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The Detroit don’s fourth album gets its first vinyl reissue
Despite his genuine confidence and happy-go-lucky charm, the music of Kenny Dixon Jr. is never without a feeling of loss. Between his stop-start sampling, happy-sad instrumentals, and allusions to “silence” and “taking away”, there’s an uncertainty to Moodymann tunes. It’s the same kind of uncertainty we hear from hip-hop; sheer street confidence mixed with an insidious disaffection and desperation, that creeps along with growing up in a city like Detroit.
“Keep in mind, DJing back then was just putting the fuckin’ record on, shut the fuck up, you’re not gettin’ paid, do what you’re told,” the artist said in a 2019 interview. Such a statement might seem too humble for a personality like Moody’s, but behind his trademark fishnet mask and wildly huge shades, Moodymann’s sense of grandiosity does not feel entitled or unearned. Rather, at the time of his debut albums and EPs in the late 90s, Dixon Jr. was just doing what he knew – putting up and shutting up, having fun, and brazenly working with what he had, with ‘the way things were’ in Detroit.
Silence In The Secret Garden, his fourth album, is seeing its first ever vinyl reissue this year via Peacefrog. And while it’s nowhere near as lauded as Silentintroduction or Forevernevermore, its every facet drips with the same feverish, unlikely jazz and beatdown moods you’d expect from Detroit’s trickster-prince.
Here’s a lesser-known fact: the album’s cover, garnished loudly by a distinctive red rose, is inspired by a Temptations album released a decade earlier, ‘Special’, which features a near-identical rose on its own cover. Released on Motown in 1989, The Temptations were well into their confident twilight years by this time, and from the leading, slow-soul hit ‘Special’ to the driving new jack swinger ‘She’s Better Than Money’, it’s clear this music was the kind to inspire sheer loving confidence. It does well to remove the listener from any sense of struggle, and rather plunges them deep into the blissful cloud of Motown fame, success and glory. Likewise, the rose on the cover lies neatly on a lush green spread, devoid of anxiety or urgency – safe.
Now contrast that with Silence In The Secret Garden‘ which sees its own red rose plunged in pitch blackness. Musically, it’s clear this isn’t your average garden. As we enter to the aptly-titled tune of ‘Entrance 2 The Garden’, Moody’s inspiration from live music rings truer than ever, with rushed and dragged hi-hats abruptly swaying the mood of a slap bass and pianojazz moodscape, barely scratching at its thick overgrowth. Whereas The Temptations’ sonic lawn was pristine and meticulously tended to, Moody’s is half-wild, and while sexily maintained, it teems with flytraps and the sultry stenches of carrion flowers.
We prefer to take ‘People’ – the album’s lead single and fan favourite – not as the laid-back, minimal jazz-house instrumental it sounds to be in isolation, but a surrealist intro to a slow-burning LP, the subtlety of which isn’t immediately obvious. Meandering through styles, there are rugged techno allusions, like the pulsing acid line of ‘LiveInLa 1998’, made famous for its inclusion in Richie Hawtin’s hybrid live set in 2003. And tying in with Moody’s desire to reclaim a lost, haphazard confidence, it’s filled with emotional longing. The tracks are fittingly lengthy: ‘Shine’ is an eight minute house bit tinged with the doubled-up ghost of R&B (it’s “yeah” vocal sample reverberates in and out like a ghost), while the title track combines a new wave bass plod with street ambience and glistening windchimes.
On every tune, the beats are whomping and substantial, retaining a raw, not glossy, beauty. That might make Silence In The Secret Garden a challenge for many potential listeners, but this isn’t an instantly gratifying album; in fact, patient punters will make it to ‘Sweet Yesterday’, where Moody appears on vocals under his Pitch Black City alias. Between indiscernible croonings, “your love is so good…” and “oooh, wow, wow, yesterday” peek through the mix’s haze, proving it to be a loving ode to the past’s better days. We realise in retrospect, though, that ‘Silence…’ is tinged with a gritty realness only Detroit can pull off.
Jude Iago James
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A chance find in a Detroit warehouse sees this rare gem back in stock
We’re not usually in the business of dusting down cover artists, but when said artists are boiler suit-clad Detroit technicians at the pinnacle of their live music game, all the usual rules are thrown out the window.
The Detroit Electronic Music Festival (DEMF) – now known as Movement – has been running in the city’s Hart Plaza every Memorial Day weekend since the year 2000. That year, the turn of the millennium, fears and hopes were rife over technological phenomena, including digital doomsday scenarios (Y2K) and sci-fi style interstellar travel (take 2001: A Space Odyssey). Two years later, in 2002, the rest of the world had come back down to Earth – perhaps respectfully quietened by the aftermath of 9/11, and humbled by the realisation that technology might yet advance at a slower pace than their hopes might have led them to expect.
But not Detroit. Being the birthplace of techno as we know it, the city had been gazing into the future for more than 30 years. 2002 had already seen Detroit techno’s first come-up, and coincided with the latest phase of the new digital age. Households across the world were not only neck-deep in their crude laptops, email and digital pager tech, but were slowly awakening to the possibilities of internet video technology – YouTube was only a few years away. And after decades poor economic policy, Detroit’s people saw these horizons as the potential deus ex machina they needed, and were more interested in these ideas than most.
