Tuesday, December 16, 2008

FAVES AND UNFAVES OF 1999
(originally from Blissout website)




Faves of 1999

Because of unusual constraints--the tastes and tolerances of our baby Kieran,
who arrived in September--the record I've listened to most this year wasn't from
1999 but four years ago: Stereolab's Music For the Amorphous Body Study Center.
The dulcet feminine harmonies and chugging pulse rhythms seem to agree with him
(indeed anything motorik, like Kraftwerk or Manuel Gottsching's E2-E4, goes down
a treat). I also spent a lot of time listening to The World Sings Goodnight, a
collection of lullabies from across the world I've grown to love--and the
centuries of baby-tranquilizing science encoded in these tunes has come in very
handy, lemme tell ya. Close behind in usefulness and loveliness is Raymond
Scott's Soothing Sounds For Baby Volume 1-- made in the early Sixties on Scott's
hand-built menagerie of proto-synths and primitive sequencers, its glinting
pulse-riffs and music-box chime-loops eerily prescient of Kraftwerk, Suicide,
and Mouse On Mars. Another Kieran smash: Laraji's lustrous canopies of
hammered-dulcimer plangency on Flow Goes The Universe.

When it comes to my own soundtrack for 1999, 's gotta be tapes of the London
garage pirates, innit? Big up to Man like Burhan, Man like Trevor, and indeed
Man like Myself for taping them like a very sick person on the all too rare
visits to England this year. Apart from ineradicable pockets of V.I.B.E. like
2-step, 1999 was another piss-poor year for music and pop culture in general,
even worse than last year (see Over-Rated of '99 for more detailed bile). But as
ever there were saving graces, glints, even the odd hints of future..... To kick
off, here's two takes on my fave album of 1999.


Position Normal
Stop Your Nonsense
(Mind Horizon Recordings)

Take One/from Village Voice

The bursting of Britpop bubble's has left the UK's (non-dance) music scene in
the terminal doldrums. A&R's and hacks alike twiddle their thumbs and wonder why
nothing's happening. One reason is that Britpop's
make-it-big-nothing-else-counts triumphalism has withered the left-field and
pretty much obliterated the idea(l) of independent music. Another is that all
the purely musical intellect extant has gone into the dance arena, leaving rock
to those whose only virtuosity is autohype, e.g. Gay Dad, with their former pop
journalist frontman and reheated Suede homo-rhetoric.

Position Normal's enchanting Stop Your Nonsense is something of a flashback to
the infinitely more robust UK music culture of 1979-81---the postpunk ferment
which produced truly independent labels like Rough Trade and Fast, brainy but
intensely musical bands like The Pop Group, This Heat, and The Associates, plus
the countless one-shot flashes of DIY inspiration that were aired on John Peel's
radio show: The Native Hipsters's "There Goes Concorde Again", Young Marble
Giants's "Final Day". It was an era when bands could still operate in the
modernist conviction that absolute novelty was absolutely possible; the idea of
consciously referring back to the pop past would have been disgusting. Even
though Nonsense is mostly sample-based, its homespun imprecision feels closer to
hand-made tape loops than digital seamlessness; collage-wise, it's somewhere
between Nurse With Wound and De La Soul's first album.

Only Nonsense's stoned-to-say-the-least aura locates the album in the post-rave
Nineties. Chris Bailiff, the man behind Position Normal, is as fastidiously
aware of the texture of sound-in-itself as Aphex Twin or Wagon Christ. His
favorite production trick is using a combination of reverb and filtering to make
sounds glint like they've been irradiated by a sudden shaft of sunlight pouring
into a gloomy room. He makes a mandolin refrain glisten uncannily in "Jimmy Had
Jane," EQ's the Lotte Lenya soundalike on "German" until her voice crumbles into
a billow of gold-dust, and reverbs the stark piano chords of "Rabies" so they
sound as poignant as Erik Satie imprisoned in Keith Hudson's dub-chamber. On
"Bedside Manners," a lustrous mirage of echoplexed guitar backdrops a surreal
medical monologue, with occasional vocalist Cushway perfectly capturing the
condescending cadences and smarmy solicitousness of a English G.P.

Bailiff is fond of "found sound" (the patter of Cockney stallholders in a
fruit'n'veg market; Aunty Betty leaving a phone message for niece Doreen), a
trait that reminds me of Saint Etienne's penchant for peppering their first two
albums with snatches of movie dialogue and cafe chat captured on dictaphone. In
its semi-conscious way, Stop Your Nonsense is a sort of essay about Englishness
and its inevitable evanescence. The album's dream-drift haze is populated with
spectral traces of all those eccentric relatives (Mark E. Smith, Ivor Cutler,
Viv Stanshall, Ian Dury, John Cooper Clark, Vini Reilly) written out of the will
when Britpop pruned its family tree down to the straight-and-narrow lineage of
BeatlesPistolsStone RosesOasis. Never overtly nostalgic, Position Normal's music
triggers plangent sensations of nostalgia, at least for this expatriate. Perhaps
because its samples are taken from crackly vinyl platters and reel-to-reel tape
spools foraged at thrift stores and garage sales, Nonsense evokes the bygone
crapness of Olde England--the provincial parochialism banished by the New Labour
government's modernising policies and the twin attrition of
Americanisation/Europeanisation. Some of the most magical tracks on the album
aren't really music, but melodious mosaics of speech expertly tiled from
disparate sources. "Lightbulbs" sets a cheeky little rascal against a 1970s
hi-fi buff droning on about "my main gain fader". On "Hop Sa Sa" Bailiff
varispeeds a kiddies' choir singing about monkeys, interjects a middle-aged
man's quizzical "why not for donkeys?," and then, for a inexplicably
heart-tugging coda, transforms the title's nonsense phrase into an ostinato
suspended in an echoey void.

Take 2/from Uncut:

Chris Bailiff, the 27 year old eccentric responsible for Stop Your Nonsense,
used to perform under the name Bugger Sod. It's a moniker that captures the
spirit of amiably insubordinate Anglo-Dada he's now perpetrating as Position
Normal. If you wanted to get pop historically precise, you'd place Nonsense at
the intersection of three genealogies. There's the bygone John Peel realm of
post-punk DIY weirdness 1979-81--Native Hipsters's "There Goes Concorde Again",
Furious Pig, Virgin Prunes. Then there's the more recent lineage of
Krautrock-influenced lo-fi that includes Stereolab and Beta Band. And because
Nonsense is all done with samples (plus some guitar and the occasional "real"
vocal), you'd also have to mention Saint Etienne's eerie "found sound"
interludes on their first two albums, Wagon Christ, and Bentley Rhythm Ace (if
they abandoned Big Beat boisterousness for ambient chill-out).

The Bentleys, who scavenge carboot sales for ultra-cheesy vinyl, and Wagon
Christ, a sampladelic wizard who specialises in alchemising cheddar into gold,
may be the most apt contemporary parallels. Position Normal's sample sources
sound like they've been plucked from charity shops and skips--warped spoken-word
albums and crackly E-Z listening platters; faded BetaMax videos, ancient
reel-to-reel tapes, and worn out answer-machine cassettes. Accessing the dusty,
disavowed memories purged from a nation's attics and cellars, Bailiff has
reanimated all the fusty English quaintness that Blair-ite modernisation and
cappucino culture have allegedly banished. Maybe it's just where my head is at
right now, but Nonsense triggers sepia-tinted flashbacks to temps perdu:
chalk-dust motes irradiated in the shaft of light streaming from a classroom
window; a paper bag of boiled sweets from the row of jars behind the counter;
butcher shops with bloody sawdust on the floor.

Nonsense contains too many highlights. "The Blank" rubs clangorous Fall circa
"Rowche Rumble" guitars up against quiz-show samples ("what is the blank?").
"Jimmy Had Jane" is like Ian Dury meets The Faust Tapes: a baleful Cockney voice
crooning about a sordid sexual encounter perpetrated by a bloke with "pickled
egg eyes," offset by the eerie glint of a filtered 'n' reverbed ukelele.
"German" is Lotte Lenya marooned in King Tubby's dub chamber. "Bucket Wipe"
sounds like the carefree whistling of a Martian postman. "Nostril and Eyes"
could be fragments of Dylan Thomas's Under Milkwood reassembled into surrealist
sound-poetry, the portentous thespian tones scrambled into urgent nonsense: "is
there any any? Rank, dimpled, drooping... Smudge, crust, smell--tasty lust."
"Rabies" shifts from a helium-addled Frank Sidebottom ditty to shatteringly
poignant Satie-esque piano chords drenched in cavernous reverb. "Lightbulbs" and
"Hop Sa Sa" expertly crosshatch shards of speech (a chirpy schoolboy praising "a
lovely bit of string", a hi-fi buff boasting about "my main gain fader", a
kindergarten choir singing a song about monkeys) into melodious mosaics.

The many samples of children's voices, the cover picture of a little lad utterly
absorbed with his Scalectrix, and the title Stop Your Nonsense (a cross grown-up
telling off an incorrigible brat?) all suggest that if Position Normal is
"about" anything, it's regression as a refusal of the state of dreamlessness
commonly known as "adulthood". As such, Nonsense plugs into that British
absurdist comedy tradition of cracked whimsy and renegade daftness that includes
Spike Milligan, Ivor Cutler, and Reeves & Mortimer . Above all, Nonsense has
charm--not in its degraded modern sense (Robbie Williams's cheeky-chappy grin)
but "charm" as casting a spell on the listener, charm as enchantment. My
favourite record of 1999, so far, by far....

contact info: Mind Horizon Records, PO Box 21049, London N1 8WS. Tel: 0171 359
1091



"STREET" RAP

1/ CASH MONEY
Juvenile
400 Degreez
"Back That Azz Up"
"U Understand"
Tha G-Code
B.G.
Chopper City In The Ghetto
Hot Boys
Guerrilla Warfare
Lil Wayne
Tha Block Is Hot
(all Cash Money/Universal)

Two words say almost everything you need to know about Cash Money, the New
Orleans label that ruled rap in 1999: Mannie Fresh. Not just because he's the
producer who programs, engineers, and plays nearly every instrument on records
by the Cash Money roster ( Juvenile, B.G., Big Tymers, Hot Boys, and Lil Wayne).
But also because the name Mannie Fresh is like a flashback to the old skool era.
"RZA said that in the South, we was still livin' like it's 1985," Juvenile told
Rolling Stone. "At first I was pissed off, but you know what? In a way, it's
kinda true."

Fresh's sound returns to that point in the mid-Eighties just before rap was
totally transformed by digital technology, and imagines a sort of "what if...?"
alternative future where drum machines and synths remained hip hop's building
blocks, rather than looped breakbeats and sampled licks. This alternative future
is actually what transpired as reality throughout much of the South. Electro's
brittle rigor, traded in by New York rap producers in favor of sampler-assisted
retro-funk fluency, survived and thrived as Miami Bass and New Orleans
Bounce--party-oriented styles organized around 808 bass-booms, call-and-response
chants, and crisp'n'dry programmed beats.

Like its Crescent City rival No Limit, Cash Money has gone from local hero
status to nationwide dominion by merging bounce-influenced rhythms with gangsta
rap. The bounce element is what gives Fresh's drum programming its hop, skip and
bump--those rat-a-tat-tat snare rolls and double-time/triple-time hi-hats that
feel simultaneously frisky and martial. He's effectively using drum machines to
build his own brand-new breakbeats, rather than depleting further the exhausted
seam of archival Seventies funk. But although he doesn't sample, Fresh is into
surreptitious plagiarism, ripping off everything from rhythm patterns on old
S.O.S Band tracks to lite-classical's pantheon of schlock. I wouldn't be
surprised if Fresh's tinny toy-synth renditions of over-familiar melodies are
inspired by cellphones that offer a select-your-favorite-ringing-sound range of
Mozart/Chopin/Tchaichovsky-type themes.

Alongside Fresh's sly steals and his manifest drum-machine virtuosity, there's
another factor that gives Cash Money records their edge over No Limit's. At
first I thought I was hallucinating the reverb-smudged Balearic house piano in
Juvenile's "Spittin Game," the brief burst of Roland 303 acid house bass-wibble
in Lil Wayne's "Loud Pipes." But no, it turns out that Fresh used to work with
legendary Chicago house producer Steve 'Silk' Hurley. Which helps explain the
eerie technoid flavor of Juvenile's "Ha" and B.G.'s "Dog Ass," and the spectral
echoes elsewhere of early Todd Terry, Belgian hardcore, Sheffield bleep'n'bass,
hip-house, Uberzone. In fact, a bizarre, unacknowledged convergence took place
between rave and hip hop/R&B this year, audible in the snaky techno-pulse
writhing inside Ja Rule's "Holla Holla," in the angular stab-riffs driving
Ginuwine's "What's So Different" and Destiny's Child's "Bugaboo."

From the tinkling timbales in "High Beamin'" to the jungle-at-midtempo mashed
snares of "Remember Me," , the rhythm programming on Lil Wayne's debut is like a
drum choir--precise yet joyous, a symphony of syncopation. Overall, Tha Block is
Fresh's most accomplished and intricate production so far, so riddled with
stereopanning subtleties and sonic witticisms it verges on "headphone bounce".
Alongside the mock-classical flourishes (pseudo-string ostinatos, synthi-horn
parps, harpsichord), there's a pervasive jazz-lite flavor, courtesy of bassist
Funky Fingers and Mannie Fresh's own guitar (at times redolent of the echoplexed
ripple of folkadelic minstrel John Martyn, or the plangent lacework doilies spun
by ECM jazzbos Ralph Towner and John Abercrombie). This relaxed, jazzual vibe
overlaying the fierce beats reminds me of when jungle went all "musical" and
"intelligent". It exudes a sort of cheap expensiveness, a nouveau riche sheen.
And in this context, it's perfect, because Cash Money is-- no duh!--all about
the Benjamins, baby.

Mercenary and aesthetic impulses have never been at odds in black pop; you can't
map white bohemian complexes about materialism onto breadhead seers and
business-savvy anarcho-surrealist shamen like Lee Perry and George Clinton.
Indeed, "getting paid" has a sort of libertatory charge in itself, given the
history of black artists being shortchanged and swindled by the white music biz.
Which is why it's not just Cash Money founders Ron and Brian Williams, plus
friends and family, who are buzzed by the label's $30 million distribution deal
with Universal, a pact that allows Cash Money to retain ownership of their own music.

Still and all, there's something faintly disheartening about the fact that,
consciousness-wise, Cash Money are stuck in the pre-Public Enemy mid-Eighties.
(As is most commercially successful hardcore rap in 1999, to be fair). The
mindset and worldview depicted by Lil Wayne, Juvenile, and B.G. is fundamentally
no different from Schoolly D's 1986 proto-gangsta debut. The terminology goes
through subtle inflections (gangstaplayathugballer) but the underlying archetype
abides: Staggerlee, the sexy sociopath, who recognizes no limits to desire. Cash
Money have popularized their own term, or at least one filched from a group of
"gangsta-ass, killin'-ass niggaz" attending their shows: the "hot boy".
Gold-mouthed, FUBU-clad, ice-wristed, camoflage-bandana-sporting, untamed. One
measure of the term's currency is Missy Elliott's lust-stricken thug paean "Hot
Boys," the best (and most bounce-sounding) track of her disappointing Da Real
World and effectively a free radio advert for the Cash Money supergroup Hot Boys
(Juvenile, B.G., Lil Wayne, and Young Turk).

