Sunday, 22 November 2009

I Bring the Funk Electric: How 80's R'n'B and Electro-soul shaped the sounds of today

Kevin Wilson wrote this for us. He writes about films at Thirtysecondsaframe and music here

The golden age of soul music is rightfully considered to be the classic Motown/Atlantic/Stax period from the early-mid ‘60s to the mid ‘70s. Characterised by crack songwriting teams and tight-ass musicianship, these labels reeled off hit after hit and made legends of the likes of Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder et al. By the mid ‘70s though, when the social, political and musical landscapes were changing, the classic sound was starting to sound stale and oversaturated, as any man and his dog was invoking the essence of soul to ever decreasing results.

So what gave soul music the kick up the arse it sorely needed? Much as rock critics would like to have you think that ‘Anarchy In The UK’ was the record of 1977 that changed music forever, it was a record out of Munich with a sassy American vocalist that changed everything – after Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer released the seminal and sexy ‘I Feel Love’, they invented pop music’s future. Simultaneously in Dusseldorf, Kraftwerk were honing their modern electronic sound. And soul music took the Moroder/Kraftwerk template and ran with it.

Kraftwerk are arguably the biggest influence on early hip-hop/electro – just listen to ‘It’s More Fun To Compute’ from Kraftwerk’s 1981 album ‘Computer World’ and ‘Cosmic Cars’ from Cybotron’s 1983 album ‘Clear’ and the similarities are striking. It’s a dystopian, Ballardian, proto-techno record (unsurprisingly given that Juan Atkins became one of the originators of Detroit techno in the mid ‘80s). Afrika Bambaataa’s 1982 track ‘Planet Rock’ was not only the first hip-hop track to take advantage of this modern technology, utilising drum machines, but it sampled two Kraftwerk tracks (‘Trans Europe Express’ provides the melody, whilst ‘Numbers’ provides the drum pattern) and was the first notable production by Arthur Baker.

Bands who’d previously worked in different genres were jumping on board. The Gap Band, known for ‘Oops Upside Your Head’ this side of the pond, the staple of any terrible disco, were a funk outfit who’d revitalised themselves with some shit-hot R&B singles; ‘Burn Rubber On Me’ but also ‘You Dropped A Bomb On Me’, which used some seriously heavy synths – even to this day, Charlie Wilson is treated like royalty by hip-hop’s A-list, guest starring on several Snoop Dogg records. London’s ‘Freeez’, a jazz-funk band whose 1981 hit ‘Summer Freeez’ is a pleasant but inconsequential piece of fluff that probably made Robert Elms cream himself the first time he heard it, hooked up with Baker and produced ‘I.O.U’ in 1983, a classic of the early electro-breakbeat scene. Baker went onto work with Hall and Oates on their ‘Big Bam Boom’ album in 1984 and New Order on ‘Confusion’ and ‘Thieves Like Us’ in 1983/1984 – this is one of those records that the band would’ve known him for. New York’s Mantronix fused hip-hop and electro and contributed to the rise of house music later in the decade. A New Order biography revealed that 1985’s ‘Bassline’ was one of the most played tracks at the Hacienda nightclub (still yet to reach the legendary status it holds now).

But not all soul music of the ‘80s was about breaking new boundaries. Sure, producers were using synthesisers and drum machines in the wake of discovering how cheap and accessible they were, but the motivation was to produce hit records, just as it always had been. The real big players in mid-80s soul music were the songwriting and producing team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. First known for their work on the SOS Band’s classic 1983 single ‘Just Be Good To Me’, notable for its use of the Roland TR-808 drum machine – you know, the 808 that was used by Kany√© West on his most recent album, from which he took the album’s name.

Their subsequent work with Cherrelle (‘I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On’, yes, the Robert Palmer version was a cover!), The Human League (‘Human’) and Alexander O’Neal (‘Criticize’) all followed their smooth, clinical dance-pop formula and brought them to the attention of Janet Jackson, for whom they produced the massively successful 1986 ‘Control’ album. Although it should be noted that it was perhaps a white Welsh Marxist who partially gave Jam and Lewis their sound. Scritti Politti’s 1985 album ‘Cupid and Psyche ‘85’ was almost a prototype of the Jam and Lewis formula; a real state of the art electro record – expensively produced using session musicians at the top of their game, but the crucial ingredient was Green Gartside himself with his helium-processed vocals and Derrida and Lacan inspired lyrics.