Detroit techno was far ahead of its time, not of its time. An unfortunate byproduct of this was that it couldn’t be captured as effectively as we would have liked. Aux Men’s live performance at DEMF 2002 is grainy at best. The recording, which we ironically found on YouTube, was originally housed on a Maxell T-120 STD videotape. But that, of course, feeds into the noughties nostalgia (forget the 90s) that today’s e-boys, e-girls and e-people now feel. Watch the video, and a sense of rarity kicks in. It’s from nearly two decades ago already, and that’s not to mention the digital, pastel distortion encroaching on its quality.
Aux Men were an electro supergroup from Detroit, pushed by Keith Tucker’s Puzzlebox label, and effectively an expanded version of the band Aux 88. Besides core members Tommy Hamilton, Posatronix and Blak Tony, their lineup also contained Tucker, Marty Bonds and the techno trio Strand. Breaking from Aux 88’s focus on making original music, this performance is purely a covers’ affair – with everyone from John Williams to Funkadelic in tow.
Adding to the rare feel of the tape, the bootleg CD which houses the only HD recording of their set was discovered in the Puzzlebox warehouse . Pulling it off the shelf and dusting it off opened up a rather large rabbit hole, and it’s now listed under the category ‘Warehouse Find’ on the main site, legitimizing our gushing sense of nostalgia over it.
Not included on the CD, but witnessable on the YouTube VHS rip, is an address delivered to the DEMF crowd – located far below the band, who are elevated like UFO-ing aliens above a humble Earth – by an unknown individual, regarding the recent 9/11 catastrophe. “I just want to take a moment to remember what this day is all about… so let’s give a round of applause to all the policemen, and firemen, and women in this city.”
A sudden distortion follows, and we cut to an introduction by Detroit legends Eddie Fowlkes and DJ Bone, who welcome the band. At this point, if you own the bootleg CD, your sense of nostalgic, piecemeal self-reliance should kick in here; it’s possible to sync up the video and the CD, taking the experience to its fullest capacity. “We bout to set it off… now introducing Aux 88… it’s been upgraded… we need an upgrade… for the new millennium,” says Bone. The crowd jeers as all six members enter stage left, clad in military vests and cargo pants, and marching to John Williams’ main Star Wars theme.
Now the CD disalloys itself from the VHS, and we’re taken by a 10 minute prelude, in which the same voice urges us to “let the music play” – to forget any recent tragedy. Sine tones, piano flourishes and wind chimes tinkle, setting an expositional mood not born from the school of Jeff Mills or Mad Mike, but Vangelis or Count Basie. Amidst the jazzy ambience, a voice hears: “I have prepared my ship for takeoff, and now we’re ready for hyperspace”.
Suddenly, a beat drops, and the pulsing piano of Derrick May’s ‘Strings Of Life’ resounds, as one of the band members assures us to “make some noise” and “give it up for the cosmic soldier”. What proceeds is an unstoppable slice of future-positivity from the Aux Men: turning their backs to anything rockist or fearful, they embark on a medley of well-known techno and Afrofuturist classics. Our now familiar robot voice assures of “solitude, and many mental encounters of the third kind”, as a full-on Kraftwerk and Yellow Magic Orchestra medley ensues, seeing to covers of ‘Man Machine’ and ‘Computer Games’. Afrika Bambaataa’s ‘Planet Rock’, prefaced by cosmic mists and ambience, hears the most applause – “are you ready!?” – while lesser-known classics from the Aux Men’s affiliates, including the Jonzun Crew’s ‘Pack Jam’ and A Number Of Names’ ‘Shari Vari’, careens between the hits to no less success.
Even downtempo is checked off – the Art Of Noise’s ‘Moments In Love’ gets its own beautiful 11 minute slot, framed oddly by the clippy tone of Aux Men’s drum machines, and bookended on both sides by an impeccable live piano that sets the tone for what’s next to come. “See, electronic music can be slow and soothing, you know what I’m saying?”
And what is next, exactly? A true foray through the music of Funakdelic and Cybotron – two Afrofuturist techno mainstays and pioneers in their respective genres – that’s what. Find the exact right moments in the VHS rip and you’ll catch them; for ‘Cosmic Slop’, Strand and Marty Bonds deliver an insane moment of guitar shreddage, whilst later, the Cybotron medley hears a living, breathing techno catalyst, Juan Atkins, brought out to help perform the three tracks ‘Cosmic Cars’, ‘Alleys Of Your Mind’ and ‘Cosmic Raindance’.
Contextualising the entire performance are amplified vocal snippets from Detroit radio DJ The Electrifying Mojo, whose transmissions preceded the emergence of techno, and were instrumental in the development of the genre’s robotic themes. Between the expertly-mixed beats and rich interludes, you’ll be sure to hear a dubious, looming repetition – simply, “electrifying mojo”, stuck on repeat. For Aux 88, an “electrifying mojo” came in the form of techno, and this live CD – unfairly relegated to bootleg form – is their form of thanks to DJs and artists like him. Emerging at the time of unprecedented political and technological change in the United States and beyond, ‘Live @ DEMF 2002’ captures a zeitgeist we do not enjoy today; gratitude for the symbiotic relationship between man and machine, and pure excitement for our inevitable, technological future.
