Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Top 10 of the Decade

Foreword and Further Reading here/Final notes on the decade here/ The also-rockers here, + Marc, Fish and Corky's contributions

The ten in chronological order:
DJ Zinc – 138 Trek (Tru Playaz 2000)
Missy ‘Misdemeanour Elliot’ – Get Ur Freak On (WEA 2001)
Vitalic – La Rock (Different 2001)
Isolee – Brazil non-radio edit (Classic/Playhouse 2003)
Bloc Party – She’s Hearing Voices (2004)
Kode 9 – Sign of the Dub (later just ‘Sine’ - Hyperdub 01 – 2004)
Hiem – She’s the One (Matthew Jonson Circles in Time remix – Crosstown rebels 2004)
Justice – Waters of Nazareth (Erol Alkan’s Durr Durr Durrrrrr Re-Edit - Ed Banger 2005)
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood (Wichita 2006)
Appleblim – Vansan (Skull Disco 06 2007)

DJ Zinc – 138 Trek (Tru Playaz 2000)

The decade starts with one of jungle’s prime movers stepping back from that scene to create something with populist appeal across rave's fractured genres. Mr Super Sharp Shooter DJ Zinc released the Beats By Design ep in January 2000, and 138 Trek, named after its bpm, quickly became the in-demand track and was soon released as a 12’’ with the trip-hoppy Toothbrush rmx on Tru Playaz, then later with a Zed Bias mix jointly with Phaze One. I guess I would have bought this in the basement of Blackmarket, maybe introduced to it directly at the time or in search after hearing it on radio. I daresay it was in DJ circulation months before the turn of the millennium but makes this chart for its subsequent impact.

This is a track not a tune, something to be deployed to keep the crowd hyped by its rhythmic impetus. There is little topline riffage to speak of unless you count the occasional film score-type lines and there isn’t even much ‘breakbeat science’ although there is more programming at work then a casual listen would have you believe. The main energy comes from the five or six-note (not a sub-) bassline and complementary acid squiggle bouncing off the skittery but insistent break, while occasional fills, whistley noises and other incidental sounds drop in and out and rushing noises signify the end of another passage.

This track makes the 10 not for its innovation but, at a time when the stickiness of the continuum is being questioned, for its ability to bridge diversified areas of UK streetrave. It was much loved among the garage cliques as a foil to the chopped up female vox or MC chatter and would have been quite a hyper bouncer even among the near-breakbeat-type strains at the time. But it also fit in perfectly with the breakbeat (or is that breaks) crowd and the brittle top-end rhythm and plink-plonk bass make it a close relative of analogue retro-electro. Junglist demand was, of course, still too scene-specific and Zinc knocked off 174 Trek for them [and now a slowed down 128 Trek on the Crack House EP - no new ideas in both, however) .

Buoyed by its success Zinc’s Bingo Beats carved its its own niche for a few years with the ‘breakbeat garage’ sound. And a check of his MySpace proves that not only is he still seen as a much-loved key figure in UK street dance (25,000+ friends) but is off doing his own thing again with his housey/funky Crack House Music project. But he’d do well to make such an epochal tune as the 138 again.


To the critiks Rajko Muller [nom d’output Isolée] was in some ways the classic microhouse, sophist, undance artist who’d much rather add 12 bars of subtle tinkering than anything in search of pavlovian effect on the floor. But conventional house music and its already several contexts were done by the turn of century. What we needed now was rave artistry. Isolee had already switched house heads with Beau Mot Plage (try as I might to add that into the decade’s 10 (the series runs here), alas it was a Classic release ’99 with Fulton/Freeform 5 mixes in 2000), the Playhouse album Rest and other 12s.

Isolée’s Brasil.com was an example of peer tips proving right, as you will read below, and in an actual public rather than virtual setting. Scene would be wobbly ‘backtomine’ at my mate Steve’s, sharing with the Classic Recording label manager Leon, always up for opening susceptible ears to new material:

“Classic had close links with the German based Playhouse Records and had previously licensed the equally ground breaking Beau Mot Plage which is another truly amazing piece of electronic music. Brazil.com was originally featured as an exclusive track on a Trip Do Brasil Compilation on the French based Rhythmix label. Upon hearing it we all instantly agreed that we must release it on Classic. From its eerie, sparse, ominous beginnings of the staccato plucked strings through the melancholy of the analogue keyboard stabs, continually growing, pulsating and undulating, taking the listener up before it hits the crescendo and then drops you out and leaves you naked in its wake. It is a completely original piece of electronic music.

