Sonntag, 31. Mai 2009

Glass Candy - Iko (Cosmic Rockers Remix)

DOWNLOAD the song here

A bit of self-promotion ... this is a remix I recently made of Glass Candy's "Iko" (2005). Glass Candy, consisting of vocalist Ida No and beat programmer/musician Johnny Jewel, have impressed the world with hipness and retro-chic for about a decade now - not only in terms of fashion & visual aesthetics, but also in the way they have been appropriating and co-opting past musical styles. Questions of authenticity and originality have become obsolete in their postmodern pastiche, a simulation/simulacrum that is openly synthetic, a copied version of ... well, of other copies. Their work is chock-full of allusions and references, but these signifiers have long disconnected from reality and taken on a life of their own, not referring to anything but themselves any longer. And that's not necessarily a bad thing: At least it deflects the dated yet still all-too-familiar critique of fakeness (vs. an ideal of true musical expression).

When Glass Candy started out, they went for a somewhat half-baked post-punk meets no-wave sound. In recent years, they began embracing synthesizers, drum machines and 4/4 beats, becoming one of the first bands of the ongoing Cosmic/Italo revival trend. Their most interesting period was in between, around 2004/2005. Synthesizers and programmed beats had just started to creep into their songs which were getting incredibly funky. Based on a solid foundation of dry bass and organic percussions, these tracks still had an experimental edge: mostly in their approach towards structure, melody and in Ida No's eccentric vocals. "Iko" could almost be called a pop tune if it weren't for the minimalist feel and some odd synth tapestries.

I wanted to give the track an electro funk remodeling without losing its stripped-down quality. This was tough cause it meant I had to restrain myself from going all bazerk and adding layers over layers of synths ... what I would usually be doing.

I sampled the famous Jive Rhythm Trax 122bpm for the subtle percussive sounds in the background. The guitar sample is a chopped version of a guitar sample in "Contract on the World Love Jam", which is the intro to Public Enemy's 1990 album "Fear of a Black Planet". Imo one of Public Enemy's finest moments:

Some more notes on remixes

Picking up an older post, here are some remixing rules we hold to be self-evident:

#1: There are certain bands that are not to be messed with. (I already violated that one with the very first track I made)

#4080: If you are not sure you can do better than the original: Don't bother trying.

I am probably guilty of that one too cause the original "Iko" is such a great song in its own right. Compare for yourself:

Sonntag, 24. Mai 2009

Charles Hamilton - Un-Remixed

Who could have guessed that yesterday's post would turn into quite an incident?
For those that missed it: 2 days ago a video appeared on the internets with Charles Hamilton getting punched by a girl after delivering a not-so-courteous freestyle about her. Check it out:

I couldn't resist making a little remix, mixing parts of his freestyle that lead to the punching incident with one of his hits, "Windows Media Player". Here's the audio I made:

I synced the audio to the video and uploaded it to youtube. Half a day later, the video was taken down and I got a warning from youtube. This is quite fitting, as one of my last posts was about this very subject: How grassroots creativity by bedroom djs and producers gets stifled by the music industry who are using copyright laws as their weapons of choice. Ever noticed how youtube got more and more restrictive over the past months and how a lot of videos have disappeared? Yeah. Strange thing is, my little remix wasn't tackling any major label big seller - it was just a 20 second video remix of an internet rapper and a newsflash by some neglectable internet hip hop site. As the Geto Boys said:

Mittwoch, 20. Mai 2009

April = Egyptian Lover Month

Somehow you couldn't help running across an Egyptian Lover feature or interview in April. I wasn't sure why cause he didn't seem to be promoting a new album or anything, but as Cozmo D said, "EL is always promoting something ... himself. Hustle is his middle name :)". I never cared too much about the Lover - the music always sounded a bit clumsy and simplistic to my ears. His contemporaries on the West Coast seemed to be far ahead of him - think of Chris "The Glove" Taylor's intricate beatwork or the World Class Wreckin' Cru's well-rounded wall-of-sound compositions. But at the end of the day (and 20 years down the line) you cannot deny that ... well, that it's THE EGYPTIAN LOVER.

