#030: Intoxicating Issues
elcome back to another intoxicating issue of Beatz by the Pound, where you’ll feel the impact of new releases from Locodice, Kiki, and Mocky, as well as new addictions from Philpot and Manual Music. We’ve also got Todd Hutlock digging up that other 40 minute techno single from way back when. But to start things off, we’ve got the newly relocated Mallory O’Donnell discussing his initial impressions of the Houston dance scene...
Disco Down, H-Town (Part One)
Cities and "scenes," like the human beings that (partly) make them up, are mottled, confused things. Houston is, of all the places I've lived, worked and played, the most jumbled and the most vibrant. The cultural makeup here is more diverse than any northeastern city, but laid out in striated patterns not dissimilar to its sprawling architectural limbs. (It’s like a thrashing monster with the downtown nexus as its heart.) Given very little other than crappy weather and a flat surface for its nature, nurture here has been given almost free reign. And, like the lack of zoning laws that allow cozy neighborhoods to reside in the shadow of huge apartment blocks, the action in H-Town is spread across an impossibly wide canvas—a club or bar with a dance event is as likely a tenant in any building or shopping mall as a seafood restaurant, lingerie shop, or the ever-ubiquitous tanning salon. Extend this pattern across more than 600 square miles, with a population (the fourth largest in the US) that has huge Mexican-American, African-American and Asian-American communities and, well... you get the picture.
I relocated here and have been here now for nearly three months (already?), and I hardly feel as though I've dipped a toe in the proverbial waters. But what I have found has been outstanding enough to excite my interest in plumbing the depths.
Of course, the most prominent scene in Houston (as your Aunt Judy could probably tell you by now) is the hip-hop one, which has gained enormous national attention in recent years. As a result, there are two kinds of specifically "dance music" events here—the ones that have a hip-hop element and the ones that don't. Clubs such as the excellent, always free a38 have a loose "no hip-hop" policy and cater to those seeking a variety of house sounds. A number of regular events bring a classic retro feel—the requisite 80's night, but also old-school garage and funk nights, classic hip-hop and disco-funk, etc. On the more eclectic tip, Rockbox! at the Proletariat (which also features possibly the most entertaining Karaoke night I've ever attended) and Danseparc at Numbers are the place to hear dancey rock, classic house, rap, old-school funk and disco—Sister Sledge rubbing up against Bowie and Kraftwerk, T.I. rapping over Metro Area while Justin brings the sexy back, etc. These type of freewheeling, anything goes events have become popular in most big cities of late, but there's a real sense of looseness to the aesthetic in H-Town that keeps the events fun for the very mixed crowd they often draw.
The overwhelming virtue of Houston's dance scene is one that can be found at any event: the casual, unpretentious attitude towards throwing a party that I've found sadly missing from too many clubs. There is very little focus placed on technique, a real off-center avoidance of the kind of "micro-scene" attitude to be found with many DJs, and almost no unnecessary stressing of "timeliness." Unlike the been-there, done-that attitude of a lot of even the most eclectic parties in, say, the New York or DC area, people in the H, even the nebulous "hipsters," don't stress an overfamiliar 70's disco cut or a played-out filter-house track (think Modjo's "Lady"), an attitude I find deeply refreshing—in fact, it's helped in many ways to cure me of my own eye-rolling habits (which, luckily don't run that deep).
And, yes, that means in the last two months I've heard both "Losing My Edge" AND "House of Jealous Lovers," and you know what? I was on the dancefloor for both of 'em.
(To be continued...)
Cadenza / CADENZA 13
Peter Chambers: Maybe it’s the bodginess of my radar, but from a distant observer’s perspective, the rise and rise of Loco Dice seems as sudden as it is phenomenal: this guy has appeared to come from the margins as a DJ and producer to emerge as one of the key sculptors of the mnml microverse in eighteen months. Little wonder, given the material here—Hardwax’ oft-caned expression “long tripping” has found its true home with these four monstrously long shimmying and shimmering drumathons. It’s all percussion here, tuned percussion. Despite the emphasis on mesmeric melodies, every element in Dice’s tracks serves the groove. “Raindrops on my Window” and “A Chico A Rhytmico” (the standout) remind this listener of Guido Schneider’s productions, but purged of all their tricks and trapdoors. Here it’s all a slow evolution—a long road to nowhere, but one that should also work well in the mix and serve the inchoate philosophical statement that Cadenza seems to be stating again and again, with endless drums in their grooves and pretty flowers on their sleeves.
