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...

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!”