Reviews

Donald Glaude + Misstress Barbara

Andy Hermann
Donald Glaude + Misstress Barbara

Donald Glaude + Misstress Barbara

City: Los Angeles
Venue: Spundae @ Circus
Date: 2002-02-23

Donald Glaude
Misstress Barbara
Anyone who thinks DJs are boring to watch has never witnessed the crowd-pleasing (or crowd-pandering, depending on your point of view) antics of Donald Glaude. Glaude doesn't just get up there and spin records, he cheerleads for them -- raising his hands, yelling at the crowd, dancing, mugging, spinning equalizer knobs with as much vehemence as a B-movie mad scientist throwing switches on a doomsday machine. Once I saw him step out from behind the decks and run back and forth across the edge of the stage, urging the crowd into a frenzy during one particularly over-the-top build. It was nothing the lead singer of any rock band hasn't done a million times, but in the furrowed-brow, acerbic world of club DJs, it was as startling as watching Pete Townsend smash a guitar. DJs aren't supposed to be this demonstrative. Misstress Barbara works in the more traditional mode -- about the closest she gets to playing entertainer is to flash the crowd a smile every now and then. Not that she needs to do much else, because her striking looks alone make her more fun to watch than the vast majority of DJs, who tend to be average-looking guys with thinning hair and zero fashion sense. But despite their differences in personal styles, musically Donald Glaude and Misstress Barbara are on the same page. Both specialize in hard tech house dressed up with elements of breakbeat and funk, and both are famous for spinning the kind of sets that leave fans of this stuff in a sweaty, rubber-legged heap by the end of the night -- no quiet moments, just one raise-the-roof build and bangin' beat on top on another. And both happen to be on the same label, Moonshine Records, so sending them out on tour together was a foregone conclusion. At L.A.'s mega-club Spundae, however, I thought the pairing left a little to be desired, and I don't think I was the only one. Although there were plenty of enthusiastic fans crowding around the turntables for both sets, the dance floor was far less packed than usual, and except for a few moments early in Glaude's set, the energy in the room never quite reached roof-raising levels. Part of this, to be sure, must be blamed on the L.A. club scene, where trance is still king and Glaude and Barbara's edgier, more tech-heavy style just attracts fewer fans. This is especially true at Spundae, which I still love as a club, but which has emerged over the past year as the Starbuck's of dance venues. They deliver quality, sure, but the experience has grown somewhat generic, and they draw way more than their fair share of suburban twentysomethings just looking to get laid. And in one of those chicken-or-egg scenarios, the marquee DJs that Spundae attracts seem more and more often guilty of "dumbing down" their sets for the weekend warrior crowd. Jazzy and deep house DJs get harder and thumpier, trance DJs get cheesier, and tech house DJs seem to lose their sense of groove and go off the bangin' beat deep end. This was my first time hearing Misstress Barbara, so I can't accuse her of altering her style for the punters, but it certainly seemed to me like Glaude was sloppier and less stylistically adventurous than I've heard him be in previous sets. Glaude took the decks at around 11:30 and got off to a strong start with a string of tracks that featured funky, infectious riffs and few vocals. He dropped in Daft Punk's "Burnin'", but otherwise stuck to material that was less familiar but no less crowd-pleasing. Later he pandered to the masses a bit more with a house mix of Blondie's "Heart of Glass" and the original, Giorgio Moroder, synth-cheese version of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love". Corny? You betcha. But this is actually, I think, where Glaude is at his best -- mixing familiar tunes and funky, accessible riffs with edgier, more challenging techno sounds, and using his sunny stage presence and slashing, high-energy mixing style to keep the crowd with him through both extremes. Over the course of his set, however, Glaude seemed to me to lose it, abandoning quality control in a relentless effort to fire up the Spundae crowd even more than it already was. His mixing grew at once flashier and messier, as he jiggled his master fader between tracks that weren't quite beat-matched, and repeatedly dropped out all sound to yell, "make some fuckin' noise!" (Predictably, the crowd made less noise every time he did this.) By the time he started working the sliders with his teeth, I was looking for the bar. I think the DJ-as-cheerleader concept is a fine one, but even I have my limits. After Glaude's over-the-top circus act, you might think that Misstress Barbara's cooler approach to the decks would offer a welcome change of pace. And for about five minutes it did, but then it became increasingly apparent that Barbara was going to stick to one style for most of her two-hour set -- namely, screechy, bangin', frenetic techno, with lots of heavily filtered, trebly builds and nary an ounce of funk or soul to be heard. I have DJ friends who are in awe of Misstress Barbara's technical skills -- and for all I know she's the da Vinci of turntables -- but this was like watching her spend all night working on a single charcoal sketch when I had expected to see the collected works. Okay, I'm exaggerating. A few of Barbara's tracks had more going for them than ear-splitting high-hats and bone-shuddering kick drums. I recognized a couple of the funkier cuts off her latest Moonshine release, Relentless Beats Vol. 2, a very fine disc that belies its name with a hard-hitting but eclectic mix of hard house, techno and even Latin funk-fueled tracks. But for the most part, her set at Spundae was just a series of relentless beats, and by 3:00 a.m. about half the weekend warriors had vacated the dance floor in search of something less aggravating -- another Red Bull, perhaps. So on this particular night, for whatever reason, Moonshine's ultimate tech house double bill fell short. Maybe Spundae's just not the right venue for this sort of hard-hitting dance music, or maybe there are only so many bangin' beats the average clubber can take. Or, for that matter, the average PopMatters music critic.

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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