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Kill Your Television Before It Kills You

Terry Sawyer

Just one of many grotesqueries on reality TV: plastic surgery used to be something dirty and hidden, a product of cancerous vanity akin to pedophilia in its sick unnaturalness... Why hasn't the American Medical Association condemned the dark arts of its most bottom-feeding specialty, plastic surgery?

I'm on the brink of leaving television behind forever. It's been a long time coming and perhaps I should have done it sooner. But like just about everyone in America I'm a TV junky and I've had to wean myself off gradually, using my inner nun to punish those times when, rather than do something productive or meaningful, I plopped down for a night of the dead ecstasy of a flickering inanities. I honestly believe it used to be a much less guilty pleasure. When I think of the naivete and comparative rebelliousness of shows like The Dukes of Hazard, I can't help but become one of those disgusting people pining for a golden era that may or may not have existed. One thing is for certain: television has become an endless field of Sadean cruelty; a bloodied public altar where people sacrifice their privacy and decency for a sick shot at ephemeral fulfillment. In short, it's coming for us.

When reality television first began to crop up with dandelion tenacity, I had a moment of utopian hope. In principle, it seemed like a rejection of the star system, a popular revolt against the cult of the celebrity by people who'd collectively snapped out of their pagan worship of all those shiny wads of aluminum foil in Hollywood. I've always considered the whole system of celebrity to be some crude tribal ritual whereby chosen people are lavished with the resources and adoration we all want but can't have before we carry them to the lip of the volcano and hope that their public destruction will make the fates a bit kinder to each of us. They're like Greek Gods who are one step removed from ordinary life, moving among us with a vague, transcendent glow, but plagued with human flaws that they wear like small children's bones turned into jewelry.

A teensy, impish part of me hoped that reality television would end up being some kind of entertainment apocalypse that the democratization of fame would lead to its collapse. I dreamed that we would be sitting around watching our own lives on the flickering box and then it would dawn on us how much of our existence we waste in front of a yawning tool of sating stupidity. That it might occur to us that all that television seems to do is generate a perpetual void — a phony litany of inadequacies that can only be healed with consuming products that you previously hadn't realized were so crucial to your happiness. Now, with pharmaceutical companies free to whore out the latest in neurological tinkering we're even bombarded with a new era of pathologizing the wholly normal and justified. "Ever feel uncomfortable around other humans? You're fucked up, man, you need some drugs and you'll need to take them for the rest of your life so that our executives can afford to use the word 'summer' as a verb."

But any radicalizing potential that could have emerged from reality television was quickly quashed when marketers realized that people truly are dumb enough to be sold what they already have. The star system has in fact exploded, making it's senselessness much more bold and shameless. You become famous now simply by being on the television — in what capacity, it matters little. Whether you sucked the ex-President's cock or simply sold your every last shred of dignity to have American touchtone vote a spouse for you, we ingest our newly-breeding celebrity culture at a rate that makes crack seem homeopathic.

I came to these realizations while having the misfortune of watching both The Swan and MTV's I Want A Famous Face. The Swan seems to be the more evil of the two shows, though perhaps this is one of those moral arguments that's academically cute, like figuring out whether Hitler or Stalin was a bigger asshole. The Swan is a greater feminist nightmare than Republican women who crusade for the right of inferiority. There's no philosophical equivocation on The Swan, no moment when cooler heads prevail to suggest that maybe, just maybe, these women are beautiful in their own right, at worst needing a trip to the gym and a few items of clothing that aren't sweat pants. No, on The Swan it's straight to cut-rate surgeons who find tons "wrong" with these women — several areas that could stand to be sucked out, sawed off, or ground down. After judging their natural physiques defective in reference to some implicit Platonic ideal snipering in the periphery, these women get treated to further ego brutality by being pitted against one another in a beauty competition. Basically, the show's goal seems to be creating women whose psyches are so potholed by the show's scalpel-imposed beauty cages that they will probably spend the rest of their lives between surgeries.

MTV (or the network formerly known to play music) has minted its own youth-oriented version of the body mangling fad. It's hard not to find this show a little insidious for taking advantage of young people who are hit particularly hard by shallow social hierarchies that ostracize other people based on how they look, how "cool" they are, or how much money their families have. It's a particularly Lord of the Flies period that, if you survive, you look back upon in total bafflement, especially at the melodramatic molehills that comprised many of your waking hours. I used to believe that MTV had a plucky, smart-assed counter-cultural edge, epitomized by Kurt Loder's dour, bemused delivery of the "news". But this show is the apotheosis of conformity and the death of anything that could be considered social bravery or the virtues of rock n' roll bravado. After all, these people don't even want to look beautiful in some way that would maximize their intrinsic physical attributes, they simply want to be shoddy facsmilies of safe, saccharine, shitty pop celebrities — many of whom are probably only weeks away from a VH-1 Where are they now? episode. If Janis Joplin were alive today she's be getting botox referrals from Courtney Love.

Plastic surgery used to be something dirty and hidden, a product of cancerous vanity akin to pedophilia in its sick unnaturalness. Celebrities vigorously denied their morphing, expecting us to believe that yoga and kabala had magically rearranged their faces. That it now has a marketing vehicle in reality television is one of the most disturbing developments in the history of television. That people seem so cow-eyed about this ghastly new low has as much to do with television's sensory-dulling as it does our collective apathy toward other people's suffering. Why say anything when it passes the time so deliciously?

That there are people with medical degrees willing to perpetuate the idea that it's quite alright to go get your skull shaved so that you can look like Christy Turlington speaks volumes about the ethical depth of the profession. Why hasn't the American Medical Association condemned the dark arts of its most bottom-feeding specialty, plastic surgery? I'm not saying that burn victims or people born with serious deformities shouldn't have reconstructive surgery done to make them comfortable with their lives. But that's an order of magnitude removed from running a televised carny booth advocating that people butcher themselves because they stumble a flattering J Lo ass shot in People. I can't decide anymore if, collectively, we're bigger dipshits or sick fucks. I'm leaning toward sick fucks.

There was a time when television's greatest harm was its subtle messages of emptiness and herd banality, pestering us with images of families that didn't exist and prodding us to buy expensive things in order to make us more likely to get laid. Now, it wants you under the knife, indulging every petty masochistic moment of self-loathing you've ever had, even if it endangers your health and life in the process. It's increasingly hard to find television programs that don't exploit ordinary suckers and implicate us in voyeuristic violence. It was only a matter of time before our Frankenstein creation came back for a piece of its creator. Like Old Yeller, despite our love for the suckled glow of the boob tube, it's time to take it out behind the woodshed and put a bullet in it for the love of God, Country, and the pursuit of a life where fame and infamy aren't the only reasons for existence.

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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