Nick Sylvester: This one seems a classic case of producer X having no clue what producers Y and Z (and A and B) are putting into their tracks, what structures they're envisioning, what nutmeat is at the tracks' cores, and then doing his best to approximate. Yeah, all four tracks here sorta sound like variations on the hollowed out "lots of peripheral percussion clouding around one barely-there synth-riff kinda-melody" that Villalobos and Luciano et al. were doing to acclaim the last two years, with all the slurps and ghostly flute flutters and clicks and squeaks and clatters, but none of these LD tracks have the right melody for the job. It's either too bright and comfortable ("Raindrops On My Window"), too ethereal ("Vamos") or too middling, too have-it-both-ways ("Paradiso"). The best wriggly tech-house (do we still say k-house?) has melodies that are either barely there or just so completely bizarre, so unpredictable, that they just work (e.g. Melchior's "Different Places"). In fairness "Paradiso" isn't half-bad, since the arpeggiating melody has this stringy timbre to it, and as the percussion grooves more obviously as the track progresses, LD also adds in a few extra sub-bass wrinkles to speed along the melody. Either way, there's a cautionary tale aspect to this release, which is (a) the Compositional Stuff That Matters still actually matters, and (b) detailwork only takes one so far.
Africans With Mainframes
Crème Organization / Crème 12-28
Sometimes you wonder why he releases his weaker material, but when he’s on it, Jamal Moss is the heir apparent to the jack masters of old. These four amazing, jammed, slammed, jacking machine workouts with Noleian Reusse are doing acid in your ear. This is “proper” techno, made the old-school way, for the pure pleasure of the resonance and the wildness of the frequencies, as “lo-fi” as they may objectively sound. This is the hot, wet response to sleeparchive's cold, dry machine drum beats, or the dark cousin of Tadd Mullinix’ wilder journeys into the freq as JTC or TNT. The goodness begins with “Faso”, which tumbles through a sea of snares and a filtered, low pH melody until it finds the floor with a flood of toms, and then brings the boom. “Djbouti” starts with everything delayed to buggery, conjuring the groove up from a series of beats which come thuddering back in the loop one on top of the other. “Yaounde” rolls with a massive, flanged out melodies and a tweaked up, seasick groove that nearly looses its lunch somewhere in the effects chain. Are drum machines animal? These ones are.
Manual Music / MAN 005-5
Jeff Bennett brings a little ray of synthetic sunshine into your speaker stack with this great EP of melodic tech-house that works its wonders with ass and class. The original mix foregrounds a sparkling melody which grooves along above a dubbed out background. The beats are a little weak, but the tune is so lovely you hardly mind. The Qbical remix is the overcast afternoon to the originals’ morning sun, until two intertwining arpeggios entwine and bring the party back. Jeff’s “Minimix” version is another gem, and remedies the “weak bottom” of the original with a big, compressed kick and push, while retaining the twinkling, starry melody. Quality house rockets for all.
Four Music / FOR 82876883831
I'm glad I gave myself another week with this one, because all my initial gripes about Mocky's cloying, overstuffed whiteboy soul shtick (much like his boy Jamie Lidell's) and the song's bah nod to the "mile-high club" (somebody didn't get that memo) have turned into mucho respect. This is great songwriting--really concise, really compressed, borderline neurotic details-wise--but Mocky's big brilliant stroke is that his concise, compressed, neurotic bustle of a song is all about how he needs an "extended vacation." I agree, man! Go to Spain or something! Once you crack that nut (i.e. the song's form vs. the song's content), the Radio Slave and REKID mixes will seem far less leftfield: RS and R's slowburners more or less signify Mocky's extended vacation. Radioslave’s mix is an expansive, colorless, Pong-like paranoid vamp not unlike all his other expansive, colorless, Pong-like paranoid vamps, which beyond making for an awesome track is also kinda funny in context. REKID meanwhile turns the original into this laidback downtempo hiphop jam that's better than 80% of Made In Menorca and 90% of laidback downtempo hiphop jams in general. Mocky's anxious vocals are now but a blissful, forgetful slur.
Insect O. & Sören Matschiste
Etui / ETUI 004
Another solid German four-tracker from a new label - is there no end to this? Though distributed by Kompakt, Etui is an unknown to me, and these spooky-yet-warm dubs slide somewhere in between the trancier end of Kompakt and the graceful tones of the Traum / Trapez axis. The A-side consists the shuffling title track and its' slightly crunchier rework, "In Bed With Dschoanna," a dark, pounding piece of subtly-hued minimal trance. The flip heats up considerably on "Da Ist Noch Sand," adding more defined drums and a wobbly bassline, yet retains the delicate aura (especially on the tickling, bright synth line woven through the midsection). "Sommer and Sprosse" ends things on a bright, early-80's-inflected note, contrasting solid kicks with slurred pads and funky layers of percussion. The slight vocal samples scattered across the EP assist the deep, humanistic electronics in justifying Etui's slogan of "emotions for the dancefloor."
Manmade Science feat. Halder Laegreid
Just Tell Me When
Philpot / PHP 020
The Larry Levan influence is present here not just in the name of this German label but also within the grooves of “Just Tell Me When”. Manmade Science supply a brand of disco-house that's been somewhat lacking in this year of darker sounds. The vibe is funky deep house, looped and spun bits of bass, with Chic-esque guitar scratching that calls back to the heyday of French House but it updated with a chilly Teutonic sheen. The B-side "Difunkt" is a bit sloppier and funkier, with nice organic drum sounds writhing and coalescing around a simple bassline and synth-wriggle. Nicely old-school but not outdated, this is a fine release all around.
