Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Wild Boys – Vaga General 29-M

“ “They have incredible stamina. A pack of wild boys can cover fifty miles a day. A handful of dates and a lump of brown sugar washed down with a cup of water keep them moving like that. The noise they make just before they charge…well I’ve seen it shatter a greenhouse fifty yards away. Let me show you what a wild boy charge is like” He led the way into the projection room. “These are actual films of course but I have arranged them in narrative sequence” ”

William S. Burroughs – The Wild Boys (1969)

Some footage I took just next to my house (all approximately within a 500m radius) at about 19:00 on Thursday night, 29th March arranged in narrative sequence.

Part 1:

Vaga General 29-M part 01 from Christopher Mann on Vimeo.

Part 2:

Vaga General 29-M Part 02 from Christopher Mann on Vimeo.

The Vaga General or General Strike was called by the syndicates as a protest against both the continuing implementation of more and more severe austerity measures as well as the governments proposed new employment legislation that will further empower employers and facilitate sacking processes while minimising the subsequent payout. This is apparently supposed to boost a labour market already plagued by 23% unemployment . The timing of the strike was the day before the right wing Partido Popular (PP; People’s Party) announced the new budget, much of which is designed to placate European demands and avoid a Greek-style bailout.

While the videos would suggest anarchy and the rule of violence, careful observation will also show the opposite: families, mothers with children walking down the garbage-laden streets close to the action in relative tranquillity. Direct conflict with the police was orchestrated by few (two of which, presumably, can be seen parading through the crowd in hoods and with lower face masked) although the effects were astounding. While not condoning the violence in any way, it seems that the intense frustration brimming over in a largely unemployed population growing more and more restless and more and more uncertain has only recourse to make themselves heard and that is most certainly not democracy. Those who did vote PP at the national level late last year may regret the heavy handed way they have blustered into government, using the crisis as a kind of “shock therapy” to push forward their unnecessary and draconian measures that will never be rescinded and will only benefit the entrepreneur.

While cutting bloated government debts is admirable, it is also suicidal to do so in a cold and numerical way at a time like a puppet state run from Brussels (ie Paris and Berlin) when people need jobs; when the market needs stimulation; and when new methods of governing and economic management, particularly relating to transparency and sustainability, have been called for by the Indignados. It is an irony in itself that the police forces have faced their own “recortes” (cuts) and yet still fight on for a political system that is haemorrhaging more every day. Perhaps they fight on because their opposition are essentially only Wild Boys, for the moment, Okupa groups and more extreme radicals, and not, in a sense the general population? Time will tell, but the history of Spain already tells this story and hopefully we will not need a sequel.

I say Wild Boys as by coincidence I finished William S. Burroughs novel of the same name this week. The dystopian mood, the nonchalant sexuality and the rebellious, anti-systemic violence are the major themes, told of course in Burroughs mind bending cut-up style. The Wild Boys, it must be said, is still one of Burroughs’ more accessible novels despite the technique.

“Tio Mate Smiles” represents the first chapter of the book, set in Mexico, but introducing in the first words one of the images and themes that will run through the book: the editing of film and by extension, the editing of memory and information.

The chapter “The Wild Boys” quoted above returns to the theme of films, image and editing and evokes images of the riots plaguing Barcelona on the 29th March. The original setting is the north of Africa in Morocco and features a somewhat more sinister battle with CIA controlled forces that erupt into homosexual rituals once victory is ensured.

Australian music video director Russel Mulchay had once planned to make a film version of the novel, which never came to fruition, although it did give rise to the long video clip for Duran Duran’s 1984 hit of the same name.

Primal Scream’s “Exterminator” from the album of the same name (after adding vowels) also gives plenty of reference to Burroughs in the lyrics, as well as reflecting again the street scenes in Barcelona.

“Exterminate the underclass
Exterminate the telepaths

Control violence hallucinatory programmes
Septicaemic interzone, psychic distortions
Satellite sickness TV junk

No civil disobedience
No civil disobedience

Monday, March 26, 2012

Recent gigs – Monkey Bar 2nd anniversary

The full review can be found here, but a few additional points.

