Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A trippier shade of house

For your listening pleasure, my latest mix to listen to or download:

Sick Day Mix Day 2010-11-30 by Dr Tad

Convertion - Sweet Thing
Prins Thomas - Gonna Fly Now (Theme From Rocky)
Ray Mang - Inner City Disco
Young & Company - Legs & Co - Pete Herbert & Dicky Trisco Edit
Al Usher - Gnanfou - Swag's Gnanby Dub
Talking Heads - Heads - Cosmic Boogie Edit
Justin Vandervolgen - Sheebooyah
Ray Mang - Letcha Body Go
Hunee - Bobo
Kink & Neville Watson - Metropole
Neville Watson - Let Me Go
Sister Sledge - Lost In Music - The Revenge Rework
Justin Vandervolgen - The Clapping Song
Technotronic - Pump Up The Jam - Steve Lawler Remix
Sister Sledge - You Fooled Around

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Night and day



So for those who have never been, what is Sonar By Night really like? Well, if you can imagine one of those massive aircraft-hangar-like exhibition halls where they hold car shows and the like, located in the 'burbs, filled with tens of thousands of wasted youth, with drink queues a mile long (first for your drink ticket and then the drink itself), bumper cars and food stalls, and a cheesy rave atmosphere.... well, there you have it. Except the quality of the music is always superior—straddling the cool end of current pop and EDM tastes as well as delving into the more experimental and obscure.

But like any festival, there is always too much time spent facing crowd crush to get between stages (luckily only three this year, whereas I seem to recall there were four when I first went), and making choices that mean you get to sample more than experience those acts you want to see. So here is my blow-by-blow account of the night I had, but there were so many other nights that could've been had.

First up I caught the end of Hot Chip, pushing their cheery pop-electronica sound in a slightly tougher and more dance-y direction than I was expecting. Following that I scooted over to check out Dubstep-meets-tech hero of the day, Joy Orbison. Tight mixing and interesting sounds, but with an MC who seemed to be unable to move much beyond "Hello Barcelona" and "This is Joy Orbison" in his vocal stylings.

Then it was off to catch the first bit of LCD Soundsystem's set. James Murphy looked resplendently shaggy in a creased white suit and belted out favourites from Sound Of Silver and the new album like "Us v Them" and "Drunk Girls". As I'm seeing LCD soon in Sydney I took the opportunity to check out the return of Richie Hawtin's alter-ego Plastikman. Now this was clearly one for the fans, accompanied not just by a fantastic light show but a dedicated iPhone app that streamed track names and times and even BPMs! It was solid, dependable acid house and techno, but I've gotta say it washed over me a bit. As someone once sang, "Is That All There Is?"

Then it was off to see Barcelona's John Talabot (not his real name—does anyone know who he really is?), whose sound would probably best be described as intense, trippy and distorted nu-disco. While he was only holding a relatively small crowd (a couple of thousand at most) this was interesting, emotive and trance-inducing DJing. Even when big, obvious disco samples rose in the mix there was a modern, techy edginess to them that was truly exciting (and groovy at the same time).

Back to see Dixon (of Berlin's Innervisions label), I was very happy to see he was pushing the darker edge of his sound, with big tribal beats and techno influences—all very appropriate for 3.30am. And a great lead-in to Booka Shade, also playing darker and less euphoric than when I've seen them before.

But as 5.30am rolled around it was time to stumble out the door and look for the SonarPro bus promised to those of us with "accreditations". But where the hell was it? Happily I took Option B and entered the very modern Metro station Europa I Fira. It was a fitting and humorous end to the night as many hundreds of truly wasted dancers sitting on the platform heard the first train of the morning approach, getting their feet and cheering as if they had just been hit with the end of a massive breakdown in the middle of an epic DJ set.


After an incredibly heavy six-hour sleep (could the jetlag finally be banished?) I headed out for the CCCB to catch the one last Sonar By Day act I wanted to see—Detroit's living legend Moodyman. Now this guy is an acquired taste. Last time I saw him, he performed behind a white sheet for the first 30 minutes of his set. This time it was a white towel draped over his head (pictured above). Characteristically, this was a performance that went well beyond playing records, with Mr Dixon Jr. engaging in between-track and during-track patter, much of it hilarious.

He started with a story about how the "lady at Customs" had looked at his records and said they were the biggest CDs she'd ever seen—and what sort of CD player does he own that plays them? And as if to prove the point one of the SL-1200s he was to play on had a fault and needed to be replaced, delaying the show by 10 minutes.

