Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Reflections from the midst of a journey: on board Shed's The Traveller

"We are embarked." - Pascal

What follows are some reflections on Shed's new album, The Traveller, which is just about to drop.

The method here is simple: we've been listening to this album for a few weeks now, on high rotation.

Chris and I started emailing about it, then decided that we'd each write our own reflective piece on it. It's not really a review.

So Chris wrote his and sent it to me; this morning, I had a coffee and then began writing, with nary a glance at Chris' piece. I wrote quickly, getting it all out, without as much regard for polish as would need be in a publication.

What follows is, thus, both the product of our respective dialogues with Shed, our dialogues about Shed with each other, but also our internal monologue on Shed with ourselves.

Pete's polite request: Please take the time to read us carefully, I don't want to get into stupid conversations with people who haven't bothered to read me. It's the one or two more minutes that makes all the difference.

Chris goes first:

___

Some thoughts of the new Shed

Things do move quickly in the world of techno… Shed’s first release came out in 2003. Slowly he plied his craft, developing his sound, but it was not until his album blindsided everyone in 2008 that people woke up and really noticed Shed. When we asked Shed for a mix, we had no idea quite how talented he was, and the first we heard about his new album was in his interview with us. Just two years later and it is hard to imagine techno without Shed. He has become a central, essential figure. Compared to his last album, which arrived with little fanfare (until people heard it, that is), ‘The Traveller’ has been eagerly awaited by all. I must admit, I was incredibly excited when I managed to score a promo copy of the LP about a month ago. Since then I’ve listened to it a lot and here are a few thoughts about it. This is not really a review, I’ll leave that for RA, LWE etc., this is just some reflections.

For those who wanted/expected ‘Shedding the Past’ Pt. 2, there will be some disappointment, because this is a different beast. It is much less techno and more open and exploratory. After producing under a range of different guises – Shed, EQD, Wax, Panamax etc – here it feels like Rene hasn’t bothered trying to distinguish between different sounds and just made a bunch of tracks he likes. Where there is real consistency between the first album and this one is in the focus – the sense I get is that Shed doesn't make music for you, he makes it for himself. We are just lucky enough that he decides to share it with us. Like ‘Shedding the Past’, this is Rene exploring sounds, reinterpreting difference experiences and techno traditions into something that is uniquely his own. The album is neither mindblowing, nor revelatory, and it doesn't have to be. It is just Shed doing his thing, and doing it very well. It remains interesting and cohesive throughout, and stands up well on repeat listens.

Probably my biggest complaint about the release has nothing to do with the music itself. For some reason unknown to me, Ostgut decided to include part of the press release for the album on the back of the CD case. It reads:

“Does techno music really need the album format? Let‘s put it differently: can techno work outside the established boundaries of the 12“? A look back into history shows little convincing examples. Dancefloor tracks, made for DJ’s, follow a structure which require a damn perfect dancefloor in your living room in order to adequately absorb that very energy. A good album must offer more than a couple of dancefloor anthems, mixed with some ambient interludes and the obligatory downbeat experiment, has to be more substantial than a paint-box for your euphoric memories of perfect nights long gone.”

I would rephrase the opening question by T.H. (who wrote this):

“Does an album like this really need to justify itself with a shitty promo write up?”

I’ll give you an answer for that question too:

No.

The beauty of Shed’s music is that it speaks for itself. There is no point inflating it with bullshit promo spin, or trying to push long answers out of him in interviews. Just listen to his music, and look at what he does: I think most, if not all, of what Shed is trying to express can be found there. And as far as I’m concerned, the most important role Shed plays in techno comes not from his releases, even though they are of the highest caliber. It is the example he sets:

Don't try to ride trends, don't try to be something you are not, don't worry about pleasing everyone, don't follow. Be true yourself and your own sounds, forge your own path.

Take soloaction.
___

PC's wandering thoughts on The Traveller:

Shed’s music makes that of so many others sound incomplete, malnourished, and colourless by comparison. He is one of the few who combine a deep, abiding, committed wisdom about the grooves of house, techno and 90s-based breakbeats with the technique and musicality to weave all those well known, well worn tropes into interesting new material.

