Games

Gotta Catch 'Em ALL: Being Programmed to Collect

On reflection, I feel like I know why I want to catch 'em all. I feel as if I have been programmed from birth to collect, and even more specifically, to associate play and entertainment with collection.

Recently while playing League of Legends, a multiplayer online battle arena, one of my team's opponents burst out after making a kill, “GOTTA CATCH 'EM ALL!” A short moment afterward a second message issued by him appeared in my chat window, “Man, I miss playing Pokemon.” To which I responded, “You are playing Pokemon. You are grinding to catch 'em all.”

Now, I'm not a member of the Pokemon generation. While I have dabbled a little bit in collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering, I'm a little too old for Pokemon. My only real familiarity with the Pokemon brand is half watching it with my daughter when she was little. I know that there is a video game in which, as a Pokemon trainer, you collect Pokemon. I know there is a card game in which you buy lots of packs of random cards in the hopes of collecting a variety of Pokemon. I know there is a show about a Pokemon trainer named Ash who, along with his friends, collect Pokemon.

That being said, I get the allure. There are hundreds of these little creatures to catch in digital form and in physical form (as cards or toys), all of which have their own unique look and unique powers. If I had been a little boy during the 1990s, I'm pretty sure I would have wanted to catch 'em all. Or at least as many of them as I thought were cool and even then I wouldn't have turned my nose up at those I thought were less exciting.

On reflection, I feel like I know why I would want to catch 'em all. I feel as if I have been programmed from birth to collect, and even more specifically, to associate play and entertainment with collection.

I am not particularly familiar with the history of toy lines and how they were sold to previous generations, like the Baby Boomers and the GI Generation (heck, did the GI Generation even get to play, since they were so busy saving the world from Hitler and all?), but I do know that toys, cards, and comics have always been sold to Generation X and Y as collectibles.

Star Wars action figures were my first great love. My first figure was Chewbacca, who used to duel my brother's Darth Vader with his laser rifle, as if the rifle were a sword. However, my real long term love affair with a toy collection was with 1980s GI Joe action figures. As a kid, getting the next action figure was always on one's mind, especially given that opening up any new package was a reminder of what you were missing. On the back of the packaging of every action figure was a series of images of all the other GI Joes.

You could pick out the guy you just got and then stare longingly at the dozens of additional figures that you still lacked. GI Joe vehicles came with a pamphlet that one could flip through of images of the other recent releases of new GI Joe vehicles. I saved some of the backings of the figures and some of these pamphlets and frequently checked off the images of Joes that I already had collected and pages of vehicles I had also already collected. Of course, other things that I associated with entertainment contained checklists of a similar nature that had trained me to think in this way. Marvel Comics monthly “Bullpen Bulletin” page that was featured in each comic released in a given month also contained a checklist of the other comics released that month, so you could keep track of how close you were getting to having them all that month. Toys were as much about play, as they were about completing the collection. Comics were as much about reading, as they were about completing the collection. I wanted them all.

Hearing a reference to a collectible card line from my opponent in League of Legends reminded me that I am an adult whose frame of mind still remains fixed on collection when I play. League of Legends is a game in which you take on the role of various champions in the League of Legends universe, essentially virtual dolls going to battle. There are over 100 League of Legends champions currently available with usually at least one new one being released each month. Most newer champions can be purchased for 975 Riot Points (roughly $7.50 -- GI Joe figures were about $2.50 in most stores in my area during the 80s) or they can be purchased with Influence Points, points earned by playing games.

Now, I don't buy champions with real money. Thus, instead I am forced to grind points out by playing games, eventually earning enough to “buy” myself a handsome new champion to play with (which is what I meant when I told my opponent that he was still playing Pokemon by grinding to catch 'em all – in essence playing more is how you capture more in the game). And on further considering the Pokemon/toy collection connection that my opponent had made me think about, I realized that my behaviors surrounding League of Legends “figures” are much like the behaviors I exhibited when I used to collect action figures and comics. Between matches, I frequently find myself browsing champion portraits in the League of Legends store, clicking on some to consider their various abilities, and mostly just considering who I'm going to pick up next when I have enough Influence Points, much as I used to do browsing the packaging of my GI Joes.

Similarly, too, I sometimes look at the Champions screen, which includes the champions I own as well as the champions that I don't, the latter of which are grayed out. It is my virtual checklist, my virtual wishlist. Looking at that list, too, especially the ones that I already own recalls to mind how I played with my own toys when I was a kid. I now own about 50 League of Legends champions. I probably regularly play with about a half dozen of them.

Much like when I used to get a new figure, a recently unlocked champion gets played with for awhile, before I return to old favorites -- the guys that I really like. And honestly, I've unlocked a few champions that I have never played with at all or only for one or two games. I got attracted to how cool they looked or what I thought they might do, but then discarded them when they didn't hold the allure, again, of my well worn toys. That being said, this moment of contemplation of what I have, how close I am to having them all, speaks to why I continue to unlock champions that I don't even necessarily want to experiment with or play with at all.

In many ways it is only in part about the play. It's about the collection. It's about the checklist. It's about grinding to complete the collection. The collection, too, justifies the grind. I play to play more and to play with more, to feel completely complete about what I have to play with and basking in the hope that one day will indeed have 'em 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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