the original soundtrack

back to school.
A few months ago, I went up to Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend Wayne Marshall's intriguing "Electronic Music: History and Aesthetics of Popular Music Since the 1960s" course at Harvard Extension School. Dig the syllabus--I never got to take a class this cool when I was in school! Required textbooks included Generation Ecstasy and Modulations; homework included making your own grime tunes, reading Sasha Frere-Jones' columns in the New Yorker, listening to Omni Trio... I attended the March 15th class, titled "Hardcore/Breakbeat, Ragga/Jungle, Drum'n'Bass, Garage/2step, Grime/Dubstep." That's a whole lot to cover in a few hours--each could be a semester on its own--but Wayne made a valiant attempt.

It was taught in the Harvard music building, in a music room that was designed for teaching classical music. The chalkboard was inscribed with 5-line staffs for formal music notation, and there was a grand piano looming large in the front of the room. A grand piano! I half-hoped it would spontaneously burst into flames and be magically replaced by a row of cold and beautiful synthesizers.

This is Wayne explaining the legendary Amen break to us. He played The Winstons' "Amen, My Brother," isolated the key drum break, and then talked to us about how this little break in an almost incidental song had become the foundation of entire genres of music. Wayne showed the class how to loop the break and speed it up with Fruityloops. I took some notes: "It is mindblowingly easy to make lousy drum'n'bass, but it is hard to make something awesome."

I'd forgotten what it was like to attend an academic class where the students looked psyched to learn. It was a good feeling. There were about thirty students, I'd say, and they were all different ages. Some were crusty old-skoolers while others looked like they could be high-schoolers. Several had interesting hair. They staked out their respective camps. A girl across from me whispered to her friend, "Wanna go see Ed Rush and Optical tonight?" Extra credit! "Nah," said her friend. "Let's go see Metro Area!"

This is guest lecturer DJ C of Mashit/Beat Research teaching us how to make something awesome:

More later!

06.30.05 @ 04:07 AM EST [link]

A tidbit by me on The Design of Dissent, in the Voice

06.28.05 @ 06:05 PM EST [link]

guess who's back.
We loves ya Jess!

06.27.05 @ 10:20 PM EST [link]

The lovely Scott Somedisco got me on the books meme, and I'm a sap, so here goes:

1) Total number of books I've owned

500+, I'd guess. Most of my books are in storage. I buy a lot of books secondhand, though I haven't come across a store here in New York that matches my favorite musty secondhand bookstore, McIntyre & Moore in Somerville, Mass. My fave store for new books is still the MIT Press bookstore in Cambridge, Mass., where high-level cognitive science books and big, luscious art books and physics books and architecture books all rub shoulders in near-utopian ways.

I also find a lot of great books on the street on trash day. I've found books by Hermann Hesse, Julia Kristeva, Alice Munro, and Carl Jung in New York trash bins. Park Slope is especially great on trash day, I've found.

2) The last book I bought:

In preparation for my temporary move to Berlin, several dreary "Teach Yourself German" books, all purchased for five bucks or less. I read them on the subway, a few pages at a time, hoping the information seeps through my pores via hypnosis or osmosis. Incidentally, this is also how I read Ulysses by James Joyce. Every time I got on the subway, I would read one page, and then stop reading immediately. I continued like this for about a year until I drove myself batshit insane.

3) The last book I read

Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco by Peter Shapiro. Highly recommended.

4) Five books that mean a lot to me (in no particular order)

The Biochemical Basis of Neuropharmacology by Cooper, Bloom, and Roth

When I was young I really, desperately wanted to be a mad scientist. As a career. For the first science fair I entered, age 9, I submitted a mouse trap that you could operate via remote control, sorta like a mini moon rover. (My teacher thought it was disgusting.) I memorized the Periodic Table backwards when I was ten, and we had a little laboratory in the cellar when I was growing up. My big brother used to mix up sugar and sulfuric acid together in a test tube on the back patio, resulting in a furiously hissing column of blackish carbon and plumes of gray smoke, to get his annoying little sister (me) to quit bothering him.

It was the world of chemical molecules and their relation to biology that fascinated me the most. But it wasn't til I got to college and bought this dense textbook on neuropharmacology that the light went off in my head. The language of neurotransmitters, synapses, neurons...this is what I'd been waiting for my entire life, while I was analyzing the ingredients lists on the backs of cereal boxes and air fresheners and nail polish labels. What I was really interested all along was how molecules worked in the brain. I still leaf through it occasionally, even if my career (if you can call it that) has taken a 180-degree turn since then.

