Reviews

Life After People

George Tiller

Though disappointing as an apocalyptic tale, this is a remarkable depiction of decay and adaptation.


Life After People

Distributor: A&E;
Cast: David de Vries
Network: History Channel
US Release Date: 2008-03-18
Amazon

Life After People is a rather strange documentary that shows what would happen to the Earth if people suddenly disappeared. It begins around 7:30 in the morning in a rather nice house somewhere in the US. The inhabitants disappear (for no given reason) after a few cups of coffee and before the beds are made. The family dog is still there though, looking quite confused and abandoned. The viewer is quite confused, as well, since one would think that any story about the Earth after people would have to begin by telling how the people disappeared.

So the Earth is like the Marie Celeste, the ship that was found drifting about in a completely normal state except that the crew and passengers were gone without any explanation. The gradual erasing of the human footprint and the adaptation of certain species are thoroughly explored and are strangely fascinating. Though disappointing as an apocalyptic tale, Life After People is a remarkable depiction of decay and adaptation.

The aftermath of humanity is depicted on an ever-expanding scale of days, months, years, decades, centuries and millennia. We find out what happens to the buildings, cars, cities and roads. The process of nature taking other is described very well with sound science backing it up. We have the science because of the Chernobyl disaster 22 years ago, in which an advanced society quickly disappeared due to a nuclear accident. The area is still being monitored and its rapid decay is stunning.

The CGI effects of Life After People are stunning, as well. We are treated to the collapse of the Eiffel Tower, the Hoover Dam, and both the Brooklyn and Golden Gate bridges. We see Manhattan's streets being reclaimed by vegetation and the return of streams that had been paved over for centuries. We witness the flooding of London and Amsterdam and a beautiful rendition of an interstate highway turning into a forest.

The most fanciful depictions are those of the vertical ecosystems that may form in the skyscrapers as vegetation and animals move into office buildings. The dominant predators are descendents of housecats, but their glory is short lived as the skyscrapers are only expected to last for about 300 years. The vertical jungle of Chicago is an awesome (if imaginary) scene.

There’s a hopeful aspect to this documentary, and that is the explanation of just how resilient life is. The oceans rebound with teeming life, no longer suffering from human-induced pollution and over fishing. Species that have been hemmed in by roads and loss of habitat, again thanks to humans, should recover remarkably quickly. None of this is fanciful, because humans have caused similar recoveries before, such as the repopulation of North American wolves, thanks to human intervention (after the species' near demise, also thanks to human intervention). There’s a strong suggestion in Life After People that we can learn how to save the planet without dying off.

But should we die off, who will miss us? Dogs of course, most of which will be gone about a week after we disappear. Cats will as well, although to a lesser extent. Coyotes, pigeons and seagulls will have a harder time of it, as they've learned to live off our leavings. Without humans' waste to feed off, rats and mice will be forced to make an honest living. But surprisingly it will be the cockroaches that may miss us most of all. Apparently they are totally dependant on humans wherever winter occurs – we provide them with a warm, cozy home. The farm animals aren’t mentioned at all but lions and rhinos are expected to thrive if enough of them can escape from the zoos.

As Life After People progresses, the traces of our existence become harder to find as nature takes over. Our books, CDs and DVDs rot away. The concrete crumbles, the dams burst and the cities turn into earth-covered rubble. After 100,000 years only the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids, and Mount Rushmore are recognizable -- barely. The question of whether the next intelligent species to arise on Earth (if any does) will have any clue to our existence is debated.

Then a really disheartening point is brought up. A staple of science fiction is that our radio broadcasts travel out into the universe forever, and hopefully will be picked up someday, somehow, by a willing receiver. It’s a comforting thought that we have been broadcasting our presence to the universe for almost a century. Every year our presence is announced in an ever expanding sphere that is light years across and constantly growing. Surely any alien with a radio telescope will eventually be able to hear the whole cacophony of our radio and television broadcasts. Not according to Life After People, though. Apparently the signals disperse and become little more than background noise – static -- after a light year. Aw hell…

So we are left with a rather gloomy yet fascinating show that is best watched when the viewer is receptive to the end of humanity. (A Bush speech got me in the mood.) But even after entering such a state of mind the show is still a bit silly. My Persian cat who was beside me the whole time wasn’t in the least alarmed at the prospect of humanity’s demise, presumably any roaches that may have been watching weren’t, either. But the special effects are really worth seeing.

There are several short extra features each about two and a half minutes long. Most of them are various scenarios of human extinction that seem a bit far-fetched. There's the portrayal of a plague, nuclear winter and an asteroid strike. An interesting theory is that our genetic material may slowly degrade. The best extra is about the trash that we leave behind. Apparently styrofoam really is forever and the garbage that the sea washes up on Midway's beaches is shocking. I guess we may as well survive, after all, someone has to clean up the mess.

6

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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