Thursday, March 31, 2016

Friday, March 25, 2016

4 Records That Shook the World

My contributions to the The Wire's 100 Records That Shook The World feature from 1991 or 92

Remember feeling at the time that I had been given some rather obvious ones to handle - not that they don't deserve to be in the 100, all Fabulous and Important of course. But there were other ones I'd coveted doing that had been bagged by others. I appear to have been tasked here with dealing with Canonical Rock.

The List as a whole is top stuff, good mix of Obvious/Inevitable/Indispensable and Surprising. Looking at it again today, I'm surprised by how there is still quite a bit on the list that I've even now, 25 years later, not got around to hearing.

But nowadays that can be fixed very easily.

Too easily, probably.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Mouse on Mars

Mouse on Mars
The Wire, 1994

by Simon Reynolds

Friday, March 11, 2016

Chain Reaction / Basic Channel

RESILIENT--"1.2" (Chain Reaction, 1996)

There’s probably any number of fabulous riffs strewn across the discographies of the Basic Channel/Chain Reaction label-cluster (Maurizio’s “M6” and Monolake’s “Index” spring immediately to mind). But “1.2” by the enigmatic Resilient takes the BC/CR approach of miniaturising the riff to the limit. Riffs exist at the intersection of melody and rhythm, the mnemonic and the physical, and the Chain Reaction aesthetic in part involved seeing just how reduced (in terms of notes) you could make a pulse before it became purely percussive, just another beat. I’m not even sure there’s notes as such in “1.2”, it’s more like this spasming ripple of texture. It’s as if Resilient has conducted an archaeology of house music in order to uncover the primordial geocosmic vamp at the genre’s core. The first half of “1.2” consists of a tectonic shudder, a tidal current, that’s so contourless it’s at the very threshold of memorability. Then roughly six minutes in (you do tend to lose track of time) it abruptly shifts gear to a more rapid flicker of amorphous radiance. At which point, the sensation of spongy amniotic suspension quickens to a flooding bliss, overwhelming enough to get your eyes rolling back in your head. You start to see why Kevin Martin dubbed this genre “heroin house”.

[from The Wire's Greatest Riffs feature - The Wire, 2004]

Dance column, Spin 1998

by Simon Reynolds

PORTER RICKS Biokinetics

VAINQUEUR Elevations

MAURIZIO untitled CD



 Think "house," and in your mind's ear you'll probably hear a thudding, metronomic kick-drum and a shrieking soul-diva. Nearly fifteen years on from its Chicago genesis, house has evolved way beyond this original, winning formula, and diversified into at least a dozen subgenres. From the disco cut-up style popularised by Daft Punk to the unhinged abstraction of nu skool Chicago label Relief, the most exciting contemporary house is designed for  "track-heads"--purist connoisseurs who prefer minimal tracks to anthemic songs. I don't like purists either, but if the truth be known, when pop music's final reckoning is done, house is not going to be remembered for adding to the sum of  "great songs," nor for its pantheon of distinctive vocalists. Its real contribution and innovation resides

 In this spirit, the Berlin label Chain Reaction have distilled house down to its essence: no songs, no vocals, barely any melodies, sometimes not even a beat. What, you might wonder, is left after such
ruthless pruning? Texture and pulse-rhythm. Or more precisely, texture-rhythm as an indivisible plasma-like substance that is molded and extruded through dub-space. Take Chain Reaction's aesthetic pinnacle to date, "Resilient 1.2": a slow-motion tsunamai of  ego-melting,
body-boundary-haemorrhaging bliss. Following Kevin Martin's coinage, people have started to calll the Chain Reaction sound "heroin house"; "Resilient 1.2" actually reminds me of Velvet Underground's "Heroin". A soundtrack in waiting for the first zero-gravity nightclub, it was my favourite track of 1997; you can find it on the Chain Reaction CD Decay Product, a compilation of tracks by the production team Various Artists.

