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’.
So Low, JD Twitch’s latest compilation takes us on a tour of the darkly feral wing of the post-punk/cold wave/EBM movement.
This music is very powerful. It brims with the same mix of ingenuity, aggression and fragility one finds in schematics of Improvised Explosive Devices and medieval siege engines, romantic poetry and teenage nerd drawings. It whacks us like a bony animal arrived from our tribal past or our post-apocalyptic future, which we fear are the same.
If it was a vehicle, it would be a Mad Max monstrosity speeding down the concrete carcass of an European post-industrial econ-pillaged city. If it was a process, it would be the metamorphosis of psychically attuned people into societal lymphocytes, and their shriek as the inhuman virus approaches. If it was an emotion, it would be the mix of fury and exhilaration you feel as you are skewered by neo-liberal ‘freedoms’ and mass media armageddon, in a vignette somewhere in between Lawnmower man’s cyberdelic infoporn-scapes, and Saint Sebastian’s spiky martyrdom.
It kind of goes without saying that So Low is another cultural triumph up there with Psyche Out, 60 minutes of Fear, or Cease and Desist. Its contents are definitely obscure (we basically knew three songs in it) but it never feels that they have been included for obscurity sake, or to show off. This is music shared without pretence or ego, nope, it is music shared with love, respect and even, dare we say – or feel – a sense of responsibility. Its agony and mystery are, after all, much more applicable to mankind’s current situation of weird political cults, cybernetic mash-ups, existential threats and systematised human right abuses than 99.9% of contemporary music.
If you need further proof why you should run and buy it, in beautiful gatefold vinyl if possible (limited to a 1000, but amazingly, a few copies still kicking about), just check out Tribal Warning Shot by Hunting Lodge.
They sound like the witches that taught Liars all their hexes, a rave in the nuked-out tribe that feeds its children to a hungry computer in a Philip K Dick short story, or Maurice Fulton remixing Comus. Just another shard of secret funk from an alternative universe where funk is about a completely different thing. Twitch has opened a portal into that universe (again), and for that we are grateful.
Buying link again. Acknowledgements: some words above were inspired by Keza MacDonald’s article on Dark Souls in this month’s EDGE. We found out about So Low while playing some records with Andy Auld on Friday.
We begin among the ancient towers of Detroit.Those citadels of stone and stained glass.Those repositories of arcane knowledge.The final resting place of forbidden patch chords and sacked synthesisers.
We begin in the dead of night, somewhere towards the summit of the grandest of these foreboding towers.The wind seeping in, between cracks in the ancient mortar, causing our torch’s flame to dance across the walls.We are in deep now, in the labyrinth.
We hear ominous rumblings up ahead, undercut by a relentless, pounding drum.We imagine the cries of the lost, bouncing off the stone.It is as if we are near the labyrinth’s beating heart, the functions of its body, deafening from the inside.
The labyrinth has us now.Driven mad by the topological poetry of its builders.We come upon a room larger than the others — oh how many others — and, quite suddenly, are enveloped in an impossible light.A light coming from the walls.A light of hallucinatory colour (next to the drab grey stone we have endured).A light that dances as it turns the air into a crystalline palace in its own honour.We glimpse this but for a moment before the damp grey vault is returned to its natural dimness.
It is a sign!But of what, we can not be sure.Fearful and uncertain of what we have learned we scurry back to the archway from which we entered this accursed room.We begin to run and manage — through some trick of our shattered mind — to navigate back through the labyrinth.
This tale, dear Salvatore, you must interpret as you will, for we do not understand fully the events that took place.But I do not fear that you will do a fine job indeed.
Heimat is a German word that refers to a sense of belonging to a ‘spatial social unit’, or “homeland”. It is also the name of the French super-band – including members from Cheveu and The Dreams – that we are writing about today.
We listen to their debut album and wonder if this name really suits them (other than through its rotund phonetics). You definitely wouldn’t call Heimat’s music parochial or folksy. To the contrary, it is a cosmopolitan mongrel of DIY rattling ‘n’ shaking, gamelanic arpeggios, kung-fu jeep-beats, oddball europop sensibilities and, in one of the songs, even a hint of 7am rave via Berlin’s cabaret scene.
