Columns

God Made Us #1

Tobias Peterson

The Gipper, the heartland, and the holy spirit: Notre Dame's football highlights stretch out like one long, continuous John Mellencamp video.

Mistletoe. Eggnog. That can-shaped cylinder of cranberry jelly that sits, untouched, next to the centerpiece. Holidays are about tradition. But an increasing part of that tradition is a kind of meta-debate that has begun to surface this time of year, concerning tradition's own cultural value and place. Whose traditions matter? Whose can we afford to publicly exclude?

Conservatives, spearheaded by Fox News and Bill O'Reilly, have labeled this kind of examination "The War Against Christmas", a dastardly plot hatched by godless liberals who seek to undermine American culture at every turn. From the aisles of Wal-Mart to the gates of the Sea-Tac airport, questions about whether and how to celebrate the holiday season have been met with boycotts and outrage from those who man the bulwarks of tradition against those who would seek to expand the rigid confines of "the good old days" (when everything was better) for a more inclusive future.

Sports, too, have been touched by the same kind of divide that fuels the Christmas debate. The same longing for years past manifests itself in those who would return the salaries of athletes to their working class origins, restoring common ground between those who play the games and those who watch them. And the same indignation at "special" (read equal) treatment for minorities can be seen in the weekly damnation by fans and media members of receivers, point guards, and outfielders who fail to assume a posture of anonymous gratitude and dare to draw attention to themselves as superstars.

But despite the best efforts of web columnists and other activists who labor against the movement to arrest (if not jail outright) changes in the social order, it's a sad reality that such a stodgy element has always been with us, and will undeniably be with us in the future. Just as Plato and Socrates bemoaned the youth of their day, so will generations, decades hence, continue to see the next wave of new attitudes and ideas as affronts to all they hold dear. What's a forward-thinking sports fan to do, one might ask, in the face of all this interminable, inexorable grousing?

One strategy might be to approach these hardliners for what they really are: an unavoidable consequence of time's passage. As long as there is a past to remember, there will be those to decry the present and future. Sure, they can be dangerous when it comes to politics, but sports are hardly a matter of life and death (though it may seem so at times). Why not embrace the charity of this season's holiday spirit (in whatever form that may take for you), and give hardliners of highlights past something they will truly appreciate? At the very least, you might be able to give them something to temporarily distract from their bellyaching about players' unions, guaranteed contracts, and endorsement deals. For this, one need look no further than University of Notre Dame: Fighting Irish DVD Collector's Set. The eight DVDs included in the set will instantly placate a viewer's need for sports nostalgia and makes the perfect gift solution for any fan who sees in today's athletes the collapse of civilization as we know it.

The collection features seven of Notre Dame football's most famous victories (plus one 1966 tie against Michigan State), including commercial free versions of the pre-game and, for some offerings, post-game shows. Fans can choose to watch a particular quarter of a game, or even a selected scoring drive within that quarter. Additionally, each DVD cover reproduces a myriad of stats for the serious fan, including the game's starting rosters, exact start time, relevant trivia and quotes, and even the weather in which the game was played. The collection as a whole provides a celebratory feast of information for any die-hard fan, and is produced by A&E Home Video-- which has created similar retrospectives for the USC, Florida, and Texas football programs. None, however, can mobilize nostalgia, reverence, and, yes, tradition like Notre Dame.

To begin with, the football team has a rich and well-documented history, stretching back to coach Knute Rockne who, along with players like the legendary backfield known as "The Four Horsemen", led the Fighting Irish to several national championships in the 1920s. George "The Gipper" Gipp was another famous player of Rockne's, whose death from pneumonia inspired the coach to give a legendary (if difficult to authenticate) speech. In it, Rockne encouraged his team to "win one for the Gipper", a seemingly benign quip whose value former President Ronald Reagan knew only too well. After playing Rockne in the film Knute Rockne, All American, Reagan invoked the lore of Notre Dame in speeches like the one he gave at the 1988 Republican National Convention, utilizing both his film career and the iconic status of the Notre Dame coach in a successful bid for election victory.

Beyond its famous forebears, Notre Dame also embodies the heartland values of middle America like no other team. From the unabashed phonetic mangling of the school's French name (every game broadcast must set Victor Hugo spinning in his grave anew) to the idyllic Indiana countryside in which the school stands, Notre Dame's football team plays out in American consciousness like a football version of the movie Hoosiers. Like that film -- in which a group of (white) farmers' sons from Hickory, Indiana beats a (predominantly black) big city team to win the Indiana high school basketball championship -- Notre Dame's football highlights stretch out like one long, continuous John Mellencamp video. But we need not rely on mere analogy. In films like Reagan's Rockne portrayal and the more recent Rudy (featuring Sean Astin as a pint-sized equipment manager who gets his dream shot at playing for the team's varsity squad), Notre Dame football is actively celebrated as a source of the inspirational and the miraculous, where the little guy can, through hard work and clean living, overcome insurmountable odds.

And "miraculous" is precisely the word for it. While many religiously affiliated colleges see their athletic program as ancillary, Notre Dame's seamless and active blending of sport and Christianity is unprecedented elsewhere in the sports world. Taking a motto like mens sana in corpore sano to heart, Notre Dame as a school wears its religion on its team's uniform sleeves -- or at least on its edifices. "Touchdown Jesus, ,a mosaic on the side of the university's Hesburgh library, is portrayed with his arms outstretched in a welcoming posture, or to signal a score by the football team, or (most likely, given the school's ethos) both. Regardless of differing opinions by religious experts, Jesus is indeed a football fan at Notre Dame. And can there be any question who he roots for?

Not among the team's fans, who are given a good deal of face time in the DVD collection. In one pre-game pep rally on the eve of their 1977 match against USC, a Notre Dame supporter holds up a bumper sticker reading, "God Made Notre Dame #1". Who could argue with that logic? (Certainly not USC, who were trounced the next day 49-19.) More than simply an extension of religious belief, however, the team represents a source of spiritual comfort, rather than any particular doctrine. Coach Lou Holtz, for example, reveals in an interview that he encouraged his players to "believe in the spirit of Notre Dame" in order to achieve a victory against their powerhouse opponents the University of Miami. Tactics be damned, we are meant to infer, it was belief that broke up Miami's two-point try in the last seconds, delivering the victory.

Tactics and talent, however, are what are in ample supply in this DVD series. Regardless of one's religious affiliation, Notre Dame's historic dominance of collegiate football is undeniable. Still, what brings students, top athletes, television contracts, and merchandise revenue to the school to support the football team? No small part of the answer must be the kind of mystical sway that the team holds over our popular conscious, making it difficult to determine where sporting fanaticism ends and religious fervor begins. Perhaps that's to be expected, for ultimately, like religion, Notre Dame football provides its fans a kind of comfort, a way to organize the often difficult and messy world through force of ritual (like the team's gold helmets), hymn (the school fight song), and prayer (for both salvation and a winning record).

In short, the team is the cultural equivalent of a gigantic, God-fearing, Christmas present -- decorated with wrapping resplendent with images of Jesus, Santa, American flags, and Uncle Sam. This year, as the team returns to prominence after a brief fall from grace under the stewardship of head coach Charlie Weis and model quarterback Brady Quinn, the University of Notre Dame: Fighting Irish DVD Collector's Set will make the perfect gift for that fan who fears the encroachment of modernity and multiculturalism. The set is the perfect venue for reassuring conservative sports fans that their world, embattled by liberal agendas, a biased media, and spoiled athletes, still makes sense.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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