In the interviews he comes across as a down-to earth and amicable guy, and I found myself agreeing with a lot of what he had to say. I really got the impression that after all these years he is still passionate about what he is doing and he is doing it for the love of music. I have nothing but respect for that. Plus he is funny as hell ... check out his words of advice to aspiring DJs:

So I'll just leave you with some reading material:

Interview on the Infinitestatemachine blog:

Lengthy feature on Brandon Soderberg's blog:

Artist highlight and interview on

4-part interview in the German Juice magazine:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Radio interview on GlobalFunkRadio:

And finally, here's a video from 2008, Mr. Broussard visiting a record shop in Berlin and talking about vinyl, record digging and the analogue sound:

Samstag, 16. Mai 2009

Street Sounds Nu Electro 1 - A Review

The Street Sounds Nu Electro 1 compilation has been out for a few days now, and although it's too early to assess its relevance, I am not exaggerating when i say: This is probably the most important release of 2009.

Although electro music has been plundered by many recent pop and hip hop releases, there hasn't been a lot of media attention for the electro scene. This doesn't mean that electro is dead: A growing number of artists are working and producing tunes, but mostly in the underground and scattered across the globe. Being under the mainstream's radar isn't all bad though: It might allow creativity to flourish and develop freely without being seduced to conform to conventions of a popular style. What was missing in the last 10 years was a canonical form that subsumed all these different expressions and variations under a defining umbrella. The Street Sounds compilation might be just that: It showcases an incredibly wide range of styles and individual interpretations, but their peacefully sharing the space of the album reflects the willingness to acknowledge a common form - the label "(nu) electro". Which of course still has to be filled with content, so I can safely say I am already looking forward to future installments of the series.

The first of the two cds starts with a bang: A top choice of artists and tunes all mixed to perfection by Freddy Fresh. Legendary artists The B-Boys, Egyptian Lover and most of all Newcleus surprise us with shockingly modern-sounding tunes – these aren't washed out has-beens playing safe for their fans; they are really willing to experiment, to dare and bravely step into the unknown with no safety net attached. The already classic Aux 88 and newcomers Blastromen are featured with extremely soulful new school tunes that exhibit enough crossover sensibility to be accessible to narrow-minded retro purists like myself. And even bone-hard and technoid new school tracks like Dr. Schmidt's "Engines of God" and Signal Type's "In Abyss" grew on me after a few listens.

The second cd however can't reach the high mark set by the first. Most songs range from uninspired (Exzakt, who treat us with a third rate copy of Dopplereffekt) to crudely amateur (Invisible Rockers, Electronautas). The only standout track is Dynamik Bass System's mighty (pun intended) "Side by Side". I had always written them off as a gimmick band who were just emulating the west coast sound (that I don't even like that much), but boy was I wrong! There is some truth to the claim: If you listen to their great album "The Mighty Machine" you can't help but notice how close they stay to their role models – 808s, breathing vocals, arabian scales and whatever clichés the west coast had. Sometimes you can even name a specific Egyptian Lover / Unknown DJ / World Class Wreckin Cru track that they are copying. But "Side by Side" is a real banger with a crisp and detail-laden production, a BIG groove, great sense of melody and the sweetest vocoders I heard in a long time. Sounds to me like a synthesis of West Coast beats (The Glove anyone?), New York (the funk, the groove) and Miami sound (the vocoders) in a modern outfit. Here's a snippet:

All in all, the prevalent sound on Nu Electro 1 is not the funky, melodic electro of the 80s but rather the dark 90s new school electro. However there has been a mild but decisive reversal. The darkness and minimalism of new school electro was a musical dead end that left no room for further development except for: techno (consequently, an artist like Anthony Rother followed this path). At some point during the evolution of 90s electro, it would reach a border where quantity would transform into quality, where electro would finally be stripped of its very essence and turn into a different genre. In that respect, it was essential to reinject some soul and funk into the rusty machine to get it started again - and I would argue this is what you can witness on Nu Electro 1.

P.S.: A closing remark.
Did anybody else notice how the overwhelming number of artists on this album are white?
This is not a recent development of course, and the situation during the 90s was much worse. There is no single reason for this, but let me make some suggestions:

1) In the 90s, new school electro turned towards the european strain of electronic music, integrated techno but exorcized any remaining hip hop residues. And although I am running the risk of essentialist attributions, I am convinced: There is an audible lack of funk and soul in the whiteness of new electro.

2) But that's not the whole story. Much of the hip hop / electro divide can be attributed to hip hop itself which took sort of a macho turn in the late 80s. Homophobia is omnipresent in today's hip hop scene and it is a telling sign that electro is often ridiculed as music for gay european ravers (not that there would be anything wrong with that ... well, except for the rave part).

