Rewind: Holger “Groover” Klein on “The Call Is Strong”

Posted: October 24th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

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In discussion with Holger “Groover” Klein on “The Call Is Strong” by Carlton (1990).

What was your first encounter with „The Call Is Strong“?

Alongside Daddy Gee, Carlton was featured on “Any Love”, the very first Massive Attack single which was a cover of one of my favourite songs from Rufus & Chaka Khan. I was a huge Chaka Khan fan by the way, I went to quite a few concerts. The very first time I saw her, I even waited for her at the backstage entrance because I wanted to have an autograph. Want some trivia? In the 90s, she had been living in my hometown Mannheim for a few years. Back to Carlton, I was really impressed by his crystal clear falsetto. I think “Any Love” came out roughly about the same time as the first Smith & Mighty singles, so this was the starting point of the Bristol sound. I first heard about the Bristol sound when I read about it in i-D magazine or The Face. So I already knew about Carlton when his first album dropped. I bought it at the local WOM store where I used to work back then.

1990 was a very exciting year for club music. Why did you choose this album over others? Why was and is it so important for you?

After you approached me for “Rewind”, I thought that I would have a hard time choosing “that” record. But then I stumbled across a 12” of his song “Cool With Nature” which contains killer remixes by Bobby Konders. So I remembered how much this album meant to me. When I listened to it for the first time, it blew me away. Smith & Mighty did a fantastic production job. At that time, it was very state of the art incorporating elements of Dub, contemporary US R&B, classic Soul, Reggae, electronic sounds as I knew them from House music and even some Swingbeat bits. I fell in love with the ethereal and often spliffed out vibe of the album and Carlton’s songwriting.

How do you rate Carlton as a singer? Why do you think they chose him, and could the album have been as good with another singer?

Carlton’s voice struck me instantly. I think he is a truly underrated singer and it’s a pity that the album wasn’t successful. His voice is really unique, that must be why Smith & Mighty chose him. It was his album, not a Smith & Mighty project in the first place. When you listen to him you can clearly tell that he’s coming from a Reggae background. On “The Call Is Strong” he sounds like a Reggae vocalist singing some kind of otherworldly UK version of R&B.

The album is taking quite some detours. For example „Love And Pain“ could have been a 2 Tone ballad from years earlier, while „Do You Dream“ is right on par with breakbeat pioneers like Shut Up And Dance or 4 Hero. How does „The Call Is Strong“ work as an album? How pioneering was what Smith & Mighty did?

It was very pioneering! The sparse beats, their very English way of bringing together the Jamaican sound system culture and US Hip Hop without sounding like eager copycats. And of course, as they grew up in England, they must have been in touch with 2 Tone stuff as well when they were teenagers. You’re right, you can also trace down elements that became integral with the Breakbeat scene which was already emerging at a very early stage.

I first became aware of Smith & Mighty when they appeared with their Bacharach reworks „Walk On“ and „Anyone“ two years earlier, to which „The Call Is Strong“ sounds like a continuation. I thought they sounded like nobody else at that time. Suddenly Bristol was on the map, making a difference. But could anyone predict how big that difference would be?

You could clearly hear that Smith & Mighty and Massive Attack were making a difference when their first 12”s came out. It all sounded so new and fresh. But I really had no idea how big this Bristol thing would become. Also I had no idea how misinterpreted the whole thing would get when the term Trip Hop emerged.

There were groups emerging in the late 80s that were deeply rooted in sound system culture, but why were Massive Attack and the London equivalent Soul II Soul so much more successful than Smith & Mighty? Were they less traditional and closer to pop music’s proceedings? And why do you think didn’t Carlton manage to establish himself as an ongoing fixture?

Massive Attack and Soul II Soul had the big hit singles. But not by accident, both had good labels with a staff that knew how to work their releases. Smith & Mighty signed a major deal as well – with FFRR, at that time a subsidiary of London Records/PolyGram. The first big project was Carlton’s album, which didn’t prove to be as successful as expected. Then Smith & Mighty were kind of locked in this deal. Under their own name, they only released a four track EP on FFRR. I would say they missed the right moment due to this deal. It took them years to get out of it. Read the rest of this entry »


Rewind: Lerosa on “Electric Café”

Posted: October 3rd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

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In discussion with Lerosa on “Electric Café” by Kraftwerk (1986).

There was „Computer World“, then the „Tour de France“ single, then a silence of several years. I was impatiently waiting for their next move, and it kept getting renamed and postponed. Then the first thing I heard at last was „Boing Boom Tschak“. I thought that was pure genius. I suppose you were already a fan before, too. How did you experience that comeback and what did you think of it?

