1. Elephant Man - Blessed; Bounty Killer - Hot Like Fire; and pretty much anything else on Lenky's awesome new Dreamweaver riddim... 2. Bigga Man ft Ears - Player 3. Davince - Grimey (big up Simon R. for that Jammer mix!) 4. Sticky ft. Random Impulse - New Kid (Sticky's best track since "Dollar Sign" and "More Weed"?) 5. MC Hyper - Stop That 6. Electric Six - Dance Commander (Benny Benassi Remix) 7. Vybz Kartel - Send On; Roll Deep; Shot to da Belly 8. Kelis - Milkshake (Planet Rock Remix) 9. Jay-Z - What More Can I Say?; Change Clothes
Maybe I'm a total philistine for really adoring Richard X's "Being Nobody" (the Liberty X one), indeed above and beyond both "Freak Like Me" and "Finest Dreams" (both of which are great obv.). Common line seems to be that "Being Nobody" is the weakest of the trio, less edgy and too professionally seamless. That is of course precisely what I love about it: it's just so sumptuously squelchy, a flotation tank of squiggly sonics that somehow coalesce into a perfect pop song groove. Meanwhile Liberty X's bring just enough of the blackness of the Chaka Khan original, the combination of soulfulness and flair making a good case for them being an example of pop sirens - figures a bit like the house diva in their essential blankness (by contrast Kelis and the Sugababes are much more present within their songs; you can feel their personalities trying to wriggle and worm their way into the song they're covering), their entire purpose being to evoke and summarise an ongoing continuum of pop theatricality rather than to distinguish or individualise themselves. For this reason "Being Nobody" gets filed in my head next to other recent dancepop classics like Shakedown's "At Night" rather than most R&B/pop; the performance is totally discrete and disconnected from anything that Liberty X might do outside this song.
I'm hoping that it's position at the beginning of Richard's album encourages more people to see what a wonderful song "Being Nobody" really is, to embrace its miniaturised epicness, its sonic deliciousness, its stirring anthemia, and most of all the way it articulates so concisely pretty much everything that makes Richard X so compelling. He captures that it one song; I find it harder to narrow it down to one single argument. I guess I could say that most of Richard's best moments very deliberately try to synthesise different ideas of what constitutes 'black' and 'white' pop music, but I'm not sure if that would go far in explaining his other qualities - the immensely busy effervescence of his production work, where rhythmic and melodic intricacy are given equal weight; his maximalist/melodramatic flourishes, much more Future Bible Heroes than International Deejay Heroes; the undercurrent of warmth within his predominantly cool electro sound, those hints of wetness and fleshiness that go a long way to rehumanising modern electropop (there's a certain fatty voluptuous to his best grooves which I just adore).
A lot of these qualities are most easily framed in relation (or reaction) to the prevailing tendencies of nouveau-electro, but in fact I'm not even certain that this is the best model of comparison. If "Being Nobody" has a rival for my affections, it's the quite similar "You Used To" with Javine. When I first heard it I flashed, not to the Thelma Houston orginal, but to 808 State's "Ancodia" from '89, which steals the chorus for its own devices. But that's not all the two tracks share - Richard's springy disco rhythm, squirming quasi-acid bassline and spangly cathedral of synthesisers recall nothing so much as the vision for house music which 808 State alighted upon (briefly) with Ninety - not "progressive" but rather both pop and psychedelic: big choruses and hooks swathed in an excess of starlit melodic effects, in a radical compression of too much pop detail, like a hit of pure sugar that leaves you dizzy. I get the sense that recently The Chemical Bros would love to do this stuff too, but when they do actual pop songs they mistakenly make them indie; Basement Jaxx perfected this approach on "Romeo" but are perhaps too gloriously perverse the rest of the time.