One is timing: I didn’t mention, but perhaps it is better proposed as an open question than a final remark, but maybe it would have been better to stagger the artists than start and finish them all at the same time. The reason for this is so that everyone can see the opening of Tama Sumo and the end to give thanks (or not if that was your inclination). Meantime, you can move around and catch the opening of Fred P and likewise do the same for Santiago Salazar and close with everyone who wants to say moving up to Jeff Mills. Sounds like a simple idea for a two-room show, but maybe not as easy as it seems given that each artist was given a good (and proper) 3 hour set. Add 2 x 3 hours plus one to stagger and you are talking about 7 hours. No problem for afterhours all day clubs like Berghain, but in Barcelona we don’t have that luxury. That means closing at 5am (albeit early for a club here where the normal time is 6am) means starting at 10pm for one of the principle acts when nobody will show. That is, you can’t do it. It’s too early. The early crowd at the party was a good example: pretty full upstairs, but very quiet downstairs (and was a bit the same later on for Santiago as well). But the complaint here is most definitely not against the organization, unless you want them to tone it down (I don’t), but rather is a complaint against the club hours. Three hour sets are really almost a minimum expressive time for a DJ (maybe some live acts might find longer than 60-90 minutes harder) and Micro Mutek got that right with Theo Parrish’s (relatively) lengthy closing set, just to name one example. So the open question is, how do you shoehorn several lengthy sets into a night that you want to be big if you have to close early? Hats off for Alfonso Lopez for realizing that big sets are more expressive and for trying to fit them all in even if it wasn’t perfect.

You can’t beat Salazar’s set on the night nor his podcast for XLR8R  from earlier this year. Get it before they take it down!

Second point: how to identify tracks in a club. I listen to tons of techno, house, whatever, but I still find it damn hard to work out whether I ever heard a track before in a set. The problem is the big difference in sound between your crappy speakers at home and the big stacks at clubs, which make everything sound more banging than it might normally do. It’s harder still to pick tracks with excellent DJs like Sumo or Salazar who range so far and wide that even the best knowledge is lost trying to work out the tracks. Even with Jeff Mills, who put in such a tight set in terms of sonic range, you have to wonder whether it was really all him, or not, without having his discography (dub plates included) on your iPod in the club. Mills was incredibly striking on the night for his streamlined homogeny of sound, so electric in a weird way, when compared to everyone else, who brazenly showcased some funk, jazz, soul, minimal, whatever sounds, but Mills kept it so narrow and interesting for the parts I saw, unbelievable. Some of the tracks that were easier to spot were Jark Prongo’s excellent and weird 1997 track “M-Tech” which was re-released by Mojuba off-shoot a.r.t.less in 2008 backed with the 1995 track "Spadet", both originally on Dutch label Pssst Music.

The other was Âme’s “Rej” which is one of the more celebrated tracks of recent years and easy to spot, but somehow a surprise in a heavier Detroit set.

Upstairs with Mills though it was a lot harder. Is this “The Bells”? “The Dancer”? “Alarms”? So many tracks go around in your head at the moment that un less you have a better memory than me (or drink less vodka and Red Bull) you might have trouble recalling scientific detail when you wake up in the morning.

Thanks to Alfonso as always and see you at DJ Qu!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Interview: Floatinghead versus Atheus

Last week after researching the post on some recent dubtechno I became intrigued by the statement on Atheus’s Bandcamp page which reads “THIS IS MY LAST (ONCE FOR ALL) TRACK IN THE MINIMAL ELECTRONIC DUB STYLE. THX TO ALL.” Was this the end of the dubtechno line for Atheus? The end of music making altogether? What’s next and what prompted such a change? Out of curiosity I decided to contact the Montreal-based producer also known as Serge Collin to find out

Floatinghead: I guess the best place to start is with the statement on your Bandcamp page.. So this means no more beat music from you? What made you decide that you had reached the end of your explorations of this style of music? Except for the two tracks for sale on Bandcamp there will be no more older tracks to come out either?

