Music

Dan Deacon and Jimmy Joe Roche: Ultimate Reality

A full collective, American unconsciousness of glorious Saturday morning cartoons-and-sugar-cereal overstimulation.

Dan Deacon and Jimmy Joe Roche

Ultimate Reality [DVD]

Label: Carpark
US Release Date: 2007-11-20
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Pablo Picasso observed that "all art is theft" and so it was: classical composers cribbed from folk melodies and each other, Dadaists recaptioned or reassembled magazine illustrations, Andy Warhol endlessly reproduced the printed images of products and celebrities, Roy Lichtenstein enlarged and manipulated single comic book panels for maximum impact. With the Situationist movement of '60s France, the concept of modifying cultural artifacts specifically to contradict and undermine the originals and their socio-political context (already very much a part of the Dada aesthetic) was rechristened détournement, the French word for diversion, distortion, and deflection. Since then, thanks to the efforts of such groups as the Billboard Liberation Front, Adbusters magazine, cultural-critique artists like Ron English, and anyone who has ever altered the message on a subway ad poster with a sharpie, the practice has been kept alive.

In the last 20 years or so, music has proved a fertile medium for new innovations in détournement, from John Oswald's genre-spawning "plunderphonics", through Negativland's ongoing campaigns (against abuse of copyright law, out-of-control advertising, and rabid news media), to the Evolution Control Commitee's creation of the first modern "mash-ups" (from Herb Alpert and Public Enemy) and Napster-exploiting promotional schemes. With the increasing viability of the personal computer as home-recording studio around the turn of the century, home-made audio détournement only picked up momentum, spawning or enabling labels like Spasticated and V/vm. I'm uncertain of when exactly artists began making the leap to video, but stunning examples like "Gimme the Mermaid" by ever-influential Negativeland (working with renegade Disney animator Tim Maloney), and the works of newer collective Paul Harvey Oswald (and really the entirety of Stay Free Magazine's Illegal Art exhibit) attest to the potential of the form.

Baltimore's Jimmy Joe Roche is a junk artist, the video equivalent of one of those sculptors who solders together old car parts, furniture, and decades of cultural flotsom and jetsom into edifices of pop-art and social commentary (détourning, often, simply as a matter of process). Such sculptors create physical junk art from the debris of the modern world, but Roche's disjointed, blue-screen-technology-abusing chunks of Baltimore Shopping Network or banana-promotion infomercial are divided only by format. His clips of film seem equally derived from sifting through trash culture, and seem equally to encourage accusations of just being a bunch of trash, however packaged. If anything, this scrutiny of discarded pop-culture has only intensified with Ultimate Reality, Roche's recent collaboration with Wham City house-mate and rapid-rising naive-electro talent Dan Deacon. But even still soundly in the trash-art arena, and still composed entirely of sampled existing video clips, Ultimate Reality is easily his most polished work -- dense, psychedelic, hypnotic -- and the one most likely to attract both critical and popular attention.

Knowingly or not, Ultimate Reality fits easily into the détournement lineage mapped out above. The first of the 35-minute film's three mostly-independent segments instantly recalls détournement's inherent politics by opening with a shot of California's republican governor brandishing a broadsword as fighter jets blow up a bridge behind him. While that almost sounds plausible in the current American political landscape, the shot is in fact a composite. Governor Schwarzenegger appears bare-chested, flowing-haired, muscle-bound: it is footage from Conan the Barbarian. The jets, however topical, were lifted directly from True Lies.

Whatever the context, however, Ultimate Reality proves to be purely enjoyable viewing. The simple source material (entirely derived from various Schwarzenegger films) quickly builds up, through endless mirroring, layering, chopping, and re-touching, into a kaleidoscopic tapestry of kitsch. Flaming silhouettes flail across the screen in stereo over a seductive Jamie Lee Curtis and spinning helicopter rotors and galloping horsemen, all breaking through one another and pulsing with unearthly colors. Roche himself appropriately describes the results as "a mandala projected from the third eye of suburban back yards, cracked drive ways, and dusty VCR's": even as it dismantles and reconfigures, it cannot help projecting the heady mysticism of nostalgia, of slow afternoons marveling at the pyrotechnics of Commando. And gaudy as the forms and colors can be, there's often an undeniable beauty to the resulting arrangements. At times it's easy to lose track of the specifics and be swallowed up in the pleasures of vivid, flittering abstraction.

Dan Deacon may not be the same variety of cultural saboteur, creating his musical arrangements out of primarily original components, but his euphoric arpeggios and candy-colored synth stabs are nonetheless a fitting companion piece to Roche's visuals. Eschewing any trace of his usual heavily manipulated vocals, Deacon builds sweeping instrumental epics that ebb and flow continuously to match the on-screen intricacies, looping hypnotically in a manner that never jars or distracts from the rest (ultimately, it's Roche's show here -- Deacon independently bowled us over with last year's Spiderman of the Rings). Everything is masterfully synced and coordinated to a degree that suggests both components were composed in unison, beats speeding to a swirling, vibrating thrum precisely in time with epileptic bursts of flashing, slo-mo barbarian invaders. Even Deacon's squeals and slurps of atonal electronic noise find their ready analogue in the video's cacophonously jumbled clarity.

All this happens in the first ten minutes. For the next segment, Roche slows things down with glacially inching footage from perhaps less fondly remembered Schwarzenegger efforts like Kindergarten Cop and Junior, agonizingly prolonging shots of a third-trimester terminator in lamas class and the classroom, Deacon oozing keys and sparse percussion along in time. Brilliantly, they also work in segments of scrolling decoupaged plot-synopses detailing Detective John Kimble's mission to avoid killer cyborgs, whatever is lurking in the jungle, and flunking out of high school, all while protecting the "man-womb". This piece builds slowly as it progresses, eventually incorporating many of of the tricks of the first, before giving way to the frenzied orgy of mutants, robots, and magma that makes up the third and final part. (Bonus inclusion of a couple of older Deacon/Roche music videos extend the video to a full 45 minutes of material, perhaps more interesting for the light they shed on the collaborative building blocks in Roche and Deacon's past.)

Ultimate Reality is a strangely exhilarating cultural artifact, squeezing equal (however conflicting) parts sun-bleached nostalgia, ecstatic new-rave seizure, Situationist guerrilla-culture, bitterly hysterical current-events commentary, Timothy Leary's psychedelic religion, copyright and fair use crusade, and mass-media meltdown, into a full collective-American-unconsciousness of glorious Saturday morning cartoons-and-sugar-cereal overstimulation. Really, all or none of those things are inherent to the film, existing clearly but fleetingly for whoever seeks them in its shifting mosaics, and still furnishing those who seek nothing at all with more than enough amusement and entertainment. Perhaps just forget everything I said; it's inconsequential to enjoyment. But if you want to prod at it for more, go ahead. In this way Ultimate Reality is least-common-denominator art where the denominator really does belong equally to everyone: modern culture scholars and couch-bound stoners will likely find equal reason to rhapsodize. As complex, fantastic, and alarming as the American cultural landscape into which it is being launched.

8

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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