February 24, 2006

Potential

While I originally didn’t think of this section as a clubbing travelogue, it makes sense for that to happen as a lot people’s attitudes and thoughts about dance music have been shaped by, or arisen from DJs, clubs, and scenes. Yet I also think that in our digital and downloading era there is a new group of listeners who have been drawn in the past five years by minimal techno, electro-house, and the Kompakt family, and whose connection to the scene is mainly the CDs and friends/bloggers talking about it online. Perhaps I am bit sensitive to this coming from the U.S. instead of Europe, and that I remember myself back at the turn of the decade, wishing I knew more people who were into techno, or at least someone who wouldn’t scoff at the words “German house.” Anyhow, in the past six or so years that have passed, my relationship to recorded house/techno and live house/techno have become increasingly disparate.

The main struggle I’ve felt is that recorded house and techno has still yet to match the potential of live techno. I’ve heard the arguments before, that house is not an albums genre, that comparing anything live to anything recorded is like comparing apples and oranges. It’s true that producers are often creating and releasing tracks on vinyl that are mainly used as DJ tools, i.e. functional music that works towards the mindset of a DJ set, and are thinking of different things when creating an album. The old joke among producers is that no one listens to techno at home, because it’s out of context of a DJ mix, and the sound and environment are completely different. So I will admit that I don’t think recorded techno will ever be able to replace or surpass the visceral feeling and spontaneity of being at a club, but I do think there is potential for more aspects of it to be included in recorded music. 80 minute CDs are not enough to hold the immense freedom a DJ has when they have the whole night ahead of them to spin.

Indulge me if you will, for I often have these ambitious dreams of DJs in the near future creating gargantuan, personalized live sets that last for six or eight hours, consisting of tracks/songs by other artists or their own original material, and tailoring them as a soundtrack to a person’s life and environment. This would be a substitute for the “album” format. Similar to opera or even symphonies, these long sets would be aural narrations of stories and experiences that are drawn out right before us. However, I also imagine these sets soundtracking a person’s life and emotions just like the sounds of nature would accompany a forest. Instead of a DJ playing off the creative energy of a crowd, he would be playing off the creative energy and surroundings of a person’s environment.

Stylus’ own Todd Hutlock is probably going to lynch me for forgetting specific examples, but there have been Detroit techno albums by Carl Craig and Juan Atkins’ Model 500 project that have been intended to be listened to while driving down certain highways. Why couldn’t the future of house and techno mixes expand out to create a soundtrack of a person’s day, or to soundtrack a journey through a certain location or neighborhood? With the advent of ipods, MP3s and other devices, 80 continuous minutes is no longer our musical boundary when we step outside to go for a walk or drive.

Most (if not all) people are creating their own choices in music and deciding which path their life takes them, even if it is something as simple as choosing a grocery store to go to. My theory is, instead of defining what your environment sounds like, why not relinquish control to an artist for a day, and let them give you their take on a specific environment, let the artist’s personal musical decisions, structure, and theories inform how you see your surroundings. I would reckon the passiveness this takes is similar to the passiveness one feels when they are absorbed into a DJ’s set at a club. I think it could definitely be a rewarding experience. And from this passive point, relationships can develop over time between the music and the person, not just emotional bonds, but visual and sensory ones too.

OK, I’ve just pinched myself to wake up from this rose-tinted dream of mine. I don’t think people are so willing at the moment to give up eight hours of their day to listen to a continuous mix of music, and I’m not sure artists/DJs have the time or desire to personally labor over personalized eight hour DJs sets when they could be making some money by doing the same thing in a club. Still, I continued to wonder about the theories, experiences, and mindsets that are driving live and recorded techno apart, and the missed potential that is possibly there for each side to grasp on to.

[Michael F. Gill]


February 24, 2006

Live: Troy Pierce @ Felt, January 2006

It was just a couple days after Dan Bell had played Cambridge, that M_nus artist Troy Pierce, also known as Louderbach and one-third of Run Stop Restore, came by to play a set in downtown Boston on January 25th. As it often is with these one-off gigs, I am heading towards a place I’ve never been before, the top floor of a club called Felt on the outskirts of Chinatown. This place is pretty posh looking and probably is home to many more hip-hop nights than techno parties. But hey, they are offering free drinks.Oh. And the place has an excellent sound system, as well. There is nothing worse than dancing and trying to envelop yourself in the groove because the sound is too weak to smother you by itself. Pierce goes on a little before midnight and is playing and mixing new tracks from his laptop all night long, so it’s gladly not a night where any of my rampant music geek desires to have tracks identified shows up. With my brain free to roam, Pierce throws down a great opening half-hour that swirls from funky to nearly gothic techno, yet curiously the momentum is a bit stolid, as every track has practically the same stark, pinpoint kick drum and thick, mechanical hi-hat. So after about a solid hour of this, people are already starting to leave and Pierce almost seems to admit defeat by playing some vapidly abstract tech-house that encourages the remaining crowd to head towards the bar.

