The Secret Policeman Rocks!

It pains me to suggest that watching The Secret Policeman Rocks! is akin to swallowing a tablespoon of humanist medicine...

The Secret Policeman Rocks!

Director: Martin Lewis
Cast: Sting, Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel, Jeff Beck, Phil Collins, Bob Geldof, David Gilmour, Kate Bush
Distributor: Shout Factory
US Release Date: 2009-09-11

A defining cultural event of my late adolescence was the epochal LIVE AID concert, staged simultaneously at England's Wembley Arena and Philadelphia's Robert F. Kennnedy Stadium in the summer of 1985, the same year I could register to vote. The shows were organized by British rocker Bob Geldof, best known at the time as lead vocalist of Irish band The Boomtown Rats -- who had little audience in the States -- and his starring role in Alan Parker's celluloid adaptation of Pink Floyd's world-conquering concept album The Wall.

His purpose was to raise funds and awareness to alleviate the tragic situation of global hunger. Few would have realized then -- or now -- that the future Sir Bob was violently opposed to charity concerts on the grounds that they constituted the useless grandstanding of "hippies".

Geldof had been approached by promoter friend Martin Lewis -- in partnership with manic Monty Python alumnus John Cleese -- to perform in an Amnesty International-sponsored show curiously titled "The Secret Policeman's Ball". A fitting monicker, really, when you consider that AI's stated goal is to expose human rights abuses across the world, said abuses often perpetrated by law enforcement agencies, secret or otrherwise. The Balls evolved into a long-running series, featuring the crowd-pleasing titans of Rock Britannia, including Sting, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Peter Gabriel, Bono... in other words, most of Johnny Rotten's favorite punching bags.

As 2009 is the 30th anniversary of the debut Ball, Shout Factory has released this commemorative DVD, The Secret Policeman Rocks!, which compiles many notable performances from those three decades. First at bat, we have Gordon Matthew Sumner, a.k.a Sting, warbling about a certain Parisian lady of the evening. Setting the tone for most of the solo acts, he gently strums a guitar, with no other Policemen present. In fact, his clip seems to be the same used once-upon-a-time by that former music channel MTV. It's a potent reminder of the vocal gifts of this classically-trained Englishman.

Next up is God, er... Eric Clapton, and which greasy-haired stoner annointed him thus, I wonder? Oh well, he's joined onstage by Axe Legend numero dos, the estimable Jeff Beck, as they gallop through blues chestnut "Farther Up The Road". The duo return for "Cause We've Ended As Lovers", a melancholy instrumental which manages to transcend its occasional muzak cadences. I much prefer, however, Pete Townshend's following number, "Pinball Wizard". Mister Pete wields an acoustic guitar, sans windmill arm gyrations and instrument destruction, choosing instead a quiet rendition of the Who's bombastic original. Sure, it's difficult to imagine anyone but Daltrey singing it, but I've always found Townshend's voice to be much warmer.

MOR stalwart Phil Collins also appears, on piano, doing his inevitable -- and overrated -- "In The Air Tonight", though accompanied by flamenco-ish chords. It's a different reading than Collins' somewhat mechanical Top 40 version many of us associate with Crockett and Tubbs' racing down Biscayne Blvd in a Ferrari.

I do recall buying the ethereal-voiced Kate Bush's hit "Running Up That Hill", but don't remember actually ever playing the 45. I must admit I don't really comprehend her evident popularity in Old Blighty, but maybe that's unfair, as I can name only three songs she's recorded. At any rate, her backing group delivers a Wall-of-Sound performance of this signature tune, and Phil Spector would probably melt on first listen, then slide right out of his penitentiary cell.

Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler strokes a somnambulant - were the early Balls a precursor of MTV's "Unplugged"? -- cover of Lennon's "Imagine", partnered with country/Western legend George W. Bush! In truth, it's Chet Atkins, but damn, if he don't resemble ol' G.W.! The clip was made for YouTube, and I 'imagine' that Comedy Central would have a field day with it!

Sad to see Eurythmics wunderkind Dave Stewart leading a sizable orchestra and chorus through a dirgesome din titled "Amnesty". Please, grant my eardrums some amnesty! This inventive man deserves better, and was Annie Lennox busy that day? Eurythmics' eclectic 1985 release "Be Yourself Tonight" remains a personal fave, and I'm forever entranced by their ghostly earlier single, "Love Is A Stranger".

Infinitely more compelling is Geldof's passionate rendering of his most renowned recording, the snarky, subversive "I Don't Like Mondays". Backed only by piano, he spits out the words in a desperate, nasally tone, and I'm now curious to hear more of his defunct band's oeuvre. Let's see... I first read of The Boomtown Rats in a 1979 Life magazine piece about "New Wave Rock", and years later, watched him romance a python in the promo vid for another Rats single, "Up All Night". Still later, a classmate in my Film Production class used the tune to great comic effect in a short movie about dressing for work on that despised day.

Sting, in some respects the honored guest on this DVD, returns for "Message In A Bottle", his effortlessly soulful charisma as fresh as ever. To no one's surprise, Peter Gabriel pops up for his rousing, vaguely martial "Biko", perhaps outdoing Ms. Bush in sheer sonic force with the tune that established the veteran rocker's liberal-cosmopolite street cred. Would you hear him at Starbucks otherwise. I think not.

I was jazzed to hear "I Shall Be Released", Dylan's sad perennial, interpreted by countless artists, but immortalized by The Band, whose seminal version appears in several films, and even an episode of "The Wonder Years", my own late-night introduction to the song. Dig how baffled I was, then, when Sting skipped onto the stage and jumped into reggae 'riddims', leading a joyous, celebratory rendition, backed by numerous stars and even a horn section. Dylan was absent, but he's surely heard it. I was prepared to say "Yeccch!", but in fact, I hummed Sting's reworking for days!

Among the copious extras, many anticlimactic, are clips of Sting's myriad press conferences over the decades, Townshend musing about his Who mates savaging his pretensions, and the hyperbolic Lewis laughing over the pre-LIVE AID Geldof's profane denunciations of rock charity benefits. For myself, the 80s MTV vignettes are a bittersweet time capsule, watching VJ Alan Hunter interviewing Peter, Paul, and Mary or a healthy, cherubic Michael J. Fox decked out in Miami Vice duds.

Sadly, from a visual standpoint, most of the clips are rather static, a few -- Geldof and Sting -- redeemed by their obvious passion for the material. Unfortunately, sound quality also varies from clip to clip. Purchasing this DVD will accomplish the laudable goal of dropping some cash into Amnesty International's pockets, but only hardcore fans of the participating artists will find much thrilling in the presentations.

It pains me to suggest that viewing The Secret Policeman Rocks! is akin to swallowing a tablespoon of humanist medicine, but one would do much better to check out LIVE AID, also available on home vid, instead. In the meantime, look for me in the organic underwear aisle at American Apparel. If you hear me humming "I Shall Be Released", feel free to sing along.


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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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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