Music

Sun-Drenched '90s Nostalgia at Forecastle Day Three

Forecastle rounded out its 2014 installment with aplomb, proving that it is only going to get bigger and better from here on out.

The Forecastle Festival

City: Louisville, Kentucky
Venue: Waterfront Park
Date: 2014-07-20

Photography by Mark Manary

Day 3 of Louisville’s Forecastle Festival saw its first bursts of sunshine of the weekend as temperatures steadily crept up and attendance held steady, shattering previous levels for the fest. The sun brought both energy and fatigue to a crowd that had been stage crawling for three days and nights along Louisville’s riverfront, taking in a marathon of roots rock and ‘90s nostalgia. River inlets serve as large public fountains, merging the river with the promenade, and the heat had festivalgoers wading in the inlets’ waterfalls. After all, with Forecastle’s nautical motifs, lifeguards are on hand, as are mermaids and an EDM-thumping graffiti-covered tugboat. Not so oceany is the I-64 overpass that runs over portions of the park, which a few musicians made mention of as their stage perspective offers ceaseless views of semi-trucks rolling by. The fest could use more portable toilets as lines to use them grew uncomfortably long, especially with beer booths doing brisk business, selling out of the festival’s flagship Sierra Nevada ales by midday Sunday.

Early Sunday, Lucius captivated fans warming up on the festival’s final day. Dressed in matching green bathroom-tile dresses and white wigs, singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig faced each other, their keyboards rubbing together, and sang luscious harmonies over their infectious pop sounds. The keys and guitars soared with rich, swelling melodies on “Don’t Just Sit There” and an especially jubilant “Turn It Around”, which incorporated a section of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” in a smile-inducing finish.

Sharon Van Etten


Sharon Van Etten played to a larger crowd over on the Boom Stage, the festival’s second-largest. Fronting a band—like Van Etten, dressed in all black—the singer-songwriter locked eyes and harmonized with her keyboard player, who added roller-rink organ to Van Etton's drowsy vocals. “I’m usually upset when I write”, she told the crowd, a disclaimer of sorts ahead of her melancholy love-hurts songs, but much of the audience was ready to wallow with her. A stylish guitar lacquer over the songs—“Afraid of Nothing”, ”Save Yourself”, a slow-building “All I Can”—embellished a bass that snaked around Van Ettens’s warm alto, capping the set with a pair of aching Lexapro ballads, “Your Love is Killing Me” and “Every Time the Sun Comes Up”, which reminded the audience to hit the sunscreen.

Brett Dennen


Brett Dennen followed Van Etten, getting his groove on at the main stage. Playing barefoot in jeans and a flannel shirt, Denned played “Surprise Surprise” early and demonstrated his gangly crazy-legs dance moves beneath his acoustic guitar. Things got funkier with “Losing My Mind”, a below-the-waist jam featuring sopping-wet bass and Dennen’s rhythmic dynamism. Despite his six-foot-six frame, Dennen is quite a mover, feeling the rhythm to his bones, and as he roamed the stage—after a microphone-cord-tangling delay—he thrilled the audience on the simmering “Who Do You Think You Are?” Jumpy tunes from Loverboy (“Comeback Kid (That’s My Dog)”, “Sydney (I’ll Come Running)” gave dancers plenty to work with, and a Camaro-rocking “When We Were Young”, featuring Dennen’s laid-back turkey-fried tenor, was a prime feel-good moment.

Sunny skies for Trampled By Turtles, who were, given the gargantuan crowd that gathered to see them, booked for the wrong stage. The audience spilled back all the way past the overpass, too far back to clearly hear or see the band even though hundreds of people settled for that vantage point, facing vaguely stageward as the Turtles played. Even those closer to the action had trouble at times connecting to band’s new songs, some of which—like“Wild Animals”—were interminably slow, and correspondingly unable achieve emotional liftoff with the big crowd. A frenzied thrash-grass attack is, of course, Trampled by Turtles' bread and butter, so on older songs “Wait So Long” and “Walt Whitman”, the band repurposed their bluegrass instruments into clattering percussion devices. The crowd pogoed along, giving the sonic mess the benefit of the doubt.

Jenny Lewis


“Welcome to the Voyager. Can I take your order”? Jenny Lewis asked at the outset of her sparkling hour-long set on the Mast Stage. Candy-colored cartoon clouds and stars covered her shirt, blazer, boots, and Martin acoustic, a reflection of the bright California rock from her upcoming album, two of which, “Just One of the Guys” and “She’s Not Me”, opened and closed the show, respectively. In between, Jenny—all shades, red lipstick, and rock-star swagger—covered her career, including three Rilo Kiley tunes, and brought out The Watson Twins for “You Are What You Love”. “Get a load of these guys!” Jenny said, pointing at the twins, stunning with their all-white clothes and ephemeral harmony vocals. The emotional peak came as her five-piece combo, along with the Watsons, dropped their instruments and formed an a capella choir behind Jenny and her guitar for “Acid Tongue”. “I’m pretty stoked to see the Replacements”, Jenny told the crowd. She wasn’t alone in that regard, but Jenny roused plenty of enthusiasm for her own very cool star turn.

