DJ Krush: The Message at the Depth

Ari Levenfeld

DJ Krush

The Message at the Depth

Label: Red Ink
US Release Date: 2003-02-11
UK Release Date: 2002-10-14

Ten years ago, it was difficult for American hip-hop audiences to finally accept that strong MCs and DJs were coming out of the West Coast. But as left-coast gangsta' rap began to dominate headphones and Impala speakers in the late eighties and early nineties, a growing resentment started to build in the New York-based cradle of hip-hop. The bile turned caustic as producers like Dr. Dre rebuilt top-forty radio with a new blueprint called G-Funk. Leaning heavily on hooks from James Brown and George Clinton songs, the West Coast variety proved that rap music could be effectively sold to every demographic in America, from metropolitan roots to the planned communities of suburbia. Sure, there's a lot more to the entire East Coast/West Coast rap debate than this. Music critics have written entire books on the subject. But it all basically stems from a conflict of styles. That's why it's difficult to understand how a turntablist like DJ Krush could be so widely accepted, and even admired. After all, DJ Krush is from way past the West Coast.

Born and raised in Japan, Krush credits the traveling Wild Style tour of the early eighties with introducing him to hip-hop. When he witnessed the infamous break-dancing and turntable crew performing in a Tokyo department store in 1984, he was inspired. The next day he went out and bought a turntable, mixer and sampler, and began scratching immediately. In 1987 he formed the Krush Posse with members of the local hip-hop scene, including his brother. But this early work was more of an imitation of what was happening in America than a distinct style of its own. By the early nineties Krush had broken off from this group and began exploring varieties that were all his own. By then his fascination with international jazz found its way into the music he was mixing. The work attracted the attention of Gangstarr's Guru, whose 1993 album Jazzmatazz Vol. 1 would try to work the magic with jazz and hip-hop stateside. Krush worked with Guru, as well Black Thought from the Roots, on Meiso, his 1996 album. Meiso also featured a collaboration with DJ Shadow that marked the arrival of the genre we now refer to as trip-hop. In fact, many credit Krush with helping to invent trip-hop. His later ground-breaking work mixing avant garde jazz trumpeter Toshinori Kondo on the album Ki-Oku, is complex and unique. It might be one of the best jazz albums to come out of the last decade.

Krush's latest album, The Message at the Depth, ignores much of his previous jazz and trip-hop work. Instead, he utilizes the musical platform to question the nature of truth and conflict in the world, as we teeter on the brink of war. The CD feels more electronic than his previous work, leaning on his sampler for much of the sound manipulation to get his point across. The layered fragments are sharp, like freshly cut aluminum. Their resonating tones leave a metallic taste in your mouth as you struggle to make sense of Krush's new message. In a way, the irritated quality that Krush produces seem like a person who's drunk way too many cups of coffee, or maybe something even stronger. But all the while you'll notice that your head is bobbing and your foot is tapping.

Tracks like "Toki No Tabiji (Journey of Time)" and "Sanity Requiem" resonate like a symphony of insects. They're powerful pieces to throw at the beginning of the album, with "Toki No Tabiji (Journey of Time)" featuring a hard-sounding newcomer Japanese MC named Inden. It's clear from listening to these two tracks that DJ Krush has moved far beyond the mere art of scratching. The beat is a stuttered amalgamation of bass booms and drum machines, all slowed way down. Krush's technical skills are amazing, with his ability to build a beat seemingly out of thin air. He's managed to construct a totally new way of meshing rhythms.

The rest of the album is an interesting pastiche of guest appearances -- from the gifted Angelina Esparza, who sings like a more sultry Tori Amos (if that's possible) to underground hip-hop acts like Opus. In fact, most of the collaborations on the album are with artists known for bridging the gap between genres. Sly and Robbie, for example, whose 1970s and 80s style dub influenced just about every modern musical variety on the planet. Or Anti-Pop Consortium, rap artists who have dabbled in electronica.

The short "Supreme Team" features flow from Anti-Pop Consortium and a plodding, big beat sound, like furniture being moved around on the ceiling. Anti-Pop's smart rhymes and underground hip-hop sound work well with Krush's steady beats. The hooks he creates aren't anything you've heard before, but still subtle enough not to compete with the vocals. This is one of the album's highlights, flowing as though DJ Krush and Anti-Pop Consortium were meant to play together. Krush tends to have that effect on a lot of artists.

He teams up with underground rapper Anticon on the oddball "Song for John Walker". This ode to the man dubbed "The American Taliban", captured in Afghanistan during the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, sums up the feeling of the entire album. Anticon's style is as absurd as the rhymes in this song, and it's interesting to see the lack of seriousness that Krush devotes to the central idea of the album. "We know John Walker / We know John Walker" is repeated in each chorus, and the song asks us to think about how different this so-called terrorist is from the people we grew up with, or those that lead us.

Krush goes so far as to team up with the world's most famous rhythm-section. Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare add their trademark to "The Lost Voices", collaborators who are better known by their first names. Krush uses the track as a good excuse to lighten things up somewhat. Still, the dub only barely masks the ominous feeling that dominates The Message at the Depth. This might be Krush's first attempt at mixing dub, at least on record, and he proves his skills easily here. The track also sets up the album's epilogue nicely. "What About Tomorrow", featuring vocals from reggae singer Ras Abijah, serves Krush's case against the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and at the same time asks what we're going to do to make the future better than the present. "What About Tomorrow" sees DJ Krush dipping into the dub realm once again, while maintaining the somber tone of the rest of the album. It's the lyrics that flicker hopefully, an unusual way for a turntablist to go out. But then, this has always been DJ Krush's hallmark, and most intriguing quality. He's not so rooted in a style or scene that he won't turn on a dime to get his message across, without going coastal.

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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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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