20JFG Podcast: Glittering prizes and endless compromises

Featuring : 20jfg + Podcast

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There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound. Everybody look what’s going down.

Once you escape from the homogenized  city center Liverpool is a city where beards, vegan food, ethnic diversity, second hand shops, fairtrade coffee, really nice bikes, second hand records, local produce, comic shops, proper thick denim, artisan bread and real ale are all part of the norm. These signatures of what used to pass as alternative culture have floated into mainstream demand, and like so many of the other aspects of hipsterdom – this is not a bad thing. Hipster may be just another passing trend though youth culture as beatnik, hippy, mod, raver and rockabilly have been in the past but underlying it today is a deep longing for authenticity which transcends its vacuousness self obsessed  origins.

Back when hipster was just a vice/pitchfork thang where your identity was defined by a lack of ideals  and ability to take the piss out of anything anyone else believed in a friend once joked :

The next trend has to be non ironic belief – morals, courses or something.

This has now actually happened to hipster.

Today in Liverpool those scenesters who are just visiting alternative culture during studentdom or youth are still going to to gain takeaway skills – be it a love of reading,  a love of music, a love for dancing, how to repair a bike, cultural awareness,  how to make nice coffee,  a love of role playing games, an appreciation or art or simply voting for socialist principles – values we all would hopefully gain from any youth cultures of the past.

Ahh yes ain’t that fresh. Everybody wants to get down like that.

20jazzfunkgreats – Next

As with all youth cults once they are captured, documented, exposed and the mainstream are aware of it – its dead. Unfortunately identifying as Hipster is now both a paradox and as much of a cliche as being a Punk was in 1977 – which means none of the high hipsters have any idea wtf they are anymore, but as long as no one else notices you can cash in.

Everyone’s got to make a living.

Theme for Grey Cities

Featuring : Vittorio Gelmetti

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We haven’t written enough about Antonioni. Probably because he said this:

“I am personally very reluctant to use music in my films, for the simple
reason that I prefer to work in a dry manner, to say things with the least
means possible,”

At least until he decided to work with Herbie Hancock and then go all Pink Floyd during the ‘English trilogy’.

This post isn’t about the English films though.  This is about the odd one, the epilogue: Il Deserto Rosso.  Coming after the b/w trilogy of L’avventura, L’eclisse and La Notte, but before he came to the UK to skewer the swinging 60s with Blow Up, The Red Desert was his first colour film.  The qualities of this film, the experimental use of colour and focus and time, would totally derail this post so gaze upon the screen grabs and go and watch it.  What I want to talk about is the experimental electronic compositions that provide a chorus for Antonioni’s psycho-industrial enui.

The one that hits the hardest, hits first.   The credits sequence features a procession of defocussed shots of an industrial purgatory, all desaturated greys and browns.   Beneath this, the sound of a million mechanical crickets taunting the very notion of a bucolic landscape.  For this we almost certainly have to thank Italian electronic pioneer Vittorio Gelmetti.  he’s credited with electronic sounds on the soundtrack alongside Antonioni’s regular composer Giovanni Fusco.  It’s Gelmetti’s contributions though that seem finally to have found an aural equivalent to the distrusted modernity of Antonioni’s anti-heroes.

This is unsettling electronic music.  It’s ability to sound alien and challenging over half a century later mirrors how unsettling and alien Antonioni’s beautiful Italians (and Irish) still feel to us.  These are people completely dislocated from their learned morality by the modernity that’s accelerated past them.  They are the aliens trying to cling on to the world and their inability to do so doesn’t seem quaint, it seems prescient.  Their reaction to a smartphone would be no more resigned than to the idea that the air was now poison.  No wonder then that their music is beautiful, modern and alienating.

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Of course, this is 20JFG so to us it appears on a line which passes through TG and on to the ambient/drone/whatever stuff that’s infected the blog’s consciousness for the last few years.

The credits sequence features three components: Gelmetti’s piercing electronic noise, the sounds of machinery (literally Industrial music) and a angelic female voice floating above it all (the embodiment of Vitti perhaps?).  One is sometimes more dominant than the others but it’s their combination, the crashing jarring detuned radio madness that forms the whole.

Il Deserto Rosso – Opening Score

Sadly, this soundtrack doesn’t seem to be available anywhere.  Time to pray to Superior Viaduct.  You can (and should) get this on DVD/Blu-ray from the BFI (who bizarrely seem to think it’s a film about an intern) or the Criterion collection.

