We have spent some time lost inside one of last year’s best releases: Muscle Up, Dark Entries second reissue of Patrick Cowley’s psyche-o-tronic gay porn soundtracks (School Daze was the first, you should check it too).
Muscle Up is very special indeed. As Maurice Tani points out in his reminiscence of Cowley and 1970s San Francisco in the lovely essay that comes tucked with the release, this is music better understood in its context of rapid change, both societal (counterculture, sexual revolution, fight for gay rights) and technological (better access to cheap music-making tech). It was part of a wave of change that Cowley rode to the end.
His music generally, and specially here, challenges all attempts to fragment the unity of the human experience into unhelpful dualisms between mind and body, art and science, nature and technology, experimentalism and pop. It is multi-functional, multipurpose, boundary-ravaging. You can use it to have transcendent sex, to go on science-fiction flesh odysseys, definitely to boogie among ectoplasmic clouds, in altered gravities.
As we listen to it, scenes of dudes banging each other transmogrify into the psychedelic landscapes of an Alain Goraguer film, Lalo Schifrin’s turtlenecked Frisco thrills are augmented with sexy comixxx curves, ejaculatory arpeggios give lift off to Carl Sagan’s interstellar mission.
Dazed and delirant, we imagine a future where humankind overcomes its current troubles, abolishes scarcity, fear and prejudice, and realises its creative potential, while keeping an edge, a necessary sense of danger. Patrick Cowley’s music helps us dream of that future, he’s one of its prophets.
Muscle Up also includes “Somebody to Love Tonight”, an instrumental version of what would eventually become Sylvester’s legendary ballad of longing “I need Somebody to Love Tonight”. This reminded us of the Dirty Sound System mixtape where we first heard that song. There, it was accompanied by “Who” by Odyssey (aka Vangelis).
This piece of otherworldly, cosmic jet–set soul is today’s bonus for you.
But is L.I.E.S. dance music really? We don’t think Ron Morelli, the man at the helm, is keen on that association. It is not a coincidence that the two L.I.E.S. compilations so far are called “American Noise” and “Music for Shut-Ins”, you know.
In fact, we reckon the L.I.E.S. crowd would rather be chainsawed and barbecued by the gimps from the Hills have Eyes than spending a minute surrounded by the polished post-humans of the EDM movement.
Thing is, this makes L.I.E.S. non-dance in a way, and dance in another.
It definitely makes them dance – the only dance in town, in fact – in the harsh, uncompressed, violently psychedelic universe their music so consistently evokes.
This is the wasteland left over after Crash Course in Science abolished all chances of the singularity with a vicious EMP blast, a place of angles and abrasion whose hyperrealism is not of the flesh but of the metal. Possibly a dystopia for our current selves, also a utopia for older senses and instincts which today lay dormant, and which L.I.E.S. cultivate with coyote wisdom and punk malevolence.
Here are a couple of artifacts in their toolkit.
CP/BW, featuring Corporate Park and Beau Wanzer, is the perfect illustration of the description above.
If Butthole Surfers made techno, it would be like this. Gnarly, somewhere in between murderous and quite funny, definitely more funky than it has the right to be. It makes us think of the cadre of brain-fried mechanic-cum-sculptors in W Gibson’s Mona Lisa Overdrive preparing a float of killer robots awful like H Bosch’s take on Boston Dynamic’s cyber-beasts, and unleashing them upon the merry tech revellers of Burning Man to give them the visionquest of their lives.
Inexplicably, we missed out on his 2014 L.I.E.S. release, Territories, but today we make amends.
Territories follows up after HASSAN, a concept album about Hassan i Sabbah, Master of Alamut and founder of the sect of the assassins. Its theme is still one of portent and mystery, but at a more fundamental level than secret history, that of geography.
The music in Territories powerfully describes the sheer strangeness of geography, the glyphs in the face of the land and the scars in its body, the grim logic with which it erases itself, birthing emergent architectures and excessive contrasts, as if conceived by romantic colossi.