Now, trainspotting is not something you get to do at a Moodyman gig*; he tells you what most of the tracks are. And this being a daytime Sonar set, he stuck with a classic sound dominated by soul, funk, disco, new wave and some hip-hop. There were De La Soul and J Dilla, Fred Wesley, James Brown, BT Express, The Clash, The Whispers and even Nitzer Ebb. Finally he had to be prised off the decks after his all-too-brief 90 minutes, accompanied by the sunshine breaking through after a downpour in the early stages of his set. For all the tired, post-Sonar By Night refugees, this was the perfect metaphor for the way he'd lifted our spirits on a steamy afternoon.

*That said, he played the original track that Daniel Wang's "Free Lovin" is based on—with the weird Afro instrumentation—or maybe it was Danny's own version. Can anybody help?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The sun is shining...


The jetlag, the bloody jetlag. When you stay up to after 5am after virtually no sleep for 28 hours, surely the payoff is a long snooze. But, no, after four hours was all I managed and so I headed off for a late breakfast at Mercat de Santa Caterina and downed two cafes con leche, quickly recalling just how good the coffee is in Spain.

Then it was Sonar By Day, meeting up with my friends Ant and Lisa and their entourage, sitting in the lovely summer sunshine. Sonar By Day is always a mixed bag: art exhibitions, movies, technology demonstrations and musical acts. This year's robot exhibit was very fun, and I saw an American musician knock out a terrific 30 minute acid house set simply by twiddling the nobs on three little boxes produced by Elektron.

I found both DJ Annie Hall and up & comers Nedry a little flaccid for my tastes, and the dubstep oriented goings on in the Red Bull Music Academy also not my scene. But the standout for my brief day at the CCCB (apart from the great Sangria) was Aufgang. This French trio has a German name—roughly translated as "emerging" or "rising"—and their energetic and supremely tight use of their two grand pianos and one drum kit is a sight to behold. Their sound is somewhere between classical music, techno, sweet Air-like pop and storming piano house, but none of those descriptions do them justice. And they've already proven their coolness by getting Barcelona nu-disco wunderkind John Talabot to remix their track "Channel 7". Check them out!

PS Just a little aside, on the way out I watched Booka Shade getting interviewed at the Sonar radio tent and finally got to do the fanboy thing and tell them how great they are. A true groupie moment, and they are such sweet, funny guys.



The odd thing about clubbing in Spain is that the clubs tend to be located in the most out-of-the-way spots you can imagine. So, por ejemplo, the techno generation would often drive hundreds of kilometres to massive constructions named for how many km they were located down a particular inter-city highway. Needless to say, the road toll was uncomfortably high at the end of weekend-long benders. Then there is the Monegros Festival, an annual pilgrimage to a remote mountainous region in northern Spain, and featuring some of the biggest names in techno.

It's true even in big cities like Barcelona, and last night I went to the opening of a new venue called Ghoa Beach Club, located just outside the city outskirts on a beach adjacent to Parc Litoral. The occasion was the Desolat off-Sonar label party and the headliners were very impressive indeed: Martin Buttrich, Loco Dice and Marco Carola. It took our taxi driver some time to find the damn place: even the street was not in his navigator device and we bumped into several other partygoers on the way, all searching for the mysterious venue.

Finally we arrived to find an outrageous episode of crowd crush occurring at the front door, with hundred heaving back and forth, some breaking into boos and hisses. The Spanish know how to queue politely. Not.

I had a ticket, but Dave and Andy didn't and we almost turned back but then realised that we would be let in... and when we got inside there was only a small crowd and the whole incident had been about poor organisation. In fact, there were more hangers-on in the spacious DJ area than on the dancefloor at that point, although that would rapidly change as the large space—replete with a massive resort-like pool (briefly used by some brave punters before they were dragged out) and multiple bars—filled comfortably.

Sadly, Buttrich finished his performance just as we managed to get inside and we were treated to an extended warm-up by Davide Squillace. It was a well thought-out and prolonged warm-up set of generic tech-house that helped set the scene but lacked anything really special. But it gave us time to imbibe overpriced mixed drinks (even small bottles of water were 4 Euro) and admire the amazing ability of the crowd to smoke so heavily in the open-air venue that the cigarette fumes were at times almost overpowering.

With Loco Dice on, the music continued in a locked groove, techy fashion without many highlights. But as Andy observed, Dice's drugs must have kicked in at the 30 minute mark and suddenly it was all EQs, filters and effects. He was soon joined by Carola and they pumped out music that would have been positively banal if it wasn't for their ability to play with every effect parameter on a Pioneer DJM-800 mixer and their undoubted ability to read the crowd. It's not that the music was bad, and it was certainly danceable (I managed a lot of grooving despite being stupidly overtired and running on Red Bull), but it was just that big modern European techno sound, pioneered at clubs like DC-10 in Ibiza. In some ways it was musically akin to what Luciano was playing a couple of years ago, but delivered without his panache and talent for layering unexpected elements into the sound.