Mittwoch, 13. Mai 2009

The Cool Kids - Gone Fishing

If you have been following this blog you will have realized 1) I don't know shit about modern hip hop, 2) I'm somewhat suspicious of hipster rap (but willing to defend it against the resentments of the tight pants hating crowd), 3) I like the Cool Kids. How that computes? I have no idea.

Here's the Cool Kid's new mixtape which at first listen sounds even more solid than last (?) year's Bake Sale EP, plus it has a hilarious cover:

DOWNLOAD the mixtape directly from the Cool Kid's site.

And I know I'm at least a week late with this ... but I am about 20 years late with the rest of what I am posting, so who's going to complain?

Mittwoch, 6. Mai 2009

Creativity in the Digital Age

If you got 45 minutes of spare time (I know I'm asking a lot, but believe me it's worth it), I can only recommend watching this video. It is a talk held by Lawrence Lessig on the topic of creativity in the digital age, or more specific, on the way copyright laws threaten to prohibit creativity in the digital age. I feel that this is the single most relevant contribution to the debate about copyright that's been connected with the emergence of web 2.0.

If you're not convinced yet, let me post the tracklist of musical examples he is using in his talk:
Danger Mouse - The Grey Album
DJ Mystik - Edvard Grieg Techno remix
The Muppets - Mah Na Mah Na
Diana Ross and Lionel Richie - Endless Love
DJ Unk - 2 Step
Soulja Boy Tell 'Em - Crank Dat Soulja Boy
Girl Talk - Yes We Can
Kutiman-Thru-You - Mother of all Funk Chords

I hope that got you curious ...

Lessig's basic argument is that the 21st century witnesses an increase of creative output of such dimensions that you could speak of a cultural transformation (from a top-down model of creative consumption to a model of reciprocity and individual participation). This is largely due to a democratization of technology: As technology gets cheaper and cheaper, the means of creative production become widely available which enables individuals to reclaim creativity, to produce, interact and communicate. His global metaphor for this kind of new (amateur) individual creative production is "remix". For instance, think of cut&paste remixes of pop songs, mash-ups, youtube amateur music videos, etc.

However, there is a threat to this proliferating creativity, and this threat is of legal nature. The architecture of copyright laws (and this is a relict of the 20th century) has the unpleasant effect that their reach is drastically increasing in the digital age, and that most of today's amateur creative output is illegal by their definition. This is an unsettling fact that could potentially hinder, if not radically stifle cultural creativity.

Now what is the relevance for hip hop you might ask. Well, if you think of the beginnings of hip hop the parallels are quite obvious. Hip hop also meant a democratizing of the technological means of creative production. You might not be able to afford musical instruments - so what? You could create music by using other music, all you needed was "Two turntables and a mic (and I learned to rock like a dolomite"). At the very beginning, hip hop was nothing more than - in the words of the Sugarhill Gang - "rapping to the beat". And the beat of course were records of already existing music, so you were doing what Lessig would call "remixing".

By 1988 the sampler became the democratized technological mean of choice. This triggered an enormous explosion of creativity. Hip hop tunes became increasingly complex, turning into intricate patchworks, building layers upon layers of small pieces of recorded music. All this was threatened, however, when Biz Markie was taken to court in 1991 for unauthorized use of a sample. Subsequently producers and artists were refraining from using too many samples cause it would be too expensive to clear them all. The "golden age" of hip hop was literally brought to an end by legal matters.

In my mission of tracing some of hip hop's and electro's origins, I have mostly concentrated on internal aesthetic aspects - the way artists were influenced by other artists and songs refer to other songs. Truth is, there always are a lot more determinants at work, be it social, historical, political or - like in this case - legal. So my little aside has finally taken me back to the core of what I have been doing here all along.

P.S. Highly ironical fun fact: The video of Lessig's talk was taken down by youtube because Warner Music claimed a copyright violation of some short piece of music that Lessing used to illustrate his point about the omnipresence of copyright claims ...

Sonntag, 3. Mai 2009

Electro vs. Pop Culture Part 2 - Slap Chop

Remember the Cadbury commercial a while back? (No? Then just jump to my review about it.) Here is the sequel ... or rather, the whole thing turned on its head.

Is that Auto-Tune on the vocals? We are not amused.
The Electro orthodoxy of course decrees: vocoder good, autotune bad.