July 30, 2007

Burial - Ghost Hardware


Why the urge - I ask guilty of it myself - to contextualize the songs we hear, to categorize them right away, to do anything beyond talk in terms of the surprises we encounter in songs, the moods they put us in, and the reasons these might be so? The dialogue between rhythm and sound is so simple, yet we consistently overthink it and insist on making things more difficult for ourselves, whether to make stupid word counts (but never words count) or to obscure music’s basic sensuality with histories to be understood, discographies to be devoured. Anybody that tells you this gig is like dancing about architecture is a worthless writer and an absolute fool.

This 12″ is the follow-up to Burial’s self-titled “dubstep” LP from last year. These three songs feature unsteady rhythms that roll like banged-up wheels of hip-hop steel. It’s infuriating to listen to this metallic syncopation at first, because it’s so averse to headnods, and the accents are hard to pinpoint. The beat in “Shutta” is somewhere between 8/8 and 17/8 - I can’t tell - and there’s a series of three soft snare cracks in “Ghost Hardware” that seem to come out of nowhere again and again, just a split-second off from where they seem like they want to be. It’s not violent but it’s uncomfortable.

You don’t get a vocal hook anywhere either, or at least a complete one, so there’s not much of an anchor in this mess of rhythm. Instead Burial cuts up vocal tracks into short snippets (an Aguilera-like “Love you” and a Whitney-like “Yeah”) and orphans them in a fog filled with crackles, sizzles, and interminable echo. If you can imagine yourself cooking bacon in a forest somewhere at night, and every so often just shouting a bit from “Genie in a Bottle” because you thought you heard a motorcycle engine in the distance, you’re halfway there: alone but not yet lonely, fearful but not entirely hopeless.

The “love you” snippet stuff seems like such a self-imposed challenge for Burial too, i.e. How can I not make this sound too saccharine or cloying. I don’t know why it doesn’t bother me more, but I’m guessing Burial’s mixing has a lot to do with it: his kicks are never too pronounced, and the occasional turbo-skids of bass are always faint, hinting at something greater but never winding up front and center. Some sounds refuse to bring attention to themselves, others don’t have the energy to do so anymore, but try in vain regardless. Bleak stuff. Is it possible to mourn a sound?

Hyperdub / HDB 004
[Nick Sylvester]

October 6, 2006

Interview: Nitzer Ebbs Bon Harris

From 1984 to 1995, U.K. duo Nitzer Ebb pioneered a unique sound that fused elements of techno, punk, and industrial into a ferocious string of singles and LPs. Through tracks like Murderous, Join in the Chant, Let Your Body Learn, Lightning Man, Getting Closer, and many others, Douglas McCarthy (vocals) and Bon Harris (drums, programming) spread relentless minimal menace to dancefloors worldwide, influencing the likes of Richie Hawtin, Darren Emerson, Sven Vth, DJ Hell, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, and countless others along the way. Now, a decade after calling it quits, Nitzer Ebb are back with a two-disc compilation (Body of Work), a new remix collection (Body Rework: Remixes), and a worldwide tour. Stylus editor Todd Hutlock caught up with Bon Harris recently to discuss the bands comeback, legacy, and future.

Stylus: So what happened to bring Nitzer Ebb back into the limelight? Last I had heard a few years back, you and [vocalist] Douglas [McCarthy] werent even speaking to each other.

Bon Harris: I think Douglas and I decided to stop doing work as Nitzer Ebb more than a decade ago because wed been together a long time and it was certainly an intense sort of band anyway. We wanted to go off and do our own things and taste life as individuals rather than as part of a band. We did very well over that decade, actuallyI went into production and worked with the likes of Marilyn Manson and Billy Corgan and so on, and Doug went off and became quite a successful commercial director and worked in film a bit. So weve had a long time apart from each other, but both of us really enjoy performing live, and we both had a sense that the time would perhaps come around when we would feel like working together again and that it would feel right. And basically that is what happened. People were always asking us, Will the Ebb ever get back together? and we just got asked so often that we finally talked about it and it went from there. It just felt like the right time and the right thing to do.

So the two of you have essentially patched things up now?

I would say that working together again on this tour has probably been some of the most fun weve had in the band since it first began. There was a period when we didnt talk to each other at all and did our own things, but weve been friends since school and I think it was just one of those things where we needed to cool off. Granted it was a long cooling-off period, but it was intense and that amount of time was necessary to offset the intensity of the work we had done. It seems to have worked, and were getting along really well.