But a funny thing happened at the end of Pierce’s set for me, as I returned out to a mostly empty dance floor. Yes, some of the funk and even some neo-italo elements reappeared at the end, but what got me excited about the rest of the set was the enthusiasm of the two people dancing next to me, who I’d never met before but were still egging me on to dance with them. Just as friends feed of their common interests, a lot of my dancing adrenalin comes from the energy of other people in the room. By the end, my boundless energy even surprised myself, it really didn’t matter what music Pierce was playing, or how good it was, I had hit such an empathic high with those around me that all I needed was for music to be there to let myself go wild.

[Michael F. Gill]


February 24, 2006

Daso – Go Upstairs

Daso’s “Daybreak” was one of the best records of 2005, minimal but filled with breathy ambience and warm, colorful synth lines. Continuing that trend is his new EP, three songs amusingly/creepily titled “Go Upstairs,” “Stay There” and “Until I Find You.” Mixing thumping basslines with lovely pads and layered, highly textural sounds, each has something unique to recommend it—from the spacious echoes of the first track, to the muted guitar-like lead of the second, to the unsettling, cavernous reverberations and metallic clinkings of the third. For only his second release, this is a stellar outing that balances introspection and darkness of tone with a very human melodicism.

My Best Friend / 018
[Mallory O’Donnell]


February 24, 2006

Francisco – Hero / Venti Venti

12"2006Neo-Disco

Francesco De Belis (one half of Italy’s Jollymusic) serves up an excellent two-tracker here on England’s 20:20 Vision label. “Hero” is a Moroder-indebted piece of Italo-house; “Venti Venti” a more electro cut with crystalline Kraftwerk synth runs. They surprise as much as they follow their modus operandi thoughgh, with the A-side featuring psychedelic echoboxed female vocals and laughter in the background while the B-side contains a nearly inaudible sound akin to the dripping of water that is nevertheless present enough that I thought there was something wrong with my car’s AC while driving to it. Both tracks succeed by striking a balance between a dense layering of sounds and upfront disco-house beats.

20:20 Vision / 127
[Mallory O’Donnell]


February 24, 2006

Lindstrom & Prins Thomas – Mighty Girl

12"2006Neo-Disco

Epic, almost-Baroque Eurodisco is the order of the day on “Mighty Girl,” presented by Lindstrom and Prins Thomas in both its original form and in two fairly radical remixes. From the fugue-like feel of the main theme to the sparkling counterpoint of the backing synths, this track encapsulates the neo-classical and orchestral ambitions of disco in a nutshell. The “Vran Gog” mix moves towards the atmospheric side of the equation, while the “Feel PM” mix is a joyful, wobbly dub which would sound great at about 5 am while you squeeze the sweat out of the third t-shirt of the evening. The remixes though, as good as they are, pale in comparison to the glory of the original version. Cop this, and consider the envelope pushed.

Eskimo / 541416 501482
[Mallory O’Donnell]


February 24, 2006

V/A – Disco Dimensions 2 EP

12"2006Neo-Disco

One of my favorite compilations from last year was Smash Hits’ Disco Dimensions, which presented new house and crossover tracks that employed many of the sounds and styles of classic underground disco records. This 12″ brings three new tunes in the same mold, but falls quite short of its mighty predecessor. All of the elements – squishy synths, wiggling basslines and organic-sounding drums – are present in Ray Mang and Foolish Felix’s “Disco Dementia,” but the track itself fails to achieve enough energy for liftoff. A little more dementia, please. Similarly, Stranger’s “Motorboy” has great parts – the bass in particular is filled with giddy energy and the high-pitched guitar sound is a neat twist – but on the whole it fails at whipping up any kind of dance floor frenzy. The best track here is the last one, Seiji’s “Rubbish,” which contains enough funky live percussion sounds to fill a zoo, but little else besides. While all three songs would make fine mixers, or moments of restraint on a longer compilation, I fail to see why they would be chosen to fill both sides of a 12″ single.

