Reviews

Madonna: 10 October 2012 - Los Angeles

Melissa Bobbitt

The Material Girl solidifies her dominance in the live-music world.

Madonna
City: Los Angeles
Venue: Staples Center
Date: 2012-10-10

Take it from Nicki Minaj: "There's only one queen, and that's Madonna."

The hip-hop impresario declared this in a video that played behind her liege, as the great and powerful Madge presided over one of Los Angeles' largest venues for a two-night reign. The circus, the royal procession, Fashion Week – it all invaded the arena at the same time. Jackals crept around the catwalk. Drumming lines were tethered from the ceiling. Imagery that mashed up the pop provocateur's face with that of Hitler's and Obama's flashed on giant LED pillars. Since Michael Jackson's "This Is It" tour never came to fruition, the other 1980s juggernaut picked up the torch of the most dazzling concert in recent memory.

This wasn't merely a concert; this was an Olympian spectacle. At first glance, the hundreds of dollars brandished on each ticket price seemed like highway robbery. How dare this millionaire steal her minions' hard-earned, scarce cash for something that increasingly felt (on paper) like a Lady Gaga rehash! Why were there umpteen tour buses in the Staples Center parking lot when equally deserving but low-on-the-rung indie bands struggled to even rent vans for their outings?! Had the Material Girl come to embody that name, catering only to the 1 percent?

But then the 50-something diva blew the audience away. It was evident where all that opulence had gone: into showmanship unparalleled. It is a miracle of science (or Kabbalah) that an "over the hill" woman can work up such a frenzy for two straight hours. Indeed, there were times when her backing dance troupe took over interludes – including some Jabbawockeez-biting theatrics and tightrope walking – but she held court through and through.

Complain, if you will, about how Madonna is desperate to clench onto the new and shiny. Hell, her latest album, MDNA (Interscope), is a clever nod to Ecstasy, the drug fueling the burgeoning EDM movement. Her elaborate closer, "Celebration", found her mimicking today's DJs, awash in trippy cubic lights. Eat your heart out, Deadmau5. And the newer material was inundated by prerecorded cameos by today's illuminati of the pop world: Lil Wayne, the aforementioned Minaj and M.I.A.

Yet, when has Madonna ever been satisfied with just one style? A video collage of her most unique looks skittered across the giant screens, drawing cheers as fan favorites were shown. (It was also a montage of songs that wouldn't be performed that night, as she relied heavily on her more sexually charged numbers.) She changed or altered costumes at least five times during the show, all the while exhibiting a command that women half her age would cower at. The audience was graced by her nearly bare arse after a smoky version of "Like a Virgin", displaying a beautiful irony that someone past midlife could still boast a very virginal, impressive derriere.

The sexuality ran rampant, with drag queens and kings flanking the superstar for an energetic "Vogue". But it was the gig's more worldly moments which really set Madonna heads above her younger acolytes. She returned to a recent favorite cause celebre, singing the praises of Russian protest band Pussy Riot, as she encouraged her American audience to embrace their freedoms and vote. She also brought attention to 14-year-old Pakistani blogger Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban for writing a manifesto on educating young women.

Madonna hopped simulated trains with India as a backdrop during the robust "I'm a Sinner". As a reprieve from all the onstage lust, she turned a spiritual leaf and chanted in Hindi as her dancers took bendy yoga poses. People might gripe about her fluctuating accent (nu-yawk British? Madonnese?), but her universality and embracing of all types of music is what's made her a legend.

There were whiffs of her trying to be the "cool mom,” especially when her son, Rocco, was brought out to dance along to "Open Your Heart". Mother Madge cussed up a storm throughout the concert. She also took a veiled sleight at Lady Gaga when she infused "Born This Way" lyrics into a medley of the similar-sounding "Express Yourself" and "She's Not Me". Creative copyright, Material One.

All qualms aside, Madonna's Staples Center performance stands among the best concerts of 2012. Whether she was charging through classics like "Human Nature" or bombarding ears with the techno rush of the new material, the queen has reclaimed her throne.

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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