At the time, very few people were making this sparse yet warm style of electronic music. Much of the more recent spate of minimal techno clearly owes a lot to Rajko Muller. We finally released Brazil.com with great remixes by Tiefschwarz, Freeform Five and Freaks. It is a record I couldn't help eulogizing about when I first heard it and made countless enthusiasts endure its sonic splendour, more often than not to rapturous delight.”

When Leon put it on, there was a hush betraying the vested interest in this being good (and, as Carl asks, how much if the enjoying is governed by knowing who it is beforehand). Brasil far exceeded any claims of its goodness and even now it astounds for its invention. Leon says ‘sparse and ominous at the start’ and there’s also faux-playfulness in the plucked instrumentation (what exactly is a basuri?). Like Rest, it has the dreamed, mediated and filtered atmosphere of the previous turn of the century, European children with their families in their houses before the march to the end of history. An early morning potential, urging ahead of action. Not just passive listening or more raving.

The quirky jouissance which I have mentioned he sometimes rides (mainly through his ability to keep tunes constantly phasing to new areas) is replaced here by an embracing rush as the main, slightly acidy, riff comes in, unfolds and returns in dispatches. Por certo, up the scale, then down a la many a bogstandard floorfiller riff but on the downflow elaborating, flipping sideways and adding to the musicality rather than repeating itself. Brasil.com could have been a one-sided 12 and it would have sold. Still a great example of where ‘house’ or just plain ‘dance’ can be taken within European electronic framework.


Vitalic - La Rock 01 (International Deejay Gigolos 2001)

There might be years of pre-ownership speculation about a tune you go on to love, especially if you have no idea which is the right remix or which label it came out on first or even if it is the right one. That was the case for me with Vitalic’s La Rock 01, first out on hell’s International Deejay Gigolos in 2001. A compilation favourite, notably appearing on 2 Many DJs’ first, this stalker took on its own life in the musical world and its own form in my mind, before I finally had a copy via his debut album in 2005. Ever since then it has been the one track I go to if I want rave alienation, a quick rush to a dark hole of oblivion.

La Rock derives much of its energy and momentum from an explicit repudiation of uplifting/funky mores, placing it firmly in the European industrial line. None of the pleasing gratification or pay-off we’ve come to demand from rave is evident here, unless nightmarish fairground rush is your default setting. It builds along the lines of standard techno, adding in percussive ticks and claps and little synth incidentals before the bassline signals something even nastier to come. Nihilist in the sense that it is just a a banging rocker offering no salvation, in that it steals standard rave sounds and exploits them in such a way as to reject any generic discourse (does it fit into techno or electroclash, who cares?) and exists only to (dis)please itself. A grand statement of nothing-from-a-discredited-something, ill prepared to offer any resolution or way forward. A tune to accompany the collapse of culture into ground zero rubble.

The main riff – the standard digital arpeggiated line ubiquitous to the all the main popular genres but especially associated with electroclash – gradually filters out of the bass and unwinds up and down as you would expect. It could be a verse line rather than the stand-out sound but for the intensity with which it is delivered. The only other non-breakdown element adds shuddering synth lines to the cold rush, and as a piece they come round three or four times before the chink of light signals the ending.

I don’t often recommend or replay this tune to others. It’s too demanding to fit in with functional techno and trance, too unsophisticated (and too well known) for serious house afficionados and too nasty to ever convert the guitarboys; indeed you would play it to them to prove their prejudices on dance. Not necessarily due to its sonic palette, all of which are universally established, but for its soulessness, its lack of humanity. Changing domestics mean I can rarely give this the full treatment on the loudspeakers, but on the headphones, out and about late at night, I turn this up so it distorts.

