Reviews

Public Enemy: Revolverlution Tour Australia 2003

For those of us who are interested in the intersection of politics and popular culture, our resentment of Reagan-Bush-Bush is mitigated by the realization that, hey, at least we got some good tunes out of the deal.


Public Enemy

Revolverlution Tour Australia 2003

Subtitle: Revolverlution Tour Australia 2003
Label: MVD
US Release Date: 2009-01-20
Amazon
iTunes

Whenever I pick up a contemporary book, the first thing I do is flip to the copyright page. I’m checking to see if the book was published before or after 2002, a date which, obviously, tells me if the book is pre- or post-9/11. I don’t suppose I’m breaking any news by suggesting that, all things told, this is a pretty significant date and that the writer who sat down to start a new book on September 10th of that year probably did some extensive revisions on September 12th. As trite as it sounds (and as oft-repeated), this date changes everything that immediately precedes it.

Thus, for example, Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (published September 1, 2001) maintains its relevance for exactly 10 days, Oprah or no Oprah. Don’t get me wrong. The book is great. I enjoyed it immensely, and I’ve followed his career ever since. But The Corrections belongs to a world before.

Now before going forward, I should cop to the fact that I’m a 36-year-old white dude who has never fought for anything in his life, so I know full well that I may not be the world’s foremost authority when it comes to a discussion of the cultural relevance of Barack Obama. Yet I can’t help but think that, though only seven years removed from the last earth-shattering event, the election of Obama to the presidency of the United States also qualifies as a Before-and-After moment, particularly as it applies to certain conversations that involve oh, say, pop culture and race, which is why the most noteworthy aspects of the Public Enemy concert DVD, Revolverlution Tour Australia 2003, are the dates: a concert filmed in 2003 and copyrighted 2006. My first thought was, “Wow, this is old”.

During the past quarter century, America has three times succumbed to waves of conservatism that traded on fear, that limited rights, and that cultivated divisiveness. For those of us who are interested in the intersection of politics and popular culture, our resentment of Reagan-Bush-Bush is mitigated by the realization that, hey, at least we got some good tunes out of the deal. More than H.R., Rollins, or Ian MacKaye, Reagan himself was responsible for American hardcore, and who but George Dub could have inspired a group of Berkeley stoners to rally a nation of American idiots, a guy named “Billie Joe” now elevated to the status of one named “Bono”.

But of all of the pop-cultural movements to emerge during these conservative periods, the most enduring was rap. With Notorious just out of the multiplex, 50 Cent starring in his own reality show, and Ice Cube helming family-friendly fare, I sometimes have to remind myself that the future of rap was once contested: In one corner, the gangsta rap of Ice T, the Geto Boys, and the NWA posse; in the other, the heirs apparent to Gil Scott-Heron and Grandmaster Flash, the more politically minded stylings of Boogie Down Productions and Public Enemy.

As evidenced by the Grammy performance that featured Jay Z, Kanye West, Lil’ Wayne, TI, and MIA (collectively dubbed by Queen Latifah in her introduction as “the Rap Pack”), PE and its ilk lost, but their failure, if it can even be so called, is surely a result of the appropriation and subsequent commodification of the gangster lifestyle rather than anything even remotely related to the quality of the music, for, arguably, Public Enemy’s body of work between 1987–¬¬¬91 is rivaled in its sustained excellence only by Stevie Wonder’s output from 1972–76. In fact, the work is so good that it continues to dominate their sets.

The Revolverlution DVD features approximately 21 songs (depending on how you view such breaks as DJ Lord’s solo), 14 of which are from their first four albums. But they can hardly be blamed for drawing so heavily from their early work. “Welcome to the Terrordome”, “Bring the Noise”, “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos”, “Don’t Believe the Hype”, “Fight the Power”, “She Watch Channel Zero”. Which would you cut? And, in any case, plenty of artists rely on their older material for their live shows. Have you seen Dylan recently? Or Neil Young? Or the Beastie Boys? Or, well, just about anyone.

No, the problem is not leaning on past greatness. The problem is that, at the time of the DVD’s release, the band hadn’t been great since the elder Bush’s administration, which only highlights one of the dangers of a band predicating its success, in part, on its topicality: when that about which the band is topical passes, this strength becomes, if not exactly a weakness, then at least a limitation.

Granted, the songs from Bush I do play well during Bush II, and it’s no accident that one of the more recent songs that Public Enemy showcases on the DVD is “Son of a Bush”, a song with a wicked hook and a self-explanatory title. But what to do when they’re both out of office and Jed is still at least a term away?

The DVD crystallizes this point when Chuck leads the crowd in a call-and-response of “Fuck George Bush” (“Fuck George Bush!”), “Fuck Tony Blair” (“Fuck Tony Blair!”), and “Fuck John Howard” (“Fuck John Howard!”). At one point, this probably felt like a healthy dose of subversion, but on account of all three of these leaders now being deposed, the defiance feels empty. Sure, the argument can be made that this kind of passion in 2003 is why none of them (or their representatives) are still in office today; however, the problem remains that, as I watch in 2009, a new regime is in place. The world has moved on.

To put it another way: Does “By the Time I Get to Arizona” lose its clout after Arizona recognizes Martin Luther King’s birthday as a holiday? Remember, in that very song, Chuck claims, “Neither party is mine / Not the jackass or the elephant”. Is that still true? Can it be? Now that Barack Obama is president, “Fight the Power” has to mean something different. Doesn’t it?

None of this is to denigrate the DVD itself in any way. I’ve seen Public Enemy twice—once on the “Fear of a Black Planet” tour at Kemper Arena in Kansas City and once only 14 months ago when they celebrated the end of their 20th year together at Irving Plaza in New York. On the one hand, that a one-time arena band now headlines what are essentially club gigs is a shame, as the band certainly deserves the increased exposure (and gate); however, on the other hand, most bands benefit from playing smaller venues, and Public Enemy is no exception.

