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Live from Movement/DEMF: Day Three

Posted by SP on June 1, 2010

Day three began with lighting and thunder.  Storms worked their way across the state in the early part of the afternoon and it rained throughout the day.  Far from ruining the festival though, the rain brought cloud cover and cooler breezes that washed away a lot of the previous two days’ pressure and aggressive energy.  We started late and got there just in time to see the end of Francesco Tristano’s set:

Tristano is from Luxembourg. I hadn’t known his music before, but if I had I would have made sure to see the whole thing.  Beautiful stuff.  The reason we were there though was to catch the Moritz von Oswald Trio.  Mortiz is one half of Rhythm & Sound/ Basic Channel, the other half of which is Mark Ernestus. Ernestus had done the dub reggae set that I mentioned in the post on day one.  The Trio was joined by Carl Craig for the set and did an absolutely beautiful hour of minimal, layered, hypnotic music.  Probably this stuff is a little abstract for many, but it was absolutely beautiful while the clouds rolled by and gulls wheeled over the river on the gusts of wind that trailed in the wake of the morning’s storms.  The set was interrupted by a power outage for about five minutes, but it was still lovely:

After starting the morning off with art it was time to go to a party, so it was over to the Beatport stage to hear French berserkers dOP.  Where the trio had been mellow and artistic, dOP were all out throwing down.  They had the crowd up on the stage with them, were drinking, pulling up girls from the audience and dancing with them, and absolutely everybody was shaking it. The MC worked the crowd masterfully, and the music was truly off the chain: imagine techno dance beats combined with New Orleans-style party jazz instrumental components and you pretty much have the idea. Insane, but great fun:

Having learned our lesson about festival attrition on day two we took a dinner break away from the festival in more comfortable surroundings.  Then we returned for the evening sets.

I had wanted to catch at least some of the set by German duo Booka Shade

but it was absolutely packed and for good reason.  What we did see was an excellent performance.  It was too hot though, too packed, and too full of drunks so we went to the Movement Torino stage to check out Italian Mauro Picotto instead:

Picotto’s skills as a DJ are excellent.  Everything that was missing from the day two sets he brought in spades.  His set was very up-tempo, well paced, well managed and kept the crowd on the floor.  That’s harder to do than it sounds, as I learned this weekend rather graphically, so it was a real pleasure to see someone getting it right.

The big draw of the evening was Model 500, brainchild of Detroit techno originator Juan Atkins.  I’d never seen Atkins before and was expecting something good but fairly ordinary in terms of presentation.  Most DJs don’t really incorporate much of a visual effect outside of (usually dispensable) graphics projected on a screen behind them–if even that.  Atkins was a whole other thing.  The set started with as much smoke as I’ve ever seen at any rock show, and when it cleared the Model 500 guys were standing there in Star Trek-looking outfits.  In addition to classic tracks like future (see below), he played some newer tracks with a vocalist and one with a rapper (Nick Speed).  These were not as impressive as you might think however, and came off as being somewhat experimental.  That said, it was an interesting set, if for no other reason than to get to hear stuff like this echoing off the buildings on Jefferson Avenue:

The experimental nature of Atkins set made it somewhat wearing, so we wandered around a bit to see the last acts at the other stages and wound up closing the festival at German Chris Liebing’s set.  It was a really good set, a lot like Picotto’s but more dub-influenced.  Liebing ended the last track by pitch-shifting the last note of the last track into a long, horrific bass note that felt like it was microwaving your kidneys.  It was one of those things you either love or don’t.  I think I was the only one in the ‘don’t’ column in my group, but hey, it was still a pretty good set:

That was DEMF 2010.  Day three made up for the shortcomings of days one and two, but to be fair the heat was a factor and I forgot my age those first two days.  What I will say is that I left the festival very impressed by the diversity of the music and the artistry of the people making it.  A lot of people write electronic music off as something that any talentless hack with a laptop can do, but that just ain’t so.  The only way you’re really going to know that though is if you see it done well, live, with a real human crowd. It’s a lot like jazz that way. There’s something like a quantum effect that happens in these shows, where the observations of the audience change what happens on stage, and what’s on stage produces a reciprocal effect in the audience.  When it comes off it is a beautiful thing.  And the music is beautiful in its own right too. It takes real skill to do this stuff, and if you listen with trained ears, know your way around the rhythmic ancestors of this music in Africa, Brazil and the Caribbean, and keep an open mind about it, you can be richly rewarded for your troubles.

Just stay hydrated.  And if you’re a guy, please keep your pants on for the duration of the performances.  Please.  That is all.

