Friday, March 30, 2012

Music in Berlin and Hamburg, March 2012

-- I considered going clubbing on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg last Friday (Ewan Pearson was the headlining DJ at Baalsaal) but I needed to check out of my hotel the next morning and didn't want to be dead on my feet for the entire day.  My "threshold" for hitting the clubs is a lot higher than it used to be.  This just in: you can get into a lot of trouble on the Reeperbahn.

-- Almost every time I wanted to hear a song and searched for it on Youtube, I got a "GEMA has blocked this content in your country" message, or something to that effect.  Unless a song is hosted through VEVO, it was blocked, so I had to search out a live version if I wanted to hear something (which isn't so hard, of course).  Streaming restrictions must be tough in Germany, I don't think I'd noticed this before. 

--We joked about going to Berghain on Saturday night.  This was a joke because nobody seriously wanted to head down to Berghain in the middle of the night only to be rejected at the door for the n'th time.  The lineup featured, among others, Fiedel, Luke Slater and DJ Pete. We were slightly more serious about going there on Sunday morning or afternoon instead, but didn't.  The Sunday lineup featured Boris and Joy Orbison.  Yes, we've basically reached the point where Berghain's Sunday lineup for the stragglers and supernarcs is better than any other club's Friday or Saturday night lineup.  Berghain completely dominates the Berlin club scene these days.

--  There are so many clubs and parties in Berlin that I didn't even find out about this one until I'd already missed it -- the Emptyset record release party at Horst Kreuzberg featuring Emptyset and possibly my favourite DJ's at the moment (based on their podcasts), Ancient Methods.  Even though I was dead on my feet on Saturday night and was in no shape for clubbing, I still felt that I blew it by not going.

-- I went a bit crazy with CD shopping, dropping money on stuff without bothering to listen to it, buying stuff unheard from artists I like, etc.  Most of the damage was done at Spacehall.  I checked out Real Deal (a really cool punk/metal/hardcore shop) although I didn't buy anything there, and went back to Hard Wax for the first time in almost nine years.  By the time I got to Neurotitian I was too exhausted to sample the anonymous local experimental/noise CD's that I usually buy when I'm there.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Charlatans, Ride, and the 20th anniversary editions that never happened

Sometimes you read an article that seems as though it was written especially for you.  John Bergstrom's recent review/reminiscence of long neglected Ride and Charlatans UK albums from 1992 is one of them.

There's a really, REALLY narrow generation of music fans who a) got swept up in the 2nd wave of shoegaze and Madchester bands, and b) kept listening to those bands when they weren't the hot new thing anymore.  I was one of those people.  I listened to the Charlatans' "Between 10th and 11th" constantly in 1992, either that or the Orb's "U.F Orb" were my most listened to albums of that year.  I knew it was an imperfect, somewhat streaky (perhaps even Verve-y) album, and probably* not as good as their debut.  I loved it anyway, it was my "go to" album of the year, appropriate for any mood, any occasion.   Most people thought it was just another band going through their sophomore slump on the way down to one hit wonder oblivion.  The fact that The Charlatans recovered their reputation and became the last band standing from their era, with the #1 UK albums to boot, was pretty remarkable.   

I didn't have a job and basically had to beg my parents to let me spend the money on going to their concert in April of that year, the only time I ever had to do that.

Of course I overplayed "Between 10th and 11th" and when I discovered about a million new bands the next year (and had more disposable income for buying music) I very rarely even glanced at it for the next couple of years, and until just now, I hadn't heard most of these songs for well over a decade.  Every song, every word, every note, sounded so instantly familiar.  "Between 10th and 11th" might be a bit of a troublesome album, arguably the only Charlatans album where they didn't seem to know what kind of band they wanted to be.  But it still sounds inspired, and I still can hear exactly why I loved it in 1992.

Ride's "Going Blank Again" is a bit of a different story.  For me, this album never went away, and I still can't understand why anyone would prefer it to their debut.  "Nowhere" was a copycat album through and through, "Going Blank Again" was an original.  Witness "Leave Them All Behind" -- shoegaze meets the Who and the Beach Boys, rocking out for eight unstoppable minutes.  Which other bands were doing that?  But even though it had so many individually great tracks, "Going Black Again" always seemed like less than the sum of its parts.  I'd followed the Charlatans from their first single onward, but I hadn't heard much of Ride until this album (CFNY played the Charlatans all the time in those days, Ride only rarely) and didn't have an existing emotional attachment to them.

That's not the whole story though, because even though the album (and "Leave Them All Behind" to a greater extent) got a lot of praise at the time, nobody really talks about it anymore.  Bergstrom doesn't offer any ideas as to why that happened either, other than the obvious (i.e. the band broke up a couple of years later, shoegaze fell off most critics' radar, etc.), but none of those reasons have prevented songs and albums from attaining classic status before.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Modeselektor live at Block Club 15/03/2012

The first time I saw Modeselektor, it was at an event in Berlin and I did a lot more wandering than dancing -- wandering from room to room, to the outdoor patio next to the river, stopping occasionally to see who was performing.  Most of the people at the party were nomadic as me, and only a fraction were dancing at any one time.  And those that were dancing on the sparsely populated dance floor were pretty freaky by typical techno party standards, even for Berlin (although most of them made their appearances after Modeselektor's set).  I only had a passing familiarity with Modeselektor at the time, and wasn't paying very close attention to their set, although they definitely made an impression ...

