Friday, March 26, 2004
Oh my god search out Vybz's "Tek Buddy Gal Part 2" and "Hype" (the latter on the Tundra riddim; dunno what the former is) - both are utterly insano tribal mania! In his Village Voice article/ILM-attack Sasha seemed to imply that dancehall's recent history has amounted to little more than a Timbaland rip-off. This is truer and less contentious than it might at first seem, but as is the way of such things the rip-offs have in certain areas now far-exceeded the efforts of the original innovator (whether Timbaland has fallen off is irrelevant to this*). Like the best of snaky-but-organic '01 era 2-step (eg. "Down Down Biznizz") this stuff totally dissolves all boundaries between natural rhythmic fluency and tight syncopation in a swirl of spiralling spiderweb grooves.

* After hearing Kiley Dean's "Keep It Moving" I'm prepared to agree that Timbaland hasn't necessarily fallen off - it's just that the *wrong* stuff is getting the big-ups ("Comin' Round" and "Keep It Moving" deserve all the baffling praise which half-hearted efforts like "Pass That Dutch" and "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" seem to get as a matter of course).

More posts soon hopefully - need more time in front of a computer to get my thoughts down!

Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Is it too late to promote Jess's excellent piece on crunk, grime and sex?

Currently loving: The Rapture - I Need Your Love (Ewan's Friends With Girls Mix). I want to write about Ewan again I think. Again again? Again again!

Thursday, March 18, 2004
I wrote this article on The Present Lover quite a while ago but I still agree with most of it now (although I regret not talking about the grain of the vocals more, and I'm glad the Lacan reference is as light as it is 'cos it's pretty dicky). I put the album on yesterday and was suddenly very, very glad that I made it my no. 1 choice over Basement Jaxx in the Village Voice album poll. Kish Kash is great obv, but the shivery poignant joy that overtakes me so frequently with the Luomo album is, as a purely personal reaction, quite unbeatable.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004
A Theoretical Mix-CD: the Throbbing Gristle Mix

Bucci - Dude
Rework - You're So Just Just
Biftek - We Think You're Dishy
Maetrik - My Specs
Freeform - Eeeeaaooww
Captain Comatose - Price Gun Baby
Princess Him - Gone
Princess Him - Not Rock
Metope - Selvsyn
Le Dustsucker - Love Me
John Spring - Do You Like That?
Freeform Five - Perspex Sex (Ewan Pearson Remix)
Audio Bullys - We Don't Care (Buffalo Bunch Mix)
Cassius - The Sound of Violence (David Guetta & Joachim Garraud Mix)
Luomo - Tessio (Moonbootica Remix)

This mix is theoretical because I have neither the tools nor the skills to mix. If you want to mix this and disseminate it for me please be my guest!

Tuesday, March 09, 2004
Some Recent Listening 'n' Stuff Part One

Vybz Kartel - Hall of Fame; Tek Buddy Gal; Good Day & Night
I don't know or have forgotten the names of the riddims that underpin these tracks, but they're all pretty good: "Hall of Fame" is quietly exotic a la Amharic, its fluid tabla groove complemented beautifully by a tight piano riff and dramatic little string flares. "Tek Buddy Gal" falls squarely into the post-20 Cent tradition of stomping Oriental-rave (see also Bounty Killer's "Hey Yallow" on the Marmalade riddim). "Good Day & Night" is a chirpy upbeat synthesiser ice cream cake that will delight anyone who loved the Buy Out riddim (eg. Sean Paul's "Like Glue").