Based out of Berlin's Hard Wax record store, Chain Reaction is the sister label of Basic Channel, whose nine 12-inch releases were the toast of techno-house cognoscenti  throughout the mid-Nineties (but don't let that put you off!). Devoted to vinyl, the mysterious figures behind the twin labels established their own pressing plant. This makes Chain Reaction's series of single-artist CD compilations--encased in striking metal cans that resemble DJs's record boxes--a sort of ideological lapse, a concession to the market realities of the digital era.

Prise open the cannisters, and on tracks like Maurizio's "M6", Vainqueur's "Reduce 2" and Porter Ricks' "Port Gentil" you'll encounter electronic music as warmly cocooning and spongy as the lining of the womb. What initially sounds monotonous reveals itself as an endlessly inflected, fractal mosaic of  glow-pulses and flicker-riffs. Using studio-processes like EQ, filtering, phasing and panning to tweak the frequencies and stereo-imaging of their sonic motifs, CR artists weave tantalising
tapestries whose strands shift in and out of the aural spotlight. The effect is synaesthetic, like fingertips tremulously caressing your neck.

Although CR artists would probably distance themselves from rave's drug culture, their music sounds like Ecstasy sensations encoded in sound, abstracted into a velcro-sticky audio-fabric that tugs at your skin-surface and gets your goosebumps rippling in formation. Melody is minimal--limited
to rudimentary vamps and ostinatos--because it's just a device for displaying sound-in-itself. Simple motifs twist the timbre-fabric in order to best show off its properties, making you thrill to the scintillating play of  creases and folds, crinkles and kinks.

CR music isn't all opiated oblivion: Monolake's "Lantau" and "Macau" are like Cantonese reggae, while Porter Ricks material often has an abrasive industrial tinge,  reflecting the fact that one half of the duo is acclaimed ambient experimentalist Thomas Koner. But my favorite CR output
is the stuff that offers a sublime surrogate for MDMA experience, a bliss-space you can access at any time then leave, without cost or comedown. That said, this music's appeal  extends way beyond ravers--anyone who's ever swooned to neo-psychelicists like Spacemen 3 and My Bloody
Valentine, or  been mesmerised by minimalists like Steve Reich, will find almost unbearable pleasures here.

As well as Chain Reaction's own CD and vinyl 12 inch output (available at domestic prices), addicts will want to search out the artists's releases on other labels:  Porter Ricks' self-titled album on
Mille Plateaux, Various Artists's glistening pulsescape "No.8" on Fatcat. Porter Ricks also created a fine remix album, The Koner Experiment, based on  music by Experimental Audio Research--a collective that includes ex-Spacemen 3 leader Sonic Boom and MBV's Kevin Shields. That fact alone
that should seduce any hesitant psych-guitar fiends into taking the plunge.

live at the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage
Village Voice,  Tuesday, Jul 3 2001

by Simon Reynolds

No doubt about it, the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage is an amazing space. As a music venue, though, this gloomy maze of looming, steep-sided chambers leaves a lot to be desired: Performers tend to drown in a quagmire of reflected sound. On June 28, the final installment of Creative Time's annual series of avant-electronica events (a 10th birthday bash for Frankfurt's Force Inc and its sister label, Mille Plateaux) saw some groups faring better with the acoustics than others. Panacea's 180-b.p.m. Gothkore bombast suited the medieval ambience, but Kid606's set was too busy and event-crammed (Boredoms do IDM) to thrive in this catacomb. SND suffered from the opposite syndrome: Too sparse even for the Anchorage, they sounded like an ailing metronome trapped in an echo chamber.

Luckily, Porter Ricks fit the space like a glove. Thomas Köner and Andy Mellweg first came to acclaim with their late-'90s releases on Chain Reaction, Berlin's "heroin house" label. Combining Köner's texturology (he's an avant-garde composer renowned for bleak arctic dronescapes) with Mellweg's grasp of house's pump-and-pound rhythm, Porter Ricks make formlessness funky.

