Musicakes Bits: May 2010

Earlier this month I had a nice sunday afternoon chat with Science Project, two Local producers/performers about beats, the Brisbane scene and playing live, so for those that don't know here's a bit about the pair of them and what it is that they do.

Science Project consists of two members, 8 Man and Grimes, else known as Jad and Andy. They've been collaborating in the studio since 2007 making beats that carry rich, warm bass and laser synths alongside smoked out, Dub heavy beats. As such their sound is distanced from the Australian music scene at large, unique in its own way but perhaps more reminiscent of the Street Bass scene in Philadelphia or the Dubstep and Dancehall soundsystems of London. The Dub influence, though already apparent, was confirmed when I asked what brought them together musically: a love of the music of King Tubby and Lee Scratch Perry, something that can be best observed in the laid back yet infectious vibes on their releases thus far. However something that really sets Science Project aside from their contemporaries is their live show in which Jad cuts, samples and loops with an MPC and turntables whilst Andy syncs up with him on drums. Though not quite groundbreaking this format is a pretty major undertaking that can easily risk becoming something flat or alienating for an audience, as in the case of the 'Dj and the Drummer' Project or 'Legion of Two'. Despite this the pair manage to pull it off with style so I asked them how much work has gone into the Live set and how they got it so tight; they exchanged a weary look and laughed.

"Ah man, its a constantly evolving thing, sometimes something works and then something else doesn't, there was a lot of trial and error at the rehearsal stage." Andy, who also plays drums for local 10 Piece Funk band Boss Cats, outlined the difficulties of their performance, "When you're on stage with a live band you can afford to be a bit loose, because if you're making up one part of an overall sound little mistakes aren't as apparent to the audience. The rest of the sound carries you on and it's easy to pick it back up again. But for the Science Project live show I have to be constantly switched on and focused, the slightest mistake is going to be really obvious so everything has to run within a certain rehearsed structure or it can go badly wrong. This isn't to say that there isn't room for improvisation and cutting loose every now and then, it's just that the opportunity for improvisation has to be carefully planned in advance."

The cohesion required for their live set is equally important when writing the tracks and putting them together in the studio, "The usual process is that one of us gets an idea (and there's a lot of unfinished ideas still floating around), then sits back and lets the other do his thing. Sometimes it works and we go with it, at others it doesn't and we go back to the beginning." Considering the massively saturated music marketplace that has developed in the last few years and the subsequent pressure to find a formula to make more money, I asked if they felt pressured to make their music more commercial so as to make their sound radio friendly and more likely to accrue big sales, "Not at all, we just make music that sounds good to us, stuff that moves us. We keep things laid back and loose just finding vibes that we're feeling. Making incredibly technical music or playing to a set formula that works can be disrespectful to your audience, we just want to play good music, stuff that gets people dancing without compromising our own enjoyment." And as for the future they assure me that there's a lot more still to come, "We've also been collaborating with a variety of other artists which also helps to keep ideas fresh and opens up new perspectives all the time, so expect to see a lot more variation over the coming releases. We've also been hard at work on setting up our own label, Dub Temple Records, so in future we'll be releasing our own beats as well as inviting a number of other artists to contribute as well. We've also got Blastcorps (prolific producer/painter/DJ from Darwin) doing our mastering so everything is looking good."

In this light I wondered how well received their music would be by their local contemporaries; coming from the UK it's baffling to me that there's still such a focus upon Electro house and Cheese in the Brisbane scene. In it's various permutations the Beat music sound has rapidly infiltrated every corner of the globe, so it seems bizarre that a city with such prevalent nightlife as Brisbane's should be left behind. Jad explains, "The beats scene in Brisbane is interesting and it has the strength and scope to grow given the dedication of certain local promoters and a crop of up and coming talent in the area. It's just a matter of pushing the sound; however it is easy to see why many genres haven't taken off, bear in mind that a lot of music that is successful overseas is irrelevant here. Of course there are heads who appreciate those genres as with any underground music, but for music to achieve mass appeal, like Hiphop in the US or Dubstep in the UK, it needs to be relevant to the local population. The US Hiphop scene is hugely influenced by funk, soul and Motown because it is deeply rooted in African American culture, the same goes for music like Drum and Bass and Dubstep in the UK, both of which draw heavily from Reggae and Dub which is of course due to the strong Caribbean influence on British culture.”

