Archive for June, 2009

It’s Not Always About the Music

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Seeing as music is generally considered a purely auditory art form, it’s rather perplexing to see how very different the paths that artists take to a hit tune frequently are. One would think that an aspiring artist would be limited to a simple, “The better the song, the bigger the hit” formula, but it seems that with the advent of technology, this relationship has been stretched to its breaking point.

make the girl dance

Take a look back to the eighties; Michael Jackson (rest in peace, old friend), decided that simply playing music on the radio limited the potential that the art form had to provoke emotion, and thus, proceeded to pioneer the world of music videos by incorporating dance, and even story into his tracks. His approach was naturally a sensation, and thus, the concept of including visual creativity and dance as part of a whole “musical experience” caught on and has since continued to evolve (although the direction in which it is evolving is debatable) over the years. Throughout the nineties, for example, pop artists among the likes of Britney Spears, and her countless boy band counterparts used (or perhaps abused) the concept of dance and showmanship to a point where their stage strut was debatably more responsible for their success than the actual music itself. In fact, after discovering for the first time that many of these artists chose to dance at the expense of actually singing their own songs in a live setting, I began to doubt whether the exploitation of miscellaneous art surrounding the music industry could be any further exploited; Soulja Boy’s rise to fame in early 2007, however, served as proof that it could. Seeing as there is almost no feasible way that such a poor quality track could have made it to the top of the charts unassisted, it must be assumed that it was (virtually exclusively) the dance that went along with it that allowed it such success.

I suppose all I’m really trying to convey is that today’s industry relies on many more factors than simply the quality of an artist’s music, and though it’s generally true that an artist without musical talent is unlikely to encounter much success, one cannot deny the fact that the creativity involved with the image that the artist surrounds himself with can certainly influence the ease with which he rises to fame.

The reason I’ve brought all this to attention is that the aforementioned “image” aspect of music seems to have grown to envelope the world of dance music much more completely than it has the rest, and said world has thusly been transformed into one that refuses to believe that a DJ could do his job without having decked himself out in designer headphones and fluorescent American Apparel gear. Though this might seem a display of ignorance to those dedicated to purely the auditory world of music, I personally am intrigued by the competition this battle for style provides for. After all, who’s to say that artists like The Bloody Beetroots, with their symbolic masks and notoriously aggressive music videos, or Soulwax, with their night long Radio Soulwax parties, would even exist without their desire to stand out in such powerfully different and creative ways?

Make the Girl Dance

make the girl dance

Much in the same way as the aforementioned artists, French production team Make the Girl Dance have thrust their careers and reputations to an almost unreachable level with their recent single, “Baby Baby Baby,” the video for which is an astounding tribute to the culture of our beloved world of disco. Make the Girl Dance have managed to capture, in its entirety, a visual representation of the image of bold confidence, lack of boundaries, and general disapproval for rules, and regulations within music that drive the sweet emotion of the moment that disco was invented to stand for, and oh, does it look good…

Did I mention that this entire video was shot candid, live, and without permits on the streets of Paris?

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Make the Girl Dance – Baby Baby Baby

MSTRKRFT remixes Lil Wayne

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

It was only a matter of time, right?  I’m actually surprised there aren’t more Lil Wayne dance tracks, given the popularity of the rapper. His latest LP, Tha Carter III, was the top selling album of 2008 and got him four Grammy awards. It seems like he appears as a guest rapper on every hit single out there. The sheer number of tracks he releases (six studio albums so far, along with countless mixtapes and singles) should mean he’s all over the electronic music scene. There’s certainly enough material to remix. But the handful of attempts at Lil Wayne dance remixes that I’ve heard are mediocre at best.

Keri Hilson and Lil Wayne

Well, Canadian remix kings MSTRKRFT have decided that Lil Wayne deserves to be heard at 130 beats per minute. Okay, okay: this is technically a remix of a Keri Hilson song featuring Lil Wayne.  Still, the song gives us a full verse from the rapper and only a loop from the female singer. MSTRKRFT seems like they’re on a mission to prove that every genre (hell, every song) can be made danceable.  Just turn up the tempo, add some drums/guitars and bam!– another banger. They’ve already conquered the rock remix; now they’ve moved on to rap.

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But I must say I’m dissapointed with their latest effort. It’s conservative and ordinary; there’s really nothing new or exciting here. Save for the Lil Wayne vocals, it could be any other MSTRKRFT song. Is their formula getting stale? It’s hard to say. I loved their latest album, Fist of God, but I think I’m in the minority. I read some pretty terrible reviews. I think their sound is just very hit or miss. Unfortunately, this new track just doesn’t do it.

