June 30, 2006

Sonar 2006

It’s been more than a week since I attended this year’s Sonar festival in Barcelona, and despite all that’s happened since in my non-musical life (and believe me, it’s been quite a lot), I find that I am still unravelling the tangled threads of Sonar, still searching for the plot in a three-day two-night onslaught of sounds, lights, and colors. Perhaps I shot too high for my first festival, perhaps they’re all that insane—or, maybe, just maybe the madness of far too much to do and far too little time to do it in is exactly what makes sense in this crazy lifestyle.In a way, my experiences at Sonar 2006 are exactly representative of how I feel about dance and electronic music in a larger sense—the scene is so vast, so multinational, so without a center of gravity, that one almost has to be either dilettantish or uber-precise in ones tastes. There is simply no way to know even the basics of what is going on in all these disparate genres and subgenres, just as there is no way you are going to feel as though you haven’t missed something during such an amazing three days.Sure, you can catch the minimal set on the lawn at Sonar Village, shoot up to the record fair to check out new twelves and reissued classics, watch a film on the seminal figures of Detroit techno, and then boogie down in the Sonar Dome to a Spanish reggae soundsystem, but in that time you’ve neglected Schnieder TM, an amazing performance by the Modified Toy Orchestra, your last chance to see the spectacular exhibit of avant-garde sleeve design in the MACBA building, and that dude selling hash, who totally just left. And I’m only talking about Sonar Day, here—the Night events make the Day look like a piece of cake.

So it is with a heavy heart that I admit to not having seen the bulk of Isolee’s set, or the first half of Miss Kittin’s. I will forever be scorned by those I gave a hard sell to on the Knife’s new album that I missed their (quite rare, I discovered) live show due to a rather unfortunate misunderstanding about the limited capacity of the Auditori. But while I did fail to do everything I had set out to do, I also discovered a number of enchanting new prospects—from the great sounds made by local Spanish and Catalan artists I never would have heard back in the States, to the overwhelming potency of Marco Passarani and Jolly Music—combining like Voltron to form Pigna People.

Hence the conclusion to this rather drawn-out analogy—part of what drew me to electronic music in the mid-90’s and continues to do so today is it is so very unlike rock, soul, reggae et. al. Rather than seek a coherent engagement with its roots, it draws upon the bedrock of its sound without particularizing it—broken fragments and twisted corridors of sound and beats refashioned by DJs, producers, laptops, and pulsating cones. An oscillator knob turned, a mouse clicked, and the next variation of waveforms and microgenres is born. Yet, this is precisely what makes it so damn confusing and impossible to fully grasp—not only is it vast, wide, multifarious—it is expanding at an exponential rate, constantly. And just as one is unable to not miss some of what goes on mid-June each year in Barcelona, one can never quite feel comfortable with their grasp on the “electronic music scene” (if such a thing can truly be said to exist), as a whole.

Maybe it took the tension and exhaustion of Sonar to drive this point home for me, but I couldn’t be happier about it. I don’t want all the answers, a canon of artists and recordings, a library of quintessential moments and “best songs ever.” I want a pile of 12″’s and burned CDs in the wrong cases, a rubbish bin filled with colored wristbands and the memory of being covered in sweat and in the arms of my new best friend I met three hours ago while a constant 4/4 hi-hat clicks somewhere inside my inner ear. Dammit, I want that blissful uncertainty that can only come from loving a song to death and having absolutely no clue what the hell it is. That is the reason festivals and raves and dance music exist—to give us something to hear and something to miss while we’re having the time of our lives, to give us a reason to be grateful and a reason to come back next year.

(For some additional thoughts on Sonar 2006, check out some of my blog entries
[Mallory O’Donnell]

June 30, 2006

Johnny Dark - Can’t Wait


Kin might have lost the Junior Boys to Domino Records but they’ve retained Johnny Dark, the rhythmic irritant whose programming on the Last Exit album helped keep Jeremy Greenspan’s confused loverman persona the right side of emo passive-aggressiveness. Greenspan appears here on a remix of the Junior Boys “High Come Down,” his plaintive vocals sliced into spastic tics that contrast with the mosaic spit spatter of sampled MC vocalisation. The echolocation hand-percussion and ghostly 80s digital keyboards sound like Nelly Furtado’s “Maneater” if it couldn’t keep a meal down. Like all the best 2-step, the beat in(ter)ventions of “Can’t Wait” are like a summer’s day, but this is one where even at it’s hottest you can feel the tingle of electricity on your bare forearms, the warning of the sudden darkness of a coming lightning storm. “Never Happened” and “It’s Too Close” pitch up exultant female voices ‘til they’re plastic smooth—grainless—then balances them unsteadily on waves of bass; like the whole EP it’s vertiginous and exhilarating.

