Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My years’ best albums. Final Title: My Wsh fr a lf of Synths

2010 has been a very strange year for me. Its major events – at least, the ones considered major by those with influence to name and frame them as such – have provoked massive alienation, much of which affected what I was listening to and how I was listening to it. Shackleton was the most apt soundtrack for any time I had the TV on. (In fact, do yourself a favour, chuck on a Shackleton recording while you read the following, if you wish to read the following... ) The US squandered their hegemonic decade (perhaps their last one, but who knows really?) on two ruinous military misadventures and the succession of bubbles that burst like boils full of empty numbers and empty wallets and houses and blossomed into a fullblown chronic crisis (can crises be chronic?), and now, still, in spite of or because of that or who knows really, millions of Americans prefer to tune in to Fox News to hear some shrill nutjob scream about how Obama ought to restore America’s pride. Governments around Europe have saved the banks and socked it to the people, and Goldman Sachs are paying bigger bonuses than ever. And I never heard anyone on the news mention Greece and Goldman Sachs in the same phrase all year. And that was very telling about the year it was.

Meanwhile, the economic prosperity of dozens of countries is drawn into China’s becoming a bulimic consumerist behemoth a la the US (this, apparently is our saving future). Australia, as one country tied into this scenario, flogs off its polluting, energy-rich dirt in order to continue bankrolling its domestic economy, now, more than ever, utterly dependent on the profligate consumption of fossil fuels, the overconsumption of disposable non degradable luxury goods on credit, and the defensive purchase of overpriced real estate to ward of second class citizenship. Three weeks ago was hard rubbish, and I was haunted by the roadside spectre of 1001+ dead CRT TVs, all abandoned to piles by the side of the road.

Twice this year, all my friends voted ‘against’ people - seems nobody votes ‘for’ anyone, anymore. Then yesterday my friend said: ‘I think we have about another 20 years in the rich world before things turn very, very nasty, and I see very few levers at hand that might help us steer away from any of half a dozen precipices. We should just have fun and enjoy it while it lasts.’ Which seemed both a plausible scenario, an excuse for a party, and a symptom of our shared sickness. In an important way, I suggested to him, it seems like, starting with the boomers, we’ve broken the intergenerational contract. So don’t be surprised, I said, when your kids come for you like a generation of Anton Cigurhs. The future will be no country for old men. No sir. If you spend their future, they earn the right to come for you. Read Underworld (and Cosmopolis, and, shit, almost all DeLillo), read Zeitoun, read Glister: they’re not science fiction. Oh yes, but/and don’t forget to dream. Weirdly, that might make the biggest difference of all.

Yet in spite of all of the above, I remain cautiously optimistic (turn down the Shackleton if you're starting to bug out). If 20C history is anything to go by, we have to go right to the brink each time (so let’s go – I’ll race you!). And in people’s response to events like Eyjafjallajökull and even the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, I heard the stirrings of a new consciousness. In fact, if you talk to most people – well, the large, important minority of people who aren’t barking mad or just plain ol’ fashioned fuckwits – they recognise: the nature of the problems, the threats and the enemies to our future viable existence. More than that, they recognise – and this is new – the deep relatedness of many of these things. Key among which may be rapidshare and BitTorrent. The point is, you are involved, you are implicated, you can make better decisions. Yes, they won’t make much difference, but: they will make a difference. An infinitesimal difference is yours to make. It is your nanogift to an as yet undetermined posterity. The decisions we make with our music is a microscopic part of the enormous, still growing junkspace of memories, venues, events and relationships making up ‘social life’. The rest is a great swirling chaos, any part of which might kill us, kiss us, or save us - who knows?

Somehow all the music I loved this year was a reflection of being among all of these thoughts, at a fairly alienated distance. For all that, it was full of ghosts, full of unexpected colour, full of vague fear, and, against the odds, full of hope. What follows is a list of my ten favourite albums, in loose alphabetical order, arrived at through the listening practice I’ve developed, that I discussed here.

Actress: Splazsh

From July: There are many people who are trying to make music like Actress. Most of them are not as talented. ‘Funk is what you don’t play’.

