skykicking - april


Sunday 28

"More listening will bare out the details, but the first spin left me questioning what exactly is 'microhouse' about it, if anything."

Thus said Andy Battaglia a while ago in response to MRI's All That Glitters album. It's a response I can sort of understand: I've been loving the album in MP3 form for a couple of weeks now, but listening to it on CD for the first time a couple of days ago left me feeling a tad confused. On the one hand, it's an absolute joy of a listen, perhaps the spangliest house album I've heard. At once endlessly melodic, effervescently textural and lusciously detailed, it's easily more viscerally compelling than most of Rhythmogenesis. "Tied To The 80's" and the title track alone are revelatory - unabashed disco stompathons that seem to bring together Chain Reaction and Kylie in a glorious harmony. "Data Boogie" is an energetic, shimmering squelch-factory worthy of The Modernist; "Amethyst Pop Stars" is as warmly comforting as a floatation tank. Meanwhile, just for a little diversity, "Sane & Sound" and "Blue" are both pretty decent and highly enjoyable stabs at glitch-house-pop, with the latter managing to be a half-arsed cover of Aaliyah's "Try Again" to boot.

On the other hand, what struck me last night is how MRI seem to be moving away from what originally made them so obviously distinctive. What drew me in with tracks such as the hypnotically compulsive "Human Patterns" and the fragile "To Be Honest" was the sense of humble reverence they seemed to inspire. On these and especially on the eerily stark "Relaxation" (all three are handily included on Hypercity for your consumption) MRI reimagine house as a world of ancient glacier-cities: frozen civilisations holding on tightly to eons-old secrets whose telling would only mystify us anyway. By no means as abstract or obtuse as Crane A.K., MRI nonetheless seemed to revel in a humanity far greater, older than the one we know.

In comparison All That Glitters sounds like MRI's early work after the spring thaw: the basslines are not only warmer and more inviting, they're positively mischievous; the beats don't click and snap so much as pump and swish. It's more "housey" definitely, and as a byproduct the "tech" aspects aren't so much redolent of minimal techno as they are of the warm grooves of "proper" tech-house and, occasionaly, the trancey strains of latter-day prog house AKA that stuff wot I hardly listen to 'cos it is being uninspired and mulchy etc. Indeed, the longer "epic" tracks ("Deep Down South" and "Nightclubbing At Home" especially) have that sort of delayed-release constant directionless build that Sasha would love. This isn't meant to be a put-down though - please don't interpret any of what I'm saying as a diss on this lovely album, as the music is, clearly, wonderful (and anyway I somewhat bizarrely have always found Sasha's own work to be quite enticing). What becomes urgent and key, however, is answering the same question All That Glitters inspired Andy to ask - what exactly is microhouse about, if anything?

This is the two-part challenge that All The Glitters presents. MRI, always more interested in the dancefloor than most of the microhouse heroes, have further blurred the lines of demarcation, forcing us to ask: how do we tell the difference between microhouse and non-microhouse; and, why should we care? Saying that microhouse is simply more detailed than other techy strains of house (eg. prog, tech-house) is a forgivable misconception that ignores how minutely detailed and intricately programmed all such strains can be, andthe large dollop of dub all the producers seem to have consumed doesn't help much either (tellingly, an early alternative name for prog was "dub house"). It's tempting to say that if tech-house is good it's microhouse and leave it at that, but I suspect that's not going to satisfy anyone.

Do we just fall back into saying that 'microhouse' refers to a certain approach, a particular mindset a producer adopts when setting out to make house music - all the while ignoring the multiplicity of approaches and mindsets the terms encompasses? Perhaps. What I think - what I perhaps have always thought - is that microhouse is identifiable by its constant attempts to unite distinct and divergant source material without merely giving way at the point of least resistance. What I recognise in most microhouse is a combination of rightness and dangerousness: juxtapositions and meldings that work perfectly but without any prior guarantees, wild risks whose very unlikeliness are their own reward.

