Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Mo Wax compilations

Royaltie$ Overdue
(Mo Wax) 
Melody Maker,1994

by Simon Reynolds

On the evidence of this sampler, the Mo Wax roster is
evenly divided between the brilliant and the bland. The best
stuff here--DJ Shadow, La Funk Mob, DJ Krush--is ambient hip
hop in the vein of Massive Attack and Tricky.  The rest tends
towards a tasteful but insipid composite of 'connoisseur'
musics (fusion, jazz-funk, rare groove), i.e.  precisely what
you'd associate with Straight No Chaser, the 'jazz'-zine that
Mo Wax boss James Lavelle writes for.

Nonetheless, the good parts of this curate's egg of a
comp are very tasty indeed.  The stand-out is DJ Shadow's 12
minute epic "Influx", a panoramic early '70s groovescape
whose sombre strings, lachrymose wah-wah and fusion flute are
like the missing link between The Temptations' "Papa Was a
Rollin' Stone" and Miles Davis' "He Loved Him Madly".
Ghostly shards of liberation rhetoric drift by on the breeze-
-"people's power", "it's only a matter of time", "FREEDOM"--
making "Influx" at once an elegy for the lost ideals of the
'60s and an allegory of today's slippin' into darkness vibe.

The best stuff on "Royalties Overdue" reimagines Miles
Davis circa "In A Silent Way" as a pioneer of ambient to rank
with Eno and King Tubby. The cold-sweat paranoia-funk of DJ
Krush's "Slow Chase" really implodes with a wah-wahed trumpet
solo worthy of Miles' 'lost in inner space' early '70s coke
phase.  (After this, Palm Skin's pointlessly accurate hip hop
cover of "In A Silent Way" can only seem pallid and polite).
Despite their nauseating name, La Funk Mob are smart enough
not to strive to sound like a live band (which is where other
Mo Waxers slip up).  Instead, on "La Doctoresse" and "Motor
Bass Get Phunked Up", this cyberfunk unit use the studio to
situate their piano vamps, horn-parps and percussion licks
throughout a honeycomb of dub-space.

As for the rest, the hashed-out, smooth-grooving fluency
reeks of the kind of self-congratulatory goateed twats who
once thought the sleevenotes on Style Council records were
cool. It's muzak that falls foul of the fallacy that 'mature'
= mellow. The Federation retread rare groove; Monday Michiru
is Sade, basically; DJ Takemura vibes-flavoured kitsch is
worthy of the late unlamented el label (whose Marden Hill
also feature here); Bubbatunes offer Digable Tunes B-sides
for all those who haven't yet figured out that gangsta is
where it's at.  Only RPM's groovy if scarcely groundbreaking
hip hop, reminiscent of Main Source, distinguishes itself.

Treasure the highpoints of "Royaltie$ Overdue", then,
but keep your finger poised on the remote so you can vault
over the troughs.

Headz 2 
(Mo Wax)
Village Voice, 1996 (remixed slightly for Faves of 1996)

by Simon Reynolds 

In the age of compilation gigantism, Headz 2 dramatically ups the ante. Mo 
Wax's latest anthology consists of not one but two separately sold double-CD's  (or two quadruple albums, boxed like Wagner's Parsifal), which contain nearly five-and-a-half hours of music spanning not just trip hop but leading innovators in drum & bass, techno, art-rap and electronica. Before I even saw these dauntingly oversize collections in the stores, I was put off by the air of hubris and self-congratulatory connoisseurship hanging over the project. When I saw them, the deluxe vinyl sets instantly reminded me of those calfskin-bound, gilt-inlaid editions of Dickens (sold through mail-order ads that appeal to "your unstinting pride"), which remain unread on the shelf but testify to an 
interest in being cultured. In Headz case, the word is subcultured. 

Despite their garish abstrakt covers, the vinyl Headz also resemble headstones, 
perhaps because Mo Wax supremo James Lavelle has herein constructed a kind of mausoleum of late '90s "cool". Appropriately, the music itself is sombre and 
subdued, mostly cleaving to the trip hop noir norm: torpid breakbeats, entropic 
sub-bass, dank dub reverb. (When it comes to non-junglistic breakbeats, give me the rowdy, rockist furore of the Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim and their amyl brethren, any day). The same Mo Wax kiss-of-def that resulted in Luke Vibert's only uninteresting release to date affects contributions from the likes of Danny Breaks, whose abandons his normal hyper-kinaesthetics for the idling headnooding tempo of "Science Fu Beats". (Perking the track up to 45 r.p.m improves this, and several other tracks, considerably). 

Mo Wax belong to what you might call the "good music society", or more 
precisely, they belong to a specific "good music society" which dates back to 
the "eclectic" list of influences on Massive Attack's "Blue Lines" (wherein PiL, 
Mahavishnu Orchestra, Isaac Hayes and Studio One coexisted in smug 
self-congratulation). The sensibility is pure fusion: "it's all music, man", 
"what kind of music don't I like? -- just bad music!". Every area of music has 
it own "good music society", its little cabal of cognoscenti, what Kevin Martin 
calls the "taste police": Junior Boys Own for deep house, Creation (in the late 
Eighties at least) for leather-trousered rock, Grand Royal for white American 
B-boyism. Each maintains a canon of cool, and as with all canons, what is 
excluded is as significant as what is included. What is excluded tends to be 
both the vibrantly vulgar and the genuinely extremist/out-there: neither The 
Sweet nor Stockhausen make it. (Although Pierre Henry, bizarrely, has been 
canonised --as a pioneer of E-Z listening alongside Jean-Jacques Perrey!!!).

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