Hallucinatory vibes/Sober thoughts

Featuring : AJ Suede + Killer Mike

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Also known as “Nameless Suede”, an “ex knucklehead turned prophet.” Influenced by Stereolab, Cannibal Ox and Massive Attack.

Shout outs to Al Jazeera, Johnny Rotten, Bronies. Hallucinatory vibes. Sober thoughts. BAGPIPES.

Love songs to significant opposites.

“We go together like ice cream and propane
We go together like Pocahontas and John Wayne
We go together like Michael Jackson and Purple Rain.”

AJ Suede feat. Gertie The Goddess – Wicked Witch

Slow-motion Shiffrin-like montages that sound eye-rolling, half-lidded and drugged against the crystal-clear-eyed flow that never, ever falters in pace.

Apocalypse rhymes with El-P-worthy beats and mood-drenched atmospheres.

Fuck the police. Leaving my people deceased.
Fuck the police. Leaving my people deceased.

Buy Gold and Fire from Bandcamp for $6.66

There is nowhere near enough hip-hop on this blog.

From 2012, here’s some more:

Killer Mike – Reagan

(Stoker artwork by Ricardo Bessa)

I am… from you

Featuring : tangerine dream

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Following up on some nerding out during our recent 20JFG Berlin dude odyssey, your humble scribe felt compelled to catch up on Michael Mann’s earlier opus, before his focus fell squarely on the violent underbelly of the knowledge economy, and the stony-faced men who inhabit it.

We begin this retrospective with The Keep, Mann’s second cinema feature, a WWII horror phantasmagoria where a squadron of war-weary Nazis led by craggy-meister Jürgen Prochnow are tasked with guarding a mysterious keep deep in the Transylvanian forests.

What is so mysterious about this keep? Well, the inhabitants of the village tend to look at it with much fright, and its architecture suggests that “it was not built to keep…something out.” Its walls are covered with crosses that shine at night, and an unnatural mist roams its corridors, blowing Nazis up like porcelain dolls.

We won’t get into the details. We are not even sure about how we would go about doing that. Suffice to say that The Keep includes some of the biggest necks and biggest teeth we have ever seen. Dry ice. Lasers. Tiny windows opening up into stygian depths. Excellent use of tendrils of smoke to convey the shapelessness of a Lovecraftian horror, and some weird poetry of the supernatural apocalypse that reminded us of the weird ending of The Beyond.

It shares the hazy, fever-dream quality of many other 1980s horror films. How much of this is intentional (even if subconsciously), and how much was provoked by random fluctuations in image sharpness*, and the fact that the feature release was savagely edited down from an initial length of three hours, we can’t say. We don’t think it was all inflicted upon poor Michael. The recent (and controversially 20JFG-adored) Miami Vice update was similarly hypnotic in a ‘what the fuck is going on oh the colours” kind of way.

Any feelings of otherworldliness, exaltation and cognitive dissonance we might have sentimentally suffered were of course enhanced non-linearly by Tangerine Dream’s soundtrack, a thing brimming with brooding drones, kaleidoscopic elf-Templar arpeggios, and Shaft in Ulthar funky drumming.

And of course, those synthetic choruses, truly sounding as if ancient spectra had been summoned from the irrational depths, and forced to sing to us under the guise of hippie vocoders, least we explode like porcelain dolls after being exposed to the quicksilvery fluidity of their true voices.

Tangerine Dream – Awakening

There is more information about the official release for The Keep soundtrack here, but the song above is taken from the unofficial Tangerine Tree fan release. It soundtracks Scott Glenn’s (aka Glaeken, the dayglo-blooded angel hunk) journey across the Mediterranean, in the middle of the night, in a small fishing vessel lovingly shot crashing against the waves in slow-motion, an image we’ll see Mann using again in Miami Vice’s timeless ‘trip to drink Mojitos in Havana’, and its emotional ending.

Next time we do Manhunter

Out of the Past

Featuring : Liasons Dangereuses

BerlinBear

The post slipped out of time during the transition to this glorious new body (which is still beta, kids). As such it’s very confused about A) being in the UK and not Germany and B) what a 503 is. Please humour it while it readjusts…

10th October 2014

Later on today, all of 20JFG’s current writers will drag themselves onto a low-cost airline bound for Berlin; questing. First, we will seek out our lost brother in the struggle, now a pillar of light moving among the concrete and start-ups. Once we have found him and absorbed him, Tetsuo-style, into the 20JFG whole, we will embark out into the night to feast on dance music and night clubs.

For, sadly, 20JFG’s body is weak. Only able to maintain connection to the internet for brief periods between the waking death of the 503. The soul must be replenished and we have turned to our German brothers and sisters to host our mecca.

