What a great year for electronica it’s been. I’m not going to do a list like everyone else seems to do at this time of the year. This presumes that it’s like a chart with one being better than another. No, I just want to present the music I’ve liked this year in no particular order other than as similar styles and trends. I’ve added music samples below each choice. It’s down to you to check out more of the samples and links below and list them as you wish.
Having said that I must first tell you of the album I have enjoyed listening to most this year. This has to be Jon Hopkins ‘Insides’ which combines the traditional and classical instrumentations of the fiddle, piano and orchestral strings and cleverly interweaves them with distorted buzzes, bass and beats. On paper it shouldn’t work but it actually creates a truly invigorating and refreshing soundscape.
Here’s a clip of the title track ‘Insides’ live at the ICA in London earlier this year
Along similar lines is Chris Leary’s Ochre album ‘Like Dust of the Balance’ which also mixes classically traditional strings along with acoustic guitars and a harp. Again this sounds odd when it’s written down but musically it works well.
Meanwhile back on the dance floor there’s an artist I’ve been following with enjoyment for a few years now. Mathew Jonson has been producing some of the most lush and enduring minimal house since the early part of the decade. He hails from Canada, not a place commonly known for its electronic music exportation. As well as releasing music under his own name, Jonson uses the pseudonym Cobblestone Jazz as his collaboration project. In 2007 he released an album ’23 Seconds’ which is well worth checking out and this year he has released the rather wonderful Cobblestone Jazz EP: ‘Traffic Jam’
I’ve already mentioned on this site about the delights of Nathan Fake and earlier this year I reviewed his six track ‘Hard Hands’ EP. Read the review here.
But for those who missed it here’s a track from it again.
2009 seemed to be the year of the six track EP. One of my favourite tunes comes from the incredibly productive and meticulous (Chris) Clark and the track ‘Growls Garden’. This EP came out in March and was later followed by the album, ‘Totems Flare’ in July. Both were released by Warp Records.
Again a mention must go to the always consistent, Brazilian, Gui Boratto. His album, ‘Take my Breath Away’, I reviewed on this site too earlier this year.
Read the review here.
Here’s the title track.
On the more quirky front, the Harmonic 313 album ‘When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence’, is the current project of Mark Pritchard, a seasoned producer and Global Underground collaborator. The album is described as “Detroit-Style” hip-hop and has lots of eclectic noises and computer voices to maintain interest throughout. It’s also a lot of fun.
The Harmonic 313 great website employs a retro video style, colour coded, Flash game. You can win an exclusive track by solving a five level word problem.
I like the way that electronica has continued to get a darker sound this year. Two good examples of this are, firstly, 2562’s album Aerial.
And secondly the dubby and bleepy Distance album ‘Repercussions’.
While I’m on the subject of darker sounds we mustn’t forget our hyper productive friend Shackleton from Skull Disco who took the Big Chill stage by storm. He released his eclectic ‘Three EPs’ LP in October.
Read and hear more on my Big Chill review.
Of tracks that stood out Fever Ray’s ‘If I Had a Heart’ is a haunting piece of music with a brilliant video to match. But strangely, unlike many people, I was a little nonplussed with the rest of her album. Too much high pitch singing for me.
Here’s the very fine, filmic, trailer like video of the song.
And to end with here are a couple of tracks that caught my ear.
The background chanting on Anton Pieete & Paul Ritch - ‘The Opera’ makes the whole track stand out from the crowd.
Finally Hot Natured Edits’ – ‘Electric Jones’ is just fab dance floor orientated funky fun.
Hope you like my pick of the year and enjoyed the music samples. I also hope that it has whetted your appetite to explore the selections deeper.
For me, The Big Chill’s appeal lies in its left-field and electronic music disposition. I’ve no interest in seeing a rock band churning out their greatest hits, or producing a perfect rendition of their latest album. I can stay and listen to that at home. No, I want to discover new, exciting sounds and watch experimental visuals effects. Every year The Big Chill brings new delights – The Bays, The Egg, to name but two.
The festival, in its 15th year, is a mature and truly diverse event. There’s now an increased capacity of 35,000 and international headliners. The facilities have always been a cut above the rest. Lack of large sponsorship banners and a ‘leave no trace’ policy ensures that the site remains picturesque and pristine throughout the weekend.
Against this background there have, in effect, been two festivals running side by side for many years. The first is for nocturnal ravers and the other for ex-ravers with kids. These two groups only tend to converge in the small hours of the morning, when ravers are wandering back to their tents and the others waking up with their children. As a member of the former group, these are my highlights.
This year’s itinerary started a day early, as filming took place for Warp Films’ ‘I Spit On Your Rave’ which included a ‘Zombie’ gathering. This made for the site being full swing by Friday afternoon.
