Friday, January 30, 2009

Old disco in new bottles

Liz and I saw Leonard Cohen last night. A mixed bag but pretty amazing overall. Review up soon.

In the meantime, here's my first ever "proper" review for Inthemix, of the recent Future Classic night at the Becks Festival Bar, which is part of the Sydney Festival each year.

Disco Nouveau @ Becks Festival Bar, 23.1.09

It’s a damn good thing, the re-emergence of disco, and the best sign of its growing influence on mainstream dance music is the fact it had a night devoted to it at Beck’s Festival Bar. Full marks for putting this on must go to Future Classic, who have proven their devotion to the ‘nu’ end of the genre by touring acts like Aeroplane and Todd Terje in the last 12 months.

The evening started well enough for me when I caught the tail end of the
Canyons’ DJ set. Mixing classic house styles with DFA style punk-funk was exactly the right spirit. But the groove the boys were establishing almost immediately faltered with Theatre Of Disco taking to the main stage. I’d heard much good about this local outfit, especially their provocative theatricality. However, after an energetic opening number they fizzled into an indie-dance formula that was entertaining enough but failed to lift off, maybe also suffering from being ‘odd ones out’ music-wise on the night.

Future Classic supremo Nathan Macleay then recovered some of momentum by spinning recent nu-disco hits like Todd Terje’s remix of Dolle Jolle’s "Balearic Incarnation", Terje’s own "Eurodans" and Aeroplane’s remix of The Shortwave Set. It was a solid lead-in to Holy Ghost!, who have hit the big time with a fantastic run of remixes as well as their own tracks on DFA Records.

The two New York DJs got the energy of what had been a rather subdued crowd going. It’s a distinctive style they have, staying locked in a 120BPM groove while churning through big hits. Their selections ranged from re-edits of
Shalamar’s "Right In The Socket" and Chic’s "I Want Your Love" to original disco like Candi Staton’s "When You Wake Up Tomorrow", and from 80s classics like New Order’s "Bizarre Love Triangle" and Joe Smooth’s "Promised Land" to house remixes of oldies like Prince’s "Controversy" and Talking Heads’ "I Zimbra". It was also nice to hear their excellent production work, especially their remix of Cut Copy and their breakthrough track "Hold On". Perhaps the selections were a little obvious, but they had undeniable dancefloor impact.

When it came time for the Idjut Boys to hit the decks the audience was pumped, but the Idjuts being what they are meant they were a somewhat divisive force. With a penchant for little known track choices, they smashed straight into the bizarreness of the original version of "Hills Of Kathmandu" by Tantra, fucking with EQs and effects like there was no tomorrow. From there it was obscure vocal disco and italo, acidic monsters and weirdo dubs of tracks like Sylvester’s "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" and Rare Pleasure’s "Let Me Down Easy". Energy they had in spades, but the relatively short set time they had meant there was more choppiness than they could achieve in a longer set, which is their preference (and which they had pulled off in genius fashion at a smaller gig the previous week).

Maybe if Holy Ghost! had been a little more adventurous and the Idjuts a little less, the night could have risen above the sum of its parts. There’s a tension inherent in introducing a mainstream audience to new (old) sounds while still trying to be forward thinking. Without a doubt there were many flashes of brilliance throughout the evening, and it was a very fun way to spend a Friday night under the stars. Just because it didn’t always work shouldn’t detract from Future Classic’s willingness to push boundaries. I look forward to next year’s effort.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A day in the sun, a night of cool

Notes from the fires of hell, Saturday 24th January 2009...

Part 1: Heat (von) Stroke

"I'm melting... I'm meeellllltting..."

Not a scene from The Wizard Of Oz, but the Pulse Radio Yacht Club party on Sydney Harbour on the hottest day of the summer. Not since the torturous experience of Field Day 2006 has a party been this goddamn uncomfortable to endure. At least there was a harbour breeze and air conditioning to help us survive.

Unlike the last floating event tech-house/disco melange, this one was a model of good organisation and marked by a lack of promoter-initiated violence. And musically it was at least on par if not better--certainly in the main room, where Luciano had failed to overwhelm.

In fact, it really was the obverse of the hedonistic madness of boat #1. Almost too civilised. And so Mother Nature stepped in to make sure that it would still be a day to remember.

