Music

Destiny's Child: Survivor

Simon Warner

Destiny's Child

Survivor

Label: Columbia
US Release Date: 2001-05-01
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Pop history is as slippery as a Tom Parker, as mysterious as a Brian Epstein, as mercurial as a Malcolm McLaren. Like its great managerial movers and shakers, the tale we try to tell about the development of the music, is desperately hard to pin down. It is a story skewed by lies, damned lies and histrionics, a saga in which commerce has generally victored over artistic purity, whites have had the upperhand at the expense of blacks, and men have all too often marginalised women to be the point of near invisibility.

Yet the last decade or so has suggested that even those apparently immoveable shibboleths of the industry are actually shakeable. By the end of the 1980s, the Anglo-American white rock hegemony had been fatally punctured by the rise of dance, hip-hop and the rhythms of the world. The 1990s would see women dominate the best-selling artists lists, taking seven of the top ten places. Even if economics continues to dominate over aesthetics, there are signs of a significant shift in those other key areas.

But these refreshing indicators mask other inequalities, other injustices. Even while Madonna and the Spice Girls, Alanis Morissette and Mariah Carey, Shania Twain and others, move more platinum than their male counterparts, the business of music -- the corporate globalism of the five majors -- remains in the hands of men. And innovative female music-makers -- those in indie bands and DJs, for example -- are sidelined for reasons of their sex rather than their talent. An ugly male DJ can become the cover darling of a dance mag; the woman who chooses the turntables as her creative mode must look like Cameron Diaz.

Which leads us, in a roundabout fashion, to the girl group and a debate that refuses to go away. Even if girl power was merely a shallow platitude that would infect the British tabloid press in the wake of the Spice Girls and their extraordinary debut year in 1997, the questions about gender power relations that such sloganising generated have not disappeared so quietly. When a commentator of the status of Camille Paglia is introducing Madonna (predictably) and the Spice Girls (more surprisingly) into her analysis of Third Wave feminism, we should ignore the signals at our peril.

Paglia feels that after the early century, political struggles of the Suffragettes and the anti-pleasure consoriousness of the Women's Liberation movement, this latest phase sees women rock and pop artists offering new and liberating role models to both equity feminists like herself and the latest generation of girl music fans.

But the strident confidence of a Paglia is one thing. How do we, as ordinary listeners and viewers -- particularly as male listeners and viewers -- make sense of the argument that lissome, breathtakingly attractive women, dressed in a figure-curving, flesh-revealing finery, equal liberation? Or do we as listeners and viewers -- particularly male listeners and viewers -- lie back and passively, ecstatically, feast on the erotic blancmange?

Destiny's Child, currently the hottest of these post-pubescent properties, raise all these issues in my mind, yet proceed to produce some of the most exciting pop meets dance meets R&B of the moment. The fact that the (present) trio pout and pose like airbrushed sex kittens should, perhaps, be set to one side and their recordings left to carry the day. Yet their promotional shots and videos reveal no intention of playing down the glamour goddess ticket; next to them, the Spice Girls are relegated to the realm of workaday mortals, mere girls-next-door, as everyday English would have it.

Throw in too, the Christianity quotient -- the God-loving, God-fearing ingredient -- and you have a vehicle ready to steamroller even an ardent, if weakening, Southern fundamentalist. In the UK, such religious posturing is now so dangerously unfashionable that it would generally, in itself, guarantee instant failure on these shores, but so eye-catchingly do Destiny's Child flaunt their physical beings that the ever cynical British audience has, it seems, proved capable of forgetting the group's claimed spiritual allegiances. However, to more thinking members of the congregation on this side of the water, there does appear to be something paradoxical about that combination of gold, hot-pant minimalism and full-blooded, head on faith.

But to the music. The second album Survivor is significant not just because it already contains two smash singles -- the Charlie's Angels-linked "Independent Women Part I" and the title tune -- and is certain to eventually equal, more likely outstrip, the sales figures of the first album, but more so because the album's eponymous song is said to provide an account of the group's somewhat tortured resume, rather than a tribute to the trials and traumas of recent reality TV.

Haemorraghing members along the way, the group's short life has left a trail of broken hearts and litigation in its swell. But the dominating influence of the Knowles clan on their progress is hard to evade: daughter Beyonce is the 19-year-old wunderkind of the act, principal composer, main face, prime voice and LP producer, while father Mathew is the act's manager who has deemed it necessary to jettison long term players and eventually reduce the old four-piece to a re-configured trio.

That said, on this disc, all three girls get their lead vocal crack, and one of the most appealing features of the performances is the interplay between Beyonce, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, swooping, weaving to fine collective effect on "Sexy Daddy", for example.

There is also a commendable variety to the album -- the upbeat fem-funk of "Nasty Girl" (surely a single to come) is balanced by the minor key balladry of "Fancy" not to mention an extended sacred coda -- a four song gospel medley -- which showcases the songbirds exceedingly well even if the sentiments brush uneasily with the grit and grind of some of the other material. Yet it has perhaps always been so: since the rise of soul the secular and the sexual, the divine and the spiritual, have never been that far apart.

But what about girl power? The Spice Girls, to contradict recent media histories, did not invent the girl group. From the Supremes to TLC, from the Ronettes to En Vogue, girlfriends have been doing it for themselves, if not always by themselves. Gordy and Spector loom large in those early testaments, and the Spices themselves relied heavily on male management, writers and producers. Yet Destiny's Child -- all ridiculously young -- and Beyonce Knowles specifically, seem to have a significant stake in the composing and producing credits that feature here. It's a small step for women, but it maybe a larger step for womenkind. Black and beautiful, these three glamazons, these simmering sirens of Jesus, may prove to have more than just staying power.

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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