Music

The Bug: London Zoo

London Zoo is the epitomical soundtrack to the summer of horror.


The Bug

London Zoo

Label: Ninja Tune
US Release Date: 2008-08-12
UK Release Date: 2008-07-07
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The Bug is Kevin Martin, the "only one ruling selector" according to Tippa Irie on the fantastic and potent London Zoo. Those of us who've had their eyes on Martin for years knew this kind of career-defining album was festering somewhere within him. His vast, mostly abrasive past untethers like the bow firing a poison arrow aimed straight at the heart of musical convention and cultural complacency.

A long time partner of Godflesh and Jesu's Justin Broadrick (in God, Ice, the Sidewinder, Curse of the Golden Vampire, and Techno Animal), Martin cradled obsessive talents for years under collaborative projects, all secretly his babies, but found in his Bug project a rare calling within dancehall and the raw blueprint for what would one day be called dubstep. That is, after trying free-jazz death metal, scorched-earth downtempo macro dub, power noise hip-hop, and an alternate soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation (for the Bug's first album). What 2003's Pressure displayed adroitly was Martin's affinity for palpitating a perfect nervous tension and a kind of time-warp urgency -- left over perhaps from his industrial roots (I dare you to listen to London Zoo's Ricky Ranking-led track "Murder We" and not hear the squelchy scum-wasp bass of Nine Inch Nails's "The Becoming") -- one that looks forward in order to look back at the dire present. No surprise that Martin has sourced Gibson, Ballard, and Dick as influences, but the big surprise was how well this sense of antitheistic dread interfaced with the natty dread, Rastafari's apocalyptical religiosity, its fever-pitch Jah worship, and fiery-tongued rude boy glossololia.

The Bug is terminal. It lays off the dub-poetry-laden side of Pressure on London Zoo, but it heightens the zero hour terror of what exactly it means to be (barely) alive in Summer of 2008 ("This is summer insane", Martin's Ladybug cohort Warrior Queen incants at one point), the shuffling and volatile heartbeat of history ready to rain down distress from every corner. Martin shines floodlights in those corners, revealing a barefaced volatility as palpable as that found on Dre's The Chronic (recorded mere weeks after the LA riots). His Jamaican-by-way-of-England guest MCs splatter London Zoo's canvas with blood, vitriol, and plangent dystopianist alarmism. Martin himself scores the mayhem with machine gun jolts, ominous tolling bells, murky sub-bass, and reverberating dystopianist alarm clocks, from the 8-bit bleeper to the seizure-stuttering variety.

The Bug is viral. Even though the MCs inked their own diatribes independent of one another for separate sessions, occasionally even in direct discord with one another thematically (pit Roll Deep's Flowdan and his eschatological hostility on tracks like "Jah War" and "Skeng" against the relative disgust over reactionary violence in Ricky Ranking's "Murder We" and "Judgment"), the individual tracks still piece together like snap-puzzle components, as if they were each tapping into the same conversation, the same synaptic nerve of the collective unconscious.

London Zoo is 2008 readying itself for a fix of the ol' ultraviolence. Take the transition from the tribal stomp of opener "Angry", featuring Tippa Irie's rabid invective against those who "rape Africa" and those who "should have been there in the hour" of Hurricane Katrina, to the second track "Murder We". Irie's promulgation of discontent ("So many t'ing that get me angry / And so many t'ings that get me mad") allows for the confrontational inner-city climate of "Murder We", where the "streets are running blood red". "Don't you know from the look in my face I'm angry?" asks Ranking to a cop who badgers him for an ID. Irie had already established why Ranking, and perhaps all of us, should be mad. By the time Flowdan and Killa P escalate matters in the Doomsday clock-counting nursery rhyme verse of "Skeng", stoically cataloguing artillery for the revolution, self-defense, or perhaps just gangsta-style one-upmanship ("doin' some pricks with an M-1-6"), you're ready to lock yourself in the panic room.

All this preemptive aggression comes with a price, of course, as the protagonist of "Skeng" gets "shot in the face like darts in a board". The slow-churn bass continues until another round goes off. "Shot in the face make you send for the nurse". Here, everything but the vocals and the beat cut out and we hear the same hollow and unemoted nursery rhyme voice repeat the last line three times, as if crying out to deaf ears, "Nurse….Nurse…Nurse…/ Doctor can't fix you, send for the hearse".

The Bug is an infestation, a multiplicity of voices challenging each other, spitting and yelling, pissing and speculating, frightening each other into defensive, claustrophobic poses. The vastly competent array of MCs each have their own distinct flow and pace, but very little -- from Flowdan's lightning-fast verbal gymnastics, to Rick Ranking's slow-cooked esophageal rumblings, to Roger Robinson's soulful melancholy -- clashes in a way that dulls or vitiates the album's impact.

Martin's music for these tracks is likewise all-encompassing. It's eight arms to choke you. A suffocation of sound ("Find it hard to breathe", Roger Robinson says at one point). The full-bodied wall of sound on "Poison Dart", with its military-strength bass reinforcement, its filthy jagged sawtooth edges, its fluttering cacophony of psychedelic synths, and its droning cavernous wails, is like a deeply tweaked-out shell shock relay that intensifies with every glowing blue and red light, every cop car chasing past the window. Yet, from America to Africa to the titular London to the lands of "suicide bombers" and the Taliban, the infestation expands far beyond the desolation at the windowsill. As frequent Kode9 partner Spaceape extols in his litany of caveats (not-so-subtly named "Fuckaz"), "Fear all them people who believes charity begins at home / Believe me, nothing begins at home".

The Bug is infectious. It's a vision of a world gripped by prepossessed fear and hatred, as if by a "rage" outbreak. It is also packed with full-on soundboy contagions of propulsive beats and lyrical hooks, enjoyable as much as a ghettoblaster to scare the neighborhood children as it is a paranoid headphone chin-scratcher guaranteed to bring about a case of stoned inertia creeps within yourself. It stays with you long after each listen, from the furor and motor-oil of "Jah War" to the disturbingly sparse and atmospheric "You and Me", a love song for the end of the world which ominously refrains "All I care for is you and me / Let the world sink into the sea".

The bug is a state of irritation. London Zoo is bugging out. "You and Me" is the one uneasy breath the album allows, and it fades in from what maybe the album's centerpiece, Spaceape's "Fuckaz", which calls out in disgust all those perpetuating the casualized fear society. "Fear all them fucking people whose only concern in life is to mine permanent state of hesitance", he says. Martin need not worry about being called out on this one. London Zoo is the anti-hesitance, a bug planted in the black box of a sinking world, a communicable antibiotic for those blinded by the darkness. At the very least, a spring into the freed asses whose minds will hopefully soon follow.

9

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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