But they are old tropes now, well mined, maybe mined out. It takes a brave soul to say, in 2010, that the best way to the promised land of interesting house/techno is via house/techno. For me, the interesting explorations seem to be about getting back to the groove by going out of the groove, by abandoning it, by focusing on other things, by going freestyle, by going punk, by going musical, by psyching out… indeed, by getting the fuck away from house/techno, just for a while. Or by just capitulating to formula, enjoying genre, and lowering any expectation of innovation, or even renovation. Maybe. My general advice is a cliché, but true: a change is as good as a holiday. Time for a break, or some exploration.

Over the past few years, through Equalized, Wax, Panamax, etc, Shed has made several extraordinary EPs that, apart from being amazing floor bombs, also exhibit a flitting, fretting restlessness that’s worries its way away from conventional sites and sounds. The grooves don’t just judder and shuffle, they squall and roil over the 4, and by so inverting and mutating (still, always in reference to the archive of the old, the known, the classic) they open up, or want to open up, new emotional tonalities, new rhythmic landscapes. That his music can do all that and still work as 'tracks' is testimony to his brilliance.

Such restless movements are in abundance on The Traveller. The difference on this album is that, though the former journeyman is now one of the masters, the journeys are less and less epic, the monsters smaller and less scarily amazing, the treasure less buried (or less abundant), and the traveller himself, it would seem, appears less deeply committed to the whole thing. The adventures are not as adventurous, the travels are not as wide ranging, and the discoveries aren’t as rewarding. Where are the wild things? At worst, we appear to be where the wild things were, or where the mild things are.

Having situated himself squarely and firmly at the heart of the evolution of the groove, The Traveller feels, at times, overburdened with needing to re-prove old ground, but tired of this kneading ‘needing’. ‘Go re-stomp your own same dancefloor,’ he seems to want to say, but is too obliged to do so. Why obliged? Too polite? Tell us to fuck off, please. At such times the movements are overburdened with the burden or representing of ‘Shed music’, and the earthquake is reduced to rustles and murmurs of the new. At others the real travels are taking place elsewhere – daydreaming, distracted, or perhaps just relaxedly doing their own thing. These are my favourite moments, and there are many of them. I just wish they were longer: imagine that Gemini had gotten half way through ‘Crossing Mars’ and hit the stop button.

And yet, two things: firstly, you would be ill-advised to compare The Traveller to Shedding the Past. More than anything, The Traveller is a restless search for new directions, not the ‘shedding’ (sloughing off and ‘putting in the shed’) of older ones. Though it doesn’t decisively discover them, it is restively searching for future shores, new soundscapes, new ways of building-dwelling-shedding. Secondly, and this returns me to the beginning, this is Shed music, and so while it never delivers the promised land to a famished, fed up audience (if only he and we realised none of us needed to receive what nobody could either deserve OR have!), it is still much, much better than most of what passes muster as good enough.

Shed appears to be unsure if he wants to innovate or renovate: does he wanna re-build house (and techno) from scratch, or just paint his apartment? Third possibility: maybe he just wants to go fishing. Well then, he should allow himself to do so, without the burden of needing to build for all of us what we could (and should) be making together. It’s not up to once musical overman to save the mediocrity of the music from itself. Rene, relax – we love you. Give yourself the freedom to follow your thoughts far, far away from our kneading, needy needs. Or just to go fishing.


.

47 comments:

  1. I must say that this post is a bit hard to deal with given the album hasn't been released to the rest of us.

    Are you hoping for people to comment on your writing style or reviewing techniques?

    Obviously these are very personal observations though I can't see much of a useful conversation starting until we've all had weeks to hear the album.

    Try bumping it in a month or so.

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  2. @ Jimmy: the post will still be online in a few weeks, and you will still be able to comment.

    The timing is simply a way of coping with the temporality imposed by the blogosphere.

    Ideally, yes, we would publish the reviews in a few months...

    I can't help but think the culprit here is the way blogger is laid out, and the temporality that imposes on your thinking...

    ...but: I also totally take your point...

    but: consider why we've chosen to do what we've done, we're not as stupid as we appear (well, I am, but..)

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  3. "At others the real travels are taking place elsewhere – daydreaming, distracted, or perhaps just relaxedly doing their own thing."

