Sónar 2007

My schedule ran thusly: Wednesday - Tuning Spork night at Club Fellini, Thursday - Vice Boat Party and Raum Playa, Friday - Kompakt night at Nitsa, Saturday - Distance and Vex'd in a cave.

Club Fellini has hands down the worst sound system I have heard this year. Home stereo volume. Djs worked quite well despite this, the new Villalobos/Los Jaivas bit was a highlight. The loudest and largest room in the club being full of British/American students dancing to Justice was also somewhat irksome.

Vice party had free beer. That's about all that needs to be said because the music was execrable. There was a guy there wearing a sarong and a t-shirt with the slogan "No creo en el virus de SIDA" (I don't believe in the AIDS virus) keeping the transgressive, bullshit quotient at a satisfactory level. Raum Playa I can't really remember because of aforementioned free beer.

Kompakt at Nitsa was a mixed bag. Overfull club, too hot, substandard soundsystem again (though nowhere near as bad as Club Fellini) but all more or less overcome by the quality of the acts. The Field was interesting, though perhaps didn't translate fully to the live setting. Reinhard Voigt stands out as the highlight. Clearly coked out his brain and giving a pantomime of superstar dj theatrics the veteran gave a live show of trancey, squelchy techno and even when he went as far as rush to the front of the stage to point at people and hold his hand up to his ear in a Hulk Hoganesque gesture all could be forgiven by the quality of the tunes.

Vex'd and Distance in the cave was probably the lowlight. Distance played an infinitely more interesting set than the last time I caught him. A lot more upbeat, less of the dirge-filled-metalstep but still with the darkness. Vex'd were a disappointment. Too dark. Too clunky. The crowd was a mixture of local tough guys peppered with too few enthusiasts which didn't help matters. I suppose in hindsight going to Barcelona to see a dubstep night when you're from Britain was a bit of a stupid idea. Lesson learned.


"Free" delivery

In which I discuss the purchases I made in order to spend more than £50 from Boomkat and therefore not have to pay for delivery (yeah I know how ironic that is).

DOUGLAS GREED, Girlfriend In A Coma, Freude Am Tanzen.

The name might have you expecting some wheepy-indie-techno à la The Field, or Fairmont, or Lawrence but happily it's deceptive. The A, Ille Und Soeren is a jacking, driving piece of house with clacking wood percussion and a nice bass groove, quite congruent with some of the other great tracks coming out of FAT. The opposite of Mancunian miserabilism - not that there's anything wrong with that!


Norwegian space-disco supremo Prins Thomas reworks Koehncke's Elan and Advance bringing out the disco influence by bathing the tracks with strings and carrying them along on bongos. There seems to be a trend in the word of "minimal" to regurgitate disco, to slow things down a little, to go a bit deep; oftentimes I'm not feeling it, but when I do - Henrik Schwarz's mixes, most Âme - I really do. I can't help but feel that Kompakt is going through its salad days at the moment, that its still churning out great material like this during something of a slump is testament to the label's greatness.

SHACKLETON VS RICARDO VILLALOBOS, Blood On My Hands (Ricardo Villalobos’ Apocalypso Now Mix), Skull disco

The opening salvo in the great dubstep-minimal crossover of ought-seven? I don't think so. The original was too idiosyncratic and the pairing of Shackleton and Villalobos, though inspired, is also unique. Although the original elements of the track are left more or less intact, though juggled around and housified, Villalobos' mark is all over it. I can't say I prefer this to the original, its ambivalent contrast of warm bass with the combination of the creepy voice and ethereal soundscape, that is lost here, was what really made the track. Villalobos instead concentrates on the groove and a clunking, stuttering, delayed piece of percussion that is very Fizheuer. As usual Ricardo uses the whole side and though the longevity, as always, is a virtue it perhaps overstays its welcome a little.

MINILOGUE, Elephant's Parade, Wagon repair

I was a great fan of The Girl From Botany Bay 12" by Minilogue. The A being an anthemic peice of acceptable prog, the B, Ahck containing one of the most cathartic breakdowns I'd heard in a long time. This isn't quite at the same level, especially the A side. Its acid-bass groove and wild leads are decent but uninspiring. The jazzy dub-by-way-of-Detroit of Birdsong on the flip however is pretty undeniable.

DAMIAN SCHWARTZ, Ruidos Y Frecuencias 1, Apnea

Because they didn't have R y F 2 in stock admittedly. I have a lot of time for Apnea, Mupa, Cyclical tracks etc. Madrid isn't the first place I think of when I think of techno, but maybe in time these guys will change that. Bleeps and blips abound here, but not in a retro Plastikman-aping-early-90s kind of way. It's in the vein of what Schwartz has done before though perhaps somewhat darker. The Boomkat blurb tells me that a broken asf valve preamp is the source of the squeals and beeps that Schwartz marshals here to great effect. Art made from broken objects, Kurt Schwitters would be proud, if he liked to dance.


I had never got round to buying this before. I'm already completely familiar with it but it's always nice to have the vinyl and I love Cadenza's artwork. The opener Sieso with its breakbeat and strange, meandering string line (is it a guitar? Is it some sort of east-asian gamelan instrument?) is one of the finest listening experiences I've had in the last few years and perhaps my favourite single track by Mr. Villalobos. Essential.

