And a big happy birthday shout-out to my little brother, who is finishing up his graduate work at Oxford and is probably mortified that I've mentioned him on this blog. Our tastes in music are pretty dissimilar--he thinks all the music I listen to is "too weird"--but we've bonded over a few things, like when I found out he liked "Around the World" by Daft Punk.
"You don't think this is weird? This song is totally weird!" I said.
"No it isn't!"
03.30.05 @ 04:55 AM EST [link]
SFJ on the WMC. Magical stuff, but where are the photos of P. Diddy shouting into a megaphone during the Felix set? Inquiring minds need to know!
I so wish I had been there.
03.30.05 @ 04:39 AM EST [link]
Critic and comrade J. Edward Keyes has a blog. Go read!
03.29.05 @ 06:27 PM EST [link]
Stern's, the downtown record store that specializes in African music, is closing down its New York location in a matter of days. Before it closes, I'm going to go there and spend on a big bunch of discounted records. This is what I need from you, dear reader: recommendations on what to buy. Here's the Stern's website, with a full catalog listing.
03.28.05 @ 11:52 PM EST [link]
When I go running, I prefer straight-up 4/4 techno and gliding, minimal house--stuff that hovers at around 130 bpm--because it offers a forward-moving propulsion, just the right tempo, and the feeling of sustained euphoria you need to keep you going in a straight line. When I clean my room and rearrange furniture, like I did yesterday, it's more like cross-training. Lots of side-to-side and diagonal motions, and multiple strong but short blasts of energy instead of a more measured, sustained release. 128-bpm techno doesn't work for this; you need something slightly faster but not too frenzied (if you listened to like, gabba or something, you wouldn't get any cleaning done at all; you'd just be unproductively hopping up and down). And you need some syncopation to encourage the irregular bursts of movement, something with breakbeats in it. You also need something that has lots of hooks to sweeten something as blah-blah-boring as cleaning, but it can't be something that takes time to develop. It has to be more like nitrous, something instant and cheaply euphoric -- which means oodles of piano riffs. Anyway I was rearranging my record collection and I found this awesome old-skool mix that my friend Gareth gave me some time ago, which was just the ticket:
"Every Posse and Crew"
compiled by Gareth
1. Jonny L - Ooh I Like It (Original Sin Edit)
2. Sonz of a Loop da Loop Era - Peace and Loveism
3. Blame - Music Takes You
4. Psychotropic - Hypnosis (SL2 Remix)
5. Urban Shakedown - Some Justice
6. Liquid - Sweet Harmony
7. DJ Red Alert and Mike Slammer - In Effect
8. Hyper Go Go - High
9. Krome & Time - Sound is for the Underground
10. Elevation - Can You Feel It?
11. Jonny L - Hurt You So
12. The House Crew - Euphoria (Nino's Dream)
13. Awesome 3 - Don't Go
14. DJ Red Alert and Mike Slammer - Ruff
15. Nookie - Give a Little Love
I cleaned my room in a record 74 minutes! And I rearranged all my furniture, moving it all from one side of the room to the other side for no particular reason, because I had this sudden idea that I had to "rearrange my head."
03.28.05 @ 10:07 PM EST [link]
Tim Hawkinson, people, Tim Hawkinson. I don't usually write about visual art on The Original Soundtrack, and I'm not usually juiced up by big art-with-a-capital-A mid-career retrospectives, but go. See. This. Now. It marks the only time in my life that I haven't felt ripped off for spending twelve bucks for admission to the Whitney Museum, and also the only time in my life I've been floored by something I saw at the Whitney Museum. It's the kind of art exhibit that will leave you punching the air with your fist and going "Yes!" with a goofy grin on your face. If you want to see something by Hawkinson that doesn't involve spending any hard-earned dough, go to 56th Street and Madison Avenue and check out his classic Überorgan, currently installed in its full ridiculous glory in the giant glass-walled IBM atrium. You will repeat "This guy is insane. I can't believe someone actually did this" to yourself, softly, over and over again. The man's a genius.
More on the actual details of said museum retrospective when I'm less floored. For now, you can read this review. You can also download old recordings of Hawkinson's Überorgan on the magnificent Ubuweb.
03.28.05 @ 08:17 PM EST [link]
I live in a creaky old house in Brooklyn that was built before the Civil War -- a real house, with a yard and stuff. Occasionally it yields odd surprises in the flora and fauna department. A few days ago I found a rotund mother bird skilfully assembling twigs into a nest on the windowsill in the guest room. Every day the nest gets bigger, and now she is sitting there, placid, laying her baby-bird eggs. I will take photos soon. A few months ago, I found a squirrel burrowing into the front door frame, where it lived for a while. And ladybugs! And an old jasmine vine in the window started producing fragrant clusters of white, waxy flowers. Spring is here, I think.
