Music

Beat Crusaders: All You Can Eat

Patrick Schabe

Beat Crusaders

All You Can Eat

Label: Popkid
US Release Date: 2002-02-26
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Cross-cultural relevance. What is it? How do we define it? How do we measure it? How do we determine authenticity -- that thing which makes critics either shudder or sit up straight and act serious?

Japan's Beat Crusaders are just one in a long line of bands that can elicit these types of questions from a music writer. After all, we live in postmodern, times, an era marked by an awareness of and adherence to the idea of multiculturalism. We must respect the origins, backgrounds, and influences of various ethnic and national cultures. We battle with the terror of ethnocentrism, doing our damnedest not to promote a white or male or even an American standard by which all else must be judged.

Beat Crusaders don't set out to challenge us in this way. They're a band of punk-pop musicians doing their best to simply rock and get the listener to rock along with them. No cultural issues are tossed out like political platitudes in their music. No challenges to Western imperialism or Japanese hegemony are thrust in our faces. It's just music and nothing more.

But ethnocentrism is a double-edged blade. If we judge a "foreign" band using "our own" standards then we're being bigoted. If we ignore the particularities of a band's background and attempt a culture-free analysis, then we're eradicating unique identity. Writers and critics are backed into an increasingly shrinking corner. Does pop mean the same thing outside of the United States? We can look no further than differences in the use of the term in the United States versus Britain for examples of a "no" answer. And punk? When and where can we say that punk is authentic, if ever?

Even more complicated, we have to face the fact that the relationship between two countries is dynamic and unique to those parties. Again, the "across the pond" connections between the culture of Britain and the United States reveal both difference and shared influence. The same can be said of the relationship between Japan and the United States. For all the influence that Robotech cartoons and sushi have had on the US, the Japanese have dealt with Dallas and McDonalds. But, the question remains: is it fair to say that Shonen Knife is to Dressy Bessy as an idoru is to Britney Spears? Yes, they're comparable, but taken out of context it's hard to see how they fit into a dynamic picture in their native cultures.

All of this is, to be blunt, a disclaimer. Although I have a fair handle on punk, pop, and indie rock, I'm not an expert on Japanese culture. On the one hand, I can state how well (or not) Beat Crusaders fit into my Western opinions of these styles, but I have no idea how they play out when I append those styles with the prefix "Japanese". Thanks to the Internet, cable TV, and a subculture of Japanese fetishism, categories like J-pop and the like have an audience on this side of the Pacific, but it's still relatively small. And as much pleasure as I've taken in Japanese imports, I don't have any real clue as to the nature of the cultural arena in Japan.

To my Western ears, Beat Crusaders play a fun, spiky, and somewhat derivative version of punk-pop that owes a debt to the melodic indie rock of Weezer, an even heavier debt to Weezer-spin-offs the Rentals (with some Cars for good measure), and the snotty energy that lets Blink 182 laughingly call themselves punk. Yet Beat Crusaders aren't really an imitation of any of these bands. Combining '80s new wave synths, indie rock melodies, and punk energy isn't exactly unique, but it gives Beat Crusaders a distinct personality.

From the opening track, "GTS", with it's three-chord guitars and "whoo hoo hoo"s, Beat Crusaders set themselves up as your typical guitar rock band with pop flourishes. However, it's "Firestarter" that really encapsulates their sound. Sounding at once like any of dozens of "emo" bands, the Pixies, and an '80s retro band driven by chiming keyboards, Beat Crusaders manage to turn relatively simple music into a spunky, catchy and foot-tapping good time. Songs like "Sad Symphony" and "Joker in the Crotch", with it effects-laden riffs juxtaposed with a skanking guitar, are ultimately the reason for buying All You Can Eat. Fun tunes that are easy to remember and will stick in your head, poppy melodies on a loop, are hard to dismiss outright.

But from the perspective of an American audience, Beat Crusaders don't seem to be all that impressive. The US is saturated with punk-pop bands, even pretty decent, fun ones. Lead vocalist Hidaka definitely sounds like a Japanese person singing English, and he doesn't have an exceptionally harmonious voice, but the vocals on All You Can Eat aren't any worse (or even different) from those of dozens of other indie rock bands. The music is fun, especially with the emphasis on retro-styled keyboards, but it's not particularly inventive. So what makes them relevant?

Well, although All You Can Eat is the first American release for Beat Crusaders, they've put out prior material in their native Japan. Japanese audiences seem to be rather enamored of the band, and this latest album has already spawned three music videos there, including a clever clip for "Firestarter" that you can view at www.popkid.com. And without knowing much about the state of pop or rock or punk in Japan, who can say what level Beat Crusaders are playing at? After all, an American band that used a Sex Pistols nod by ending a song with a growled "Destroy!", especially in the same song that contains a break into a Jackson 5 funk groove, and this after a sunshine pop tune that cheerily intones "Everybody learning to be all together now" and sings of friendliness and tenderness, would be accused of base irony. But this disc never feels ironic, and this contradiction in American terms doesn't necessarily apply to other cultures.

This is, in all reality, unfair to the band. Beat Crusaders are certainly not asking to be held up as examples of the difficulty in communicating similar cultural forms in distinct cultural contexts, but why not? Were they simply an American act playing the exact same music, it would be easy to simply say "fun album, catchy songs, but a little sloppy and nothing earth-shattering" and leave it at that. But as a Japanese import, they invite a kind of difficulty for critics that is wholly contemporary. Not only are we forced to face how much of our understanding and appreciation of music comes from living within our own culture, but we have to try and give a fair and accurate assessments of a product from a different culture.

I don't have an answer to this situation. Perhaps the only truth that can be expressed is that individual reactions to any music will vary, regardless of origin. I can say that All You Can Eat is neither worthless nor essential to any fan of music. You wouldn't hate yourself for buying it, but it's probably not going to become your favorite album, either. Maybe all that's left for writers to say is to listen for yourself.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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