Sunday, January 3, 2010

In with the new

It's official. 2010 is here and it finally feels like we're living in the future, the ideal setting for Chris McNamara's sublime innerspace travelog Vague Cities, issued late last year on Christopher Willits' San Francisco-based Overlap digital imprint. Listen to the five-track EP and buy it here.

Now it's time to celebrate. nospectacle presents a release party for Vague Cities Saturday, Jan. 23, at Motor Burger (formerly Noi), 888 Erie St. East, in Windsor's Little Italy. Excellent food, full cash bar, good times. Original music by McNamara plus combo live-DJ sets by nospectacle.

Admission: free. 8 p.m. - 1 a.m.


Walter's best of 2009 column and blog from the Metro Times:

All signals -- analog, digital, auditory, sensory -- lead to and from Detroit. No other city remains so dedicated to the connectivity of mind, body and 4/4 beats. Go ahead, name one: London? Berlin? LA? NYC? All filled with sexy or rad club life. We humbly grant you that, and more. But for sheer day-to-day local inspiration and global influence, this vast, post-industrial, near-mythic place is the space for electronically-enabled music creation. It is what we rhapsodize about this time of year, when we scan our feeble memory banks, and all our stacked vinyl, CDs and little blue compressed MP3 folders looking for the best music of its kind of the last 12 months.

What else could make us so giddy (frozen lemon-flavored vodka helps) as an otherwise bleak 2009 -- threatened with economic collapse, escalating war and the sobering realization that one half of the country cares little that the other gets basic health care -- thankfully disappears into history? We have our sonic visionaries. They produce on a grand scale. They walk among us, one foot in the present, the other in the future, largely undetectable, immeasurably cool. Micro-attentive critics in the music sub-genre blogosphere are noticing, as they have since the 1980s, sprinkling Detroit respect in liberal doses on best-of lists across the planet. For such nuggets of gratitude we are overcome. We offer you a toast, all the young dudes, glammy girls, lovers and dancers with impeccable taste in Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Paris, San Francisco and, yes, Williamsburg. We reciprocate by throwing our own picks -- including recordings, performances, labels on the upswing, noteworthy emerging trends -- atop the fire, straight outta the mighty fucking D. We've reduced it to an essential three categories. Remix the order anyway you like. May their contents burn in your hearts and souls forever.

Detroit theatricality. Surprised? You needn't be. While most of us were worried about getting paid, artists here were paying it back. Exciting new projects were started locally: Macho City, a smart discoid duo (Mike Trombley and Scott Zacharias), brought fun, forbidden colors and international talent (Nancy Fortune and the retro-futurist rediscovery of the year, Bernard Favre's late-1970s Black Devil Disco Club) back to an impoverished creative club scene. Aaron-Carl, one of the godsons of funky-dirty house to whom young producers around the world owe an increasing debt, launched W.A.R.M.T.H., a D-based collective that aims to go where no man or woman has dared go before: crossover peace, harmony and good times in the ego-driven, fiercely independent techno and house scenes. Carl 
Craig was re-established as artistic director for the Movement Festival, an inspired move by promoters Paxahau, who continue to impress with growth and business savvy after a dozen years of formal promotions. Ditto for Adriel Thornton (aka Fantastique) and his 13 years of Family (and other FreshCorp-related) party productions. Another sweatbox institution, Funk Night, only got better with the addition of live big-band jazz courtesy of Will Sessions and support from the emerging Few Records imprint. Dethlab and Haute2Death reminded us monthly, if not more frequently, that art and design, guitars and synths, and jet boys/jet girls dressed in black will never go out of fashion.

