Posts from 21st June 2001

Jun 01

THEY DON’T WANNA BE COY: Basement Jaxx – Rooty

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The eternal quandary: how to follow up a landmark debut album? If you’re Basement Jaxx, the answer is simple: make another one just as spectacular. It’s hard to believe that it’s now two years since Basement Jaxx’s Remedy seemed to revitalise house music, simply by reminding the dance community that — gasp — it was possible to create music that was clever and fun at the same time. Unluckily for us but perhaps luckily for the adventurous duo, it’s a lesson that didn’t appear to sink in. While more cerebral dance producers are finally embracing house’s sensuous beat in numbers previously unheard of, the populist “house revival” that the Jaxx helped instigate has done little but raise the profile of already entrenched musical orthodoxies: tasteful deep house, well-oiled disco cut-ups and sleek Ibiza floorfillers. Where was the revolution? Where was the raft of likeminded producers ready to follow the Jaxx in their quest to — as Armand Van Helden put it — take house music and fuck it in the ass? Notable exceptions such as the mighty Daft Punk aside, the pickings have been decidedly slim.

The sensation of a value gap is forcefully, thrillingly confirmed upon hearing the first single of the Jaxx’s new album Rooty, the delightful ‘Romeo’. A punchy vocal house number that draws equally from contemporary R&B’s robosoul and 2-step’s cheery rhythmic friction – and even surprising bursts of trance-like synth oscillations — ‘Romeo’ packs everything that’s currently missing from the commercial dance landscape into three and a half minutes of gorgeous pop perfection (not to mention confection). With disconcertingly direct vocals courtesy of Kele le Roc and its surprisingly emotional climax, ‘Romeo’ sounds less monolithic and all-embracing than, say ‘Red Alert’, but it’s correspondingly more startling, personal and affecting, not to mention a lot of fun.

It also only hints at the stylistic excesses the duo traipse through on the rest of the album, tapping everything from 2-step to eerie Gainsbourg pop to psychotic jungle-fuelled R&B. In its divergent wanderings, Rooty sounds very much like the colonisation of the alien planet first discovered on Remedy. Where on their debut the duo seemed anxious to fit every possible idea onto each individual song, here they’re content to choose just one or two concepts and take them to their logical conclusions, at times landing closer to pop and at others impossibly far away.

So, on the one hand, there’s the sparkling, euphoric disco of ‘Just One Kiss’ and the belting diva anthemics of ‘Do Your Thing’, both more straightforward and immediate than anything on Remedy. More often though the duo come off as even more schizophrenic and crazed than before, plunging depths of overheated desire rarely touched since Prince’s pioneering work in the eighties — check the fractured funk of ‘Breakaway’, or the album’s centrepiece, the dark porn-house of ‘Get Me Off’. Apparently the track was initially offered to Janet Jackson for her latest album, and you can see why she decided to pass. All dirge-bass, squealing rave riffs and pummelling house beats, “Get Me Off” replaces Janet with a succession of high-pitched, panicky singers pleading for a painful-sounding sexual fulfillment (“don’t wanna be coy/it’s time to get me off!”). Meanwhile a DJ/slavemaster whispers seductive commands: “give your body to the beat…free your body with me.” It’s hardly unsurprising that even the bondage-happy Janet might balk at the uncompromising luridness of it all.

In between these two extremes the duo explore a great deal of uncharted territory — “Where’s Your Head At” is the heavy metal/house hybrid Armand Van Helden has been trying to perfect for years, although he wouldn’t have thought to include the punk hollers and philosophical ragga chants that Basement Jaxx throw in as a matter of course. “I Want U” puts R&B through the ringer, gatecrashing the song with sudden bursts of furious drum & bass pounding, and distorting the curiously British-accented diva to within an inch of her life, her vocal finally reduced to a wordless, psychotic looped tick, like a love-struck alarm bell. At other times the music simply defies description or attempts to pigeonhole: how to define the lascivious, rolling stop-start rhythms of “SFM”? Avant 2-step? Latin Dancehall?

It goes without saying that Rooty is unlikely to match the sort of seismic impact that Remedy created two years ago. The world has grown accustomed to the Basement Jaxx aesthetic, and the blueprint laid down by the first album hasn’t been replaced so much as expanded upon. Still, when you’re so far in front of the competition it takes a while for the rest of the world to catch up, and two years on Basement Jaxx still comfortably outpace everything else on offer when it comes to crafting wildly fun dance music. On the evidence of Rooty they can rest comfortably for another two years. They’ve certainly earned it.