Excuse me while I get all hippie on you. This seems like the perfect time to mention that I'll be visiting the West Coast soon -- San Francisco from April 8th to 14th (to hang out and pay frequent visits to the mighty Amoeba), and Seattle from April 14th to 17th (for the EMP music conference). If you're around, drop me a line.
03.28.05 @ 04:29 PM EST [link]
because we all need some breakbeats in our lives.
check it out!
Ripley (San Francisco, Deathsucker Records)
DJ C (Boston, Beat Research)
@ Subtonic! Five bucks!
Ripley's one of my all-time-favorite DJs. I'm sad she's left New York for SF, but come support her in this rare appearance!
03.25.05 @ 04:04 AM EST [link]
Saw the Glimmer Twins (now called the Glimmers, due to legal troubles! I guess the "real" Glimmer Twins got angry) the other night and all I could think was this: APT really needs to crank up their sound system and get rid of the furniture (tables, chairs, bartenders, everything) pronto.
Still, I will go back there for John Tejada next week, like the sap I am. I better see some sweat (on the walls), is all I'm sayin'. If you don't know Tejada, here's the breathless De:Bug review:
"Mit dem Frauenvocal "What Is It That Brings You Here" beginnt der Track, und schon ist man mitten in einer der klassischen Rave-Nummern für alle, die noch wissen, dass House das Fundament ist. Oder es zumindest nach diesem Track wieder wissen, denn obwohl Tejada hier mit ziemlich lässig surrender Acidsequenz reinrauscht, ist das so Detroit und Chicago wie wenige seiner Tracks. Auf der Rückseite zwei weitere sehr charmante Tracks, die den Dancefloor von Anfang bis Ende nicht nur im Griff haben, sondern in ein extrem sweetes Licht verwandeln. Kann er denn nicht mal was falsch machen?"
De:Bug makes me laugh on a regular basis. I'm not sure it's supposed to, but I love it so.
03.24.05 @ 03:16 AM EST [link]
raster-noton: the sound of breakfast crunching.
That new Alva Noto thing, 'Transspray', on Raster-Noton: I'm kind of into it! So stiff it's funky!
According to the Raster-Noton website (which is insanely sparse and austere in a kind of beautiful way, check it out here: it's the product of "text, image, vector graphic-storage files, [which] were translated into raw audio data as the source material from which constellations of diffused sound start to form. Special emphasis is put on the rhythmic aspect of the digitalised and rasterised data. The tools of their transformation reveal themselves by the structure of the recordings."
Have you ever tried playing Photoshop files through iTunes? I have, in my botched attempts to start a noise-rock band with my laptop once. I guess it depends on the files you choose to translate into a smoldering wreckage of audio data, but it actually creates a pretty full palette of sonics--harsh noise, sure, but it doesn't sound piercing and shrill; it sounds thick and sticky, like peanut butter (the crunchy, 'natural' kind) is seeping out of your computer. The sound is intensely varied, full of bright melodic blips and chopped-up psychedelic weirdness. Photoshop blood and guts, oozing everywhere! Eew, gross! Get it off me!
But this isn't that. You get the harsh, crashing digital noise, but the sound is very clean and lean and monochromatic. The end sonic result, after all that avant-garde data-munching and number crunching: something that sounds like...wait for it...German technoid party-rockers Alter Ego! I'm psyched.
(If you happen to be in Berlin, you can check this guy out along with Zeitkratzer (the crazy crew that arranged and covered the entirety of Metal Machine Music as an orchestra) at the Volksbuehne on Friday.)
03.24.05 @ 02:35 AM EST [link]
Okay, I take back everything I said about reunions. Tuxedomoon is playing New York next week (with all the original members!) and I'm almost unreasonably excited. There was a time when I would play "New Machine" over and over (from the 1978 No Tears EP); I just thought it was the saddest, saddest music, those brittle beats and spare, grey-toned synth patterns and distant vocals. I was even foolish enough to buy into their later stuff, even though they got all bloated (loads of snoozy "organic" textures, symphonies, jazz-fusiony chops-heavy noodling), but goddamn. Their early synth-driven stuff makes up for all of that.
03.24.05 @ 01:45 AM EST [link]
The Wire and Pitchfork both have grime primers this month! The world has been turned on its head! Everything's looking all funny! I think I'm tripping! I'm starting to see weird googly curlicue patterns in my eyeballs, and not just when I press down on them!