In the main room Emerson Todd started with one of his typical "I can't be assed playing a real warm-up" sets, banging out minimalistic proggy tech-house for 90 minutes. He was followed by Christian Martin, who almost seemed a let-down as he took foot off accelerator with a mix of traditional Dirtybird fare and more acidic journeys, even pulling out brother Justin's classic "The Water Song".

But that set the stage for Claude von Stroke's three-hour extravaganza. Turning the volume down at the beginning, he managed to pull the crowd close to him and then hit them with a slew of his biggest tunes ("Who's Afraid Of Detroit" getting a rapturous reception about half-way through the set), as well as farty electrofied tech-house with trademark ridiculously heavy basslines and drums that seem to erupt from beneath audible frequencies. It was also fantastic to hear his magical remix of local boys Poxy Music's "Warpaint".

As usual for CvS there was a tendency to mash disparate sounds to crank maximum party vibe out of the whole affair--there was even a brief foray into downtempo dubby breaks. At times I thought it was too all over the shop to hang together but the enthusiasm he brought to it meant it worked OK. Not as good as his Mad Racket set a few years ago, but superior stuff. One of the world's best party DJs without a doubt, as long as you can forgive his desire to thumb his nose at the pretensions of the tech-house scene.

If the main room rocked it was partly due to the fact that only the bravest of souls would be able to cope on the disco deck for very long without expiring. Which was a huge shame because the music kept up the high standard set by Greg Wilson last time around. James and Scottie from Better Days warmed up with cool-as-fuck Balearic-tinged nu-disco and italo before it was Luke Unabomber's turn to play. Weaving together downtempo funk, classic disco and modern nu-disco sounds, he was impressing the diehard disco-heads until the 41 degree heat caught up with him and he had to hand over to Ben Rymer of Gucci Soundsystem. A far cry from the tech-house sounds he was pushing with former partner Riton a couple of years ago, Ben strung together modern DFA shizzle like Shit Robot's unreleased newie with disco oldies and even some real yacht rock (Don Henley's classic "Dirty Laundry")!

If the excesses and catastrophes of the previous cruise had been unable to live up to the massive hype and expectation surrounding Luciano's first appearance on our shores, the less stellar build for this one meant that it could deliver, and in style. Full props to Jimmy, T-Boy and Wade for making it happen, and with a minimum of injury (although all the DJs on the top deck probably needed medical care by the end of the day).

Part 2: Random brilliance

So, this guy Garry Todd, he got it goin' on. To follow from the cruise I was assigned as advance party to secure a spot at the infamous Ladylux for my friends, Dave and Joanne. What were we, snobby music types, doing heading for a club that has often been pilloried for outrageous door policies and questionable clientele?

The answer, of course, was that with the relaunch of Garry's Bread & Butter night (now filling the prime Saturday night slot) we were going to see the Canadian-now-living-in-Berlin techno genius Mathew Jonson play live.

The night started early for me, watching Jimmy Posters and T-Boy from Pulse Radio play a mixed bag of house and tech-house, followed by a brief outing from Rif-Raf, who started a bit heavy before settling into some appropriately deep, melodic techno offerings.

As the post-boat crowd thinned a little it was supplemented by people coming for Jonson or just because 'Lux was their place to go. With Garry and John Devecchis concentrating on a very deep, underground tech-house sound (think labels like Oslo, Diynamic and 8bit, with a fair bit of 20:20 thrown in for good measure) this could've been a disaster. Instead, everyone connected with the sweaty, small-club vibe. Devecchis, in particular, played the most focused set I've heard from him for ages--a sign, perhaps, that he's feeling relaxed enough to play in his own style rather than feel the pressure of conforming to whatever the dominant sounds of the party are meant to be.

By this time Dave, Joanne and I had been joined by Ant and Lisa and, finally, after a long delay because of missing cables, Jonson hit the Allan & Heath mixing desk at around 1:45 am and proceeded to knock out over two and a half hours of his noodly techno. Using a laptop with Ableton, a drum machine and a midi controller (sans keyboard because no power adapter could be found) through the mixer he was like a conductor driving his large orchestra of instruments through their paces. Sometimes blisteringly hard and at other times ethereally melodic, he was unafraid to let loops run longer than they reasonably should or to allow tracks to peter out to silence before the next movement started. What he gained in the ability to improvise, however, he sometimes lost in a messy and almost haphazard looseness to the overall set.

