Music

Weapons of Bass Destruction: Mondo Marcio's 'Musica da Serial Killer'

Italian rapper Mondo Marcio turns the bass on Musica da Serial Killer into a weaponized element. Never before have the sensations of death, dread and groove been so synonymous in music.


Mondo Marcio

Musica Da Serial Killer

Label: Mondo
US Release Date: 2011-01-25
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By the time Italian rapper Mondo Marcio recorded his 2010 album Animale in Gabbia, he had just begun to experiment with the wider range of colours on his musical palette. Expanding in rhythm and texture, Marcio’s beats took on new and deeper dimensions, allowing his hip-hop to travel from the streets and the danceclubs to the private quarters of the bedroom. The rapper had now begun to explore all emotional avenues that hip-hop could afford him, his grooves a transformative reflection of any new artistic venture he took.

Of all the Italian rappers, Marcio is probably hip-hop’s most prolific artist, averaging about an album per year. Not one to be content with simply championing a particular niche, the rapper has tried his hand at many styles and genres, developing his hip-hop with the kind of transmuting structures that have seen him flirt with everything from reggae and rock to '60s pop and electronica. Animale in Gabbia was an exercise in introducing agreeable pop into his make-up; his latest, Nella Bocca Della Tigre (2014), interpolates the music of Italian pop icon Mina into a series of Motown-inspired hip-hop grooves.

The year 2011 proved to be very dark for both Italy and Marcio. The socio-economic system of the country was in serious trouble while, on a personal front, the rapper was undergoing many changes in his career that found him rebuilding his label after some modifications in his management. While Marcio hasn’t really let on exactly what the problems in his career were at that point, a number of clues can be found on Musica da Serial Killer, the rapper’s fifth album of material.

For Musica da Serial Killer (labelled a mixtape, but really a full proper album), Marcio would mine the deep depths of gloom, forgoing much of the party vibes of his earlier efforts for material that pulsed with an ambience thick with dread. Moreover, the rapper would also trade in the good-natured humour typical of his rhymes for a compressed, airless flow of evil that radiated an almost poisonous aura of rage. Infused with a paranoiac’s ideas of sex, murder and political danger, the album’s dark and heavy themes were visually realized on its creepy, unsettling artwork, featuring the rapper in profile, calmly staring ahead while a trail of blood trickles from his earphones.

The album’s cover seems to comment on a generation brought up on the iPod, a cultural emblem of the mass market murder of music and art. It also suggests that the music contained within is equally a threat -- poisonous ear candy for those willing to be baited into the rapper’s punishing trap of artistic enterprise.

Musica da Serial Killer’s most notable and significant feature is its bottom-heavy bass. If other rappers utilize bass as a mere routine constituent of hip-hop music, Marcio turns it into a weaponized element, ramping it up to a terrifying degree where extremes are stretched to torturous, nearly fatal ends. The destructive and explosive force with which the basslines are dispensed practically inaugurates a bass culture previously unexplored in Italian hip-hop. Never before have the sensations of death, dread and groove been so synonymous in music, the album’s message of impending doom embodied in the resounding, heavy throb of the bottom-end.

Following the album’s intro, Musica da Serial Killer officially begins with “Dexter”, an obvious nod to the murderously twisted TV series character and a grim, referential stab at dark humour, less funny than it is frightening. Etched in at the edges with a slasher-film string-section, “Dexter” meditates on social paranoia and murderous lusts, with Marcio’s mid-tempo raps affecting an almost breathless and teasing mock-drawl. Stripped down to an elemental core of beats, bass and anxiously jumpy strings, the track maintains an uncomfortable pressure that threatens to explode.

Afterwards, on “Dimmi di cosa hai paura”, the rapper’s rhymes are leveled to a computerized, satanic hush, trading lines with guest vocalist Michelle Lily whose sour utterance of “motherfucker” (flung like a brick to the face) demonstrates that the pair means serious business. “Dimmi di cosa hai paura” expounds the grievances of the digital age, where terrorism, illness, unemployment, and death meet in an endless circling of fear and mistrust.

