In the Mix (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs

It's hard to be mad at Usher. But you have to wonder what went through his or anyone else's head during the production of In the Mix.

In the Mix

Director: Ron Underwood
Cast: Usher, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Hart
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Lions Gate
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2005-11-23

It's hard to be mad at Usher. But you have to wonder what went through his or anyone else's head during the production of In the Mix, an alarmingly conventional and inept interracial romance. Playing the sweet-as-can-be Darrell, NYC DJ and aspiring music producer, Usher is about as pleasant and innocuous and hard-abbed as you'd expect. But who the heck are those cardboard figures bopping their heads in the background?

Scripted by Jacqueline Zambrano and directed by the freefalling Ron Underwood, In the Mix offers up a sampling of stereotypes in no particular order, then leaves them stranded. They're granted no coherent context or tone -- the movie lumbers from comedy to romance to violent mobster antics -- and so they can only be stereotypes, unconsidered and dreary.

Darrell is introduced while working at a dance club alongside his aspiring music production partner Busta (Kevin Hart). While Busta is interested in all the "fly honeys" he can get his hands on, Darrell seems to be looking for the "right" girl. This even as he brings home the most bodacious fly honey in the place, golddigging Cherise (K.D. Aubert), who breathes heavily into his ear, only to be interrupted by his six-year-old next door neighbor. Lexi (Isis Faust) is certainly cute enough in her pajamas to earn Darrell's attention, but he's strangely okay with her lying to Cherise about another girl. Must be that he's not really so interested in her anyway.

This lack of interest in Cherise is the movie's way of "saving" Darrell for that right girl, namely, a gangster's daughter named Dolly (Emmanuelle Chriqui). That's gangster as in "this Sicilian thing," here embodied by Dolly's daddy Frank (Chazz Palminteri). She comes home from law school on break and he wants to do it up right, and invites Darell to DJ the party. As Darrell's dad was once Frank's bartender, they've got a familial connection, as well as a class and race imbalance that Frank keeps covering over with something approximating genuine affection. (That said, he's equally as unbelievable with his daughter, as they are extremely gushy, repeatedly telling each other how much they love each other while gazing into each other's eyes -- the most egregious disjunction here being the fact that she's a law student and he's a gangster, like, a professional killer.)

Frank's affection for Darrell does not extend to even imagining his daughter's desire for him (he is the "help," after all, or spawn of the help). During the party, a driveby shooting narrowly misses Frank, thanks to Darrell literally and slow-motionly throwing himself in front of the bullet. Frank is impressed enough that he allows Dolly to select him as her bodyguard (dad had suggested one of his own meatheads, but she didn't want to be seen with someone so uncool). Hired as a bodyguard/driver, Darrell gets a new suit made by Frank's tailor (who complains mightily and predictably about Darrell's baggy drawers, leading in turn to Darrell's warning not to make the new pants too tight, to avoid crushing his "junk").

The real fun starts when Dolly, who did request Darrell's services, decides she really wants him not to serve, but rather, to wait in the car while she takes her yoga class or lunches with her shallow girlfriends. But noooo. Darrell imagines himself being "true to his word" to Frank, and so accompanies her everywhere. And so, Dolly, resents that Darrell "fits in" everywhere: her yoga teacher and girlfriends (did I mention they're shallow?) all admire his buff body and charming manner. But once D and D spend a few minutes in the swimming pool at night -- and she gets a look at Usher's famous torso -- she apparently falls in love, and decides to pursue him, despite her father's objections, or, for that matter, Darrell's (he sticks to his story of keeping his word to Frank as long as he can).

Dolly, by the way, already has a boyfriend (Geoff Stults), but he's shallow too, which suggests that her choices in acquaintances are somewhat less than stellar. The boyfriend's name is Chad, he's an egregiously ambitious lawyer who wants to make inroads with her father (for unexplained reasons, both Dolly and Chad overlook the fact that her father is a criminal).

The film is bogged down by awkward scene transitions, ridiculous dialogue ("I heard black men can dance," purrs Dolly on the dance floor, just before Usher [!] professes that he's not very good but he'll try), and one-dimensional supporting characters, like Frank's too-eager gunsel Jackie (Matt Gerald, fond of smoking cigarettes so he can flick them meanly and eyeing Frank with a mix of respect and disdain while complaining at whatever latest decision: "Bawsss!") and his son, Frank Jr. (Anthony Fazio), the white boy who acts "hip-hop" (by channeling Jamie Kennedy).

The goofiest material comes late, and by that time, you're desperate to laugh, or find some relief. A showdown finally occurs between "secret" villains you'll spot from a mile off and Darrell, seeking to protect his woman with the use of the sound system in his club. Here Darrell's shot again, and as he lies bleeding on the floor, cradled by Dolly and wincing prettily, he utters the film's grandest line: "If growing up in the hood is so dangerous, then why is it I only get shot by white people?" Why indeed?

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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