I had to leave, exhausted, at 4:15 with Jonson still playing. By this stage the club was still heaving with blow-up plastic palm trees, crazy hats and bottles of Jager being passed around. The randomness of the crowd was mirrored in the randomness of the whole event... yes we've all been to loose and trashy parties, but rarely with music this satisfying. Last night Bread & Butter managed to have both. With a stellar list of internatonals over coming weeks and months, this could be the new Sydney night to watch.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Drama on the high seas

With Saturday's Pulse Radio Yacht Party fast approaching I thought it was a great time to look back on the first Pulse boat party, featuring Luciano and Greg Wilson. This time around it'll be Claude von Stroke and Christian Martin of Dirtybird Records in the main room, with Ben Fat Trucker of Gucci Soundsystem and one half of the Unabombers on the deck. Support from Emerson Todd and the Better Days crew. Should be fun, but I doubt it can surpass the already legendary highs and lows of its predecessor. And maybe that's a good thing.

Here's an edited version of my review from the Inthemix forums to whet your appetites...

We live in a time when an epoch of excess is trying its best to come to a close in a very dramatic and painful fashion. But what of those who valiantly resist the tide, who carry on with their profligate ways despite the mounting evidence that the jig is up? Are they now just going through the motions, wearied and disheartened but putting on a facade of carefree hedonism?

The French have a term for it: Fin de siecle. Literally, the end of a century, but understood as the end of an era. And perhaps that's what those of us who braved the first ever Pulse Radio boat party were experiencing as the madness mounted on the not-so-high seas.

Rarely has such excitement been generated over one not-very-large party, headlined by a newcomer to our shores with a near-mythical reputation. "The Wait Is Over," the headlines screamed, and yet the weeks dragged on, the hype machine hit overdrive and another living legend was added to the bill, as if to prove this was THE EVENT OF THE YEAR.

If there was ever a metaphor for the bubble-like state of the capitalist system in the dance music world, surely the Luciano boat party was it. Expectations inflated inexorably to the point where something, somewhere, somehow had to go "pop".

I leave it to everyone else on the boat to decide when that moment of bursting occurred. For some it may have been when the bottled water ran out or the toilets were shut. For others it may be when Luciano started more than an hour late. For some it may literally have been the "pop" they heard when a punter was taken down on the dancefloor. And for many I'm sure it won't hit till at least Tuesday. But this party could never live up to all of its hype, much like the global financial system really.

Yet there was much to like about this party. The venue (boat and locale) was cool, the event wasn't oversold, the warm-up DJs on both floors were good and the weather was fantastic (if a little too hot at the start). I went with great friends, bumped into lots of people I knew and had a great time running between rooftop boogie and main room intensity.

The warm-up DJs in the main room (T-Boy and Jimmy Posters) did well, weaving nouveau tech-house like Johnny D's "Manipulation" and Ito & Starr's "Sudoko Kid" with classics like L'il Mo Yin Yang's "Reach", the latter sending the swelling crowd loopy. It was the correct tone for Luciano, whose reputation is for combing a retro sensibility with modern productions. However, as Emerson Todd slammed out the main lead-in, the waiting started and the time passed... but no Luciano.

Luckily, Greg Wilson (sans reel-to-reel because the pinch rollers had started to melt) was more than holding court on the roof with a euphoric mix of disco, boogie and early house classics as well as more re-edits than you could shake a stick at. This was altogether happier and cheesier than his selection on Thursday at Bondi, but like the archetypal British tourist he was lapping up the sunshine and good times. Starting with Imagination's "Just An Illusion" and blending it into his recent Missy Elliot re-edit was a perfect start and it only took off from there.

The peak of Wilson's willingness to let down his hair was when he dropped Hues Corporation's evergreen "Rock The Boat" to mass singalong action. Following it immediately with "Lady Marmalade" proved he had no shame but was reading clearly that we didn't either. But there was room later in his almost 5 hour set for more serious offerings--"Fool's Gold", "Voodoo Ray", "Orange Alert" and finishing with 808 State's "Pacific". There were also less well-known but completely bewitching classics like Geraldine Hunt's "Can't Fake The Feeling". And of course the hypnotic Ashley Beedle remix of "Running Up That Hill", which had me and whole bunch of others tranceing out.