My first encounter with Kraftwerk was when I was 14, the video for „”Musique Non Stop”“ premiered on MTV Italy, with its groundbreaking CGI it was unique at the time. The only similar music I might have had come across then was probably Art Of Noise’s „Close To The Edit“ and Herbie Hancock’s „Rock It“. I didn’t have access to a lot of music as I had no older clued-in sibling nor were my parents into music, perhaps bar my mom who loves her Charles Aznavour and Lucio Dalla, so to be honest I had no idea who these guys were but I was blown away. To me this was new music from a new band! Sometime later I made friends with a guy from Bolzano who told me to check out the „Breakdance“ movie to see Turbo do a routine to „Tour De France“, a freaky song with electric pulses that sounded like a bike chain. After a few months of looking for it I watched the movie, and heard that, too. A year later on holiday in Rimini I shoplifted „Autobahn“ and „Radio Activity“ and I loved both but also not understood them very well as they packed a lot of references to more experimental music I wasn’t quite well versed as a 16 year old. It wasn’t until much, much later that I finally heard „Computer World“. I don’t think I have heard the first two albums yet. I think for a lot of kids back then “Musique Non Stop” was their first meeting with Kraftwerk. Like a lot of people I was a bit disappointed with „Electric Café“ at first. I thought the A-Side was a wonderful statement, but the B-Side lacked the same consequence. I liked the sounds, but I was not that impressed with the tunes. But it has grown on me immensely, starting only shortly after.

Is this album perfectly flawed, a good example for an album that does not lose its impact due to shortcomings?

I think after getting the 12“ for “Musique Non Stop” and eventually finding the LP I too might have been not very enamoured with B-side with its cringey songs (in English, that’s the version I had). It was too much like the music on Italian commercial day time radio and I was being drawn to these new sounds, Hip Hop and early House, that were starting to seep in through the late night radio stations and occasional afternoon clubs we had in Italy for 14 to 17 year olds. I wanted to hear this new Rap music and these new weird electronic House beats, I had no time for the „Telephone Call“ etc. Nevertheless I was charmed by them as the melodies and arrangement were very catchy.I am not sure if I ever thought of it as flawed; it felt like a cohesive whole, just one where I failed to connect the dots, which is how I normally felt whenever I heard something new that really alienated me, say Peter Gabriel „IV“. I just always thought I didn’t know enough to understand it rather than thinking, „oh this is a bit shit“. I think it is insecurity that made me look at it with respect rather than try to judge it as an album. I don’t think I owned many albums back then at all.Whichever way it is, the B-side songs eventually have become the ones I play most often, especially „Telephone Call“, which I love very much. And likewise I love a lot strange pop albums like Peter Gabriel’s „IV“, or Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s debut album or indeed „Who’s Afraid Of The Art Of Noise“.

Ralf Hütter had a severe cycling accident that slowed the work on „Electric Café“ down considerably. Do you think the flaws of the album are there because they rushed proceedings to not lose more momentum?

Who knows. I’d like to think that this was delivered the way it is quite intentionally to showcase the connection between the new sounds and beats of the A-side and the more traditional songs on the B-side, all held together by the electronic sounds. I think I always looked at this record like that; as a sort bridge between the old and the new.

The working title of the album was „Techno Pop“, and they even renamed the album later on. But isn’t the B-Side more Techno Pop than the A-Side? Could’t they have made one album that was pop, and one that was pure rhythm?

Well, I am sure that back then I probably wished the same, I would have loved more of the A-side but in hindsight maybe that would have really made it too niche and austere an album to their ears, coming as they were from a mixed background of musicality and experimentation, I suppose they were trying to find a balance on one record rather than being too pragmatic and split it into two separate entities.

I once imagined that „Sex Object“ was actually a first glimpse of a whole other concept album that was neglected, just for the lack of a better explanation why it was included. Especially the lyrics seemed to clash with their usual man machine infatuation, they are very human. As are the lyrics of „The Telephone Call“. How human are Kraftwerk?

I think they are very human and that’s why they are so popular to this day. Their appeal goes way beyond the mere “electronic music” tag, it doesn’t rest on the laurels of introducing a lot of complex machinery to music. They articulated the new relationship between humans and the technological world with sounds that managed to be extremely human and extremely non-human. Quite the trick. Read the rest of this entry »


Rewind: Steve Fabus on “Let’s Start The Dance”

Posted: September 26th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Steve Fabus DJ Photo

In discussion with Steve Fabus on “Let’s Start The Dance” by Hamilton Bohannon (1978).

How did you discover „Let’s Start The Dance“? Was it in a record store, or in a club?

I discovered “Let’s Start the Dance” in my slot at my record pool, BADDA (Bay Area Disco DJ Association) in San Francisco in 1978. It was the album „Summertime Groove“, where „Let’s Start the Dance“ is the first track on side A. When I first heard it I was blown away by it and couldn’t wait to play it at the club that night. When I played it the crowd went crazy and it was the peak record of the night, not surprisingly.

When the record came out, you had already started your career as a DJ in San Francisco. What makes this record so special for you? And was „Let’s Start The Dance“ a defining record for the sound you played back then?