Richard isn't Basement Jaxx, and I think he's best when he leaves aside perversity - the album's collaborations with Deborah-Evans Stickland are my least favourite, closer to the odd parts of Orbital's Snivilisation than anything else I can think of - and focuses squarely on this brand of dance-pop which I suspect is the center of his craft. It's a worthy pursuit: with his preference for R&B vocalists and these glaring similarities to that fleeting moment when acid house threatened to colonise pop completely, Richard is reviving a Lost Eighties quite difficult to that which electroclash immortalises. Rather, he returns to that British interzone of possibility that sprung up and quickly folded on the border between decades, where The KLF, 808 State, Soul II Soul, Black Box, A.R. Kane, New Order, Smith & Mighty and countless others provided co-ordinates for a future-pop, a multicoloured techno-dream of pure sensation.
1. TNT ft. J2K & Wiley - They Will Not Like You 2. Junior Senior - Good Girl, Bad Boy 3. Bubba Sparxxx - Jimmy Mathis 4. SCSI-9 - kroy menya v pol bita 5. Mr Velcro Fastener - Electrical Appliances (unknown but awesome remix which Jeff Bennett played live - some searching reveals that Plump DJs have done one but I don't think this was theirs...)
Personally, I ain't got no problem with broken beat. I like a lot of Jazzanova too and I've stared at both that Bugz in the Attic mix and the Phuturistix album and pondered buying them (however my next purchase will certainly be either Ricardo Villalobos's Taka Taka mix or his album, which have arrived simultaneously on Aussie shores). But I'm not really certain what an infusion of 2-step actually has to offer it (or vice versa). A lot of the best broken beat I've heard (and this even from a few years back) already possesses 2-step's effervescent friskiness, its rhythmic joy, its glorious tension between break-out and lock-on. It largely ignores all the other stuff that makes prime 2-step loveable, but I can enjoy lush/scary ambient rainforest sonics on something close to a regular so that's not a fatal flaw.
The issue then becomes: if you're just put some 2-steppish beats underneath a broken beat arrangement, what are you actually doing that's terribly constructive? What are you giving the music that it doesn't already have? Why is this an incredibly exciting development? It's a move that strikes me as the equivalent of getting Rodney P to rap over some garage and then calling it groundbreaking. It may be great, but it's only groundbreaking if you pretend that garage's links to hip hop aren't already elaborately mapped out. But this is a move typical of a self-conscious auteur approach to genre, where allusions to other genres have to be made painstakingly, and often boringly explicit. Hence the "urban soul" tag that was floated around in 2000 to apply to MJ Cole and Wookie, which implied that garage's at-the-time soulfulness was an open invitation to turn it into soul with 2-step beats and nothing more. It's an overly deferential, self-deprecating form of tribute at odds with one of the fundamental rules of the hardcore continuum; namely, that it is always at its healthiest when it's pillaging from other genres, taking what it wants and burning the rest.
Take all this with a grain of salt - if the Phuturistix album sounds like the sort of stuff that Zed Bias played live when he was here then I can imagine it being both genuinely odd and new sounding, and pretty excellent to boot. But the (admittedly fleeting) squizz I gave to the Maddslinky release had it sounding like the most rudimentary 1+1=2 equation of 2-step plus nice jazzy influences I could imagine. And this from total hero Zed Bias! Thing was, he wasn't really doing anything that he hadn't already achieved magnificently ages ago on his remix of 2 Banks of Four's "Hook & A Line" - that masterpiece of rhythmically headwrecking aquatic garage (I think that's what Jess called it). The need to qualify the new stuff as being a garage/nu-jazz fusion is not due to there being anything actually new present in the music, it's rather just a realisation that the *2-step* part has essentially stagnated, is caught in a holding pattern... otherwise it would just be part of 2-step's ongoing progression.