Back in the main room, Luciano delivered a truncated set of big room tunes based around percussive loops, massive breakdowns and the occasional melodic riff. While I expected a retro sound, what surprised me most was that this was the sound of tribal techno, circa 2002, but slowed down for modern sensibilities. That he played perennial techno classic "Compound" not once but twice says something about the mood he created. Nice to hear Masters At Work get two workouts at a modern tech party ("Bangin'" following "Reach" earlier on) and also cool to hear the strains of Octave One's "Blackwater". I was surprised he didn't just whip out Umek & Valentino's back catalogue or some early Intec, but it was good clean fun, mixed with aplomb and, wow, the man has a charismatic and charmingly self-deprecating stage presence.

A year ago Luciano was strip-mining the late-90s Chi-town style of Sneak and Carter, now it's the Euro-tribal sound that soundtracked my introduction to proper techno. I think the recycling betrays a weariness in our scene. Here is a very talented DJ creating his own tropes on the achievements of a previous generation of jocks. Everything old is new again, but now much less altered and much more transparent. In that sense, Greg Wilson was no more a retro DJ than Luciano.

I had a fine time, avoided most of the worst debacles, and relied on fantastic people like Nataly, Dave, Joanne, Josie, Kate and Kimberley (who sold her Homebake tickets to come to this) to keep me company. And it was among an enthusiastic sea of punters who managed a high level of friendliness (but who the hell was that random girl who had her photo taken with me at the end?).

When we look back at this party, I think we may well decide that its "epic" qualities lay more in the dramas that played themselves out on board than the pinnacles of musical brilliance it promised. In some ways the problems with the party will become part and parcel of its legend. If anything the (ahem) "incident" will only serve to imprint this sunny afternoon in our minds more indelibly. And, after all, the hype promised us a spectacle so that's what we got...

Spotting Luciano's set
Spotting Wilson's set

Imagination - Just An Illusion
Young Dog Alien - Gotta Keep Workin' It (Missy Elliot Mash-Up)
Stevie Wonder - Superstition (Todd Terje Edit)
Blondie - Rapture
Chic - Good Times
Average White Band - Pick Up The Pieces
Hues Corporation - Rock The Boat
LaBelle - Lady Marmalade
Grace Jones - Pull Up To The Bumper
The Whispers - And The Beat Goes On
Raw DMX - Do It To The Funk (GW Re-Edit)
Stone Roses - Fool's Gold
Kate Bush - Running Up That Hill (Ashley Beedle Re-Edit)
Geraldine Hunt - Can't Fake The Feeling
Cheryl Lynn - Got To Be Real
A Guy Called Gerald - Voodoo Ray
Yaz - Situation
Metro Area - Dance Reaction
The Turtles - Happy Together
Teenage DJ - I Was A Teenage DJ (Pt 1)
808 State - Pacific State (Greg Wilson Mix)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Badder Santa

I think there's something to be said for the de-glamorisation of Xmas. And not just the Bad Santa variety, where Billy Bob Thornton played a thoroughly psychopathic St Nick against a backdrop of suburban North American festive cheer. Sure, that punctures the sanctity around what is essentially a major focus of retail capitalism by making its chief marketing ploy into something unsavoury and repellent, but it doesn't get to the real nub of what goes on.

So we have Trent Parke, perhaps Australia's best living photographer, to thank for peeling back the usual layers of warm-heartedness and family spirit with his disturbing and painfully honest exhibition The Christmas Tree Bucket (ACP, Oxford St, Paddington, until Saturday). Here, among his own family's celebrations, he finds all that is banal, frustrating, ugly and, yes, sinister about late December. From the little children clawing at each others' throats to the creepy shadow of a toy Bugs Bunny cast across curtains, from the drawn faces of family members splayed across their beds to the ethereal glow of a television set in the dark, Parke captures something essential: Xmas is not the picnic it's made out to be.

But it's not a case of sneering at his hapless relatives--indeed, Parke includes himself (vomiting uncontrollably into the eponymous receptacle) and his photographer wife, the amazing Narelle Autio, among the wreckage he wants to survey. It's dark but also hilarious and I think achieves powerfully what Parke says he set out to do.... capture not just truthful look but the actual feel of a family Xmas.