    To me, this perfectly encapsulates Shed's music. He doesn't care what's happening in the electronic world at the moment, instead, he's just off in the corner, doing his own thing, and the rest of us can just look across in wonder at what he's able to create.

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  4. PC

    nothing you guys have done on the blog would suggest you guys are stupid (as far as i've seen)...

    in saying that people should read what you say intently, it suggests we should try to engage directly with what you've wrote...and not slide into tangential discussions (that's how i understand the premise of this post).

    this is particularly hardr given the subject of the post is an album we can't/haven't had a chance to listen to yet.

    that is all.

    what i think it does is gets people thinking about what they might hear, and forming opinions on it, or expectations at least...exactly what your saying not to do.

    this i see as the fundamental problem with reviews like this. (before the release of something to everyone else).

    if this were an exercise in advertising it would be different, but you're clearly not trying to sell us the album, we're likely to buy it regardless.

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  5. The album has, however, gone on sale in Japan last week :-D

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  6. And is available to be streamed in full on FACT.

    http://www.factmag.com/2010/08/23/stream-sheds-new-album-the-traveller-exclusively-on-fact/

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  7. one week in Japan and streaming online isn't the same as having the album in your hands for a few weeks.

    but whatever.

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  8. @ Jimmy: but you've heard Shed's music before, right?

    And now you can hear the Traveller, even though not as a tangible object you can own.

    So...

    ...well, have a listen, I await your engagement...

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  9. i cant say im dissapointed and i cant say that im astonished, shed did his thing and thats it to me.. was it worth waiting? was it worth writing about it everywhere, i think sheds music isnt for everyone and i dont really think its for me but i have to ask few questions, is it better to write reviews , talk about albums long before release and saying how different it is.. people expectations change while reading what they didnt hear.. im not that step sound.. but i liked works of shed. when i was listening first time on juno it was something big to me, sounds not which you hear everyday and arrangements too.. but when i streamed this album for 2 times i understood, maybe i read about how good it is before i even had opportunity to hear it.. and why? because i didnt find alot 'tracks' here , i found some nice sounds , 'sketches' i would say... another question rises to me, is it us or is it shed who i dont agree with..
    dont take this post too seriously its only my thoughts.
    oh and how many more 'albums of the year' we will have?

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  10. c'mon jimmy ,wake up! it's 2012 and obama is about to get re-elected. unless the conspiracy theories are correct and hillary is getting moved into the spot so trick willy can navigate. damn....the 90's was dope!!! nonetheless it's the future bro . and music is free. so google some shed "the traveller" and find a free d/l. then give rene some props and buy that bi*atch on vinyl. i will. i own "shedding the past" on vinyl. and love it. so.....this is where we're at mate. get a pair now or get out of the (dub/techno/house/2 step/garage/purple/whateve)r game. it's now, cat.......

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  11. now off to listen to my free bits!

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  12. @ Rokas: yes, totally. Sketches For My Sweetheart, the Groove.

    But not sketchy...

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  13. hmmm, well I would usually wet my pants over Shed releases but now that I have streamed the whole album, not so sure I'd buy it.
    That said, this is where the whole "disposable" argument comes in. IE we intake so much music these days, through purchases but more so podcasts etc, that I wonder how many gems don't reveal themselves to us as we don't give them the time they may need grow and be fully appreciated.
    Will Traveller be a gem, or just another piece of quartz ?

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  14. holy sh*t! "no way!" drops in the middle of the album. all phased house chords and beats about to fall off the shelf. maybe less than 100 bpm? a very welcome relief. guy's a techno stud. buy the vinyl!

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  15. is it me or does 44A (Hardwax Forever!) have a chiming/ringing Dial/Efdemin/Pantha type sound. sort of. mais oui!

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  16. i'm so glad i can go see him at berghain on fryday...i was there when shedding the past was released aswell and it was the best night i have ever had in a club...

