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Black Square

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20JFG trades extensively in hyperbole, our enthusiasm for music and culture pushing us to ridiculous, giddy heights.  It’s fun and it’s an ancient MP3 blog in the age of streaming so, why not?

This post will go live a week after the UK referendum on membership of the EU.  It was not a good day.  I have lived through more tragic days.  I have lived through days that had and have had more affect on the world.  But on this ‘rainy little island(s) that could’, we’ve just had our cozy liberal dream of cohesion, tolerance and dull grey stability, torched.  It was that dull grey stability that allowed us to flourish, often in opposition to it but always ultimately caught by it.  Like family.

Maybe, despite a butter mountain full of expert opinion, we’ll do well.  A vote to leave was not a vote for racism, although it’s given succour to racists.  So let us hope that we’ll fight the resurgent fascism in this country alongside those who wanted to break our ties with the continent.  We all want a better world after all; mercifully few would have voted for calamity.

But if your better world involves kicking immigrants, muslims, people of colour and any other deviation from your nightmarish vision of British purity, well then, you can just fuck off.

Bagad Men Ha Tan & Doudou N’diaye Rose – Rohan

So today I bring you Celtic music from Brittany made in conjunction with a Senegalese drumming genius in 2000.  Music that closed the truly great 2015 Taiwanese film, The Assassin.  On the face of it, that’d be a parody of World Music baiting ‘fusion’.  But fuck that.  Fuck that not least because it’s just undeniably badass (although being exposed to it at the end of a film called The Assassin may have permanently influenced me here).  And fuck that because it has duelling fucking bagpipes over a massive Senegalese rhythm building and building until you’re ready to run up some steps in Philly like a Guardian reading Rocky.

Rohan is taken from Bagad Men Ha Tan & Doudou N’diaye Rose’s album Dakar.

Dancing music in the C20: disco (1972-73)

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Disco. Everyone knows disco. And bar that weird ‘Disco sucks’ campaign in the late 1970s, everyone likes it.

Despite the ubiquity of disco and its signifiers, though, as an umbrella disco covers a relatively broad spectrum of music. Italo disco, Euro disco, space disco and  HI-NRG being some of its more well-known variants. And a lot of different musics went into its signature sound – pop and salsa; funk, obviously. But the genre that really provided the primordial sludge for disco to sashay out of was Philly soul.

Spotify playlist: early philly soul (1966-69)

Philly soul was a smoother, more sweeping, more feminine antidote to funk. Well, OK, so it’s initial performers were almost exclusive male – its early adopters were The Delfonics, The Intruders, The O’Jays and Jerry Butler – so it’s debatable whether ‘feminine’ is the most appropriate word here, but certainly Philly soul took some the rhythmic quirks of funk while dialling down its aggression to nil.

Where in funk there were angry one-note blasts of horn, Philly soul was all about lush, breezy string sections. Where funk was radical, Philly soul was romantic. But not romantic in the slightly tortured, obsessive teenage way of Holland-Dozier-Holland Motown hits – this was painless music.

Based around the Philadelphia International label and songwriters Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell, Philly soul was danceable but graceful – it had a sweet but kind of elegant sound that disco would recontextualise to illustrate new levels of fabulousness.

A variety of records, from The Supremes’ 1964 pop hit You Keep Me Hanging On to The Temptations’ psychedelic soul classic Ball of Confusion contain letters that would later turn up in disco’s genome.

For our money though, the first disco song  might be Jerry Butler’s 1972 single, One Night Affair.

Jerry Butler – One Night Affair

In the late 50s and early 60s, Butler was a member of R&B group The Impressions, alongside Curtis Mayfield. He never reached the icon status of his former bandmate, but he had a string of top 10 solo hits in the late 60s and would later become part of the Philly International family

One Night Affair is a relatively lusty and masculine beginnings for a genre that would later become synonymous with gay empowerment, but it has that insistent, world-beating euphoria that disco patented. The idea that no matter how terrible life may be outside of these two and a half minutes, within the parentheses of the record’s intro and fade out we have a whole world of possibilities.

Further evidence of disco’s biological link to Philly soul is Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’ two-part epic The Love I Lost.

Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes – The Love I Lost (parts 1 and 2)

The Blue Notes were a shining example of Philly soul archetypes, but The Love I Lost nevertheless might be the first disco classic. Those strings, slicing like regret. That bassline – like hands tugging at your hips. The drums kicking your heels all the way to the dancefloor.

The Love I Lost is a sad song, and it was written originally as a ballad, but in the gentle relentlessness of its Philly disco incarnation it taps into a new kind of energy, one that sad songs shouldn’t normally have. Disco would do this stuff well – make lost love sound energising; something to pirouette over rather than mope about.