Friday – Left-field night
I spent the main part of the night at the smaller Castle Stage. Shackleton’s live set reverberated with his trademark throbbing sub-bass sending sound waves from the stage through the terra firma of the Herefordshire countryside. His recorded music is moody and downbeat, but his live interpretation felt like it had been shot with amphetamine. It was accompanied by a mesmeric looping animation sequence, which meshed frames from buildings and people to create an inter-cutting strobe effect.
Next up is Chris Cunningham, the video director and visual artist, who made it his mission to disengage everyone’s retinas with an optical bombardment. Cunningham’s work has always been challenging and no more so than this. The first sequence was an extended version of Aphex Twin’s ‘Flex’, which showed a male and female floating in a void before beating the living daylights out of each other, each shot synched and looped to the beat. This was followed by the background footage from The Horrors ‘Sheena is a Parasite’ – a seemingly possessed and strung out girl proceeds to dance catatonically to a heavy beat. There were also visual remixes of the PS1 Mental Wealth Commercial, ‘Rubber Johnny’. What made this quite wonderful was the way the visuals were elevated from supporting role of the music to primary content.
Anticipation grew for an act I’d been waiting to see for a couple of years – The Field, aka Axel Willner. He specialises in clean minimal house described as a cross between Philip Glass and My Bloody Valentine. He arrives on stage accompanied by a bassist and drummer, after being delayed by his flight from Stockholm and losing his equipment. The set starts slowly and minimally with the track ‘Leave It’ from ‘Yesterday And Today’, his newly released second album. The gradual introduction of bass and drums adds idiosyncratic texture to the evolving sound. By this time they are at full tilt and the crowd are in a trance-like dance. Due to their late arrival, the set is cut short and they finish with the sublime ‘Over the Ice’ from the seminal ‘From Here We Go Sublime’ first album.
Friday night finishes with a good dance over at The Coop with some dubbed out Chicago and Detroit house from the Subculture DJ’s.
Saturday – Eclectic night
Around 6pm The Penguin Café Orchestra commence the early evening schedule on the main stage with a Big Chill favourite, ‘Music For A Found Harmonium’ and a set full of fun and frivolity. Lamb follow later with their melancholic trip-hop that strikes the right chord with the crowd’s anticipation for the main event – Orbital.
Every year there seems to be an act that feels out of place at this festival and this year it was, without doubt, Spiritualized. They huffed and puffed through Jason Pierce’s brand of psychedelic angst rock, seemingly unaware that this event was about having fun. The only time they came to life was during ‘I think I’m In Love’ but then reverted, frustratingly, back to form.
Another disappointment, although I know many would disagree, was Lindstrøm on The Coop stage. His sound reminds me of a cross between the tweeness of Vangelis and the self-indulgence of Yes backed with a 4:4 beat. Or, as I like to call it, ‘twiddly bollocks’. Not a good sound. I was prepared to give him another chance but his performance was as I had expected, so I didn’t hang around for the whole set. He may well have improved…. But I doubt it.
Orbital appear on the Main Stage at midnight. The audience is a mix of old ravers (their kids in bed, presumably) and curious bright young things. Early on I was concerned that their set was just going to consist of faithful renditions of their recorded music. But as the set progressed, it became clear that they were mutating some of the tunes. This was when Orbital came to life for me and old favourites like ‘Lush’ ‘The Box’ and ‘Halcyon’ were given new life.
At 1.30 we were in need of some deep and dirty house. The Coop and The Rizla Arena were playing disco-orientated house. Not good. Then in the distance came the sound of breaks, beats and techno echoing from the Cocktail Bar stage. The place is buzzing with folk jumping up and down to some great tunes. This is just what we want! Who’s the DJ? It’s none other than Annie Nightingale delivering a blistering DJ set. She may not be the most technically proficient of DJ’s on the digital decks, but she has the tunes and knows how to please the crowd. Young pup DJ’s please take note. At 3am she finishes to rapturous applause.
Sunday night – David Byrne
I awaited David Byrne with great expectation. His 1980 collaboration with Brian Eno, ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’, was a massive influence on the development of house and techno music in the early 90s and remains one of my favourite albums. Add to this his funk-driven Talking Heads songs and his world music orientated albums, I consider this a must-see event.
First point to note is that the music is very much a Byrne and Eno affair, although the latter is only present in spirit. The performance is built around the duo’s recent offering ‘Everything That Happens Will Happen Today’, but includes highlight songs from the three Eno produced Talking Heads albums, More Songs About Buildings & Food, Fear of Music and Remain in Light. There was also a track each from ‘Bush of Ghosts’ and the theatre soundtrack to ‘Catherine Wheel’.