Atheus: Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying, and I never said that it is the «...end of dub...». All I am saying is that my personal artistic exploration in the so called ELECTRONIC MINIMAL DUB, BEAT ORIENTED as come to an end for me, and only me. 

I am simply returning to my first love DARK AMBIENT MUSIC, and for one of my first influence was  Popol Vuh  (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes)

Strangely, I was discovered on Myspace because of my Dubtech tracks. Even if I have a main corpus of experimental material it's seems that the timing was "ON" for the electronic Dub genre. Nevertheless, I was able to keep my sombre atmospheric side into those tracks.

Floatinghead: Was this arrival at the end one of the reasons you decided to compile your work last year on the Silent Season and Ghost Sounds collections, to draw a line under the previous work?

Atheus: The "Compile" CD release was more intended to give access to my music for people who don't have a turn table!

It's important for me now to return to my roots. It all started in 1981 with a Korg Polysix a Digitech delay unit and a Fostex tape machine. Bouncing and bouncing tracks to build strange songs that nobody wants to listen too, at that time. Experimental stuff mainly. But don't worry for the new coming stuff, the arsenal of effects will always be there! No matter the style.
Floatinghead: Have you already started working on some new material for release? What sort of labels will you be targeting or will you try to release on your own? Will you still use the Atheus name or will you change as well?

Atheus: I have a lot of new audio experimentation already recorded. I have to find time to polish it. I'm a maniac, you know. Silent Season and Ghost Sounds are strong labels that I will work with again, I hope. There is also Cyclic Law, based in Montréal, that I may start a project with. They release some deep dark material. I might also upload tracks on Bandcamp, but I have no intention to change my Atheus name.

Floatinghead: You mentioned that Popol Vuh and in particular "Aguirre the Wrath of God" were big influences on you and will be for the dark ambient sound you are looking for. Was it this soundtrack that made you first start making music? What about the sound appeals to you in particular, is it the tones, the religious or transcendtal feeling?

Atheus: I don't like all the musical work of Popol Vuh, but I must say that the soundtrack for "Aguirre the Wrath of God" was awesome. Let's say, at that time, that "Radio Activity" from Kraftwerk, "Phaedra" by Tangerine Dream and Popol Vuh did affect my brain enough to go buy a Korg Polysix and help me stop playing guitar. The tone of unexplored sounds have always attracted me. The psychoacoustic is very important, to be transposed to another physical space. It had nothing to do with the religious thing. But yes it could raise me to a more transcendental level.

Floatinghead: Deadbeat (aka Scott Monteith) was recently here in Barcelona for the Micro Mutek festival and he gave a live interview as part of the Red Bull Music Academy events. One of the things he mentioned was that he started out as an ambient DJ in Montreal (he is actually from Kitchener, but lived in Montreal). He mentioned the need for more spaces and more possibilities for people to play ambient music. Is this something you would agree in? Are you playing live from time to time or DJing? Is there much of an ambient scene in Montreal right now? And what about the impact of the Mutek festival on you and what is happening in Montreal, is it something you are participating in as an artist or as public and how do you see the impact of the festival on the home bred and based musicians in Montreal?

Atheus: « Red Bull "Music Academy" »... sorry, I don't belong to that business, so I can't comment this interview. What happened to the subculture, the underground? I'm a free electron.

I would like to see more guys like Mick Harris (ex Naplam Death drummer) or Nordvargr, invited here in Montréal, in those big electronic festivals: that's what I would call DEEP, DARK music show!

I stopped live performance 12 years ago. I used to make noise with friends, under the name of "ORAL" «with real synthesizers»  in contemporary art galleries, underground events, and other big shows like Elektra festival, Champs Libre, and even at the first Mutek festival when it started in 2000. But having a daytime job and doing shows by night was tough you know.

I have been working in the contemporary art scene/business for more than twenty years, and I must confess that I become disillusioned; we have come to a point where anyone with a laptop and a baseball cap can be an artist now.

I refused all invitations to perform live. I don't like to travel with all my gear. For now I prefer the obscurity of my little studio, surround by my machines. But maybe, one day, I should accept the idea to play live with a laptop...but with tons of effects!!!