Since the label's rappers appear on each other's records in all manner of
multiple cameo pile-ups (no guests from other labels though--why bother boosting
non-clan members?), every new Cash Money release is essentially another Hot Boys
album. Anti- pop fogey Theodor Adorno would have called this
"pseudo-individuation" and "part- interchangeability". And Mannie's
inexhaustible Fresh-ness aside, you are basically buying the same record each
time; the lyrics reshuffle a lexical deck--riding Hummers, chasing paper,
spilling brains, sipping Henny, bashing heads (a/k/a splitting wigs!),
wifey-stealing, flossing, 20 inch chrome rims, choppers ( AK-47's), blow jobs
from avid ho's--into slightly different patterns. The effect, and possibly the
subconscious intent, is numbing: murda-Muzak, an ambient moodscape that doesn't
melt your defences but hardens the character armor.

There's a few chinks on Tha Block Is Hot, rare glimpses of fragility that suit
Wayne's highpitched, mannish-boy drawl. Breaking his own no cussin' rule, "F***
Tha World" is a baby-gangsta's blues, Wayne sounding like Tupac in hoarsely
mawkish "Ain't Mad"/"Dear Mama" mode as he frets about losing his stepdad Rabbit
to the gun and fathering his own girl-child, all before his 17th birthday. "Up
To Me" is a touching love letter to Rabbit, who taught Wayne "game" even though
he himself lost. Bone Thugs 'N Harmony-style, Wayne imagines meeting his pa at
Heaven's gate--this, despite Rabbit clearly being no angel and Tha Block's
staggering inventory of mortal sins and broken commandments (Thou Shalt Not
Leave Your Neighbour's Wifey "Tasting My Rubber"). The Hot Boys's Guerrilla
Warfare also lets the facade of invincibility drop just once, with the
uncharacteristically subdued "Tuesday & Thursday", which advises the smart thug
to keep a low profile on days when the police task-force is on the warpath.

The forlorn vulnerability and cowed anxiety of these songs stands out all the
more because of Cash Money's usual ebullience and exuberance. Strip away the
socioeconomic/racial context, and Cash Money's live-for-now voraciousness is
sheer Romanticism. When Hot Boys boast "we on fire", they're speaking the same
Dionysian language as 19th Century literary critic Walter Pater, who exhorted
his readers "to burn always with this hard gemlike flame." Mind you, Pater
probably didn't have in mind sporting a mansion's worth of diamond-and-platinum
on your wrist. But 20th Century Romantic Georges Bataille would relish lines
like "my Rottweilers drink Moet" or Wayne bragging about buying Cartier watches
for every member of his crew. Theorizing the existence of a fundamental human
drive towards "expenditure-without- return", Bataille celebrated such
aristocratic, extravagant activities as gambling, dandyism and potlatch, while
denigrating bourgeois values like thrift and cautious investment. He exalted "a
will to glory" that impels us to "live like suns, squandering our goods and our
life." Bataille's language and hip hop's own converge in contemporary rap's
highest superlative: "blazing". It's the kind of existensial incandescence and
vainglory that Jarvis Cocker captured in Pulp's "Common People," with his image
of lusty proles who "burn so bright and you can only wonder why". For Cash
Money's "uptown shiners", though, the joie de vivre is the edgy kind that
accompanies being ready to die.


2/ RUFF RYDERS/SWIZZ BEATS/EVE

Various Artists
Ruff Ryders's Ryde or Die, Vol. 1
Eve
"What Ya Want"
"Gotta Man"
Eve, the First Lady Of Ruff Ryders
(all Ruff Ryders/Interscope)
Jay-Z
"Girl's Best Friend"
(Rock-A-Fella)

It was like the changing of the guard--that moment this summer when Missy's
"She's A Bitch" flopped spectacularly while Eve's "What Ya Want" established its
long thrall over BET and Hot 97. This wasn't just Eve Jeffers displacing Missy
Elliott as "that NEXT bitch", it was the triumph of Swizz Beatz (chief producer
for the Yonkers label/MC clan Ruff Ryders) over Timbaland. Indeed, there was a
definite hint of slay-me-not Oedipal anxiety when Timbaland paternalistically
bigged up Swizz in The Source as the only producer he checked for.
Like that other new beat pretender She'kspere (TLC, Destiny's Child), Swizz is
rhythmatically a son of Timbaland, though; both take the latter's trademark
micro-syncopations and hiccuping hesitations and make them even more fiddly and
off-kilter. The groove of "What Ya Want"--a languid lattice of Latin percussion
and piano--dovetails perfectly with Eve's slinky, seductively supercilious flow.
The first single off the Ruff Ryders's Ryde or Die, Vol. 1 compilation, "What Ya
Want" worked as a perfect advertisement for self--Eve pushing herself forward
both as look-don't-touch fantasy object (for male rap fans) and "the one to
fear" (for rival female rappers), while Swizz polyrhythmically announced the
Ruff Ryders sound as "changing the game".

"Gotta Man," the first single from Eve's debut album (which entered the
Billboard pop charts at #1 a few weeks ago) is even more striking. It's so
sparse, so deceptively simple, there's almost nothing to it: a loping,
falter-funk beat, a pre-orgasmic female moan like the lowing of a lovesick cow,
and a plangent mandolin refrain doubled at the chorus by a sing-songy female
vocal chant with the indelibly catchy playground chant quality of "The Clapping
Song," "Double Dutch," or "Iko Iko". "Gotta" is a chip off the same block as
Swizz's other smash production of the moment, Jay-Z's "Girls' Best
Friend"--similar clip-clop rhythm and ultra-girly vocal hook, but even more
so-wrong-it's-right sounding. With its assymetrical beat-loop and staccato Morse
Code synth-riff , "Girl's Best Friend" could almost be a hip-house or early rave
track, something by Shut Up And Dance or 4 Hero from 1990--there's that same
makeshift, threshold-of- disintegration quality.

Exquisitely blending supple lilt and stilted lurch, "Gotta Man" and "Girl's Best
Friend" are the most peculiar black pop hits since Aaliyah's "Are You That
Somebody?". So it's a little disappointing that nothing else on Eve's debut
approaches their idiosyncracy and charm. Most of Ruff Ryders' First Lady sounds
like Swizz's productions for DMX--that grimy, "ugly" sound that defines street
(as opposed to underground) hip hop in 1999. The formula is crude but effective:
muddy bass thump, kick drums impacting like low blows, snares like syncopated
flurries of punches to the head, and the Hook. Usually played on keyboards
(Swizz prides himself on not using samples) and exuding that cheap-and-nasty
Eighties digi-synth aroma, the Hook ranges from the bleat of a traumatized
pocket-calculator, to spindly semi-melodies like ad jingles or videogame muzik,
to sub-Harold Faltermeyer synthstrumental refrains of the sort you'd hear on a
pre-Hollywood Jackie Chan movie, to riffs that oddly recall early Nineties
hardcore techno, to random-sounding, atonal trills like mice scampering on
Schoenberg's piano.

There's been hints that First Lady is not exactly the record Eve intended to
make--one early interview promised a Lauryn Hill-style melange of styles and
collaborations with multiple producers. In the event, Swizz produced almost all
of it--a putsch which might explain his low placement in Eve's sleevenote
thank-you list, after virtually everybody else involved in the record, including
the team who designed the sleeve. You can sorta see why she might be pissed.
From the testosterone-soaked production to the title Ruff Ryders First Lady
itself, Eve is subsumed within her crew's identity. Although she holds her own
amidst the gruff-voiced brawl of posse cuts like "Scenario 2000," Eve's had to
play down what was so unusual about "What Ya Want"--the sultry skrewface poise,
the sweatless cool--in favor of a more in-yer-face, tomboy raucousness.
At a time when hardcore rap's sole acknowledged value is flow (verbal and cash)
Eve is more than capable of running with the boys, though. Rhyming with an
impressive blend of smooth 'n' vicious, she finds the requisite new twists to
the standard-issue thematic repertoire--- boasts, threats, brandname-checks,
clique big-ups, and territorial boosterism (like her Illadelphian's anthem
"Philly, Philly," which is preceded by a nativist-verging-on-racist skit
caricaturing a Bangladeshi immigrant who can't make a Philly cheese steak
correctly). Predictably if entertainingly, Eve's a righteous scourge of
inadequates and haters, blasting "little-dick niggaz" and "fake-ass bitches" in
"Let's Talk About", and, in "Stuck Up," humiliating a suitor with "insufficient
funds" and a lamentable allegiance to last year's designer brand-names. "Ain't
Got No Dough" is the most sonically arresting track after "Gotta Man", an
amalgam of contemporary R&B beats, electro hi-hats, and scratching (skids and
disconcerting decelerations, like your turntable keeps switching off mid-beat).
Lyrically, though, it's just a late entry to 1999's quasi-feminist trend of
divas trashing "broke-ass niggaz". The skit "Chokie Nikes" similarly savages a
scrub with a fake Rolex, chronic halitosis, and poor chat-up technique. And
while the anti-wifebeating "Love Is Blind" could be construed as pro-empowerment
by those looking for strong women in hip hop (what other kind could there be,
though, rap not exactly being a haven for the shy or self-doubting?), Eve seems
as disgusted by her girlfriend's weakness in sticking with her abusive man as by
the perpetrator's brutality.

Basically, Eve's persona is the thug's moll. As guest-rapper DMX puts it in "Dog
Match", "behind every real dog there's that bitch behind him"--although this
you'n'me-against-the-world, Bonnie & Clyde romanticism is undercut somewhat by
the sing-song chorus's marrowcurdling image of "parademics on your chest/pushing
and breathing" . (The couple that slays together, stays together?). By far the
best of First Lady's (th)ugly tracks is "Maniac". Driven by rowdy
call-and-response and a sports TV-style synth-horn fanfare, the song thrilling
evokes the bristling alpha-male energy of a dance club. It's a milieu through
which Eve moves confidently, flirting with the scene's "top dog", getting
"drunker than a muthafucker," and finally cutting in line for the ladies' room.
The image of Eve gloating as she leaves a long line of "chicks hating" in her
wake seems to say something about the bitch-eat-bitch "reality" that rap in 1999
so doggedly represents, and something about Eve herself--the contrast between
the originality of the rhyme versus the petty triumph of incivility it
celebrates.

3/ MISCELLANEOUS STREET RAP

Ja Rule--"Holla Holla" (Murder Inc)
Snoop Dogg--"B Please" (No Limit)
JT Money -- "Who Dat" (Freeworld/Priority)
Cam'Ron--"Let Me Know" (Untertainmnent)
Jay-Z--"Jigga What" (Rock-A-Fella)
Lil Troy--"Wanna Be A Baller" (Universal)
Pharaoh Monche--"Simon Says (Get The Fuck Up)" (Rawkus)
Tru--"Hoody Hoo" (No Limit)
DMX--"Ruff Ryder's Anthem" (Ruff Ryders)

For some reason, the stuff that sparks me most in current hip hop isn't the
"undie" (indie label/underground) stuff that's supposed to be superior and what
someone "like me" should be into--Quannum, Divine Styler, turntabilism, Mos
Def/Black Star, Rawkus (except for that awesome grunge-grinding Pharoah Monche
track "Simon Says", which is Rawkus's bid for street impact anyway). No, it's
the tunes that are big on BET (for non-American readers, the black MTV) and Hot
97 (the rap equivalent of KISS FM in London), the singles that have the flash
videos and the albums that get glossy double-page adverts in The Source. Ruff
Ryders, Cash Money, Murder Inc., Violator, Hoo Bangin'... the stuff known
variously as street, hardcore, gangsta.... that sells shitloads but isn't really
sell-out, crossover pop-rap.

Why? Any or all of the following reasons might apply....

a/ the impurism of street rap ("if it works, steal it") guarantees more sonic
thrills and surprises than the purism of undie rap. Fidelity to the old skool by
definition implies a degree of familiarity and staleness; it's about
resurrecting what you loved before, preserving in aspic something that's bygone,
been and gone. (Break it down and "old school" ought logically signify something
pretty unappetising--"old", past and past-it; "school"--a place of detainment
and education). Undie/indie rap's codification of the genre is a denial of the
hybridity and makeshift quickwitted opportunism that originally sparked hip hop.
Lyrically predictable and repetitious (not to mention offensive, nihilistic,
socially irresponsible, and in thrall to false consciousness) street rap
generates more sonic surprises than undieground rap, perhap because it has to be
responsive to the motility of popular desire, rather than to a definition of
what proper hip hop is.

b/ There's an off-puttting connoisseurial vibe to the indie-rap milieu---the
encrypted lyrics, the oblique scansion, the fetishisation of "flow". Rather than
being the artistically valid and spiritually solvent alternative to gangsta
rap's bankrupty, undie rap's lofty aura is really just another male superiority
complex. It's 'look how deep I am' instead of 'look how hard I am'; basically,
just the bourgeous-bohemian version of rap's fundamental psychological
mode--male paranoia, endleslly oscillating between delusions of grandeur and a
persecution complex. Instead of the gangsta rapper's violence, the undie rapper
wields his gnosis, his arcana, his oracular penetration, his coding and decoding
skills. (Encrypting his own utterances, lest they be too easily understood;
decoding the conspiracies that underpin and organise white diss-topian reality,
a/k/a Babylon).

c/ This gangsta versus conscious, street versus underground schism maps onto a
similar one in dance culture--the cognoscenti-oriented scenes (Detroit techno,
deep house, acid jazz/downtempo/Mo Wax/Talkin' Loud, etc) versus the hardcore
undergrounds (jump up jungle, speed garage, filthy acid-tekno, gabba, etc). It's
actually a three-way division -- you have mainstream crossover stuff (Will
Smith, Coolio etc/cheesy trance, handbag house) ie stuff that appeals to non-rap
fans or non-dance fans; the connoiseurial elites; and somewhere in between the
hardcore street scenes. The latter seem to me to be where all the vibe comes
from. In a crucial paradox, the hardcore street scenes are populist but
anti-pop. Their populism takes the form of tribal unity against what's perceived
as a homogenous, blandly uninvolving pop culture. They're about the "massive" as
opposed to "the masses". But unlike the connoiseurial cliques or experimentalist
ivory-tower cloisters, the hardcores are about innovative music with real
"social energy" mobilised behind it.

d/ I'm just a philistine.


ELECTROFUNKADELIA

Super_Collider---Head On (Loaded)
Two takes on my favorite "techno" record of the year....

1/ "Serious" techno has long regarded vocals as "cheesy," too close to
conventional pop. But from Stardust's blissed male-diva to Basement Jaxx's
Prince-like multitrackings to Green Velvet's robo-monologues, electronic dance
has rediscovered the power of the human voice. In the forefront of this trend,
Brighton-based duo Super_Collider unites the avant-techno beat-phreaking of
Cristian Vogel with singer Jamie Lidell's mis-shapen melisma. The single "Darn
(Cold Way O' Lovin')" is Super_Collider at their most nearly-but-not-quite
tuneful: imagine The Gap Band being fistfucked by electro gods Man Parrish while
Herbie "Rockit" Hancock stands by with a lube tube of KY. Elsewhere, the songful
elements get deformed until barely recognisable. On "You Loosen Me Human" and
"Pay It Away," Liddell's grotesquely bluesified vocals worm through convoluted
groove-mazes of twitchy drum patterns, bulbous bass-slime, and gibbering,
braying synths. A weird fusion of dirty funk and Cubist angularity,
Super_Collider's music has a clinical-yet-abject quality, like the body fluids
and sexual secretions of a cyborg. Queerly compelling.