I was playing loft parties and underground clubs and at two of the major clubs in San Francisco, the I-Beam and Trocadero Transfer. I know one of the reasons I was brought into the scene was because I incorporated a lot of the R&B, Groove, Funk and soulful sounds from Chicago and New York and mixed it with the NRG and Electronic sounds already being made in San Francisco, and coming in from Europe. „Let’s Start the Dance“ was and still is a defining record for me because it is such a fusion of so many of these sounds but most importantly — it’s a jam. Its many elements, Jazz, Blues, Rock, Funk, Electronic, Boogie, take you on a trip in a whole movement building up to a crescendo of orgasmic release. It relates to other fusion sounds like the Isley Brothers’ „Live It Up“, Crown Heights Affair’s „Dancin“ and many of James Brown’s tracks.

Hamilton Bohannon was a drummer originally, and he started releasing records that were very focussed on rhythm and very distinctive from the early 70s on. What was his role in the history books of Disco music?

I first heard Bohannon in Chicago in 1975 at Dugan’s Bistro, a major downtown gay club. The track I heard was „Bohannon’s Beat“ which is on one of the early albums on the Dakar label. It stood out to me because it didn’t follow any of the commercial rules of the day. It presented itself as a unique sound — experimental and minimal, a mantra to hook into. It inspired and encouraged DJs to take Disco underground. It was like a loop, a tool to use to improvise, phase or use as a bridge. Mantra is a major theme for Bohannon and he carries it forward with „Let’s Start the Dance“, which is just the opposite of minimal. He turns it up with the full on jam that puts dancers in an intense trance that they have no choice but to ride to its conclusion. It is very rich with a number of instruments played including guitar and keyboard with Carolyn Crawford’s couldn’t-get-any-better-voice. What this record represents to every generation is that this is the real deal musically.

Are there other Bohannon records you rate nearly as much?

My other all time favorite is „The Groove Machine“ – as intense as “Let’s Start the Dance” but trippier with its phased out psychedelic break and its total fusion hard funk rock electronic groove. When I hear this it makes sense that Bohannon early on drummed with Jimi Hendrix. Both “Groove Machine” and “Let’s Start the Dance” feature guitar riffs prominently.

1977 saw the peak of the classic Disco era. Was „Let’s Start The Dance“ an early sign that Disco could live well past the end of that boom? That the sound could move on and still matter?

“Let’s Start the Dance” is timeless because as I had mentioned before it’s a whole movement and jam where you’re hearing real instruments. It always ignites a dancefloor and from the first note you want to pay attention. The lyrics come fast with “Everybody get up and dance – Ain’t ya tired of sitting down?” This could be cheesy but it’s not, and you know it’s not and surrender completely to it right away. There is no way you couldn’t let yourself be seduced by it and every generation experiences this seduction. It still matters because it’s a prime example of the authenticity of Disco of that time period and that’s what lives on. Read the rest of this entry »


Rewind: Anno Stamm on “Complexification”

Posted: August 1st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , , | No Comments »

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In discussion with Anno Stamm on “Complexification” by T Power (1996)

I assume you were familiar with Drum & Bass artists before this record came out. How did you first encounter „Complexification“?

It was a vinyl that my older brother had bought. At that time I was not going to the record stores by myself, so my older brother was basically my record store. When I came home earlier from school, I would go through his record collection and then record the vinyls that I liked the most to a cassette with the Hi-Fi tower from my father. This was always very “James Bond” like, because touching my brothers vinyls and touching the Hi-Fi tower from my father were two major offenses, which would turn out really ugly if one of them would have caught me.

Why did you choose this particular track, the b-side to „Symbiosis“, and not another classic of that era, or even a different track by T Power, like his much better known „Mutant Jazz“ for example?

For me this song stands out in many ways and I think even for T Power this song is outstanding and unique. You are rather out of your mind when you produce such a song, or you are in an extremely clear state of mind. It is a song which breaks so many rules but still manages to be simply breathtakingly beautiful. That is a goal that I admire very much in making art.

Is Marc Royal aka T Power a producer you rate particularly high in Drum & Bass history?

I must admit that I reduce T Power pretty much to that one song. I like his general sense for sound and chords but I am not really an expert on his complete musical back catalogue.

„Complexification“ is not necessarily a typical Drum & Bass track. It is much slower, and it is working with Jazz leanings in the synth and bass sounds, while the beats and groove are hinting more to the sound West London’s Broken Beat scene. But does „Complexification“ transcend musical folder categorization, or does it even have to belong to a certain context?

I chose this track because for me it is a good example for “beyond genre”. This song is perfect in every way. It is idiosyncratic and lives in its own cosmos. There are no genres in that cosmos. Sometimes that is the problem with genres. You get into a routine because there are rules, schemes, patterns and templates you work in. You get lazy in terms of decision making. This song is not lazy at all. Every note is in its exact right place but it feels like it really started out with a tabula rasa thinking – everything can happen.

Do you like both, Drum & Bass and Broken Beats, and do you treat them differently, or do they come from the same origin?

