Tuesday, September 04, 2007

New Romantic Intuition

The muffled cacophony of rusting automatons and wind crammed into geometric confines was the closest approximation of silence Ash could expect. Through the venerable concrete and rebar overhead, across the whirring gulf between the prefab monoliths and far below, caked in layers of urban soot and beads of sweat, the city rumbled. Fourteen million nervous little romantic tragedies played out to the soundtrack of four generations worth of plastic-encased numeric conceptualism. From within Ash’s musty, one-thousand cubic-foot compartment, the city outside represented only a ritualistically-ignored synaptic static that leaked in uninvited through the balcony door.

Stationed on a dusty, upholstered seat, Ash surveyed and edited a lurching spread of dissociated images. The grating, hysteric thud of electronic music pounded forth and more than a few curt, diagnostic conversations occurred in a variety of media platforms. All the input writhed and clicked like a sprayed cockroach as Ash’s spindly fingers and hazel eyes flashed across the display. Like a mutated Theremin with iris scanners and voice activation, the gearbox on the chipboard desk danced with Ash more eloquently than any partner she’d known. Sizes, hues, contrast, focal points, volume and layout jumped at her whimsy with an eerie accuracy that got marginally more intuitive with every single action catalogued. The overall effect was synaesthesia-inducing.

The night was humid as a cave and Ash couldn’t have been tired if she wanted to. She’d been tossing around her nest since before the sun had risen the previous day, catnapping through the hottest parts of the afternoon. She recalled seeing the sun setting to a quicksilver display of reds, mauve, daylily orange and faint hints of green where clouds’ golden edges faded to sky blue. The sun was almost menacing in its subtle power, the silent key to all the earthly locks. The image had fought its way through her waking murk and pressed some button in her forebrain reminding her of her own warmth, obscured within the general heat of the city. Like two electrodes across a Jacob’s Ladder, she had been connected to that sun for a brief, groggy moment. Then the frizz of coffee and simmering pan of civilization below her had brought her back to her place – just a spark in a chemical inferno.

Now, in the dark, she fidgeted mercilessly against data. She compounded and interpolated information in search of an elusive detail. She sifted through every relevant article and video log she could conjure up out of the machine. She navigated all the perceptible degrees of separation from where her gut placed this detail. Her eyebrows cramped and her carpal tunnels protested in vain. In certain moments she lost the thread of hunches and was left with nothing but a series of unrelated text files and images which she grouped, compressed and labeled numerically – hopeless conglomerations of evidence. Like the boxes of parts for forgotten appliances that she saw at the pawn shops on the strip.

When she was a child, her mother had said Ash had a woman’s intuition. She remembered crying about the way an uncle had spoken to her in a conversation that occurred out of earshot with her parents. Several weeks later she woke to the sound of her father drunkenly threatening the uncle and subsequently shoving him out the door. The image of her father battering her uncle on the mucky front lawn buried itself in the murky bottom of her memory like a mosquito egg, only to bubble up years later, complete with bloodsucking stinger.

At a young age the concept of women having some special, almost mystical power had excited and behooved her. Now, her artificial carapace of vapidity, layered on by many too many curt social interactions, told her that the idea was a relic. Just a throwback to that brief, historical moment between oppression and integration, when the ideals of feminism spilled over into the realm of the philosophical. She hoped it was not so. Particularly in light of the fact that she was searching for something that she wasn’t sure even existed, and had no idea what relevance it might bear, were it to present itself. Women’s intuition or stress-induced insanity, she thought, tentatively opting for the former.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Last Frontier

Myspace is sunk. While certainly not a long-time subject of the thinly-veiled advertisement and demographic-research schemes known as ‘social networking utilities’, I can easily make that conclusion. It’s like a one-horse villa in there these days, complete with the digital tumbleweeds of automatically-generated friends and other such spam. While I’d like to remain indifferent as to which conglomeration facilitates my self-adulation, there is one glaring cultural setback buried within the transition of popularity from News Corp’s Myspace to Mark Zuckerberg’s ostensibly independent Facebook. Facebook doesn’t feature a utility for independent musicians, their proliferation or their promotion. While some features of the site vaguely mimic the ‘profile song’ concept, none truly approach the accessible, standardized style of ‘Myspace Music’. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t give a sweet fuck about Myspace’s market share. I’m simply interested in the questions raised by this simple, yet poignant difference.

Enter last.fm. For the uninitiated, this site is essentially an elaborated version of ‘gnod’ and the ‘music-map’ paired up with the online social-networking platform. Simplified, it automatically monitors your music listening patterns with a free, downloadable program via whichever music-player program you use, recommends you new music based on your tastes and pairs you up with other users of similar sonic alignment. So what?

