Saturday, January 31, 2004
Basement Jaxx live were fantastic as per, though I think I took it to the limit by seeing them twice after having already seen them three times in the past - by the second time especially, familiarity with their live schtick had reduced the experience from mindblowing to merely satisfying, though it was great (in that "what the fuck" sense) to hear them drop an 8-bar at one point, and both their thumping 50 Cent/White Stripes bootleg and their transformation of "Living Room" into a celebratory house number (imagine a cheekier younger sister to "Do Your Thing") were inspired. What their new live set is perhaps slightly low on is total groove freak-out: for their Rooty tour they riffed on "Fly Life" for ages, creating a gloriously endless acid rainstorm, and before that for Remedy I remember the noisy sections of "Don't Give Up" being transformed into an epic of existential crisis and disorientation (beaten in my recollections only by Isolee somehow managing to wander into an astonishing half an hour detour of dubbed out acid house halfway through "Beau Mot Plage"). This time around they did this heavy metal guitar/house beat hybrid thingy that was lotsa fun but lost points for Armand Van Helden-ish obviousness, and it was representative of the slight over-emphasis on live musicianship (the drummer was great but he inevitably fell short of the clipped neurosis dance technicians like the Jaxx can program almost without thinking, and Simon spent what felt like half the set playing bass guitar) that for the first time tipped the delicate balance between electronic performance and cabaret show decisively towards the latter. Also, an hour and a half is just too short when you've got at least four albums' worth of back catalogue to play around with and a gazillion guest singers on permanent rotation. Still, these are minor quibbles - I've yet to come across any dance act (or in fact anyone period) who can put on a live show as exhilirating as these guys.

In terms of dance acts, the closest I've seen anyone come was Martini Bros at the beginning of last year, whose intimate performance at the proudly elitist Honkytonks bar was one of those secret treasures that singlehandedly makes the effort and toil (not to mention expense!) involved in devotedly following a single musical style all worth while. I paid $5 to go to a gig put on by an act hardly anyone has ever heard of, and it was one of the best I've experienced. Like the Jaxx, what the Martini Bros have mastered is the ability to combine incredible sounding dance music in a live setting with the sort of visual, charismatic elements we usually associate with a rock performance, without feeling like they've had to compromise in favour of rock values at all. That said, the duo really do steal most of their moves from rock, coming out in white jumpsuits that were part Elvis, part space suit, part lab technician (which neatly combines their tripartite status as scientists/explorers/performers), intermittently strapping on and playing electric guitars which might as well have had neon signs stating "I am a phallic signifier" on them, running around the tiny performance space making rock poses and snogging eachother like totally unselfconscious embodiments of Todd Haynes glam rock fantasies.

What made such antics justifiable in the context of a dance music performance was the degree of science which the duo still brought to the (mixing) table: guitar solos were interrupted by (or interrupted) seemingly randomly generated soupy glitch house grooves, shimmering electro riffs and their very own Isolee-patented twenty minute acid house interlude - fittingly, it came halfway through their signature tune "Flash - which had me feeling like either my heart or my ears would explode. Certainly I neither stopped dancing at any stage throughout their performance (another great thing about obscure acts: there's space to actually dance properly!), and this is where I think such well executed entertaining dance music performances really have the edge: you feel like all of your senses are being engaged and engorged with sensations.

What the performance demonstrated with considerable flair was the expansiveness of the duo's approach, which I don't think can be described as mere "eclecticism". Eclecticism always implies a certain weak-minded pluralism to me, a host of superficial genre dabblings orbiting around an absent core. Such binaries as exist within the Martini Bros' music (and they exist only to be collapsed) are themselves the core of the duo's art. Particularly, this disco/punk (or disco-punk) indecisiveness sets them up as the dance-music inverse of the DFA. Whereas the DFA provide dance-friendly grooves for otherwise clubfooted rock bands, the Martini Bros have a tendency to give rock makeovers to dance acts - from their more-famous-than-the-original garage drone remix of Tok Tok vs Soffy O's "Missy Queen's Gonna Die" (which they enthusiastically make their own in their live shows) to their transformation Grom's synth-pop track , into a meditative hum somewhere between Roxy Music circa "For Your Pleasure" and Spiritualized. On their "mix-cd" Cruising (it's more like a Back To Mine set, actually) they include this among a string of other recent tracks hovering on the borders between krautrock, electroclash, post-punk and other zone-out takes on rcok, including their own "Happiness", a floaty shoegazer number that actually reminds me of Kitchens of Distinction's "Gone World Gone".

