Thursday, October 26, 2006

Hyperdub come save me

Kode 9’s Memories of the Future goes the opposite way of Burial, a mournful elegy of times past reflecting on the way we are now, instead reminding of the edgy terror-present in terms of an even edgier, dystopic future to come.

This is no pastoral, but a disenchanted garden – the enticing sonic surface leads you to deeper, occult findings, Steve Goodman’s production played off against Space Ape’s monotone warning signs. Right from the earliest output – the blasted, cold cover of Prince’s Sign of the Times, – all cold tech notes and anti-rhythm – Space Ape has lent his bleakest visions to the Kode 9 project. Whereas on the first listen 14 tracks or so delivered in his matter-of-fact patois grated, several listens in and it makes sense, the alien parasite is reporting back from another world, a man-machine reading out the data of social disintegration, a ‘hostile alien’ reeling in wrath. Of course it’s already fucked up, but our refusal to acknowledge this makes the chronic conceit seem so valid. It’s no longer right, if it ever was, to be lost in ‘paranoia’s most beautiful dream’.

Sonically, whereas Burial’s texture was similar to Basinski or Fennesz over 2-step and the showstopper dubstep 12s of the wider scene rely on flashy signatures and entropic bass, Goodman’s approach might seem workmanlike – throw in enough elements, rely on traditional song structures – but is utterly convincing. The arpeggiated riffs and the half-step rhythms do appear. And with Ape’s continuous presence the tunes become proper songs – the perfect middle ground between grime MC patter and instrumental half-step. While Sine, Correction and Lime are eerily empty, Backward, Curious and 9 Samurai are eminently danceable – for all the talk of the end of the hardcore continuum, several seem like very modern dance tracks, and, as Goodman says, if your mind is still set to jungle-frenetic you can fill in the fills yourself. With all the previous 10s and 12s included, you have an album that transcends the genre-talk of dubstep, dub, garage to emerge as a dread pop capable of entrancing a wider audience, if they’re ready to be bewitched by the music and awoken by the lyrics. Curious, in particular, is jaunty, the spring-loaded riffs mellifluous like deep house, beats skittering underneath the top end.

The album’s standout is the next track Portal – Space Ape rants interminably over a ponderous beat, oriental space riffs flutter in like djinns and float away – the overall fabric suggesting subjects should be drugged anew, from narcolepsy may spring a new awareness.

MotF is not a retro futurist or a hauntological gambit, there is little contextual crackle, no sampledelics, just solid layers of instrumentation properly EQd and new rhythmic shuffles. Spectres of genres-past do creep in – Nine has a smoky jazz flourish, the blunted brass of 9 Samurai is trip-hop come back to finish the job it couldn’t be arsed to finish the first time, Victims has a Fall-like abrasive guitar sound and on Sine there are dancehall reverberations to drown in, but this is about the ghosts and apparitions we have yet to see. Sign of the Times, Sine, Sin Cities. In sum, Kode 9 fights late kapitalist evil with occultory tactics – come and listen then be startled – and in doing so has achieved a landmark album of contemporary consciousness set to an innovative rave template.
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Monday, October 16, 2006

Asians tackle Arab despot

Those familiar with the varied work of Asian Dub Foundation may not be surprised to see them branch out into opera. ADF have a reputation for using their recording career as a stepping stone to other projects: British Council tours to Brazil and Cuba; setting up their own ADF Education network, to promote the teaching of music and technology to young people. Their recording career spans several albums: Facts and Fictions (1995) R.A.F.I (1997) The Mercury Prize-nominated Rafi’s Revenge (1998), Community Music (2000), Enemy of the Enemy (2003) and the latest offering, Tank (2005). This longevity combined with their taste for invention has seen them cement their place as one of the few successful bands to emerge from the plethora of agit-pop collectives of the mid-to-late 1990s.

And given their fondness for tackling political issues, Qadaffi: A Living Myth was a suitably big topic for the big stage. This is the band that went one louder than the Scream in releasing a single entitled Free Satpal Ram, an Asian man who, after defending himself against a racist attacker, is still imprisoned and subjected to mistreatment.