Well, it dawned upon me that the highly viral, ironically organic nature of online musical popularity fostered by Myspace and its ilk made up no small part of the ‘indie’ (the concept, not the genre) boom we have witnessed since the turn of the millennium. That boom read doom for major music labels. Why buy $20 CDs of corporate kipple when you can catch the latest buzz from the Hypemachine? Again, enter last.fm.

While we’re happily listening away and getting samples of potential new-favorite-bands as well as buddies to gab with, last.fm might seem to be the logical surrogate mother for independent artists. But if the historical harnessing and bondage of Gutenberg’s printing press by jealous despots is any lesson, we should wonder what the agenda behind this technology’s proliferation might be.

If the developers of the site are to credited with any ingenuity or prophetic prowess, I’d guess that last.fm’s got some pretty sophisticated methods of graphing listeners versus all sorts of criteria – location, age, gender, time of day, whatever. I’d also extrapolate that they’ve got a good idea of which users are consistently listening to given artists shortly before they become popular. If I’m right about that, these ‘ahead-of-the-curve’ listeners – the music nerds – are essentially vehicles the site’s owners can use to determine the subtle patterns of the music biz without actually having to engage in the musical culture driving the popularity of the artists.

Break it down. By supplying entertaining services for free, social-networking websites are able to amass voluntarily-provided personal details about members of the public. Big, fat companies are desperate to find a way to keep making money off of music sales. It’s tough because it’s getting harder to cram manufactured icons down consumers’ throats. If only the companies could know which bands to invest in before they became popular…

Did I mention that CBS Interactive bought last.fm for $300 million dollars last month?

Call me paranoid. Jack.oatmon@gmail.com

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

An Unfashionable Truth

As a species, humans have fomented all manner of tragedy and frivolous blunder in the world around us. The inquisitive demeanor that has allowed us to progress to the nearly incomprehensible level of sophistication and convenience that we enjoy also seems to have doomed us to stick our curious fingers in every dirty hole we can find in the name of exploration. Like that monkey on Youtube that pees into his own mouth. And as we charge into what promises to be a tumultuous century it sometimes feels like we’re set to keep making the same thoughtless mistakes again and again, unable to resist the temptation to rehash any idiotic frivolity we can think of, just to make sure we’ve done it to death and flogged it for measure.

Yes, the return of the smoggy warmth of summer has exposed the re-emergence of one of our greatest failings as an intelligent race – the fanny pack. And that’s not all. The misguided emulation of numerous ill-advised 90’s trends is running rampant amongst the youth of our city. This doesn’t just stop at the baffling persistence of mesh-back foamers and camo shorts. No. This thing runs deep. As more and more university students decide it’s a good idea to ironically cultivate a mullet and wear big plastic chains around their necks, more and more of the poor souls who rock these lamentable steez in earnest feel justified in their heinous get-ups. Shoe-corporation t-shirts have never been baggier and jeans’ cuts have never featured lower rises.

I’m not just talking about ugly clothes here, either. What’s the difference between DJ Bubkiss still playing House of Pain on the late-night hits-mix radio that the taxi-drivers and falafel guys always seem to be listening to and some hype, young upstart rocking a ‘Jump Around’ mashup to a crowd of fanny pack-toting CEGEP students? At which point do things become little more than low-budget imitations of the trash they would ironically reference?

You know, there was a reason everybody got scared that the turn of the millennium would cause some nebulous technological disaster and lead to the early release of prisoners and disruption of the food supply. There was a reason film directors became preoccupied with producing visions of a world on the brink of Armageddon in the late nineties, whether it be by meteor or volcano or alien invasion. That reason was The Backstreet Boys. That reason was Limp Bizkit. That reason was the fanny pack. We’d lost all hope and when the millennium finally came and we didn’t get punished for the dreary culture of the nineties, we wanted to turn a new leaf.

But no – now the kids want their own bite of the crap sandwich we got served in the last decade. Well, I for one won’t stand for it. I urge parents to remind their children just how obnoxious grunge was to live through and just how inane and repetitive trance music really was. Friends don’t let friends do Ketamine and friends don’t let friends listen to Ace of Bass. I urge every man, woman and child in this city to stand up and say “No!” to nineties retro.

Little too much coffee... jack.oatmon@gmail.com

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Icarus’ shadow in the garden

By Jack Oatmon, AKA Thomas Smith

The spring winds are pungent with the perfume of giggling lilacs and the chill, murky waters in the parks as well as the odorous smog and cigarette smoke of a busy city. My gritty brown eyes are shot with both the grating dust and nebulous clouds of pollen that the wind whirls through these streets, not to mention a few throttling tears. A thousand million little pods of potential life barrage the city, looking for organic purchase in a largely impotent landscape.