Detroit hyperreality. No surprise here. Detroit producers worked their asses off all year, making original tracks, remixing others, touring the world, making intuitive connections and inspiring new scenes. Let's start with the ornery brilliance of Omar S, who refuses to play in Detroit, but draws lines around buildings at 5 a.m. in Berlin and London. His (real name Alex O. Smith) audacious Fabric 45 mix CD included only his own tracks from his homegrown FXHE label (based in the Conant-8 Mile area). When told minimal global all-star Ricardo Villalobos had recently done the same for the same series, he responded: Ricardo who? We love you, Alex, you crazy bastard. Underground Resistance techno original Robert Hood put out the massive Minimal Nation comp; and perpetually off-the-radar house music prince Rick Wilhite had two classics re-released by The Netherlands' Rushhour, 'Soul Edge' and 'The Godson,' featuring remixes by Theo Parrish and Moodymann (aka Kenny Dixon Jr.). Also making the interplanetary rounds: Scott Grooves' 'Detroit 808' on his own Natural Midi label and three platters on Kai Alce's NDATL Muzik celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fabled Detroit Music Institute: the artists were initially listed as unknown -- in anonymous, Detroit white label tradition -- but have been revealed as Mike Huckaby, Derrick May, Parrish and Alce himself. The busy, ever productive Parrish could also be found remixing DFA's '45:33' and Dixon (call him KDJ) released the soul/jazz/funk full-length Anotha Black Sunday. Ann Arbor's Ghostly International/Spectral Sound powerhouse rolled closer toward world domination with stellar releases by the Sight Below (Tip: the 'Murmur' EP, including heavenly remix by arctic Norway's Biosphere), new wave shoegazer Deastro (Sterling Heights' Randolph Chabot) and various digital only comps (featuring School of Seven Bells, Matthew Dear, Dabrye and the grossly under-appreciated Dykehouse).

Detroit soul & inspiration: No, not everything great about the ninth year of the bloody new millennium came with a Detroit fix. The fertile and increasingly funky dubstep scenes in Bristol, London and in the north of England largely remain outside the magic circle. For those not familiar, we push hard the virtues of King Midas Sound (the latest project of the Bug/Techno Animal's Kevin Martin); nearly everything on Kode9's South London's Hyperdub label, which released the sweetest, wonkiest love-dub single of the year, Darkstar's 'Aidy's Girl is a Computer.' It included a b-side by Detroit's Kyle Hall, qualifying it for our category built of phenomenological essences on top and bass vibrations below. Also hot and D-inspired: 'Ghosts Have a Heaven' by London's Actress; Berlin-based Redshape's The Dance Paradox LP; the dark, dubby, bewitchingly entertaining releases by Manchester-based projects Demdike Stare, Pendle Coven and Millie & Andrea (pay attention fans of Basic Channel and Deepchord); London-to-Berlin transplant Scuba's 'Speak/Negative' sides; and A Made Up Sound's 'Rework/Closer' and 2562's full-length Unbalance, both projects fronted by low-flying Dutchman Dave Huismans. And two for the househeads who think they've heard everything: Joy Orbison's 'Hyph Mngo' and Pangaea's 'Memories.' Free your stuck-up asses, divas, your minds will follow.

We would be remiss to end the year without a Happy New Year shout out to all the artists we support and admire. We wish you prosperity in the studio and raging love on dancefloors everywhere. 2010, like it or not, here we come.


Chris McNamara & Markus Guentner in Ann Arbor

Gilded Eternities

Without spoiling too much of the current thrill-a-minute Subterraneans column, which puts to rest a bloodstained year in a fractious imperial democracy and looks ahead to even stranger days ahead, I thought I'd jot down some essential tunes to take with you to the island of your choosing, when you need to get away from it all. Here is the best of what I've returned to again and again in 2009, shared in some random kind of lyrical disorder. Jams that made my mind and body turn and twist and shout. Crossing genre borders, including comps, singles and re-mastered and reissued stoner-approved classics.

Hyph Mngo (Hotflush) - Joy Orbison. Ecstatic funky legit house-dubstep blender that gets better and better before your virgin ears. A young talent (Pete O'Grady, 22) to watch. Good pairings to seek out: Hotflush label owner Scuba's two side-sided powerhouse ('Speak/Negative') for Naked Lunch; and Hessle Audio co-head Pangaea's one-sided 'Memories' released on (our favorite) label unknown. Next up, freaks: flame out to the Dark Knight's highly combustible 'My Bitch/Mutant Funk' sides. We're dancing to it right now, in a bass haze, in case you want to join us.