Floatinghead: You also had a comment about Russian sites selling your music on your Bandcamp page. Were they actually selling the MP3s like a shop then and not even just hosting download links?  Has this been a big problem for you over the years then and has it been easy or possible to stop them in some way on your own?

Atheus: What's bad about those Russian sites is that they are, actually, selling my tracks! I don't care if they give it as free download. There is no copyright laws in the Dostoievski country. And there is nothing to do about it.

For more explanation on this video please click here.

Floatinghead: One of the new tracks on Bandcamp also mentions that you used only analogue equipment is this something true for most of your releases or just these two new tracks?

Atheus: Four or five years ago I did used some music software, mainly Reaktor. But I got bored of it. Since that time almost all of my (dub) tracks were done with a DSI keyboard Evolver synth. For the rhythmic part, I load my own beat in a Korg Esx-1 for sequencing purpose. Hardware effects units are used while I record in Nuendo (yes a software, sorry for that one!). I'm not perfect.

Floatinghead: Thanks again for your time and looking forward to the new stuff!

Atheus: Salut!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Listen to this – Alex Ross

The New Yorker music critic Alex Ross achieved notable and deserved praise for his first book ”The rest is noise: listening to the 20th Century” which successfully fused the social and political history of the 20th Century with many of the key musical changes. That is, he told the history through the music and not in parallel or as a reflection.

The book has now inspired a festival to be held throughout 2013 at London’s Southbank and other venues.

But while hardly as impactful as “The Rest is Noise”, Ross’s second book “Listen to this”, published last year,  goes perhaps further to demonstrate his understanding of music and society, the depth of his ideas and the magnificent quality of his prose,. After all, “The Rest Is Noise” is quite an “easy” book in the sense that the story of music as it intertwined with 20th Century history is inherently fascinating even to non-classical readers and has obvious mass appeal. This is not to take away Ross’s exceptional telling of the tale from inside the music, but what his second book reveals is that with a less friendly and universal story to tell, Ross still has the capacity to teach, to excite and to flow with a rare simplicity and mastery of language that is almost second to none in music criticism or general biography and history.

The structure of the book is quite loose and subjects range from classical music (the majority of the book) to more popular artists such as Radiohead, Björk and Sonic Youth. Indeed, the non-classical chapter on Bob Dylan is one of the highlights of the book and treats his subject with the perfect blend of rare insight (Ross actually listened to the music and not just the words or the stories), respect and the embarrassing awe of a fan.
Describing “A hard rain’s a-gonna fall” he writes

“The first lines of “Hard Rain” – “Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son? / And where have you been my darling young one?” – are a nod to the ballad “Lord Randall” [a mediaeval English-Scottish ballad], which begins “Oh, where have you been Lord Randall, my son? / Oh, where you been, my handsome young man?” Dylan breaks down the call and response of the original: his blue-eyed son answers not with two lines, but with five… The song hangs on a musical trick of suspension: E and A chords seesaw hypnotically as the number of answering phrases increases from five to seven and eventually to twelve In the chorus – “And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard…” – Dylan grasps for and finally gets the resolution, which in each verse has moved a little farther out of reach.”

Ross’s strength is that he knows enough to incorporate little touches of technical speak and lyric analysis to give a telescopic closeness to the material and then suddenly pull back to give the global picture to set the scene. Describing Dylan’s mystique he quotes from several sources while adding his own interpretation:

“Greil Marcus [author of Invisible Republic/The Old, Weird America]…captures the dementia that surrounded Dylan in the mid-sixties, when two disparate youth cultures – rock-and-rollers and folkies – jockeyed for control of his supposed message while older generations struggled to comprehend what was going on. Not since Wagner has a musician been subjected to such irrational, contradictory pressures”

Ross then goes on to quote Lester Bangs from 1981:

“If people are going to dismiss or at best laugh at Dylan now as automatically as they once genuflected, then nobody is going to know if he ever makes a good album again. They’re not listening now, which just might mean they weren’t listening then either”

At least we can be assured that Ross is listening. And asking questions. One of the most interesting features of Ross’s writing is that he directly proposes doubts, he opens doors and does not enter inside. He leaves it to you to imagine or to accept that there remains mystery.