Us young folks are like those springtime paradoxes in the way that we can grow to be oaks and defy the most torrential storms, or get whisked into a gutter by the calmest breath. My head is shuddering with this simple axiom as I tread these dirty streets in search of a truth that will justify the self-evident, judicial tragedies of life and friendship.

Nor can I regret the whimsical fates that delivered such a vibrant plant into our garden, nor can I lament the turn that dashed that flower away or the wind that blows its memory into the sheen, for they are of the same force at work in different times. I can only thank the mysteries of a bittersweet life for their gifts and optimistically entertain them their brazen lessons.

Perhaps the most concise irony of this tumult is that our resistance to orthodoxy, which propels members of my generation to fly boundlessly and trust implicitly in their own mettle, also robs us of our faith in a utopian afterlife or an even-handed reckoning when we do chance to fall from our ivory pedestals. And so the rest are left alive with no better mourning inspiration than each other and the knowledge that our friend’s impact on us has been significant, lasting and beneficial. In that, we can only hope that someone’s life can continue on in this world through our everyday actions, as inspired by the conglomeration of experience they delivered us, for we fear we have no heaven to send them to.

And these cathartic musings of a young man are, too, but diminutive seeds floating unchecked on the wind; no one can say which might bear life and which will tumble to land on barren soil.

In loving memory of our friend Kristina Raymond. On t’aime pour toujours.

Photo by Élise Martin

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Hear and Now

Mutek 2007 boasts the best in contemporary audio experimentation and progressive electronic music.

By Jack Oatmon

From May 30 to June 3, the Mutek festival launches into its eighth round of showcasing the bleeding edge of the bewildering, convoluted worlds of ambient electronic music, minimal techno, experimental house and other such digital animals. With a strong, contemporary visual aesthetic and an extremely savvy programming, the festival is wholly unique and, frankly, would make the average Vancouverite or Torontonian feel like they’d been warped into Bizarro World. The Mutek vision is a bold and thought-provoking one that explores the obscure, seldom-frequented corners of modern music in a forum that embraces eccentricity and champions ingenuity. I daresay that even if your musical taste is out of alignment with the bookings, the unique experience provided by the festival is in and of itself an extremely worthwhile part of the city’s cultural fabric.

However, with over one hundred performing artists scheduled to appear in just five days, many of whom are only well-known in specialized circles, the big question is, ‘What the heck do I go see?’ Well, don’t worry, ‘cuz we got your back.

Kode9 & The Space Ape – Nocturne 2 @ Société des Arts Technologiques, Thursday May 31

A real diamond in the rough of club production, London resident Kode9 pushes an arresting brand of UK dubstep that references his city’s baroque musical history, back through jungle and dancehall to Afro-Caribbean sound system culture, while foreshadowing coming urban events through its glacial, stoic pace and knowing glances toward near-future literature and film. When combined with the incessant, guttural interrogation of The Space Ape, the result is an eerie, yet strangely comforting blend of down-tempo electronica and dub reggae.

“There are obviously some resonances between that and what we’re doing,” says Kode9 in reference to work produced by Canadians William Gibson, David Cronenberg and other such purveyors of prophetic technological fiction. “We’re really interested in the near-future, like the cyber-punk world. What we like about cyber-punk that we don’t like about science-fiction generally is that it’s near-future, so in a way, it’s more realistic than fantasy science-fiction tends to be. That resonates with what we’re doing.”

What they’re doing is taking cues from the abrasive elements of urban life and combining them with a inquisitive attitude toward the power of sound to create what Kode9 refers to as ‘a force field’ of music that mirrors the musical barrier the forefathers of dub put between themselves and the socials ills of their time.

“That’s the way that our music resonates with original dub music, because obviously it relates to the experience of living in London, which has its own dystopian reality. But at the same time living in London, the electronic music culture is heavily influenced by Afro-Caribbean music culture. So we’re not trying to copy what dub was and it’s not the only influence on what we’re doing, but there’s certainly no stronger influence when it comes to using sub-bass as a force field. It’s a force field that brings people together. Clearly that comes from dub-reggae and dance-hall. The fact that we only came to dub and reggae after going through jungle music is what makes it different for us.”

The powers of sound interest Kode9 in more ways than just his music. He’s currently writing a book on the different ways in which sound is used to influence people in society, which he refers to as ‘sonic warfare.’

“Sonic warfare is a philosophy about the use sound as a force. I try to connect the noise research in the military, like sonic weaponry and sonic crowd-control devices, through to artistic responses and this idea of popular music, though to the use of bass in Jamaican sound system culture.”

He also relates the idea to corporate jingles and their power to incite consumption.

