album for its abnormally high quality of songs. There is only the slightest drop for the last two, but by then it hardly matters as what has come before has already bowled you over. One track that struck me as perhaps a bit above my recall was the semi-ambient track “Mediate” that closes the first side. The keyboard sound is rich and amniotic and the vocals simple, but effective and nicely mixed with echo and Kirk Pengilly’s Blade Runner-esque saxophone solo. Here the Bob Dylan-inspired video features a young and very 80s looking band in a construction site and what seems to me a spelling mistake on one of Gary Gary Beers placards which should read “Earth weight” to match the lyrics unless he is playing clever word games.

The Outsiders

One of the treasures I managed this time was a compilation of tracks by fabled Dutch group The Outsiders called “Touch”. So excited I was, I actually bought three copies by mistake (all with different names and artwork, so if anyone wants a copy drop me a line). I first came across The Outsiders many years ago after reading an article in the English psychedelic music magazine Ptolemaic Terrascope, now North American and simply known as Terrascope, organisers of the occasional Terrastock Festival. The story of the Outsiders is a fascinating read and lead man Wally Tax something of a psychedelic icon complete with burn out and a list of impressive collaborations. While still regarded in Holland, they are sadly little known abroad and the nice man at the shop was quite pleased that I knew them and gave me a nice discount my troubles. Their masterpiece is the album “CQ” from 1968, but there is plenty of quality on their other releases including this proto-punk stomp that opens the “Touch” collection.

One of their famous hits is “Lying all the time” which showcases the more jangly side to their sound. The long haired and thin Wally Tax also bears a remarkable resemblance to Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie and one wonders if he was an influence? Rumour has it that Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain was definitely a fan.

War and Peace

Last year I read War and Peace in the celebrated translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Much easier to get through than I imagined it would be and I have since been on the lookout for a decent film version that captures my impression of the book. I have yet to see one, but my investigation suggests that the 1965 Russian version by director Sergei Bondarchuk to be the best. With a cast of extras reaching over 120 000 and filmed over at least 5 years, it is easily one of the biggest film or TV productions ever made. The music for this production was composed by Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov who incorporated his own music, works by Haydn and Russian folk songs into the blend and the soundtrack was one of the other more interesting items I picked up despite the rough colour of the cover.

The prelude is shown here with all the pending drama pent up in the dizzy strings and the whirling chorus as contemporary (for 1965) scenes of the real battle sites are shown.

But all the splendour and grandeur of the film are best captured in this scene where the lovely Natasha Rostova attends her first ball.

Anyone who wants more on Tolstoy should also look here for a fascinating archival video biography:

Apart from the War and Peace soundtrack, Ovchinnikov is also best known outside of the former Soviet Union for his soundtrack to Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Andrei Rublev.

Tarkovsky’s film about Rublev’s life and Icon paintings were also the source of inspiration for Rechenzentrum’s multimedia piece "Silence" released on Wesier Music in 2007.

King Kong vs Liberace

Another soundtrack I picked up from the 1976 version of King Kong, more for the cover than the music, since it bears an image on the back of a jigsaw puzzle my father once gave me as a child. In this picture, Kong is ripping up a train in New York City. The colours are all dark, with shades of green and blue as if reflecting the idea of the urban jungle. There is a quilted zone of fire above the breaking carriages that was always the easiest part of the puzzle since it was one of the few zones with colour. I also had another King Kong puzzle with Kong battling a large snake, a stylised scene from the movie, but powerfully painted and full of rage. I remember amazing my parents at a young age of 4 or 5 by finishing the puzzle in one day.

The soundtrack is by John Barry who died earlier this year and is perhaps most famous for arranging the James Bond theme, though the song writing credit is given to Monty Norman. As well as the Bond films, Barry did scores for the Cotton Club, The Black Hole, Howard the Duck as well as two Academy Award winning scores for Out of Africa and Dances with Wolves.

Also in the same set of crates was Liberace’s Christmas album “Twas the night before Christmas” which I now regret not buying. It seems the popularity of the world’s most ambiguous man will be on the rise as Steven Soderbergh is in the process of preparing a film about the piano player starring Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as Scott Thorson, who appears in the video below as his driver and who may have been his lover. The two settled a lawsuit out of court based on their separation, although Liberace has always denied being homosexual. Indeed, in a more famous legal dispute over the matter he elevated an already extant catch phrase “I cried all the way to the bank” to the status of legend in response to a Daily Mirror article which claimed he was:

“…the summit of sex, the pinnacle of masculine, feminine, and neuter. Everything that he, she, and it can ever want… a deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love…"

What is also not clear is the exact nature of his death. It is more than likely that he fell to AIDS-related illnesses, even if the increased weight loss he saw before his death was attributed to a “water melon diet”. This interesting documentary segment from the BBC reveals something of the media circus that surrounded his death and the frankly ridiculous thrill they seemed to have in wanting to expose his private life, something that Michael Jackson knows only too well.

