|Blimey! What a year!|
Blimey, what a crazy year. But then, aren't they all in the wunnerful world of Dance Music? Maybe. Still, I detect an air of pre-millennium psychosis creeping into things... or is that my imagination? Things are fractured, falling apart, apparently fizzling out and suddenly sparking back into life as something else. Old genres reappear in new outfits which may, or may not, be the emperor's new clothes. What's dead? What's alive? What's progressive? Must we choose between one clique and another? This fantastic mess called modern music proves one thing, namely that it is possible to thrive on chaos, go mad, have nightmares and yet still dream on...
Talking of nightmares, the nation still seems to be in shock from that horrendous event which had everyone wiping tears form their eyes when they heard. I still haven't come to terms with it. why? Why her? Why make a fucking horrible record about Barbie??!!
Earlier I mentioned the term 'Dance Music', which I realise is a mistake. Perhaps you can dance to most of what I'll mention, but the words seem somehow derogatory to my mind and, I know, put others off because they think all 'Dance Music' is vacuous nonsense. But then, I can't account for anyone who believes either the sound of guitars or 'avant garde' electronica to be inherently more 'worthy' than, say, Chicago House. That is their, and hopefully not your, problem.
Funnily enough, I predict, if I may be so bold, a revival of interest in house music in 1998. By which I mean that those who've dismissed it as 'old hat' will think again when they hear new 'deep' material. You only have to open your mind and listen. It won't hurt.
'97 provided a classic collection of 20,000-fathoms-deep House courtesy of Chicago label Guidance. 'Hi-Fidelity House' is recommended for the prejudiced ones amongst you who may not normally touch this kind of stuff. And coming in late, a UK collection on Phono called 'the End of the Beginning'. The two Freaks' tracks are especially epic, purpose-built to stir both body and soul. Other highlights for me this year have been the double-pack, 'Pagan Presents 20:20 Vision', containing classics from Lawson, Huggy & Finlow as Urban farmers/Wulf'n'Bear. And Two Lone Swordsmen's 'Stowckwell Steppas' on Emissions Lo-Fi. Larry Heard bowed out with the excellent 'Dance 2000' (Distance) and a telling quote: "Being a legend doesn't pay the bills". I know, Larry, my electricity and gas payments are due...
Those who expressed doubts about the validity of techno this year (and there were more than a few) should be locked in a room with Neil Landstrumm's 'Bedrooms And Cities' (Tresor). It won't change their minds but it might do them some harm since it's a hob-nailed racket, which runs riot on a bed of bastard b-lines and bleeps; great stuff. but even more brilliant, and atypical, was Speedy J's 'Public Energy No.1' for NovaMute. Beyond 'techno' in the classic sense and, yes, beyond most people's grasp. Uneasy listening, but likely to be listened to in years to come which, obviously, is more than can be said for 90% of the other albums released in 1997.
Also flying the diversification flag, Luke Slater, whose 'Freek Funk', again on NovaMute, covered techno, electro, trip-hop and breakbeat in very fine style. Darren Price's 'Under the Flightpath' also ventured beyond the norm, fusing d'n'b type breaks with often melancholic, string-driven arrangements. And that to was on NovaMute, providing the third and final reason why, for me, this was the Label Of The Year in terms of consistently excellent albums.
Overlooked Album Of the Year? 'Welcome To The Fluorescent Era' by Ha-Lo (D.A.V.E. the drummer and Chris Liberator). I'm either going off my trolley or just capable of greater insight and perception than virtually anyone else because I can't find another person who also recognises this as a great album of '97. (Okay, no-one else, I admit, has heard OF it, nevermind heard it). If you know the record, please contact Tangents and make me feel less alone... sob, sniff...
Two more 'must haves' are Adam Beyer's 'Recorded' (Planet Rhythm) and Holy Ghost's 'The Arm Lukm Suite' (Tresor). Throw in the super-slick sex-machine antics of the ever-reliable Advent with 'New Beginnings' (London), and the sheer stupidity of suggestions that (whisper it) 'techno is dead' become obvious. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned Garnier's 'Crispy Bacon', Carl Craig's 'Secret Tapes' and 'More Songs About...', or Jeff Mills... those who doubt the power of techno shall tremble in their Nike's in 1998 as the mighty beast roars back, causing bloodshed, chaos and a plague upon those of little faith! Amen.
Some mates of mine, who are so far out on the cutting-edge that they're treading air like a cartoon character before crashing into the canyon, have dared to suggest that drum'n'bass has lost the plot. I understand their anxiety. After all, two years (roughly) after it broke big time and blew the heads of almost everyone, we learn to accept that what we're hearing now ain't 'new'. It's a genre, like any other form of music, which inherently means repeated techniques and common modes of expression. But like all other genres, it still throws up great music.