“That’s the use of sound in the form of muzak and other types of sonic branding. I call that an ’earworm,’ which is a contagious piece of music. That’s one of the most explicit examples, but I also think there are things that are more imperceptible going on.”

While he insists that the philosophies discussed in his book and his musical projects are separate, the music on his debut album, Memories of the Future, definitely constitutes a sonic force unto itself, and with an upcoming album in production, one safe prophecy of future events is that we’ll be hearing more from Kode9 and The Space Ape.

Rhythm & Sound w/ Paul St. Hilaire - Nocturne 2 @ Société des Arts Technologiques, Thursday May 31

The classic and the avant-garde get garbled as Rhythm & Sound bring their easy-going, guitar accompanied dub reggae to town as well as a wide spectrum of different approaches to progressive, repetitious dance music. Paul St. Hilaire’s melt-in-your-mouth vocals really set off the tracks they’ve produced together and the infrequency of their visits to this continent mean that all the heads will be out for this one. It’s perfect music for warm weather, and with a stacked supporting line-up, it looks like it’ll be a sultry Thursday at the SAT. For lovers of the cross-over between the psychedelia of dub and the squeaky production of the techno world, this is not to be missed!

Hausckha and Colleen – A/Visions 2 @ Ex-Centris , Thursday May 31

German Hauschka makes the room come alive with her unique modified piano while France’s Colleen employs antiquated string instruments and classical leanings as well as modern musical themes and experimentation to create bewildering acoustic soundscapes. A/Visions 2 promises to be a mystifying afternoon.

Matthew Dear’s Big Hands – Nocturne 3 @ Société des Arts Technologiques, Friday, June 1

Texan Matthew Dear’s quirky, catchy, synth-heavy pop has a driving quality due to his selection of heavier, staccato drumbeats, but the songs are balanced out by soothing vocals, quirky percussion, jazzy guitar hooks and uplifting techno buildups. At times it has a real ‘chain-gang’ kind of quality to it, while at other times it harnesses the brighter side of modern electro to emotive effect. The best part about it is that it’s decidedly unclassifiable. Dear has produced releases under various aliases on M_NUS (Ritchie Hawtin’s label), Ghostly International, and other such dispensers of fine house and techno music. Plus, his new album, Asa Breed, is bananas. One listen of the track ‘Good to be Alive’ and you’ll be hooked. You can also see those big hands at work on a set of turntables when he appears in his alter ego Audion at Saturday’s Piknic Electronik along with Claude VonStroke, purveyor of fun, moody house from San Francisco.

Kalabrese and his Rumpleorchestra – Nocturne 3 @ Société des Arts Technologiques, Friday, June 1

Ah, Switzerland, land of unspoiled alpine pistes, smooth ricotta cheese, and those freaky Ricola fatsos with the big horn who run around scalping throat lozenges. But those hills are alive with more than just the sound of commercial yodeling, because Switzerland is also home to a thriving club scene. Sometimes clinging to sophistications of the tried minimal house formula, while others venturing into the unlikely territory of homegrown folk, Kalabrese could only be from Switzerland. His new album, Rumplezirkus, is a wacky mix of groovy minimal, acoustic instrumentation and hyper-clean production. As a bonus, if you can guess his real name, he won’t eat your children.

Pantha Du Prince, Michael Mayer, Matias Aguayo, Gui Boratto - Nocturne 4 @ Metropolis, Saturday, June 2

Get your fill of that ravey, trancey techno with big buildups and lots of soft, ambient noises that make Kompakt one of the most influential record labels in Germany. Most of these guys have never been to Canada before and you can bet that the party-people at large will be coming out of the woodwork to zone out with Lucy in the sky, dance the watusi and generally get their groove on steady.

To hear the radio program I did on Alaxander Buckiewicz-Smith's show 'Currents' on CKUT,

click this: 64 kbps,

or this: 128kbps

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Long Arm of Justice

I was talking with Gaspard Augé, half of Justice about their new album recently, and I finally decided to put it on here. peep the article:

An altar on a raised platform, a luminous cross, a spacious hall with a grand ceiling, shuddering with the ominous wailing of classical organ and hundreds of devout worshippers, hollering in tongues as they consume cleansing wines and rejoice in the unwavering power of… dance music?

This is what Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay see when they look at a nightclub. The French duo, who go by the suitably weighty moniker Justice, have a style steeped in Christian imagery that highlights the blasphemous idolism of the DJ world with what might be backhanded critique or religious fervor, depending on how seriously you take it. Augé equates “the energy that can exist in the club with some kind of mass,” by way of explanation.