At just before 5am Andy and I called it a day, just in time to see the first tram of the day arrive at its stop and to catch a taxi with a nice Indian driver who we talked sport with (football and cricket)—leaving Dave to power on for at least another couple of hours.

For a long time in Sydney, Lost Baggage ruled the roost as the premier techno night, pulling high-visibility European DJs who play very much in the style we saw at Ghoa. This party was like the super-professional, highly competent and more pleasantly populated version of a Lost Baggage night, run at a pretty venue with an excited crowd. This is Euro techno clubbing—it's fun but it really may just be the funky house of its generation.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Lost my dog (and my sleep) in Barcelona


Here I am, baby... but only just in one piece. That jetlag is a killer!

I arrived in Barcelona (which has a very new, very big and very sexy airport) on Thursday afternoon local time in a very underslept state after over 24 hours in transit and went straight to get my SonarPro media accreditation for this here blog. With suitcase in tow, I negotiated some side streets between the Aerobus stop and the place the take your photo and give you your pass, this year in an old convent building that has been subsumed by the cultural centre, the CCCB, where Sonar By Day is held. Only got lost once on the way!

Whilst waiting in an irritatingly long queue I was shouted to a hawked beer by the crew of UK deep house label Lost My Dog and got into conversation about the state of the UK scene with label honcho and DJ, Pete Dafeet. Further to my controversial post on the oversaturation of festivals in Australia, Pete indicated that the once-bloated club scene in the UK (and especially London) was fast mutating into a more fragmented space with much more modest and underground-oriented nights pulling punters. Most shocking of the big club failures was London's Matter, which had essentially collapsed, taking the owners of still-successful superclub Fabric with it (they had apparently put Fabric up as the guarantee against which Matter was financed). So Fabric, still pulling in the masses, is up for sale. Erk!

Pete has an interesting off-Sonar party on Sunday, with US house legend Joshua Iz at the top of the roster. It seems that Lost My Dog is referencing the classic deep house stylee that first got me hooked on dance music just over a decade ago. I will try to review some of their output here in the near future.

Then it was a 30 minute sojourn inside Sonar By Day and catching a sneak of Pete Tong in the main outdoor area. The BBC Radio One institution was playing a more indie/underground selection among older favourites (I think the Henrik Schwarz version of MJ's "Wanna Be Startin Somethin" was there!), but he still seemed an odd inclusion in the normally overly cool selection.

But then it was off to stay at my long-time Barcelona friend Gemma's place, meeting her flatmate, taking a much-needed 20 minute powe rnap and going for a cool 4 euro Mojito & tapa deal at a local bar with her and our mutual friend Luke—let me say the Patatas Bravas was superb, and who could argue at prices like that?

Then off to Gracia for dinner at a very traditional local Catalan restaurant, where perhaps the meat was too much (Luke ordered a 500g steak after our entree... and I had an amazing smaller steak with foie gras sauce, which I know is un-PC but was spectacular).

Finally, it was time to dash across town to meet Dave and Andy and head off to my first off-Sonar event at the newly constructed and much-hyped Ghoa Beach Club. Stay tuned for the skinny on that...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Festival blues

Sometimes everything goes wrong but it all works out anyway. That was my experience of this year's We Love Sounds festival, held (as usual) in the Hordern and surrounds. All the portents were poor—a less impressive line-up than previous years, poor ticket sales, cancellation of the Perth leg of the festival's national tour, downsizing of the venue, etc, etc. 

I was lucky enough to get free admission because my friend Phil (pictured above) was playing. When Dave and I arrived we soon realised how limited the sales had been, with only a hundred people barely making their presence felt in the Royal Hall of Industries. There was a sedate atmosphere and very short lines for drinks all day. Things did pick up as the evening progressed, and the Hordern was apparently inaccessible for 2-3 hours because of the massive electrohouse crowd rammed in to see Crookers and Steve Aoki.

Nevertheless, the music we did catch was excellent. Seth Troxler, following the Bang Gang in the RHI, miraculously managed to shift down several gears from their noisy, ravey nonsense. Sure he lost half the crowd at first but then expertly built atmosphere without resorting to obvious choices (the "Angel Eyes"-sampling bleeptastic techno monster he played was nothing short of thrilling). Soon the empty hall was filling up to genuine underground sounds.

Off to the Forum, we then caught most of The Revenge's set, which was a slow-building, pitched down house sound warm-up (ridiculously programmed after the hideous blare of Sound Pellegrino Sound System). Unlike the last time I saw him, at La Campana last year, there was a cohesion and flow to what he was doing that suggests growing maturity as a DJ. It was a perfect lead-in for M.A.N.D.Y., who have not been on our shores since 2007.