It walks over the land in drones that crack and pop like the joints of an achy pilgrim writing a secret message with the twists in his path, it flies over the land too, and its synths chirp like kosmische birds surveying an alien planet. It is still most definitely dance music, but for a party that will last for millennia, until the cosmic police comes to shut it down.
Solar Bears returned a few weeks back with their new album, Advancement. It’s out on Sunday Best and you can grab it here.
It is, like their previous work, a garden of hauntological delights. Tripping through the perma-disturbing vision of a deranged 70s educational science programme, via early Warp (who became adept at distilling the pure horror of library music) and on to our retro-futuristic world of Night Drives. By 2016 I think it’s fair to say we have reached Schrodinger’s hauntology. All genres and cultural touchstones are now replaced by the ghosts of themselves, until you look at them. Then we have to make up our damn minds. And we’re bad at that.
Gravity Calling nails that drum intro with the bass eq’d out just long enough for the full Cybertron-ian force of the drum programming to hit. And an exquisite hit it is, propelling us through wistful synth melodies and on to intricate, punchy crescendos, meshed perfectly with those drums. Before it all falls away, as it surely must. For we’ve gazed at it all too long.
Although the series will not always follow a step-by-step evolution of one particular sound, – watch out for some curveballs coming your way soon! – the previous instalments of Dancing music in the C20 have so far mapped derivatives of cakewalk – early examples of ragtime, blues, jazz and big band – and examined how each iteration added or subtracted key elements from an existing formula to arrive at the characteristics unique to their particular taxonomy.
This week’s instalment, on boogie woogie, is no exception. Boogie woogie broke ranks with the pattern up until now of each new iteration of the blues family increasing in musical complexity, an obvious symptom of which was the swelling of the size of musical ensembles – from the basic blues unp groups to the near-symphonic proportions of the big band. Boogie woogie, however, was resolutely un-epic and non-ornate. It was brilliantly stripped-down dance music, more reminiscent of the piano rags of Scott Joplin than the New World fantasias of George Gershwin, but injected with a pounding and insistent rhythm that could carry a dance floor without full-band accompaniment.
The Jazz In America website lists some of the characteristics of ragtime as:
It was born in gin mills, lumber camps and rent parties.
There was not much subtlety to the music – poor to bad instruments and unschooled instrumentalists.
Volume was produced by physical strength.
Form was always a blues; songs had no real beginning or ending, much like African music.
Emphasis on rhythm rather than melody.
Return to breaks to create tension and to rest the left hand.
The left hand, which never varied, could have been an outgrowth of “stride” piano.
Boogie Woogie patterns were personalized much like the field hollers and hawking cries.
The left hand ostinato (a repeated figure) served as a forerunner of rhythm and blues.
Percussive and rugged.
Uneven and unpredictable.
Eight-eighth notes to the bar or at least an eighth note feeling.
Use of octaves, trills, etc.
A two voiced music.
Rhythm and color were more important than chords.
Right hand embroidered and supplied filigree
Blues scale with chromaticism.
Many other melodies transformed to boogies. (i.e., “Bumble Bee Boogie,” “Begin the Beguine Boogie,” “Chopstick Boogie”).
Although 12-bar appears on a cursory listen to form the basis of a lot of boogie woogie tunes, measures were often of an uneven length and subject to change at the player’s whim – consistent with the improvisatory nature of much early blues. The right hand would introduce a new melodic idea with each chorus, or improvise freely throughout, while the left hand would hammer out the driving “eight to the bar” 8/8 rhythm that later provided an engine for rhythm and blues and rock and roll.
The distinctive chug of boogie woogie was often considered analogous to that of a steam train, which prompted American folklorist and ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax to write of boogie woogie in The Land Where the Blues Began:
“Anonymous black musicians, longing to grab a train and ride away from their troubles, incorporated the rhythms of the steam locomotive and the moan of their whistles into the new dance music they were playing in jukes and dance halls. Boogie-woogie forever changed piano playing, as ham-handed black piano players transformed the instrument into a polyrhythmic railroad train.”