On much of All That Glitters (the pop songs excepted!) I guess these risks are harder to spot, perhaps because the duo is less keen to spike their own grooves. For most of this album MRI are attempting to fold microhouse's science, its quirkiness and it lush mosaic of details back into house's pleasure-focused functionalism. It's safer territory maybe, but the album shouldn't be punished for the risks it does take: its extroversion, its warmth, its open-heartedness and, most of all, its sheer beauty.

In the meantime, here's a sample of the absolute binge-load of essential microhouse tracks I've been listening to recently. Some old, some new, some banging, some blue:

Superpitcher - Heroin
Superpitcher's productions become more identifiable the more of them you hear: there's a sort of fuzzy numbness to all of his work that fits the title to this track all too well. But Superpitcher's expression of will-to-oblivion isn't all just hazy wasteland; his melodies (here a ghostly, faded organ riff) always seem to combine melancholy with optimism just so (like, "I can move on from here, though I don't yet know the way"), the steady beat speaking of a resistance to finally slipping over the edge. It's not the hit, but the day after, the bleary, unfocused blinking into the steady dawn (see also: the similar hazy reflection of his remix of Carsten Jost's "You Don't Need A Weatherman", complete with eerie birdsong).

Kaito - Beautiful Day/Awakenings/Everlasting
Somewhere between the endless ripples of prime MRI and the rainy day wistfulness of Superpitcher are these unspeakably beautiful instrumental house tracks, coming the closest of anyone to uniting Kompakt's house and pop ambient threads. Plus, this guy has the best melodies ever. Ever.

Closer Musik - You Don't Know Me
The first single from their album After Love (which I'm eager to hear), You Don't Know Me is dark and edgy house-pop that exchanges the reflective meloncholy of the duo's "(1 2 3) No Gravity" with a restless, pacing distrustfulness. The bruised, plastic bassline pulses balefully, the rhythm clicks and snaps like a caged animal and the sly baritone seems at once carefully restrained and immersed in depravity. Someone's been listening to too much Depeche Mode - and I mean that in the best possible sense.

Sascha Funke - When Will I Be Famous?
From eighties homage to eighties collage: in light of the sparkling melodic tech-house that Sascha Funke is known for, this deconstruction of Bros is doubly surprising and enjoyable. Within a hair's breadth of International DJ Gigolos-style nouveau-electro (brittle electro beats, blaring synths and a bevvy of sci-fi effects) "When Will I Be Famous" is still brim-full with house's tactile pleasures, its synthetic house stomp and siren-like vocal reminding me of M. Mayer's "Amanda". Like "Amanda", it doesn't feel like a resurrection of the eighties as an outsider's investigation into the phenomenon. Like, if aliens were given the task of producing the perfect Britney Spears song as a practical exercise for their "Modern Human Culture" class.

And may I finally end with two strong album recommendations: 1) Michael Mayer's Immer mix-cd, whose wonderfulness deserves its own entry; and 2) Afuken's forthcoming My Way, which I'm listening to for the first time right now andbgnutybowled over. Which leads me to a final question: where does this genre's wealth of goodness end???
eleven-twenty-one pm


Friday 19

2002 has already acquitted itself well in terms of albums (Tim's special brand of approval can be found on The Streets' Original Pirate Material, MRI's All That Glitters, Herbert's Secondhand Sounds and Michael Mayer's Immer mix cd, to name but four) but - admirable efforts from Tweet and Blue aside - I've yet to hear a pop song from this year that comes close to matching Latrelle's "Dirty Girl (Remix)". Yes, I used "pop" and "remix" together there, which might seem like a stretch - it's no longer kosher to just like modern pop for its sounds, and with good reason.