Heimat bring these influences together with effortless -and shameless – post-punk élan, creating a vast space of mystery, history, humour and horror. A strange land with a shock of soviet imagery, marching mechanised monstrosities and bombastic music palaces, a land where gangly horologists toil for years in rickety attics, in a mad science effort to design the perfect music box, and nasal-voiced chanteuses roam the woods singing ditties full of deep magic and childish chaos, while armies of bestial deities and Wilde Jagds spectate in the shadows, ready to pounce.
Maybe this realm is the homeland to which Heimat refers.
There is music to escape with, to be carried aloft into a crystalline world, high above the petty defeats and insignificant malice of life. There is music to wallow in, for My Pain and Sadness Is More Sad and Painful Than Yours. Occasionally, there is music that stands in the centre of the world, a diamond, reflecting back the intricacies of life in a beautiful endless parade of shape and sound. That is where we are today.
Holly Herndon does this music wonderfully, sampling the very air and filtering it back through the static of our cybernetic lives. The vital and the organic, sparing endlessly with the ordered and processed. Both sides locked in a symbiotic embrace.
As does Tim Hecker.
Castrati Stack is the soundtrack to Under the Skin, if Under the Skin was a Koyaanisqatsi-esque journey through a decaying, digital world. A duet between the spiritual and the bass. A bass not yet locked in — distorted and skittish…hunting. While the static and the noise dance around choral voices. Brute and artificial next to the protestations of the choir.
Briefly, the bass settles underneath the choir — the vast fist to the voices’ soul — and the world gains shape and resembles the form of our own. Before being cleansed by the chaos of the snare.
Although the most notable dance to be associated with jazz – the lindy hop – didn’t come into being until 1937, the nascent sounds of its musical accompaniment can be traced back 20 years earlier. The first recording recognisable as jazz was released on February 26th, 1917, through the Victor Label.
The Original Dixieland Jass Band’s Dixie Jass Band One Step/Livery Stable Blues release – I guess what we’d now call a ‘double A side’ – was comprised of two compositions controversially billed as originals by this group of white musicians.
Each side brought separate lawsuits. Two former members of the ODJB claimed authorship for Livery Stable Blues, although a judge ruled that neither party had copyright over the work, as not only was the tune based on a pre-existing “public domain” melody, but as none of the musicians could read or write music, the judge also expressed doubt that they could claim to have “composed” anything!
A second lawsuit was brought by Joe Jordan, the sidekick to African-American minstrel pioneer Ernest Hogan – and a future collaborator of Orson Welles – who successfully proved that a portion of Dixie Jass Band One Step’s melody appeared to be lifted from his own That Teasin’ Rag, composed in 1909 for “the Queen of Cakewalk”, Aida Overton Walker.
This first ‘jass’ recording therefore acts as a case study around several issues pertinent to our discussion of early 20th century dancing music. Firstly – in contrast to later variations of the form, such as hard bop and modal or free jazz – this first jazz record was unambiguously dance music. It’s centre label even helpfully proclaimed ‘FOR DANCING’ on both sides of the record.
Secondly, it emphasises early jazz as an evolution of the cakewalk sound that had mutated through ragtime and blues via the vaudeville circuit. The ODJB were an early example of a jazz band ditching the New Orleans vaudeville scene in favour of performing at fashionable night-spots and eateries in Chicago and New York, where they made recording industry contacts under the patronage of Al Jolson.
Thirdly, it opened a legal debate that would be repeated many times throughout the 20th century, particularly in regards to dance music – and perhaps most memorably with controversies over sampling in the 1980s – that of copyright and innovation.
In these very early days of the recording industry, ownership was a somewhat mutable concept.
On the vaudeville circuit, prior to the boom in recorded music, songs were transmitted virally. Tunes would be passed from town to town as troupes travelled, with each musician putting his or her own stamp on the hot songs of the day, creating endless variations of a piece in an assortment of styles and dialects, sometimes with personalised lyrics and sometimes instrumental. In such a scenario, this orally transmitted folk music becomes difficult to assign ownership over, as evidenced by the Livery Stable Blues case.