I’m interested to hear what our readers have to say about the song below.  Love it? Hate it? Let us know in the comments section.

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Keri Hilson feat. Lil Wayne – Turnin’ Me On (MSTRKRFT Remix)

The Way We Listen Now

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

Most things written about music examine what we listen to: an up and coming producer doing something interesting, or maybe a new remix that improves upon the original song. Let’s instead take a moment to think about how we listen to our music collection. My knowledge of music history doesn’t go back much farther than the 20th century, so let’s start around there. First, there was the album: ten to twenty songs in a pre-determined order, usually lasting betweent 40 and 80 minutes. There are two ways to view the album:

a) The album itself is a work of art.  The album should be listened to start to finish and evaluated holistically.

b) The album is just a way of grouping songs together.  The songs are works of art, but the album is just a way of bundling them together (the way a museum “bundles” paintings into a larger collection.)

I think a) is the proper way to think about an album. After all, artists do put some thought into the order of the songs. And the album has its own name and cover art, so on some level it stands alone. Besides, a great album is more than just a bunch of great songs in a row. The argument that an album can be broken down doesn’t hold. We can just as easily break down a song into a bundling: the melody, the drums, the vocals. An album can be evaluated on its own.

Vinyl

There’s been a trend towards b) lately, probably because most albums are no longer listened to straight through.  For a long time, a listener would choose an album, press play, and wait until it came time to flip over the vinyl or rewind the audiocassette. But out of the album comes the “hit single,” one of the best songs that can be listened to again and again. Eventually, the song became detached from the album.  Look at the rise of one-hit wonders, or the fact that iTunes sells the vast majority of its music as individual songs, not albums. What happened to the album?

I think it’s been replaced by the “mix.”  I use that term in quotations on purpose. I’ve been listening to a lot of DJ mixes lately, and I’m struggling to come up with a precise definition.  It’s basically the thing that every DJ pumps out of his or her speakers at a performance.  More specifically, it has the following features:
 

  • Like the album, its a collection of songs in a specific order.
  • There’s a steady BMP; the tempo changes throughout, but never in a way to disorient the listener.

The second bullet is the kicker here. A mix can (and probably should) be listened to start to finish. Of course, the line between album and mix is becoming blurred. For example, MSTRKRFT‘s Fist of God can be played straight through without missing a beat. Listen to how the end of “1,000 Cigarettes” leads into “Bounce,” or how “Click Click” leads into “Word Up.”  Or take a listen to Cut Copy‘s 2008 album In Ghost Colours. There’s a steady flow to the songs, each leading into the next.

MSTRKRFT liveSo what? For those of you still with me, here comes the conclusion. The same way that a great album is more than just a collection of great songs, a great DJ mix is more than just great songs.  If itwasn’t, dance clubs would just make a playlist of what’s popular and hit the shuffle button. Lucky for all of us, they don’t. A great DJ mix has the right songs in the right order and makes them overlap in such a way that it’s a steady stream of music that’s enjoyable to listen to.

I’m curious what the readers have to say about their own listening habits, mainly because the last few weeks I’ve been listening to mostly DJ mixes rather than individual songs. How do you usually listen to music? Are you a “shuffled playlist of my favorite songs” person?  An “every album start to finish” person? Leave your responses in the comments.

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I can’t end this post without giving you something to listen to. If you’ve ever wanted an excuse to yell curse words during a party, here it is. Turn the bass up and tell the kids to cover their ears. Partyshank turned a Yo Majesty sample into a thumping dance song. Is it a mash-up or a remix? I’m not quite sure; just listen below and get ready to move.

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Partyshank vs. Yo Majesty (Shanks Bootleg Mix)

Free Ticket Giveaway! See Thunderheist In NYC!

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

Ever since my first encounter with the world of dance music, I’ve found myself troubled by the fact that there’s something strangely and inexplicably off about its lyrics. Or perhaps I’m not put off by their strangeness, but rather, by the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a single soul with the ability to put a finger on what exactly it is that makes them strange. Why is it that the insertion lyrics written with the notion of performance by a band or solo artist in mind (assuming they have not been appropriate chopped and sliced) just don’t seem to cut it in a dance scenario?

