Saturday, July 31, 2004

The Leaf Label

2002’s bestselling Leaf release, Martes, featured swollen classical strings, jaw-dropping production and perhaps the most raw and penetrating emotion of any recent electronic release. After its completion, and before putting the finishing touches on his forthcoming record, Fernando Corona, known as Murcof, released two tracks from Martes as well as two unreleased pieces to various artists on the label’s roster for remixing. Those employed for the task, including Parisienne Colleen, Corona’s Mexican collaborator Fax, and San Francisco’s Sutekh add their own unique twists and personality to the already genre-defying groundwork. The undeniable standout comes from Fax’s version of Ulysses -- it’s a slowburning house track, featuring the unforgettable strings from the original, with added clicks, textures and microsamples while retaining the same dreamy, yet slightly melancholic feel. Sutekh's interpretation comes in the form of subtle clicks and cuts over more dancefloor-oriented housey breaks, while Colleen takes the blue tones and mournful strings, reconstructing them into a nostalgic, highly personal composition.
Sex In Dallas
Around The War
Kitty Yo

Three French-electro slackers adorned with the little jackets that James Murphy laments in Losing my Edge, have managed to distill their love for often-absurd French house and oversexed electro into a diverse and entertaining record aimed for fashionable dancefloors. Despite the overdriven kitsch involved, it's sufficiently warped and clever as to not fall into the ever-prevalent, general electroclash compilation fodder. The trio illustrate a punk ethos through their subdued screams on Around the War, sounding as if Atari Teenage Riot lightened up, listened to more Daft Punk and weren’t quite AS intent on tearing down social structures. The single Everyone Deserves to be Fucked, recently supported by Weatherall and Trevor Jackson, shows the trio at their most outrageous. It’s a powder-influenced rant about sexual liberation nestled under warped 303 acid blurps and overdriven rock n’ roll synths. Rumors of actual electro-induced fornication in Dallas are as yet unconfirmed.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Best known for producing Primal Scream's Screamadelica and for hisparticipation in left-field duo Two Lone Swordsmen, Andrew Weatherall is oneof the most influential DJs and producers of the last 15 years. For thisone-off New York appearance, he empties the usual techno and electro cutsfrom his well-travelled record box, opting instead for the punk-funkrarities, rock, and early electro that he seldom gets to play out. The gigwas originally scheduled for last February but was cancelled due to illness,so the Pop Your Funk duo of Roy Dank and Brennan Green have stopped atnothing to finally secure what will undoubtedly prove to be the dancehighlight of the summer. (CJN)

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Ulrich Schnauss
A Strangely Isolated Place
City Centre Offices/ Domino

A version to appear in

Several recent electronic releases have taken the grandiose, spacey production of bands like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, reproducing elements using bedroom laptop rigs. Far Away Trains Passing By is guilty as charged, as it was recorded in Schnauss’ Berlin bedroom and not in a label-bankrupting studio for years on end. But this is not a bad thing. The unbelievably beautiful melodies and walls of ethereal sound are enough to keep your head in the clouds (or gazing at your shoes), at the same time making you remember why you loved these bands in the first place. Schnauss melds his blissful, expansive tones over minimal breaks, occasionally augmented by the falsetto wail of his girlfriend, Judy Beck. Clear Day is the best example of this formula working perfectly, while On My Own diverges from the overall album tone and sounds like a speed-addled space rock band fronted by Jonsi from Sigur Ros.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Amon Tobin
Ninja Tune

rough draft, but a final version to appear on

Brazil’s Amon Tobin has, like many of his countrymen, rhythm embedded deeply in his soul. His exposure to UK drum and bass from the likes of Goldie and Grooverider added another perspective early on, allowing him an insight into a form of music constructed from sampled breakbeats, with swollen synth basslines and frantic percussive elements. However, unlike fellow Brazilians Marky and Patife, who adopted this as their genre of choice, adding their own native melodies and other touches, Amon chose to adopt a different, unorthodox approach to making music. Fast forward to today, where he has four full lengths of twisted, delightful cut-up, reconstructed jazz breaks out, along with countless singles and remixes.