One of the things that struck me when I was listening to Body of Work was how so many different acts took little things from the Nitzer Ebb sound and have cited you as an influence. Do you look back now and feel that you have a legacy?

We are aware that we have been influential in a lot of ways, but all that really stems from the fact that when we first created the tracks, we were really trying to do something special. We really did care about it and wanted to uphold a high standard of work and we were constantly searching to break barriers. There was always that thirst for uncovering more, pushing ourselves, and that meant that we did come up with some groundbreaking things. So I think we are aware of it and we are quite proud of it.

The other thing that struck me was how much of an evolution in sound there was from the early tracks to the later days. There are strings on tracks, you worked with George Clintonyou were all over the musical map more than people might realize.

Yes, and we were also always trying to do things that were more on the subtle side. I think there are little things going on during many of the tracks that people dont really appreciate even now. Its interesting that for all the amount of acceptance weve had and being cited as influential, I do think that in a lot of ways we are still quite misunderstood, even by people that really like us. There was always this whole thing where we were lumped in with what they call industrial music. When I listen to tracks like Lightning Man, I think to myself, Well, theres a synthesizer in there… but other than that, you tell me what else is industrial about that song? So as much as people did get it, theres still a lot that perhaps people dont get.

Even on the new remix album, Body Rework, its really something to see Derrick May on an album alongside The Hacker and Robag Wruhme, and that speaks to the diversity present in your sounds. Do you see a connection between Nitzer Ebb and the minimal dance music that is so in vogue today?

Well, someone like Richie Hawtin has been a champion of our music over the years, but hes also been a pretty groundbreaking chap himself. Those are the sort of people that you are proud to have been an influence ontheyve picked up the baton and taken things in all sorts of new directions. So I see that connection, in that there are inquiring minds and people that arent afraid of a challenge, especially in dance music because it can be a confined sort of thing to do.

Beyond the tour, will there be new recordings? Yeah, that was something we discussed as soon as we got together and agreed to do the tour, so we threw the door open on that way back. We said that if we enjoyed working together and its fun and everything then well do it. Doug and I have been getting along together really great and weve been working together on some new ideas. Hopefully well have some time near the end of this year to put something together. Were hoping to have something ready for the spring of 2007, perhaps. The whole thing has been like a stone rolling down a hill and gone so much better than anyone even thought it was going to be. And if the ball is rolling, you might as well roll with it.

What should audiences expect from the Nitzer Ebb live show in 2006?

Its a really stripped down, back-to-basics approach to doing things. When Doug and I discussed it, we decided to concentrate on our earlier era, with the mainly electronic tracks, and with the whole basic, minimal militaristic image that people seem to like. People have been telling us that it is everything it used to be but somehow even better with maturity or experience or whatever it is. People have told us that we havent lost any of the energy, and in fact it looks like we found more from somewhere. So you can expect it to be pretty loud and feisty, because thats the way we like it.

Body of Work and Body Rework: Remixes are out now in Europe on Mute; Body of Work is released in the United States on October 17. For more information and remaining tour dates, visit www.mute.com and www.nitzer-ebb.com.

[Todd Hutlock]

July 14, 2006

Lemon8 - Model8


It shouldnt come as much of a surprise to find this acid techno classic from the golden age of the genre reissued by none other than Richie Hawtin himself, as the track was a regular feature of his own DJ sets back in the day and was even included on the X-Mix-3 mix CD that he released with Plus 8 partner John Acquaviva back in 1994. Hawtins one-man revival campaign (see the last few reissues on Plus 8 for evidence, including Baby Ford + Eon, Link, and even Teste, originally released on his own Probe imprint) may be the result of a feeling of nostalgia or a longing for the good old days but it is sure making for some damn fine records to be rescued from obscurity.

Model8 was an early single from the aptly named Dutch producer and DJ Harry Lemon and you can hear the early Plus 8 sound all over its grooves. The classic drum pattern, bouncing bass riff, and especially the smashed-to-hell hi-hats might sound a bit dated now, but an enterprising DJ could likely still work it into a set. The original mix builds in layers to a big breakdown about halfway through before really letting fly with the acid/percussion madness. All well and good, but its the remix on the flip that is the real killer. It sounds infinitely more modern, with its stripped-down percussion attacks and positively HYOOOOOGE build-ups and breakdowns clearly prefiguring where Hawtin was going with F.U.S.E. and later with Plastikman. A massive, floor-filler of a record that isnt quite ready to be retired yet.

Basic Energy / ENERGY 103-5
Plus 8 / PLUS8089
1993 / 2006
[Todd Hutlock]