Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Coming Post-Electro Era, Exploited Records Points The Way Forward

Sorry for the delay fans, — “What fans,” I hear two random people in a phone booth in Concord ask — I’ve been suffering a block once again. But not a total block, more of a temporary impasse, the type of impasse I have when I deal with rock music — especially classic stuff — for a minute and then I feel the gravitational pull of electronic music again. I have the capacity to deal with both as there are no musical borders in my mind, but finding new electronic stuff that compares with my rock of ages is a tricky thing to do.

“So why not write about classic electronic music,” I hear you caringly ask. Well there are enough sites already doing that and though I enjoy reading them a great deal I don’t need to do what they’re doing, and furthermore I like being random with music. I’ve liked so many different genres in my life so far that I don’t want to dedicate myself to one or two types to be honest.

So to pull myself out of the hole of not being able to write about electronic music again I picked up on a German imprint called Exploited. The first record I bought on the label was the Allthegirls EP by Siriusmo back in early 2008, and I got use out of three or four tracks on there, especially the tunes “Femuscle” and Mode Selektor’s edit of “Wow,” a glitchy, dirty downtempo number that I’m sure found favor with the burner crew in SF, and on other scenes too.

The captivating thing about Exploited is that it is definitely pointing itself in the direction of the electro scene, a la Ed Banger, Crookers et al., but it also has an eye on other electronic styles and is in some ways directing us towards the post-electro era, when the genre gets over its youthful, exclusive phase and starts to fuse with other genres. Exploited’s newest release, “Motor Cortex” EP by Lorenz Rhode, is an indication that this is a likely outcome. It’s a six track affair in its vinyl version and a nine tracker in digital form.

There’s no doubt that it’s a little gem in either format simply because it touches on so many genres; from italo and electro to minimal techno, house and downtempo, glitchy bidness. Minimow & Solo’s remix is a minimal techno at its best in that it still retains a sense of fun and isn’t just another chin strokers’ delight. Ben Mono’s house mix of the same tune is another keeper and a sure way to keep the floor heavin and the hands in the air — nice fun use of a Gwen Guthrie sample too.

Add to this the original and its instrumental, a blinding fusion of electro, italo and boogie, with enough balls to get the party jumpin;’ the searing neo-Italo of “Tronic Matic,” the short but very sweet downtempo electro-funk of “A Little Something” and the chunky Italo of “Antidote — with it’s naggingly familiar bass line, and a keyboard melody that slyly hints at Kraftwerk’s “Hall Of Mirrors.” Clump all this noise together and you have a record that will never leave your box, or files that will never be deleted from your hard drive.

Scoop it on sight, it’s a doozy, and keep an eye on Exploited, as it moves electro out of its infancy and brings the fun back to all the other genres it touches on. It's much needed breath of fresh air and melody in a dance music scene numbed by banging electro, polite house and discordant minimal tech.


Monday, February 16, 2009

La Folie, The Stranglers' Love album. Part 2

The fact that La Folie contains the timeless “Golden Brown,” and absolutely no filler content also lends to the album’s reputation. What I find funny is that in the endless, beardy search for post punk classics The Stranglers invariably get left out. Perhaps this is because they weren’t on a label like Cherry Red or Rough Trade nor did they indulge in the kind of shrill politicizing that defined groups like the Au Pairs or Delta 5. The Stranglers weren’t shrill at all and perhaps that’s the reason why the group isn’t revered by hirsute white boys in bands that sound like they’re fronted by a neutered cat.

However, you can’t deny the power and groove of tunes like “Bear Cage” —a non-album single which proceeded La Folie — “Let Me Introduce You To The Family,” and “Dead Loss Angeles” from The Raven album. And their politics weren’t the then relevant wedge issues of the ’70s and ‘80s, — now becoming irrelevant as we edge towards an economic melt down and the “haves and have nots” event horizon — perhaps they didn’t have politics at all, but during their career they sang about Iran, and nuclear power in France and Australia, and touched on the Mafia (“Let Me Introduce You To The Family”), cannibalism (La Folie’s title track is about Japanese student Issei Sagawa who killed a Dutch teacher named Renée Hartevelt and then ate parts of her) and drugs (“Golden Brown” is about heroin or toast maybe, who knows?).