The democratisation of post-Timbaland recording skillz has brought with it a common misreading of the precedent he established with the artists he worked with. Timbaland - like many before him - knew that the artist's performance could be treated as an instrument that exists in relation to other components within the music, affecting and being affected by them. In contrast, the arrangements in much of the tamer mid-nineties R&B is the sonic equivalent of thinning lighting, merely designed to present the vocal in the best light possible and never stepping beyond this subservient role (a generalisation that's not strictly true: see for example Babyface's infrequent but gorgeous work on TLC's Crazy Sexy Cool).

What many artists and producers - not an overwhelming amount but enough - have done subsequently is to assume that the vocal/performance has been relegated in importance (as opposed to being placed within a positive dialectical context) and thus they become indifferent to its quality or individuality, assuming that a good groove will get them through. In a total and incorrect reversal of the original position, the vocal and the song itself become little more than a structure within which the producer can run amock with their crazy quasi-IDM groovescapes.

You see this reflected in a lot of the critical responses of R&B johnny-come-latelys like myself: a writer in the local magazine I write for spent the entirety of his review of Brandy's Full Moon discussing Rodney Jerkins' production (which amounts to all of about four tracks, mind you), with only one line at the end spared for Brandy herself. Admittedly I'm a bit wary of many people's occasional kneejerk use of this very argument to dismiss both artists and appreciative critics; I've had it levelled against me for liking Mya and Britney's "I'm A Slave 4 U", where in fact in both cases it's the vocals and persona of the artist that grab me rather than the music. Still, it's undeniable that relying on production skillz alone is insufficient, and that R&B cannot work through the inevitable impasse - running out of sonic tricks - without a renewed concentration on performative innovation.

The positive flipside to this argument is that, well, R&B is already doing this. Survivor was patchy, but the best parts of the record were all about the triumph of persona over production - "Survivor" itself is sonically unremarkable, but as a pop song it's a kick in the teeth. Songs like "Hit 'Em Up Style" and "Oops (Oh My)" sound great, but first and foremost you notice the inventiveness and sharpness of their storytelling, the vocalists' careful blending of trained melisma and inherent character. Most notable however is the growing trend of R&B remixes that change not just the arrangement or the beat, but the vocals, the lyrics, the character of the performance and the very fabric of the song.

Indeed, instead of better-tailoring the song for the dancefloor, this style of remix goes the other way: already electronic, dance-friendly R&B tracks are sent through the remix wringer, coming out the other side more organic sounding, more flowing, more "songful". So J Lo's "I'm Real" is transformed from an irritatingly perky dance track into a beautiful mid-tempo flutter, the jittery pulse of Toya's "I Do" unfolds itself to reveal a gloriously warm southern-fried piano jam, and now the compulsively spartan groove of Latrelle's Neptunes-produced "Dirty Girl" becomes a huge soul-belter.

Compared to the other remixes mentioned, "Dirty Girl (Remix)" adheres to the original quite faithfully: the narrative is still a "Nasty Girl"-type diss on skanky hos making it hard for Latrelle to be clean, and the basic integrity of the song's verses and choruses are left intact. Instead of an overhaul, this remix is an implausible expansion, a reimagining of the original on a thoroughly epic scale. This is despite the fact that the remix's "trick" is quite simple: Latrelle simply bolsters the whole thing onto the arrangement from Bowie's "Fame" (that huge bass! The disco and glam guitars! The horn blasts! Latrelle even sings "TELL LIES!" over the "FAAAAME" sections!) for a cocaine-smeared super-jam.

As pseudo-bootlegs go, this one pretty much leaves Pink's Eurythmics remix dead in the water. It's not that the latter is bad (it's great), but the use of "Sweet Dreams" was only sonically thrilling, being really better suited to Redman than it was to Pink. The sampling/interpolation of "Fame" meanwhile is a thoroughly inspired choice. More than just providing a monstrous groove, "Fame" fits "Dirty Girl" so well that it's hard to tell where one stops and the other begins. Most importantly, the original versions of both tracks are sneeringly superior, but in crucially different ways. For such a great song, "Dirty Girl" was surprisingly difficult to like straight off - like "Nasty Girl", its attempt to distinguish between sluttishness and sexiness seemed a bit defensive and unclear, and the basis for its smirk (ultimately, "I've got the guy and you don't") seemed a bit petty and shallow. It's not that Bowie's ponderings are necessarily any more meaningful and convincing, but rather that everything about "Fame" suggests that Bowie doesn't care. Like Jay-Z, he sounds as though he's ascended to a level where invincibility seeps from every pore.