Music for the Balinese Shadow Play

Another gem was some gamelan music recorded for the Nonesuch Explorer series in 1969 by Robert E. Brown. None of the intervening story is kept in the recording, but nonetheless it is an exceptional example of gamelan music which of course has its seminal place in the development of 20th century sound.

Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence

Listening to Ryuichi Sakamoto’s soundtrack to "Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence" it struck me how much the main and instantly recognisable theme sounds like dubstep, slowed down. Pitching it up on the turntable gives the keyboards a woozy feel something like Hyperdub or UK Funky, albeit the kick drum needs a bit more pressure and there is no sub bass frequencies to fill it out.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Plastic dub and the new musical revolution

A quick round-up of some of the recent electronic releases and news.

The vinyl vs MP3 revolution

First up, props to the people at Lost in Musik  for an interesting and clear minded analysis of the economics of producing and releasing electronic music. There are many important revelations in the article, not all of them surprising. The obvious one is that nobody is making money in these days of piracy and downloads. The other being that releases are essentially meaningless agglomerations of songs as most people are buying music by the individual track. This is kind of funny and sad as it represents a conceptual chasm between more traditional music fans and the younger generation and is essentially an indictment on the immediate and over supplied market of modern music. That is to say, that what was once the next level of the musical creative process, binding a collection of tracks together by theme, flow, artwork, mood etc into an album or ep now seems an antiquated and pointless gesture as it will now be less and less appreciated as a whole and reduced to the “essential” elements.

Part 2 of the essay is due to go up on their site as this is posted, but there are still a few questions remaining.
Firstly, there is a slow gathering of momentum in dance music to give the right to download MP3 versions of the tracks when you purchase a vinyl album or single. Some labels doing this at the moment are Kompakt (at least with albums), Kontra Musik and Delsin (see below), to name a few. How is this effecting vinyl sales? When will we see more of this as it is frustrating having a nice record sitting at home, but being unable to put it on your mobile device without paying for it again or making an illegal download.

Another side of this is why some albums come out with such a greatly reduced number of tracks on the vinyl format than the CD/digital release? Is this really for improved audio quality as often stated or is it to promote sales of the remaining tracks by download? A few examples of this might be the Kontext album “Dissociate” on Immerse, Martyn’s “Great Lengths” (see also below) and Conforce’s “Machine Conspiracy” on Meanwhile, to name but three. Here the example is Conforce “Stop hold”, present on the CD, but absent from the vinyl.

Secondly, in all genres and not just electronic music, there has been another slow evolution where both vinyl and CD releases are being remarked as box sets or luxury products to increase desire for ownership. Some examples of this might be the recent Plastikman or David Bowie “Station to Station” box sets, the recent 4 vinyl sets on Styrax and Ann Aimee (see pictures and below), and the luxury versions of singles by Theo Parrish, Tensnake or Burial with Massive Attack, usually by the Vinyl Factory.
The latter is described lovingly by Fact in record geek speak:

“‘Four Walls’ / ‘Paradise Circus’ will be available exclusively as a limited vinyl edition of 1000 copies worldwide, pressed on heavyweight 180 gram 12″ vinyl, and housed in a hand-numbered, gold glitter screen-printed sleeve  featuring artwork by Massive Attack’s Robert ’3D’ Del Naja. Fans can pre-order it right now through – this has now sold out. The edition will be released on October 17.”

This brings us to another issue of availability: such low runs of highly desirable products means only the nimble will make the purchase and the rest will be left with their MP3s, legal or otherwise. Anyone who ever received mail order catalogues like Boomkat will know what I mean. If you don’t get straight in to get what you want, you find everything sold out, often within hours. Just look at the chaos  surrounding the release of the Sandwell District album back in January as one example and check the current price on Discogs.

Martyn – Ghost People

Given the trend for buying individual tracks, it raises the question as to which track you would go for on an album or single if you could only have one? In the case of Martyn’s new album “Ghost people” on Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label, the answer is a no brainer. The only track you need here is the last one “We are you in the future”.