Another link:

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Annihilating rhythms

When, as a teenager, I first saw and heard the video to Grace Jones' career-retrospective song "Slave To The Rhythm", it was a bit like a being the victim of a perverse and forceful seduction.

Not only were Trevor Horn's maximalist production techniques in overdrive (a more lush 80s synth-pop tune would be hard to imagine, and that's saying something) but the imagery was similarly intense--a frenetic and jarring collage of unsettling, sexually charged and almost pornographic fragments of Jones' career and influences. Here was Jones as dissected by the Cubists; slices of photographs assembled to transcend the two dimensions of television and to suggest a dark, sinister energy. Some of it would now likely be deemed "unacceptable" in the wake of the moral hysteria that typified the Henson Affair.

The thing about Grace was that she was here to sell hedonism, yet at the same time make you feel uncomfortable about it. There was an unrestrained joy in her disco and calypso influenced tracks that had a defiantly transgressive side. Yes, you should be having this much fun, and yes, it really is as bad as your parents told you.

That naughtiness is what she gave us, in spades, at the Enmore Theatre last night. Not only was her 60 (or 56, depending on which DOB you believe) year old booty on full show thanks to slinky corset and thong, but the intense vocal delivery, saucy patter and tight musical backing oozed sex. The classics were tinkered with enough to modernise them, but then again the Compass Point sound is now all the rage, so not too much. The new tracks were also reimagined sufficiently to break free of the studio perfection of the Hurricane album ("Williams' Blood" in particular taking on a proggy nu-disco exhilaration pilfered from some of its better remixers).

In just under 90 minutes she cracked through 14 songs, a little wobbly for the first half hour but then feeding off the vibe of her captive audience to rise to brilliance for the rest. "La Vie En Rose", more torn from its roots in Edith Piaf's oeuvre than ever, was as heartfelt and overpowering as you could hope for (she preceded it by saying "Paris is love, and love is fucked up sometimes", so you get the idea). "Pull Up To The Bumper" was pure post-disco escapism, with Grace pulling 30 or so audience members on stage to gyrate with her. And "Love Is The Drug" was given the kind of angry beating it deserved.

If the music was great, the visual show was even better. Not just Grace's personal theatrics, but 13 changes of headwear--masks and hats applied offstage between tracks by her travelling milliner, while she drawled heavily into the mic with her musings--and a theatricality that should probably be called cinematic. A movie set wind machine, another fan blowing from below, and a zillion pieces of confetti sprayed over us all. Then there were the laser lights scattering off the disco ball hat and the hula hoop spun relentlessly, flawlessly, mesmerisingly about her waist through the entirety of "Slave To The Rhythm". At the end of the encore she battled her "Hurricane" until she finally disappeared, stage left, and denied the rapturous five minute ovation that demanded her return. Whoa.

For all the lewdness and humour, the confronting edge is still there. This is how I like to have fun on a weeknight, losing it to Grace Jones. Surely nothing could be more right. And surely I'll be punished for it all the same.

Songlist @ Enmore Theatre, Sydney 13.1.09

This Is Life
My Jamaican Guy
Sunset Sunrise
Libertango (I've Seen That Face Before)
Love You To Life
La Vie En Rose
Well Well Well
Williams' Blood
Amazing Grace (acappella interlude)
Private Life
Pull Up To The Bumper

Love Is The Drug
Slave To The Rhythm

Monday, January 12, 2009

More midweek goodness!

Yes it's a school night, but how could you go wrong with this?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The 10 rules of Parklife (2008)

First rule of Parklife:
You have to queue to get in the queue that leads to the queue to get in.

Second rule of Parklife: I'm so underground I only emerge to complain about music festivals.

Third rule of Parklife: If you're Morgan Geist of Metro Area, look sullen and moody but play happy disco music.

Rule 3(a) of Parklife: Morgan Geist is "the whitest boy alive".

Fourth rule of Parklife: Bump into good friends who offer you bumps.

Fifth rule of Parklife: Tabasco sauce is easy to smuggle past security and enhances the tequila experience.

Sixth rule of Parklife: Look away quickly when you see young men masturbating in public.