The DVD’s liner notes inform us that Public Enemy was once known as “the Black Sex Pistols” (Chuck, never shy about self-mythologizing, co-wrote said notes), and the comparison with a band that embodies ‘70s punk at its most virile and provocative is apt. I’ve long lamented not being old enough to have experienced originally that first-generation punk scene (on both sides of the Atlantic), but as I was sweating with Chuck and Co. up close in December of ’07, I did for the first time think, “Well, at least I’m here, now”.

Impressively, the disc effectively captures the kinetic nature of these shows: Chuck in a muscle shirt, shorts, and sneakers, dressed more for the gym than a night out, joined by a full band, a DJ, Professor Griff, and, of course, Flavor. The show looks like it was cheaply filmed, which only contributes to its DIY feel. At least one crane helps capture the overhead shots of the crowd, but, for the most part, hand-helds seem to have been the weapon of choice. They’re most successful when they spy Chuck limbering up backstage or shoot the band from the gutter between the stage and the audience, which literally provides a front-row view.

The set list—highlights of which are mentioned above—gains points for being hit-heavy but loses points for being overly inclusive. One advantage of releasing a recording of a live show is that doing so allows the band to trim away parts of the concert that may have dragged. With this release, the band failed to seize this opportunity. As far as I can tell (and remember), this is an unedited version of the live experience, which means that Flav’s solo set appears here in full, as does a 15-minute performance by a Griff-led band called “7th Octave”.

Flavor’s set is understandable, as the guy has become an institution of his own. My own feelings are mixed. I recognize that his buffoonery functions as the spoonful of sugar that helps Chuck’s medicine go down, but he’s such a clown—especially outfitted like a cuckold in that Viking helmet—that he doesn’t always serve as the band’s best ambassador. (If you think they’ve lost any of their fighting spirit, just consider this lyric by Paris on their shared 2006 release, Rebirth of a Nation: “No love for the Enemy with video play / But they give Flav a show to take the focus away”.) Listening to Flavor bust out a “Yeeeaaahhhh, booooooooooyyyyyy” is cool in the same way that I’d like to hear that guy say, “Let’s get ready to rummm-bbbllleee”, but otherwise, the “track skip” button on your remote will be put to good use.

The 7th Octave set is less forgivable. They get to plug their Web site (I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two don’t count), and their brand of nü metal is better than most, but opening bands should open the show, not the first encore.

Perhaps Flavor’s full set and the 7th Octave portion of the concert could have been reassigned to the already bloated “Special Features” section. Public Enemy has always been fan-friendly—their split with Def Jam was, in part, because of the band advocating for a greater online access of their music—but the amount of extras on these discs suggests that you can get too much of a good thing (or at least that a good thing shouldn’t always be enjoyed in one sitting). The packaging boasts that, in sum, the discs include over four hour of material, which would test the attention of span of all but the most voyeuristic viewers.

The 13-minute “Behind the Scenes” feature wisely spends most of its time with the musicians who flesh out the sound on the tour. I got to know them well enough that I almost feel bad for dismissing 7th Octave above (almost). And the “Private Video”, despite its Pam-and-Tommy sounding name, tastefully reveals a playful side of the band: Chuck uncharacteristically rolling on the floor with laughter at the sight of Flavor’s less-than-hulking pecs, Griff pulling off an impersonation of the Crocodile Hunter that is Horatian enough to still be funny.

But the extras need not include a slide show, an electronic version of the liner notes, and an additional hour-long “Tour Diary” (that can, in fairness, be watched in segments). There is nothing wrong, per se, with any of these additions. Just that they are not created for the casual viewer (and even the most interested parties—myself included—might still struggle through to the end).

I feel a little guilty leveling this criticism at a band that we clearly need more of rather than less, but at some point it becomes a matter of quantity over quality. By my count, this is the third concert video that PE has released that pretty much draws from the same body of work for the bulk of its substance (and this Australia show may very well be a repackaging of a Manchester show that was released a couple of years ago, which would explain the 2006 copyright and the 2009 release date). They have released three solid albums since Revolverlution, and, OK, maybe New Whirl Odor, Rebirth of a Nation, and How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul? may not achieve the iconic status of Bum Rush or Nation of Millions, but there’s a solid 90 minutes of live material there (“Superman’s Black in the Building” is a worthy12 minutes all by itself).

Let’s see a show of PE 2.0. They could start with “MKLVFKWR (Make Love, Fuck War)”, the Moby-produced track that hearkens back to the Bomb Squad days with downright eerie accuracy. The abbreviation is splashed across the DVD’s cover. The sentiment is repeatedly echoed throughout the show. But, inexplicably, the song is AWOL.

I was originally going to conclude this review/essay back where I started with a line something like “All concert videos are historical documents but this one more than most”; however, the deeper I got in, the more I realized that such a pithy conclusion might provide a satisfactory button but that it does so at the expense of being fair. The truth is that it’s more complicated than that. “I Have a Dream” is an historical document too, and, though Chuck’s birthday will never be recognized as a national holiday, for a generation of blacks and whites, he and his band eagerly carried the baton, and they carried it well.

By all means, celebrate those songs. Celebrate them as often and as loudly as you want. But were I bold to enough to suggest such a thing, I would tell Chuck that, as rich as their past is, they should not revisit it to such a degree that they relegate all that follows to the status of an also-ran. We are, potentially, on the cusp of a new age, a new age that Public Enemy, in part, helped inspire.

And I, for one, can’t wait to hear what they have to say.

6

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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