Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Pitchfork pressure: June

It's June Pitchfork column time featuring Forsaken, Pinch, Geeneus, Rinse,, bassline house and Flying Lotus. All feedback welcome.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Like many a good idea, it started as a beer-fuelled ramble with a mate in the pub. Where are the boundaries of live music?

For years the live/performance (rock, indie, jazz etc) and studio/composition (dance, urban etc) traditions have, to a certain extent, eyed each other nervously from polar extremes. Rock and indie have maintained their “live” moral higher ground, where the ability to reproduce songs in real time became canonised as a sacred experience. By contrast any studio act unable to compete missed out on lucrative live circuit revenue. So despite the losses in sonic impact or credibility what were ostensibly studio acts took to the live arena. Just compare Destiny’s Child (studio) as produced by Rodney Jerkins and Timbaland versus Destiny’s Child (live) with fat rock drummer and session slap-bassist. Bon Jovi tom solos and atonal Seinfeld bass indulgence are go!

Kode9’s recent performances, at the Sonar and Mutek festivals, have pushed well beyond the realm of mere DJ sets into the live arena. Spaceape takes the mic while Kode mans the live re-edit machine, Ableton. (You can see some of it here, thanks to Tobias van Veen, alongside Kode’s wicked but lesser spotted sense of humour).

With studio composition, via Ableton, increasingly edging into rock’s performance realm, it’s interesting to look into what actually separates “live” performance with “electronic/live” performance. Excluding outfit changes and dance routines (let’s not go there shall we…), the visual medium of performance, in both electronic and rock music, is tied to the physical process of making the music. That much they have in common. The emotional response to the visual element of (say) live rock, however, has long since become tied into specific, learned gestures, perceived and understood by audiences to have known meanings and emotional responses. Even DJing, which doesn’t bare a direct correlation between the movements of the performer and the parts of the track, has come to be visually appreciated by fans – just witness the drooling a technically amazing DJ like Youngsta receives from audiences. What’s interesting, therefore, is how, given the advances of new technologies, audiences respond and learn responses to new visual patterns of the functions of making live/electronic music. Or, conversely, how audiences can seemingly enjoy and respond to the perception of live audio being performed (when it’s not) when all the visual queues are being provided.

Take for example, the hip-hop/ grime-MC-as-live-act. Of course, in the beginning, there were two turntables and a microphone, somewhere in the South Bronx or Bow E3. Yet when grime-affiliate Plan B played “live” in 93 Feet East, Brick Lane, East London last month there was a microphone, two turntables, a drummer, guitarist and a bassist. Only when you looked closely did you notice that the visual guitar actions weren’t correlating with the guitar audio, that something was afoot, or moreover, coming out of the CDr deck. Did the 93 Feet East crowd mind? It was packed to the rafters.

Instead of the live act that isn’t, the electronic act that’s truly live provides a far more interesting set of opportunities. The pub fuelled ramble brought to mind few examples. There was Mathew Herbert as Radio Boy a few years back at the National Theatre, breaking Disney videos and McDonalds boxes and live-sampling them into a anti-capitalist protest, which proved more conceptual than enjoyable musical experience. More recently there’s UK’s Jamie Woon: check the jaw dropping live video here. My friend, who prefers more acoustic stuff, mentioned Argentina’s Junana Molina.

Looking at these three, are the physical processes they undergo to make live electronic music visually stimulating? The answer is probably yes, and definitely more so than a bloke twiddling a laptop, largely because there’s a palpable correlation between their physical movements and their audio output. What this conclusion opens up is the debate whether, given advances of technology, the visual angle of the music making process could be taken into account as much as the sonic considerations. Given an engaging live electronic music making process, that moral live high ground of rock might start to look distinctly vulnerable.

What is surely now up for grabs is whether the live electronic technologies will be absorbed as visually aesthetically pleasing, and beyond that whether at a certain point the visual control of live electronic performance will be a dominant priority in the software/technologies creation. So that software designers ask themselves not ‘how can I make live electronic music?’ but ‘how can I make visually engaging live electronic music?’ Maybe they already have.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Keysound in NYC

I'm going to be in NYC from the 9th to the 14th of July. I've never hit the Big Apple before and like my Tokyo trip last summer, I'm really excited about soaking up the feel of all the boroughs.

If you live in NYC or know it well, any recommendations of "must sees" would be greatfully accepted. I'm all about finding those niche clubs, lost vinyl emporiums, enthralling neighbourhoods, amazing museums or killer unknown restaurants - the kinds of places you don't find in the guide books yet love as a resident.

A comments (below) or emails ( gratefully accepted.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Nightdrive through LDN

night drive13
I drive Dusk home late every Monday after studio and, through eyes screwed up with tiredness, it’s a ritual I’ve come to love. These days I often drive to and from Forward>> too. Sometimes, when the wrong MCs have turned up or too much mid range wobble gets dropped and now that the community vibe of FWD>> is intermittent (everyone’s got bookings), I find the night drive the most compelling part of the evening. What is it that’s so enthralling, so deeply absorbing, about a night drive through LDN?

night drive11

In both cases I now have my route, so I scythe through the city, a pattern of habit liberating me. Traffic at these times is minimal and so I settle into a routine, a rhythm of turns and banks, starts… and.stops. As the beats flow, so does the car, out of phase but united in momentum. As the world rolls past the window, there’s a perfect balance struck between tranquillity and stimuli, change and continuity, edge and comfort.

night drive12

The joy in night driving, like blogging, is in part the freedom. Accelerating over the peak of a dark, decaying flyover at 2am is an arc of liberation, a celebration of a brief escape from the gravity of life’s heavy daily cycles. While the world sleeps, your stereo blazes. Beats are verbally chopped, plans hatched and dreams ignited. But the night drive is also a joy of observation: of your surroundings, of a city most alive and vivid when it should be dormant.

night drive14

There’s the joys of catching some kids tagging bins. Bins? Can’t you find something more serious to make a statement on? There’s the girls traipsing back barefoot from some wine bar, high heels in one hand, boyfriend in the other. There’s the guy who ducks down the alley way when you pass, because, like, he wasn’t trying to nick cars… much. There’s the drunk fat bloke outside the Irish pub, gut out, bolsh on, taking on all comers in a four-way brawl. There’s the guys just standing about, at 1am. Just… standing… about. Who are these people that appear in a succession of fleeting 50mph moments, before the momentum closes our door to their lives? Who are they and what are their stories?

night drive7

Last Friday around 2am, I was clipping down a dark suburban artery. Out my right window comes into view a man. He’s black, looks like he’s in his early 30s and has been out on the town for the night: nice jeans, proper shoes and a designer white shirt. And he’s running. Running for his life. He’s running so hard he’s nearly bent double, parallel to the ground like he’s perpetually flinging himself over the finishing line of the grim reapers’ 100m challenge. 1st prize: his life back. Then suddenly he clips his shoe and piles into the pavement, his shoulder taking the full force of his body being ground into the concrete. He crumples, drags himself up, his shoulder full of grit, and continues to run; run for his life.

It’s over in a split second – the car passes him quickly. I’m left aghast, looking past him to see who or what is chasing him. But there’s nothing, nothing for miles but the dark suburban artery as it trickles into the shadows. I will never, ever know now why that man was running or who he was running from. The night drive just swept me onwards.