Swelling Philly soul’s string sections to gargantuan proportions, the Love Unlimited Orchestra was a full 40-piece concert orchestra swirling like the sea around the walrus of love, Barry White. Their Love’s Theme/Sweet Moments 1973 single, was written and produced by Barry but didn’t feature his knicker-eroding baritone.

Released during the period when no one knew what disco was or where it could go, the majestic Love’s Theme forms a sort of disco symphony. The flip, Sweet Moments, sounds like a comedown to the a-side’s lovey, ecstatic buzz. Jazzy, minor key and bluntly repetitive, it staggers rather than swirls, feeling like some lurching walk of shame the morning after the disco rapture.

Love Unlimited Orchestra – Sweet Moments

Later in the decade, Tom Moulton, Larry Levan, Walter Gibbons, Shep Pettibone, David Mancuso and even Frankie Knuckles would shift the emphasis from songwriter as creator to DJ as disco auteur. This period of experimentation gave the world the remix and DJs developed the tools that allowed them to break down and reassemble the components of records into new forms, re-engineering them to better suit the delirium of the dancefloor.

Producers might understand recording, singers might understand heartbreak, but DJs understand dancing. For the early disco DJs, the dancefloor was a living organism – a fresh and undocumented area of study – and they were scientists.

But in this early disco period of 1973, disco was just a handful of ideas about dance music and a sound that could go anywhere.

Spotify playlist: early disco (1972-73)

I mean, ultimately where it did go was dance contests and these goons, but eh.

Carry on exiting

Featuring : Mats Gustafsson

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H.M. Farage rose into the skies of Devon on the 11th of January of 2046, under the nervous gaze of several hundreds members of the intelligentsia  – MPs and their staff, civil servants, the military, industrialists and landed gentry in tartan jackets. Eventually, the ship vanished into the darkness, and they all toasted and cheered.

The first phase of the mission was about to end. Britannia, the ‘brit-ship’ being assembled in orbit, would pick up its final load of equipment and colonists from the Farage, and start its galactic journey to find a new home for the English.

There were many goals for this mission.

The plucky, nostalgic wing of the Government wanted to show the world that England could still be a leader. Some of them even secretly hoped that the mission would find an alien civilisation for the English to trade with, now that it had become harder to do this in Earth.

The reactionaries had had enough of this planet, of its complexities and diversities, of its infuriating denial to leave them alone, its insistence on tempting their children with visions of difference, travel and discovery. A new generation of English would build its character in the genetic and cultural purity of the sidereal void, and all would be well.

The realists simply knew that England was politically, economically and environmentally stuffed and about to implode. Now that invading other countries, or joining global coalitions in foreign wars was out of the question, Mission Britannia was a final attempt to distract the nation with a big spectacle, to keep the show on the road for a bit longer.

So, on the 23rd of April, Britannia started its journey with 5,000 colonists, to infinity and beyond.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan. We have been able to reconstruct what happened after a thorough analysis of their transmissions over the 50 years since they left. This is a quick summary of what we found:

All experts agree that the biggest problems were technical. Critical systems – energy, recycling, climate control and communications – started malfunctioning very soon after the ship left. It is generally acknowledged that UK science and technology suffered after the English made it harder for foreign researchers and skilled workers to come into the country. Britannia was a lumbering, wheezing, breaking-down proof of that, like Akira’s Tetsuo with a bowler hat.

The political situation made everything worse. The reactionaries in Government  had insisted that at least a third of the colonists had to be chosen based on their racial purity and ideological loyalty. This was in order to prevent ‘degeneration’, and to quell any Independentism amongst colonists away from the motherland.

These ‘loyalists’ lacked the technical qualifications to keep the ship going, or the psychological make-up to deal with life in space – but they were big, and had a penchant for creative violence. They kept clashing and bickering with the ‘expert elite’ of scientists, engineers, astronauts and boffins in charge of the ship, who had awful flashbacks of being bullied by lumbering goons in the school playground. They ground their teeth and added new instructions to the algorithms regulating ship security and life-support. 

The last straw was a cultural malaise. It is hard to over-estimate the physical and psychic toll  of life in space, especially in a ship falling to pieces. The food was even worse than at home. The whiff of excrement caused by barely operational recyclers was all-pervasive. Many colonists decided to stop exercising and spent all their time watching cricket re-runs and James Bond films in their Virtual Reality gigs. Obesity – already a problem at the beginning of the mission – became endemic. It was only a matter of time before things kicked off, which they did.