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: Ariel Pink Before Today

The weirdest effect of the datasea has been to render all periods of recorded music ‘simultaneously available’ (even if initially only recorded to limited-edition cassette). In most people’s hands, this sound/effect would be like a terrible trip through a hipster’s iPod. But these songs, and all the eras they evoke (sometimes all of them all at once!) are marvelous.

Denseland: Chunk

The worst thing about acid is the comedown, even if all the voices in your head are just your own and don’t tell you anything more than the dribbling chain of your own thoughts. The best thing about Chunk is that it’s not a comedown, it’s a recording, which means you can hit stop and get some soothing sleep. But that doesn’t mean you want to.

Eleh: Location Momentum

from July: The physicality of sound gets its full due here (with great interest). If I describe it as music that (vaguely) makes you want to puke, shit, and cry, and mean it as a compliment, will you know what I mean? Lovers of Kevin Drumm, Pansonic and Merzbow will face the bass (and turn it up).

Loscil: Endless Falls

from July: 'Endless Falls' joins 'Midtown 120 Blues' and 'Music for Real Airports' as elegies for dead utopias (Paradise Garage, CDG/LAX, Trades Hall). At these depths, despite the darkness and the pressure, Loscil, singing praise of lost causes, makes sure you never feel like you’re drowning. Socialist melancholia never sounded quite so sublime.

Oneohtrix Point Never: Returnal

People take civil aviation for granted. Being above a storm in the clouds on a plane drinking a cup of tea on the way to something and someone you’ve missed for years reminds you that not all the promises of modern technology are broken. Many returns are happy, and most of these are they.

Owen Pallett: Heartland

Most music is layers of bland facsimiles arranged to make up the semblance of something novel. Then there are artists who paint in their own colours. Owen’s colours are mixed with finely tuned strings.

Roll the Dice: Roll the Dice

from July: Geo/sonically, we’re a long way away from ‘A pen and a paper/a stereo a tape a/me and Eric B and a nice big plate of fish’, but: there’s a lot that could and should be said about the combination of a productive musical relationship, a studio, and minimal(ist) equipment. Rolling the Dice means the outcome is a matter of chance. So how come this collection of improvisations sounds just like what happens ‘when preparation meets opportunity’?

Senking: Pong

From here: Senking dials the 90s with a depth charge, and new ghosts howl back from the jungle.

Sistol: On the Bright Side

Some artists spend 20 years developing one style. Sasu moves frictionlessly through at least that many in one album, of which he makes four or more a year. And this is one of his most beautiful in a long while.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ssg Special: High-Rise Living 78-86 [Part 1] - compiled by The Black Dog & Regis

No introductions necessary for this one, it speaks for itself. Thanks to the Black Dog, Regis and the people who gave us these sounds.

'Historically, music only really gets interesting when the British get involved and this was a very British musical revolution.'

1. Depeche Mode - Oberkorn
2. Xerox Girls - Erase Me
3. Human League - The Dignity Of Labour: Part 1
4. Soft Cell - Metro Mr. X
5. Naked Lunch - Slipping Again
6. Robert Rental & Thomas Leer - Day Breaks, Night Heals
7. Clock Dva - 4 Hours
8. Blancmange - Running Thin
9. Patrik Fitzgerald - One Little Soldier
10. They Must Be Russians - Nagasaki's Children
11. Chris & Cosey - Walking Through Heaven
12. Hula - Poison
13. Portion Control - Havoc Man
14. New Order - Temptation Of Evil Dust
15. Nitzer Ebb  - Warsaw Ghetto
16. Final Program - Protect & Survive
17. The The - Cold Spell Ahead
18. Cabaret Voltaire - Why Kill Time (When You Can Kill Yourself)
19. Vice Versa - Stilyagi
20. Duet Emmo - Heart Of Hearts (Or So It Seems)