It’s a romantic interpretation of the form’s rhythmic sense, but Lomax sometimes come under fire from modern music historians for allowing such romanticism to colour his studies in a way that could be perceived as patronising and borderline racist.
Our playlist of early boogie woogie almost exclusively features solo piano performers. Emphasising that boogie woogie is dance music through and through, almost all of the early lyrics to these songs are about dancing or inciting audience members to dance.
Interestingly, while our previous playlists compiling the earliest instances of recorded ragtime, blues, jazz and big band featured a majority of white players, our boogie woogie playlist features just one white performer – Kansas City Frank. Is this a signal of recording technology and opportunities becoming more available to black musicians by the mid-1920s, or was there something about boogie woogie that made it less appealing or accessible to white audiences and musicians?
Blues historian LeRoi Jones wrote in his book Blues People that “The piano was one of the last instruments to be mastered by the Negro performers, and it was not until the advent of boogie woogie that Negro musicians succeeded in creating a piano music that was within the emotional tradition of Negro music.”
However, although boogie woogie recordings did not emerge until after the largely African-American ragtime, blues, jazz and big band musics had blossomed in the recording industry, Eliot Paul’s That Crazy American Music cites evidence that northeast Texan boogie woogie was significantly older than any of these styles, dating back to the 1870s at least.
Jazz was a modern music, uniquely American and ’20th century’ in tone – growing to take full advantage of modern technology and media – so it perhaps make sense that its demographic would be more cosmopolitan in nature than boogie woogie. And blues’ light entertainment popularity made its form more accessible to whites, who comprised many of the genre’s initial wave of recording stars. With its spiritual home in Texas gin mills and lumber camps – rather than on the heavy-touring vaudeville circuit – boogie woogie perhaps remained a more “authentically” black working-class music for longer than its musical cousins, reflected by its strong African-American identity by the time it did receive recording industry exposure.
An early example of the boogie woogie rhythm in copyright is considered to be Artie Matthews’ Weary Blues, published in sheet music in 1915, and recorded by Louisiana 5 in 1919.
The first ‘complete’ boogie woogie record is most likely Jimmy Blythe’s Chicago Stomp in 1924.
Pinetop was a very influential but somewhat enigmatic figure. He worked with blues star Ma Rainey and shared a house with two other titans of boogie woogie piano – Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons – while the three were trying to make it in Chicago. Decades later, Ray Charles would reinterpret Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie for his signature song, Mess Around.
However, no photos of Pinetop exist, and he died young – he was shot by accident in a fight that erupted in a Chicago dancehall. Pinetop was just 24. The incident occurred the day before a prestigious Vocalion recording session – an action that no doubt wrote a sizeable chunk of his oeuvre out of history – and is depicted by Robert Crumb in his illustration The Death of Pinetop Smith (up top).
Crumb wasn’t the only visual artist that had been inspired by Pinetop. Pop artist Claes Oldenburg outlines a proposal for a public monument to Pinetop in his book Proposals for Monuments and Buildings 1965-69. Oldenburg proposed that an electric wire run the length of North Avenue and Clark Street in Chicago, “along which at intervals runs an electric impulse colored blue so that thereʼs one blue line as far as the eye can see. Pinetop Smith invented boogie woogie blues at the corner of North and Larrabee, where he finally was murdered: the electric wire is ‘blue’ and dangerous.”
It’s an imaginative tribute, but concepts such as this and Oldenburg’s underground monument for JFK – “The corpse of the public figure is sealed in a plastic shape in the position of a well-known photograph of the subject. This shape is then suspended by a thin wire inside a colossal version of the same shape. The figure hangs upside-down and rotates slightly with the movement of the earth.” – arguably work more effectively in the imagination than they would in a public space.
In the record we are featuring today, Delia Gonzalez transforms with subtle alchemies what would otherwise be just (just!) a crystalline demonstration of formal beauty, and gives it new dimensions of mystery. In Remembrance becomes a haunted chamber where echoes of past lives flutter like butterfly wings, the void pregnant with significance and feeling that remains after a best friend, a good person, goes away, perhaps forever.