Live is the fourth installment of the esteemed Solid Steel mix series, essentially modeled from the eclectic spirit and experimentation exhibited on the long-running radio show. Mixed using a program called Final Scratch, Amon was able to access limitless files, re-edits and essentially anything he could fit on his laptop, while controlling them from two coded pieces of vinyl that interface with the computer.

The result is an amalgamation of Amon’s own edits, bottom heavy, floor destroying drum and bass, abstract breaks, a dash of downtempo, and lest things get too out there, a reworking of the Velvet Underground’s Venus In Furs. Rarely is one track playing at a time, rather, Amon is in the mix constantly—layering one track over another and creating sonic collages out of breathtakingly complex tracks. Anyone who has taken to the decks before knows how much focus it takes to keep two tunes in the mix for an extended period, let along tunes like these. Its enough to make the average bedroom DJ’s head spin and give it up altogether.

With the exception of Destiny’s Child refusing to clear their cameo in the mix (and the resulting edit out) the mix was all done on the fly one night in Melbourne. It’s an excellent overview not only into the mind of one of the most innovative electronic producers around, but also into the tunes that he finds inspiration in. Most impressive though is the Djing talent on display. It would have been perfectly acceptable to trigger a few samples from a laptop as many artists play “live” today, but just like with his productions, Amon saw it fit to taking things a step or two further. Bravo to that.
The latest installment in the FABRICLIVE series comes courtesy of Andy Turner (aka Aim), and like the earlier John Peel mix, it revels in eclecticism. The sounds twist and turn from the psychedelic and subversive synth melodies of Boards of Canada to varied hip-hop gems dug from the crates to, surprisingly, the Byrds' "Wasn't Born To Follow." Included here is a half-hour radio mix from Aim, complemented by summertime selections from Jon Marsh and heavyweight breaks from the Plump DJs. (CJN)
Plump DJs:
Jon Marsh: 

Ed DMX (Rephlex Records, Breakin' Records) - London
Richard Fearless (Death in Vegas) -
London Cowboy Mark (The Crucial Get Down)
$7 in advance at Other Music
$10 at the door
Saturday July 24, 2004 
Happy Ending 302 Broome st.
Not to be confused with the gravel-voiced rapper of the same name, Ed DMX is best known for his recordings for Aphex Twin's Rephlex label, as well as the electro, disco, and experimental sounds released on his own Breakin' imprint. He's joined on the decks by Death In Vegas frontman Richard Fearless, whose long-running DJ career has seen him play dub, acid house, electro, and Detroit techno around the world. We anticipate he'll turn up with a box brimming with the finest of said genres, alongside crisp new Kompakt productions and perhaps even some machine funk courtesy of Soma's Percy X. Support comes from London Cowboy Mark. (CJN)

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Sasha Interview

A version to appear on

I could see it in his eyes before he even uttered a word: Sasha is well beyond tired. It’s not surprising, being as he flew from London to Chicago, played a set well into the next day and caught a flight to New York to do press before another gig at Crobar that night. Anyone who’s ever suffered from jetlag knows this disorientation and bleary-eyed fatigue is no fun at all; take that feeling and multiply it across the span of global tour lasting well into December.

This blur of city, airport, hotel, airport, new city is nothing new for Sasha -- he’s been at it for quite some time. Dubbed the last true rock star deejay by James Lavelle (of UNKLE fame), Sasha is set to continue the frantic pace for the duration of this tour in support of his latest mix CD, Involver, released in June on Global Underground.

It’s been quite a journey, from his days as a hack deejay blagging himself a spot playing various clubs in Northern England to becoming perhaps the most recognized name in dance music, period. He’s progressed from the dual decks and vinyl of 1989 to 2004, where you can remix and edit during a train ride to the venue, burn a copy and have the mix road-tested that same day. He champions the use of Ableton Live, technology that could well change the face of dance music production and live performance for good.

Involver is a unique take on the mix CD. Rather than blending tracks from various artists, Sasha has taken tracks from different genres including rock and electro, and re-edited them to fit the context of a proper mix.