More info: The Black Dog / Downwards

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

ace asc

anyone following mnml ssgs on twitter would have probably noticed that i've been a bit obsessed with last week's RA podcast from ASC. for me, it really is a perfect mix - fresh, interesting, balanced and holds up well to repeat listens. if you let this one slip you by, rectify this mistake and download it ASAP. i know the autonomic sound has been blowing up, but ASC's poddie is one of the first things from that crew that i have fully connected with. perhaps that is because the d&b influences are more submerged and restrained in the ASC RA mix. not sure... but what really hit me is how atmospheric and emotive the mix was. powerful stuff. having done a bit more homework now, i can see at least where some of this comes from: old school ambient. after being blown away by the RA mix, i went searching for more, and discovered on ASC's official.fm page some mixes from a deep space ambient series he has done. i've now managed to listen to about 10 of the 17, and they are pretty much all killer. 'deep space' pretty much says it... tripping, 90s ambient. if you like dozzy's 2 part ambient ssg mx39, you are sure to love these.

my advice would be to do what i did: start with deep space mixes #15, #16 and #17. if you like them (and i'm guessing you will), head over to here beatplexity and grab the first 14 in the series. thanks to astrangelyisolatedplace for pointing to me this archive. glad to have the full set now because these are just so good!

i've had a pretty bullshit stressful week, and ASC's sublime and soothing beats have definitely made handling everything a bit easier. these come strongly recommended.

ancient methods tracklist

as promised, here is the tracklist from the immense ancient methods ssg special mix. very impressive selection that combines an impressive cross selection of artists and sounds. respect.

ssg special: ancient methods - handmade blend mix

    •    Cloaks – Desolate Turves 1st (3by3)
    •    Keith Fullerton Whitman – Bewusstseinserweiternd Tonaufnahme (Kranky Ltd.)
    •    Tropic of Cancer (Richard H. Kirk remix) (Downwards)
    •    Traversable Wormhole Vol. 1
    •    Claude Young  - I am nothing (Djax Up)
    •    Renato Cohen – Power (Sino) / The Caretaker – Poor Enunciation (History always favours the winner)
    •    Lance Samuel – The Hold (Resounds)
    •    Audio Injection – Operation (Speedy J remix) (Electric Deluxe) / Aphex Twin – Tassels (Warp)
    •    Friend & Friend – Origin (Dinner)
    •    Morbeck – Untitled (Vault Series) / Bad Sector – Spontaneous Reduction (Tantric Harmonies)
    •    Jeroen Liebgrets – Donau ( Audio Assault) / Monolake – Force (ml/i)
    •    Andreas Kremer vs. Grimes – Untitled (Mind your head) / Death in June & Boyd Rice – Are you out there? (Dornier 17 mix) (New European Recordings)
    •    Casual Violence – Machine we are (Aftertaste Ltd.)
    •    Mika Vainio – Barbarians (Raster Noton) / Deathprod – Treetop Drive Pt. 3 (Rune Grammofon)
    •    Björn Svin – Eat like hawks (RSB)
    •    Christian Vogel – Sarcastically Tempered Powers (Tresor)
    •    Wishmountain – Radio (Evolution) / Gustaf Hildebrand – Ruins of a failed Utopia (Cyclic Law)
    •    Speedy J – Armstrong (CLR) / Ophir – Bleibt der Erde true pt. II (Greyland)
    •    Supagrupa – San Francisco (Infecta 02)
    •    Regis – Speak to me (Downwards) / IRM – Oedipus Dethroned (Cold Meat Industry)
    •    DJ Slip – Broken Cake (Missile)
    •    Abe Duque – Chocolate Delight (Radical Ambient) / Biosphere – City Wakes up (Touch)
    •    Go Hiyama – Servant (Zwart) / Oren Ambarchi – A final kiss on poisoned cheeks pt. I (Table of the elements)
    •    The Modernist – Dali Bop Horizon (Auftrieb Mix)
    •    Tektrax – One way st. (Subvert 01)
    •    Makaton – Animal Worship (Rodz-Konez)
    •    DKF – Lärmpegel Minimum (Steinklang Industries)
    •    Amon Tobin – Rhino Jockey (Ninja Tune) / Jeff Mills – Cycle 2 (Axis)
    •    Oren Ambarchi – A final kiss on poisoned cheeks pt. II (Table of the elements)

more heat soon. we plan to finish off 2010 in style...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

sunday sounds

this week some pure indulgence... been in the mood for some 80s recently, and a ssg on twitter kindly pointed me towards these mixtapes from games, aka oneohtrix point never and joel ford. i've got their recent release sitting on my desktop, but have yet to get around to listening to it. i'll have to change that soon, because these mixtapes are killer. basically they've taken a bunch of 80s tracks, slowed them down, and warped the fuck out of them. the result is that it totally amplifies the 80s feel and takes it into a realm well beyond awesome.