In terms of “Drum & Bass” I started with the “Jungle” phase, because as you might know I am a big sucker for the drums, especially if there are played by the devil himself. That is why I really was into that fast, wild, raw and breaky material. Actually when it was called “Drum & Bass”, that whole thing was nearly over for me. Because all the wildness basically turned into one sterile
drum-loop… with saxophone samples. There was a big shift from the rhythmic energy to a generally more chilled background music approach. So, I think they may come from the same origin – but I would treat them very differently.

There are other fine examples where Jazz elements were integrated to the sound palette of Drum & Bass. Are you interested in Jazz, and how it can be worked into other music?

When there was the trend to just sample something smooth and jazzy over a fast drum loop, that was not very interesting for me. Sampling some “blue notes” doesn’t make you a “jazz cat”. For me and most of the people Jazz is about expressing yourself through playing an instrument, and also pushing the boundaries of that instrument. So, you have to have a plan if you want to achieve that purely with software. Squarepusher’s “Hard Normal Daddy” is a good example from that time, how an electronic version of Jazz may work. He brought the real instrument into the software world in a very smart and respectful way. But in terms of Jazz is about pushing boundaries of an instrument, then one must say that in that days there were a lot of other electronic composers who would
deserve it much more to be called “Jazz Cats”. Read the rest of this entry »


Rewind: Trusme on “Forevernevermore”

Posted: July 4th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , , | No Comments »

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In discussion with Trusme on “Forevernevermore” by Moodymann (2000).

I doubt that „Forevernevermore“ was your first encounter with Moodymann. Did you eagerly await his third album, and how did it grab you?

100% I didn’t know who Kenny was till I found a copy of “Forevernevermore” in my friend’s record bag. He had left his records at my house and I was doing the usual noseying though the records when I found this CD. I was completely into Slum Village, MadLib and Jaydee collecting the samples from Jazz to Disco. When I first played this CD, everything just became clear in my mind. This is the sound I was looking for, from Hip Hop, House, Jazz, Soul and Disco all rolled into one. I became obsessed, wanting to understand the production techniques and went on to discover the whole world of Detroit right after this. Three years on, Moodymann was playing my first LP launch in a pub on Oldham street, home to where I had been buying his records for the past few years. KDJ and Theo were just No.1 at that time in Manchester and I couldn’t help but be influenced by the whole sound.

It seems that Moodymann matured up to the release „Forevernevermore“ in terms of the album format. „Silent Introduction“ felt like an anthology of 12“ material, even though it worked as an album. But with „Mahogany Brown“ he already aimed at a listening experience more true to the format. Would you say he topped this with „Forevernevermore“?

Yes, for sure. The whole LP worked as a cohesive hour of music yet there was something at every turn that was unique and compelling to me as a listener. I related to this LP in more ways than one, due to it’s almost Hip Hop nature with intros and outros connecting the tracks and glueing the whole piece together. There are so many seminal tracks on the LP that are still played out in the clubs today, yet they are tracks that remain LP cuts and for home listening only. This ideology is what I have embraced in all four LPs that I have produced over the last 8-9 years, with something for the dancefloor, something for the car and wherever else that one listens to LPs these days.

You told me that you wanted to talk about the CD version of „Forevernevermore“, which has lots of interludes and skits, and hidden tracks. Do they form an alliance with the music that almost works like a radio play? What is the special appeal of it?

When I think of an LP, I think of A Tribe Called Quest, Marvin Gaye or The Verve even. All these LPs are constructed to be a continuous piece of music, in which the listener is taken on a journey from the beginning to the end. With the CD format, there is extra playtime in which intros and outros can give a context to the background and making of the LP.  On the “Forevernevermore” CD you are taken into the home of KDJ, as he sits playing with ideas on the piano with his child, to the studio discussions and even to listening to his local radio for inspiration. Hidden right at the end of the CD is a live recording of three hard-to-find cuts from the KDJ label, mixed together after 2 mins of silence. In many ways the CD provides the platform for further expression as an artist in the format of an LP.

I think the sound of „Forevernevermore“ was a step forward in terms of his distinctive sound. It was still dense and immersive, but also more refined. Do you think Moodymann’s sound evolved on „Forevernevermore“ in comparison to earlier works? And was it for the better?

This was for sure in an LP sense his best work. It is what most people say as their favourite work, when talking about Moodymann. He carved a sound out all for himself and also derived a unique long player format that until then was not seen in the dance scene. Most underground dance LPs were merely a collection of 12” tracks but this felt more like a well thought-out process, something like Daft Punk would execute. I believe Peacefrog Records also helped in this process and pushed KDJ, as they did all their artists to reach even further.  In many ways, earlier LPs were a collection of his previous works but “Forevernevermore” was an LP made from beginning to end with a single LP idea and it feels very much that way.

Tracks like the Disco led „Don’t You Want My Love“ display a confidence to transcend mere club credentials for traditional songwriting, a path he followed ever since. Is there a side to Moodymann the producer you prefer to others, or is it not necessary to differentiate his persona as an artist?

