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  • Review: Gaiser - Blank Fade

    11 oct. 2008, 11h52m

    I originally wrote this review for 365Mag.com in September 2008

    A new Gaiser album on Minus can almost go without the compulsory introduction paragraph. Minus is of course the most well known label in human history, run by front man Richie Hawtin. Gaiser is one of their main artists, releasing on the label since 2006. He is praised for his energetic live acts. Blank Fade is considered his debut album although he had a long playing EP last year called Eye Contact.

    Gaiser's output has always been thematically strong. His tracks can immediately be identified. As expected this album contains tracks based on that typical Gaiser blue print. Darkness and groove with a standout sound quality. At some point most new Gaiser tracks began to feel the same to me. That was also my first impression when listening this new album, a feeling of sameness. It was only after a few listens that I noticed what sets this new release apart.

    My preview copy came with two versions of the album, the regular version and a complete album mix. When I started listening to the regular version I felt that the tracks sounded too much alike. There are some potential hits on the album but some tracks felt like out takes from Gaiser's live acts. In short I felt that they lacked context.

    When I started listening to the complete album mix I realized that those tracks ARE in fact out takes. When placed into a full set the whole album gained the context I thought it was missing. I would say the tracks are more suited as a tool for DJ's while the mix is better for home listening. When listening to the mix the whole album gains a certain flow you would expect from a Gaiser live performance. The glue that the mix provides creates an album that's more then just the sum of it's parts.

    One thing that I find particular important as a music reviewer is how an album differentiates from an artists his earlier work. The one thing that stands out as different here is that the whole thing in more and then his earlier work.

    Maybe releasing a full length album was an opportunity to create something that has more depth then before. Something different then just killer dance floor tracks. The digital exclusive, which is a beatless track, puts further emphasize on this. That being said I hope that Gaiser's future work makes a bigger step forward and this album can be seen as the closing of a chapter in his musical work.

    In fact there isn't much more surprising to say about this album. It's pretty much what you would expect from Gaiser's debut album if you have seen him live or heard his earlier work on Minus. As a DJ I can see the tracks work very well in my sets and as a listener I can see the mix work very well at home. I am not sure if the mix will be released since there in no mention of it in the press release. If not you would need to subtract half a point from the final grade I gave this album.
  • Review: Mike Shannon - Memory Tree (Plus 8)

    13 sept. 2008, 10h28m

    I originally wrote this review for 365Mag.com in August 2008

    Mike Shannon has been releasing records for almost ten years now. He is one of the more diverse artists to release minimalistic music. Being diverse is a quality that's good to have as an artist in the contemporary climate. Most producers seem to have run out of ideas to make something purely minimal. And those who think they don't, sound like it. Those who never heard any of Shannon's records might think that he's a breath of fresh air but the truth is that he has been producing high quality music that have been sounding different from the rest for years.

    Plus 8 is one of those classic labels that deserve respect. Not only did it spawn some of the most memorable techno records ever but it's run by what's probably the most talked about personality in the scene, Richie Hawtin. Since both Richie and Mike have been around for some time they are no strangers to each other. Rumours have it that Mike has been bugging Richie about a release on Plus 8 for years now. Also some people told me last year that Richie was playing some really nice unknown Shannon tracks. With its almost 80 minutes of play time we can say with confidence it's finally there: Mike Shannon's full length album on the legendary Plus 8.

    The first thing anyone will notice about this album is that it has a very different style then most records on Plus 8 in the recent years. In my perception Adam Beyer's A Walking Contradiction release in 2005 defined the style of Plus 8 up until now. The recent release by Tony Rohr and Alexi Delano already had different more bass orientated vibe about it. Shannon his release departs even further from the minimalistic techno in the direction of Detroit techno. Which in my book means less darker and more warmer and melodic sounds. Warmth in music is a hard to define concept so let's just hope you and me got the same definition.

    Since the history of Plus 8 started in Detroit, the story in some ways has gone full circle. I wouldn't quite say this record goes back to the roots of the label, of course it has some modern day influences, but it's much closer to classics like Amenity and Model 8 in style than records in the labels recent history. The timing for that change in sound is right in line with the recent influx of house elements in techno music. Everyone in minimal techno is looking for some new and fresh influences. In a strange paradoxical twist of musical faith the answer for most people seemed to be going back to the past: House. This album has some obvious house characteristics but I wouldn't define it as house. From a marketing perspective it's the perfect timing, although these tracks were probably produced long before the trend became so visible. So Detroit, techno, house, warmth, ambient all those elements fit perfectly together to make a surprisingly cohesive whole. Some tracks put one of these characteristics more in de spotlight then others which gives the album the diversity it needs. Since this album consists of a respectable eleven tracks (and two more on the digital version), I won't bore you trying to describe every tiny detail and sound. Instead I'll try to describe the flow of the album from head to start.