La Folie, translated from the French as “madness” was The Stranglers album that dealt with love in all its myriad forms, but also love as a kind of madness. Perhaps the reason this records is so damned good is because EMI, the Stranglers’ record, dispatched them to the studio with ace producer Tony Visconti, who had the express orders to treat every track like a hit single, thus all killer, no filler. Eighteen years later it still sounds wicked and is a good guide on how to craft a varied and involving rock album. It’s worth tracking down and giving a damned good listening to, so please do.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

La Folie, The Stranglers' Love album. Part 1

When it comes to the subject of disco there are none who do it as well as my buddy James Glass. He has the tunes, does the edits and can school your ass at length about this music. It’s pity he doesn’t play out more, but in SF right now twenty years of spinning just isn’t enough hours spent at the craft I suppose, and he shaved his beard a few years ago. I did too, we both thought we were contracting balearia and would end up becoming Norwegian, so we took the only measure that will reverse the affliction, follicular annihilation of the facial area. And it worked, and now our names aren’t Bjorn, Sven or Gunnar even, whew!

The Stranglers thought that another Scandinavian country, Sweden, was the only country where the clouds were interesting, implying that nothing else was. I can’t say, I haven’t been there, but maybe Hugh Cornwell felt differently in regard to his university tenure in that country. James and I will argue at length about disco dancing related matters; he feels that the lush, symphonic and soulful ‘70s gear (get the de-S-er) is the pinnacle of all dance music. Though I think that sound and era is beautiful I always counter that stuff like Todd Terry’s early ‘90s gear, a filtering of disco and house through hip-hop and freestyle is really the zenith, glorious in it’s minimalist approach and tough resonant grooves.

We have to agree to differ on that, but there a few things that we do agree on, first is that you can get completely fatigued by disco and might want some nasty, dirty rock music that displaces a little anger. You see disco is cool but it can drift (as house did) towards bourgeois tastes — not that this could ever happen in edgy, informed and radical San Francisco, yeah. We also agree on the Stranglers, one of my favorite bands of all time, and one of his too. They pissed off journalists, bated conservatives and liberals alike, behaved very badly and sold an ass load of records. What is there not to like about that scenario?

I’ve already gushed about them in my posts Meninblack parts 1 and 2, but I just want to scribble about their La Folie album from 1981. I remember when it dropped and was highly excited to hear it after blazing through Rattus Norvegicus, Black and White, The Raven and The Gospel According To The Meninblack. An old high school buddy picked it up shortly after its release and we delved into it right away. In some ways it is the watershed album for the band, the one that led to them pursuing a more pop approach, and in other ways it is their most perfect album. It’s perfect in that it takes the energy of their early records, fuses it with the diverse subject matter of albums like The Raven and Meninblack (a weird one, but I love it all the same) and then smoothes off the corners just a bit to create a pop masterpiece.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Undertones, Derry's Finest.

Some of us can look back and take pride in a local band that did it, that put out a killer album or two, or dropped an unforgettable single. You used to see them live, you might have even seen them in the street or your mate was pals with their roadie’s cousin. You know the score. Whether you’re from Alberta, Albania, Albuquerque or Alameda I’m sure some of you loved a band that was the pride and joy all your buddies and you. For me that band was The Undertones, Derry’s finest, the band whose lyrics are inscribed on John Peel’s gravestone, an outfit that came out of working class defeat at the start of the Thatcher years but produced music that embodied the mythical endless summer.

The Undertones; Feargal Sharkey, Billy Doherty, Mickey Bradley and the O’Neill brothers, Sean and Damian were from Derry, Northern Ireland, a city about 15 miles from where I grew up in the north of Ireland (the Republic, or the Free State as the old timers used to call it), they made fast, happy melodic music that bordered on punk but had enough power pop in it to steer it away from the anger that was a pre-requisite of those late ‘70s times. My cousin Gerry lived in Derry and he introduced them to me. He had a fair stash of now rare stuff by them because his father’s cousin was married to a guy called Paddy Rice who ran a store on Derry’s Carlisle road called Quaver Records (one of the first record shops that would bug out in over the years).

Anyway, Feargal and the lads were broke but trying to get a band together, get shows and hopefully get a record out. Paddy helped by letting Feargal use the store as an office, to send faxes, make important calls etc. Gerry was always hanging around and when the ‘tones’ finally got a record deal and starting putting stuff out, he was there with an open hand. And into this open hand would go green vinyl versions of “Jimmy Jimmy,” the original Sire pressing of the first album with the black and white sleeve, 45s of “You Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It)” though I don’t believe he ever snagged a 45 of the famous “Teenage Kicks” EP on Terri Hooley’s legendary Belfast label, Good Vibrations. On a side note, when Nirvana played in Belfast, Kurt Cobain ended up in hospital and reportedly said that he didn’t mind dying in Belfast, the home of Good Vibrations records.