At quarter to nine out walks David Byrne, band, and backing singers all dressed in white. He announces that this is the last performance of a year-long tour and launches straight into ‘Strange Overtones’, and then the African tribal influenced ‘I Zimbra’ which is accompanied by choreographed dancers. The highlight from the ‘Everything That Happens..’ album had to be “I Feel My Stuff’. A slow builder.
Byrne has always said he would never entertain the idea of a Talking Heads reformation and here it’s easy to see why. This band is fresh, tight and, without offending the former members, indistinguishable audibly to the former. Indeed, Byrne appears very much at ease within himself and with his performers and there is a genuine feeling that they are thoroughly enjoying themselves. This is contagious and the audience responds with enthused dancing. It really is wonderful to hear these songs live. ‘Houses in Motion’, ‘Heaven’, ‘Life During Wartime’, ‘Burning Down the House’ all benefit from a live treatment and clever use of backing vocals, lighting and choreography.
On the second encore Byrne delivers the final ironic ‘Road to Nowhere’ with a wry smile and looping projection of him on a rocking horse seemingly imitating a rodeo-riding stance. He and his band take a final bow and the crowd bid farewell. With a successful tour ended and the release of his book, ‘The Bicycle Diaries’, plus his current sound installation at The Roundhouse in London, Byrne can be considered a truly versatile and diverse artist.
Hexstatic are the festival curtain closer using their clever video and music mash-up techniques. They begin with a, now well-worn, Michael Jackson ‘Thriller’ remix (attempted by nearly everyone at some time during the festival – how long will it be until we can put these ‘tributes’ to bed?). What Hexstatic do well is add wit and humorous juxtaposition to images and sound. This is not just some arbitrary concoction but a successful attempt at the ultimate continuous mutating mash-up.
So ends another Big Chill Festival and another belter. Great music and as always, it seems, great weather.
For many years now there have been disputes between DJ’s concerning the purity of mixing with vinyl and the speed and convenience of using digital mixing software. The root of this issue concerns the acquired ability to aurally beat-match and the use of a computer to algorithmically beat-match the music.
Personally I’ve always loved the tactile quality of vinyl and the care and creativity that goes into the sleeve design and packaging. However, it seems strange that music made in a totally digital environment should still be transferred to an analogue/vinyl format before being played. Surely this contradicts the process of electronically created music.
Back in the days of Acid house, before the technology was available, analogue turntables were an obvious necessity. Now with DJ software packages like Traktor and Ableton Live these have become redundant. The idea of clinging on to an antiquated process may seem quaint and pure to some but being able to keep the music in the format it was made – digital – seems more logical. The advantages are obvious: searching for music is easier, building playlists is simple, beat-matching only needs to be done once, no lugging heavy flight cases of records and more time to be creative with your mixing.
The video below shows Richie Hawtin, aka Plastikman and renowned DJ, describing his Traktor DJ and mixing equipment and shows the future of mixing technology. He explains the time the computer saves enables him to produce more creative mixes and link with other DJ’s.
Unlike Hawtin I’m not a professional DJ and I use a very basic setup of Traktor and M-Audio soundcard to record tracks I like into mixes. A simple process of downloading tracks, mixing and upload to my music player webpage.
If electronic music and house producers are to progress and continue to experiment in the digital environment Digital DJing must become the norm.
I remember a similar argument raging in the 80’s between the visual quality film and the expediency of video. Much of the criticism of video was borne out of snobbery and tradition. The same could be said today about the debate between analogue and digital DJing.
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Back in 2003 a 19-year kid with a laptop and Casio keyboard set the world of electronica alight with the release of his seminal, techno inclined, ‘Outhouse’ single. His sound was something very special that alluded to a style, sophistication and knowledge greater than that of his youthful years.
Techno is a genre littered with artists unable to step beyond one-hit-wonder status. However, it was clear by Fake’s 2005 release ‘Dinamo’ that there was something quite remarkable and multi-faceted about this wunderkind from Norfolk. His music straddles the “maximal acidic techno beats” of ‘The Sky is Pink’, lovingly remixed by Border Community label boss James Holden, and the more ethereal and sweeping downbeats of his first album ‘Drowning In A Sea Of Love’.
Fake’s new six-track mini album ‘Hard Islands’, released on 18th May, is an unquestionable return to the dancefloor. I was lucky to get the opportunity to listen to a pre-release copy and the result is a techno delight.
“Playing live a lot over the last couple of years has had a profound influence on the way I make music now,” says Fake. Indeed it is clear that this collection of tracks have taken inspiration from recent tours with the likes of Squarepusher, Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) & Steve Reid and also indicates influential stimulus from the back catalogue of Warp and Rephlex.
