As everybody knows, television commercials were invented to get up from the sofa to go to the bathroom while they’re trying to sell you shower gel, cleaning products, beer with no alcohol, stuff. This is a problem if you live with other people, because of the potential queues for the bathroom, but there’s another great invention for that called “go to the fridge to get something,” not to mention channel surfing. Anyway, we see the publicity from the corner of our eyes without really noticing, until something unexpected comes on the screen -now that they’re making them 3D- which grabs you and forces you to pay attention. Normally this occurs when scantily clad people are shown (sex sells, obviously) but this time it was during halftime of the Spain Vs. Chile game: a spot for the new Peugeot campaign appeared, “it chooses you, it owns you, “ and atomised female voices, pieces of diva-soul, bass lines and broken rhythms all over the place, with crisp production. It sounded like dubstepised post-garage, like a copy of Joy Orbison, and even though at first I thought “sounds good,” the second thought was more worrying: the moment some coked up execs think this sound is cool for commercials –which is what happened a few years back with drum’n’bass, trip-hop and IDM with sugary melodies– it means the lamb has opened the first seal announcing the Apocalypse, i.e. the entry of dubstep-or-whatever in the mainstream. Should we worry? Just in case, I’d say we should, if only just to keep a peaceful mind. Ah and by the way, the track is called “Seduction” and is from a French trio based in Brooklyn, Le Film. Let’s hope Hotflush signs them. That said, let’s get on with this month’s review.
Everybody hates the radioactive mosquito-like buzzing of the vuvuzelas, those plastic horns that are supposedly imitating the sound of elephants – if anything, they imitate the farts people lighten up the matches with at the football World Cup in South Africa. At first it could appear to be an attractive sound for its intensity – while the opening match between South Africa and Mexico was being played, Mount Kimbie commented via Twitter: “loving the vuvuzela - intense opening scenes!” – but after a while just about everyone was over the incredible noise. In fact, the following Mount Kimbie tweet was “5 mins in - loving the vuvuzela a little bit less” and a day after, with Messi and Maradona’s Argentina playing their first game, they were comparing the start of the matches with the intros of The Bug’s DJ sets: controlled torture. It’s because of this that the only real defender of the vuvuzela as the next tone of mass use in the context of electronic music was Kode9. Steve Goodman likes war sounds, hurting sounds taken to the extreme – that’s the thesis of his book “Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, And The Economy Of Fear” (MIT Press, 2010), about war and noise, and during the first days of the Mundial, apart from wishing the English team many losses –Scottish rivalry got the better of him; he’ll be happy after the humiliation against Germany and the disallowed goal– he littered his Twitter with comments in favour of the instrument, including a trend topic which has yet to see its first message ( “#morevuvuzelaspleaseilikethesoundofbeesmorethanhumansingingnationalistsongs”), which is perhaps a heads-up about upcoming Hyperdub release full of insect sounds. Although the most worrying are the two messages left by Ewan Pearson: “Just received my first promo link to a vuvuzela house record. Surprised it’s taken so long, really” (June 22nd) and “At the Kompakt BBQ. Wolfgang Voigt has a vuvuzela. Watch out for the next Gas / Mike Ink stuff” (June 25th). I’m scared.