2/ Head On is a twisted, tripped-out brother to Les Rhythmes Digitales
Eighties-influenced Darkdancer. But where Jacques LeCont's fond exhumations of
Shannon and Nik Kershaw are typical French retro-kitsch, Super_Collider treat
Eighties electro-funk as a prematurely curtailed modernism. This English duo
(producer Cristian Vogel and singer Jamie Lidell) pick up where Zapp's "More
Bounce To The Ounce", George Clinton's "Atomic Dog," and Janet Jackson/Jam &
Lewis's "Nasty" left off. This era of dance music just before sampling totally
took over fascinates many today because of its crush collision between trad
musicianship and futurism: you can hear the players struggling to extract funk
from unwieldly and unyielding drum machines, sequencers and synths. Hence the
apparent paradox whereby the best Eighties dancepop still sounds amazingly
modern while much contemporary dance music sounds retro--because today's
producers get their funk by proxy, through sampling Seventies sources like
vintage disco loops or jazz-funk licks.

Head On gets me flashing on the bygone boogie wonderland of the post-disco,
pre-house interregnum--the bulbous synth-bass and juicy-fruit keyboard licks of
Gap Band, Steve Arrington, Man Parrish, D-Train, SOS Band. But as you'd expect
from someone who records solo for avant-techno labels Mille Plateaux and Tresor,
Vogel's version of bodymusic is decidedly mangled and alienated-sounding, while
Lidell croons a kind of cyborg hypersoul--grotesquely mannered, FX-warped, yet
queerly compelling. Head On's highlight "Darn (Cold Way O' Lovin')" has a groove
that bucks and writhes like a rutting hippotamus. "Take Me Home" is robo-Cameo,
featuring a digitized equivalent of slap-bass and Lidell's most blackface
warbling (imagine a bionic Steve Winwood). And "Alchemical Confession" is the
kind of black rock I always hoped Tackhead or Material would deliver, all acrid
guitar squalls and Lidell flailing like Jamiroquai in a meatgrinder (now that's
something I'd pay to see).

A few years ago, Vogel released an EP called We Equate Machines With
Funkiness--a misquote from an Andrew Goodwin cult-studs essay on the impact of
digital technology and programmed rhythm on dance music. Funk has always existed
in the biomechanical zone between James Brown aspiring to be a sex-machine and
Kraftwerk finding the libidinous pulse within the strict-time rhythms of
automobiles and trains. When a band's playing has too much fluency and human
feel, you don't get the tensile friction that defines da funk (which is why an
excess of jazz influence sounds the death-knell for any dance genre's ass-grind
appeal). Super_Collider, though, have a perfect grasp on funk's uncanny merger
of supple and stiff, loose and tight.


GLOOMCORE, Pt 3

The Horrorist--Run For Your Life EP (Things To Come)

My favorite singer-songwriter of the last few years isn't Elliott or Lucinda but
a guy called Oliver. A thoroughly modern minstrel, Oliver Chesler, a/k/a The
Horrorist, writes and sings tunes like "Mission Extacy" and "One Night in
NYC"--hilariously creepy fairy tales about the amoral things Manhattan club kids
will do to get drugs/do while on drugs. And tunes like "Wet and Shiny", an
alienated-and-loving-it, Devo-esque ditty about robo-dancing in an advanced
state of hallucinatory disassociation.

Folks, that's my kind of Americana. But Chesler doesn't strum a guitar, he
twiddles a vintage Electrocomp-101 synth, a sampler and a Cubase VST sequencing
program. Chesler's mission is to bring the story-song to techno's non-narrative
flux of abstract emotions and energy-pulses. In stark contrast to the studied,
somber impersonality of your average electronica imprint, his label Things To
Come exhibits a touching desire to communicate. Each of its three EPs to date
comes with a insert covered with lyrics, illustrations, and Chesler's
meditations on various topics. And Things To Come want dialogue--they positively
implore the audience to make contact, send in their own stories or artworks.
Although a few TTC tracks date back to the late Eighties (shortly after his
professor dad lugged home some synths and a mixer when the college scrapped its
music department), Chesler didn't really start serious musicking until he was
swept up in New York's early Nineties rave scene. Blown away by the bombast of
Belgian hardcore techno anthems like T99's "Anasthasia", he began to record for
Industrial Strength, the Brooklyn-based label founded by Lenny Dee. Early
Chesler productions like Disintegrator's "Lock On Target" and DJ Skinhead's
"Fuckin' Hostile" helped define the emergent ultra-hardcore sound called gabba.
While gabba thrived in Europe, New York's hardcore scene soon got in a bad way.
Local DJs like Dee and Chesler were increasingly drawn away to Holland, Germany,
Scotland, and France, where they could make big bucks playing to raves drawing
10,000 or more. By 1994, East Coast hardcore parties had dwindled down to small,
scary events--zombie-ravers smoking angel dust to a 6-AM soundtrack of heavily
distorted kick drums pounding at 180+ bpm. Around this time Chesler was going
through his own darkside phase with the party potions. Tracks like "I Get The
Coke" and "Fists of Pride" (released as Temper Tantrum, one of a dozen or more
aliases), were byproducts of his participation in a global contest to make the
hardest fastest nastiest and noisiest gabba record yet.

Hardcore producers across the world still bang their heads against the dead-end
of 300 beats-per-minute, fuck-yo-mama distorto-blare. But Chesler has opted out.
The music he's making now on TTC is still hardcore, but it's midtempo and
tuneful, characterised by cavernous reverb, slimy synth-textures, grotesquely
FX-warped vocals, and macabre melodic cadences. Chesler calls it "doomcore"; I
prefer "gloomcore", because the "gl--" sound is more moistly melancholic. Either
way, The Horrorist is not alone in his vision-quest--he's found allies in Marc
Acardipane (a/k/a The Mover) and Miro (a/k/a Reign), Frankfurt-based producers
making atmospheric hardcore, "music for huge space arenas."

The Acardipane-produced Inferno Brothers anthem "Slaves To the Rave" inspired my
favorite Chesler tune--"Move: Don't Stop!" from The Future Crusade EP (a
collaboration between Chesler and Miro using the name SuperPower). With its
militaristic bass-pump, regimented beat, hoarsely domineering vocal, and a Morse
Code rave-signal interlude that triggers the Pavlovian hands-in-the-air reflex,
"Move: Don't Stop!" makes me think of Theodor Adorno's remarks about the
"rhythmically obedient" character. That's you, me and anybody else who likes pop
music, according to modernist snob and Schoenberg groupie Adorno, who regarded
"the standardized meter of dance music" as mere marschmusik--strict-time rhythms
that drill the masses into "coordinated battalions of a mechanical
collectivity." Chesler tracks like "Dark Invader" (a stentorian dirgestomp) and
"Into the Moonbeam (Arena Mix)" (deathswarm synths and whipcrack snares) fulfil
Adorno's most histrionic nightmares of pop totalitarianism. They hark back to
that moment in techno's evolution (circa 1991) when the atmosphere at raves
started to resemble a rally more than a party. Ecstasy generates a
will-to-belief; the megarave collectivizes that fixated fervor, but ultimately
dissipates it into an intransitive trance. What might happen, though, if someone
tried to mobilise that energy, make it transitive, give it an objective? Could
rave's amorphous massive be transformed into an army?

Gloomcore isn't so much a flashback to a rave scene that doesn't exist anymore,
though, and more like the soundtrack for an imaginary new subculture. All is
revealed in "Run for Your Life", the hilarious title track of the new Horrorist
EP. Over frenetic quasi-jungle syncopations (a drum machine simulating a
breakbeat) and stereo-panning analog-synth blare, Chesler plays the bug-eyed
doomsayer, warning America to take cover 'cos "a billion Gothic Ravers are
falling from the sky/Wearing big pants/And trying to suck our blood..."; ravers
who lurk "in secret record shops/Sucking on amphetamines/And plotting their
plots." Then he veers off into "Supernaut" style delusions of ballistic
grandiosity: "I am the essence/Of overwhelming doom... God, I want to fly."
The key phrase is "Gothic Ravers". On the first Things To Come EP, Chesler
called for the return of "16th note FM bass mania", a reference to the
chittering neo-Moroder bass-pulses that motored "industrial disco" pioneers like
Front 242 and DAF. Industrial and "Euro Body Music" are rarely acknowledged
sources for techno (because they're so white?), influencing everything from the
Belgian brutalists to Detroit renegades Underground Resistance. Chesler himself
says he's "never recovered" from the time he saw Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb (with
his other heroes Depeche Mode in the audience!) play New York the same week.

Which is one reason the first Things To Come EP's insert expressed eagerness to
play Gothic/industrial clubs. Another is that Chesler reckons Goth and
industrial kids are a better audience than drugged-out ravers; they listen
closer, they're more loyal, more fanatical, more cultic. And make no mistake,
Chesler wants followers; he'd like to be where Reznor and Manson are now,
performing with gigantic videoscreens, merchandising concessions in place.
Imagining the future, he says "I'll wear the shirts and they'll wear the shirts
and it'll mean something."

The Horrorist isn't a play on "terrorist" but means to conjure a dark-visioned
prophet, a monger of doom. Songs like "Heed The Word" and "I Declare" hint at
something of a messiah complex in 29 year old Chesler, who wants to recruit
people for what he calls the New Direction and even dreams of starting his own
"world political party" (the ideology has yet to be formulated). "It's better to
believe in anything at all--whether it's right or wrong, true or false," he
says. "You're better off believing than not believing." The vision may be
blurry, but the will-to-power comes through loud and clear: The Horrorist wants
to rule his own little "Bassline Empire". Thing is, he's got the tunes to do it.



R&B DIVAS BASHING UP MEN

TLC
"No Scrubs"
"Unpretty"
(LaFace)
Destiny's Child
"Bills Bills Bills"
"Bugaboo"
The Writing's On the Wall
(all Columbia)
Missy Elliott
"All In My Grill"
Da Real World
(Elektra)
Whitney Houston
"It's Not Right, But It's Okay"
(Arista)
Kelis
"Caught Out There"
(Virgin)
Trina & Tamara
"What'd You Come Here For" (C2 Records)
702
"Where My Girls At"
(Motown)
Sporty Thievz
"No Pigeons"
(Roc-A-Blok/Ruffhouse)

Trend of the year was R&B divas bashing up men--for being faithless (Whitney's
awesome "It Ain't Right"), for dogging them (in "Bugaboo", the stalker uses a
mutual friend's cellphone to pest-call a Destiny's Child when she's put a block
on his own cellie number), for creating unrealistic and self-hate-inducing
images of feminine pulchritude (TLC's sickly sounding but overtly feminist
"Unpretty"), and for generally fucking with her head (Kelis's bizarre "Caught
Out There", which cuts from slick diva-tude to a riot-grrrl howl of a chorus--"I
HATE YOU SO MUCH RIGHT NOW"-- totally unmelodic and abrasively ugly). But mostly
black men got bashed for not having enough funds to make them worthy
suitors/life-partners---"Bills", "Grill", "Scrubs" . When the R&B grrrls weren't
roughing up the guys, they were preparing to give rival women a beat-down for
having designs on their man--702's Missy-penned "Where My Girl's At?", Missy's
own "You Don't Know," etc.

TLC's "No Scrubs"--a contender for single of the year, although I think its
harpsichord-driven imitator, "Bills, Bills, Bills" actually just pips it to the
post--pretty much encapsulated the problems and pleasures of this quasi-feminist
trend. Polyrhythmically speaking, "No Scrubs" is a frisky bundle of joy, but
words-wise, it's cheerless as can be. Dismissing an entire class of
low-or-no-income guys as deadbeat "scrubs", the song obsessively reinforces the
doubtless "real" but bleak notion that designer commodities and the financial
wherewithall to acquire them constitute the ultimate measure of a man: "I"m
looking like class and he's looking like trash", "ain't got the G's/to please,"
"trying to get with me/ with no money".

"No Scrubs" struck a nerve, dramatizing what are probably real shifts in income
parity and relationship power-balance that are going on between African-American
men and women. It was almost inevitable that there would be a response of some
kind. "Representin' the so-called 'scrubs'" says the sticker on Sporty Thievz's
single "No Pigeons", and although they're brandishing champagne glasses in the
CD booklet of their Street Cinema album, the Yonkers trio really aren't playas.
In the "Pigeons" video, they dress like casual, neighbourhood B-boys, while
their track "Cheapskate" adopts a proud-to-be-tightfisted stance in defiance of
contemporary's rap's potlatch ethos of conspicuous consumption. Basically a
cover of "No Scrubs" with new lyrics, "No Pigeons" savagely mocks women who
front like they're high class by using ruses like fake jewels, borrowing a
girlfriend's shoes, and buying a designer outfit for a big night out then
returning it to the store the next day. What makes "Pigeons" more interesting
than the opportunistic novelty hit it became is the smarting sense of wounded
retaliation underneath the surface of spirited sarcasm. TLC's jibe about the
n'er-do-well scrub "hanging out the passenger side/of his best friend's ride"
cut deep, apparently.

BET edited the "Scrubs" and "Pigeons" videos together into a single "sick mix";
if this had been simply a straightforward battle-of-the-sexes a la UTFO versus
Roxanne Shante, the Thievz's jeers about dirty Victoria drawers and mustache
removal would be plain misogynist. But class animosity gives the tussle a
different inflection, and an edge. It hints faintly at some dim-and-distant end
to the namebrand-fetishizing, it's-all-about-the-Benjamins era. In the interim,
maybe it's time for specter-of-Marx concepts like ""reification" and "false
consciousness" to enter the lexicon of hip hop critique.



HOUSE MUSIC

1/ Basement Jaxx---Remedy (XL)

Without fanfare, house has crept forward to become the leading edge of dance
culture again, like it was over a decade ago. It's managed to sidestep the
grimly purist rut that's ensnared minimal techno and drum and bass ; rather than
getting paranoid about stylistic contamination and bastardy, late Nineties house
is pragmatically open to outside influence. Slyly, it assimilates rhythmatic and
texturological tricks from overtly experimental forms of electronica, then
resituates them in a juicier pleasure-principled context. As a result, late
Nineties house encompasses a huge range of flavas: Stardust/Roule/Daft
Punk-style disco cut-ups, Herbert's voluptuously textured future-jazz, Green
Velvet's tripped-out story-songs over harsh machinic grid-grooves, Faze Action's
Afro-percussive Loft classicism. And then there's Basement Jaxx--Felix Buxton
and Simon Ratcliffe--whose music is so promiscuously impurist it should really
be dubbed The Genre Formerly Known As House.

The Jaxx boys' first three EPs were lumped in with the mid-Nineties wave of
"Nu-House," British outfits such as Faze Action and Idjut Boys. But Buxton &
Ratcliffe soon got fed up with that scene's snobbery and authenticity
fetish--the obsession with reproducing the sound of "Loft classics" (disco
productions by Larry Levan and Francois Kevorkian popular at New York
underground clubs in the 1970s and early Eighties). "Nu House was good at
first," says Ratcliffe, "but it quickly became dull and smug--'we know what the
cool records are, we're replicating them, and isn't it groovy?'" Having rapidly
achieved their initial goal--mastering the skills of contemporary US house
auteurs they admired like Masters At Work and Mood II Swing--Basement Jaxx were
hungry for new challenges. "In the beginning, we were just trying to be house
producers," says Ratcliffe. "Now we're trying not to be house producers."
The Genre Formerly Known As House tag fits because Prince and his balancing act
of identity-through-constant-flux is an aesthetic model for Basement Jaxx. Their
debut album Remedy recalls Sign O' The Times in its insanely detailed
production, compulsive stylistic hybridity, and warped vocal multitrackings.
Above all, it's Prince-ly in its maximalist-not-minimalist extravagance--ideas
that other producers might spin out for entire tracks occur as sonic
singularities, gratuitous one-offs. "We want you to hear something different
each time you listen," says Ratcliffe. "Hopefully we don't over-confuse people
by putting too many things in. Then again, you want to be slightly baffled by
music, don't you?"