Big Life / BLRDA 75
With longer singles coming back into vogue again, a glance back at the longest chart single in UK history seemed in order. Cleverly timed at exactly 39:58 to get under the 40 minute limitation on UK singles chart entries at the time—it reached number 8 in the summer of 1992—Dr. Alex Patterson and Co.’s “Blue Room” stands as a monolithic signpost for the ambient house movement and remains surprisingly listenable today. It may seem odd to refer to a 40-minute track as anyone’s finest “moment,” but if the moon boot fits…
In direct comparison to the Villalobos’ track, which concentrates on working a single basic idea into an infinite amount of mutations and permutations, “Blue Room” is a relative explosion of musical textures and spaces. If “Fizheuer” is a journey to the inner spaces of one’s mind via beat transmogrification, “Blue Room” is a trip to the dark side of the moon and back, complete with all the sci-fi noises and relevant vocal samples and sound effects you might expect. The track isn’t tight in the least—it’s a free-flowing mélange of sounds (Steve Hillage’s spaced-out guitar licks and bubbling percussive sounds chief among them) and textures, but it’s tethered down by the rock-solid anchors of Jah Wobble’s throbbing bass groove and the gently popping backbeat. The rhythm tracks start around the 6-minute mark, giving the track enough time to establish a mood but not to reach boredom threshold, and Patterson mixes things up from there. With such a wide palette of sounds to mix up and years of experience in this modified ambient-dub style (check back to the KLF’s masterful Chill Out album to hear Patterson cutting his teeth on a similarly long-form piece), “Blue Room” never gets old, never sits still, never blows its cool. It honestly doesn’t sound a second too long. And that bassline… oh, that bassline. It makes you see trails. The sonic detritus is interesting enough to maintain the ear’s interest; the groove is strong enough to keep heads nodding and toes tapping. “Ambient house” may have been coined a few years prior, but one could argue that this single track should play on the term’s Wikipedia page, perhaps over a shifting kaleidoscope of colors and astronomical images.
“Fizheuer” and “Blue Room” take very different paths to get where they are going, and outside of the length, there is very little in common between the two recordings on the surface—in fact, the comparison is a study of contrasts. While the Orb leave more space in their track, they also use far more sounds. While Villalobos uses only two basic pieces to construct his track (horns and drums), he is just as much of a manipulator and his track actually sounds far more dense. While criticisms may abound about both (generally from those with short attention spans), you’d certainly never hear “Blue Room” referred to as an overgrown DJ tool. Still, examining how two very different producers tackle epic-length electronic tracks can be a fun and enlightening exercise, assuming you have an afternoon to kill. Get comfy.
01: Kevin Gorman - DMX
02: The Whip - Trash
03: Africans with Mainframes - Djibouti
04: Kevin Gorman - Riddim
05: Krikor - No More
06: Fox 'n' Wolf - In Yr Underwear
07: Broke - Overhat
08: Jeff Bennett - Surface Diving
Radio Slave – Weeeze [Rekids]
The Orb – Assassin (The Chocolate Hills of Bohol Mix) [Big Life/Wau! Mr. Modo]
Thomas Brinkmann - Questionary About Luck [Max.Ernst]
Kiki – Trust Me – [Bpitch Control]
Model 500 – Neptune [R&S;]
Sleeparchive – Diagnosis [Sleeparchive]
Jeff Mills – Final Night of Ambient Light [Axis]
Martin Circus – Disco Circus [Prelude]
Audio Werner – Onandon [Perlon]
Linton Kwesi Johnson – It Noh Funny/Funny Dub [Island]
Michael F. Gill
Jerome & Jamie Anderson - Rotated [100% Pure]
Mock & Toof – Lycra Virgin [Empty Edits]
Clubheroes – Nothing But Net [Elektro.Komfort]
Brothomstates vs Blamstrain – Envelope Diving 2 [Narita]
The Hasbeens – Make the World Go Away [Clone]
Lil' Devious – Come Home (Dave Clarke Remix) [Rulin]
DJ Overdose & Mr. Pauli - Atomizame Lentamente [Original Street Techno Recordings]
Parliament – I Misjudged You [Casablanca]
Stargaze – You Can’t Have It [TNT Unlimited Inc./Brooktown Records]
Alonzo Turner - Whoever Said It [LA Records]
It’s the most wonderful time of year. That’s right: list season. For the second annual Beatz by the Pound year-end round-up, however, we’re not only polling our writers, we’d like to hear from you as well. On December 22nd, we’ll unveil your choices for:
-Best Artist Album
-Best Mix Album
That is, as long as you send your picks to Michael F. Gill by December 20th. In the words of Gwen Stefani: what you waiting for?
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-12-15