“Equally if you look at Hiphop in a global context (or the colloquial equivalent) it is heavily laced with the traditional sounds of the culture around it. In Brazil you don't have producers and MC's aping the sound from LA, instead they draw their influences from Samba and Soca. In African countries like Angola they draw upon tribal music like Kuduru to make their sound relevant to the people that will support it. Even in Japan, where American influence has been heavily imprinted upon their recent culture, artists like Hifana and Dj Kentaro extensively sample ancient, traditional folk music to create a sound that is uniquely Japanese. It's because of this that so much of the music over here that is heavily influenced by American or British trends is so unlikely to succeed in the long run and can even be painful to listen to at times. What we need is to base music around the indigenous music in our locale, like beats from Aboriginal music, or that of the Torres Strait Islanders and Papa New Guineans, those guys have some mad rhythms, and it is those we need to tap into if we want such a culture to call our own”

Science Project's latest release Alchemystic EP is out now on Dub Temple You can find it on iTunes or go to www.myspace.com/scienceprojectdubs


3 reasons not to go outside (for 2 hours or so)

Its a bit cold outside, not overly so but colder than it was in the hellish summer time, still warmer than England though even on the cusp of the winter solstice. Let's not get sidetracked, it's cold enough that some of you might be skulking around indoors anyway; If so chuck these on the stereo and prepare for your cockles to be thoroughly warmed.

James Blake - CMYK EP

James Blake is a bit of a worry. How can one man produce such peerless music in such an unconventional way without overstepping the mark and disappearing into obscurity? Christ knows, lets just be glad that this is the case. After the brilliant, lopsided fireworks of The Bells Sketch, Blake has produced his finest work to date on a 4 track release for Belgian label R&S. The title track is stamped with all the hallmarks of a quality Blake production, warped vocal snatches peerlessly arranged from build up to close, woozy off-key synths, urgent skipping drums, the whole shebang. It's a little more accessible than his more recent work, having more in common with Air & Lack Thereof or his remix of Untold's Stop What You're Doing. Footnotes on the other hand starts off very much in the funk laced style present in Buzzard and Kestrel, intricate percussion, bubbling subs and a melting Hammond organ combining to assault your grasp on normality. That is until the halfway mark in the track where a sudden switch transforms it into an altogether different beast, so blissful and soul infused that you'll be smiling peacefully with your eyes closed all the way to the end.  I'll Stay is another excellently arranged piece, following in a similarly vocal driven vein as the opener. It may deserve more praise and elaboration but a)I'll run out of superlatives again and b) Postpone, the final track on the EP is so astounding that it's impossible not to fixate upon it instead. The build up is suitably awkward, a cacophony of sounds jostling together to find their rightful place in time for the switch; the wobbly owl noise makes a return and the organ goes insane as muted metallic stabs build the tension. Then, heralded by an angelic rave horn the sumptuous ending rolls in, sounding like Mount Kimbie's Serged wandering lost through a fluffy dreamscape whilst being serenaded by a multi species gospel choir. Delightful.

Mux Mool - Skulltaste

After repeated recommendations from a friend, Mux Mool's debut album Skulltaste has finally made it's way to my headphones and true to his insistence this one is pretty special. The whole album has an incredible handmade sound that is woefully absent in so many producers work, pasting together found sounds and dusty drums with a vast array of lush synths. Not that this makes it at all unapproachable, quite the opposite in fact, the whole album is warm and diverse, imbued with a rainbow-hued mdma blur that drenches your senses with its infectious enthusiasm. Perhaps the finest hip hop/electronica I've heard in a while and certainly the most uplifting, there's a couple of sojourns into more dancefloor territory but for the most part it happily transports you around it's own euphoric cosmos of beats. It's unusual for something with such a plethora of fluorescent, plastic sounds to have such depth and soul but thats exactly what Mux Mool has accomplished here, definitely a post club gem and something that may very well become my pick me up listen on rainy days.

However it isn't all Casio keyboards and pixellated sunshine; there's also an undercurrent of nostalgic melancholy that washes out from beneath the rainbow facade from time to time, and perhaps it's this that balances the whole affair out; manipulating your emotional response in much the same way as Boards of Canada's The Campfire Headphase.  Picking highlights is difficult owing to the consistent excellency on show so here's a few at random: The title track stands out for it's relentlessly cheery  vibe, sounding in equal parts like Samiyam, Slugabed (on his best beahviour) and a much less sleazy Rustie at the top of his game. Then there's Dandelion, bringing the hitherto unexplored medium of a gangster lean peppered with infant musicbox chimes, music for chilling in the crib on more than one level (yeah, sorry about that). And finally Get Better John which sounds like Daft Punk and Boards of Canada scoring a eulogy for the creator of the S-NES. In any case its all pretty awesome and definitely worthy of a dip into your piggy bank.

