Pete Tong/Sarah Main: Pure Pacha 2005

Pop on your headphones, close your eyes, and you could almost be in the midst of the infamously sophisticated sleaze of the world-famous club.

Mega-club compilations try to sell an ideal. In the case of Pacha, represented by the ubiquitous two cherries, it goes something like this: Pacha is the Versace of nightclubs -- upscale, sexy, progressive, and decadent as hell. The latest Pacha double CD, Pure Pacha 2005, plays like the soundtrack to this ideal almost to a T, with pure/dirty dichotomy and an up-to-the-minute aesthetic sensibility turned all dance-dance craziness.

Each disc in this two-disc set is quite different, so let's tackle them one at a time.

This Disc - Pete Tong's Purest Cuts:

By now, Pete Tong is such an expert in his field that at first it's hard to keep up with him on this disc. But give it time, let it sink in over a few spins, and you see he's still pushing forward, past minimal house into something else, a place where songs don't have a familiar build-cut-build structure, but instead invert or ignore convention. Take the album's opener, the Ralf Lawson remix of Silver City's "Galactic Ride". The outer-space synth melodic fragment is built up by repeated synthetic tinkles and sparkly splashes, but three minutes in, the bass cuts out and we get an eerie silence. The variation grabs the listener's attention so that when the unobtrusive beat returns, it's still fresh.

On the macro level, the disc is surprising, too. The first couple of tracks turn the bass way down, so everything's drum or treble, high house switches and swatches. Then the Tong/Cox collabo "Deep End" introduces its great bass slide and suddenly the mix is in full gear, deep-minimal rather than the slight sound of the opening. Over the rest of the disc we get slight variations, but the mood is similar -- intelligent, interesting house.

Listen out for these: the melody on Harry Choo Choo Romero's "Warped", reminiscent of the Dr. Who theme, all sonic, pentatonic melody; and Bob Sinclair's contribution, "Summer Moon", though no "Love Generation", is likeable ecstatic in equal measure -- the disembodied vocal/banging summer beat combination recalls the old Funkstar Deluxe anthem "Sun Is Shining".

That Disc – Sarah Main's Dark & Dirty Cuts:

Though she doesn't have the name recognition of Pete Tong, Pacha resident favourite Sarah Main at least delivers on the promise made in the disc's title. It takes a little while, though. The opening cut, Kerri Chandler's "Fiesta", is slower, a warm-up perhaps, but not what you expect coming off the pumped-up end of Tong's contribution. It's OK, the CD stands on its own, but in all, though it has more "this is why I love dance music" moments, it's less consistent and therefore less successful.

There are certainly highlights, though. Listen for Mike Monday's superb "Rump Funk", which kicks up the stakes with needling-needling synth. The track's sleazy, funky, and irresistible -- you feel filthy just listening to it. And of course Tom Novy's "Your Body". The only consequence of the heavy dance floor play this hit receives is the realization that the end of each line ("…but you") really sounds like he's sneezing into the microphone. Still, it's funky, high energy house at its best.

On the other hand, we get Jamie Lewis' "Be Thankful". It could just be me, but wasn't the gospel thing done by the time Fatboy Slim regurgitated Electric Boutique's "Revelation" on Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars? Jose Nunez's "Lust for You" works the soliloquy much better later on Main's disc, because it fits the disk's grit, and when the tune comes in just before the six-minute-mark, it's a great, body-spasm-inducing moment.

Overall, the CD does a good job of mixing the high-pitched soft synth tickles with the squelching swells of dirty house. It's just not quite as consistent as Tong's.

* * *

I went to Pacha in New York on a recent Friday night. Apart from a few obvious local plays (LCD Soundsystem's "Tribulations"), the sound was house through-and-through, playing with expert ability the lulls and surges of the dance floor. Dancers in bikinis gyrated in steamed-up shower stalls beneath streams of hot water. Fog billowed over the dance floor at regular intervals. In the V.I.P area (the one that I could see), people lounged on pillows or dipped below the partition to do whatever it is people do in the dark corners of New York clubs. Pure Pacha 2005 emulates with expert precision the foggy cerebral/physical exultation of that experience. Pop on your headphones, close your eyes, and you could almost be there.


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If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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