03.23.05 @ 06:28 PM EST [link]
Hey check it out, vintage indie rock on The Original Soundtrack! I saw the Slint reunion the other night and I'm sorry to report that they bored me out of my skull, a few spellbinding moments of luminosity aside ("Good Morning, Captain" being one of them). I haven't listened to Spiderland since I was 17, though, which is perhaps telling. Excellent light show--stark, chilly blues and greens shooting like lasers through heavy thickets of fog, plus these weird corkscrew/spiral patterns projected onstage that made me wish I wasn't supremely sober. I felt really unsettled the entire time I was at the show, and then I realized why: no one was moving, not even an inch. Er, well, you can't dance to Slint, but even the rock-ish shows I've been to lately (Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance, No-Fun-Fest style noize assault) have had some kind of writhing or weird undulations or slam-dancing involved. But Slint: the band was completely immobile, and the audience was transfixed in doe-eyed adoration bordering on total paralysis. I've read varying ecstatic accounts of their reunion shows, and I can only guess that a) the sound wasn't nearly loud and enveloping enough at Irving Plaza that night; b) it was Irving Plaza, and therefore sucks rocks; c) Slint just looked exhausted, drained. Every labored chord change, every intricate Jacob's ladder of a guitar line -- it sounded exactly like the records. I don't mean this as a diss on Slint, necessarily, but more on reunion tours in general. Death to reunion tours! Long live the new flesh!
03.23.05 @ 01:16 AM EST [link]
Me on Morley in the Voice (If you're in Britain and you're reading this, Words and Music just came out in the U.S. recently, oddly enough!)
03.22.05 @ 02:34 PM EST [link]
microscenes and macroscenes.
Someone asked me what excited me about New York recently and I said it was the proliferation of musical microscenes -- each one of them healthy and thriving, but none of them whole or total enough to take over. Every fringe genre here (grime, microhouse, noise, drum'n'bass, etc) each has enough adherents to pack a 200-person venue on short notice. Floating between the different microscenes is a lot of fun. Sometimes--no, make that often--I find myself in despair with the microhouse (nanotrance? picotechno?) microscene, and think about how much better and how much more macro it is in Berlin. Huge dance music venues are opening there, not closing down! They're the rule, not the exception. They attract thousands of people on a weekly basis. In Germany, techno is a macroscene almost the way hip-hop is here; its reach is major. But Berlin doesn't have a lot of the other scenes New York has.
So instead of decrying New York for not being like Berlin, it's more productive to think of intriguing ways that these current New York microscenes could spread and interact with each other. Tonic's an illustration of how this could happen; on Friday night I saw techno/minimal house DJs downstairs, and then walked upstairs to see a kick-ass impromptu performance by local weirdsters Gang Gang Dance. A few of the same people were at both gigs. This in a nutshell is this new Animal Collective electronic side-project album coming out on Paw Tracks, called Jane. It basically sounds like what would happen if the fucked-up folkies who were watching Gang Gang Dance upstairs at Tonic and the German techno DJs downstairs at Tonic started talking to each other. It's not such a far-off idea, and it's pulled off well.
(Note I've been talking more in the downtown 'hipster' sense; if you want to see a burgeoning New York macroscene, head uptown or deep into a borough and check it out: reggaeton has taken over whole blocks, whole neighborhoods, whole regions of the city hook, line, and sinker. Folks in my old neighborhood in West Harlem, for instance, used to mostly blast hip-hop (I have fond memories of my entire bedroom shaking to Ludacris at 4 a.m.) and salsa. Reggaeton was around when I lived there, too, but now the entire neighborhood is the all-reggaeton, all-the-time channel!)
03.22.05 @ 03:37 AM EST [link]
I am in possession of one ticket to see Boredoms on May 25th. Am I psyched? Oh God I am psyched. Too psyched.
03.21.05 @ 11:01 PM EST [link]
There's something beautiful about watching a dude who is so into his groove that he can't stop spinning records, even though the night ended ages ago and no one's around to hear what the hell he's playing. This brings us to Cabanne's set last night at Subtonic. I heard him two nights in a row, the first time with Daniel Bell and the second time with both Bell and Sammy Dee. Cabanne wasn't as sharp the first night (he'd just come in from France mere hours before his set), but on Saturday he was sounding better than both of his more famous colleagues. He kept it minimal but messy, ably rocking the Perlon school of fun 'n frisky pops and clicks for a very psyched crowd. Cabanne kept going, and going, and going well into the morning, until someone finally told him that the club had closed and that he had to stop. He gave a funny little bow and dropped his last record with a flourish -- Thomas Melchior's 'Feel Sensual' -- while all six of us who were left (the other two DJs, plus a few stragglers) clapped and cheered.
03.21.05 @ 04:13 AM EST [link]
Know a professor/academic type with a good blog (the excellent K-Punk, Worlds of Possibility, & Wayne&Wax aside, 'cause I already know about those) that relates to his/her field of inquiry? Get in touch!
03.16.05 @ 01:50 PM EST [link]
Last night I went to Wayne Marshall's zany Electronic Music: History and Aesthetics of Popular Music Since the 1960s class at Harvard Extension School. More on this later -- I'm working on some things in Boston right now -- but the lecture included topics in jungle, drum'n'bass, and UK garage. My favorite part: when the class broke down Omni Trio's "Mystic Stepper" into pieces and learned how it was made.
03.16.05 @ 01:57 AM EST [link]
ewan pearson and dj koze.
I found producer/remixer extraordinaire Ewan Pearson's blog through Phil Sherburne's blog. Go read!