“In “Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” the eleven minute ballad that closes “Blonde on Blonde”, Dylan fashions majestic metaphors to capture the object of his affection – “your eyes like smoke and prayers like rhymes” – and then, in the second-to-last verse, he clouds over: “They wished you’d accept the blame for the farm.” What farm? What happened to it? Why would she be to blame for it?”

But Dylan isn’t the only interesting chapter in the book. One of the first describing the history of the Spanish Chacona is immensely fascinating, following a bass line from the 16th Century New World of Spanish conquest to Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” (via Jake Holmes’s track of the same name from his 1967 album “The Above Ground Sound”).

This chapter on the Chacona was treated to its own little video explanation.

The chapter on the success of the Finnish composer and conductor Esa-Pekker Salonen with the Los Angeles Philharmonic is particularly revealing about the prejudices of classical audiences and the struggles of institutional and governmental funding (see also a previous post  in relation to these issues and the Liceu in Barcelona). While there is also plenty of incredible insightthere and elsewhere into how recording of classical music has biased the interpretation of scores and ways of performance.

One personal curiosity is that Ross mentions several times throughout the book the work of Catalan musician Jordi Savall who has made an extensive career out of refashioning ancient music in the modern age, going to extensive lengths to recreate extinct instruments and research authentic techniques and scores to produce authenticity. The curiosity of Savall is that he was the favourite musician of my old boss and something of a joke amongst my colleagues for this reason. It was common practice for us to attend at least one of his concerts every year.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Rodriguez music – New dub techno

There is a great phrase in Spanish for when your girlfriend/wife is away and you are left at home doing the cooking and housework etc which is “Estoy de Rodriguez” which literally means "I am like Rodriguez”  (for a more detailed history click here ). One of my traditional activities when “estoy de Rodriguez” is to stay up late on a work night and listen only to dub techno until I really have to go to bed. Last week I was doing exactly that while my girlfriend was on a work junket in Mozambique.

Anders Peterson and Atheus – Pillars of the Earth and sky (Ghost Sounds)

One of the more impressive things I put on was a recent “Pillars of the Earth and Sky” compilation lovingly packaged and released on Sweden’s Ghost Sounds label. The album collects together three Atheus tracks and several from label head Anders Peterson under his various monikers, A.P., Relapxych.00 and Skyscraper, including one remix of the lengthy track "Garden Therapy" also by Atheus. All tracks were previously released by the label except for Atheus’s “Pillars of the earth” and Peterson’s “Atmospheric stratification” under the Skyscraper alias which close the album.

Admittedly I was also doing something else at the time while I listening, but the album kept snapping me out of my zone of concentration in confusion and I had to ask myself again and again “What the fuck did I just put on?” The album may unravel at a slow, glacial pace but when this occurs at the edge of perception it is alarming and more so if it takes you into unexpected territory. For example, Relapxych.00’s “Desert Nightfall” winds its way into a slow and dreamy post punk climax reminiscent of Tropic of Cancer, while “Landmark” and A.P.s epic “Garden Therapy” bring in clusters of drum hits and rhythmic shards like Vladislav Delay, not to mention eastern instrumentation. Running beneath Atheus’s remix and the darker, beatless “Pillars of the Earth” are streams of choral voices that float and drown in the endless currents. To finish, Peterson presents the most techno track of the set, yet one splattered by dripping water and shimmering like a river in the sun. Despite being made by two artists under a host of monikers at different times, there is a great sense of homogeneity about the album and in particular a feeling of a transcendental vortex lurking behind the face of the sound adding to it a sense of cinema and drama not unlike Popol Vuh’s “Vuh” from “In den gärten pharaos”

Those familiar with Atheus are also encouraged to head to his bandcamp page  where you can buy two unreleased tracks for US$1.00 each, apparently the last he will make in a dub/minimal style.