The marriage between your typical MPC studio production and live instrumentation was what set out Kenny on his own.  Working with local artists like the percussionist Andres, bass with Paul Randolph and keyboards by Amp Fiddler, on top of that raw production sound was just so unique. The juxtaposition of quantised groove and loose musicianship created a genre of its own and is still being replicated today. This LP was the beginning of that sound and Kenny is still using this formula very much in his productions today.

How do you rate the albums Moodymann released since „Forevernevermore“? Were they up to par with your expectations?

“Black Mahogani” is on par for me if not more refined than “Forevernevermore” but maybe it’s the rawness of the LP that better relates to me. With the following LPs I have enjoyed the productions but felt slightly less connection to the music I listen to and make today.  Not that it’s not great music, but I started to feel that the tracks in the EP releases didn’t have that Peacefrog touch of which I’m such an admirer. The LP process began to evolve towards the creation of a new sound where he begins to sing and perform more as an artist and less in the background as a producer. Read the rest of this entry »


Rewind: Tyler Pope on “Batucada”

Posted: May 30th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , , | No Comments »

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Photo by Annette Kelm.

In discussion with Tyler Pope on “Batucada Capoeira” (1998).

So how did you come across „Batucada Capoeira“? What triggered your curiosity?

A friend and band mate of mine! I had bought this compilation when it came out in the late 90’s and I was introduced to it that way. At that stage we were always looking for stuff that was rhythmic, and raw, and had energy. Stuff that wasn’t punk rock that had the same energy and essence of punk, and I think that is in Batucada. There were a some other great reggae and latin compilations on Soul Jazz we liked, and so I’m pretty sure thats why he bought this one. We dubbed the vinyl onto cassette and listened to it a lot on our first tour of the states in ’98. It grew on me the more we listened to it on the long van rides during that tour, and I was eventually totally hooked.

What attracted you to a sound that is so predominantly rhythmic?

I’ve always been drawn to rhythmic music, my dad was a drummer and there was always a drum set up in the house so it started with that. As a youngster I was into Primus, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and that whole funk rock thing. That music primed me for getting into soul and funk music and all other kinds of tribal rhythmic music. This Batucada compilation was probably the first stuff I really enjoyed that was only drums and thats why it’s special to me and why I chose it for this article.

The sound of a Bateria can be quite a complex wall of sound. What is the difference between that and percissive music from other countries, like Mbalax for example, or other African styles? Or are they even not that different?

There are different drums, instruments and rhythms in Bateria then in Mbalax and other African percussion music, and I guess that is to do with the European influence in Brazil. There are no snare drums in African drum music like Sabar or Mbalax, and the snare drum comes from Europe. Also I’ve never heard such a large group of drummers playing in such an organized way in African drumming. But the frantic energy of the drum music of both countries is certainly similar.

Not every track featured here is as frantic as the drum workouts usually associated with it. What do you prefer?

I like this compilation because it has some of more frantic workouts and mixes them up with the more minimal tracks. It makes for a more enjoyable listen from beginning to end in my opinion. Some of the other Batucada records that I have, that are just the big frantic drum workouts are fun to listen to for a track or so, but maybe not as a whole record

Was the compilation a first glimpse, and you investigated further from there? The tradition of Batucada and Capoeira in Brazil is rich and sure offers a lot to listen to.

I checked it out because it was on Soul Jazz, and at the time it came out other Tropicalia records were being reissued like Tom Ze, and Os Mutantes other real arty weird quality music, so I was wanting to hear more stuff from Brazil. I haven’t really gone too deep, or at least deep by my standards with Batucada actually, this comp never really gets old either so if I want to hear something like this I just listen to this record.

Capoeira is a form of martial arts developed by slaves. I always found music interesting that transfers otherwise potentially critical encounters between rival groups of people into a battle of dance moves, be it breaking, vogueing, or Brazil’s current Funk Balls. Yet the music of „Batucada Capoeira“ is comparably more dynamic than its counterparts. Are such aspects important for percussive music?

Yeah, I hadn’t thought about that but I also like music made for these types of encounters, or battles. I love a lot of the new Vogue/ballroom club music, and recently have been really digging some of the Jersey Club battle tracks. The records for dance battles are more beat driven, there is more focus on the rhythms, and of course they have to be super funky since they have to inspire the dancers. The tracks for battles also cut away at anything that wouldn’t be just for the purpose of the dancing. That focused rhythm track energy I really like. As far as the dynamic nature of this music it is because it’s actually people there playing the drums while the battles are happening, so the drummers are feeding of the energy of the battles and vice versa. Read the rest of this entry »


Rewind: djrum on “Grinning Cat”

Posted: May 3rd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Djrum by Oliver Clasper - 2013-02

In discussion with djrum about “Grinning Cat” by Susumu Yokota (2001)

What was your first encounter with „Grinning Cat“?

I just saw the CD in a shop when it first came out. I hadn’t heard of Susumu Yokota at all, but I knew the Leaf label. I was just attracted by the exquisite cover design, and it had a sticker with some rave reviews. I took it to the counter to have a listen and was instantly captivated.

