TV

How Kathy Griffin Saved 'Law and Order' Viewers

For the most part, there just is no saving a franchise like Law & Order. I used to admire the show's writing for having complex story lines that involved fascinating questions of legal ethics. And I used to project sad romantic notions on Sam Waterston, bargaining that the best you could probably do with a man was one that ignored you, but at least had a passionate commitment to something else that you could admire. At some point, the drama went into the typical freefall of creative starvation. Knockoffs were generated to try to hone in on our fascination with series as if it were just a bunch of fetishes and cliches.

Let's give them one that only does sex type crimes and one in which Vincent D'Onofrio plays Columbo like he's a second away from committing a sex type crime. These "other parts" of the Law & Order office made story secondary; instead giving us character hamster wheels like Eliot Stabler. Stabler is Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet doing cop anger, righteous "this is for my daughter" cop anger, every single, stinking week. If he were someone in your life, going through that much repeated emotional extremism, you would have organized a group of friend's with tranquilizer guns. But Stabler lives in a world with an incredibly irresponsible Human Resources department. It was during this dreary downfall that the marketing people made the unintentionally prescient slogan "Ripped From the Headlines", which was supposed to mean fresh and topical, but really meant that that had just fired all the writers and started over with a shredder and scotch tape.

So, I had to make a special exception to my Law & Order moratorium to watch the episode of Special Victim's Unit with Kathy Griffin. I'm a late adopter of Griffin, who I thought was a really loud lead up to a joke that never happened. Her obnoxious hillbilly lunge for fame at all costs made one think that she might be Andy Dick. Now, I see her as the perfect wiseass to have around during the firesale that is celebrity. Griffin's episode was written with bleeding marker sarcasm. She burst through every drab little set piece, introducing herself as a rabid queer activist that represented this group of lesbians called aggressives: a whole community of women who were some combination of the Ellen Jamesians of Garp and Eileen Wuornos. I had to Google in order to found out if there really was this thriving community of "aggressives": constantly protesting violent lesbians who wouldn't even look at or talk to a man. As usual, Law & Order interprets culture through an Andy Rooney filter ("why can't they just sit in chairs on the Pride Parade floats") and the lesbian aggressive (from I can gather a lesbian who adopts fashion and mannerisms from Urban male communities) becomes a hysterical stabby mob of women dressed like big rig jockeys. Oh, plus a murder. You always have to add the plus a murder.

The episode worked mostly because Griffin acted like a kid who'd been granted the wish to play for a day in Law & Order land. She riffed through the characters with chainsaw repartee, making fun of Stabler's big ass, playing the hysterical radical with the hair trigger sense of offense: "So I guess I should be home with my cat, sheetrocking my bedroom." She seemed to be visibly alive on the set, which is more than you can say for actors caught in the retirement center of the franchise who must eke nuance out of their caricature tombs the way you'd eat a sheep with a straw. Every week I expect to tune in and see the cast in their bath robes, holding bowls of cereal and watching other TV shows in the background as they go through the routine: we know we have the suspect, oops I guess we didn't, plot twist, now we know the real suspect.

With Griffin, even the missionary expectation of the plot twist (or seizure, if you prefer) worked only because she gave her performance telonovela bombast. The secret? This penis hater lesbian secretly craved penis. The big reveal was not the "aggressive" lesbian killer, but the fact that their political mouthpiece had her mouth on a piece. Sorry to be so crass, but Kathy would want it that way. Griffin's comic turn on the show, her enthusiasm to graffiti her way through a stagey American standby, is the only way to stomach a show that incoherently upchucks cultural detritus and staple guns some subtext that supposed to amount to a message. I guess in this case it would be: angry lesbians just haven't found the right penis and gay people are probably closeted bisexuals. All in all a good week for Law & Order, introducing threatening sexual exotics and confirming couch prawn pieties like "lezzies are just angry they don't have a man". The best thing you can ever say about a current Law & Order episode is that it could always be worse; it could be CSI.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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