But that's no preparation for how hard they rocked tonight: Imagine Eno's On Land meets the Stooges. Porter Ricks use a guitar processor on all their synth sounds, which helps explains the added grit in their grind. Early in the set, the songs felt like spelunking through spongy-walled caverns flushed with foamy water: total body-massage. But as the beat got steadily more bangin' and the texture-riffs flared fierce like magnesium, Porter Ricks hit a sublime pitch midway between warm pulse and cold rush: a sound as visceral as hardcore, as sensuous as deep house, as abstract as glitch. The combination of this glorious roar and the Anchorage's architecture was like being teleported through time-space to Berlin's legendary early-'90s club E-Werk, a disused power plant. Finally, the Anchorage became the rave temple it has always promised to be

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Moving Shadow 1994

Equinox, London
Melody Maker, spring 1994

by Simon Reynolds

The host: Moving Shadow, the UK's leading "intelligent hardcore" label. The line-up: jungle's top DJs, including  the ubiquitous Randall, Grooverider, Ray Keith, Brockie and LTJ Bukem, plus PA's from Moving Shadow's three most popular artists, Foul Play, Omni Trio and Deep Blue. The venue: Equinox, a  slightly cheesy disco on Leicester Square usually full of tourists, whose 
balconies and upholstered alcoves provide welcome rest and respite for the combat-fatigued and shellshocked. 

For hardcore is warzone music; its jagged breakbeats are  treacherous, a simulation of the minefield that is modern life. Hardcore strafes the listener's body with percussion, so that dancing is like striding into a stream of machine-gun snares and ricocheting paradiddles, while bass-bombs send 
shockwaves through your intestines. But, with Moving Shadow's brand of hardcore, the danger-beats are incongruously swathed with soothing, silken tenderness: strings, harps, jazz-fusion 
chords, soul-diva sighs and gasps, plus the kind of woogly textures you'd usually hear from The Irresistible Force. 

This "ambient hardcore" sound was traiblazed on tracks like "Music" by LTJ Bukem (who plays a brilliant set, finding an extra five notches of volume to really detonate the night) and "Open Your Mind" by FOUL PLAY. Sadly, FP don't include this sublime song in their PA, but they do debut their fab new single ["Being With You"], all phuture-jazz synth-clusters and diva 
beseechings, while lazers scythe and slash the crowd. Foul Play also 'play' their remix of Hyper-On-Experience's "Lords Of the Null Lines", demonstrating how fluid the notion of  'authorship' is in this scene, where an anthem's life is prolonged by endless, drastically altered versions. 

After Bukem's set, Andy C keeps the music rollin'. Junglists and junglettes do a palsied version of 'steppers', originally a roots reggae dance that involves skipping on the spot like a manic jig'n'reel. But with jungle, it's like they're Morris-dancing on bullets. The crowd tonight mixes 
chic, style-conscious sophisticates (usually black or Asian) and dressed-down white kids who mostly look like they're well under the 18 age limit emblazoned on the flyer. There's all sorts here tonight, friendly luv'd up types who probably secretly mourn the days of "happy 'ardcore", and the moody, 
self-contained junglists into dark tunes, who despise the rave ethos with its Vicks, white gloves and gushing euphoria. 

OMNI TRIO hit the stage, or rather a proxy does, since the true creator behind this country's sublimest dance-pop is a 38 year old Can fan who prefers to remain an enigma. The 
stand-in pretends to knob-twiddle as Omni's classic "Renegade Snares" tears up the floor, with its soul-shocking cannonades of polyrhythm, hypergasmic chorus "c'mon, take me UP!" and 
sentimental verging on twee piano motif. Then the MC announces "the one 'n' only, the livin' legend", DEEP BLUE.  The latter is a unassuming bloke whose "The Helicopter Tune" is still massive after 6 months floor-life. Recently reissued with 4 remixes, it sold 22 thousand and became the first 
hardcore track to go Top 70 in years. Based around a geometric Latin beat cranked up like some crazed clockwork mechanism, "Helicopter" gets the crowd seething like a cauldron. 

A few hours later, we stumble bleary and squinting into a viciously crisp dawn, battered and bruised but still glowing with the beauty-terrorism of "Voodoo Magic."

