Boy George and Perry Farrell may be the more famous names, but there's no question right now that the most successful artist to make the leap from pop performer to club DJ is Ben Watt. After more than a decade of playing Dave Stewart to Tracey Thorn's Annie Lennox in Everything But the Girl, Watt has finally grabbed a much deserved piece of the limelight with his wildly successful "side project" Lazy Dog. Begun in 1998 as a Sunday London dance club, the Lazy Dog name has now spawned a fantastic double CD of deep house mixes, and several successful global tours for its co-founders, Watt and partner Jay Hannan. Lazy Dog's success rests largely on a very simple fact -- hardly anyone else is playing deep, soulful house any more (not here in L.A., at least, and apparently not in London, either, where they famously pack the sidewalk outside the tiny Notting Hill Arts Club with hundreds of fans twice a month). Dismissed as old hat by a growing number of house DJs, who have made the leap to tribal and progressive, it's a style of music that nevertheless maintains a deeply loyal following among a mostly older crowd, who fell in love with it back in the late '80s and early '90s and never got tired of its warm, uplifting vibe. And its lack of exposure is even more regrettable considering the number of great artists, including Lazy Dog, who have been upgrading the deep house sound with heady doses of jazz, Latin and new jack soul sounds. When Lazy Dog first came to L.A. in late 2000, the word was already out -- they packed a tiny Santa Monica club called Sugar so tight you could only dance by bouncing in place. And these weren't lost Everything But the Girl fans, either -- these were dedicated househeads, who filled the room with uplifted hands for every build and let the sweat fly with every slinky beat. By the following spring, Lazy Dog had already outgrown their next L.A. stop, Fais Do Do, a club more than twice Sugar's size that they also filled to bursting. So I was relieved this time that around Lazy Dog's L.A. booker, Bossa Nova, managed to secure them a Sunday night at the El Rey, a classic old theatre-turned-ballroom with a dance floor that even Lazy Dog couldn't entirely fill. Finally, room to move. Because when Watt and Hannan hit the decks, it's impossible not to. Tag-teaming almost telepathically, these two cheerfully round-faced beatmasters crafted a three and a half hour set that never let up and never got tedious, a neat trick to pull off when most of what you spin is classic four-on-the-floor house. This is the advantage, however, of playing actual songs, as opposed to the abstract, repetitive-riff tracks favored by most modern house DJs. There's still something to be said for lyrics, melody, and conventional song structure, no matter what hardcore fans of "progressive" dance music may say. Nowhere is this in better evidence than on Lazy Dog's best-known track, "Tracey in My Room", a brilliant blend of Soul Vision's remix of Sandy Rivera's "Come Into My Room" with Everything But the Girl's "Wrong", off their much-revered 1996 Walking Wounded album. Laying Tracey Thorn's marvelous voice atop a pulsating two-chord bassline and an irresistible synth hook, the song has both the urgent energy of all great dance music, and the instantly recognizable sound and simple but affecting lyrics ("Wherever you go, I will follow you/ 'Cause I was wrong") of a great pop tune. And it never fails to make the crowd go nuts, suggesting perhaps that Ben Watt ought to consider combining his two projects a little more often. Elsewhere during their set, Watt and Hannan's love of pop-infused house (or house-infused pop) provided most of the highlights. Watt's remixes of Meshell Ngedeocello's celebratory new track "Earth" and Sade's "By Your Side" were further proof of his mastery at mixing the two schools, while other smart track selections like Donna Allen's gloriously old school "He is the Joy" and someone's (Watt's?) great housified version of Maxwell's "Lifetime" had the whole crowd singing along. Jay Hannan's track selection was more eclectic, with some fabulous Latin-flavored numbers like Negrocan's disco-meets-samba "Cada Vez" (one of the highlights of Lazy Dog's first album) and even some edgier, more progressive stuff, but the two DJs blended their styles effortlessly, and appeared to be having a great time working the enthusiastic crowd. Lazy Dog's approach, as befits their name, is decidedly casual. Between track segues, Watt and Hannan just hang out together behind the decks, sipping drinks and chatting animatedly. Hannan even came out into the crowd and danced for awhile. Purists these days frown on this sort of thing, but I think it's part of what Lazy Dog's fans love about the duo. In a day and age when DJs are striving for mainstream musical legitimacy -- and therefore trying to impress upon the masses how much skill it takes to mix records -- Watt and Hannan are content to make it look effortless, like they just happen to be the two guys picking the songs that night. Their total lack of pretension is a joy to behold, and helps set the tone; there's none of that catty fashion-show vibe that often taints the dance music scene at a Lazy Dog show, just a cheerful, laid-back crowd working up a sweat and having a good time. Lazy Dog's second CD is due out any day, and promises more of the same from this amazing duo -- wonderfully groovy remixes of pop/soul material like Sade's "By Your Side" and Lucy Pearl's "Without You", some Latin flavors from artists like Nova Fronteira and Mundo Azul, and instant-classic deep house cuts like Wamdue Project's remix of Kim English's "Been So Long", which brought down the house Sunday night. Odds look good that next time Ben and Jay visit L.A., they're gonna need a bigger venue again. And I really hope there's still room to dance.
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
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.
Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.
The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.
Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.
I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!
Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.
Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.