Comics

Blackgas #1-3

Jody Macgregor

A dirty secret of the privileged is locked away, here, like a skeleton in the closet with flesh still hanging from its bones.


Blackgas #1-3

Publisher: Avatar Press
Length: 23
Writer: Warren Ellis
Price: $3.99
Contributors: Artist: Max Fiumara
First date: 2006-01
Last date: 2006-05
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Zombies. You may have heard of them. Apparently they're kind of popular right now. You might also have heard of Warren Ellis, whose name goes above the title of Blackgas (the artist, Max Fiumara doesn't get a mention until the inside, poor guy). The story has it that Warren Ellis and zombies came together as part of a bet with the publisher.

"Hey Warren, I bet you can't write a zombie comic."

"You obviously haven't read Global Frequency #3. I bloody well can."

"Prove it then."

It's not the most deep and meaningful inspiration for writing a story ever, but this is zombies we're talking about here; deep and meaningful are entirely optional. That said, zombies have always made an excellent metaphor for whatever issue the writer feels like exploring. In Romero's movies they're the unwashed masses rising up to take the houses and malls of the privileged. In Peter Jackson's Brain Dead (a.k.a. Dead Alive), they're the reverse: a dirty secret of the privileged that has to be locked away, a skeleton in the closet with flesh still hanging from its bones. In Blackgas, the zombies represent us at our basest and most primitive: they kill, eat, procreate and that's all.

Yes, I said procreate. Warren Ellis has given us shagging zombies, the gloriously sick old man. There will be more than one scene that makes you go "Eeeuuwww."

In a clever twist, these zombies remain partially aware and continue talking post-zombification. That's not a totally new idea -- zombies have been talking since Return of the Living Dead let them moan "Braaaiiins" -- but Blackgas's zombies are more articulate than that. The gas of the book's title detaches the victims' higher brain functions and forces them to watch while lizard brains take over their bodies. Blackgas is at its most horrifying when the zombies look down at what they're doing and say things like "stop me this isn't me kill me", or worse, revel in what they're doing. As you might have guessed, especially if you've seen the gory alternate covers Avatar released, this is not a kid's book. Not even a little bit.

Between the covers of these three issues, Max Fiumara displays his gift for entrails and severed bits to the fullest. For a guy with a realistic-looking style, though, Fiumara's faces are a little too elastic -- there are moments when the characters are difficult to recognize because their faces seem to have undergone major surgery between panels -- but he has a good eye for shadows, and clearly knows how to use black to its fullest effect.

Blackgas is very cinematic in its structure, taking its format from American horror movies. The story starts with two good-looking kids, and everything is bright, sunny, idyllic, and safe for most of the first issue. Their dialogue is snappy and conveniently boils down everything we need to know about them. In the first conversation we learn that Soo is a California girl with a phobia of pike; her boyfriend Tyler is a liberal arts student; and they're on a trip to Smoky Island, off the north end of the east coast, to meet his folks -- all that in 10 panels. Hollywood scriptwriters could learn a few things from Ellis. Things go wrong for Soo and Tyler immediately after they have sex, because if dead-teenager movies teach us anything: it's that sex leads to trouble. They also teach us that we should avoid Native American burial grounds, and yes, Blackgas has one of those too -- of a kind. As you'd expect from a cinematic story there's an explosive climax and an opening for a sequel.

But Avatar droped the ball a little here, undercutting the ending by putting a block of text underneath the final panel that says "To be continued in Blackgas 2 #1, coming out in September, 2006." This detracts from the impact of the final scene and is unnecessary when there's already a full-page ad for the sequel in the book. Hawking the next story as soon as the current one ends is cheesy. It's like having "The End?" on a title card at the end of the movie. It's one of those clumsy, old-fashioned techniques like an over-reliance on thought balloons, sound effects, and motion lines that most of Ellis's work avoids (there's a single sound effect in Blackgas, one of few you'll find in his books).

That bit of carping aside, Blackgas is an original and well-crafted take on a subgenre that would, in less capable hands, be clichéd. The media may be saturated with zombies at the moment, but with stories like this to keep it going, our love affair with the undead isn't going to end any time soon. In fact, if Ellis has anything to do with it, it's going to be a literal love affair.

Eeeuuwww.

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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