Monday, April 29, 2019

Friday, April 26, 2019

"bowel-evacuating bangers" / uncanny-valley retro-rave

via FACT, Special Request aka Paul Woolford promises "bowel-evacuating bangers" only on his new LP  Vortex (the first of four albums in quick succession apparently) which is out the end of May.

"Fuck all that conceptual guff m888..." Woolford says, a rallying cry I can co-sign. "I had a right fucking doss making this."

That said, it don't sound that bowel-evacuating to me... a bit clean, a bit digi-crisped.

Despite being produced in his underpants apparently! 

I've liked the Special Request stuff before - he's captured that thick gritty churning "rollidge" / "ruffige" breaks sound, almost a time travel effect

Talking about doing-it-clean and the time-travel perplex:  here's another mix of new-old darkcore from Pearsall - "93" but made NOW

at his blog Pearsall continues the discussion he and I have been having about the pleasures and pitfalls of retro-rave

to my point as about H-core being "an unrepeatable moment – a whole confluence of factors (state of technology, state of the outside world, the surrounding music-scape esp hip hop and dancehall and R&B but top 40 pop, the drugs, the relative youth of the movement and its lack of history and self-consciousness, but also lack of sense of itself as an industry and a career structure / profession) produced this sound suffused with Zeitgeist and impelled with chaotic energy … seemingly out of control, set on an evolutionary course whose destination nobody knew…. a thrill-ride on a big dipper that was still under construction,,, a plunge into the unknown

which I contrast with retro-rave's "meticulous reconstruction of the known, done with love and desperate longing

Pearsall muses whether "these reconstructions are a bit too perfect" resulting in an effect analogous to uncanny valley effect in robotics - an excess of symmetry and proportion.

"Modern producers working in this genre are working with 25 years’ worth of information – they have seen which elements work on the dancefloor, they have vastly superior tools available for composing, editing and mixing down tracks, and they also have a better understanding for how to structure tracks to be both easily mixable and dynamic for crowds. This is a collectively build knowledge that they can draw on

cf. .the freestyle making-it-up as they went along of darkcore93 producers and the far crapper technology at their disposal: 

"Amateurish productions, wobbly levels, bizarre (and frankly stupid) samples, keys clashing, different elements not properly in time with each other … if you are a crate digger who is interested in this period, as I am, over time you hear some really bizarre and terrible stuff, the kind of stuff that gets ignored in modern throwback mixes or lists of ‘the best early rave tracks’.But this stuff wasn’t ignored at the time! It would get played at raves and on the radio, so when you listen to some of these old recordings you get these moments where just you furrow your brow and go, ‘what the hell is that?’"

with nu-dark you never get that "what the fuck?!?",  totally floored (in the good + bad senses)  because it's flaw-less

"These recreations are lots of fun," Pearsall further muses, "How could they not be when the original concept is so great? – but taken as a whole they are almost too perfect, too precise, and they are missing the messy, experimental edge to the original early 90’s tracks."

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Freaky Dancing

Well now - here's a really cool thing that I've been meaning to do a post about for a while: The Quietus's new publishing arm, TQLC, has pulled together as a single volume every issue of the ravezine Freaky Dancing, which as the Happy Mondays-derived title suggests was the unofficial house organ of the Haçienda.  You can get it here.

Created by Ste Pickford and Paul Gill, the zine consisted almost entirely of comic strips, cartoons, illustrations and visual-led spoofs 'n' satires.

Starting July 1989, the duo gave it away free to punters queuing outside the Haçienda on a Friday.

It ran for 12 issues.

The eleventh issue came out in August 1990, by which point the Haçienda scene was souring in a miasma of drug excess and paranoia, gangs and guns. Which brought the hostile attention of the authorities - such as "God's Cop" James Anderton, the chief constable of Greater Manchester -  and ultimately led to the club's demise.

There was one final issue, in May 1994, when the Haçienda had a re-opening night, but that consisted of reprinted highlights from the original run of issues.

unfinished strip for abandoned Freaky Dancing revival issue, circa 1994 

Freaky Dancing: The Complete Collection is a marvelous document of a cultural moment happening in real-time - hats off to The Quietus for putting it out and Ste & Paul for doing it in the first place.

Oh and A Guy Called Gerald wrote the foreword.

I was about to say that one of my great regrets is never making it to the Haçienda.

But in fact, I did go to the Haçienda - just a bit too early!

