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A trip to exclusivity

Having just returned from a vacation at a resort hotel in the Caribbean, I found this WSJ article about exclusive resorts within resorts pertinent. The resort at which I stayed felt carceral to say the least -- it was retrofitted into the site of an old fortress, and portions of it were literally cordoned off with barbed wire. Yet at the same time, an atmosphere of openness was built into the infrastructure of the place, with all the restaurants and bars and hotel services being outdoors. Just enough relaxed openness was suggested by this setup to allow the more imaginative tourists to pretend that they weren't in a fortress and were instead integrated in some way with real island culture. The ability to relax at the resort seemed akin to the ability to enjoy TV shows with laugh tracks, or incoherent special-effects laden movies: It seems as though you have to be willing to do a lot of pretending and suspend a lot of disbelief to overlook the fact that the staff regards you with a mixture of contempt, suspicion and condescension, overlook the tension generated by income disparities between tourists and locals, the essentially predatory nature of tourist enterprises. Of course you can skirt a lot of that by eschewing the amenities of resorts, but then you are forced to concentrate on how to actually do everyday things in a foreign environment, which is probably the opposite of relaxing for many vacationers. The things you take for granted (buying gas, reading a menu, etc.) become complicated, and embarrassment lurks around every corner.

Resorts protect you from all that complication of the reality of foreignness, but at the expense of jailing you in a plush prison. But they go beyond merely insulating us from the challenges of learning how to function in new environments and having to make too many decisions, beyond permitting us to take a vacation from thinking ("A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," David Foster Wallace's account of taking a cruise, explicates these points pretty well). By foregrounding the helplessness of the tourist while confronting him at every turn with semi-sarcastic solicitude, resorts actually heighten all the tensions and pretenses, the disparities between tourists and servants, rather than dissipate them; perhaps it's because these tensions are actually what many vacationers want to consume, class resentment as a testimony that you've arrived, that you've reached a place where you can have the power to boss people around and be fussed over. The elaborate gate-keeping procedures at resorts are a part of this; if resorts are like prisons, it's because we want to consume the feeling of being guarded -- we want to taste the power of exclusion (which epitomizes class conflict generally) in one of its most concrete forms.

But when regular shmoes like me can be at a resort, the resort has clearly lost some of its exclusive appeal: Hence the ultraprivate resort within the resort the WSJ article notes:

Now some resorts are rolling out fancier service tiers that come with benefits blatantly visible to other guests, from private pools and beach areas in the middle of the grounds to guaranteed spots at crowded restaurants. Elite guests -- who pay an additional $40 to $900 or more per night -- also get nicer rooms and full access to the main resort. To distinguish them from the regular guests, many of whom are paying hefty rates of $400 to $1,000 a night, they sometimes get special bracelets or towels.
The writing here seems a bit slanted toward maximum populist outrage, but nevertheless it makes clear that consuming exclusivity is less a matter of achieving privacy (as is the case in some of the upgrades discussed) and more a matter of showing those beneath you what your money can buy, gloating in the VIP pool with your special wristband. If you pursue these special services, you actually want less privacy; you want more people to see you in all your luxuriousness. The desire to be seen enjoying privileges is an extension of the reality-TV mind-set, where having an audience is an essential ingredient for validation. But other resort guests don't want to be an audience; they want to consider themselves the stars too -- hence, the article's focus on the aggrieved hotel patrons discovering they are second class citizens.
The idea that others might be more important can spark a little vacation insecurity. During her weeklong visit to the 49-room Anse Chastanet Resort on St. Lucia last fall, at $475 a night, Rosaria Davies could see the five-month-old Jade Mountain extension every time she went for a swim on the beach. Guests there get their own restaurant, spa and pools, plus access to the main resort; nightly rates this season start at $1,150. "It looked great from afar," says the 37-year-old from London. When she and her husband had to wait an hour between the appetizers and main course at dinner one night, they wondered if Jade Mountain guests were being served more quickly. During the trip, the couple joked, "Are we chopped liver?" The hotel says it treats all of its guests equally.

Since everyone can't feel as though they are the only guest, treating everyone equally is the next-best thing -- a compensatory egalitarianism that nullify's our awareness of others -- being as we often only notice strangers through invidious comparison. But resorts are tempted by the allure of discriminatory pricing, reintroducing an aspect of the world (relentless status competition) many of us specifically go on vacation to escape.

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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