Jude Iago James
From indie hero to acid house innovator…
For any indie band, to be ‘big in Japan’ is a status symbol. But at Juno, we firmly believe being ‘big in the Balearic Islands’ should hold just as much weight, and we’re sure Rolo McGinty – former Woodentops frontman and mastermind behind the alias Pluto – can vouch for us.
Released in 1995 and reissued now by Glass Modern, ‘Rising’ was Rolo’s first solo electronic album. But before we dissect it, we’ll explain Pluto’s origin story. Like being bitten by a radioactive spider, the promise of electronic music ensnared Rolo in the early ‘90s, endowing him with a superhuman enthusiasm for emotive techno, trance and Balearic house.
The catalyst for this bionic upgrade was ‘Why? Why? Why?’ – the smash single by Rolo’s band The Woodentops – all the way from 1985. Multiple layers of irony and random chance enshroud the hit-worthiness of this song. Its first release was a mix by Adrian Sherwood, but it didn’t pick up steam until 1987, when a more uptempo live version came out. Oddly enough, that was the version that became the Balearic classic.
And to add to this, the ‘Tops weren’t originally Cafe Del Mar residents nor San Antonio strip saunterers – they were a rather sophisticated South London indie band. Their first big break wasn’t a meagre spot of DJ play by Paul Oakenfold, but rather a bigup from The Smiths’ Morrissey in the music magazine Melody Maker. “Anyone sane living in this world will realise… that The Woodentops bring with them a new age of enlightenment” – thus spake Morrissey, dousing the band in the social proof they’d need to later sign with Rough Trade.
After the co-opting of ‘Why? Why? Why’ into the Balearic scene, Rolo’s sleep schedule began to slowly de-align itself from that of his tour managers and label affiliates. He’d head into the night for a spot of clubbing, as soon as they went home and off to bed. It was this attraction that led not only towards his experimenting with analog gear, synths and sampling (hence the semi-electronic Woodentops album ‘Wooden Foot Cops On The Highway’) but also the rather under-the-radar Pluto alias, which saw him perform at Heaven in the mid-90s, flanked by two backup DJs in silver reflective space outfits.
All this neatly frames the first album as Pluto, ‘Rising’. The album’s title – and the art, depicting an undiscovered musico-planetary realm, Pluto, framed like ripe prey in Rolo’s glasses – clearly matches the emotions he felt during his exodus into electronica. We all know that feeling. Getting into a new style of music does indeed feel like a swell of buzzing joy, rising out from the pit of one’s stomach.
As if fulfilling this sense of potential, every track on ‘Rising’ is a well-developed house and techno throbber, well worthy of sharing a label home (London’s fabled I.T.P. Recordings) with much bigger names like MLO and The Advent. Three deep techno cuts – ‘Free To Run’, ‘Diablo’ and ‘Rockerfeller’ – preface a slow-burning balearic beat bit, ‘Let Me Lie’. An outlier, this track is ridden by an unknown vocalist in an almost street-soulful manner reminiscent of The Chimes or The Family Stand. “Let me love you,” it repeats, while its reversing drums melt our inhibitions.
One track deserves all the praise it can get, and that’s the midway point, ‘Sumista’. Owing to Rolo’s foundations in the faster end of band music, it works in an unusual 4×4 beat at a higher tempo, seeming to draw on everything from drum n’ bass to hardcore to ska, all while blending its paints on a palette made entirely of acid-laced Mallorcan wood. It’s at double the speed of most Balearic chuggers, effortlessly carrying the digit of Rolo’s energetic live personality into the structure of a dance track.
The extent of Rolo’s production chops don’t truly make themselves known until the latter half, at which point, the dub ricochets of ‘Hardware Waving’ contrast prismatically to the acid chaos of ‘Mach 3’, seemingly predicting the styles of later dance figureheads like Primula and Morgan Geist. ‘Magic Man’ is the star of the show, being the album’s most sentimental track – but, as if acknowledging that such moments of bliss are fleeting, we soon return to unserious Balearic vibes on ‘Nimble’ and ‘Sueno Plutino’.
The final track title roughly translates to “I dream of Plutinos”, which are invisible objects that orbit Neptune in perfect motion. Such is the feeling we glean from the story behind this album, and from Rolo’s musical career. Out from the chaos of restless and janky post-punk comes the Neptunian, planetary order of electronic dance music, in all its chilled-out unisons and tessellations.
Jude Iago James
Sharp as ever
In a year so smitten with ‘80s post-punk and ‘90s electronica, an album billed as “Siouxsie Sioux meets Aphex Twin” surely stands the test of time, right?
