February 24, 2006

Profile: The Red Bull Music Academy


Even if it sponsored by the popular energy drink, The Red Bull Music Academy is perhaps a bit too good to be true. It’s a traveling mini workshop that zooms in on micro-cultures and new musical hybrids, while bringing together young producers of diverse backgrounds to interact with their contemporaries as well as with established producers in the field. It’s a place were people openly discuss aspects of dance and DJ culture, explaining how they create their own tracks, what motivates them to make them, and how they go about promoting themselves.

Now this isn’t an advertisement for the workshop, the main draw to the Academy’s website is that it has archived, in both streaming video as well as in full text, the majority of all the guest lecturers they have had in the most recent years. Just a brief scroll through the current diaries and lectures sections brings up video interviews and transcripts with Sway (one of Stylus’ favorite MCs,) Kerri Chandler, Alexander Robotnick, Atom Heart, Carl Craig, Claudio Simonetti, Leon Ware, Leroy Burgess, Legowelt, Madlib, and Michael Mayer. I haven’t even gone through the entire archives yet, but previous sessions that you can view also include Theo Parrish, Mathew Jonson, DJ Harvey, Tiga, Sa-Ra Creative Partners, Steve Spacek, Morgan Geist, Larry Heard and Danny Krivit. It’s often hard enough just trying to identify the faces behind dance music, but to be able to actually watch them ruminate on how and why they create their own music is something I find completely fascinating.

[Michael F. Gill]

January 27, 2006

Universal Robot Band - Barely Breaking Even

Reanimation1980s12"DiscoR & B

The rare conjunction of two of the finest producers in the underground disco scene, Leroy Burgess (Logg/Aleem/Black Ivory) and Patrick Adams (P & P Records, Cloud One,) “Barely Breaking Even” is an underground anthem still so resonant today that a label was named for it (the influential BBE Records.) Built around a propulsive walking bass, polyrhythmic hand-percussion, Chic-like guitar and one of Adams’ infamous wonky synthesizer lines, it’s alternately throbbing and shuddering, exploding itself into a vibrant groove that seems almost too strange to dance to, yet cannot be resisted. Mercilessly funky during the instrumental intro alone, by the time Leroy Burgess breaks into his opening “Well, well, well” you feel struck by a lightning bolt. What carries it across a staggering eleven-plus minutes is the conjunction of Burgess’ impassioned vocals and the insistent, wobbly funk of the instrumental.

The story that unfolds is one of economic hardship (”well, I just got my paycheck, and I’m on my way home/ between the rent and phone bills, it’s nearly gone”) and the desire to escape it (”Just barely breaking even/ I’ve got to get some for myself”)—hardly unfamiliar territory in black music. But where we might hear the likes of a Young Jeezy casting about for reasons to justify their own avarice, “Barely Breaking Even” finds joy in the face of adversity: the struggle as evidence of life, rather than the struggle as means to the end of monetary gain (”but I just try to make it into another day / Long as the Lord is with me, I’ll find a way.”) Coupled with a groove that is uplifting to a spiritual degree, this is the kind of song that endures because it acknowledges and addresses the ever-present material difficulties of our lives with optimism and hope rather than blitheness, blame or despair.

Combining elements of disco, latin, boogie and R&B, “Barely Breaking Even” is a great dance song, pure and simple. Musically, it’s a perfect fit for today’s DJs and artists exploring that fertile early 80’s crossover period. Lyrically, it is wholly timeless—a gospel feel and a spirit of struggle in the face of economic challenges that surely haven’t vanished in the two decades since it was first released. Currently still available (mixed and unmixed) on Dimitri from Paris’ stellar Disco Forever set, Moonglow Records have also reissued it on vinyl, featuring the full original version and a slightly shorter instrumental edit.

Moonglow / 103
[Mallory O’Donnell]