Fluxion - Traces (Echocord)

Konstantinos Soublis aka Fluxion’s previous outing for Echocord was something of a disappointment despite wanting it to be great (disclaimer: the score is not my own and a little too low despite what the text says – sorry Konstantinos).  There was a heaviness to the sound that prevented either the atmospheric side from emerging or the Berghain-influenced dance floor muscle to have the agility to really cut loose. Two years later Soublis returns with “Traces” a much more rounded and multifaceted work than the predecessor. The key here is both the opening up of space between the sounds to let the echoes and melodies range and the adoption of different song styles that adds variation to what was “Perfused”’s techno-heavy approach. The most obvious example is “No man is an island” which is classic dub reggae with Dennis Brown on vocals, but sounds more like Lars Fenin’s productions, particularly those with vocalist Gobi, than Rhythm and Sound with any of the artists. “Butiama” is also a standout for its light 4-4 rhythm that almost feels like two step except that the bass and the drums do not give in to each other. “Desert nights”, “Motion 3”, “Memba” and the heavy chug of “Eruption” all work the dance floor angle, but in a much less asphyxiating way than “Perfused”. The rest of the tracks fall variously between dubbed out ambient and dubstep woven into ambient sheets, especially “Migration” which matches abstracted drum patterns with buried piano melodies and simple delay effects. Apparently “Vibrant Forms III” may still be on the way, but regardless, “Traces” is a great return to form for Fluxion.

For comparison:

Susumu Yokota – Dreamer (Lo Recordings)

Susumu Yokota’s album discography is now getting obscenely large which makes the addition of “Dreamer” all the more surprising as it doesn’t quite fit in anywhere amongst his previous works. Sure there are some signature motifs, like the positive vibes, some familiar melodic patterns and even the timbral range at times. “Dreamer” even harks back to Yokota’s dance floor roots, particularly on tracks like breakbeat opener “Human memory” and “Subconscious globe”, but “Dreamer” distinguishes itself by either adopting new beat styles altogether, or by failing to adopt obvious patterns and subsequently swirling sounds and different ambient influences together to make a truly global music. In particular, classical Eastern instrumentation from India to Japan come to the fore, like at the end of “Subconscious globe”, but more so on the ambient pieces “Double spot image”, “Quiet room” and “A day at the planet” which work traditional instruments like flutes, bells and sitars into a formless collage almost like Japanese folk rockers Ghost. More surprisingly tracks like “Inception” and the insanely good “Animiam of the airy” dig out an almost classical dub techno sound, new for Yokota, but coloured with overt melodic elements and samples that are foreign to the traditions of the genre. While some of Yokota’s past club tracks have been punchy and catchy, some have also been obvious and trite. Here on “Dreamer” they are all the former, but more so, they are also driving and bristling with an inherent excitement. But the overall mood is not one for a party, but one for contemplation. The majority of tracks are beatless and traditional. The sound and evoked mental imagery ripple outward like a genuine probing meditation, one who’s tranquil core extends outwards to the chaotic and contradictory world of the exterior looking for peace and meaning.

Textural Being – Oceanic (ZeECc)

Sage Taylor’s Textural Being project has seen two EPs released lately, a more tech house orientated down beat EP called “Sky” on Geneva’s MonoKraK label and a return to French label ZeECc for another dub techno excursion. Of the five tracks here, two are new versions of tracks that came out on his previous ZeECc release from last year, one being  a grainier, and more driving rework of the excellent “High Speed Travel” which I posted about previously and the other is the second part of “Tides” which ties in nicely with the EPs title. The remaining three tracks are essentially ambient dub pieces and also invoke the sea and watery images, with title track “Oceanic” being the darkest whereas “Seafoam” is suitably light and playful, evoking images of spume and salty breezes.

Nadia Popoff – Seven Nights (Doma Musique)

Dub techno can at times be a very male dominated genre which is why it such a nice surprise to find a new and interesting female producer. Argentinian Nadia Popoff has so far only released two digital singles, “Cristal Mountain” on Dewtone Recordings and the more recent “Seven nights ep” with Spanish digital label and arts collective Doma Musique. Regardless of her limited releases, a captivating feature of her sound is her use of just the recognizable tip of the dub techno sound palette without resorting to stereotype and her ability to embellish the music without overcrowding it. Popoff’s take on dub techno also fuses it with the nervous psychedelic anxiety of minimal and to centre it more on the dance floor rather than a home listening bliss out experience.