In the summer of 1987, I went up to Manchester to visit a Monitor comrade who'd moved there. That night, we went to see Big Black, then doing their last tour ever, play in a small club. Afterwards, my friend suggested going on to the Haçienda. I think Dave Haslam was one of the deejays, but this was before the whole house thing kicked off - possibly just before it all kicked off. So the soundtrack was a mixture of indie-dance and assorted vaguely clubby music. It was an impressively large, yawningly cavernous kind of space; the crowd was lively; it was pretty full. But after the intensity of Big Black, it didn't really compete and so we didn't stick around long.

So I never X-perienced the The Haç at its height - or Thunderdome or Konspiracy or any of those clubs.

I really don't know why I didn't just hop on a train in those days, jaunt around the country, visiting various rave temples.

I was, however, a fan of Happy Mondays before they went full-tilt house-rave (and declined, musically, in my opinion).  As were many of us at Melody Maker - in fact we put them on the front cover in May 1987, ahead of everyone, and indeed prematurely -  at least in terms of them becoming a cultural phenomenon, which never seemed remotely likely at that point.

The "greatest poet since Yeats"...  eats... all sorts

Friday, April 12, 2019

teachers x 2

It's like Energy Flash (orig. edition) 's discography turned into a tune.

Like the Dissensus National Anthem

well at least until they start listing all the dubstep names ;) 

Itself a homage to a homage of course

Via this interesting interview with Logos

stop press 4/13/2019

Stefan K in the comments directs my attention to this tune by DJ SS that is paying nuff respeck to the hardcore soldiers of the present (or are they all people on Formation?)  - so not quite the same thing but amazing tune

there is at least one other example of this, like a run-out 5th track on an EP type thing which is just shout-outs to people on the scene.

on the SS Breakbeat Pressure Part 1 EP there is another tune called "A Little More Respect" - can't find it on YouTube

ha ha, while trying to find "A Little More Respect" on the internet, what should turn up but a Mumdance mix that starts with "Respect to the Following" and goes into "A Little More Respect"

but only a tiny bit of each

Monday, April 1, 2019

writing about dance music

my replies to a 2001 survey by of "disco critics"

Q's by Scott Woods 

1. Because house music and disco are conceived primarily for the dance floor, does this make them harder to write about than more “contemplative” or “conceptual” forms of pop?

As U.K. house outfit K-Klass put it, “Rhythm Is a Mystery.” It is very hard indeed to write about why one groove or beat is more compelling than another. Even if you get into drummer’s lingo (triplets, flams, syncopation, tresillo, clave, etc.) or the technicalities of programming, the “it” — that edge of excellence or distinctiveness you are trying to capture — will just endlessly recede from your verbal grasp. For instance, it’s quite easy to write generalities about “breakbeat science” and apply them to whichever jungle producer you’re writing about — but almost infinitely harder to convey the signature that makes, say, a Dillinja or Doc Scott production instantly recognizable and special…Same goes for the particular rhythm traits or production hallmarks of the other genres — the finicky hi-hats in house and garage, the DSP (digital signal processing) timbre effects in Kid606 type IDM, the filter sweeps in French house, the 303 acid-riffs in hard trance etc., etc…What makes for one exponent’s instantly-audible superiority over another?

And even then, you can write about the programming and production and be strenuous in your attempts at exactness, but you might still fail to convey the electricity, the rush…what can you actually say about the nature of, and relationship between, the guitar, the bass, and the orchestral sounds, in a Chic song, that could actually tell you anything about how its magic works…

Mind you, it’s just as hard to say why in rock or pop, one melody is heart-rending and another isn’t, why one singer’s grain-of-voice reaches deeper into you than another…not to mention the great rock mystery of the Riff…

But dance music, by diminishing or stripping away altogether the other elements that one might critically latch onto (lyrics, persona/biography of the artist, relevance to the outside-the-club world etc.) as a bulwark against the ineffable does rather shove one headfirst into the realm of sound and its materiality. (Which a surprisingly large number of people still find quite discomfiting).

Kind of appropriately, really, writing about dance music does confront you in a very direct way with the old “dancing about architecture” futility/absurdity dilemma — because it is so purely musical, functional…what is there really to say? I suspect a lot of the people who might have made good dance critics, who have real taste and knowledge of its history, become DJs instead — because you can actually support the music and evangelize in a very direct way: playing it to people.

So if it’s so hard to do, so pointless, why bother? As an old comrade of mine Paul Oldfield once put it in a zine we did together, Monitor, because there’s “the possibility that words might fail interestingly or suggestively.”

Also true that this music is very site-specific…a lot of the sonic content in dance music is barely audible on a domestic hi-fi…so that with a house record played at home, the kick drum can sound tinny and weak and monotonous, but in a club, on massive system, the monotony becomes compelling because it’s so physically, viscerally impact-ful…the kick drum becomes a cocooning environmental pulse…similarly with jungle, the bass permeates your flesh…unlike rock, r&b, pop it is not mixed for radio or the home hi-fi.

