Wednesday, March 26, 2008

We Were Never Mnml (Inpress column, March 2008)

When I look at this photo, I'm straight away reminded of the bit in Tejada's 'Sweat on the Walls' where the vocalist Q'Zen (spelling?) quips: 'Ungrateful bitches.' Okay, there's the tenuous link, here's the column...

Last month, I said that “2008 will be a year of very well made but rather unadventurous records, with people turning out fine examples of proven formulas,” to which another commentator responded, “erm, won't 2008 actually be a year when records that aren't even out yet can't be pre-emptively summed up by pithy non-plussed one liners?” Point taken, but I’m sticking to my pithy-plussed guns: at least as far as tracks are concerned, 2008 is partly about new applications to old institutions and the many happy returns of old genres dressed in fresh frou-frou. One among these is the boomptilicious deep house of the Swiss scene. I hear the parties are good in Zurich… buckets of snow…schuss… Anyway, the other day I was listening to Serafin and Luciano’s ‘Funk Excursion’ again. What an amazing record – what can you say? But excellence aside, I think that ‘Funk Excursion’ also has renewed relevance, because in many ways it’s the track that perfectly foreshadowed so much of what this Swiss sound has become. For me, the best intro into this is through the Mountain People (Serafin & Rozzo), but actually it’s Rozzo, more than Serafin, who’s been doing it for me of late. His track ‘I wish I was a cat’ has been steaming up the charts (as I’m sure many of you know), but if you really want to catch the guy at his best, check out some of his DJ sets. We at MNML SSGs have got some for you to download, but by far the best is his afterhours at ‘Slutfunk’ set. I can’t speak for the sluts, but I will vouch for the funk.

A question I’ve also been asking myself a lot recently is ‘what ever happened to Marc Leclair (Akufen)?’ Well, he’s working on a new album, apparently, but in the interim, check out Guillaume and the Coutu Dumonts, who appear on the Musique Risquée label that Leclair runs with fellow Canadians Scott Montieth (Deadbeat) and Steven Beaupre. Probably quite a few of you have heard Guillaume’s remix of Shackleton’s ‘Next to Nothing’, which has been getting a lot of play recently, but for me his album Face A L’est is the bucket I’ve been dunking my head right into. Very cool, spacious and groovy, with lots of well-chosen, slightly ‘ethnic’ samples… which also strengthens the link to Shackleton, in an indirect way. Guillaume has also released an EP on Oslo, which is the other label that gets name-dropped in the same breath as Mara Trax and Mountain People. The style is essentially a minimalist’s reduction of house, retaining its swinging basslines and exploring a penchant for Africanised killer percussion loops. For a lot of people, I get the impression that it’s the funky ‘+’ that cancels out 2007’s boring ‘–’.

*edit* chris here, apologies for interrupting pete's flow. for those who want to hear what these guys sound like, here are two new live sets:
- Musique Risquee night featuring Guillaum & the Coutu Dumonts live, Vincent Lemieux dj, resident dj Ana @ Harry Klein 23.3.08
- Guillaum & the Coutu Dumonts live @ Lessizmore 8.3.08

Hercules and Love Affair’s album has been getting rave reviews recently (and justly so). The other week when Optimo’s JG Wilkes dropped the club version of ‘Blind’ at their Third Class gig, I got moosebumps (and nearly grew antlers). Seriously, is this the track of the year? It is so far. Get your ears around it, if you haven’t already. But as good as ‘Blind’ (and H & LA’s album) is, there are also a few other recent long-playing releases that are equally worth of attention, ones I feel might have slipped under the radar. The first of these is Luke Solomon’s The Difference Engine, which forms an interesting (if unlikely) free-revving counterpart to Cristian Vogel’s excellent The Never Engine from late last year (which slipped into the black hole where most Chrissy-New Year releases end up these days). The likeness is not just in the name: both albums are turbocharged loop collages, ones that are really zooming off in their own direction. But where Vogel’s album was an excursion deep into the belly of the bleep (with heaps of great loops for all you dyed-in-the-plip-plop mnml headz out there), Solomon’s is all about using weird vocal samples, Jeff Buckley (yes, really), cellos, and maybe even the cat, the fiddle, the dish, the spoon and the kitchen sink to achieve something which is different, inventive and also totally listenable from start to finish. It’s just so darned engaging, it pulls you through its weirdo assemblage of sounds and keeps surprising and entertaining as it does.

Another album worth checking out is Kelley Polar’s newie, I Need You To Hold On While The Sky Is Falling. Where his last used Morgan Geist’s patterns and formulas as the structural stage for Polar’s songs and viola, the newie is much more Polar’s own build, and it’s more hymnal, more ethereal – just layer upon layer of incredibly colourful harmonies. The whole thing’s one expansive, floating work of kooky lyrics and hooky melodies, which makes it so incredibly catchy that it definitely has crossover potential – should the radio stations deign to get behind it. But, knowing the despot (Richard Kingsmill) and his distain for electronic music that doesn’t suck, it ain’t likely to happen outside of RRR and PBS. Polar has come a long way from being the string player on Metro Area records – this album is a showcase for an artist who has created a unique, fully-realised soundworld all his own.

