LWE recently checked in with Theo Parrish, finding him as busy — and as brilliant — as ever.
The Blank Generation sounds less like a collection of tracks than it does the words of a storyteller, an account of historical events related by someone who was there. The witness is producer Bob Blank, whose narration is captured by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton. The DJ Historians, in their first collaborative release with Strut, have anthologized 13 tracks that Blank helped commit to tape between 1971 and 1985. The resulting album is both an essential document of cultural history and, as one of its tracks puts it, a better than good time.
Moritz Von Oswald is simultaneously one of the most influential and enigmatic figures in techno. As part of Basic Channel, Maurizio, Rhythm and Sound, and other configurations with Mark Ernestus and a revolving cast of musicians and vocalists, Von Oswald became one of Europe’s first techno innovators. Basic Channel defined dance minimalism early on, both through a love of repetition as a form of change, and a willingness to let the music speak for itself. More recently, Von Oswald has demonstrated that his reach extends far past the dub-inflected electronic soundscapes he helped introduce to dance music, with stunning remixes of not just Tony Allen, but also Ravel and Mussorgsky. Finally, last year’s Vertical Ascent matched Von Oswald with Sasu Ripatti (Vladislav Delay, Luomo) and Max Loderbauer (nsi, Sun Electric) in an improvisational group, yielding a standout release of 2009 by any measure. LWE had the distinct privilege of speaking with Moritz Von Oswald in advance of his trio’s American debut at New York’s Unsound Festival. Like his music itself, Von Oswald’s approach to thinking about music is simple and direct. But like his music, depth and complexity are immediately apparent.
Though “Red Lightbulb Theory” has been charted by, among others, Lawrence and Tama Sumo, and comes “highly recommended” at nearly every vinyl outlet, one wonders if anyone besides Theo Parrish, whose Sound Signature label put the record out, and Omar-S, who is credited with engineering and editing work, knows just who the hell Leron Carson is. Dude has the sparsest Discogs entry I’ve ever seen, with only one previous release listed: the B-side of SS012, “The 1987 EP,” which featured his (almost literally) hypnotic “China Trax” along with Parrish’s “Insane Asylum.” Apparently, the five tracks on this two-record set come from the same sessions as ““China Trax” — recorded when Carson was fifteen years old. In Parrish’s own words, this music was “hand made, meaning no sequencing was used for the keys on any of the songs featured, using cassette tape overdubs — a lost science.”
Rainer Trüby’s name (slightly misspelled) is the one on this record’s label, but he is not the only person responsible for the music in its grooves. There is a whole cast of characters to go through, but since Trüby is not exactly a household name himself, it might as well start with him. A key player in the nebulous “future jazz” sub-genre, Trüby titled his 2003 debut album Elevator Music, cheekily anticipating the criticisms most likely to be leveled at his smooth, mellow music. Danilo Plessow, better known by his production alias Motor City Drum Ensemble, is a collaborator on these two tracks. Equally crucial, however, are certain other collaborators unaware of their own involvement: Roy Ayers, Syreeta Wright, and Stevie Wonder. Ayers is mentioned by name on “Ayers Rock,” based on an uncredited track (tracks?) by the legendary soul-jazz vibraphonist. It is reminiscent of one of Plessow’s edits as MCDE: a chiming Rhodes, snatches of a soulful female vocal, and real hands really clapping. You’ve heard it all before, but you rarely hear it done this well.
This Labor Day weekend at Randall’s Island, NYC, Made Events held its first Electric Zoo festival. LWE sent Chris Miller and Shuja Haider to scope it out. Electric Zoo instantly distinguishes itself as one of very few large dance music festivals in the Northeast. In spite of its disco and house pedigree, New York has not been home to an event comparable to Detroit’s Movement Festival; one attempt in 2008, Minitek, was notoriously plagued by technical difficulties. Electric Zoo, on the other hand, neatly caged in over 50 acts. The lineup featured a number of artists on the cutting edge of New York’s disco, house, and indie scenes, while some overseas acts rarely seen on these shores rounded out the weekend. The weather was perfect, and attendance was good. For the most part, sound was loud and clear, performers were easy to see, and everything was easily accessible. And while pizza and beer were available, so were falafel and coconut water. Was there a catch? Sort of.
Pépé Bradock’s catalog falls into a few different modes. There’s elegant deep house (the famous “Deep Burnt,” the achingly beautiful “6 Million Pintades” EP, most recently “Mandragore”), hip-hop and electro-inflected grooves (several tracks from his early “Un Pepe En Or” EPs), and eccentric experiments (the fucked up “Rhapsody in Pain”). Though Bradock seems to have left overt hip-hop behind while maintaining the influence in subtler ways, deep house and experimental electronica are in full effect on his excellent new 12″, “Swimsuit Issue 1789.”
“Intelligence” is not a word that comes up often in house music. In this context, it almost seems like a challenge; this record wasn’t titled for “Soul” or “Sex,” or any of the other social concepts excessively invoked in dance discourse. Though an intellectual emphasis is unusual, it shouldn’t be a surprise; this EP is the inaugural release for Laid, a vinyl-only subsidiary of Hamburg’s reliable Dial, and features music by lesser-known Detroit heavy Rick Wade.
