Reviews

The Forbidden Zone

Richard Elfman and his traveling musical theatre troupe The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo re-create their eclectic – I want to say psychotropic – stage show on film. Yay?


The Forbidden Zone

Director: Richard Elfman
MPAA rating: R
US DVD Release Date: 2008-07-29
First date: 1980

Welcome to Crazytown. In the 1980 cult musical The Forbidden Zone, a family discovers that a door in their basement leads to the 6th Dimension. Naturally, they each wind up going through the door, sliding through a rope of intestines and out of a cartoon asshole. Then getting into trouble with the evil Queen and her horny King, running afoul of Satan and his spooky dance troupe, and raising the ire of a perpetually topless princess with distractingly pointed nipples. A love triangle ensues, rescue missions go awry, at least one person is (willingly) raped to death, and the Queen’s breasts keep popping out of her too-tight dress. This is, sort of, the plot.

Originally shot on black and white film, and conceived as a series of musical numbers held together by a paper-thin (and deliberately nonsensical) riff about a “Forbidden Zone”, Richard Elfman’s opus remains today as much zany fun as it was when first screened to no doubt befuddled audiences in Reagan-era midnight showings. Except now, due to the magic of digital technology, the film is in vibrant, living colour. This might piss off the purists, but it seems to me to have done nothing but improve the experience. Indeed, Elfman had always intended to release the film in colour, but hadn’t the resources back in the day to send the film to China to be painted by hand (his original, and borderline insane, plan).

Elfman and his traveling musical theatre troupe The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo wanted to re-create their eclectic – I want to say psychotropic – stage show on film. On that score, The Forbidden Zone is said to be an unqualified success. The thing is that for most people, The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo was about as palatable as a glue smoothie. Their curious brand of sexed up faux-vaudeville is aggressively weird, campy, and nonsensical – imagine the Mothers of Invention puking out Pee Wee Herman (who was no doubt deeply influenced by this film) while surrounded by a bunch of random, topless women, all of them dancing in unison. Oh, and the sets are made of construction paper and crayon drawings, the King is played by Tattoo from Fantasy Island, and the guy pretending to be the youngest son is easily 65-years-old. Not your average crowd pleaser.

There is almost no way to critique a film such as this. It is, in every way, critic-proof. It is designed to be irrational, bizarre, and unfathomable. Its musical numbers are (most of them) lip-synched Cab Calloway and Josephine Baker songs. The characters are so thinly drawn that they do things seemingly at random. Even the copious humping seems little more than a lazy gesture, an automatic response (they always keep their underwear on).

The plot is so vague as to be in every way a secondary concern (finding a plot hole here is like fishing for homophobes at a Republican Convention). This film simply relies on the desire of its audience to let go of their minds, and drift along on the whims of the Oingo Boingos. Therefore, any attempt to discuss the relative merits of the film would require taking it at all seriously – which would be a fundamental mistake.

At the very least it would require the critic to think deeply on the possible meanings of, say: a bunch of gun-wielding black pimps terrorizing a classroom (in which they are students); a cage full of rape-happy Masons; a Rabbi as St. Peter for the 6th Dimension; a nervous wimp who actually acts like a chicken (and to whom chickens speak); and a beautiful young princess who doesn’t seem to own clothes (apart from some terrifically oversized panties). Thinking too hard about this would be a stupid thing to do. Funny, but stupid.

So, instead, I’ll just mention a few more things of interest about the film. The odds are if you haven't seen this already, you’ll see it after reading this review because you’re interested in something this demented. But, if you’re still on the fence, consider this: Oingo Boingo, after dropping the Mystic Knights stuff, went on to be a semi-popular synth pop band in the '80s, and provided the theme song for Weird Science, among the weirdest mainstream teen comedies of the era. One of the key members of the band, Richard Elfman’s little brother Danny, would go on to become among the two or three most important scorers of Hollywood pictures of the past 30 years. (Danny, by the way, plays Satan in The Forbidden Zone.)

The film’s only paid actor, Hervé Villechaize (Tattoo), has an accent so impenetrable that I almost turned on the subtitles (not that it would have made anything any clearer). Finally, “gratuitous” seems an insufficient way of describing the boob-friendliness of this flick – I have to admit that the topless princess (Gisele Lindley) kind of offended me. But not as much as the blackface stuff (!) or the use of murderous black pimps as a punchline (twice).

6

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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