For more on the Doma Musique label, you can’t go passed their recent label compilation from December last year which is available for free download here.

Various – Altering Illusions (5 years of Echospace)(Echospace)

Sometimes it can seem that the two artists most closely linked with Detroit’s Echospace label, Steven Hitchell and Rod Modell, do it by numbers. So prolific are they and with so many monikers that really don’t sound that different that you have to wonder if it is some kind of set up. But for dub techno fans these kind of details don’t matter as long as you have a fairly decent budget to keep up with them. More discerning consumers will appreciate collections like this, however, which retain the fetish instinct of many of their releases as well as serving up a generous chunk of sound in terms of quantity and quality (and let’s face it, sometimes quantity is quality with dub techno, especially when you are on a Rodriguez bender and hell bent on staying up all night). Of the 13 tracks here, the last word is essentially always Hitchell’s, with Modell making an appearance only via the original source material from his Deepchord project, with one time musical partner Mike Schommer, or Echospace made alongside Hitchell. Hitchell provides the tunes or remixes everything himself using all his main names, CV313, Intrusion and Variant. Everything here is pretty much as you’d expect, deep and echoey and not often straying above 120bpm where there are beats, and often the best material are just the gaseous ambient runs. Perhaps the two opening tracks, both Cv313 reworks of now ancient Deepchord material dating from 2000 are the clumsiest. If anything they show both how fragile dub techno can be at times, depending absolutely on the balance of sounds, and how difficult it can be to make it work on the dance floor. On these two tracks in particular the tight and heavy kick drum sound overpowers the ambience while also lacking any real charm to seduce. Elsewhere, Hitchell opts for a more sensible rounded and subaquatic kick drum sound which is tried and tested, but it works for a reason.

Shifted – Crossed paths (Mote Evolver)

Not yet released, but fitting closely to the dub techno ideology despite purveying a more Berghain/industrial sound is the upcoming full length for mysterious producer Shifted on Mote Evolver. Shifted only has released a handful of singles so far on various labels including Mote Evolver, Avian and Syndrome Z. But here has been plenty of good words said about shifted from the likes of Chris Liebing as well, but time will reveal that “Crossed Paths” is indeed a significant release for 2012. More emphasis on techno than dub means “Crossed paths” is more comfortable in a club setting than a lot of dub techno, but Shifted’s sound nonetheless relies heavily on atmosphere as well as mercurial production to seduce in more intimate confines. Opener “Yearning” is a case in point, stretching ghostly and metallic timbres to breaking point whereas closing track “Disconnected” bleaches itself in a low blood pressure white out of echo and noise. The intervening melee is a compelling a paranoid journey with touches of Planetary Assault Systems and the more mechanical fringes of the CLR label and the Traversable Wormhole series thrown in for good measure.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Crisis: When the music’s over

I went down to La Ruta Natural, one of the local techno and electronic specialty stores in Barcelona a week or so ago and the scene wasn’t good. The proprietor has been living in the back of the store for over a year or so now, having converted a small storage space with a little bathroom and toilet into a bedsit with a bed on a raised platform to save money. Now he was having a sale where you could get 10 vinyls for €50, all back stock except for new releases. Problem was he didn’t have new releases. His buying power had fallen so short he couldn’t make an order yet this year. Some cash from the fire sale meant he might be able to get in some new stuff in March, but meanwhile the belt tightens.

I picked up mostly dubstep stuff for some reason, with a few singles from Bristol’s Immerse Records label among the highlights. Many of course know the label for the slippery and sinister productions of Russian producer Kontext, but the rest of the label is sometimes overlooked despite having some interesting releases.

Down at la Ruta Natural I picked up a single by Planas from 2010. “Look into my eyes” is heavy and traditional, but nonetheless highlighting one of the labels signatures which is quality sound design.

One of my favourite releases from the label was Late and his “Phantom Papers” ep also from two years ago which I reviewed for Resident Advisor.