Most of this is a matter of public record so we won’t dwell too much on the horror that was, which some have described as a mixture between J.G. Ballard’s High Rise and Alien.

Coups and counter-coups, political rallies and massacres, whole sections of the ship inundated with sewage or jettisoned into space, a final, failed attempt to turn Britannia around and bring it back to Earth which split it in two, leaving its carcass to float in space like a broken carrion fly, surrounded by clouds of fuel and frozen corpses, shrivelled fragments of St George’s Flag.

The final transmission we have from Britannia was broadcast from the command centre by J.S. Richardson, a 36 year old teacher from Milton Keynes, apparently hallucinating after his ordeal.

“The motion and heat detectors suggest that between 20-50 people are still alive in the ship. They won’t last long, and I can’t do anything for them. It’s all over.

Maybe they are not there anyway. Perhaps the internal sensors are failing, like the external ones. Over the last few hours, they have been picking up signals from the outside, which can’t be possible. Or maybe it is. Maybe the aliens have finally shown up to save us! Will we let them in? What will that do to our immigration numbers? [laughter and coughing]

[Transmission shuts down for several hours]

I must have dozed off. I had a strange dream.

I dreamt of a corridor of light, down which I floated while a coterie of shadowy presences gazed from the sides. I could feel them moving, staring at me, probing my mind with delicate tendrils, slowly shuffling my psyche this way and that, as if to get a general sense of the lie of my soul. They did this for some time, in total silence.

The only sound was a deep humming, which I first assumed was caused by machinery.  It slowly dawned on me that it was in fact their voices, a strange, unsettling chorus that coalesced into a message which I begun to understand, like words forming in my head. This is what they said:

We have watched you for long, analysed your progress, and found you wanting. You need to learn how to live with yourselves before you are allowed to live with others. You need to understand – as we think you have started doing, if only slowly – that when you shut everyone else out, you begin a slow suicide. You are starving your soul.

It is not duty to save you. It is your duty to realise what you are doing and save yourselves, for only that way can you mature as a civilisation. We hope that you will do this, and then we can talk. Until then, so long.

[And then, silence]

Mats Gustafsson – 01

This post was inspired by the UK’s EU referendum, Ligeti and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora. You can get Mats Gustafsson’s astonishing Piano Mating from Blue Tapes/X Ray.

Guest mix: Alex Paterson from THE ORB

Featuring : Podcast + The Orb

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We’re pretty psyched about the prospect of seeing The Orb live in Brixton next month, where Alex Paterson will revisit the classic Adventures Beyond The Underworld album.

This special event even features a special Orb line-up, featuring previous Orb collaborators Youth (Killing Joke), Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy (Gong/System 7) and Paul Cook (The Sex Pistols), among others.

People should be bored of bands performing their ‘classic’ albums live by now, but the prospect of a live Adventures Beyond The Underworld is an ambitious and exciting project – the album was conceived as a two-hour long psychedelic trip; a kind of dream music that segued surreally between ambient, progressive, psychedelic, breakbeat, space rock, hip-hop and dub lysergic states.

Not only are we witnessing this magnificence live, but we are honoured enough to have an exclusive guest mix from the master himself, Alex Paterson, drawing from and recontextualising components of his 1991 masterpiece.

Alex Paterson – The Orb’s Adventuring Beyond The Stars mix

Tracklisting:

  • Maria Kpucmanuhckar – Russian Love Song
  • Orb – Backside Of The Moon
  • Wagon Train –
  • Orb – Into The 4th Dimension
  • Q1.1 I
  • Custard – Boom Bang Bombay
  • Spastik ( Dub Fire Rework )
  • Star 6&789 The Orb
  • Princ Thomas Alpine Evening – The Orb
  • Outlands – Remix – The Orb
  • Alpine Princ Thomas Reremix
  • Towers Of Perpetual Dawn
  • Loving U
  • Thursday’s Keeper – The Orb
  • Huge Ever Growing Remix – Orb
  • DDD ( Flow Remix ) – The Orb
  • Perpetual Remix – Wearherall – The Orb
  • Lovin U – The Orb
  • Chill Out – KLF
  • Let The Music Play – The Orb
  • Lovin You 60 Min Edit
  • LFC – African Version – The Orb

You can buy tickets here for The Orb performing Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld live, July 29, Brixton Electric


gif is sphere (1), 2016 by artoftheglitch.com

Dancing music in the C20: afrobeat (1969-71)

Featuring : Fela Kuti

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“Music is supposed to have an effect,” the afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti once said. “If you’re playing music and people don’t feel something, you’re not doing shit. That’s what African music is about. When you hear something, you must move. I want to move people to dance, but also to think. Music wants to dictate a better life, against a bad life. When you’re listening to something that depicts having a better life, and you’re not having a better life, it must have an effect on you.”