2. What do you try and get at when writing about dance music: beats, textures, words, voices — or some combination thereof?

Everything…you can still use the trad rockcrit arsenal of interpretive techniques too — you can do lit-crit style exegesis of sampled phrases and catchphrases, the song titles can be decoded and unpacked, the artist names…there is always discourse around the music…then there’s the question of the music as social text — the behaviors it is designed to trigger or enhance…you don’t have to have field-researched it and actually heard it played out in a club, ‘cos the records contain these behavioral cues, clues to how they’re supposed to be used or responded to…you hear a trance record and the structure of it, with build, breakdown, hands in the air refrain, etc., tells you how it is used…what tableaux it creates in the club, out of the audience’s bodies.

3. How much of a technical perspective about dance music (i.e., how it’s actually made) do you bring to your writing about the music? Is a technical perspective even necessary?

Try to, while being aware that a) it’s kind of dry and un-romantic and scientific so you need to be sparing ‘cos you can lose the lay reader and b) it’s simultaneously a crucial part of the way the music works and at the same time doesn’t tell you enough, i.e., all that stuff about signature, aesthetic eminence, why one track is better than another even when using the exact same techniques…often resulting in relapse into the superlative, the ineffable, the imprecise…terms like ‘funk’, ‘soul’, etc…

Most dance reviews, when you boil them down, all they’re saying is ‘this is a funky record’. Or that the guy/gal reviewing it finds it funky which doesn’t even tell you whether you’d find it funky.

4. Talk technology. Have technological changes in the recording industry — samplers, computer sequencer programs, etc. — improved, damaged, or made no difference whatsoever to the music?

When a new piece of tech comes on-line as it were, there is always a gap where the trad musically skilled don’t know how to deal with it, and the discursively sharp, culturally astute types — often non-musicians in that Eno mold — seize the time and surge ahead, finding unexpected applications for the new machine, ways of (ab)using it. But then things level out again as everyone assimilates the new technology and the old hierarchies of talent over non-musicality return…you can see it time again — with synthesizers (Daniel Miller of Mute/The Normal said the synth was only any good when used by non-musicians), with drum machines, with sequencers, with sampling…At first the canny ones move in and do stuff, perhaps superficially striking stuff, with it, and then the more musical ones come in and do stuff that’s more sophisticated, in key, arranged a la trad musical values…being an old punkie at heart I tend to valorize the surge moments when the sharp-witted DIY barbarians seize the new tools or think up new ways of bending existing tools…e.g., hardcore rave and early jungle, with the whole speeding up the breakbeats, using timestretching etc. thing. Because they don’t know the Rules of Music…you get all kinds of interestingly wrong-sounding music, improperly integrated fusions…when “musicality” comes back, it’s less interesting, because “music” has been done really hasn’t it, there’s no shortage of pleasant melodies or harmonious, euphonious stuff to listen to.

Ultimately though I tend to think in any era the really musical ones will rise to the top eventually once the new technology-induced commotion settles down… although a lot of musically talented folk get caught in the ‘wish I could make music like the golden age’ retro-trap and get pulled out of the innovation game, as it were.

5. What are the biggest assumptions and misconceptions about dance music that a person writing about it must challenge or at least consider?

That dance music is mindless, that dance fans are not listening closely — a dancer is “listening” with every sinew and muscle and nerve ending in his/her body.

That crowd responses are essentially de-invidualizing — well, they are, but what’s wrong with that? What’s so great about being an individual? That sort of dis is like saying I don’t like cheese ‘cos it tastes cheesy…the whole point is to get lost in the crowd, merge with something bigger than your paltry self.

6. Does one have to go out dancing — participate in the activity and culture of disco — in order to write well about it? Are you a good dancer?

Honestly and truly I’d say, absolutely. Participation is essential… or at least, you have to have gone through a phase of being intensely into clubbing and dancing at some point to really undertand the appeal…the collective synchronized rush induced by certain tracks or certain DJ manoeuvres… dance culture is full of Gnostic refrains like “this is for those who know” or “hardcore you know the score” and so forth, and what they allude to is this physically-felt knowledge that comes from having experienced what happens on a dance floor when a certain kind of bass-drop takes place, or a certain drum build, or whatever…the way goose bumps ripple across the crowd-body…The crucial distinction: it’s not elitist, but it is tribal.