Ok Cowboy is a decent album, displaying in full Pascal Arbez’s Jarre/Moroder fetish in the modern context and much lighter on the hole than Rock. But it might be said Arbez, a Frenchman living in Dijon of Italian descent (tho' this Australian site has him born in Ukraine and living in eastern Germany), was one of those artists who struck gold on his first go. Other album highlights Poney 1 and Poney 2 also appear on that first Gigolo ep.

Arbez chose ‘Vitalic’ to get away from his techno output as Dima but there is a certain irony in that name when it will be forever associated with this death march of a tune.


Hiem – She’s the One
(Matthew Jonson Circles in Time remix – Crosstown Rebels 2004)

I knew about Hiem’s sometimes schlocky take on song-based electro dance from Corky putting their Chelsea on one of his CD compilations. It was an abrasive, underproduced number, overlaid with spoken word about the reet headfuck that is the erstwhile local girl, which the NME described as ‘like Cabaret Voltaire collaborating with Mike Skinner, or John Cooper Clarke fronting Fat Truckers’. Then some months later my mate Steve gave me She’s the One, out on Damian Lazarus' Crosstown Rebels, as part of batch of 12s for a present, back then when we still just about considered such accumulation of 12s vaguely important (so if you’re going to get me anything I’m going to strongly emphasise that it should be black plastic, don’t worry I’ll reciprocate with similar, it’s that or a DVD, etc etc). He said head straight for the Circles in Time rmx by Mathew Jonson, an up-and-coming producer fond of a Detroit classicism or two. My love for this was so immediate and desire for the moment so satiated that I’ve only just listened to the original A-side for context for this article, I’m ashamed to say.

Dance music’s appeal may be all about the extended plateau of pleasure bought about by repetitive beats, but iteration within that framework is essential. It is only ever the same in rockists' ears, while ravers know the tune and perception of it are ever changing. Here, the first phase is a low-key stroll with the vocals (again, about a girl ‘loved by sycophants’ who could be ‘the love of my life’) to the fore and a robust synthesised electric bass maintaining the momentum if not defeating the melancholic air; good, but only serving to counterpart what comes next.

My love for this song, or rather its remix, is centred on two areas, the build-up of the second phase of intended dancefloor ignition with the different percussive elements (some on reverb) and ominous keys stalking the soundscape. Then within that the few bars when, after everything else has been laid on, a new, Detroit bassline comes in heralding we’re nearly ready to go and my body coldrushes with delight. When that happens, even on repeated plays, not to mention repeated plays under review conditions for this series, I don’t care whether this sound is too techno for the time, too reverent to established mores, too fashionable, not fashionable enough, not esoteric enough, too cliquey, not street-wise, whatever – everything fits to propel me forward to the end of the track. Anyone with similar musical loves to me would go for it, but then that’s obvious due to this being a top 10 of my favourites; no need to write timid justifications for my liking of each tune when a little on why they can be so illuminating is much more pertinent. Circles in Time succeeds for its brilliant, unhurried use of dynamics.

Crosstown later released Hiem’s Zombie Eye. There is a lack of coherent articles about Hiem online, perhaps reflecting their position just under the radar of cool, their unwillingness for their militant electro to be co-opted into the mainstream, or the fact that they have not established themselves as magazine-friendly ‘electropop’ or producer-centric ‘dance’ (they say they are weighted to the former). But it looks like Hiem are still going, along with David ‘Bozz’ Bozzwell’s solo project (he also fronted Sheff’s All-Seeing Eye), and he and Nick could have an album out soon. With a producer such as Jonson at the helm, it could be a finely crafted thing.


Kode 9 – Sign of the Dub (later just ‘Sine’ - Hyperdub 01 – 2004)

The millenium bought more relentless intensification of the kapitalist spectacle. We were entering a technofuture we’d in some ways always wanted but were realising it came with negative implications, that it all seemed like flat-out indulgence. We were holes another pixel could not fill. In turn, rave had just bought more splitting of genres and development of niches and hedonic modes, while WhoreCull’s outlook was one of bleak, negative flux; in our inability to find no worthy flight anything so conventional as a consistent editorial line would have been a pathetic bolt-on. We were as guilty as the well marketed appeasers but maybe we were at least razing the ground. It was definitely time for theory and sincerity and valid commentary to take over. Who from the culture was brave enough to make a modern morality tale? The guy who’d bought us the hyperdub.net rave theory website, that’s who.