Pearson pushes a lot of my buttons here, like the jaw-dropping awesomeness of Ostgut/Berghain/Panoramabar in Berlin; a Tiga remix of a mystery Tomas Andersson track on Bpitch that Pearson surmises will reach "Rocker"-like dancefloor smash status (I'm almost certain the track in question is from his new release 'Festivities', and yes it smokes if it's the tune I'm thinking of; it's the same three-note hard-fried synth riff that loops over and over before ascending into ass-kicking overdriven Vitalic-style heights, and then it repeats the synth line one or two octaves higher, sounding cartoonishly high-pitched and tinny and almost unbearably mental, over pounding drums that sound like they're playing hopscotch); and the brilliance of DJ Koze, who Pearson writes is "hands down the best living DJ in Germany at the moment, no contest."
I'd been meaning to write about Koze and why he continually intrigues me for a while. I don't know if he's hands down the best living DJ in Germany given the blazin' strength of the competition, but good lord was he ever great when I saw him in Cologne last summer. Here's his deal: the dude hails from Hamburg, not Cologne, and his background is not in minimal techno at all, but in hip-hop. A top-10 charting German hip-hop act even, via his group Fischmob! (My friend Tobias told me that the host of Pimp my Fahrrad ("Pimp my Bicycle") on German MTV -- the goofy rapper Bo -- cut a record with Koze once.)
The story I heard when I interviewed Michael Mayer (check it out--blogs with real reporting in 'em!) was that Mayer and Koze met at a party. Hip-hop star Koze came up to Mayer and confessed a love for Kompakt, said he'd been spinning a lot of minimal techno, and that he'd been caning a lot of--get this--Dettinger! Koze said he was working on some tracks that would never work for the big major label he was on for hip-hop; would Kompakt be interested, by any chance? Mayer and Koze became good friends, Koze sent some tracks, they were hot, and hey presto. Now Koze is owning the scene. He's even doing ambient tracks! And they're pretty good, too! (I managed to sneak in a line about "former German hip-hop star DJ Koze" into my Wire review of Pop Ambient 2005, which thankfully wasn't cut!) If you've ever seen Koze spin, he doesn't do the usual polite-techno-DJ quietly maneuvering behind the decks thing; he kind of swaggers over his decks in a hip-hop stylee.
His weird history and his hotness as a DJ aside, Koze intrigues me first and foremost as a producer. Take my absolute favorite techno track from last year, "Brutalga Square," which I ranked #5 in my top 10 singles of the year in Pazz 'n Jop, but now that I think about it, it should've been #1. If you put the production of Koze's tracks side by side with the smooth, high-gloss productions of his Kompakt labelmates, something just sounds awry, slightly off. Koze's productions sound and feel ragged; they're packed to bursting with ideas, but the seams show. If you were teaching "Producing Techno Tracks 101" or something at a school (not such a far-off idea, that--tomorrow I'll be at Wayne Marshall's crazy dance music class at Harvard!), you would probably not hold up Koze as an example of what to do. But that's exactly why his music sounds so unique, why it bristles in all the right ways.
I've heard "Brutalga Square" in a variety of different contexts now, but my favorite has to be on headphones, standing on a beach in the middle of winter, wandering through cool white sand and feeling like I could see the track play through the ice-cold ocean water. Have you ever been so knocked out by a track that you think--totally sober, I might add--that you've had a religious experience? For some people it's Basic Channel, or that first time they ever heard jungle, or hardcore, or whatever. "Brutalga Square" sounds like absolutely nothing and like everything in the world all at once. It starts with just a bare th-th-th-thump, th-th-thump that rattles your ribcage before a series of progressively eerie twittering sounds, what sounds like bells, tiny cymbals, and lord knows what else make their appearances. There's no big, fat synth riff, no slam-you-over-the-head Jake Fairley or Alter Ego or Tiefschwarz-style rockin'. Is this it? It's just one note! There's a wavering 'nnnrrrr' sound that you can barely hear in the background, like the distant blare of a TV, or a bunch of bugs swarming in the yard, that slowly gets louder and louder. Then the bass hits - whomp! - and you snap out of your trance like that, like you've been blissfully asleep and someone just poured freezing water on your head and is screaming "Wake up! Wake up!" Every part of the track shows its seams; none of it is slicked down. It's like Koze is racing through so many ideas in his head he barely has time to write them all down. He's unafraid to throw live FX into the mix, the ones DJs use on the floor but rarely throw into their tracks the way he does.
But that doesn't mean it sounds perfunctory; "Brutalga Square" is a masterwork of slow tension-building. I've listened to it about a hundred times now, and I've never once gotten bored of it. I don't think I ever will.