Rabid Records seem to think so. Currently reissuing a number of The Knife’s early records, they’ve finally gotten to ‘Silent Shout’ – the band’s most famous – on limited violet vinyl. Abandoning their formerly bubbly sound, this album is for the less faint of heart. Vocals became menacing, arpeggiations haunting, production dark and stark. While coursing through nightmare realms of techno and EBM, Karin Dreijer’s vocals seem to scream out and harken after the demonic, trigger-happy on the pitch shifter and talkboxed layering.
‘Silent Shout’ is both a frustrating and frustrated record. Dividing fans who sought the no-stress entertainment of their earlier work, it just as aptly wrangled at the pacifying nature of the TV and its place in society. In 2016, as part of a 10 years’ anniversary retrospective for The Fader, Karin said: “When you feel really shitty, you go home and you turn on the TV and it will ease your pain for a little while. And also the isolation—instead of running out from our houses to act, a lot of people stay at home instead. I think a lot of the tracks are about a numb feeling. I mean, I hate a lot about this society. And I hate that the structures themselves try to do their best to make you numb and passive. The oppressive power structures benefit even more when you stay home in front of the TV.”
‘Silent Shout’ is unashadmedly electronic, whereas many of the influences going into the former projects weren’t. Take, for example, ‘Deep Cuts’. A casual punter might think Calvin Harris or Sylvester were influences on it; it has maximalized electro house production, disco-ball arps and pop ready starkness. These are all trademarks of The Knife’s sound, but it could be argued that they hadn’t delved into them boldly enough. They were using vocal effects, but were they layering them to full demonic effect? Their production was scratchy and abrasive, but was it chaotic enough?
To The Knife, technology is like a mask for real feelings; whether that be represented – during this career highpoint – by the bird masks they wore onstage, or the vocal effects that masked their own voices, egolessly. With this in mind, the subject matter of ‘Silent Shout’ gets even more unnerving. Its final moment, ‘Still Light’, consists purely of an eerie synth and Karin’s elven vocals tripled up in harmonic assembly. The lyrics – “I was so concentrated / on keeping things together / Now where is everybody / Is it still light outside?” – are a taunted mantra, describing the thought process of a character who was so focused on using technology as a crux that they have now become permanently ‘blind’.
Such a conclusion paints a negative picture of technology, which lends a real irony to The Knife’s choice to work with synthpop: which is, as musical genres go, the essence of techno-musical harmony. These contradictions play out throughout – the urgent, industrial illbience of ‘We Share Our Mother’s Health’ speaks of life’s fragility, and a sex worker’s fear of suddenly losing everything, despite the possibilities for growth – “Trees there will be / apples, fruits maybe”. Our favourite curiosity, meanwhile, is ‘Marble House’, which posits the claim that it “must be safe / When it’s on TV”; here, the TV and other technological vices accompany a young, codependent couple in their journey out from inadequacy into eventual salvation.
Released in 2006, ‘Silent Shout’ was released largely before smartphones were a thing – and is arguably more relevant to our times than it was back then, given the addictions, derealisations and manipulations that can arise out of improper, addicted tech use today. But besides all our speculative meanderings into the album’s meaning, Silent Shout is, besides, a revolutionary album in terms of its production. It put The Knife on the map, and cemented Olof Dreijer’s reputation as an impeccable producer who would be copycatted for years to come.
Jude Iago James
With his own How Do You Live album about to drop, former label Ninja get into Tobin reissue mode
Amon Tobin has reached a peculiar stage in his musical career; the reissue stage. But there’s a bit more to it than just that: like twisted pinnacles of Everest – which only the bravest of mountaineers can even find, let alone traverse – Tobin’s trajectory has charted the kind of artistic peaks very few artists can claim to have reached.
For over two decades, he remained faithful to his springboard label Ninja Tune: the indie major who signed him for his broken, cyperpunkish breakbeat, nu-jazz and trip hop, and later put him on the map as a foley IDM titan.
But in the previous two years, he’s broken away, operating in other aliases both new and old (Stone Giants, Figueroa, Only Child Tyrant, Two Fingers and Cujo) for his own label, Nomark Records. Indeed, he is due to return to – shock, horror – his own name next month with the release of How Do You Live, on Nomark.
Owing to his uncanny ability to slowly traverse discrepant genres over the course of his career – breakbeat, IDM, nu-jazz, drum and bass – Nomark unifies them, with Tobin working with everyone from fellow neuro sculptor Thys (formerly of Noisia) and indie rock frontman Patrick Watson.
But in as much as we’re taken in by all this new material, it still works best when cast in the light of Tobin’s former releases. So, what better time than now to reissue 2002’s ‘Out From Out Where’, his fourth album for Ninja? As one Eric L so aptly put it, this album is “the last of Original Amon before he dabbled in more experimental sounds and eventually left the known world of music altogether.” This isn’t a Stunt Rhythms nor is it an ‘ISAM’. This is a pure example of OG Tobin – still far ahead of his time – dabbling in the trip hop, downtempo and beatjazz vogues of the early noughties, yet doing so in a wacked-out, glass-shattering manner only he could muster.