“Involver stemmed from boredom mostly,” said Sasha. “I completed my artist album (2002’s Airdrawndagger), and when I sat down to put together another conventional mix CD, it just didn’t really feel right. After everything I had done with other mixes, sitting down to do another felt like taking a step back.”

Inspired in part by the on-the-fly bootlegs of the Beatles, Queens of the Stone Age and Mercury Rev that James Lavelle and Richard File have been rocking as UNKLE on the dance floor at London’s Fabric, Sasha sought to take tracks that didn’t necessarily fall into the dance-music realm and re-contextualize them for a dance setting.

Perhaps what is most noticeable is Involver’s variety and track selection. Great, largely underexposed bands such as England’s Grand National and German producer Ulrich Schnauss are featured prominently as the first and last track. But, for someone who is completely inundated with dance-music releases, how does one keep up with the goings on outside the realm of 4/4?

“I get sent a lot of music, and a friend from [the English label] Sunday Best sent me the Grand National record,” Sasha said. “I took that and Ulrich Schauss’ A Strangely Isolated Place on holiday with me, and they served as the soundtrack.”

He spoke to Grand National, who gave him free choice of anything from their yet-to-be-released record “Kicking The National Habit” to re-edit. Schnauss’ On My Own was the first track he worked on, chopping it up, adding extra tracks and beefing up the drums and bass line from the original. After hearing this early bootleg and loving it, Schnauss sent each element to the track, which were gradually added into the equation.

Sasha’s relationship with Lavelle and File allowed him access to the masters from the recent UNKLE record, Never, Never Land. Sasha used two tracks from the record: the a capella from “What You Are To Me” as a bridge track from Petter’s “These Days” into the warped, elastic bass line of the Youngsters’ “Smile.” He used “In a State,” a track he remixed previously, and cut the vocals into tiny shards while dubbing out the bass line and creating another variation of the song. The rest of the tracks range from those he road-tested on previous tours, such as Spooky’s “Belong,” to those that stem from other personal friendships, like that of Felix Da Housecat.

The album flows together freely, sounding like a conventional mix CD on first listen. Only upon closer examination does the listener discover the painstaking work and reconstruction that has gone into each track to make it fit in context. It’s a labor of love, one to cure the boredom of mixing other people’s records together day in and day out, and it makes the entire process a bit more personal.

To translate this to a live setting, Sasha has embraced technology that, though sure to make the vinyl purists of the world scoff, allows significantly more artistic breathing room. To start, in his regular sets around the world, Sasha has switched to CDRs and the Pioneer CDJ-1000s, which emulates the familiar touch of a record.

“I’ve lost too many record boxes at airports, and CDJs offer exactly the same sort of cueing and feel,” Sasha said. Not to mention getting rid of about one hundred pounds worth of burden on the way to and from airports all the time.

Though a fairly recent phenomenon, Sasha plans to use even more innovative digital technology to move things a bit farther, eventually planning to implement it in every live appearance. “I have three people currently transferring my records (about 35,000) to digital, and I’m having a hardware controller built so I can play live using Ableton.”

Used often on the record, Ableton is software that allows a deejay to take elements of one track and put them over another, while simultaneously synching beat and key.

“It’s like being able to use 12 decks at once,” he said. “[Ableton] kills any need for filler tracks -- you create your own moments. Need a breakdown? Put in a breakdown. You need a bass line? Put in the bass line in on the fly. All those tracks used to build or get from one place to another are quickly going to become redundant.”

Sasha called Ableton “much more intuitive and spontaneous,” allowing him much more creative control over sets and a greater ability to react to a crowd. It also will allow him to be more eclectic with his performances; the technology allows thousands of songs to be readily available, rather than the limitation of what can fit into a record box or CD case.

“It’s going to let me to do stuff in my own personal way -- if I want to incorporate a one-off bootleg or re-edit, it’s much easier to fit it into a set,” he said.

More importantly, he believes this technology will allow him to focus on what deejaying is actually about.

“It really takes it back to the true art is: having the best content and the ways you present it,” he said. “Everyone is too into the idea of mixing. Is it just the fact that you can lock two records together, or is it the way you play one record after another and how you drop it? Beat-matching is tedious and takes up too much energy. This technology allows you not to have to worry about it.”

