World Cup Redux: Innocence Abroad

Tobias Peterson

With my big and painfully obvious American mug pressed up to the glass of (a good many) European drinking establishments, I took out a pen and paper and tried to sketch some of what unfolded before me.

Seen from afar, the World Cup looks, to put it mildly, like a very big deal. And, like anything else of tremendous size, the event threatens to overwhelm you as you draw nearer. At least, this was the general impression that emerged for me over these past few weeks. Though nowhere near the heart of the action in the host nation Germany, I was fortunate enough to spend time in Croatia, Hungary, and England while the tournament was underway. Like a scuba diver approaching a blue whale, I felt at once alien to, and dwarfed by, the goings-on around me. Still, I was able to sense in each country something of the immensity of the tournament, and the potential of sports to send millions into the depths of despair, or deliver them to heights of ecstasy. With my big and painfully obvious American mug pressed up to the glass of (a good many) European drinking establishments, I took out a pen and paper and tried to sketch some of what unfolded before me.

I began in Split, Croatia, where Mickey, the wizened proprietor of my guesthouse, took special care to point out to me in his broken German the main thoroughfare in town, where all the bars would be showing the matches. That night, Croatia would begin its World Cup bid against a heavily-favored Brazil team. Mickey, undaunted, winked and gave me a thumbs-up. Off to our right, a group of teenagers ran past, wearing floppy Dr. Seuss-style hats colored in red and white checkerboard (the national colors, or pattern, or both) and singing at the top of their lungs. I glanced at my watch: 11am. The game wouldn't start for another 10 hours.

By the time I made it back to the square for the start of the match, fans, bedecked in that red and white checkerboard, were everywhere. Every available seat seemed taken; the ones with good views of the television sets were treated like solid-gold real estate. The sets themselves were notable in that they appeared specially brought in for the game. Extension cords snaked over the cobblestone toward TVs of all descriptions as they reflected identical broadcasts for the throng in attendance. Those watching the satellite feeds, though, experienced a split-second delay. As a result, the groans and cheering were staggered throughout the square, with those watching the direct feed TVs sending up the first wave of sound and the satellite viewers chiming in just after.

In the midst of all of this, the match unfolded to riotous enthusiasm. Chanting and clapping, the Croatian fans cheered their team to a 1-0 loss at the hands of Brazil -- by all accounts a disappointment for the traditionally dominant Brazilians and a heartening effort for the home team. I had never seen fans applaud a loss before, but the singing and cheering (as well, of course, as the drinking) intensified even after the score was made official. Vince Lombardi, I mused over a mug of Karlovacko beer, must be spinning in his grave. Winning is the only thing? Not tonight night, at least.

In truth, Croatia had a lot to celebrate, despite the loss. With the recent memory of the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the subsequent sectarian strife (whose legacy ensures that parts of the country are still off-limits due to landmines), the national team's inclusion in the Cup provided both a welcome distraction and a way for Croatians to express a sense of national pride. While Serbia and Montenegro's team dealt with the unusual problem of seeing their country vote for a political divorce despite already having entered the World Cup as a joint team, I saw many combining their football enthusiasm with nationalism via t-shirts that exclaimed (in English no less), "Proud to be a Croat".

As I made my way down the Croatian coast to Dubrovnik, I expected more of these displays of national passion. One of the most animated crowds, however, turned out for the Italy-USA game. With Italy just across the Adriatic from Croatia, the crowd was understandably enthusiastic for the "Azzuri" (as the club is known to its fans). Still, the secret of Dubrovnik (a beautiful, walled city surrounded by pristine islands) is out, which meant that a good many Americans and other tourists were there to support the flagging US club. Projected onto the stone wall of an ancient church, the game unfolded with groups of fans cheering (some jeering) back and forth. The most intense animosity, however, was reserved for those who dared to pass in front of the screen and block the view of the hundreds packing the square. Another groan went up later as, nearby, a smaller TV lost its picture. Frantically, several fans raced up to fiddle with what looked like a rebuilt hibachi grill perched on top of the set until the picture, and general calm, was restored.