[...which I remember as a good, but inconsistent impression.  Or at least that's how it plays out in my mind.  I was surprised to check what I wrote about them at the time, and it certainly wasn't positive.  And I had no recollection of anyone else who played that night.  Memory is a funny thing ...]

The second time I saw Modeselektor, they played in a proper concert venue, i.e. a venue not suited for dancing and/or club acts, although the show itself was quite good.

The third time I saw Modeselektor, I finally saw them as they are meant to be seen -- in a packed dance club.  Yarin Lidor played one of the best warm-up sets I've ever heard, something very close to Modeselektor's own DJ sets, where reggae, funky and bruising techno rub shoulders for hours on end.  By the time he wrapped up and Modeselektor were ready to hit the stage, it was 3:30 AM and the crowd was rabid.

It had been a while since I was at a show this packed, where you had a fight and claw to hold your place on the dancefloor.  Modeselektor, with their dazzling video screens and their champagne baths, certainly know how to throw a party.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Diary of Musical Thoughts Podcast Episode 8

"Gullible souls have noticed a correspondence in shape between certain mixes" - 52 minutes

Here's a useful link I discovered around the time I made the mix ... there's a bit of something for everyone in there, no matter what your level of professionalism and technical know-how.

For some reason I was listening to "Lemon Incest" and decided it would be a good song to start a mix with. From there, it developed into a semi-old school thing.  Every track, with the exception of Orphyx, is over fifteen years old.  The spirit of '90's electronica lives on ...

At the risk of revealing how the sausage was made (and therefore ruining the mix for you somewhat), I had to play a lot with tempos to make the mix work.  I had a preconceived idea in my head and wanted these particular tracks to fit together in this order, but in my head the tempos are always a lot more equal than in reality.  Still, I think things worked out fairly well in the end.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Dance music at the Grammys

This performance at the Grammys is somewhat old news, as is Philip Sherburne's fairly well-circulated take down (which has seemingly vanished from Spin's website and the entire internet, but here is a sample of what Sherburne wrote).  In case it disappears from those tumblr and other linking sites, I'll excerpt it again here:

There was David Guetta, flopping about like a Muppet behind the mixer, jabbing away at the controls in a pantomime of performance. What was all that flicking of the faders and tweaking of the knobs about? Why was he wearing his headphones over one ear, as though he were cueing up the next record? During the French superstar’s time onstage, only one song (‘I Can Only Imagine,’ from his Nothing But The Beat, which features Chris Brown and Lil Wayne in its album version) was played. Simply put, there were absolutely no services required of him that a DJ would traditionally provide. He might have tweaked a filter here or there or cut out the bass a time or two, but that was the extent of his interventions. (No matter what he’s doing with his hands, you never hear an appreciable change in the music or note any kind of cause/effect relationship.)

My rebuttal to that paragraph was written three months before the Grammys, in my review of the 2011 MTV EMA's:

David Guetta hits the stage to save the second hour of this show with Jessie J, Taio Cruz and Ludacris. I'm not sure exactly what Guetta is doing back there. He's sporting a pair of headphones (which probably aren't plugged in because he never uses them), pretends to tweak dials, and holds his hands in the air. But the laser light show is amazing, the songs are too, and the guest singers nailed their one minute each. Guys like Moby will be the first to tell you that DAT shows can rock too.  

I'm not exactly sure what Sherburne was expecting, especially since award show performances always favour spectacle and creative guest spots over musicianship.

I didn't mind that Grammys spot, sure, Deadmau5 and David Guetta weren't doing much of anything, but there were plenty of things going on (it certainly wasn't boring), and everybody was dancing (yes, they were on TV, but people do go out to dance to this type of music in real life).  There's a place for this kind of performance, and Sherburne certainly knows and respects that -- he wrote a feature on the most recent rise of dance music and DJ Culture in North America for Spin a few months ago.  

I hardly ever disagree with Sherburne, but I disagreed with him here.  Unfortunately, I have to try to recall his full argument from memory.  He wasn't objecting to the idea that people like listening to Skillrex rather than dancing at Berghain until 7AM on Monday morning.  It was not a "people prefer megastar X to semi-underground phenomenon Y" type of plea for authenticity.  No, IIRC, he was upset that far too many people will see the Grammys and think that "dance music" means this and only this, and it will never occur to them that it can also mean dancing to booming techno all night at Berghain.

To this, I still say "so what"?  Plenty of people believe that rock music means KISS -- makeup, fireworks, and sex parties.   Scenes blow up and it just creates more room for every kind of taste, and eventually those subgroups will themselves become so big that they'll never interact or even acknowledge the existence of the other.

Besides that -- and this is something that is woefully under-reported -- the scene inhabited by Skillrex, Guetta et al is far more inclusive and accessible.  One of the reasons they're so huge is because they're happy to slot themselves into the music industry's regular marketing model, where anyone can invest the time and money into buying their music, going to their shows, and watching their videos on the internet.  It's what every exec dreamed would happen when Prodigy and Chemical Brothers were hitting it big in 1997.  On the other hand, it is nearly impossible to gain admission to Berghain.  The number of people who try to get in every weekend is far higher than the number of people they can admit, but when all is said and done, most people don't get in and they can't go home and download the experience later on.  David Guetta's world is a world of hearing your favourite three minute song on the radio, the Berghain world is one where you need to invest six hours to get a taste of what it's about and you'll never find out the name of most of the songs you heard.