Monday, May 31, 2004

My suspicious that on such a gorgeous Monday, one on which i didn't have to work, no less, there would be really good surf, were unfortunately confirmed this morning. Unfortunate due to my idiot brother running the car we co-own(ed) into the ground (cracked head gasket = goodbye 20 year old car), and my housemate's car also being currently off the road leaving me to sit in front of the computer and wonder what to say about Jazzanova. I'd interviewed Alex last week from their label's offices in Berlin, and despite being sandwiched in the middle of a half dozen other press calls, he was pretty forthcoming and we had a pleasant chat. It's interesting how far ahead those guys are in terms of sales and recognition over all other future jazz producers. They're a force unto themselves with the hype and myth to match, and it's always nice to talk to people in that sort of position and find them still flattered at the forum given to them to muse publicly about what they do.
As i was still in town and not sitting in the water with the sun on my back at Winki i said yes to an interview with Texan house producer Brett Johnson when my editor rang later in the afternoon. Despite being a bit blah about it - i'm still yet to listen past track three of his new mix on Classic despite being sent it two weeks ago having looked at the tracklist and thought 'eh, nothing new here' - he made my day. Not in a worth missing probably classic waves way, but hearing a house dj/producer type who's thought for more than ten minutes about what he does and is still really enthusiastic about boompty after so many years of living it, was cool.
I'll hopefully expand this post once i get around to transcribing the interview, but word is he was one of the standout DJs at this years WMC, so will no doubt be well worth a check when he comes through town.

Friday, May 28, 2004

the elephants of life
Sorry, the surf has been good.

Was riding home from a meeting south aye the river yesterday evening and sought respite from the rain in Mixed Bag records. It's this new store on Church St i've been meaning to check since it opened the very same week i moved out of the area, and despite the name, it pretty much only sells house. Time was i would've been pretty excited about something like this, but shops that just sell house don't seem to sell my sort of house anymore (no go on, hear me out).

I spent a good hour ploughing through 50-odd records yesterday, most by people or on labels i've liked enough to purchase previously, but none were hitting the spot, or getting even vaugely near enough to it to merit having some hard-earned dropped on them. I was getting pretty desperate after awhile as they were nice chaps in there, and ended up leaving with a deep chugger with some nice keys on the appropriately named Odds and Ends, a record i would have been really happy with if i hadn't filled my collection with dozens of soundalikes over the years.

It was faintly depressing though as i don't like house music; i'm obsessed with it. This happens far too often - i can no longer go into Rhythm and Soul because i just get cranky; not with them as they stock some surprisingly open-minded records for the sort of shop they are (actually, i get cranky with them for different reasons), but just with the amount on the shelves that doesn't sound any different to records that came out eight years ago.

Hopefully i can avoid this complaint becoming a recurring theme but it shits me when i don't feel i can argue with people who say house is boring.
Doing early doors till midnight before Kano and Blue MC on Saturday at First Floor.
Let me know if you're thinking of coming down otherwise it's a fiver to get in.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Managed to find the Sleepwalker track with Sanders. Is a killer; an inspired flurry of soaring, multiphonic'd beauty anchored by the jaw dropping drums of Nobuaki Fujii. Hajime's piano solo is bananas, but every member pulls out all stops for this performance.
Pharoah is there, but you feel his presence more than hear his playing on this song; the band obviously so stoked at having the opportunity to take it to one of their inspirations; the result being properly electric. Masato Nakamura channels more Pharoah than Pharoah, and when the two play together ... two thumbs fresh for being the only recent recordings that's managed to induce goosebumps through sheer force of passion. The sound of such a good group of musicians playing above themselves is a beautiful thing.

Check the May 5th broadcast of into somethin'.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

In a Village Voice article that starts with the complete sentence 'Sometimes New York city doesn't totally suck' comes news that Theo Parrish has started a monthly residency at the apparently totally incredible APT. According to Andy Battaglia, there were "maybe 60 people" on his first night.
Not sure what to think about a dj like him, one revered the world over (and one who also happens to be just really good) not really pulling an ny crowd (although maybe 60 is an ny house crowd these days), especially with his stock so high right now.
The Rotating Assembly album has everyone in a lather, and Ubiquity are about to re-release Parrallel Dimensions.
These kids are about my favourite label right now. The new Quantic album is something i'm hugely looking forward to, as are the Nobody and John Arnold remix 12"s which should hopefully be gracing the mailbox with their presence any day now.
They were always an interesting label for their reissues, but while they're still doing worthy things with Cubop in that area, it's the new hip hop and house releases that have me in my current tizz. As i said in last month's column for Inpress, getting two producers like Mr Scruff and Henrik Schwarz on the same record is like a gift, but giving them so great a source track they can't fail to turn out something interesting, AND putting two unreleased John Arnold songs on the same record should just shame other labels - how many times do you feel like you've been taken for a ride when you look at a 12" with two tracks on it that the label/producer has had the cheek to call an 'EP'?
Back to the reissues tho - any label that gives a proper release to a jazz record so rare they manage to piss off a dj like Gilles Peterson is alright in my book - but it's not just reissuing rare music that makes them worthy, it's that this rare music is also good.
Take the Arthur Verocai album, which is an incredible gem, or the Black Renaissance re-issue that stole Gilles' thunder - there's no way i would have come across this music without Ubiquity putting it out there again; i just don't have the time to dig that far.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

and these are the breaks, give it up give it up give it up ...