Although Susuma Yokota was a very productive artist, „Grinning Cat“ is acknowledged to be one of the best of his career. What makes it so special to you personally?

I haven’t even listened to all of Susumu Yokota’s releases. There are quite a few. To be honest I find his output to be quite hit and miss. There are a few of his albums that I only like one or two tracks from, and some that I just can’t get into at all. “Grinning Cat” is the only one that has no tracks I want to skip.

Is this best listened to as a whole, or are there highlights?

I tend to listen to it as a whole. Like I said, there’s nothing worth skipping. Everything flows really nicely from track to track. There are definitely highlights. For me one of them is the beginning of the first track so I often go to listen to that and end up listening to the whole thing.

It is interesting how many different musical directions Yokota achieves on one single album. Every single tracks seem to move in different directions as they proceed. How does he manage to make this still sound so coherent?

Yes, this is one the things I find most inspiring about this album. I think the coherence comes from the specific sound palette he works from. Most tracks centre around piano samples from French Romantic composers. Then there are a few from American Minimalist composers, and a few other sources such as jazz. But it’s a really narrow pool actually. I think this consistency allows him to structure his compositions in really exciting and surprising ways without sounding all over the place. The structures make the music very dream-like. Listening to “Fearful Dream” or “So Red” is like being led from scene to scene in a dream. There’s an over arching narrative, but it’s told through different scenes each with a distinct sound. Sometimes when you change scene in a dream it’s almost imperceivable: you can flow from one location to the next without even really noticing the change. Different locations and characters can overlap and merge. Other times the change can be quite abrupt. I’ve never heard anyone capture this as well as Yokota on “Grinning Cat”. You can  hear something like it in film music sometimes, but it’s never so psychedelic. I think that the fluidity between different sections is helped by ensuring that the individual elements don’t blend too well. He separates sounds with a very unique use of stereo, and he is very loose with pulse, with different elements often going out of phase with each other. Read the rest of this entry »


Rewind: Sassy J on “Songs In The Key In The Life”

Posted: April 4th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , , | No Comments »

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In discussion with Sassy J on “Songs In The Key Of Life” by Stevie Wonder (1976).

I found „Songs In The Key Of Life“ in the record collection of my mother in the 70s and secretly transferred it to my own after listening to it. How did the album find you?

I grew up listening, dancing and singing to this album as a little girl. It was one of the rather few soul records amongst my parents Jazz collection. I made my babysitter put it on. I was singing along the lyrics using my skipping rope as a mic. Oh well… That’s why I picked this record for this interview. I think next to all the Jazz at home “Songs In The Key Of Life” built the firm roots of musical tree of life.

Were interested your parents’ Jazz collection as well, or did the album offered an alternative to what you were used to hearing around the house?

The Jazz records that were playing and Jazz tunes my dad played on the piano was just the music that was mainly there. I remember being scared when Duke Ellington’s „Caravan“ would play, or that I loved to fall asleep to Sarah Vaughn’s voice. The funky clothing or jewelry and style of the musicians that stayed with us stuck with me. I also remember artists performing in our living room on house parties. So I was interested in those other aspects of Jazz at home. When I started getting into Hip-Hop later on, finding out about the samples & originals, I got more interested in their Jazz collection again – up to now. I am still pulling out things.

Some childhood memories are very formative and lasting. Was it important that you were introduced to the album at a young age?

I guess so. It reached out to the little girl in that living room. It triggered the attention of her ears and eventually made me choose it for this particular interview.

Why did you think the album had such on impact on you, and what kind of impact was that?

I liked it and I wanted to hear it over and over again, because it made me feel good. The sound, the groove, the melodies, the moods and of course his voice. Next to all the other music at home, this record surely made me fall in love with music. Music is the love of my life. I couldn’t live without it. That’s a hell of an impact!

I remember that even the format of the album was very special to my fledgling music enthusiast self. There was a lot of music spread over two discs, plus a bonus 7“ and a fat booklet. Even at a time when I did not spend too many thoughts on an album’s background that seemed extraordinary. Does the album justify this grand scope, could it not have been any other way?

Yes, the format added an extra attraction to it. I used to love to sit down, open it, take out the booklet and look at it while the record was playing out and out: the cover art, his signature and fingerprint, all the content of it. The older I got, the more I would discover. Singing along to the lyrics, finding out who was featured on there or who was listed in his thank you’s.

What are the highlights of „Songs In The Key Of Life“ for you? And is it mandatory to swallow it as a whole, or can you skip parts that do not hold up to others?

To me the highlight is the journey you go on, listening the whole record. The cover artwork and title reflect it: Mr. Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life. Genius. Timeless. So much to hear and discover. So rich.

Most critics heralded „Songs In The Key Of Life“ as a masterpiece ever since, fewer noted that it is patchy in parts. Not only in terms of songwriting, but also in terms of stylistic diversity. The latter I always found very unfair, as the diversity was always one of the aspects I found most fascinating about the album. Would you agree that this ambitious palette is a pro rather than a con?