Amazingly, after a year and a half of fandom, I only managed to come across their '02 album a couple of weeks ago, although by now pretty much all of it was familiar to me. Play is not, I think the definitive Martini Bros statement, although there's a surfeit of great material on there. The main problem I think is its track-compartmentalisation. Whereas their live show seemed to mix all their different styles and affectations into a kaleidoscopic swirl, Play's tricks are deployed sequentially, which makes the charge of eclecticism a lot less deniable. There's the luscious nueromantic number ("Boy/Girl"), some Perlon-style itty-bitty micro-funk ("Electric Monk", "Hot"), some deadpan electro ("The Biggest Fan", "Flash"), shoegazer ("Happiness"), glammy disco-punk ("Dance Like It Is O.K.") and even a few downtempo interludes. In its pan-genre sprawl the album reminds me strongly of Markus Nikolai's Back album (right down to the drained fey vocals), but whereas Nikolai's sprawl feels positively epic - not harmed by the presence of quite a few "solid core" tracks like "Backbeat" and "Superstar" - Play is, if not exactly stingy a la the Borneo & Sporenburg album, then nonetheless a bit inconsistent. What I really want are more tracks which seek to combine all of what makes this duo so compelling; tracks like "Boy/Girl" which you can really lose yourself in , such is the lush (almost overblown) expansiveness of their multi-accented grooves. Luckily the duo do have a new album coming out this year, but while first single "Love The Machine" bodes well with its hard jacking disco pulse, it remains to be seen if they can craft an album that lives up to their delirious live show.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004
Oh my god this Eucalyptus thingy just keeps getting better. I'm up to Undo/Redo's "Zeitgleit" (classik Areal) and the whole feel of the mix reminds me of the Bjork robots from "All Is Full Of Love", only they're on poppers and dancing and they keep on subdividing into more and more dancing robots!

The relatively unknown-to-me (outside a couple of tracks) Sami Koivikko has a couple of microhouse mix mp3s up on his website. I've only downloaded Eucalyptus (tracklisting here) so far but it's ever so fantastic. Starts out with some quite nice moody dub-house and then moves into a succession of crackin' machine funk blinders that are easily equal to the best moments on Ricardo Villalobos's Taka Taka mix. The other mixes look tasty too, so go and start downloading! And then thank Mr. Sami for this wonderful public service!

Sunday, January 25, 2004
My grime round-up has become bogged down in... okay, just apathy really... but I will finish it soon I promise! In the meantime, more good stuff:

Kelis - Milkshake (Remix ft. Clipse)
This is like the very best moments on the otherwise-only-okay new Missy album ("Don't Be Cruel", "I'm Really Hot", "Fix My Weave") all fused together and then tied to a harpsichord falling out of a window for good measure. Plus I'm so psyched for the new Clipse album! (ta

Markus Guentner - Such A Shame (Remix)
Listened to this at the record store, and it's fab: Markus finds the perfect combination of his Kompakt and Ware styles (swirly sparkly ambience and chunky pop-flavoured tech-house, respectively) by releasing a beatless version of his female vox "Such A Shame" cover. The result is the tingliest, most luscious thing I've heard in ages, somewhere between Luomo's "The Visitor", Kaito and Aphex Twin's "Xtal". I may even break my "no full-priced 12" singles" rule for it.

Bounty Killer - Hey Yallow
Best version I've heard on the Marmalade Riddim, which is all squelchy and stringswept Indian drama as you'd expect. Bounty contributes a great anthemic chorus but I can't deny that maybe half my love for this is based on the way he squeals "female". Or is that "feemeeal!!"?

