Reviews

New Order: Item [DVD]

Hunter Felt

This new two-DVD set from New Order reveals a band comfortably situated between art and commerce.


New Order

Item [DVD]

Label: Rhino
US Release Date: 2005-09-20
UK Release Date: 2005-09-20
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It's a striking scene. A blue faced man and an opponent are engaging in a slap fight, perfectly timed to a hypnotic mechanical drumbeat, a woman encased in a large balloon translates the song lyrics into sign language while three brightly colored figures in rubber suits manically bounce around. The surreal video for New Order's "True Faith" was my first introduction to the band, and I admit that the sheer otherness of the song's video impressed me just as much as the alienated beauty of the song itself. New Order did not only revolutionize pop music, showing that a band could keep its punk rock roots intact while interacting with the pop mainstream, but they also did their part in proving that music videos could indeed be art. The new double-DVD release Item, contains New Order: A Collection, which highlights their fantastic videos, as well as the documentary New Order Story, which haphazardly attempts to explain New Order's unusual position as an underground band masquerading as a pop act (or perhaps its vice-versa).

The key to New Order's striking videos comes from a simple policy began as soon as the band started to regularly make videos, the band (or more precisely, the band's management) contacted established artists and directors and allowed them to do whatever they wanted, without having to "submit treatments". With unrestricted freedom, these directors were able to interpret New Order's music in their own unique ways, making sure that all of the videos are distinct independent entities. They are, in fact, more like small art films rather than typical music videos. Unlike traditional videos, if the band members even appear in them it's more often than not in a cameo role. Not all of the videos work, but even the failures are more memorable than other bands' best videos.

It is this variety of ideas that makes New Order: A Collection, watchable from beginning to end, as every video attempts to strike a different emotional chord. On one extreme, there's Baillie Walsh's "World", where long tracking shots finally ends showing an aging woman with an ambiguous look on her face after paying an indifferent gigolo, a rather sad and very human scene. On the other extreme is Kathryn Bigelow's hilarious "Touched by the Hands of God", which dresses the demure synth-pop act as a heavy metal unit, complete with clichéd explosions (watching David Lee Roth-wigged Bernard Summer pulling Billy Idol moves as demure keyboardist Gillian Gilbert struts around like a Lita Ford-esque video vixen is the height of hilarity).

It's also interesting to see how different musicians react against New Order's layered and complex arrangements. Many directors go for a visual overload to match their music, particularly in Robert Longo's "Bizarre Love Triangle" where the imagery changes seemingly note-by-note, or Richard Heslop's frenzied "Fine Time", an acid flashback of a video where a routine child opening his Christmas early scene devolves into a hallucinogenic nightmare. However, Jonathan Demme's simple "Perfect Kiss" might be the best video in the whole package. Demme just films the four members of New Order playing their instruments for the entirety of the nine-minute epic, but the song features so many shifts of instrumentation, that there's inherent drama in just seeing each band member grabbing the instrument they need and coming in at the appropriate moments. By stripping things down to basics, Demme's video actually better highlights the complex beauty of one of New Order's best songs than a fast-paced, visually rich video would have.

Nearly all these visuals are worth multiple viewings, which is a good thing for someone who purchases Item, because many of these videos appear, basically in their entirety, on the 1993 documentary New Order Story. Besides repeating much of the material from the music collection, New Order Story disappoints in many other areas. As a documentary, it fails to really deeply explore the transition between Joy Division and New Order, the split between New Order and Factory Records, on the inspiration of any of their songs. There's a lot of talking, including a dinner table conversation between the band members and a bizarre faux game-show where the band members compete to see who can remember the most about New Order's history, but nothing really much gets said. Although amusing, New Order Story frustrates the viewer in how many times it broaches a subject it doesn't even bother to dwell on.

What the documentary does do well is highlight New Order's precarious position as a band embraced both by the underground as well as the mainstream. Bernard Summer, at one point, mentions that his fans are half "student types" and are half "football hooligans". It may seem odd that this band started out as the decidedly non-pop friendly Joy Division, but everyone who talks about Ian Curtis mentions that had he survived, Joy Division would have become a huge band. After all, it's repeatedly mentioned, Curtis himself was the first one who was enthralled with electronic dance music, and the band probably would have gone that route even if he had survived. Still, it's hard to imagine that this small label, experimental electronic band would later go on to produce England's 1986 World Cup fight song ("World in Motion"), rework "Blue Monday" for a Sunkist ad (included on New Order Story, in all its unintentional hilarity), and perform "Regret" alongside the cast of Baywatch. New Order is a band that found a balance between art and commerce that few other bands have been privileged to experience, and this is reflected both in the haphazard documentary as well as the highly artistic videos that the band commissioned, in effect, as advertisements to sell records.

7

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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