This sentiment is sure to irritate the purists. But consider that the enlightenment toward this digital technology comes after nearly fifteen years of putting in the hard work the old fashioned way -- with two decks, a crowd and creativity.

It’s clear to see that Sasha’s enthusiasm stems from a basic love of music in general. This has translated to his recent playing, which has moved away from the long, progressive mixes from the Twilo days with John Digweed and even further from the piano-led trance he began his career on. He professed an affinity for the “acid electro sound,” citing Tiefschwarz as producers that have been catching his ear as of late, along with James Holden and some releases from Cologne’s techno/ minimal label of note, Kompakt.

Not one to be tied down to dance music and all things electronic, as the interview winds down, Sasha tips me off to a few new bands I hadn’t yet heard before gushing about the Langley Schools Music Project.

“It’s essentially this choir instructor in Canada that had his young students sing David Bowie, the Beach Boys and Neil Diamond tracks instead of the traditional songs,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

Later at the gig, I hand him a CDR I brought of the Brian Wilson’s masterwork, the unreleased “Smile,” which he is equally excited about. From this point, he’s off to embark on another multi city tour, propelled by this sheer enthusiasm for new music, and the opportunities to play it in front thousands of people. It’s an opportunity well worth fighting through the jetlag for.

Monday, July 12, 2004

A version to appear on (NYC and London editions)

Featured Stream:

Beats in Space originated as an AM radio show at NYU in 1999 and has since
become one of the most consistent mix shows around today. Inspired by
Coldcut's eclectic Solid Steel program, Tim Sweeney mixes the newest
electronic music from all genres, along with anything else he finds
intriguing. The show features special guests nearly every week, the
first-ever being Strictly Kev and PC as DJ Food. Today, the archives look
like a who's who of innovative DJs and producers, including James Murphy
from DFA, Paul Mogg from the Psychonauts, and a recent mix from Spektrum.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Channel 3: A Compilation of Output Recordings
Released: August 2004

A version to appear on

Most labels like to tout a strong identity in one way or the other, especially when putting out a compilation of releases. Odd then, that the past two Output comps have been devoid of any mention of the imprint, aside from a small nondescript logo on the back. This is purely intentional, and speaks volumes about the founder Trevor Jackson’s ethos toward releasing music. “The label is about the artists…not the label itself,” Jackson said. “…All it says is are the names of the bands, because that’s what’s important to me. I would rather have the music speak for itself and the artists to speak for the label.”

And speak loudly they do. Channel 3 is yet another overview of one of the best and most consistent labels at the moment. Widely touted as the heir apparent to Rough Trade or Factory records, in its relatively short history, Output has been responsible for some impressive A & R finds and genre-defining releases. Kieran Hebden, best known as Four Tet, released the seminal “36:35” on the label back in 1998. The recent acid revival darlings Black Strobe released the label’s bestselling 12’, “Innerstrings,” back in 2000, garnering support from influential DJs like Andrew Weatherall and Laurent Garnier. Most recently, Output handled the UK rollouts of such acts as LCD Soundsystem and The Rapture.

Several genres get play on Channel 3, ranging from acid house and fractured funk, to off-the-wall electro and straightforward rock and roll. After beginning their careers with the brilliant shoegaze EP, The Distance After, Circle Square contribute one of the strongest tracks on the comp. “Fight Sounds” is goth-tinged downtempo tempered with huge distorted bass stabs, simple keys and detached vocals. The attention to subtlety and stellar production make it stand out on its own, and though characterized by its slow pace, its one of the most intense moments on the record. Mu’s “Out Of Breach” is off-kilter electro at its finest, and Dead Combo’s “Hey Dusty” is lo-fi rock and roll, complete with requisite leather-clad posturing. Trevor Jackson makes an appearance with the comp’s highlight—his Playgroup mix of The Rapture’s “I Need Your Love.” Jackson dubs out the bassline, edits the vocals and adds some squiggly TB-303 and hand claps, making a played-out tune suddenly relevant again. Beware, reactionary Rapture-haters may even find themselves dancing uncontrollably.

