Armchair Quarterbacking Comic-Con 2011

Grading the upcoming Comic-Con, from who's in attendance to who decided to stay behind...

It’s that time again, folks. On Wednesday night, the year’s biggest pop culture event, Comic-Con International in San Diego, gets started for another four days of movies, TV, video games, anime, and yes, comic books. The run-up to this year’s convention has been marked by technical difficulties in selling tickets and controversy over big movie studios not bothering to attend this year.

Comic-Con’s ticket-selling snafus were mostly under the radar, unless you were one of the thousands of people attempting to buy a pass for the convention. Unless you were lucky enough to attend Comic-Con 2010 and bought a ticket for this year’s convention at that show, you were probably involved in the nightmare of Comic-Con 2011’s online ticket purchasing nightmare. The convention’s ticket-selling partner, TicketLeap, crashed repeatedly, forcing the online purchasing date to be rescheduled multiple times before finally selling out all available tickets in minutes. While Comic-Con’s attendance has been capped at approximately 125,000 people for the past several years, demand for the tickets keeps going up. To be fair, those tickets would’ve sold out quickly anyway, but the delays pushed the demand to a boiling point that left many fans feeling screwed over.

Then there are the big movie studios. Since Comic-Con opened the massive, 6,500-seat Hall H in 2004, the room has been the home of the convention’s big movie presentations. But the schedule in Hall H is looking a little light this year. Some of that probably has to do with release scheduling. Warner Bros. has always been a bit of a fickle presenter over the years. They’ve never managed to bring in Christopher Nolan or Christian Bale to promote the Batman series, and I’m not sure they ever had any members of the Harry Potter cast there in person. And with major superhero tentpoles The Dark Knight Rises and the latest Superman reboot Man of Steel a year away and currently in production, Warner Bros. is skipping the show entirely.

Disney, on the other hand, has had a massive presence at the show over the past few years, promoting everything from Pixar films like Wall*E and Up to Tron: Legacy and Robert Zemeckis’ A Christmas Carol. And it seems inconceivable that Marvel Studios, which basically owes its existence to the Comic-Con crowd, will not be at the show with a full promotional push for next year’s The Avengers. Especially since the film’s director, Joss Whedon, will be holding court at his own panel on Saturday. But dig a little deeper, and the studios’ absence makes sense. Disney now owns Marvel, and Disney has its own convention, D23 Expo 2011, happening just up the road in Anaheim in August. So it looks like Disney is holding back everything from Comic-Con in deference to its own fan club members. It seems like kind of a cheap move, but that’s their prerogative.

Then there’s Lionsgate. Lionsgate usually has a full-on promotional push at the convention for its various horror and genre properties, and they will have their usual booth presence on the floor. But they aren’t doing any panels this year, which leaves one specific, gaping hole in the schedule: the studio’s adaptation of the teen-lit dystopian sensation The Hunger Games, which is set to hit theaters in April, 2012. This is the kind of movie that in the past would start its buzz campaign at Comic-Con, but its absence speaks to the studios’ shifting philosophy on the convention. As the New York Times discussed last month, Comic-Con may no longer be the place to break your movie.

Buzz among the geek elite may excite other geeks, but as past Comic-Con sensations like Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim have shown, geek buzz does not automatically translate into general audience interest. And if your movie goes over badly at Comic-Con, the studio is stuck doing damage control with the genre audience. Simply having a genre movie to market may not be reason enough to show it at Comic-Con. The Hunger Games has a huge built-in audience already, and with months of post-production ahead, Lionsgate may not want the headache of showing unfinished footage to an audience they think will show up regardless of what they do at Comic-Con.

This doesn’t mean that Hall H will be devoid of star power this year. The show kicks off on Thursday morning with Summit Entertainment bringing the stars of Twilight out to promote Breaking Dawn. And on Friday morning Paramount has Steven Spielberg booked for his first-ever Comic-Con appearance to promote this December’s motion-capture animated Tin-Tin: The Secret of the Unicorn. Sony has a new Spider-Man movie to plug for 2012, and they have to convince the fanboys that rebooting the franchise with a new director (Marc Webb) and new Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a worthwhile idea. They also have to show that their Total Recall remake will be cool, and that reimagining Ghost Rider with Nic Cage still in the lead role, but with the Crank guys in the directors’ chair, is something worth seeing. And 20th Century Fox will be there on Thursday afternoon, presumably with James Franco in tow to promote Rise of the Apes, but the official Comic-Con schedule offers no concrete clues about what the studio will be showing.

Beyond Hall H, the show will have its usual assortment of television shows, sci-fi/fantasy literature, and comic book stuff. DC Comics will get the chance to plead their case to the fanboys that rebooting every single one of its titles from issue #1 is a good idea. George R.R. Martin will be making several appearances, as moderator of HBO’s Game of Thrones panel and participating in several literature panels to promote his new book, A Dance With Dragons. USA Network is trotting out Bruce Campbell, ostensibly to promote the Blu-Ray release of Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe, but mostly because Bruce Campbell is awesome in the convention Q&A setting. They’re also wasting everybody’s time with a panel for Covert Affairs, so there’s an hour the tv fans in Ballroom 20 will never get back.

Similarly, CBS is bringing the stars of NCIS: Los Angeles out for a panel, which at least has the courtesy to be at the very end of the day on Friday. Fox TV is doing a panel for their upcoming sci-fi series Terra Nova, so much-reviled producer Brannon Braga will get his opportunity to defend the oft-delayed show and explain why nearly all the other producers and writers on the show quit or were fired back at the end of 2010. Mike Judge will be on hand to present his updated version of Beavis and Butt-head, which should be something to see. The people behind Avatar: The Last Airbender will get the chance to show off their upcoming follow-up series, Avatar: The Legend of Korra in the sure-to-be-full Room 6BCF on Saturday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Comic-Con regulars like Kevin Smith, the Mythbusters, the Rifftrax guys, and the aforementioned Joss Whedon will all be having their typical panels in their typical timeslots, so the fans will know where to find them. Despite some of the movie programming being more low-key this year, there will still be 125,000 people in attendance at the show. That means we can still expect long lines for the two biggest rooms and not everybody will be able to get into the panels they want to see. A new idea whose time has come is the nightly playback of panel highlights from Hall H and Ballroom 20, for the fans that got shut out of those rooms during the day. It will be interesting to see if the lower profile of Hall H, particularly on the very weak Saturday, will lead to bigger crowds in the other rooms, or on the main floor, on what is typically Comic-Con’s most crowded day.

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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