Whether you take the image in earnest or as a gimmick, Justice have certainly amassed a sizeable congregation since they released their first remix, ‘We are Your Friends’ on Ed Banger Records in 2003. While the track gained them some attention, the two slowly emerged from relative obscurity until the release of their vicious anthem, ‘Waters of Nazareth’, in 2005, all the while compiling a catalogue of remixes for high-profile acts such as Britney Spears, Daft Punk, Soulwax and Franz Ferdinand.

“If we think we can bring something to a particular track, we do it,” Augé tells me of Justice’s remixes. “In general, they’re pieces with vocals, because that permits us to completely change our mindsets (about the tracks) and find new harmonies and arrangements. It’s a mental exercise that’s very fun to do.” In doing so, Justice have carved out an unmistakable sonic signature of discombobulated vocals, rattling, onerous dance beats and brutally distorted melodies produced by synthesizers that sound as though they were martyred just to emit one last growling roar for Justice’s cause. All that is juxtaposed by lullaby piano interludes and the imposing church organ sound which markedly distinguishes the songs from standard party fare.

“In the beginning we used lots of analog synthesizers and machines, but now it’s all done on computer,” continued Augé, who calmly hinted at a new direction more than once over the course of our interview. “For the new album, anyway, it’s only computer. The ‘Phantom’ track we did is the closest thing to what we were doing with ‘Waters of Nazareth’. It’s a very distorted piece. It’s the most violent part of the album. The rest is more pop and disco.”

That’s not the only thing that’s changing for Justice. Since the last time I saw them here in Montreal, along with a crowd of perhaps seventy-five people, Justice have begun to garner their share of attention from major media, including in their reception of the MTV European Music Award for ‘We are your Friends’ in the category ‘Best Video of 2006’. It was at that ceremony that hip hop artist, Kanye West, would make a spectacle of Justice’s video by storming the stage and throwing a tantrum over having lost the award.

“I think Kanye had drunk a bit and he did it to amuse himself. He didn’t really seem angry. He was just full of the fact that his video was super expensive and ours cost nothing to make. It’s funny, because we were totally unheard of and we could have just taken the prize and no one would have seen it. But because he made a scene, it sort of became the highlight of the ceremony. So thanks Kanye!”

Monday, April 30, 2007

Ghosts in the machine

I just upped a new recorded mix that I made this week, which you can download right HERE.

The tracks I used were:

B.E.A.T. -Justice
Anything New - Digitalism
WeKnowYouKnowIt - Foreign Islands (Filthy Dukes remix)
Dance to our Disco - Punks Jump Up (Baseball Furies Edit)
Trash - The Whip
TVTV - Digitalism
Gravity Rainbow - Klaxons (Nightmoves remix)
Banquet - Bloc Party (Boys Noize vocal remix)
No More Conversations - Freeform Five (Switch remix)
No More Conversations - Freeform Five (Mylo remix)

And it was all done on two CDJ800s, one shot, no plan.

I also got around to talking to Joakim Bouaziz, head of Tigersushi Records about his new album, Monsters and Silly songs. Check it out.

Fate works in aggravating ways for Joakim.

Serendipity’s a bitch. That’s what Joakim Bouaziz, French composer and founder of Tigersushi Records, found out when recording his newest album, Monsters and Silly Songs. After losing the entire master copy of the completed album, he was forced to start over, only this time employing a fresh approach and a full band to create a cathartic sonic foray into the nether regions between electronica, organic psychedelia, folky dance music and experimental noise. As he navigated the streets of downtown Toronto in between gigs I queried Joakim, via cell phone, about just what happened to his album and how he went about rebuilding his creation.

Joakim: It got completely lost. I lent my computer to someone for five minutes and when the guy gave it back, the hard drive had crashed. I lost everything on the hard drive, I couldn’t get it back, and I had no backup, so I had to do it all over again. The problem is I didn’t really remember what I’d done, so it’s like a new album. So, somewhere there’s a lost album!

jack oatmon: Damn! So what’s changed between the two albums?

J: I can’t really tell, but I guess the process of making the music is different because when I started again I already had the band with me for the live gigs. I felt that since we’re playing together live, maybe we can do some live stuff in the studio, too, which was different from the songs I’d done before. It’s really just the techniques that were different. The composition and everything was the same, but I could use more instruments with the band.

j.o.: Do you think that a lot of artists who make electronic music are tending to go in the live direction, with more instrumentation?

J: Yeah, but that’s not really a new thing. For a few years now a lot of electronic artists have been bringing in live musicians. But, for me it doesn’t really matter. I could do a record using only samplers tomorrow. I don’t feel like it’s better or worse, it’s just a different way to make sound. I don’t think of it as a revolution. There are very good things in both worlds. I don’t try to oppose analog and digital, for instance. I try to mix the two, because I think that there’s something magical in all the analog equipment: the recording and the synthesizers just sound better. But then there are so many things that you with a computer that you could never do with an analog synthesizer. What I try to do is really confront these worlds, like making very digital sounds and recording them on tape, for instance. I wanted to have this warm, organic sound that you can only have with vintage equipment.

j.o.: To me, the new album has a very melancholy feel to it. It seems very moody and emotional. What’s behind that?