Exploding Head (Mute) - A Place to Bury Strangers. Heavy, mysterious, loud, mumbled psych-punk poetry. Yes, the Jesus & Mary Chain comparisons are apt, but it has me reaching further for my Loop reissues, A Gilded Eternity (Beggars Banquet) and The World in Your Eyes (Reactor), each filled with hypnotic drone pop and proto-ambient metal, initially released in those golden years, 1987 to 1990.

5: Five Years of Hyperdub (Hyperdub) - Various Artists. Sexy greatness is all over it, beginning with the sublime modern poptones of Darkstar's 'Aidy's Girl is a Computer,' Cooly G's 'Weekend Fly' and Ikonika's 'Sahara Michael;' reprising a Burial track (a beefy 'Distant Lights'), finally losing its temper on 'Fukkaz' and the Specials' 'Ghost Town,' the latter two grindcore dubs courtesy of Kode9 + Spaceape. And there are close to 30 other gorgeously-produced tracks. Rock!

Tracks and Traces (Gronland) - Harmonia & Eno '76. Trance rock of epically-beautiful proportions, matching members of Germany's Cluster and Neu! with new wave Brit synthesist Brian Eno. The original 12 songs are plenty to digest, but plan to add smart remixes by Appleblim & Komonazmuk ('By the Riverside') and Shackleton ('Sometimes in Autumn') issued by the Amazing Sounds label.

Great Lengths (3024) - Martyn. Almost everything he touched turned to hipster gold. One of the first to build bridges between Detroit techno, Chicago house, LA hip hop, UK jungle, drum 'n' bass and rave, this debut shows off the transplanted Dutchman's (from medieval Eindhoven, now living in suburban Washington D.C.) skill at shaping dub desire into coherent, universal pop.

Fever Ray (Rabid) - Fever Ray. Karin Dreijer Andersson's (The Knife) unchallengeable synth/goth/pop masterpiece, now in special three-disc edition including live tracks and video. Dead sad exquisite northern beauty. Here's your chance to surrender, slave. I did.

Self-Assessment and Symbiosis (both Modern Love) - Pendle Coven and Demdike Stare. Two LPs, two separate Manchester, UK projects connected by the presence of warehouse techno-house/evil dub producer Miles Whittaker, Berlin's Dubplates & Mastering studio wizardry and kinship with Detroit otherness and self-mystification of artists like Rod Modell and his Deepchord and Echospace crews.

Waiting for You (Hyperdub) - King Midas Sound. Narco-dream dub from London space-bass producer Kevin Martin, who doubles as the man behind the Bug, featuring acid-dread vocals by poet/MC Roger Robinson and Hitomi. The lovely voices float over waves of melodic sub-bass and crazy effects all pitched down to a junkyard crawl. How low can you go?

The Strange New World of Bernard Fevre (Lo Recordings) - Black Devil Disco Club. Amazing recordings from 1975, revived and re-worked for instant groovy dancefloor reaction by the now 63-year-old Fevre. Ripping French disco basslines meet German space rock elements, suggesting a careful listening to Can and Faust. If you like it, and you will, also dig around for another more tragic re-discovery: Wolfgang Reichmann, who was knifed to death in a bar brawl in 1978, the same year his Wunderbar debut was issued on Hamburg's Sky Records. Big, ambitious recording (re-released on Bureau B) will make you shiver if you like 'Man Machine' era Kraftwerk or even Tangerine Dream. Say you will.

Until Then, Goodbye (Smallville) - Lawrence. What's the most quietly consistent house-techno combo player in the world, Peter Kersten (Lawrence/Sten), been up to lately? Pristine productions, as usual. The new one is for you, closet Emo girls and boys, pure melancholy danceable 4/4 pop for now people. Don't bother dressing up, the party is at your house tonight and we're coming over.