The Futurist Cookbook by F.T. Marinetti

Dodgy links to Fascism aside, Italian Futurism really was my favorite movement in modernism--far more tweaked and insane than, say, even the most ostentatiously weird Dadaists or Surrealists could be. Some of the best manifestos are in here, like Marinetti's diatribe against pasta. Futurist food was the best food, and not simply because they used steel ball bearings for stuffing and covered hard-boiled eggs in chocolate and didn't use forks. This cookbook challenged every assumption I ever had about food, and how it should be cooked, and how it should be eaten.

Relativity: The Special and the General Theory by Albert Einstein

What this book teaches best, more than anything about physics, is how to go about explaining something to a reader. Einstein explains everything so thoughtfully and gently and simply, and treats the reader as if you're as smart as he was. He's never condescending. It's got this classic opening where he talks about how Euclidean geometry doesn't really seem to make much sense when you really think about it, which is something I'd always suspected when I first took geometry. What is a plane, anyway? What does a "straight line" even mean? Slowly but surely, he gets you to question every pat assumption you've ever had in favor of a funkier and far stranger set of concepts. But he takes your hand every step of the way, so by the time you get to the end of the book and he's completely shredded and reorganized your ideas of how things work, you still feel oddly soothed and tranquil.

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 and The Proud Highway, by Hunter S. Thompson

It's tough to talk about Thompson because it's like talking about Lester Bangs; he has so many third-rate copyists who just duplicate his stylistic tics and rehash the stories of weapons-grade drug consumption without going deeper than that. I never had any intention of emulating either his prose or his multifarious addictions. What I was more interested in was his fighting spirit, the feeling that suffused his best work. (And there was a lot of bad work, too. Even the last third of Campaign Trail '72 is complete and total garbage. But his best work is better than anything I've read.)

I actually cried when Thompson kicked the bucket, which I've never done for any writer before or since. Even though he was an old white dude in Aspen and I'm a twentysomething Indian chick in New York, I felt a real kinship with him. He was someone I tied my romantic idea of America to, along with Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Faulkner and the rest. It was the spirit of Thompson that inspired me to chuck all those solid years of preparing to be a mad scientist out the window in favor of a dubious career as a freelance journalist. I figured Hunter would approve.

The Bhagavad-Gita (various translations)

This happens to be the book I was named after, and also one of the only ancient scriptures I've read (in translation) that really resonated with me. I'm glad I was named after a good book.

Bonus music entry:

Ocean of Sound by David Toop; Energy Flash by Simon Reynolds; More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction by Kodwo Eshun (tie)

Interestingly all three books cover at least a few of the same musicians, but do so in wildly different ways, partly because each book develops and employs a different vocabulary for thinking about music. Toop wanders through music in a dreamlike, episodic way that's very similar to how I experience a lot of the ambient music he talks about. But what really strikes me about Toop is that in his adventures through music, he always seems to be traveling alone. That's not a bad thing, necessarily, but it's very different from a book like Energy Flash, which champions scenes, and large groups of people experiencing music simultaneously. I'm not even going to get started on the third book, or I'll be here all day.

5) Tag five people and have them fill this out on their blogs

DJ Martian, Dave Q, Ronan, Julianne, and Rosemary/Zoe.

06.26.05 @ 01:57 AM EST [link]

public service announcements
If you're wondering what to do in New York over the next few days, here are a few options that I'd recommend.

Friday: At Subtonic, Detroit's Ryan Elliott is gonna be DJing, along with Berlin's M_nus force Troy Pierce and New York's own Heartthrob. Plus Dietrich Schoenemann of Prototype 909 fame as an extra bonus.

Also on Friday: As Simon's already mentioned, there's also an old-skool throwdown that night in Greenpoint featuring DB, Frankie Bones, and Adam X, among others. I've seen 'em all before but I'd go for DB alone because he smokes in old-skool-rave mode.

Also on Friday: Metro Area, a.k.a. the incredibly suave Morgan Geist and Darshan Jesrani, are playing at a promising new space called Love on West 8th St.

As for Saturday: Green Velvet is spinning on Saturday night but tickets are $30 and Avalon's sound system sucks giant rocks, so forget that. Go to Capone's in Brooklyn instead for Alldisco, which costs exactly 0 bucks (plus free pizza)--and the special guest is DJ High Priest, who used to jam with K-Rob and Rammellzee and was once in a band with Jean-Michel Basquiat. (Not many people can say that, though it is a neat conversation-starter at parties, I'm guessing: "I was in a band with Basquiat once.")