But that's the whole problem of course: Zed Bias and his compatriots know that they've taken the 2-step aspect as far as it can go, that this is now essentially a dead form. Hence the fusionism; the obsession with what is ultimately superstructural tweaking as a grand distraction from the lack of a direction in which to take the basic engine of the music, the 2-step rhythmic matrix. Engaging with broken beat is quite possibly a better response to this quandary than just standing still or attempting to "smarten up" grime (I'm reserving judgment for now). But all three tactics are tied together by the same fundamental difficulty. Of course, more likely than not, I'm just frustrated that we've had a Maddslinky and a Phuturistix album but no Zed Bias album, no serious attempt to encapsulate the wonderful flux of luscious darkness and blatant pop physicality that defined the guy's string of classics, from "Neighbourhood" to "Ring The Alarm." The fact that I have always considered Zed Bias to be 2-step's Dillinja rams home almost painfully how familiar this story is.
"Wonder if the new "Orientalist darkcore bliss" will prove easier for outsiders to appropriate than 2-step was. Perhaps certain sounds are "too black" for whites to internalize and make their own, at least a critical mass of whites...b/c of the "realist" subject matter of the rap lyrics, descriptive of social reality rather than aspiring to $$$ and the good life, the music will likely find a more receptive audience among whites than did 2-step garage . . . ."
With the help of Paul Sci-Fi Soul, I realised the other day that if there is a radical break b/w 2-step and grime, it is the lack of sex in grime (sex is obv. the theme of the week at Skykicking! A mild reduction in responsibilities has clearly got my hormones going haywire!). Even when the (newer, poppier) grime tracks sample some r&b vocalist and/or the MC is talking about fucking/relationships, I find it very difficult to detect any sexuality worked into the music. On one level, this is because grime constitutes the final, incontravertible break with the house influence that has been receding constantly ever since '97, but it's interesting to note that US rap, which grime is frequently compared to, is also much more sexy than grime. As I've been saying downblog, the masculinity and harshness of much US rap in now way prevents the grooves from being profoundly sexual. By contrast, the "orientalist darkcore bliss" that grime is beginning to reveal is, for all its intermingling of light, dark, energy and mystery, a profoundly sexless experience. The lure is its exotic undefinability, its "weird energy".
In other words: its drugginess. What grime's "journey toward the light" may constitute is a secret reassertion of all of those rave values that were gradually leached out of the hardcore continuum throughout the development of jungle -> d&b -> speed garage -> 2-step. Even as little as a year ago I would have said that this continuum was engaged in a flight from rave - I remember Cooper Bethea astutely pointing out on ILX that the resurgence of 4/4 was like a return to speed garage with all the house/rave (ie. dance music) values replaced by hip hop values. But the vocal predominance of the MC has re-opened within grime's musical development the space to reengage with the sonic ideas that characterised rave: a flux of intensities that, instead of orbiting the groove, insert themselves into the mind/body interface, attacking the dancer's sense of self and subjectivity (cf. sex-music, which instead seeks to heighten and sharpen the dancer's perception of self and subjectivity in relation to other dancers). Hence all these woozy, fluttery, viscuous grooves that Jammer in particular is so good at making, raining hailstones of cut-up Chinese flutes and erupting lava flows of bass.
The problem is the MC - as long as the MC is there, grime will remain simultaneously a radically subjectifying music, a music that erects psychological boundaries as quickly as it seeks to dissolve them. Hence grime becomes an ongoing fight for subjectivity, and this is one of the reasons that so often it sounds like the MC and the music are working against eachother. See for example that aforementioned wonderful half-speed Skepta track, where the groove's imperious cut-up female vocal invites a fractious call-&-response with the MC: she is the vocal embodiment of the music, a bucking bronco constantly attempting to throw off the steadying presence of the MC's flow. This combination, this dialectic, renders grime much more problematic than other druggy musics that have found favour with broader audiences (acid house, the first wave of rave, arguably psy-trance). To be engaged with grime is to be engaged with the entire history of the hardcore continuum, to be in love with its endless contradictions.
Over at Shards, Fragments & Totems (I really need to update my links list stat) Paul has a go at all the hipsterist grime fans:
"All this gutter-obsessed hipster carping about how previous strains of garage are irrelevant compared to the click-whoop tedium of SO MUCH gutter garage is just more knee jerk conservatism."