Emerging in late 2004 ostensibly as a cover of Prince’s Sign of the Times, there was nothing like this cold snap of music to remind us all of the flipside of speculative materialism. I found it in HMV Oxford Street floating free of section having maybe heard of it through the burgeoning music blog scene on one hand and the fading dance music press on the other (scroll to bottom for early reviews). A 10” double-sided release in the usual image-free cover; just label logo and other basic information. Beat-less except for the occasional echoed cymbal. A reggae note, reverbed to fuck, is the main motif coming in hard but drifting away backed up by nothing else to clinch on to. A bass pulses as on a jittery life support machine, just as likely to stop as to keep going. Synths very occasionally shudder, an emblem of the subject body’s readjustment to straitening times, then out they go, wisp-like. That’s the instrumentation, put it all together with a narrative from the Daddi Ape and it’s a potent urban gothic brew.

While Goodman’s subsequent (and still sounding excellent) Memories of the Future album was, at least from its title and presentation, a musical gambit, updating and substantiating the hollowed out and neglected electronic rave template (a product of the demands of functional hedonism, music being made to match the shallow expectations we had generated) when too many producers preferred hauntological, nostalgic or just plain stuckist modes, this acted differently to the album’s other tracks due to the jettisoning of rhythm (if not momentum). Musically, everyone knew that the ‘dark’ and ‘sick’ instrumental style had no emotional leverage anymore (and this was at a fecund time within ‘dubstep’ – as it was not known at the time - before ‘dubstep’ went cartoon clownstep) and was merely Pavlovian in delivery and intent. Grime with its low-fi clatter and vocal onslaught carried the weight but somehow blunted the message.

To make something with real force a producer had to do more with his palate than either. Equally, while in the ever-diverse Wire world there would be many non-rave producers capable of utilising similar sounds the net result would usually be music-as-installation, nice/moody/challenging but devoid of context. Kode9 put milieu in his production but let it breathe.

Sine is an expressive warning about now. Some people say, a man never truly happy, unless the next man truly dies: Sine of the Times – gonna mess with your mind. Blow out a church having gone messianic, and from spliff to rocks in months. Today’s tropes are no good for us, many of us won’t emerge unscathed and this is a warning shot explaining why and highlighting culture’s casualties. The way we’re going this track will always be relevant and vital.


Appleblim – Vansan (Skull Disco 06 – 2007)

It was ironic that by the decade’s midpoint the loose federation of dubsteppers had fashioned a slower head- (and bass-) music that was getting people on the floor and ‘dancing’. My clubbing nights were coming down to a couple a year and far too random to require a regular pattern or scene to attach it to, so it was great but personally too late to have sounds come through that re-energised 90s techno/IDM as well as being only a step or two down from Garage. Most everything now would be assessed in Club Crofton, aka my attic in SE4, only one person permitted on most nights.

So curiosity in Skull Disco probably came from the well established route for aging bedroom refugees – the blogosphere and Boomkat, one for hyping, the other for trying before buying. I’d liked Appleblim’s Mystical Warrior on the first release. It was ravey half-step, arguably overindulging in shuddering Duck Fart that connected me back to my late 90s Virus cocoon, but very effective and it would hold its own against the Caspa midweight schlock of this world when played out now.

But this was merely a starting point for Laurie Osborne, the ex-Monsoon Bassoon man, and his moment came on Skull’s sixth release, Vansan the flip to Shackleton’s You Bring Me Down. A perfect fusion of German and Jamaican groove and space, British kick and Detroit escape, it’s the tune I long since imagined was out there if anyone could sublimate the key elements. I’m a sucker for every element on Vansan, the cold Detroitesque space chords reverberating further and further out each time they come round (further nagging at a depleting memory whether I’m imagining any specific tunes that contain this element), the thin bass pads (the low-end has no need to dominate), fluttering top-end ticks twinned with lysergic synth lines, and a nagging note echoed out of all recognition that I liken to the doors on the spacemachine opening and shutting, or more prosaically an aural indicator of a continued high, a narcotic filament flickering back and forth.