06.23.05 @ 11:39 PM EST [link]

06.23.05 @ 02:37 AM EST [link]

I spent a lot of the day in a hospital (I'm just fine, but one of my brothers isn't), and I was feelin' pretty down. It looks like he's going to get better soon, but right now things are no fun at all. I spent a lot of time watching nurses hover as I sat there on a stiff vinyl chair, helplessly wondering about the world and our insignificant places in it. Later on, as I was working on my computer and trying to fix what was wrong with my blasted email accounts, I came across two beautiful emails from none other than Justus Köhncke--sent to me in 2004--about this post. I'd never read them until today. And suddenly I started to feel better again. Or more hopeful, at least, about the future and what it might hold. Sometimes I think that Köhncke's music is one great big cosmic present sent from the skies--tied with loads of colorful ribbons and bows--sent to comfort us when we're feeling bad, and to remind us that yes, disco is still the greatest thing ever.

06.23.05 @ 02:37 AM EST [link]

A magical psych-noise forest.

A magical forest mit German techno glasses.

After you hit the Nublu shindig or wherever else you're going tonight (Tuesday), you might want to check out the Jane release party at APT--Jane being the luminous ('n numinous) collaboration between Animal Collectivist Panda Bear and DJ Scott Mou. APT ain't the most ideal venue, but the party's free, and Geologist and Deaken from Animal Collective will be spinning along with Scott. No specific idea of what records they'll be playing, but expect some harmonic convergence of the weird-rock and minimal techno worlds, for sure. Heavy stuff.

06.21.05 @ 02:42 AM EST [link]

...and I have to admit that I'm sort of psyched to check out the new MTV Desi...even though it's probably gonna suck.

06.20.05 @ 04:59 AM EST [link]


I recently finished reading Peter Shapiro's new book Turn the Beat Around: A Secret History of Disco, which got me thinking about my own secret history of disco. I'm 25 years old, so I didn't exactly experience disco when it was a raging concern. Disco for me was always a nostalgia act. It was also the first genre I got really psyched about, at a time when it was totally uncool to be into disco--during the heyday of grunge.

I remember sitting in ninth grade geometry class and suddenly realizing that everyone in the classroom except me was wearing unbuttoned flannel shirts, T-shirts and baggy jeans that were intentionally ripped at the knees. I despised the aesthetic of grunge at the time (still do), and I guess I just didn't understand it. Why rip your jeans on purpose, I remember thinking to myself at the time. My grandfather was a tailor, and instilled a certain reverence in me for clothing. I used to watch him sit patiently each day with his sewing machine, as he crafted custom-made suits and shirts and dresses, and saw how much painstaking work it was. Even a little later, as I got more into punk and subjected myself to various bodily modifications--dyed red hair, multiple piercings--I would always hesitate to rip up my clothes.

And I despised the music of grunge; I never liked Nirvana, aside from being able to appreciate a few of the poppier singles, and I didn't like the people who were into it, either. I guess part of the magic of Kurt Cobain's angst was that it was so one-size-fits-all; it appealed to everyone--even the popular kids, the football jocks, the cheerleaders. I hated the other bands even more, like Alice in Chains and whatever else was going at the time. Mostly I felt gypped by the decade. The '90s at that time--with its attendant trappings of heroin, AIDS scares, and waif chic--just seemed so utterly drab compared to the '70s and '80s, which I had experienced mostly through television. I wasn't cool enough, or old enough (at age 13), to go up to New York's clubs on weekends, or clued-in enough about raves. So the prevailing zeitgeist was grunge, and it all just seemed like dreary, tuneless slop to me. Even the word "grunge" seemed sort of grey and mangy and unappetizing. I remember going to a few straightedge hardcore shows, which fared even worse in the "dreary, tuneless slop" department. My friend had subscriptions to some British music papers at the time, and we lived for each issue, for the colorful pages with jokes in 'em, the goofy stories about the misadventures of the Happy Mondays, the stories of clubs we'd never been to, and the tunes we'd probably never hear. From what I could gather, Bez was having a better time than Kurt Cobain was.

