Reviews

Control

Despite occasional strange and impossibly intimate reveries, the film lapses frequently into biopickish shorthand.


Control

Director: Anton Corbijn
Cast: Sam Riley, Samantha Morton, Alexandra Maria Lara, Joe Anderson, James Anthony Pearson
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Weinstein Company
First date: 2007
UK Release Date: 2007-10-05 (General release)
US Release Date: 2007-10-10 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer
When your time's on the door,

And it drips to the floor,

And you feel you can touch,

All the noise is too much,

And the seeds that are sown,

Are no longer your own.

-- Joy Division, "Leaders of Men"

Rendered in starkly poetic black and white, Control's version of Ian Curtis is seductive, sad, and unsurprising. The movie traces the last eight years or so of the artist's short life, that is, events that will be well known to even the most casual followers of Joy Division, the band he fronted until his suicide at age 23. Still, the film is compelling, not for its plot or even its resonant imagery (first time director Anton Corbijn is a longtime rock photographer) but for its consideration of pop music's mythologizing, the process by which artists are turned into icons.

Certainly, it helps to die young. Incarnating his beauty and distress, actor Sam Riley brings a kind of slouchy resolve. Frustrated and ambitious, Curtis first appears here as a teenager in Macclesfield, in the Northwest of England, boyish and beautiful, self-aware but also careless. Smoking cigarettes and listening to David Bowie sing “Jean Genie” in his bedroom, he imagines his own stardom. A mirror reflects his idealized self-image, his chest pale and skinny, his eye-liner thick. If music is not precisely a means to self-expression, it does allow a transformation, a reimagined identity that might be performed to perfection. The yearning Curtis in this early scene is a fan before he's an artist, wanting so much to be elsewhere and someone else that he looks haunted, as if pursued by a ghost from his future.

At these moments, imagining how Curtis came to be, Control reveals its own possibilities. Such brief shots of the unknown (maybe pre-known) Ian Curtis, too unformed and private even for Deborah Curtis’ memoir, Touching From a Distance (from which Matt Greenhalgh adapted the screenplay), are both more and less truthful than the more banal reenactments of his striking stage performances (Riley sings the songs himself, effectively imitating Curtis' memorable baritone) or recording sessions. Like so many rock stars, he creates his own myth based on myths that come before, determined to be different and original even though, everyone knows, industry machinery cannot brook actual difference.

Just so, despite such occasional strange and impossibly intimate reveries (this is how Curtis sees himself, looks at his father, and ponders grey Manchester), the film lapses frequently into biopickish shorthand. Working at the Unemployment Office, he sees a girl have an epileptic fit, leading to the discovery of his own epilepsy and also to his penning of the song "She's Lost Control." When he and his young wife Debbie (Samantha Morton) have a fight, he writes "Love Will Tear Us Apart." Repeatedly, the film's Curtis goes through plot motions: he meets bandmates Bernard Sumner (James Anthony Pearson) and Peter Hook (Joe Anderson) at a Sex Pistols concert. They team with Stephen Morris (Harry Treadway) to form Joy Division in 1977, go on road trips and sign with a manager Rob Gretton (Toby Kebbel). Curtis meets journalist and translator Annik Honoré (Alexandra Maria Lara), with whom he has an affair.

The girls in the film are predictably symbolic, embodiments of Curtis' conflicts. Debbie, frequently depicted with baby and laundry, remains his emblem of domestic security and, as made utterly plain here, dingy disappointment. Annik is stereotypically glamorous and doting, the forever fan who comes along on every road trip, the beauty who gazes on him from the bobbing-and-throbbing crowd. Debbie finds out, leading to quarrels and guilt and reckless lies. "It was hard to get to a phone," he murmurs, not really caring whether Debbie believes him. When he suggests it's okay if she wants to "sleep with other men," she's horrified, not only because it confirms her fear that he is indeed having an affair, but also that he finds this roundabout way to tell her, a way that involves dismissing her fundamental faith in him. The scene, shot on street outside their home, ends with her frumping out of frame, his dawdling behind her, alone, indicating his lack of language, empathy, and will. He doesn’t want to make a decision, and the film doesn't delve into why.

Through all the clichés, though, Control does offer insights, mostly into how clichés work, how rock stardom is ever reiterated. You could say that this parallel narrative is up against it, as it revisits an era quite cleverly deconstructed in Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People. But, like the Bowie-reverie scene in baby Curtis' bedroom, invocations of the "boys" watching TV or appearing on Tony Wilson's (Craig Parkinson) Granada Reports and signing to his label, Factory Records. Throughout the manufacturing process -- the interviews and the performances -- Curtis appears reluctant but intrigued, not so much committed to stardom (he hangs himself on the eve of the band's first American tour) as going along.

The film's examination of Curtis' seeming passivity "from a distance" grants his mythology -- as damaged, resistant rock star -- a kind of nostalgic weight. The damage is carefully framed: the suicide takes place off screen, as does Debbie's reaction to finding the body, her screams coming from within their modest Manchester home, before she bursts into the street, her pain the sign of his enduring mythology. And the resistance is made romantic: if this Curtis articulates a rather conventional opposition to pop stardom ("They want more, they expect me to give more"), beyond Curtis, stardom remains mystified and implacable, a function of genius and singularity, a cover-up for the deals and machinations that make it go. In this sense, the notion of "control" is key. Lacking control of his body, Curtis gives up control over his career and his life. It's the rock star bargain.

6

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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