December 22, 2006

2006: The Year In Review

Welcome to the Beatz By The Pound year-end roundup for 2006, a veritable smorgasbord of lists, thoughts, and reflections about the current state of dance music. And while all of our writers handed in very diverse ballots, we were able to come to a consensus on a couple of key releases, producers, and labels. Let the madness begin…

01. Escort - Starlight [Escort]
02. Audion - Mouth To Mouth [Spectral]
03. Villalobos - Fizheuer Ziheuer [Playhouse]
04. Isolee - Hermelin [Playhouse]
05. Reverso 68 - Tokyo Disco [Eskimo]
06. Jacek Sienkiewicz - Double Secret Life [Recognition]
07. Locodice - Harissa [Cadenza]
08. Substance/Vainqueur - Surface/Immersion [Scion Versions]
09. Luomo - Really Don’t Mind [Huume]
10. Greg Wilson - Hardcore Boogie [Redux]

Dirty Harry once said it: “Opinions are like arseholes—everybody’s got one.” Well, with a wink and a nudge, my inbox has been filled fatter than Veruca Salt’s Christmas stocking with all kinds of wisdom, gushing, droning, and drivel. ‘Tis the season. But the strangest little e-mail I received was from a certain seminal record label. The message was mostly typical: Merry Christmas, thanks for your support, here are our top twenties. Nothing out of the ordinary. But what really threw me for six was the text box to the right, filled with pissing and moaning about quality releases this year—apparently there weren’t many. A veritable dearth of goodies, supposedly. Could have fooled me and everyone in my circles of association. In fact, if a few trends for the year could be teased out of the tangle of e-pinions and lame Clint Eastwood quotes, the first would have to be that 2006 was a year in which the depth, variety, and fully-formed idiosyncrasy of the best releases seemed overwhelming. Electronic music, and especially techno, finally seemed to have found its mature voice, reflected deeply upon and anthologized its early influences and found new modes of expression that drew upon, yet were utterly independent of the guitar and the damage done.Producer-artists conquered the heretofore oxy-moronic beast known as the “techno album,” talented pop craftswomen discretely generated a new wave of amazing eleclectic-pop records, and dance music converged into one master-signifier, “minimal”—defined by as many various and conflicting interpreters as claimed it, and even claimed by many who rejected it wholesale as meaningless, or merely boring. All this just as dubstep bubbled into techno-heads top ten lists, and Henrik Schwarz published a mix comp showing the effortless affiliations between Rhythm & Sound, D’Angelo, and Drexciya. Distribution became a thing of mouse-clicks, and (not for the first time, but with particular intensity) I felt palpitatingly overwhelmed by the sheer impossibility of lending the necessary eartime to give a ‘fair hearing’ to every worthy artist that crossed my path. Not quite drowning in the media stream was as hard as trying to keep an open ear to the many less obvious releases clamoring for attention with huge tracks (literally, in the case of a lot of the landmark minimal releases), and even as the under/overground dichotomy seemed redundant, so redundancy itself seemed to attack everything.Lucky the music was so damned good, or I might have numbed myself into some kind of permanent anhedonia. But as the deterritorialization landed everything a click and an inbox away I found myself fighting against a strange, new kind of distance, this weirdly abstracted nonplace where denizens like me produced, consumed and reproduced a whole culture made of nothing much more than digital information. It’s revolutionary, sure, but it feels weird. Give me a few more weeks on that one.

[Peter Chambers]

01. Perlon
02. Spectral
03. Playhouse
04. Kompakt
05. Get Physical
06. Trapez
07. Cadenza
08. Creme Organisation
09. DFA
10. Clone

