Sonntag, 22. November 2009

The Master of the 808

In this video Tadao Kikumoto of Roland music talks about how he wasn't completely satisfied with his invention, the now legendary TR-808 drum machine. Especially the handclap sounded weak to him, like "breaking a bamboo stem". While the interviewer clearly can't hide his ardor, Kikumoto remains humble and keeps up his engineer / man of science habitus, a notion so old school that it seems touchingly nostalgic to us, white lab coat and all.

Here's another odd pop cultural find: a triptych featuring three pioneers of electronic music transformed into icons. Mr. Kikumoto can be found on the left with another invention of his, the TB-303. In the middle it is synthesizer pioneer Bob Moog and on the right we recognize Roger Linn, the man behind the LinnDrum machine and the MPC-60. In another dialectical turn, the triptych has apparently already been appropriated as a skateboard design.

Click for a larger picture

Anyway, back to topic. While Mr. Kikumoto's perfectionism demands our admiration, we are certainly glad that despite his reservations he did release the handclap after all. It became a staple of 80s (and beyond) music and it certainly is one of the most famous and recognizable sounds of electronic music.

When it comes to 808 handclaps there's nobody who pushed it as far as Chris "The Glove" Taylor. He had the trebliest, sharpest and most stinging 808 handclaps of them all. Listen to "Reckless", an early Ice-T song and witness The Glove going completely over the top. Occasional handclaps are duplicated again and again and again, bathed in delay until they become an amorphous cluster of sound hovering in midair like a giant swarm of birds or insects. (Extra geekiness: Another product of The Glove's aesthetics of hyperbole appears around the 1:44 mark - listen how the snare roll disintegrates into an early instance of glitch music, some 10 years before it became a popular genre.)

If you are interested in the triptych you might want to visit the artist's homepage where he is selling posters of it:

Dienstag, 10. November 2009

New Music: Dam-Funk, Ryan Leslie, Le Le, Seymour Bits

Dâm-Funk - Toeachizown

This surely is my biggest surprise this year - Dâm-Funks huge concept album "Toeachizown" has just been released (so far on mp3 format and as a 2xCD, later this year on 5 (!!!) vinyl lps). He is playing a mixture of old school synth funk and electro soul - think Prince, Loose Ends, SOS Band, Zapp ... all the good stuff, basically. This feels like it came from out of nowhere and it definitely is anachronistic - there is virtually NOTHING like that at the moment. But that is a huge compliment: It's been a long time since I heard music that is so funky and smooth, so warm and comforting, simply beautiful. I'm left speechless.

If you'd like to find out more, I highly recommend the following interview. Rarely have I seen such a humble, soft-spoken man who - at the same time - is so serious and dedicated about what he is doing. Quite a contrast to the overblown egoes of a lot of hip hoppers, here is a true artist driven by a love for music and THE FUNK.

The album is available via Stones Throw.

Ryan Leslie - Transition

Ryan Leslie's debut album which came out earlier this years has been one of the most underrated, slept-on records this year. And I am not talking about the microcosm of music that this blog is covering, I am talking about pop music: Why this hasn't become a mega-selling, chartbreaking album fails me. His sophomore record "Transition" has just been released a week ago, and while it might not have the epiphanic quality of the debut, it still contains a handful of great R&B tunes that put any other contemporary R&B to shame.

Check his myspace:

Le Le - Marble

Le Le is a dutch electro pop outfit who are not afraid to throw some electro funk, italo disco* and a touch of that modern french sound into the mix (without sounding house-y). Light-hearted, lively, humorous and just incredibly catchy.

*italo disco the Dutch way = slightly distorted, acid-like. I'm blaming I-F.

Check their myspace:

Seymour Bits/Comtron

The Dutch scene seems to be booming at the moment. Hailing from the same city as Le Le, prolific keyboardist/producer Bas Bron is Seymour Bits aka Comtron aka Fatima Yamaha aka Bastien ... this guy has more aliases than DXJ. Seymour Bits and Comtron are his electro funk monikers and I am hearing a lot of old school synth funk in his style. And isn't it nice to see some electro performed with live instruments?

