Sports

I Do Know Jack. That's the Whole Problem!

Joseph Fisher

In an age when so many of us rip music in order to store it on various mobile devices that can be transported anywhere and everywhere, policing entrenched (sub)cultural boundaries seems a bit controversial, if not entirely outdated.

Like so many residents of Washington, DC, I am originally from elsewhere -- Boston, specifically. Earlier this summer, I took the opportunity to ship up to Boston to attend the wedding of one my closest friends. The date that he chose for the ceremony, June 12th, was a significant one because it fell during the twelfth meeting of the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. At the time of the ceremony, the series was tied 2-2.

I suppose that I should make it clear early on in this posting that I am neither a sports analyst nor a sports historian -- and I am probably not much of a sports writer, either. Nevertheless, as I look back on the glorious wedding reception that followed my friend’s ceremony, I’m startled by how relevant the “storied” Boston-LA rivalry was to one particular song that the DJ played that evening.

About halfway through the reception, just as the party was moving from stately to unruly, the entire room was propelled onto the dance floor care of the opening one-two stomp of “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” by the Dropkick Murphys. I mean that, too. The. Entire. Room. Fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, grandmothers and grandfathers all jumping, dancing, and shouting the lyrics (or at least the "wah, oh-oh’s" backing each chorus). It was probably the most intense three minutes of the night, and the dance floor will never be quite the same as a result.

At the time, I found the moment quite odd—and not because I’m some kind of stuffy rockist jerk. Most of my close friends played in hardcore bands when we were in high school, so I’ve actually become quite fond of the culture (I now live in DC, don’t I?). No, what I found so unexpected about seeing the Dropkick Murphys celebrated so openly was knowing that, these days, most people think of “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” as the theme song to Martin Scorsese’s film The Departed (2006). Yes, I know that the Celtics and the Boston Red Sox have taken to playing snippets of the track at their home games, but given the price both teams charge for admission, I’d wager that most people at my friend’s reception see Jack Nicholson’s face and hear his affected Boston accent when they hear the song.

Which brings me to my point. This is the Jack Nicholson all of us Bostonians got to know so well over the course of the most recent Boston-LA series:

On the, um, face of it, there’s really no argument to be had here. I’m talking about music and movies, musicians and actors. Apples and oranges, right? Perhaps. Yet, it seems to me that the image of a bunch of very faithful Boston sports fans dancing full throttle to a song made most famous by its role in a movie starring an actor who hangs with the Laker Girls would strike most people as a bit contradictory. At least it did to me.

Over time, however, I came to realize that, in many ways, the three minutes of communal dancing that the Dropkick Murphys inspired at my friend’s wedding reception represent the best and the worst of what music fandom—or any fandom, really—entails. On the one hand, there’s that adrenaline rush that accompanies those listening experiences when, to cite Kerouac, we feel IT—when the visceral power of music shatters the boundaries of time, space, and age to the point where even my mother (and perhaps yours as well) can feel comfortable doing a herky-jerky jig in front of complete strangers. On the other hand, there’s that bullheaded provincialism that bolsters so many music scenes—that stubborn belief that this song, this band, this album is ours and that none of you can ever or should ever rob it of its rightful home, which is clearly the position that I took that night. Jack might have played a Bostonian in a movie, but we all know he was dancing in the streets of L.A. this past June.

The reality, thankfully, is much more complex than those tired oppositions. For starters, the Dropkick Murphys are native Bostonians. Why shouldn’t their music be used as the score for a major motion picture? Realism, local color, and context all benefit from "I'm Shipping Up to Boston"'s inclusion in The Departed.

More significantly, though, is the basic fact that what makes music (and film, arguably) accessible in the first place is its ability to be both of a place and out of place. Fans needn’t be from Boston to be fans of the Dropkick Murphys or Mission of Burma or Aerosmith any more so than they would need to be from California to adore the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Black Flag or BlowUpDollz. And as much as us critics who historicize music scenes try to contain them within certain cultural and geographical contexts—Interpol personify New York City; R.E.M., Athens; the Replacements, blue-collar Minneapolis, etc.—those contexts rarely matter in the passion of the moment, be it on the dance floor, in the mosh pit, or on the lawn at your favorite pavilion.

Sure, music can be incredibly divisive, sometimes deliberately so. But in an age when so many of us rip music in order to store it on various mobile devices that can be transported anywhere and everywhere, policing entrenched (sub)cultural boundaries seems, well, a bit controversial, if not entirely outdated.

To put all of this back in sports terms, the Celtics’ Paul Pierce grew up in California and used to hate the Celtics. Now, of course, Boston loves him. That narrative, as much as it is a sports story, is not just a sports story, and it should not be boxed out of discussions of other media forms. Rather, it should be acknowledged for revealing an important truth—The Truth?—of our contemporary cultural moment, a moment that is increasingly mobile and fluid and that should find us fans of pop culture everywhere becoming less and less provincial, even as we remain faithful to all the places we departed.

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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