Wednesday, May 28, 2008

the robots

Dancing to techno, I never thought about the robots. Except for this one time. But they made me promise not to tell what happened out there on the perimeter where there were never any stars and the DJs took pills and played for 7 days, so I'm not saying nothing.
But, really, it's all about the robots, it's all about the production line. It's about Detroit and the noises inside the car factories. It's about P-funk and white funk. Juan Atkins coined the term 'techno' in a song of his called 'Techno City' and what was going through his mind back then in the early 80's was a kind of Alvin Toffler/Prince/Kraftwerk scenario in which ideas from hiphop and afrocentrism blended with the practicalities of the mixer, the utility of Kraftwerks's metronome beat and the notion that cold blackness would win the urban war. It was Atkins who said that Kraftwerk were so white they were funky and his protege, the great musical innovator Derrick May, was the one who annointed Atkins as “the fire...the matrix.”
Around the time that May told me that I went to listen to Juan Atkins playing records in Melbourne. He is my Leadbelly, my Blind Lemon Jefferson. Late 90's, this was. Juan was fat and wore glasses and people complained he couldn't mix but it was never about the mix. At least now we know that.
I wrote then: ''...he’s playing beautiful records that glisten with soul and just a little bit of menace. A little twist of the alien, the subphonic. It’s techno all right and it’s going quickly crazy for us squashed up there beneath him as he does it. He drops “Bingo Bango” by Basement Jaxx followed by a bracket of samba-house; he goes through stretches of wild and deep electro; he drops “Beau Mot Plage” by Isolee. We love that. We’re mad for that. It’s Detroit in the area. Original style. He’s a big man and his glasses are fogging up but you can tell he’s a quiet man behind all the thunder of the records.''
Here then is his defining electro track from 1985, on Metroplex. 

Model 500 Night Drive (mp3)

He also recorded as Cybotron, but there was also a cooking 70's/80's electro outfit from Melbourne of the same name. They were into Krautrock, into Tangerine Dream. They were and still are desperately, brillantly obscure. Picked this one up from Bumrocks even though the geezers probably live just down the street. In, perhaps, Moorabbin. Or even Bentleigh, if they had a good royalty deal.
The fact that two pioneering techno outfits could use the name Cybotron -- and it's worth pointing out the Melbourne version came first - is a tribute to the power of the robot. The tron. The Man-Machine. We'll talk Kraftwerk later, OK?

Which brings me to Gary Numan. Here's his great track about dislocation and what it must feel like to have a kind of alien love for another creature in the uniform of authority even though he/it wants to either kill you outright or gore you for the amusement of gourmet diners.
Juan Atkins, incidentally, thought Gary Numan was "dope."

Saturday, May 17, 2008

the ruby three.1

No burble, just tunes. The first in a regular Ruby series.

the menahan street band make the road by walking (mp3)
Where Jay-Z got the horns for 'roc boys' from 'american gangster.' They're from New York on Daptone.

renee geyer sweet love (mp3)
The first lady of soul where I live. This is a funk cut from 1975. She has Aretha's name tattooed on her skin.

wiley wearing my rolex (burns rmx) (mp3)
The first grime tune to go top ten in Britain. This is the shimmery French disco remix by Burns, via the marvellous Shoplifters.

Monday, May 12, 2008

amerykahn roots

The Roots are the perfect American rock 'n' roll band, a kind of groove machine based on old skool hiphop, psychedelic soul, rock 'n' roll, the notion of the jam and obtuse riddims making for a sometimes hellbound passageway into the trance.
Then politics. This is serious afro-political agitation, a theme I go back to again and again in the endless quest for musical purity and truth; the emancipation of black races, the elucidation of the struggle, the rising of the underclasses, the things that must be heard. Soul, funk, Philly, reggae, hiphop of course, disco, house, techno.
On their newest, eighth album "Rising Down" - the title again filched from a political tract; drummer ?uestlove has said, incredibly, that the record is their most ''incendiary'' and ''political'' yet - it's an unapologetic, American-election-year fight for rights and justice in high volume the whole way. There was a sweet little ditty on it with the white singer from Fall Out Boy but they removed it because it didn't fit.
"I Will Not Apologise" - with floating members Dice Raw and Porn joining Black Thought and Talib Kweli on the mic - is the blueprint. Cosmic blackness, the newest danger, heavy shit, the real deal. The sample is from Fela Kuti, a sign in itself. It makes the intro sound like ''Christiansands'' by Tricky. What a load. What a sonic weight.