A year or so after this, when I was about fourteen, I remember sitting in my friend's car (she was a little older than me) and listening to an album she'd just bought--Screamadelica by Primal Scream. The album had come out a year or two ago, but it was new to us. I wasn't really into what was playing until "Loaded" came on, with that stoopid Peter Fonda sample: "We wanna be free to do what we wanna do! We wanna have a good time!" The lines rang in my head as I stared out the window of her car into the empty, rolling suburb-scape. I bought the album about a week later. That's exactly what grunge was missing, for me--a good time! Nirvana would've been way better, I thought, if they'd sounded more like...I dunno...Chic. "Good Times"! Which brings the story back to disco.

The first film to affect me deeply and emotionally was Saturday Night Fever, which I saw for the first time on a borrowed VHS tape while the whole grunge thing was unfolding at school. The soundtrack was also one of the only LPs in my parents' house, along with Ravi Shankar and "The Beatles, 1967-70." I memorized both sides of both LPs of Saturday Night Fever, front to back. The Tavares, the Bee Gees, the Trammps, Yvonne Elliman. I even developed a perverse fascination with the almost completely intolerable "A Fifth of Beethoven." I didn't get why my classmates didn't idolize Tony Manero the way they idolized Kurt Cobain. Tony had cool clothes! He could dance! And the bit at the end of the movie always broke my heart. Tony was as much of a tragic Jesus figure for me as Kurt was for my classmates.

Flash-forward to a decade or so later, and I'm standing in a hip Brooklyn bar and the floor is freaking out to Thelma Houston's "Don't Leave Me This Way." Even though the song is an age-old disco chestnut almost on par with "I Will Survive," the hipster contingent still goes berserk. And how could you not freak out? The whole song is radiant, openhearted bliss. Every note uplifting, every note perfect.

06.20.05 @ 02:42 AM EST [link]

I'll be at this bash in Cologne in August, if anyone's going. Note that the venues are Stadtgarten and Studio 672 -- quite the change from last year's shindig!

06.19.05 @ 02:31 AM EST [link]

Half of Galoppierende Zuversicht.

06.17.05 @ 03:41 AM EST [link]

This thread that Ronan started on ILM got me thinking about the overlap between "underground" dance music and "overground" dance music. Or the "German underground" versus the seamless, swooping, expansive "Global Underground." I'm not talking about John Digweed putting one Superpitcher track on his Fabric mix. (Check out wildly conflicting views on that mix by two writers I really like: this review in Pitchfork by Jess Harvell, and this feature by Tricia Romano in the Seattle Weekly.) Or about Kompakt's increasing drift towards bigger, more anthemic-sounding trance. Take a look at the track listing for this brand new Fundacion mix (done in Ableton Live!), by Digweed's longtime collaborator Sasha. And it's hard to get more overground than Sasha:

1. Badger - Rise Of The Machine
2. Adam Johnson - Four Squares
3. Swayzak - Another Way (Richard Davis Mix)
4. Beanfield - Tides feat. Bajka (C’s Movement #1) (Carl Craig Remix)
5. Kosmas Epsilon - Innocent Thoughts (Stel Remix)
6. Funk Da Void - All That Matters
7. Closer Musik - One, Two, Three No Gravity (Ewan Pearson Remix)
8. Phonique --99 & A Half featuring Alexander East (I:Cube Remix)
9. Holden & Thompson - Come To Me (Last Version)
10. Holden & Thompson - Come To Me (Club Mix)
11. M.A.N.D.Y. - Jah
12. Playgroup -Behind The Wheel (DJ-Kicks Electroca$h Mix)
13. Freeform Five - Electromagnetic (Tiefschwarz Dub)
14. Closer Musik - One, Two, Three No Gravity (Ewan Pearson Remix)
15. Andre Kraml - Safari (James Holden Remix)
16. Freaky Chakra - Blacklight Fantasy
17. Goldfrapp - Strict Machine (We Are Glitter Mix)
18. M83 - Don't Save Us From The Flames (Superpitcher Remix)

Several of the tracks on it--Get Physical! Kompakt! Border Community! Richard Davis! Ewan Pearson!--are pretty great. But what really kicked my ass about looking at this was that it looks a bit like the new Damian Lazarus "Suck My Deck" mix, which I received in the mail the other day, complete with fanfare about how it was the real sound of the underground, etc. It includes two of the same exact remixes, plus several overlaps in artists:

1. Break 3000 - Flash 1
2. System 7 – Planet 7 (James Holden Remix)
3. Thomas Dolby – One Of Our Submarines (Ricardo Villalobos Remix)
4. Pier Bucci - Polaris
5. Switch – Get On Downz (Max Fresh Remix)
6. Phonique feat. Alexander East – 99 and A Half (I:Cube Remix)
7. George Issakidis - Into Your Life (Midnight Mike Remix)
8. Freaks – Tweekers (Extended Disco 12”) [Exclusive]
9. Rayon - The Panther
10. Trentemoller – Physical Fraction
11. Matt Tolfrey & Craig Sylvester – The Horn
12. Audioperu - Viviendas Paraiso
13. Alter Ego – Beat The Bush (Ewan Pearson Remix)
14. James Holden – Lump [Exclusive]
15. The Stranglers – Love 30
16. M83 – Don’t Save Us From The Flames (Superpitcher Remix)

Now I'm not criticizing one side or the other, or saying that one mix is necessarily better than the other. I'm just fascinated by the blend between two camps, where I'm having more and more of a difficult time telling what's what, and wondering how important of a distinction that is anyway. You take it from here.

06.16.05 @ 01:56 AM EST [link]

Some upcoming events:

Dan Selzer & co. Alldisco night at Capone's on Saturday in Williamsburg -- you can download past sets here. Lovely website too.

Dominic LaRuffa's blog w/ details on a show feat. local band Kudu (which promises to cross the best parts of '81 post-punk/'86 Chicago house/'91 UK rave?!) on Tuesday

06.16.05 @ 01:26 AM EST [link]

Sometimes it's awfully hard to think about music when everything else--like, say, your House of Representatives--is pissing you off. Please sign this petition if you haven't already. (I've worked on projects for NPR and PBS in the past, but don't let that dissuade you.) And if you're in New York, go check out The Design of Dissent, a new exhibit at the SVA Gallery. I saw it on Monday and it's pretty great--a real call to arms.

06.15.05 @ 04:39 PM EST [link]

I don't normally post pleas for help on this thing, but here goes. As some of you know, I'm moving to Berlin for a little while. I'd rather not sleep on Ostgut's concrete dancefloor every night (cozy as it may be), so it'd be cool to have a place to live. If you know of an open apartment or room in Berlin from August through October, let me know--send any tips to me using the email link to your right, and thanks!

06.14.05 @ 11:28 PM EST [link]

Matos issued me a four-question challenge, and I can't resist:

Total volume of music on my computer: About the same as Matos. I actually freak out when I sift through the enormous list of music files on my computer, which is why I like listening to DJ mixes, because they sort through the mess for me.

Last CD I bought was: An old rave comp called "I Love 1991" for four bucks (it is exactly as good as the title implies!)

Song playing right now: The Juan Maclean, 'Dance With Me.' Total asskicking.

Five songs I listen to a lot these days: The new Isolée album, first five tracks. Every time I'm about to listen to something else, I think 'This is time I'm taking away from listening to the new Isolée,' so I put it on again.

06.14.05 @ 02:38 AM EST [link]

mutek, part 3.
On the last night of Mutek, the big draw for me was Melchior Productions--a.k.a. minimal house producer Thomas Melchior, who records for the mighty Playhouse and Perlon labels. He had an album last year called The Meaning that really crept up on me. On first listen, I wasn't really into it. I mean, 2004 was the year of huge hooks, of electro-house, of slam-you-over-the-face Tiefschwarz and Ivan Smagghe, of Get Physical's glossy, maximalist take on classic Chicago house and the triumphant return of über-rockers Alter Ego and on and on. I wanted to be pounded into submission by dance music, not seduced by subtle slivers of hi-hats. But then I listened to The Meaning again. And again. And again and again. I became completely seduced by those slivers of hi-hats. In a lot of his tracks, he uses brief vocal snippets--usually no more than a second long--but he uses 'em differently from the way someone like (genius) Todd Edwards does, or the way Akufen does. There's loads of space in Melchior's music; it all sounds very airy, no matter how busy the track gets. Part of what fascinates me about minimal dance music is how your brain fills in the blanks of what's not there, using almost no cues--a bit of hi-hat here, a tidbit of vocal there, a smattering of bassline, a teensy bit of melody. It's kinda the same cognitive trick that Scott McCloud talks about in "Understanding Comics," of "closure"--how your brain "finishes" incomplete pictures and figures out what's happening plot-wise in the space between two comic-book panels.

