Monday, June 26, 2017

Kraftwerk at The Royal Albert Hall: 23/6/17

I only own one Kraftwerk record. It’s the ‘Expo Remix’ double pack from 2000. Apart from that, I bought ‘Neon Lights’ in luminous vinyl when it came out, because I liked luminous vinyl. It’s strange that I don’t have every record by them, after all they are the foundation on what all electronic music has been built. However, their sound is so pervasive and ubiquitous that it’s not necessary. The simplicity of, not just the music, but the vocals, is what is so alluring and powerful. This is deceptive though, as I found out one night a long, long time ago when myself and Mr. Peter Pulford did a lot of acid and listened to ‘Autobahn’ more than once. 

The depth of sound, with its hidden layers incorporating primitive, dawn-of-time aboriginal soundscapes, spanned eons, not just the last half century. Accompanying it on the TV was an episode of ‘TheLegend of William Tell’, which enhanced the aural experience.

Also, a lot more people than you might imagine have seen Kraftwerk. The spectacle is now given more than equal emphasis than the music. They get on stage and do their thing, with a 3d show to accompany them; but the most influential group of musicians in the world still playing have arguably lost their edge. It’s the complete synthetic karaoke experience. Tracks played the same way, night after night, tour after tour, in the same order. They must be fed up with it, but are just thinking of the money.

Whether they are or not is irrelevant, and I’d been looking forward to the gig since my birthday last October, just before which tickets went on sale, and ended up becoming my birthday present; by far the best one I’d received in a long time. The 23/6 date was an extra one tacked onto the two preceding days, and when I found out that it was on I told the Mrs. to try and remember to sort it out the day they went on sale. I’d do my bit by remaining vigilant as well. In the event I completely forgot about it until mid morning but, not the type of person to work with a computer, found it difficult to get in front of one when necessary. Fortunately things got sorted and, much to my amazement, tickets appeared on my birthday. I’d forgotten about the whole event by that time, so was doubly surprised.

Four tickets were bought, one for each member of the family except Marcel, who, even though he has a natural sense of rhythm and throws shapes at the dining table throughout most meals, when there’s music on in the background, was deemed not to have the staying power for a two hour show. This was almost certainly the right decision, as I saw a few kids in the audience who’d been dragged there by their parents either crashed out, or looking fed up at the end of the show. Unfortunately, Antonin, my eldest, then came up with the news that he had a day’s filming, for a reasonable amount of money, at a Kent location, as an extra in a gay orgy scene; something that he couldn’t afford to turn down, both for financial and career reasons. We wrestled with the possibility of him turning up late, but for security reasons, this would have meant the ticket holder, (his mother), having to stay outside to wait for him until he showed up. Consequently, so would we. After accepting that it wouldn’t happen, I called up emergency reinforcements in the shape of Mr. John Hassay who, upon being offered a free night out in great company, agreed to jump on board.

So, the concert. The 3d glasses were given to us when we entered the circle. We were seated in the back row, up in the Gods. We scanned the scene in front of us. Amazingly, I’d never been to The Albert Hall for a show before. Practically everywhere else, mind. It’s impressive, but even though I thought that a combo of Kraftwerk’s type and magnitude could do it justice, I had nagging doubts. This was nothing to do with the band themselves, more about whether the venue would be right acoustically. I’d seen enough of them on Youtube to know that they would open with ‘Numbers’ and seque seemlessly into ‘Computer Love’ and had always been unfairly asking them to measure up to the drama of their Tate Modern Turbine Hall show of  2013. However, I wasn’t there and I’ve only got video to go on, so what do I know? What I couldn’t stop doing to most tracks was visualizing breakdancing videos in my head. None of that glossy shit, but grainy, technicolour stuff, with a backdrop of cable-strewn, graffiti-covered New York streets and subway trains. And it was me doing the breakdancing most of the time, in a place I’ve only ever been able to do it. Apart from that, the melodies and motifs are incredible; the whole show being a template of electronic music, particularly electro, foundations. Not a surprise I’m sure, but when presented in such a way, in such a setting, it’s stunning to think that they are responsible for the sound of our times. One of the comments to a live Youtube video of ‘The Robots’ sounds like a criticism and a compliment at the same time: “The only band that can go on stage (even) in (a) 100 or 200 years with the same stage show.”