Dimlite - Prismic Tops

This is nothing short of astonishing, even more so in light of the fact that there's a couple of wicked older tunes on here that finally get to see the light of day. Said tunes and his remix for Flying Lotus' LA 2x3 Ep aside, I have been largely ignorant of his work and subsequently poorer for it. On listening to Prismic Tops it becomes apparent that Dimlite is very much a musician as opposed to a just being a beatmaker or bedroom producer; more akin to Flying Lotus in his approach than to many of his other peers. There's a noticeable Jazz lean present in the composition but its nicely understated beneath the whirlwind of styles and influences that sweep through the record. Equally he refuses to be confined to conventional samples, the opening track Kalimba Deathswamp uses the sound of masking tape being pulled of the roll as an element of the percussion, much in the same way that Nosaj Thing did in 1683/Bach. Then there's the jaw dropping sounds of Sunsized Twinkles, seemingly utilising a recording of an iron lung to provide the bare bones of it's beat structure. The track itself is stunning despite being one of the most unconventional pieces of music you'll hear all year, complete with an insanity inducing vocal and wobbling off key synths; the combination of which sound like a futuristic music-bot reaching the limits of it's battery life but desperately squeezing out one more song for all it's worth. However the most incredible cut on here has to be Elbow Flood, starting out like a soundscape b-side from Amon Tobin's Foley Room before a ghostly vocal rises from the depths to trigger a nicely understated drop. The track plays out with an awesome kick snare arrangement, violently jarring strings and a superbly confusing vocal track that resonates as much as it unnerves. If like me you've been ignorant thus far, now is definitely the time to bring a little Dimlite into your life.


A repreive for the musically obese

In this day and age you could hardly claim to be starved of good music. It does depend on your perspective and your habitual listening tendencies, but anyone with a computer and a half decent Internet connection can have their sticky whiskers all up in good music's grill at the touch of a button. If you look in the right places there's even super switched on people that get paid to advise you what to listen to, although it's important to differentiate between super switched on and bandwagon jumping, unimaginative, shouty bastards that have no right to do so.

In light of this you'd even be forgiven for being overindulged, like the morbidly obese man at the end of The meaning of Life, unable to ingest just one more wafer thin mint. If this is the case for you (as it has been at times for me) the best response is to retreat into your shell, taking with you only what you need to survive until the glut has receded sufficiently for you to venture out into the world of music once again. That might seem like an elaborate excuse for me to inflict my digital age version of Radio 4's Desert Island Discs upon you, and you're probably right in thinking so. However we've started now and there's no turning back. So, if you were stuck inside your shell, hiding from the world of music, here's the three things that I (and subsequently you) would take with me:

Clubroot -II: MMX

Did you ever wonder what exactly it was that made some music so incredibly nostalgic and personally resonant? When something really hits you in the chest, sending rushes down your spine and raising the hairs on your arms and neck, rather than simply providing you with basic aural stimulation. Obviously there are certain stylistic devices that can be used to evoke nostalgia within a designated audience, this is ostensibly what modern electronic music is based around. But until I listened to something that really scratched a personal itch this week I never really gave this sense of wonder and breathlessness a second thought. Then a series of coincidental happenings led to me reading this explanation of Hauntology from wise music sage Mark 'K-Punk' Fisher, at which point I gained a new found respect for this audiological discipline of emotional manipulation. Put simply (although I suggest you read the K-Punk article for a more complete description) Hauntology is the process by which certain artists use sounds from the music that they were enraptured with in their formative years; by ingraining such sounds into their compositions they can evoke the sounds of the past in an ethereal sense, essentially imbuing their music with the ghosts of the past. A perfect example of this would be Burial, who's mournful evocation of the long dead rave culture resonates with many of us who grew up influenced by Rave (and it's further evolutions as Jungle and Garage), tapping into a sort of subconscious collective nostalgia.