games - heaven can wait mixtape I

games - heaven can wait mixtape II

games - heaven can wait mixtape III

the highlight for me is probably 'tarzan boy' in pt 3, yep, that's what we are talking about... they've got some other mixtapes that you can stream on the games soundcloud. have a good sunday people. more soon.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

ssg special - ancient methods

i've been trying to work out how to introduce this mix, and i'm really not sure what to say... people who read this blog know ancient methods, and know exactly what to expect. the boomkat description i used last time is still the best way i've found to describe their sound: 'pitch black techno war funk'. AM is powerful and brutal, without ever getting too aggressive or banging. this is techno music for warrior gods, it's what i imagine you would hear at a rave at valhalla...

in this new mix baeks and trias mash up and fuse a remarkable blend of techno, industrial, IDM, experimental and everything in between, to make something that is uniquely their own, creating a mix that has the distinctive intensity and strength which defines what AM do. so get ready, this one is a monster.

ssg special: ancient methods - handmade blend mix

one of the great pleasures of doing this blog is creating relationships with people, and it makes us very happy to be able to host another mix from ancient methods. for more info, check their myspace and discogs. for booking, head over to kinetic. AM05 came out recently, and if you missed a copy, i'd suggest fixing that ASAP. it's a killer. and don't worry, we have a tracklist for this. we'll post it next week, as usual. for now, enjoy some destructive techno from ancient methods.

sigha tracklist

really happy that sigha's ssg special has been so well received. here is the tracklist. as you can see, a mix that is full of hot new cuts.

sigha - ssg special mix

1 - The End Of All Existence - Nowhere To Run (End Of All Existence)
2 - Psychological Scene Of The Imagination (Milton Bradley Remix) - Giorgio Gigli & Obtane (Zooloft)
3 - No Politic - The Gods Planet (The Gods Planet)
4 - Early Morning Lights (Marcel Dettmann Remix) - Sigha (Our Circula Sound)
5 - Cotton (Sigha Remix) - Cassegrain (forthcoming Mikrowave)
6 - Over The Edge - Sigha (Our Circula Sound)
7 - GT (James Ruskin Remix) - Planetary Assault Systems (Mote Evolver) 
8 - Discipline - Silent Servant (Sandwell District)
9 - Finding Myself - Sigha (Unreleased)
10 - Reality Or Nothing (Silent Servant Mix) (RSB)
11 - Deep Blue Meanies (Robert Hood's Sci-Fi Mix) - Juju & Jordash (Dekmantel)
12 - Loneliness - Sigha (Unreleased)
 >   Light Swells (In A Distant Space) - Sigha (Hotflush)
13 - Interior - O/V/R (Blueprint)
14 - Losing My Faith - Sigha (forthcoming Blueprint)
15 - Closed TimeLike Curve (Marcel Dettmann remix) - Traversable Wormhole (CLR)
16 - Cleanser - Shifted (Forthcoming Our Circula Sound)
thanks again to james for the mix. new ssg special up tomorrow care of ancient methods...

Monday, November 15, 2010

20,000 leagues under d&b: Senking's Pong

Every year I get wrapped up in dozens of albums; others wash over me then spill away, ‘til the shuffle function reminds me how well (poorly) I deal with the deluge sometimes. But sometimes I hear something that makes me want to tell everyone I know to listen carefully, immediately. And Senking’s Pong is just such a work. But first I feel like I have to position it a bit, because the context was the trampoline or feather bed (falling on my head) of the initial impact.

