30.4.17

Private Party



As Hardcore Ur-texts go they don't get more revealing than the Private Party 12".

First of all here is, indisputably, an example of UK Hip-Hop. 808s and samples. It's not a Reggae track. 'Nuff said.

Secondly we have Shut Up And Dance's PJ & Smiley in the same group as DJ Hype. As if to underline the inescapable notion that we are witnessing the birth of something. Mind-blowing, really.

Thirdly, contained within are just the same kind of cheekily-pillaged samples which characterise Hardcore. The Muppet Show and The Addams Family. Looney.

Finally, the nutty mugging on the back of the sleeve - that's classic 2-Tone-styling. Knee-deep in Madness, The Selecter and The Specials. There's your Reggae influence if you can call it that...

Oh, and "My Tennents" - it's a spin on Run's "My Adidas". Advertising. Not a red flag in sight.

This came out on the short-lived Islington Music Workshop label. This stalwart institution based, funnily enough, about 50 metres from my front door. I had no idea what was in that building!

29.4.17

SOURCES Compilations

Bill Brewster is just brilliant isn't he? He's smashing. What I think what I most like about him is his entirely single-minded focus. Bill loves dance music, he's fascinated by its culture and history, he adores its classical peaks. That ought to be enough for anyone?! I mean, why dilute that with theoretical positions, half-arsed political posturing, pseudo-intellectualism or "eclectic" music taste? Dance music: There's a universe right there.

Recently I plowed through his and Frank Broughton's excellently researched, eminently sensible "Last Night A DJ Saved My Life". I loved it. I've no idea why it took me so long to get round to reading it. It's like a very, very, very large bag of chips which you can just sit there like a zombie munching through. Lots of nicely chosen tracks pepper their extensively detailed history. I know a fair bit about dance music, but I learnt an untold amount more.

Then there are these SOURCES CD compilations for the now defunct BBC subsidiary Harmless. I'm a total sucker for labels. Of course it's all about labels! Transmat, Nu Groove, TRAX, Sub Base, Reinforced, Moving Shadow. Bill picks off nine historic US dance music labels from the Disco, House and Electro era and provides comprehensive 3 CD collections packed full of what are (slightly generously) described as the full twelve inch mixes. Let's deal with that right away!

The web is full of outraged punters fuming at the disgraceful injustice of such and such track from the set only being 9 minutes long when their scratchy 12" mix is 11 minutes long. They sound so fucking angry these people. Equally they complain about the remastering. I know, how weedy!? I think these complaints are the grossly unjust whingeing of sad-sacks. These comps aren't "needledrops" (great term to describe reissues recorded from vinyl). They're excellently put together, great-sounding, exhaustively detailed labors of love replete with alarmingly thorough liner-notes.

If they do have a fault though it's this very exhaustiveness. Though actually I'm not complaining; I'm happy to view them as big dumps of data - for the onus being on me to trawl through them to pick out the tracks I like.

Also, again a personal thing, I don't have room for all of these in my collection. In the first case I have a relatively low threshold of interest in Disco. To my mind Disco is generally a bit of a bore. That Dan Snaith 1000 track mix on YouTube which I assiduously combed through was about 50% disco and it only confirmed my suspicion that as a genre it is criminally over-rated. Oh sure there's Disco I love, just as a set of cliches it's simply not got the power ascribed to it by unthinking Loft fetishists. So, although I dipped my ear in on Spotify, I passed on buying both the two P&P sets AND the two Sam Records sets. I'm not certain what the methodology for choosing those two labels was? Perhaps it was simply that the catalogue was available for licensing at a sensible price? I'd like to hear Salsoul, Prelude and West End sets though...

I also passed on the three SOURCES Chicago music compilations. for DJ International, Underground and TRAX. I have so much of this stuff on record. What I did find sufficiently appealing to buy on CD were the following four sets. What follows is a very brief, not uncritical, review of them.


The Sleeping Bag Records Anthology (XXXXO)

From reading this interview with Brewster I know that this is his favorite of all the SOURCES comps owing to "the variety of music they released". The first disc of the Sleeping Bag comp is an embarrassment of riches - I actually have all these records, for which I only paid a few pounds in the early nineties before Arthur Russell was anything more than a whisper. But the sheer thrill of having all these tracks on one shiny disc (buy the CD not the record here) was more than I could resist. However, sadly it does need lamenting that Sleeping Bag, for all its undeniable hipster cachet, quickly went off the boil. The bohemian quixotic-ity of the early releases was hardly sustainable. The Mantronix stuff is of course great and the Hip-Hop stuff is nice... perhaps it's just the neo-R'n'B (Early Garage?) that I find a little grating? In fact its later releases, the Todd Terry stuff, to my mind arrested the decline.