03.14.05 @ 07:07 PM EST [link]
Top 4 Pleasantly Surprising Sonic Artifacts
1. Animal Collective feat. Vashti Bunyan - Prospect Hummer EP [Fat Cat]
Before you get your hearts a-flutter, realize this: it's only fifteen minutes long. I listen to it every morning while I make breakfast. Contemplative. Makes you feel like you're swimming in luminous pools of sound when you wake up each day. I'm pretty sure that some of those achingly gorgeous ripples of sound-color come from an autoharp, too, so chalk one up to the Collective (Collectivists?) for rehabilitating that grade-school standard with panache. I have no problem with near-forgotten ethereal Brit-folkie Vashti Bunyan being held up as this deity of America's weird-music movement, either; if I had my way she would be singing on everybody's recordings (and this means you too, Wolf Eyes.)
Comes with gorgeous Mondrian-thru-a-drippy-watercolor-filter cover art too.
2. Spire: Organ Works Past, Present, and Future double CD [Touch]
Fucking awesome! Sometime last year I sat through five hours of a nine-hour marathon performance of Olivier Messiaen's complete works for church organ. At least four or five times during the performance, I literally thought I could feel the wrath of an all-powerful being flowing through the pews (I'm not Christian, even!) I get the same rush out of this that I occasionally do when I'm made to listen to hypermelodic, overwrought black metal from far off, icy places like Norway, or Transylvania. Totally rips when it's in high gear. The stuff on this by Wire pretty-boy Fennesz is the weakest stuff on here; stick around instead for Recchion, Jeck, Z'ev.
3. Ariel Pink and the Haunted Graffiti - Worn Copy
I'm torn between wondering if this dude's a genius or a total sham, but that's part of his shtick, isn't it? I like falling asleep to this one; I always get strange dreams about the one time I road-tripped (heh heh) across the USA. I don't recommend seeing Mr. Pink's live gig if he's with a full band; when I saw him at Tonic last year they practically fell apart onstage, with this terrible in-jokey persona, like Ween or something. Listening to his tinny home-recorded tapes in yr bedroom is the best way to get with the Ariel Pink experience I think.
4. Aphex Twin - Analord 3 [Rephlex]
I'd given up on this guy, pretty much. There was a time years ago, I admit, when I bought into Mr. Richard D. James and his mythos wholesale--but this was back when his music (and his mythos) was way more intriguing than it is now. When I saw the ridiculous Analord packaging (10 vinyl-only releases; the first one costs $70--that's right, seventy bucks!--for a chintzy-looking tan-colored vinyl binder keepsake that reminds me of those Time-Life subscription sets from the '80s or something) my bullshit-radar went off. But it's not freaky or ludicrously huge enough of a fetish object to hold a candle to the 50-CD leather-upholstered Merzbox, and the music in it isn't forward-thinking or compelling enough (or pulse-poundingly extreme enough, in Merzbow's case) to make me want to care. Yeah, so he uses analog synths only, apparently! That's cool I guess, and some of the dense, thick webs of skin-crawling sounds he spins are pretty beautiful. So I like this one, side 2 better than side 1. But I've been listening to so much minimal electronic music over the past few years that does so much with so little that this, for the most part, sounds like it's doing too little with too much.
Special bonus entry:
5. I shit you not, the new issue of Rolling Stone (with Hunter S. Thompson on the cover.)
RS is dead to me, usually. This marks the first time I've bought an issue of that magazine off the stands in three years at least. I expected the weepy 3000-word tribute by Jann Wenner ("We were brothers in arms!" etc etc.), but I didn't expect such a content-rich, heartrending spread besides. The Douglas Brinkley piece is flat-out amazing, and I had no idea Johnny Depp was such a great writer! I laughed, I cried, &c. Wow.
03.13.05 @ 09:48 PM EST [link]
I went to three different places in New York this week where "Is It All Over My Face" played at some point. Every single time, the crowd went completely bananas the minute it started. Magic. This is either a testament to the song's enduring and unimpeachable genius, an explanation of why I still love this city and its love-dancing crowds, or all of the above.
03.13.05 @ 02:16 AM EST [link]
A few completely lacking-in-substance notes on last night's great release party for the Run the Road grime compilation:
- Jammer looks like Lil Jon! Except a lot skinnier! And his horror-movie sound FX and beats are more scary and ominous than Lil Jon's. And when he grabs the mic, he's about as agile as Lil Jon, which is to say not very.
- D Double E is also very skinny; he's almost frighteningly gaunt. Something I read on Blissblog about grime MCs--that "hungry grain o' the voice"--seems a little too literal here.
- D Double E's real name is Darren!
Check out Sasha's photo for illustration. I didn't run into Sasha the entire time I was there, but the photo explains why: dude was in the front row.
03.13.05 @ 12:56 AM EST [link]
Does anyone know where I could get a good deal on a used pair of Technics 1200s? I'm finally going to take the plunge...
03.11.05 @ 04:17 PM EST [link]
My pal Mark Slutsky in Montreal says the Berlin post below reminds him of a short homemade super8 movie he did five years ago, from footage he shot while in Berlin, Budapest, Prague, Paris and Krakow. To watch it in Quicktime, click on the photo!