BURIAL, Burial (Limited Vinyl Edition!), Hyperdub

One of the albums of last year apparently remastered for vinyl. I think I need some time to really get into this and do some comparing and contrasting. I hate to be a cynic but I highly doubt its "limited" nature.

This is the first time I've updated this blog for a long time. I'm going to get some self-discipline and do an entry a week at least.


Happy Birthday

March 10th will see the second birthday of the already legendary dmz night. The line-up is a cosmic everyone-and-their-auntie-pisstake. On from 8pm to 6 in the morning it's going to be a marathon of bass and my first trip down to either of dubstep's flagship nights. I can't think of a better initiation.


If your chest ain't rattlin'...

Things are changing in dubstep. Last Friday night was the genre's first outing at Fabric, in room two, with a stellar lineup including a host of the scene's main players. Among their number Plastician, a dj/producer who occupies a midpoint between the grime and dubstep scenes and has recently been given a slot on Radio 1. Also present were Skream and Kode 9 and the Spaceape, two of a trio of acts who brought out the biggest dubstep albums of 2006 - more on that later. On a more negative note the recent, but hopefully temporary, closure of barefiles.com robs the scene of an invaluable resource. Run by a young and immensely dedicated head, Deapoh, the site has been, for the novice and the veteran alike, a way to keep up with a scene moving at full speed. Filing away the mixes from pirates and commercial stations in one easily searchable location it enabled the parvenus and the geographically isolated - myself included on both counts - to familiarise themselves with the biggest tunes and the best djs without being able to point out London on a map. During 2006 the other most important dubstep site on the net, dubstepforum.com, saw its membership jump from a few hundred to several thousand. Things are changing in dubstep.

So what of the music and the chances for expansion and consolidation of the scene? Last year saw the first round of dubstep albums: Skream's Skream!, Burial's Burial and Kode 9 and the Spaceape's Memories of the future. Already a de facto ambassador for dubstep with Midnight Request Line to his name Skream's album raised a lot of expectations it couldn't live up to. He included a number of favourite cuts from his rinse.fm show Stella Sessions but the album lacked something in cohesion and flow. Also to its detriment was the inclusion of much of Skream's more divisive material - his computerised takes on dub and the laid back, jazzy, garage track Summer Dreams. Memories of the Future was also a contentious album. The source of this contention - Spaceape's vocal: engaging in a live setting or on one track, wearying over the course of a full length. Burial gathered more of a consensus. Earning plaudits from within the scene and without - including placings in the year end lists of many publications - Burial was an individual success but not a breakthrough for the scene as a whole. The reasons? Twofold. Burial's productions are an idiosyncratic take on dubstep. There are a lot more remnants of garage in his work - which has hints of a spectral Horsepower Productions or a two-step Basic Channel - than in the average halfstep wobbler. Burial's anonymity also proved a barrier: you can't be an ambassador if you don't play out.

Of course the year's dubstep wasn't all about albums. This is dance music after all. Some absolute anthems were dropped on 12" and Digital Mystikz's Anti-war dub must rank among the greatest. A palpably kinetic number driven by a 4/4 kick and skittering snare it's something of a novelty among the lumbering, weighty productions that dubstep is increasingly gravitating towards. This tendency is the main source of my slight disillusionment with dubstep that I've mentioned. Listening to the excellent Ammunition And Blackdown Present: The Roots Of Dubstep I couldn't help but lament the fact that the lively and inventive rhythmic side of this music is being increasingly cast aside for the instant gratification of the huge drop and the lfo'd sub-bass. I find myself more and more drawn to dubstep which steers away from the worship of the drop and takes a holistic approach to track building: Pinch's Qawwali, Shackleton's hand-percussion meditations, Burial's other-wordly productions, Skream's electro synths, Mala's upbeat dancefloor bombs, etc. Of course the halfstep wobbler is not something to be lamented wholesale. Coki's Tortured was one of this year's highlights with its ethereal vocal and incessant squelch-synth melody and no-one engineers bass weight like Loefah (see the mix in my previous entry) and you can't describe dubstep without using the word "sub". My hope for 2007: balance.



In both my mission statement and in my 2006 highlights I've completely overlooked dubstep! Which is unusual, but perhaps understandable due to some issues I'm having with it that I'll expound upon later.

In the meantime here's a mix my friend Jonny did for Glasgow Uni's web-radio station Subcity Radio, mainly dubstep and containing some tunes that will no doubt figure in my next post. Quality is of the streaming radio variety and mixing gets a bit messy in the latter stages.





Here are a few of my favourite things from last year.

The Knife - Silent Shout (V2)

The group best known for Heartbeats, the song that lanched a thousand bouncing balls and a Swede named José, couldn't match that song's success with Silent Shout - their fourth, and most accomplished album. Sure, they swung the critics, Pitchfork devoted two pieces to the album, but the masses in the anglosphere were having none of it. Superficially this makes sense - a publicity shy, techno-influenced Scandinavian duo don't look like a crossover hit on paper - but the album's melodic sense, emminent danceability and depth should have rewarded it with mainstream success.