You know what though? The sound could have been better. This WAS A VOLUME THING, mainly. The bass could have been punchier, the kicks sharper, etc. This was remedied to a large extent during the encores when things seemed to go up a notch. For that reason, my favourite bit of the night was the last tune ‘Music Non-Stop’, were sonic coalescence peaked. I did film some stuff, but only a little, mainly due to being in the circle at an inconvenient angle for such activities. And also because I didn’t want to look like a twat filming more than watching, of which there were quite a few, in spite of the notice not to. I think I took about a minute of film, and one or two bad photos. A chap in front of me appeared to be filming the whole gig. I was far too mesmerized to give that a second thought. Back to the volume though. The fact that you could still hear each other speak throughout was mildly gratifying; however, I forgot how many times I had to mention that we were witnessing “the foundation of all electronic dance music.” So it didn’t stop me from being a pain in the arse.

It was an unforgettable night. My son’s first gig (mine was nowhere near as good), and its predictability, down to the hordes of middle-aged blokes in various tour t-shirts spanning the ages, made it just as pleasurable. They fittingly play in Dusseldorf this Saturday for the Grand Depart of The Tour de France. Something which I’m sure they’ve been looking forward to for ages.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

I'm Not One Of Those DJs Who . . . Part The Fourth

Not really having much time to play with, I’m always ready to jump into a mix with little or no preparation. This approach is perennially slapdash, but comes with great rewards, as well as frustrations. I’ve always liked to be spontaneous when I play, but when the results are recorded the errors stand out. In a lot of cases they’re never as bad as they seem. However, slight miscues or jumps in tempo can time stretch across what seem like minutes, rather than the seconds they are. I haven’t played out for a long time, but will always remember the extemporaneous evolution of such a set with fondness. Like most reasonable people, I was always able to find the correct record telepathically. Having said that, although selection skills are always Important, a modicum of skill is just as critical. The more technically adept isn’t always the most entertaining, but a minimum of beat matching prowess is very important. “I’d rather hear good tracks badly mixed than crap tracks well mixed” is often said, but I think we’d just all rather hear good tracks well mixed, wouldn’t we? Alas, I cannot lay claim to being exemplary in that department. Maybe I should start touching my efforts up. I have the technology, but have never gone over a mix and edited it after it was completed. I have the old-fashioned notion that everything should be done live in one take. Of course I’ve screwed up the beginnings of many, but as long as I’m not too far in I’ll go back and start again. There’s little you can do if this happens far along the line though, so steps have to be taken to minimize the pain. My mixer isn’t the most expressive, so it’s not possible to eliminate whole sonic areas. This can be a problem if you don’t know the records you are playing well. Having said that, the element of surprise is always exciting, and I think that a DJs 6th sense comes into its own when using intuition and occasionally riding one’s luck. Anyway, you can hear the results of my efforts on my Mixcloud page, which is linked to on the right.  From the next mix, my Soundcloud is going to be under new quality control. Another thing I must do is revive my Modyfier ‘Process’ mix, which wasn’t a mix at all, but a selection of influences. The Soundcloud algorithms removed it without warning a few years ago.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Exiles EP - Cold (AE Recordings)

Title: Exiles EP
Artist: Cold
Label: AE Recordings
Cat Number: AE06
Genre: Techno

1: Aerials
2: Phased Out
3: Exiles
4: Dialogic
5: Goosebumps

This is a major event. Cold was the first artist to release on Iceland’s peerless Thule, with ‘Hyper Experience’ back in 1996; a release that contained the classic ‘Strobe Light Network’. AE is a Thule associated label and, unless I’ve been remiss, this new EP ‘Exiles’ is his first release proper since 1996. Derrick May never came in from the recording cold for obvious reasons, so has Cold, aka Isar Logi Arnarsson, still got it?

Well I suppose so, although there wasn’t that much to go on in the first place, and the five tracks here more than double what he’s already released. From what we have hear it’s the three dubbier tracks, which make the biggest impression: ‘Phased Out’, ‘Exiles’ and ‘Goosebumps’ are all great example of their kind, with the creeping menace of the title track standing out. As for ‘Aerials’ and ‘Dialogic’, I’m not as keen. They both make use of a shuffling beat, but it is far more pronounced on the latter than the former, which drives more conventionally, compared to what sounds like a souped up Ark on ‘Dialogic’. Overall though, a very good EP that is very much more worth your time and money.

Tilted Reality EP - Jor El (Echocord)

Title: Tilted Reality EP
Artist: Jor El
Label: Echocord
Cat Number: ECHOCORD074
Genre: Techno

1: Tilted Reality
2: Elevation
3: Solitude

It’s a really nice EP this. Unhurried and sure of itself with a certainty that comes from knowing that the surface has been skimmed and there are unknown depths still to explore. As far as trying to wring out even more from a relatively formulaic approach is concerned, this release pretty much nails it. Taking a step back into the shadows on all three tracks, and opting for a beat filled ambience which is subtle enough to adapt to any sonic environment, but takes a certain amount of skill to manipulate.