Music

Various Artists: Motown Remixed

Tim O'Neil

If all remix discs were this good, well... the world would be a better place, I'll say that much.


Various Artists

Motown Remixed

Label: Universal
US Release Date: 2005-05-25
UK Release Date: 2005-06-06
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There are those among us who reject remix projects such as this on principle, holding fast to the notion that tampering with classic music in such a fashion is at best superfluous, and at worse patently disrespectful. While I can understand this notion, I do not think it correct or even defensible. Great music, enduring music, deserves to be redefined and rediscovered by successive generations. The notion that the original recording artist possesses some kind of moral right to have their music held static throughout eternity is relatively recent. Up until, really, the early years of rock and roll, the song itself was ceded primacy in the artistic equation: some artists wrote their own songs, and all artists had signature tunes, but most popular artists, regardless of genre, worked from common repertoires. The best songs became a part of this repertoire.

But somewhere along the line things changed. The premium was placed not only on singers who could sing their own material, but the singer's own interpretation was summarily considered paramount. This makes a certain degree of sense, but it effectively relegated the previously plastic process of continual reinterpretation to the scrap-heap. Covers are novelties, and are often considered a slightly shabby substitute for "real" recording. Used to be that songwriters like Gershwin or Porter could produce a body of work that would be revisited and reinterpreted for decades, continuing to change with the times, with new artists recording and performing new versions to exploit new styles, and no honest interpretation considered more or less valid than another. Before the invention of recorded music and the institution of universal publishing copyrights, popular song was nothing but accumulated traditions and gradual transformation. Now, to a large degree, this kind of intergenerational collaboration is a thing of the past. Not only is it expected that each succeeding generation will reject the music of its forebears, it is mandated by the relentless pace of commercial society. Those who reject this notion either wholly or in part are considered hopelessly retrograde.

While there is a tendency to view remix albums such as Motown Remixed as garish artifacts of this selfsame capitalistic mentality, it is important to recognize that they actually represent a significant evolutionary leap for the modern pop form. Now, it would be disingenuous of me to assert that all remixes were created equal. Most remixes, like most of anything, are mediocre. But when a remix really kicks, it becomes the very best type of collaboration: a meeting of the minds between two disparate creative forces to create something new and compelling through the process of synthesis. Given the ubiquity of powerful home computing and affordable audio software, the potential for remixers to create entirely new channels of trans-generational communication is incredibly exciting.

It would be hard to find a more esteemed body of song than that represented on Motown Remixed. I am happy to report that this disc breaks the recent spate of bad luck we've been having with remix anthologies -- it easily outclasses the mediocre third volume in the otherwise superlative Verve Remixed series, as well as the disappointing Atlantiquity project. The M.O. for a classic remix compilation should be simple, but it's an imprecise science. You need to get the best remixers you can to work with the best tracks you have, give them the creative latitude to express themselves fully and stand back. Sometimes things that look great on paper come out limp, and sometimes the least auspicious pairings can yield surprising results. It's as much luck as anything.

The disc kicks off with Z-Trip's excellent remix of the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back". Those familiar with Z-Trip might be expecting something wild and crazy, but the track is actually quite restrained: Z-Trip strips back the more rambunctious pop elements until all that's left is the backbone of a tasteful soul jam, with languid guitar and sultry bass set atop a bedrock of funky breaks. It probably shouldn't be, but it is especially poignant to hear a young Michael Jackson singing so effusively. Z-Trip wisely understands that the best strategy involves letting Jackson's voice take the center stage.

The Randy Watson Experience delivers a fantastic remix of Gladys Knight & The Pips version of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine", full of irresistible '70s funk breaks and coruscating electric organ. Again, when dealing with material this strong, the remixers' prerogative needs to be elaboration without obfuscation: adding new elements without obscuring those attributes that made the song a classic to begin with. Da Producers' remix of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" follows these suggestions to a "T" but still manages to fall somewhat flat -- Gaye's voice and the song's sultry melody are out front where they should be, but the generic funk undercarriage seems just slightly gratuitous.

DJ Smash turns Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" into a lazy downtempo house workout. Like many of the mixes on the disc, Smash doesn't change the structure of the song at all, and letting Wonder carry the day makes his own contributions look that much better. Salaam Remi's "Krunk-A-Delic Party Mix" of the Jackson 5's "ABC", however, drops the song's main hook in favor of a crunk party feel, turning the prepubescent Michael into a retrograde Lil' Jon, complete with repeated appeals to "shake it, shake it, baby". It's interesting, even if not wholly convincing.

The album gets slightly soggy in the middle portion. The Temptations' "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" comes off enervated by DJ Jazzy Jeff a& Pete Kuzma's infusion of tasteful jazz elements. Considering how funky and forceful the original is, the track needed a remixer who could approach the material with an eye towards something more enthusiastic. I will say in the interest of fairness that Smokey Robinson's "Quiet Storm" has always been one of my least favorite songs, and Groove Boutique's lounge remix does little to improve what was already a fairly treacly and exhausting track. Diana Ross & the Supremes' "My World Is Empty Without You" was never a song that suffered from a lack of energy, but Tranzition's remix saps a great deal of the original's effusive tension in flavor of a faux-languid "Quiet Storm" vibe.

However, things pick up with the Easy Mo Bee remix of the Temptations' "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)". This is essentially in the same "Quiet Storm" mold as the previous remixes, but it works better on account of the note of insistent sensuality that runs through the minimal percussion, accentuated by the slight bits of orchestral flourish. The Hotsnax remix of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' "Tears of a Clown" is one of the album's high points, taking the irresistible hook of the original and giving it over to a full-scale dancefloor rerub, in the vein of Fatboy Slim. Because the original was already so punchy, the dense, jocular big beat vibe is exceptionally appropriate. My only complaint is that the track is so short -- in fact, some of the best mixes on this disc suffer from the sin of brevity, which might actually limit their utility for many DJs.

The last few tracks are exceptionally strong. DJ Spinna's remix of Eddie Hendricks' "Keep on Truckin'" is a surprisingly subtle reworking, isolating and accentuating the hooks over a skeletal rhythm section. Perhaps the disc's finest moment comes on the ever reliable King Britt's imaginative recreation of Edwin Star's "War" as an Afrobeat jam in the mode of Fela Kuti, with hypnotic proto-house drumbeats and sinister saxophone squonks hiding deep in the mix. Again, at only five minutes and change, this track could easily do with being half again as long. The album's final cut is DJ Green Lantern's "Evil Genius" remix of Rick James' "Mary Jane". I don't particularly know why this is billed as a "Bonus Mix", but it's a good note on which to end the compilation, with an almost psychedelic combination of stomping beats and retreated flute notes. It's weird and funky in equal measure, just like the late Super Freak himself.

Although there were a handful of clunkers, the disc's overall quality is exceptional. The high regard with which the remixers obviously hold the original tracks has inspired many of them to produce exceptional work. Of course, folks like Z-Trip, King Britt and DJ Smash can be expected to excel whenever they rear their heads, but lesser-known remixers like Hotsnax and Salaam Remi also announce themselves with confidence and poise. If all remix discs were this good, well... the world would be a better place, I'll say that much.

(Note: According to Amazon, the UK version of the disc features a significantly different tracklisting, with the addition of "Stoned Love" by The Supremes' remixed by Tom Moulton and "Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)" by Gladys Knight & The Pips remixed by Kenny Dope. Also, the UK version does not feature the mixes of "Mary Jane", "ABC" or "Tears of a Clown".)

7

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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