Reviews

Sound Tribe Sector 9: 6 March 2010 - Dallas, TX

Greg M. Schwartz

When you have a band of superb musicians that conjure a unique sound with vibes both groovy and healing, ascension in popularity is all but fated.

Sound Tribe Sector 9

Sound Tribe Sector 9

City: Dallas, TX
Venue: House of Blues
Date: 2010-03-06

It's a hot ticket tonight at the House of Blues in downtown Dallas. Those who played their cards right enjoy food and drinks inside the restaurant (where the catfish nuggets and sweet potato fries are a perennial fave), but out front there's a huge number of fingers in the air for this sold-out show. One fan reports seeing kids pay $125 a piece, as well as seeing a mom drop $300 to spring for a ticket for her kid's birthday!

Sound Tribe Sector 9 has come a long way over the past decade. But when you have a band of superb musicians that conjure a unique sound with vibes both groovy and healing, ascension in popularity is all but fated. When you're talking about improv-oriented music, there are always variables that can affect a show though. When you see STS9 at a classic venue like The Fillmore in San Francisco or Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado, you know what you're going to get. Certain venues just demand top-shelf performances. Any band wants to deliver every night, but when a band is on the road for a cross country tour, you never know what you're going to get from night to night. So it was with no expectations that I entered the venue on this Saturday evening.

Dallas, after all, is a city best known for the assassination of the most popular president of modern time. Research by Texas-based investigative journalist Jim Marrs in his book Crossfire would even suggest that the Dallas police played a role by standing down on that fateful day in 1963, allowing the snipers of the military-industrial complex easy access to carry out their coup d’état against John F. Kennedy. STS9 is a band known for tapping into the mood of whatever town they're in and it seems like a historical nod is taking place when the quintet opens with “EHM”, the epic tune from the band's new Ad Explorata album that references author John Perkins' modern classic Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. The book is a disturbing expose on how Uncle Sam tries to first use economic coercion when seeking his imperialist way in the world, but barring that, has no qualms with assassinating leaders of other countries that won't play ball by privatizing their national industries.

The song conjures an appropriately spooky vibe, like that of a secret agent sneaking around a third-world country. But it slowly builds in masterful fashion, adding layer after layer, until it becomes a powerful jam with a massive groove that seems to acknowledge the courage it took Perkins to come clean in his disturbing memoir. The theme seems to continue when the band follows with “Mobsters”, seemingly acknowledging how the Mafia had a role to play in the JFK assassination as well. Coincidental set list proximity? That's as hard to buy as the Warren Commission's official theory that Lee Harvey Oswald was a “lone nut” who acted on his own.

But Dallas is clearly a different place in 2010, because the house is jammed and everyone is getting down. “Atlas”, another new tune, strikes a big chord that keeps the energy flowing at a high level, with some in the crowd recalling the memorable version that opened the band's set in the rain at the Austin City Limits Festival last October. Guitarist Hunter Brown basically plays a computer here, as he did on “EHM” but in doing so, he dials in synth samples that compliment keyboardist David Phipps to create a huge cosmic sound. Drummer Zach Velmer is on as usual, while percussionist Jeffree Lerner accompanies him in ever-sublime fashion. Bassist David Murphy switches between laptop and axe, creating a deep low end with both.

“Crystal Instrument” digs deeper into the back catalogue to please older fans, followed by the rocking “Metameme” from the band's underrated 2008 Peaceblaster album. The tune is a showcase for Velmer's virtuoso skills, as well for Phipps' Jedi mastery of swirling psychedelia. The band shows they're not holding anything back when they launch into the classic “Moonsockets”, a song from their first album that was once thought of as the quintessential STS9 song. The band's sound has evolved over the years, but the formula traces back to this amazing tune where Brown's scintillating fretwork matches Velmer's furious drumming, with Murphy laying down a wicked low end, Phipps going wild on keys and Lerner playing his congas like crazy. Yet it all coalesces into a collective groove that takes off like a rocket ship. It would seem this barnburner would end the set, but the band throws “The Unquestionable Supremacy of Nature” down on top. The tune is one that can have a tendency to devolve into too much techno-trickery, but this version keeps more of a focus on the groove to end the set in style.

There's no doubt that this is going to be a good night now. Even the security seems surprisingly lax. HOBs are generally nice venues with great sound, but many of them have an unpleasantly restrictive security presence (Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Cleveland). But the vibe in Dallas seems surprisingly chill. There was no pat-down on the way in and there was little in the way of staff to be observed throughout the night. Some said the staff was at a loss with what to do with so many fans.

After experimenting with a one-set format for much of 2009, the band seems to have moved to another new format of playing a long first set, followed by a short but sweet second set. Dominic Lalli from opening act Big Gigantic joins the band on saxophone to open the second set, providing a sweet treat indeed on “Between 6th and 7th”, a jazzy number that the band had just debuted at their acoustic performance in December. Lalli stays on for a more energetic jam on “Be Nice”, which pumps the crowd higher.

STS9 push the show over the top with a monster fan-favorite trio of “Instantly> Tap In > Circus” to round out what becomes a very memorable second set. “Instantly” isn't jammed out quite as deep as some other versions, but the ever-reliable dance party favorite gives the set another boost into the classic minor key groove of “Tap In”, one of the band's most beloved classics. Murphy and Brown contribute some of their finest bass and guitar work here, laying off the computers for the old fan fave. When the band throws down “Circus” after that, it's like getting a triple scoop ice cream cone with three of your favorite flavors on top of each other. Brown shines again on the delicious and triumphant melodic flavors in the song, while Velmer's basic yet skillfully syncopated beat drives the tune into a fabulous jam to close the set.

A double encore that ends with the smoking groove of “New New 4 U U” seems almost too good to be true after the way the second set ended. Added to the repertoire in the fall of 2008, the epic tune has become an instant classic, with its catchy groove, dynamic beats and shifting changes. As the crowd filters out, there's nothing but good vibes all around. Has Dallas become a cooler place than it's generally known to be? Or did STS9 bring that vibe with them? Perhaps the answer is a little bit of both.

Set 1:

EHM

Mobsters ->

Evasive Maneuvers

ATLAS

Crystal Instrument

Metameme

Twilight

Moonsocket

The Unquestionable Supremacy of Nature

Set 2:

Between 6th and 7th #

Be Nice #

Instantly

Tap-In

Circus

Encore:

Wika Chikana

New New 4 U U

# with Dominic Lalli

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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