In the unlikely event that you’ve spent as many sleepless nights pondering this phenomenon as I have (and in the even more unlikely event that you care at all), you’ll be happy to know that I have finally encountered what I believe to be the answer we’ve been looking for. And who do we thank? We thank the lovely Isis, of Thunderheist.

Thunderheist

thunderheist

It finally clicked in the midst of my getting caught up in a massive Thunderheist marathon. I thought to myself, “Damn, this girl’s vocals pack some serious punch. It almost feels like she bossing me around without ever having given me an order.” And then it hit me. She is giving orders. Nearly every lyric in Thunderheist’s tracks, or rather, nearly every lyric in all of dance music is derived from some kind of a command. And it makes sense too; Producers started off simply telling listeners to do things like work it, shake it, and move it, but naturally, time brought forth an inevitable redundancy, thus leading producers to more innovative requests, including, but certainly not limited to: “dust it off and jerk it,” “bounce hi, bounce low,” “be alright,” “cold act ill or get retarded,” and of course, “buy it, use it, break it, fix, trash it, change it, melt upgrade it.” And that’s what sets it apart. Where most other music’s vocals have a lot to do with expression of pent up emotion, dance music (though I do acknowledge more than a few exceptions) is home to a massive crowd of megalomaniacs.

Free Tickets!

Thunderheist NYC

Now here’s the part where it gets good. (And for those readers who’ve decided to skip ahead, this is the part where you stop scrolling). In honor of this (largely useless and uninteresting) discovery of mine, I’ve decided to issue one final command of my own: “Live It.”

The first person to send an email to Stephen@uhohdisco.com with their name and address shall instantly win a pair of FREE TICKETS to see Thunderheist at Studio B in New York City, as presented by Finger on the Pulse!

Perhaps a little sample will get your juices flowing?

Thunderhesit – Jerk It (Jokers of the Scene Remix)

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Thunderheist – Nothing 2 Step 2 (Trevor Loveys Remix)

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I’m particularly impressed with the Jokers of the Scene track. Their ability to layer massive chord progressions over tracks that were once as simple as Jerk It never ceases to amaze me.

We’re Out of Control

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

During the great depression, and throughout all this country’s wars, we had music to keep us sane. What happens when music becomes both our depression and our war?

Icould just go ahead and dump another stale track out of my giant trash bag labeled

dance-music-that-all-sounds-the-same1

onto the playing field here. I could very well reach into that bag, pull out a track, and without ever having looked at it, I could tell you what it sounds like:

  • There’s a sample. It’s taken either from a hip hop vocal, a nineties house vocal, or the latest indie rock release, and it’s looped ever so poorly; That is, fifteen seconds is all one needs to become confident that the track would likely have been greatly improved by the removal of the sample in its entirety.
  • Then there are some crumbly, Justice knock off drums (can you believe we’re still living amongst a world of producers attempting to reproduce the sounds of 2006?), that seem to make the notion of simply listening to Cross all over again a pleasing alternative.
  • Finally, there’s a peculiar, pitch-bent, synth melody, likely far from in key with the rest of the “track”, that either sounds as though its producer has yet to discover the concept of “stereo”, or perhaps like he’s simply let the split and pan technique invade (and thusly ruin) the body of his sound.

That track I just grabbed out of my trash bag has become common place. It can be found creeping all over the net, in it’s many shapeshifting forms, but when it really comes down to it, it’s easy to see it for what it is: Beneath its cloak of origins, languages, and personalities, it is a product of all seven of those deadly sins as they’ve chosen to manifest themselves in the music industry. It represents nothing more than the truest feelings of apathy toward music culture itself, it is the thing that no one in their right mind would openly choose to associate themselves with. The sad truth, however, is that had I taken that lifeless piece of noise and allowed it to be the focus of todays note, the world would have been content.

Have our minds simply given up? Have we become so used to the constant influx of fame-driven audio that we’ve forgotten to check to make sure a piece of music is even good before we add it to our ever growing supernova of a music collection? What happens when the supernova collapses? What happens when the last remaining producers that continue to take pride in the work they release become lost amongst the tidal wave of kids armed with Reason and a myspace account, leaving nothing but remixers with nothing to remix? If only this generation valued patience and knowledge as much as it did fame and money…

I sense a future full of pink noise and quiet. What are you going to do about it?