Many genres have a natural lifespan and by the late-80s, it’s evident that this form of electro-soul was on its last legs and was starting to mutate into different directions. The rise of hip-hop and house music as serious forces contributed to its decline, as it took aspects of electro-soul but absorbed them into their own more progressive ideas. Joe Smooth’s 1988 ‘Promised Land’ was the moment the Jam and Lewis template went ‘deep house’ and if you want a serious laugh, check out the cover by The Style Council on Youtube, as if you could ever think Paul Weller’s a bigger twat than he already is. Keith Sweat, a proto-R Kelly if you like, all sensual moaning and pleading, was perhaps its final exponent on tracks such as 1987’s ‘How Deep Is Your Love?’, with its vocodered backing vocals and syncopated percussion.

Nowadays, you’ll hear much of this in awful retro-nightclubs in Basildon or some similar provincial town. As soon as the DJ spins ‘Solid’ by Ashford and Simpson, dozens of middle-aged women will suddenly take it as their cue to behave in a quasi-embarrassing fashion unbefitting their mature years. Much of this music will have been derided during its time, but two decades of hindsight is a glorious thing. Much of the music of today; hip-hop, dance, R&B, pop – it wouldn’t be the same without this second golden age of soul music.


There's a Spotify playlist to go along with this that is going to soundtrack every pre-drinking session for me in the next few months.
80s R&B/Electro-soul

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Two Mixes

Two sides, 45 minutes each. Not mixed. Enjoy.

Day mix:
1. Arthur Russell - That's Us/Wild Combination
2. The Tough Alliance - Silly Crimes
3. The Mountain Goats - Going to Georgia
4. Smokey Robinson - Being with You
5. Noel - The Night They Invented Love (Josh Baines' Slow-Mo edit)
6. Instant Funk - I Got My Mind Made Up
7. Odyssey - Going Back To My Roots
8. Erlend Oye - A Sudden Rush
9. Washed Out - Feel It All Around


Night mix:
1. The Flamingos - I Only Have Eyes For You (Decca)
2. Pariah - Orpheus (R&S)
3. Moodymann - Freeki MF (KDJ)
4. Wiley - Shanghai
5. Golden Boy and Miss Kittin - Rippin Kittin (Landomat 2000)
6. Brant & Mr Roper - Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me (Ada Remix) (Scheinselbständig)
7. Omar-S - Strider's World (FHXE Records)
8. DJ Gazzeto - Gazzeto Eskhaleni Zone 1 (Edit)
9. Joe Meek and the Blue Men - I Hear A New World (RPM Records)


Thursday, 19 November 2009

Grime Playlist


Tuesday, 17 November 2009

10 Pop Punk Songs That (probably won't) Change Your Life

This is a piece written by Jess Spires. You can read her blog here

Before I start this, I want to make something clear. I made this list
because I actually love this genre of music. Not in an ironic, 'omg pop
punk is so cool now that vice put on a pop punk night' way, in a genuine,
unashamed never stop talking about it or listening to it and it makes
everyone sick way. Don't get me wrong I have a pretty varied taste, but
this is my big weakness. I love pop punk.

You probably don't agree with a lot of these choices, but here are my
personal top 10 songs. Some really obvious, some not. If you don't like
pop punk, these are the kinda songs i'm hoping you could listen to and
think 'yeah okay, this is rad'. Just a warning, this list is going to be
full of yucky nostalgia and me being all 'man i remember this..'

1) Jimmy Eat World - Lucky Denver Mint

Okay, they're not strictly 'pop punk' but whatever, i included this first
because Jimmy Eat World are probably my favourite band, like ever. I don't
know how they do it, but JEW just bring out amazing record after amazing
record. They're probably the only band I couldn't even choose a favourite
record because they're all just so damn good (Okay, apart from static
prevails, yeah that was kind of balls). When 'Chase this light' came out
in 2007 I was all 'Man, can JEW still pull it out the bag after 13
years?!', yeah, they can. Oh did i mention that this song is fucking sick?

