Electric Independence

Co-opting culture vultures drop the term "underground" so often that it's become as meaningless as the UN.

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01 December 2003, 12:00am

Wired for Sound
Idol Tryouts

Co-opting culture vultures drop the term “underground” so often that it’s become as meaningless as the UN. Nowadays, chances are if you pick up a release that claims to be “underground,” it’s probably going to be a collection of generic 4/4 beats. Well, two lads from the UK are tired of the standard schlock and are reinstating the real underground by dropping the sickest, freshest house album in a long-ass time. “People assume that deep house has to be fixed, that it has to be moody and all about keys,” said Luke Solomon, one half of the production duo known as Freaks, in a recent interview. “Well, it doesn’t, it’s more about hedonism and escapism. We are linking the roots of deep house to early acid house; Roy David and Lil’ Louis.” The album, The Man Who Lived Underground, is so out of the loop it’s light years ahead of the curve. From jacking Chicago-type tracks like “Angry” and “The Washing Machine” to the paranoid proto-electro of “Creeps,” Solomon and partner Justin Harris deliver seventeen tracks of raw, noir-ish techno funk. There’s hope yet!

In the hypersaturated world of the mix CD, it seems that the genre hoppin’-est are turning out to be the party rockin’-est (as bootleg heroes 2 Many DJs showed us on last year’s As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2). Now Madchester legends New Order step up to the plate with an eclectic electro-rock smackdown of hip-hop, funk, and rock that includes Missy Elliott, the Velvet Underground, a sick old- school hard electro hip-hop jam by Mantronix, and the craziest Cat Stevens song you never heard, finishing off with the best outro song ever: Giorgio Moroder’s “E=MC2,” a plodding synth-pop ditty in which Moroder overdubs the album credits in a vocoded voice.

The latest mix from UK’s Fabric Club camp comes from faux Frenchman Jacques Lu Cont, whom you may remember as one of the dudes that kick-started the whole 80s-revival thing awhile back with his Les Rhythmes Digitales project. Lu Cont opens up his Fabric mix with Mirwais’ sick rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” and just kicks it out from there. Tom Tom Club, Steve Miller Band, and his own Zoot Woman project get thrown in the mix with the odd Eurythmics or Gus Gus tune. A pumpin’ party album that makes you think a little as you shake your ass.

On the headier side of things, Brooklyn’s Record Camp label hits the ground running with the compilation Brooklyn Keeps on Takin’ It, a collection of ambient melodies and schizophonic beats from some of New York’s finest forward-thinking electronic musicians. Worth a listen for Datach’i’s “unsane 3rd Symphony 4 Computers Opus#322 in G Major” alone.

Canadian producer Dan Snaith (AKA Manitoba) triumphantly returns with a new album and declares, “I don’t give a shit about the electronic music scene!” Sure he made waves with his massive debut IDM album Start Breaking My Heart a few years back, then toured the world with his rocking chop-shop of laptop hip-hop. But this is 2003, and like all great artists, Snaith has reinvented himself. Remember the time before people would string a bunch of sounds together on their computer and call it a track? The time when people actually wrote things called songs? Well Snaith does, and on Up In Flames he pulls his inspiration from the psychedelic pop world of Spacemen 3 and Mercury Rev. Sounding more like Brian Wilson than Boards of Canada (he even sings on some of the songs), Smith offers a catchy, confident, and refreshing change from the laptop fodder flooding the experimental-techno market.

Caroline Hervé shot to international techno stardom a coupla years back with her stellar proto-electro eurotrash album, which she co-produced with The Hacker. Although she helped to propel the nu-electro scene to the top of the dance charts with her distinctively sweet, nonchalant vocals, Miss Kittin is still first and foremost a DJ (something she proved with her great mix on Terminal M records awhile back). On Radio Caroline, she steps up to the plate and hits another home run (albeit a slinky, subtle, and minimal one). Beginning with the abstract (tracks from Pansonic, Autechre, and Jacob Fairley), and moving to the grooving (Jesper Dahlback and Marshall Jefferson), Radio Caroline may not be the pumping electro-tech that most will be expecting (but fauxhawkers will be pleased to know that, yes, she does talk throughout the album).

After an impressive start with the essential Disco Nouveau comp and several excellent follow up 12”s, Ann Arbor’s Ghostly International continues to gain momentum. Their latest offering is the Idol Tryouts comp, featuring tracks culled exclusively from their well-stocked roster (including acts from their dance-floor-oriented sub-label, Spectral). Kicking off the twelve-track release is the laid-back head-funk of Dabrye—infuser of all things liquid and funky. Midwest Product drop two juicy post-rocky IDM tracks. Kill Memory Crash step it up with an electro-industrial jam, and Matthew Dear brings an understated yet bouncy four on the floor piece. Another standout track is James Cotton’s distorted Chicago hardcore “Help Me Think Of One.” Make no mistake, Ghostly is on to something here, and it’s good.

Attention all junglists! Massive mix CD on the horizon! New Zealand’s Violent Turd records (responsible for that sick Kid 606 album) are about to unleash Detroit DJ SoundMurderer’s megamix of old-school ragga jams, Wired For Sound. All the innovators are represented on this three-chunk hour-long mix: Shy FX, Remarc, Tek 9, DJ Hype, and Wagon Christ. Sick, sick, and sick!

Just picked up the COM.A release on Tigerbeat 6 and it’s a high-octane spacey odyssey. Vocal samples are snipped and whipped around while quirky Commodore 64 melodies get juxtaposed over scalpel-sure skitterish beats. With a foot planted firmly in the past and an eye to the future, COM.A makes me want to play Burger Time like nobody’s business.

RAF + VINCE