Next Verse, Same as the First
“The inspiration for this album came from the original Chicago House from the mid 1980s. The tracks from this era have an innocence and purity that I felt was somewhat lost in modern electronic music.”
—Cam Farrar, from the House Music press release
Sometimes a little nostalgia can warm the cockles and make one remember the good old days through a sepia-toned haze. Then again, sometimes they can make you realize that the good old days were not that good in the first place, which leaves them simply old and best forgotten. Sadly, the Kikumoto Allstars are often an example of nostalgia gone wrong.
Keeping true to his aim, Australian producer/deejay Cam Farrar named the Kikumoto Allstars after Tadao Kikumoto, who was the brains behind almost every good piece of technology Roland ever made and likely ever will make. Armed with a fine selection of that gear and other assorted pieces from the era, the sounds that the Allstars use are authentic to the late ‘80s, but I’m not sure about the stated goal of House Music. It seems ironic to me that the project is an alleged attempt to recapture the “innocence” of the classic rave, in light of the brutally trite “work your body, everybody” vocals that smother every other track. Perhaps Cam was referring to the innocence that came with ignorance of STDs.
I must assume the “purity” he mentioned refers to the simplicity of choice that existed before digital recoding technology ran amok and gave everyone the ability to download every synth ever made and record professional-quality albums on their laptops. That limitation was not an aesthetic choice for the electronic musicians of old, whereas using nothing but vintage Roland gear for this record was. Unlike the producers of the late ‘80s, those who led the effort towards creating new exciting possibilities and changed the face of music, Cam’s old synths are employed literally as an homage to an age with now comically dated technology. Kikumoto Allstars tracks often lack the attention to creating a fresh modern take on established forms that would make it seem like less of a parody.
What I liked about the old skool days was that producers saw each piece of then-new gear as an avenue for previously unforeseen expression, bending technology in unimaginable ways to create entirely new genres of music and to re-imagine the current state of affairs. For example, the classic acid house sound still used by the likes of Venetian Snares and Luke Vibert to great effect, were pulled from the Roland TB-303, which was originally designed by Tadao Kikumoto as a bass simulator for guitarists practicing alone.
Those aged visionaries pushed forward, and the gear that defined the sound of those times did not define its artists or the potential they saw. Conversely, House Music comes off as unapologetic in its lack of creative desire. It is an album born out of anachronism instead of true adventure, and thus is destined to remain in the fringes of electronic music.
That said, when the vocals are not slapping you in the face, the melodies and progression of the bare Allstars tracks are on par with the majority of late ‘80s house. If the continually elevating “DCO” was released back in the day, it would be a classic today, in the best sense of the word. It’s up there with any of Aphex Twin’s house products from the period. The raunchy “Shed 13” would be up on that pedestal too, with its 4/4 beat warmed over by rising, pulsing acid house subbase.
Farrar’s House Music is clearly well produced, but it’s hard to know whether you are meant to rank it next to the canonical works or next to its contemporaries. As a record made in 2009, it does not quite stack up overall in terms of songwriting to the likes of Booka Shade, James Holden, or DJ Hell. If it was a record from 1989, it would have been a notable achievement and still highly regarded to this day, but the obvious fact remains that this record was released in 2009. As such, it should be more concerned with defining today’s scene rather than merely repeating and adding little to the fads of the past. He had the technology to make this better, stronger, and faster, and he chose not to use it.
However, at least Farrar was honest about his intentions to create an unflinchingly old skool record, unlike the Dirt Crew, who exclusively recycle old sounds while pretending they just designed them. If you played this record for someone and did not announce when it was made, it is highly unlikely that they would guess it was anything but a forgotten classic. As was his stated goal, one has no choice but to consider House Music a success.
- Multiple songs MySpace