Remedy's most jaw-droppingly disconcerting moment might be the point in "Same
Old Show" where the listener realises the tune pivots around a sample from "On
My Radio" by ska group The Selector--a short phrase of eerie vocal counterpoint
brilliantly isolated from its perky Two-Tone context and looped to monstrously
mantric effect. A protest against the formulaic homogeneity of dance music,
"Same Old Show" gets it message across as much through its sound as the "it's
just the same old show" sample. "There's a kind of ugliness to it," decides
Ratcliffle. "A lot of the original Chicago house music was done by people who
really weren't that musical, in the traditional sense. But the wrongness gave it
a real excitement . It's good not to be too safe about being in tune or having
correct timing. 'Same Old Show' isn't about musical cohesion, really-- it's
about energy, and oddness."

Waxing lyrical about the scuzz appeal of Camberwell (where the duo's studio is
based) compared with chic neighbour Brixton, Ratcliffe says the Jaxx are
"anti-style... Our music's saying 'fuck off' to things everyone thinks are
cool." In this Camberwell spirit, the Jaxx put a deliberate record-skipping
effect into "Yo Yo," another Remedy stand-out. Combined with a simultaneous
bassline change, the skip, says Buxton "makes you feel like everything's
slipped. It's great because it's like a new sensation. And that's a bit of our
jazz attitude--like Coltrane pushing his instrument, doing things that initially
sounded totally wrong, and it's only later you realise 'that was music all
along''.

Also citing jazz as an influence, Ratcliffe describes the Jaxx methodology as
"freestyling-- we freestyle in our programming". The duo jam with their machines
to create things like the strobing, wobbly-fingers-in-your-earhole effect in
"Razo-Caine" (a fantastic bonus track on the recently re-released "Red Alert"
single). "With that, I was playing the samples live on the keyboard and
pitchbending them," explains Buxton, "Simultaneously Simon's EQing what I'm
doing on the desk, effecting them, and placing them within the track."
Where Buxton's musical trajectory (digging Gilles Peterson's jazz-dance scene in
the late Eighties, organising his own underground house parties in Brixton in
the early Nineties) is oriented around club culture, Ratcliffe's background has
oscillated wildly--from playing guitar in jazz-funk bands to making hardcore
rave tunes under the name Tic Tac Toe. Fondly recalling the days when his
breakbeat anthem "Ephemeral" got remixed by Fabio, Grooverider and Mickey Finn,
Ratcliffe describes 'ardkore as a positive example of "the technology taking
over. And it was so English--unsophisticated, full of attitude and energy. They
used illegal samples, made vocals so high they sounded ridiculous--but it
worked. It's that same punk spirit that we're trying to incorporate into our
music."

Indeed, Basement Jaxx call what they do "punk garage". This nicely punning
inversion suggests a spiritual kinship with speed garage--like Jaxx trax, a
smooth and sexy New York sound ruffed up with English attitude. In the awesome
"Jump 'N Shout", Buxton & Ratcliffe managed to create a bolshy, boisterous
ragga-house hybrid that parellels but sounds nothing like speed garage, while
the gorgeous hypersyncopated ballad "You Can't Stop Me" echoes two-step's
infatuation with Timbaland-style beat-science. And the re-released "Red Alert"
comes with a remix from two-step auteur Steve Gurley.

Like London's underground garage crews, Basement Jaxx brilliantly combine
songful musicality and trackhead FX-mania, human fluency and machinic
angularity, high production values and digital dirt, jazz and punk. In the past,
they've swung back and forth on a song by song basis--from the sultry Brazilian
house of "Samba Magic" and "Eu Nao," through the shredded symphonic frenzy of
"Fly Life" to the evil drug-noise of "Raw Sh*t" and "Set Yo Body Free". But now
they're meshing those extremes inside the same track. Take "Don't Give Up",
simultaneously Remedy's most accomplished and most deranged track--a quiet Sturm
und Drang ballad reeling between Scott Walker strings and nauseously roiling
billows of acid-bass. The song's about how you can dig yourself a deep hole by
thinking too deeply: the chorus beseeches "don't pull the cracks in your mind
apart." And it reflects the trepidation Jaxx felt as they started recording
Remedy. "We were on this precipice, looking down," recalls Ratcliffe. " We'd
talk a lot about what should we be doing. That song is like us saying 'let's
just get on with it'. So instead of working our way up to it, we did did the
most experimental track first. It was us forgetting about dance music
altogether."


2/ Armand Van Helden 2 Future 4 U (Armed)

Although he's from New York, Van Helden has little truck with the jazz-infused
"musicality" and tasteful restraint of that city's deep house tradition.
Instead, he's sole heir to a more aggressive, unpolished New York lineage of hip
hop-influenced house now largely fallen into abeyance. Like forefather Todd
Terry's proto-rave anthems, Van Helden's tunes have hugely impacted Britain,
where the boundaries between hip hop and house aren't so policed. His turbo-bass
driven remix of Sneaker Pimps's "Spin Spin Sugar," for instance, was a formative
influence on speed garage. On 2 Future, Van Helden reprises that winning formula
on "Alienz" and "Mother Earth," which both ride on the malevolent drone-swarm
B-lines of darkside drum 'n bass.

Despite the fiasco of his Sampleslayaflirtation with rap, Van Helden's eager as
ever to flaunt his B-boy allegiances: Company Flow's MC Ren cameos on "Rock Da
Spot", "Psychic Bounty Killaz" is kickstarted with a volley of gunshots, and an
interlude composed of answer-machine messages left by top house DJs plus Mick
Jagger's assistant culminates with his landlord relaying the complaint of a
neighbour kept awake by loud noises "more orgasmic than musical". Could all this
ruffneck flexing be over-compensation for the fact that Van Helden excels in a
genre still regarded by hip hoppers as "gay"?

Ironically, 2 Future's best tracks are the least macho. "U Don't Know Me" is a
swashbuckling, string-swept stampede built from a vintage orchestral disco
sample. The don't-judge-me lyrics, sung by Duane Harden in a tone at once
wounded and defiant, slot into a gay house mini-tradition of anthems that demand
respect from a hostile world. On the lovesickly, langorous "Flowerz", garage
vocalist Roland Clark swoons amid a heat-haze of sound, again spun from a
filtered-until-spangly disco loop. Both songs suggest that Armand "I am a raw
individual" Van Helden shouldn't struggle so strenuously against his designated
status as a house artist. Then again, if he wasn't conflicted, he might not make
such fierce, genre-bending sounds.



3/ MISCELLANEOUS HOUSE

Moloko--"Sing It Back (Herbert's Tasteful Dub)" (F111)
Faze Action---Moving Cities (Nuphonic/F111)
Green Velvet--Constant Chaos (Music Man)
Everything But The Girl---Temperamental (Atlantic)


4/ Body & Soul
(at Vinyl, TriBeca, New York, Sundays 3PM--11PM)

Knights of the Jaguar---"Jaguar" (Underground Resistance)
Dubtribe Sound System---"Equitoreal (Mariachi Dub)" (Jive Electro)

Until it got a bit crap towards the autumn (too hot, too loud, too much
distortion through the sound-system, and too much chopping about with the
records by the DJs: see below), Body & Soul was the best club in New York. These
are two Body & Soul classics, and just about the only two tunes played at the
club I've been able to identify. "Jaguar" is ripplingly rhapsodic tech-house, I
guess, shades of "Jupiter Jazz" and the better Red Planet stuff. "Equitoreal" is
dub-tastic tribal house with an Afro-kitschadelic flavor, all liquid rippling
congas and a "Jibaro"-style chestbeating warrior-male chant, plus this
heartstopping hiatus where the beat halts and this portentous voice intones
"Lord have mercy on my soul".

During VH1's rock history series, Tom Petty (historically speaking, a louse on
Dylan's nutsack) declares: "Our goal in the Seventies was to destroy disco". VH1
clearly endorse Petty's view of disco as "a terrible menace to music."
Blissfully unaware that their culture is still being written out of history, a
thousand mad-for-it dancers gather every Sunday evening at Body & Soul to
celebrate disco as a living musical tradition.

Like many in the crowd, resident DJs Francois Kevorkian and Danny Krivit are
middle-aged veterans of Manhattan's 1970s underground disco scene; B&S is
modelled on the legendary Paradise Garage, right down to the alcohol-free juice
bar and fabulously crisp sound system. The crowd--a utopian mix of black and
white, male and female, straight and gay, drugged and undrugged, shirted and
shirtless--clearly don't recognize the rockist version of disco as the death of
community and meaning. Soul classics by Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield are
dropped next to Nineties deep house anthems, as if they're all part of the same
sonic/spiritual continuum. Krivit sometimes cuts out the testifying choruses so
the audience can participate, call-and-response style.

This can get a bit too Pentecostal, though, and I prefer it when vocal-free
house tracks are meshed into a redemptive flow of ambient gospel. The
combination of the club's sweat-stippled humidity and the spongy, succulent
sound creates an intimate pressure, amniotic and baptismal. Often, I'm reminded
of Talking Heads at their Steve-Reich-meets-King-Sunny-Ade peak--like Remain In
Light, the music's built from onionskin layers of melodic-percussive pulses.
Afro-funk was actually a major fad in house 1999, with Masters At Work reworking
Fela Kuti tunes.

If anything, B& S set a tad too much store in vocal accomplishment and live
instrumention (chickenscratch guitar, horns, etc), not enough on disco's
plastique fantastique side. To my rave-glazed ears, the most exciting stuff at
B&S is what house heads call "tracky" as opposed to "songful"--instrumental
rhythm tracks that are dub-spacious and FX-addled. But even on the smooth,
organic sounding trad disco, the DJs use a technology called "crossover" to
create violently lurching, staccato dynamics that feel jarringly modern and at
times verge on desecratory. Rather than working through the DJ's mixer,
"crossover" directly controls the sound system's sub-woofers, mid-range and
tweeters, allowing Krivit, Francois K and the third member of the team Joe
Clausell to cut out entire swathes of frequencies in the tracks, creating new
dynamics within familiar songs by stripping down to just bass or slashing in and
out of the swirling orchestral strings to create staccato riffs of shrill
treble. When applied to a hoary slice of faux-disco like the Stones's "Miss
You", the effect is like a latent house track is fighting its way out of the
original song, Alien-style. The phuture manifesting itself through the past's
flesh---this is how disco/house culture evolves, honoring its ancestors even as
it bastardizes the legacy.

Body & Soul was started in July 1996 by Kevorkian, Clausell, and Krivit, and
their semi-conscious aim seems to have been to create a sort of heaven-for-DJs:
a club where they could play exactly what they wanted, through a crisp,
sensorily overwhelming sound system, to a totally receptive, loyal crowd.
Although Francois K winces at the idea that Body & Soul is a "reinvocation" or
"return", the club's ideals are deeply informed by the trio's experiences on
Manhattan's 1970s underground disco scene--party spaces like The Loft and The
Paradise Garage, whose legendary and deceased DJ Larry Levan is honored every
year by a birthday bash at Body & Soul.

These clubs predated not just house music, but the mainstream explosion of
disco, which explains why Francois prefers to characterize the B&S sound as
"uptempo R&B" or just "music." "Sometimes the records we play that are outside
the 'dance music' norm---Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the 5th Dimension--are the
ones that get the biggest reaction," Francois says with pride. "Once Joe played
a George Michael song, but in the context, it became so emotional, not just this
commercial pop thing."

Everything about Body & Soul connects it to the pre-rave era. Take the DJ
style-- instead of montaging the most mix-abley two minute excerpts from
anonymous tracks into a Ecstasy-enhancing flow, Krivit, Claussell and Francois K
will play entire songs from beginning to end. Because they take turns to spin
round-robin style, they aren't focussed on the mix, and feel free to make
drastic switches between styles and tempos. "I get bored by DJs who play just
one vibe, with no peaks and valleys, just this flat bulldozed landscape,"
complains Francois. Body & Soul are also committed to the idea of music as
communication, something that's unusual in modern dance culture; Krivit praises
the bygone sensibility of DJs like Levan and The Loft's David Mancuso, who
played songs that "said something." Body & Soul likewise favor songs that
transmit, lyrically or through instrumental atmosphere, a vibe of positivity and
spiritualized hedonism.

What Body & Soul have resurrected is the old house ideal of the club as a
secular surrogate for church--a place, says Francois "where you can release
before the week starts," but also be initiated into "a welcoming, beaming,
inclusive lifestyle/worldview". Body & Soul is dedicated, he says, to
"cherishing and perpetuating" a gay urban tradition that's 30 years old but
still marginalized by the mainstream---precisely because of
discophobia/homophobia.


5/ 2-STEP and U.K. UNDERGROUND GARAGE

The Artful Doger--"Rewind" (Public Demand)
DJ Double G -- "Poison" (DJs For Life)
Shanks & Bigfoot--"Sweet Like Chocolate" (Pepper)
Master Stepz. feat Splash--"Melody" (Outlaw)
Deetah--"Relax (Bump N' Flex Remix)"
U.S. Alliance--"All I Know (Dem 2's Grunge Dub Mix)" (Locked On)
Bump N'Flex --"Step 2 Me"
DJ Double G - "Special Request"(DJs For Life)
Groove Chronicles-- "99/Black Puppet". (Dat Pressure Recordings/DPR)
EP of remixes of Ratpack's "The Clipper" aka "Champion Puffer" (Confetti Dubs)
Cisco--"Bonnie & Clyde"
DJ Dee Kline & Pixie --- "I Don't Smoke" (RAT)
The Corruption Crew--"G.A.R.A.G.E." from Tales of the Corrupted EP (Kronik)
Groove Chronicles --"Masterplan"
M Dubs -"Bump'n'Grind" (Babyshack)
M-Dubs -- "Body Killing" (Babyshack)
M-Dubs--"For Real"
Lee Edwards--"Your Mind, Your Body, and Your Soul"
Artists Unknown--Bootleg remix of KP and Envyi's "Swing My Way"
Glamma Kid & Shola Ama--"Sweetest Taboo (MJ Cole Remix)"
E.S. Dubs--"Standard Hoodlum Issue" (Social Circles)
Box Fresh--"Talk To Me" (Prolific)
In Sinc-- "Cool The Menta" (500 Rekords)
Same People -- "Dangerous" (Locked On)
Large Joints--"Dubplate (Brandy--Down With You Bootleg)"
Architechs--"B&M Remix/The Boy Is Mine"
Y-Tribe--"Enough Is Enough"
New Horizons-- "Slamdown" from Scrap Iron Dubs Vol 1 (500 Rekords)
DJ Luck and MC Neat--"Little Bit of Luck" (Red Rose Recordings)
Angel Farringdon & L'il Smokey--"No Fighting/Clean Rhythm" (JBR)
Mad Shag --"Madness on the Streets Remix" (Stamp)
10 degrees Below meets Fierce--"Dayz Like That"
Norris 'Da Boss' Windross -- "Heartbeat" (Pseudo)
Antonio--"Bad Funk/Bad Funk (Dem 2 Remix)" (Locked On)
DEA--"Sacrifice" [remake of Rufige Cru's "Menace"] (DEA)
Various Artists--Locked On... The Best Of
Various Artists--Pure Silk: The Album
(to name but a few.....