Now I like Paul's writing a lot and he seems to know his garage but to me this smacks of building a strawman. I haven't seen anyone complaining about how crappy golden age 2-step (and it was a golden age!) is compared to grime. No-one's saying that 2-step is shit 'cos it's old and grime is great 'cos it's future. What I do see, and what I share in, is a certain level of disappointment at the recent developments of "nu-step" - all those producers like Hatcha and Darqwan and even Plasticman who, while occasionally cranking out a decent tune, continue to fundamentally misread and thus surgically remove all those qualities that make grime and 2-step so enormously affecting, exciting, involving. I see far more of Artful Dodger-style dazzle, Dem 2-style rhythmic invention, Sunship-style poptasticness, Bump & Flex-style grooviness in grime than I do in current nu-step.
What happened to these guys?? You can hear in the development of Darqwan/Oris Jay the gradual rejection of garage's magical qualities. Those early tunes like "Biggin' Up Da Massive" and "Brand New Flava" positively ooze with 2-step's dark sexuality, all sticky beats and mysterious bass rumbles. From there Oris seemed to want to run away from 2-step's sexuality, and with every release you can hear its influence on him growing fainter and fainter. Sometimes that receding-horizon effect can be quite thrilling, as you hear a producer take a sound's impulse deeper and deeper into the wiring of his music, until it's a faint shadow that nonetheless informs the entire groove. For that reason I still love his one brilliant Darqwan tune, "Nocturnal", where sexuality is sublimated within razor-wire tension, snapping snares coiling like whiplash around a steady core of midnight funk.
But at some point, if you stretch that rubber-band far enough, it's gonna snap, and I haven't heard a Darqwan release with an ounce of funk in ages. It's not a case of him having not gone forward; I actually wish he'd go backwards (a tune like "Nocturnal" actually exists on a point of intersection with grime, as something like Target's similar and excellent "Earthwarrior" demonstrates). And while everyone seems to check for him, I can't help but think that Plasticman is trying on exactly the same trick with 8-bar.
Not all the dubstep/nu-step/nu-dark-swing producers followed Darqwan following DJ Zinc down that road of breakbeat tedium; indeed some producers have staunchly held to the sprightly femininity of 2-step's beats. El-B's a good example of a producer who's still fairly consistently interesting. But that specific dubstep sound - feathery beats plus voluptuosly thick and mysterious bass-heavy dub arrangements, eg. In Fine Style - is one which could only really be truly exciting in a certain place and time; it's contextual, positional music. As I said a while back somewhere on ILX, what made dubstep so interesting in, say, 2001, was that it provided a third way forward that sought to combine the best aspects of both garage's feminine slinkiness and its forceful physicality. Given the choice between another rote 2-step mix of a pop hit and another interminable breakbeat loop with some martial arts film sample, stuff like Horsepower Productions and Zed Bias was incredibly attractive.
But two things happened, very close in time to one another: one, these guys managed to refine their craft to its perfect essence as expressed in a few tracks (Zed Bias's "Ring The Alarm" and his mixes of 2 Banks of Four's "Hook & a Line" and El-B's "Serious; Horsepower Productions' "Django's Revenge" and "Pimp Flavours"; El-B's "Buck & Bury"; Menta's "Ramp"), all perfectly poised 2-step delicacy, breakbeat urgency and dub enigma; and two, garage itself managed to snap out of this pop-breakbeat tug of war by mutating into grime, which has its own set of contradictions (eg. electroid harshness vs urban songfulness). As dubstep was originally essentially a process of resoultion rather than a sub-genre, a thinktank wherein producers attempted to synthesise and harmonise garage's contradictions, the shift from 2-step/breakbeat to grime took away their motivating engine, right at the time when they had just managed to distill this resolution into a perfected product. The result was that this perfected product, with nothing to push it forward (ha ha), became static orthodoxy.