J: I just feel the music that way. That’s precisely the kind of thing that you cannot explain or objectify. That’s just the way I feel things, and I’ve always been more attracted to sad songs. Even when I used to play classical music, I was more attracted by the dramatic rather than the happy music.

Capitol hill thrills

So I managed to claw my way off the island last Friday, April 20 for a trip to Ottawa, both the political epicenter of the country as well as the nation’s capital for hideous, domestic, pastel blouses, sports tees and sensible haircuts. Not being a fourteen year-old Green Day fan anymore, it wasn’t until I strolled up to Capitol Hill that the significance of the date dawned on me. A throng of shifty-eyed adolescents wearing baggy cargo and listening to atrocious 90’s rave music congregated on the grass in front of the stoic government headquarters, pipes and bongs in hand, reminding me that, not only was it four-twenty, but it was almost 4:20. Naturally, I giggled and squealed in mirth.

As I stood there, I briefly wondered whether Stephen Harper was gazing out his office window, waiting to punch the clock, roll home and skin up a joint for the first hot weather of the year. The answer is, of course, not bloody likely. In fact, I’d bet my procreative faculties that the Prime Minister hasn’t even had the chance to fail to inhale, regardless of recent allegations that the government has been charging an arm and a leg for medicinal marijuana (for which, by the way, research funding has been cut to the tune of $4 million). No, the Doors of Perception are safely rusted shut for this gentleman.

That got me to thinking about other cultural landmarks which happen around that traditionally-mild weekend, and how they relate to our pal Steve (can I call you Steve?). Earth Day’s a touchy subject to any politician, particularly one who once called Kyoto a “socialist scheme” in his call-to-arms for “our campaign to block the job-killing, economy-destroying Kyoto accord.” Especially when recent polls indicate that the environment has surpassed even healthcare in the average Canadian’s itinerary of concerns. Damn, I guess last weekend was kind of a Conservative Kryptonite. Well, maybe Steve was up there worrying about whether voters detest him for not being a tree-hugging stoner. Again, not bloody likely. In fact, I’d go pounds to pennies that he’s feelin’ pretty damn good about his shot at reelection, given the recent rise of support for the similarly-aligned ADQ back in Quebec.

On top of all that, I thought, Steve’s got a mean hard-on for arts cutbacks. Gulp. Just then, as I looked down in the grass below me in dismay, I saw a jettisoned wood pipe lying on the ground, laden with a bowl of fresh ganja. I try to stay away from weed these days, but, damn, I thought, as the pulsing beat of pre-millennial trance rumbled the grass underfoot, better smoke that shit while I can.

Things to look forward to before Steve guts the arts:

Rumor has it that French techno kingpin Mr. Oizo might make an appearance at this year’s Mutek Festival. Piknic Electronik starts back up on May 20 with a crazy lineup for the summer. Air will be at Metropolis on May 6 and LCD Soundsystem are due back on May 9 at Spectum. Orchestral electro phenomenon !!! will be at Les Saints on May 18 and Datarock hit La Tulipe on June 3 with CSS and Bonde Do Role.

Art, weed and nature: the pillars of society. Jack.oatmon@gmail.com

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

CD review


How to Dance

(Circus Company)

French duo Nôze’s second album is an exploration into the funkier, quirkier side of minimal house music. The hoarse ranting of madmen meets melodically with synthesizers, pianos, droning cellos, blomping saxophones and guitars over jingly-jangly four-four beats. The disc is replete with whimsical, ambient noises, clever nonsense and eccentric percussion that evoke Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs. How to Dance is an inventive oddity to be listened to while discussing surrealism or working on the construction of your doomsday device.

Good: 8.5/10

Awesome: 7/10

Angry: 4/10

Maximal Noize

Maximal Noize

Alex Ridha AKA Boys Noize rocks punk attitude, hip hop style and robust, analogue techno beats that rage-rather-than-ring in the New Year.

What kind of tunes do you want to hear as you kiss, holler and toast in your New Year? Ear-crushing, hesh, rock-electro bangers and indie-dance anthems coming from the able paws of a hip, young Berliner, I should hope. Otherwise you're reading the wrong article. If you're with me, Alex Ridha is your man for the job.