So it’s late in 2010, and here’s me, a listener and co-convener of a blog-based community I really care about, suspended between manic curiosity for new and amazing sounds and feeling, for the most part, completely fucked off with the endless bursting of tipster bubbles. This mania for representing the latest expression; this ennui for not wanting to represent anything at all. On the one hand, as Juan Mendez said in an excellent interview the other day, ‘we live in this information age… if you dig deep enough you will find it. So there's no excuse, I think, to listen to shitty music — unless you like it, which is fine.’ On the other hand, as Ben Frost said in his interview with RA a few months back: ‘It's not that I hate music as much as I know I just don't need 99% of it. I don't need to hear every half-baked rehash hipster band Pitchfork is trying to ram down my throat, just like I don't need a fucking quarter pounder meal.’ Taken together, 2010 is like Lou Reed once said in New York: ‘it’s hard to give a shit these days’. So: I am trying. But: it is trying. I note this at length because Pong made it all the way through my datasea dykes and other defensive dam(n) walls in one listen. In ear terms I was portcullis down, overrun, ransacked – and loving it.

One of the really great things about Pong is the way it adds to a decades-long conversation that has taken place between breakbeats, basslines, and the timbral atmospheres they move in. Hip-hop took breaks from funk and soul; drum and bass took the breaks, sped them up, and added those beautiful grinding, growling synthbass lines. Pong takes the synth bass lines from drum & bass and slows them right back down again. Sometimes, I think this is literal: ‘Painbug in my Eye’ sounds suspiciously like Aphrodite’s ‘Style from the Darkide’(minus Erick Sermon). But the result is not at all dubstep – in fact, the sonic absence of it is striking to my ears (and very interesting – it made me think about the difference a decade makes). Pong achieves a perfectly contemporary interpellation of 90s d&b tropes, but does so with the kind of sound design that has made Raster Noton the home of some of the advanced music of the past ten years. Senking personalizes the conversation, taking a highly particular sensibility achieved after working toward a style and using it to call to the past (a secondary ping and pong to the ping and pong with his own earlier work). The other great thing here is the quality of the compositions. Earlier Senking albums sounded like audible renditions of the Kursk disaster, cut to Eraserhead. They were harrowing affairs, and I loved them for it, but either alone on a dark street or after one too many coffees, they were hard on the nerves. Here, the undertow is right deep down beneath the slow grinding bass, the menace is sublimated, and the overall listening experienced is polished smooth enough to make it pass unnoticed past tipster sonar. Don’t let this deep craft pass – it’s extraordinary, not least of all because it is NOT homage, pastiche, or nostalgia (thank God), but rather a distillation of an already rich tradition which brings forth young, fresh spectrums out of old, tired tropics. Senking dials the 90s with a depth charge, and new ghosts howl back from the jungle.




around the period 2000-02 was when i really discovered what i then referred to as 'glitch house', but i now understand is commonly referred to as 'minimal house'. in the pre-podcast days, living in australia, removed from the clubs of europe, it was a series of mix CDs that opened up my mind to these sounds. i have tried to place them in the order i discovered them. i remember very clearly a time late january 2001, a few weeks after i had an amazing new year's eve filled with some mindblowing music. i was feeling lost. i didn't know where to go. but i found myself at a record store in melbourne and i bought two CDs: herbert's "globus" mix and uusitalo's "vapaa muurari live". these were revelations. both opened my mind up a sound i was only just aware of, and i am not exaggerating when both renewed my faith in electronic music. "superlongevity 2" i bought from the same store. first time i heard i was wondering whether i'd just wasted my money. but i kept listening. and i fell in love. later in 2001 i found myself in japan and there were a series of other purchases - mixes from swayzak, bell and ricky v - that cemented my love and interest in this genre of music. after listening to this sound of music on CD, the first time i really got to hear it in a club was ricky v playing at fumiya tanaka's chaos party at the liquid room in 2002. it was one of those sets where you just felt like you were getting punched from every direction at the same time. i had no idea what villalobos what was doing, what records he was playing, it wasn't techno, it wasn't house, it was somewhere in between, but it sure as fuck wasn't tech-house, i know that. whatever it was, it was one of those nights that leaves an imprint.