Even composers celebrated as pioneers, such as Ernest Hogan and WC Handy, who had huge hits with their (copyrighted) published sheet music, were unembarrassed to admit appropriating pieces overheard in bar rooms or at travelling shows and train stations – anywhere where there was a pianist, guitarist or singer, and someone to listen.
Before the advent of the recording industry, this was simply how music was communicated outside of the symphony orchestra.
Whereas classical music by this point already had a centuries-old canon, these new African-American dancing musics were evolving nimbly and rapidly – their pieces could be performed by big bands, small ensembles and soloists alike, and established touring circuits meant that any evolution in the sound could be broadcast across huge swathes of working class America surprisingly quickly. An ever-insatiable appetite for dancing and entertainment ensured music as a surprisingly viable career option for anyone with showmanship and a way with a tune, and as the ODJB proved, you did not need to be able to read music or have studied at a conservatoire to take part.
Fourthly, the discussion around this debut jazz recording and the lawsuit from Joe Jordan again returns to a theme that we’ve picked at throughout this series, of whether the popularisation of ragtime, blues and jazz by white musicians constitutes what in today’s world is referred to guiltily as ‘cultural appropriation’, or whether the early iterations of these musics were genuinely more multicultural than modern day society would give credit.
Certainly, early jazz was as much of a cultural soup as its geographical birthplace of New Orleans. The 18th century precursor to the squaredance, the French Quadrille, inputted into jazz alongside 19th century biguine rhythms, themselves a hybridisation of French ballroom dance and African fertility rituals.
The ODJB themselves were graduates of Papa Jack Laine’s racially diverse early jazz band – a heavy-touring unit that never recorded, but whose 100+ alumni included many jazz originators.
The other key New Orleans outfits working in a jazz idiom during this time were Buddy Bolden’s band (pictured up top), who are believed to have recorded a wax cylinder as early as the late 1890s (but which, if it did exist, sadly has not survived), and the Original Creole Orchestra. The Original Creole Orchestra was the first band to perform jazz outside of New Orleans (and the first band to explicitly refer to their sound as jazz), playing in over 75 cities in the USA and Canada.
From our Spotify playlist of the first year of jazz recordings, blues originator WC Handy is the only African-American recording artist. Again, this proportion of black to white jazz musicians is unlikely to be reflective of the working jazz musician demographic during this period. Wilbur Sweatman’s Bag of Rags in 1917 is sometimes referred to as the first jazz recording by a black artist, although some critics consider this to more strictly be ragtime with some improvisational elements.
Improvisation is the crux of what differentiated jazz from the blues and ragtime dance music of this period. The development of blues and ragtime from military marches meant that the music was performed with a rigid precision. Jazz did away with that rigidity, gleefully swapping precision for spontaneity. In a jazz band, one player – typically the trumpet or cornet player – would follow the melody, with the other musicians improvising around that melody line. This ‘all-at-once’ improvisation gave the music a hectic, careering feel in contrast to later jazz forms, which standardised a system of players taking turns to improvise a solo.
A jazz band of this period would usually also include a clarinettist, whose job was to embellish the melody. The bassline would be held down by a tuba, with a trombone sliding between bass and melody as it fancied, often gilding the music with sound effects such as ‘slides’ and ‘smears’. Jazz was initially marching band music, performed at dances, parties and in New Orleans funeral processions, but as the music moved further away from the marching band model, drum kits, piano and string bass also increasingly featured.
Though this early period of jazz is most often referred to as Dixieland, some historians and music fans find this term problematic, as ‘dixie’ refers to the pre-Civil War Southern States. When the music migrated North from New Orleans, it would also be known as ‘hot jazz’ in Chicago, though this came with further rhythmic idiosyncrasies added by Louis Armstrong and his peers.
For the purposes of this blog, we have opted to call it simply ‘early jazz’.