Ms. Dynamite - Put Him Out (JD Remix)
Belated discovery, this: JD pulls out his patented lurching bassline and dancehall-ish beats arrangement (not quite as great here as on Mis-Teeq's "Nitro" but better than on his remix of Jamelia's "Superstar" (though Jamelia herself is tops on that)) but the main attraction is that it's actually a rap track and has very little to do with the sanctimonious original! It makes me flash back to my near-obsessive Dynamit-e love back in late '01 when we all only knew her as the insane MC on "Boo" and So Solid's "They Don't Know (Remix)".

The Modernist - Kangmei (Parts 1 & 2)
Kangmei is one of a couple of late-entry albums (along with Monolake's Momentum and Captain Comatose's Going Out) which is keeping my '03 best-of list in a constant state of flux. The title track is my current fave at the mo' - Burger's trancey gridlock groove goes a bit mushy and soothing while gentle female vocals coo and murmur over the top. Reminds me of Bel Canto circa Shimmering Warm & Bright but dancier and, um, better. But when are we gonna get a Triola album, hm?

And finally, Jess's discussion of rhythmic complexity in current jungle are really interesting (and a bit mystifying for someone like me who only gets a couple of nu-dnb comps a year and only knows the big hits), although he seems to come to the same conclusion that I did: that it's not just complexity that counts when it comes to "rhythmic danger". As I said earlier, even 2-step tracks are not anathema to rhythmic danger (although their deadening familiarity certainly is). For what it's worth, the two best post-98 tracks I've heard in this regard are by Teebee: check "Space Age (Remix)" and "Black Rain" from Certificate 18's Hidden Rooms 03 compilation for some stunning groove work-outs - utterly compelling stuff.

Friday, January 09, 2004
It goes without saying that Reynolds' responding thoughts on rhythmic danger are essential reading. His concept of Zones of Fruitless Intensification is spot-on!

Sorry for quietness - big post on the way!

Wednesday, January 07, 2004
Interim Post: Stuff I'm Feelin'

1. Elephant Man - Can't Gwaan a JA
2. Skepta & Jammer ft. D.E.E. - Thuggish Ruggish
3. Ying Yang Twins - Ho Ho
4. Bravehearts - Quick to Back Down
5. Cobra - Don't Waste My Time
6. Terra Danjah ft. Shola Ama & D.E.E. - Contagious
7. Ward 21 - Style
8. Cam'ron - So Much Fire
9. Vybz Kartel - Middle It
10. The Jesus & Mary Chain - Just Like Honey (guess which film I just saw)

Friday, January 02, 2004
Loving Usher's "Yeah": those squealing rave-crunk synths from Lil' Jon's "Get Low" arranged into an eerie r&b jam pivoting around a magical flute sample (!) while Usher spreads his smoove vocals over the groove like honey. Lil Jon's presence, apart from the production, is limited to his ubiquitous shouts of "YEAH!", but this is as much his track as Usher's. Like Bonecrusher's remix of Sizzla's "Solid As A Rock", "Yeah" highlights crunk's appeals by setting them up againt a smoother and more traditional style, such that the crunk hovers malevolently around the edges of the song like an impending storm (I luv luv luv grime remixes of female r&b tunes for the same reason, but I'll talk more about that in a forthcoming Grime '03 round-up, assuming Luka Heronbone doesn't smash my face in first).

Actually maybe I'm just more generally into the increasingly pop-focused nature of crunk generally. I'll come clean and admit that I tend to find the harsher crunk a bit heavy going and just... unrelentingly shrill and blaring in a way I can appreciate but which buzzes unpleasantly in my ears. When I listen to the Banner album I prefer the mid-tempo tracks like "So Trill" or "Still Pimpin" to the all-out assault of "Might Getcha" or "What It Do" (though "Fuck 'Em" is of course fucking awesome). So it's great to hear Banner's "The Christmas Song" - possibly this year's second best christmas song after Elephant Man's "Badman Holiday" - all spectral crystalline synth runs and carollic choruses, this spooky record sounds simultaneously ancient and totally the new thing - a gorgeous soundclash of muck 'n' magic.


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