Melody Maker, 1994

by Simon Reynolds

     "If 'intelligent' means that we don't just go along with the norm, then yeah, we're 'intelligent hardcore'," says Rob Playford, boss of Moving Shadow. "We're always trying to push
the frontiers back a bit, we never put out a track just 'cos it's current.  We're right at the front of the scene, so we're able to jump just a few weeks ahead of the game. 'Cos that's how fast things move in hardcore."

 Playford founded Moving Shadow in 1990.  His background as a hip hop DJ came through in breakbeat-driven tracks like "Waremouse" and "Bombscare" by 2 Bad Mice (which was Playford
and two pals). "Waremouse", with its metallic, machine-gun snare sound, pioneered the drum-&-bass style of today's hardcore, and is still being sampled.  In '92, 2 Bad Mice's "Hold It Down/Waremouse" and its remix EP sequel sold 32,000 in total; the label also scored a Number One in the National Dance Chart with Blame's "Music Takes You", an early hardcore classic, all helium-shrill vocals and jittery oscillator-riffs.  Moving Shadow was on the map.
In '93, Playford started putting out tunes like Omni Trio's "Mystic Stepper" and "Renegade Snares", Foul Play's "Open Your Mind", and Hyper-On-Experience's "Lords Of The
Null Lines". These tracks trailblazed the genre of 'ambient/intelligent' hardcore that's now in the ascendant, and established the Moving Shadow logo as a seal of quality.
Being a pragmatic businessman as well as a musician has allowed Playford to strike a fine balance between artistic progress and dancefloor currency. "'Cos you can get too far ahead, get so abstract that people can't get into it. A label like Reinforced is almost like hardcore's research lab,
trying out way out ideas.  But you need to improve your artistic-ness and still survive as a business."
Moving Shadow has its own research-and-development program: the "Two On One" series of EP's, where two different artists (usually guest acts not signed to Moving Shadow) get experimental.  Playford's mini-empire now extends to rave promotion (the recent "Voodoo Magic" bash), retail (a King's Rd store called Section 5), and a subsidiary 'compilation' label Reanimate whose debut offering "Renegade Selector Issue One" has just been released.  Another triumph for the label
is Deep Blue's "The Helicopter Tune", which sold 22, 000 and became the first hardcore tune to crack the Top 70 in two years.  All this means that Moving Shadow are well placed to reap the benefit of jungle's imminent commercial breakthrough.  Playford, though, is wary.
"What the media and the record biz have picked up on as 'jungle' is what we in the scene would call 'ragga-jungle'. I'm surprised it's taken so long for the majors to pick up on the ragga-jungle, 'cos it's so saleable. With that M-Beat/General Levy track, there's a front person, a focal point, whereas ours is more of an engineer's music. Hardcore's totally different from the rest of the music industry 'cos it's not showbiz, it's full of normal people. There's no band loyalty, because there's nothing to follow--
no posters, nothing to read about in teeny mags."

 Playford expects the ragga-jungle craze to blow up massively, then blow over by Christmas. Meanwhile, the intelligent element will bide their time and reap the long- term dividend.  They'll stay true to the music and continue to evolve. Already some Moving Shadow artists--Omni Trio,
Hyper-On-Experience--are working on full-length albums of 'armchair hardcore'.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Style Council

The Style Council

The Cost Of Loving (Polydor)

Melody Maker,  February 7th, 1987

by Simon Reynolds

A remarkable fellow, this Paul Weller. It's a strange journey he's made over the last decade, but stranger still is that he's managed to take the greater part of his audience along with him. Somehow he's managed to lead one of the most entrenched examples of playsafe rock consensus "forward" into (apparently) loving music that sounds just like Con Funk Shun, Rah Band, Loose Ends...