looking back at these CDs i am pretty sure most of them have stood the test of time, especially the two globus mixes on tresor. i don't think it would be too much of an overstatement to say that the dan bell mix became a template for aspiring minimal house DJs. for me, though, it was always the herbert one that had the special place in my heart. this was before he became a completely pretentious wanker. there is something so warm and endearing about this mix, and the tracklisting looks just as sublime today. he even managed to mix booty techno into plastikman and make it work. if you have never heard this mix, i think it just got a re-release, so hunt it down and check it... this is a very long introduction to the point of this post: the club globus never meant shit to me. it was just a watered down version stuck onto tresor, the club that i was really interested in. but these two globus mix CDs were pivotal in introducing me into a whole new way of thinking about and appreciating music. and in this sense, globus does mean something to me.

the reason for all this reminiscing is that our good friend eric cloutier has down the latest promomix, and yes, you guessed it, the club he did was globus. eric has done a mix that revisits this era, and these sounds, in a beautiful and loving way. listening to it i was filled full of different memories and recollections of a different part of my life. the mix goes beyond some of what i am talking about here, but for me it captures that time of my life in a similar way to these mix CDs act as important markers of those memories. so listen, remember, enjoy. thanks eric.

Swayzak - L.O.9.V.E. (Pagan)
Salz - 1b (Salz)
Theorem - Cinder (Minus)
Soylent Green - Low Pt. 1 (Playhouse)
Superlova - 100% Bomull (Stir15 Recordings)
Dimbiman - Good Morning, Eyeball (Perlon)
Sutekh - Murderans (Drop Beat)
Stewart Walker - Amateur Surrealism (Matrix)
Wier - Laptop (Reused) (Organized Noise)
Wise Caucasian - Celestial Empire (Mosaic)
Precession - Sandcastle (Ferox)
Baby Ford - Normal (Is It Normal? Club Mix) (Rephlex)
Aril Brikha - Groove La Chord (Fragile)
DBX - Flying Saucer (Accelerate)
Steve Poindexter - State Of Shock (Chicago Underground)
Aubrey - Jazz Oscillator (Ferox)
Oz Artists - As If the Living Were Moving (Oz Interactive)
Dimbiman - Round? (Pal.Sl)
Minimal Man - Six Of One Pt.1 (Trelik)
The Memory Foundation - Un-Theme (Mosaic)
Aztec Mystic - Aztlan (Underground Resistance)
Stephan G + The Persuader - Chaos (Svek)
Byron C. - Isoplace (Obsession Music)
Swayzak - Burma Heights (Pagan)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

ssg special - sigha

photo by jimmy mould

like most people, sigha is a name that came to my attention through his releases on hot flush, in particular the 'rawww' EP from last year. obviously this association with such a prominent label has been great for raising sigha's profile, but i can't help feel it has been a bit of a mixed blessing. due to the hot flush name, there is a tendency to categorise sigha either as a dubstep artist or more commonly, someone in the dubstep/techno crossover realm. this is pretty lazy, because if you actually listen there isn't actually too much dubstep left in what sigha is producing and playing. for the most part, it is straight out techno. in this sense, his sound is much closer to what you'd hear at berghain on a saturday night when dettmann and co. are in charge, than on the friday nights when sub:stance takes over. and if you don't believe me, have a listen to what sigha has put together for us: it is a tightly mixed set of dynamic techno. anyway, enough from me, a few words from sigha about the mix:

"I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do with this mix. Over the last year my DJ sets have been getting harder, but I wanted to steer clear of delivering a relentless 'club style' mix, and instead put something together that straddles the deep and the driving. On top of this, I wanted to maintain that psychedelic quality I'm always looking for. Usually I'd build something like this in a club if I had four hours or so to play with, so it was a challenge to maintain that balance and create the right transitions and tension in an hour long mix. Hopefully I've done this. Enjoy!"