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  17. I read an interview on Fact (I think) months and months back, about shed re-visiting his love for the 90's breakbeat/rave sound, so I feel since I read that interview, I had time to map out how the album could turn out. So having all that time to digest what a 'Shed breakbeaty/ravey/experimental' Lp would/could sound like, I'm gonna say after steaming it through Fact, its everything I thought it may be... Brilliant! Since being just on the wrong side of the original rave movement, and having no memories about the music or the parties to talk to the now 30/40 somethings about, Shed has done something very personal for me... He's given me my rave, my time to remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard something new, something raw and innovative, and for that its an 11/10 for the album from me! Dettmann's recent album was equally as self-indulgent, (him showing us his reflection of where the scene is now, an amazing Lp also!), Shed's album is similar, obviously self indulgent, spacial, raw, but the similarities end there. Shed's Lp is an insight into what could be the future! If it doesn't turn out to be the future, it's a reminder of the past that will give people like me stories of brilliant musicianship to take to the future! Its the first time in my music/dj career I'm hearing what these guys(Shed/Dettmann/Klock etc) are hearing, I feel personalised to the music, whether it be Techno/ Breakbeat/Ambient and I love it, not like I've loved other genres for the moment, but for the future... Its a credit to these guys I'm still playing the first releases from Sandwell/Mdr/Fachwerk/Ostgut in my sets, and for that I salute them! I'll be doing the same with Traveller, even if its not from that particular Lp, we will, I guarantee, see many many people exploring/playing the Rave/breakbeat sounds in the their sets way way in the future! Shed is sub-consciously, or not so sub-consciously telling us so...

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  18. @ Srdic: spend some time in your shed.

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  19. i liked the album, but i'm not in love with it. i wasn't expecting "shedding the past 2," but i sure wasn't expecting this jeff millsy "look, i'mma do what i want and people are going to buy it" kind of approach. a bunch of 4min. long tracks with bizarro segues wasn't really what i was expecting or wanting, but the album isn't bad.

    that aside, as much as i appreciate his diversity, sometimes i wish he'd sit down and focus on one thing for a minute and really polish it. i've found a lot of his productions to be fantastically verbose loops, but that's about it. (cue flame war)

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  20. My first impressions of the album were a bit disappointing (the tracks were cut way too short). I thought there were some nice songs but nothing in comparison to his earlier work. As I continued to listen this past week I found more and more gems within these short grooves. Although it's not Shedding the Past, my advice is to give the album some time and to avoid your expectations. I found it more rewarding that way.

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  21. loving the heidegger shoutout haha. though as ever I am a little unsure as to how useful you guys' wideranging and somewhat grandiose references are in the context of a generally techno blog. on the other hand i really value the fact that you guys obviously care about the music so much, to the extent that you may sometimes overreach yourselves in trying to describe it/capture what you feel about it. think the same thing is probably behind my emailing friends with titles like "the best 20 minutes/2 hours/tune of techno ive ever heard in my life!!!" every couple of weeks or so.

    i thought you were kind of unconvincingly pretentious until i heard you in that radio interview PC. your humour and general manner comes across very well in a real life conversation. listening should be mandatory for all who complain about your prose :)

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  22. @ creamydairyrice: ...and yet you picked up the Heidegger reference, and enjoyed it, but felt the need to distanciate yourself from it...

    ...hmm... glad I sound less pretentious than I read. It is simple. I like philosophy, I like electronic music.

    I don't separate them. They are both, for me, invaluable forms of creative expression - and I keep my brows on the same part of my forehead when I'm engaging with either...

    ...you could always try shaving your eyebrows off?

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  23. I share the sentiments that the album is very rich on raw ideas, sounds and 'sketches', but that a full-length album may not be the best medium for this. However, I'm looking forward to the releaseparty and am very curious how Rene will arrange these sounds in a live setting.

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  24. I wasn't sure where to post this, and I don't mean to hi-jack this thread, but i've got a question for you PC and Chris.

    With the amount that you guys love Labyrinth, have you ever thought of starting your own festival in Australia somewhere?

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  25. this album is way better than shedding the past since - despite not even trying to do so (and that's where the magic happens) - it actually IS an album and not just a random selection of tracks (like shedding was)

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  26. mr cloutier has a point.

    in any case i think all of his recent aliases (esp wax) have created better output imo

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  27. i am yet to hear this (streaming just aint good enough for my first listen of a shed album).

    but may i add that i'm increasingly of the view that it is best to save opinions on an album for a few months down the line when you've listened to em about 30 times or so.

    also, i hope all you guys with promos and computers are gonna buy this on vinyl...!

    and lastly, i am loving this:

    "It is simple. I like philosophy, I like electronic music. I don't separate them."

    i respect this a lot.

    love and peace
    jp

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  28. i think it sounds pretty good. the sounds are on point. the structures are more experimental a.k.a. interesting as a listening experience. good job, I say.