Check his myspace:

Mittwoch, 4. November 2009

Randy Barracuda - New Album + Interview

For some time now I have been trying to sell the music of Randy Barracuda (formerly part of Finnish electro duo Imatran Voima) to my folks at Much to my surprise and chagrin, I mostly fell on deaf ears. It puzzled me cause his sound seemed so forceful, so compelling that I simply failed to understand how there could be ANY nonbelievers out there. But the electro heads called it too leftfield, too avantgarde. And you know what, they might be right (and wrong at the same time). When a lot of what today's electro has to offer is either retro-purism or new school techno-disguised-as-electro, Randy Barracuda's drunk funk surely must seem alien. Together with some fellow Scandinavian freaks he invented a wholly new and tremendously popular sound aptly titled skweee. Skweee is the bastard child of a mean funk foundation combined with a microeconomics of weird trebly electronics. It has gained quite a following all over the world in 09 so if this is all news to you, you better do your homework.

After a bunch of quality singles, Randy Barracuda has now finally released his first album - needless to say, the record is a monster. I'll promise you instant shivers as soon as the ambient sounds of the intro set in. And after that it's just the baddest and dirtiest grooves garnished with the sweetest, most soulful vocals you can imagine, plus bits and pieces of psychedelia, afro, cosmic, krautrock and old school synth funk dropping by to say hello.

The anthemic Skweee like a pig

There's a certain mystery about it, pointing to a hidden essence but denying it at the same time. The more I listened to it, the more enigmatic it got, until I finally decided to ask the man himself. So without further ado I present to you: Randy Barracuda. (Be warned though - the interview was conducted in a skweeee state of mind. Headaches and feelings of disorientation might occur.)

C.R.: I just listened to The Message again yesterday, and it now it felt like proto-skweee to me: the slow pace, the erratic, chopped up rhythm, the deep funk combined with weird electronic sounds. Has the whole world suddenly turned skweee or has it been around us all the time? What other songs/artists influenced the sound of skweee, and what artists were influential for your own sound?

Randy: Well, The Message was definitely one of those tracks that "did it" to me when I was a teenager. I remember getting high and listening to it over and over again. It also influenced "Duck Butter" for example. Other artists that were extremely influential for me: Parliament, Kraftwerk, Ramsey 2C-3D, Zapp, Airplay & Troy The Wonderboy, Whodini, Dr. Dre... Also synth pop, leftfield disco, modern R&B and Chicago acid played a big role. A lot of the tracks that now sound like proto-skweee (Ryuichi Sakamoto: Riot In Lagos, Pekka Airaksinen: Buddhas Of Golden Light...) I hadn't heard back then, so I can't really say that they influenced me.

C.R.:Your album seems like quite a departure from the hectic & aggressive sounds that dominated the last Imatran Voima record. Also, seeing how diverse the tunes are, is this rather a collection of songs you made over the years or is there an overarching concept behind it?

Randy: When I listen to the last Imatran Voima album now, I can't really recognize myself in it anymore. It’s definitely the soundrack for the years 2005 - 2007: angry, chaotic, distorted and paranoid. It wasn't the easiest time of my life: Speed, alcohol and despair were the keywords for that period. Or like me and Jaakko (Fresh-O-Lex) used to say: fear, self-loathing, hate and industrial alienation.

Imatran Voima - Welfare State of Mind

Last week I finished "Notes From Underground" by Dostoyevsky and just started giggling because it really reminded me of those days. Alone in the basement, frustrated and broke, stench of mold in my nostrils.

