Music

Hella: Concentration Face/Homeboy

Nate Seltenrich

Noise rock duo Hella refuse to relent on new DVD/EP combo.


Hella

Concentration Face/Homeboy

Label: 5 Rue Christine
US Release Date: 2005-11-08
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Are you ready for this? The CD is loading. Only three seconds to launch. Are you sure? ... Two... One... This is it! -- "Do you wanna hear Joni Mitchell, asshole? You ever heard Joni Mitch-fuck your shuttin' mouth!" a woman shouts from the bottom of the ocean -- Then the noise, the sound, the music? You're committed now, 11 more minutes in the first track, 30 minutes in all; no turning back, no return to the surface.

Our favorite red-suited plumber went ballistic after being shoehorned into one too many video games, and exploded the latest exploitation of his character into your current selection, "Gothspel for You Not Them". In this first song on Hella's new EP, Homeboy, malformed coin boxes and distorted guitar lines of code jet through the ether: Nintendo's first dirty bomb. I'm sorry Mario, but our princess is in another castle. You'll find you cannot climb your way out of here. You'll ride it out while Hella have their way with you. After all, it's for you not them. Show some appreciation. Embrace the eight-bit-noise-metal cacophony as it threatens to take your last life. Somewhere past 10 minutes, pacing piano like a tuneless rendition of "Chopsticks" drops in. Say hello. What happened over the last 10 minutes does not matter. You'd have to listen again just to find out. Even then you would have no idea.

"Madonna Approaches R&B Blonde Wreckages". This you know for sure. Madonna's confident swagger is easier on the ears than Mario's frustrated rage. What's that you hear? Rhythmic synthesizer melody rising above the din? It's gone in two minutes.

Hella sound like chaos unleashed -- electronic avant-garde metal noise-rock chaos. You know it's okay to stack these up because that's what Hella do. "BC But Not Before Christ" is a brutal circus. Drums command center ring, punching and kicking and rat-a-tat-tatting so fast that you don't have a choice but to lie low and pray you don't get smacked. "Moby Dick" may well have been recorded before Christ. As the song closes, video game prattling surges back; some revenge takes time to exact.

Your first sense of relative peace is earned from the opening 30 seconds of "If I Were in Hella I Would Eat Lick"; eroded by synthesized squeals and whines, artificial keyboard feedback; shattered by a bluegrass-violin-raygun-harpsichord-rogue-drum-machine peace -- a peace you could only attain if you were in Hella. Minutes pass. A crazed chipmunk chatters. At 12:01 it falls silent.

Since arising out of Sacramento, California in 2001, Hella have fostered a ferocious aberrance. They have forsaken traditional song structure entirely. Yet you get the distinct sense that Zach Hill and Spencer Seim know exactly what they're doing -- the chaos is calculated. Hella court not the faint of heart, not the strong of spirit, but the courageous souls -- the truly brave musical adventurers. Their sound is heavy, but so distant from rock and metal pedigrees that it will appeal more to fans of avant-garde and free jazz than of, say, their recent tourmates Mars Volta and System of a Down. Across Homeboy, Hella render those bands formulaic.

You may wonder -- how could Hella possibly be enjoyable live? At a concert there is no Pause or Stop button, no volume control, no escape into the next room. Assuaging such concerns, Hella give you Concentration Face, a DVD containing nearly three hours of live Hella. One performance is presented in its entirety -- 7 May 2005 at the O-Nest in Tokyo. Others are chopped up and reassembled into an extended music video -- 3 May at Heaven's Door in Tokyo, 4 May at the Firefly in Osaka, 5 May at Whoopee's in Kyoto, and 6 May at Tozuko in Nagoya.

Hella are fun to watch live, but a challenge to listen to. Hill's drumming is both controlled and spastic; guitarist Seim fixes an amazed gaze on his bandmate as he explores and batters his kit, flaxen hair flailing. Seim coaxes noise and near-melodies from his instrument while feeding off Hill's fury rhythms. On stage, both members are consumed by their music. They lose themselves without getting lost.

The tour diary portion of the DVD is interspersed with Japanese television clips and video documenting Hella's travels within and between Japanese cities. Sweaty post-performance confessionals provide further insight: "At least some people came up front. I think that made it better. I'd rather they were standing up, hanging out, like all pushed in, because it's more intimate," says Seim after the Nagoya show. Finally, you'll find footage of Japanese bands that shared the stage with Hella throughout their tour. This half of the DVD is both artistic and funny -- one particularly memorable shot shows a string of six Nintendo Game Boys plugged into a mixing board and played like a keyboard. Part One is infinitely more palatable than the unbearably dense Part Two, an 80-minute video of a performance at a mid-sized club venue in Tokyo. If you're not an established Hella fan, you won't last even halfway through the concert, let alone enjoy it.

After fast-forwarding your way through the last part of the DVD, it's natural to feel reluctant to put on the EP again. Playing the record is like inviting an expert gang of noise ninjas to trash your home and slash your pillows. But we both know that someday you'll be ready again. When you sense it's time, just Press Start.

6

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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