The outcome. There are now essentially two types of producers in the nustep mould - those who stubbornly continue to create tracks reflective of that momentary triumph (and what's interesting and slightly sad about these tracks is that both the awesomely programmed beats and the delicately constructed atmospherics seem to exist in separate worlds, overlaying eachother without an awareness of eachother, like they were thrown together by random. There's precious little of the percussomelodic interplay that has always been one of 2-step's (and grime's!) defining traits), and those which desparately attempt to apply dubstep's original resolution template to subsequent innovations - ruff 4-beat and 8-bar. But with both of these they're simply attempting to combine these formal stylistic blueprints with their own pre-existing sonic signatures; but, cut off from the new contradictions that characterise these styles (especially 8-bar), all they can do is attempt to pull them out of their productive bipolar orbits and send them hurtling towards, um, a dystopian dub-techno dead end, essentially (sound familiar?).
The new resolution-solvers are those who ever more inventively attempting to bridge the minmalism/maximalism divide that characterises 8-bar grooves, intermingling light and dark in ever more creative ways, further confusing the rhythmic and melodic components of their music. In other words, people like Wiley, Jammer, Danny Weed... Far from abandoning 2-step, these producers (and I imagine their audience) are the ones who are clinging to the original underlying spirit of 2-step - as fundamentally ambivalent music, where so many contradictions rush toward a horizon point of synthesis, just out of sight and sound.
By the way, for all of youse in Melbourne, you can catch me, um, "spinning" some dancehall at a Beat vs Inpress soundclash at Bourgie in the CBD on Friday night. Not sure how long i'll be playing for (probably 45 minutes or so) or when I start but, er, there you go.
Hopefully I'll be going to Honkytonks afterwards to catch Jeff Bennett aka best dubby microhouse producer in the world.
Back on the topic of physicality in hip hop, what's been pretty obvious this year is how aggressive most of the big grooves are: the implacability of "In Da Club", the bombast of "Pump It Up", the catastrophic siren drama of all the big dirty south hits ("Get Low", "Like A Pimp", "Fuck 'Em" etc.) , even Missy's "Pass That Dutch" is much harsher than anything she's released as a single before. Tellingly, when I was out in Sydney last week I heard DMX's "Party Up" twice. Now three years old or so, the Swizz Beats classic seems pretty timely right now - a shrill and blaring party groove that somehow gets the girls dancing to an unashamed angry boys' track. And there's something deliciously punishing about dancing to all of this stuff, willing yourself to make ever more energetic moves as you try to live up to the impossible machismo of the music.
What this stuff often sacrifices is the sexuality that is the other big attraction in hip hop grooves - the irresistible slinkiness of stuff like "Work It" or "Hot In Herre" or "How Many Licks?". You can still hear traces of it in "In Da Club" and "Pump It Up", but with the nu-Dirty South there's nothing you can really call "sexy" so much as "dirty" - what sex there is seems degrading, a titillating/alienating coital slum that brings to mind extravagant pornographic scenarios of gangbangs and prison scenes. I rarely see sober girls getting into this music much, but there's definitely a darkside attraction to it, especially after a few drinks.
Sometimes the best material is that which combines macho aggression with unabashed sexuality in such a way as to simultaneously sound both ultra-sexy and ultra-dirty. Perhaps my single favourite hip hop groove of the last few years is Bubba Sparxxx's "Twerk A Little" - that slamming, hyper-compulsive hiccup electro rhythm with its cut-up female vamp bleat is just about the tightest and most compressed bundle of sex-as-music that I can think of, and it can loop repeatedly comfortable in the knowledge that its repetition never gets boring, only builds in intensity, an endless avalanche of sexual demand. Ludacris's new single "Stand Up" doesn't quite surpass that peak, but it's the best attempt so far. Again we're dealing with a simple, forebodingly physical drum loop overlaying a simple cut-up melodic riff (which might or might not be a moan, it's hard to tell) with the occasional addition of dramatic string samples. It doesn't need to change or progress - it arrives right in the heart of sensory overload from the first bar and stays there.