Changing subjects: National newspaper El Pais recently published an article announcing that Barcelona’s grand opera house The Liceu was to close its doors for two months this year, in March-April and in June-July resulting in the cancelation of seven shows, including four operas and the Ballet of Monte Carlo. The crisis has caused a 31% decrease in patronage in three years while government cuts to Culture departments have meant a deficit of funds. Only the regional Catalan government has maintained funding. However, there is also a certain criticism of the management style of the Liceu which has favoured a more elitist programming and ticketing strategy and thereby alienated casual goers and tourists. This is perhaps not surprising given the important historical status of the Liceu in Catalan culture and its function as a national theatre. On the other hand the smaller but similarly-positioned Palau de la Musica has found the goings slightly easier due in part to the smaller size, but also  due to the more varied and modern programing. Only this week Michael Nyman played there and Philip Glass will play “Einstein on the Beach” there in April. My friend did go to see Jean Michel Jarre perform “Oxygene” live at the Liceu a few years ago, but concerts like that are few and far between.

Palau de la Musica was built in 1908 to the designs of Lluís Domènech i Montane and is one of the most emblematic buildings of the fin de siècle Modernista movement running rampant in Barcelona at the time, an organic style that was to represent the most fecund days of Catalan optimism culminating in the two brief Catalan Republics before the Civil War, in 1931 and 1934.

However, Palau de la Musica has not been without its share of financial woe, but at the other end of the scale with a scandal of fraud and corruption.

An article from Le Monde even highlighted the trend for this sort of decay in Catalonia in this 2009 article (in English) .

The history of the Liceu (Lyceum) opera house extends back further, with the first built on the Las Ramblas site in 1847 and entirely funded by private contributors instead of the Royal Family as is usually the case in Europe and thus already signalling a sense of Catalan independentism. However, the original building was badly burned in 1861 and subsequently rebuilt. In 1994 the building was once more burned catching fire by accident during some repairs and was reopened again in 1999. But perhaps the most significant moment came in 1893 on opening night of the season when anarchists lead by Santiago Salvador threw two bombs into the crowd. Only one exploded, but 20 people were killed (shown here in an unknown film in Spanish).

The underlying social turbulence behind the bombing eventually gave rise to the Civil War where Barcelona in particular resisted the longest, despite at times fighting against itself as anarchist and socialists canvased for support, while the socialists themselves eventually split over whether to stage the revolution or the war against Franco first. The subject of the bombing was recently turned into a film “Bomba del Liceu” (The Liceu Bomb).

Last year also saw the release of another related film entitled “Catalunya Über Alles” about the subject of Catalan nationalism seen from three different points of view (trailer in Catalan with subtitles in Spanish).

It is likely that some of the angst in the film comes in the wake of recent racial controversies from members of the now ruling Partido Popular (PP; Peoples Party) in the Barcelona municipality of Badalona in 2010, where PP politicians distributed anti-Gypsy pamphlets. The song in the background of the trailer is of course a Catalan cover version of the Dead Kennedys classic “California Über Alles” from 1979 (live here with Spanish subtitles).

Click here for a recent New Yorker article (in English) that discusses Catalan culture and cinema.
Finally, in these times and this context, one cannot go past George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” for a little close up of socialism and anarchism in Barcelona during the civil war. Barcelona people know there is a square named after him in the lower gothic district whose nickname is “Plaça del tripi” (Trippy Square) for all the derelicts and junkies who used to hang out there before the police came in and cleaned it up. George also gets a mention in the Dead Kennedy's song too.

Changing subjects again: The Guardian also reported last week that sales of music magazines had once again declined. Uncut was the worst off with Mojo coming out best. Guitar magazine Kerrang! seems a relatively steady ship, but it is clear that nobody is buying magazines anymore. You don’t even need them for the CDs it seems with so many podcasts around. No information is available for The Wire which is an independent operation, but it would be interesting to see how falls correlate with content. In this context, The Guardian also published today  an opinion piece on the possible decline of the NME as it approaches its 60th birthday. Personally, the written style of the magazine was always a barrier, forever needing to resort to in-jokes and a certain distancing-condescending treatment of the audience? Relevant? Survival will be the judge.