And that's what Latrelle steals from Bowie - his invincibility. Nothing changes about her story to make it more impressive... it's just that this time she sings it like she really means it, in the process becoming something like the R&B equivalent of Jay-Z. Latrelle, already quite a rootsy diva, could demolish Tina Turner at her best with the sheer abandon of her half-sung, half-shrieked performance. Complete with call-and-response funk breakdowns and pseudo-scat moments of delerium, Latrelle's vocal flights are so captivating you feel like prostrating yourself before her towering form. "Bet you know that bitch over there!" she screams, "OHHHH! I know you see her!" and then later "You see she can't get a man unless she opens wide, ya better RECOGNISE!"

In this she is unlike Jay-Z, in that her overwhelming persona mostly resides within her voice. Perhaps then she is here the Mystikal of R&B, which strikes me as a fitting analogy for two reasons: 1) like Mystikal, she's one of the few performers in black pop who can make vocal allusions to old-skool struggle-with-the-devil blues, without coming across as naff or boring me to death; and 2) "Dirty Girl (Remix)" is similar to "Bouncin' Back" in that it sounds like an attempt to resurrect or invent an entire genre (perhaps the same genre) all by itself.

Through sheer force of will, Latrelle manages to change the meaning of her song: she's no longer the embattled girlfriend trying to maintain her purity, but the sex goddess pouring scorn on the ho because she can't enslave men without baring flesh; the irresistible catch who can afford to dangle other, less demanding girls in front of her guy because she knows he's putty in her hands. It's a herculean achievement: a monumental rereading of her own work that discovers hidden vistas so vast that it's unbelievable their secret existence didn't leap out at the listener when listening to the tamer original, or even the original "Fame". As with her guy, Latrelle leaves me feeling exhausted, exhilirated, and once again ecstatic about the state of pop music.
eleven-twenty-six pm


Monday 15

I've never, to my knowledge, discussed Mogwai's Rock Action here, even though I love it to bits. More than anything this is because I've never really had anything particularly interesting to say about it. Rock Action appeals to me, inspires emotional reactions in me, and that's about it.

Or maybe that's exactly it. For me Rock Action is a bit like comfort food: it's an album that felt terribly familiar the first time I played it, and resembled an old friend by the third spin. This is not, however, due to any particular love of Mogwai. I enjoyed the pyrotechnics of Young Team quite a bit, but Come On Die Young was just sort of pleasant (or occasionally pleasantly forboding), its repetitive structures succeeding only in the sense that they didn't bore me. The Mogwai EP was the turning point though, striking me as a project that took the "slow build" approach of Come On Die Young and gave it targets. Slower, grander and more resonant than its predecessors, the EP's slowly resolving (as opposed to permanently unresolved) melodies benefited from the band's newfound love of sepia tones (shimmering strings and horns etc.) to achieve an unparalleled sense of wistfulness.

Like Boards of Canada, Mogwai had begun to revel in memory, but whereas Boards of Canada seem (according to everyone else's reactions at least) to evoke the listener's memory of childhood, Mogwai's wistfulness is rooted as much in history and geography. "Stanley Kubrik" suggests the eternal vigilance of mountains, standing impassive over the ant-like activity of humanity with only the sapping of their own pre-eminence as an effective timekeeper. Christmas Songs' dolcet piano chords imagines a pre-human race of intelligent creatures at play on a river bank, the image weighed down with awareness of its ultimately illusory nature. Above all, "Burn Girl Prom Queen" seems like an ode to the passage of time itself, the melancholy horn section a gentle reminder that everything that was has passed, and everything that is passes.