Dance music has always had a DIY spirit that puts punk to shame. Not in a band? Just put on some records. Can’t play an instrument? Buy a sequencer. Can’t get signed? Start your own label. It is this mindset that brings us Disco Nihilist’s first release, in both literal and aesthetic terms. Label Love What You Feel is masterminded by Thomas Cox — proprietor of infinitestatemachine and frequent LWE commenter — who discovered the Austin, Texas producer’s work through Myspace. The process of putting out the record (no surprise, it’s vinyl only) has even been documented in a series of posts on ISM. The label seems to be aptly titled; this is not the work of professionals or insiders, but of dedicated fans.
“Live” is a tricky word in electronic music. Live sets, even by favorite producers, are too often disappointing. In reducing performance to a traditional recital mode, selections are limited to the artist in question’s own tracks, a sense of flow can get lost in the shuffle, and worst of all, the performer is frequently seen doing little more than staring at a computer screen, occasionally clicking. The effects of this approach — not naming any names, but I’ve heard laptop sets which featured a sound uncannily reminiscent of the “you’ve got mail” tone — can be frustrating at best, depressing at worst. Part of what’s exciting about electronic dance music is the spontaneous flux, the dispersed authorship, the paradoxical live-ness of a great DJ set. So what’s the point of “live” performance, anyway?
As “deep house” overtook “minimal” these past couple years as dance music’s catch-phrase du jour, a certain formula has become apparent. Slow down the tempo, loop a bass line, throw some jazzy pads on top, and add an intermittent sample of an African-American male voice saying “yeah.” Though there are some great tracks fitting the stereotype, it is hard not to crave some greater inventiveness. Fortunately, Fred P, a.k.a. Black Jazz Consortium, brings precisely this to his production work, of which 11 remarkable examples are collected on Structure. Throughout this CD, rhythms are complex, instrumental elements shift and alter themselves, and tracks otherwise develop over their durations.
Fred Peterkin’s chosen moniker for this and many other releases seems to take for granted a point that, for some critics and listeners in the world of dance music, remains controversial. Even more so than your average deep house record, the “New Horizon EP” has a lot more to do with jazz, particularly jazz fusion, than it does with European electronic music.
The Martinez Brothers may get all the press, but house music’s real boy wonder is 17-year-old Detroiter Kyle Hall. Last year’s “The Water is Fine EP” on Moods & Grooves already showcased a producer capable of crafting distinctive, affecting deep house in the tradition of Theo Parrish, Omar S, Rick Wilhite, and Hall’s mentor Mike Huckaby. “Worx of Art EP 1,” the inaugural release on Hall’s own Wild Oats label, makes it clear the previous record was no fluke and that his is a career worth following.
2006’s “Sun Can’t Compare” was a tough act to follow for Mr. White and Larry Heard. Their previous collaboration was irresistible enough to be played constantly by DJs of all stripes, and has already acquired something of a classic status. On that track, and its flip, “You Rock Me,” Mr. White’s vocals were almost another synth line for Mr. Fingers’s typically astonishing production, with minimal lyrics serving as a reference to classic R&B. On “Aeroplane,” however, Mr. White has begun to take the foreground — the EP’s title track sees him sharing production/composition duties with Heard. A heavy bass riff backs White’s post-punk-ish vocals, yieldin
Those who insist on being bitter when techno journalism continues to focus on Detroit might as well complain historians of impressionist painting overemphasize Paris, or that fans of martial arts films give too much credit to China. With locally known but globally unsung veteran producers like Patrice Scott, Mike Huckaby, Scott Grooves, and now Delano Smith continuing to release some of the best tracks of recent memory, it’s just an unavoidable subject. So don’t be surprised to hear a voice point out on “Something for Myself,” the lead track from the “Sunrise EP,” that Smith is “from Detroit, from Detroit, from Detroit.” When he adds that “there’s so many sounds; it’s limitless,” it doesn’t just apply to his hometown’s cultural heritage — he might as well be talking about this record.
This is one of those releases where the packaging tells you everything. These guys aren’t called Tokyo Black Star for nothing; leader Alex From Tokyo — get this — is from Tokyo. Collaborator Isao Kumano is a Japanese producer and studio engineer relatively unknown in the English-speaking world, and whose internet presence is somewhat overshadowed by a character of the same name in anime series Red Baron. Apparently, the duo was christened Tokyo Black Star by Kerri Chandler, and their earlier work (including “Psyche Dance,” the first Innervisions release) fittingly bore the influence of American house. With “Bit Commander,” however, the clear reference point is Yellow Magic Orchestra — the only Japanese group ever to appear on Soul Train. The shimmering minor-key melody of “Sepiaphone” aims for the charming simplicity of YMO’s greatest tracks, given grit by nearly bluesy chunks of guitar-like vamping buried in an old-school electro groove.