Film

The Rise and Fall of the Precursors

Ben Travers asks: "why can’t we banish the spoilers and get back to the anxiety-packed glory days of the Oscars?"

As an awards season prognosticator, it’s my job to follow every race from beginning to end. Whether it’s Actor, Actress, Director or Picture, I have to be there from when the National Board of Review releases its Top 10 list all the way through the announcement of who won Best Director at the DGA awards. It’s a fairly brief, rapid-fire season, and it’s only getting shorter. I’m starting to think, though, that we should shorten it even further.

Let’s shorten it to nothing.

Precursor ceremonies are the necessary evil of an awards season; except for the life of me I can’t figure out why they’re necessary. Perhaps it’s the democratic way to allow every random group of film fans to have their day in the sun, shining a light on whatever films and performers they so choose.

Yet we all know there’s only one voice that matters. The Oscars are what people remember. The rest are just fodder for journalists and the Academy itself who want to report on the Academy Awards three months before they actually air. Don’t get me wrong—you should still read all the great work put forth by we bold and brave entertainment writers. Until corrected, these events need to be covered for the good of the people. After all, the public has a right to know who’s going to win on Oscar night just as much as we do.

But why do any of us need to know? The simple truth is we don’t. The Academy goes to great lengths to make sure ballots remain secret, yet there hasn’t been a surprise Best Picture winner since 2005. Many of the other races have featured a twist or two, but most of those are settled early on as well.

Just as importantly as whether we deserve to know is whether or not we want to know. After all, this isn’t a matter of life and death. It’s a piece of entertainment. Actually, it’s a piece of entertainment about a similar form of entertainment. Want outweighs need in comparatively trivial manners like these. Wouldn’t it be splendid to be left in the dark this February 24th? Instead of waiting to see if Daniel Day-Lewis’ speech lives up to his performance (hint: it can’t), we could be on the edge of our seats wondering if Bradley Cooper or Joaquin Phoenix will pull the upset.

We want it so badly many of us try to concoct scenarios in which an upset could occur. “Well, with all this love for Argo, maybe David O. Russell has a shot for Best Director. After all, people were talking about Silver Linings Playbook stealing Best Picture before Argo swept all the precursors. Couldn’t the film’s director be expected to take his prize since Affleck is out of the running? Could it still win Best Picture since the love for Lincoln has lessoned considerably? I mean, the Weinsteins are behind it. That means anything could happen.”

Hooey. We all know Argo is a lock for Best Picture and Spielberg is the likely Best Director. We just don’t want to admit it because it ruins the fun. The whole concept of the Academy Awards was built around the dramatic unveiling of the winners. A celebrity steps out on stage, makes a few remarks to build tension, reads the nominees, and then slowly pops open a sealed envelope and reads the winner. The suspense would be palpable if we hadn’t watched the exact same thing unfold 12 times in the two months prior with the exact same name read every time.

So why can’t we banish the spoilers and get back to the anxiety-packed glory days of the Oscars?

The biggest obstacle is television ratings. While the Oscars have been on a bit of slide recently, ratings for the Golden Globes are picking up. The SAG awards have been playing well enough on cable to keep them there. The Critics Choice Awards were even broadcast this year. Soon, there will be even more awards shows airing on televisions nationwide.

Why not air them after the Oscars? Well, no one would care. None of them would do nearly as well if they named their winners post-Oscars because they wouldn’t mean as much. They need the buzz stemming from how accurate a predictor they are of the top prize to keep people interested.

Or do they? How many viewers care about who wins as opposed to seeing their favorite pretty people all dolled up in tuxes and gowns? I honestly don’t know. Living my life in the former category has clouded my judgment ever so slightly to the latter. Dresses are a fine distraction, but I want to see who wins.

I imagine the celebrity watchers number a good many of the Oscar telecast’s ever-dwindling ratings. After all, there are more columns covering what was worn on the day following the ceremony than who actually won the coveted trophies, headlines be damned.

So can we do away with these unnecessary previews of what’s to come? Can we go just one season without the people who vote for Best Director telling us who they’re going to vote for by choosing them for the DGA award? The actors with the SAGs? The Globes with their, well, everything? Give me one season free of spoilers, and I’ll show you what it’s like to really, truly, love the Oscars.

Three-plus hour telecast and all.

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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