What’s more is that its predecessor, ‘Supermodified’, was made only using found sound recorded by the artist himself – a technique he would continue later in his career with ‘ISAM’. Out From Out Where, by contrast, is less stringent and oblique, making use of at least some samples and less-processed recordings. A great example is track 2, ‘Verbal’, which contains a very ostentatious hip hop acapella. While still obviously a sample, it’s stuttered to oblivion, and Tobin has sculpted a cavernous beat around it, topping it off with his patented metallic clatterings and clunks that, as ever, show off his inhuman ear for dynamics. Rather than detracting from his credibility, this use of samples seems to have opened up a little more creative headspace, enabling him to create what is arguably his most enjoyable project.
It clearly doesn’t take much gain to give such expansive electronic music a funky edge. Tobin’s jazz influences shine through in the occasional bass and electric piano riff (hear ‘Hey Blondie’ and ‘Proper Hoodidge’), which always remain as variable and faux-improvised as any other electronic element in his tracks, despite their low level in the mix. Elsewhere, though, it seems as though this album is the threshold between ‘human’ funk and ‘inhuman’ cybertopia. Sometimes, as on the subtly filmic beatscape that is ‘El Wraith’, twanging koto seems to open up into a synthetic vocal choir. We can even hear preemptive echoes of Tobin’s late-career forays into drum n’ bass, as on the hyperspeed chop-sorcery of ‘Triple Science’. With such a track title – and a boffin’s monologue peppered throughout the track, talking of “electromagnetic oscillators” – it’s clear Tobin takes a scientific, and not sorcerous or mysterious, approach to his productions. This album that sums that approach up. While not as extensively produced as some of his later work (it’s nice and dry, preceding the echo and reverb that saturated a lot of later neuro and IDM), it still shows off Tobin’s vision of a somehow enjoyable techno-dystopia; one overwhelmed by huge, animate beams of sonic metal and electricity, yet still touched by something funky, jazzy, human.
Jude Iago James
What Bundy did next
Four Tet fans might not be aware of Echoes, the album which the monumental producer said “changed (his) life”, and was described as “the blueprint for the Four Tet thing.”
It can be difficult for prolific artists like Kieran Hebden – in his case, credited for pioneering ‘folktronica’ – to admit their own influences, especially if it reveals the fact that said innovations involved more ‘borrowing’ than meets the ear. But, amazingly, he did do just that, confessing to Gilles Peterson in a 2016 BBC 6 Music interview: “it’s basically where I got the idea for everything from…”
The schematic for Hebden’s rough sampling, twinkly arpeggios and spiritualized dance tropes existed long before his rise to fame. From the psychic breakbeats of San Francisco’s Hardkiss, to the refractive drones of Richard Horowitz and Jon Hassell, plenty of music saw it coming.
But London-born producer, remixer and multi-instrumentalist Bundy Ken Brown, aka. Directions, is a less known example of his prototype. Formerly a member the bands Bastro and Tortoise, and a food critic by day, it would have been difficult to predict Brown’s fusion of spiritual jazz and sample pillaging, which he perhaps pulled off even more subtly than big names like DJ Shadow.
Directions was a new venture for Brown. After leaving Tortoise, he met with 44 drummer Doug Scharin and guitarist James Warden to form the project in the mid ‘90s, beguiled by the potential space between prog jazz and downtempo. While active, it only saw limited success and grew tired, with Brown separating the project from the band in 1997.
But miraculously, as though rejuvenated by a last breath, the last Directions album ‘Echoes’ – produced as a solo effort, and released on the UK label Soul Static Sound – became an unlikely, headsy favourite. Perhaps its appeal was prophesied. It’s hard to resist a strictly limited 12” packed with such blissful musical content, and that combination of rarity and rapture makes many a record seem priceless.
Now, ‘Echoes’ is available for the first time since its original release in 1997. A clear influence on Four Tet’s ‘Morning / Evening’, it includes the two original long form, side-spanning tracks – ‘The Continental Drift’ and ‘The Asymmetrical Excursion’ – and has been expanded to feature a nascent 1995 demo. This version also has a new remix on it by ‘90s Chicago DJ crew Deadly Dragons, of whom Brown is a member.
To the untrained ear, the ‘Echoes’ versions might sound like Nujabes parrotings. But at nine and seven minutes long respectively, there’s an all-present, Coltranean ghost in these songs that can only be picked up by sustained listens. Meditate on them: get past a few beat rotations on the first track, and you’ll make out bell sparklings, sitar flarings, and extra high-end tones on the bass riff. This track occurs in 3 sections, all of which are different takes on the same subdued spiritual backroad.
Track 2 contains a saxophone, and with that bold use of jazz’s quintessential instrument, a higher energy emerges. This time, the music sounds like a giant moving apparatus, a village on wheels. It creaks and clunks along as its people peacefully fuel its movement. Drum sounds and ambiences are occasionally reversed in post, like a rare reminder of the tension and potentiality in an otherwise peaceful soundscape.
