The Michael Giles Mad Band: In the Moment

In the Moment is a musical equivalent of getting in the car and driving, not figuring out where you are until you get there. In the hands of indulgent or untalented hacks, a recipe for sonic atrocity; with experts behind the wheel, the journey is enjoyable as it is unpredictable.

The Michael Giles Mad Band

In the Moment

Label: Ais
US Release Date: 2011-05-10
UK Release Date: 2011-05-10

Let’s say you’re a drummer and you happened to play on two of the seminal progressive rock albums (King Crimson’s In The Wake of Poseidon and, along with fellow recent ex-Crimson compatriot Ian McDonald, on McDonald and Giles) as well as what some consider the quintessential prog album of all-time, In The Court of the Crimson King. Then you paid the bills and further made your mark with steady session work and a solo album here and there for the next couple of decades. Then another decade passed and you were still very much alive and well. What would you do? Continue making music, obviously.

Michael Giles, the drummer not everyone knows but everyone who everyone knows name-checks (see: Peart, Neil), continues to make music, and that is a good thing. Better still, the music he is making right now, with his Mad Band, is still progressive, even if it does not rock. Think about that for a moment, and consider how many musicians who were recording over four decades ago are still alive, much less still relevant. Consider how many acts from the grand old days are out on the oldies circuit, or releasing their umpteenth greatest hits rehash, or incapable even of going through the motions with an entourage of back-up players a third their age. Think of the very short list of names that continue to resist time and skirt the boundaries of convention and expectation. None of this is to begrudge any and all of those old time rock and rollers from extracting every last nickel from eager/gullible fans; more power to all involved.

Still, it’s cause for rejoicing to see a gentleman past retirement age who not only refuses to retire, but provides an example any of us, regardless of our age, would do well to emulate. Personal appearance, for better or worse, is often less than half the story (and the least important half) when it comes to art and the people who make it, but the fact that Giles looks about half his age speaks volumes. Checking out recent pictures or catching some videos of his band in action make it abundantly clear that this is one geezer whose body and mind are very much intact. If that sounds vaguely patronizing, once again consider the physical and mental states of most of the people who made music in the early ‘70s.

Quite appropriately, his latest release (the second by the Michael Giles Mad Band) is entitled In The Moment. This description is both literal and…literal. It’s “in the moment” in terms of what he and his bandmates are doing right now, but it’s also unrehearsed material, spontaneously created and recorded. This disc captures what Giles describes on the back cover as “an exploration of sound, silence, space and time.” (Prog rock lives!) If that sounds entirely too vague, or pretentious, it happens to be a pretty accurate depiction of what this ensemble is up to. On this set the band (Giles on drums and percussion along with Daniel Pennie on guitar and Adrian Chivers on horns and “found sounds”) is joined by ex-Crimsoner and piano playing wizard Keith Tippett. Tippett, of course, lent his considerable talents to In the Wake of Poseidon and has actively honed his craft across multiple genres in the ensuing years. It’s a wonderful occasion to see these two wise if not wizened old(er) men join forces once again.

How to describe the sounds? It’s minimalist without being subdued (a signal of extreme confidence) and deliberate without being forced. Giles and Pennie provide rhythmic framework and Chivers and Tippett splash and spray the canvass with color and light. Sometimes the roles reverse and frequently all four are increasing the energy or unwinding the agitation in unison. The result is a series of industrial, percussion-based landscapes. There is an assortment of purposeful clinging and clanging with carefully orchestrated guitar-fueled tension. It occasionally resembles a ruckus but it’s a syncopated ruckus. This, at times, is a musical equivalent of getting in the car and driving, not figuring out where you are until you get there. In the hands of indulgent or untalented hacks, this is a recipe for sonic atrocity; with experts behind the wheel the journey is enjoyable as it is unpredictable.

At times it could almost be called free jazz (the horror?) or even free rock (the horror!) but it works. Suffice it to say, this is not for people who need a beat created by computers, or vocals extolling the virtues of expensive products. In other words this is art. Possibly even art for art’s sake. Imagine that. And enter at your own peril.

Still with me? Good! This work is certainly meant to be experienced in its totality, and yet a few tracks really stay with the listener. These include “Water Colour Mystery”, which if an obligatory (and ostensibly facile) comparison is needed, would not sound at all out of place on Crimson’s Starless and Bible Black (ironically, an album neither Giles nor Tippett played on). There is an ominous edge that creeps along, undercut by Tippett’s strategic tinkling. On “Care and Attention”, the interplay between Giles and Tippett sounds like exactly what it is: two proficient veterans able to parlay an aesthetic telepathy into a beguiling—and very unique—dreamscape. If you’ve ever wondered what a player piano in a western saloon would sound like…in space, this is it. (Still with me? Good!) On album closer “And Yet (In the Fullness of Time)” Tippett once again comes to the fore while Pennie unspools a surreal ambiance that eventually envelops everything before slowly fading to black.

Listening to this music, and watching the clips available online, convinces one that catching the band live is the way to go. Seeing is believing, and watching this small band make all these sounds is a compelling proposition. Of course, hearing is believing as well, and it’s good news all around that we have this organic and very alive work for the permanent record. The thing about music, as the great Eric Dolphy remarked (lamented?) is that “after it’s over it’s gone in the air…you can never capture it again.” This is why it’s important to step back sometimes and marvel at the things we tend to take for granted: the rarest artists grow and challenge themselves (and us) and we have a means to preserve the spell that was cast in real time—in the moment—and keep as something to savor.


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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