Music

CMJ Music Marathon 2004: Day Two: Marathon This!

Devon Powers

PopMatters takes to the streets of New York once again for the annual CMJ Music Marathon.


Alan Astor

I sprinted here: Bed Stuy to the Village, east to west to east then west again, up to Midtown, all around Times Square, down to way, way, downtown, where the streets don't make sense and me, a New Yorker for over five years, still needs a map to get around. I'm looking forward to spending the next hour or two in one spot, here at the TriBeCa Rock Club.

Outside, the air has a twinge of that fall chill -- it's the kind of night where the cold sneaks up and surprises you, like a game of hide and seek you weren't aware you were a participant in. Last night, the first night of CMJ, I was dressed all wrong -- turtleneck made it hot as hell at Rothko when Army of Me were onstage, but by the time Foreign Born and The October took the stage, the crowd had thinned and they'd pumped up the airco, making my jacket hardly sufficient cover. Last night, the bands were boring and I hated this blasted festival, but tonight the club is empty and I'm much more smartly dressed and all together happier.

Alan Astor. "Fantastic Fantasies" has been one of my mix CD songs -- you know, that song of the season that forms the perfect bridge between just about anything, the song you didn't know you needed that suddenly serves as the nucleus, the MVP, the crown jewel of your music collection. I'm damn lucky I ever even heard the thing; it was a random find in the increasingly overwhelming monstrosity that is my collection of promotional and press CDs. Alan Astor, some days, is the reason I get out of bed in the morning, and he's the reason I hauled my ass into the city when I would much rather have sat at home drinking Crystal Light and reading analysis of last night's debates.

CMJ is here again, and everyone, including me, seems to be bored. My friend who works for an unnamed music business entity told me last night that she wished she didn't have to see any shows. Another friend -- the ultimate rock show goddess -- tells me she's having a hard time figuring out what to see. Why? Part of it seems to be the insignificance of music at a time like this -- just weeks outside of the most important election many of us have ever lived through, in the shadows of an uneasy global political clime, mired in an economic upswing that feels like a downturn for everyone except those at the tippy top. Political unease is supposed to breed great music -- or so the story goes, say those blowhards of counterculture and hardcore -- but this time period has birthed only occasional glimmers amidst an otherwise vast sea of simulacra, posturing, and crap. The festival this year feels like a carbon copy of it last year, plus more anti-Bush paraphernalia. But a button here and a "fuck Bush" there do not a vibrant politico-musical culture make. Music has ceased to matter in the same way, and not even a world of chaos can shock it into significance.

But forget that, for now, because I am here to see Alan Astor. The guy I thought couldn't be but probably was him (sweet-faced, bald-headed, demurely dressed) has been replaced by the guy who is but shouldn't be him (hairy, hippy, wearing a beaded belt?!??). He's about to start his something when the power goes out onstage. Five guys are needed to fix it. They all look more appropriate up there than Alan does -- who looks more '60s be-in freak than '00s electro-synthwave maniac.

But once he begins, Astor finds a way to marry Hair and Larry Tee. He is singing into a mic where the echo effect is so strong, it sound like he's karaoking to himself on a cheap stereo. The effect of this is fascinating, and I am unable to look away. He is hairy and writhing. There's an old man perviness to it. He dances like he went to a liberal arts college. His voice booms as if his larynx is a megaphone. Did I mention that he's wearing a beaded belt?!??

His accompanying music -- minus occasional live performed bari sax solos -- comes from his iPod, set delicately to his right. Out of it pump bass-heavy keyboard funk that meshes perfectly, if oddly, with his huge, theatrical, grand-old bellow of a voice. His songs have a fourth grade lasciviousness and a Celine-esque drama. He keeps removing articles of clothing. He's made all the rhythmless boys in the audience start dancing.

Alan Astor. This is what CMJ should be about but too often isn't. Too often, all of us -- myself included -- come to festivals like this to see what we've already seen a million times, bands we already know back and forth. Beyond the bigwigs, CMJ is also home to plenty of smallwigs, freaks who play tiny shows at out of the way venues, bands itching for their moment in the sun. Much of this is also not worth the beans, but sometimes -- like tonight -- someone as jaded as myself can find something worth mouthing off about again. It feels good.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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