This is not to say the rest of the album is a turkey, far from it, but there is so much drive and vitality on this track that it stands apart from what comes before. However, Fact mag  while also singling out this track and praising it as “the most composed, well-produced record of his career” they also claimed the lack of surprises sunk the ship despite all the quality production. While I agree completely with the reviewers assessment, I would put a positive spin to the lack of surprises. It is true that “Ghost People” is kind of mindless in a way, but I actually enjoy that side of Martyn’s music as a positive: great well-made tracks that just work and no nonsense. “Great Lengths” for me was something of a disappointment, partly given that the vinyl version stripped away so many tracks and broke the flow (see comments above), but partly because the full length recycled a few tracks and almost added too many. Which was the real album in the end? So while it did signpost a big genre swing, for me the swing was already underway and the album, as good as it was, was too overblown and undefined to catalyse another step forward.

Scuba and Hot Flush

I have often used Paul Rose aka Scuba as an example of house revivalism and its betrayal of dubstep that could seem quite negative, but my intentions have always been against the vacuousness of trends with nothing but respect for scuba’s music and label. The latest run from both man and label only goes to continue my sense of awe at his work ethic, creative capacity and quality control. Not to mention the continuing sense of the house invasion into bass music, evident again on Scuba’s excellent new 12” “Adrenalin”

In a certain way I find both Hotflush and Scuba approaching a sound reminiscent of Martyn, but at the same time on another level. There is a certain plastic sound to the production, where the sounds seem smooth and fluidly moulded and colourful in matt or brilliant sheens. But where Martyn keeps it simple, Hotflush and Scuba seem to complicate it by mixing the pleasure principles and chemical production values of labels like Innervisions with the avante garde leanings of labels like Hyperdub and the deeply rooted urban spirit of post-Burial electronica. A kind of plastic dub if you like.

Curiously, one of the B-sides to the “Adrenalin” single, “Everywhere” resembles the Luomo track “Could be like this” from the 2003 “Present Lover” album.

On the eve of the release of Luomo’s new album “Plus” on Moodmusic, this example perhaps goes to show where Luomo might have ended up following different trends and instincts. In several interviews over the years, Sasu Ripatti has claimed to be tormented or frustrated by the press harking back to his landmark debut “Vocalcity”. Since then, Ripatti has embarked on a long odyssey to avoid repeating himself as if to undermine the press. But having arrived at “Plus” I am left with the thought that Ripatti’s anxiety on this issue has cost him dearly. So much of “Plus” sounds forced, clumsy even. It is not so much the technique that is gone (Ripatti has always impressed under his Vladislav Delay moniker and parts of “Plus” really shine brightly), but rather it is perhaps the spirit that is lacking. House music is essentially soul music and the presence or absence of such sentiments is essential for success or failure.

In addition to some average vocals Ripatti also makes life difficult for himself on “Plus” by trying to marry the smoothness of house with the fragmented angles of electro and the results do not always pay off.

But back to Hotflush and the one track idea: only a brave man would go for one or the other of the two vinyl (and additional digital) tracks on the new Paul Woolford and Psycatron 12” “Stolen”. Absolutely mind-blowing. If having to choose I would go for the first dub mix as it contains one of the best synth hooks I have heard all year. The build ups are feisty and the heavy weight drum programming adds an inescapable momentum. Here the first (vinyl) dub mix is presented in edited form as part of a recent Fact mix by Woolford.

Finally, the Hotflush duo Sepalcure of Travis Stewart (Machinedrum) and Pravin Sharma (Braille) are set to release their debut album in November. The album is a mesmerising blend of Hotflush’s plastic dub sound, the more grounded breakbeat styles and warm synth washes of earlier Hotflush releases like Joy Orbison and Mount Kimbie and the complicated, paranoid collage elements of the new Flying Lotus school of sound.

The Dutch oven

Finally to Holland where there is plenty cooking inside the Dutch oven. Delsin sister label Ann Aimee has released the first two of four limited colour 12”s in the Inertia series (pictured above). The music is forceful and distinguished with the line-up of the 16 artists drawn from the local pool of Dutch producers and several international guests. Local DJ and producer Niels Luinenburg aka Delta Funktionen has also reassembled the set into the labels first commercial mix CD called “Inertia: Resisting Routine”. The mix will not be released until December, but in an intriguing move, buying the CD  will also give access to the individual tracks.

Also from Amsterdam will come the Rush Hour “Amsterdam Allstars” compilation which will sample the current (high) state of the art of the Dutch capital. A taster 12” has just come out with one exclusive track by Young Marco not to be included in the upcoming 2 volume set of double vinyl! A slightly different business model then to Delsin/Ann Aimee.

