Reviews

SXSW: Classic Collabs

Brian Bartels
Photo: Alan McKendree

PopMatters dives back into SXSW, reviewing a series of classic collabs between artists like Pete Townshend, Willy Mason, Martha Wainwright, Gift of Gab, Lyrics Born, and Galactic.

Pete Townshend

SXSW: Classic Collabs

City: Austin, Texas
Venue: Various Venues
Date: 2007-03

ATTIC JAM w/ PETE TOWNSHEND, MARTHA WAINWRIGHT, MIKA, and more

15 March 2007 @ La Zona Rosa So I couldn’t make it into the stupid Pete Townshend conversation/interview the day before. All was lost. Or so I believed, until an industry insider gave me the heads-up on this delightful late-afternoon distraction, a special SXSW series of one-off collabs. Singer-songwriter Rachel Fuller, a UK artist and Mr. Townshend’s special ladyfriend, introduced each singer-songwriter performer, starting with the night’s featured guest and, aptly, SXSW’s guest-of-honor. Pete Townshend, dressed in a black suit with a white shirt and red bandanna, picked up his acoustic guitar with ease as Fuller announced that the two of them would play periodically throughout the night. Each artist introduced would play three songs, the first a solo dive, an introspective take on what they gravitate to when alone with a guitar, harmonica, or piano. Townshend started off the show with a Quadrophenia track to loosen up the muscles. Not that it was necessary, but his playfulness won over the crowd instantly. “I’ll close the show, I’ll open the show, and in the middle, I’ll ruin it.” The artists Ms. Fuller introduced throughout the night included Willy Mason, Mika, Joe Purdy, Martha Wainwright, and Alexi Murdoch. Martha Wainwright single-handedly made me forget Pete Townshend was on the same stage. Her voice was a safe passage into dusk-dropping reveries, and Fuller’s voice had flashes of Carly Simon’s honeyed trickle, working its way around her graceful, seemingly good-girl image. She introduced a song, “Cigarettes and Housekeeping,” by explaining, “There’s really nothing more to this song than what the titles suggests, which was smoking fags all day and cleaning the house naked, really.” Joe Purdy and his harmonica brought out Mr. Townshend for a stripped-down “Let My Love Open the Door,” trading vocals and cooing the version into a quiet whisper. Alexi Murdoch was the last singer-songwriter showcased, bringing vocals of twilight blue horizons through a layered hush. I never thought I’d say this, but what a sensational reprieve from the rock. A showcase of talented artists -- young and old -- playing beautiful music alone and together. It speaks volumes for how we aim to please the creative urges inside each of us, whether it be across a canvas, dribbling full court toward a basketball net, raising children, or turning simple notes and chords into magical measures. Did I mention this guy Townshend? He finished the nearly three-hour set by reading a Who song over Ms. Fuller’s hypnotic piano, and the last song was an older Who number that he was positive had never been played before, until that evening. How does one soak up this experience? How can I explain seeing this event in the middle of a festival? This person onstage was a direct order from my brother if I ever wished to really feel the music of our time. This opportunity will almost never come again. “Time of my life,” Ms. Wainwright stated earlier. I couldn’t agree more.


GALACTIC with LRICS BORN, GIFT of GAB, and BOOTS RILEY

17 March 2007 @ Stubbs What? Funk with hip-hop lyrics? Salted and peppered through rock riffs? What could be wrong with that stew? The crowd immediately gravitated toward the stage as Blackalicious’ Gift of Gab took the reins alongside Galactic. It’s a shock that these artists haven’t brought their talents together sooner (the good news being a forthcoming album where each song presents a different hip-hop talent backed by the legendary New Orleans quintet). I’ve always been fond of Galactic. The very good friends who were kind enough to let me crash with them during SXSW were the very people responsible for introducing me to the band’s eclectic, experimental sound. The founding members have a punk background, while others combine genres (New Orleans jazz/R&B, Southern-cooked keyboards, anything brass). Gift started off with a slow drip that spread into a verbal attack on the Pabst Blue Ribbon-chugging listeners, typing his lyrics into the air faster and faster as the song continued. Lyrics Born, meanwhile, arrived in St. Patty’s Day green, working the crowd into a frenzy with his scratchy vocals as the audience began to catapult into the thick bass-beat laid down by virtuoso drummer Stanton Moore. The only complaint was Lyrics Born’s inclusion -- he only had one song to bring down the house! The other artists reached three, but time was an issue, so they had to cut it short and play the song from the new album, which was by far my favorite. Less is more, kids. Sadly, the band had to quit, but it was well worth the brevity of what’s in store down the road. Nothing wrong with dope hip-hop spread over an Austin ice cream sandwich of funk and awesome.

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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