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