DFA’s press-release says this could be an alternate score for Don’t Look Now. We think it would also suit Candyman’s doomed lovers, escaping, dancing, dying through the ages, across forlorn modernistic ruins.
More than a decade ago, Delia Gonzalez collaborated with Gavin Russom to create one of the finest records of the millennium so far, the astounding Days of Mars.
In summary, Days of Mars takes John Carpenter’s tight eeriness and applies it to the vastness of the cosmos. It contains a key that will unlock in your immediate environment – in the movement of bodies in the street, in the eyes of a friend, in the geometry of a skyline in dusk – portals into vistas of truth and infinity.
We featured Days of Mars when it came out all those years ago. Today we remember it.
Our favourite purveyors of anti-EDM, 1080p, bring us another collection of blissed out DIY jams.
There’s something innately disarming about pretty much all the stuff 1080p put out. Wrapped in the clothes of so many sub genres of dance music yet belonging to none of them. In the sense that belonging involves bending their very fabric to conform to a set of rules to get past imagined gatekeepers. If your beats ain’t quantised you’re not coming in.
No, instead people have create a genre to house these glitches in the Matrix and lo, we have DIY dance music. Which we’re more than happy to stuff all these glorious tracks into if it means we can have more.
Today we bring you a track by Body-San that could well slip, ninja-like, into a pastel coloured Blissed Out 4xCD collection that I’ve just invented in my head. If it weren’t just a little off. Channelling the same sort of uncanny that the hauntological made explicit. The washes of synth repeat a little too long to sooth the endorphin depleted. The reverb is more abyss than womb. Looping and looping like a benevolent hypnotist who simply wants to bring you love.
In the last instalment of Dancing music in the C20, we looked at how early jazz was formed by offering a raucous improvisational take on ragtime and early blues. Interestingly, however, the next major evolution in 20th Century dancing music turned the clock back on that particular innovation.
The early, pre-swing big bands of the 1920s blew the jazz band up from small, nimble dance outfits to orchestra-sized ensembles. This upscaling demanded a new regimental attitude, and in this emergent new variant of jazz, improvisation – for many the defining element of jazz – was no longer welcome.
Whereas jazz bands in the preceding years had typically consisted of just six or seven members, big bands boasted up to 25 musicians. Allowing 25 musicians to improvise freely around a melody as New Orleans jazz players were famous of doing was probably deemed impractical by big band leaders, who increasingly became dependent on hiring dedicated arrangers to rigorously plot and translate their musical ideas.
The extent to which this pre-swing detour in dance music can accurately be defined as jazz is something of a contentious subject for modern historians. The genre’s undisputed heavyweight, a bandleader and former symphony orchestra violist named Paul Whitman, carried the showbiz streamline “The King of Jazz”, however his music is now described as “almost universally disliked by jazz critics”.
For a start, Williams disliked improvisation, and felt jazz could be improved by structure and orchestration. As a successful white entertainer in an era of racial segregation, some critics feel that Whiteman co-opted black music, but bled it of its innovation – its more outrageous and experimental elements. Nevertheless, he was an inspiration to many of the jazz innovators who followed, including Duke Ellington, who in his biography asserted that “Paul Whiteman was known as the King of Jazz, and no one as yet has come near carrying that title with more certainty and dignity.”
Worrying about the extent to which the songs popularised by Whiteman can be accurately classified as belonging to the same continuum that belched out the jazz magma of Dark Magus does distract from appreciating Whiteman’s work on its own merits. Whiteman was not interested in appealing to notions of jazz authenticity (indeed, such criteria did not exist then, as jazz was barely in its infancy). Instead, the music he heard was a new kind of cosmopolitan music that was exclusively American in its influences. It was symphonic in scope, and though closer to classical music in composition, it took the rhythms and instrumentation of New Orleans jazz.
Whispering, released in August 1920, is an early attempt at this “Modern Music.”