Fittingly, "Stand Up" is slightly messier, rougher than "Twerk A Little", though both hover in the same zone of in-the-club excitement, bright lights and hot girls and dodgy intentions. "Stand Up" has two extra advantages: firstly, Ludacris is a much better rapper than Bubba, and this is one of his most charismatic performances, a jack-in-the-box springloading of inexhaustible energy. Secondly, "Stand Up" promotes the female rejoinder, relegated to the (thrilling) end of "Twerk A Little", to a chorus with the wonderfully sensual Shawna for a bit of dance instruction - "When I move you move/just like that!" I really hope that this comes with a pre-made dance a la the big dancehall hits (dance moves catching on in hip hop would make me indescribably happy). The male/female interplay works in the same way as it did on "What's Your Fantasy" - eliminating the sense of a purely male agency, allowing Ludacris's unabashed sex play to be something which the audience, both male and female, can engage with, interact with. It also helps "Stand Up" become a fantastic record to dance to, a track that allows you to jump out of your skin and literally lose it.
It puzzles me that critical evaluations of Sizzla so frequently reduce him to just being a "conscience artist" - I mean, obviously he occasionally is, but it bothers me because lauding or attacking him on that basis totally ignores how thoroughly gifted he is at creating awesome club bangers.
Like most ragga DJs, Sizzla has carefully cultivated an inimitable vocal style: a quavery, unpredictable growl-whine, impassioned and strangulated as it struggles to get the words out. It's this sense of struggle that I find fascinating; not "struggle" in the social/religious sense, but rather the difficulty of verbal expression. When he's actually rapping and not singing, Sizzla embodies the idea of language as a process. It's hard to imagine ascribing to his lyrics as written down on paper any particular meaning or intention; for Sizzla the choice of words constitute only the first stage toward the articulation of meaning.
Rather, the great majority of what Sizzla has to "say" is expressed in the excesses of his performance, that which is expressed around and through the words. In "Heat is On" (over the Bollywood riddim) his choruses run out of breath and space as he fights to place as much aggressive emphasis on each word, each syllable as possible, to make out of the vague sentiment "the heat is on in the street/it's everywhere/everybody can see it" an all-encompassing manifesto, a meta-statement of grand importance. He sounds even better on "These R Da Dayz" (over Egyptian) where his flow prowls and bunches up like a restless panther, hiccupping and splurting compulsively as if trying to swiftly and secretly punch a hole through the walls of his cage, fabric of language itself. On the absolutely demolishing "Empty The Clip" he's forced to abandon language - the main hook and the focal point of intensity is a wordless "bdrdrdrdr" rolling "R", a sound referable not to an object or idea or even a feeling but just intensity itself - no words can be found to express Sizzla's all-consuming anger so the decision not to choose a word itself becomes an active choice, a denunciation of language's softness, its ready slippery slope toward prosaic understandings.
It's this sense of Sizzla's extra-linguistic approach signposting a fight with language rather than an alternative to it that distinguishes Sizzla and similar dancehall DJs from other (mostly female) proponents of vocalese - Tim Buckley, Bjork, Liz Fraser. For these artists' detours from intelligible words constitute escapes from meaning, flights into the internal, closed off, "pure" world of the semiotic. Sizzla on the other hand is always concerned with the social (although, I should stress that this is true of all dancehall DJs regardless of their persuasion - I don't care either away about Sizzla's veneer of rasta ideology), and he is aware of language's role in constructing social meanings, of the lack of meaning's a priori existence. Thus his struggle is to render his impulses intelligible while hovering around language's borders, rendering the inexpressible expressible. This is what I mean by "struggle". The closest point of reference is probably Mary Margeret O'Hara in her most aggressive moments such as "Not Be Alright", where one gets the impression that each word uttered marks a territory of meaning staked out in blood - the brain's linguistic's function is still being employed, but it is breaking down under the pressure of a fragmented psyche.