In light of this I understand why I love Clubroot's second offering so much. Self titled once again (this time as II: MMX), it picks up where his debut left off. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; the first album was incredibly lush; saturated with rich, deep hues and imbued with a wistful sense of longing. If it fell down, which is possible dependent upon your viewpoint, it was perhaps due was not having the ambition to look beyond the mood pervading it, as though it was trapped in one frame of mind for it's duration. The second album begins with Orbiting, a track which, though starting with it's roots in the same territory as the album preceding it, soon spreads it's wings to soar away into the strata above. What follows is, at least in my opinion, the finest complete Dubstep album since Burial's second full length, somewhat fitting considering the raft of Burial comparisons thrown at Clubroot in the wake of his debut. Despite the similarities in beat structure and hauntological mourning of Rave's downfall (check the glorious Toe to Toe for a shining example), throughout this album his other influences make much stronger and more lasting impressions. His professed love of early tech drum and bass from the likes of Nico, Optical and Dom & Roland is certainly evident, Whistles and Horns sounds so much like an Ed Rush and Optical tune (who's name escapes me) that you'd be forgiven for thinking of it as a 140bpm homage. However in this modern-retrospective form there seems to be more in the way of allusions to his contemporaries such as Kryptic Minds and Instra:mental, perhaps because like Burial, they continue to push forwards whilst always gazing over their shoulder at the music they were first infatuated with.

Lorn - Nothing Else

When I first heard Lorn's beats a while ago now, I got the impression that he was quite an angry individual. If you were paying attention to the Brainfeeder website or Open Music a year or so ago, you would doubtlessly have picked up 7&13 or Trained by the Pain (his remixes and re-appropriations of some Biggie tunes) and wondered how this moody, frictious, razor sharp music fitted in amongst that of his West Coast peers. The paranoid, psychosis ridden counterpart to their smoked out Cali vibes perhaps? This isn't to say that it wasn't good, far from it in fact, but it certainly left you feeling uneasy and more than a little bit nervous. The sort of tunes that might make a highly strung dog urinate on your rug. Then, after hearing his Mix for Mary Anne Hobbs in November, I was completely astounded. The moody vibes and saw-toothed, bowel shredding bass were still present in abundance, but now it seemed that all the awkwardness had gone, kind of like an immensely creative but introverted teenager coming of age and finally beginning to assert himself on the world. Maybe that's a bit of a cliche, but if you track down his back catalogue (it shouldn't be difficult, it's all available for little or no money on his myspace) and listen to it in comparison with this album you might see what I'm talking about.

Nothing else is nothing short of breathtaking, it's an album of continuous highlights and even after repeated listens its still hard to identify any weak spots in it's armour. Consequently its difficult to pick out anything that really stands out in respect to the fact that it all does. However at a push I'd have to say that Void I and Void II take the cake for the sheer dramatics; the first part rolls to and fro like a WWII fighter plane being drink-driven through a storm in the mountains before disappearing into a thick layer of cloud. 'Shit' you think to yourself, 'hes gone and crashed it into a cliff face'. Then, as you listen for a distant explosion, Void II comes roaring out of the abyss at top speed, all guns ablaze and howling like a triumphant banshee. Throughout the album the beats are hard as nails and incredibly well arranged, building to intense machine gun rattles at times before stalling and falling apart at the seams, only to regather themselves and assault you once again just moments later.

There's also a few moments of melancholy beauty to be found amongst the brooding intensity, Glass & Silver and Cherry Moon in particular provide some levity in the midst of the storm that rages around them, the latter a lovely arrangement of emotion laden strings and off-key musicbox chimes amongst a chattering bassline and skipping drums, kind of like a Portishead playing with a string quartet in a post apocalyptic tundra at nightfall (it's available as a free download in a variety of places around the net so tap it into google if you want a sampler, also there's this album minimix on the Brainfeeder Soundcloud). Finally there's even a cursory venture into anthem territory on the last track What's the Use, which sounds rather like something Nosaj Thing's arcanely reanimated corpse might make, before a perfectly judged and rather haunting vocal judders through unexpectedly, leaving it's doom laden message resounding around your skull as the album winds down to a stuttering close.

Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma

If the vast hype wagon about this album has passed you by, then I'm assuming you don't have the Internet, you hate going outdoors and you even gave up on reading, watching the telly and talking to anyone because other people and their opinions terrify you. In which case you probably aren't reading this anyway. The rest of you will have either listened to it already and, like me, become utterly enraptured by it, or you'll have regarded the hype with the same world weary cynicism you reserve for anything proclaimed as next level, unparalleled genius or a game changer by the out of control hyperbole machine that doubles as global music media, and you're currently sneering at anyone who talks about it with the same self assured expression of scathing disdain you reserve for anyone who isn't just as narrow minded and opinionated as yourself. I digress, besides I'm not sure that the latter sort of person really exists outside of Internet forums.

