'Harry Potter' and the Race to $1 Billion

Harry Potter beat The Dark Knight. The boy wizard clobbered the contemporized Batman. Indeed, the real story would have been had Deathly Hallows flopped, not if it made a mint.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Richard Griffiths, John Hurt, Rhys Ifans
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Warner Bros.
Year: 2011
US date: 2010-07-15 (General release)

Harry Potter beat The Dark Knight. The boy wizard clobbered the contemporized Batman. What, exactly, does that mean, and why should anyone care? Well, over the 15 July weekend, the last installment in the worldwide publishing phenomenon made its bow on big screens everywhere, and managed to rake in more than $169 million dollars. That's ten million more than Christopher Nolan's smash Summer of 2008 hit managed over the same marketplace timeframe. When you calculate in all the overseas money (another $307 million) and the continuing love for the effort (fans and critics seem duly satisfied), you've got a title destined to break into that elusive club of cinematic billionaires. While other Potters have come close (the first film is sitting right at $974 million), many predict this will be the one that breaks through.

Of course, the key question is why? Why would this be the installment that finally finds box office supremacy, and why should anyone care? Indeed, when you remember a previous article about how world receipts overly influence overall return tallies, it seems silly to even guess. Right now, Transformers: Dark of the Moon has made close to $763 million with, again, a ratio of nearly two to one representing the rest of the planet. So if Deathly Hallows Part 2 manages to make somewhere near $300 to $350 million in North America, it's more or less given to go nine figures. As with Michael Bay's latest, however, this doesn't mean that David Yates has made one of the great films of all time. Nor would fans argue that this was the best of the Harry Potter bunch. Indeed, the real story would have been had Deathly Hallows flopped, not if it made a mint.

Situationally, this result is rote. You have a ten year long movie event that has managed to build interest and audience investment with each passing installment. Though they knew/know who it ends, the devoted and the newly knowledgeable have to show up to see the send off. Now, if each movie had been worse than the last, a disappointment of both execution and source, Harry Potter would have turned into The Chronicles of Narnia. That famed C.S. Lewis franchise is currently flailing around creatively, probably looking for another sucker studio to crash land at. Now, because of some smart choices initially (dumping Chris Columbus, hanging onto Yates), Potter manage to survive...and thrive. At this point, what with all the hype and the first half of the finale already set in people's minds (and Netflix queues) Part 2 had to triumph.

But there is more to it than just waving goodbye to a well thought of imaginary friend. The Summer of 2011 has been a bastion of mediocrity, a stunted display of the worst that Hollywood can manage. Had the Deathly Hallows Part 2 had any real competition for theater space, had it not bolstered its take a bit by the unnecessary inclusion of 3D and IMAX, it might not be sprinting toward the billion dollar mark. Indeed, one could easily see the last act being as popular as the others, sticking between $700 and $900 million and being happy about it. But since there is nothing else out there of great commercial consequence, and the rest of the world appears eager to swallow almost anything ponied up by Tinseltown, a good movie will sudden step into the realm of giants.

That's what's so bothersome about the 'Harry Beats Batman' hype. The Dark Knight is a far superior film to Deathly Hallows Part 2. It has more artistic merit, more vision, and a better grasp of basic cinematic classicism. The Potter films just want to make sure not to offend the fans. Indeed, they have never been about turning the material into something epic and timeless. If they had, JK Rowling would have let Terry Gilliam or some other actual auteur take on her titles. By carving them up into singular pieces and then protecting each one via strict creative control, the author bungled her own continuing legacy. Her films are fine, not fantastic. This means that, at some point in the next decade or so, a substantive backlash will have fanatics imaging a "better" set of Potter films, and the argument for remakes/reimaginings starts up in Messageboard Nation.

Some, who know Rowling, believe that this will never happen. After all, she is very protective of her Harry. But money, as the song says, does indeed change everything, and if someone in the world offered her $1 billion for the right to turn the books into, say, a massive HBO miniseries with the ability to deal with all the discarded material the films couldn't fit in, who's to say she will say "No." After all, she has started her own website to try and address some of those ancillary (and a few new) issues. Also remember that the studios have been killing themselves looking for the next young adult book to film franchise, the local Cineplex littered with their discarded disasters. Their failures almost guarantee a continuing return to the Potter troughs. Indeed, there's a greater chance of seeing some other Harry product on a screen - big or small - than seeing another installment of The Spiderwick Chronicles or a continuation of I Am Number Four. Maybe something along the lines of X-Men: First Class, perhaps?

As is always the case, profitability never equals artistic value, though the final act in Harry's long journey is indeed a solid spectacle. Looking over the rest of the highest grossing films of all time, few will be listed among the artform's all time best. Still, it's quite an accomplishment to tap into that massive a swath of the entertainment zeitgeist. Even non-Potter people are lining up just to see what the hubbub is all about (one imagines them being highly disappointed, considering their lack of investment in the entire franchise). In a few weeks, when Deathly Hallows Part 2 breaks into the box office upper echelon, there will be more meaningless praise. And then The Dark Knight Rises will open next year and the conversation will recalibrate all over again...until Pirates of the Caribbean 5 finds a release date...and so on...and so on...and so on.

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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