Also riding the year out on a high: the Netherlands' Dave Huismans, whose A Made Up Sound ('Rework/Closer') and 2562 (Unbalance LP) projects continue to impress; Detroiter Omar S went to the plate swinging and went yard on Fabric 45, a mix that contained all original material; Berlin-based Redshape's The Dance Paradox, was pure Detroit love in all the right ways, as was Actress' (Londoner Darren Cunningham) stomping 'Ghosts Have a Heaven' and Quantec's Basic Channel-Deepchord flavored Cauldron Subsidence. Moodymann (Westsider Kenny Dixon Jr., lusty and re-invigorated at 42) stayed chic in the global underground with Anotha Black Sunday, and contributed tracks, along with fellow Detroiters Theo Parrish and Rick Wilhite, to 3 Chairs' Spectrum LP. LA funk was re-born (sounds a lot like Seven Mile and Ryan neighborhood to us) on Dam-Funk's massive, soul-stirring Toeachizown. More good dubs from the UK came via Untold's 'Dante/Sweat,' Millie & Andrea's 'Spectral Source/Ever Since You Came Down' and Ramadanman's 'Humber' and 'Justify' (with Appleblim). Mordant Music developed hauntological kitchen sink surrealism as a new sub-sub-genre on the monochromatic SyMptoMs LP; Blue Daisy somehow made shoegaze and wonky-funky space-disco riddims work on the 'Stings Detached' four-track EP; and Klimek continued on his alternately grimy, haunting and beautiful journey through the ambient ghetto of the imagination on his Slavoj Zizek/Van Dyke Parks/Brian Wilson-inspired Movies is Magic LP.

Bristol's Peverelist dropped a tasty full-length bass bomb, Jarvik Mindstate; Deastro (early-twentysomething Randolph Chabot of Sterling Heights) produced the kinetic Moondagger, for Ghostly International; Matias Aguayo put another stake in the heart of boring elitist minimal with the populist South American-European street party-club music hybrid, Ay Ay Ay on Kompakt. From the vaults, we were digging the Soul Jazz collection Can You Dig it? The Music and Politics of Black Action Films 1968-1975 and the Kill Rock Stars reissue of the stunning Mayo Thompson-produced Raincoats debut, originally out on Rough Trade in 1979. We raise a toast to 30 years of post-rock relevancy with a glass of champagne that tastes just like Cherry Cola.

The hits kept on coming: Editors' In This Light and On This Evening, the Depreciation Guild's In Her Gentle Jaws and The Mary Onettes' Islands brought pop poetry to club life, shaking fists at God, nature and human failure. Thanks to the marvelous ears of Pop Ambient visionary Markus Guentner, those LPs are on heavy rotation on various iPods, iPhones and computers all over the house. As is yet unreleased material from Dresden's Malory (Pearl Diver, out in early 2010), though it has been galloping in my head since November. That's when the digital A/V trio nospectacle (Chris McNamara, Jennifer Paull and yours truly) performed with Guentner at a special event called Collapsing Borders on the University of Michigan's North Campus. I mention it partly because I have a great picture posted here of McNamara (mixing live video, left) and Guentner (right) playing sublime live original material for the first time -- anywhere, ever. It's one of many secret best moments of a pretty great year in Detroit music. You missed it, but the afterlife in the blogosphere is made for eternal second opportunities like this. Enjoy! Not to mention vicariously experiencing other rare live appearances by Move D, Scion, Faust, the Sight Below, Flying Lotus; and less rare happy hours and hours by local mischief makers Macho City, Disco Secret, Aaron-Carl, Kevin Reynolds, Wolf Eyes, Aaron Dilloway, Jamie Easter, the Wolfman Band and, of course, all the discerning music lovers in Detroit that kept it all kicking like a sleep twitch in 2009. Stay safe and don't dare lose your fever knife edge in the new year.


Words: Walter Wasacz Label: Modern Love XLR8R Rating: 9/10

Miles Whittaker has been a bewitchingly busy fella of late, releasing warehouse techno under his MLZ moniker, playing dubby doubles with Gary Howell in Pendle Coven and Andy Stott in the cheeky Millie & Andrea, and now teaming up with Sean Canty in the earthy, neo-pagan Demdike Stare. Spread too thin on the dark side, you say? Not by a long shot. "Suspicious Drone" gets the (witches') ball rolling rudely with an effects-treated gong and sustained subsonic bass tremors, "Haxan Dub" is a slo-mo 2-step march, and "Jannisary" samples world-beat strings and riddims to come up with something deliciously otherworldly. Sneaky, sinister, and sick in all the right ways.

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