Seventh rule of Parklife: Diplo sounds shit even when you are at a big festival, drunk and sitting in the VIP area.

Rule 7(a) or Parklife: Diplo even sounds shit from behind the speaker stack.

Eighth rule of Parklife: It would be much better if there were just 10 of us and we had a Private Parklife.

Ninth rule of Parklife: Goldfrapp are great but too slow to put on that late.

Tenth rule of Parklife: You actually have to queue to get OUT.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Smiles for Gilles

Having Gilles Peterson in town is bonus enough for many people. The influence he has had on building the appeal of black dance music in the UK is nothing short of amazing, and it was wonderful to hear him play the stellar 4hero mix of "I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun" at the Days Like This festival last weekend.

But on Wednesday we were treated to a second round thanks to a missed flight. So, with his MC Earl Zinger in tow, Peterson played a hastily-arranged three hour set in the cocktail lounge of Sydney's best new club space, The Sugarmill's Kit & Kaboodle. To match Peterson's well-known penchant for eclecticism, K&K has been designed on the basis that the elements shouldn't work together but do. It's an intense blue-green palette that dominates the cocktail lounge, with flashes of gold and silver glamming up an already glamorous scene. No complaints really on the choice of venue (helped by the fact it's my local!) but I wondered why choose the carpeted cocktail lounge rather than the equally sized club (with dedicated dancefloor) one floor below?

Gilles' set was, as expected, a hugely mixed bag. I think that while on radio he is a genius for pushing disparate styles, in a club environment it can be hard to grasp the thread of what he's doing. We went from disco to funk to house to broken beat and hip-hop, with one atrocious euro-pop sounding tune in the middle. At times the segues (using every CDJ-1000 trick he had up his sleeve) were inspired, and at others the flow simply collpased and had to be recovered. Still, he played some blinders (Eartha Kitt! Omar feat Stevie! Herbert!) .

Once the hip-hop and broken beats became prominent after midnight, I felt that things had taken a turn for the wetter and eventually departed for some needed sleep. But it was a top night, with a nice crowd and lots of friends to bump into.

Kudos to Huw and the crew for putting this on, and for DLT, you've been lighting up my January so far!

Some tracks 'spotted on the night:

Anita Ward - Ring My Bell
Eartha Kitt - Where Is My Man
Barrabas - Woman
Innerzone Orchestra (???) - People Make The World Go Round
Richard Dorfmeister v MDLA - Boogie No More
Geraldine Hunt - Can't Fake This Feeling
Donny Hathaway - The Ghetto (Live Version)
Omar Feat. Steve Wonder - Feeling You (Henrik Schwarz Mix)
Hercules & Love Affair - Blind (Frankie Knuckles Remix)
Chaz Jankel - Glad To Know You (Todd Terje Re-Edit)
Herbert - The Audience
Q-Tip Feat. Norah Jones - Life Is Better
Q-Tip - Gettin' Up

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A day like that...

AGCG and C2 at Days Like This, 4.01.09

Music festivals these days tend to leave me feeling ambivalent, with their fragmentary taste of numerous acts piled onto multiple stages. Not only do you have to run around madly trying to catch a glimpse of this performer or that, the programming is usually idiosyncratic (just trying to be polite).

I enjoyed Parklife earlier this year, but that was mainly thanks to finally seeing Metro Area, who managed to do a virtual megamix of 20 disco, proto-house and acid tracks in their foolishly brief one-hour set. The overall line-up included only a few artists who would pique my interest enough to traipse past 20,000 smashed punters to get to another stage, so I stuck mostly to one stage and had a good time. But We Love Sounds, while carrying a star-studded line-up, was a mixed bag with long bouts of ennui (ironically, the afterparty was much better). And Harbourlife was, well, Harbourlife.

I was starting to think that my festival-going days were coming to a close.

But, quite unexpectedly, Days Like This has come along to re-energise my interest in the format. And it has done it by stressing good acts, thoughtful programming and organisational smarts.

Not that I thought that as I arrived, just after 4pm, at Fox Studios. Morcheeba were dishing out a predictably wet selection on the main stage and the South Rakkas Crew were torturing eardrums with their raved up ragga breaks at the garden stage. Worse, they were both running outrageously late (the former apparently because of technical issues).