Young Marco - Hoodoo(Not available on 2xLP) by rushhourrecords

The other sampler track is by Amsterdam-based, but not Dutch born producers Juju and Jordash. This will appear on the albums, returning to the question of whether this needs a vinyl release at all for what is essentially one track.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

GO Mag: ganso y marrano

One of the joys of living in Spain is the monthly GO! Mag. Not only  intelligent, respectful and challenging the magazine also manages to cover broad territory ranging from music, festival roundups, cinema, books, comics and fashion. More than that its free unless you also want the monthly CD which could be a Berghain mix, Sonar preview or label showcase like the recent Raster Noton, Morr Music or Arctic Rodeo Recordings sets.

This month’s issue featured M83 on the cover who has been doing the rounds of the main media outlets recently. I must say I was expecting something a little less mainstream from “Hurry up, we’re dreaming” for such a heralded album.

I can see the lead single “Midnight City” being a hit in the indie discos, but it still doesn’t do much for me. Too brash and too neatly slotting into the New Wave/Synth Pop ethos alongside John Maus, Games (Joel Ford and Daniel Lopatin) and Holy Ghost! etc. And what is that alien creature doing on the cover of the single (and video)? It somehow reminds me of that 80s TV show ALF and nobody wants to be reminded of that.

I personally prefer the clunkier, rougher sounding stuff like Neon Indian, some of the Kompakt pop acts, while even Laurel Halo is somewhere in there/out there.

There was plenty of joy in the reviews section this month, in particular with the genre titles that usually proceed each review. As well as the usual suspects, there were some particularly funny ones this month that I would love to see brandied about.


Not a terribly original or weird name, but it does go nicely to describe Nurses whose dirty retro sound segues nicely with the “synth wave revival” section above. Besides, sometimes genres need to be piled up together just to show how far from the mark they can hit sometimes.

Hair Techno:

Probably the best of the lot to introduce Justice’s new album “Audio, video, disco”. Anyone who has ever seen them live or in particular one of their alleged fake concerts will recognise the hairy guy, Gaspard Augé, doing next to nothing  (see video and above link).

So to call their music “hair techno” adds a whole new meaning by invoking images of him smoking behind the console. But reviewer Vidal Romero means more. In Spanish he writes:

“…la inspiración de Gaspard Augé y Xavier de Rosnay reside ahora mismo en el hair rock de los ochenta, ese jevi de peluquería que llenaba las radiofórmulas y las carpetas de las colegialas en la época, y que [aquí] estalla con toda su (ejem) gloria …”

“the inspiration of Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay now resides in the hair rock of the eighties, that heavily hairdressed style that filled the commercial airwaves and the folders of schoolgirls at the time, and bursting with all its (ahem) glory here”

“Brianvision” is apparently inspired by Queen guitarist Brian May, but apart from the quasi guitar solo in the middle, I don’t hear too much heavy rocking on the album. Nevertheless, Hair Techno is for me the perfect summation of the Justice sound: unkempt, manly and rough.

Bass Gamberra

In Spanish a gamberro/a is an anti-social person, a vandal or a hooligan perhaps, making “bass gamberra” something like “hooligan bass” or better in Australian English, “Yobbo Bass”. A wonderful term to describe Modeselektor’s new album “Monkeytown” and begging to be a new genre in its own right. Several tracks like “Grillwalker” and the startling “German Clap” in particular, acknowledge UK bass music, but in coining the phrase “yobbo bass” reviewer Alberto Vidal is referring to another track, “Evil Twin”

“Un hit pegadizo, ganso y marrano marca de la casa (ahhh, esos bajos asesinos). Lo han vuelto a hacer, los muy gamberros.”

“A catchy, nonsensical and swinish hit, trade mark of the house (ahhh, that assassin bass). They've done it again, those mugs.”

So here is that fantastic and beautifully malleable word “gamberro” which gives the genre its name and indeed, the rough and menacing sledge of bass in “Evil Twin” does sound like a mugging, so the name works for me. “Ganso” by the way is a goose and a “marrano” is a swine, so I am taking a liberal translation meaning, especially as “ganso” might also mean big or clumsy, which doesn’t necessary stick to Modeselektor’s well chiselled sound, even if they leave plenty of rough edges remaining.

De todo un poco

Björk’s new album “Biophilia” was described as “unclassifiable” which is perhaps fair enough, without having heard it, but The Real Tuesday Weld’s new album “Songs for the Last Werewolf”  is described as “De todo un poco” (a bit of everything) which makes me curious as to the difference and how it sounds. As it turns out, cabaret could be a good reference point, whereas “Theatre Pop” might also be adequate, though lead man Stephen Coates describes it as “Antique beat”. Combining dreams of past days and vaudeville style with pop is a dangerous premise without a story to tell and thankfully  “Songs for the Last Werewolf” has one. The album is based on the novel “The Last Werewolf”  by Glen Duncan, a blood thirsty, sexually charged novel that “explores the dark side of eternal life”, apparently.