Pre-flight though, we look to the west, to Dusseldorf for sustenance.

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On Monday Groenland release Electri_city – Elektronische_Musik_Aus_Düsseldorf. It’s got all the hits. A fair number have graced these pages in the past. But as we are in a dancing mode we’ll pluck the proto-techno of Liaisons Dangereuses from the exquisitely selected pack.

Los Ninos Del Parque (inexplicably sung in Spanish — hit the comments Twitter to explain to me why) was their relatively major hit (which means it probably sold more than the current top-40 combined and yet barely rippled the major label’s money pits). It’s remorseless in a way that Chicago and Detroit would appreciate and make their own. After the demise of DAF, this is a logical refinement of EBM. Manufacturing processes had improved and the tolerances refined. The beats hit and they hit perfectly.

Liaisons Dangereuses – Los Ninos Del Parque

Thanks to this time travelling post this compilation is already out and can be bought from the label itself here or if you’re in the UK you can grab it from Boomkat here.

Play like a Superhero – Walk like a Motherfucker

Featuring : Quasiviri

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Superheroes should be psychedelic motherfuckers. Quasiviri sometimes sound to me like a pop Oneida – and if anyone are superheroes, then its fucking Oneida.

It’s that muscular, fuck-you bass – which sometimes just settles into an up-middle-fingered stomp and then stomps all over your face. It’s those mind-scrambles of organ. It’s the fact you can fill up a fuck of a lot of space with just three instruments and a sound to die for.

But it’s not just wig-out mayhem. Quasiviri is tight, clear-eyed, ultra-focused and purposeful rock that just happens to share a sound with your dream psychedelic record. It isn’t prone to noodling, or playing jazz chords with 20 notes when one note repeated 20 times will do just as well.

Also it’s playful, and funny, and why isn’t it this stuff that people are obsessing over now? Be not apologetic. Play like a superhero. Walk like a motherfucker.

Quasiviri – The Perennial Pose

Buy Super Human from Bandcamp

(art is Lenny Lathem (after Jack Kirby), Dr. Strange, Marvel Comics black light poster art.)

Biodiversity and Monster Worlds

Featuring : Katie Gately + Prayer

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You’ve probably worked out by now that XXJFG doesn’t do interviews. Interviews! What do you think we are – music journalists?! We’re too busy classifying and naming new species of Old Ones and compiling really important reports on stuff.  But our sounds don’t just live in a vacuum. The stuff we beam out of the XXJFG mainframe into your finely-tuned minds is produced by the fingers and brains of fleshy humans, mostly out there on Earth somewhere.

In the interests of ethnomuiscoceanographic research, we got one such fleshy human – our friend Joe Houpert aka Constellation Tatsu recording artiste Prayer – to interrogate another one:  Katie Gately.

Katie has been one of our favourite ever finds. The first piece of music we’d heard by her – one of the first she’d ever done – was an amazing reimagining of the rules of remixing, her early Soundcloud recordings were frankly art pop genius, and in her tape for XXJFG sister project Blue Tapes – she had birthed an actual, bona fide honest-to-Dagon 21st Century classic (of any genre).

The phrase “so and so’s music defies description” is a much-overused cliche of PR. We’re not going to ask you to believe that it’s true in this case – though it is – you just have to listen. Katie has now signed to our Brighton neighbours Fat Cat. This post premieres her first release for the label – Pivot – which is also The Tune of 2014. (The six-minute excerpt – less than half of the song’s running time – included in this post doesn’t quite do its magnificence justice.)

Statistically speaking (inasmuch as an unfortunate experience with college Prob/Stat has qualified me to use the preceding and any subsequent concepts), the Australian koala bear is a rarity (again, re: college Anth/Bio et al.).  Given the age of the planet, the different, let’s say, genres of animals, for lack of a better term, one might assume (again re: Anth/Bio), would converge into a handful of overarching species, a sort of vaguely homogeneous meta-species if you will.

Keeping in line with such logic and taking birds as an example, these groups caught by the large netting cast into the gene pool might leave us with, hypothetically speaking and drawing no such real-life parallels, something like ducks, the aptly-titled large birds, the just-as-aptly-titled small birds and, of course, owls.

And so when speaking of “birds,” a large group of bird-like things that all have beaks and wings that work or in some cases do not work and that all (birds, not working wings or non-working wings), one could likely imagine, birds make bird-like sounds.  And different birds make different bird sounds.  But at the very least one could make the point that one specific bird might sound very much like (but still not exactly like) another bird but that another specific bird might sound more like another different (but specific) bird, but like a younger version of that bird, or perhaps a punk version of another bird, or say, like that group of birds in the 80’s that lived in that meat storage locker and just sounded way ahead of their time.