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  29. @ Lachlan: time & money, not enough of either; full-time jobs on campus, a complete non comprehension of business, events, promotion, no head for figures, a hatred of all things promo... I don't think I'm yer fella...

    ...but some readers have been rumbling about this...

    ...I think the thing is: Australia is a marginal proposition for anything even a bit 'risky', hence why the risk-averse, profitable big box of brands approach of The Likes of Future, etc...

    ...if there were an outstanding club that supported these sounds, building them over years...

    but: clubbing in Melbourne is a busted flush, by and large, for very complicated reasons...

    ...the only way to do it would be through festivals...

    ...maybe convince rainbow serpent to book dozzy, or something...

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  30. Someone posted in this thread that the mnml ssgs site is based in Australia???
    Where's the Tom Ellard mix! Let's go back.

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  31. @ hknbrk: ssgs is probably 'based' in a shipping container in the Nevada desert I guess...

    ...Chris and I are both Australian, though really proudly unAustralian.

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  32. This album is a huge disappointment for me. I've been listening for a few weeks now, and it hasn't grown.

    Everyone says they didn't expect 'shedding the past 2'. Why not? That's one of the best techno albums of a decade, in a style that's only been around for two decades! Even if he does't want to go for the same sounds, I would have hoped Shed would have tried to continue the deft and delicate engagement with house and techno emotions that made the last album so exciting.

    Instead: here is a set of abstruse and abortive sound experiments for a guy who should be writing songs. There's a pretty incredible exploration of space in this music, but I hoped for something very different.

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  33. nYou'll buy this LP if you definitely love Shed and you collected his early Soloaction releases (like I did). It goes very personal now, you need to be a fan of him for a few years! LP is not for newbies and everybody knows that.
    You love Shed - buy this LP.
    You don't - stop talking about this.

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  34. @ PC: I'm not having a dig here, and don't take these comments the wrong way, but you'll never have more time than you have now.

    Everyone is busy but I think if you really believe in something you'll make time. There are ways to get around the money issue too, remember the pledge fund that Dave on 'to and fro' mentioned?

    How about all the artists that you've helped promote and further their careers, surely you could do things a lot more cheaply than others.

    You guys have developed such a good reputation and probably a network of amazing artists that I think you really do have the opportunity to make a difference to the music scene in Melbourne ( or Australia).

    As long as you started small and developed a loyal fan base I think things could work, whether this is at club nights or at a festival. (Although I think a festival would be best. You could even just run a side stage at rainbow?)

    I'm sure that there would be a heap of people who would be willing to help you out too, especially considering the profile of this blog.

    I have no idea how old you guys are but in 5 or 10 years time you might look back and kick yourselves for not at least giving it a go.

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  35. @ lachlan: PC is based in melbourne, and while i'm also originally from there, i am now in tokyo. and i'm looking at doing some mnml ssgs parties here in the future.

    what i would say is you have to remember that doing this blog is already a huge commitment for us in terms of time and energy. and it is a 'hobby' in theory. so there are limits on what PC and i can, and want, to do.

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  36. @ Chris: thanks, point taken. I don't want to come across as if I'm pressuring you guys or anything and I do understand that this blog would be a heap of work. I was just wanting to see if it would turn into anything bigger.
    Will hopefully get to Tokyo one day to check out one of your parties.

    cheers

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  37. @ Lachlan: I would say that, among the other very complex factors, one of the reasons Melbourne largely sucks right now is that everyone is looking for a savior... and this includes the internationals who come and disappoint...

    ...why are people so disappointed? Why do so few people dance their arses off, dance like this?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMEDZnM_TZE

    If the dancefloors were hot, going out would be fun...

    BUT: this is 'everyone's' responsibility, no?

    For me in Melbourne, it bleeds in to the culture of binge drinking, the moral panic around violence in the CBD, the real prospect of violence in the CBD, and a whole bunch of cnts absolutely munted on Red Bull, etc...

    ...so 'the people' have withdrawn, largely, and I don't blame them.