sigha - ssg special mix

the first release from sigha's new label, our circula sound, has just come out, and there is also a second EP on the way. in addition, he has a remix on the recent commix package, and new remixes coming soon on mikrowave and echocord. so he is keeping himself busy... for more info on sigha, check his myspace, soundcloud, and twitter. big thanks to james for taking the time to put together this mix for the ssgs.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

the climate of electronic music

Recently I've been doing some work on the politics of climate change. It is a very tricky situation, to put it mildly... Part of the problem is that it is not that people are actively trying to fuck up the environment. Indeed, much of it comes from people living their lives in certain ways, but when these individual actions are put collectively it is leading to global warming and other environmental problems. One version of this predicament was expressed by Gareth Hardin in the late 1960s using the metaphor of 'the tragedy of the commons'. It is not worth explaining the whole thing here, but the basic point is that what it tried to show was that: 'people face a dangerous situation created not by malicious outside forces but by the apparently appropriate and innocent behaviors of many individuals acting alone.'

What does that have to do with electronic music you might ask? For starters, a while ago PC wrote an excellent piece for RA about the relationship between DJing and environmental problems. Well what I am going to talk about is not actually the environment, but what I want to suggest is that the dynamics that shape the problem of climate change can also be partially found in the way electronic music is talked about and circulated online (and please note that i stress partially, this analogy is far from perfect). Let me give you some examples of individual action, which by themselves are not necessarily problematic, but when all are combined, it is a different story:
  • Promo agency C requires feedback to be able to download a promo (which you need to do to listen to it properly or play it out if you are DJ). This feedback is then used to either promote it directly, regardless of how banal the feedback is: 'This is awesome. Will play for sure! DJ XX', 'Downloaded. DJ G' etc.
  • Reviewer D writes reviews for big electronic music site A, big electronic music site B, electronic music review site C, and who knows where else. 
  • Up and coming DJ ZZ write reviews for their friends (without acknowledging the fact) and for labels they'd love to work with, or at least receiving promos from. 
  • When buying music digitally, people tend to buy more individual tracks and less full releases. To compensate, major digital retailer XX adds a $1 'handling charge' for .wav files. As a result, the digital version for the whole release actually costs the same amount as the vinyl.
  • Reviewer EE does not like a certain release so much, but gives it a solid/positive review anyway, because it is from an artist or label that has a good reputation.
  • New site/blog/label/promo agency wants to promote what they are doing, get more interest in their projects, so they start a podcast.
  • MM reviews for a number of major music sites, but also writes for another website that is run by and closely linked to the biggest website for selling digital copies of electronic music.
  • Rather than try to release on existing labels, new artist RR decides to start their own label.
  • Promo agency P pushes for feedback on a release, when they receive negative feedback, they then challenge that feedback.  
  • Website RR is one of the major retailers of electronic music online. It strongly supports and positively reviews a release from label D. It does not mention that it owns label D.
  • Mix 1 is from a much loved DJ but is tagged as anonymous, so it is only downloaded about 1/5 the amount of times compared to a normal mix by the same DJ.
  • F promotes and supports a big techno festival on their site, gets a complimentary ticket for their efforts, then writes a report about the festival after. 
  • Techno lover QQ wants to become a DJ, so they download an illegal copy of Ableton and start making mixes.
  • Someone reviews a release with artists P and Q on label A, but then promotes releases from these same artists on label B.
  • WW reviews a release from artist O, but does not mention that they have booked O in the past, and have booked O for a future gig.
  • Dance music site T has a competition, the prize is to go to a series of festivals and review the events for the website.
  • Reviewer OO writes a review for the new release from artist PP, knowing that it is highly likely they will bump into them next week at Panorama Bar or at Hardwax.
  • Mix 2 is on a big name podcast series and is from a very good DJ that people like and someone linked with strong labels. The mix itself is not very good, but everyone says 'awesome!'
  • TT wants to be a producer, so they download some cracked software and start making tracks.
  • Positive feedback is left when downloading a new promo, promo agency S then asks/pushes for the release to be reviewed based on that feedback. If the review is positive, it is used to promote the release.
  • An EP is reviewed positively by a site, without it being mentioned that one of the staff members of the same site is involved in running the label.
I could list more, but perhaps you get the idea. Even though these are all based on specific examples, I purposely haven't listed any names, because they aren't relevant: the point of this post is to focus on the bigger picture. In many of these situations there is a problem of disclosure, but beyond that, there is nothing necessarily wrong with these specific actions. In most cases it is people who do deeply care about electronic music, individuals who are trying to make a living out of contributing to the scene and doing something they believe in. That is totally fine. We need these people, and this post is not about attacking anyone or any particular actions. But...