Fela was born in Nigeria, but he found the initial ingredients for afrobeat during his time in London, where – as a medical student – he became musically radicalised, and Los Angeles, where – as a musician – he became politically radicalised.

It was in these towns that he absorbed the twin energies of jazz and the Black Panther movement; frameworks that he could apply to his nascent musical experimentation and his own desire to see a self-determining, post-colonial Africa free from corruption.

While studying medicine in London, Fela played trumpet in a band that blended African high life with American jazz. That band, Koola Lobitos, flitted on-and-off between the UK, Nigeria, Ghana and the US, acquiring new life experiences and musical influences.

By the time of the band’s  return to Nigeria, following deportation from the States in 1969, they had been rechristened The Africa 70, and the music they played they called ‘afrobeat’.

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Fela stopped singing about love and dancing and his music became a conduit for sociopolitical rage. The Africa 70 established a commune with a recording studio – the Kalakuta Republic – that they declared as a state independent from Nigeria. They performed at their own nightclub, The Afrika Shrine.

In this early Shrine footage shot by future Africa 70 drummer Ginger Baker, you can see exactly why the former Cream drummer had his mind blown by this new music he had stumbled upon in Nigeria:

Like James Brown – a musician who Fela seemed to love and hate equally – Fela’s songwriting favoured a kind of spontaneous composition, where he would martial his band verbally through long pieces that could play out for up to 45 minutes – each record typically consisting of just one long piece per side.

Unlike Brown, Fela would get his hands dirty playing actual instruments – digging in with saxophone, organ, electric guitar and drums. His afrobeat was yoruba music jacked up with funk and jazz. It had some similarities with the popular Ghanian music highlife, but it was longer, more psychedelic, angrier.

Fela Kuti – Swegbe & Pako

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Fela Kuti – Buy Africa

Although Ginger Baker – a prodigiously skilled jazz and rock drummer – played live with the Africa 70 and on their early albums, he did so alongside Tony Allen – the man described by Eno as “probably the greatest drummer who ever lived.”

Spotify playlist: early afrobeat (1969-71)

“Without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat,” Fela asserted, emphasising the importance of percussion in his afrobeat and therefore reiterating its link to Yoruba music.

Around the whirling drums of Allen and Baker, twin baritone saxes blared, and Fela’s troupe of dancers and singers – he would later marry 27 of them in one ceremony – translated every note of his music into a physical sigil.

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A Howling Blankness

Featuring : Abul Mogard

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image: Marja de Sanctis

Mysterious Serbian Synth wizard Abul Mogard returns to the pages of 20JFG this week.   Ecstatic Recordings are putting out a collection of his music that has been previously released by themselves and VCO Recordings.  Except this time on vinyl.

Dooping Off was released in 2010 on the aforementioned VCO, yet it’s one of those pieces of music that pay little heed to the petty temporal anchors of release dates.  You know what we’re talking about dear readers.  If not, come closer and we’ll speak conspiratorially…

Drooping Off is Drone.  Drooping Off is repetition, repetition, repetition.  Drooping Off is great hulking beings shaped from the keys of Farfisa organ’s and given life by samplers.  Drooping Off is the prosaically named invocation of oblivion.  Oblivion as a bell curve, rising steadily, remorselessly towards a howling blankness.  The sound is the sound of wind-blasted moors, full of beauty and dread.  Home of death and the sublime.

Abul Mogard – Drooping Off

Drooping Off was originally taken from the self titled album Abul Mogard which came out on tape on VCO (and is now sold out).  It’s now available on vinyl thanks to Ecstatic Records which you can pick up here.  Finally it’s also available digitally on Abul Mogard’s Bandcamp here.

Dancing music in the C20: tropicália (1967-69)

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As with our recent Dancing music in the C20 on northern soul, it should be stated that tropicália is not a musical genre. But whereas northern soul was a retrospective curation of  mid-60s ballroom-heating dance songs, tropicália was something that only existed – briefly – in a certain window of time, in a certain place.

Indeed, within little more than a year of establishing tropicalia as a movement affecting the mainstream consciousness of Brazil, its founders – Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil – had already pronounced its death.

Gilberto Gil – Aquele Abraço

Caetano Veloso – Alfômega

Tropicália was a multimedia art movement that was a sort of lurid mix of pop art, dadaism and surrealism, and was mostly produced by a small coterie of young visual artists, filmmakers, poets and musicians from the impoverished Bahia region of Brazil during the mid-late 1960s. Tropicália was also an ideology and a form of political protest, though its primary function as art often seemed to render its political intentions abstract, even a little bit troll-y.