The distorted, chopped-up cacophony of analogue pulsation, production static and mutilated samples that comprise and punctuate Ridha's tracks has become a fixture in the electro world. His impeccable production and very timely taste means that you're more than likely to hear his songs amidst the vanguard of modern dance music and means that the list of DJs that you'll hear unleashing Boys Noize tracks sounds like a name-dropper's who's-who of underground techno personalities. His tunes have a raw sound, a desolate, modern feel and numerous tasteful Rock 'n' Roll allusions that belie the songs' electronic trappings and make them jump right out of the stereo.

Having started DJing at 14 and producing original music at 16, Ridha has already compiled a sizable discography in his 24 years that includes plenty of originals and some of the best indie-rock remixes around. He has released tracks on labels like International Gigolo, Datapunk, Turbo, Kitsuné and Institubes and has numerous other music projects on the go, including kiD Alex, an angst-ridden indie duo that he sings and produces for, and 909D1SCO, a retro synth-disco revisitation.

"Musically I'm really looking for the best of Daft Punk, from 95 to 98," says Ridha in describing the musical orientation of Boys Noize. "I think it's a really timeless sound."

He says that the sounds being made by him and a handful of other producers are more than just a wave of techno. "For sure it's electronic. It's all based on techno music, but it has many references to other things. We all have this punk attitude. Or maybe even a hip hop attitude," explains Ridha. "My mixing definitely comes more from the hip hop side. I do cuts and mix things fast."

"The scene is still very small," says Ridha. "Like in Berlin for example, I feel like I'm the only guy playing this music. I feel like it's small around the world. You have tonnes of people playing house and minimal and just a handful of people doing this music that I'm doing." I instantaneously know what he's talking about, but it's a style of music that simply lacks a name.

"I wouldn't exactly say it's the opposite of minimal… like… Maximal maybe?" says Ridha when I challenge him to classify the music he's describing. That moniker certainly fits in Alex Ridha's case, because despite the diminutive-sounding aliases he goes by, the sound is monstrous and the mixing is most definitely full-on.

What are Alex's predictions for the "maximal" sound in the New Year? "I think in 2007 it's just gonna blow up," He says. But, according to Ridha, when the mainstream catches up to him and his ilk, he won't be waiting to have his steez bitten. "When I hear bad copies of myself or Justice or something like that, then I'll know it's time to move on to something else."
(Photo courtesy of the artist)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

New Computer Delicious.

Now I have a computer. Now I can write on the internet.

There is a theory stating that the universe, viewed as an average frequency of all the light and radiation therewithin, is a deep forest green. If the physicists who boldly purport themselves to be in possession of such knowledge of the outermost secrets of the universe are to be trusted, then the mean colour of mankind’s night-time cities would have to be roughly equivalent to the puke-orange sludge wafting past my window.

Seat 16E. “Sorry sir, normally I’m not picky, but I really wanted a window-seat, and uhh....” Keep your flight back locked and tabled in an upright turbulence, and please pay prepared to carry on refreshments when the in-flight movie hits an altitude of forty thousand gallons of jet fuel.

The electric amber- and purple-tinted clouds ripple away to reveal the circuit-board-esque city below. Its avenues and alleyways transmit an unimaginable amount of automobiles, humans, information, food, trash, toxic waste, luxury items, electricity, greed, love, suffering, tragedy and pleasure day to day, end to end, top to bottom. Its lustrous edifices and ramshackle markets spell profit and infinite opulence to some and doom for others.

Our descent upon the streetlit metropolis reminds me to get my leather jacket on so that I can hop into the aisle and charge to the front of the plane just before the seatbelt lights go off and the sluggish, coffee- and sweat-smelling denizens around me take their cue to stand up and clog the only escape from this overheated, beige person-mover. Nothing annoys me more than that eight-minute purgatory between when the doors of the plane open and when all the fat people and business-crabs get their shit together. I could be out there. Like right now. It’s like the worst kind of poorly-written suspense novel. It feels like waiting for your dentist appointment rather than waiting for your first ultrasound.

By the time I get through the umbilical corridor to the terminal, the madness is already in full swing. Guards are securing and passengers are careening around me; lost things are being recovered and I need a goddamn drink. I’m what you might call an A-type personality. I generally tend toward social observation and integration. Obviously everyone has their ostrich-in-the-sand moments, but such is not the case as I stomp through the dervish toward the phoney-brick-walled “pub” next to those stainless steel security desks and internet portals. I’m feeling rather chatty after sitting on my compartmentalized ass for the better part of the day.

