In the wake of Anton Kipfel’s 2011 Overrated report, I feel like every post-Basic Channel dub producer has probably felt: inadequate. Of course, this year has ushered in a whole new load of over-hyped music to be examined, but in terms of simply describing how and why certain tracks come to be overrated, it seems as if Kipfel turned all the necessary stones. Thus, like the masses of post-BC producers, all I have to offer is refinement of his original sentiments, and a bit of re-hash. First: by voting with their feet, dancers have as much impact on a track’s popularity as anyone. Too right. With alarming speed, the idea, “But I dropped this in my set last weekend, and the dance floor went nuts!” has become an acceptable rebuttal for relatively objective and well-reasoned reviews. Justin Bieber’s hits make certain crowds go crazy, too. All that statement tells me is that your dance floor could benefit from some education — starting with you, the DJ, playing them some decent music.
Second: while music journalists still have a useful role, we remain fallible. There are any number of reasons for this. Deadlines are one: just try fully absorbing an LP like Unicursal Hexagram in 48 hours, or more pertinently, listening to an album that’s only superficially good and quickly recognizing it as such. A reticence to bite the feeding hand, whether personally or editorially enforced, is another such reason: a bad review might result in the suspension of important promos. Perhaps the least obvious motive is kindness: a desire to sugarcoat things so that a particular label/artist are not hurt, emotionally or financially. None of these items are excuses or apologies; they simply illustrate that music “critics” contribute to the overrating process as much as DJs, dancers, and chart-makers. (Sometimes, they just have shitty taste in music to begin with, too.) With that clarification out of the way, here are five tracks of 2012 that got way more praise than they deserved.
Tom Trago, “Use Me Again” (Carl Craig Rework)
[Rush Hour Recordings]
How remiss of me to spend two paragraphs explaining hype, and not mention the impact a name can have. They don’t get much bigger than Carl Craig, one of the most credible and revered artists Detroit has yet produced. Consequently, his work tends to be judged rather less harshly than that of the unknowns. It’s natural — we pit our own experience and taste against that of someone as legendary as C2 and think, “It must be me who’s got it wrong, not him,” or else, “All his stuff has been good thus far, so this is, too.” But in the case of his rework of Tom Trago’s “Use Me Again,” no amount of experience or talent can hide the laziness of his approach. The original is a neat piece of string-laden, beefed-up disco. Craig’s version is a neat piece of string-laden, beefed-up disco…with filters. It’s the kind of simple modification most DJs do live — with one hand, no less — to induce a touch more euphoria on the dance floor. They might even record themselves doing it at home, then keep the result for use in their sets. But commit it to record as a legitimate rework? That’s a step too far; the equivalent of adding a shonky body kit to a car and calling it a new model altogether.
Try instead: System 7, “Positive Noise” (Carl Craig remix) [A-Wave Records], in which he converts a somewhat boorish pumper into a low-flying, 12-minute journey into the abyss.
Paperclip People, “Throw” (Slam’s Rtm Remix)
As it turns out, not only does Carl Craig like doing stuff to other people’s stuff, he also likes other people doing stuff to his stuff, too. In 2010, he let Christian Smith pillage his classic track “At Les,” and this year, allowed Scottish duo Slam to stomp all over the even more eternal “Throw.” It almost seems pointless to outline why this remix is so bad — isn’t it obvious? — but seeing as LWE’s Per Bojsen-Moller let the duo off so lightly, here goes: the bass line, the track’s most pivotal element, has been smoothed out, losing its essential roughness; stupidly large drums have replaced the original’s tight, I-could-listen-to-these-for-the-next-fifteen-minutes ones; all the new percussion is utterly hackneyed; superfluous and unimaginative white noise has been added at several points; the original’s shimmering pads, cucumber-cool tootling organ and improv-style breakdowns have been excised, as have the surprisingly important hi-hats which keep only half-time, ensuring the pounding journey never gets too tiring. In short: nothing at all to do with purist bleatings of, “They changed this timeless track I have strong feelings for!” and everything to do with good music being turned into absolute dross, even if you were born in 1993 and just heard both versions for the first time.
Try instead: the original, naturally.