The problem is that Weller, ever earnest, has internalised too thoroughly the edict Rock Is Dead. For every past powerchord and epic gesture he now endeavours to atone, publicly, by the slavish imitation of the most slick and redundant aspects of contemporary black music. Once he believed The Jam was the true sound of "when you're young"; now he's "wised up", got hip to the fact that where the "real kids" are at is... Robbie Vincent, LWR, all the loathsome details of fake sophistication ("light those candles... open the freezer door").
Weller has simply transposed one "reality" of English suburbia for another, the smalltown smallness of 'English Rose', 'That's Entertainment', 'Smithers-Jones' (mod-derived), updated to a world of winebars and nightclubs. But is deference to "reality" such a good thing anyway? What exactly is of value or interest in this world of spivs, this nouveau riche Southern heartland of Thatcherism?
The Cost Of Loving sees Weller severing himself, finally, from the Sixties. The music is a surprisingly accurate imitation of that most toothless, spineless idiom, Brit-Funk... Philly pastiches, jazz-funk ballads, Street Sounds stuff... none of which approaches the real mindless ecstacy of disco. It's irretrievable naffness can be conveyed in only two words... Junior Giscombe. Songcraft, good intentions, the anxiety to avoid love clichés... all these are the very death of disco.
Worse still is when Weller attempts to remotivate the sound of Saturday Nite, make it bear the burden of his meaning well; for the music is born down by the grey spirit of New Society. I liked them more when The Style Council played with pop history, assembled their own fantasy of "perfect pop" out of Philly, Blue Note, Left Bank, Holland-Dozier-Holland.
Dear old Paul Weller. We're all on the same side. No doubt I'll be voting Labour with exactly the same mixture of dutiful resignation and frustration that there's no more incandescent alternative, as him. I even have a sneaking affection for the man. But the sad fact is that even if it is possible to achieve a co-incidence between desire and responsibility, ecstasy and concern, Weller is incapable of such a balance.
The problem is the fundamental modesty of his aspiration, of his person – those unvoluptuous good looks. Within The Redskins' drastically curtailed emotional range they worked, because there's a potential for romance in street fighting and revolution. But... how can you make the Labour Party seem exciting? That's the flaw in Red Wedge – their chiding logic of pragmatism ("as good as we'll get... let's face facts") is in fundamental antagonism to pop's intolerant utopianism.
On this album there's a track recorded with "homegrown" rappers The Dynamic Three; 'Right To Go' is a vote registration rap. It's dated, flailing and useless, hardly crucial or fresh (is there any more hopeless bandwagon than British soul and hip hop?) but the real problem is: how can you conceivably make trudging through the wet leaves and puddles to your local primary school, in order to tick a piece of paper in a polling booth, seem like a glamorous and dynamic act of self-realisation, or even solidarity? You can't.

This reissue also dedicated to Koushik Banerjea and Partha Banerjea - nuff respeck from "The Information Centre" ;)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


The Wire, 1995? or Observer?

by Simon Reynolds

White English pop is in a sorry state these days. From the Swinging London fixations of  Blur, through the mod revivalism of the New Wave Of New Wave, to Smiths-retreads like Echobelly and Gene, nostalgia is the order of  the day. Drawing on an ever more circumscribed and depleted range of whiter-than-white influences--The Who, the Jam, Bowie, that most insular and parochial of artists, Morrissey-- bands hark back to the lost golden age of  Brit-pop.

So it's hardly surprising, that the only truly vibrant music in this country is that which reflects, rather than denies, the multiracial, culturally promiscuous nature of '90s Britain.

Take jungle, a frenetic hybrid of hip hop, reggae and techno with a black-and-white underclass following. And look at the rise of  Asian rap groups like Fun-Da-Mental  and Asian ragga-dancehall artists like Apache Indian.  

The latter may soon be joined in the charts by Bally Sagoo,  Asian pop's hottest dance producer.  I talk to 30 year old Bally during a hiatus in the shooting of a video, at a converted church in Crouch End that's now Dave Stewart's recording studio. It's Bally's first video, and it's for a breathtakingly pretty song called "Chura Liya" that could be his breakthrough into the mainstream.

Born in New Delhi, Bally was six months old when his parents emigrated to England, and has lived in Birmingham all his life. Music is in his blood: his father played in one of the first Asian bands in Britain, the Musafirs, "a sort of an Asian version of The Shadows". But Bally never really cared for traditional Indian music as a boy, preferring the "hardcore street sounds" of electro and hip hop. Now almost every genre of studio-concocted state-of-art dance informs his sound, from house and techno to ragga and jungle. 