Tim Finney, 21 June 2001

DREAM IN THE DREAM WITH ME – Air: 10000Hz Legend

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We live in the future, baby, you and me. How does this make you feel? The centuries have been erected with this very goal in mind, thousands of years of popular culture have been building up to this. Time had been enjoying a prolonged childhood for too long now; turning 21, with all of its accompanying freedoms and responsibilities, so intoxicated mankind that seers, artists, authors, musicians, and poets have been foretelling its coming since the last time the clock zeroed out, some hundred years ago.

Initially, the dreams were fairly modest. Skyscrapers? Motorized transportation? Flight? As each dream became reality, writers of fiction and fancy upped the ante, envisioning buildings that kissed the heavens, cars that flew, and men on the moon. Within each of these inventions, ambitious yet flawed, fantastical minds could see each form idealized; trapped inside the rough creation, they saw the future straining to escape. As the years were hammered away from these innovations like excess marble from a statue, perfection escaped only to see itself de mode at birth, its patrons having moved on to new whims.

The sound of gunshots and bombs awakened the dreamers to the nightmare that was real life. Alarmed by our ever-increasing capabilities for self-destruction, their visions becoming bleaker as war and fear took hold of the globe in its thankfully tenuous grasp. The future, if there was one (if), was plagued with conflagrations that threatened all of humanity and invaders from the sky, “aliens” (gee, who could that be…). To the young mind, with no concept of real fear or pain, blissfully unaware of that adult-word “consequences,” this all undoubtedly seemed great. The new millennium seemed like it was going to be a pretty fucking cool place to be. Having lived through it all, as a youth, no less, and therefore naturally given to romanticization and idealization, I can tell you this much: The future ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Name me ten important ways in which life in ’01 is different from life in ’91. Sure, MP3s are great, but cell phones alone are argument enough against progress. We should be living on Mars or the moon, at the very least, not trapped in our bedrooms on T1 lines. I mean, for fuck’s sake, Dippin’ Dots are still the ice cream of the future and the Visi-Phone has yet to become readily available. To quote William H. Gass, “I was born…For this? I dress. I wash. For this?” To quote the t-shirt that, to the best of my knowledge, exists but in my mind: “My parents saw the new millennium and all I got was this crappy t-shirt.”

Where’s my robot butler? The kid in Rocky had one and that was, what, 20 years ago?

What? Air? Yes! I haven’t forgotten them. Let me attempt to tie all of this up as neatly as possible. With their last album, Air soundtracked the film, The Virgin Sucides, a tale of suburban angst and ennui in the 70s; with this new album, 10,000Hz Legend, they’ve created the soundtrack for the 21st century. Not the one we live in, no: it’s the soundtrack for the future as imagined by bored kids, stoned out of their minds, in the suburbs of the 1970s: It’s the soundtrack for modern folks who hoped things would’ve turned out a bit differently

Study the sleeve-art: It tells you much of what you need to know about the album. It looks like Arizona, sure, but let’s call it Mars instead. If one were granted access into the compound in which the two blurred gentlemen appear, they’d hear 10,000Hz Legend wafting through the speakers — it’s space age bachelor music (as opposed to the — capitals and italics important — Space Age Bachelor Pad Music of their debut LP Moon Safari). Perhaps, while you’re enjoying your wine and cheese — some customs never die — one of the cute boys of Air will play you a piece or two.

The future, as Air have chosen to interpret it, is like Blade Runner in the hands of Hanna-Barbara or David Lynch helming a live-action Jetsons. In this future, Air have written themselves out of the picture; the music is instead performed by robots that they program themselves. For 10,000Hz Legend, they’ve set the dial for Prog-Rock and it’s prog as only a robot could render it. Like the robots, my knowledge of prog is limited to the input I’ve received (human speak: what I’ve read or been told about it): I’ve never knowingly heard a prog record, though Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas,” which served to turn me against said jolly fat man, may count, I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that the All Music Guide defines it thusly:

Progressive Rock…incorporates elements of European and classical music to rock & roll music, resulting in long, complex instrumental passages and dramatic, grandiose flourishes

Sounds good, eh? In this definition, there’s no mention of capes or smoke machines or H.G. Wells or wizards or ice skating or King Arthur. The robots, then, have taken all that was good about prog and distilled it into 10,000 Hz Legend. And since they’re robots and therefore INFALLIBLE, they’ve rendered it perfectly: the Kraftwerk (the original robots!) pulse of “Electronic Performers”; the lethargic beauty and electronic poignancy of “How Does it Make You Feel?”; first single “Radio #1″‘s electro-glam thud; from a different 2001, “Radian” is the cry of the Monolith — vengeful and mournful; and OMD covering “Live and Let Die,” better known as “Don’t Be Light.” It’s not all good: Beck is best left in the past and “Wonder Milky Bitch” isn’t sexy or funny, it’s just cringeworthy and ill-conceived. Since they’re on for so much of the record, I’ll give the robots the benefit of the doubt, and ascribe it to: HUMAN ERROR.