In the past, Marcio has managed the trick of turning an overused sample into dancefloor pop-magic. His use of Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love” (possibly one of the most sampled pieces of music to feature in an R&B or hip-hop track in the last 25 years) for his song “Tutto a posto” on Animale in Gabbia successfully reinvented a jaded idea into an engaging and humorous jam without pretension. The rapper returns to his dalliances with pop on “Come un italiano”, this time cutting through the album’s fog of dread with a highly infectious sample of Renato Carosone's "Mambo Italiano".

A tumbling hip-hop jive flushed with the colour of Mediterranean exotica, “Come un italiano” momentarily allows for the shafts of a few sunlit rays before the album’s darkened return to its dreary underground. When Musica da Serial Killer resumes its deathly grind with “Conto alla rovescia”, Marcio is in full-blown panic mode, his demonically-possessed rant-raps flowing with the unease of a paranoid, weed-burning MC. The death-drums that start the track give way to a thickly robust groove before a lethal, booming mass of beats soon fall hard and heavy on the chorus. It's a song of deeply-embedded fears and Armageddon panic, which Marcio describes as a response to the collapsing Italian economic system that was happening at the time.

Later, on the hip-house white-noise crunch of “Cos’hai di nuovo?” (featuring fellow Italian rappers Ensi and Palla da Phella), the pile-driving beats reach a new subsonic low. Like an enraged Jungle Brothers-in-Hades, “Cos’hai di nuovo?” is house-rap full of crushing evil, bled dry of melody to reveal nothing more than a brutal, subterranean boom in which all eardrums are taken to task. On the dancefloor, this would be murder by infrasound.

Even the album’s sporadic over-the-top party numbers like “Quanta Carne” (the darker party-track counterpart to “Come un italiano”) exude a creepy air of malevolence and threat. On “Quanta Carne”, Marcio delivers his rhymes as though they were acts of sexual terrorism. His applications of the gender clichés that encumber hip-hop are ironically deployed (here, a woman is at once enraptured and terrorized). On first listen, the song simply reads as hip-hop misogyny; a few more listens reveal the caricaturing and lambasting of the hip-hop Lothario, with the rapper mordantly dispensing with just about every ridiculous stereotype to throw at a less than discerning listener.

Musica da Serial Killer winds to a finish with two lighter numbers, which alleviate much of the pressure that precedes the two closing tracks. Lighter in tone, these numbers service the listener with the acknowledgment of relief, the moments that follow an ill-conceived outing to a club on the rough ends of the city. Indeed, Musica da Serial Killer’s low-end frequencies are its most seductive and destructive quality, a space of sound where the looming fears and threats incite a deadly, sexy thrill. As evidenced by the disturbing album artwork in which the rapper nonchalantly bleeds from the ears as the result of an eardrum-murdering infrasound, Marcio forces listeners, as well, to live and die by the bass.

***

In his own words - Mondo Marcio summarizes his ideas behind Musica da Serial Killer for PopMatters:

It was an introspective moment both for me and for the country [while recording the album]; I think the whole country's situation influenced my perspective on reality. Starting from 2007, the Italian economic system was visibly collapsing for everybody, small and huge offices; there was the feeling that you’re preparing to go to war with your neighbour, so we all kind of started developing a kill-or-be-killed attitude, rather than just plain competition.

Also, I was working on rebuilding my label and management and many other essential things, so you might say that mentally I was pretty much digging in the darkest cave, looking for oil. [The album was about] the feeling you get in those dark times, when you realize that nobody really has your back besides your own self. Luckily I moved on from that kind of dark and oppressive karma but, still, it helped me to be a lot more aware of the game that is played.

In my defense, I approached the music business, professionally, at 16. So that time was some kind of a wakeup call… I wanted the music to fully match with the lyrics, and being that my stories were so dark and frustrated (at that time), I wanted the listener to feel that kind of heavy vibe, to feel like I was feeling. Low frequencies, distorted sounds and 808 kicks helped out a lot in doing that.

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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