Sadly the promised live show was not to be as the airline had sent their equipment to some misbegotten part of the world. But, after not having played together for some time, Patrick and Philipp played a storming set that started a little shaky (too much Dirtybird-style stuff for mine) but then tore the roof off the now comfortable full Forum. That massive Angelique Kidjo track by Tim Green was the absolute highpoint in terms of energy, but seeing the boys having a ball behind the decks reminded me that tech-house DJs don't all have to be mopey and serious all the time.

Then it was Ellen Allien's turn: she who had blown me away with her festival and after party sets two years ago. This time she was much more eclectic, mixing indie sounds with techno and even old Chicago house. The musical selections were always top-notch but the set was all over the place. And one does wonder whether she, dressed in oversize t-shirt and bright red leggings, is more fashionista or DJ?

Finally, we decided to brave the queue for Underworld and to our surprise we were allowed in to find... a near deserted Hordern. It would seem the electro kids had moved on after Aoki's set finished and while the room filled up again it was disappointing to see that it was far from packed (as it had been last time I saw the band here). Underworld, of course, didn't disappoint, mixing more recent material including the euphoria-inducing "Scribble" with classics like "Rez", "Cowgirl" and "Two Months Off". The visuals, their amazing stage presence (Karl Hyde > Peter Garrett on the gangly dancing front, any day) and the musical production were all stunning, letting us leave on a high note.

I wish I could be as kind to the after party (and I didn't stay to see the worst of it).

So what to make of the poor ticket sales for WLS? In late 2008, just after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the onset of global economic crisis, I speculated that we were approaching a fin-de-siecle moment in the Sydney electronic music scene. At that time it seemed to me that the overpriced hedonism being offered by increasing numbers of promoters in proliferating venues was unsustainable. But the unexpected economic revival under the influence of government guarantees of a fragile financial sector, the stimulus package, the reflating of a residential property bubble and the continuing good fortune of exports to China seems to have not only staved off the collapse of the economy but the restructuring of a bloated EDM scene.

In 2010 things are not looking so good. Quality nights like Future Classic's Adult Disco are pulling small numbers and there has been a string of festivals performing below expectations (Shore Thing, the tiny Space Ibiza event and now WLS). It would be too easy to blame this on the specifics of the events—even if their quality is variable. Rather, it seems to me that what we are seeing is a classic crisis of overproduction in the Marxian sense.

During the good years, promoters used profits to expand and upgrade their operations and thereby created larger markets for their product. When I seriously got into clubbing in 1998, international acts in a particular genre came around every month or two, but in recent years a minimal head (for example) could almost see a different international every week. 

Yet as more players entered the market, a saturation point was reached—more was being put on than could possibly be absorbed. Such expansion need not stop as long as the factors which allow promoters to find a large enough market willing/able to consume the product persist, most importantly a growing economy where employed wage workers can fork out pricey entry fees.

There is a paradox in how these economic processes work themselves out. Even while too much is being produced across a sector of the economy (here, too many club nights and festivals), for each individual business person it is in their interests to keep expanding in order to beat the competition. It is my understanding that WLS tried to expand this year in particular because there was a new festival on the block with a similar type of line-up, the same venue and a well-known brand (Creamfields).

In a different time, with Sydney clubgoers happier to spend their hard-earned pay for a fun day out, perhaps both festivals could have done well. But I am speculating that the relative failure of WLS this year is an early warning that we are heading for a double-dip recession, initially being reflected in a contraction of discretionary spending by consumers. Given that retail sales in general are sluggish, the headline unemployment figures (generally a lag indicator anyway) may be lulling us into believing that old cliche that "the economic fundamentals are sound".

A red view of The Greens

Now available in full online is my article on "The Greens, the Crisis & the Left" in the latest issue of Overland journal.

There was also a lengthy discussion of it on Mark Bainisch's blog Larvatus Prodeo.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Back on the ones and twos

Hey, what the hell happened there? More than three months between posts so undoubtedly there'll be nobody reading this. Which is probably a good thing as writing about music has been the last thing i've wanted to do. Instead I've had a political article published in the latest Overland journal, on "The Greens, The Crisis & The Left". Get yourself a copy, why don'tcha?

But for the first time in months I did feel inspired to lay down a mix, reflecting my penchant for melodic and somewhat trippy nu-disco and tech-house, with a few classics thrown in for good measure. Enjoy!

Dr Tad's Disco-Techy Mix by Dr Tad

John Daly - Aurora
Mark E - RnB Drunkie
Cole Medina - Red Hot
Mugwump - Tellakian Circles
Tensnake - Need Your Lovin (Dub Mix)
Lindstrom & Christabelle - Baby Can't Stop (Album Version)
Marc Poppcke - Destination Disco
Luther Vandross - Shine (Mixshow)
Greg Gow - The Bridge (Late Night Grand River Mix)
Tevo Howard - Without Me (Boogiedisco Mix)
Dennis Ferrer - Sinfonia Della Notte
Manolo - The Answer (Gipsy Kink Remix)
Spirit Catcher Feat. Ilija Rudman - Secret Stranger (Instrumental Mix)
Ellen Allien - Lover
Daryl Stay - My Groove (Vincenzo Remix)
Nomi & Rampa - Inside (Dr Dunks aka Eric Duncan Remix)
Pet Shop Boys - It's Alright

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The pleasure-meets-pain principle

After a small delay in them getting it up on the site, here is my review of Ewan Pearson's latest mix CD on Inthemix (link here or text below). 