The eponymous opener begins with waves of bass, static hisses and arpeggiated, restrained trance synth over a 4/4 kick before Karin's vocal - heavily processed, almost androgynous - completes the picture. It's indicative of the general tone of the album. It's more serious than their previous work, where a happy-hardcore bassline can manage to sound congruous, but without losing its sense of humour and firmly retaining a pop sensibility. The vocal processing, a salient feature on the album, ties in with the general feeling of the productions - even the human voice has little of the organic to it. Unlike many who still choose to stereotype the use of the artificial in music, three decades on from Trans-Europe Express, this inorganic quality doesn't render the music glacial or mechanic, it's warm, evocative and human.

In their infrequent live shows masks, screens, projections and smoke obscure their identities, one has no idea what they're even doing to create the music, but it's immaterial - it looks and sounds great. Credit is also due to them for their role as muse to the dance producers of Europe inspiring some fantastic remixes which are better served by retaining some of the character of the album's originals (Trentemoller's take on We share our mother's health making great use of the refrain "Say you like it, say you need it, when you don't") than when they obliterate it (Shinedoe's unrecognisable Silent shout).

The album's main drawback? If the group are to be believed it's their last one for a few years. Patience is a virtue.

Ricardo Villalobos - Fizheuer Zieheuer
(Playhouse)/ Depeche Mode - The sinner in
me (Ricardo Villalobos conclave remix) (White)

Ricardo jumps the shark. Almost.

A horn riff, a boom, a click and the occasional elegiac trumpet solo virtually constitute the entirety of this 37 minute long track.
A tool for 6am that obviously attracted enough interest to be released but perhaps shouldn't have been, Fizheuer has become something of an albatross around the neck of Villalobos boosters like myself. Its critics assail it with arguments I find illegible. Finding Fizheuer only suitable to the environment it was originally composed for it has been criticised as purely utilitarian, unsuitable for home-listening, in-effect they damn it with a suitably German tag: Gebrauchsmusik. This somewhat misses the point with its misunderstanding of how dance music is, or should be, consumed.

Fizheuer didn't so much turn heads on the dancefloor as swivel them round 1080°. A sudden mournful Balkan touch among the kicks, synths and clicks, the incessant trumpet riff insinuating itself into your brain. Of course people wanted to know what this was, listened out for it on Villalobos mixes they copped from rapidshare, discussed it on message boards, etc. So it got released and many were disattisfied. Without good reason. Sure it's a tool. It's meant to be part of a mix, it's not meant to be considered in its singularity. But to see this as a criticism is to completely misunderstand minimal. It may be just another brick in a wall when it assumes its natural place as a part of a dj's mix but that's it's entire raison d'etre! It's main appeal for me is that it's the same track that drove me wild on the dancefloor in the summer and even though it doesn't have that same effect in my living room I can no more damn it for this than criticise a photograph for not being the person contained within it.

Villalobos' unreleased take on Depeche Mode is somewhat easier to make a case for. It's a less monothematic and more conventional affair and there's even a vocal. Villalobos is a great fan of Depeche Mode, Martin Gore djs minimal, the pairing seems fairly natural. Reportedly the band haven't seen it this way - hence why we haven't seen a release yet - but it's hard to see why. Tribal drums, David Gahan's vocal and then the addition of a synth to gel the track together. Not as lengthy as Fizheuer, but still on the long side, it manages not to overstay its welcome constantly evolving in its structure of repetition, addition and subtraction: minimal that makes a mockery of the genre's tag.

Ornette Coleman - Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar)

I'll have to curb my loquaciousness here a little: I'm a dilettante when it comes to jazz and just don't have the language to do justice to this release - Coleman's first in a decade - but it made a big impression upon me.

Recorded in Germany in October 2005 with a band consisting of Ornette Coleman on alto, trumpet and violin; his son and frequent collaborator Denardo on drums and Gregory Cohen and Tony Falanga on bass (picked and bowed respectively) Coleman, then seventy five, is on great form. His tone as ever is unmistakeable. Sharp, pleading and soaring. This may be "contemporary jazz", "free improvisation" or however you wish to term it, but it's also the blues.

All of the tracks present are new compositions save Turnaround and the closer, Song X, originally a collaboration with guitarist Pat Metheny. Of the other tracks Sleep talking is perhaps the stand out The melody has something of Le Sacre du printemps to it, if Stravinsky had came from Texas, and Ornette shows off his multi-instrumentalism with some aplomb. As on all of the tracks the basses take up the middle and the low end, Ornette is on his own up in the firmament. This takes the intensity down a notch from some of Coleman's earlier works - where he would weave in and out of his collaborators' guitars and horns in the cluttered high end - but that's not a criticism.

While some bands suffer the sophomore slump Ornette's still living up to his reputation after half a century.



Tonight - thinking up a name, getting it to look ok, adding some links.

Tomorrow - best of 2006 list. Yes, I know I'm a month late.

And from then on - regular blogs on minimal, noise, jazz and other miscellania. Yes, I know I'm about five years late.