Anyways, back to Derry. I would spend a few weeks in the summer with my cousin, heading downtown, where there were British army check points, armored personnel carriers, troopers in camo and all those other signs that God had given this part of Ireland to the British elite — they didn’t have an invoice from God but they had the hardware. Being young you ignore that kind of stuff, even though a few years later Gerry’s mother — my aunt — and sister were pinned down on a cross walk while an IRA sniper and British soldiers exchanged fire. Heady times indeed, but the best of times in some ways, and the craic was 90. And despite all this violence and darkness The Undertones music refused to succumb to it, refused to be seen as part of the cliched and stereotypical view of Northern Ireland. They offered hope and a respite from it all, even while it was beamed into your living room morning, day and night.

Gerry played me all these great records, and at the time, the summer of 1980, the Undertones’ second album, Hypnotised, had just come out on Sire Records, the American label that was home to The Ramones (who were adored by all my buddies who liked rock) and Talking Heads, who were equally revered. Hypnotized was and is a great record, a classic moment in that shift from punk rock to new wave. That album still brings me back to that summer, it was a hot one if I remember correctly, and songs like “Tearproof,” with its killer bass intro, “More Songs About Chocolate And Girls” and “My Perfect Cousin” hinted at a bigger idea of eternal summer in the youthful mind, ever shimmering, just out of reach, more of a feeling than a thought but with sounds to harness its floating vision to the ground.

And a line from the lyrics from “Teenage Kicks” is carved on John Peel’s gravestone, an eternal message from the grave of the quintessential taste maker, who loved the song the first time he heard it, and played it twice on the same show, around the time that Terri Hooley was hawking it to cloth eared record execs in London, only to be told that it was awful. John Peel knew otherwise and so did me and Gerry.


Monday, February 9, 2009

It's Poptasticness at its bestness!

If you haven’t seen the latest Negativland DVD, Our Favorite Things, I suggest that you rush to their online store or to your nearest discerning movie rental joint, grab it and give it a watch. It’s spellbinding, informative, irreverent and subversive all in one fell swoop. The editing is incredible, the images will be burnt on your frontal lobe and you’ll laugh out loud at some of the segments in it. In the meantime before you rush out the door you should stop and think for a second about getting the latest release on Negativland’s Seeland label. It’s called “The Teen-Pop-Noise Virus” by Poptastic and it’s as mind warping and riotous as anything released on this imprint.

Experimental producers Chris Fitzpatrick, Thomas Dimuzio and random friends wrote and produced an entire album of sappy, top 40 style pop, then completely deconstructed it with more plug ins than you can wave a stick at. The concept of the record is that a computer virus has infected a studio and this album has been corrupted by it. The CD was also designed to only play the “hits” in CD shuffle mode but when played in a continuous way it is a single interwoven piece of work. And though the album sounds like a mess — albeit a good mess — it is comprised of a dense weave of editing, remixing, arranging and de-arranging.

This is exactly what you’d like to do to that annoying Britney track or Beyonce’s recent irritating oeuvres, but then to have the chance to release it too, what joy! As producer Dimuzio says, “Poptastic is just plain wrong.” Indeed it is, thank god!


Friday, February 6, 2009

Memories of Brazil Classics 1

In early 1989 I was obsessed with two things, Detroit techno and a girl called Máiréad— who hated Detroit techno and liked Leonard Cohen. I was obsessed with both separately and then after much lurking and a fair bit of charm on my part (I have my moments) we started dating in the spring of ’89 in the Irish west coast city of Galway. Those were halcyon and innocent days and the west coast of Ireland was a beautiful place to be young and in love. It was also a beautiful place be completely bonkers about acid house, techno, EPMD and De La Soul.

And though endlessly I spun Juan's “Techno Music, “Spark” by Mia Hesterley and “Big Fun” by Inner City from the Techno, The New Dance Sound of Detroit comp on 10 Records, there was no swaying her, she wasn’t hearing it. But there was one record that we agreed on — and I did like Leonard Cohen and had spend some time listening to him years before — the first Brazil Classics album, which was compiled by David Byrne of Talking Heads. We would lie around in her little place in the Shantalla (Gaelic for old ground) district of Galway and listen to Caetano Veloso, Jorge Ben, Maria Bethania and Gilberto Gil. We’d dream about what Brazil was like, and how beautiful the people must be and how warm it was, knowing nothing of the turbulence that went on while this music was being produced.