Despite another night of Sydney summer downpour I ventured out to see Ewan play at the Civic on Saturday night. He was playing a five-hour set and I had to leave halfway through, but you could tell he was going somewhere special with it. As expected his track choices were esoteric, sometimes a little too proggy for my tastes, but he seemed to have beaten the horrors of jetlag to keep a small but appreciative crowd in the groove.

Sadly I won't be seeing him at the Playground Weekender as I am yet to work up the courage for a four-day party session in a rural setting (call me soft, but I'm about to hit the big four-oh and have a day job).

Nice to bump into fellow blogger Shortino. In the silliness of the moment I not only managed to harass the ever warm and friendly Mr Pearson for track names for my compadre, I even tweeted them. #tweetlikerichiehawtin I say!

Ewan Pearson – We Are Proud Of Our Choices

When Ewan Pearson and co-author Jeremy Gilbert wrote their academic text on dance music, Discographies (Routledge, 1999) they drew on influential currents in cultural and political theory from Lacan to Derrida and Butler to deconstruct some of the crude assumptions about the scene held by critical outsiders. But their spirited defence of dance culture, centred in their view around jouissance (how Lacan described a moment of ecstatic reverie bordering on agony) could also puncture the pretensions of some cooler-than-thou scenesters who wanted to reduce the pleasure of the dancefloor experience to the laboured hipness of their own tastes.

Despite his considered curation of the latest mix CD on Kompakt there is very much the pleasure-meets-pain principle about Ewan Pearson’s approach to EDM on display here. It is a mix that sneaks up on you with restraint and a rejection of obvious pyrotechnics yet still manages to deliver a series of dramatic peaks in its 80 minute running time. And it’s a very intimate experience suggesting that, like the old socialist song, Pearson is proud of standing by his artistic convictions. He is no dedicated follower of fashion (the tracklist is almost wilfully obscure) and this gives him the room to stamp a coherent musical personality on a disparate selection of tracks.

Starting in poppy electronica territory with the Gold Panda remix of Lemonade’s "Bliss Out, he is soon traversing delicate tech-house with tracks from A Ldric, Ivan Smagghe & Roman Flugel, and Lusine. Even this early the spare beats serve to structure insistent melodies, rising and falling. But before they can get out of control Pearson shifts the atmosphere into decidedly more moody deep house territory. The hypnotic, breathy spoken word vocals of "Open Our Eyes" continue to hang in the mix, even as the Detroit-flavoured build-up of Neville Watson’s "Full Flight" explodes into frenzied analogue handclaps. Suddenly an unassuming mix is forcing you to take notice.

From here things get techier, stripped back, with more than a hint of dubbiness. But by the time YOSA’s "Margaret" makes its plaintive cry things are ready to take a turn back to big, haunting melodies from Gregor Tresher (a Petar Dundov remix reminiscent of Dosem’s "Beach Kisses"). This is quickly followed by menacing-as-fuck teutonic vocals from Xenia Beliayeva on Systematic and the driving prog of Chris Fortier before further brain-bending house from Al Usher (remixed by rising star John Talabot) and B.d.i. Decisively pummelled with this sustained finale we get a bonus encore thanks to the sweetness of Little Dragon and Bot’Ox, proving once again Pearson’s ear for pop hooks.

Unlike many DJs who use Ableton to simply replay their club performances without the blemishes, Ewan Pearson takes advantage of its tools to reconstruct tracks so they can be blended for a seeming infinity, with small elements transplanted from their usual homes to other far reaches of the mix. This seems to me to be the studio equivalent of his love for combining tracks when playing out not because of any strict stylistic similarities, but rather the sonic and emotional resonances between them.

This prolonged looping creates a trippiness that binds the diversity of ideas on offer into a coherent whole. It also reproduces those endless yet brief instances of being lost in exaltation among the smoke and flashing lights. Moments we want to recapture as if experienced for the first time but discover are now teasingly beyond reach. By eschewing the easy pay-off and seeking out those intensities in more complex movements, Ewan Pearson has created a work of great subtlety but also great feeling.


