On Thursday, we went to see Factory Floor playing at the ICA and it was great. They sounded like the drum breakdown in LFO’s Freak – one of our favouritest musical moments ever – stretched into infinity, smashing your face forever. They sounded like Hi NRG music for brutalistic architecture perverts. We loved it so much we almost melted.
Although Factory Floor are clearly unique, their music is nevertheless connected to many other obsessions of ours by the universal thread of a monomaniac focus on converging with the perfect rhythm, and a morbid fascination with the effects of ridiculous noises in the human brain.
In that sense, they are brethren to Yuriko Keino and Junko Ozawa, the creators of the soundtrack for arcade shooter Super Xevious. This is not music, this is a project where the mutant hamster equivalent of Aphex Twin is hired to to do a Manchurian candidate vs. aliens number on your head. Just watch this video.
In the age of Mr Brexit, we need International Feel now, more than ever. We need the light that they curate for our ears. Those sweet, sweet sounds that feel like sun and silk and the touch of cooling wet sand. So, for our communal listening therapy today, they’ve pulled in something from the night.
Black Spuma return to the label with the deepest of deep house. House so deep you finally understand why the Old Ones will never die. House that includes an ethereal synth breakdown that we can only hope leads to Skrillex levels of drop-hysteria in the sun kissed nightclubs of our minds. Except that beat doesn’t return with speaker destroying petulance, but rather slides back between the sheets like an illicit lover in a cheesy soft-core 80s thriller that you kinda’ adore anyway.
Blanck Mass goes hard, like you’d go hard racing across a radiation bleached desert toward the only source of fuel. Like you’d go hard armed with a spiked baseball bat against an inter-dimensional demogorgon. Like you’d go hard if you wanted to recreate in acid, the explosive moments of MIA’s discography if they were all set at night in heavy black and white.
Because what we have here are planet killing drums behind Gazelle Twin’s treated vocal, a vocal ripped straight from a dead eyed police statement after her coven’s unleashed the apocalypse. Lazers fly high in the sky over the reanimated corpse of Acid House, bought to life to serve in the demonic hordes of pitch black Techno that now run the streets.
Get Fleshed Out from Gazelle Twin’s Bandcamp right here.
This chilling thought is reflected in the structure of the piece: one set before the War in the US, another in Europe during the War, and another one afterwards. In each of them, samples of human voices – including several Holocaust survivors – provide the libretto for a drone hurled forward with the romantic sense of propulsion of a train journey across vast distances. Reich’s soaring motorik melodies run alongside, brimming with that sense of possibility, opportunity and hope we always associate with the best of the American spirit, and its humanistic foundations.
We listen to Different Trains and feel nostalgic for another era, of a confident America that welcomed victims of persecution and made them its citizens, a country full of ambition and élan, a country looking for the next frontier. Such a different picture from the dark mood and hateful messages we hear today!
But we feel hope too, how could we not feel hope for a nation that began with such high ideals, created creators like Steve Reich, and music like this?
Kelsey Lu’s stunning Churches EP’s been out for a while now. You can get it on True Panther sounds right here. Or listen to it on Apple Music or Spotify or whatever. You really should.
We are gathered here today, however, to discuss the ritualistic, neo-western music video for the track on Churches, Dreams. Here it is:
In it we see Lu riding into the blasted dreamscape of Joshua Tree. The black and white photography draining the world of the monochromatic earth and monochromatic sky we know to be there from so many Cinemascope journeys into the West. Now it is all monochrome and uniformly alien.
Into this Lu steps. Her clothes: a dream of Western attire. Snatches of looks as if pulled from a dozen broken reels of film. Leather and sheepskin applied to leotards. Heavy leather belts and fishnets. The future and the past seemingly meaningless. Symbols of sexuality fused with an ancient utility that’s long been rendered obsolete.
She moves with grace, whether time is slowed, reversed or some approximation of realtime. Her dance a physical manifestation of the stately cello that anchors the entire piece.