(Have I talked about how much super8 rules? Favorite film format evah!)
03.10.05 @ 05:49 PM EST [link]
berlin part 3.
Graffiti in the SO36 bathrooms
I went to Berlin for the first time when I was 19, almost by accident. I was in Amsterdam with a few friends, and got thoroughly bored of the scene there after a few days. Then I decided to hell with everyone--I was gonna take a night train to Berlin. When I got to Berlin, it was cold and a little dreary, but the coldness and stark monochrome dreariness of it somehow made it feel more romantic, like being trapped inside of a black-and-white movie from the '20s. I had this real sense that I was somewhere alien, unlike Amsterdam which was crammed to the gills with English-speaking tourists. Plus everything in Berlin was under construction or looked unfinished, which added to this deep and crushing sense of pathos (could've just been that I was a depressive teenager at the time). Construction cranes were literally everywhere. Potsdamer Platz looked like one big hole, basically; the gleaming Sony monstrosity was almost done, but none of the surrounding noise that's there now (chain stores, fancy shops, impressive glass-and-concrete structures) was. Just construction cranes in all their rigid geometric glory, looming in cold grey sky. I'd just taken my first art history class in college and fantasized in the typical style of some wide-eyed teenager who'd just read Baudelaire for the first time that I was this flaneur, drifting aimlessly through this strange, weird city, isolated and anonymous.
I developed a real fondness for Berlin, and one of the places I loved in my walks through the Kreuzberg district was this place I stumbled upon randomly called SO36. It's not a very big space; it's really just a bar with a little stage area and some videos projected on shreds of fabric hanging from the ceiling. And techno DJs and Turkish drag queens as bouncers and extremely intriguing graffiti in the bathroom stalls. It wasn't til about a year and a half ago, while doing some research for an excellent upcoming post-punk book, that I realized that SO36 had this whole backstory as a cradle for the German punk and post-punk scenes back in the late '70s and early '80s.
Every time I go back to Berlin now, it feels more finished; I don't see nearly as many construction cranes there now. But every time I saw one when I was there a few weeks ago, I snapped a photo of it:
My dancing buddy Tim Finney and I were searching for something to do on a Monday night in Berlin. Even in a place as happening as Berlin, Monday nights are really not all that happening. Ah! A Monday night bash at SO36. I really wanted to check it out after all these years. When we got out there, I was kind of surprised. The block it was on looked completely transformed, a lot cuter and friendlier--not dotted with the seedy bars and leather shops I remembered, though there were still a few.
SO36 was closed that night--fuckers!--and it was cold, cold, cold. We wandered around, looking for something to do, and then we met two kids from Oslo on a street corner, who were also searching for something to do. Ended up one of them was originally from Perth, so he and Tim struck up a conversation about Australia while I looked clueless. They were super-cool and amiable, and soon we were drinking beer with them at some Kreuzberg bar and scouring the listings of whatever German alt-weekly paper we could get our hands on. We ended up at another bar, this time in Mitte, called Delicious Doughnuts. (Don't ask me about the name; there were no baked goods on tap, just some somewhat baked people.) The Perth kid, whose hair was dyed flaming red, said he was training to be in the circus. A fire-breather! The other dude from Oslo was pretty shy and soft-spoken, but after a few drinks he told this amazing story of how he dropped out of a top medical school in Berlin to work as a bartender in Oslo, and was now studying to be an archaeologist! Granted, the two of them could've been making all this stuff up, but they were very compelling conversationalists, and really knew their stuff when it came to fire-swallowing practices and ancient Greek archaeology. We totally bonded.
The Oslo crew headed back to Norway the next morning, so I never saw them again.
Here's a pic of my pal Tim - looking like a total dreamboat, of course - and me, on a particularly blustery Berlin day:
Aw! Back to DJs and venues and stuff. There was Maria, which is kind of like the late Volume in Brooklyn except a little bigger and more cavernous. Warehousey feel, lots of video projections, consistently good bookings. (My friend Tobias took me there to see LCD Soundsystem when I was there this past summer; I got to see a bunch of German people go totally bananas to LCD. Like completely. A dance riot.) Here's a shot of the main floor:
I went there for a Transmediale party featuring DJ Marlboro, DJ/Rupture, and Mad Professor, and again a few days later for Steve Bug. I can't comment on DJ Marlboro because I missed him, unfortunately, but Rupture was tight. I finally got to meet him--he's a really nice dude--and his set was a nice breakbeaty sampling of everything from jungle to grime to Hindi music to (yes) M.I.A. The Germans were groovin' to everything he played, but I could sense an "I'm confused, what do I do with my body" feeling among some people in the crowd (myself included) whenever he played grime. No one seems to know how to dance to that stuff in a way that that music seems to demand. The tunes that you can't really match to a loping hip-hop swagger or to d'n'b or jungle moves or garage moves but just have those weird, aggressively jumbly rhythms...they make you want to contort yourself in non-Newtonian ways. Or just stand there:
Next post goes back to the 4/4 oonce-oonce-oonce, as the final chapter a.k.a. Berlin part 4 will be all about visiting Tresor, and Steve Bug's sensational set at Maria. Coming soon!