And here introduced as the concept for the album:

The video to the first single “Tear us apart” is brilliantly made, but the musical sentiment is a little twee for me, though the arrangements and production are excellent. Coates’ vocals sound surprisingly similar to Graham Sutton of Bark Psychosis at times, except in the sweeping chorus calls. Some of the simpler theatrical pieces are the most effective.

Wasted days pop

Now this is a genre I could do more with. Here used for New Jersey three piece Real Estate who have just released their third album “Days” on Domino. My wasted day might be a bit more hazy than their bright, shimmering sound which is almost early REM gone shoegaze, or smoking but not inhaling. But it lifts the spirits and colours the shadows while always invoking the eternal vibe of Brian Wilson and his brothers.

Finally, “Middle aged rock” was scornfully plastered on Wilco’s “The Whole Love” full length, not a good indictment.


There is a regular section in GO Mag called “Jander”. I have no idea what it means in Spanish, if anything, but their remit is usually a cultural/critical review of contemporary home listening music and more ambient works, such as Experimedia , Type, 12K, Room 40, Touch and so on. This month Vidal Romero highlights the recent double CD release “Audible approaches for a better place”  released on Glitterbug’s c.sides label. The set was compiled from studio recordings of artists who were asked to compose a piece of music “to make a humble contribution toward making this world a better, more just and beautiful place”. The mission statement may seem sweeping and somehow vague, but the artist list hides a subtle subtext to the meaning. As well as several German artists, including Glitterbug (aka Till Rohmann) himself, there are several Arabic and Israeli musicians, most notably Israeli-Palestinian Arabic Soprano opera singer Enas Massalha who appears on several tracks. The pieces were all performed at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin in the middle of May alongside specially commissioned video pieces.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Crate trawling I – London: From Mongo to Fruition

Everything seems to have stopped. Too much work, day and night, coupled with racing across town in secret looking for jobs meant that my free time has been broken into little fragments, usually early in the morning or late at night where it is impossible to do anything properly. It is then you realise how long it takes to do useless tasks like charging your iPod or do something more substantial like actually immersing in a book, writing something or just being happy. Thank god then for immediate consumerist satisfaction and mind emptying vacations to plaster over the shallowness.
A hasty trip to London, partly also to look for jobs, was as vacuous as it gets in terms of clashes with foreignness, new things and intelligent tourism, with neither a monument nor a work of art in site other than a pint of real ale. I did squeeze in a football match which can seem like theatre or art when at its best. Unshakeably, there is always a sense of something Thespian amongst the fans no matter what happens on the pitch. Particular characters are attracted to the stadiums, radiant with beer, replete with cerebral analysis and immediate recourse to ancient history and a nervous clammer for total victory whose drive is honed by the edginess that comes from forever staving off enemies with banter, abuse, threats and the rare act of physical violence. But I digress….

I did manage some crate digging while there at Notting Hill’s fabled Music and Video Exchange stores which is always a great way to dispel the blues.

Trawling through the rock crates is always a little bit more sentimental than browsing through the stock in the electronic store, largely since I listen to far less rock-related stuff these days, but more since its glory days extend far back beyond when techno was a twinkle in the eye. That is just another way of saying that here you find more music that is wrapped in memories and personal mythologies. The blurred, half-conscious remembering of this music is of course what journalist David Keenan labelled as hypnagogic pop, one of the most derided genre terms   of recent memory (see my next post for some more on genre terms…).
So it was that I found myself paying money for little treasures whose only purpose seemed to remind me of the faraway past. In particular, the 7” section delivered many treasures that were part of the regular playlist of DJ Wayne at the mythical Fruition Club in Perth back in the first years of the 90s. Due to the small size of the “scene” it was a chaotic mix of Goths, punks (not too many) and indie kids still confused by the looming acid house invasion. The club was eventually over run by a dance music club, but back then the question was is it ok to like electronic and indie music? The biggest conundrum of the night was always the arrival of Peter Fonda from the 1966 film “The Wild Angels”.

Until the end of the sample, the crowd was always poised waiting to see if it would be Primal Scream’s “Loaded” or Mudhoney’s “In and out of grace”. Half the crown would invariably walk, whereas another half would come running, depending on your allegiance to the guitar. There are always traitors in the midst.


