Reviews

STS9: 6 September 2013 - Morrison, CO

Photo by Calder Wilson; courtesy band Facebook page

STS9’s headlining appearances at Red Rocks have become known as one of the magical venue’s seasonal highlights in any year.


STS9
City: Morrison, CO
Venue: Red Rocks Ampitheater
Date: 2013-09-06-07

The legendary Red Rocks Ampitheater near Denver, Colorado has long been one of the nation’s most celebrated concert venues. The 9,000+ capacity venue set amongst a majestic red rock mountain landscape is a special place that marks a career peak for any band playing there for the first time. The venue is what shamans refer to as a “power spot” and the music played there hits the soul on a deep level. Certain bands recognize this and make it a habit to play there on an annual basis. Sound Tribe Sector 9 fall into the latter category, with this year’s appearance marking the band’s 10-year anniversary at the venue.

It was a sign of a band on the rise when STS9 were tapped by their friends in the String Cheese Incident to open for them at Red Rocks in 2003. Now a decade later, STS9’s headlining appearances at Red Rocks have become known as one of the magical venue’s seasonal highlights in any year. The jamtronica quintet’s two-set shows promise one of the longest performances on the venue schedule. and their ultra-psychedelic light show offers a truly epic spectacle for the senses.

The band’s summer 2012 show at Red Rocks, however, received a rare amount of criticism in the social media sphere for being somewhat under par, so it was all but certain that STS9 were out to deliver an unquestionably stellar performance this time around. The band had a big year overall in 2012 though, touring behind their “Great Cycle Spectacles” banner in honor of the end of the Mayan calendar. It was STS9 that hit the stage at midnight on the 2012 winter solstice on the beach in Tulum, Mexico to deliver the first music of the new age, following the conclusion of the Mayan calendar’s 26,000-year “precession of the equinoxes” cycle. They’ve carried that energy into 2013, making this one of their heaviest touring years in recent memory.

Coloradans are truly blessed to get STS9’s summer tour closer on this weekend, following in the wake of Phish’s summer tour closer the previous weekend at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in nearby Commerce City. The Denver music scene has long been a strong one but it just keeps on growing and is now easily one of the nation’s best. 27,000 fans packed Dick’s to enable Phish to sell out two of their three shows there and it’s a safe bet that most of the fans here at Red Rocks this weekend were also at Dick’s the previous weekend. The audience crossover makes for a great scene, with a community vibe that is hard to find at mainstream rock shows. Jamrock fans view music in a borderline religious way, and Red Rocks is one of the genre’s most sacred temples.

It’s no coincidence that there’s a Facebook fan group called “The Church of STS9”, since many fans view the band’s music in a sacred light. Drummer Zach Velmer and percussionist Jeffree Lerner conjure a tribal sort of percussion when they synch in just right, while bassist David Murphy, guitarist Hunter Brown and keyboardist David Phipps always play for the collective groove. The quintet has carved out a relatively unique genre all their own based on mixing electronic music with rock sensibilities and a true reverence for the spiritual power of music.

The band gives a nod to longtime fans in Friday’s first set by throwing down early old school favorites in succession with an “Aimlessly, Ramone & Emiglio, Baraka” trio. “Crystal Instrument>Frequencies” is another winning combo, with the entire mountain side cresting in an ecstatic wave on the precision segue between the tunes. The collective groove at the end of the “Frequencies” jam makes it feel like Red Rocks might just launch into space, and the band’s winning lightshow comes into prominence here. Phish lighting designer Chris Kuroda is generally acknowledged as the ultimate Jedi master of the trade, but STS9’s Saxton Waller has raised his game in 2013 and is giving Kuroda a run for the title with his dazzling synchronized blend of colors and shapes.

Friday’s second set opens with the newer “Golden Gate” from 2011’s When the Dust Settles EP, after the surging title track had closed the first set. Never content to coast on past glory, STS9 are always mixing in new material in their sonic journey. The uniquely triumphant counterpoint melodies and groovy rhythms from Lerner on “Golden Gate” create a truly majestic feeling to re-start the dance party in full. “Equinox” is another highlight, a tune that always conjures a reverent vibe. Pairing the classic jams of “Circus>Moonsocket” to close the show’s triple encore serves notice that the band is out to make a statement, and it’s a happy crowd that descends the mountain at the end of the night.

What could be better than one STS9 show at Red Rocks? A second night, of course, and so it’s an amped up crowd that reports for duty on night two. There’s not quite as much glow-bling in the crowd as there was for Phish at Dick’s the previous Saturday night, but there’s a similarly festive vibe that makes Colorado feel like the place to be. The dirty funk of “Arigato” is an early highlight, while the soaring melodies of “Kaya” light up the night midway through the set. The second set finds the band going for broke by opening with the all-too-rare “Hubble”, a classic jam vehicle that was once a tour staple. The uplifting jam takes everyone to a pinnacle and the band keeps the high energy vibe flowing with a segue into the raucous “Dance” and the ever-epic “Inspire Strikes Back”, making this set a strong contender for one of the band’s best of the year. “Four Year Puma” is a barnburner as well, with the band crushing another one of their classic grooves for all its worth.

An epic multi-song encore ensures that this will be a weekend to remember for the fanbase when the band launches into “2012”, a soaring sonic journey that has become one of the band’s top crowd pleasers. The ultra-rare “Water” follows with sound effects of thunder and a slinky groove that sounds extra great here since the weekend’s clouds did not lead to rain. But it’s still not over as the band follows with a surprising “Dance” reprise before leaving the stage. They then come back for yet another encore of “Music, Us”, a gorgeous tune with a Beatle-esque message on how love is all you need.

When the heavy rains come later in the week leading to apocalyptic flooding in the Boulder area, the band shows Colorado some extra love by donating proceeds of all concert downloads and special Colorado-themed merch to flood relief efforts. That is how a band that is all about the music does it, showing extra love to one of their favorite tour spots.

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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