Even after the "Feminine Pressure" UK garage epic, I find there's always more to
say about 2-step, new twists and folds, contours and crinkles. It's endlessly
seductive and thought-provocative. For now, just a couple of thoughts:

A/ I'm always struck by the way the ads for clubs and raves on the pirates go on
about the main room playing "house and UK garage". At these events you can be
sure you will never hear a house record in any of the commonly accepted senses.
You'll be lucky to hear any four-to-the-floor pump, it'll be 95 percent two-step
twitch all the way. The latest wave of tunes--by M-Dubs, Groove Chronicles, E.S.
Dubs--are moody midtempo breakbeat with evil basslines and dub-spatialized
mixes, topped with menacing ragga vocals or pure darkside-revisisted samples. In
other words, fuck-all to do with house music or garage. So why this strident
prioritisation, "house and UK garage", with the word "house" upfront? Why the
reluctance to announce, proclaim, shout from the rooftops, the fabulous novelty
of this music? Why the semantic restraint? (M-Dubs actually call what they do
"breakbeat funk" but this is really unusual). The insistence on "house" is a
re-pledging of allegiance--as if the swerve into jungle, as a named,
differentiated genre, distinct from house, was a terrible mistake; the first
split that beget all the subdivisions to follow. Yet the re-dedication to
"house" is not at all the same as, say, the UK purist house scene's emulation of
American deep house maestros, its fidelity to Chicago or New York. It's more
about a reinvocation of the spirit (rather than substance) of a specifically
British moment, an all-too-brief phase before the subgeneric dis-intergration of
the rave diaspora began. This phase, circa 1990, was when house started to get
inflected in all kinds of specifically British ways, yet it was still house: the
bleep house of Unique 3 and Nightmares On Wax, the hip-house/breakbeat house of
Blapps Posse and Shut Up and Dance, the dancehall/dub house of Ragga Twins and
Moody Boys, the hardcore house of Congress and Psychotropic. What's being
re-proposed is an idea--again British-of a house music that's so elastic,
hybrid, and protean, it almost has no stylistic contours, no delimited range of
emotion--it can comprehend any influence, any feeling. House as a literally
catholic church -- so inclusive and adaptable there's no need for schisms or
breakaway heretic sects--because it can be almost anything. And that's what
2-step is--what house sounds like when almost every defining characteristic of
house music has been eliminated or tweaked until near-unrecognisable.

In the tradition of hardcore and jungle before it, London's garage scene works
as a gigantic laboratory, a permutation space where new hyphenated hybrids and
creole micro-genres flicker into life for a few months or even just weeks, then
disappear: speed garage, slow jungle, ska-house, acid swingbeat, hyper-funk,
breakbeat garage, disco-ragga, grunge dub, riddim & blues, electro-gamelan,
divas-in-the-echo-chamber, crack house, tech-2-step, quiet stormcore, sugarshack
breakbeat funk, scrap iron dub, bleep garage, wildstyle soul, lover's jump-up.
In this music you hear spectral traces of 20 plus years of London "street
sounds" culture---the ghosts of Loose Ends, Janet Kay, Ratpack, Buju Banton,
Gappa G & Hypa Hypa, Soul II Soul, Public Enemy, Ali G., Anita "It's the Way"
Baker, Smiley Culture, Tina Moore, Mantronix, Leviticus, JVC Force, Deep Dish,
Nina Simone, Kaotic Chemistry---not just in the form of assimilated influences,
but often as blatant samples, cheekily plagiarized interpolations, even total
remakes like the ones of "Mr Kirk's Nightmare" and "Lord of the Null Lines"
going around at the moment.


B/ my favorite bit in Artful Dodger's fabtastic "Re-Wind" isn't the "when the
crowd say 'bo' selector/re-e-wind"" chorus or the windscreen-smashing beats, but
the bit where Craig David croons "got our groove on, dancing yeah, real
hardcore." The fact that he can convincingly claim to be "real hardcore" in that
silky-soft swingbeat Nutrasweet voice highlights the transvaluation that's taken
place; when drum'n'bass started to fall into the grim orbit of techno, the
London massive conversely started to feel the gravitational attraction of
American R&B--almost as a kind of counter-force. At any rate, what used to be
"jungle" got pulled in twain by these opposed gravitational tugs, so that a huge
gulf now exists between, say, Optical and Groove Chronicles. The "real hardcore"
line, so smoothly crooned amidst the lethal slickness of Artful Dodger's
production, emphasizes just how elastic this London subculture is--how it can
assimilate pop melodics and R&B smoov-ness and still be ruff, still be hardcore.
2-step is where the musical advances made during 10 years of collectively living
at the cutting edge of rave's drug-technology interface
(acidhardcorejungledrum'n'bass) are now being folded back into song-oriented
house and American R&B (ie. the humanist, hypersexual pop sounds that ravers
originally broke with to pursue manic sexless drug-noise).



REISSUES

Roxy Music
Roxy Music
For Your Pleasure
Stranded
Country Life
Siren
(all Virgin)

In 1969's Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom, Nik Cohn simultaneously celebrated and
mourned the mythic era of "Superpop, the noise machine, and the image, hype, and
beautiful flash of rock'n'roll music." Provoked by the post-Sgt. Pepper's boom
of self- consciously mature, album-oriented artistry, Cohn's eve-of-the-1970s
nostalgia for the recent past was queerly prescient, anticipating glam rock's
retro-futurist resurrection of the three minute single, visual dazzle, the whole
teen-scream-dream.

What makes Roxy's music on these ultra-vivid sounding remastered reissues so
endlessly listenable and so different from the rest of the glitter gang is that
they had a foot in both the art rock and Pop Art camps. If the band's pop
sensibility was informed by Warhol, Fifties rock'n'roll, and classic Hollywood
("2 H.B" payed tribute to Bogart's poise), Roxy's vision of rock was large
enough to encompass Velvet Underground, Steve Reich, Ornette Coleman,
Brecht-Weil, and Pierre Henry. The result of such incongruous inputs and
clashing sensibilities was, as ex-member Brian Eno noted later, "a terrific
tension in the music," which came from "juxtaposing things that didn't naturally
sit together". But then success placed Roxy in a position where that "element of
clumsiness and grotesqueness" had to go, in favour of an ever more sleek and
well-proportioned pop classicism.

Roxy's first album buzzes with the "insanity" and "idiot energy" that Eno
valorized and Bryan Ferry gradually eliminated. Kickstarting the debut,
"Re-Make/Re-Model" is a pub rock brawl that's a notch above Wizzard's crude
rock'n'roll revivalism thanks only to the alien qualities of Ferry's Devo-esque
whinny, Eno's synth-bleats and Andy Mackay's freeform sax squall. A Number Four
smash in late '72, "Virginia Plain" is a glorious Velvets-meets-Neu! surge, with
ugly blurts of synth that'd warm the valves of Add N To (X)'s mechanical heart,
and that fabulous bit where the song halts then revs up again for its final
stampede.

Both songs show how glam's back-to-basics manoeuvre anticipated punk's. Other
tracks on the debut, though, are basically progressive rock, closer to King
Crimson-style maximalism than Velvets/Krautrock minimalism. The multi-segmented
"If There Is Something" starts weirdly like The Band in faux-Southern boogie
mode (e.g. "Up On Cripple Creek''), before morphing into Euro neuromanticism
(Ferry's pledges of amorous fealty climax with the bizarre promise to "grow
potatoes by the score"!). After a third section (a keening, ruminative sax
soliloquy over weary piano chords), the song glides into a plastic soul coda,
complete with Ferry's most bloodcurdling vocal theatrics ever---stricken
histrionics wrenched from deep within, at once harrowingly visceral yet somehow
utterly un-human. Like some monstrously unwholesome caricature of the love song,
"If There Is Something" makes no sense structurally or emotionally, yet it's
shatteringly moving. On a similarly non-coherent tip, "The Bob Medley" is
approximately six songs in one: Sabbath-meets-Crimson bombast; a Spinal
Tap/"Stonehenge" interlude of dancing-dwarf pan-pipes; a musique concrete
simulated battlefield; a West Coast hippy-rock sing-a-long; an oboe-accompanied
poem, etc.

You could write a book on the tangled themes of aristocracy, decadence,
artifice, irony, fetishism, and male desire that make up For Your Pleasure,
Roxy's peerless peak. Space permits only a selective/subjective inventory of the
album's most intense pleasures. "Do The Strand": Ferry's wickedly witty lyrics
and archly mannered diction, the "European Son"-style harmelodics. "Beauty
Queen": the deadly shimmer of keyboards at the start, the tremulous quaver of
Ferry's voice when he sings "you make my starry eyes shiver", the absurd
grandeur of the final verse's image of "soul-ships" that pass in the night
"plying very strange cargo". "In Every Dream Home A Heartache": Manzanera's
gaseous solo and Paul Thompson's phased, stereopanning drums. "The Bogus Man":
the wheezing, dub-chambered, Sly-circa-Riot/Can-circa-Tago-Mago groove. "Grey
Lagoons": just the mind's eye tickling title.

"For Your Pleasure" the song warrants its own paragraph, though--I can think of
nothing in rock like it, before or after, except perhaps Nico's The Marble Index
and Joy Division's "Atmosphere". Like the latter, "F.Y.P" is rock purged of
Americana and re-rooted in Bergman's The Seventh Seal, Lotte Lenya, and Last
Year in Marienbad. Ferry's hieroglyph words and stilted, stately phrasing (a
frieze of emotion), the reverb-hazed piano, the stop-start rhythm, all conjure a
Gothic tableau of macabre elegance: a Bavarian mansion's frozen lawns, animals
strike curious poses, heraldic and eldritch. Halting for the impossible gravitas
of Ferry's adieu ("Old man/Through e-ver-y step I change/You watch me walk
away/Ta-ra"), the song then mutates into a mindblowing extended coda, with
multilayered piano (Terry Riley/Steve Reich-style one-note riffs and upper
octave trills) pointillistically painting a Milky Way skyscape mad with stars.
Finally the song expires like a galaxy swirling down a black hole's funnel.
Steeped in Eno's studio-as-instrument sorcery but charged with a cryptic passion
he's never mustered solo, "For Your Pleasure" is one of the most psychedelic
records ever, easily rivalling Barrett-era Floyd, Hendrix, and Tim Buckley.
The song was simultaneously pinnacle and death-knell for the Eno-era Roxy. On
1973's Stranded, Roxy's jutting angularity and experimental excresences have
largely been bevelled away. Still, the album is intermittedly exhilirating: the
carillion-guitared swagger of "Street Life", the gloss-funk sashay of "Amazona"
(cracked apart by an astounding liquid-lightning solo from Manzanera), and
"Mother of Pearl", Roxy's last blast in full-on Velvets-mode. The song uses
imagery of the gem trade to describe the romantic arc of idolisation and
disillusionment; Ferry's character shifts from courtly lover worshipping a
"lustrous lady" to jaded misogynist who's discovered that his blue-blooded belle
dame is really just a "so-so semi-precious" social climber with a rough-cut
past, just like himself.

Americans, bless 'em, think Roxy only got great with Country Life and the
universally five-star Siren. Wrong! While Ferry's songcraft and personae twists
still offer compelling drama on top tunes like "Love Is The Drug", "Both Sides
Burning" and "Just Another High", the actual fabric of Roxy's sound gets
steadily more conventional and tame. Sonically, Country Life's saving graces are
the thrilling blaze of "All I Want Is You" and the Weimar-flavored "Bitter
Sweet"; Siren's are excitingly shrill, proto-New Wave tunes like "Whirlwind"
(reminiscent of early Psychedelic Furs) and "Both Sides Burning" (Japan). But
mostly Ferry is honing his metamorphosis from glamdroid with the Dalek-like
metallic vibrato to sad-eyed, fop-fringed crooner. To be sure, it's still a long
way from the blandly attractive art-disco and bruised romantic ennui of the late
Seventies Manifesto-era Roxy. But it's remoter still from the hair-raising
strangeness of For Your Pleasure.



Various Artists-- Warp 10+2 Classics (Warp/Matador)

Warp's first phase of cool came as the prime purveyor of "bleep-and-bass"--a
style that owed as much to electro's pocket-calculator melodies and dub reggae's
floorquaking sub-bass as it did to acid house's trip-notic compulsion. Much of
this compilation of Warp's dancefloor-oriented hardcore rave phase (which they
soon repudiated) sounds like the direction Kraftwerk could have followed after
1981's Computer World--if they'd got into drugs. Sweet Exorcist's "Clonk," for
instance, is like Ralf und Florian lost in the K-hole, an inner-spatial
maelstrom of Mondrian-like geometric shapes and primary colors. Ranging from
Tricky Disco's cartoon-quirky almost-pop, through the cold urgency of LFO and
Forgemasters, to Nightmares On Wax's proto-darkside disorientation, Classics is
a fabulous document of an almost forgotten era of UK dance culture.


Various Artists--Points In Time 002 (Good Looking Records)

Mainly for Bukem's "Atlantis (I Need You)" (on a good day, the loveliest dance
record of the 20th Century) although the Invisible Man's "The Bell Tune" and
PFM's "Wash Over Me" are also exceedingly pleasant, this comp is a nifty memento
of a forgotten moment: the second half of '93, the first half of '94 --when
"ambient jungle" [TM] briefly seemed like the future. Jamie Myserson's "Find
Yourself", Blame & Justice's "Anthemia" and "Essence", Neil Trix, Da Intalex's
"What Ya Gonna Do", Omni Trio "Vol. 4" and "Vol. 5," Dillinja "Deep Love" and
"Sovereign Melody," E.Z. Rollers's "Rolled Into One" and "Believe", Foul Play on
the remix tip..... golden days, golden days. Of course, these days I'd almost
rather hear the Fabio-style fuzak and Bukem-ite aqua-funk they played at Speed
in 1995 when it all went a bit pear-shaped and over-slick and Gilles
Peterson-friendly, given the dirgefunk dead-end drum'n'bass drove itself down
subsequently. Indeed, Looking Good's clip-clopping breaks have more of jungle's
bygone frisky exuberance and its heart-murmur basslines impact your ribcage
without harshing your ear. As aesthetic cul-de-sacs go, this is a pretty nice
one to inhabit.


Meat Puppets-- Meat Puppets I/Meat Puppets II/Up On the Sun (Rykodisk)

One of the strangest, fastest mutational odd-yseys taken by a single band, from
the thrashadelic punk of the debut through the countrypunk furore and
dewdrops-on-cobweb delicacy of Meat Puppets II to Up On the Sun 's brutal
plangency and frenetic speedfunk (a manic, flashing secateur snip'n'clip, a
dragon-fly shimmer like sunbeams chasing each other through your veins, a
peyote-and-desert-sun crazed Talking Heads with Jerry Garcia and Tom Verlaine as
duelling lead guitarists). Awesome.


LIVE THRILLS

Basement Jaxx rocking a boat (the Frying Pan) moored on the Hudson River

DJ Assault blitzing booty at the Pyramid in New York

Jeff Mills at Twilo :
Surprise (given my Detroitphobic preconceptions) was just how ferociously
physical the Mills DJ experience is, and the expertise with which he
simultaneously sustained and modulated the intensity, avoiding the usual
diminishing- returns syndrome of shellshocked numbness. Denied overt tunefulness
(the first human voice --barking "work that body!"--came 90 minutes into his
set; for melody, you had to wait another half-hour) or conventionally "lovely"
instrumental textures, you become engrossed by the different densities of
abrasion, tantalized by the harsh sensuousness of hi-hats like aluminium
feathers against brushed steel and snares that dwell somewhere in the adjectival
interzone between squelchy and scratchy. When the timbral palette suddenly
shifted circa 5-AM from hairshirt to silk, exfoliate to caress, the release was
almost orgasmic). Above all, the Mills experience is about energy, the
exaltation and deployment of pure dynamic forces. At its frequent peaks, it felt
like my veins were infused with liquid lightning.


