March 2, 2007

Benjamin Fehr/FFWD - Truth & Consequences Remix EP

I will confess right off the bat: not only have I never heard the original versions of the two tracks remixed here, I’ve never even heard of Benjamin Fehr or his alias as FFWD (the sleeve lists both, so who knows exactly how he wants to be billed now?) But a Ricardo Villalobos remix of Barry Manilow would likely get me to at least sit still and listen for the requisite 10 to 17 minutes, so why not give this a shot too? Sure enough, the mad Chilean beats are still jackin’ and the noises and samples and filtered vocals and warm rub-a-dub bass hum create a suitably fun and funky track, but it all feels a bit skeletal, almost as if he didn’t care much for the original track and merely stuck the elements into his mental blender and spit this out, fully formed.

There aren’t enough of those sharp left turns or totally jaw-dropping/sublime moments he’s known for, and they are missed (although one big keyboard stab near the end comes close). Still, if this is Villalobos on autopilot (and it sounds like it is), the man is probably shitting out solid gold eggs as I write this. Oh yeah, and Falko Brocksieper turns in a mix on the flip. It’s built up on this sort of unpleasant grunting sample, a looped “fuck you, fuck me” vocal clip, and some routine chugging beatwork. Not bad, but nothing to make you stop from flipping the record over and playing the Villalobos mix again looking for little bits you might have missed either.

Catenaccio / CCCO 06
[Todd Hutlock]

September 8, 2006

Claude VonStroke - Beware of the Bird

The Bay Area’s hottest tech-house wrangler drops two tracks of sublime funkiness on his own Dirtybird label, but those looking for another “Who’s Afraid of Detroit?” or “The Whistler” won’t find the immediacy of those hooks here. The jazzy, bloopy riff just doesn’t stick with me, and the low-key (but up-tempo) rhythm and plucked string-like sounds don’t exactly grab you by the ears like VonStroke’s previous singles have. A fine track, but VonStroke appears content to tread water when he should be walking on it. Justin Martin’s remix on the flip, however, shakes things up a bit more, trading in some of the original smoothness for some glitchy, off-kilter grooves and backwards effects that have a bit more grit and bite. VonStroke’s propulsive version certainly would work better in a set, but Martin’s is far more interesting to the ear.

Dirtybird / db006
[Todd Hutlock]

February 10, 2006

Love Saves The Day

A high, clicking percussion sound starts, followed swiftly by a nimble bassline. Everybody knows this one, several people whooping while others rattle tambourines, bang on cowbells and shake homemade noisemakers. The song is “Expansions,” by Lonnie Liston Smith, a piece of cosmic soul-jazz recorded for Flying Dutchman records in 1974, and one of the host’s signature songs. “Expand your mind to understand / We all must live in peace,” Donald Smith sings, and there is no doubt that everyone dancing on the packed floor is mouthing those words and feeling, if only here and now, that sentiment.

David Mancuso stands at floor level between two turntables placed on stacks of cinder blocks. He puts a record on, lets it end and then plays another record. As the night progresses, people actually clap at the end of certain songs. The volume level is the lowest I’ve ever heard in a “club,” but the sound is impeccably clear, speakers placed above floor level on all sides of the room. The bass is thick and resonant but not overbearing, and the treble and midrange are perfectly tweaked to allow dancers to enjoy the nuances of each song, rather than bludgeoning them with constant thumpage. Referring to himself as a “musical host,” not a DJ, David approaches the sound as a whole, concentrating on the experience of his guests rather than engaging in displays of mixing technique.

Of course, Mancuso has earned the right to call himself whatever he likes. His first “Love Saves the Day” party (the capitals are important here) was on Valentine’s Day, 1970, and he’s rarely stopped since. Begun in his own converted loft apartment (hence the informal name of the event) on 647 Broadway, north of Houston St., the initial house parties were just that—handmade invitations were passed out, the punchbowl was laced, balloons were inflated, and the dancing commenced. Later, the move to Prince St. and the rise of disco brought on a slightly more conventional approach, but the home-like atmosphere (one of the old school crowd reminisces about the showers at the Prince St. ‘Loft!’) remained. In the thirty-six years since David first brought friends together to eat, drink, and listen to records, much has changed. The music played tonight and then (a mix of African, jazz, soul, funk and rock) would coalesce into ‘disco’ and then ‘house’ and so on, until the average person on the street could hear the phrase ‘dance music’ and immediately have an idea what that meant. In 1970, such was not the case.

“I been livin’ in a world of fantasy, said I’m goin’ back, goin’ back to reality”

This is the second time I’ve been here, to a rented space above a Ukranian restaurant on 2nd Avenue in newly sanitized Manhattan. The first time was in February of last year, for the 35th anniversary party, and I was full of high expectations and uncertain notions of the experience to come. As we headed downtown, my girlfriend and partner-in-disco April asked me, and I wondered, “Do you think we’ll be the youngest people there?” Laughable now in light of our experience, it was a valid enough question at the time. Once we were there, though, forget about it—every time you try to get a bead on the Loft crowd, all you have to do is look around to have it changed. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, young, old, scene veteran, newbie, child, adult, people in wheelchairs, men, women, gays, straights, hairy hippies, and slim professionals, in all the world of dancing there is no crowd like a Loft crowd. Period.

The Sunday evening begins at 5 o’clock, airy but slowly pulsing instrumental jazz forming a backdrop as the revelers arrive, many sitting at the circular tables ringing the room, couples with or without their children, groups of friends, total strangers meeting and greeting. Out on the dancefloor, the serious few are already stretching and getting into a fluid, limber groove somewhere in between ballet, aerobics and jazz dance. Steadily, gradually and with unparalleled grace, David picks the beat up, widening the scope to take in Afrobeat, a sublimely funky hi-life track, percolating ambient techno, and a killer version of the evergreen “My Favorite Things.” The dancers begin to gather underneath an inspiring display of balloons, thickly woven together around a giant discoball like strands of DNA.