All of it is arguably stylistically very singular, everything seems to come through a Tubby-sized echochamber, everything extremely processed in a way that some ‘naturalist’ producers may disdain, but overall effect is the main thing and the instrumentation works brilliantly. The rhythm too remembers the overall function and is hard enough on the bass and snare to keep the tune going, to still be a ‘dance’ tune. Albeit a dance tune for replicants, escaping the chase. If you listen carefully Shackleton buries those orchestral-concrete Detroit slabs in his swirling You Bring Me Down. (When it comes to the bracketing, Shackleton deserves his own section for his jittery orientalist sounds – I’d recommend his creepy El-Din on Mordant as well as the paranoid In the Void on Hobbs’ Evangeline comp. ’Blim’s mix for Dubstep Allstars is also highly recommended.)

But for top 10 purposes I did question Vansan’s inclusion. Appleblim and Peverelist’s Circling, two releases later, came at us with similar tactics and in some areas is arguably even stronger. It takes a variant on those space chords, adds even more anti-freeze and bolsters it with a processed guitar line that crops up on releases every now and then (Peverelist also used it on some mixes for STP, I first heard it on Leftfield’s rmx of Renegade Soundwave as the dreaded ‘trip-hop’ was homing into view, but it emphasises the connection back to mid-90s techno). But in the end Vansan cannot be vanquished as its other elements are more individual – Circling is great but perhaps just a little too aware of its likely audience.

For Skull’s Vandals remix package, German Torsten Profrock as T++ remixed Vansan, putting a but more step into the sound, noodling up the incidentals in his usual style and burying the signature sounds for a more traditionally club-friendly mover. A reasonable job with such golden elements, but like 2562 and FlyLo taking on Martyn’s Vancouver unnecessary and perhaps foolhardy. What can you do but make it more linear? The original Vansan has an atmosphere of its very own, a dub-techno classic out of time and space.

Appleblim in oldish feature on Resident Advisor.


Justice – Waters of Nazareth (Erol Alkan’s Durr Durr Durrrrrr re-Edit - Ed Banger 2005)

Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé’s clattering excess and crowning achievement was another for metropolitan post-ravers not too fussed what the genre is they’re swimming in as long as it shakes them around their patch of Hoxton dancefloor. Personally, it belongs in my grower category: France’s Ed Banger records with their diverse roster of acts (rather than invisible producers) such as Busy P (the label’s founder), Uffie and DJ Mehdi and engraved art on the covers were getting good recognition, and Justice themselves had broken through with their overhaul of a Simian track eventually known as We Are Your Friends (probably a tune to make it mainstream decade-best dance comp). I had known about Waters for a while. It was when my mate Ian in Brighton, usually not one to perceive quality in house or electro as he leant towards stuff with breakbeats in, said how much he liked it that I thought I’d try and discover it anew.

So I bought it (the second version with remixes, still at laughably expensive import prices) probably in late 2006/early 2007 and the quality of the little fragments I’d heard were finally confirmed. So:Me’s cover artwork, the engraved church organ, the gothic graffiti of the band logo (incorporating the † in the t of justice) all add to a highly-fetishisable package. I favour Alkan’s slightly leaner re-edit although little of the original is lost in the bid to make it that bit more dancefloor-(un)friendly. Like La Rock in my Top 10, this is another that is just too unclean for part-time hedonists who, fresh from meeting up with 'the guys' at All Bra Bum, like to party on to music they might not have even heard before. Every six months. For someone’s birthday. Christi-cakes, that was a c-razy night!

Nevertheless, this is music for less discerning, more party-hard times, where experimentation with a populist edge flourishes. Waters of Nazareth is a glorious analogue din, guitary riffs resampled so many times their dirt is almost tangible, Justice’s signature bass-sound rubbing you up the wrong way, thumping and nagging, simple but emphatic drum machine patterns tick-ticking away and occasionally the main tune sails in impassively over the bombsite below. It’s not progressive, sophisticated or one for dance music connoisseurs looking for the sonido nuevo but like many of the best 00s tune does a fine job of messing with what producers already have to play with. Call it electro-house if you like, but it has little of either early electro’s robot-funk or similarity with the majority of 00s post-clash schmaltzy low-grade synth funk; Waters of Nazareth drifted free from the generic flotsam.

