Reviews

Various Artists: Culturama 666, Vol. 2 [DVD]

Michael Frauenhofer

Innovative, imaginative, and inventive enough to prove that, nay-sayers or no, hip-hop is without a doubt still most alive and well.


Various Artists

Culturama 666, Vol. 2 [DVD]

Label: Music Video Distributors
US Release Date: 2006-01-24
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Ever since their inception as a series of relatively low-budget VHS tapes, the Culturama video compilations have provided a strong sampling of underground hip-hop videos by artists ranging from the somewhat-established to the almost-completely-unknown. Although somewhere in the switch to DVD the numbering system switched from single-digits to "666" (no explanation offered for the random touch of Satanism), the series, far from selling out or becoming more mainstream as its audience and distribution have grown, has rather improved markedly, if not the already-strong quality, at least the quantity of the videos included. And with videos like this, you'll want more -- while the disc clocks in at a solid 90 minutes, it flows nicely from one video to the next and never feels too long. All things considered, Culturama 666, Vol. 2, the second DVD in the series, is yet another great collection of dope indie hip-hop and rare, often unseen videos that is definitely worth your time and money.

The music here is astonishingly consistent -- the Shape Shifters kick things off nicely with a peppy mix of bouncy electro and crazy '80s fashion, along with just about every other insane idea they could come up with (including a dancing robot, silver men in top hats, and an E.T. reenactment). The vocal beat on "Talk Dirty" by Opio and Pep Love is absolutely sublime, as is the thick saxophone on the Time Machine track. Nearer to the end, the Visionaries show that laid-back restraint can make even a sped-up vocal sample sound new -- they preach without sounding preachy, and by the song's end any negative feelings have completely melted away. It may not sound like conventional soul, but it's soul music in the most important and best ways possible.

The best videos here, though, are the ones that combine the strong music -- and most of it by far is strong music -- with equally interesting video presentations, and these occur more often here than on most video compilations. On the unnerving video from High N Mighty, a seemingly normal (initially) suburban uncle performs the song, karaoke-style, at a kiddie birthday party, while the little children and their grandmothers bob their party-hat-wearing heads and smile creepily. The contribution from backpacker fave Busdriver also impresses as expected, his mile-a-minute spray of words over a swirling piano beat mixing well with the ironically childish animation and the sing-songy chorus of "rappers say the darnedest things...". The ending is great as well, in which he poses comically and chants the song title, "avantcore", in the just the right tone to knock intellectual pretension in all forms flat on its ass with a bookish smirk.

Relative newcomer Josh Martinez's contribution, "Nightmare", is one of my personal favorites. It seems to have been filmed with jerky live-action stop-motion, a series of photographs in rapid succession set to music. This could easily become a visual gimmick, but it's used here to full effect: he skateboards through the city without a skateboard, spins his hat around on his head, slides along railings and generally defies the laws of physics. When he is sucked, sliding on his stomach and trying to spin away to freedom, through a cold indoor parking garage, all while the song plays on, it's the perfect metaphor for modern life.

The absolute out-of-left-field beauty of Subtle's "F.K.O." is likewise complemented wonderfully by its video: the rappers flow unconventionally, their abstract lyrics fading in and out of a calming beat unlike any other you've probably ever heard (the most random phrases, like "on their miniature dogs' necks", are emphasized), building up to a chorus that explodes into glorious accordion and acoustic guitar. The animation here is perfect as well, a vaguely nightmarish blur of Escher, Spirited Away and Where the Wild Things Are that has to be seen to be believed. As for the rest of the DVD, the worst videos (excepting the nigh-unwatchable "contribution", if it can be called that, from Awol-One) aren't even necessarily "bad", just not as innovative as their counterparts.

In a world where the average MTV viewer can't name more than two cornerstones of hip-hop, a world full of the music Mighty Casey so cleverly and all-too-accurately describes on "Black Rapping School" -- "This ain't hip-hop, this is Kool-Aid now / Because we sweeten it up, and we water it down" -- Culturama 666, Vol. 2 is an excellent reminder that every time a would-be prophet of doom claims that "hip-hop is dead", all it takes is a look beyond the surface to prove them dead wrong. An accompanying CD of all the songs would have been amazing, but the videos alone are still far more than worth the price of admission (more than 20 for less than $15!), and there's hardly a bad one in the bunch. So for fans of underground hip-hop, or hip-hop in general, or even just intelligent, independent music or experimental film, Culturama 666 is a great way to spend 90 minutes and discover some talented new artists along the way... because in the end, nothing's better than enjoying the work of people who truly love what they do.

8

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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