    The album starts out with some spatial ambient sounds that somewhat builds the tensions and sets the tone. I could see the first track being used as an opening to a variety of DJ sets. Not so long after that you will begin hearing a more apparent danceable structure. You will notice that the glitchy sounds that were part of the more ambient introduction are being used all through the album. The following tracks are marked by some irresistible melodies that will keep your foot tapping throughout. Sometimes these melodies are accompanied by more over the top sounds that reinforce them. These are not the trance type nor the 'bleep blop' type but proper deep melody lines. Although I have listened to the album extensively over the last couple of days the tracks still sound fresh every time I hear them, which is quite an accomplishment.

    Just when you were tapping your foot and swinging your shoulders while sitting at your desk, the pace of the album begins to pick up. At least it feels like it because the tracks get a more rhythmic feeling. The still have the above elements but let's say they get a more dance-floor / nightclub feeling. Be aware if you are listening to this at work because you will look funny if your trying to dance, sit and work at the same time (especially when listening on headphones).

    Luckily the album doesn't erupt next into some big warehouse rave Detroit record. What I'm trying to say is, don't expect to hear something like Jeff Mills' 'The bells' on here. And that's a good thing since Shannon instead chooses to maintain the same feeling while shifting the focus a little more to house. These tracks sound like they could have been classics from ten years ago but without the cheesiness and more polish. As we are getting to the end of the physical version the record begins to settle in to a more laid back position. Some longer stretched out sounds are introduced to keep things interesting. If you are listening in chronological order these small changes in musical direction feel very natural. I could also see these tracks work perfectly at an after hour. The album ends with a more harmonic sounding track which will put your tapping foot in a more comfortable tempo.

    If I would have to visualize the flow of the whole album it would look like a wave peaking right at the middle. The colors on the cover communicate the music quite well in my perspective: toned down but rich in structure. The cover almost has a feeling of autumn about it with it brownish backdrop and it's abstract representation of a tree.

    Since you are probably reading this on-line I assume you entered the digital age. That's a good thing since it gives you the option to purchase two more digital only tracks. Both tracks extend perfectly on the rest of the album giving you more of the same. Which is a good thing in this case since the whole album has as pretty consistent sound. Unlike most Plus 8 material Shannon produced an album that's not only suited for DJs but home listening as well. You might say it almost feels like a complete DJ set when listening from start to finish.

    Only one more question remains open: Does it deliver and meet expectations? Well if you are craving for the next Skoozbot record, then no this probably isn't meeting your expectations. It exceeded mine though. This being Shannon and not Paco Osuna I knew upfront that this wouldn't be another Italian style record. I wouldn't call it very ground breaking maybe even traditional, mixing technological advancements with old musical influences. Where it exceeds my expectations is in execution. Every time I listen to it I get a feeling of polish and quality. An achievement on its own is the fact that it doesn't bore easily considering the choice of style. So yes, it delivers. Let's just hope this isn't the beginning of another era of sameness on Plus 8. Personally I'm not to worried since I suspect this album stands on his own.
  • The future of DJ-ing

    24 août 2008, 0h40m

    Richie Hawtin has been my favorite DJ for quite some time now. I could write several pages about the music and great memories I have of his DJ sets. Since mister Hawtin is not only a musical talent but also someone who knows how to market and sell music, he is often accused of leaving his musical integrity of the 90' behind. I pretty much gave up discussing that on the internet because people tent to directly label you as a fanboy without going in to a decent conversation about the music itself.

    Something that can't be denied is his influence on the technological side of DJ-ing. In the last two decades he has been constantly evolving his set up to advance the craft of DJ-ing. In my experience the introduction of new hardware to his set-up has always been subject to allot of controversy. Looking back, allot of those things have had a serious impact on how DJ's work nowadays. Prime example of this is the widespread use of digital DJ systems like Final Scratch.

    Recently he has eliminated turntables from his set-up. As you can expect allot of naysayers are heavily criticizing this move. If you have been to listening to the 'Decks, EFX & 909' trilogy you shouldn't be surprised though. The three CD's have always been a showcase of his vision on how the craft of DJ-ing should evolve. He describes this vision as being 'closer to the edit'. It comes down to pretty much cutting up tracks, samples and other input in to loops or fragments that are then combined to form a new composition.

    Personally I have always been a fan of improvisation in DJ sets because to me its about expression. Creating those truly unique moments that you will never experience in the exact same way again. Not having to spend time on beat matching your records, loops and fragments means you can spend more time being actually creative.

    Of course not all was smooth and silk right from the start. His DJ sets at the beginning of this year got mixed receptions. But that might just be a matter of taste. Recently people have been talking very positive of the sets they heard. It has been quite a few months since I last heard him play but these two clips from the love parade are convincing enough for me. The way the tracks are seamlessly live mixed to form a new whole sounds really much closer to the edit then before. Especially if your are familiar with some of the tracks that are being played. Decide for your self, do we really need turntables or not?