MISCELLANEOUS BRILLIANCE

Chemical Brothers---"Out Of Control", "Got Glint?," "The Sunshine Underground,"
"Surrender", "Asleep From Day", from Surrender (Astralwerks)

Nostalgia a-go-go from the post-Big Beat, approaching-thirty-something and
slightly-uncertain-whither-next Tom 'n' Ed--fond period pieces all, from the New
Order pastiche of "Control" to the slinky Mr. Fingers-esque deep house pulse of
"Glint" to the other tracks's Spiritualized/Mary Chain/Mercury Rev-style
neo-psychedelia. The rest of the album suffered from in-betweeny-ness--not quite
the full-on Big Beat stampede but not enough of a departure either. But their
piano-vamping Italo-Balearic remix of that Mercury Rev single, and the
Mitshubishi-trance inflected surge of their mix of Primal Scream's "Swastika
Eyes" grabbed the ear.

Twilight Circus Dub Sound System---"Sir Dub Plate" from Dub Plate Selection (M
Records)
Made by a member of The Legendary Pink Dots, believe it or not, this is sublime
dope-hazy retro-dub with a carousel-like organ melody that entwines itself
around your heart. Rest of the album, and other stuff by Twilight Circus is
pretty ace too.



Speedranch^Jansky Noise present: Welcome To Execrate (Leaf)
V/VM--AuralOffalWaffleTenPintsOf BitterAndABagOf PorkScratchings (TEST Records)

Saw Speedranch live at a Wire-sponsored night at the Scala, an appalling
gabba-meets-Merzbow wall-of-din, utterly numbing--a pointless assault on an
audience of pre-converted ultra-hipsters, many of whom--amusingly enough--spent
the set hunched, wincing, with fingers in their ears. The most startling thing
was how few people (about 30, lost in the vastness of the Scala) came to see
these Wire cover stars -- prompting thoughts like "what if you had a riot and
nobody turned up?". (The cover story itself, with its description of dissident
rhizomatic networks circulating records in hand-decorated editions of 50, had
prompted a similar thought: "what if you had a revolution, and nobody
noticed?!?!". ) Still, the record is pretty entertaining. And the V/Vm
compilation is a hoot--two CDs of digital defacements of pop tack like Liutenant
Pigeon, Chas N' Dave and Russ Abott's "Atmosphere", oddly bridging the spirit of
punk pathetique (Splodgenessabounds, Notsensibles) and avant-garde collage
(James Tenney, Christian Marclay, John 'Plunderphonics" Oswald).


Aphex Twin---"Windowlicker" (Warp)

R. James on the mad beat-edits and woogly vocal science tip, his best in years,
video very over-rated though.


Ginuwine "What's So Different", "So Anxious", from 100% Ginuwine (550/Epic)

Despite the unnaccountable inspiration-dryness and misguidedly market-conscious
ghetto-slanting of Missy's Da Real World, these oddly rave-flavored cuts proved
that Timbaland still got beats. See also Tim's awesomely staccato spasm-funk
beats for Jay-Z's "Jigga What".


Dr. Dre--"Still D.R.E." (Aftermath)

Volteface of the year! In 1996, Dre was telling the gangstaz and street rappers
that their "hardcore shit" was tired, because he'd "Been There, Done That". In
the video, he cruised in his limo with the window rolled down a crack and
peered, nose wrinkled in disdain, out at the hustlers playing dice on the street
corner, the ho's strutting their stuff. To signify his ascension to "another
level that you ain't seen yet", he took G-funk to its ultimate
destination--supple and vacant Muzak that evoked the ennui of the plutocratic
elite, the winners for whom the thrill of victory has become blase. At the end
of the video, there was a bizarre New Romantic waltz segment added to the album
version, reminiscent of Ultravox's "Vienna", with blacks dancing in quadrille
formation in tuxedos and ramrod posture. This ultimate uber-gangsta fantasy
(getting so rich you join the white ruling class--cf Dre's former NWA Eazy-E
flirting with the Republicans) failed to win over his core audience, and Dre has
humiliatingly been forced to go back to the sound and stance that made him mega
in the first place. No more boasts about buying his own island by 2003--on
"Still D.R.E." he protests with barely concealed desperation that he's "still
got love for the streets". The lyrics (penned by Jay-Z, apparently, who tried to
imagine what Dre might be feeling about his comeback) and the video (directed by
Hype Williams) recreate The Chronic era vibe completely: references to sticky
green, low-rider cars doing that rocking up and down, back and forth thing,
scantily clad ho's in the back, threats of violent retribution ("damn near put
ya face in ya lap"), etc. It's sort of pathetic, but the production is one of
Dre's best, the plangently reiterated, almost Velvet Underground-like chord-riff
and the subdued but hypnotic groove creating a poignant mood of resilience and
perserverance.


Kool Keith---Black Elvis/Lost In Space (Ruffhouse)
Dr. Doom---First Come, First Served (Funky Ass Records)

Retro-sci-fi sounds and cosmic paranoia lyrics make these undeniable, even if
Kool Keith fits almost too patly the emerging Afro-Futurist/black science
fiction canon, per Greg Tate/John Corbett/Kodwo Eshun.


Lee Hazelwood---Cowboy In Sweden (Smells Like Records)

Mainly for the Dada-shlock of the title track -- and the rhyme that goes-- Girl:
"Hey, cowboy, wheredya get that hoss?" Lee; "From a man, of coss".


Terre Thaemlitz---Replicas Rubato (Mille Plateaux)
Piano-only elaborations of Numan classics like "Down In the Park"!

Christina Aguilera---"Genie In A Bottle" (RCA)
Jordan Knight--"Give It To You"

Riddim science redeems these two primo slices of pubescent-oriented bubblegum--
post-Timbaland hyper-syncopatory delirium infecting teenpop to thrilling effect
with beats that almost trip over themselves.


Various Artists---Comin From Tha D (Intuit-Solar)
the gentrification of ghetto-tech continues with this comp of fine "intelligent
bass" and "avant-booty"--and fuck y'all 313-losers if you can't take a
mock-genre joke.


Goodie Mob---World Party (LaFace)
Goodie Mob have harshed up their sweet "Southern-fried (yawn)" sound to compete
in a rap marketplace currently defined by Ruff Ryders-style thump and Cash
Money's electro-flavored gangsta bounce; they've also tweaked their
ghettocentric-but-community-responsible persona to a sort of ambiguous
almost-thug, playa-with-a-conscience type stance. Market-driven or not, the
effect is all to the good, getting rid of that dull and worthy earnest aura and
warm organicism that marred their first two records (and, per Lauryn Hill, so
endeared them to rock critics?). Now their snares crack like a snapped
collarbone and the kicks really kick. Highpoints include the TLC-versus-Goodie
cut "What It Ain't (Ghetto Enuff)", which like Blackstreet's totally
denatured-sounding "Girlfriend" is like being trapped inside an arcade
videogame: electronic noises blip and bling, an itchy Daft Punk-like riff nags
away in one corner of the mix, and T-Boz's croon is vocoderized at the chorus;
the darkside G-funk of "I.C.U" and "Just Do It," both featuring glaucous
synth-bass, treacherously sticky and resinous like hydroponic. More trad Goodie
Mob audio-terrain, but still good are "The Dip" (a flashback to the sultry,
sunbaked Seventies funk of Cymande and War, all rippling hand-percussion and
sashaying string orchestration) and "Chain Swang" (love handles a-jiggling,
male-breasted, Rubens-esque phat). What really grabs the ear though is the
interplay of the foursome's mesmerising vocal interplay--the braided mesh of
flows, the warp'n'weft of Gipp, Cee-Lo, Khujo, and T-Mo's different vocal
grains--with Cee-Lo's compressed wheeze (the parched rasp of an old-timer
acrimoniously dispending hard-earned wisdom) standing out as the group's
charismatic center.


Aril Brikha---Deeparture In Time (Transmat)

Lovely hi-hat sounds...



Various Artists---Heroes of Hardcore (Arcade)
Dr. Macabre---Danse Macabre EP (Megarave)

Heroes, for the Marc Acardipane mix on this three disk gabba-fest--the last
blast of an idol now off the boil? (Apparently he's got a solo album out on a
major label--a Sony or a Warners type major--next year, so fingers crossed for a
resurgence). The second EP by Dr. Macabre--purportedly an Acardipane alias--is
more convulsive than anything so far released on his own label PCP-Acardipane.


The Inhumans--Hypertension (Katasonix)

Various Artists---Death Garage/Kata Jungle EP (Katasonix)

CCRU kru put sonic flesh to their theories.



Various Artists---Best of Moog: Electronic Pop Hits From the 60s & 70s (Loud)

Highlight: Dick Hyman's remake of James Brown's "Give It Up Or Turn It Loose".



Busta Rhymes featuring Janet Jackson---"What's It Gonna Be", from Extinction
Level Event (Elektra)

As much for Hype Williams's video as for Busta's amazing rapid-fire rhyme-lunges
and the eerily globular groove --a seriously Deleuzian body-without-organs
delirium of deliquescing bodies, liquid metal flesh, sex as
agglutination/amalgam-ation/alchemy, and the amazing bit where Busta melts into
the walls and ceiling then starts to rain down on Janet in a mercurial drizzle
of wriggly, spermatozoic micro-Bustas!!


Mr. Oizo---"Flat Beat" (F Communications)

B-line!


Various Artists---Mash The Place Up (Ambush)
Various Artists---Collision Course (PIAS)

A crash course in Ambush's crash aesthetic--a genre that rejoices in multiple
monikers ("harshstep,""splatterbreaks," "broken beats," "shrillstep") but that
basically merges the jagged breakbeat dynamics of rinse-out Amen-based junglizm
with the blaring bombast of prime gabba with a bit of Merzbow/concrete pure
noise worked into the fractured messthetic . Hatched in the squat-rave
anarcho-milieux of London, Paris and New York, shrillstep is the unoffical
soundtrack to Jacques Attali's Noise: The Political Economy of Music: all
divebombing scree and low-end ordnance. What saves it from sterile
extremism-for-extremity's sake is the spirit of rave (Ambush founder DJ Scud was
scarred by hardcore, and wants to resurrect the "total madness" of 91-92 in
suitably millenial form) and the party frenzy influence of dancehall and booty.
This set's highlight is Scud's own "Total Destruction," a shrillstep classic
that thrillingly combines ragga boasts with berserker beats. Scud's next wave of
music is apparently very influenced by Timbaland's own brand of "broken beats",
which promises to be bizarre. Compiled by hard-of-head stalwart Kevin Martin,
Collision Course overlaps with Ambush's world about half the time, making
connections to other sectors of extremity, e.g. hard-riffing drum & bass saviors
Bad Company.


Curd Duca Elevator 2 (Mille Plateaux)

Especially the heavenly vocal science of "Touch", a mosaic of angel's breath


Ectomorph -- Destroy Your Powercenters EP (Interdimensional Transmissions)

Not sexy, no--never claimed they were, actually--but "Subversion" and its dub
version is another top tune hatched outta B.M.G.'s Ann Arbor basement of
outmoded synths and vintage videogames




Mr. Vegas---"Head High (Kill Em With the No)" (Greensleeves)

Dancehall's most naggingly catchy hook this year--probably. (Like I would know!)


Montell Jordan--"Get It On Tonight"

Svelte and slinky!


Mos Def--"Ms. Fat Booty" (Rawkus)

For the haunting vocal science of the R&B songbird sample-loop rather than Mr.
Def's elliptical role-reversal yarn about (as far as I can decode it) a
hit-and-run nympho freak who left tire-tracks on his back.


Mouse On Mars--Niun Niggung (Thrill Jockey/Domino)

Half agree with I. Penman here--MoM's latest veers overmuch into that
Krauts-in-skank-mode typically tropical mood of slackadaisical whimsy--the late
Can of Flow Motion and Saw Delight, Moebius-Roedelius's Rastakraut Pasta, even
Faust's "The Sad Skinhead". But still a cornucopia of parps, burbles, squits,
crickles, and ploots to tickle your cochlea.


Saint Etienne-- Places To Visit EP (SubPop)

Saint Etienne started out as part of that superior early phase of Britpop that
included World Of Twist, Denim, and pre-megastardom Pulp. Instead of the later
Britpop's loutish laddism, the sensibility was mod-stylist--proudly English, but
cosmopolitan. Trouble was, Saint Etienne's futile obsession with scoring a Top
Ten hit (a dream that should have been abandoned when their masterpiece "Avenue"
stalled on the threshold of the Forty) led them to gradually iron out all the
dub-influenced creases in their sound, including the found sound interludes.
Reconvening in 1998 after a four year sabbatical, the trio scaled down further
still for Good Humour, abandoning sampladelia for Swedish session-musicianship
and a clean, crisp sound inspired equally by The Cardigans and Vince Guaraldi's
lite-jazz Charlie Brown incidental muzik. Happily Saint Et's six-track EP Places
To Visit is an unexpected reversion to... everything that was ever any good
about them, basically. "Ivyhouse" is dubby and angel's breath ethereal like
they've not been since Foxbase Alpha' s "London Belongs To Me." Produced by Sean
O'Hagan of avant-MOR outfit The High Llamas, "52 Pilot" features sparkling
vibes, a elastic-band bassline out of "Wichita Lineman", and radical stereo
separation (don't try this one on headphones). "We're In the City" is cold 'n'
bouncy dancepop in the vein of So Tough's "Clock Milk," with deliciously itchy
percussion. "Artieripp" is a tone-and-texture poem as tantalizing and subtly
daubed as anything by Mouse On Mars. Places shows that Saint Etienne's place is
among the ranks of the sound-sculptors. (Apparently their next project is a
collaboration with To Rococo Rot). Like Stephin Merritt, they're aesthetes who
love the Pop Song not for its emotional power but for the sheerly formal
contours of its loveliness. Hopefully, Places To Visit will work like Music For
The Amorphous Body Study Centre did for Stereolab: as a rejuvenating sideline
project, a detour that parodoxically sets them back on their true course.




RECORDS THAT CAUGHT MY EAR AND I WISH I'D HAD TIME TO EXPLORE MORE

Takeshi Muto--Swollen Glances, Vol 1 EP (Schematic)

Gerhard Potuznik--The 20th Door EP (Interdimensional Transmissions)

Various Artists--Oral-Olio: A History of Tomorrow (Ersatz Audio)

Various Artists--Ischemic Strokes: Vol 1 EP (Schematic)

Various Artists--Ischemic Folks (Schematic)

Farmers Manual---Explorers_We (Squish)

Add N To (X)--- Avant Hard (Mute)

Monolake---Interstate (Imbalance)
------The Desert EP (Imbalance)

Porter Rick: Techno Animal---Symbiotics (Mille Plateaux)

Nobukazu Takemura---Scope (Thrill Jockey)

DJ Faust---Inward Journeys (Bomb Hip Hop Records)

Faust Ravvivando (Klangbad)

Os Mutantes--- Everything Is Possible!: World Psychedelic Classics 1: Brazil:
The Best of Os Mutantes (Luaka Bop)

The Wisdom of Harry--Stars of Super 8 (Ole/Matador)

Various Artists---Across Uneven Terrain (FatCat)


RECORDS I UNDERESTIMATED THIS YEAR

TRICKY with DJ MUGGS & GREASE---Juxtapose (Island)

Afterwards I realized this might be Tricky's best since Maxinquaye--but this is
what actually got into print:

For those of us who revere Maxinquaye as this decade's greatest album, Tricky's
trajectory thereafter has been perplexing. For all its creator's
denizen-of-the-darkside shtick and compulsive experimentalism, Maxinquaye worked
as a twisted pop record; it was full of haunting melodies, lovely textures, and
lyric after lyric that lodged itself in your head. With Nearly God and
Pre-Millenium Tension, though, Tricky embarked upon on a wilfully erratic
anti-pop course, increasingly shunning hooks and rapping with a slack, offhand
bleariness. Last year's Angels With Dirty Faces was acclaimed in routine,
knee-jerk fashion, but was really only notable for its uncharacteristically
frantic tempos and the utter failure of any song to leave an imprint in the
memory.

