Reviews

Punk in London / Punk in England

Photo (partial) found on Day Life.com

Punk in London and Punk in England provide an addlebrained and occasionally droning but nevertheless vital window onto a revolt while it's in progress.


Punk in London

Director: Wolfgang Buld
Distributor: MVD
Studio: Odeon
UK Release Date: 2009-01-19
US Release Date: 2009-06-23

Punk in England

Director: Wolfgang Buld
Distributor: MVD
Studio: Odeon
UK Release Date: 2009-01-19
US Release Date: 2009-06-23

At a very early point while watching Wolfgang Büld's fascinatingly empty-headed 1977 documentary Punk in London, you might start thinking that it would have been helpful had the director bothered to include titles on the screen to identify any of the people that he's interviewing. Then later on, after one has heard just a few too many spotty-faced gits blather on about the glories of punk, the inestimable sins of "all that old crap", and engaged in some extremely spurious theorizing about the musical insurrection they're currently enacting, you could well consider that it was best to not have much of an idea sometimes about who's talking. After all, once you hear a kid spout on about how supposedly "nobody's ever sung political songs before" (blithely ignoring the entire tradition of musical agitprop, from Irish revolutionary ditties to civil rights protest songs), it's probably best not to have a name to pin to the ignorance.

As a filmmaker, Büld does little to edit his gangly documentary into much of a coherent shape. He prefers to stab in long passages of pulsating concert footage with these interminable interstitial interviews with those making the scene in the roiling cultural cauldron that was late-'70s London. There's little rhythm to what's thrown up on screen, just a lot of lucky-to-be-there scenery occasionally interrupted by the director's German mumbling (untranslated, also, probably for the best).

But fortunately for the audience, what Büld was able to capture has the kind of electricity that doesn't make frequent appearances. There is an energy here specific to this particular cultural moment, the sense of being right on the hinge of something, which has rarely been captured on celluloid before. Büld was most likely not the greatest director to capture the scene -- and certainly not the only one, given the work that Julien Temple and Don Letts were doing at right around the same time -- but he did happen to be in the right place at the right time. And sometimes that's all you need.

Yes, Punk in London is a giant mess. Without much organization, Büld chops together his interminable interviews with little rhythmic sense, mixing live concert footage with staged performances and throwing the occasional song on the soundtrack (The Jam's "Carnaby Street" makes for a nice opener). The color is cheap and washed-out, and the words of wisdom from all these knotty-haired punks looking like they've outgrown their school uniforms are less than memorable.

But what he captures is something else, indeed. X-Ray Spex do a great rendition of "Bondage, Up Yours!" The Jam (clearly a favorite of the director) perform a rip-your-eyelids-off version of "In the City" to a jam-packed and sweaty gaggle of kids in full musical ecstasy. A member of The Lurkers lazes around with mum and dad, shouting at the Boomtown Rats on the telly, "Corrupt! Sold out!" Some frustrated older teddy boys, their pompadours swaying over beer-sozzled eyes, gripe about how punks were really just copying their back to basics rock and roll, and their rebellious attitude, after all.

Several mentions are made of how punks deserve "a good 'iding" whenever the teddy boys run into them (and given how the dockworker-looking teds seem to outweigh the average rail-thin, glue-sniffing punk by a good 50 pounds, the odds would seem to be in their favor). One of The Stranglers displays some good old-fashioned antiauthoritarian paranoia, refusing to take part in Büld's film because "I'm not a prostitute," later elaborating, "I'm very suspicious of your German motives."

Cultural touchstones are notched off, groundbreaking zines like Search & Destroy, the record store / punk community center Rough Trade, and the bleak brick wasteland of the London streets that spawned all this pent-up fury and anomie. Büld is also there, even right at the real start of punk, to capture how quickly things had become formulaic. Already the idea of a standard and conformist look is setting in, with some complaining about punk being made over into a "commercial carnival" before any real change had sunk into the culture at large.

For the most part, though, the bands included here -- from lesser-knowns like The Killjoys to greats like The Clash, who end the film with a blazing take on "Garageland" -- and their hangers-on are too busy making and enjoying brilliant music to care so much about the why and how. Or why the Sex Pistols don't make an appearance.

Punk in England, the afterthought of a film that Büld released not long after, is pretty much more of the same, only slightly better packaged and with less of a discernable reason for its existence. Subtitled "British Rock Gets Ready for the '80s", the film -- released by MVD simultaneously with its predecessor and a tangential follow-up, Reggae in a Babylon -- has a couple of things going for it which the first film did not.

First, there's the helpful addition of an English-language narrator to introduce some of the interviewees. It also broadens the scope somewhat, bringing in a whole sidebar on the ska scene, focusing mostly on The Specials and the jokier and uptempo kids in Madness (who helpfully describe their music as "like white reggae, but faster"). There's also just more music in general, including not just the expected outfits but a few rather forgotten ones like Spizzenergi, who do a plinky and techy kind of skiffle-punk that probably deserved a bigger historical profile than they've received.

On the down side, the film again jumps from one interview to the next with not so much as a hint to the direction it's heading. Oddballs like Ian Drury make an appearance to little effect, and an (admittedly solid) performance from The Pretenders just before they broke out with "Brass in Pocket" is nice enough but seems more than a little out of place. And there's more Bob Geldof than one can generally take in a single sitting. Unlike the first film's extras (including The Clash live in Munich), this DVD's extras (in this case, a so-called Women in Rock mini-feature, which really just showcases a few particularly grating numbers from The Slits and a halfway decent performance from Siouxsie Sioux) don't add much to the overall package.

What Punk in London and Punk in England provide is an addlebrained and occasionally droning but nevertheless vital window onto a revolt while it's in progress. The first film shows the first burst of energy, those first bands to snarl across the stage at the Roxy and horrify or entrance everyone in their path. In the second, you can see many of the same bands still performing with the same level of freakish energy but moving in newer and more exciting directions. The Jam are turning into a more solidified unit, wearing suits and being more open about their modish influences (a fast paced version of "David Watts" sounds like it could be straight out of Quadrophenia), while The Clash are mutating into the reggaefied post-punk unit that would soon be barnstorming through the hit radio playlists and sports arenas of the world.

At this point in punk, its revolutionaries that Büld captures are flying fast away from the Big Bang that created it all. They're far enough away from the explosion that they can't quite feel the heat anymore, but it's still propelling them outward at blazing speeds. At the end, Büld just cuts it off, almost as though he expected to pick his camera up in another year or so to see where everyone had gotten off to, what punk had turned into by then, but that film never came. A frustrating end, but perhaps appropriately jagged and unexplained.

7

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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