Lemonade - Bliss Out (Gold Panda Remix) / Pitch And Hold - We Have Come To Bless Dave Smith
A Ldric - Birds On Tree
Rmnvn - Uno
Lusine - Cirrus
Wah Chu Ku - T Times Too
Yukihiro Fukotomi / Foog - Open Our Eyes
Neville Watson - Full Flight
Taron-Trekka - Shiroi
Hot Natured - Equilibrium
DXR - Faderpushing Sunday
Yosa - Margaret
Gregor Tresher - The Life Wire (Petar Dundov Variation)
Xenia Beliayeva - Analog Effekt
Chris Fortier - Sunday Is A Travel Day (Ink & Needle's Skybed Remix)
Al Usher - Silverhum (John Talabot's Wilderness Remix)
B.D.I. - City & Industry (World Balloon Dub Mix)
Little Dragon - Fortune (World Of Apples' Cosmic Edit)
Bot'ox - Blue Steel

Monday, February 1, 2010

Straight outta Porirua

There was a worry I had that the Sydney Festival closing night gig was going to be some sort of anti-climax. For some time now it has been de rigueur to expect local stalwarts Mad Racket to deliver a fitting last night at the Beck's Bar under the summer skies. With the likes of Herbert, Chris Duckenfield (he the greatest house DJ on the planet), Hot Chip and Moodymann being among the guests in recent years, the gig has generally been a synthesis of a loose party and serious artistic aspirations.

But as I bought tickets last November, my Festival program was noticeably sans Racket action. Maybe the happy marriage was over and there was to be a new coterie of Beck's collaborators? Happily, that was soon rectified, although I wondered if Recloose and Frank Booker were something of a consolation prize compared with past overseas guests—after all, Auckland is not as far away nor as glamorous-sounding as London or Detroit. And the ticket sales were certainly not up with the stellar ramming of the Hyde Park Barracks venue in previous seasons.

But the end result was something just a tiny bit special regardless of the hiccups on the way. Compared with the two other Beck's gigs I attended (this one and this one) this was easily the most consistent and thoughtfully programmed... kinda like most MR parties at the Bowlo, really. Or maybe it was the relative lack of high expectations which would usually be engendered by having *MAJOR NAMES* on the bill that created space for what was simply a great night out.

When I got there Simon Caldwell was keeping the vibe distinctly deep and chuggy, with recent faves like MCDE's "Raw Cuts #3" and Precious System's "The Voice From Planet Love", before taking a sharp turn into electro-funk territory with a Crispin J Glover stormer on the long-defunct Nuphonic label.

Then Recloose, Frank and vocalist Mara TK appeared on the main stage to smash out the live version of their Hit It And Quit It radio show. Working off two MacBook Pros, at least two turntables and a seemingly endless array of electronic and acoustic instruments, they delivered exactly that—in execution and spirit this was the staged equivalent of a very pacy, thrilling two hours of Black US radio circa 1979-89. The Hot Mix 5 they weren't, but this was a complete show, not just some DJs and knob twiddlers gazing at the ground, and any spotty transitions were more than made up for by the sheer joie de vivre of the performance (not to mention the exuberance of the punters).

Starting in resolutely boogiefied territory with Unlimited Touch's "Love Explosion" alongside newbies like Escort's "Starlight", they moved into more uptempo fare by dropping the likes of "Disco Circus" and the near-perfection of Black Joy's "La Stache". Then a sharp left into more electronic sounds, a smattering of hip house obscurities and a return to pure soul with Mara TK ably filling in for Joe Dukie on "Dust". With soulful disco back on the agenda there was a final foray into Recloose's back catalogue in "Can't Take It" before somehow fittingly closing the set with Was Not Was' politically-charged yet super-cute anti-Reagan diatribe "Tell Me That I'm Dreaming". 

Then it was back to Simon, Ken Cloud and Recloose for a fittingly techy post-midnight B2B session for the swelling crowd. It was a salient reminder of what the Racket crew have created—the most consistent (and often most brilliant) dance music event in Sydney, still going strong after 11 years. Not every Racket is genius, but even nights like this where not everything goes to plan are still well ahead of the game. The Sydney Festival certainly has a good thing going here... it should stick to it.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Stunning output

A year ago I reviewed Future Classic's Beck's Festival Bar event at the Sydney Festival, leaving pleased but somewhat underwhelmed (here or here). But with Trevor Jackson headlining in 2010 I snapped up tickets as early as the Festival presale last year, long before Vito DeLuca of Belgian duo Aeroplane was announced as support.

Jackson played a vital role in the development of my interest in music outside the house spectrum, especially when I heard Morgan Geist's flawless (yet rough around the edges) revision of The Rapture's "House of Jealous Lovers", an early DFA release distributed also on Jackson's seminal Output label. I still remember the first time I heard it, played in an early set by local DJ Michael X at the influential techno night, Crunch, in 2002. The sudden explosion of horns on the background of a gritty, jarring punk-funk rhythm was like nothing I'd heard before, and yet at one with my youthful attraction to the melding of post-disco and post-punk sensibilities in early 1980s NYC.

