What do you know about minimal music from Japan 1980 -1986, son?  

Featuring : Mkwaju Ensemble

mkwaju

It happens.

We feel down about the Internet. We despair at its surges of collective stupidity, the banality of its articles, comments and backlashes, at the perfect replicability it enables. We also feel self-loathing, as the inner-baby inside us shrieks and tugs at the screen for attention and feedback, rendering us unable to friggin’ concentrate on anything.

And then, like a lightning bolt of magic, someone says something somewhere in the Internet and, just like that, a window is opened and through it we behold awesome vistas. New universes are revealed. A crystalline shard of beautiful experience that didn’t exist before pierces our skin and dissolves in our bloodstream and spreads through our system and we are upgraded and renewed.

And then we feel up on the Internet.

This happened this week, when our pal Matt from Where to Now/WhereIIDance/Ye Ye Fever fame posted on Facebook about a Japanese band called Mkwaju Ensemble (his was the title of this post too). The track was called Hot Air, and it sounded like the morning stirrings of a young country at the beginning of the season of love.

Hot Air is contained in Mkwaju Ensemble’s 1981 album ‘Ki-Motion.’ We also tracked down their self-titled debut Mkwaju, and tried to find out more about them, to no initial avail We had sort of resigned ourselves to allow their music exist in the kind-of-context-less mythical space defined by our imaginations, when at the bottom of the Google search results we stumbled upon a post about them at Hipinion, which provided an etymological/organic foundation for their music, in sub-Saharan culture.

Sez Drudge, who wrote this post:

The tamarind, known as “mkwaju” in Swahili, is a large, adaptable, drought resistant tree native to Sudan and tropical Africa. A dense, durable, insect-resistant wood, mkwaju is used in the production of furniture, wheels, planking, tools, and musical instruments. Prized also for its horticultural, culinary, and medical uses, mkwaju is essential to the life and identity of the Central African grasslands.

Taking their name from the tree whose wood was used to produce some of the very first mallets and marimba, Mkwaju Ensemble’s rhythmic, minimalistic work draws on the region’s music and culture. In a brief six month span, the ensemble combined a wide array of talent and instrumentation to explore syncopation, repetition, and silence in new and ambitious ways.

Many sub-Saharan languages do not have a word for rhythm, or even music. Rhythms represent the very fabric of life, and embody the interdependence of human relationships. Cross-beats can symbolize challenging moments or emotional stress, and playing them while fully grounded in main beats is thought to prepare one to maintain purpose while dealing with life’s challenges. This simultaneous use of contrasting rhythmic patterns lies at the core of Africa’s rhythmic tradition, and is evident in much of the ensemble’s work. Marimba, vibraphone, bamboo percussion and synth intertwine to create something both traditional and new.

Which is a beautiful and enlightening explanation/description of the furious, liquid, interweaving, threaded and parallel eddies and whirlpools of minimalism, percussion and electronica in Mkwaju.

This is how it all begins.

Mkwaju Ensemble – Mkwaju

It doesn’t end there. The post about Mkwaju Ensemble was part of a wider discussion about Japanese music that began 3 pages earlier, beginning with exquisite 80s pop, continuing into Mkwaju Ensemble, and following with our beloved Geinoh Yamashirogumi and others.

We predict this will provide a rich source of awesome music for us to enjoy and convey to you in future days, hopefully making us part of that chain of connected vessels through which great stuff (and belief in the web as a force for good) spreads all over.

Peace.

There is no Band

Featuring : Rebekah Del Rio

mulholland-drive

In the dream logic of Lynch’s Muholland Drive, the club (Silencio) lies at the centre of a fracture between worlds.  Much like it did in Twin Peaks.  Much like it did in Blue Velvet.  For in these venues the torch song is the portal through which Lynch’s likeable, inquisitive leads find a moment of calm among the surreal maelstrom that pulsates through Lynch’s Mysteries.  And it’s in this calm that they gain a horrifying insight into their world, as if a smiling plastic veneer is gently pealed back revealing a dark mess of evil.  Much like a 20JFG post.

The incantation used in Mulholland Drive is Roy Orbison’s Crying.  Acapella.  In Spanish.  Sung by Rebekah Del Rio both on the soundtrack and on film.

Rebekah_Del_Rio

Mulholland Drive probably represents the last of Lynch’s plucky detective stories, beginning with Blue Velvet and continuing on through Twin Peaks.  The dreamlike wish-fulfilment that always underpinned the earlier stories is at its most exposed in Mulholland Drive.  The fantasy at its most fragile.  Fittingly then, the rawest, most heartbreaking portal is unaccompanied.  “No hay banda.”

Rebekah Del Rio – Llorando (Crying)

This is taken from one of the greatest soundtracks of the new millennium which is still readily available on CD.  Just don’t look at the prices for the 2008 vinyl issue.

Dennis Waterman, meet Giorgio Moroder

Featuring : 20jfg + Squeeze

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Some time ago I did a post about my least favourite example of late 70s British album design from one my favourite late 70s albums.

Now, here is an example of late 70s British album design I love so much that I even have the cover framed in my living room!

Yep, my love for Cool For Cats is unambiguous and genuine.

There is nothing I would change about the geometry of the Cool For Cats album cover. It even looks good in yellow!

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And on a T-shirt!