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Live from Movement/DEMF: Day One

Posted by SP on May 30, 2010

Author: Shawn Wilson	This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic license.Geography has its advantages.  In my case one such advantage is a location that makes it relatively painless to go to Movement/Detroit Electronic Music Festival.  This year just for the hell of it I thought I’d write little notes about each day, since I’ll be at the festival all weekend.  As usual for my posts I’ll skip all the (usually) obligatory prose about how awesome Detroit (truly) is, and how this festival is (or was) the beating heart of everything techno, and how bad its current promoter sucks/doesn’t understand the music/etc.. There are plenty of places to find that stuff online. If you’re into this music at all you have your own opinions about that, and I’m not going to gainsay them here.  I’m just going to tell you how it’s going for me.  Here’s the post for today: Saturday.

Got there right as things started today. I had very much been looking forward to a performance by local Patrice Scott, despite the fact that that it was scheduled to be in the notoriously bad “Made in Detroit” Stage.  (For those who don’t know, “Made in Detroit” is a local clothing label that specializes in selling T-shirts pimping Detroit to white kids from affluent suburbs who like to claim Detroit street cred but who only come to town for concerts and sporting events.  It’s okay.  Detroit loves– and desperately needs– the money that all this fake love generates, so don’t hate on ’em.) Anyway, the stage lived up to its reputation and was acoustically awful.  It was like listening to dance music with a tin washtub over your head in an empty pool somewhere deep within a network of caves.  Scott, being the day’s first act, spent the first 20 minutes of his set struggling heroically against the technical limitations of this abominable space.  Whether he succeeded or not I cannot say, as I gave up on psychically willing him to transform the laws of physics in a way that would make the set sound good.  This isn’t his fault though.  Scott is a great artist and DJ in the tried and true Detroit style of techno music, in witness of which I give you this:

Life moves on and I did too, up to the main stage where German legend Mark Ernestus of “Rhythm and Sound” and “Basic Channel” fame was starting a three hour set of dub reggae. This was unbelievably good.  It was a beautiful, warm day, the sun was shining in a bright blue sky such as is seldom seen in this part of North America, and the music was a perfect fit.  Unlike the previous stage, the sound here was perfect, allowing the strategically placed listener to be inside each song.  And I do mean “inside”.  Dub has a lot of space in it, musically and technically speaking, and vintage dub 45s played over a huge, perfectly balanced system make it possible for you to hear everything in this beautiful and deceptively complex music.

Spent a *lot* of time at this one, then wandered around and checked the other stages.  These were somewhat disappointing on the talent front, so we wandered back and watched Ernestus close his set out.  So far my rating on the festival would have been mixed.  Bad sound holding locals back, good sound doing little for acts that were only okay, and only one bright spot in Ernestus’ set.  The crowd vibe too wasn’t that great, as this year seemed to be invaded by frat-boy types, gangsta wannabes, and woo-girls in various stages of scandalous costume.  Last year seemed a lot more balanced with older people and “heads” rounding out the crowd and making it more mellow and fun to be a part of.  I broke for dinner seriously thinking about not coming back, and I wouldn’t have had it not been for the fact that Theo Parrish was headlining at the aforementioned Made in Detroit stage.  My hope was that the techs would have it together by then, so I could see some of this:

Not only was I not let down, I was floored.  Parrish did an amazing set of dance music in much the style you see in the video here, keeping the crowd moving and keeping the heads entertained and engaged too with more than just a little abstraction.  Theo Parrish is known for his creativity as a DJ as well as his creativity  as a maker of his own records, and he was “on” in both respects tonight.  The crowd was great too, as heads and locals pretty much owned the area with old-school dance offs, goodwill, and just plain appreciation for what Parrish was doing. There are easier ways to move your booty at DEMF, and most of the tourists found those ways. The rest, in true Detroit fashion, took the worst stage of the festival over and turned it into the best place to be.

There is one additional thing worth mentioning about this festival for those who haven’t been to anything like it, and that is how down to earth everyone seems to be, from the artists to the crowds.  It’s not at all uncommon to go hear a set by one DJ and be standing next to another you heard play just a couple of hours ago.  Love for the music is what drives the whole thing.

So, overall I’m calling Day One of DEMF 2010 good.  Day Two looks promising as well. With people like New Zealand’s Recloose, Chicago pillar Larry Heard, Detroit’s Anthony “Shake” Shakir and personal all-time favorite Detroiter Derrick May, Mr. Scruff from the UK and Italy’s Psycatron all on the bill, Day Two promises to be the best kind of busy day.  Stay tuned!