Smash Hit Music / 004
[Mallory O’Donnell]


February 24, 2006

Dominik Eulberg & Gabriel Ananda – Harzer Roller

Closely linked with a style of house that has garnered much attention lately and been given an extremely stupid drug-related name which I won’t dignify by repeating here, Dominik Eulberg is one of those artists who make records so distinctively their own that they justify themselves without needing a scene or a movement. Full of everyday noises such as equipment clicking on and off, doors opening and closing, clipped vocal bits, and the sounds of wind and nature, he makes a music which melds organic and inorganic worlds. Co-conspirator Gabriel Ananda is along for the ride this time, and both sides of this single (both called “Harzer Roller”) are dance floor tracks as much as they are environments in which to become lost and found. “Harzer Roller” combines the best of ambient music’s concentration on pure sounds with the propulsive movement of minimal techno.

Traum / 070
[Mallory O’Donnell]


February 24, 2006

Isolee – Western Store Edits

Isolee’s upcoming Western Store is an odds n’ sods collection better than most artists’ full-length albums. Fittingly, some of the leading lights of minimal house have stepped in to remix several tracks for the accompanying 12″ single. Sadly, everyone involved seemed to think that stripping back Isolee’s already Spartan sound even further was a necessity. “Cite Grande Terre,” originally an icy four-minute dubscape, gets turned by Luciano into a twelve-minute yawner with excessively awkward glitch effects sprinkled on it, as unwelcome as PCP dropped on a joint. The version of “Lost” (fittingly described as ‘stripped by’ the usually on-form Glimmers) reduces the great danceability of the original to a loop that runs on repeat for six numbing minutes.

The in-demand Villalobos put his trademark stamp on “Djamel Et Jamshid,” a track which actually doesn’t appear on the upcoming Western Store CD. Much like his highly-touted original material, I find his remix here pleasant for background or headphones but without the sparkle and excitement of Isolee’s tracks which allow them to translate to the ride or the dancefloor. The only discernible difference between Dixon’s remix of “Bleu” and the original is that it’s neither as dynamic nor as dubby. Perhaps those called on to remix this well-regarded artist were scared to make a misstep, but the ginger handling of such strong original material inevitably produces tepid results. Of course, as with much on the minimal front (see the entire Spectral catalog and much of Kompakt’s), it’s in their elaborate mixing with other tracks that their true intricacies develop, but as straight-ahead listening material there is little to enjoy in these versions.

Playhouse / 120
[Mallory O’Donnell]


February 24, 2006

Gaiser / Berg Nixon – And Answer EP / Box Escape EP

These two new four-trackers from Richie Hawtin’s M_nus imprint are essentially two sides of the minimal techno coin: both are Michigan-based artists, both are releasing their debuts, and both bear the tangible influence of their label boss. While clearly cut from the same cloth—deep, bubbling bass lines, thudding 4/4 beats topped with skittering percussion and hand claps, analog swoops, pings, and twitches, the odd processed vocal sample—there are subtle differences that bring different rewards from each. Gaiser’s outings are a bit more floor-friendly and densely constructed for the most part, and more likely to work into a standard techno set. Nixon (aka Detroit native Ryan Crosson) keeps it a bit more minimal and percussive, flaunting more of a Villalobos/Plastikman vibe; in fact, flipside highlight “The Depths” wouldn’t sound at all out of place on the latter’s Consumed, nor would the title track, as both work in a dubbed-up, dark, atmospheric vibe with lots of space and clattering percussion. Call Nixon’s the winner here, but fans of the vernacular will be pleased with both releases.

Minus / 36
Minus / 37
[Todd Hutlock]


February 24, 2006

Jeff Mills – The Bells (10th Anniversary)

12"2006Techno

The copy on the label of this 12” says that “The Bells” is “probably the most played techno track in history” and I’d be hard pressed to disagree—I would have to think if such a thing could be measured, Mills’ signature piece would certainly be in the Top 5 anyway, right next to “Strings of Life” and a handful of others. Immediately recognizable with its minimal structure and repetitive tweaked “bell” riff, if you haven’t heard this, you likely haven’t been in a club for a decade. Mills has never been one for remixes (his own work is never touched, and he seldom remixes others) and this anniversary release features the simple, unadorned original in all its glory on the A, all the stronger and still sounding fresh as a daisy. The B-side features “reworked” versions of two more Mills classics (“Gift of the Hills” and “Circus”) which gently update the originals and make this an essential purchase for Mills’ collectors. Also available is a DVD single, featuring a video, live tracks, remixes (what was I just saying about those being rare?), and other tasty tidbits. Break out the birthday cake.

Purpose Maker / 020
[Todd Hutlock]


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