Anyway I'm not going to go into the gritty details, or discuss the wonderfully diverse roster of immensely talented musicians that have joined him in creating this wonderful composition, or even explore allusions to his Auntie's theories of astral transcendence. What I want to talk about is all the noises (or 'recurrent sonic motifs' if we're being particular). To begin with there's an achingly beautiful string progression that washes in and out throughout the album, intensifying as the album reaches it's point of crescendo on Drips/ / Aunties Harp. Its here that the 8 bit bleeps of Lotus's own digital legacy fully unite and mesh with the Jazz strings of his family heritage. Every time I listen to it (it's getting on well into double figures now) the very essence of my being seems to sing in reply; essentially its sonic dmt, or perhaps that's too crude a metaphor, but fuck me it's amazing. Then there's this sound, god knows what it is, listen up at the beginning of Arkestry and at the end of Clock Catcher, German Haircut, Drips (and probably others) for what sounds like top end harp strings being lightly brushed but in reverse, then at the end of Table Tennis and  throughout Galaxy in Janaki the selfsame noise becomes intensified to the point to where I'll be damned if it doesn't sound like the joyful cries of incredibly tiny people, possibly in raptures over what Flying Lotus has created for them.

I even read in one article in LA weekly that he's secreted recordings of his late mother's life support machines in various places throughout the album, a suggestion that would be incredibly disrespectful if it wasn't sourced from the man himself, so I'm guessing it's true. Perhaps I'm being fanciful but I reckon I can hear such noises in a number of tracks, particularly Table Tennis and  Computer Face/Pure Being. All this aside the sheer number of noises used in this album is utterly stupendous, bear in mind that any given producer works within the framework of a certain limited palette of noises, the more adventurous the producer - the more extensive the palette of noises. Of course there's always the option to branch out from this and many do at some levels, but it is for this reason that so many producers create a sound that is recognisable as their own. With this in mind, whilst Cosmogramma manages to sound like Flying Lotus throughout, it also sounds like any number of other things at the same time thanks to the multitude of noises and influences at play. All in all if Ellison set out to make a work that mapped out the endless sounds and textures of the universe, he's come far closer to it than anyone has ever been before.


Musicakes bits - March 2010

First of a few bits from my column in the Westender:

March 2010:

LHF is a mysterious collective of elusive artists that includes but is not necessarily limited to: Amen Ra, Double Helix, No fixed Abode, Low Density Matter, Escobar Seasons, Solar Man and Ocataviour. Collectively they're making the sort of music that the world has subconsciously been crying out for, uniting influences as varied as Afro Space Jazz, Qawwali and Asian Dub, before bringing them all together within a constantly shifting framework of Dubstep, 2 Step and 4/4 rhythms. LHF have created beguiling hybrid sounds in which perfectly selected and hugely varied samples are interwoven with intricate, skittering percussion, creating an atmosphere of mystic wonder alongside an irresistibly contagious ability to make you move. The snatches of obscure dialogue and nostalgic yet alien ambiance evoke an intercepted broadcast from deep space, emanating from an endlessly spinning gramophone on a similar yet subtly different sister planet to our own. Uncompromisingly brilliant and utterly essential music.

On a completely different tip, James Blake (he of the Mount Kimbie vocalist fame rather than the Tennis World Tour) has been messing with my head for a while now. Remarkable singing voice aside, he possesses a singularly unconventional ability to manipulate sounds in a way which unnerves and amazes in equal measure. Despite having just a handful of releases to his name and a sound that consistently redefines generic boundaries, Blake has a veritable choir of critical plaudits from every corner of the musical map and it behoves you to go find out why. I won't spoil too much, suffice to say he is the only person I've ever come across to make a tune that sounds like a wobbly owl leading a chorus of ghosts on a rubber pipe organ in a melting Romanian castle, if you can imagine such a thing.

Finally, we come to Asura, pet project of LA's Ryan York, a sonic reinterpretation of Kenji Miyazawa's poetry collection, Asura in the Spring. The resulting collage of sounds is a trickling, shimmering, achingly beautiful progression of textures and soundscapes that could just as easily fire your imagination as it could lull you to sleep. Here and there contemporary influences shine through, scattered glimpses of deep house, hip hop and 2 step come and go amidst flourishes of IDM intricacy. However the defining moments can be found amidst the delicately filtered atmospherics, conjuring lush imagery from elegantly understated modern classical synths and strings. That's not all, a quick perusal of the non-projects label website reveals that York and his friends have myriad artistic skills that they are yet to unleash upon the unsuspecting public so keep your eyes open for more in the future.