But I digress again. As well as Mudhoney or Primal Scream, you would more often than not find Sisters of Mercy playing for the Goth kids. “Temple of Love” was always the standout track for me, but on this trip I managed to pick up the 7” of “This Corrosion” for a paltry sum.

Listening to it now it seems remarkably pallid (sic) and really the smallest stone’s throw from some of the more miserable 80s synth pop on the radio, saved perhaps by the gothic overtones and the forever catchy chorus. Except for the slightly heavier finale, my memory has this song sounding much more menacing and less like a hungover Bowie singing over a Cure track with the Def Leppard guitarist soloing all on the set of Les Miserables staged in the Manhattan of Escape from New York. Memory will never erase the death walk though, a type of dance the Goths used to do to Sisters tracks, parading backwards and forwards with as little passionate expression of the body as possible, but with subtle twists to imply sexual ambiguity and, above all, a theatrical draping of the obligatory cape over the body as one goes down, presumably towards the grave.

One other Goth song that alternatively sounds better than I remember was The Cult's legendary “She sells sanctuary” which I also picked up on 7”.

The riff is still so good it could be holy, aided in particular by some great commercial-styled mixing that really brings the shimmer of the chords and the motoric rumble of the bass to the fore without cheapening them. While the lyrics are largely inane, there is always something uplifting and superhuman in Ian Astbury’s lamented cry “And the world drags me down” even if he is dressed a bit like Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow character in the video.

With a lovely etching of rapper skulls on the B-side was a little 7” version of “Bring the noise” by Public Enemy and Anthrax, is more like a work of art than just a musical toy. Along with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and Ministry’s “Jesus Built my Hotrod” and “Thieves”  this was one of the all-time heavy tracks for the club.

Speaking of Ministry, I also managed to grab some music by the Revolting Cocks, one of Al Jourgensen’s other bands. While the “Big, Sexy, Land” album I nabbed for £8 had no previous place in my musical memory, the joy of finding the single for “Beers, steers and queers” was as great as the many happy moments it gave us all back in the Fruition Club. The fact that there was plenty of nice Industrial stuff like 12”s by Foetus, Cabaret Voltaire and Atari Teenage Riot on the cheap may suggest that someone dumped a collection or that there is not much interest in this sound these days. This is in contrast to techno where the last two years has seen a formidable rise in industrial sounds, from Adam X and Traversable Wormhole, to Ancient Methods, Stroboscopic Artefacts and more. The origin of this is probably an interesting thesis: is it just the success of Ostgut Ton and Berghain, a backlash against the “designer-as-god” ethos of minimal techno or a subconscious cry from those closer to the ground and the rising tide of unemployment?

I didn’t find this on my “trip”, but who remembers stuff like My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult these days? Another Al Jourgensen project, it’s hard to gauge where the Thrill Kill Kult stand these days, but surely WAX 140 from 1990 must be one of the greatest singles of the era, with hybrid rock-dance music on both sides, Lydia Lunch vocals and freaky drug references.

One last curio was a 7” of Queen’s main theme from the Flash Gordon movie, one of me and my sisters all-time favourite movies as a kid, despite its obvious racist overtones since the evil man was known as Emperor Ming (played excellently and excessively by Ingmar Bergman stalwart Max von Sydow in the 80s movie) from the planet Mongo, and clearly meant to symbolise some threat from the Chinese back then in the 30s when it was created. As a minor piece of trivia, apparently in Australia it was named “Speed Gordon” for the negative connotations of Flash. The censors were apparently no worried about a grid iron player exposing himself, but apparently the connotation of flash meaning “flashy” or untrustworthy, something like “bling” in modern speak. Who knows what connotations you might get from the name Speed Gordon nowadays?

While the A-side is well known and a great track, the less known B-side “Football fight” was quite startling in that it shares more than a passing resemblance to the retro-synth “hypnagogic pop" of the Not Not Fun label and guys like James Ferraro et al. I love the overlaid sample from the movie

“Are your men on the right pills? Maybe I should execute the trainer?”

Sounds like something Roman Abramovich might think?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Spanish labels

A brief tour of some recent and/or interesting releases on some Spanish electronic labels or by Spanish artists.

ERP and Semantica Records

Event Related Potential (ERP) is Gerard Hanson, better known for his work under the Convextion moniker, whose old school Detroit-styled techno and IDM have been gracing discs for years. Madrid’s Semantica Records label recently released the third insallment of his Evoked Potentials series, again on clear vinyl with their usual attention to design and mystery. One side weaves and flickers in neon-tinted paranoia while the other cruises more sublimely through some retro-futuristic downtown. Pure urban music.