While the future constructed by Air does indeed sound like a great place what with its complex instrumental passages and grandiose flourishes, its technology and advances can be a bit frightening to simple-minded folk like you or I, merely a hair’s breadth away from the 20th century. That’s why it’s so refreshing, so reassuring to discover that the future, despite all of its advantages, still deals with many of the problems we ourselves wrangle with on a daily basis. Like a lack of communication; an inability to explain one’s self properly to the one they love; the difficulty of finding something good on the radio; the hassle and stress created by a regimented life; and despairing over where to find a good blow job nowadays. Their problems are our problems, and vice versa!

In many ways, then, they are still the Air we’ve known (and loved!) for some time now. Many reviewers and “critics,” lazy types mostly, have exclaimed that the new album represents a “new direction” for the band (and a number of them hint that it’s the “wrong” one. “Prog-Rock?” More like Frog-Rock. And I say that with love). If Moon Safari was lyrics/music: Bacharach/Wilson/Gainsbourg, 10,000Hz Legend can be attributed to: Gainsbourg/Eno/R. Waters. The major difference is that all of the homages to Bacharach, the rage at the time, have been replaced by a more atmospheric, expansive production style. What they’ve always been — and still are — are modern kids bringing old music into the future. The future they bring the sounds of the past into is alluring, one that while very little like our own, illuminates just what makes modern life brilliant and depressing. It reminds us that we’ve not yet seen the future: despite what we think, it’ll always be one step ahead of us (and ahead of this record!); we may never see it, but from their privileged position, Air assure us that it’s still something worth dreaming about, something that should, with a gleam in our eyes, always be looked forward to. Or at least that’s how it makes me feel.

Strange Fruit News

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Strange Fruit News: Strange Fruit are lynchpins of the London indie scene, and have done an awful lot of good things and generally made London a happier place to be if you’re a fan of indie and indie-pop music. Which even I, occasionally, am. And they’re in trouble, of the money variety – not through mismanagement or anything, just through awful luck (and by dint of being nice people, too). So this gig is an important one for their continued viability – it’s Trembling Blue Stars and Ballboy, it’s on Saturday and it’s Downstairs at the Garage, and if you like those bands or indie music in general, and you can make it, then probably you should. There will be dancing and drinking too, but of course!


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(SCENE: PAUL and LINDA are standing next to a road.)

PAUL: Why dont we do it in the road?

LINDA: You what?

PAUL: Why don’t we do it in the road?

LINDA: “Do it”???! You mean shag? In the road? You may be the richest popular entertainer in the world Paul but you’ve onto a hiding for nothing this time!

PAUL: No-one will be watching us.

LINDA: That’s hardly the point, you randy Scouse get! What is a road for, eh? Think, man! The road is where cars live! CARS! Big dangerous metal things. This makes it perhaps not the best place for an al fresco quickie! And anyway I see a flaw in your argument. What is the first thing learner drivers are told to do, eh? Keep your eyes on the road. I think they’re likely to notice the pallid arse of a humping Beatle. So I’m afraid on this no-one-will-be-watching point it’s your word versus that of the Highway Code!

PAUL: Why don’t we do it in the road?

(PAUL is silenced by a beating with a frozen quorn sausage.)

Shock, horror, who ever thought this day would come.

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Shock, horror, who ever thought this day would come. Terrorvision split (yet again BBC Online have the big stories told in half arsed Metro stylee). There was a moment when we really thought they could become the Slade of the Nineties. Now all we hear is snatches on the wind of their majestic tunes ….”Whales and dolphins, whales and dolphins”.

Freaky Trigger Is Back

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Freaky Trigger Is Back. See you down the pub.

OK, in more detail – yes, we are back, with a minimalist design for now, and with a bunch of new articles and features (Ned the Ed tells all here). The thing I should really boost right here right now is Michael Daddino’s Pornography Of Semiotics weblog – 24 hours in the life of MTV, logged by Mike before your very eyes. Link or you’ll miss it!

NYLPM will continue as it ever has – but we’ll be spotlighting new additions to Freaky Trigger’s archives as they get transferred to our new site. The FT of old had several hundred articles, and we’ll be putting them up bit by bit, and letting you know what’s there.

And if you like Freaky Trigger, please please pass the word around, whether by linking to it or telling friends. As an independent zine, word-of-mouth is our lifeblood. Thanks for reading!