Tunes as big (both in its sound and popularity) take on a second life. Use on the careering, dangerous, etc Grand Theft Auto console game makes sense, but the wiki entry tells uncomfortably of appropriation by the Top Gear knobs (‘when Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May drove three cheap rear wheel drive cars in an ice race in France’ – ha-ha), and there is a TV advert for an electronic retailer like Comet that pays skinflinted compliment by having someone cover over its latest call to buy shit, but cultural mediators always want to be associated with such big moments even if that entails complete defamiliarisation of context.

I bought the Jus†ice album on its release in June 2007 but, even though the awards from the dance music industry flowed, have never got on with it. Phantom has some admirable guitar excrescence, and Let There Be Light is good but basically ploughing the same turf as Nazareth, and was on its original 12” release. De Rosnay and Augé are to be admired for their singular approach, developing a sonic palette geared for uneasy listening and wildly different from many of their peers (the wiki entry talks about their setup) but the same components are used over and over again on †, so much so that it’s almost a concept album, the concept being let’s see how far we can go with this set of default sounds. All those cut up bass licks, grungey pads and compressed vocals seem to be fed through a very strange sepia filter (some tunes sounds like the outro of 70s US detective shows) which makes it queasy in a nice ariel pinkish way but also reduces some of the impact. I haven’t taken † down the Exchange yet, but it’s surely only a cull or two away. Perhaps the new album due for release next year will see them hit form, perhaps their lot will now always be ‘will this do’ rerubs of major-label cred-hunters such as Kravitz and U2.

No matter, Nazareth takes its place in the canon (which may appeal to their French catholic sensibility, given the religious imagery) as their must-have, the classic. Digitally, Justice’s moment sits nicely in the iTunes library, next to the earlier d&b JUSTICE (my favourite here being Tate Modern). Justice, certainly more Daft Punk than Bob Sinclar.

So that's entry No 7. Just three to go in your (sorry my) top tunes of the decade I really hate calling the noughties! I reckon i'm timing it nicely for just missing the cut as 1 January 'Twenty Ten' (again, eurrgh!) gets going.


Bloc Party – She’s Hearing Voices (2004)

In dance the turn of the century initially bought more of the same – more house and techno, more garage, more jungle – as if to explicitly downplay the importance of a new millennium to escapist consumption of tailored sound. This was until grime’s desire to authorise, dubstep’s later experimentation in a different tempo and time signatures and to some extent house’s minimalisation/digitisation wrought a welcome broadening out, leaving what you could call post-dance still in fecund shape as the decade ends.

It was in guitar music where the need for innovation was most pressing. OK, those of us who had been actively celebrating its demise in the 90s after its last great leap forward with Pixies, MBV, Dinosaur Jr didn’t expect innovation as such but some energisation, after all the sludge of Oasis and grunge and the tired poses and hackneyed themes in most of Britpop, would be welcome. Guitar music would always be lucky in some respects, it had the benefits of an overground infrastructure always willing to support a band at the first scent of ‘greatness’ (you could be a skaghead nicking your bandmate’s stuff but also the ‘saviour of British pop music’). But it could stymie a band stylistically as the earnest messianism of bands like Coldplay became something A&R men wanted to repeat.

As a punter, and grateful recipient of my partner’s industry freebies, most of the digging would be far away from the new gear but into a post-punk era which was being knocked into shape by Simon R’s Rip it Up (the talk at Boogaloo seemed an important moment), general blogland curation and some excellent comps such as Andrew Weatherall’s Nine O’Clock Drop in 2000. With the dancier, electronic sounds of the era already being recovered through lingering involvement in electronic house scenes, this digging would include the more obvious bands that I’d always had half an eye on such as the Banshees, Cure, Fall and Talking Heads, more ‘seminal’ acts like ACR, Public Image Limited, Gang of Four and Magazine and occasional forays even further in to bands like Pere Ubu or Mission of Burma (there was always more to discover but listening habits meant I didn’t get much further, even with the guidance on hand). The ideas! the manifestos! the experimentation! Luckily all the decent new bands that were to break through were also casting aside recent history and taking the same inspiring route.