A disproportionate amount of my dancehall listening is devoted to Vybz, not because he's amazing or anything (though he often can be) but because he's the easiest person to do file-searches on by far: distinctive name and a high profile, but enough of a novice that anything unfamiliar that turns up is likely to be new or recent. If I look for Elephant Man or Bounty Killer I'm buried under an avalanche of history; if I look for Cecile I get nothing; if I look for Chico I get an avalanche of irrelevance (this last particularly annoys me as Chico fucking rocks). Anyway, these three tracks are pretty good, and demonstrate aptly what I think is Vybz' big talent, which is a certain flexibility. On "Hall of Fame" he's all gruff and hoarse exhortations, the closest he gets to Elephant Man or the like. "Tek Buddy Gal" utilises his sly, sarcastic whiney voice which always makes me think of those evil animal sidekicks in Disney animated films (suddenly I have an idea for a flick about the Bermuda Triangle!). Although maybe this idea is a bit off, because I always get the sense that this high-pitched Vybz is a calculatedly false construction, a pretense at (dareisayit) effeteness which is effective insofar as it is perceived to be a front (something like footballers doing drag only without the humor). "Good Day & Night" abandons caricatures in favour of a natural mid-range in the service of seduction. Such blatantly synthetic grooves tend to work best with singjay performances, and while Vybz can certainly do singjay he ironically shies aways from it in just this sort of context (see also: "Gi Mi Some" on the Mudslide riddim, which loses out to Assasin's "Want To Be Free" for the exact same reason). As a performance it's probably the least interesting of the three here, which makes me suspect that I mainly like Vybz as a method actor.

There's certainly something aethetically pleasing about Vybz' flow even at its most straightforward, but it's an aesthetic of groove-conformity: I can appreciate the way his fluid vocals hug the groove so tightly, so confidently, but it's just that - appreciation. This is why "Sweet to da Belly" can get tiresome (or, rather, ignorable) after the Nth replay - it's probably the most "professional" cut on the Egyptian riddim, but (erroneous aspersions on R Kelly aside) it just doesn't have the captivating unpredictability of, say, Sizzla's "These Are The Days", which manages to keep me guessing no matter how many times I hear it. Vybz is better served when he combines his professionalism with a deliberately intensified tendency towards idiosyncracy, because it's then that his accuracy becomes noticeable, remarkable - a martial arts display rather than a simple sewing machine stitch.

Monday, March 01, 2004
I thought Phillip Sherburne was spot on with his discussion of microhouse "putting on weight", especially his focus on Areal Records. A year since its release, Bis Neun still sounds frequently mindblowing to me, the wonky bass-driven grooves of tracks like Metope's "Selvsyn" or Konfekt's "Jez(sof)" impacting with a visceral force that's hard to match with either politer or more straightforward variants on the electro-techno-house template. Not that I've heard anything the label's done since then, but Phillip's raving has filled me with hope. So much of the "micro"-house I've connected with lately has put a lot of emphasis on profane basslines: think the quirky groans of Le Dustsucker's "Mandate My Ass" and "Love Me", the blundering booty-spasms of Robag Wruhme and the Wighnomy Bros, the storming heavy metal shuffletech of T. Raumschmiere's "Monstertruckdriver" and especially the riveting robotic funk of the second half of Koivikko's "Eucalyptus" mix.

I toyed with suggesting that there was a polarity emerging within the broader microhouse community between a funky techno track-quirkiness and neuromantic songfulness; I discarded the idea because too much (perhaps even most) of the actual records defy such a scheme. Where does Ricardo Villalobos fit? Or Magnet's neo-trance? Or... but you know the drill. One more likely scenario however is a shift away from house: whereas in 2000 the disco influence was one of microhouse's most obvious calling cards, increasingly producers (and my ears) seem to be pulled towards more mechanical grooves, whether it's the plump, fleshy techno that Areal specialise in, or a slightly more intricate take on stiff electro-house, or chilly goth melodrama. House's sensuosness was initially a reinvigorating force for these tech-heads, but I get the sense now that it's been almost drained of the life-force it offered, and German producers are hunting, vampire-like, for other sources of inspiration. (the example of Force Tracks is telling here: they've all but tied their mast to full-blown house and, Luomo excepted, they've suffered from a pretty big drop-off over this past year). Like any good rule, there are many exceptions: the sleazy disco of Captain Comatose at their best ("Price Gun Baby", "$100", "Complete Gold") is merely one. And I'm not sure how much of this scenario is in fact real and how much is merely a result of my own listening habits currently (eg. I've been listening to the Spiecher mix heaps and it sounds brilliant all of a sudden).