But the symphonic jazz that Whiteman had envisioned truly reached its apogee four years later, when Whiteman commissioned a young rival composer, George Gershwin, to provide him with a concerto-like jazz piece for an ambitious ‘classical-jazz’ concert he intended to give in New York. Just one week before the concert, Gershwin delivered Rhapsody in Blue.
Gershwin’s famous description of the inspiration for Rhapsody in Blue neatly summarises the new American music Paul Whiteman was attempting to drive forward:
“It was on the train, with its steely rhythms, its rattle-ty bang, that is so often so stimulating to a composer – I frequently hear music in the very heart of the noise…. And there I suddenly heard, and even saw on paper – the complete construction of the Rhapsody, from beginning to end. No new themes came to me, but I worked on the thematic material already in my mind and tried to conceive the composition as a whole. I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness. By the time I reached Boston I had a definite plot of the piece, as distinguished from its actual substance.”
Whiteman’s own account of Rhapsody’s genesis can be heard below.
A recording of Rhapsody by Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra featuring Gershwin on piano was released in 1924, would sell over a million copies by 1927 (no mean feat in these early days of the recording industry, when gramophones were not yet an everyday part of the home).
Rhapsody in Blue is uncontrovertibly a milestone in the development of American music and though not strictly jazz in form, probably is responsible for switching mainstream America on to jazz as a serious musical form.
So we can all agree that Rhapsody in Blue is great and important. Equally, we can all agree that Rhapsody in Blue is not dance music! Which is what this blog-within-a-blog is all about.
Luckily, a contemporaneous dance fad also found the perfect foil in Whiteman’s big band music…
The 1923 Broadway Show Runnin’ Wild gave the world The Charleston, and James P. Johnson had a hit across America with the habanera-influenced tune The Charleston that soundtracked the dance in the show. Although Whiteman didn’t record a version until 1925, the associations with The Charleston highlight big band jazz’s unashamed relationship to Tin Pan Alley pop.
While this curious melange of high-brow classical music, innovative New Orleans jazz and low-brow show tunes, early big band music might not be considered as ‘authentic’ jazz now, but it does represent a transitional phase in the music’s evolution very similar to the early blues pop music we previously looked at that pre-empted the more familiar blues forms.
However, the link between this music and jazz history is less controversial in the examples of contemporary African-American big bands, such as The Washingtonians – featuring a young Duke Ellington – and Fletcher Henderson’s band, which boasted Louis Armstrong among its ranks. Although many early big band outfits would suffer during the swing years, the presence (if brief) of future legends such as Ellington and Armstrong on the scene legitimise the period as a musically fertile and innovative time.
Our Spotify playlist looks at the work of these musicians and more!
As big band jazz evolved into the ever-more-dancefloor-orinetated swing in the later part of the 1920s, some big band leaders would take a less popular path by experimenting with jazz improvisation in a big band setting, although the history books tell us this style never caught on. At least, not until the 1940s, at least, when Stan Kenton and his Orchestra made their recording debut.
Kenton’s big band music is genuinely weird, innovative, genre-pushing stuff. Not dancey in the slightest, but anyone who wants to hear big band jazz rearranged into something that Stravinsky at his most dissonant would have been proud of should check out Kenton and Robert Graettinger‘s psychedelic 1952 work, City of Glass.
Arguably this stuff, ‘experimental big band’, is the parallel universe jazz that could have arisen following Whiteman’s Rhapsody in Blue arrangement in 1924 if other bandleaders – and, indeed, Whiteman himself – had pursued careers in the symphony halls rather than the dancehalls. This is a marginal but exciting genre – and although everyone from Mats Gustafsson to David Bowie has turned their hand to experimental big band sounds in recent years – it peaked as a format sometime in the early 1970s following free jazz/big band classics by Charles Mingus, Charlie Haden, The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, The Don Ellis Orchestra, Sam Rivers and Sun Ra, who himself worked as an arranger for Fletcher Henderson during the 1940s, in his pre-Ra incarnation of ‘Herman Poole Blount’.