Events

Laurie Anderson + Geri Allen: 17 July 2012 - New York

The Stone only accommodates an audience of about 60. But when Laurie Anderson performed with pianist Geri Allen, each would have rather been nowhere else.

Laurie Anderson spoke only once during her performance with Geri Allen at The Stone on Tuesday, July 17th. It was during a rare break between pieces, and the temperature in the cramped Alphabet City performance space seemed to be reaching well into the 90s. “OK, we’re going to try turning the air on,” Anderson suggested, without a microphone, to the staff member by the door. “I don’t think the fan will be too loud.”

In a room barely larger than a high school classroom -- yet less well-ventilated -- the performer’s concern was valid: the room was eerily silent. At times, so was the music. During quiet parts, you could hear the traffic whir by on Avenue C. Some audience members fanned themselves, fidgeting for cool. But most sat silent, undistracted by the heat -- and wholly captured by Anderson’s haunting collaboration with the jazz pianist Geri Allen.

The Stone is not the typical venue for a performance artist of Anderson’s stature, but then what is? An unmarked, dungeon-like space, the room seats about 50, with room for ten more to stand. (On Tuesday, a staff member provided mats for the stragglers to sit on.) It was founded by avant-garde maestro John Zorn as a nonprofit den to highlight experimental and unheard music on a curatorial basis. “Each month a different musician is responsible for curating the programs with 100% of the nightly revenue going directly to the musicians,” boasts the venue on its website (Anderson herself has curated in the past, and Allen took the reigns in July). And by setting aside everything that is peripheral to the music, it fulfills its mission generously: no merchandise, no drinks, no advance ticket sales, and hardly any promotion. On a given night, there are less than 50 people in The Stone -- but each of them would rather be nowhere else.

On this night, Anderson alternated between her trademark tape-bow violin and a MIDI keyboard setup, Allen seated at a grand piano across the room. The singer disregarded familiar ‘80s staples like “O Superman” and “From the Air”. The focus was fully on her captivating instrumental chemistry with Geri Allen, a Michigan-based pianist who teaches jazz at the University of Michigan and has worked with everyone from Dave Holland to Ornette Coleman. Together they performed slow, wandering sound pieces -- largely ambient and masterfully improvised.

Throughout her career, Anderson has progressed into a wonderfully accomplished violinist -- her tones scaled from low, murmuring ambience to piercing, dramatic flairs. Allen, to her complement, carved empty spaces of sound as much as she offered full-bodied accompaniment, with slow, enveloping arpeggios and swelling crescendos. Cinematic and flowing, the pairing could have been soundtrack work (I thought of Jonny Greenwood’s Bodysong), if it weren’t so singular and of the collaborative moment.

Anderson’s keyboard provided occasional pre-programmed accompaniment as well. One piece incorporated strange, stuttering electronic rhythms. Another padded along on a deep, pulsing string pattern that reminded me instantly of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. Though sudden, the shifts into minimalist electronic territory seemed natural and weighted -- evidence of Anderson’s continued involvement with so many varied strands of American experimental music.

There was a man, curly-haired, graying, photographing Anderson from the front row as she cradled her instrument a few feet away. Shyly, I approached him after the show. I asked if he was planning on publishing his photos anywhere and, if not, would he submit them for this post? His answer was unclear, but he agreed to take my email. I jotted down the address and made my way to the tiny exit, which pours out onto the graffiti-stained corner of 2nd Street and Avenue C.

“Was that Lou Reed?” my friend Amy questioned. She was referring to the man with the camera -- as well as the small group of audience members clustering near him, hoping to chat. I hadn’t observed him especially closely. It was dim, and I was preoccupied, or perhaps merely oblivious. But her theory made sense. Reed, of course, married Anderson in 2008. They have collaborated on recordings before, including pieces on Anderson’s Bright Red and Life on a String, and they have co-programmed events at The Stone. So was it indeed Reed that I pestered briefly?

I haven't received any emails -- nor photos -- to clarify the mystery. This post, accordingly, remains image-less. But I hold out hope. When Mr. Reed decides, finally, to get in touch, you’ll be the first to know.

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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