Reviews

SXSW Music Day 3: Purity Ring, Titus Andronicus + Chad Valley

Ryan Lester

Anticipating a strong debut from Purity Ring from the quality of their live show.

Purity Ring: Friday, 3pm, Mess With Texas, 1100 Warehouse:

My very first experience with Purity Ring had occurred less than 24 hours before their Friday set at the Mess With Texas festival at the Pitchfork showcase. I was extremely impressed with the group’s performance, and though the acoustics of the 1100 Warehouse were nowhere near the quality of those at Central Presbyterian Church, Purity Ring delivered another knockout set in front of an even bigger audience.

Corin Roddick is a hell of a producer, combining the best elements of electro-pop with the frantic nature of southern hip-hop beats and a heavy dose of propulsive bass inspired by the current wave of dubstep. The results are nothing short of stunning. The beautifully captivating eeriness of songs like “Belispeak” and “Ungirthed”, a theme that has carried over into the several new songs they played, mask Roddick’s careful attention to the most basic tenants of pop music. Live, Roddick one ups himself by programming several paper lamps to light up in accordance with the music, oftentimes requiring him to strike one of the lamps in order to get a desired sound, making the music itself an audiovisual experience the likes of which I’ve never seen before.

Meanwhile, vocalist Megan James possesses a full and rich voice that act as a sweet counterpart to the arrangements, though it is oftentimes manipulated carefully and concisely by Roddick. Her lovelorn and sometimes cryptic lyrics fit the songs perfectly, and she has a great sense of control over her voice. Purity Ring have built a strong following over the last year on the promise of their early releases, and if the quality of their live show is any indication, they are only going to continue to get better as we eagerly anticipate their proper debut album.

Titus Andronicus: Friday, 4pm, Mess With Texas, 1100 Warehouse:

For a band that did punk better than about 95% of other like-minded groups straight out of the gate, Titus Andronicus just keep getting better as the years progress. While the band may only consist of two of its original founding members, front man Patrick Stickles and drummer Eric Harm, one experiencing the band for the first time would never be able to guess it. The cohesion and dedication to the spirit of what Titus Andronicus represents was on full display as they ripped through a set filled with exceedingly promising new tracks and a few old standbys.

After beginning their set with the blistering, mosh inducing “A More Perfect Union”, the band played close to twenty minutes worth of new material that should ensure another excellent full-length sometime in the near future. The always endearing (and recently beardless) Stickles declared 2012 to be the year that pop-punk returns from its “dormant slumber”, and those sentiments were echoed in songs such as the excellent “My Eating Disorder”, which featured a cathartic cry of “spit it out” as it came to a close. Throughout, Stickles provided plenty of witty banter, and the group looked extremely loose and comfortable with their position as one of the bigger acts at the festival.

The band was taken aback when they found out they had about ten minutes left after getting through the new material, so Stickles declared that it was time to “take a ride on the Titus Time Machine”. “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future” and “Titus Andronicus” were the perfect ways to end the group’s set, and they got the audience worked up into a sweaty and feverish frenzy that was only punctuated by Stickles singing the latter while crowd surfing. Titus Andronicus are without a doubt one of the best punk bands of this generation, and their set was more than a testament to that fact.

Chad Valley: Friday, 9pm, Latitude 30, NME/PPL Showcase:

One of the best surprises of the week came in the form of Chad Valley (aka Hugo Manuel of Jonquil), a rising producer/singer who provided an exciting set of Ibiza-inspired pop. While it’s not hard to get lost in the easy going vibes of his music, Valley’s live set was filled with loud and propulsive songs that filled the small space of Latitude 30 with plenty of sunny synths and danceable beats.

On top of his inspired and lush arrangements, Valley displayed his surprisingly expressive voice by belting out just about every second that he sang. He was seemingly going for it on every track, whether it was calling card “Now That I’m Real (How Does It Feel?)”, early release “Up and Down”, or any of the other songs in his set, and it gave his performance an edge that brought his work into a new light.

In fact, Valley is one of those rare artists whose recorded material is made stronger upon experiencing it live, as the little details and nuances begin to reveal themselves in a concert setting that may have been unrecognizable while sitting at home with a pair of headphones. His set defied and exceeded all of my expectations, and like the Rural Alberta Advantage a few SXSW’s ago, I was forced to reevaluate everything I had known about Chad Valley and embrace his music in the context of his performance.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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