All this is an incredibly long-winded intro into saying that Bloc Party make the first of two entries for ‘indie’ music with She’s Hearing Voices, the version available on import from US label Dim Mak’s ‘Bloc Party ep’, the original Banquet ep or as a 7” single in its own right on the Trash Aesthetic label, not the vastly inferior re-recording on the album Silent Alarm. This was another Corky recommendation (and on his decade top 10) and had everything I would look for in revitalised indie music – energy, edge and the drama of the female schizophrenic subject all driven by the frenetic but tight drumming of Gordon Moakes on drums and the clipped stylings of Russell Lissack on guitar. It’s not a post-punk pastiche by any means but renews the spirit of the era. As Pitchfork said in review of the Bloc Party ep: ‘Luckily, Bloc Party fare much better musically than they do rhetorically-- there's nothing ambiguous about their rollicking, poppy post-punk.’

Bloc Party have their critics for often joyless workouts live, Kele’s strained vocals, occasional indie-schmindie tendencies (Voice is further described in P’Fork as ‘sounding like Isaac Brock jamming with TV on the Radio’). It’s fair to say that this is the one effort of theirs that I’ll take with me into iTunes obsolescence, but then I favour bands’ singular moments. Kele and co are on the right side of the divide, not willing to rest on the laurels, exposing prejudice in their blokish male industry and embracing experimentation on their own terms as well as enlisting others (there is a great remix album of Silent Alarm – although Alkan turns in a lazy edit of my fave – and a fantastic Burial re-rub of Where is Home on the Flux ep).

On stage it’s all about the rhythm section while in the crowd you see proper dancing unlike for most guitar bands. I was a little harsh in that Boogaloo Rip It Up review for lumping in Bloc Party with your Killers or Franz Ferdinands simply working in 70s/80s styles because that was the thing to do again, because She’s Hearing Voices is a great emblem for late-period UK indie conceived in post-punk but transcending its influence.


Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood (Wichita 2006)

As end-of-decade listomania increases - look at this horrible Xfm rundown – the subjects gain a veneer of published approval through mainstream re-presentation. Yet I question She’s Hearing Voices’ inclusion as my eighth tune of the decade – there were a lot of contenders in the new wave indie category (as you will see there were in every other when notes on the 10 go live). And certainly enough to warrant the ‘genre’ taking another place. Priding myself on always looking to the dance vanguard for innovation and excitement, every now and ressentiment piques that modernist urge as the schmindie impasse rears its retro head.

But ‘indie’ was now a devalued term and the whites-with-guitars marketplace was thankfully a much more diversified sector than it was in the 90s. The ninth place goes to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood. Based in New York, they seemed to emerge in the wake of Arcade Fire and a few other Canadian collectives like Broken Social Scene who played with a folky passion but laced it with a knowing humour (one song is called ‘The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth’), as slightly fraggly, free-spirited trend-duckers (don’t they all?). They had already been favourably reviewed in the US blogosphere and Pitchfork in 2004/2005. In typical style I sat on the self-titled (and originally self-released) debut album for ages. It was another of those my then music industry employed partner had brought home assuring it was regarded as the next big thing (it had been picked up by that avowed arbiter of taste Wichita), to which the usual response is a huge yawn. So I think it was discovered during one of Tommy and I’s derangathons back at his Chelsea flat (never his flat), probably in 2006. In further typical style, the album’s ok but I only really feel this one.

This type of music takes me into a late 80s/early 90s electronics-free earthy indie netherworld (long band name and song title only emphasising that): tight but fast drumming on loose snares and toms, acoustic guitars there to add to rhythmic impetus. But crucially it’s all topped up by much slower and ’scapey electric guitars over the top, thus the verses achieve what many others try but fail by uniting two emotive planes – danceable euphoria and guitar-led blissout. Honestly, it does for me. Flick through the embed here to see what you think (it's the last tune on the album).

Lyrically the song seems to be ambivalent about the youth’s inevitable, libertarian lunge into hedonism but whatever didactic lessons are intended for our ‘child stars’ are probably undermined when set in the frame of such an exciting song that makes you want to cut loose. So while the sentiment may not necessarily suggest it, the whole product cannot help but engender joy in the listener as it builds to an impassioned finale around the four minute-mark.