2) Set Your Goals - Flight of the Navigator

Oh man, don't even get me started on set your goals. I'm probably the
biggest fan girl ever. I have a t-shirt and shit. If you don't like set
your goals, listen to 1.27 of this song and imagine being at their show
sweating more than you ever have in your life and rocking the fuck out.

3) New Found Glory - Understatement

NFG are a shoe in but seriously, this song does not get the appreciation
it deserves. 'Sticks and Stones' was the first NFG record I ever owned,
and I remember putting it on 7 years ago as a 13 year old, hearing this
first track and just being like 'FUCK YEAAAAAH'. Also I thought I could do
a mad impression of Jordan Pundik (Yeah I just wrote punkdik) back in the

4) blink-182 - Going Away to College

So, blink-182 are probably the best band ever, right? Who doesn't like
blink-182? Who didn't feel that their earth had been literally torn apart
by their break up? Blink were the first pop punk band I ever listened to,
I heard 'all the small things' on some advert and I was sold. Plus, this
song is deep. Who didn't have 'this world's an ugly place but you're so
beautiful to me' as their MSN name at one point?

5) The Movielife - This Time Next Year

The Movielife are fucking sick. There is no debate. I saw Vinnie playing
movielife songs with SYG as the backing band a while ago and it was
probably the best show of my life.

6) Motion City Sountrack - LGFUAD

Justin Pierre is probably one of the best lyricists I know. Seriously,
listen to the lyrics of this song, actually awesome. I didn't like Motion
City that much until the 'Commit this to Memory' record came out in 2005
and my boyfriend at the time put it on a mix cd. I can still remember
pretty much every track on that CD because I listened to it every fucking
day, and this was one of them.

7) The Starting Line - This Ride

I started to realise a while ago that TSL aren't actually that good, my 13
year old self probably overrated them a bit, and they're definitely shit
now. But, that being said, they deserve a mention for this song alone.

8) Taking Back Sunday - Timberwolves at New Jersey

Taking Back Sunday are another one of those shoe in bands that everyone
loves. I mean, how exciting was all that shit back in the day with John
Nolan from TBS and Jesse Lacey from Brand New, when Nolan shagged Lacey's
girlfriend and THEN THEY WROTE SONGS ABOUT IT. Man, it was like a pop punk

9) Forever The Sickest Kids - She's A Lady

I included Forever the Sickest Kids because although they look like
absolute bellends, they are probably one of the best 'new' pop punk bands
i've heard in a while.

10) Fenix TX - Threesome

Fenix TX only had one good song, but man was it good.

So there's my round up. Oh by the way, Weezer aren't in this because I don't like them.
don't like them. Deal with it.


Jess has very kindly produced a playlist to accompany this piece. Here it is: YR NOT BIGGER THAN THIS

On...The NME

A confession: I don’t think I’ve read an issue of the NME for about two years now. However, between the ages of twelve and sixteen I got the local newsagent to deliver me a copy. It was, shamefully, a sort of Bible for me. I’d take the majority of their word as gospel, buy the albums they fawned over and, to extend the slightly tortuous biblical metaphor, placed a great deal of faith in their writers. You have to remember that this was before broadband became the norm; I wasn’t able to check eighty-seven blogs a day for Hudson Mohawke remixes or whatever. Despite not having read a physical copy of the magazine for a while I still look at the (spectacularly badly designed) website from time to time and await their end of year lists with a modicum of excitement because, basically, I’m a sucker for a list.

But this one, their Top 50 Albums of the Decade is about as exciting as the Uncut list (which you can read here).