Nickel Creek


Nickel Creek hit the Boom Stage, part of their reunion tour after a seven-year break. The big crowd for their show was a reminder that this band sold millions of albums in the ‘00s, as was songs like “The Lighthouse’s Tale” and “Ode to a Butterfly”, classic Creek songs the crowd knew well. The instrumentals were reminders that Chris Thile is a peerlessly incredible mandolin wizard, and even though somnambulistic songs like Sara Watkins-sung “Anthony” and the Thile-helmed “Helena” tested the patience of a festival crowd that had been standing for three straight days, ripping instrumental “Elephant in the Corn” dazzled. The Creeksters really hit a stride at set’s end, with “When You Come Back Down”, barn-sex rocker “Hayloft” from the new A Dotted Line (featuring a particularly libidinous vocal from Sara Watkins), a final sizzling “The Fox”, with Thile picking with tremendous velocity and precision as the crowd erupted.

The Replacements


Forecastle leaned heavily this year on ‘90s stars and today’s upstarts, so when The Replacements hit the Mast Stage, it took the audience all the way back to the ancient ‘80s, and singer Paul Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson, the only two remaining from The Replacements’ classic lineup, wasted no time getting back to their roots, ripping into punk-kid versions of “Takin’ a Ride” and “I’m in Trouble”. Billie Joe Armstrong was the band’s third guitarist throughout the set, playing sinuous rhythm back by the drums, excited to be sitting in with his heroes but otherwise calling no attention to himself. Westerberg sounded superb, occasionally cracking wise, calling the Louisville crowd “Lexington”, calling the band “a Replacements tribute band”, and claiming to be adult hoboes: “Brother, can you spare a quarter…of a million dollars?”, a reference to extreme dollar figures commanded by festival headliners these days. Later, Westerberg smashed his guitar to smithereens on the stage, during, curiously, “Merry Go Round”, the ‘Mats’ least-rocking song of the day. Stinson and Armstrong beamed in response, as Armstrong grabbed the guitar’s remains telling Stinson, “That mine now!” Westerberg went flat on his belly to play harmonica on “White and Lazy” and took a seat on the drum riser to sing “Androgynous”, after which he said, “That’s a good song. I’ll admit it”.

The setlist was a ‘Mats’ fanatic’s delight—familiar tunes “Kiss Me on the Bus”, “Tommy Gets His Tonsils”, and “I Will Dare” were here, but the band got obscure on outtakes like “Nowhere is My Home” (“Our one-day rehearsal didn’t pay off”, Westerberg claimed after the song) and “Message to the Boys” (played for the fest time ever at Forecastle). “Love You ‘Til Friday” singed the crowd, especially with a middle section that morphed in Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline”. During “Can’t Hardly Wait”, Westerberg’s mike stand collapsed, and when Armstrong played roadie and fixed it, Westerberg planted a kiss on the Green Day frontman’s mouth. Such was the mood. Leave it to the Replacements to play deep cuts for the encore, but a mashup of “I Don’t Know” and “Buck Hill” was a thrill for long-suffering Replacements fans who were all smiles during a set that exceeded already-high expectations.

Beck


Given the mellow gold of Beck’s new album, speculation circulated that the Sunday night festival-closing set would a chilled-out affair. Those predictions couldn’t have been more wrong, as Beck brought the disco inferno to Forecastle. Opening with an innards-rattling “Devil’s Haircut” augmented by kaleidoscopic digital graphics on the backdrop video screens, the big stage pumped out lawn quaking bass and drums. “Black Tambourine” and “The New Pollution” continued the career survey, surging light and sound, and Beck did his best James Brown moves and worked the crowd hard. “Think I’m In Love” was an early highlight that hit fever pitch when it mutated into a spot-on cover Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”.

With only an hour and 15 minutes to play, Beck knew he had to bring the party fast and furious, so “Loser” came early (with the crowd taking the “Why Don’t You Kill Me?” line, a strange moment). “One Foot in the Grave” highlighted Beck’s gutter-rat harmonica, and later Beck played some steamy guitar leads, making like Prince, soloing over flashdance rhythms. Beck dropped the pop irony for a songwriterly section in the middle of “Lost Cause” and the two singles from Morning Phase, “Blue Moon” and “Waking Light”, embossed with ambient swirls, before returning to the everydork shtick for a final run. There was no half-stepping on a righteous “E-Pro”, before Beck introduced his band while the song transformed for a brief, exhilarating tease on the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You”. Beck strung yellow crime-scene tape in front of the stage, for anyone tempted to violate “Sexxlaws” in the encore. “Debra” featuring Beck’s considerable falsetto was next, as Beck promised the ladies in the house “love, tenderness, potpourri, and expensive pillows”, transforming Louisville into “Make Out City” before “Where It’s At” brought it on home. It as a whopping finale for a fully satiated crowd and a Forecastle Festival that was bigger and better than ever.

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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