The Fresh Records Anthology (XXXXO)

Ok, so this was a surprise! I hadn't really grasped that Fresh records was effectively the reincarnation of Sleeping Bag. Sleeping Bag Part Two. There's quality here to match the best of the Sleeping Bag compilation. Highlights have to be Mantronix' spell-binding production of Chandra Simmonds "Never Gonna Let You Go" and the Just Ice and T La Rock tracks filling the second CD which are still incredibly powerful. But lots more besides.


The Streetwise Records Anthology (XXOOO)

These last two are very much the curate's egg. On this I only selected six worthy tracks (by Pushé, Cuba Gooding Jnr, Freez, Dominatrix and Citispeak). The Dr John does "The Message" track "Jet Set" , is a fascinating idea, should have been brilliant. But, regrettably, aint. A lot of quite dated electro here. Very pleased to hear it all in one place though and to be able to have the opportunity to appraise it.


The Easy Street Records Anthology (XOOOO)

Ouch. Very little here worth hearing. You can't fault Cultural Vibe's "Ma Foom Bey" but the rest seems caught up in its own stylishness and feels self-congratulatory. The only other highlight is the Deep Dish remix of De 'Lacy's "Hideaway" which, truthfully, doesn't have much to do with Easy Street. It certainly sounds like an an outlier and is arguably more a product of Washington or even the "post-local" phase of dance music after 1995. Monster tune though.

28.4.17

Jim's Tips



Jim Clarke aka original blog-man-dem Emerald Daze slips me two great CD-Rs at the k-punk memorial dérive.

Jim has always had excellent taste and, like only the deepest culture warriors, he's still ploughing those furrows; still digging up interesting stuff. Like just last week - this cool Wim Mertens on Les Disques Du Crépuscule wot he sent over.

The Simon Fisher Turner is a soundtrack-ish, field-recording-y, jazz-like oddyssey. Very atmospheric. The Sky Girl compilation an artfully-curated round-up of private press bedroom dreamers - sonix pitched somewhere between early Weekend and YMG. Unmissable.

Keep digging dude.

23.4.17

Psyché Tropes Label

People who have read this blog know me as a music geek but in my working life as an animator I tend to keep quiet about music. Over the years I've found that's the safest way to interact in professional situations. Often I'll be asked by employers (who don't know my dark secret) to make suggestions for soundtracks. As a rule I'll feign ignorance or push it back to them and the client to figure out. That's mainly because whenever I have made suggestions in the distant past people loathe my ideas. I think that's a mixture of the fact that these choices are about personal taste, and it's their prerogative as my bosses to have their way with regards to music; but also because the kind of things I like are by their nature sincere and intense, and never really suitable.

Furthermore, when you're outed as a music geek it gets political swiftly. It lays open people's insecurities, or on the contrary sense of superiority, about their music tastes. Personally I couldn't give a shit about how music maps onto status. Status itself is an entirely fucked-up concept and I care less and less about what is supposed to be cool music too. But other people don't feel that way. I'm happy to listen to what's on the office stereo and completely avoid thrusting my own music down other people ear-canals - with the attendent anxiety that someone is going to find my selection too abrasive, or depressing and, in one of those dreadful moments, complain publicly and put their own playlist on.

Over the years there have been a few moments at work when I have broken cover and music has come into the open. I worked a lot with a lovely guy Paul Byrne who runs the Test Pressing site, I became firm friends with  the genius Julian House after working on animation at Intro and very recently I greatly enjoyed meeting Richard Klein. But over twenty years that's pretty much the sum total. The one notable addition to this would be meeting the delightful and absurdly talented editor Steven McInerney.

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Steve and I met in the bowels of Knightsbridge working on high-end commercials for a JWT-affiliated agency. JWT, the advertising agency that Keith Richards memorably told to fuck off in early sixties before launching his own long-lasting youth culture brand. Pretty quickly it became apparent that we could have conversations about musique concrète. Steve needed some help stabilising some planets in the short film he had made "A Creak In Time", and was man enough to pay me to devote some time in Nuke, Mocha and PFTrack to licking some very intractable shots into shape.

Steve, who records as Merkaba Macabre and is, as a musician, deeply wrapped up in modular synthesis also runs a record label Psyché Tropes upon which he has now put out two beautifully produced vinyl records. I don't say beautiful lightly because the artwork is exquisite and the materials are premium - the whole physical package is lovely. The label, certainly as things stand, is dedicated to releases which are the soundtracks to the films of London's burgeoning "AV" scene.