All that being said, I am immensely glad for the existence of "Love & Affection" (riding the eerie, quietly ominous Wanted riddim, one of this year's best), which distances itself from the more didactic tirades of Sizzla's other club tracks in favour of a celebration of women. "Good love and affection/that's what girls like". So far so straightforward, but Sizzla brings to this task a torrent of extra-linguistic resonance that renders this garden variety romanticism utterly compelling. "Oowah ahh ahh-oh I like! Oowah ah eeiiyou need!" he sighs in a moment of pure jouissance, his voice as trembly and unstable as Robert Smith or David Byrne at their most wracked and wrecked, before decending back into that enigmatic growl, his voice bumping up and down over the bouncy, skanking groove, disintegrating and re-emerging intact as he suffers through waves of lust and awe.
Wanted's groove is little more than throb of spacy keyboards, a mysterious evocation of frustrated desire, and Sizzla's voice, which can seemingly accomodate an infinite variety of timbres, shades, accents and affectations within the context of devotionalism, is the perfect vehicle for expressing all the contradictory and irrational unconscious impulses that burst forth in the throes of desire. I'd be concerned for anyone who Sizzla might actually have sex with, but this is one hell of a sexy record.
Maybe I'm misreading it, but this Spizzazzz post seems to imply that Crooklyn Clan's "Be Faithful" is not the most well-known urban track ever. I seriously think it would be in Australia! I have never been to an R&B club, a party, a uni function, or pretty much anything where this hasn't been played at least twice! People who fucking hate rap will start screaming "All you chicken heads! Be quiet!" from the very first bar! Even "California Love" and Ice Cube's "You Can Do It" bow down to this one!
Apart from being a great track, "Be Faithful" is a sterling example of urban as physically impacting music with almost no other context or value - it doesn't make sense to hear it outside of a dancefloor (or in Save The Last Dance) because it doesn't have any other purpose than to make people dance and shout. There's not really much else R&B or rap that is so fundamentally mono-functional, so rap-as-disco, and that's probably not a bad thing (most of the time you have stuff like Joe Budden's "Pump It Up" or especially Ludacris's awesome "Stand Up" - tracks which are dancefloor killers but bring so much else to the table that it's impossible to limit them to this function alone) but I'm glad for the existence of "Be Faithful" because it makes explicit this particular impulse within urban music. One which is quite separate to narrative, or poetry, or sonic complexity, or humor, or even "what the fuck"-factorishness (no-one is surprised by "Be Faithful" at this stage of the game); rather it's an impulse towards the pleasure-principle, towards gratifying the hips and the elbows and allowing horny kids to pick up on the dancefloor and drunk kids to intensify their drunkenness through raucous celebration. Play us a song we know and watch us beam with delight. This is the secret, too, behind "Crazy In Love" and "Rock Your Body" and "In The Club" and "Scandalous" and "Jenny From The Block": the bodyslam as comfort food.
So surely Ewan Pearson is hands-down remixer of the year? There have been some great individual remixes this year - T. Raumschmiere on 2Raumwohnung, some of those listed below etc. - but Ewan's run has seriously been astonishing. At the top of the heap, the already discussed remix of Freeform Five's "Perspex Sex", aka the best nu-electro track ever; but beneath that shining jewel there's a wealth of great material. His work for Goldfrapp veers from jauntily skipping shuffletech to lumbering neo-Moroder trauma, while his mix of Playgroup's "Make It Happen" mires the original in swathes of clicking dirty static, and his refashioning of Futureshock's "Sticking Plaster" shifts dramatically from svelte, sticky disco to melodramatic electro bleeping - and I haven't even heard his reputedly brilliant makeover of Ladytron.