Dance music is like a juggernaut, a pulsing thing of light and color, indifferent to the world yet reflective of it by virtue of its shiny steel sides—other scenes cry trend and imbibe “the moment,” disco and its descendants merely live inside it, rolling on into the night on giant rubber treads. All forms reprise and relive their past, of course, but dance and electronic music seem to leave nothing behind—consistently enlarging the surface area in which styles and sounds present and former interweave in a nimbus-generating display of sheer energy. So in 2006, as in all years, it’s tough to separate the individual threads from the circuit as a whole—especially with such a fine showing of twelve-inch and album releases across genres from minimal to electro to disco nuevo to deep house to synthpop to pure techno. An emphasis on clean, crisp sounds has reaped wonderful dividends—as well as a simmering focus on quality, spare production (the inevitable result of the boiling over of the minimal camp into the mainstream). There’s been a strong trend towards longer tracks and EP releases, while full-length albums have (thankfully) been allowed to clock in at 50 minutes rather than the formerly requisite 75. In general, it’s been a great year for integration and genre-muddling, without the annoying attachment of an immediately-dated trendy term (a la Electroclash) to screw things up. I look for 2007 to follow up with more grit, less polish, more EBM and less Detroit, more disco and less Italo, and in general to be another lovely year for divas, DJs, discotheques, and dancers. See you on the floor!

[Mallory O’Donnell]

01. Henrik Schwarz – DJ Kicks [!K7]
02. Magda – She’s A Dancing Machine [M_nus]
03. V/A – A Tom Moulton Mix [Soul Jazz]
04. V/A - Larry Levan: A Journey To Paradise [Rhino]
05. Luciano: Sci-Fi Hi-Fi Volume 2 [Soma]
06. V/A - Idol Tryouts 2 [Spectral Sound]
07. V/A - Total 7 [Kompakt]
08 Heidi – Monza: Club Ibiza [Get Physical]
09. Matthew Dear as Audion - Fabric 27 [Fabric]
10. Tobi Neumann – Flieder Lieder [Cocoon]

01. My My – Songs For The Gentle [Playhouse]
02. Booka Shade – Movements [Get Physical]
03. Ellen Allien & Apparat – Orchestra of Bubbles [Bpitch Control]
04. The Knife – Silent Shout [Rabid]
05. Hot Chip – The Warning [EMI/Astralwerks]
06. Lindstrom – It’s a Feedelity Affair [Smalltown Supersound]
07. Crowdpleaser & St. Plomb – 2006 [Mental Groove]
08. Donnacha Costello – 6×6=36 [Minimise]
09. Claude Vonstroke – Beware of the Bird [Dirtybird]
10. Fujiya and Miyagi – Transparent Things [Tirk]

How Hutlock Got His Groove Back

I DJed for the last time in early 2002. After that night, I packed up my rig and I haven’t so much as plugged in my mixer since, nor have I set foot in a club. For a few years afterwards, I kept up with dance music, although obviously not as much as I had when I was regularly getting paid to have fresh vinyl in my box. Without that influx of cash coming in every week, it suddenly wasn’t nearly as important to me to have that import 12-inch that no one else in town would be playing, or that single with four remixes, three of which sucked. Amazing how that stuff got cut once the disposable income to buy it disappears. Nope, I just had a house full of records from the previous 15 years, languishing in crates, unused, seldom played except for my absolute favorites. It might as well have been a museum. It felt like that—like history stopped in its tracks.That all changed in 2006. When Stylus’ Beatz by the Pound column moved to a biweekly and then a weekly basis, I was inspired to start writing about the music I had been so deeply into since the late 80s with a new fervor. Through my peers here at Stylus, some old friends from the area, and a few new ones I met through the Internet (which needless to say, didn’t exist when I started this all up) I found that I could still listen and love this stuff without having to drop $50 a week on it. The miracle of file-sharing helped; online stores like Beatport did as well, allowing me to cherry pick the cuts I want rather than buying entire sides of wax for one cut. When I did buy stuff, it was because I really wanted to own it and hear it, not because I felt I had to have it or risk being left behind. I was in a rather interesting position, coming at the music from a different angle now. No pressure, just love. It was wonderful.So now that $50 a week is more like $50 a month, and I’m okay with that. I don’t have to have the hottest club material in my crate, because my crate was now permanently grounded in my dining room, with one 1200 hooked up to my stereo and the other stored in the basement with my mixer. I upgraded my needles to a better sound quality model, no longer concerned that it was a wasted investment given how quickly I burned through them.Am I happier now? I can’t really say. On the one hand, there’s nothing—and I mean NOTHING—that compares to that feeling you get when you play in front of a crowd and people dance and smile and give you that look that says, “You just made my week, Mr. DJ.” On the other hand, I really appreciate the artistry and craft of the music so much more today than I did when I was just choosing it based on what I thought other people would like about it. There are records that I bought 10, 12, 15 years ago that I feel like I am really hearing now for the first time.In either case, I look forward to what 2007 holds. From where I sit, it’s looking like it’s gonna be a great year.