I'm very glad that you asked if the new album is just a compilation of tracks: It definitely is. After making two concept albums I wanted to let myself go and just make a straightforward record with no higher structure behind it. It's almost like an old library record (The electronic moods of Barracuda or some shit like that). Musicwise it's an homage to my psychedelic roots: Can, Harmonia, Kraftwerk (surprise, surprise), Tangerine Dream, La Düsseldorf, Hawkwind, Captain Beefheart and also modern soul with its rich and luscious synthesizer sounds and smooth soulful vocals...

C.R.: Haha, „The electronic moods of Barracuda“ - that would have been a great title! What about the psychedelia-turned-computer-age cover art? Is this visual skweee?

Randy: The cover art was done by the man behind Flogsta Danshall: Frans Carlqvist aka Pavan aka Afrika Bambaattaa of Skweee. It's also a part of the library theme. I wanted to have some spacey optical art and he provided it. I don't know if it's visual Skweee, but I think so since he single-handedly created the whole imagery of the label.

the album cover

C.R.: What is the challenge to creating a skweee tune? Compared to producing traditional electro, is it any different/harder? Why the slow pace? Do people still dance to this?

Randy: Well, of course first it wasn't hard because I just felt like I was funking to my own groove. I just started doing it because I felt I had nothing more to give to the contemporary electro scene. To be honest I even have no fuckin' idea what that is. (Fuck, there's a banner of a Dutch dating service blinking on the screen and the woman in the ad looks a bit like my old girlfriend. Very disturbing.) But yeah, making Skweee is great fun because it still is quite an open field and you can just throw in your own interpretation.

And yes, people dance to it. Last weekend I dj'd in a Stockholm club with Mesak from Mr Velcro Fastener. We mostly played 90-100 bpm Skweee and 400 people went loco. You just have to start dancing with your shoulders (think of R. Kelly, haha) and then move downwards, not the other way around.

performing Duck Butter live @Sonar festival 2008

C.R.: Sounds good to me! Now, one thing that I am still confused about is that Skweee seems to uphold an 8-bit/low tech aesthetic, but your music is rife with lush analogue sounds and an undeniable pop sensibility (in the same way that Roger Troutman wrote beautiful pop songs). How about that?

Randy: Don't be confused! When I was young and insecure I was ashamed of writing melodic songs. Now I'm old and I can do what the fuck I want! Ain't life grand?

The way I see it is that lot of Skweee is meant to sound two-dimensional, skeletal and dry and that's the absolute beauty in it. But since I am the starchild my shit is operating in all eleven different dimensions.

C.R.: I am still busy counting the dimensions ... but seriously though: In most of the songs, there is a palpable undercurrent of SOUL which I find remarkable cause it introduces a nonidentical, almost transcendent quality to your music that goes well beyond the immanence of your fellow skweeesters. Would you agree?

Randy: I think there is lots of soul in Skweee music. Just listen to tracks like "We Could Be Skweeeroes" by Eero Johannes, "People Die, Love Don't" by Daniel Savio, "Directors Musices" by Markis Sage or "Mouth Everest" by Beem and you'll see what I mean.

I also think that essentially it is the MOST soulful electronic music genre at the moment: Take a look at the Ibiza death camps of mass produced meaningless house and techno muzak floating in the blogosphere. Tracks made on monday and forgot on tuesday. And why? By popular demand? Where’s all the love and passion? I spoke to George Clinton two weeks ago and it really seems that his prophecy still holds: The Placebo Syndrome hasn’t gone anywhere. 2009 - enter the zone of zero funkativity.

Back to the start: I'm thrilled that you found transcendent qualities in my music, because that's the ultimate compliment I can get. I've always been quite a sentimental person and I think that's one of the reasons behind my output. I feel some sort of a bond with the German romantics of 19th century and their longing for distant realities. Maybe that's the transcendent undercurrent in my music.

And of course we can’t forget the singin’ caveman Michael Black Electro! Without him there wouldn't be 'nuff SOUL on the album. Rock on, brother!

C.R.: Damn inspiring words - thanks a lot for your time and may the funk be with you!

Randy Barracuda's album is available via Flogsta Danshall.