For example.

Though to my ears, a whole lot of birds sound the same.

So then, the koala bear.  Yes, not only bear-like in name, but bear-like fur and perhaps locomotion and maybe other taxonomical qualifiers (a stretch?  Again, again re: Anth/Bio) but also very bear-unlike in its (coincidentally) somewhat bird-like mouth and decidedly not-bear-like pouch.  A singular animal this koala.  Where most bears go on about doing mainly bear-like things with their day, the koala sits, grinning, beady eyes wide as beady eyes can get, innocently gnoshing eucalyptus to its little bear-like and simultaneously un-bear heart’s content.  Now yes, one would be remiss if one didn’t mention its Northern cousin and fellow marsupial, the wombat, who, if given the vocabulary (not to mention maxillofacial muscle structure and vocal cording to make use of said vocabulary) could say get together with our friend the koala and say, talk all day about the pros and cons of the front side, top-loading pouch.  To that, I say, saccula non facit philosophum; lumping those two nutcases together does a disservice to both of our genetically separate friends, marginalizing the wombat’s uniquely wombat-y ground dwelling skills while simultaneously marginalizing the koala’s uniquely koala-y tree-dwelling skills.

All of this to say: one doesn’t hear something like Katie Gately every day.  Familiar enough to not seem foreign, but still unfamiliar at the same time.  Not take-behind-the-bleachers ‘like,’ but like tell-your-friends-your-busy-friday-night-but-really-you’re-going-to-that-performance-art-performance and then go to Bard and major in Art History ‘like.’  ‘Pivot’ has all the Gately-isms we have come to love; chromatic harmony and dissonant melody; that grandness that’s underscored by a playful menace.  And a balls-out, heart-on-her-sleeve rawness that’s just so damn good.  She can sing.  She can produce.  If there was doubt that ‘Pipes’ was a fluke, ‘Pivot’ clears up any confusion.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Ms. Gately about her work and her upcoming split release on FatCat (see: here) with Tlaotlon.

1) Why voice?  What was behind the decision to use only voice on ‘Pipes?’  What led to incorporating other elements into the new piece, ‘Pivot?’

Katie-Gately

Voice is just the most immediate way to find both a melodic idea and some kind of emotional cue for me to get going.  Sound design is super fun too and I like applying its conventions frequently but sometimes I don’t want my down time to be too job-related.

The vocal limitation for Pipes was something I wanted to do since I heard Medulla but it wasn’t until the past few years that I had the technical skills to do much of anything! It sounded like a very fun challenge that could work for a more experimental label like Blue Tapes UK.

The past year I wanted to play with more long-form ideas as well as learn more about mixing and using fancier plug-ins. I have always been so afraid to use normal instruments because I couldn’t play them and I wanted to get over that fear. I can still sample and process them just like my voice! It won’t be realistic or match classical conventions – but that’s OK – I’m trying to make monster worlds, so they should sound different. This is the rationalization I took into the dark night of producing Pivot, at least…

I probably have been bouncing around stylistically because I am greedy. There is such a broad variety of electronic / experimental music in the world, if you limit that to even a single style there is still a huge vat of techniques and tricks and conventions to study and learn. But…. my favorite thing is to study and learn! Obviously, I’d have to live 500 years to learn everything I want to know but I’m still going to try. The results of that learning — whatever I’m currently obsessed with – will then show up in my own music, of course.

2)  What was the intention behind Pivot, beyond trying out new technical skills, if any?  Is songwriting/producing more academic exercise for you?  More art?  A combination of the two?  Do you believe that this distinction matters?

Yeah, I am more drawn to song and melody and mood than any academic approach. USC is essentially a glorified trade school. While we definitely had to write theory papers, I came more for the technical, pragmatic classes and the faculty behind them which were both pretty tremendous. With my music, I’m really just digging into the personal piggy bank. I’m sad about this or that and trying to use the technical experiments as a way to be productive with my blues (thanks Thom!)

I think if I have any conscious, general goal with music it’s to absolutely step over my comfort line, like risk looking pretty stupid and insane, just in case this might make someone else feel less alone with how bonkers they are feeling about one thing or another. That feeling of “Woaw. This person’s brain fires in a way that mine does too.: That’s nice to know because usually I hide that part of myself from the world for fear of being arrested and/or institutionalized.

I’m really grateful to get that feeling from so many other musicians and records. There are a lot of brave people in the world! And they inspire me to be more vulnerable every time I’m making something new.