At first, Deadly Dragons’ remix scarcely sounds separate from the original tracks. But at an indeterminate point near the start, the woodblocky hip hop beat we’ve grown used to over the past three tracks gives way. We’re suddenly transported to a dense, sloshing thicket of impressionistic, reversing drums. This barrage of sound isn’t unlike what we imagine a jazz musician might hear at the end of life, as their entire depth of experience flashes before their eyes equanimously. Or if you’ll indulge the comparison, it rather sounds like someone fast-rewinding and skipping through the ‘Echoes’ original using a faulty tape player, and enjoying the happy accident that hears back.
Masterfully executed by Brown, and after nearly 25 years, this is the kind of follow-up remix we could only dream of. Yes, pioneering artists have their own muses – and with this release, we’ve unearthed yet another link in the chain. Like Four Tet, perhaps this new material could spur the career of yet another genre-defining artist soon to come?
Jude Iago James
Hugely controversial – but even more hugely popular…
The biggest German act of the last 30 years, Michael Cretu’s Enigma project began in the 1990s, selling over 70 million records, landing more than 60 chart number ones around the world and nabbing more than 100 platinum awards. It’s no surprise Universal are in the process of reissuing plenty of their highest-selling albums, their debut ‘MCMXC AD’ being the most obvious choice in the gamut.
Enigma were pioneering, spurring many new trends and phrases. After their first commercial appearance, ‘enigmatic’ became a popular term to refer to non-limelighty artists. ‘Project’ caught on, denoting non-individualistic acts. And – last but not least – there was ‘worldbeat’, which was the body-swaying fusion of Balearic and downtempo beats with ‘world’ music samples.
Despite his influence, Cretu is one of the most controversial figures in electronic music. Mired in copyright battles over unsolicited samples on some of his most well-known singles – including this project’s very own ‘Sadeness’ and the later ‘Return To Innocence’ – he only ever escaped these headbutts through the skin of his teeth, managing to pay off the Gregorian chant choir Antiqua München for infringing their “right of personality”, and claiming not to have been aware that the pair of Taiwanese singers’ voices, used in the latter song, were not in the public domain.
‘Worldbeat’, it must be mentioned, is a problematic term. Given the context of Enigma’s unsolicited sampling, the genre name somehow manages to sound worse than its simple, umbrella parent term ‘world’, with the ‘beat’ suffix wafting an extra air of appropriation.
But mistakes were acceptedly made, and wrongs corrected. And Engima’s sound, besides all the clamour around it, is itself not problematic. It is, in fact, rather good. It laid down a style so specific in mood that it still causes fingers to click and hips to sway, and always begs the question, “what is this tune again?”. One happily Chinese-whispered term to describe this album is ‘monk sexuality’, referring to the music’s sultry moods, which are combined with unlikely religious puritan and monastic themes. Besides the obvious ‘Sadeness’ and Enigma’s monkish image (the single version of ‘Sadeness’ bares the visage of a particularly austere-looking monk), this can be heard everywhere. If there aren’t devotional vocal samples populating a particular moment in a track, then rest assured, there’ll at least be some divine droning, choral pad going on in the background.
It’s Cretu’s then-partner and singer, though – Sandra Cretu – who ensures the album’s squintiest and steamiest moments. A loungier tune, ‘Callas Went Away’, is a nuggetlike example of her multilingual songwriting. Sandra’s lyrics are a tribute to the soprano singer Maria Callas, spanning both her blessing in English, and original vocals in French (“These letters! These letters!”). Elsewhere, we notice that Enigma’s sampled, Latin vocals are expertly chosen: the mystical ‘Knocking On Forbidden Doors’ hears talk of “Jesus, the blessed fruit of your womb”, with this suggestive Biblical reference once again oozing a sacred, yet not-mutually-exclusive religious sexuality.
This being 1990, it’s easy to hear a ‘future ghost’ of rave in the music – specifically in the interplay between Sandra’s voice and Michael’s beatsmithing. Take ‘Mea Culpa’, the calculated follow-up track to ‘Sadeness’. On it, military snare rolls signal a driving Matrix-soundtrack-worthy breakbeat, while preset flutes from the E-mu Emulator II – a floppy-disk optimised digital sampler from the ‘80s – resound in tinny, playful glory. But for the most part, there’s something in the track’s tense minor-second chords – and its hypnotic, repetitive rhythm – that makes it sound like a precursor to a ravey FSOL obscurity, or some ambient moment in a breakbeat hardcore tune made a few years later (when that scene was more in vogue).
By the album’s end track – titled, ahem, ‘Back To The Rivers Of Belief: Way To Eternity / Hallelujah / The Rivers Of Belief’ – the Enigma formula is laid bare. Auto-sensory bells, breakbeaty drums and droning arpeggios once again make themselves heard. But on this final movement, Cretu himself is singing, giving the whole thing a proggier bent and justifying his well-documented citing of the band Yes as an influence. Like many other small details heard on this album, it shows that Enigma today are so much more than just an obvious choice for the new age revivalist DJ of 2021. No, MCMXC AD – despite its formula and problems – is a slice of musical history, capable of inducing states of deep entrainment and sexual reverie.