The stand-out track for me is ‘Basic Mountain’ proving his ability to take a simple melody then twist and distort it into a maelstrom of undulating sounds. But this album has its fair share of exciting experimentation too in the form of ‘Fentiger’ and ‘Castle Rising’ – the former a nod to Richard Aphex Twin James. There’s also the brooding fuzz of “Narrier” which invokes a soundtrack for a, as yet unmade, film – 2009: A Space Odyssey.
Back in 2006 Fake stated “For me it’s just a computer and a Casio keyboard. It’s all I’ve ever used”. Today he’s progressed to the more robust and experimentally vigorous Ableton Live enabling him to induce a technically advanced battering of the software.
To celebrate the release of ‘Hard Islands’ Nathan Fake is set to play live the Elephant & Castle arts club Corsica Studios on Friday 15th May. His live show has been described as an “unstoppable hour long industrial assault” so with dj sets from James Holden, Allez-Allez and Caribou the night looks set to be a winner.
Look out for the equally enjoyable “Hard Islands mix” which is a Fake mix of compatible tracks in a similar mode….. especially Clark’s – Growls Garden.
Nathan Fake @ Cargo, 17th May 2006
In the mid to late nineties electronic music was beginning to lose it’s way. It was as though techno was morphing into a hideous “prog rock” cousin. Techno and House had become overproduced, overlayered, bloated and self-indulgent.
Inspired by the work of Kraftwerk and Richie Hawtin electronic music producers from Berlin to Brazil found that stripping sounds and layers away from the music made it more rather than less interesting. With a nod to the classical minimalists like Philip Glass and Steve Reich – minimal house was truly born.
Fast forward to 2009 and bang on cue comes the release of “The Grandfather Paradox” which embarks on ‘An Imprudent Journey Through 50 Years Of Minimalist Music’. Conceptually this is more than just a compilation of the latter. Taking its title from the science fiction writer René Barjavel the album cleverly and skillfully reveals lost minimal gems. This is delivered in mixed, remixed and unmixed formats allowing for different contextual listening environments.
Henrik Schwarz, Âme & Dixon disclose in their sleeve notes that they felt they were “traveling back in time and manipulating the old music with modern knowledge.” The Paradox in the title refers to Barjavel’s idea that if you travel back in time and kill your grandfather you can not exist and thus cannot go back in time to kill him…
As for the music it is full of diverse sources and selections. The mix kicks off with Steve Reich – Electric Counterpoint memorably sampled in the 90’s by The Orb on Little Fluffy Clouds. It also includes the music of often forgotten 80’s Avant Garde New York group Liquid Liquid. The rest conjures up a carefully considered and beautifully executed journey of various styles. From the dubby To Rococo Rot through Robert Hood’s minimal techno the music seamlessly travels taking in the ambience of John Carpenter’s “The President is Gone” and the jazz multi-intrumentalist Yusef Lateef effortlessly in its stride. The unmixed CD has a surprising but clever selection in the form of Young Marble Giants with the always reliable Can bringing up the rear.
Henrik Schwarz, Âme & Dixon have produced a conceptually inspired compilation journey. They are currently touring their “Critical Mass” project which is infused with Henrik’s Ableton driven live show. Catch their minimal “Acoustic time-travel” at a Tardis near you soon.
The world of web 2.0 is all about sharing, collaboration, inclusion and equality. Nothing wrong with that. Personally speaking the more the better as it promotes pro-activity rather than passivity.
However, there has been disquiet in some quarters recently that all this open access is causing a “dumbing down” of quality content on the web. Andrew Keen commented on this in great detail in his book “The Cult of the Amateur” subtitling it as “How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture”. Although Keen puts forward a clear argument for closed portals and platforms he disregards the democratic ethos of the web.
Then FFFFound! comes along. A website that is brimming with a seemingly endless stream of excellent images “found” on the web and displayed on the site. Significantly FFFFound only allows registration to the site via referral from existing users and is therefore a self-regulating “closed” site. The casual visitor is allowed to view but not contribute.
In restricting users it conforms to Keen’s ideas of keeping the amateurs out. Indeed its supporters believe that the site would be swamped with inferior content by keeping them out and imply this has affected photo sharing sites like Flickr detrimentally. Conversely detractors accuse the site of being elitist.
FFFFound is undoubtedly a great way for designers and creatives to develop ideas and an outstanding image bookmarking service. There is strong emphasis on typography and photography and is a bit like browsing through a combination of old Graphis journals and Luerzers Archive.
The big question is whether this is a trend set to continue on the web. With a plethora of video and picture sharing sites already on the web are sites like FFFFound the way forward? Only time will tell.