Music

They're Not Rock and Roll Animals, They're Rock and Roll Athletes: The Soft Pack Interview

Relaxing before the big game.

This is shaping up to be a very busy year for Los Angeles based the Soft Pack (formerly the Muslims). They recently signed to Kemado Records, are about to embark on their first European tour -- where they were invited to play England's "All Tomorrow's Parties", being curated by the Breeders (whom the band toured with this past year) -- are recording their debut record for their new label, and will be touring the US extensively opening for Friendly Fires and White Lies.

This is all the more remarkable considering they have only been in existence for two full years. The buzz is deserved, after witnessing them open for the Ravonettes recently at Bimbo's in San Francisco, I saw plenty of converts by set's end. The set was blistering; showcasing the wit, intelligence, and musical economy, that make them a band to keep your eyes on in the coming years.

I ran into the founders of the Soft Pack, singer/guitarist Matt Lamkin and guitarist Matty McLoughlin, at a bar up the street. They were relaxed, focused, and truly genuine. After bonding with McLoughlin over our fanatical devotion to the Replacements, he agreed to an interview with me.

Give me a little bit of a background on how the band came together? I think you mentioned that you went to high school together?

Matt and I started the band in January of 2007. There was a rotating cast of drummers and bassists for a year. Dave and Brian joined in January of 2008 and finalized the lineup of the band. Matt and I and Dave went to the same high school but never really hung out until afterwards. Brian previously played in bands with friends of ours, we have known him for about five years or so.

How would you like to have your music described?

I really don't have a preference. It's just kind of a rock n roll band. Catchy.

Who would you site as influences and inspirations?

We all like comedy a lot. A lot of the books that get passed around in the van are comedian biographies. Steve Martin, Rodney Dangerfield, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor. Big fans of Kids in the Hall. I get more inspired to write tunes after seeing/reading something that makes me laugh. When it comes to musical influences everyone grew up listening to different stuff, but I would say the big ones are Roy Orbison, the Fall, David Bowie, the Replacements, Modern Lovers, Bob Marley, Iggy Pop, James Brown, Pavement. Guys who have a good sense of humor are badass.

What is the music scene like in San Diego?

Well we moved to Los Angeles about a year ago but the San Diego music scene is doing well. Kill Me Tomorrow is a band we've been fans of for awhile. Our favorite band the Sess broke up but those guys are getting new projects together that are good. We like the Night Marchers.

How important is where you grew up and began playing to your sound and development?

We were all big fans of San Diego bands in the '90s like Drive Like Jehu, The Blackheart Procession, Hot Snakes. I'm not really sure how growing up there has affected us. We are laid back but there aren't any Spicoli's in the band really. No one did too many whipits in high school, no wrap-around shades.

Seems like things have moved pretty fast for you guys, is that weird or has it been difficult?

Nothing too weird. The shows have gotten bigger. Besides that everything is the same. We have been able to open for some bands that we were huge fans of growing up. Meeting those people can be a little intimidating. People that changed the way you went about your business. But they all have been very cool and nice.

I think you mentioned you don't have to work day jobs anymore?

Yeah. We are going to be on tour for awhile, had to quit the day jobs. This is our job now.

You recently signed with Kemado Records. Why were they a good fit?

We really liked the people at Kemado. We got along really well and felt like they got what we were about the most. Also, they were one of the first labels to talk to us and show a genuine interest. Long before all the CMJ hype stuff.

Do you see the songwriting moving in a different direction, after all the touring you've been doing recently?

Well the song writing has changed since Brian and Dave joined the band. Now someone comes to practice with a riff or chord change and we all work the song out together. The first record was done by Matt and I. Things are much more collaborative now. Touring has made the band much tighter. The band has gotten stronger sounding because of the touring.

The cover of their EP release

under the name the Muslims

Your self-titled record under the old band name was pretty stripped down, production wise...Do you envision this changing with the new record you're currently working on?

We were trying to make the first record more "hi-fi" but that's the best we got. I'm proud of that record but I don't feel it captures us as a live band. We sound a bit tougher than the record indicates I think. We want the next record to have better sound quality but nothing too glossy or lame. We want it to be better sounding, more exciting sounding. Just want to make a better record.

How did you decide on the new name?

We had been trying to change it for a year but all of the names we came up with horrendous. Then Brian came up with the name The Soft Pack around Thanksgiving and we all liked it.

Are you working with a specific producer?

We are going into the studio to record with Manny Nieto in a couple weeks. He has a great studio in east Los Angeles.

What are some of the themes you like to work with lyrically?

Matt writes all of the lyrics so you'd have to ask him. But my take is that they are about just everyday stuff.

So how is 2009 shaping up? I know you mentioned going to Europe to play some festivals, is this your first time going there?

We are going to be doing a lot of touring and will be recording our record. We are going to the UK in couple weeks. Then we are doing a tour with White Lies and Friendly Fires throughout the US. Then we have some festivals in Europe around the summer. I have never been to Europe so I'm really excited. Busy, but all stuff I'm looking forward to.

What are some of the challenges up and coming bands face with the changing musical landscape?

Gas prices were a big problem for us but they have gone down so that's good. Any money we made before went straight to the gas tank. Other than that I think you can do whatever you want. You can release your own records, set up your own tours. If you are willing to eat Doritos or a banana for dinner you can get whatever you want out of it.

How important do you feel sites like Pichfork, Stereogum, PopMatters, etc. are to a band's success?

That's how the majority of people hear about bands now. Read about bands on a website, then check their MySpace to hear the music. Then go to YouTube to see if they are good looking or whacky or something.

Are social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook still useful tools, if so in what way?

Yeah with MySpace you can instantly hear a band, see what they look like, communicate with them. As a band you can set up shows with other bands, a tour, a rivalry.

What would you like people to know about you guys that they may not know?

That we are athletes, that we don't care.

Any good road stories?

There hasn't been anything too far out there lately. Last year we got thrown in the back of an immigration truck at the Arizona border because the drug dog went crazy on our van. They detained us for about an hour, didn't find anything, and drug dog ate Dave's burrito. I met Lebron James on our way home from tour. We didn't speak for very long but he was a great guy. Charismatic as sin.

What do you find yourself listening to on those long drives?

Steely Dan, Curtis Mayfield, The Breeders, Metallica, Warren Zevon, a bunch of stuff. Whatever anyone brings on the trip or we buy at truck stops. Oh, Steve Martin's "Get Small" album. Sometimes talk radio or nothing. Nothing can be relaxing.

What would be a dream bill to play on (bands can be either current or past, alive or dead)?

R.E.M., Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Stones, Women, Jonathan Richman, Mika Miko, Spiritualized. There is alot. We are down4whateva.

Any bands you're excited about?

We all really liked this band Women that we saw at CMJ. They are from Canada. We are playing with them in England and are really excited about 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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