I first came across AV - shorthand for audio-visual - when I wrote about Sculpture for The Wire in 2011. In many ways AV is the future of what once was the impulse behind the underground forms in the music industry. With music increasingly finding its value in performance and with what was once unflatteringly dubbed "Desktop Video" morphing into the Mograph scene, it has meant that the same laptop culture of music is a mouse-click away from animation. In the nineties though we had separate crews responsible for each strand: so Coldcut for music had their counterpart Hex for live-visuals and TFSOL had Buggy G Riphead for video (though there was a certain amount of crossover within the latter's roles I believe).

The difference now though is that, epitomised by that strange platypus Sculpture, the one unit is entirely responsible for both. Dan and Steve would doubtless try and shoot down this digital convergance theory, as obsessed as they both are by analogue formats - modular synths, 16 mm film and vinyl-only releases etc - but as Stuart Heaney points out in the artfully-considered liner notes of HFF Volume 1 - "We have digital's empowering desktop cloning capability to thank for revealing to the world analogue's beautiful bubblebath of imperfections." To my mind it has clearly emerged from this prehistory of digital live-visuals.


And sure enough here are Sculpture amongst other known-unknowns brought together on this collection of accompanying music for the Hackney Film Festival. Certainly it would be nice to nice to see the accompanying videos but that's to miss the "mind's eye" concept behind the release - again the liner notes refer to visuality being enacted by the pattern-forming structures of the brain. It's a great, blind collection of strafing drones, clicks and bleeps that is unquestionably evocative in its own right. With these filmless soundtracks there is too an implicit suggestion of phantasm in the clasic, halucinogenic sense - nudge, nudge, know what I mean.


The second release on the label is Howlround's soundtrack for Steve's film "A Creak In Time". This features a suitably cosmic suite of lemurian horns echoing through the galaxy's fog, effortlessly mirroring the unheimlich soundtracks of classic sci-fi like Eduard Artemyev's electronic score for Tarkovsky's "Solaris" or even Kubrick's use of Ligeti in Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey".

You can watch an excerpt of the film and even buy these two releases at the Psyché Tropes website. If you're interested in witnessing the full sensory experience I strongly suggest you make it along to Further at the Portico Gallery in West Norwood on May 6th where Howlround will be performing their score live to the film. The evening has the added bonus of featuring an "Audio-Visual DJ Set" by none other than Julian House and Jim Jupp of Ghost Box. I mean ferchrissakes, you'd have to be an fucking idiot to miss it, and I'm definitely going to be dragging my sorry carcass along.

21.4.17

Lost Samba Book


I met Richard Klein on a post-production job. Both of us building a roman camp in Maya for a TV series. I overheard Richard playing "Clube Da Esquina" and we got chatting. Richard is a quite a bit my senior - he's around ten years older than me.

He pointed me to this book he had spent a very long time painstakingly writing. It's about his childhood and adolescence growing up in Brazil. A certified head, his frequently wild, vividly-described experiences are set against a backdrop of the music of MPB of the seventies and early eighties. I can thoroughly recommend it - it's quite something to finally get some cultural insight into that era from someone you actually know.

Richard also put together a massive Spotify playlist which covers his favourite Brazilian music of that era and it's really brilliant. I've been discovering some amazing things through like it "Samba Pra Vinicius" by Toquhino and Vinicius and Rita Lee's "Agora E Moda" - too many to mention on a Friday evening.

20.4.17

Two Hot Reissues


Ragnar Grippe's ambient classic "Sand" one of the many highlights of the legendary Shandar catalogue sees a beautiful vinyl reissue. Don't sleep on this one.


Shrinkrap ahoy. And a welcome reissue for Klaus Weiss' "Time Signals" by the Trunk-meister. Always wanted to hear this one. Sterling work Johnny.

Filles De Killimanjaro



Two delightful slices of ultra-modern French Pop - if you can forgive the phonetic English. Jain - Shades of Gainsbourg's afro dalliance or perhaps even a poppy Lizzy Mercier Descloux. The Christine and the Queens - encore un fois with the cool and arty New Wave touches (or is that Nouvelle Vague?). Bloody great videos in both cases.

17.4.17

Break From The Pack

Sleeping Bag Greatest Mixers Compilations



Why was dance music interesting?

There's the implication with a question like this that I don't find dance music interesting any more. I don't know if that's really the case. I do look at Resident Advisor occasionally, like just now, and it seems very sterile - maybe that's just the curse of contemporary graphic design? There is a suffocating sense though of here being a form of entertainment which is wholly codified, one which has ceased forming.

