Reviews

EOTO: 7 December 2013 - Denver, CO

Trance dance space funk, the Mile High City becomes the modern mecca for EDM fans.

EOTO
City: Denver, CO
Venue: The Fillmore Auditorium
Date: 2013-12-07

2012 has come and gone and now 2013 is a memory as well. One thing the current era will be remembered for is how the Denver music scene has surged to challenge New York, LA, or Austin for the top live music scene in the country. Not only does Colorado have great rock and bluegrass scenes, it’s also been ground zero in the EDM explosion (electronic dance music.)

EOTO (End of Time Observatory) has been the pioneering force. The electronica duo of Michael Travis and Jason Hann (members of the String Cheese Incident) have toured the nation relentlessly over the past five plus years to bring their improvised dubstep dance grooves to the public. That same period has seen the rise of EDM as a cultural force. EOTO has played a significant role in demonstrating how the use of live instrumentation and improvisation can elevate EDM to a higher level of artistic merit.

Hann has described EOTO’s sound as “a live improvised alien disco party” and that vibe of cosmic trance dance space funk has been a key attraction. With Hann on drums and Travis improvising on everything from guitar and bass to synths, samplers and more percussion, the duo has developed a uniquely groovy sound which jams in a way most DJs can’t do with pre-recorded music. Yet there’s some dissension in the air in 2013, with locals warning that EOTO’s sound has changed over the past years. Critics have denounced the duo for moving into a more electronic, crunkier direction lacking the instrumentally-inspired jams which previously constituted a large part of EOTO's attraction. But in a heady town like Denver, jaded vets making judgements on the scene are inescapable.

The Denver Fillmore might be a draw as attractive as the EOTO performance. A slew of new Fillmores have opened in recent years around the nation. Skeptics are critical whether these venues are worthy to share the same name. The original Fillmore in San Francisco isn't just a great music venue, it has a legendary musical history and a notable fan-friendly staff. The Denver Fillmore opened in 1999, making it the only other Fillmore that dates to the 20th century, which dons some credibility others lack. The theater's decor also pays homage, with crimson walls, velvet curtains and chandeliers.

Despite the sub-freezing temperature EOTO is ready to heat things up. The duo uses a familiar lotus stage design, with the pair playing inside a large glowing lotus structure for an extra spiritual vibe. The show opens in Saturday night dance party mode with classic alien funk to incite the sizable crowd. The funky grooves still have the vitality and Eastern melodic flavors from Travis that seem much like the EOTO of old in the beginning.

As the evening progresses, there is a sonic trend toward that crunkier, wompier sound. EOTO has always been fond of the “womp womp” that personifies the dubstep genre. Classically, the group displayed a unique flair for mixing in organic flavors by generating infectious melodies on the guitar and bass. Travis certainly doesn’t use the axes as much as he once did, so there seems to be some merit in the reports of a change. Yet the crowd responds well to the evolution of EOTO's sound to match EDM’s overall surge in popularity.

A mere 48 hours earlier, EDM titans Pretty Lights played a sold-out show at the 1,800-capacity Ogden Theater. Scalpers asked three times the ticket price on Craigslist but Pretty Lights impresario Derek Vincent Smith stuck it to the scalpers by releasing 90 tickets at the box office when doors opened. Pretty Lights opened for STS9 at Red Rocks in 2009, and grew to headline their own Red Rocks shows in 2013. This speaks volumes for the growing popularity of the EDM genre. Is EOTO trying to capitalize on that trend? It’s hard to say since they have an outlet for more rock based music in their main band, the String Cheese Incident.

The bottom line remains: the first half of the show was strong on an alien disco party sound. But as the show progressed, the sound seemed to trend in a far more electronic direction, with the last 15-20 minutes of the show questionably pushing the envelope with a pounding electronic bass over-saturation of the sonic spectrum. It appears a sonic evolution of sorts has driven older fans away, yet this change also seems to be drawing in a sizable new contingent. In conclusion, it seems that mileage with EOTO may well vary based on what kind of sonic fuel their fans prefer placing in the tank.

The two-hour set ends at 12:45 am. Friends inside the moe. show have texted that the second set has only recently begun. It’s only a couple blocks away, so this reporter walks up the street and manages to pull a Jedi mind trick to gain entry to catch most of moe.’s second set. The best of both worlds! The Denver music scene is without doubt one of the most happening in the country, with an ever-increasing number of fans relocating here from around the country. Will Denver become the modern mecca for serious music fans? Many people in Colorado will say it already has.

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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