Music

Bela and Boban in Budapest

Boban i Marko Markovic

The first phrase to learn in Budapest has to be "Maga sokkal jobban tud angolul, mint én magyarul", or “Your English is far better than my Hungarian.”

The first phrase to learn in Budapest has to be "Maga sokkal jobban tud angolul, mint én magyarul", or “Your English is far better than my Hungarian.” On the way to the airport, my fiancé turns to me: “What did we forget?” “Nothing,” I assure her, though fear creeps into my throat. It was not until we arrived in Budapest that I realized our three guidebooks remained on our bookshelves.

No problem. If that did not happen, I would have never found Budapest: A Critical Guide by András Török, perhaps the best travel book of any country I’ve ever read. The reality is, we barely used it, instead relying on tips from locals (who definitely spoke better English than our Magyar). This may have been my first visit to the land of my ancestors, but I quickly surmised that I’m far enough removed from the place to have no idea what to make of any street sign or sidewalk conversation, a language considered by many—Hungarians included—to be the most challenging on the planet to understand.

I’d spent a lifetime hearing my father repeat his name—Ferenc—to people who had no idea what he was saying. In Hungary, Ferenc pretty much equals Joe Smith. Every third street and some of the money is named Ferenc

Besides heading out to hang in the land of my forebears, there were three things calling us to Budapest: public baths, pastries, and music. Being that the subject matter of this column is music, I’ll focus on that experience here, and write in passing that anyone traveling to Budapest for public baths and/or pastries should know they'll be in exceptional hands.

Perhaps the most well known Hungarian name in the world is Béla Bartók, born in a region of Romania before Romania became Romania. Cited as a founder of ethnomusicology, Bartók was a student of one of Franz Liszt’s students—that name being perhaps the second most well known name.

Bred into the Western classical canon, Bartók traveled to local villages to study folk music, then viewed as a disgraceful thing to do. He didn’t just borrow the music he heard -- he stole it. The result of this cultural theft, if you will, are musical anthologies which offer Hungary an identity it was not even aware it had. Bartók's work focuses just after the 'golden period' of the country, which historian John Lukacs placed at the turn of the 20th century. Of course, a couple of world wars and a serious plague of communism swept Hungary, and it wasn’t until 1956 that the nation reassembled its scattered pieces. Hungary has long suffered numerous identity crises, battered like a lone billiard ball no one can quite get in the pocket.

Bartók realized that Hungarian folk music, previously written off as a simple peasant sound, was based on Oriental and Russian music -- a notable claim at the time. This blending of musical cultures is part of the reason (along with the Danube River) why Hungary was claimed to be a meeting point of East and West. Balkan music is based on Turkish rhythms which originated in Indian rhythms which is further complicated because of the influence of British armies dominating trade in India for some time.

Origins are always complicated. Easier to dissect are transformations, which rely on transportation, making the trade route along the Danube an important conduit for not only goods like tea and paprika, but for music and philosophy, as well. Again, Bartók understood that good art borrow, -- but great art steals. Thus, he merrily transcribed and reconfigured melodies, as he did with the 80 pieces of For Children. Village folk music is not what made Bartók a legend in the Western classical pantheon; his work in this area did, however, force people to acknowledge the serious study of global folk music forms. Some might argue that thsi work at least partially united a very divided region, as well.

I seek out many things while traveling. First and foremost is music. My brand of ethnomusicology is, fortunately for me, much simpler than men like Bartók and Paul Bowles endured. That does not make it easy, however. I have the Internet on my side, from which I can easily download field recordings from around the world in a matter of minutes. Alan Lomax would have blushed with envy. Then again, this process misses the adventure of personal contact with the actual musicians, not to mention one could 'travel the world' via the Internet, so to speak, without once stepping on the land that birthed the music. So maybe while he’s blushing, he’s also sniggering, too.

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Serbian trumpeter Boban Markovic is highly respected in Hungary, hardly the case in New York: in 2004 he played to roughly 75 people at Joe’s Pub. In Serbia he has played to over 300,000. In Budapest, where I happened to catch his live performance, the beautiful new theater, the Palace of Arts, held at least 2,000.

During his second set, he ripped into a series of Magyar music that he recorded after performing here for the first time a decade ago, on the album Srce Cigansko, which featured Hungarian violinist Laiko Félix. His team of nine brass players, including his 20-year-old son, Marko, and three drummers, is so diverse you’d never imagine that on stage there is only brass and drums.

Most impressive about the man, aside from his musicianship, is his humility. He started touring with his son when Marko was only 14. I caught the youngster blowing away at 15, and that cat could howl. Of course he was young and rambunctious. Just because Pops acts like Scarface with his teamsters doesn’t mean he’s going to tame it down.

When I sat backstage with Boban in 2004, his responses to my questions were factual, as well as punctual and complete: he said what he had to and no more. It was not an easy interview, as the man didn’t really smile and didn’t really talk. Yet on stage he lights up like a Christmas reindeer on a suburban lawn. In Budapest, he played for a half-hour before introducing his son, and then respectfully took a back seat while Marko dominated the show.

Boban has seen that, done this, all of it; he can sit back on his throne and watch his prodigal offspring run the laps. Most men age and refuse to become the phoenix. They never rise again because they burn out without bowing out. Boban knows something about evolution that many cannot fathom. He sincerely looked awed by his son, and for good reason. Marko’s voice is more diverse, though Boban’s is more commanding. Marko flails and dances and hypes the audience; he's the Flavor Flav to Boban's Chuck D.

I listened to Srce Cigansko over and over when I returned from Hungary, which made a great counterpart to his latest, Devla: Blown Away to Dancefloor Heaven, recently released on Piranha. It’s listed, as all his albums now are, under Boban i Marko Markovic. There's definitely more of a “dance” feel than their older albums, purposefully so, and admittedly, sometimes to their detriment. “Udri Mile” sounds cheap; the beat is unnecessary. Let those horns charge the crowd. In Budapest, people could not stop dancing, hopping around their seats with giddy joy. The sad moments—some of these songs are dirges, remember—let one sink and reflect.

Marko’s little hip-hop antics wouldn’t have gone over in New York, but here they were just fine. Whatever moves people, move. Like their live show, Devla heats up as the album progresses.

We hopped into a cab en route back to Le Meridian from the concert. While my fiancée and I are both walkers, I’m not the most exacting cartographer—bridges just don’t appear that far apart on paper. By the time we got back to our room her feet were blistered, my hamstrings shot, yet as always, the music was worth the experience. Nothing some Bejgli and espresso couldn’t cure.

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Admittedly, Boban Markovic is not a Hungarian musician, though his music is wildly popular there. I did get to pick up a number of albums, only the 5,000-6,000 forints ($27-$32) sticker price kept me from buying more. Here's what I brought back. I recommend them all.

Palya Bea: Álom-Álom, Kitalálom (Gryllus)

Beata Palya: Adieu les complexes (Sony)

Beata Palya: EgyszálÉnek (Sony)

Olah Vince & Earth Wheel Sky Band: From India to Ibiza (Hangveto)

Parno Graszt: Ez A ViláG Nekem Való (Podium)

Boban Marković Orkestar: Srce Cigansko (X Produkcio)

Csík Zenekar: Ez A Vonat, Ha Elindult, Hadd Menjen… (Fono)

Béla Bartók: Hungarian Peasant Songs/Mikrokosmos (Naxos)

Béla Bartók: 44 Duos – Hungarian Folksongs (Naxos)

Johannes Brahms: Hungarian Dances for Violin and Piano (Naxos)

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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