ERP also released earlier this year some remixes of classic techno act Hardfloor on their own eponymous label. Beguilingly fresh sounding despite its homage to the past, it is slow, derelict acid at its best.

One of Hardfloor’s first tacks was 1992s “Drug overlord” which inspired David Sumner aka Function to name his first creative outing Overlord. Two of Semantica’s best releases so far actually feature Sandwell District’s Silent Servant. One of the remixes of the year was Oscar Mulero’s version of “El Mar” while this year saw a second set of remixes by Svreca (Madrid-based DJ Enrique Mena).

Eduardo de la Calle and Analog Solutions

Despite being born in Madrid, Eduardo de la Calle also has a serious Detroit sound. He was even seen spotted recently sporting a balaclava and Metroplex shirt on the front of a trinity of eps. This year he has peppered the shelves with a heavy run of 12”s on his Analog Solutions imprint that have garnered something of a cult following in Spain and are steadily appearing in DJ charts and the odd podcast. Eduardo’s style is vivacious and his attitude always smart, but never condescending. There is a good sense of humour behind even the sternest tracks that make them approachable as well as functional.

Analog Solutions 009 - My Own Transition by EduardoDeLaCalle

But there is more than just peak time drama as the B-side “Flamenco Sketches” shows. Down beat, suave and with patient production, it highlights the range of powers at hand.

Analog Solutions 009 - Flamenco Skeches by EduardoDeLaCalle

Chaval Records

Madrid-based Chaval Records haven’t released anything this year, which is hopefully not a bad sign, but their small roster to date has included Eduardo de la Calle as well as other Spanish artists like Victor Santana, DJ F (aka Flavio Tortora), Boris Saez (under the Shadow Runner name) and the previously mentioned Oscar Mulero, under his unusual Trolley Route identity. The label’s aim seems to be the darker zones between Detroit techno and deep house: mechanistic, but sensual. The emphasis is on percussive and melodic force, where the two elements will not compete, but rather complement each other for a tighter, more breathless power.

Hivern Disc and John Talabot

Catalan DJ and producer John Talabot has been on a long and deserving high since the release of his landmark "Sunshine" on local label Hivern Disc back in 2009. Laidback, catchy and deeply organic, Talabot has since expanded his palette in all directions, largely for Indie/House label Permanent Vacation, but this year also saw him find a home on Young Turks. One track in particular off this ep caught my attention, the B1 track “Lamento” which seemed to be another new step, hitching his house sound closer to UK Funky, in particular labels like 50 Weapons and Night Slugs.

But Hivern Disc have also proved they are more than just one hit wonders. Now with more than ten releases, a momentum is well and truly building behind the label. Their latest releases also further their enhance their collectability, arriving in 7” and a 10” format with screen printing and featuring remixes by Talabot, Aster and Marc Piñol, another local producer.

The Suicide of Western Culture

Forged somewhere between Fuck Buttons and more pop-orientated post-rock electronica lies the Barcelona group The Suicide of Western Culture. Their debut came out last year on Barcelona-based label Irregular who’s parent label Regular is more associated with house and techno artists like Pablo Bolivar, Iñaqui Marin and the Monkey Brothers. The sweetness of the melodies is beguiling when contrasted to the dark track titles (like “A forest of greyhounds hanged”) and the heavier gravity of noise that pulls from beneath each track until all is overwhelmed.  Simple and effective and with an awesome live reputation.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

On tour - Portugal

Summer holidays were short this year, for various reasons, the highlight being five days in Portugal, my first time in that other Iberian nation. We started with two days in Lisbon where the nights were already pressing with cold, unlike in Barcelona where the languid and steady heat had kept the nights alive and optimistic.

My lasting impression of the city is one of sadness and worry. The façade of the city was one of ruin: run down and abandoned buildings, chipped and faded decoration, broken streets and a grittiness everywhere. Such features are often charming and lure you onward with a sense of mystery or their promises of history, but in Lisbon, and later in the rest of Portugal, the sense of decay was riddled with a foreboding and negativity. The buildings were largely empty with whole blocks for sale and those that were occupied were often inhabited by the elderly. On so many tangled streets and in so many little squares I saw lonely women leaning against their window staring outwards as if looking for the return to port of an ancient galleon long since lost at sea.