03.10.05 @ 02:32 AM EST [link]
And props to Glasgow's unflappable Optimo crew for their two NYC gigs--I attended both the swanky Manhattan one (Tribeca Grand, ooer) and the one in scruffier Brooklyn digs. I'm tellin' you, things are really picking up in this city dance-music-wise. People here seem psyched, more than ever, to organize gigs, to bring in people they like over from far-flung locales, and to just go out. (If you're not familiar with Optimo, it's kinda like if I Love Music in its smartest, most open-hearted days was boiled down into two people with mad DJ skills and a worldwide cult following. Okay, so Optimo was around before ILM, but there's a similarity in attitude and approach.)
The Brooklyn show got moved at the last minute from its scheduled venue to a Williamsburg art gallery entirely unprepared for it--okay I know what you're thinking, "Williamsburg art gallery," a little passe isn't it. It wasn't an awful electroclash leftover of a place, though; it felt unfinished and old, like being in someone's garage. Paint splattered on the walls in an appealingly ugly way. A rickety sort-of stage. There weren't tickets; a girl clutching a shoebox asked for a "$5 donation" when you walked in. Ramshackle acoustics (a pair of old JBL - junky but loud! - speakers slightly bigger than the ones in my bedroom providing the sound)-- but none of that mattered when beer was 3 bucks and all mixed drinks, regardless of complexity, cost a sensible $4. Okay, so the beer meant warm cans of Miller High Life ("the champagne of beers"!) and the mixed drinks came out of plastic bottles and went straight into waxy paper cups, but they were mixed good and strong. So unlike the Tribeca Grand where it's free to get in but a beer costs $10 (thieves!), people at the Brooklyn gig got properly wasted. A fun, bouncy vibe. Everyone digging the music, a few people more gone than others ("I just had...nine drinks..." said one, still sustaining an animated conversation about music while stumbling) and Optimo and support DJs Selzer and Sweeney in good form. It all had to close down by 2, but it was Monday night; you can't have it all.
I hear Wiley and Kano are coming to New York soon, which can only be good news too.
Here is a partial wish list for spring gigs in New York if someone out there is listening:
Tiefschwarz, Rex the Dog, Justus Köhncke live set, Ivan Smagghe, Vitalic, Booka Shade, Robag Wruhme, Luciano, Mathew Jonson
03.09.05 @ 02:21 AM EST [link]
Here's a little something I wrote about M.I.A. -- a droplet in the vast sea of discourse.
03.08.05 @ 08:55 PM EST [link]
The massive Reynolds riposte to Christgau's piece on M.I.A. last week in the Voice! Full speed ahead!
03.07.05 @ 12:57 PM EST [link]
I just received spam from someone claiming to be Hegel. Do I get Heidegger next?
03.06.05 @ 04:06 AM EST [link]
So I know I've been a little down on New York lately, what with all these posts about how great Berlin is and stuff. You've read it all before about New York (if not, pick up this week's Voice and read the 'Elegy for the Bowery')--that it's hellishly expensive here, that much-loved venues keep closing, that relentless gentrification keeps ratcheting upwards, that art scenes keep getting priced out of the neighborhoods they helped to build up in the first place, et cetera ad infinitum. I bought a new 30-day Metrocard mere hours before the fares went up yet again, only to realize that the trains at the stop near me weren't running (fuck you, MTA!)
Yesterday I was trying to get to Subtonic for the Triple R gig. I wasn't about to mess with the take-the-screwy-C-and-then-switch-to-the-F game, so I figured I'd trek down to Atlantic-Pacific, the Brooklyn nerve center for transit. Every train I tried to take had something up with it. But that's okay; if something was up with the 4/5 at Atlantic-Pacific, we'd still have the 2/3. If something was up with the 2/3, we'd still have the N/R. If all of those disappeared, we'd still have the Q, the B, and (dear God) the M. Ha ha! Try and stop us from getting to Manhattan, you bastards! I ended up taking the D train to Subtonic. It was the very first time I'd ever taken the D, I think, in my three years of living here in New York.
Subtonic--the dark grotty basement of Tonic that I've been to a thousand times--seemed somehow different, transformed. It felt like the smaller clubs I've been to in Cologne (almost literally, what with Triple R on the decks). The vibe was so open and friendly and generous, almost loved-up! The floor was absolutely packed (but not uncomfortably) with enthusiastic people dancing, and hollering and applauding between trax! I love New York! Triple R? Fantastic and inspired, and a lot meatier and stomping-er than I remember his sets being (one tune he played, I'm searching madly for--Sherburne or Matos or Finney or someone, help a sister out--all I know is it's something new on Trapez, feels like a happiness-injection to the brain, kind of like Ada's 'Maps' taken a few steps further into the bliss-vortex...not trancey really, but it's got this warmth, this delicious lustrous whoosh goin' on.)