Pioneers are scarce, but one who should be classified as such is DJ Krust. His singles, 'genetic Manipulation' and 'Soul In Motion' (Full Cycle), and 'Warhead' (V Recordings) are bad-to-the -bone, tribal-tech originals. He's scientific, nasty, and never without funk. Also by Krust, on the 'V Classics' compilation, 'Maintain', the opening (vocal) section of which has been a personal anthem of sorts all year. Yes, we've got to maintain...
Fellow Bristolian, Ronnie Size & Reprazent got a prize which sent all wannabe trendies to the store for a slice of instant 'streed cred' in the shape of 'New Forms'. You should know it's essential by now. If not, welcome back to planet Earth. Photek won mostly praise for his debut album, 'Modus Operandi' (Science) but I found it very disappointing. Sorry, Rupert. You might be a zen-like master of the martial breakbeat art, and 'Ni-Ten-Ichi-Ryu' was one of the singles of the year, but the album? Nah...
Let's hope the Source Direct debut album, also for Science, is better. Their 'Two Masks/Black Domina' was a highlight of the year, but sadly, as Parkes has proved, promise can turn to nothing. And still with Darkness, what now for Trace, Nico and No-U-Turn? They wrote the book but, judging by their last single, seem to have run out of ink, so-to-speak. The 'Torque' compilation said about everything regarding the black-art technology and they seem to have got lost in the tunnel. Perhaps they need some light.
DJ Ron's 'Quintessence', Johnny L's 'Piper', Optical's 'Moving 808's/High Tek Dreams' and the dynamic duo, Lemon D and Dillinja all provided storming examples of d'n'b at its best in '97. Doc Scott did the business with Adam F's 'Metropolis', but Mr F's album proved frustrating for us fans, who, having bought the singles, found they already owned most of it. B-o-o-o-o!
A brief word about Squarepusher: Tom, thanks for 'Big Loada' and 'Vic Acid' (Warp), but now you've discovered the dead-end, can I suggest, er, slowing down, maybe? A radical suggestion, I know. But now that you've crashed and burned it might be a good time to rethink and recover credibility. Yours' most sincerely, a former fan.
Jazz, I know, is no more than a four-letter word to the ignorant masses (journalists especially), but we're people of taste who know the score, aren't we, so I've no hesitation in recommending, from '97, new variations on the 'fusion' theme. It ain't Trad, dad, but it's 'avin it in a post-mid-70s-Herbie Hancock-bug-in-the-bass-bin-style. And a man who knows all about Herbie's shirts is Kirk 'As One' DeGiorgio, whose 'Path Of Most Resistance', from his 'Planetary Folklore' album on Mo Wax, points the way. Gerd's album, 'This Touch...' for Universal Language, and the single, 'Vulcan Princess', also found exhilarating places and spaces for listeners, as did Bel-Air Project's 'Jazz With Altitude' on Corn Flex. Look out for their soon-come Versatile release, 'Dark Jazz', it's awesome. Along with 'To Expand' by Beatless on Sirkus, the future for truly modern jazz fans looks bright in '98. Keep 'em peeled for Frederic Galliano's debut album on F Communications early next year; it is sublime.
Mustn't forget Daft Punk. 'Homework' came early amid much hype and, yes, over-exposure but, hey, don't try tot ell me it isn't a great album. If you do, I will simply conclude that you don't have one funky bone in your body, or, you're a reactionary snob who hates popularity and success. or, inconceivably, you simply do not like Daft Punk.
Finally, to clubs, and the realisation that the tasty cake of Happening Britain can't be cut into much smaller pieces. Everyone seemed to want a slice in this, the year the UK was officially designated a Swinging place again. Everyone's a DJ since Technics took aver from guitars as a kid's most desirable object. Yet, big-time clubs never looked more stale, more predictable. The hedonistic babe-market'n'drugs syndrome served only to reduce everything to the lowest common denominator. Cutting-edge culture in the UK? Hardly, just different kinds of discos to most others in the world.
Meanwhile, tiny underground ghettos bravely battled on in the name of non-profit-making progress. And I should know, I'm there; challenging preconceptions! Altering states of mind! Revolutionising the way people listen to music! Changing the world in the name of eclecticism! Ha, ha... Unfortunately, Technics crusaders trying to spread the word can find themselves between a rock and a hard place, i.e.: between alienated bedsit intellects who can't/won't dance and 'clubbers' who can, but not to that weird/dark/twisted rubbish. Ho-hum. We soldier on in the name of music and, yes Larry, those bills must be paid...
Have a good '98 and keep your ears free of unnecessary wax.
Drop Dead Candy - Mickey Finn and Aphrodite (Urban Takeover)
Homework - Daft Punk (Virgin)