Melchior at Mutek

A few hours after Melchior's set, some dude who was big into drone/psych/noise came up to me and asked me what "the beautiful drone music" a few hours back was. I thought he meant one of the earlier ambient laptop acts, but then I realized he was talking about Melchior's house music. "That was Melchior Productions," I said. "I guess you could say it's drone music." I thought about it for a minute and figured that, genres be damned, they were all really all the same thing, that I loved Phill Niblock and the Boredoms and Neu! and Earth and Indian classical music for the same reasons I loved house music and techno. I got all weepy for a second, like I could see all the music I ever loved swirling in front of me in a single shimmering, luminous vortex. (I was sober, by the way.)

I somehow got into a conversation with Mathew Jonson around now. "You have a track called 'Folding Space,'" I remember saying. "Are you a mathematician?" Or perhaps a physicist. Okay, perhaps I was a little addled by this point. His response was really interesting. He said he had no background in math but that he thought about math a lot, as a lot of musicians do. "It's all very organic," he said. "I can feel math, but I don't really think about it consciously." He said he even had dreams sometimes, about math, and about music. (Yipes. If you ever want to make me swoon, tell me you have dreams about math.) Then he went into this long explanation of how he thinks about music, and how he goes about making tracks. I wish I could remember more of the details. He said he came up with a few of his key tunes by accident--by messing around with lots of different gear, and then doing a lot of editing and cleaning up later. He said he was happiest with "Freedom Engine," the track he started off his Mutek live set with; the weird gloopy melody that sounds like it's being squeezed from all directions comes from layering a bunch of arpeggios on top of each other.

I wasn't so much into the later acts. Soulphiction's wack, eerie-in-a-bad-way vibe, especially, rubbed me the wrong way. I was biding my time for the afterparty. Akufen was slated to play at it. I asked Mathew Jonson if he was going to play at the afterparty, too, which would've made my year. Hell no, he said; he had a flight to catch back to Vancouver at 7 am. Then he relented. "Unless they really need me to," he said. "But probably not."

A bunch of us headed to the afterparty, which was in a loft a few blocks away. It had much more of a gritty, old-school-rave feel to it, sort of what I fantasized Mutek would be like before I went. (I wasn't too keen on the official Mutek venue; it felt too serious and hallowed and arty in there, and, well, too "official.") Anyway, the loft. You took a rickety elevator up, and you got to a white-walled concrete space that was very intimate, with room for maybe 200 people. The big windows were mercifully covered with a big roll of canvas tarp, but there was one window that wasn't covered completely, so you could see the raw early light of morning start to peep through. I felt a little disoriented at first. There was no music yet. Where the hell was Akufen with his records? Then someone whispered in my ear: "Look! Mathew Jonson is setting up."

Over the next three hours, Jonson (aided by The Mole) proceeded to sling the best live set I've heard in forever. It was a lot more heavy and funky and danceable than his Mutek live set, with a good sense of humor to it. There was no pressure here to be 'pushing the boundaries of electronic music' or whatever; the goal here was to rock the goddamn party. And good God, it rocked. He cut up and sliced his own tracks with occasional bits and pieces from old records. Everyone was dancing their hearts out. I don't remember much, just a blur of rose-tinted euphoria, really; at one point I remember standing there, gazing at the tarp-covered windows and hearing Jonson The Mole suddenly fold in a sample from "Is It All Over My Face?" so it just went

love dancing
love dancing
love dancing
love dancing

...and I almost lost it, I was so happy to be alive, and there, and dancing, in that space.

06.13.05 @ 03:07 AM EST [link]

mutek, part 2.

Mathew Jonson gets started

Okay, back to Galoppierende Zuversicht. They're two dudes, Styro 2000 and Bang Goes. (No, those are not their real names. But if your names were 'Marcel Ackerknecht' and 'Roland Widmer', you'd change names too.) They have a recent "Basta EP" out on the Swiss minimal techno label Bruchstuecke, which as far as I can tell is their only release as a duo. All of their gear--samplers, etc--was homemade, which reminded me of, er, Wolf Eyes for some reason, and Styro 2000 was wearing a red light strapped to his head, as if he was about to go spelunking. One key piece of hardware was broken, but they galloped confidently (that's what 'Galoppierende Zuversicht' means, seriously!) ahead regardless. They're making their New York debut tomorrow night at DJ Spinoza's Bunker party at Subtonic. Five bucks! Word on the street is that the key piece of hardware will be fixed by tomorrow night, so get psyched.