Maybe microhouse is at the point now that UK Garage was at in 2001, where the R&B influences were becoming more and more subtle, with all the sonic "lessons" learnt at a groove level and the more obvious signifiers being replaced by ideas from dancehall, hip hop, techno (but prior to the "Pulse X" groove-flip, when the basic structure of the music actually mutated quite radically). The sense I get from Areal tracks and other stuff like them is that the producers have listened to house a lot, experimented with it a lot, and no longer need to be too strict about wearing their house love on their sleeves because it's so amply present in the construction of the grooves. This could go badly - remember dubstep's swift descent into blandness - but right now there's an invigorating muscularity to a lot of what I'm hearing that I'm really connecting with.

A great little sampler of what I'm talking about is John Spring's excellent 12" Dispo Dancer. I first heard John Spring on that Koivikko mix, his track "Do You Like That?" the clear highlight of the mix in terms of "peak moment" status. There's little that's intelligent or subtle about this track: punishing 4/4 beats, an enormously dirty bottom-heavy bassline, electro zaps and a sleazy voice murmuring "I like that!" Jettisoning the MRI model of hyper-intricacy, Spring (real name Johannes Mai) and producers like him maintain microhouse's emphasis on unexpectedness by setting up more basic groove-conflicts: here it's between the rigid beat and the slothful bass, an enormously fat rhino dragging its haunches across the floor. This is to traditional microhouse what "Shake Ya Ass" is to "Are You That Somebody?" Which is not to say that Spring's production is rudimentary - extending the Neptunes analogy, there's a deceptive simplicity to this track's central groove which obscures the obsessive amount of detail lurking under the surface. Most importantly, "Do You Like That?" is anthemic, its final home-run a glorious explosion of syncopated synth riffs (working against both the bass and the beat) which inspires any number of copulation based metaphors - but a good comparison point is the brazen sexuality of Daft Punk's "Da Funk" and Etienne De Crecy's "Am I Wrong?". In fact "Do You Like That?" is pretty much a perfect example of the French House/German House/Electro fusion I was calling for a few months ago.

The rest of Dispo Dancer is almost as great: "Strange" is a disco-techno slow burner, its minimal but pummelling groove gradually ambushed and overrun by a small army of groove-disruptions and bas clusters, while a creepy voice intones "Have you ever wakened to hear sounds like these? It reminds me of Akufen at his most physical and least smug, and almost matches the latter's all-time classic "The Unexpected Guest" for nervous funkiness. "Schoen's War" starts off as an initially low-key, gloopy shuffletech number, but its distressed floundering becomes increasingly melodramatic as its malformed paws sweep all sorts of synth whines and sonic particles into its own path. As with the Wighnomy Bros' marvellous "Bodyrock", it tells a story of failure met by ever more frenzied persistence: the shuffle-beat's evocation of genetic mutation and palsied thrashing no longer merely a feature but now the very purpose of the groove's construction. I could wish it was a bit more extraverted melodically, but nonetheless there's a sick compulsion to this sort of stuff, like watching the faltering struggles of a poisoned fly, wings flapping uselessly in distress. And while, unlike "Do You Like That", it doesn't seek peak-track status, there's something brazenly physical about both "Schoen's War" and "Strange": a thick, cellulite-riddled hip-centricism that keeps your feet planted firmly on the dancefloor.

As such descriptions should imply, this music is ill at ease with the term "micro", but that just leads me to wonder: if you can have thrillingly inventive grooves and mentalist dancefloor energy, why wouldn't you be making house or techno in this style? Haterz have always painted microhouse as house without the fun, but this is some of the funnest, most physically tactile and viscerally exciting dance music going around right now. It would be ignoring it that would seem hopelessly, terminally furrow-browed.


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