1. The Strokes – Is This It
2. The Libertines – Up The Bracket
3. Primal Scream – xtrmntr
4. Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever To Tell
6. PJ Harvey – Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea
7. Arcade Fire – Funeral
8. Interpol – Turn On The Bright Lights
9. The Streets – Original Pirate Material
10. Radiohead – In Rainbows
11. At The Drive In – Relationship Of Command
12. LCD Soundsystem – The Sound Of Silver
13. The Shins – Wincing The Night Away
14. Radiohead – Kid A
15. Queens Of The Stone Age – Songs For The Deaf
16. The Streets – A Grand Don't Come For Free
17. Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise
18. The White Stripes – Elephant
19. The White Stripes – White Blood Cells
20. Blur – Think Tank
21. The Coral – The Coral
22. Jay-Z – The Blueprint
23. Klaxons – Myths Of The Near Future
24. The Libertines – The Libertines
25. Rapture – Echoes
26. Dizzee Rascal – Boy in Da Corner
27. Amy Winehouse – Back To Black
28. Johnny Cash – Man Comes Around
29. Super Furry Animals – Rings Around The World
30. Elbow – Asleep In The Back
31. Bright Eyes – I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
32. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Show Your Bones
33. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
34. Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump
35. Babyshambles – Down In Albion
36. Spirtualized – Let it Come Down
37. The Knife – Silent Shout
38. Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
39. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
40. Ryan Adams – Gold
41. Wild Beasts – Two Dancers
42. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
43. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
44. Outkast – Loveboxxx/The Love Below
45. Avalanches – Since I Left You
46. Delgados – The Great Eastern
47. Brendan Benson – Lapalco
48. Walkmen – Bows and Arrows
49. Muse – Absolution
50. MIA – Arular.

Now, I'm not going to argue with the number one choice, it's nearly my favourite of the decade and the best thing in the top 10 by some distance. The rest of that 10 though, Christ. I sort of want to praise the NME for sticking to their guns and not filling it entirely with 'token' choices (the first of which comes in at number 22, with The Blueprint which seems to be every indie publications fave hip-hop album of the 00s) but at the same time their stance infuriates me; yes, I can understand the 'cultural relevance' of the first Arctic Monkeys album, with the whole 'MYSPACE MADE THIS BAND' angle that is genuinely, whether rightly or wrongly, important to the decade as a whole, but come on, it's not a great record by any stretch of the imagination. The Libertines were huge in NME land and probably sold them a lot of papers, but a few tracks aside they were largely sounded like second rate pub rockers who'd once read an Oscar Wilde book and thought it lent them a 'poetic' air. It didn't. And that whole military jacket look was dire. Funeral and Original Pirate Material (and two albums by The Streets in the list is somewhat excessive) have about four good songs each, Primal Scream are an irrelevant joke, PJ Harvey could be seen as the token woman and the Interpol album is actually kinda great. I don't even have a pithy one line opinion about Radiohead.

The rest of the list throws the odd, but not in a good way, curveball: The Coral at number 21? I'll repeat that: The Coral at number 21. Let's think about that for a second; dreadful, Beefheart aping Scouse TWATS, The Coral have apparently released the twenty-first best album of the last ten years. Sorry but the band themselves don't believe that. Throwing the, pretty good but not spectacular, Wild Beasts album from this year into the mix feels odd. I'm not saying that no record that recent deserves a slot on the list (there have been a few releases this year that I love as much as anything else from the decade) but placing it above Since I Left You, for example, is madness. Muse seem to have become one of the biggest bands in the world, along with Kings of Leon, recently and are regularly touted as a fantastic live band, and teenage girls love 'em, their brand of Queen-inspired fret wankery actually offends me. Babyshambles managed to be worse than The Libertines, somehow. Crystal Castles might have put out nice t-shirts but their musical worth is nil.

My biggest concern with the list is what it leaves out. The NME is a magazine aimed, predominately, at a youngish audience 'getting into' indie music so obviously I'm not expecting them to cram their list with Merzbow or Black Devil Disco Club stuff, but to not include anything (apart from LCD Soundsystem's record) from the 'dance' sphere, i.e. house/techno/disco/garage etc, is criminal. I distinctly remember wanting to buy International Deejay Gigolo compilations, Miss Kittin albums and David Caretta singles because the NME were all over electroclash for a while. They're probably all over Dubstep now I guess ("OMG HAVE YOU HEARD NIGHT BY BENGA? IT SOUNDS LIKE PIGEONS...ON DRUGS!"). And Dizzee apart, who's inclusion in the list is probably due to him being the first legitimate black British superstar more than anything else, and Jay-Z, they've chosen to ignore 'urban' music. No room for 'Supreme Clientele' but they can fit in a Brendon Benson album? Errrrr, what?

In summary, the list probably does reflect the stuff the average NME reader likes. But it's nowhere near being a decent overview of the decade as a whole



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