But it was all better after that. Radioslave decided that he couldn't beat the noisefest that had preceded him and instead set upon locking the now thinning garden stage crowd into one of his patented 4am tribal tech-house grooves. Starting retro with tunes that would've played well at late 80s techno raves, he then pushed us into the summery, conga-filled delights of Michel Cleis' "La Mezcla", and eventually finished with Elkin & Nelson's classic 1979 afro-funk workout, "Jibaro".

He was ably followed by Recloose, who moved from broken beats earlier in his set to some straight-up disco (Love Committee's "Just As Long As I've Got You") and house. Meanwhile, Fat Freddy's Drop were impressing on the main stage with their big band approach to reggaefied deep soulful electronica. Great to listen to and get lost in, but apart from the new addition to their crew (a tiny little kid with a trombone) their visual impact was a little light-on for such a big arena.

Mike Monday managed to get the garden stage going off with warm, melodic, and BIG tech-house, but while he's clearly a crowdpleaser the sound was surprisingly predictable for someone who has produced some excellent tracks in the last five years. It's almost like he's trying to do a cooler version of the more cheesy output of his early career, but then why not just stick with the original?

At the same time Sharon Jones was causing havoc on the main stage, prancing about and delivering some killer vocals. The Dap Kings are one tight nouveau funk band and this was quality stuff, even for someone like me who has never been hugely into the sound.

Then it was time for A Guy Called Gerald. Playing loops off two laptops, he constructed what may have been the set of the day. It was brutal analogology, recalling a past era while sounding fresh and unique. There was DnB, house and techno in equal measure, finishing off with three legendary tunes: his own "Voodoo Ray", former outfit 808 State's "Pacific" and a twisted, dubby remix of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love".

Which of course led perfectly into Carl Craig. Having heard about his legendarily spotty mixing and setlists packed with tired Detroit classics (and only having seen him play live before, on a massive array of analogue technology, in 2000) I was totally won by this densely packed, expertly programmed set with only one cueing error. There were some classics and some of his own productions, but the vibe he created with a jazzified, soulful techno-house jam was a perfect end to the night for me (interrupted by 25 minutes watching PE). Completing the set with his astonishing remix of Faze Action and then the looped tail end of Ron Hardy's brilliant edit of "Let No Man Put Asunder"--the bit that goes "it's not over" over and over again!--left the crowd both getting closure and screaming for more.

It was OK to spend most of my time watching C2, because Public Enemy were firing up the main stage like it was still 1993, when I last saw them. They have retained the energy, showmanship, wall of sound and presence that made them far and away the best hip-hop act of their era. And for those who have never seen them live or were wanting to relive those glory days there seemed little to complain about. But the edginess of that controversial time was missing, not really their fault but because the audience now lives in an era where some of the protest has been subsumed into the election of a Black man as US president. It's a contradictory thing, this mainstreaming of dissent, and PE haven't been able to transcend it in the way their original explosion onto the scene changed the face of popular music forever. That shouldn't take away from their talent, but perhaps it was all a little bit of history repeating...

And the little bits I saw of Mr Scruff and Gilles Peterson also impressed, although they were too short to say much about. But it felt good to know they were there if someone else failed to dazzle.

The crowd was a bit older, fun to party with and clearly into the music on offer. I bumped into at least two dozen people I knew--even my sister in law! The organisation was above average as well, with quick drink lines and enough toilets (as long as you knew about the ones in the Forum). I think the programming, a mixture of the old and new, but most importantly elements of the past being used to say something new, was what made the day so rewarding. Given the pre-event rumours that the event was going to flop (TV ads for a dance festival?!?), I think instead DLT is now the one to beat.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Let the music (use you)

When Elizabeth and I bought our flat late last year one of the improvements on the places we'd been living in before was having a third bedroom, one that could be "Tad's music room". Suddenly I was off buying some good quality monitor speakers and hooking the mixer up to my computer. From that inspiration I produced this disco mix just before Xmas.

I get very impatient with recording mixes so mine (like this one) are almost invariably done in one take after I have worked out which records to play. As a result there are always little glitches, but I think that if you want it to be perfect you may as well get a computer to do it for you. But then that's not DJing anymore.