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In fact, my copy isn’t even purple at all – but a lurid, retina-razing pink version, that I somehow can’t seem to find an image of anywhere in the cyberspace. Is it rare? I don’t know, but it looks exactly like how I want my imaginary 1979 Britain to look.

Cheap, tarty bubblegum pub-glam, but not evil.

The music also sounds exactly like how my revisionist Life On Mars made-up 1970s sounds. Lots of squelching moogs and chatting up “birds” over a bag of chips on the way home from a disco – the squelching moogs against the sometimes-ribald lyrics seeming suddenly less futurist and more bodily function-synthesising end of the pier juvenilia.

Squeeze – Slap and Tickle

Add more masturbation and Freudian complexes and you basically have Pulp, 15 years too soon.

Squeeze, for a while, had a perfect pop art pop band schtick – part Dennis Waterman in Minder, part early Moroder.

You’re not likely to hear it admitted very often, but outside of the songwriting nucleus of Difford/Tilbrook (then being touted quite earnestly by the music press as the heirs to Lennon/McCartney), a huge part of the success of that sound had to do with He Who Shall Not Be Named.

Squeeze

Far right in this photo. Now an expert backwards-walker and much-derided thumper of the boogie-woogie piano.

I don’t care what you say. I still love Squeeze and I don’t even hate Later…

For context, here’s a mixtape of what other music sounded like in 1979. Use the comments box if you’re old enough to know the track IDs!

XXJFG – Dennis Waterman, meet Giorgio Moroder

Smudged Fairies

Featuring : Shaman B

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(gif is Cottonmoths by postmoderncorruption.)

Like frolicking through a Disney landscape  that has been rendered in the tape-loading screens of assorted Spectrums, Commodores and Amstrads.

Those things buzzing around your ears are so cute but what are they – fairies? They look like smudged blocks of code, but you’re pretty sure that they’re fairies.

Shaman B – Bamboo Gardens

The colour underneath your feet is green so it must be grass. It shifts and stutters reassuringly.

There is no heartbreak here. This must have been what the world looked like before the fall.

Download Shaman B’s Primitivism EP from Soundcloud

Scalpels to dissect the universe

Featuring : Hiro Kone

destiny

(Image through Destiny Planet View)

We have spent a significant chunk of the weekend playing Destiny. Our brain and aesthetic formation frameworks have finally caught up with the twitching of our alien-face-stabbing knuckles, and this is what they have to say:

 “The solar system in Destiny is an collection of beautiful dioramas we and our kin cycle through like a pulse of elegant aggression. At constant intervals, we will confront and destroy a cluster of enemies. Perhaps we will do this accompanied by others like us, perhaps alone. Regardless of how many others have joined our fire-team, the general feeling is one of bleak loneliness. We are marooned in a universe sinking into entropy, violence, consumerism (of armaments) and fundamentalist worship; we are the bloodthirsty elite of a humanity that has lost all it had gained, and its history. Perhaps we will push back the tide of the darkness, but deep inside, we wonder, what’s the point? ”

In other words, Destiny is a bit like a faceless techno party, and we like it like that. Also as a Romero style dystopia (the Tower is the mall), as a neo-cyberpunk celebration of militaristic technology, as a perfectly designed device for haptic titillation, and as nihilistic distillation of the hero journey into a collection of tools to exterminate our enemies ever more efficiently.

It is very smooth. Smooth like the exquisite synesthetic transitions between modes and moods in Hiro Kone’s Fallen Angels.

Fallen-Angels

…where minimally architected spaces are traversed with vector machine elegance, fractal patterns bounce of the gunmetal grey of contemplative eyes, nocturnal city-scapes are observed from structures of surgical steel, and the stenographically concealed message in the shifts of their lights are decrypted.

The message is that there is no message, no meaning, only shapes and lights and movement, and flashes of emotion sliding into blue and then darkness, and all of these things are so pretty, just like Destiny.

Hiro Kone – Days of Being Wild

You can acquire Hiro Kone’s exquisite Fallen Angels from Geographic North.

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The singularity is just unevenly distributed

Featuring : Lorenzo Senni

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Lorenzo Senni‘s album Superimpositions is ably represented by that gorgeous sleeve up there.  It’s a collage of synthetic odes to the clear infinite skys of the deep desert glimpsed by only a handful of survivors of the great Prog-plane-crash of 1978.  That day, Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre were the only ones to make it back out alive.  Their smooth synth sounds papering over the searing trauma of the event.  Superimpositions reveals their fractured psyches to us: glimpses into the minds of tortured souls; premonitions of big-room-house and the glory of soulless hedonism (for who dictates what quantity of soul is required for hedonism to reach critical mass — fascists, that’s who).

Forever Headline is that moment of premonition.  That feeling that all synth music was building towards this.  Forget the respectability of Oscars and cultural symposiums.  There is no greater moment for machine music than when it returned to the abandoned warehouses and factories that birthed its rhythmic heart.  Places that imprinted repetition in the genome of its audience.  In that moment within the pulse of the strobes, when light cut the rolling beats and synth stabs into even tinier fragments.  In that moment (and it was, so very brief) the synth achieved sentience.  And it liked it.  It would leave an indelible mark on its self replicating DNA and forever more would it attempt to reassemble those stolen moments of rapture with 1000s of people.

This is a document, not of the moment, but of the desire.

Lorenzo Senni – Forever Headline

Forever Headline is taken from Lorenzo Senni’s majestic album Superimpositions which came out on Boomkat Editions on 8th September.  You can get it right here.