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Grizzly Bear

Posted by David on April 18, 2010

The first few casual listen-throughs, I don’t think I really heard Grizzly Bear’s music. They are sort of an indie folk band, or something like that, so there are not a lot of attention-grabbing electric guitars, and their music has a lo-fi, reverby quality which gives it all a sort of distant and ethereal feel as well. As I kept listening to it, though, more and more tunes began to draw me in. Their songs develop in all sorts of lovely and varied ways; the melodies are enchanting and airy, and the rather un-folksy crescendoes cathartic. Harmonized vocals (all four members sing) are probably the band’s most distinctive musical feature, adding much feeling throughout. I’ve listened to and loved both their 2006 album Yellow House, and Veckatimest from 2009. Easily one of my favourite bands among the music I’ve heard in the past year. (They also, somewhat improbably, belong to the same label as the previously-mentioned Flying Lotus, Warp Records.)

The lovely harmonizing and cool progression in this song exemplify a lot of what I like about this band.

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The Presidents of the United States of America – The Presidents of the United States of America

Posted by David on April 8, 2010

The Presidents of the United States of America released their self-titled debut album in 1995 (that is fifteen years ago), and I heard various of the hit songs from it on and off from then until just recently, when I finally got around to acquiring the album itself. It is terribly, terribly fun: Infectious, upbeat rock (played, reportedly, on their signature “guitbass” and “basitar”), with lyrics about kitties, candy, strippers and various other things, ranging through puerile, adorable, playfully lewd and self-deprecating. The songs themselves are sharp, un-repetitive and catchy, with great, frenetic drumming and gnarly-sounding… guitbass, I guess. I think they were pretty well known, at least when this album came out, but having come across it now and thoroughly enjoyed all 38 minutes of it several times over, I feel compelled to recommend it.

One of the many, many songs in the world whose Weird Al parody was familiar to me long before I had ever heard the original.

I don’t know who else would write an entire song sincerely detailing how great peaches are.

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Flying Lotus – Los Angeles

Posted by David on February 17, 2010

Los Angeles is a 2008 album by up-and-coming electronic artist Steven Ellison, a.k.a. Flying Lotus. The album is a string of hip-hoppish/trip-hoppish beats, accented with hazy-sounding synths and chopped-up little snatches of speech and singing. He conjures up an incredibly viscous sound: the heavy hits of the kick drums forever seem to be dragging just slightly, record needle noise runs thick over much of it, and the accompanying samples and melodies all have a slightly drunken, far-off feel to them. I suspect that combining this music with some kind of depressant might risk melting one’s face off. I was put off at first — it takes a little getting used to — but the longer I’ve played this and the louder I’ve played it, the further I have gotten into its deep, syrupy grooviness. Another cool act on the strange and magical roster of Warp Records.

Those are both a bit more upbeat than much of the album, but they’re a couple of my favourites.

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Metal Dip, Extended

Posted by David on December 7, 2009

So I’ve been totally getting into this stuff, and wanted to share a couple more songs from other albums that have been on quite heavy rotation in the last couple of days:

Baroness, while similar in genre to Mastodon, was apparently formed out of the members of a ‘punk/metal’ band, and the punky origins show through in their vocals, and maybe the guitar as well. They have a very cool sound, and I’ve been loving this:

I’ve also been listening to Mastodon’s 2009 album, Crack the Skye, a lot, and I’m probably at least as excited about it as Leviathan. My favourite (“The Last Baron”) appears to be too long for Youtube to handle, but this one is great too:

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A Dip into Metal

Posted by David on December 3, 2009

Metal is a meta-genre toward which I have always had mixed reactions. Some of it seems puerile and unimaginative; some of it is original and deliberately, even obtusely, complex. Some of its characteristic sounds strike me as quite inedible (e.g. some chord progressions, many vocals); others have the character of pure auditory candy (e.g. crunchy distortion), and others I’m not quite sure what to think about (e.g. machine-gun kick drums). Some of it seems simple and talentless, and some of it seems to be among the most technically demanding music ever conceived. The whole genre is suffused with this inexhaustible love for lavish imagery and album concepts, with some branches straying regularly into unbelievable levels of campiness (e.g., the Christmas-obsessed Trans-Siberian Orchestra, or the entire Lord of the Rings-themed Blind Guardian album) — but there is something uniquely endearing about this penchant for visual and thematic hyper-indulgence as well.