What Jackson, who always seems to have pursued tougher sounds, was doing associated with Future Classic I wasn't quite sure at the time. And yet when I thought about it, despite the label's glossier and more melodic vibe (even when releasing techier fare), FC has always connected with artists and DJs who are edgier than the mainstream of house and nu-disco. There are good reasons why FC is one of Australia's best electronic labels when they wear influences like those on their sleeves.

Before Jackson made it onto the main stage, a somewhat empty venue got to experience Yen, who managed to pique my interest with their mash of psyche-rock, Balearica and sweet pop. But while they played well, and had good ideas and interesting hooks, these locals never quite took off. It was, as one of my friends commented, a band in need of a good producer to bring out their best.

Following Yen, FC boss Nathan McLay played a set much like he did at last year's event: a series of what seemed like his big tracks and personal favourites of recent times, undercut by an unfortunate lack of flow. As he did, though, hundreds more people filled the Hyde Park Barracks venue, leaving it comfortably full and another popular success.

But within minutes of Trevor Jackson placing a needle on Traktor timecode vinyl any hiccups or disappointments on the night were quickly forgiven. Well, almost, as his first track (by Yacht) skipped twice because the subs under stage were heaving from its searing kick and bass.

In the next two hours Jackson delivered on the promise embodied in his legend. Only recently having restarted touring as a jock, and already having starred at such respectable clubs as NYC's Guggenheim Museum (don't laugh, the DFA crew tore apart MoMA a few years ago), he skilfully negotiated modern punk-funk, dubby deep house (John Daly's instant classic "This Is A Lonely Beat"), string-laden techno, snippets of old disco and italo (a cheeky line from "Funkytown" included), modern leftfield house (Noze) and even a cheesy pop classic (the restrained Bitshit re-edit of "Love Shack").

It was a vibe that allowed throbbing eighties electro-funk to consummate its long hidden love affair with glitchy, bleepy noughties tech-house. Smashing through tune after tune (his basic digital set-up seems to have given him the freedom to only play the best bits of tracks) there were occasional mixes that needed minimal technical skill but paid off in subtle or startling mood-shifts. Once again earning his reputation as a connoisseur, Jackson's set-list was only amenable to a smattering of trainspotting (what on earth was that crackling, heavy technoid take on the "Nutcracker Suite", anyway?) but that didn't stop it winning in the "hips" department—by God, this was music to dance to, and keep dancing to. 

With DeLuca at the side of the stage itching to get on, Jackson raised an index finger to him as if to say "one more" and then dropped the heavenly Joakim re-edit of Severed Heads' "Dead Eyes Opened". It was a perfect finish to a brilliant and inspired set, one which read the crowd without for one second surrendering to it.

To follow such brilliance would be hard even for the most experienced of DJs, but Vito DeLuca was always known as the more studio boffin member of the Aeroplane team and it seems that he has only recently started DJing on a big scale. This came across with his hesitant and sometimes messy transitions, but with the venue filling up again after the gates were thrown open from 11.30pm (as is Beck's tradition) and the average age of punters dropping by at least 10 years he banged out an unashamedly populist selection. 

In fact, for all my jokes about Aeroplane (the duo) inventing "Rave Balearica" as a new subgenre during their larger-than-life performance at last year's Parklife, DeLuca went further—mixing hyper-melodic italo with euphoria-inducing poppy nu-disco and one-dimensional French electro for an overall effect that one punter described to me as "Bang Gang, only softer". In amongst it all were some faster-paced Aeroplane hits (remixes of The Shortwave Set and Friendly Fires), storming French fare (Sebastien Tellier) and overt pop (Florence + The Machine).

The kids were loving it, but it was a case of "never mind the quality, feel the width" with some of the tracks, and a far cry from the subtle and at times devastatingly emotive qualities of the Belgians' own productions. It was only when the glorious Ewan Pearson re-rub of Junior Boys' "Hazel" filtered up through the mix that things seemed to be turned right. Yet for all the limitations of DeLuca's set, he was clearly enjoying it and connecting with the Friday night mood. 

Unlike last year where I felt let down by uninspired performances from great talents, this year Trevor Jackson sealed the deal so well that nothing else could stain my appreciation of the night. Like festivals per se, the Beck's Bar is always something of a mixed bag. But Future Classic have delivered a truly superior mixed bag this time around. Great stuff!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Trainspotted—ten of the very best

You can imagine I was chuffed when I got asked to contribute a "top 10 tracks of the noughties list" for the Spank Records Blog. So, like, here it is.