The Boards of Canada comparison may be useful: the other point of contrast is their positions within their respective genres. Both post-rock and Warp-style IDM are self-consciously progressive strains of larger genres (rock and dance, obviously) that in the last few years have struggled to maintain or justify their progressiveness. What both Boards of Canada and Mogwai have done is remove the need for this; by emphasising the styles' latent capacity for evocativeness, for emotiveness, they've essentially moved (or removed) the parameters defining what this sort of music should aim for. Both are still concerned with texture, but not so much in its formal innovativeness so much as its expressiveness, and while this had already been explored prior, in neither genre had it ever been the primary - almost exclusive - concern, existing at best in a symbiotic relationship with experimentalism.

Unlike Boards of Canada however, Mogwai evidence a great deal of personal progression from album to album. This development bears full fruit on Rock Action, which takes this wistfulness, these open displays of emotion, and marries them to song structures. A lot of the crit I've read on Mogwai argues that the lack of songs gives (or gave) them a lot of freedom, but I always found it to be a bit limiting over the course of an album, with the same ideas played out quite a few times over. On Rock Action the band not only allow themselves to explore quite a few different ideas, but do so in the course of a single track. You realise how effective the verse-chorus structure is in allowing a complexity and multiplicity of emotional content when said structure is not a guaranteed fixture. Even the tracks that aren't strictly songs, like "2 Right Make 1 Wrong", demonstrate a massively increased emotional and stylistic palette by allowing themselevs to be more tightly structured.

I have a special fondness, however, for the vocal tracks, which have a sort of faded grandeur, a sense of small gestures that desire to be big gestures. Especially on "Take Me Somewhere Nice", the contrast between the bouyant strings and the gorgeous yet still somehow rooted twangy guitar arrangement which seems to surround the singer suggests to me a man lost in regret, dreaming of an alternate path that is just beyond reach. Likewise the shadowy, quietly tortured singing in "Dial: Revenge" and the soft resignation of "Secret Pint" throw the music's fragile beauty into sharp relief. Ironically the song structures render this music less stable, its character as mediated through the singer more hallucinatory and more powerful - not still lifes or short films but vague memories, colours sent forth from the refraction of human recollection.

Mogwai aren't forging new paths; the vocal tracks on Rock Action remind me heavily of Bark Psychosis - and I'm sure a hundred other bands that I'm not aware of. But Bark Psychosis, whether evoking flux (much of Hex) or temporary stasis ("I Know", "Nothing Feels") were keenly interested in emotion as a present, lived experience. There's a lightweight/lightheaded restlessness - or, at least, consciousness - to their music that speaks of grappling with existence as it hits you. Mogwai are the butterfly collectors of emotion, trapping it under glass and allowing dust to coat the surface in the belief that emotions only grow richer with time. Also sharper perhaps, and often more painful, but who says you can't have vintage years of regret?
eleven-oh-seven pm


Thursday 11

I've viewed the return of 4/4 'speed garage' within the UK garage scene with a mixture of trepidation and curiosity. Trepidation because it feels like such an obvious step backwards, a retreat into straightforwardness that seems opposed to much of what is good about garage in its 2-step formation; curiosity because, well, with the way the scene currently is it seems implausible that producers would simply bring back 4/4 without some ulterior motive, some 'twist' to make it worthwhile.

