Florence + the Machine: 31 July 2012 - Detroit

Walking out of the Fox Theatre, there were doubtlessly few among the crowd that didn't feel as though they hadn’t been truly privy to Florence + the Machine’s capabilities beforehand, that they hadn’t experienced the magnitude of Florence’s voice, until they had been present to hear it in the flesh.

Florence + the Machine

Florence + the Machine

City: Detroit, MI
Venue: Fox Theatre
Date: 2012-07-31

Despite all its grandeur and opera-house scale, Detroit’s Fox Theatre struggled to contain the equally expansive voice of Florence Welch on the night of July 31. And yet, one could scarcely imagine a more appropriate or conducive setting for Florence + the Machine, the building’s 1920s construction and opulence seeming tailor made for the group’s distinctive theatricality and neoclassicism.

Following a set by the Walkmen, which this writer unfortunately missed due to some poor drive-time planning, Florence + the Machine took the stage around 8:45 PM, opening with the effervescent harp strumming and stark key notes of “Only if for a Night”. With two drummers dueling in hammering patterns, Florence belted out the chorus amid the crashing crescendo before segueing back to a higher register in the verses. Dressed in a white and glittering gown, at once elegant and seductive, Florence skipped across the stage like a levitating fairy or spun in place as a porcelain doll in a music box. The lights illuminating her were used to great effect in crafting a palpable aura for the 13-song setlist, alternating between cool purple and blue for the more subdued numbers and warm red and magenta for the most intense moments.

As the heartbeat pulsation mounted for the second song, “What the Water Gave Me”, Florence gathered a bouquet of flowers from a fan in the crowd. Throughout the show, Florence reciprocated her audience’s graciousness, welcoming one fan to the stage for a kiss and frequently expressing her gratitude for their attendance. The crowd responded in eating up her banter and obeying her commands, such as her edict that no one actually sit in their seats. At one point, when she called for a little human sacrifice, attendees were only too happy to oblige, following her instructions to hoist one another onto their shoulders.

The third song of the night, “Cosmic Love”, saw a lone spotlight focused on Florence as she stood front and center before the mic stand in a Jesus Christ pose. Despite such austerity, a tremor shook the mezzanine and balcony as Florence hollered and yowled of her torment: “No dawn, no day / I’m always in this twilight / In the shadow of your heart”. A decided dichotomy characterized the evening, Florence’s humorous persona belying the earnest and often dark subject matter of her songs. In the middle of “Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)”, Florence forsook caution and plunged onto the floor, singing as she ran amongst her fans, a security guard trying to keep up behind her. Clearly, the prodigious quality of the venue was not going to prevent Florence from ensuring an intimate experience.

Arguably the finest performance of the night was “Spectrum”, Florence and her seven bandmates arriving at their most distinct moment of collusion, veritably functioning as one organism. Anthemic in its confidence and defiance, the song saw Florence challenging her congregation to howl the refrain’s declaration of solidarity with her: “Say my name / And every color illuminates / We are shining / And we’ll never be afraid again”. The Gothic-tinged “Seven Devils” and “Heartlines” — a song Florence described as an ode to being far from home and the ones you love — also served as highlights before the one-two punch of “Shake it Out” and “Dog Days Are Over”. The former saw the crowd at its liveliest, being the song everybody and their mother knows. A zenith of sorts was reached in Florence’s delivery of the song’s most evocative lines: “I’m always dragging that horse around / And our love is pastured such a mournful sound / Tonight I’m gonna bury that horse in the ground”. The vivid imagery, at once grotesque and affirming, appealing in its resolution, echoed throughout the theatre. “Dog Days Are Over” became an extended jam session to allow Florence the opportunity to demand her fans clap along and jump in unison.

Following “Dog Days Are Over”, the group left the stage for a few moments — Florence jokingly announcing it for what it was: the part of the show where they leave, then come back for a few more songs. The two-song encore started with the gospel devotional “Never Let Me Go”, the church choir-esque chant of the backing vocals at once eerie and affecting. “And it’s over / And I’m going under / But I’m not giving up / I’m just giving in”, Florence sang in the breakdown, the most moving moment of the song, and possibly of the night. Wrapping the evening was the bombast of “No Light, No Light”, which saw Florence herself on a drum kit, the third on the stage. It was a perfect way to resolve the night, the sentiment of finality making for an apt closer. “No light, no light / In your bright blue eyes / I never knew daylight could be so violent / A revelation in the light of day / You can’t change what stays and what fades away”, Florence sang as she and her crew gave their all for the dénouement, the crashing melody sounding like the building itself was collapsing, brick by brick.

The only gripe of the night, and it’s a minor one, is the setlist was a bit one-sided in its focus on Ceremonials, ten of the 13 songs hailing from that record. A few more songs from the group’s debut, Lungs, would’ve been nice, but that said, the setting was far more suited for the percussion-heavy palette that defines most of Ceremonials’ tracks.

Whenever you see a band live for the first time, you leave imparted with a new perspective on their recorded output that you were previously familiar with. But with Florence + the Machine, there were doubtlessly more than a few spectators who walked out of the Fox Theatre feeling they hadn’t been truly privy to the group’s capabilities, that they hadn’t experienced the magnitude of Florence’s voice, until they had been present to hear it in the flesh.

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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