Back in the dark ages and without having really heard anything by him i just assumed Snoop Dogg was shit. Of course, a few years later i actually got around to listening to some of his records and realised that, well, whaddayaknow. But it was the clip for Chuuuch to da Palace that really piqued my interest, not just because it's a great video, but because Snoop seemed to be rhyming about absolute nonsense. Nothing new about this - Ghostface has made a career out of it, but there was something about Snoop's laconic delivery that killed me, and when i recently heard Batman and Robin on a mix by DJ Gilb'r from Versatile in Paris, and discovered it was from the same album as Chuuuch, it was straight down the local CD emporium to find it selling for an exceedingly pleasing $18.

Paid the Cost to be tha Boss is a good album and i'm glad i bought it, but how many times have i listened to it since that day?
I haven't.
As holds for every type of music i guess, what i find compelling within hip hop is a tiny percentage of a tiny percentage of everything that falls under that genre. But hip hop is a funny one, because no-one dislikes it, and everyone will say they listen to it all the time, and that includes me. Like most people who like music at the moment, i have a silly amount of hip hop on my shelves. I also find i'm playing more and more of it out, too, but while i love the culture that surrounds it (the nerdy, beat-digging, wax poetics-theorising culture, thanks; no guns, misogeny, bling or hand-jive posturing for me, no sir), i don't actually enjoy listening to the music all the time, and the songs that i find genuinelly incredible are by the folks completely ignored by most hip hop listeners, or dismissed for their lack of hard/realness.
This is no beef against more commercial or popular hip hop - all the rest is cool if it's your cup of milk, just don't make me sit through a Too $hort CD.

Part of this is just down to taste, but following up some record or other i chanced upon one of those incredible websites that, while their incredibleness is incredible in its own right, threw open so much information it gave me cause to think about the constructs of a culture in a way i'd never been prompted to before.

This site, and there are probably many like it, lists breaks and samples used in hip hop. It houses a huge archive of hip hop tracks and the samples they used. Searching by the sampling or original artist leads you off on some surprising tangents, but most importantly helps you discover some really good music (and impress/bore your friends by name-checking every record used to create Midnight in a Perfect World).
But it just got me to thinking about how creatively dry the genre is becoming.

Take the Synthetic Substitution break.
While the song is not in the league of an Apache or Funky President, this Melvin Bliss b-side from 1977 is a good example as it wasn't on a huge label so isn't well known outside crate-digging circles at all, but for diggers - even casual ones like myself, it's far from obscure. I knew the break from De La Soul and Pete Rock, and kinda assumed a few other people must have used it too, as i'm not really up on hip hop.
The site lists over 80 different songs that use this break. Some of them are unlikely - ie. Depeche Mode - but given the ubiquity of hip hop production in pop even in the 80s, i have no reason to doubt the legitimacy of this list.

Over 80.
From the Alkaholicks through Big Daddy Kane, Dee Lite, LL Cool J, the Pharcyde, Souls of Mischef and a swag more, Synthetic Substitution has been used by pretty much everyone.
More interesting/depressing is how many producers have used it more than once. De La, Wu Tang, Public Enemy, Naughty by Nature, Ice T, Kool Keith (it's used for a couple of Ultramagnetic tracks and a couple from Dr Octagon) have all used this break as the foundation of many of their own songs.

What does this say about hip hop and what they're trying to sell us?

A couple of decades ago when sampling was exciting purely for its newness and these breaks were undiscovered, there was no argument here. People were pushing primitive equipment to its limits, creating dynamic music by doing things these samplers and drum machines weren't designed for.
But that was twenty years ago, and the MPC and similar equipment have been explored in and out and surpassed many times over by new studio gadgetry. Talented producers have shown breaks and samples can be found anywhere, not just in jazz and funk produced in the late 60s and early 70s, yet most hip hop is still being made with the same breaks used all that time ago.

You just end up pondering how alarmingly low the bar is set for hip hop production.
Pharell and Chad from The Neptunes are great producers - i think it's genuinelly interesting and cool they can make their tracks sound so heavy and fat without using kick drums but really, how good a thing is it when all your productions are instantly recognisable as yours because they sound so similar? Do they deserve the feting they get?

With so many producers finding original ways to use samples and proving how much life the genre still has left in it, the only conclusion you can come to is that the rest of these guys aren't trying anymore.

Which, when you think about it, is no surprise at all.

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