Sunday, November 23, 2014

Vapourspace speaks

M. Matos has posted a very entertaining and rather unexpected interview with Mark Gage (Vapourspace) on Red Bull Music Academy.  The music press has been chock full of 20th/25th/30th anniversary articles over the past calendar year, but the 20th anniversary of the 1993 See The Lights tour seemed to pass without much commemoration.  I discovered Jim Poe's insider account of the tour only now, thanks to the links provided in Matos' article.

The Toronto gig without a doubt changed my life because it cemented me as a techno fan for life, mostly thanks to a transcendent live set from Orbital (who I only knew from "Chime" at that point).  Aphex Twin's set was baffling but certainly eye-opening, and Moby's was all spectacle but it hardly mattered to anybody.  Everybody knew that it was mostly a DAT show but he had a gift for connecting with the live crowds and whipping them up into a frenzy with an intensity that was off the charts.  Moby jumped into the crowd a bunch of times and I joined with countless others in grabbing him in a giant crowdsurfing bear hug.  I'm mostly on Moby's side in the infamous DAT or not to DAT flamewar -- there's room for all types of performances in techno, rock, or any other genre.  The Hartnoll brothers were pioneering the idea of the portable live studio at the same time as Moby was trying to find the meeting point between the excitement of live techno and the savvy cool factor of rock and roll.  It can all work if done right.

It's important to note that the default type of "live" performance in techno clubs was most certainly DAT-based, if not entirely prerecorded.  When there was a backlash, the promoters started putting "live PA" on the flyers to cover their asses against the charges of shows not being performed live.  But make no mistake, the standard performance of the time was three or four songs on playback with absolutely nothing plugged in, including keyboards and microphones.  See The Lights definitely accelerated the shift from live techno as a spectacle at 3 AM at a rave, to a genuine live performance in a standard concert hall.  So it's not correct to portray Moby as some kind of huckster who was betraying the fans and cheating them out of a "proper" live show.

True story: I had the money to spend on a ticket to the See The Lights tour because Suede had cancelled their planned 2nd North American tour leg due to exhaustion.

Seeing as Vapourspace opened every night on the tour, "Gravitational Arch of 10" was the first techno song I ever heard played live.  It really was a track that united everybody in the days before the scene fractured into a million little pieces.  It pleased the trance, house, and techno fans.  It's still an undisputed classic that seems to get more classic with time.  Reading the interview, I can't believe I never heard the Front 242 influence in the bassline, it really couldn't be more obvious.   Wouldn't we all love to hear the long lost super extended version if Gage can ever remember where he left it?  Finally, it's cool to hear him talk so frankly about how breezily he recorded it (live, in one take) and how he knew almost immediately that he'd never be able to top it no matter how hard he tried.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Music in Berlin 2014

This year's entertainment was nearly identical to last year's -- no techno clubs, but there was salsa, a stack of new CD's from Spacehall, and a Depeche Mode memento.

Landing on the date of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (an unintentionally well-timed bit of travel planning), I half-heartedly considered making an afternoon visit to the Berghain to catch the remnants of Saturday night's mindblowingly sick lineup.  Some semblance of level-headedness prevailed though, and I decided to join the huge crowds at the balloon ceremonies near the East Side Gallery.  The crowds extended as far as the eye could see, and this was but one location out of many spread throughout the city.  There was no music however, and as far as I know, only the Brandenburg Gate ceremony featured any live performances.  I caught Peter Gabriel's stately but forgettable performance of "Heroes" on TV before I went out (Bowie had something better to do??) and word is that security stopped letting people into the area around the Brandenburg Gate before the official ceremonies even started, so I wouldn't have had the time to get down there to hear Barenboim conduct the final movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony anyhow.

A visit to Spacehall on Zossener Strasse in Kreuzberg was essential as always.  Shopping there was a somewhat painful experience because I was suffering from a second hand smoke hangover from the bar hopping the night before in Friedrichshain.  How much time would I have spent there if I wasn't feeling so shitty?

At a Media Markt I picked up the 5CD box of Depeche Mode's "Live In Berlin", which to the best of my knowledge was not supposed to be released until the following week.  Was there a Berlin-only early release date?  My first impression is that the filming of the concert itself isn't in the same league, visually or creatively, as Corbijn's "One Night In Paris".  It feels like it could have been shot by almost anybody, many of Corbijn's typical touches (long shots focused on a single band member, close attention paid to body movements, playing of instruments, or interactions between the musicians on stage) weren't immediately evident.

The week ended with a Saturday night at the Havanna Club, which might be the salsa club of my dreams.  There was a healthy mix of people of all ages dancing to salsa on the main floor, but that's just one dance party out of four you can find at this place!  In addition to salsa, they have reggaeton upstairs, and two dancefloors of contemporary pop and 80's music downstairs.  The salsa crowd was the first to arrive, but by 2 AM the downstairs parties were hitting their stride.  As someone who likes the atmosphere of a salsa party but doesn't usually join in the dancing, I approve of the variety of dance scenes all mashed together under one roof.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Billboard Top 40 (1982)

A Facebook thread of awe and ridicule in equal measured turned into the most fun I've had on memory lane in a while.

Here is a playlist of the Billboard Top 40 songs from 32 years ago this week.

I think that most people without any recollection of 1982 (anyone younger than me, more or less) won't recognize hardly any of these videos.  It's right on the edge between the era of videos as previews to get you excited for buying the album, and videos as Hollywood min-movies and cultural touchstones in their own right.  Once 1983 rolled around, videos were about beautiful people racing through exotic locales and intricately choreographed dance performances, which helped submerge the careers of the less telegenic, hone their chops in the studio bands (e.g. Toto, America, Alan Parsons Project, Supertramp).

This also happened to be right around the time that I first developed a concept of what it meant to be a music fan.  At first you just absorb the music you hear in the environment around you, and eventually you develop a filter and find ways to seek out and buy the stuff you really like.  That means I have vivid memories about some of these songs even though I didn't particularly like them.  Examples: Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes, "Up Where We Belong" (ughhhh) and Men at Work, "Who Can It Be Now?" (I could go through life very well without hearing a Men At Work song ever again).

Here you'll find campy classics ("Gloria"), campy classics that have somehow gotten better with time ("Eye in the Sky"), and Olivia Newton-John's "Heart Attack", which I (and most of humanity) haven't heard in thirty years.  Every music fan needs to experience the humbling, where has the time gone feeling of hearing a hit song for the first time in decades.  I'd forgotten about the completely out of place sax solo in the song's final seconds, the strange "Poltergeist"-like FX, and the ... giant dried condoms hanging from the ceiling of ONJ's bedroom.

My favourite song in this chart is easily Fleetwood Mac's "Gypsy".  Stevie dancing in front of the mirror (swoon), the 20's dance scene, the pixie dust jam session on the cliff tops, everything about the song and video is mesmerizing even thirty years later.  And it was supposedly the most expensive video ever made until "Thriller" (although I cannot find a reliable source for this).  Why don't people ever mention "Gypsy" as one of the best videos of the 80's?  Because they should.

The video comes off almost like a Stevie Nicks solo project, as the rest of the band is relegated to supporting characters in what for me will always be Stevie's signature FM song (sorry "Dreams", and "Sara", take a back seat).  It wasn't the first single from "Mirage", that was "Hold Me", which makes sense because it does sound a lot more like a "Fleetwood Mac are back and making commercial pop!" single than "Gypsy".  But Stevie was coming off the huge success of her solo album and easily had the star power to justify her "own" obscenely expensive signature video.