Check it: "...don’t blame the nigga/ blame America/ it's all business/actin' like a monkey is the only way to sell tickets/ shit, I can dig it/ niggas gossip silly digits white kids buy it its a riot/ when we talking about pimpin' or sippin on old English brew or whatever they think we do/ spraying double Uzis cause you know they think we live in zoos...''

the roots i will not apologise (mp3)

Then Erykah Badu joins the campaign. This a long journey from "Baduism" and all that light, night-light, tranquil blended nu-soul business. What she's done now is simple: she's made the boldest and most strident American hiphop record -- and the most deeply, deeply political -- since the one where Mos Def played heavy metal to get his point across.
"New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)" is ridiculous in its intensity. In part it's a paean to dead beloved producer J-Dilla; there's a handful of songs that use his premature end and the talent he held in his hands as a metaphor for the death of yet another young black American dream. One track, written with ?uestlove from The Roots, called "Telephone", is a kind of bizarre dreamscape conversation between Ol' Dirty Bastard, J Dilla's mother and Badu's own sense of the afterlife.
Producers are Madlib, Ninth Wonder and Sa-Ra. Georgia Anne Muldorow guests and even co-writes.
Badu is out on her own here. This is space rock gone hiphop gone desperate and combative. Apparently she'll drop a sequel before the end of the year. I've included the album opener "Amerykahn Promise" here not because it's representative but because it's totally the shit, the funkiest sister-dance since 'A Message From The Soul Sisters Part 1 & 2' by Vickie Anderson, and twice as orchestral. 'The Healer', however, is where she's at. Redemptive, dark, searching, hopeful, down, still strong, never weakened.

If somehow still unconvinced, somehow, read this. Or just cut straight to the New York Times, who also took an amazing photograph.

erykah badu amerykahn promise (mp3)
erykah badu the healer (mp3)

And finally, the pairing, from 1999. The birth of neo-soul. Real gone golden days.

the roots featuring erykah badu you got me (mp3) 

Monday, May 5, 2008

swedes, norweigans and tom of finland

The dark European forces make detailed, mechanical pop-tech with animal action and angels floating past your face and, in the case of Supermayer's component-overhaul of Hot Chip, a little bit of "You Sexy Thing" by Hot Chocolate.

One of these is brand new and the other isn't particularly, and newness is the ultimate currency within the tyranny of the 12", and I used to be a total slave to all that yet now you could say things move a little slower towards me - even with Beatport and Frostwire - so here is Norweigan producer Todd Terje dressing up like some kind of Tom of Finland guy come to life in a cold place in a hot sweatshop tech-house party. He revitalises a Swedish electro-pop tune by Fox 'N' Wolf into a dark exercise in technological, ecstasy-ridden pop with wolf noises and an air of nocturnal terror and cathartic druggy redemption.
It's superb, and about two minutes in it threatens to dub itself to such an extent that it turns in on its maker, crumbling and disappearing right there in the mix, a Jamaican-Norweigan version of what it feels like to be lost in a dance. Later it breaks down to nothing and what emerges is remarkable: an old-skool hip-house verse in a Neneh Cherry stylee.
The vocal is a pure house music blueprint in that it's distant and alien and clearly from somewhere else other than the experience at hand yet it implores the music forward. She's an angel in distress at this point; a crying angel, that picture all dreamy and shimmered transposed on the rafters of the club, wailing at you, beckoning at you, and then she is gone.

Likewise Supermayer's compulsive remix of Hot Chip's "One Pure Thought." Supermayer know what they're doing, no doubt; the Cologne pairing of DJ/producers Michael Mayer and his mate Aksel Schlaufer from Superpitcher - part of the Kompact management team, minimal freaks, micro-house pioneers and, now, deep techno explorers - construct a beautifully morphing series of sections on the remix here; this is pretty much the perfect example of microscopic shifts in texture and tempo and detail adding up to a whole lot more than what was initially promised. "One Pure Thought" never breaks down as such. It merely evolves through a slippery hi-hat addition, a distorted funk guitar note or, even, a chord, a bare sequence of single chimes. In these realms one single note from a thirty year old guitar riff can make the whole thing shift seismically on its axis.
The vocal, again female, is solitary and repetitive: ''...there is nothing greater...''

fox 'n' wolf claws against knives (todd terje rmx) (mp3)
hot chip one pure thought (supermayer rmx) (mp3)