I groove, feel, get inspired, sing, dance … to music. I don’t approach it that way. To me the record is genius. It is ONE. No drawers or palettes needed.

It is quite astonishing that Stevie Wonder was only 26 years old when he released „Songs In The Key Of Life“. Yet he signed to Motown when he was 11, and before he started work on the album he even considered quitting the music business for good. So he had a long career going on already. Does this inform the music contained on „Songs In The Key Of Life“? Is this a statement bursting out he could not deliver before? How much artistic freedom is needed for an epic like this?

It is a beautiful thing in life to learn, grow and get better and more experienced in all you do.

I think the beauty in this album lies in the journey he made up to then. On “Songs In The Key Of Life” you can hear his experience, all of his brilliance and essence. It feels so complete, strikingly timeless. A flower, fruit, expression of the genius he is. I believe delivering a record, an epic like this, you need to be yourself to the fullest and complete artistic freedom is needed – else it wouldn’t be that complete. Read the rest of this entry »


Rewind: Trevor Jackson on “Illmatic”

Posted: February 29th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , , | No Comments »

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In discussion with Trevor Jackson on “Illmatic” by Nas (1994).

Can you remember the way you were introduced to “Illmatic”? Was it love at first sight?

Hip-hop was the main music I listened to in the early ‘90s. I devoured every new hip-hop release that came out. I’d been aware of Nas since 1991 when he guest-starred on a Main Source track called “Live at the Barbecue”, which was produced by Large Professor, one of my favorite producers. He was incredible on that. It was a great time for hip-hop. So many incredible hip-hop albums came out between ’91 and ’94. In 1992, Nas put out a single on Ruffhouse called “Halftime”, which was a track from the soundtrack of Zebrahead. That single totally blew me away. It still is one of my favorite hip-hop singles of all time. By that time, people in the hip-hop world were really aware of Nas, so when the album dropped in 1994, it wasn’t love at first sight, to be honest. It was a surprise.

You were expecting something big?

Yeah. All the real hip-hop heads were, not only because he was an incredible MC, but also because of the producers on the album, which were the cream of the crop at the time.

How were all the luminaries who played a part in the process apparent on the album? How would you characterize their input?

The thing about hip-hop at that time—which was very different than it is now—everyone strove to have their own sound. Nobody wanted to sound like anybody else. Probably more than any other music, people who were into hip-hop bought a lot of records because of the producer rather than the artist or the MC. It was quite unique.

On Illmatic, Nas worked with DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor and Q-Tip. Even though they were all from New York, they all had their own distinctive sound. Premier usually only took one loop, but he could do something incredible and really simple with one or two bars. Pete Rock was more complex and slightly more soulful. Large Professor had really amazing basslines, and Q-Tip was still deep, dark and street, but slightly more abstract. It was almost like The Avengers: Hulk, Thor, Captain America and Iron Man all coming together on one team. I don’t want to take anything away from Nas, who’s an amazing MC in his own right, but he always needed a great beat behind him. And they were the best at the time.

It’s kind of astonishing that there were so many different people involved, yet the album is pretty coherent.

The thing is, all these guys are from New York, and New York rap was all sample-based. It was pretty raw, and so even though these guys all had their own distinctive sound, they all hung out together; they were all friends.

That’s true. As you said, you go a long way back with hip-hop, and you probably heard a lot of classic albums. What makes “Illmatic” so special?

All I know is that I never get tired of it. A week doesn’t go by when I don’t listen to the whole album. It’s a short, too—it’s only got ten tracks on it, which was not typical, as a lot of albums used to hold 20 or 30 tracks. In contrast, Illmatic is really tight and focused. I love every track apart from one. I just think there’s something about Nas’ hunger to succeed on that record—I felt like you can hear that he came off the street into a vocal booth and just rhymed. It really has that immediacy and that hunger; you can hear it in his lyrics and you can hear it in his voice, and for me, it’s 1000 percent believable. I understand every word of it he says. Maybe it sounds silly, but it feels like he’s talking to me directly. His voice is just so direct. There’s something about that album. It was a point in time. So many different things combined to make it a special record.

It was his debut album, and it’s still hailed as one of the most important hip-hop albums of all time. That’s obviously quite a burden as well, but it’s really fascinating that he achieved this as his first album.

When it first came out, it wasn’t a success, though. It had critical success, but it didn’t sell. It took a bit of time to catch on. Looking at it now, for me, it’s always been a thing about Jay-Z or Nas. If you ask me, Nas would wipe the floor with Jay-Z in terms of rap skills. But Jay-Z is the superstar today, not Nas. Nas is still the rapper’s rapper. Also, sadly, he probably hasn’t made a record quite as good as Illmatic—not a whole album, anyway. So, if you want to talk about the greatest record of all time, many people today won’t say Illmatic. People will say it’s Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, or they’ll say Kanye’s it’s 808s & Heartbreak. For me, Illmatic is a benchmark, but I’m the older generation. I don’t know if the new generation really understands. What they perceive as being “good rap music” now is totally different, as is rap music itself.