Like many stories, this one begins when I meet a girl. I promise it won’t be a love story, though. I wouldn’t do that to you. There’s a lotta love in here, but that’s not why you’re reading this. When I hit the scene, she’s sitting at the faux-oak, faux-folk bar of this watering-hole called Joe’s Pub©. The strangely reassuring smell of deep-fried-whatever juxtaposes her refined demeanour and sharp features. I’ll be honest here (and take that as a general rule, by the way). It was admittedly her streamlined figure, bangin’ wardrobe and arrogant, brown eyes that alerted me to her presence. That’s how dudes work, I’m afraid. Don’t lose your faith in the Male over a bit of pheromonal hubris, though. In the twenty-first century, us guys are remarkably quick at mustering substance once we’ve gotten over the initial bit of panting and dilated pupils. Especially us rough-around-the-edges, sophisticated rebel types.

“Is anyone sitting here?” I pipe as I sidle up. Sometimes clichéd lines are clutch. She doesn’t say a goddamn thing, seeing as she gets that bologna eighty-six times a day. I sit down and, noting that she’s drinking some sort of colourful martini, order a double rye whiskey on the rocks, in a tumbler with a splash of apple juice. (I just assume that they don’t have any Angostura. I’d say that no one knows how to make a good whiskey sour anymore, but I’m way too young to know shit like that.) This move is multi-purposed, in that I really like that drink, in that sours can either be sipped or slammed depending on necessity, and in that ladies sometimes mistake this kind of obvious contrast as supplementation. Chicks love to feel supplemented.

Then, gazing at the black-clad barwoman’s generous hips, her retort: “She has a beautiful way of moving, this girl,” in an almost-perfect, anglophone* lilt just barely belied by the unusual wording of the sentence. “She doesn’t see what happens around her and she does many things at once. It’s like she’s dancing.”

I tear my eyes off the fuzzy strip of skin under her earlobe to momentarily feign interest in this particularly graceful server and say, “I guess you have to excel at your job in some way in order to like it. T’es Montréalaise, toi?

Non, Je viens du Lac Saint-Jean. Where are you coming from?” Her cheekbones are sharp and her voice is high pitched. She’s like a hawk or a birch in the wind.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver

If LCD Soundsystem's first full length release was the riotous preamble to a brief repeat-age of raving punk rockers discovering the frivolous abandon of disco (read The Clash and Crass in the early eighties) and angular, indie geeks with dilated pupils behind their Buddy Holly goggles, then Sound of Silver, for me anyway, is the strung-out postscript to the golden age of electroclash.

Featuring all of the earmarks of the DFA sound, from the stacatto, garbage-bin percussion solos through cowbell cacophany, to the much-bitten handclap overload, Sound Of Silver is, more than anything, an articulation of everything these guys have been experimenting with over the past couple of years of remixing, DJing, live shows and producing. It is the point at which James Murphy's production goes from a style to an album, which would be a shocker if you never heard any of what's been happening at DFA in the interim between two albums. If not, it fits pretty well in the grand scheme of this collective of musicians. Leaving behind the mix-tape style of the first record (and pretty much everything else ever released on DFA records), this recording has a detectable flow. In the wake of the 45:33 blunder (anything anyone does for Nike is a blunder. I don't care how majestic the grooves or how complete the emotional crescendo), the good folks at LCD are clearly trying to introduce a stronger element of their live act into the mix (which is one reason why the tour of this album is going to be epic). It's gradual, it's groovy, and it sets James Murphy squarely as the Fela Kuti/Tito Puente/James Brown kind of character he plays in concert. It's unabashedly mainstream and agressively accessible, unlike the other LCD Soundsystem album. Aside from any obvious attempts at pop-dom, you'd think that would be an essentially good thing, but listenability does have its failings.

By this I mean that the musicality of the album and the thought-out order of the songs completely eliminate the possibility for a banger to emerge. Proof: did you hear any tracks from this album on New Years Eve? No, you didn't, even though every single electro DJ in existance has hornswoggled themselves a copy of this album. Tribulations blew your face right off of your head; Someone Great is Gone made you tap your feet and reflect about your contradictory, modern existance. Daft Punk is Playing at My House is the reason you're on bad terms with your downstairs neighbors; Watch the Tapes made you wonder if your mom might just want to hear the music her kids listen to.

No, this album is not a banger, a rager, or subculture classic like the first one. But it's still awesome, and I'll tell you why: James Murphy is a funky cat who is remarkable at concocting the feeling that a song is talking to you, and his perception and communication of the hedonistic experience of youth is nearly flawless. Anyways, all your favorite albums don't all have to make you want to punch holes in the walls.

I will, however, have to call bullshit on the track called All My Friends, which could have appeared on a U2 or Tragically Hip album and I never would have noticed, and although Someone Great really is great, it was already released on the Nike promo Super-sellout deluxe album.

If my brief history of listening to this album is any indication, however, I'll delete this post in two days and replace it with an entirely different opinion. Actually, this is the third review of the album I've wrote already!