And I often go back to this wonderful album and it always makes me smile, remembering a much simpler time with people who I’ve drifted away from, or who passed away. And though there is a certain amount of sadness attached to these thoughts there is no denying the life affirming force of this gorgeous music. And today you hear the influence of Tropicalia, as it is popularly known, in artists like The Bird and The Bee, Beck and Devendra Barnhart. When I hear it in my mind it's competing for air time with Juan Atkins, Ralphi Rosario and Liz Torres in a small terraced house while the rain comes down in sheets and dreams and laughing cut through the cold air. And in a weird twist of fate, twenty years later, Gort, a small town outside Galway, is thriving due to a recent influx of Brazilian immigrants. So now hurling (the Gaelic game not throwing up, smart asses) and samba live side by side in the wesht.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Nite Jewel takes us down from the electro high.

When I first heard Nite Jewel, a duo comprising Ramona Gonzalez and Emily Jane, a few months ago — the youtube video of “Artificial Intelligence” above — I wasn’t convinced. Perhaps I was in disco curmudgeon mode (yes with me it’s a fine line between Bah Samba and bah humbug), but everything I was hearing at that time was prostrating itself at the alter of cosmic; a shrine where gentile young men with beards intone the names of records they researched on discogs and 'bought now' for 150 bucks on ebay, and anyway I was in search of other sonic pastures.

However, on the sage advice of two of my fellow conspirators, Disco Dave down in Indio, a man with a keener set of ears than a two year old cocker spaniel, and the disco don himself, James Glass, I checked out their “What Did He Say single” on Mike Simonetti’s “Italians Do It Better” imprint. I hadn’t heard that track before and let’s just say that I was tremendously convinced.

I loved the lush slo mo electro clunk of it and how Ramona Gonzalez's voice hung over the music like a hovering angel. This was new cosmic, filtered through a lo-fi indie rock ethos. bathed in Los Angeles heat and imbued with the spirit of Suicide at their most wide-eyed and romantic. Beautiful is the only word that even comes near describing the feeling of this record. The stripped down freestyle of the flipside, “Let’s Go (The Two Of Us Together)” is equally impressive.

Then Disco Dave informed me that he had shelled out for her album on vinyl and that he was well elated with it. So a few days later I was sojourning at a large music emporium here in San Francisco looking for said record and being the vinyl junkie that I am shelled out for it myself. Good Evening is the name of the album and it’s a gorgeous piece of work from start to finish. All ten tracks from “Bottom Rung” to the Roxy Music cover which closes it are little universes of intimate sound replete with delicate synth textures, pretty melodies and chunky analog basslines all topped off with Gonzalez’s plaintive voice.

This is not just a good come down record, this is thee come down record for the whole electro re-run; from the halcyon dark days of electroclash and the posturing, dystopian euphoria it promised to the cold twitch and pneumatic glitch of the Ed Bangeresque variants. Nite Jewel’s Good Evening injects some warmth into proceedings, bringing us back to when Miss Kittin, Felix, Ladytron and the gang re-introduced us to Italo, freestyle, new wave and acid house, and hopefully pointing us forward to a new era of electronic music that rocks even as it dreams and that leaves behind the icey shudder in favor of the galactic glide. One can only hope. This is an important little record.


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Monday, February 2, 2009

Beppe Loda EP on People In The Sky

Beppe Loda is another pioneering Italian dj from the same school and era as Daniele Baldelli, and, like Baldelli, his legacy has been been overlooked until recently. In the last five years both of them have been recognized as the innovators they truly were and are. Without them, the genre known as Italo disco might never have happened or at least wouldn’t have spawned as many forward looking records before the bidness men got hold of it and turned it into a Stock, Aitken, Waterman bubblegum Frankenstein.

Loda is currently enjoying a renaissance of his sound and is djing all over Europe to celebrate it. The UK label, People The Sky have tracked down some of his old productions from the mid ‘80s under the Egotrya monicker and released them with two remixes. The tracks, “Wind” and “Volcano,” appear in their original form and are augmented with remixes by the cosmic Irishman John Daly (who lives in Salthill, Galway and hangs with my old friends back in the wesht) and Belgian electro discoers, The Revolving Eyes.

The record drops today and it’s killer, all four tracks are lush, wide screen Italo monsters capable of turning the club into a madhouse. The original version of “Wind” and Daly’s mix of “Volcano” really do it for me as they’re full of cinematic drama, electronic textures and uplifting melodies. Scoop it if you see it.