Music

Kaskade: San Francisco Sessions: Soundtrack to the Soul

Andy Hermann

Kaskade

San Francisco Sessions: Soundtrack to the Soul

Label: Om
US Release Date: 2003-10-21
UK Release Date: 2003-11-03
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Hey, kids! Do you like deep, groovy, San Francisco house with lots of soulful vocals? The kind of stuff they play in those really hip "underground" clubs that haven't changed the bar towels or the style of music since 1996? Then have I got a CD for you!

If I were really lazy (as opposed to only moderately lazy), I could make that my entire review of Kaskade's new mix CD and leave it at that. For 14 tracks and 73 minutes, Ryan Raddon, the man behind the moniker, doesn't serve up one surprise, good or bad. It's just one smoooooth, seamlessly mixed deep house anthem after another, building from jazzier terrain into some full-blown disco diva and hallelujah stuff with a couple of poppier numbers thrown in to keep the kids at the bar bopping their heads, too. It's every bit as polished and assured as the artist debut he released earlier this year, It's You, It's Me. And I'd be a hypocrite to harsh on it because I've been avidly listening to this stuff since Naked Music came along and made deep, soulful house more "sophisticated" by ratcheting down the tempo and the diva theatrics.

But here's the thing: A lot of people since day one have accused this style of house music as being too "safe", and after a steady diet of it for the past five years, I'm starting to agree with them. San Francisco deep house seems to be maturing into the dance music equivalent of Chicago blues -- so deeply rooted in convention and formula that even at its best, the pleasure the new stuff elicits is equal parts excitement and nostalgia. It's music for people who were hip ten years ago. Or in my case, five.

So: Granted that nothing on Soundtrack to the Soul is the least bit groundbreaking -- is it any good? Absolutely. Kaskade's skills as a house DJ rank right up there with the likes of Miguel Migs and Marques Wyatt, and he's got production skills to match. There are three more Kaskade originals featured in this mix, and they're all solid, which is pretty damn impressive considering this is a guy who just put out an artist debut less than a year ago. Especially good is the slinky, breathy "Truth", but the bumping, strident soul of the title track and the pretty melody of "In This Life" hit the mark as well. Raddon even turns up under another alias, Late Night Alumni, teaming up with whispery waif Becky Williams for a pleasant comedown of a closer, "Empty Streets". Only the "More Vox Mix" of "It's You, It's Me" doesn't really work, interrupting the most high-energy portion of this set with a sound that buries the beats under layers of pop production that would sound a little too at home on a WB teen drama soundtrack.

When he's not spinning his own tracks, Kaskade keeps the vibe groovy and the pace perfect for people who like to knock back a cosmo or two before casually moseying onto the dancefloor. Not until track 7 does he really kick the energy up above Nude Tempo level, with the "Peak Hour Mix" of Groove Junkies' "Gonna Get By". Vocalist Indeya lays on the diva routine a little too thick here, but the track has great energy, and sets the stage for more peak-hour rump shakers with campy-but-fun vocals: Pound Boys' "Funky Music" featuring a snarling Thea Austin, Michelle Weeks' "The Light", and one of the set's highlights, a deeply funky remix Ritma's "Love & Music" done by -- who else? -- Kaskade himself. When does this guy sleep?

Elsewhere, Soundtrack to the Soul trots out tracks created and remixed by the usual deep house suspects. There's an Andy Caldwell remix of Amma's "Keep Hoping" with a great synth bass hook, a jazzy collaboration between H Foundation's Halo and Jay J of "Freaks like Us" fame, and the lovelorn disco of Harrison Crump's "I Need Your Love". Kaskade saves the deeper cuts for later, stripping back the vocals and mining a less melodic vein on Members Only's "More for the Living" and an excellent dub version of Audiowhore's "After the Party" with a hypnotically looped string riff that sets up the dreamy closing number "Empty Streets" quite nicely.

All this being a long-winded way of saying what I said at the beginning: If you like soulful deep house, you'll love this disc. If you don't, well, this isn't going to convert you. This Bay Area brand of house had its moment about two years ago, when Naked Music was on a roll that few labels before and none since have ever matched. Now, even Naked is branching out into breaks, nu jazz, and straight-up soul, and the sophisticated bump-n-sway of Soundtrack to the Soul, as good as it is, already has that nostalgic tinge to it that portends stagnancy.

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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