Still, a 1-1 tie settled no disputes, and the arguments remained heated long after the final whistle. What struck me most, heading home after another night of patronizing local beers, was that a good many of these debates were among locals. Rather than coming out just for the home team, the fans were just as intently following the entirety of the tournament, and with comparable enthusiasm. This impression was only heightened as, the next day, a group of Croatians passed by draped in Australian flags. Though there were a good many Australian travelers in town gearing up for their big contest against Brazil that night, the locals had clearly adopted their enthusiasm. For some, it wasn't just about rooting for the home team; simply rooting was enough.

Somewhat reluctantly, I left Croatia's cobblestones and winding alleys for the surging metropolis of Budapest, convinced that, since Hungary had failed to qualify for the tournament, my match-watching adventures would be coming to a close. That assumption was happily dashed, however, when I stepped into the arrival terminal at Ferihegy airport and was greeted by a wall-sized projection of England's 2-2 draw with Sweden. Once in the city, it was obvious that the Cup was just as much a fixture in Budapest as it had been in Croatia. Ubiquitous televisions, some slightly out of synch, were prominently displayed in the city's many sidewalk cafes, bars, and restaurants. During a match, the normally busy streets and sidewalks grew empty, as the city rushed indoors to follow the action. Not even a visit by President Bush was enough to cause the city to turn its head from the television. But perhaps the most telling indication of the Cup's importance, even to a non-participant like Hungary, came during a visit to a restaurant near the city's famous Chain Bridge. Seating, we learned after entering, was determined by whether or not you wanted to watch the matches. Instead of "smoking or non-?", the hostess's question was, "World Cup or no?"

Despite the enthusiasm on display in both Croatia and Hungary, nothing could prepare me for the flight from Budapest to London, where England's team had qualified for the second round of the tournament and now stood poised to advance to the championship. We arrived in Cambridge, ordinarily a sleepy little college town that plays host to international tourists during the summer, to find the place transformed. The red and white cross of St. George that makes up the English flag was everywhere, staring back from store windows, car bumpers, even baby strollers. Though England struggled to beat Ecuador 1-0 in their first elimination game, the pub we had found to watch the match was no less excited by the result. The crowd's cheering (at last intelligible to me in English) exceeded the enthusiasm we saw the previous night, when Mexico was cheered on against perennial English rivals Argentina.

The second round saw England bow-out to Portugal on penalty kicks, a result that was reflected in the silent streets of town, deserted for the game and then filled with dampened conversations after the disappointing result. The locals I met with were unanimous in their opinions about the loss, whenever I dared broach the subject, "Let's not talk about it". As such, I was expecting to see fewer bodies out for the tournament's conclusion, which featured two traditional favorites, Italy and France. As I made my way into town, however, I could see that every pub in Cambridge was overflowing with fans. Crowds gaped through windows as the game began, and I soon found myself in a pub that was a converted movie theater, offering standing room only to the hundreds of fans in attendance. Clearly, the bitterness of the English defeat didn't lesson the attraction of the World Cup final. When Italy put through the winning penalty kick after two periods of overtime, the streets flooded with revelers donning Italian flags, singing, shouting, and honking their car horns.

I took in the spectacle and imagined similar scenes playing out in towns like Cambridge all over England. I thought back to Split, to Budapest, to London, and then to Milan, Florence, and Rome. How many millions cheered? How many millions more had turned their eyes toward this single game for that one night? In my travels, I saw that the World Cup, for a countless number of the planet's citizens, consistently superseded rooting interests, favorite players, questions of salary, and any of the other drawbacks and criticisms that invariably dog organized sports. Naturally, the World Cup is a good excuse to argue with friends, wager with bookies, and drink beer (as if one needed an excuse for that). But the tournament is much more. It embodies our athletic enthusiasm at its most innocent and showcases how sports can be a transcendent focal point for our common experiences as fans. The tournament cuts across linguistic and political borders and draws us out into the night together, draped in our ecstasy and howling like mad.

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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