But if instead of focusing on specific examples, you take all these actions and put them together, a much more problematic picture emerges. And this is where i think there is a partial similarity with the climate change situation - people legitimately pursuing their own interests and lives, but when these actions are combined, it has an overall effect that is damaging, even if that is not the intent of any one actor. In this case it is the electronic music scene as a whole, and in particular, the online manifestation of this (which is becoming more and more influential). This is a situation that encourages and rewards safe bets, it generates lots of stuff that is very good but not great, it puts too much emphasis on having the right name or label attached, it fosters judgments and reviews based not on the quality of the music or performance but on who/where it is coming from, and it encourages an ever expanding flood of releases, labels, mixes, recordings and podcast series. Quite simply, I think it pushes us towards a situation that encourages us not to critically engage with music, which encourages a situation where average music prevails.

To be clear, I am not attacking anyone. Hell, I know I am contributing to this situation. Does anyone honestly think there will be a post here saying Labyrinth is shit or that Dozzy is a terrible DJ? I doubt I will ever need to do this, but if I am honest, there have been situations where I have wanted to criticise certain releases or labels, but I have not said anything because of problems it would cause me. And this might make my life easier, but it is certainly not an ideal situation... So where to? I am not sure... but I think an important first step is talking about it, and as part of that, people being much more honest and upfront about their commitments, and how this may (or may not) bias what they are doing. Beyond that, I got no idea. But like climate change, the problem is not going to get any better just by ignoring it...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Kouhei Matsunaga in Tokyo

Kouhei Matsunaga has been making music for quite a while, in fact his first album was on the then mighty Mille Plateaux in 1998. But it took about another decade for us to discover him, with PC coming across the excellent NHK release on Raster-Noton, 'Unununium'. NHK is a project with Toshio Munehiro, but by himself Kouhei produces as NHK yx. I saw Kouhei play a liveset in Tokyo earlier this year and was very impressed. He provides an interesting take on things - it is essentially techno from the perspective of experimental/abstract music. Given this it is not so surprising that he has collaborated with Mika Vainio and Sean Booth, two other artists who have a somewhat similar aesthetic (even if they sound quite different). And when 1/2 of Autechre says about Kouhei, 'he's an important figure at the moment', for me that is a pretty good indication this is someone you should be paying close attention to. To get a better idea of his sounds, I'd recommend checking these recordings of NHK yx:

NHK yx @ electronic explorations

NHK yx @ rare frequency

And for those in Tokyo, Kouhei is playing this Thursday 4th November at SuperDeluxe. I'm definitely going to be there and considering it is an early show (7pm start) and only costs 1000 yen, no excuses not to come! And for everyone else, keep an eye out for releases he has in coming months on Skam by himself and with Sensational. We are also going to be doing a ssg mix with him, so that is something to look forward to. In the meantime, check these recordings and hopefully see some of you on Thursday. For info, check his homepage, blog, twitter, and these pages have more about his NHK yx project and his collaboration with Sensational.

NHKyx aka Kouhei Matsunaga

98年、10代でドイツのMille Plateauxからの1stアルバム「Upside Down」以降、
現在までImportant Records、Raster-Noton、WordSound、Skam Recordsなど主要
のぼり、その中でMika Vainio(Pan Sonic)Sean Booth(Autechre)、
Sensetional(Jungle Brothers)、Merzbow、Conrad Schnitzler等とコラボレー
渡る活動、早熟とも言える10代 からのキャリアで得られた強度は他のミュージ
ソロ名義として、Koyxen, NHKyx等、ユニットとしてNHK等の名義で活動する。

Forthcoming:  2010年 11月末 Sensational meets Koyxen (SKAM Records/UK)
        2011年  1月末 NHKyx (SKAM Records/UK)

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