Another creator who’s no stranger to praise from this column is Omar-S, but man, his recent work has been really exceptional. If you haven’t heard ‘Psychotic Photosynthesis’ yet, please remedy this. This guy is just ridiculous, seriously, and his protégé Luke Hess is only slightly less impressive (and getting better with every release). One of the reasons why Omar’s music is so outstanding is the freaky, freaky frequencies he uses, something either neglected in or absent from the tracks of the majority of ‘producers’ who work firmly and squarely within the ‘pure production’ aesthetic/stance. I’m beginning to feel that it’s the dominance of this idea of ‘pure production’ that has become more responsible than anything else for the incessant stream of incredibly polished, deadly boring records that we all suffer from. I worry that I’vre become dismissive of new labels or even anything that ‘looks boring’, but really, there’s so much to be dismissive of, so much to be bored by. Who’s got the time? So much of the problem these days that trying to keep up with music, even one sliver of the spectrum, is like trying to sip from a fire hose. Well, for those of you who’ve endangered their jawbone trying, don’t worry, we’re here to help.


  1. cheers, i appreciate all you guys who sift through the crap for us !

  2. Great recco those rozzo sets. Really digging them. They sound a lot like dj raoul's sets. He's the guy from Aroma Records and there's quite a few of his sets around on the net. He is perhaps still a bit more on the vocal side of house than rozzo but still worth checking out.
    When comparing this stuff to the RA Mara Trax podcast and the House is a Feeling Oslo podcast though, I find it hard to lump them together. As you put it: the boomptyliciousness of it is what does the trick for me. Those pods are not movin' me up...

  3. I think RA's Mara Trax podcast was a mis-step for the duo. They're much better than that (well, I can vouch for Miss Fitz' other sets at least) - the RA 'cast has no tension, no movement. It's dull and enervating. It's difficult to understand how/why a duo on the up would offer this mix as a 'showcase' - for whatever reason.

    Well, this is what they say of their 'cast:

    "It's a short extract of an eight-hour back-to-back set. We actually didn't like the idea of using a club recording for the podcast, as mixes are often a bit messy, but the messy party is missing. But we don't live in the same city so it was hard to coordinate a meeting just to record a set."

    Hmm... I still wouldn't have submitted it. What do you guys think?

  4. I completely agree I wouldn't have submitted it either. And frankly i'd like to know from which part of the 8hr set it was because if i would've been at that club, i would've been bored out of my mind

  5. (ahem) yes...

    I wonder - what do you people out there think a podcast should be?

    The number of RA podcasts and their success/failure have led me to some reflection and some provisional... not conclusions, but ideas:

    - it seems like it's the DJs who really throw down a style who end up making the memorable podcasts. Something that stands out, that's stylish, that's not generic.

    I think these two ideas of 'not generic' and 'not boring' become really compelling when you're dealing with the datasea. There is just SO much content out there, it seems like the best thing you can do is really play your own song.

    Interestingly, this *isn't* necessarily what works when you play out, as many of you would know. Some examples:

    Joris Voorn, Pole, & Tobias Freund's mixes - these would all clear the floor, but they really work well as podcasts. BUT - would they work so well as CD mixes?

    It seems like the 'podcast' lends itself to a slightly different statement. New medium, new way of listening?

  6. i have to admit, i am still somewhat undecided on oslo. i've liked some of what i've heard, but it certainly hasn't grabbed me like the mountain people stuff has, for instance. my nagging question is what would deep house peeps think about this? i mean, how much is it more a matter of repackaging? i think this is probably a bit harsh, and probably off the mark, but that is where i'm currently at.

    as for the mara trax podcast - and the olso one for that matter - i've only listened listened to them each once or twice. i guess that says something in itself. but my reaction was that the mara trax one wasn't as bland as you guys (and plenty others) have been saying.

    and i'd largely agree on pete's comments about podcasts. the data sea means for a mix to have any permanence, and not get deleted after a few listens, it needs to be special or distinctive. we are trying to get a series of mixes organised and central to this is an attempt gear them in such a way that there will be something more to them. for me, the perfect template is the betalounge. so much there is timeless, special music.

    one final thought about new forms of listening - this definitely transcends podcasts and really applies to all mixes. for instance, so often we listen to live recordings sitting behind a desk working or whatever - hardly the environment they were engineered for... and on podcasts, i was brought up on radio shows and mix cds, i wonder whether those now growing up on podcasts and downloadable mixes will have a different way of relating to the music. hmm...

  7. For sure it's gonna make a difference.

    Not just the volume of music, but the volume its heard at.

    Right now I'm listening to Echnospace played at low volume through the speakers. They're nice 320kbps mp3s, so they're fat enough, but they don't have the presence of their vinyl versions, played with a nice needle through my nice mixer.

    I think EVERYONE who has an mp3 player should try to use the best bit-rates possible AND get themselves a really good pair of headphones. It's the best money you can spend.

    When I'm at the gym I wear a pair of shitbox Sony Fontopias from the 90s, just 'cos of all that sweat (ewww). They totally shift the track, and the more deep and subtle the sound design, the more they alter the music. The bog standard 'little white earbuds' are not much better.

    Forget about vinyl/digital - the REAL difference comes with amplification and the speakers/headphones. I cannot emphasise enough what a difference a good pair of 'phones makes, and if you listen to 'good music' through tinny little computer speakers or LWEs (I mean this as no offense to Steve M's site, of course), then ya'll better aksk yo'self.

    I think the fact that 'we' (of the blogosphere) listen to music a lot through the internet (as a mediator) also really affects the sounds we're choosing. I'm sure this is why a lot of the recent planet e stuff and almost everything by Martin Buttrich leaves me stone cold.


Say something constructive, bitte. Or if you're gonna take a swipe, at least sharpen your nails.

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