Jude Iago James
Era-defining indie classic goes under the Dusted Down microscope
The history books will tell you that indie music as we know it today began in May 1983 with ‘Hand In Glove’ by The Smiths. The history books are, of course, wrong.
Rewind three years to the start of the uncertain decade that became the 80s, and somewhere in Liverpool a band is about to smash up the post-punk landscape and recreate it in their own peculiar image. That band is The Teardrop Explodes and not only does their debut album Kilimanjaro remain every bit as vibrant and original as the day in October 1980, it also stands as a clear, major influence on so much of the music that followed over the next 20 years. The Cure, The Smiths, Inspiral Carpets, The Killers, Blur, The Libertines… They all owe them a debt.
How to describe it? Well, indie is arguably an underestimate of what’s going on here. At least, there’s something refreshingly ambitious about it, all beautifully shiny and polished, impeccably executed and dripping in rasping brass that elevates it to heavenly, proper pop rather than mere cult status. It’s monumental, mountainous. It’s only right, then, that the album’s original cover art – a dimly lit shot of the band – was replaced by a breathtaking, iconic picture of the Tanzanian mountain that gave it its title. You couldn’t get further from the grim, failing industrialism of Liverpool in the 1980s, and that was surely the point.
The band’s most obvious focal point was their singer Julian Cope. On the surface, back then at least, he was pure pop heartthrob, not a million miles from the high cheek bones and cocksure confidence of Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon. Delve into his lyrics, however, and you enter a world of acid-warped psychedelia, operating somewhere wonderfully between sense and nonsense. Since these days, he’s re-invented – or perhaps more truthfully gradually developed – himself as a solo chart star, a Krautrock archivist, eco warrior and stone circle expert, but in truth the roots of such unique eccentricities are here from the very beginning. The clues are there in titles like ‘Poppies In The Field’, ‘Ha ha I’m Drowning; and ‘Second Head’.
The jewel in this album’s crown is undoubtedly ‘Reward’, a stampede of Northern Soul energy remade in the image of this era of shiny synthesizers. It would go on to reach number six in the singles chart and, once it had been added to the album’s tracklisting, propel Kilimanjaro into the Top 30. But in retrospect everything here sounds like a hit single – at least, if only it weren’t so damn far ahead of its time, from the proto-‘This Charming Man’ swagger of ‘Brave Boys Keep Their Promises’ to the disco skank of ‘Sleeping Gas’.
Hardcore fans of Cope and the Teardrops will no doubt be salivating at the prospect of Cold War Psychedelia, the collection of experimental outtakes and radical alternate versions from this time, due to drop at the end of this week. But for anyone perhaps a little less completist, this set of originals is just as essential a listen.
Our guest editor Dusts Down a favourite from his collection for your consideration
“I think he’s just a stunning songwriter, fucking incredible. In terms of composition and arrangement and orchestration, all those things., I just think this album is a bit of a master stroke.
He’s been around for a while – I think he’s Australian (he’s from New Zealand actually – geography ed) and this came maybe in the early 2000s. It’s an odd record for me because it’s not even that I love all of the sonic choices in it. But I wouldn’t really want it any other way either.
There are loads of conflicts for me in the record. There’s a very ‘chorus’ guitar sound in it that’s very 80s but the record itself is more like a 60s record made in the 80s. It’s timeless.
The arrangements are spectacular and effortless and very kind of sophisticated – but very understated too. It’s all these things that sort of conflict. It’s very natural but it’s, sort of contrived. It’s like this maddening puzzle for me where I’ll sit and feel challenged by it. Well, I feel like I can let it wash over me or I can put it under a magnifying glass and drive myself crazy trying to pick it apart. It has that thing that great songs and great music have – ghosts of things that you know, it’s literally haunted by those influences. So you’ll think ‘this reminds me of this – but not really. ‘ It’s this wonderful set of contradictions for me that I really like.
He’s done some stuff before this and some stuff after which I didn’t gel with quite as well but I still appreciate on a writing level. I’ve never seen him live – I think he lives in LA too – and I’d like to of I could because he’s an interesting character. You should check out this album though – you might like it.
We re-visit Mica Levi’s debut release, the soundtrack to Under The Skin
Mica Levi (they/them – Levi identifies as non-binary) is all the rage at the moment, having only just released their first pair of solo LPs, Ruff Dog and Blue Alibi. Until now, Levi’s talents were obvious mainly through their collaborative projects. Besides a big new push for their band in 2020, they also scored the entirety of Steve McQueen’s five-film anthology Small Axe, as well as the Oscar-nominated score for 2016’s Jackie.
Despite their proximity to the big movie biz, Levi works on the fringe, and has a keen sense for mystery. They’ve made several solo and collaborative EPs, have continued to head up the band Good Sad Happy Bad (formerly Micachu & The Shapes), and have one foot in netlabel tricksterism – producing inimitable one-off releases on the Curl imprint along with friends including Coby Sey and Brother May. Be it cozy solo indie LPs or mega-soundtracks, Their music is always disjointed, unpredictable and addled with the hurt of love for family and friends. Like their contemporary and sometime collaborator Dean Blunt, her music is heartfelt, but it’s always buried beneath either a layer of irony or eerieness, or both.