Tricky has done some of his finest work in collaboration: Maxinquaye's
"Aftermath" and "Ponderosa" were co-produced by ex-Pop Group frontman Mark
Stewart and Howie B respectively, there was the brilliant Hell EP with Gothic
rappers The Gravediggaz, and Tricky co-wrote/co-produced two of the best songs
on Bjork's Post, "Enjoy" and "Headphones". So the collaborative nature of
Juxtapose seems encouraging. But if the involvement of hip hop producers DJ
Muggs and Grease suggests an attempt by Tricky to connect with an American rap
audience that's so far eluded him, think again. Very little here connects with
current hip hop, and nothing resembles Muggs's work with Cypress Hill (who've
long parted company with rap's state-of-the-art anyway). It doesn't even sound
like the trio are using sampling much on Juxtapose; instead, the music seems
like a hybrid of live, rather rudimentary playing with rhythms programmed on
archaic drum machines.

Dry, brittle, and deliberately underproduced, Juxtapose is a world away from
Maxinquaye's lush, sensuous murk. "For Real", the opener, sounds like slightly
shaky New Wave--a very early demo by The Cure, say. "Bom Bom Diggy" is a sketch
of a groove overlaid with sprinkles of acoustic guitar. "I Like The Girls" has
the cheap peppy energy of Eighties action movie soundtrack themes. All angular
stab-riffs and Mantronix-style edit-slashes, "Hot Like a Sauna" similarly sounds
like a Hong Kong movie knock-off of Eighties hip hop, although it may actually
be a nod to the contemporary electro-influenced subgenre of rap called New
Orleans bounce. An alternate version of "Hot" adds bad metal riffs, a
thin-sounding guest-rapper, and a wailing diva, to end up like something Rhythm
King would have put out in 1987--Brit-rap pioneers 3 Wize Men, say.

On Juxtapose Tricky takes his blurry enunciation to new levels of
indistinctness--consonants are crumbly or smudged, vowels hoarse and muddy.
Generally, his voice is buried in the thick of the instrumentation;
occasionally, it's shoved high in the mix but doubletracked slightly
out-of-synch to ensure illegibility. On "Contradictive," the odd striking phrase
leaps out of his parched, bronchial flow--the stoner philosophising of "time
isn't real" rubs up against the video fiend's fave Godfather quote "Luco Brazzia
sleeps with the fishes." The trick is to stop squinting your ears to decipher
his stream-of-consciousness (which isn't pulling off the random resonance trick
often enough these days), and just enjoy Tricky's voice as a sculpted smear, a
braid of grain and gristle.

Glints of pure sonic delight are scattered throughout Juxtaposed: the mesmering
loop of sampled croon in "Contradictive", the ultra-fast simmer of Last Poets
percussion in "She Said," the Smiley Culture-esque ragga-Cockney speed-jabber of
the guest MC on "I Like The Girls". But unlike Tricky's best work, they rarely
build off each other to become the proverbial bigger-than-the-sum. Ultimately,
Juxtapose too frequently crosses the thin line between improvisation and messing
about, throwdown and throwaway.





OVERRATED OF 1999
or,
THE GRIPES OF WRATH

this year including not just over-rated musical artefacts/genres/scenes/artists,
but disappointments, disgraces, frauds, and outright stinkers.....



Stagnant times, my friends, stagnant times. Across the board, 1999 saw no new
formations, paradigms, directions---not even a single genre or scene that
offered a convincing frisson of novelty. At best, there was continuity from the
previous couple of years (2-step/garage; post-Timbaland R&B; house). Mostly,
there was just the further petering of sonic narratives into cul-de-sacs of
their own construction: drum & bass, minimal techno, IDM, post-rock, "glitch".

But let's take the mainstream first... Rock continues to auto-cannabilise its
own necrotic myth-flesh. VH1's endlessly looped Behind The Music biographies
plus its other rock documentaries work as visual Muzak, steeping the viewer's
inert flesh in an ambient broth of received ideas, rock-myth archetypes, stock
syndromes, and tales-thrice-told-and-stingless. It's subliminal indoctrination
like some dystopian combination of Brave New World and the Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame's Museum. (It really is like rock history as ambient--because you can start
watching an episode at any point and find your place, as they all have the same
narrative arc (obscurityfamedrugs/bad
managementdisintegrationobscurityreconciliation/return), and you can stop
watching at any point because you know that in a moment of slackness you'll find
yourself half-watching the same episode again). Rock is like a fallen tree--
dead and rotting, it will surely sustain whole micro-ecosystems of bugs, toads,
fungi, mosses, for years to come--teeming populations of miniscule critters
living off its moribund tissues (rock's archive of gesture and feeling and
expression). Sure, you can focus on specific micro-scenes of rock (e.g.
thrash/death/black metal, emo-core, whatever), and perceive bustling vitality --
but that doesn't mean that the tree, the overarching macro-myth, isn't dead.

As for pop.... It was a great year for teenage girls, and for substantially
older male rockcrits who imagine they can somehow inhabit the consciousness of
teenage girls (the motivation? something to do with the idea that teenage girls
are more "authentic", precisely through being innocent of a notion of
"authenticity"). These demographic constituencies aside, for everybody else,
face it, 1999 sucked.

The margins are deadlocked--sealed off from the mainstream (where they might
bind with currents of social energy and actually have some impact), and stalled
within their own sonic narratives---compulsively and futilely shocking a
bourgeoisie that's nowhere within earshot (what's the point of one more out-jazz
freak-out, one more Dead C-style primitivist squall, one more
snap-crackle--and-popping glitch-scape....)

As for hip hop and R&B... all hail the rhythmatic inventiveness and
soundsculpting skillz of its auteur-producers (Swizz Beatz, Mannie Fresh, the
Neptunes, She'kspere, plus Timbaland just about still hanging in there, etc),
but shame about the thugged-out, visionless, paper'n'prestige chasin',
commodity-fetishising, gun-talkin' and ho'bangin' niggativity of the
(anti-)culture as a whole. Would Sly Stone or James Brown or George Clinton have
named themselves after a footwear brandname? I think not.

Dance continues to go through a dry spell.

The millenium really should have come in 1994 (year of jungle, trip hop, the
early unrealised promise of post-rock, isolationism, and ambient noir). Because
1999 has been the lamest, least apocalyptic year in memory--not just sonically,
but across the books/TV/film spectrum (notwithstanding a sudden rash of good
flix like Being John Malkovich and Blair Witch Project). Is this a 1975-style
doldrum before the storm? Or is it the drawn-out whimper that precedes a
terminal-yet-interminable heat-death of pop culture ?

This astrophysical/thermodynamic metaphor fits, because musical movements like
rock, hip hop, and rave seem to evolve in a manner not dissimilar to the
formation of the universe. As popular desire cathects with a new sound, a
cultural Big Bang detonates. In its infancy, the universe was compact but
unimaginably dense, hot, and turbulent; so it was with punk or rave in the
beginning --small, seething universes with everyone and every influence swirling
in intimate proximity, chaotically conflicted but still connected. Then the
explosion dissipates, the superheated gases solidify into distinct bodies
(galaxy/genres) that drift further apart in space; as time goes on, they cool
and calm down further still, stratifying into solar-systems/sub-genres. And on
it goes, an endless diminuendo, a diaspora of subsidence and sub-subdivision, a
trajectory through differentiation into indifference. The heat-death of a pop
universe. And that's what, say, rave culture is like right now -- there's a lot
of activity, but the general temperature of the culture has gone down
drastically. It's no longer firin'.

Perhaps the problem with 1999 is that by unfortunate synchrony, rock, rap, and
rave are all either in holding patterns (hip hop, for instance, just about
resisting the pull of entropy) or they're some way along the downward arc
towards heat-death and dispersal. Rock, rap, rave, are all afflicted by the
curse of music overload--the paradox whereby musical overproduction and
market-saturation coexists with ennui and appetite-loss. Go into a record store
like Kim's in New York or Rough Trade in London: the racks are choked, there's
so much product, and so much of it is perniciously adequate, pretty good; there
are entire universes of sound---Brazil, avant-classical, dub/roots
reggae/dancehall, Africa---that could consume a lifetime. I could walk out $1000
poorer, no trouble, when I go into stores like these; but weirdly, I usually
leave empty-handed.

What everyone hungers for is a new explosion, that surge of cultural
acceleration, like the post punk/ New Pop moment of 1979-81, or 1987-88 for
bliss-rock (and hip hop, and acid house: quel age d'or!), or the 1992-93-94
tumultuous momentum and future-rush that was hardcorejungle. The fanatical focus
that comes when something is obviously the leading edge, forcing you to dispense
with the rest, escape eclecticism's mire of options and the lure of the archives
(all that great stuff from the past, more available than ever these days).
Instead, you just have to be swept up in the present moment, to the exclusion of
everything else.

Some theories of the universe have it collapsing in under its own weight,
imploding then re-exploding to create a new, young universe. Others have the
universe continuing to expand forever, cooling and drifting apart, reaching the
standstill of utter inconsequentiality. Right now the second scenario--what my
old comrade in arms David Stubbs called "the great washes of dying reverberation
through which we live"--seems to fit the facts and the feel of this moment.

Guess we'll just have to wait and listen what happens....

Enough vague speculations--to specific gripes, crushed, for you to savor my sour
whine:


DISGRACE OF 1999: THE U.K. "ROCK" SCENE

The bursting of Britpop bubble's has left the UK's (non-dance) music scene in
the terminal doldrums. Last year, when Pulp's This Is Hardcore unexpectedly
flopped sales-wise and panicked labels began purging rosters of the sub-Oasis
dross they'd paid silly money for, NME did a cover story on the death throes of
the UK music industry. Strangely, they blamed everything under the sun except
the Britpress's own collusion in Britpop's coke-addled triumphalism and
dumbing-down of music discourse. Today, long after the goldrush, A&R's and hacks
alike twiddle their thumbs and wait, wait, for something worth signing/hailing
to come along. Some wonder why you never get bands like Roxy Music or The
Associates anymore, artpop explosions of glamour, literacy and sonic wizardry.
One reason might be that all the purely musical intellect has gone into the
dance arena, abandoning pop to those who have the gift of the gab but not a
musical bone in their bodies (Manic Street Preachers, who've doggedly slogged
their way to become the People's Choice; Gay Dad, with their ex-pop journalist
frontman; or what passes for star quality, singing, and songcraft in the
U.K.--Catatonia, Stereophonics, Travis).

"All mouth, no trousers" has long been the liability of British rock bands, at
least in the post-punk era where self-salesmanship and interview patter became
more important than musical skill. For most of the Nineties, the failings of
U.K. rock have been easy to ignore, because of the ferment of dance culture. Yet
the latter has begun to reveal its own downside--a syndrome that could be called
"all trousers, no mouth". As Simon Biddell of The Inhumans argues, the problem
with dance culture and all the Wire-y non-dance electronix are that they are so
purely musical, about the materiality of sound and rhythm and nothing else.
Whereas the genius of British pop historically was the way sonix and discourse,
music and ideas about music, have combined and cross-catalyzed each other.


DISGUST OF 1999: HAPPY-HAPPY SUNSHINE MUSIC

Music won't improve until the economy takes a nosedive-the insidious combination
of a teenage demographic boom (teens got lotsa dough and no worries) plus a
buoyant economy is sending waves of complacency and insouciance throughout the
culture. An excessively healthy economy is bad for the soul in the same way that
a climate with too much sunshine (Los Angeles) is bad for the soul.
(Sunshine-afflicted cultures need extreme poverty to counterbalance the
music-inimical effects of the good weather--e.g. Brazil). All the US pop hits
this year were relentlessly upful and sunny--Vitamin C's "Put A Smile On Your
Face", Smash Mouth's "All Star", Sugar Ray's "Every Morning", Len's "Don't Steal
My Sunshine", LFO's "Summer Girls", all that Latin pop crap. (It almost makes
you wanna rally behind Trent Reznor for his unfashionable darkness and torment.
Almost). Still the bubble, based as it is on existensial vacancy and
self-confirming bull market confidence, has gotta burst soon.



INEXPLICABLE DETERIORATION OF 1999: CHAIN REACTION

Round about CR#20, this series suddenly got real dreary, the 12 minute barely
inflected loops of glitches and scrapes started to sound like a total waste of
time and space. The new roster, the likes of Hallucinator and Matrix and
Fluxion, ain't a patch on Various Artists, Monolake, and Vainqueur. Personally,
I blame the decision to change the font used on the label logo--the new one
looks crap. And in some mysterious way, it's affected the musical output.



PERENNIAL CRITICS'S PET OF 1999: MOBY'S PLAY

I've often wondered why it is that American rock critics seem to root for Moby.
They appear to have decided half-a-decade ago that he was the one that was going
to translate the alien aesthetics and protocols of electronic dance culture into
albums that you could listen to like regular rock records (ie. no attitude shift
or change in listening habits required, no journeys to dark, noisy,
drug-infested clubs to experience the site-specific reality of the culture). No
matter that nobody within the rave scene has really given a hoot about Moby
since "Go" back in '91, or that conversely he's never come close to pop stardom;
for rock critics, he is still and will always be the pop ambassador for techno.
Having made that emotional-critical investment, they are delighted and relieved
when he comes up with anything half-decent. Play is pleasant enough background
music, mildly haunting now and then, but it strikes me as a shrewd and
calculated attempt to marry last year's rockcritical crush (the Harry
Smith/Revenant/Alan Lomax/Dock Boggs roots Americana bandwagon) with the
gospel-house bricolage approach of Fatboy's "Praise You". (Another track on Play
is a blatant rip of Stormin' Norman's remix of Beastie's "Body Movin'".) People
have been doing this kind of gospel-blues sampling for years within house
culture and far more artfully-- e.g. D.H.S, Green Velvet/Cajmere, the sublimely
poignant vocal tapestries spun by Todd Edwards, St Germain/Ludovic Navarre
sampling ragtime and 1930s Lighning Hopkins (on "Alabama Blues"), ad infinitum.



YAWN OF 1999: BECK'S MIDNITE VULTURES

To be honest, I haven't really listened to this, just heard it at a party; seen
the video for "Sexxlaws", skimmed the reviews and interviews. But the whole
it's-Beck's-Sex-Album thing---who could really give a fuck? Beck, his daft
semi-surreal over-written lyrics, his dubious racial transvestism, and his
not-quite-really-meaning-it droll disengagement (pure Gen-X no matter how hard
he protests) will, I wager, be one of the things that people look back to with
wincing embarassment when considering the Nineties.