Tropicália was a response to the military coup of 1964 that plunged Brazil into a profound sense of economic, political and cultural crisis. A resurgent and radicalised left wing youth fought back against the principles of the military dictatorship and its close relationship with the United States government with an aggressive nationalism that denounced all associations with American culture as servicing imperialism.

The young men and women involved in tropicália – or tropicálism, as they called it – however, found this position pedantic and absurd. They loved rock & roll and American films. They found the Brazilian left – which promoted a return to traditional Brazilian social and cultural systems, where the only acceptable music was trad Brazilian folk – hopelessly conservative and dogmatic.

Spotify playlist: early tropicália (1967-69)

The tropicálists created art that was provocative and outrageous, and in doing so they incensed equally the dictator-led establishment and the authoritarian left. The tropicália movement bore similarities to the détournement practice of the Situationists in the 1950s – an attempt to subvert the capitalist system and media culture with political pranks that recontextualise the symbols of those systems and cultures.

But it was more than that. Tropicália wasn’t all arched eyebrows, academic posturing and teenage in-jokes, it was angry, it was soulful, it was fun – worse, it was utopian. The tropicalists advocated  a process they called “cultural cannibalism” that smashed together seemingly opposing identities in an eccentric and always colourful way: urban and rural, African and European, high brow and low brow, the commercial and the avant-garde.

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Of course, in the 1960s, the tropicálists weren’t the only group proposing to take aggressive cultural action along these lines, but they probably were the only ones who made art you could dance to.

The tropicália musicians consisted of a collective loosely assembled around Gil and Veloso that included the avant-classical composer Rogério Duprat, the dadaist songwriter Tom Zé, pop stars Gal Costa and Nara Leão, and most famously, São Paulo’s legendary psychedelic rock band, Os Mutantes.

Os Mutantes – Adeus Maria Fulф

All of these artists combined to create the seminal Tropicália ou Panis et Circencis album – a sort of musical manifesto for tropicalism that today is revered as the Brazilian Sgt. Peppers.

The poet Torquato Neto provided the lyrics for the record. In his essay Tropicálism for Beginners, Neto had argued for the creation of a genuinely “Brazilian” pop. He wrote:

“Accept completely all that the life of the tropics can give, without preconceptions of aesthetic order, without consideration of tackiness or bad taste, solely living the tropical and the new universe it contains, still unknown.”

Tropicália embraced kitsch and hailed the Brazilian light entertainer Carmen Miranda as its icon. Musically, the tropicalists attempted to fuse forbidden rock & roll with classical music and Beatles-esque pop with Brazilian folk. The sound was surreal, trippy, raucous – full of odd drifts and noise and space. But if there was any common motif underpinning this pop bricolage, it was the musicians’ deep and genuine love for bossa nova.

Bossa nova – meaning “new trend” in Portuguese – was the Brazilian fusion of samba and jazz that found popularity in the 1950s. Bossa nova was apolitical dance-pop that blandly described the romantic lives of affluent Brazilians in the time before the coup. As the basis for a new politically charged Brazilian music, played by a bunch of smart ass revolutionaries, bossa nova was therefore perfect for reappropriation. Tropicália is often discussed in the context of European and American rock, such as The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, but really if tropicália’s music is anything it is a heavily psychedelicised version of bossa nova.

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This was a revolution you could dance to. That and the fact that the tropicálists were savvy media operators meant that this deeply weird and avant-garde music did not have the luxury and freedom that most other experimental genres have of being marginal musics. The tropicálists were all over Brazilian TV. They debated politics and philosophy and performed on youth-oriented pop shows and competed enthusiastically in the national equivalent of Eurovision, with one appearance by Veloso famously enraging the audience to the point of rioting.

Tropicália was a mainstream cultural phenomenon and its agents were antiheros. It was inevitable that, at some point, they would be recognised as the threat that they were. Movement leaders Veloso and Gil were jailed and then deported by the military government in 1969. Their exile in London put an end to tropicália as a movement, although its central figures would remain engaged – if in an off-and-on basis – in music for the rest of their lives.

In the 1990s, tropicália was rediscovered, and the patronage of alternative music icons like Kurt Cobain and David Byrne led new generations to this working class, Brazilian dance music of dissent. By this point their political activism had bore fruit, however, with Gilberto Gil becoming the second-ever black Brazilian to serve in the country’s now-democratic cabinet.