The Alfama district nestled between the Tagus River, the longest in the peninsula, and the base of the castle perfectly encapsulates this feeling. The winding streets are full of Moorish charm, like the back streets of Granada, but instead of Gypsy music, the streets and squares fill with the wail of Portuguese Fado. While much is clearly aimed straight at the tourist who come here for the alfresco dining in the sparsely populated streets and squares, there is clearly an authentic link to the roots of the music. In Granada, the gypsy caves and restaurants often have a polished and practised air to them, whereas in the Alfama there seemed less emphasis on show and more on keeping it low key. Not everywhere of course, but it was a sublime pleasure to lose your way in the bazaar-like streets by following a luminous trail of melancholy voices, with the landscape of ruin and abandon forever augmenting the power of the music all the way. I guess this is the beginning of what the Portuguese call "saudade"? I read Fernando Pessoa’s “The Book of Disquietude” a few years ago and the same pessimistic melancholy permeates the pages there too.

“… the solemn sadness that inhabits all great things – the summits, the great lives, the profound nights, the eternal poem.”

I made a quick stop to a weird local record store, where the patron was an ageing man of 50 or so who remained in deep conversation with his similarly aged friends as I entered, not even acknowledging me. He had a fine collection of jazz, indie and the more eclectic side of commercial rock. He looked away nervously when I asked him the price of a rare Spectrum clear vinyl 12” hanging amongst his first addition Spacemen 3 singles on the wall, but I did pick up Spiritualized “Amazing Grace” ep with its alternate versions. The messy, slow free jazz squall of the “Star Spangled Banner” (entitled here “Amazing Grace (Peace on earth)”, perhaps cynically) is also something of a metaphor for Portugal: a country mangled in its own history and delusion of past grandeur.

And of course I picked up some Fado. One of the cheaper albums amongst his collection of old vinyl was an album by Amália Rodriguez called “Vou dar de beber à dor” ("I´ll offer pain a drink") from 1969 who’s title track is one of her and Fado’s defining moments.

Another interesting place of musical note is the Avenida da Liberdade which is a broad, leafy avenue joining the business district with the historical centre. The shops on either side are lined with high end designer stores, but beneath the trees are many quiosque cafés playing jazz by day while at night they are filled with the young and laptop DJs.

Second stop of the trip was to the little sea side village of Nazaré, just west of Fátima on the coast. The sea was a far cry from the calm of the Mediterranean, with the big, rushing Atlantic waves causing most of the people to stay on the shore watching in excited fear and going in up to their knees only once the waves had broken. At night there was a little local festival with a stage set up on the stand and plenty of activities spread out along the shore. One of the curiosities of this show was the two Peruvian pipe bands. I say curiosity not for the novelty, but to emphasise one of the most frustrating cultural questions of our time: How and why do Peruvian pipe bands proliferate and disseminate about the world?

It is almost like there is a secret agreement between world governments and Andean nations that every major centre must have at least one pipe band performing in the streets. The fact that two of them should turn up in one little village adds an extra dimension to this mystery. But since these pipe bands are literally everywhere and everywhere one has to ask, what is the novelty of them? Yet there are still people enthralled, listening and taking photographs, while others still worse buy the CDs. My father once told me he bought one on a trip to Melbourne, but I could excuse him as he lives in the country and hardly went to the city for years, even Perth, where I am sure they also have one. If not, we will export them from here! Surely this cultural trend has gone too far? We don’t really want to listen anymore versions of the Titanic movie theme played on a range of Andean pipes to pre-recorded backing music by demoralised Indians dressed up in feathers and skins stomping their feet. A moratorium now! Let us work together to restore dignity to native South American music.

Last stop of the trip was Oporto and an afternoon getting quietly smashed on port and the sundry local bodegas overlooking the River Douro. Getting a free (small) glass of 40 year old Taylor’s Tawny was a nice touch – thanks to that nice young lady there – next time I will go for the Scion at a cool €100 a glass. We made the trip of see the Casa Da Música in the cities west, which was an interesting, but still slightly underwhelming experience. Designed by the much celebrated Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, the outside was wonderful from certain angles, but quite lifeless from others, though well-lit at night it probably has more charm. From within, the pressing and oblique spaces were inviting, but with little access outside of concert hours, there was no way to fully enjoy it. Apparently the programming is satisfyingly diverse for the locals who are of course wonderfully proud of their monument. Not everyone is as proud of the Fontaínhas district though, where a quiet walk down some of the more beautiful and yet ruinous streets can quickly turn into a brief sojourn into a lawless zone. Some of the tiredest, oldest whores I have ever seen, screeching music from dirty dive bars, haggard looking dealers holding out handfuls of pills and hiding wads of cash while nervous junkies approach and the elderly look on from their windows.