A couple of months ago the most passionate techno records were those uncovering a piano interrupting the cold groove reviving it in a crushing lesson in mechanical soul. The influence of “Found A Place” by Tony Lionni was rather obvious, but all that staccato and arpeggio fever dropped away, waiting for a new hit to let the cat out of the bag once more. Ever since, two varieties rule the game: warm techno without keys, or piano with techno. It’s important to appreciate the nuance. The “piano with techno” thing is mainly about the new album by Wolfgang Voigt, alias Gas, founder of the Kompakt label (and the guy who plays the vuvuzela at BBQs) - on which he exhibits his passion for the contemporary piano, twelve-note scales with an added bass drum for good measure. “Freiland Klaviermusik”, with its fusion of Schönberg and the Cologne sound, doesn’t only reactivate the mythical Profan label, it adds another stone to the building which is never fully complete, and which must house the offspring of contemporary music and techno. It is, so to speak, a minimal and stripped-to-the-bone take on the album by Aufgang – who by the way return this month with a mini album called “Air On Fire EP”. And then there is techno without pianos, viscous in some cases but a ray of light –check the “Berghain 04” release mixed by Ben Klock, a showcase of the most serious producers of the moment: DVS1, Martin, STL, James Ruskin, Roman Lindau– or obsessed with vintage science-fiction – “Omega” y Robert Hood, who is unable to get away from post-UR influence– and even longing for the summer and melodic good vibes, on the infallible “Immer 3” mixed by Michael Mayer. They all have something in common: they’re back with the sounds we all recognise, only they’re more appetising than they were yesterday (but not more than the day before).
3. Genetic alteration of funky house
The best of today’s techno should be sought in the folds of other styles. We’ve said that “Splazsh” (Honest Jon’s, 2010) by Actress is a must this season, because you can’t spot the boundaries between house, techno, dubstep and cosmic sounds. And at the same time, the future of completely encoded genres like jungle or funk-step is impossible to imagine if not as a mash-up of (or with) other styles. It is the never-ending game of hide and seek we have been witnessing for a while now and which has helped so much to increment the confusion: dubstep with minimal techno, drum’n’bass with dubstep, dubstep with deep-house, drum’n’bass with techno, etc. Borders unclear, quicksand. Getting back to Actress, it’s no coincidence he was chosen to remix “You Don’t Wash”, the new Kode9 track included as an exclusive contribution to his “DJ Kicks” disc, which in its entirety is an exploration of the sonic limits of –for now– funky house. Dubstep is already far from the musical horizon of Hyperdub: he prefers broken and tropical percussion with pale sparkle in the background and it’s because of this that the label’s next release, by the duo Ill Blu ( “Bellion / Dragon Pop”), admits the change of heart, its very street but also with liberated rhythms are a breath of fresh air. The heroes of London’s urban sound are no longer Skream and Benga but Roska and Scratch DVA. But beware, because the mutations keep coming at a good rate and dubstep-infected drum’n’bass has already reached the stage where it can’t develop any further without the help of clinical techno –the new dBridge single, “Producer #2 Remix” (Fat City, 2010), benefits from a hair-raising remix by Shed– and the best of today’s funky house is being made in Glasgow, under the influence of bleep hardcore on Numbers – Mr. Mageeka’s label. Dubstep, let’s say it out loud, is dead. But what has come in its place is better.
Beyond the Peugeot ad it turns out the hinge between 2step and post-dubstep is working out wonderfully. If a year ago we were in the Burial era, in only a few months things have turned. This is the Joy Orbison era, first of all because Burial keeps himself locked up in impermeable silence like monk – a year has gone by since “Fostercare” and at Hyperdub nobody says anything about his return with his third album, which will be all or nothing – and second because the impact of “Hyph Mngo” is beyond discussion, it has entered the realm of legends in electronic music, almost without anybody noticing. In this tessitura, clones spring like mushrooms, led by the Hotflush label, determined to carefully exploit the gold mine and set the pace. So far, they have only missed a couple of hits – “P Clart” by Kavsrave and the also unbeatable “If U Want Me” by Deadboy – but they got all the others, from the “Love Pressure EP” by Sepalcure to Mount Kimbie’s debut album –it’s coming– and, for dessert, “The Let Down / Weakness” by George FitzGerald, another sonic sculpture of passion and golden explosions for those nights confused with the dawn. What happens when day breaks? Basically we’ll hear Mount Kimbie’s remix of Andreya Triana’s “A Town Called Obsolete” on Ninja Tune. Diabetics maybe better off not listening, just in case. All this is the best there is right now, because if it doesn’t wet your eyes it will wet your pants, and that kind of ambivalence can’t be bought with all the money in the world. I have to do something now, be right back.