    My rant = here:

    http://mnmlssg.blogspot.com/2009/04/gfc-ok-we-need-new-house-notion.html

    It may be possible to create a space which was largely immune to all these cultural factors (it is as deep as culture, in my view), but it would have to be away from 'clubs' and all the tacit 'rules' they impose on people's behaviour.

    People get to a club, they start behaving within a certain expected spectrum, and by and large I find that it is incompatible with developing something focussed around music.

    Rant ends. :)

    ...but yes, I take your point, and I am thinking about it. But like Sinatra said, it's gotta be my (our) way.

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  38. @PC

    People dance like that in hip-hop clubs. I have some good friends in well-renowned hip-hop/modern/dance groups. Are we looking in the wrong place?

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  39. ... or even this old sasha video

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMEDZnM_TZE

    everyone just seems to be having a good time and dancing, not just standing around fist-pumping.

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  40. @ Tony: we are looking the the wrong way, especially at each other.

    I think it's related to e (and other things): everyone is waiting for 'it' (their fast food religious experience) to hit.

    ...and in the meantime, nobody goes off...

    Plus: it is so late at night! I am tired by 3am these days. Gramps = me.

    ...this also feeds into the hip hop thing - the club goes off.

    As Destiny's Child wisely put it:

    Ladies leave your man at home
    The club is full of ballas and they pockets full grown
    And all you fellas leave your girl with her friends
    Cause it's ELEVEN THIRTY and the club is jumpin', jumpin'

    ...this is part cause why the dubstep parties in Melb have been so much better: not so many people waiting for '3am eternal'.

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  41. Interesting to read all the Melbourne musings on here / I'm sure there are multitudes that feel the same when I say that I only go to see certain selectors or acts and the whole peripheral 24-hour party becomes something to endure rather than enjoy. Some things change and remain exciting, other aspects do not.

    As has been said already, I feel it's a problem of how you 'define' the way people are going to interact in a space, given that usually the perogative is just to get numbers + money for the house. It'd be great to have more balance though [ a community if you will ] that consists of punters w/ different vectors but still the same open-minded expectations: chance, excitement and release.

    -

    There's small flashes like Bamboo Musik, House de Frost, Miss Libertines, your local pub, and the surprise party here or there but these clubs can also be quite boring if you're primarily there to get into the music. Most have lack-lustre sound and no interesting context, and its disappointing that there isn't a nice mix of these things.

    Never mind the sense of adventure with the old 90s warehouse parties or experimental music events down in the sewers, inside Bolte bridge with the cops chasing the audience at the end. Parties now just seem so comercialised and each time you go through the motions, as do the promoters so why care? In at midnight, past the line of copy-pasta kids, waiting 'til three, back home an' joint before six ..


    -- Chuan

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  42. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  43. @PC The music mnmlssg promotes (and the music I like) isn't exactly conducive to "dancing." Awesome hypnotic music, great for a drive, but it really isn't the kind of music most people pop and jive to. I don't mean that as an offensive way -- it's probably just me not wanting to classify this subgenre as "dance" music.

    • Maybe the hip-hop scene is different in Australia, but there's a small but healthy underground culture in California. I might be jaded, having played in a hip-hop band in college, but there are some people truly interested in old-school hip-hop electro, albeit at a slower bpm than most electronic-heads associate with. As with all music there are the posers and real trailblazers but hip-hop has more of a crowd to draw from overall than techno around here.

    • Hear you on the 3am part. I wish clubs started after dinner. Even weekday headliners playing from 12:30am-2am is a little late for me.

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  44. @ Tony & ctankep:

    http://www.dommune.com/

    ...all it requires is people with resources and organisation thinking a little bit out of the box.

    And I hear you on the places where there are glimmers; and that most people wanna dance to R&B (check any given person's house party); and it also needs to be said that most of the sound systems are appalling... I mean: why pay money to go out and get treated like sheep in a pen, when the musical experience is so impoverished?

    This is weird because cinema sound systems are often very good these days; meanwhile, clubs are getting worse.

    ...why?

    I know why, but: why?

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  45. killer album... VERY impressed

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  46. funny. I dont find this album dry at all, yet Dettmann's i do. very indulgent I thought which is seemingly what a lot of people think about this... each to his own eh

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