Kings Of Tomorrow Featuring Julie McKnight - Finally (Danny Tenaglia's Return To Paradise Mix) (Defected, 2001)
The best mix of the best house song of the noughties, Tenaglia delivers a big room tribal monster that transforms itself into a bittersweet celebration of Julie McKnight’s adoration for God. Danny feels the spiritual love and so do we. Never fails to send shivers up and down my spine.

Josh One - Contemplation (King Britt Funke Mix) (1-Off Recordings, 2001)
Taking an obscure hip-hop track into the deepest of deep house tangents, King Britt teases and plays with the haunting and sexy female vocals, which inevitably spin me into trippy reverie on the dancefloor. That groove could go on forever…

Tiefschwarz - You (Dub) (Classic, 2002)
The track that marked the Schwarz brothers’ transition point between copying US house and staking out their own, harsher, darker electronic style. Having come to electronic music through stateside house (whether discofied East Coast, jackin’ Chicago or trippy West Coast sounds) this track shifted my mindset further afield.

The Rapture - House Of Jealous Lovers (Morgan Geist Version) (DFA, 2002)
Like a shock to the system, DFA melded two NYC aesthetics—the punk-funk of The Rapture and the electronic disco redux being pioneered by Metro Area—in a moment of prefigurative genius. Raw, visceral and immediate, this was one of the early tracks that ripped apart the constraints of genre-specific DJ sets. For me, DFA was the label of the noughties.

Golden Boy with Miss Kittin – Rippin’ Kittin (Tobi Neumann Glove Tension Dub) (Ladomat 2000, 2002)
Probably the best—and definitely the creepiest—pop song of the decade, this should have made Miss Kittin a household name. Instead it’s about as definitive an underground Teutonic singalong electro track as you can get.

Moloko – Forever More (FKEK Vocal Mix) (Echo, 2003)
In Moloko’s dying days they produced this melancholy exploration of loneliness, as if to map their own impending split. But it took my American hero Francois K to bring out the song’s full emotional impact, surprisingly doing it against a decidedly European palette of electronic house sounds.

DJ T. – Philly (Get Physical Music, 2003)
If only the Get Physical of today was the same as the Get Physical of then: a melange of styles and genres created by a friendship circle of talented producers and ideas men. It was this early electro-house track—inspired by the disco and Italo of Thomas Koch’s childhood—that was first among equals in the label’s astonishingly consistent early output.

Black Joy – Moustache (Yellow Productions, 2005)
Before there was nu-disco it was called, er… new disco. Capturing the euphoria of a debauched night in an altogether too glamorous Rimini nightspot in the late 1970s, this sublimely melodic piece of French revivalism takes you high before letting you float back to the ground in a state of bliss. Irresistible.

Hot Chip - No Fit State (Audion Remix) (EMI, 2006)
The scene: a grimy warehouse party in East London. The time: 5am. The mindset: twisted. And so it was that this track insinuated and gnawed its way into my fragile brain, refusing to depart no matter how many times I played it. Dark, disturbing tech-house at its best and an antidote to the soulless, empty minimalism so dominant at the time.

Dolle Jolle - Balearic Incarnation (Todd Terje Extra Doll Mix) (Permanent Vacation, 2008)
Scandinavian nu-disco was a key part of my musical decade, but it reached its apotheosis with this flawless reimagining of an old Jean-Luc Ponty melody, so tender and enticing that the synths wash you straight into its arms. It shouldn’t work on the dancefloor: it’s long and languorous, seeming to lack punch or pay-off. But in fact this is musical foreplay that makes the sex redundant. Radiant.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

That old fashioned house music vibe...

Seems that for me summer is the season for DJ mixes and on a whim I cranked one out today, my first one using Traktor Scratch Pro (still using SL-1200s, thank God). After quite some getting used to, Traktor has reignited my interest in house music—although I'm much happier with a more discofied and melodic style than I have been in ages.

Thanks to Soundcloud you can listen via this widget or download. Hope you like it.

Tad's House of Melodies Mix 2010-01-07 by Dr Tad

Ronnie Dyson - All Over Your Face (John Morales After Session M&M Mix)
Neurotic Drum Band - Robotic Erotic Adventure
TJ Kong - The Centre Of The World
Tony Lionni - Found A Place
360 - Neon One
Mone - We Can Make It (The 'I Believe' Dub)
2000 And One - Spanish Fly
Vince Watson - A Very Different World (Funk D'Void Epic Remix)
Steve Bug Featuring Gigi - Like It Should Be (Ribn's Translucent Vox Mix)
Marshall Jefferson Vs. Noosa Heads - Mushrooms (Noosa Heads Remake)
Stereotyp - Keepin Me (Fauna Flash Remix)
Code 718 - Equinox (Henrik Schwarz Remix)
DPlay - Tschaka
The Source Featuring Candi Staton - You Got The Love (Fire Island Vocal Mix)