To give you an idea of how long it's been since Triple R's been here: The last gig he played New York was at Twilo. Mad props to Spinoza and the rest of the Bunker crew for bringing him back to NYC, and I hope he comes back again soon.
03.05.05 @ 05:57 PM EST [link]
Just how great is the new Animal Collective and Vashti Bunyan EP?! More on this later.
03.05.05 @ 05:01 PM EST [link]
I was wandering around the industrial ruins of as-yet-unfinished Lehrter Bahnhof -- what will one day be Berlin's most massive and dazzling transit hub -- when I came across this sign. What does it mean? It's just a man inside a circle! It could mean anything! Does it mean you're not allowed to go past the metal gate? Or that you are? I stood there for about five minutes, confused, just staring at it.
03.04.05 @ 01:53 AM EST [link]
Here's the massive Jukebox Jury (the equivalent of the Wire's Invisible Jukebox) that I did with Michael Mayer in Cologne, published (finally!) in this week's Seattle Weekly. I'll post the entire 7,000-word transcript at some point for the technoids out there who want more. More!
Here's some backstory behind the interview (which took place in August). I went to Berlin, and then to Cologne, and was bleary-eyed and barely together after three solid days of total Cologne mayhem, what with the Kompakt 100 Festival on Friday (here's my rundown in case you missed it), Schaeben & Voss ft. Schad Privat plus the Areal party featuring Ada and the Wighnomy Bros. on Saturday, and an all-day outdoor gig featuring Ricardo Villalobos and Richie Hawtin on Sunday. I know, I know; woe is me, boo hoo, so many amazing gigs, so little time. But I was so mindblowingly exhausted that all I wanted at this point was to be home, back in New York, and in bed with a cup of tea, going "Ow, my head!" a lot.
On Monday, feeling totally wrecked, I started to panic because I remembered I still didn't have two of the tunes I wanted to play for the jukebox jury. I rushed over to an internet cafe, hooked my laptop into their network, and downloaded them from the iTunes music store. Or tried to, anyway, but the network kept cutting out. Agh! After thirty minutes of wrangling, I finally got the mp3s, picked up my trusty map, grabbed some coffee and my iPod loaded with the songs, and stumbled to Werderstrasse--home of Kompakt headquarters, store, and distribution, and also to the Traum/Trapez offices (across the street). I was totally lost for a bit, but I had some time before the interview. Those Germans, though, they're always so punctual. I didn't want to be late. Then, finally, I saw the telltale sign:
Aha! I walked in the door:
And hey presto, I was in the Kompakt record store. I have never seen a record store this glossy and sparkling in my life. Seriously, this place made Other Music look like a total pigsty in comparison; dig the obsessive attention to order, the cool brushed steel. I felt too uncool to shop here:
You could probably eat off the floor in this place, no joke. Big leafy plants everywhere, palm fronds dangling over records:
They have CDs, too:
I hung out here for a bit--it's a great record store--and then wandered into the offices next door for the interview.
This is what the offices look like. The woman at the computer is the lovely Jeannine. You may remember her from the cover of DJ Koze's "Late Night Check Out":
The room feels like a cross between a yoga retreat and an advertisement for Apple computers, doesn't it?
Then I went upstairs to do the jukebox jury with Michael Mayer. I was really nervous. I'd never met the guy prior to the Areal party two days earlier, and we didn't talk about music, really--we talked about cooking, and vegetarianism, and things like that (Neither of us eat meat, and we both like to cook.) Oh yeah, I mentioned Brian Eno at one point, but it was in relation to cooking, and theories about cooking. Right, so the interview!
I hooked up the iPod to the stereo, and had problems getting it to sound right--it sounded very distorted. I tested it by playing a sample mp3, and chose one of Mayer's own tunes, "Amanda," and asked him if he recognized it, to loosen him up a bit.
It took him til the vocal sample kicked in, but suddenly there was a flicker of recognition on his face, and he grinned.
"Er, I think I know this one..."
The interview went really well; it lasted nearly three hours. He's a really sweet guy, of course, funny, smart, and as much of a record nerd as you could possibly imagine a professional DJ and label owner would be ("You're from New York?" he says breathlessly at one point. "Do you know Nu Groove? I have every Nu Groove record ever released on earth!")
Here he is, trying to figure out what I just played--"Are you sure that was Mouse on Mars?"
Okay, all done! On my way out, I met the Kompakt chef, who comes in every day to make lunch for all 17 people who work at Kompakt. Here he is, demonstrating his stir fry skills for Wolfgang Voigt and Superpitcher, between glugs of water:
03.02.05 @ 02:43 AM EST [link]
If you tried to email me recently and your message bounced back--everything should be fixed now, if you could resend whatever it was you were sending. Thanks!
03.01.05 @ 08:22 PM EST [link]