Perhaps the most surprising effort so far is his extended vocal mix of The Chemical Bros's "The Golden Path", which transforms the rather bloodless (if not out and out dire a la "The Test") original into a swooping, sighing electro epic, building from its opening rubbery, spiky synth riffs into a climax of sighing firefly harmonies wherein Wayne Coyne's whiny falsetto sounds, if not exactly good, then at least purposeful. It's exactly the sort of panoramic vista that the high-profile/low-yield collaboration of the original was intended to provide, and indeed if the Chemical Bros could still manage to craft an ill-advised indie-rock crossover on a level with the best of their recent work ("Star Guitar", "Hoops", "The State We're In", "Denmark") they probably would have come up with this version in the first place, as opposed to what sounds like Grandaddy covering New Order. When all is said and done it's far from Pearson's best work (consider what he's working with here) but it's a fairly impressive salvage job, and as such demonstrates just how on-point the guy is.
It also provokes the idea that maybe Pearson is trying for something very deliberate with his electro aesthetic, which is the resurrection of the extended mix in the historically-specific, pre-techno sense of the term. Of course Pearson is in every sense a post-techno producer, and from a technical perspective his productions show a greater sensititivity to the pleasures of a house beat than most of the new generation of electro artists. Rather, what makes me think of the eighties extended mix when I listen to Pearson's mix is their sense of expansiveness, both focusing and distilling the original work down to a basic groove and yet broadening their horizons, whether it be through the addition of some eerie strings toward the end, or to cross-hatch the vocal lines, or to just keep layering and layering different, competing synth riffs until the groove plateaus in an agony/ecstasy of swirling complexity, almost as if Orbital went electroclash.
I can't quite explain how this is different to what other producers do - in fact it certainly isn't different - except to say that the results have the same feel as the best examples of the extended mix. I had quite an affecting experience last year where I was on the verge of falling asleep in the passenger seat of a car while some extended, largely instrumental versions of Tears For Fears tracks were playing; the endless looping of that haunting opening guitar figure in "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" took on a sort of becalmed intensity, resembling a ghostly apparition of the original song, a dream that I was on the verge of slipping into. And extended mixes often do appear to be dreamlike versions of their former selves - the manifest dream content expressing the latent reality of the original song, but distorted, bloated, obscured by some force of the unconscious which expresses every reality as distracted reverie, quiet intensity (a fitting example of this process at work is the extended mix of The Cure's "Lullabye", which strings along each of the original's various hooks into a slow procession through a hall of resonant images).
It's this resemblance which I look for in Pearson's work: the loving recontextualisation of each of the original song's most enticing components, the (ahem) somewhat proggish grandness of scope, the epic production which complements but is quite distinct from Jacques Du Cont's stringswept melodrama. Many people have framed nu-electro as somehow being against dance music; I disagree, if only because a good deal of the most bracingly physical music to emerge this year has come from this camp (otherwise it's all from the urban diaspora communities). But if electro has a task ahead of it that is distinct from dance, it is to wholeheartedly throw itself into investigating those musical qualities which the functionalist revolution in dance music marginalised, and reintroduce them back into the fold, working them back into the thumping heart of dance itself.
1. Michael Mayer - Never Say Never 2. Kylie Minogue - Slow 3. Luomo - Tessio (Moonbootica Remix) 4. Missy Elliot - Pass That Dutch 5. Danny Weed & Target ft. Wiley, Riko, J2K & Breeze - Pick Yourself Up 6. Sizzla - Love & Affection 7. Cassius - Thrilla (Streets Remix) 8. T. Raumschmiere ft. Miss Kittin - The Game Is Not Over. 9. Target - Runaway 10. Sizzla - Empty The Clip 11. Magnet - Rising Sun 12. N.A.S.T.Y. ft. Riko Dan & Crazy Titch - Cock Back 13. Capleton - Them Running Out 14. Ruff Squad - Misty Cold 15. T.O.K. - Dis Means War 16. Manhead - Doop (Reverso 68 Remix) 17. Freaks - Creeps (You're Giving Me) 18. Holly Valance - State of Mind 19. Playgroup - Make It Happen (Zongamin Mix) 20. The Chemical Bros - The Golden Path (Ewan Pearson Mix)