And there are quite a few 4/4 tracks that provide this twist: Oxide & Neutrino's coldly thrilling "Foot To Da Floor" (a highlight of their patchy but brilliant-in-places album) is speed garage with an impossibly broadened hermeneutic horizon, a project of interpretation seeking to combine and conflate the best moments of ten years of dance music. The new El-Tuff mix of Ladies First's "I Can't Wait" takes all the advances 2-step has made over the last few years and reinjects them back into a 4/4 vocal track: the kickdrum pounds steadily, but over the top the snares and hi-hats spasm and convulse with a neurotic ugliness, the vocals cut-up into a thick web of interconnected wail-bleeps. It's not really that much farther along than New Horizons' "Find The Path" - arguably speed garage's finest moment - but the New Horizons aesthestic was insufficiently explored once 2-step arrived, so maybe this partial return is a good thing. And of course the fact that so many of the current 4/4 tracks follow a hip hop and not house-based song format (MC crews rather than divas) changes the feel of the music completely.

Disregarding that however, my current favourite 'nu' speed garage track is Soulo & Steve Feelgood's "True", a no-nonsense vocal track that lays a saucy R&B-inspired vocal over a pumping beat and flashing metallic snares that sound like interlocking scythes. "Tell all ya friends I had ya!" Angel Blue declares with the sort of sexual imperiousness that's now de rigeur for the scene, but the subsequent drop into "Rip Groove" style bass is pure '97. "True" is harder, more remorseless than the original wave of speed garage, but otherwise there's very little to distinguish it... except, perhaps, a feeling. What's new about "True" is not the result but the motivation; rather than retreating to the house beat as a source of dancefloor stablity (and thus fun), what current producers are recognising is its capacity to be high-impact, to hit you like a brick in the face.

More than anything else, "True" sounds like impatient, relentless pop, a track so desperate to go out and mess heads that it's hardly going to waste time programming complex beats for itself. I hope it does really well - not because it's excellent (which it perhaps is but if so only by a whisker), but because it's the sort of song that needs popular support to be validated. Stylistically the ripple "True" makes is so small, so small indeed that unless you're an obsessive like me it passes beneath the radar. But it's not a new thing so much as part of a broader pattern, a pattern of relentless dance-pop that's bigger than its genre borders. "True" is playing out on a much smaller scale what the Basement Jaxx remix of Missy's "4 My People" accomplishes so gloriously in the charts, sweeping away all challengers with its invincible stomp. Songs like these need audiences, need runners-up, and ultimately need the charts as much as the charts need them.
eleven-thirty-five pm


Thursday 04

Apologies for the lack of updates. Basically my computer died and I had to reformat my hard drive. You can imagine the joy I felt. Anyway, we're (ie. I'm) back and fully functioning once again.

And now, some rambling thoughts on International Deejay Gigolos..

I've said elsewhere that I'm baffled by the amount of times people appear to excessively identify (if not conflate) Miss Kittin with the entire newfangled electro-pop movement. Of course they have a point in that she's appeared on a number of crucial records, and her detached-but-filthy glamour-obsessed monologues seem to say a great deal about the scene's concept of itself. Otherwise though this tendency to fixate on the personalities of the scene reminds me of various past instances, specifically people conflating jungle with General Levy and 2-step with Craig David. In both cases you had a character who immediately drew attention to themselves through their charisma, and thus seemed like a convenient spokespersons for the genres whose tracks they appeared on, and yet ultimately proved to be little more than attractive sirens, charismatic mouthpieces through which the real stars - the producers - could reach the public.

What's true of all of them is the gradual realisation that their coherence as characters was inessential and disposable: General Levy was only as good as the number of ragga cliches he could string together, and these could be sampled from any number of different sources; Craig David's vocals frequently sounded better when cut to pieces and reassembled on remixes, where his generation (se)x narratives and loverman persona were reduced to meaningless (and ultimately anonymous) vocal ticks.

This is a selective rule, of course. I don't think of rappers or R&B divas, for example, as mere mouthpieces, basically because what they add is crucial to our very understanding of the styles they work within. The same applies to So Solid Crew, whose rapping styles and persona touch the core of our relationship to their music in a manner that Craig David (at least wearing his garage hat) could not achieve (in the final instance, the decision to use a persona-clad vocalist or more anonymous and heavily treated - even cut-up - vocals (eg. Sweet Female Attitude) has little impact on our relationship to a pop-garage track). With this pop-aligned strain of nu-electro, it would be easy to assume that personas were similarly important, if only because there seems to be a preponderance of both vocal tracks and "characters" relative to other styles. Too, the consistent reproduction of that virulent strain of disaffected quasi-robotic vocals (nasal affectations, monotone drones, emphases on repetition versus narrative development) suggests that the artists consider it to be a crucial and integral component.

