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Waveform: New Highlights in the Electronic Underground

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Wednesday, Feb 23, 2011
To pair Jamie XX’s interest in this territory with a musical figure like Gil Scott-Heron makes even more sense than perhaps the original conceit of I’m New Here.

To pair Jamie XX’s interest in this territory with a musical figure like Gil Scott-Heron makes even more sense than perhaps the original conceit of I’m New Here. On Jamie’s official, Scott-Heron-approved remix record poignantly titled We’re New Here, Jamie bring Scott-Heron’s voice into the underground in the spirit of Heron himself. The breakbeat sounds of dubstep, hip-hop, and UK garage are at work here, and their relevancy to Heron’s spacious, spoken-word jazz material is essential.


Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie XX - We’re New Here (XL Recordings)


Last year poet, proto-rapper, and avant-garde jazz pillar Gil Scott-Heron returned to the fold with his first album in decades. Released on Richard Russell’s inimitable XL Recordings imprint I’m New Here is a collaborative affair between Russell and Scott-Heron that saw the revolutionary artist in the context of a sparse pastiche of 21st century electronic sounds. The result seemed to celebrate Scott-Heron’s legacy with a dose of nostalgia at the same time it launched Scott-Heron’s graying, monolithic voice into the future. The title said as much, re-casting Scott-Heron as a timeless figure, his visionary soul as new and fearless, as it was old and wise.


I’m New Here was undeniably Scott-Heron’s record, despite the musical crafting by Russell, and yet the potential for exploring the tensions between Heron’s legacy and his relationship to the underground of today could be mined even further.  Enter Jamie XX of breakout London R&B rock outfit the XX. Jamie is the band’s principal producer and supplier of the group’s electronic elements, and has—since the group’s meteoric rise—been making a name for himself as a member of the UK’s underground “bass music” scene.
  
This nebulous catch-all is meant to honor the myriad bass-centric subgenres that have splayed out from the ancestor of ‘90s rave and breakbeat genres like house, techno, jungle, and drum & bass. Dubstep is an important touchstone in this spectrum, but since dubstep’s ubiquity there has been a remarkably egalitarian desire among dubstep producers and their descendants to dig into these prior sounds to create something that captures the spectrum; even reaching to hip-hop, R&B, and reggae as essential antecedents.


To pair Jamie XX’s interest in this territory with a musical figure like Scott-Heron makes even more sense than perhaps the original conceit of I’m New Here. On Jamie’s official, Heron-approved remix record poignantly titled We’re New Here, Jamie brings Scott-Heron’s voice into the underground in the spirit of Scott-Heron himself. The breakbeat sounds of dubstep, hip-hop, and UK garage are at work here, and their relevancy to Scott-Heron’s spacious, spoken-word jazz material is essential.


On tracks like Scott-Heron’s debut single “NY Is Killing Me” and “The Crutch”, Jamie’s nods to dubstep and UK garage are clear, and Scott-Heron’s voice descends into each track’s deep basslines like they’re ancient, and then sits atop the skittering drums like they’re live at Birdland. What begins to become clear here is that these sounds are as alive and fearless as ‘60s-era Harlem, or ‘80s-era Bronx, and that a street-poet like ultimately Scott-Heron lives in the streets—even 21st century London’s.


 


 

XLR8R Magazine Podcast #186: DJ MikeQ


DJ MikeQ - Mix for XLR8R Magazine


It may come as a surprise to far too many that Madonna’s hit 1990 single “Vogue” was inspired by Harlem’s emerging gay, black, and Latino vogue-dancing community. As documented by Jennie Livingston in the film Paris Is Burning (which came out the same year as “Vogue”), Harlem’s transgender and gay community would come out to “house balls” where “realness” contests would be held, pitting one diva’s voguing and costume abilities against another. And the musical backdrop will define ballroom culture as much as its backdrop of identity struggle, even if Madonna’s “Vogue” excludes that narrative in her song. Voguing’s use of disco and eventually Chicago house music set a precedent for the inextricable relationship electronic music now has to sexual identity movements; hip-hop then limited in its scope of identity, and punk reclaimed by women before queers.


House music and the gay community may have a storied relationship, but little has been done to document the continued risks producers and DJs make in these intersecting realms. Terre Thaemlitz a.k.a. DJ Sprinkles a.k.a. K-S.H.E. is the one notable exception—his music frequently interrogating issues of sexual identity in the context of house and techno. But what even Thaemlitz may not be privy to is the new ballroom era, as soundtracked by New Jersey producer and DJ MikeQ. As an inheritor to house and a lover of hip-hop and R&B, Mike Q has not only reinvigorated ballroom culture, but has created a musical genre out of it.


In what is one of Mike Q’s first-ever mixtapes for a national publication, you’ll notice that Mike’s vision is clear and unified; the tracklist is comprised of he and his crew. What you’ll distinctly notice is Mike Q’s sampling of the song “The Ha Dance” by house legends Masters at Work (MAW). At about midway through the original, a loud whiplashing snare comes ripping through the song—and its this whip that Mike Q will wield through out his many edits and remixes of hip-hop and R&B favorites. That Mike Q is drawing on chart-topping hip-hop and R&B should come as no surprise given the cultural milieu of today’s young black community, but to hear Beyonce’s “Diva” stripped to waist-drop-inducing 808s and a whip for a snare is enough to start a movement, or at least push an already existing one into the 21st century.


Tracklist here.


 

Jacques Greene – “Tell Me (Kingdom Edit)”


The remixer on this track, New York’s Kingdom, came up in New York’s queer club music scene, and there is no question that Kingdom’s early use of DJ MikeQ’s music in mixtapes is why Mike Q and ballroom culture are being featured in national magazines like XLR8R. So this week’s free unreleased track is the Jenga piece that brings the, um, house of this week’s Waveform post down to a common denominator.


The song’s original version is by a Montreal-based producer named Jacques Greene, who is working in the aforementioned intersection of house and breakbeat sounds like dubstep and UK garage, particularly in a niche of these sounds that is re-purposing and often re-pitching American R&B vocals. One could point to Burial’s masterful use of this technique, but one could also look at New York producer Kingdom, who has been using this technique for his inimitable interpretations of house and club music just before an unprecedented wave of R&B-sampled house, dubstep, and UK garage came flooding through the London gates.


On this Kingdom edit of Jacques Greene’s “Tell Me” he does little more than add a marching band’s drum roll and send Greene’s vocal sample into outer space, but these additions launch the original into something hype-inducing, as well show Greene that despite the fact that the two are on London’s hot new Night Slugs imprint, Kingdom was one of the first to sign, and a simple vocal edit and drum re-configure is child’s play for someone who’s sound is unmatched.


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This posthumous memoir provides Scott-Heron’s keen insights into the music industry, the civil rights movement, modern America, governmental hypocrisy, and our wider place in the world.
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Santana trumpeter Bill Ortiz provides a fitting tribute to Gil Scott-Heron.
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We thought Gil Scott-Heron was bulletproof. He wasn’t. We thought he’d know better. He didn’t. He was human. And I‘m New Here, not his greatest work, is his most human work.
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