Neon chandelier at Metropolis

Switzerland's a little underrated when it comes to dance music, isn't it? Germany always grabs all the credit these days. Switzerland should get more props. Here are four reasons. Switzerland's super close to France and Germany, for one, lending it an enviable geographic position for potential house and techno world domination. Second, Bruchstuecke, based in Zurich, is an ace little label. Third, Weetamix, in Geneva, is one of the best clubs in the world right now. Fourth, Switzerland--far from being the land of chocolate, clocks, banks, the Alps, and old people--is where acid was invented. Now, I'm not talking acid as in TB-303 squelches. I'm talking about Dr. Albert Hofmann's synthesis of d-lysergic acid diethylamide in Switzerland way back in the 1940s, which paved the way for Switzerland's pioneering research on psychedelics. A lot of the best and hottest scientific research on the subject still comes from Switzerland; because Hofmann is a national hero of sorts, the government there is a little more laid-back about funding these studies. The most recent 'Altered States of Consciousness' international scientific convention was held in Zurich, too. Give it up for Switzerland, people.

Back to Canada. O Canada! Here's the crowd...

The next day--and my favorite bit in the official Mutek program--was Piknik Electronik, an all-day outdoor event in a big grassy park where DJs play and people dance. Luciano, Serafin, and Stephen Beaupre from Crackhaus all played outstanding sets. (By the way, if you haven't heard Luciano's M83 remix, you can get it on Fluxblog--and is it just me, or does M83 exist simply to create raw material to be remixed? I've heard their records and thought their amorphous neo-shoegaze muck to be nothin' special--but when shaped by the capable hands of Superpitcher, Luciano, and Jackson, among others, their totally boring music becomes total hotness.)

I hung out at Piknik Electronik for three hours or so, and finally got to fulfill my long-held fantasy of dancing inside of an Alexander Calder sculpture. This was the dancefloor:

The sculpture is "Man," built for the '67 Expo. Interestingly, it's really structurally similar to "The Big Sail," the 1966 Calder sculpture that was almost literally in my backyard for the four years when I was in college. So seeing "Man" brought back all kinds of memories for me. This is what you saw when you looked up from the dancefloor. Holy shit!

Luciano looking like a total pimp

Akufen wonders what the hell is going on

The final installment--Mutek part 3--comin' up soon.
06.09.05 @ 10:02 PM EST [link]

mutek, part 1.
MUTEK officially started last Wednesday, but I didn't get to Montreal til Thursday night, and didn't get to MUTEK until Friday. The focus of MUTEK is on live laptop sets. It took a little time for me to get used to this; I'm so conditioned to receiving electronic music in the form of DJ sets, where every track is by a different person and there's still a bit of a mechanical/analog feel to it. Seeing performers stare at laptop screens all night, playing only their own music, could be a little wearing at times. But when it was on, it was on. Friday night's big stars were Bruno Pronsato (on Seattle's fast-rising Orac label--a label to watch, for sure), Apparat, and Pan/Tone, a.k.a. Sid LeRock. Though they were all good, the big draw for me was Apparat. The dude works with Shitkatapult and Bpitchcontrol (he works a lot with Ellen Allien) and he absolutely smokes live. This is what it looked like after he got going:

Once he got comfortable--he had a laptop crash midway through which temporarily destroyed the vibe--the second half of his set was pretty stunning. Low on the clicks'n'cuts stuff that bores me to be honest and heavy on hard, bangin' techno. I'm not too familiar with his oeuvre but I thought I was hallucinating, because it felt like a DJ set even though I knew it wasn't. Some of his tracks bore slight resemblances to things I already knew. Not that he was copying any particular sound, but there were faint traces of familiarity--one had a bassline that reminded me of Superpitcher's 'Fieber,' and another had that expansive roiling-mass-of-energy quality to it that felt like Joey Beltram. A good night, but basically a preface to Saturday and Sunday, which promised total insanity.