I wouldn't deny that, but I wonder if maybe in this case what we're really seeing is not the return of the personality to dance music, but rather a fetishisation of the trappings of personality-driven dance music. On American Gigolo, the best moments are the big pop numbers like Linda Lamb's "Hot Room", Tiga & Zyntherius's "Sunglasses At Night" and Miss Kittin & The Hacker's "Frank Sinatra", but not because they have "stars". Instead, it's because they combine the general sound's best aspects: catchy choruses, stomping (the more 4/4 the better) beats and outrageously hooky synth riffs and basslines. And when I look at that list, I think "well, if you replaced 'stomping' with 'jittering' you'd have 2-step." And really the appeals of the two styles are similar, albeit featuring juxtaposing cultural obsessions (electro fetishising Europe and 2-step fetishising the US). As with 2-step - and microhouse, Daft Punk, Basement Jaxx etc. - IDG-style electro understands that pop has a currency value beyond its own pop-ness. The truth is, choruses are a totally effective and efficient weapon in dance music's arsenal that you can file alongside amen breaks and Moroder riffs. IDG focuses in on a particular expression of pop - the sorta-but-not-entirely-eighties disaffected-robot performance - because it fits the music hand in glove; its a choice with a similar level of obviousness to it as 2-step bootlegging R&B.

In some ways this choice is both limiting and misguided; on Hell's Fuse Presents Hell mix cd one of the most thrilling moments comes in the form of a remix of Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Two Tribes (appropriately titled the "Annihilation Mix" - very heavy on apocalyptic nuclear winter imagery), wherein the combination of chill'n'shrill pseudo-electro with the vocalist's overblown sense of drama actually makes the music more futuristic. Or maybe to be more specific, the music feels like it's rubbing up against the future the wrong way. Particularly in its remixed form "Two Tribes" to me sounds like an unwitting site of convergence of various stray impulses formed throughout the early eighties (grand gestures, paranoia, gleaming syntheticism, the return of pop, charisma-in-service-to-itself), with the vocal performance as not a signifier but a manifestation of these impulses. As such, it captures a sense of urgency that I don't thnk people tend to associate with the eighties in retrospect... or if they do, they dismiss it with a weak laugh about how foolishly self-obsessed everyone was. But "Two Tribes" doesn't sound foolish to me. In spite of the verging-on-crudeness of its execution, it actually sounds utterly serious.

I've been thinking of making a C90 of all the great eighties apocalypse-pop - Kate Bush's "Breathing", Depeche Mode's "Flies On The Windscreen" etc. - as a sort of instructional tool for the imaginary artists who I might pose as svengali for. I sort of wish this stuff would return, though more in terms of that mixture of pomp and paranoia rather than pop bands specifically commenting on current events (hip hop being the exception). In contrast, a lot of these nu-electro artists have a rather blase approach to their own sense of futurism, sounding more reconciled and resigned to the present than they perhaps need to be. I quite enjoy the boredom and affected-ness that seems to drip from the vocalists' mouths, but I don't think it sounds particularly futuristic; the over-the-top melisma of Destiny's Child's "Bugaboo" sounds more futuristic to me, really.