DEMEANING SIGN OF THE TIMES OF 1999

... the line in LFO's "Summer Girls" that goes "I like girls who wear
Abercrombie & Fitch". Somehow I can't imagine Smokey Robinson or Al Green
dropping a namebrand reference into one of their songs-they'd have thought it
beneath them.

SCHADENFREUDE-BUZZ OF 1999: PUFF DADDY'S FOREVER BOMBING

Player-hating is hip hop's vernacular equivalent to Nietzche's concept of
ressentiment--the self-defeating rancor and impotent rage of the oppressed
towards the ruling class. The difference is that the player is a self-made
aristocrat, a former member of the underclass who's raised himself from their
ranks and seized his chance to "shine". In hip hop culture, the concept of the
playa-hata is wielded to discredit any egalitarian or proto-socialist impulse on
the part of African-Americans-and effectively to shepherd them back into the
ideological fold of the Great American Lie (anyone can make it if they try hard
enough, if you're a loser it's down to your personal failings, and not the
systemic result of the odds being heavily stacked against you). The player
addresses his haters thusly: "hey man, I'm just trying to get my shine on---of
course I'm flaunting my wealth and my women in your face, 'course I'd fuck your
girl first chance I got, it's my nature, and it's what you'd do in my place."

This is what a number of Puff and Mase songs literally say-"you can't be a
player, and hate the players--that don't make no sense". Only losers hate.
The ressentiment of those you've left behind is an integral element of the
player fantasy. Indeed, a retinue of player-haters---scheming, bad mouthing, and
scratching your silver Bentley with a key---is an essential accoutrement of
success, just another status symbol alongside the platinum Rolexes,
diamond-encrusted jewelry, and endlessly flowing Cristal and Henessy. Because
Puff Daddy represents himself as the ultimate player, a hip hop Donald Trump and
"black Sinatra" rolled into one, it figures that he's got to have the most
haters. Moving beyond his debut album's lighthearted jibes at player-haters,
Forever presented a beleagured Puff Daddy, bewildered by the envy he's stirred
up by relentlessly rubbing his success in the world's face. On the album's
bombastic intro track, the rapper stares down from lofty Nietzchean altitude at
the swarm of green-eyed small fry on the plains below and declaims: "I will look
in triumph at those who hate me... Though hostile nations surround me, I destroy
them all in the name of Lord". This mogul-as-martyr shtick climaxes with a
direct quote from Jesus on the cross: "Lord forgive them, for they know not what
they do." Another song also makes the Puff/Christ comparison: "I'm on the run
like Jesus". What's startling about these messianic self-identifications is that
that they follow the trouble Puff got into over his violent objections to being
in a crucifixion scene in the hater-themed Nas's single "Hate Me Now." Literally
violent--he and his thugz beat up the executive responsible for running the
footage in the video.

Elsewhere on the album, the tearful tycoon discovers a brand-new woe of the
over-achiever--on "Do You Like It... Do You Want It," victory-fatigue: "Where do
you go from here when you've felt you've done it all/When what used to get you
high don't get you high no more?... When you expected to win, they ain't
surprised no more?". Puff's preposterous persecution complex climaxes with the
single/closing track "P.E. 2000", a remake of Public Enemy's 1987 classic
"Public Enemy #1" that replaces the original's political militancy with Puff's
trademark blend of self-aggrandizement and self-pity. Posing as homage, "PE
2000" is really an exorcism of Public Enemy's spirit, at a time when the
latter's brand of political consciousness has been utterly marginalized from the
rap mainstream. Puffy's hubris in covering "Public Enemy #1" invites
unflattering comparisons: not just between his weakly enunciated, mawkish
delivery and Chuck D's commanding cadences and charismatic defiance, but also
between Public Enemy's vision and the imaginative poverty of Bad Boy and the rap
era it has spawned. Where "Public Enemy #1" spoke for the young black man in the
street in the cross-hairs of the white power structure's panoptical and
murderous gaze, "PE 2000" invites rap fans to identify with the plutocrat
cruising in the silver Bentley and brooding over the astonishing fact that money
power respect do not inevitably bring peace of mind.

Tranforming the eternal war of the players and the player-haters into a monument
of paranoid kitsch, Forever ought to have sounded the death knell for the
all-about-the-Benjamins, conspicuous consumption ethos in hip hop. But no, rap
fans continue to find vicarious enjoyment in the player fantasy of supreme
success, in which being hated is the inevitable price for being one of the few
who makes it in a system that otherwise guarantees anonymity and poverty for
most. In "Diddy Speaks!," a mumbled, mawkish spoken-word interlude on the album,
Puff Daddy forlornly anatomized the way this identification process works,
explaining that his full-throttle thrust for success wasn't just selfish,
because he was "doin' it for all of us". It's like what really hurts him is the
ingratitude of those damn player-haters who've forgotten that he's their
representative and stand-in. For all us haters out here, though, there was the
consolation of watching the album bomb, and the spectacle of Puff stoutly,
pathetically, insisting in Vibe later that year: "It's not over. It will never
be over". Still, that grave-robbing posthumous Notorious B.I.G. double-CD will
keep Bad Boy afloat a little longer.



NOT WORTH RALLYING BEHIND EVEN TO ANNOY TECHNO PURIST SNOBS, LOW-COMMON-DENOM ANTI-CULTURE OF 1999: CHEESY 'GATECRASHER' STYLE TRANCE

Gatecrasher-style Mitshubishi-trance probably sounds great through the club's
system when under the influence or even just buzzed from the contact high of the
serotonin-saturated audience. But in isolation, at home, it's the pits---cheesy,
but not like really pungent cheese, or even good honest cheddar, but Kraft
Dairylea or something. Processed, flava-less, sterile.

Still, maybe the whole Mitshubishi/Dutch trance explosion will go into a
darkside phase next year, when people encounter the inevitable comedown and side
effects of long term MDMA excess. It'll be interesting to hear what happens to
all this fluffy, lovey-dovey trance when it becomes the soundtrack to bad trips
and mindwreck. What will the cyberkids do when PVD + 3 MBs = not heaven anymore,
but hell? When the fluorescent light-sticks start to emit an eerie, infernal
glow?

Cheesy trance is like the polar opposite of 2-step garage - or to put it another
way, 2-step is made out of all the bits that trance has banished for fear of any
darkness or blackness interfering with the E-bliss. Perhaps this kind of cheesy
trance, as pure MDMA muzak, shows how "pure" rave always was ultimately an
ideological closure, a spiritual dead-end. Maybe what made rave interesting was
the impurities and things that didn't quite fit--the hip hop and reggae
influences, the residues of punk and counterculture ideology, the street reality
intruding upon and undermining the E-dream. Just as the amphetamine-adulterated,
impure E of 1991-92 created a more fucked-up, delirious buzz, and thus a more
interesting, dangerous culture. Work all these impurities and imperfections and
dissonances out of the system, get it down to the clean high of Mitshubishi E's
and the clean, spangled rush of cheesy-trance---and you have a very
uninteresting, safe culture. A desiring machine with all the friction
eliminated; a virtual pleasuredome you step into and step out of and nothing's
changed.



NEW NADIRS, EVERY YEAR AWARD-THE UK MUSIC PRESS

English-language music discourse is at its lowest ebb since 1985. (I say
English-language cos America music-crit is hardly vibrant right now---but that's
a whole other rant). But in terms of the UK, there isn't even the saving grace
of American professionalism and diligence. The UK music press, in terms of what
it once meant, is over, kaput. Melody Maker being turned into a Smash Hits-style
glossy is just the wreath on the coffin---the necrosis set in years ago. I used
to wonder when the next clutch of firebrand zealots was going to turn up and set
those grey pages on fire again, but now I know better. The "prestige" of writing
for the inkies, or "cool", has withered so drastically (in ratio to the
declining finanical viability of freelancing, owing to the pitiful rates paid by
IPC) and the range of things you can do within a review or interview has been
contracted so severely that the idea of being music journalist is no longer
alluring to the kind of people who possess the brainpower or will-to-power to
galvanise this particular cultural forum back to life. This type of person, if
they exist at all anymore, is going elsewhere---becoming DJs, or discoursing on
a purely amateur basis, in fanzines or on Internet mailing lists.


EEC-STYLE-BUTTER-MOUNTAIN-MILK-LAKE-SCALE-EXCESS-OF-SUPPLY-OVER-DEMAND-OF-1999
(AND MOST OF THE NINETIES ACTUALLY): ROCK BOOKS

Imagine rock music as a beached whale's carcass. (I know I said it's a dead tree
earlier but bear with me!) What seems like intense activity (all those bands!)
is really necrotic vitality--a seething maggot horde living off the rotting
flesh of a moribund culture. In their teeming tediousness, rock books exist on
an even lower plane--microbial parasites who live off the maggots.

In the Sixties, rock literature barely existed because the culture was moving so
fast nobody had time to sit back and ruminate. The first rock tomes, Richard
Melzer's Aesthetics of Rock, Paul Williams's Outlaw Blues and Nik Cohn's
Awopbopaloobop, came out as the decade's momentum was winding down, establishing
the abiding syndrome of the rock book as tombstone to a dead (or at least
ailing) obsession. Rock's current crisis of overdocumentation (see also the VH1
etc documentary overload) suggests that there's an inverse ratio between the
vitality of a popular music and the amount of book-length analyses it generates.
Compare rock (or the equally mined-to-exhaustion seams of jazz and blues) with
rap and rave, the two most vital forms of modern music, which each occupy barely
half a shelf in the music book departments of Tower and Virgin. Coincidence? I
think not.

Rock biography, especially, presents a panorama of shame--from the bustling
micro-disciplines of Beatlesology, Elvisology, Doorsology, Hendrixology et al
(each occuping multiple shelves), through the redundancy-afflicted realm of cult
figure biographies (does the world really need four Costello tomes? Two on Scott
Walker?), to the mirthless absurdity of rocksploitation pulp (an Ian Gillan
memoir, a 436 page account of Badfinger's tragic arc, a book on all five phases
of Manfred Mann). Most rock biography operates as though a secret contract has
been drawn up between writer and reader: keep under wraps all the
emotional/sociocultural resonance stuff (the real reasons, presumably, why the
writer and reader is obsessed with the artist in the first place), stick to the
facts. The result, 19 times out of 20: a drily delineated career trajectory of
recording sessions, releases dates, intra-band conflicts, and record company
hassles.

Leaving auteurism for the wider world of genre-focussed or thematic rock books,
you find similar problems of redundancy. Virtually every last area of and angle
on rock has been covered. Take progressive rock, for instance: to adapt the old
complaint about buses, you wait twenty years, and three come at once--Edward
Macan's English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture ; Paul Stump's book;
Bill Martin's Listening to the Future: The Time of Progressive Rock. The last 2
years have seen two how-to-be-hip guides (Roni Sarig's The Secret History of
Rock, Richie Unterberger's Unknown Legends of Rock'n'Roll) and additions to the
burgeoning subgenre of rock necrography (The Walrus Was Paul: The Great Beatle
Death Clues by R.Gary Pattersons and Better To Burn Out by Dave Thompson, the
industrious author of more than fifty books). These days, it seems almost
anything tangentially related to rock'n'roll can get between covers: a history
of Skiffle (that long-forgotten pre-Beatles Brit-craze), the quasi-Beat
scribblings of Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo (whose jrnls80s features,
amongst other ephemera, postcards to friends dating back to 1980 --did Ranaldo
keep copies? Of all of them, or just the "poetic" ones?).

But even with the 5 percent of rock lit that plausibly meets a demand and
achieves a measure of quality, there's still the strange suspicion that anyone
attempting to write a book about rock is somehow missing the point. (I speak
here as the perpetrator of three, obviously). Admittedly, these doubts are not
restricted to rock; "There are no good books on music," declared Sir Thomas
Beecham decades before "Blue Suede Shoes". Still, there is something about the
concept of the "rock book" that seems intrinsically misguided. The retrospective
tone and dour, stolid bulk of the book form seems to betray pop's essential
immediacy. One measure of rock lit might be the extent to which a book transmits
the present- tense heat of obsession. But this criterion only opens up another
can of worms, as there are different modes of obsession-- some more enthralling
to the non-fanatic than others. Still, some are more effective at communicating
the contagion of enthusiasm than others. As an example of "bad" obsession
(tending towards idiot-savant Rainman-style data-accumulation) I'd offer Clinton
Heylin, the respected Dylanologist whose oevre includes Bob Dylan: Day By Day,
and Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions, 1960-1964, amongst others. Fine, let him
crawl over history like a fly on a turd; it's only Bob Dylan after all. But
recently, the fact-fiending Heylin's anti-Midas touch has extended to the music
that changed my life. His Never Mind The Bollocks (Schirmer)--a session-by-
session account of the making of that world-shaking album--is so remote from any
tenable "spirit of punk" that it beggars belief. This kind of nuts-and-bolts,
behind-the-scenes approach needn't be deathly dry--witness Revolution In The
Head, Ian McDonald's fascinating song-by-song history of the Beatles. But unlike
McDonald, Heylin gives no indication of why the Sex Pistols mattered to the
world, or indeed to the author. Interviewing engineer/producers like Chris
Spedding and Dave Goodman, Heylin painstakingly scrubs away any glint of myth to
reveal the prosaic reality of line inputs and overdubs. (The subtitle should
really have been: 1001 Things You Really Don't Need to Know About the Sex
Pistols. Or A Multitude of Facts That Will Take You Further From the Truth).

Heylin's book ends with contemporaneous reviews of the album, including Julie
Burchill's piece for the New Music Express. Capturing the necrophile mood that
surrounded punk even in late 1977 (the Pistols debut elpee came out when the
band's cultural life was ebbing) Julie Burchill mocks the collectors of rare
Pistols singles and bootlegs: "You wanna collect butterflies? Very fulfilling,
collecting things.... Keep you satisfied, make you fat and old, queuing for the
rock'n'roll show." Funnily enough, Heylin wrote a 438 page book on the very
subject, Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry, arguing
that the overpriced and illegal recordings "have reminded fans that rock'n'roll
is about 'the moment'... " Actually, Clint, the bootleg is really the ultimate
example of rock fandom as bad faith: the pre-doomed attempt to transcend the
commodity relation inevitably degenerating into the ultimate form of
commodity-fetishism. Fetishism's "error" is to mistake the part for the whole,
the relic for presence. Stockpiling "lost moments" until the daylight of the
present is blocked out, the bootleg completist winds up like Miss Haversham in
Great Expectations, self-interred in a necropolis of morbid obsession. A slim
volume, Heylin's loada Bollocks is a microcosm of the broader problem with rock
book overload: the notion that you can never know too much about your subject.


even more over-rated and disappointing stuff

Aphrodite---Aphrodite (V2/Gee St)
Not so much the Fatboy Slim of jungle, as its Russ Abbott.

Olivia Tremor Control---Black Foliage. Volume One (Flydaddy)
These guys talk a very fine interview, and have exceedingly interesting record
collections, and they sure know how to faff about Smile/Sgt Pepper's/sub-musique
concrete style using our old friend the studio-as-instrument. But when it comes
to songcraft and arrangements and "vocal harmonies"... they're yet more victims
of that great myth-take, the Genius of Brian Wilson (see Over-Rated of the 20th
Century, forthcoming).

the Breakbeat Era and Krust albums
Oversouled vocalists warbling semi-songs that are barely integrated with the
joyless, stiff-jointed grooves-- wh'appen guys? For this, you make us wait
another two years for the second Reprazent album?

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