Just in terms of the production, hip-hop—especially from the East Coast—was much more sample-based. I think that kind of vanished over the years.

The other thing is, in a weird way, that album marked a beginning, too. Before, you’d have one producer producing the whole thing. From what I remember, Illmatic was the first time so many esteemed producers all produced on the same album. That kind of changed things, because after that, people started getting loads of different producers to do an album. It’s not like they said, “Let’s get Premier or Pete Rock because they’ll sell millions of records.” They got those people because they really worked with Nas and they sounded right. But the hip-hop environment changed after that; people lost their unique sound. Everyone started to sound the same. Read the rest of this entry »


Rewind: Shanti Celeste on “Set It Out”

Posted: February 1st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

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In discussion with Shanti Celeste about “Set It Out” by Omar-S (2003).

So what was the first time you heard this track?

I wish I could say it was in a club where I had a life changing experience bla bla bla, but it was actually a much more ordinary scenario. I was buying some birthday records on Juno just after it was repressed in 2009. I didn’t know much about Omar-S at that point, had heard the name once or twice, but that was about it. So the answer to that question is – the first time I heard this song was on the mighty Juno player.

What drew you to it? The simplicity of the groove? The addictive synth line? How it erupts into a heartfelt song? Or something else? Or all of it?

All of it! The vocal and the beautiful rolling pad in particular though, then the nice toms and the clap, too! I just think it’s a beautiful track, it can make you feel so happy and grateful. I love singing so I just start belting out along with it as soon as I hear it or even when I play it in a club. It is just so simple but so powerful.

For me this is foremost a prime example of a very fine Vocal House record. Lyrics, singing and sound work perfectly with each other. It seems nothing is missing, and there is nothing to improve. But is it really as simple as it sounds?

Yes and no, there isn’t that many elements which I guess is what makes it simple, but it is cleverly constructed. I always think that spreading a synth line across four bars creates more interest because it gives room for all the other elements to play without sounding too loopy and repetitive, even if it is that way. Also let’s not forget what a great vocal can do to a track, in some cases it can completely transform it.

I think his track „Who Wrote The Rules of Love“ with Colonel Abrams also comes close to what Omar-S achieved with „Set It Out“. Are you a fan of his in general? Are there other tracks you like nearly as much?

I agree, that’s also really good and again a perfect example of a good Vocal House track, if I’m putting it down to just a feeling though, I prefer „Set It Out“ but they are so close! These are probably my two favourites. I do like a lot of his others as well, he has done soooo much! One of my other favourites is him and Kai Alcé’s „Not Phazed“.

I like that Omar-S is absolutely not very fussy about either producing or marketing what he produces. He is not very concerned about other opinions on what he does either. Is this the way out of modern PR obligations, just delivering the tunes?

I think part of it is a way of delivering tunes! Imagine if he did the whole PR thing every time he released a record, especially at the start when he was releasing lots, it would be a PR overload! And now people trust him and will probably buy his records anyway.

There is whole lot of discourse about Detroit in club culture. But does the origin of Omar-S really matter with „Set It Out“?

To be honest, I’m not sure. To me it just sounds like Omar-S!

UK also has a healthy tradition with Garage House, even if it evolved into something different. But to my ears the production of this track is not too dissimilar to UK club styles, or am I wrong?

I actually think there are other more garage-y tracks from Omar-S that sound more similar to UK styles. „Set It Out“ is quite straight and I always think of UK Garage House as a lot more swong. But I guess that“s the beauty of music, eh? Everyone hears it in they’re own way.

What is important if you infuse a dance track with vocals?

Tricky, I will always notice a good vocal track if I like the vocal and the way that it’s been placed on the track. It’s very important that it’s effortless and soulful but not trying to be too gimmicky and „classic house vocal’. Also sometimes it helps if they use the whole accapella, like in „Set It Out“, or if it’s a vocalist that they arrange with more of a song structure. I like the way it sounds when it’s chopped as well but it has to be done right. Basically, it has to to work great and not just for the sake of it.

I must admit that I much prefer this kind of vocals in a dance track to the majority of tracks of recent years that include a singing style usually more associated with indie records. But I would not go as far as to maintain you cannot create a good club song without a Soul aspect. But what does a good club song actually require?

For me it requires a physical and an emotional aspect. So a really good groove that you just can’t help but dance to and a melodic aspect of some kind. I’m not saying it has to be super melodic with noodly bits everywhere, although that’s the route I tend to take because I just can’t help myself. But something to go along with the groove that’s making you dance your ass off.

Is there a way that „Set It Out“ is reflected in your own productions?

Maybe yes, it’s probably influenced me in more ways than I know considering that I have listened to it so many times over the years!

The defunct Face magazine used to have these little messages at the bottom of their last page. I always have this one particular issue in the back of my mind where it read „Vocals matter“. But do they still?

They do to me!

Electronic Beats 02/16