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'The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia': This Is the Real America

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia becomes an instant classic, a kind of post-modern revisionism of such previous family-oriented documentaries as Grey Gardens and Brother's Keeper.

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia

Rated: R
Director: Julien Nitzberg
Cast: Jesco White, Kirk White, Poney White, Maime White, Hank Williams III, Brandon White, Bertie Mae White, Bo White, Sue Bob White
Extras: 9
Studio: Dickhouse Productions
Year: 2009
US date: 2010-10-26 (General release)
UK date: 2010-10-26 (General release)

It comes toward the end of this amazing documentary, and sums up the overall situation quite nicely. Jesco White, famed mountain folk dancer and last bastion of his equally well known father's hillbilly superstardom gets a tattoo which he believe accurately reflects his lifelong struggles. On the one side of the booze and Confederate flag draped body art design is Elvis Presley. He represents Jesco's fun loving side, the desire to entertain and enjoy life, to tap his toes and crack people up. On the other side is Charles Manson, an icon of evil so specific and harsh that it indicates just how close our subject is from killing everyone he sees. Taken in total, it's obvious - Jesco is a man made up of extremes - extreme joy and anger, extreme happiness and extreme violence - and both sides can be very seductive indeed.

Such a sentiment could be applied to any one of his extended family, a West Virginia clan so legendary that everyone who resides in Boone County knows their name. Notorious doesn't begin to describe the Whites, nor the brilliant documentary that follows them for an entire year. Directed by Julien Nitzberg (who initially met the clan when he worked on the 1991 film Dancing Outlaw) and championed by Jackass's Jeff Tremaine and Johnny Knoxville, The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia is a gem, a peek inside the true heart of America that most suburban SUV heads probably consider as nothing more than rural myth. These self described redneck hillbillies, this dope dealing, pill snorting, felonious outlaw brood may seem shockingly untamed on the outside. But inside, in between the white trash aesthetic and "don't give a f*ck" demeanor are some decent, if slightly sad, fringe dwelling folk.

When their proud patriarch D. Ray White died, his surviving family seemed to simultaneously explode and implode. Even with Momma Bertie Mae "The Miracle Woman" trying to keep things under control, her role as maternal watchdog prevented her from true discipline. That meant their hell raising sons and equally feral daughters could finally kick up their heels and be free of some strict, overbearing ways. In between trips to jail and too close to home homicides, personal misunderstandings and standoffs with society, the Whites cultivated a reputation of rebel yell excess, of hard drinking, even harder living, and more miscreant behavior than a whole household of Margeras. Passing on their confrontational swagger to their offspring, we soon find ourselves following Kirk, mired in prescription drug abuse and fighting CPS to be reunited with her newborn daughter. We also follow Jesco and his self-styled schizophrenic exile, and a just released from prison Mamie as she tries to retrieve her conniving, two-timing husband from the arms of another woman.

With its cinema verite style and the brazen honesty of its subjects, The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia becomes an instant classic, a kind of post-modern revisionism of such previous family oriented documentaries as Grey Gardens and Brother's Keeper. In the hand of Nitzberg, whose friendship based access is extraordinary, the film functions as freak show, cautionary tale, found comedy, frightmare, and perhaps most importantly, a window beyond the white picket fences and weekly Wal-Mart trips of most mainstream America. This is the real world of life in these United States, small collectives of concerns which resonate and repel as they signify the state of the country's philosophical collapse. No one would argue for the White's way of doing things, but in many ways, they are closer to the so-called American Dream than many in their specific predicament.

Sure, they scam Social Security out of several disability checks a month (something D. Ray learned to do early on), manage to maintain their whiskey and processed food fueled ways with little or no legitimate income, and always seem to walk away from the most illegal activity with some portion of their pride and personal freedom intact. Even Maime's old boyfriend Charlie Hastings, who had half his face blown off by one of the White offspring (and lived to tell about it) feels a small amount of sympathy for the family. As local officials complain about and condemn their actions, there's always a smile on their face. Apparently, as part of their make-up, the Whites are almost incapable of making a true enemy. Those who really hate the clan either wind up dead, or serving time for killing one of them.

The film functions the same way. We are shocked when Kirk, swollen and groggy from just giving birth, smashes up some painkillers and snorts her hospital room. We wince as Jesco walks down a Boone County street and points out the various locations of his numerous crimes and misdemeanors. We initially laugh at Tylor, hopped up on six cans of sugary soda and literally bouncing off the walls. But when speaking about his mom's ex-boyfriend Dennis, the grade schooler is all middle fingers and scary threats of decapitation. Nitzberg clearly wants to show us that the sins of the father don't fall too far from the rest of his relatives. All the boys initially followed D Ray into the world of mountain dancing. Those who didn't die either stuck with it (Jesco) or ran off to find a better life.

Indeed, Poney is the sole member of the Whites who found something better outside of Boone County. His small section of the film (he now lives in Minnesota) suggests hope and the toxic nature of being close to the rest of his kin. In fact, it seems clear that the Whites are like a self-sustaining system of scandal. With each member supporting and assisting the other, everyone guarding the other's back, they're like a toothless Southern drawling mafia. All they need is a recognizable Don and a penchant for hired assassins and they'd be a countrified Cosa Nostra. Instead, the Whites continuously spin out of control, only to reel themselves in just long enough to avoid any long lasting consequences. When one ends up sentenced to something more than a short incarcerational vacation, the news is indeed shocking.

Like the best documentaries, The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia is a slice of life you never see coming. Stories and subjects like these only exist in stereotypes and jokes regarding same, right? What Nitzberg and his crew do so brilliantly is let the true nature of these people come out - their antisocial anger and refusal to conform, their complicated heart and their stubborn, stunted head. Sure, it's hard to be 100% behind them, especially since most of their jokey joie de vivre comes from a beer bottle, a marijuana joint, or a handful of pills. But as a means of coping, as a way of turning the corrupt coal town mentality their father grew up and served in on its ass, the White's way seems to work best. It's not often you meet someone who believes himself a combination of the King of Rock and Roll and callous counterculture cruelty. Oddly enough, Jesco isn't the only one with such a stark light and dark side. Such a schism is part of being one of the wild and wonderful Whites of West Virginia


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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