And when she sings, approximately half way through, her voice reaches through the screen and holds your face, forcing you to gaze within, to not avert your gaze from the tears that roll down her cheeks.
While our history of dance music in the 20th century has mainly focused on the musical works of African-American musicians – with occasional glimpses into what was going on in Africa – the Caribbean, and Jamaica in particular, was no stranger to dance innovation.
Calypso, soca, ska, rocksteady and reggae had all flourished on the island – and while not specifically dance musics per se – those genres had danceable elements.
Dub, the trippy, experimental, spiritual Jamaican music, crawled out of reggae in the early 1970s, courtesy of Lee Scratch Perry and King Tubby. Dub was concerned with sonics over lyrics, space and atmosphere over dancing, mixing-board-wizardry over playing skill. Dub was heavy music – it could seem paranoid and full of dread or near-psychedelic religious epiphanies and it sounds particularly good while stoned.
Dub’s studio-based delay-maze was an important evolution in reggae and in music in general, but arguably it coaxed reggae fans away from the fun and frivolity of the dancehall sound systems, shutting listeners up in their own consciousness-expanding heads.
Dancehall was maybe a reaction to that stoned reflection. The clue was in the name, but this was party music! In dancehall, the singers were the stars again, not the producers. Pre-empting hip-hop by just a couple of years, teenage boys (‘deejays’ – note, the Jamaican equivalent of MCs, rather than ‘DJs’) would freestyle over other musicians’ records at dances, taking turns on the mic to impress girls.
One of these teenagers, Barrington Levy – known as the ‘mellow canary’ of dancehall for his distinctive voice – would become dancehall’s first star. Levy himself considers himself as a reggae singer – the term ‘dancehall’ being usually applied to the early-80s stars like Yellowman and Eek-a-Mouse – but in our Spotify playlist of proto-dancehall’s period of innovation, we can see that Levy is a clear leader of this new sound.
Levy was a sometimes-homeless kid who was taken in by a Rastafarian commune, and dreamed of being a musician, but lacked any formal training.
As he told Midnight Raver blog recently:
“Look boss, Barrington Levy only know one thing. I was at my mother house and dem send me to school and they say dem want me to be mechanical engineer. All I want is music. Seen? I was born in Kingston but my mom take me out to Clarendon and we live there where she is from. I run away from home and return to Kingston. And from when I was in the country I been saying to dem ‘I can be a singer,’ I can be a singer.’ We used to have this herring pan with strings and you could play two chords on it. I never see it as a herring pan, I see it as guitar. Dem all look at me play the herring pan guitar and I was so deep into it, into the music.”
His performances at local dances in Kingston impressed emerging deejays Dillinger and Trinity, and the 15-year-old Levy ended up recorded his first hit, Collie Weed, at King Tubby’s studio with gangster-turned-record producer Henry “Junjo” Lawes.
The other tune Levy had his back pocket from singing over records at dancehalls was a lyric called Shine Eye Girl.
“Things were changing in Jamaica, and it was a revelation,” Chris Cracknell, former head of A&R at the Greensleeves label told Red Bull Music Academy. “When Barrington Levy’s ‘Shine Eye Gal’ came along, it was like a whole new era had started in Jamaica… suddenly people wanted that new sound.”
This new sound was danceable and fun, but retained some of dub’s sonic trickery. Emphasising the connection between the two genres, the dub innovator Scientist – a protege of Tubby’s and himself just a teenager at the time – helmed the desk for Levy’s groundbreaking early recordings.
Before Yellowman, Eek-a-Mouse and the 80s dancehall stars, these 1970s records by the likes of Ranking Joe, Jah Thomas, Joe Tex & U-Black, Michigan & Smiley and – in particular – the London-raised Jamaican deejay Lone Ranger suggested a new type of reggae, one that hadn’t descended into pure ‘slackness’ yet and was still motivated by ganja, sounds and dancing more than the sex and controversy.