The short explanation is: duh, this is retro-futurism, what do you expect? The longer answer is perhaps that so far this resurrection of eighties synthetic pop is still referential in the most basic sense. In fact what it's referring to is something like a collective hallucination of the eighties that was only really borne out on certain tracks eg. Visage's "Fade To Grey", so in a sense it is a couple of steps beyond mere homage, but I think that we need to start seeing a more ruthlessly subversive approach to the source material, where eighties pop is not respectfully pillaged but brutally assaulted. A glitteringly perfect slice of dark synth pop, the only problem with "Sunglasses At Night" is that it can be so easily encapsulated as exactly that; there's so little else that needs to be said about it (cf. Green Velvet, who has long plundered from the eighties but twists it deliciously to his own ends).

So having established (for myself, at least) that the vocals, the choruses, the personas etc. are tools of signification on a level with sonic tools like the funk break or the diva's sigh, I guess what I'm waiting for is an innovative application of those tools that brings with it true futurism, as opposed to a twenty year old idea of futurism. Nearly twenty years on, "Two Tribes" sounds forward-looking because it is a record that grapples with itself. As jungle turned the funk break into something else, what I want is for this nu-electro to embark upon a resurrection of the eighties that automatically and instantly twists itself into something new, something not-eighties. It's already doing this to some extent, but can it do it more? Can it achieve that rush of recognition-meets-disorientation you get when you hear well-known ethereal or soulful female vox became woobly banshees on hardcore records? Some might argue that Miss Kittin represents that subversive trend, but since her whole (highly enjoyable) schtick is an endless signifier of subversion, I almost feel as though she's barred from achieving true subversion.

In a sense (to come full circle) where nu-electro currently differs from 2-step (its vocal-friendly peer) is that it has yet to discover it own way to destroy what it references. The vocal cut-up in 2-step is a deceptively pleasant act of mutilation performed against the music's songfulness, and it has precedents in house's vivisections, hardcore's helium vocals, jungle's timestretching (a case could be made for a dance style's successes being predicated on its ability to mutilate what it draws on). I don't yet hear any vocal science in nu-electro - vocoders don't count - but it would be wrong to think that this is the problem; in fact the relative straightforwardness and popcentric-ness of nu-electro's vocals might be a good thing. Instead, I'd use the idea of sampling vocals and then mutilating them as an analogy for what this stuff should be doing conceptually, which is sampling the eighties as an idea and then destroying it.

It's true that as a dance scene, IDG-style electro is as much about concepts as it is about the music at hand. So far it's proven that a conceptual trick (in this case, "the eighties") is as potent as a sonic trick in making people dance; whether the producers can go beyond this and twists the concepts as they once twisted the sounds remains to be seen, I guess.
eleven-fifty-nine pm


everything here is by tim finney




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Freelance Hellraiser
What About Brandy Going Down

Deck The House

Lali Puna
Together In Electric Dreams

Data Boogie

More Weed!

Sascha Funke
When Will I Be Famous?

Are Freaks Electric? (Dancehall Mix)

A Rocket In Dub
Rocket No. 3

Maxwell D
Serious (Jameson Remix)

Mission Of Burma
Max Ernst

See You Tonight


Perfect Lovers (Unperfect Love Mix - Tobias Thomas & Superpitcher)

Danger! High Voltage!

The Streets
Don't Mug Yourself

Close Muzik
You Don't Know Me





A Loafer's Discourse

Air Guitar Boulevard



Bleeding Ears


Cantankerous Jukebox

Catherine's Pita

DJ Martian

Freaky Trigger



Hello Daylight


In Review

I Love Everything

I Love Music

Josh Blog

Let's Build A Car


Michaelangelo Matos

Mochi Manifesto

New York London Paris Munich

Pearls that are his Eyes


Plastic Bag


Quicksilver Shapeshifter

Radio Free Narnia

Records Ad Nauseum



Stevie Nixed

Sunday Morning


The Church Of Me

Vain Selfish and Lazy

The War Against Silence



February 2002

January 2002

December 2001

November 2001

October 2001

September 2001

August 2001

July 2001

June 2001

May 2001

April 2001

March 2001

February 2001

January 2001

July 2000

June 2000

May 2000



Daft Punk


Ian Pooley


Artful Dodger

The Loft