Music

Justice: Access All Arenas

Access All Arenas, a vivid and vivacious capture of Justice's 2012 Arena of Nîmes show, proves once and for all that the progression that occurred between Cross and Audio, Video, Disco hadn't changed them as a band. It, in fact, made them better.


Justice

Access All Arenas

Label: Ed Banger
US Release Date: 2013-05-07
UK Release Date: 2013-05-06
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Audio, Video, Disco, Justice's sophomore LP, was released in 2011 to a public that wasn't quite sure what to do with it. Undoubtedly, many were hoping for something like a Cross 2.0, and not without good reason. When it dropped in 2007, Cross was a revelation, and proof for many that house music, despite what Daft Punk's Human After All may have indicated two years prior, was not only alive and well but fully revitalized. The diversity on that LP, spanning the clipped disco of "Newjack" to the horror soundtrack pulsating of "Stress", is still remarkable to this day; few debuts in the '00s are as audacious or just all-around fun as Cross. This explains the scattered reactions to the excellent AVD, an album that—while not completely devoid of what made its predecessor so great—moved Justice more into the realm of classic rock and even old-school prog. The word "more" in that last sentence is important; while Cross raised a lot of hullaballoo over its take on house and its spin-off genres, Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay carried themselves not as many of their contemporaneous DJs do. The leather jackets they're often seen sporting are just the surface of a rock star persona they tout with swagger and ease. Yet for all the appeal people found in this look, they clearly wanted it just to extend to the leather jackets and not to the music itself. Upon hearing the AC/DC guitar on "Newlands" and the unsubtle Led Zeppelin homage "On'N'On," heads were simultaneously turned and scratched. These were the same guys who made Cross, right?

While the commonalities between Cross and AVD are much more than critics and fans gave it credit for, any doubters will be put in their place by Access All Arenas, a live recording of Justice's Arena of Nîmes show, which took place on July 19, 2012. At first, this may appear to be an unnecessary release; not only is this duo only two albums into their career, but there's already a live recording to its name, 2008's concert film/tour documentary A Cross the Universe. The progression that took place between the debut and AVD is distinct enough that to someone who hasn't had the pleasure of seeing Justice live is likely to wonder how these sets of songs pair up. The answer, fortunately, is that in Justice's case, progression doesn't mean abandonment of prior excellence. Progress, in fact, has made the duo all the better.

If AAA is taken as a quality capture of Augé and Rosnay's live method, then it could well be the case that AVD is more indicative of their true sound than Cross. Of course, this is a fact common of live experiences in general: if a band makes an album distinct in style from anything it had previously done, the change in sonic is going to influence how the old stuff is played. On this LP, it's clear that regardless of how well Justice excel at house, EDM, or any other like electronic genre, at its core, it's a rock and roll band. This fact extends even to the most dancefloor-heavy of the duo's work, as in the case with "Waters of Nazareth", which in this iteration takes on a militaristic heavy metal tone. AAA is eminently danceable, yes, but it's defined primarily by its power chords, booming riffs, and crowd chants—all things more likely to bring out headbanging and misplaced devil horns rather than shuffling feet. Fortunately, since this is Justice, they span both of those concertgoing experiences. AAA takes the boundaries between the stadium and the club and utterly demolishes them.

Justice's live methodology is similar to that of a rock concert, though it still borrows from electronic music heavily in one way. Though there are 14 numerically divided tracks on this record, the songs themselves aren't played as individual pieces, but rather as continuous movements in a career-spanning perpetual track. The music here is incredibly well sequenced; save for a few breather gaps, each song bleeds into the next. Some of these transitions are either unnecessary or awkward—see the inclusion of the "DVNO" vocal before the AVD highlight "Horsepower"—but on the whole they make this as nonstop as a party could be. If the encore wasn't so distinctly demarcated from the main set list, this could probably looped in a continuous circle and it'd still be just as entertaining. It helps that these aren't just pre-programmed rehashings of these tracks; like any good band (rock or otherwise), Justice actually does its best to play the music, rather than leaning on Ableton or some other digital interface to spit out slightly modified stems. For Augé and Rosnay, that their music is largely electronic is no excuse for complacency. On the contrary, the ability to create remixes with relative ease clearly inspires the duo to take their studio work into different realms in a live setting. “Canon,” a good-but-not-great cut from AVD, is one of the standouts on AAA for this very reason. In its initial version, it’s mostly a bundle of arpeggios; live, it becomes a doom metal stomp. Experiments like these can be found scattered throughout all of the setlist; parts of songs will be moved around, cut out, or replaced, and in a few cases remixes from other artists will be incorporated. This doesn't sound like much on paper, but when compiled into a concert as overall excellent as this one, the effect is brilliant. Even on "On'N'On," the first of the two encores, where the only real difference is that the first part of the song is played more quietly, it feels like a wholly new track.

As the years go on and Justice continues to put out music, hopefully AVD will be recognized as the genius classic rock revival in disguise LP that it is. But, more importantly, it should become increasingly clear that Justice never abandoned what it had established with Cross. A synth melody may be traded for a guitar riff, and the comparisons to Daft Punk may hold less and less. In the end, that's the beauty of Justice: there's no need to be afraid to rock out in the club—nor, of course, should rockers fear four-to-the-floor.

7

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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