In ADF’s hands, the thought provoking subject matter comes to life, inviting the audience to ponder key phases of the life of the Libyan leader. Asian Dub Foundation can pat themselves on the back by extending their creative portfolio another dimension. The production may have ended, but the music throughout was fantastic – the traditional ADF bassline spliced with mystic Eastern melody – the soundtrack to the production, should it see the light of day, will be well worth parting with a few pounds for.

Go here for reflections on the operatic hagiography. Who knows, ADF could well be writing ‘Hussein, man or living moustache’ or ‘Ahmadinejad, the world’s most dangerous side parting’ in a few years time.

Neil W
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Friday, October 06, 2006

Vinyl junkies

“Yah Tarqs, I still buy vinyl.” “Me too Lizzie, I couldn’t stop myself buying a load of Ethiopian esoterica in this delightful back-street shop I know. Quaff.” The UK’s premier colonists, lifestyle parasites and general try-hards have done a list of their favourite record stores. Reaction follows:

Rough Trade London W11. Never used the Notting Hill one. Covent Garden version is still a regular haunt with friendly staff. It also used to take our Culls.
Disque Chapel Market, London N1. Shit! Oceans of jazz-funk noodles, overhelpful staff and records jammed into the racks. Staff must be on commission because they’re the only ones who can find stuff in them. But like so many other stores, good for the peripherals of free publications, flyers and other bits and bobs.
Beano’s Croydon. The big second-hand shop? Never been, but I do know that over the years Croydon’s specialist stores have ably served the tech house and dubstep communities.
Selectadisc Nottingham. Always liked this the times I was in the UK’s Murder Capital. Perfect middle ground between out-there and commercial.
Ray’s Jazz London WC1. The original was good so I’m sure the one in Foyles hasn’t lost all its charm and knowhow.
Sister Ray 94 Berwick Street W1. Enthusiastic purveyor of the techno revolution. Took over the London Selectadisc when it moved up the road. Always friendly staff in the old place and probably my most used shop over the years.
Clerkenwell Music Exmouth Market, London EC1. Shit. CDs only. Unadventurous selection.
Haggle Vinyl Essex Road, London. Successor to the Vinyl Exchanges and Recklesses of this world because, after several years of being deluged with deep house and jungle, those two don’t take your old vinyl for much more than 0.5p each now.
Crash Records 35 The Headrow, Leeds. Isn’t it more dance-oriented? I always preferred the one in the Merrion centre. Over to Corky: “I’ve always found Crash to be a bit useless. Upstairs is full of crappy emo/metal and downstairs is staffed by unhelpful elitist ****s. I like Jumbo because the majority of the staff are friendly and knowledgeable about music – they still put stickers on records with helpful descriptions on them.” Jumbo also took Cull and, more than a decade ago, was always the preferred recipient of student grants/dad’s dough.
3 Beat _5 Slater Street, Liverpool. Scouse hedonism ahoy. But what about Probe?
Stand Out/Minus Zero London W11. It’s in W11 so will surely to be taken over by an estate agent’s soon.
Fopp 19 Union Street, Glasgow. Cheap and cheerful chain, but this is the original.
Piccadilly Records Oldham Street, Manchester. Always a good buzz about this place. In the same mould as Selecta/Sister, but probably a wider selection than either.

Barton may know more than me about the provincial stores, but once again The Guardian has produced a survey enormously pleased with itself. All these stores specialise in some way, so how about being more adventurous, looking out to the margins – old stalwarts like Soul Brother in Putney, Dub Vendor in Clapham Junction, repetitive beat exponents such as Blackmarket and Uptown, roads shops like Rhythm Division or popular new ones such as Phonica. Corky again: “For a national newspaper, an article on the best online record shops would be more useful. I use and endorse SisterRay, Boomkat and Warpmart.”
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Monday, October 02, 2006

iPod – five years of My Space

“Music may ‘know no boundaries,’ but the purpose of the iPod is to protect them. As anyone who has spent some time sitting in a Star-bucks can tell you, the customers who work there use iPods to minimise the possibility for social interaction…
Indeed, it may be the iPod's role in constructing the illusion of a home away from home that is the most monstrous thing of all…
It's a paradoxical wish, but one that captures the peculiar anxieties of the postmodern era in their most acute post-9/11 form…”
Alternet looks at Apple’s epochal meProduct
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