[Todd Hutlock]

01. Hot Chip - Boy From School (Erol Alkan’s Re-Work) [EMI/Astralwerks]
02. Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom - Revelee (Carl Craig Remix) [DFA]
03. Depeche Mode - The Sinner In Me (Ricardo Villalobos Conclave Remix) [Mute]
04. Chelonis R. Jones - Deer In The Headlights (Radio Slave Remix) [Get Physical]
05. Gui Boratto - Like You (Supermayer Remix) [Kompakt Pop]

01. Isolee
02. Villalobos
03. My My
04. Ellen Allien
05. Legowelt

Looking back, 2006 felt both underwhelming and overwhelming. Since I took over as editor of Beatz By The Pound in January, I’ve listened to more dance music than ever before, and thanks to many weekends of researching new releases and the constant input from our writers, it has really felt like a learning experience. Perhaps the one thing I really miss is being able to listen to new music at my own pace, instead of turning over a new leaf ever week. One of my old weekend rituals was filling up my ipod with a dozen new singles and taking a nomadic walk around Boston while rifling through them in a zen-esque fashion. But this year was full of plenty of other complications besides editing this column, whether it be finishing up my Master’s Degree, switching jobs a few times, or just trying to be a better friend to those close to me.Musically, 2006 felt like a delayed transition year, with so many new mini-zeitgeists seemingly on the cusp of usurping minimal and electro-house domination. But the transition hasn’t really happened yet. In fact, you could say “minimal” has gotten even bigger this year, with Booka Shade tracks sneaking into Ibiza compilations, and stadium acts like Depeche Mode getting remixed by Troy Pierce and Villalobos. But overall, there are still way too many “functional” records being released at the moment, singles that seem dedicated to the 9 pm or 5 am crowd by arriving and leaving without making an impression. Another one of the wrinkles I’ve noticed in the minimal firmament is that more and more young producers have been starting up their own labels, often just for the sake of having one. In many cases, it simply dilutes the familial vibe that so many dance labels have fostered throughout the years. On a positive side, Carl Craig’s massive remix of “Falling Up” and the revival of Planet E has opened up an exciting cross-section of minimal that incorporates more Detroit and deep house flavors than ever before, with DJ mixes by Henrik Schwarz, Cassy, and Alex Smoke leading the way.Lindstrom and the revival of a more disco-based sound was one of the biggest breakthroughs in 2005, and throughout 2006 you could feel the aftershock spreading from Norway to New York City. Electro and disco labels like Clone, Crème Organization, Eskimo, and Bear Funk got more exposure, artists like Escort and Joey Negro brought back the slick electronic funk/R&B sounds of the early 80s, and groups like Quiet Village and Rub n Tug found plenty of success in mining the psychedelic and prog-rock sounds of the ‘70s for funky grooves. Looking over to the blogosphere, the largest hipster tremors came from the rediscovery of the Italian “Cosmic Disco” sound (a mid-tempo stew of balearic disco pioneered by Beppe Loda and Daniele Baldelli,) as well as a new brand of hyperactive indie-electro, led by the treble-heavy sounds of Justice, MSTRKRFT, Soulwax, and Simian Mobile Disco.I’d say all of this definitely bodes well for 2007 to be one of the most interesting sounding years for dance music in awhile. I’ll hope you’ll be around to share it with us here on Stylus. January can’t come soon enough…

[Michael F. Gill]

Best Producer: Ricardo Villalobos
Best Artist Album: The Knife - Silent Shout
Best Mix Album: Matthew Dear as Audion - Fabric 27
Best 12″: Ricardo Villalobos - Fizheuer Zieheuer
Best Remix: Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom - “Relevee (Carl Craig Remix)”

Beatz By The Pound 2006 Best Of [Individual Writer Lists]


No comments yet.

Logged in as .