“Reach… reach… reach / You’re almost there…”

As the night progresses, David plays nothing but classics, great song after great song, to an almost frustrating degree—trying to leave to mop sweat off of my face or get a drink of water, I find myself pulled right back, unable to resist one jam or another. The dancefloor fills up and never thins out, but people here move and let others move with an unspoken respect. Stepping on someone’s foot in my ecstatic rump-shaking, I turn to apologize but they’re smiling and waving it away already. When the crowd of dancers is at its wildest and thickest, a circle clears near the discoball and I see a tiny girl, maybe five years old breakdancing to the cheers of the onlookers. After a few minutes, her father finally drags her away, laughing, knowing there was no need to worry—everyone around her giving her space, smiling and clapping as she tried to execute a 360, making sure no one stepped in without seeing her.

Though the dance scene has undergone a bolt of fresh energy in recent years, the influence has been one of a more skeptical, dark nature. Not necessarily a bad thing, given the times we are living in, but one which ignores a vast wealth of human emotion which resides at dance music’s core. Throughout the night we hear songs from sources as varied as Chuck Mangione, Depeche Mode and Stevie Wonder, but all resonate with love, optimism and a desire for the kind of communal joy that is the ultimate goal of any quality dancefloor. Much has been made in the critical writing on dance music culture of the inapproachability of this kind of spiritual unity. If the Loft doesn’t put the lie to that kind of thinking, then there is nothing on this Earth that could.

“Loving you/ Until the day that you are me and I am you/ Now ain’t that loving you?”

When we leave on that first night in February, we walk down the stairs opening onto 2nd Avenue, fallen balloons clutched firmly in hand. As the heavy door swings behind us, we discover that it’s snowing, and has been for a while. Walking through the pristine flakes, watching as they descend and liquify on the (comparatively) hot pavement, I am immediately struck by the difference between tonight and so many others. We evaluate everything so constantly today, so quickly and so indiscriminately even a believer like me is judging something while it happens. It’s only as I walk out into the black/white/red smear of Manhattan midnight that I come to realize I hadn’t wasted any time thinking about my experience as it occurred.

“Now that we found love what are we gonna do with it?”

[Mallory O’Donnell]

January 27, 2006

Drop the Lime - Shot Shot Hearts EP

Luca Venezia (Drop the Lime) made Attention Deficit Disorder sound sexy last year by shoving so many ideas, cartoon noises, and breakcore rhythms into each second of his joint, This Means Forever. He also showed off his pipes that were equally hardcore punk rant as well as a gristled call to art students to get jacked up on booze and “gangsta kultcha.” His latest EP, Shot Shot Hearts shows an abundance of ideas, along with emphasizing that the man can croon.

Opener “Hometaker” slaps the listener’s face with gabber bass and splattergore beats with an equally discomforting swauve, R&B synth melody that steps into the room midway through. The following “Get On It” is another rumbler with an acid-beat that oddly grooves as much as it bludgeons. Venezia then undergoes a refreshing transformation as a blue-eyed soulman who launches from his influences rather than imitate them, unlike an Englishman named Mr. Lidell. He delivers a boogeyman serenade in “Cold Hearts,” which is made more ghoulish with smooth, night sky synths and splintered beats that sound like a warehouse inhabited by squatters. Venezia finally lets his voice stand alone without any noise to distract listeners away in “Tonight,” an acapella number that might make millions of tweens fall in love with him, earn him riches and later earn him a five-minute segment in a VH1 Where Are They Now? special by 2016.

Tigerbeat6 / 130
[Cameron Macdonald]

January 27, 2006

Kid606 - Done with the Scene EP

“Done with the Scene” is the song of an artist still trying to figure out what to do next. A droning, electro-pop synth melody first stares at the sunset while holding his chin with both hands. The song then grows more restless as a steady mid-tempo beat pushes the momentum with bits of guitar dropping in and a brazen Spaghetti Western-synth shouting out the melody. The song title suggests that Miguel Depedro is trying to move on after quitting his habit of being a yin-yang, either releasing records as a noisenik who smashes everything in a room with a whiffle bat or releasing Mother’s Day presents of synth-pop. As to where he goes next, it’s difficult to predict. The Done with the Scene EP gives some suggestions with remixes of a few tracks from his album Resilience as well as a cover of Annie’s cult hit, “Heartbeat.” In the latter, Depedro’s treatment keeps its focus on the song’s hook by smothering it with fuzzed-up shoegazer textures and scattered, mumbled vocals. It could’ve been much stronger without the odd synth screeches and the rather disjointed synching of everything.

As for the remixes, post-rock stars Mogwai infuse “Down” with rawer energy by piercing the song with feedback and garbled beats, along with playing hide-and-seek with the melody. Bravecaptain places a cosmic glint to “Down” with cascading synth work and live, rolling beats that is all sublime until the band gets cute by singing the song title. Elsewhere, Her Space Holiday turns “Spanish Song” into a song that could play on an in-store video at The Gap, and Swedish post-techno maven Dwayne Sodaberk steals the show by radically mutating the melody from the gentle guitar ballad, “King of Harm” into a rampaging, post-punk dirge that resembles an Interpol b-side. Sodaberk’s remix is brave as hell for risking utter failure—God knows what he would’ve done with “Heartbeat.”

Tigerbeat6 / 126
[Cameron Macdonald]