This mix represents some of the sounds I was playing alongside Greg Brooks when we did the Cosmic Disco night earlier this year. There is a mixture of re-edits and originals, with quite a few favourites thrown in for good measure.


New York Citi Peech Boys - Life Is Something Special (Special Edition)
Inner Life - I'm Caught Up (In A One Night Love Affair) (Original 12" Mix)
Gino Soccio - Try It Out
Patrice Rushen - Number One
Love De Luxe - Here Comes That Sound
Hot Chocolate - Cadillac (The Revenge Rework)
The Popular People's Front - I Love Only You
Atlantic Conveyor - We Are
Chic - I Want Your Love (Tangoterje's Hello Kenny Edit)
Jimmy Ross - First True Love Affair (Eddie Tour Edit)
Sinnamon - Thanks To You (Instrumental)
Geraldine Hunt - Can't Fake The Feeling (Long Version)
Dan Hartman - Vertigo / Relight My Fire
Montana - Esto Parese Amor (Club Mix)
Talking Heads - I Zimbra (Peter Black Remix)
The Beat Broker - Warriors (In Space)
Telex - Moskow Diskow
Freez - I.O.U.
New Order - Bizarre Love Triangle
Glossy - Last Night

Monday, January 5, 2009

Here but for the grace of god go I

This is my first attempt at a blog. Please be gentle.

My lovely wife, Elizabeth, suggested I do this because I was already spending hours writing reviews, but not having a stable home for them. In their interest (my children!) I will now give them a roof over their heads and three square meals of public exposure. If anyone reads this thing, that is.

This blog will be about disco (hence the title). But it will also be about other music and about the movies I see. Cinema and music have been my chief cultural passions since I was a teenager, and I've been writing about them on and off since then. There will be other kulturkritik in here also, but the other great interests of my life--psychiatry and politics--will not get a run, except as they impinge on the subject matter at hand.

I think I'm a born critic, which is useful to mask my innate lack of creative talent. My one area of creative expertise is in DJing, but in some ways that is a form of critique or meta-analysis, isn't it? After all, I'm imposing the music of others on an audience. I am the selector, I cut out the bits I don't want you to hear, I present a skewed, adulterated view of a series of tracks, and not as their makers intended them. I force you to see other people's art my way. It's like a review article in a scientific journal, only more fun. So you'll occasionally be subjected to my DJ mixes too.

So here but for the grace of god go I. Which segues nicely into what is a fitting subject for my first post, my favourite disco track of all time.

Machine's "There But For The Grace Of God Go I" was co-penned by August Darnell, legendary producer behind Dr Buzzard's Original Savannah Band and probably most famous for the post-disco funk workouts of Kid Creole And The Coconuts. The revived Strut label has recently released a compilation of some of his amazing output, available on CD and for download (although I think the Machine track is only on the CD version).

I first discovered the track on the excellent Jumpin' compilation that came out in the late 90s on Harmless. The point of that CD was to highlight original (and sometimes obscure) disco tracks that had been sampled or remade in the house era, and I had heard the unmistakeable horn riffs before. But the music, as uniquely in your face as it is, cannot prepare you for the charged political lyrics. For those who claimed that disco was only about having a good time, surely this was the riposte. "There But For The Grace Of God Go I" tells the story of bigoted parents who move to the 'burbs to get their baby daughter away from "the blacks, the jews and the gays". Of course, "she turns out to be a natural freak, gaining weight and losing sleep", and then runs off with a guy from the street.

Pete Heller and Terry Farley did a house cover of the tune in the mid-90s under their Fire Island guise, but inexplicably watered down both the confronting language and abrasive musicality of the original, thereby robbing it of most of its impact. Similarly, the repress version we have of the track includes the early 1990s remixes by New Jersey DJ Timmy Regisford, which retain the musical elements but slow the tempo and flatten the arrangement into a more house music style. They are nice but lack the raw power of the original 5:17 minutes.

The track has accumulated meaning for me since I was blown away by it in 1999, when I was first becoming entranced by house music and clubbing. It is Liz's favourite disco track also, and indeed the only record we both own copies of because if we were ever to split the argument about who would get it would likely end in murderous violence. And at a recent job interview I was asked what my favourite dance track ever was. I got the job, and I'd like to think that August Darnell was looking after me that day.

Some other links: