Reviews

Pandemic: Facing AIDS (2003)

David Leonard

Suggests repeatedly that AIDS is brought on by individual actions.


Pandemic: Facing Aids

Director: Rory Kennedy
Studio: HBO
US DVD Release Date: 2003-12-30
First date: 2003

Pandemic: Facing AIDS is difficult to watch. It sickens me like a George W. Bush speech and angers me like a David Horowitz column. While it claims to be a glimpse at "reality," offering powerful interviews, emotional pleas, and useful information, it also fails to provide political and economic contexts for the pandemic. Its tendency to reduce the issue to individuals -- in particular, the suffering and ignorance of victims -- limits its analysis.

This isn't to say that the DVD doesn't provide useful information, including an "AIDS Resource Guide" that features dozens of links to web pages. Narrated by Danny Glover, Pandemic tells five stories about AIDS' devastating effects, as well as some remarkable survivals, from around the globe: Sergei and Lena (Russia), Alex (Brazil), dozens of orphans (Uganda), sex workers (Thailand), and Nagaraj & Bhanu (India). While it focuses on examples that extend beyond the Western "gay paradigm," the film still omits any interrogation of the intersections of race, nationality, gender, economics, history, politics, and sexuality. Rather, it focuses on specific damages by the disease, and the failures of individuals to intervene against the deadly disease.

Specifically, the film reveals how individuals and communities ostracize those stricken with the disease. For example, as Lena and Sergei march through Moscow in an effort to educate, they must endure catcalls ("Drug users deserve AIDS"). In Thailand, the men interviewed seem unfazed by the spread of the disease, blaming women who "choose" sex work. In Uganda, neighbors ignore those who are infected. In each location, the film presents individuals who see AIDS as a tragedy of someone else.

Providing much detail as to the death toll caused by AIDS in five "representative nations," Pandemic also introduces those who fight AIDS, who live with dignity in spite of it. Particularly powerful is the story of the Ugandan children James (seven years old) and Jessica (four). Having lost both their parents to the disease, they live in poverty on their own, but find strength and solace in each other.

While Pandemic gives faces to the horrors endured by 40 million AIDS sufferers, it is also flawed. Its assertion that the "cure" depends on each of us taking "a step forward" to achieve a "world without AIDS" doesn't provide a strategy beyond personal resistance. Education through documentaries and academic programs will not, as the film concludes in its narration and director's commentary, end the AIDS pandemic. Such education must be followed by policy changes, redistribution of wealth, a fight against poverty, and sustained health care initiatives.

Pandemic suggests repeatedly that AIDS is brought on by individual actions: Lena and Sergei because of their heroin use; Lek because of her prostitution; Nagaraj & Bhanu because of his adultery. The tendency of the film to offer causal arguments whereupon drugs or promiscuity lead to AIDS, without context (history, world health policy, discussion of capitalism) undermines its educational potential. The film doesn't make clear connections between the local instances of the disease and larger structural forces, such as globalization, imperialism, or poverty.

Rather than focusing on the effects of colonization or the impact of hospitals closing or the institution of user fees, Pandemic includes interviews in which the AIDS crisis in Uganda is attributed to adultery and males' "insatiable and greedy" appetites for sex, reinforcing longstanding stereotypes of "African" promiscuity. One HIV-positive man states, "We've been told if we distance ourselves and abstain, then we'll be fine. This doesn't apply to men only; women too are greedy." As the film does not offer alternative interpretations, it appears to blame sexual activity for AIDS.

The documentary also portrays Thai prostitutes and appalling health clinics without sufficient consideration of Western tourists or foreign policy as collaborators in the spread of AIDS. Given its presumed orientation toward U.S. audiences, the film's failure to address the legacies of colonization is not surprising. Pandemic ignores the contemporary impact of the IMF and the World Bank, making no references to the way structural adjustment programs systematically destroy health care in Third World nations while simultaneously limiting the availability of drug treatment. The advancements of anti-AIDS drugs are meaningless, not because of stigmas or fears, but because of the cost of drugs and the lack of funding.

Pandemic's reliance on emotion over substance and its refusal to interrogate capitalism and Western hegemony suggests that AIDS is an individual problem to be overcome through individual actions. Despite claims by the production company Docudrama, that "Everything else is pure fiction,"Pandemic: Facing AIDS provides only a portion of truth.

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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