KIN / KIN004
[Patrick McNally]

June 30, 2006

Various Artists - min2MAX Extension

Okay, see if you can follow along: Minus’ new min2MAX compilation has been released across three formats. There is a 12-track CD, a 10-track triple-LP set (available only in a limited edition featuring a Matthew Hawtin art print), and this four-cut “Extension” single, featuring two cuts featured on the CD release (but not the LP), and two cuts unavailable elsewhere. Got that? Good. Now, outside of the value to completists, this single actually works better than the longer formats, which suffer from a bit too much similarity between the tracks. Minus veteran Niederflur’s “z.B” sounds a bit lost in the context of the CD, but given the spotlight here, its glitchy, poppy, ping-pongy goodness shines through. Ditto for Berg Nixon’s “Victoria Station,” already a highlight of the CD version, but standing alone, the bendy/bouncy riff sticks harder. Of the two exclusives, False (Matthew Dear) is the winner, as his “Bathe” sees him strip things to popping percussion and echoing keyboard stabs to great effect. The other, Barem’s “Opal,” bounces along on an analog riff and quick-snapping drums. Sadly, this means yes, you do need to buy this. We’re such easy targets, aren’t we?

M_nus / MINUS 40 X
[Todd Hutlock]

June 30, 2006

James Figurine - Forgive Your Friends

James Figurine is the fictional name taken by Jimmy Tamborello (DNTEL, Postal Service) for his band Figurine, and his debut 12” on Monika offers up three remixes of tracks from his upcoming Mistake Mistake Mistake Mistake album. The remix of “Apologies” by his bandmate David Figurine isn’t too far from the type of twee electro-pop you’d hear on any of Figurine’s previous albums, although it is a bit surprising to find John Tejada’s stripped down rework following in the same vein. Led by bright, cheery analog synths, this could be the only time you’d ever call a Tejada remix “precious.” But it’s the remix of “55566688833” by Axel Willner’s The Field that really impresses, showing once again why he’s one of Kompakt’s brightest stars at the moment, finding a sound that’s somewhere between the living room and the club. Willner’s mix feels loosely shaped upon a morning commute to work; its gentle dynamic build-up mimics the rising sun and the wakening body, while the lushly static keyboards are similar to the constant ebb and flow of people, cars, and buses filling the streets.

Monika Enterprise / monika 48
[Michael F. Gill]

June 30, 2006

D.P. - Krakau


The legendary Betke is back. For his first release in a few years, he comes with ~scape compatriot Scott Monteith (aka Deadbeat and Crackhaus) to produce….two new Deadbeat and Crackhaus songs. Seriously, Pole’s legendary studio monkey wrench is not heard here. Fortunately, the signature Deadbeat sound of drumsticks sweating like after-hours rain begins the track “In Red.” A steady, dub rhythm then walks in circles while synth-lines speed by and squeal like crosstown traffic. “In Blue” on the flip grinds to a stiff microhouse beat that’s curiously punctuated by a man whispering “sika-da, sika-da, sika-da.” Despite the house party of one grooves, Krakau is more rerun than step forward.

Echochord / echocord18
[Cameron Macdonald]

June 30, 2006

RadiQ - The Grass Roots EP


God I wish that this record’s track titles were rearranged. Dimbiman drives Yoshihiro “RadiQ” Hanno’s “Grass Roots” on a bombastic, digitally diced microhouse beat while slivers of strings and electro noises shower over Paul “Tikiman” St. Hilaire as he sleepwalks and mutters about “the roots of creation.” The track made me double-check the title several times to see if I was actually listening to the Akufen remix. Dimbiman’s kung-fu only makes Akufen’s actual remix treatment sound like a case of mononucleosis. Akufen romances a lite soul-jazz sleeper that’s best heard in suburban hair and manicure salons. It’s actually not a bad way for him to earn extra bucks if he can license the track to those places. It’s still better than Moby. Hannio’s own remix glides well on a smooth dub-house groove in which he brushes in neon-lit organ riffs and hits of DSP’d noises to spike the punch. Definitely a mixed bag here.