Saturday's big headliner--and the most anticipated event of all of Mutek 2005 for many--was Sense Club, a.k.a. Luciano and Ricardo Villalobos. But take a look at that marquee for a moment and notice, quelle horreur, that there's a big name missing. Yep, Villalobos 'missed his flight' from Berlin; take that as you will. The third time he's missed a Montreal gig! Since Villalobos had all the laptops, software, and gear, Luciano was forced to make do with this:

When I found out Villalobos was down for the count, I wasn't heartbroken. Or even mildly disappointed. (And Luciano still rocked hard.) I've had the chance to see Villalobos in the flesh twice before, once in London and once in Cologne, and the big draw for me was a live set by Canada's own Mathew Jonson. (If you're not familiar with Jonson, go here and download Mark Consumption's all-Mathew-Jonson mix pronto.) Atom Heart replaced Villalobos on extremely short notice, and I like Atom Heart a lot--he was one of the first 'electronic musicians' I started listening to as a teenager--so I was psyched. Plus the fact that Villalobos was missing injected a lot of high drama and heavy tension into the night that wouldn't have been there otherwise, which I found exciting. Would Luciano blow a fuckin' fuse and start smashing laptops a la Kurt Cobain onstage, I wondered? Would Akufen gallantly jump up and offer to sing 'My Way: The Musical' to make up for Villalobos' indiscretions? Would Villalobos materialize suddenly in a Darth Vader outfit and darkly intone "Luciano, I am your father"?

And were Gallopierende Zuversicht really from Switzerland, or would they reveal that they were aliens? Judging by their live set (total asskicking), I'd say they were aliens.

Luciano delivers the goods

Stay tuned for Mutek, Part 2! I gotta go to bed, and this laptop is burning a hole in my femur.

06.08.05 @ 04:59 PM EST [link]

Happy birthday props and luv to my pal Mark Sinker, who deserves all the props in the world. In his honor (and probably much to his chagrin) here's one of my favorite reviews by him, from NME, March 1988:

Surfer Rosa

PIXIES QUOTE The Fall (a mangled snatch of 'Stephen Song' in 'I'm Amazed'), so we can: "They pass my home at night/oh they are NOT ALRIGHT/they are ten times my age/and one-tenth my height" ('City Hobgoblins').

Pixies aren't benign. They are NOT ALRIGHT. They sport no friendly 'The' (like Swans, or more pertinently, 'Elves', another terror-struck-little Fall-song), and they make sounding like someone else into an ugly dream that, come morning, you aren't sure you want to remember.

Who do they sound like? 'Gigantic' sounds like Rickie Lee Jones guesting with Pere Ubu to me. They writhe through The Band and Crazy Horse and (especially) The Fall as if they can hear some kind of history which links them all. They do more than sound like people who went before them - they force the past to sound like them. 'Surfer Rosa' doesn't have the brazen Latin-metal invention of their 'Come On Pilgrim' mini-LP from last year - but I can't really remember when I last heard a music with this degree of lazy evil injected into it. Or a music that seemed to pin down things we wouldn't have heard ourselves, to map out ideas in the air and sing them into solid form. With studio backchat and chopped up fragments of songs, they build the same kind of politico-critical semi-conscious assault on their surroundings as more overtly nasty Stateside bands Pussy Galore and the Butthole Surfers.

That's what the new Latin kick's all about, the nueva onda, as reinvented by Pixie-songwriters Black Francis and Mrs John Murphy. The Wonderful & Frightening World of Pixies ends up forcing Anglos to put their own world-view through agonizing reappraisal.

So is it ever going to be cool to put (half) naked women on the cover of an LP, however untamely Hispanic they look? It's a matter of the twist inside of who's the real victim. Pixies have put a viciously eccentric but very subtle curve into the rock they play and replay - if they're enticing a few folks in with a promise of cheap old-style rockist titillation, it's because they want to cheat and humiliate them publicly - to smack them in the face for their submission to sleaze. Rock America has given up on Like-Me-Like-Me populism, and some of us are beginning to love it as a result. As they say themselves: Oh my golly! Oh my golly! Rosa, oh oh ohh Rosa! Huh! Huh! Rosa, oh oh ohh Rosa! Huh! Huh! 9.5/10 M.S.

06.07.05 @ 10:59 PM EST [link]

Here's a live review I wrote of Kraftwerk's New York show last week, and here's a review I wrote of a new exhibit about synesthesia, both for the Voice.

06.07.05 @ 02:34 PM EST [link]

I went to Montreal for MUTEK, and I wasn't disappointed. This is what Montreal looks like in June:

Tintin is everywhere.

I was captivated by this yellow wall. The layers of paint gave it a strange crumbly texture.

Vines everywhere!

And vine-covered graffiti!

More graffiti.

And more.

Trees everywhere.

A great bridge.

Riding on the Metro.

MUTEK rundown coming up.

06.07.05 @ 12:40 AM EST [link]

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