Editor's Choice

Is music still a product?

Rob Walker links to this long, compelling post by Rhodri Marsden about the difficulty musicians have in making money. Marsden paints a picture of the misery of pre-internet record distribution, when warehousing middlemen absorbed the brute facts of consumer indifference, to contrast that with the current state of affairs, in which the internet lets bands track their own sales metrics. That blessed space of ignorance of the marketplace, which once bred fantasies of stardom, is now gone.

Now that we're put in touch directly with our audience and that distributors can be completely removed from the equation, and replaced by MP3 aggregators who (a) don't need warehousing space for your MP3s, (b) will put them into a range of online stores for a flat fee and, crucially, (c) don't care whether you're brilliant or whether you're bloody awful, we have exactly the same problem selling the music as the distributors had. Just because the songs are available to buy, doesn't mean we can sell them -- in the same way that (and excuse the often-used analogy) installing a landline doesn't mean that the phone is going to ring. And we can't blame the distributors any more. The only people that are left to blame are ourselves. And that hurts.

It hurts because web technology lets us see exactly how many people are listening to our music. We can see the MySpace hit counters spin round, with the total number of listeners for each track. Our stats pages on our blogs show us how people arrived at our page, which country they're from, even which web browser they're using. We've got information about the reach of our music that we couldn't have dreamed of 10 years ago, and it tells us that thousands upon thousands of people have their ears open, and they're listening. But, by and large, and with a few exceptions, we can't fucking sell music to them. And we're starting to obsess about it. We can't stand the fact that we have 2,739 friends on MySpace, several of whom have posted highly encouraging messages such as "thnx 4 the add", and yet none of them are prepared to dig in their pocket, or Paypal account, and just send us a few quid – despite the fact that we've poured our heart, our soul and our cash into the whole endeavour.

So lots of people may be listening, but these listeners, when consuming music on the internet, are not shoppers. They are not in a mode where they are browsing for something to spend money on. Instead, they are paying for the music by paying attention, and that's all they are willing to give, and really, that should be enough, considering all the competition for it.

As Marsden points out, despite the hype about the long tail and Web 2.0, the internet doesn't give musicians new ways to make money. It creates conditions in which musicians are paid instead in a different currency, recognition, and whether or not this has any value depends on the context one's working in. If you need to sell music to feed yourself and pay rent, you are not cheered by the number of views your song's video has received. But if you are making money through some other job and make music for a feeling of cultural participation, the clicks count.

In the unlikely event of anyone wanting my advice, it would be to stop worrying about selling recordings. Just give them away. Let them go. Put them online for free, and tell people that they're there. And if, against the odds, you've been given some cash, you've managed to release an album commercially, and you see that someone has posted it on a blog for readers to download – for god's sake don't get angry. Don't see it as being down £20. See it as being up 20 listeners. Yes, your music might conceivably have been stolen, but there are no police. So get used to it. And now you're freed of this burden, pursue all the other things that you want from being in a band – writing songs, rehearsing, doing gigs, building relationships with other bands, going on wallet-busting tours, receiving unmemorable blowjobs. Because seriously, you're almost more likely to get a blowjob after a gig than sell an MP3. And remember – just because music doesn't make you money, certainly does NOT mean that it's worth nothing.

The point is that the intense commercialism of our society prompts us to measure the worth of things by their saleability, by their price tag, and it encourages us to regard the value of our effort as residing in a paycheck rather than in the work itself. But making art is its own reward; it's a considerable luxury to be able to have the time to do it at all. It's extremely unsympathetic when artists then complain that the people who spend their own precious time acknowledging other people's art (instead of, say, making some of their own) are somehow ingrates because they won't pay for the chance. Popular music, a social art whose power rests in its ability to be shared, ultimately doesn't lend itself well to becoming intellectual property.

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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