On the Sixth Day God Created Man...chester: Part 2

John Cooper Clarke

Punk-influenced performance poetry now thrives on both sides of the Atlantic, as open mics and poetry slams draw new generations of writers with combative tones, satirical perspectives, and rock-inspired rhythms in their lines.

"What Manchester does today, the rest of the world does tomorrow. "

"See also "On the Sixth Day God Created Man…chester: Part 1"

John Cooper Clarke / Punk Poetry

“I’ve got the largest collection of broken glasses in Britain,” John Cooper Clarke once noted in reference to his role as Daniel in the lion’s dens of the early punk movement. The role of the poet is rarely perceived as a dangerous one, but these hostile environments were—in some respects—as responsible as personal artistic choices for Clarke crafting his work in the way that he did and then ultimately delivering it in the style that he did. For him, quick wit in performance and quick delivery of content were as much survival strategies as aesthetic devices.

The “bard of Salford” is indeed a prime Mancunian candidate. On hearing Clarke’s voice intonate, memory reflexes immediately transport you through a history of Manchester humor that connects The Royle Family to Coronation Street to Herman’s Hermits and back to the Music Hall comedians of the industrial 19th century. Verging on caricature, Clarke’s voice, vernacular, and down-to-earth imagery combine to form his expressive humor of social observation.

Reading the words to “Beasley Street” (1980) we recognize a painterly portrait of urban squalor; hearing Clarke speak these words connects us and them directly to the industrial North of England and to the sardonic heart of Manchester humor. “The rats have all got rickets / They spit through broken teeth / The name of the game is not cricket / Caught out on Beasley Street,” deadpans Clarke in weary monotone. Here, personification, obtuse metaphor, and social class commentary are integrated to succinctly “catch” the fated decay of his city.

Yet there is gallows humor, too: we envision the rats as the dominant residents, and the word “cricket” here operates with a double meaning, suggesting that the game of hope and opportunity is over but that such reality is just “not cricket”, a common catchphrase in upper class parlance to pronounce that something is unwarranted. Set against an evocative Eno-esque musical mélange of keyboard-driven atmospheric sounds and shuffling rhythms (provided by The Invisible Girls, featuring such Manchester punk dignitaries as Pete Shelley and Martin Hannett), “Beasley Street” is transformed into a contemporary version of Dylan’s “Desolation Row”, a panorama of imagistic words and music that surveys with desperate humor the modern urban condition.

The Faber Book of Political Verse recognized Clarke’s contributions to the art of poetry by including “Evidently Chicken Town” (complete with its keyword “fucking” used 82 times over its 50 lines length) alongside Dante and Milton, while his hometown University of Salford commissioned him to write a tribute poem to the 19th century Manchester artist L.S. Lowry. (Source: The Independent 7 January 1989, posted on John Cooper Despite such occasional institutional accommodations, though, Clarke remains the same marginal and modestly down-to-earth figure he was when he used to dodge the flying glasses and abuse emanating from punk stages in 1977. Yet for all his relative obscurity and lack of broad recognition today, his legacy lingers and it is a far-reaching one.

Clarke may not have invented the marriage between poetry and music, but his punk style within that combination sparked a post-punk poetry scene that included Attila the Stockbroker and Seething Wells, as well as more minor players like Swift Nick, Kool Knotes, Phil Jupitus, and Craig Charles. Thanks to Clarke and his peers, punk-influenced performance poetry now thrives on both sides of the Atlantic, as open mics and poetry slams draw new generations of writers with combative tones, satirical perspectives, and rock-inspired rhythms in their lines.

Within music culture Clarke’s influence also continues to inspire, his regional and regionalist consciousness apparent in northern humorist rock bands ranging from Manchester’s The Fall to Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys. Like Clarke, The Fall’s Mark E. Smith surrealistically captures the grotesque architecture of Lancashire’s working class wastelands, while the Monkeys’ Alex Turner has inherited the wide-eyed observational wit of his mentor, incorporating it into his own detailed portraits of urban Yorkshire life, similarly reveling in what Paul Morley once called Clarke’s “exquisite sense of the trivial.”

Joy Division / Post-Punk

Joy Division never wrote any songs explicitly about Manchester, yet their music captures what critic Simon Reynolds calls the city’s “traumatized urban landscape” as vividly as any other band has. Moreover, as much as they reflected the harsh industrial hangover of the city at the close of the ‘70s, the band’s appeal to listeners then and now speaks to their ability to make the local universal and the timely timeless. One of the more innovative and evocative bands to come out of post-punk Britain, Joy Division’s spatial sound-scapes and foreboding atmospherics still linger today in the darker recesses of modern independent rock music.

Like John Cooper Clarke, Joy Division emerged from rough, working class Salford during the height of the nation’s punk explosion. Two members of the band, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook, had been among the handful of attendees at the Sex Pistols’ legendary show at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall in June, 1976. As with many of the other 40 people present, this performance inspired them to go home and start up their own band.

The initial manifestations of Joy Division—briefly as Stiff Kittens and then as Warsaw—were impressive but indistinct, the style and sound largely following the punk template that had been codified by locals like The Buzzcocks and Slaughter and the Dogs and nationals like the Pistols. However, even early on there were signs that Warsaw were more than just another run-of-the-mill punk band. Their guitar sound harbored a stark metallic sheen, while Ian Curtis’ vocals, even then, had a marked desperation, that harrowing quality that separated the singer’s voice from the angry sneering of his snide peers.

The lyrics, too, were beyond punk’s usual socio-political remonstrations and protestations; they spoke of personal pressure, crisis, failure, futility; they were abstract yet clear, specific yet universal. Just as their name ,Warsaw, evoked in one’s mind images of post-war devastation, concrete desolation, and urban austerity, so Curtis’ lyrics offered signifiers of existential angst set against a backdrop of gray skies and bleak landscapes; in other words, an imaginary Manchester of the consciousness.

The transition from Warsaw to Joy Division was more than one of name only. In the hands of local producer Martin Hannett, the band’s new batch of slower, less frenetic songs took on a new tone, too, one which would define the band thereafter. Whereas Warsaw had embraced the wall-of-sound production qualities of classic punk, Hannett dissected the instruments from one another, stripping the sound down to its primary features then puncturing spaces in the wall.

The guitar, now an angular shading device rather than a rhythmic backbone, left room for the bass to step up as the central melodic pulse, while the drums provided mechanistic rhythms and points of punctuation rather than a conventional steady backbeat. Reassembled to accentuate emptiness and isolated moods, the instrumental jigsaw was completed with the overlay of Curtis’ sad-to-urgent croon. Hannett’s final treatment of across-the-board reverb gave the songs a common cavernous aura. Visions of post-industrial Manchester appeared to be sewn into the tapestry of this sound-scape: monotone machines, Victorian decrepitude, high-rise squalor, rain-pounded streets, dead souls.

Such sonic portraits of place and time were further underscored by the accompanying videos for the 1980 singles “Atmosphere” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, which drew from such desolate and urban imagery. In addition, their label, Factory Records, as their name suggests, played to the distinctions of the city’s industrial heritage. And as much as the label contributed to the band’s Manchester character, so the band did likewise for the label.

Subsequent Factory acts—A Certain Ratio, Durutti Column, Section 25—were also notable for their solemn, doom-laden sounds, and for their parallel purposes of documenting private pain and public malaise. Like Devo and Pere Ubu had done for Ohio’s industrial cities of Cleveland and Akron, and Cabaret Voltaire and Clock DVA had done for industrial Sheffield, the post-punk bands of Factory Records offered sonic and lyrical testaments to Manchester’s post-industrial plight at the close of the ‘70s.

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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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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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