Thinking long and hard about what drew me into dance music, this genre I abandoned, and I came up with a thought. Looking at the long sweep of post-war music culture it seems pretty clear that the 1969-1996 stretch of dance music (bookended by Francis Grasso and Todd Edwards) was, at its strongest, the sublimation of the counter-culture. Sublimation defined by Freud as "a mature type of defense mechanism where socially unacceptable impulses or idealizations are unconsciously transformed into socially acceptable actions or behavior, possibly resulting in a long-term conversion of the initial impulse."

Part and parcel of that is the notion that, in a way that often dance music afficionados find repellent, that it is miscegenated at root with the dionysian impulse of Rock music. Rock's yearning for a crystalline ecstacy is the virus that Disco can't shake off. At times this easier to see for stylistic reasons. Both Larry Levan and Ron Hardy were wide open to Rock and its overcast spirituality. Although I have yet to hear a set from either that wasn't pure disco, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence that'd they play it. Certainly Arthur Russell is unmistakeably a Rock interloper in disco, from his background in The Flying Hearts through to his electric folk opus "World Of Echo".

I've always thought it significant too that Derrick May's first record was the Post-Rock talisman of The Who's "Tommy", that Marshall Jefferson who I fist met with Charles Bullen of This Heat, was a Led Zeppelin fanatic, and that Joey Beltram held a candle for Black Sabbath.

In the UK there's the detente between New Order and Arthur Baker, Be Music and the Hacienda. UK Dance music of course being flooded with the second-string of rhythmic Post-Punkers like Tony Thorpe (400 Blows) and Bill Drummond (Big In Japan). The Mancunian indie-dance of Happy Mondays et al had a degraded reputation of the time, of scallies jumping on a bandwagon - but over time I've come to appreciate their appositeness.

Rock's original conceit is that it functions as Agape, an unmediated relationship, not with social communion, but with nature and the universe itself. At its most spiritual, for instance in the nihilistic abandon of The Stooges' "Dirt", Rock requires its listener to be intimate only with their own body and the caverns within and without it. It's the same sensation people discovered in relative safety, sublimated in the womb of the dancefloor, at The Loft or Labyrynth.

Why did dance music die in 1996?

"Dom Phillips insists that, even more than the 1988 acid house revolution, the real turning point in dance culture came in 1994 when clubbing got dressed up and turned its back on the sweaty rave movement which had spawned it. As if to prove his point club promoters recall 1995 as the year when they made the most money ever." 
Brewster/Broughton "Last Night A DJ Saved My Life"
Imagine a very large maze. Fill that maze with mercury. The mercury rushes into the structure but it fills the deepest corners last. Then quite quickly the mercury starts to seep into cracks and holes. The first places that empty are the large central corridors. Those corridors are House and Techno. The deepest corners, where for a while the mercury lingered in pools, stand for genres like Two-Step and then Grime in the early noughties where the ramifications of acid house house are still being worked out.

The first and most blatantly obvious thing to me as a rabid consumer, a passionate disciple of the music between 1990 and 1996, was the shocking precipice the entire culture fell off mid 1995. If you look at the dates on those mixes alone: 1983-19961986-19941985-1995 that pretty much tells the entire story.

I sat up when I read the quote above in Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton's book because it shon a bright and very unforgiving light on the reason the dance music culture died. There's defintely a distinction between the continuum of music that leads slowly up to the earliest House and Techno and the music in these mixes. That continuum is most easy to witness in the New York music where Disco and Electro flow easily into the new music. Again in Chicago, Frankie Knuckles came directly from the Paradise Garage and Disco. On the other hand in Detroit, Detroit Techno was an updated form of Electro - purely and simply, with Derrick bringing some esoteric Disco flavour back from Ron Hardy in Chicago.

But, yes, as Dom Phillips alleges the real turning point, the true break in the continuum comes in 1994, with the after effects slowly filtering their way through the culture. You can HEAR it in the music. Suddenly in 1996, whatever the major genre, the music sounds dreary, long-winded and the energy has disappeared. I struggled to find great later tracks for all of these mixes.

Of course, the Phillips quote is shorthand for "when it all became about money", when dance music culture became capitalised. That's certainly the inference. It's difficult for me, a debit-card-carrying capitalist, to approach this even-handedly. On the one hand I hear it, but equally when was dance music not engaged in a scruffy and unseemly quest for money? That was certainly what the alliance between organised crime, drug dealers and promoters was all about. Without getting bogged down in nuances I think I'd rather view it as a more subtle and profound shift. It seems to have all been about an adoption of "the culture of money" rather than the involvement of money itself per se.