3)  So, your degree is in Sound Design, or Sound Design for Film?  Either way, I’d like to ask about visual elements in your work.  Your releases are very sparse.  There’s artwork, but little of it.  Conversely, when I listen to your work, I have a very visual response to it.  Can you comment on the importance of the visual in your work?  Are the “monster worlds” that you make purely auditory in nature?

Yeah, my degree is formally a “Masters of Fine Arts in Film and Television Production” so the majority of my schoolwork was not sound-based but it has still been super useful to study story, writing, lighting, color. All of that can inspire sound-making, too.

That said, I’m not consciously going for any visual element with my music. I like defying spatial conventions and the laws of physics because I’m always trying to hear things I’ve never heard before. It never happens intentionally – it’s usually the result of some mistake – but I do find that if I’m trying to realistically recreate sounds in space, I’m less likely to hear unfamiliar, scary shit….and I love that stuff so…I want to stay open to finding it.

I do love working with animators though but I leave the ideation mostly up to them – it’s their area of expertise after all and I love seeing what people come up with on their own terms.

4) You use Soundcloud a good deal, posting most of your work there (a large chunk of ‘Pipes’, some of your self-titled LP, Far’ from our split).  Is the physical format important to you?  Is the idea of a collection of cohesive songs released together important to you, given that your last two releases are single long-form works?

The music itself is far and away the most important thing to me for sure. I’d listen to music if it came out of a garbage can and I had to stick my head in a pile of trash in order to hear it!

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But it’s definitely fun exploring mediums. I really like the idea of the medium being part of inspiration of something. One side of vinyl has to fit in a certain time frame and that’s pretty significant if you’re locked into a certain sequencing of songs. Tapes are cool too, doing something for Blue Tapes made me want to try and digitally recreate a feeling of tape decay near the end of pipes. And we did a lathe! I listened to your side and responded to it but it had to be under a certain length. That stuff is pretty relevant to things taking shape, which is rad.

In general with music…I do find that an important part is actually buying it, digital or physical. When I buy things – even mp3s – I just straight up pay more attention to them. It’s like paying to see a movie: you don’t want to walk out and throw away 15 bucks so you engage a bit more, even if it’s out of guilt or stubbornness. This way, there is more of a chance you will be open to finding redeemable qualities in something you judged too quickly as well as a chance to fall more in love with the minute details of something you liked right away.

5)  How did pivot come about?  Tell me about its development.  What should we expect to hear?

Pivot came about over the course of a few days last year as I wanted to keep exploring long-form music.

I became fixated with the word “pivot” as it is an action or motion of being rooted to one place while spinning and flailing around but also stands for a person who is an anchor. I love double-meanings and wanted to explore this in a song by playing with the dark and light sides of this word: an anchor can be both blissful and stabilizing as well as suffocating and limiting. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that feeling one way permanently about something or someone is never going to happen for me. I used to think this was a terrible failing on my part and I needed to fix myself. but now I feel like it’s just my reality and it’s better to embrace and meet head-on than to judge and repress and hide away.

When I came to LA everyone I met in film was like “Conviction is seduction. Avoid ambiguity at all costs. Be certain about everything you do and say” and I thought “Yeah, there is some truth to that but….it just doesn’t feel right to me.”  I’d much rather live in the grey areas of life because ambiguity is where I feel reality is mostly located. And I personally find truth – however murky and unsatisfying – to be a lot more seductive than certainty.

6) What are your future plans?  What work would you like to take on, if any?

I am trying to accrue a little roster of animators I can work for because they are so brilliant and fun to work with. besides this, editing (anything!) as long as I get paid to do so and more time studying mixing. I’m trying to work with as many different sound people as I can and learn their individual tips and tricks and also…..just hang out with different people. Making music is incredibly solitary (for me) and I am taking a break from hermit land for a bit so that i actually have a desire to return to it.

7) What is your favorite animal?

When I was a kid I was obsessed with koalas (probably just because they had a K in their name….).

Now I’m obsessed with preying mantises because there’s one living on my porch and I’ve starting filming her murderous rages.

Also warthogs, because my friend owns one and I get to babysit him. His name is Bayboo and Bayboo don’t give no fucks and will step on you and leave holes in your skin.

But my true-love animal is the puppy dog.  Every single dog I make eye contact with on the street steals a sliver of my soul, permanently. My fantasy is to be able to give birth to a litter of puppies (via C-section), I don’t really care if that’s wrong or icky, I think it deserves to be researched. Either way, I hope to own at least 10 dogs on a plot of land in the middle of nowhere before I die.