I’m sure a lot of this variation in my opinions can be attributed to the variation among the many styles of metal, which are numerous enough that I have not begun to be able to differentiate them. I’m also sure that, as with almost everything people get into, a great deal of the enjoyment is to be found in relatively minor nuances of contrast between artists and songs — nuances that are only detectable to someone who’s already intimately familiar with the genre, for whom it no longer sounds like a wall of alien noise. This suspicion has motivated me on a couple of attempts to listen to and get familiar with metal, with varying success. While not deliberately trekking at present, I’ve recently come across the following couple of albums quite at random, and despite persistent patches of ambivalence have also liked a lot of things about them:

Mastodon – Leviathan:

Wikipedia tells me that Mastodon is a heavy metal band and that their genres are ‘progressive metal’ and ‘sludge metal’. My copy of the album, for what it’s worth, has them tagged as ‘Progressive Deathcore’. Leviathan seems to have a strong Moby Dick theme (one song is, indeed, titled “I Am Ahab”). As general concepts for albums go, the names of giant beasts and mythical creatures totally do it for me without me, you know, having to feel silly about it. (I mean, check this shit out — in fact, all of their albums appear to have similarly gorgeous, evocative art by one Paul Romano.) On top of plenty of quality, aggressive gnarliness, there is lots of interesting variation and progression on the album, as well as some cool harmonies of a sort I’d love to hear more of (see the awesomely thunderous ending of the song below:)

Gojira – The Way of All Flesh

Gojira is a ‘progressive death metal band’ whose genres apparently include death metal, thrash metal, progressive metal and groove metal. There are lots of awesomely chunky guitar riffs, complex rhythms, and insanely rapid drumming throughout. According, again, to Wikipedia, “Gojira uses its lyrics to spread its spiritual beliefs and concerns for the environment”. Huh! Well, I’ll have to take your word for it, Wikipedia. I think I had assumed the screamed inaudibility of many metal lyrics to be a sort of deliberate act of mercy before, but I will try to actually pay attention.

I’m particularly enamoured of this one:


Onward on the project of expanding musical tastes! Onward!

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Jazzanova – In Between

Posted by David on November 10, 2009

Jazzanova_-_In_Between-frontThe more I listen to this album, the more impressed I am with it. It is some sort of hybrid creature of jazzy, r&b, downtempo and electronic dance influences, and it positively oozes with cool. It’s low-key but not at all boring or repetitive — deep bass hits and continually interesting percussion keep it groovily moving along. Synths, rappers, crooning soul singers and vocal samples keep trading places at center stage. The melodies strike me as sort of strange (maybe… austere?), in a very interesting way — perhaps because my exposure to r&b, soul and the like is minimal. The whole thing is very solid, with a couple of total standout tracks. Below: first, one that is probably most representative of the whole style, and second, one of said standout tracks.

There is another album of these guys’ that I also adore, and a new one that I’m digesting, but I’m so enthused that I have to do posts on individual albums.

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Holy Fuck

Posted by David on October 31, 2009

Holy Fuck LPHoly Fuck is a pleasantly unique electronic band from Toronto. Their shtick, apparently, is to play every last thing live instead of letting pre-programmed tracks do the work during shows. That’s pretty cool, and probably makes for a great show. I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing them yet, so this is largely immaterial to me — synthesizers sound like synthesizers regardless of when you record yourself playing them — except that their drumming is clearly done on a real live drum set, by a talented drummer, and so is wonderfully without the staleness that afflicts most drum machines. The drums provide a perfect backbone to some intense and lively music.

I’m finding their first, self-titled album a bit murkier and less engaging — I can imagine loving to see these songs put together from scratch at a show, but as just a stream of audio I don’t find them consistently interesting. Conversely, their second one, LP, is snappier and catchier and I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit. Behold, a couple of the best songs from the latter:

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José González

Posted by David on October 29, 2009

José GonzálezJosé González is a Swedish singer-songwriter who makes guy-singing-while-playing-a-guitar music. I thought I’d tired of this particular genre a little while ago, having overdosed a bit on Iron & Wine and Nick Drake and others, but this guy unexpectedly quite got to me. There’s more of a driving, energetic quality to his tunes, rather than being predictably folksy-countryish. He has a cool voice which gives it all a sort of airy, wise tone. I was particularly drawn in by his style when I heard his cover of Massive Attack’s already excellent “Teardrop”. He stays playing pretty much the same simple melody the entire time, but the way the one interval is played gets more and more intense in sound as it progresses — a little like “Boléro”, I guess. Well, just listen to it, and feel free to enjoy the trippy music video while you’re at it. And another good one is “Killing for Love” (embedding disabled on both, apologies).

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