That's one way to re-order the readings that the critics of the left have woven around culture. Cultural death is not so much about the reduction of everything into the terms of its validity within a capitalist model, a loss of purity of motive; as a frequently misguided, blind belief in the power of capitalism's de facto structures and the sickeningly bland, soul-destroying shit that follows in the wake.

My friend Paul Arden used to complain alot to me about the death of creativity within advertising agencies. The reason was that the producers lost confidence in creativity, an unpredictable chimera that they could never control, and instead placed more and more emphasis into planning and control groups. Into ways in which they work out marketing solutions based on a pseudoscience of what would appeal to their target audiences. The massive irony is that in advertising, raw, entirely crazy, passionate creativity is about 1000% more effective in the marketplace than creativity massaged by committee. Remember the bonkers and luminous commercials of the past?

The same applies to any database-led surveys though. Like those ridiculous massive, double-blind, placebo-controlled medical trials which yield less significant information than well-designed, tiny, control groups. Or even, to chose a wildly different example, how one person's list of great books for teenage boys can be more illuminating than a database collating the habits of millions of readers.

With Dance Music here was a cultural arena which had proved through its vibrancy and popularity that it could make money. The suits got involved. Oh you THOUGHT you were making money, they said. No, no, no. You need to attract a more upmarket group of people. We need to involve BRANDS. Et-bloody-cetera. It probably worked for about 6 months.

2.4.17

Elders

One of the key dynamics within music's adoption and dissemination is one in which questions of sound itself are almost entirely absent. It always strikes me as one of the most mystical qualities of music as well. It relates to to both a very sensitive perception of the "grain" of characters as well as a profound understanding of one's own location upon the river of time, one's own mortality. I'd argue that a connection with it implies, too, an implicit sanction of concepts like Jung's Universal Unconscious. I'm talking about "elders", the music made by those people who are older than one which has some intangibly charismatic quality to it, like the bunch of grapes just out of Tantalus' reach.

It's inevitably always a personal thing. It relates to who one's own "elders" are. For me, something like this set by DJ Hype on Fantasy FM (I could have chosen any number of different things to illustrate the point) has the fingerprint. I would have been nineteen but, yeah, Hype would have been unmistakably senior, of an earlier cohort, like the kids only two years ahead of one at school who seemed like distant deities. Possessing of a different but subtly evolved consciousness, of a seemingly unattainable confidence. And that dynamic, in a nutshell, is what drove the "nuum" for twenty years. Young people aspiring to the community status of those two or three years older and the sanction that a nod from these elders imparted. Fabio plays your dubplate. Wiley includes you in Roll Deep. To my mind it also explains the nuum's self-referential quotes, the snatches of earlier nuumological music.


Of course it's precisely the same in Reggae. That's the drive of Shabba's epochal "Respect", on the face of it is a call for building on the foundations of Reggae, the importance of understanding your roots and culture; but I read it more as a clarion call for the youth to respect the dynamic of the "elder". Shabba is saying this sociological system only works, can only continue to work, if we feel the same magical empathy for our seniors. It's the same system which led Dego and Marc Mac to run Reinforced records like a community outreach project. Or indeed like Underground Resistance has always run in Detroit. Or even like the tradition of influence that through Disco from David Mancuso through Larry Levan to Tony Humphries.

At the same time as there exists these organic traditions of seniority in music there will always be examples of hucksters who try, occasionally successfully, to short-circuit this time-honored dynamic. I would argue that grasping the rope of a sonic tradition immediately implies the existence of something greater than one that reaches back in time before one was born, into the mystical realms of the universal unconscious. Recycling a Studio One bass-line, by implication, opens a channel into another realm. What these confidence tricksters, or perhaps they are simply magicians, do is invoke those earlier phases of consciousness. Frequently LSD, or other psychedelics, play a part in their cosmic games.

My favorite example of this must be Van Morison's "Astral Weeks" which, although the work of a young man, time-trips back, sometimes to the very present itself, with the zen-like simplicity of a higher enlightenment that always characterises the insight of an elder. Another perfect example would have to be The Aphex Twin of the early nineties, of Selected Ambient Works 1 and 2 when he was dreaming of the future. Though in Aphex's case I sometimes think his key contribution to twenty-first culture was tonsorial.

If there was ever a proto-hipster beard it was Richard's. Tied up in it from the get-go was a Dr Who-like subterfuge to disrupt time. It was a blatant stab at being the "elder", the one of wisdom and expanded consciousness. That strategy, to disrupt the traditions of secession is precisely what has characterised the Hipster. In many ways that's what Retro is, and was, about. As a cultural marker it denotes enlightenment just as it, somewhat ignorantly and arrogantly and ultimately ineffectually, seeks to tears apart the fabric of time and social justice.