I can almost invariably tell from a piece of dance writing if the writer has experienced this stuff ever…or whether they are writing from “outside” the experience…they might have interesting insights through being totally detached but…well, I would never follow their consumer guidance tips, shall we say.

And needless to say, drugs play a big part in this as most dance styles are full of effects and sounds that play into, enhance, or trigger certain drug sensations…

A great piece of dance music, or a great DJ, makes me into a good dancer, I find… awakens the Dionysus within… the music dances you, as it were…Nietzche: “Now I am light, now I fly, now I see myself beneath myself, now a god dances through me!”…otherwise one can find oneself just shimmying along adequately as if at some office party disco, dancing as social ritual rather than flash of the spirit…

7. What do you think is the most important development to have taken place in dance music in the last ten years?

Drugs — both the highs and the darkside — have massively mutated the evolution of the music and caused it to splinter as it adapts to different social-racial-sexuality-drug oriented factions — not just Ecstasy, but the ever more powerful forms of weed, relatively newer and nastier drugs like ketamine, the perennial amphetamine and acid…and also the rise of the polydrug culture that mixes and matches all of these substances.

Production — with ProTools, plug-ins, Virtual Studio Technology etc. — the level of intricacy and detail in production is staggering — rhythmic complexity of accents and nuances far exceeding any real drummer’s capability…it does mean the music sometimes loses the power of a simple Big Riff though…

Growth of sound systems and a “big room” aesthetic in the music, with tracks designed to exploit the quadraphonic potential of the club space, the frequency spectrum…tracks that are sculpted in four dimensions, riffs like blocs of sound in motion that swoop through the crowd-body…full of almost a-musical wooshes and FX…the music becomes spectacular, a sonic spectacle.

The gradual emergence of a single unified bass-beats-bleeps culture, a trans-Atlantic confederacy of street sounds — whether it’s 2step garage coalescing as an only-in-London hybrid of house, jungle, ragga, and Timbaland-style R&B, or conversely, with techno-ravey-drum’n’bassy sounds and riffs infiltrating US gangsta rap (due to Ecstasy catching on with B-boys?), R&B, and even Jamaican dancehall.

8. Overall, do you think dance music is in healthy shape today? Why or why not? (Feel free to talk about this in comparison with the rock and pop – or any other – world.)

I’m not sure if it’s any more healthy or unhealthy than rock or pop or rap — 90 percent is shit is the general rule — if it has an edge, in terms of being alluring to youth, is that the drugs-loudmusic-brightlights-bizarrelydressedfolk combo of clubland is still an unbeatable leisure paradigm — and also, because the music is functional, even hackwork and clones can play their part by providing DJs with grist to the mixing mill, whereas lame copyist rock or pop is just lame…

9. Where’s the best stuff in dance music today coming from? (You can approach this question in a number of ways: Is it happening in underground circles or on radio? North America or Europe? Is it taking place in some exciting new sub-genre?)

re: dance floor oriented music, London pirate radio culture is still the cutting edge as it was all through the nineties: hardcore to jungle to drum’n’bass to U.K. garage to 2step. Time for another paradigm shift from that quarter.

Germany’s rockin’ it with the Cologne glitch stuff, weird house, Berlin’s dub-techno Pole-types, Timo Maas on the populist Sasha-with-balls tip…

America’s got it’s own post-rave vanguard with the kid606 and friends, Schematic, kit clayton etc. etc. types bringing in humor, personality, urgent opinions and emo-core venting to the rather sterile world of post-Autechre IDM — not sure if much of it really counts as dance music though.

Actually there’s good stuff going on all over the place, mavericks and hacks alike come up with the goods, so much it’s impossible to keep up with it. But at the same time there’s no obvious scene that has surged ahead of everyone else and is the obvious leading edge, as there was with jungle in 93/94/95…there’s no sense of revolution, no next big thing but lots of next medium-sized things.

10. What are the greatest challenges and obstacles in writing about dance music these days?

Er, not being boring? Actually, not being bored is more like it.

Avoiding boosterism and developing a truly critical language for dance music. Most dance reviews are 7 or 8 in essence even when un-graded. there should be 3’s and 1’s and zeroes. Of course, the boosterism is based on feeling like the scene is underground and needs support, so it’s sort of understandable to an extent.

Resisting nostalgia for the early, less professionalized and more anarcho days of rave, before it became an industry. Things can never stay the same. Don’t fall into the Meltzer trap!

Learning that “vibe” migrates and that you can’t keep looking in the same place for your bliss. Knowing when to leave the party (and find another, more pumping one)

Retaining the capacity to be astonished. (So much stuff comes out that the landmark releases don’t stand out so starkly against the plains of lameness).