Tetuzi Akiyama: Don't Forget to Boogie

Lee Henderson

Tetuzi Akiyama

Don't Forget to Boogie

Label: Idea

You've seen those kind of half-crazed, super enthusiastic guys on city corners with their pawn shop electric guitars and lousy, toaster-sized amplifiers, hoping to make a bit of cash by rocking out some massively tangential, fuzzy, insanely repetitive blues riffs? How they always wear leather vests and feathered fedoras? You start to wonder, "Who are these guys, and why is there at least a half dozen of them in every city in North America?" Now we know there's at least one of those dudes in Japan, too, and he's got a recording deal. Tetuzi Akiyama might actually be best known for his gentle, abstract improvisations on guitar, but on Don't Forget to Boogie he celebrates the raw and dirty, street-level sounds of the blues. This is a tribute to the rebel heroes of the electric guitar, an instrument Akiyama describes in the liner notes as "the greatest invention of the twentieth century." And there's just something incredibly, vociferously addictive about this album, which is basically a series of savage, endless guitar licks ripped from the likes of AC/DC, B.B. King, and John Lee Hooker. But with Akiyama's fingers, using the concept of the beat-up guitar and amp, the rhythm and blues sound so fresh, so alive, that it feels as if he's brought our attention to an element we forgot existed in rock music.

No question, Tetuzi Akiyama is one of Japan's leading avant-garde musicians, a guitarist who's released four solo records now (his most very recent, enha4, a limited edition CD, is only available in Japan) and a handful of stunning collaborations, with the likes of Otomo Yoshihide, Taku Sugimoto, Bo Wiget, and many others. Along with Sugimoto, he's often attributed as one of the first members of a rag-tag group of musicians in Japan whose sound is commonly called "onkyo" -- roughly translating as "reverberating sound" -- a philosophy of improvisation that holds silence in high esteem. It's an expression of sound easily aligned with John Cage, but came about also as a more direct response to the noise music that dominated the Japanese underground, via Merzbow and Boredoms and Keiji Haino. After all that squall, something had to give. Either a musician had to compete for decibels with the ultra-noise of Japanese culture, or, as Sugimoto and Akiyama decided, compete for silence.

Don't Forget to Boogie isn't a quiet record, but the onkyo philosophy is still somewhat in action here, with tracks like "Money, Love Rock", a two-minute jam of squealing guitar picking that fades in and out with funny silences as if the amp is going on the fritz. Comes as no surprise that Toshimaru Nakamura (an expert on the mixing board) edited the album -- the experimental edges to this release are subtle and smartly consistent with the style of playing. Next up, the ten-minute swamp dirge "Dead or..." is pure, adulterous rhythm, built for knucklehead bobs, and has the kind of unblinking bloodshot focus and length of a total stoner-rock jam, like it's been played by a kid in his basement high on sparkling bud, hours spent on his discovery of this seriously hypnotic blues progression, strummed until his fingers go numb.

It's also really necessary to comment on the packaging of this vinyl-only release, because the packaging is so jaw-droppingly gorgeous and in keeping with the fetishistic high quality that has become as much a part of the notoriety of the IDEA label as the music itself, so much so that it becomes an integral part of a listener's full appreciation of the sounds. The hilarious image of Akiyama on the cover sitting beside a dozen bottles of booze, a pile of skulls, a tommy gun, gold change pouring out of his guitar case (he is, after all, the greatest rock 'n' roll street musician), cigarettes, the requisite fedora and vest, a deluxe guitar, a framed Hell's Angels poster, and, inexplicably, a tall glass of milk, represent a message of playful revelry in the badass tropes of rock 'n' roll.

The gold inlaid text on the OBI strip that fits the sleeve's edge reminds us that the tribute comes from Japan. And the vinyl-only distribution of this release harkens back to the golden age when rock music faded into huffing murmurs after too many repeated plays on the old turntable with a needle as dull as a fingernail, which is exactly how this record sounds -- pre-played. The second side of the album also explores the genre with a slightly different approach, so it's appropriate to have to go through the rigamarole of consciously flipping the record to hear side B. There's a kind of Terry Riley or Tony Conrad type of sonic minimalism that pervades side B. The open-ness and simplicity expands Akiyama's approach to the blues into terrain that might feel closer to his roots in the abstractions of his local improv scene. Sometimes I love side A more, and sometimes I love side B more. I don't always flip the record, in other words, I just put the tone arm back to the start. Few records are so satisfying, so fun, so exciting, and so innovative. This kind of magic occurs just frequently enough in the music industry that every year I discover something I never thought could exist so perfectly. Don't Forget to Boogie happens to be my pick for the best record of 2003.

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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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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