5. Barks and bites
“Power Grid” should be one of the records of the month of July – maybe even of the year: Terror Danjah put it on what is going to be his album debut after a large string of 12” singles, productions for sulky MCs and the “Gremlinz” compilation, which is something of a cornerstone of grime in instrumental form: bare like a one-syllable word, hard like granite, more futuristic than the lights of a UFO, “Power Grid” should be the wake-up call for the outside world, something like a tap on the shoulder and a whisper in the ear saying, “oi, grime still exists and it’s here to kick some behind.” Not so long ago we thought it was dead and all because dubstep, greedy as it was, was occupying the whole spectrum of the hardcore continuum – and yours truly was one of those imprudent souls who wanted the death certificate all too fast, mea culpa. Really the corpse turns out to be a sleeping beauty, in a matter of speaking. This is a sound with halitosis and scars, and a short while ago it woke up when its prince gave it a chaste kiss on the left cheek. This month grime gets down to business and to the première of Terror Danjah we can add a similar crop, instrumental, vocal and in the form of mixtapes, with a long pedigree. Take note, for these are records that are going to raise the roof. Like they did earlier with Wiley, the Avalanche label has gathered the instrumentals of one of the other key producers of the second grime wave, JME (the title isn’t very original) : “Avalanche Music 2: JME” – a useful volume to get all the stuff that has been released on white labels that your wallet or lack of contacts for dubplates couldn’t afford (and while we’re at it, it can keep the smash hit “CD Is Dead” company). It also serves to check out the album debuts of Maxta ( “Maxtape”, Uptown Records, 2010) and Rude Kid ( “Are You Ready?”, No Hats No Hoods, 2010), two minimalist bombs of poison. Especially the one by Rude Kid: without rappers to support him, the lad blows up the speakers with spiralling sub-basslines and drums like the grinding teeth of a hungry obese person. How the streets roar.
6. The decline of disco, maybe?
I would love to be wrong, but I get the impression that nothing more can come from the space disco revival. Is there a part of Italo, of the latest Munich sound, of the Canadian school left that hasn’t been exhumed, exposed, thoroughly analysed and shared yet? A compilation as stimulating as “Horse Meat Disco II” is coming out, top notch archeology – James Hillard, Jim Stanton, Severino and Filthy Luka, resident DJs of the club with the same name, selected some obscure tunes by Scherrie Payne, Nightfall, Stephanie Mills and First Love, or do their own edits of them, and the only thing there is – which is a lot – is a fantastic collection of disco music: they’ve put a lot of work into it, it’s educational and enjoyable, but it’s no longer something that brings variation to the dance scene. The start of the summer is a good time to release old or new disco music, because the weather is good for it and we breathe in the air of the Balearic phenomenon, but it’s inevitable to wonder how long the permanent revival will last. The new cosmics with great ghostly sounds –Oneohtrix Point Never, Fuck Buttons and the like (and you can add to that the material James Holden put on his “DJ Kicks” of which we spoke last month)– have taken over with space waves in their exploration of the Great Outside Emptiness (psychedelic section, which hasn’t been seen so much), and what’s coming up from yesterday’s bosses merely serves to tie up loose ends. For example, the third instalment of the Lo Recording series ( “Milky Disco Three. To The Stars”), on which there’s a lot of Hatchback, Soft Rocks, Black Devil Disco Club, Telespacio, etc., and the great remix and rarities compilation by Todd Terje, “Remaster Of The Universe” (Permanent Vacation, 2010), the last part of the Norwegian trilogy that earlier saw the contributions of Lindstrøm and Prins Thomas. Speaking of Lindstrøm, will he return as a saviour, like MacArthur, John Connor or Jesus Christ? We’re waiting for him. If cosmic disco is resurrected, it could only be thanks to his wonderful hands.