Logistic / LOG056
[Cameron Macdonald]

June 30, 2006

Kris Menace - Jupiter


Although he is perhaps known best for last year’s “Discopolis,” a collaboration with Lifelike, Kris Menace maintains a particularly low profile. Contemporaries like Francisco and Lindstrom, who privilege breaks over breakdowns, seem to be at the peak of their careers while he seems determined to keep the music just a bit more leftfield and even more low-key. “Jupiter” begins with a steady 4/4 beat just before a strong space dub cuts in and takes the track out of the disco lights and into surround-sound theatre speakers. On a second listen, the influence of early 80’s Italo becomes increasingly clearer. Side two of the record presents “Micropacer,” a track that brings to mind the more electro efforts of Mtume or Cashmere, perhaps even Prince. However, throughout the record, the emphasis is on the feel rather than feeling it. Whereas his friends Alan Braxe and Fred Falke amplify the latent fun in ironic compositions, Kris Menace seems determined to prove a deeper truth to the listener. While his instrumental, narrative efforts are to be admired, sometimes a great plot can be enhanced by a few well-placed special effects. Sometimes is has to be.

Compuphonic / COMPU 02
[Cameron Octigan]

June 30, 2006

Dirt Crew - Silver

Having done remixes for everyone from Who Made Who to Métrika, and having released on labels from PIAS to Trapez, there’s no way to know exactly what you’re getting into with Dirt Crew’s Peter Gijselaers & Felix Eder. My Best Friend’s latest release by this duo, Silver, is no exception. The record starts out with the titular track, which is fundamentally Chicago House and aesthetically, as far as the sound palette is concerned, a German techno piece. As it deep houses along amidst synth stabs, the vocal sample says it best, “it’s alright.” “Lost” is the second track, and this effort could easily be from two completely different collaborators. Much darker than Putsch 79, but in a similar vein, the song starts out as straight-forward electro developing alongside some clean German rave sounds. But that development doesn’t bother to go anywhere: instead, it seems content to meander through the club until drinks are no longer served.

My Best Friend / MBF 12022
[Cameron Octigan]

June 30, 2006

Paul Kalkbrenner - Keule

Paul Kalkbrenner’s “Tatu-Tata” spawned one of the largest-sounding singles of last year. Instantly epic, “Gebrunn Gebrunn”’s anamorphic spread between low (insistent, gravity-accumulating bass) and high frequencies (ala wet-towl snaps) was its obvious secret. But insta-epics often spawn what I call the “Triple X” problem; that is, how do you get larger for the sequel when you’re already wearing a size XXXL. Kalkbrenner sidesteps the issue with “Keule” and creates the superficial inverse of “Gebrunn-Gebrunn.” The bass wobbles and rearranges knees at loud volumes while Kalkbrenner has fun adding delaying effects to every synth, hi-hat, and finger snap he can find in the mix. This “magic-mirror” percussion doesn’t let this up for either of the B-sides, although “Atzepeng” is accompanied by a stronger riff for a spine. This’ll do for now, but I’m still eagerly waiting for a sequel to “Triple X.”

BPitch Control / BPC 131
[Nate De Young]

June 30, 2006

Audio Werner - Onandon / Base

While it’s always fun to drop the bread-and-butter cliché of “bored to tears,” I’m not sure if “Onandon” can live up to it. My pet theory that “crying is bound to leave a couple salty stains but glassy-eyed boredom leaves nuthin…at…all,” describes the song better. Maybe my tolerance for those Akufen-esque vocal cut ups and synthetic funky electric piano grows weary after the ninth minute (of 12) in “Onandon.” “Base” on the b-side is better, led by quirky pitch-shifting grains, microscopic xylophones, and odd trombone noises. But seriously, I would’ve rather cried.

Perlon / PERL 55
[Nate De Young]

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