Throughout the '80s, Bally honed his production skills, remixing bhangra tunes and giving them the kind of turbo-charged "beef" that he heard in Western dance music.

"To be honest, I basically changed the whole of the Indian music industry, by bringing in samplers and sequencers and modern beats".  

In 1990, he started making his own music, and has since released six albums that each sold over 100 thousand copies. After last year's 'greatest hits' compilation "On The Mix" (through Island 's sub-label Mango), Bally signed to Sony in a massive deal that's potentially worth 1.2 million. Now label, management and artist are all holding their breath to see if  Bally's past sales and fan-base can translate into chart positions. 

"My goal, and I keep my fingers crossed and pray to God, is to see an Asian language song in the charts," says Bally earnestly. "Then you could really say, 'doors have been broken down'. I don't wanna hear any crap about how people won't like it cos they don't understand the words, cos there's been loads of foreign language hits." 

He compares "Chura Liya" to Enigma's "Sadeness"--a fair analogy, as "Chura" seductively interweavesethnic exoticisms (Indian movie strings, tabla loops, sitar samples) with DJ-friendly beats.
"Chura" was originally written by the late R.D. Burnam, one of the subcontinent's most famous songwriters and 'musical directors'. Bally went to India to get it resung, then took the vocal back to his Birmingham studio and framed it in a "'90s ragga sound, with a hardcore rude-boy B-line". As well as the romantic Hindi vocals, there's a rap from Cheshire Cat, a white Brummie who chats in a thick Jamaican patois, raggamuffin-style. 

"Chura" is a taster for the album "Bollywood Connection", named after Indian's motion picture capital. "The album consists of eight superhits from the last twenty years. I do a kind of Jurassic Park thing, bringing these dead and buried songs back to life". 

Although Bally's a Punjabi Sikh himself, he chose to work with Hindi singers. "You're conquering a bigger market with Hindi.  Bengalis, Sikhs, Muslims, they all listen to Hindi songs, whereas Punjabi bangra is more of a specialist scene."

Much of Bally's talk is of conquering markets and how Asian music has yet to be "exploited properly". When I suggest that even though "Chura" is a love song, its success might have a political dimension--demonstrating to the racists and BNP that Britain is now a multicultural society, that there's no going back--he shrugs. It's clear that Bally's main interest in crossover isn't cultural integration so much as maximum market penetration. He's an ambitious fellow who aspires to the first rank of world-class dance producers--David Morales, Jazzy B (Soul II Soul), Paul Oakenfold, Jam & Lewis, Teddy Riley--and is tired of being ghettoised as an Asian artist. 

He's also frustrated with the limits of the Asian market, where 80 percent of sales are cheaply priced cassettes, and there's a massive problem with bootlegging. (He tells me how one scoundrel in Canada sold 200 thousand pirate copies of one of his albums).

But Bally's transition to the mainstream might not be that smooth, owing to the peculiarites of the Asian record industry. Most Indian music is sold through cornershops, which is why Bally's huge sales have hitherto failed to translate into hits (they've bypassed the chart-return shops). Can Bally and his record company persuade Asian youth to go into Our Price and HMV? And will Asian kids, who are used to paying 2-50 for a cassette album be prepared to cough up eight, nine, ten quid?

It's a gamble for both Bally and Columbia, but the stakes are high: it could be that Asian music will have the same influence on '90s pop that Jamaican reggae did on the Seventies. (Who knows, by the end of the century, maybe there'll be massive-selling white bhangra bands, a la The Police and UB40...)

"Nobody can tell what's going to happen in the future. We just have to hope that the public can accept this music and bring it to the same level that house, ragga, techno, are at the moment.  It shouldn't be a specialist thing, it should be up there, loud and proud. Specialist just doesn't make sense."

This reissue dedicated to Koushik Banerjea and Partha Banerjea - nuff respeck from "The Information Centre" ;)