Amidst the hype-cloud, we felt an urge to reminisce on their earliest solo LP: the soundtrack to Jonathan Glazer’s third feature-length, Under The Skin. In the film, Glazer cast Scarlett Johansson as an alien parasite on Earth, taking on the perfect visage of a beautiful woman – seducing, tricking and eating men in the city of Glasgow. Much like Johannson’s casting in her ‘artsiest’ role by far – which created a kind of meta-death-seduction, lulling us into a false sense of security by using the same pretty, famous face of mainstream comfort-flicks like ‘Avengers’ or ‘Don Jon’ – Levi’s score is uncanny, with one foot in regular old stringy hollywood horror music, and the other in weirder, further-out-of-body territories. This is exactly the kind of mystery we crave from Levi, and it’s great to know we can hear it in both their critically-acclaimed soundtracks and their homemade indie music.
In the film’s opening scene, we hear – but do not see – ScarJo’s Female alien learning English. Grotesque phonetic sounds morph in and out of extraterrestrial and human tones. Levi’s strings play tremblingly in the background, warding off any uncertainty that this moment has sinister implications. Meanwhile, a looming, black, liquid eclipse – some kind of black hole or torus – emerges from the darkness, suggesting something unfathomable by the human neurotype. Then, the hole suddenly becomes a human eye.
It wouldn’t be wrong to suggest the first minute of Levi’s track here – ‘Creation’ – is anything but alien. It’s the opposite, making use of that discordant tremble-string technique with classic horror soundtrack flair. But after about halfway through, formless tremolo becomes a wash of background noise. Perhaps it’s the overloaded bustle of a Glaswegian motorway, or just the hum of alien electrics. Whatever it is, Levi is able to move the music away from the ‘abstract’ of music, into the ‘concrete’ of noise. When the scene is alien, her music is abstract – alien to the real, and locked in the fantasy of the horror music archetype. When it isn’t – when the black hole becomes an eye – it’s a real and painful, sandpapery noise.
Later in the film, we see the husks of male bodies suspended lifelessly, wibbling about like car dealership tube figures. The Female is feeding. We hear a more energetic version of those same toneless strings – Levi’s track is called ‘Meat To Maths’ – while red lights flash, sucking blood into some kind of laser void. It gives off the feeling of an insatiable hunger, fulfilled by the high of feeding on men. The higher-pitched strings are what do it for us here; it’s a moment of climax for both the object and perpetrator of this horror. We’re freaked out, our adrenaline is rushing; the Female is feeding, and so is its. The music is its mind, and ours.
As the soundtrack progresses, though, it moves from psychopathic to sympathetic. ‘Love’, its popular cornerstone, plays back like a sober breakthrough. Speaking to IndieWire, Levi said: “there’s this love music, as she’s breaking through her humanity, based on this synth string chord I held onto for a long time. You’re starting with these darker chords, with the hunger and everything like that, and ending up at this very pure, very simple kind of chord.” But despite this mood of endurance Levi mentions, there’s actually a lot of sliding, glissando-ing dread in the track’s accompanying string part. That pitch glide is like losing control, and the fear we feel – humans and aliens alike – when falling in love for the first time. In the end, that fear is righteous for the Female, who must abandon her only potential human love out of inter-species disconnect.
Even lter, the Female takes shelter in a bothy. Levi’s accompanying track – the slow-droning ‘Bothy’ – rises out of the wilderness noise. Rain transforms into wind and woodwind, while the Female returns to nature, suspended in the Scottish tundra. Just as much as Levi’s soundtrack covers the unbelievable and the insane, it also works quite simple wonders. It makes us love the sight of the Female simply lying down and sleeping in a natural environment, just as much as we love watching her emerge from her dark gloop-void.
As is the case with anyone who seeks to convey a sense of ‘mystery’ with what they do – from faceless UK hardcore producers who release music exclusively on white labels, to serial criminals who leave behind cryptograms – Levi secretly wants to be found out. They want you to work it all out, to listen between the lines. They want, eventually, for you to see behind the veil, which allows the artist to reveal themselves to the world slowly, rather than suddenly. They do the same thing to represent the Female in Under The Skin. Levi and Glazer put you through an ordeal in the form of a horrific story, so as to make you slowly look past the mystery of the alien’s black skin, into something deeper.
In Levi’s case, their mystery ’veil’ is the lo-fi, joking, indeterminacy of their solo music. But in the Female’s case, it is the black void, which allows her to become a cold, standoffish humanoid. Levi resonates with the Female. It makes absolute sense that someone who can make Blue Alibi and Ruff Dog can also make something so different; such a harrowing, gargantuan soundtrack. Who cares about how big or scary or unfathomable or unknowable or alien the Female is? She still feels something underneath.
Jude Iago James
Swayed by their native Sheffield’s burgeoning bleep and bass culture, Body & Soul catches cabaret Voltaire at the creative crossroads
Their untimely death earlier this year shocked the world, but it’ll be the revolutionary music that SOPHIE made, rather than that tragic accident, that will ultimately be remembered