My Sanity Check

skywriter

A world of congratulations to Ekleroshock‘s Data for having the ability to be inspired by a particular sound without flat out ripping it off. Almost exactly one year ago, the French producer teamed up with Sebastian Grainger to produce “Rapture,” a track that, at the time, was a huge leap forward in the developing disco scene. Seeing as most producers don’t have the mind to even think up a melody before calling it quits and proceeding to spam their address book with promotions, Data‘s heartfelt tune turned more than a couple heads in his direction. One year later, (that time being now) he’s decided to drive it home with his first ever album release, Skywriter (2009), which (at least in the opinion of a lowly blogger) vies strongly as a candidate for the best album of 2009 (though Royksopp‘s release provides for some steep competition. The simple fact that the guy has made an album (in the truest sense of the word) comprised of pieces that function as songs every bit as much as they do as tracks should be more than enough to keep us all from returning to The Hype Machine for days.

Data makes music. His music will make you feel things. His music will make you think. His concepts are both familiar and unfamiliar, but even when they’re familiar, you feel as though you’ve never heard them before. Why?

Data is a musician.

Data – Skywriter

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Data – One In a Million

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Data – Nightmare

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The UK takes the crown

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Pick one of your favorite electronic acts and one of the following is probably true: A) it’s a pair of two producers, B) they cite Daft Punk as a musical influence, C) they’re from the United Kingdom. The entire UK has one fifth as many people as the United States, so why does it put out so much more electronic music?

Britain has always held an important place in the global music scene; it’s not just a modern phenomenon. The Beatles get credit from music historians for the so-called “British Invasion” in the 1960′s. But it’s hard to use four shaggy-haired rockers to explain the current landscape of electronic music. The recent wave of DJs and producers is surely more than just “Beatles fallout.”

First, the Beatles’ music is more than forty years old at this point. It has a much smaller impact today compared to what it once did (even if we consider the title of Justice’s “A Cross The Universe”). Second, if we’re going to make the argument that “today’s music scene was shaped by yesterday’s musicians,” then most of the credit should go to the UK’s recent electronic acts– The Prodigy, Portishead and The Chemical Brothers to name a few. Still, this argument is not entirely convincing. It’s simply the nature of music to evolve; any musician in any genre can cite an influence. These influences explain how music evolved the way it did, but not why.

Dance floor

I can think of two reasons why the United Kingdom puts out more electronic music than the United States. First, the UK itself is much smaller and more densely populated. The United States doesn’t necessarily have any less talent, but it’s music scene is more fragmented. It’s easier to tour the entire UK than it is to tour the entire US. Likewise, it’s easier to generate buzz among sixty million people than three hundred million people. Britain is thus helped by its tight-knit electronic music community.

But a small population does not imply a thriving electronic music scene. In fact, the reverse seems more feasible: a large population helps. The more people in a country, the more potential producers and consumers of music there are. Here’s the second point: even though the UK puts out a large amount of electronic music domestically, much of it is “consumed” internationally. Hence, Britain also thrives because of it’s proximity to Europe.

Neon Dancing Sign

As any wide-eyed twentysomething can tell you after returning home from his first trip abroad, Europe has a booming dance culture. European clubs stand head and shoulders above their American counterparts. They’re bigger and there’s more of them. Americans love to dance, too. But the culture is different than it is in Europe. Even though some big cities like L.A., New York City and Chicago have thriving dance scenes, most smaller American cities don’t have packed clubs every weekend.

The advantage for the UK is really the fact that it’s part of Europe, where dance clubs are the norm for teenage partygoers. Maybe asking why the UK puts out more electronic music than the US is akin to asking why it also produces more great soccer players. It’s largely a cultural response. Music is a product of environment and circumstance. The vast UK scene first grew out of European demand and then flourished because of Britain’s tight-knit electronic music community.

Audio Bullys

AB graffitti

Everyone’s got those “this group is going to be huge in three years” predictions that fall completely flat. Audio Bullys is one of mine. I always thought these guys were going to compete with Bassment Jaxx to be the next big thing in house music. It still hasn’t happened. They never took off the way I thought the would (and deserved to.) These guys have been pretty quiet since their peak of popularity in the early 2000′s. They were supposed to release an album last September, but they pushed back the release without giving any details. Their last album came out in 2005; four years later they have only a handful of new tracks to their name. It’s hard to stay excited with so much time between releases. Let’s hope the extra year+ of work pays off and the new LP realizes its full potential. Some things are worth the wait, but everyone has a breaking point.

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Audio Bullys – We Don’t Care

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Audio Bullys – Gimme That Punk (Jak-Z Remix)

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Audio Bullys – Dope Fiend (Malentes One Hour Remix)