Reviews

Al Jourgensen: A Wild and Crazy Guy!: 'Ministry: Fix'

Al Jourgensen

Shot during the band's disastrous Filth Pig era, Douglas Freel's film is subtitled "The Ministry Film". It's not.


Ministry

Fix

Director: Douglas Freel
Label: Gigantic Pictures
US Release Date: 2012-04-10
UK Release Date: Import
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Watch the video for Ministry's single "Revenge", from their 1983 synthesizer-pop debut With Sympathy. Frontman/figurehead Al Jourgensen sneers into the camera, seething with anger at a treacherous lover. Jourgensen has long derided if not disowned this period in Ministry's history as little more than a major label-dictated cash grab. Whether he's right or not, here's the thing. The seething anger Jourgensen mimes in "Revenge" comes across as more genuine, honest, and true than any aspect of the Jourgensen you see in Fixed, years later, when Jourgensen is ostensibly living and performing according to his own terms.

Fix was planned as a band-sanctioned documentary of the world tours of the mid-to-late '90s, shot by music video veteran Douglas Freel. As the Ministry juggernaut turned into a jalopy, the footage languished on the shelf until Freel finally secured the investments needed to release it. The 2012 incarnation of the film intercuts the tour footage with present-day interviews with former Ministry band members, associates, and fans, from Trent Reznor and Lemmy to Dave Navarro and Maynard James Keenan.

Fix is marketed as "The Ministry Movie". If you've read up on it, though, you know it's not. Fix is a film about Al Jourgensen; or, rather, a short period in Jourgensen's life that even "Uncle Al" now admits he is not particularly proud of. And, if you think there is no difference between Al Jourgensen and Ministry, well, you're wrong, at least where Fix is concerned.

Ministry means music, all of it, including those dubious eyeliner-laced early days. It means the abrupt turn into industrial music, Wax Trax! records, all those thrilling side projects, the creep of heavy metal guitars. It means Chicago, and later Texas, and more guitars which obliterated any last vestiges of the band's inventiveness. And, finally, it means Jourgensen's musical partners, from Steven George to Adrian Sherwood to the long-suffering Paul Barker.

You don't get any of this in Fix. You get some snippets of concert footage, where Jourgensen delivers his heavily-processed vocals lazily, occasionally stomping around in his stovepipe hat, looking like a rock star as envisioned by Dr. Seuss. You get a few glimpses of Barker, but precious little interview footage with him. On the evidence, the man is simply far too "normal" for "The Ministry Movie". And you get a lot, a lot of footage showing just how abnormal Al Jourgensen is.

Again, though, if you have paid attention to Jourgensen's career or listened to his music, you know all of this. He's smart, which you know from his manipulation of major record companies and his use of cutting-edge electronics to manipulate rock 'n' roll sounds. He's funny, which you may have learned from his Revolting Cocks project, for example. He's crass and embarrassingly childlike, as suggested by the name of the tour in question, Sphinctour. Yet he is also self-aware and witty; see The Dark Side of the Spoon, the album Ministry released just as things were falling apart. He's an asshole. He's charming. He's an enigma, charmingly asinine. And, and here's the message Freel wants to make sure you get, he's on drugs.

Fix aims for Schadenfreude, but Ministry's career for at least the last decade has basically been nothing but, and everyone knows how the story ends. The car crash loses its appeal if you've already read the post-mortem. Freel also tries to work the film as a broad cautionary tale about the perils of rock stardom, touring, and sycophantism. But this is nothing the entire history of rock'n'roll hasn't already accomplished, and often with more grace. No, the wider angle seems more like an excuse for Freel to bring in people like Keenan and Navarro who, despite their eloquence, have little more than periphery connections to Jourgensen and his band.

What value there is in Fix, and it's not negligible, is in its inherent juxtaposition. You have Jourgensen's ex-colleagues and cohorts in the present day, cleaned up, older, wiser, and with perspective. The exception of Amen's Casey Chaos only proves the rule. Then you have Al Jourgensen and Ministry circa 1996, impervious to his colleagues' cautions because they haven't been given yet, too doped up to care much about anything except dope.

The present-day interviews are insightful, and the contrast with the tour footage is striking and unfair by design. A 2012-model Jourgensen does show up on camera, looking bloated and making an unconvincing case for it all being an act. Would someone as sharp as Jourgensen in his prime really design an act in which his record sales nosedive and his name inspires more snickering and head-shaking than respect? Will the man who is responsible for some of the most groundbreaking, visceral, creative, irrevernt music of the 1980s please stand up? He is nowhere to be found in this film.

In spite of Freel and his film-in-search-of-a-tone, Skinny Puppy's Nivek Ogre, he of the processed Satan voice himself, has the most accurate, well-spoken perspective: "You have to make a choice. You're faced with slow disentigration… or you choose to put that behind you. It's like, 'OK, I've opened that doorway, now it's time to close it, I've taken all I can from this experience.' The weaker ones are the ones who can't step away from it." Yes, Uncle Al, that means you.

The DVD edition of Fix comes with extra interview footage, which is worth watching, not least for Jello Biafra's calling out Rob Zombie for pilfering Jourgensen's persona and style. Also included is a companion album from Barker. Called Fix This and featuring Ogre among others, it shows that Barker had more than a hand in Ministry's vintage sound. It is a valiant attempt to recapture that sound, and it is virtually unlistenable. It is also preferable to any of Ministry's last several albums.

5

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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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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