Electronic music pioneers Yello appear with the reissue of “Base For Alec,” which originally appeared as a b-side back in 1982. With modern producers mining for old tones and influences, it still sounds yet oddly relevant despite being created over a decade ago. Rekindle’s “Ice Skating Girl” (Linus Loves Remix) is the only misstep on the record, and the remix takes a slightly annoying song and makes it significantly more so. This aside, more strong contributions come with the lovely synth melodies of 7 Hurtz’ “LVL” and the choppy funk bassline of Colder’s “The Slow Descent.”

For a label that issues so many great singles, Channel 3 stands with its earlier counterparts as an excellent introduction to the label, focusing on tracks that haven’t been necessarily released on complete artist albums. All two often, great 12’s slip though the cracks of public consumption, relegated to the record boxes of DJs, and the collections of true aficionados. This puts them all in one place, and serves as further proof of Output’s consistency and vision since inception. Most importantly, it whets the appetite for whatever Trevor Jackson decides to come up with next.

Bill Wells w/ Stefan Schneider, Annie Whitehead and Barbara Morgenstern
Pick Up Sticks
The Leaf Label
Released: May 25, 2004
4.0/ 5

Put simply, The Leaf Label releases some of the most consistently innovative and emotive music today. It regularly defies genre, leaping between the swollen strings and electronic compositions of Murcof, to the dusty nostalgia and intimate textures of Colleen, to the fragile swaths of ambient sound composed by Susumu Yakota. Knowing this, it comes as no surprise that the recent release, Pick Up Sticks, manages to stand tall in such strong company. It’s experimentation at its finest—several musicians coming together, embracing both technology and tradition, in turn creating a record that sounds completely original. It’s a fascinating combination of minimal jazz and electronic music, augmented by organic percussion elements. Pick Up Sticks is most certainly a record that needs to be listened to intently, as the tiny nuances comprise the most rewarding moments.

The frontman, Bill Wells, is best known for his talents in composition, and his contributions to the Glascow music scene. In the past, he’s worked with names such as Belle & Sebastian, Arab Strap and The Pastels. On this release, he recruited world-class trombonist Annie Whitehead and electronic musician Stefan Schneider of To Rocco Rot as collaborators, along with German luminary, singer-songwriter Barbara Morgenstern.

Recorded in Berlin, the resulting sound is largely improvised, featuring Whitehead’s trombone work interspersed with plodding electronic beats and textures that add warmth to the arrangements. This formula is best seen on “A Soldier’s Shoulder.” The trombone is declarative yet restrained, and serves as an additional rhythmic element as it dances next to a thick electronic cadence. A processed glockenspiel adds another gentle layer to the composition, and sits amidst tinny pops and crackles of sound.

“Waft” stands as another album highlight, and though it relies more on keyboards, Whitehead’s trombone sounds melancholy and utterly expressive given the minimal, almost ambient tone of the piece. “Perfect Window” is without a doubt the best example of just how expressive the album can be despite this overall restrained tone. The mournful, open trombone sits alongside acoustic guitar and low-pitched synth pads, as a gentle flam of wood clicks the time. Despite its strengths, the arrangement is not allowed to develop quite enough, and ends before it fully unfolds, a qualm that stands with a few other songs on the album.

Despite these minor shortcomings and a few premature endings, Pick Up Sticks manages to largely revel in its restraint, working with tension as a major building block. And, to the utmost credit to the musicians involved, it must be remembered that the songs were largely improvised. An impressive feat, given the sheer beauty and emotion captured within such a minimal canvas.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Channel 3
Output Recordings
Released August 2004

A version to appear on

The third installment of Output’s compilation series, Channel 3 is a summation of recent releases from one of the most creative and varied labels around today. Compiled by founder Trevor Jackson, it runs the genre gamut from electro stalwarts Black Strobe, to the Parisian dub of Colder and even leather-clad Finnish rock from Dead Combo. In addition, the comp features an exclusive re-release of "Base for Alec" from electronic music pioneers Yello, originally released as a b-side in 1982. An undeniable highlight comes with Trevor’s 303 acid dub of the Rapture’s I Need Your Love, which breathes new life into the track and further shows that he’s not only a label visionary, but an ace producer as well.