Probably my most traditional selection and, in the context of being wowed by it just at the time the responsibility of parenthood kicked in, certainly the one most evocative of a youthful freedom. It was no longer valid to place so much weight on the latest wave of beats as clubs were out and anything that could thrill in my domestic confines was in. But I hope it enjoyed heavy and much loved rotation in the nation’s indie discos.


Missy ‘Misdemeanour' Elliot – Get Ur Freak On (2001)

I’d always intended at least one selection to be from hip-hop or r&b, to give some reflection to those genres’ absolute dominance of popular music at the turn of the decade and years after. At my socially conservative centre you wouldn’t go out looking for an r&b night as their ubiquity ensured you didn’t need to - crappy bars, pubs and clubs everywhere had the sound and it could unite boys and girls, drinkers and sharkers, in a spectacular pre-Carnage abandon. This was populist and modern sexed up party music broken free from social niche or generic restriction. Classics came round with startling frequency, Destiny’s Child one week, Kelis the next, even upstarts like Amerie could be ensured a big moment if they secured the services of the producer du jour. On the clubbing fringes too house DJ friends would marvel at the production on Dre’s 2001 and all the press wowed over Timbaland’s productions. They had won the battle and now it was all about how long the spectacle could be maintained.

I’d had a soft spot for 90s r&b as an emergent pop sound that was not some kind of po-mo, Britpop option; tunes like SWV’s I’m So Into You was a biggie in our Leeds student houses, TLC’s Waterfall then later gear such as Blackstreet’s No Diggity. All of these sat well with the occasional purchases of ‘real’, manlier hip-hop. Later I again had my partner to thank for bringing me closer to an array of Elliot and Timbaland productions from the previous decade when Warners/WEA were getting behind r&b, including her own She’s A Bitch, the Rain, tunes for Nicole and others and those Aaliyah classics. Then Get Ur Freak On emerged from Missy Elliot’s third album and was her biggest UK single, both in sales and impact.

Getting a big r&b smash by the early noughties was all about global reach and an exchange of musical motifs. This was a time of Punjabi MC’s Mundian To Bach Ke’s reaching out to the US with the Nightrider riff to embolden the bhangra sound. Missy and Timbaland as producers wanted a sound that would go beyond just the UK or American ‘urban’ crowds. Mumbai would be getting down, Tokyo and other Asia-Pacific hubs too. Missy was aware of this global reach and Get Ur Freak On explicitly recognised the allure of the last American pop phenomenon, with a simplistic but very effective Punjabi melody (played on the ektara) and snatched lyrics in Hindi and Japanese.

Of course artists had seen and would go on to see the orientalist/exotic bandwagon waving at them to jump on, the likes of Truth Hurts and Nore’s Nothing ripping Middle East and Indian elements but wrapping them firmly back in the low-end bump and grind of standard r&b or hip-hop. But crucially, Miss E and Timbaland went one further by making the ektara riff stand way out in the mix, getting into your head with its bell-like clarity. The rhythm is double-layered, the r&b thumps away as expected in the foreground (quite hard by Timbaland standards) but Indian percussion skirts around underneath to add a different funk, allowing you to express yourself more than if there was just the conventional jerk and judder to the main beat. At its heart is a manic urgency to convey the lyrics and incidental content, not consistent in approach with r&b crazysexycool but effective on those terms in result.

R&B eventually did get far too samey and too reliant on hot chicks with butts to sell music, something Missy Elliot was always adept at subverting in her peak, unfortunately leaving its main progeny to be parasite humpers like the Black-Eyed Peas. Gangsta rap too became stupid parody with Fifty Cent and Jay-Z and below then Ja Rule and DMX battling for realness as album sales finally turned down. The best stuff for the last few years such as Rihanna and Kanye has been more than a little influenced by digitised dance music, while the poppiest gear is not really r&b at all but slick disco in the mould of Estelle’s American Boy or Shakira’s latest. But Get Ur Freak On achieved the dual status of being one of the standout r&b tunes of the time while standing apart from the genre.
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Blogger dj said...

when you gonna post my top ten?

4:13 pm  

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