Pirupa, “Party Non Stop” [Desolat]
They say one should never judge a book by its cover. It follows that one should never judge music by its cover art, nor its title. Silly sentiments, the lot of them. I would have given up searching for decent music long ago, were it not for my expertly-tuned dreckdar, which is calibrated using track names and cover art. Unsurprisingly, alarm bells were ringing before I first put on “Party Non Stop.” A vast majority of the music reviewed on this website is intended to make people dance — or “party” if you will — but it’s not so crass as to spell it out, and in the title, no less. Accordingly, “Party Non Stop” wallops listeners over the head with its half-baked ideas, and it’s fit to burst with Ibiza-pandering gimmicks. There are plenty of offensive aspects to the composition, but the sheer nothingness of the actual music surely takes the cake. For whatever reason, I listened to the instrumental mix on YouTube, and while it’s no doubt pleasant to be free of the unbearably tacky vocals commanding me to “party non-stop” — via vocoder, no less — there’s precious little in the song that makes me want to do so. Not only is the percussion anemic, it’s arranged in the straightest, most conventional of ways. The bass line, arguably the only thing to latch onto, leaves the proceedings for minutes at a time to create silly crescendos, and the effects sound like a five-year-old experimenting with my Korg Monotron. In short, there’s a very distinct lack of substance, especially in the realm of the chord-based.
Try instead: Fort Romeau’s narcotic “Theo” [100% Silk]
Matthew Dekay & Lee Burridge, “Lost In A Moment” [Innervisions]
Dekay and Burridge actually had two hits this year, the first being “Für Die Liebe.” The two tracks are very similar, in fact, both trading in floating, heavenly timbres and extremely static percussion. Compared with the other selections on this list, it’s much harder to pinpoint what makes “Lost In A Moment” so disappointing, apart from sheer similarity to its predecessor. Its gossamer chords and violin-like synths are possessed with undeniable beauty, and the whole thing has a patient, almost cinematic approach to progression. But listen to the percs, and things begin to come unstuck. They sound like a metronome, utterly devoid of groove and swing. Furthermore, there’s barely a change from start to finish; just the same bored, detached clave beat ticking away. I can’t see myself doing anything to this track other than swaying on the spot. And while that may be perfect for Burridge’s spaced-out All Day I Dream Parties, for most other situations it feels like a dose of dance-floor Valium: pleasant, but ultimately lacking in excitement and energy.
Try instead: Nhar, “Innerplace” (John Daly Mix / Dub) [Perspectiv]; Matthew Dekay & Lee Burridge, “Lost In A Moment” (Dixon remix) [Innervisions]; Bipolar Depth, “Vessel” [Udacha]; Oskar Offermann, “Do Pilots Still Dream of Flying?” [White]
Duke Dumont, “Street Walker” [Turbo Recordings]
It’s been a slog, but after a few years of releasing “serious” techno, people are finally starting to stop thinking of Tiga’s label as a haven for gimmicky electro house/clash, and more so as a pillar of the Canadian scene. Duke Dumont’s “Street Walker” is fairly typical of the label’s current output; aggressively big-room, functional, and generally averse to anything approaching traditional melody. It’s a style which has grown increasingly popular of late, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s simple to make, simple to DJ, and most of all, simple to dance to. As the intro to this article alluded to, however, getting a floor moving is far from a reliable indicator of quality. With its bulky yet nimble beats, “Street Walker” has stirred up many a dance floor, but as a kind of yin to “Lost In A Moment”‘s yang, it does so without much to offer for the heart or head. Apart from being hard to make out — and ergo, get involved with — its dominant vocals lack the rhythmic spark which so many other producers have used to turn voice into instrument, and their frequent re-pitchings sound inane, rather than interesting. Underneath, things aren’t much better, with only a prosaic, swaying organ on hand to entertain. Like Turbo itself, “Street Walker” does have its moments here and there, but judged as a whole, it doesn’t feel particularly convincing.
Try instead: Blawan, “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage” [Hinge Finger]; Conforce, “24” (Gesloten Cirkel Remix) [Clone Basement Series]; Delroy Edwards, “4 Club Use Only” [L.I.E.S.]