    Part 1



    Part 2

  • The silencing of Pete Doherty

    22 août 2008, 11h00m

    This is a condensed version of an email conversation I had with a friend and fellow last.fm user tecnomicon.

    U.K. authorities have decided to ban a performance of Pete Doherty at a music fesitval. The Guardian wrote:

    "The decision came after police asked an intelligence officer to research Doherty's band, Babyshambles, who were booked to headline Moonfest festival in Westbury, Wiltshire, next week. They concluded that the band's tendency to "speed up and then slow down the music" could create a "whirlpool effect" and spark disorder."

    If find this very remarkable. Of course there is no doubt that music influences your mood. But isn't that the whole point of listening to music. I like to think that music that doesn't influence your mood is in general bad music. If that is true the government in this case is pretty much deciding how you should feel. Your mood or feelings is not something I think the authorities should interfere with. Banning certain artists because of their musical style is almost like forbidding someone to feel angry or happy. To me this is constraining everyones personal freedom to listen to the music they enjoy way to much. I find it rather bizar and wonder if the same thing could happen in my country.

    The Guardian also wrote another editorial that claims the laws used for this ban where never intended to be used in the way they are now. A clip on youtube reveals how much disorder Doherty's performances are really causing. The behavior of the crowd doesn't seem really appropriate for the Royal Albert Hall but apart from that I see no reason why this should be forbidden. I have seen worser raging crowds in my life.



    I'm not familiar with the music by Babyshambles but all this fuss makes me want to give it a listen. Let's see how that will influence my mood...
  • Review: Heartthrob - Signs (M-nus)

    17 août 2008, 9h55m

    I originally wrote this review for 365Mag.com in May 2008

    Heartthrob is a nickname given to Jesse Siminski by fellow minus artist Magda. As most members of the Minus roster Jesse is originally from the US. Unlike most big minimal artists he is now living in Paris. His track Baby Kate, which surprisingly is about Kate Moss, was one of 2006's big hits. Signs is the first single from Heartthrob's coming debut album Dear Painter, Paint Me.

    Minus is without a doubt the most well known label around. This year marks their 10 year anniversary. To celebrate they took the first 10 weeks of the year off to re-focus their energy, ideas, and inspiration. Signs is the second release after this break, so expectations were high. Question is if ten weeks of silence were really necessary to come up with this record?

    The title track starts out with a growling bass-line which soon gives subtle hints of the main theme. A whispering vocal builds up the tension until the melody kicks in. The whole track revolves around this melody with several uplifting and deep variations on it. The track is clearly made for the dance-floor and there is no doubt it will set many of those on fire. If you heard any of the Minus artist play recently you will instantly recognize it from their DJ sets. And that might just be the problem with this track, because it's so recognizable and will probably played out alot, how long will it take before you get bored with it? It's not subtle enough to become a classic, but like Baby Kate, it will definitely be remembered. That being said Signs is a very strong and well produced track. The sound is very clear as you'd expect from a Minus track.

    The B-side, Apprentice, is a track that is less distinct and thus better suited for DJ's to mix up with other tracks. Most of the sounds have the Heartthrob signature written al over them. Overall the track is alot darker than the one on the A-side. The melody won't get stuck in your head the whole day like Signs, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I suspect this track really shines when it's mixed with other tracks. It's very danceable but not in irresistible ways.

    Recently, Minus has gotten into the habit of releasing digital only tracks. Because of the low distribution costs digital only tracks are often more open to experimentation. As a result Valentine is something we haven't really heard from Heartthrob before. Valentine is a dreamlike ambient track, something you wouldn't really expect to appear on Minus. The track is build around a pulse that plays through the track like a heartbeat. Together with some bells and other ambient sounds it makes for a nice relaxing listen. I would categorize this as an listen track as opposed to the the other dance tracks on the record. I like it but this isn't typically the thing most people would be looking for when buying a Minus record.

    The whole record has that high quality that you would expect from a Minus release. If you go clubbing regularly you will probably be very tired of the record after the summer though. Does it spark with new energy, ideas, and inspiration? Signs does have alot of energy but it's not surprising enough to say this is really the new thing Minus promised us after the 10 weeks of silence. The ambient track proves that Minus is open to other influences, so my guess is the best is still to come. Maybe even sooner then we think. Heartthrob's upcoming full album might just give him the extra space to go beyond the killer dance-floor tracks.

    I won't hesitate to recommend this record to anyone who is into this kind of music. In fact it will probably recommend itself when it's played out and creates one of those magical moments just like Baby Kate did in the past.

    Rating: 7.0 out of 10.0
  • Last.fm open mind index

    14 avr. 2008, 11h53m

    I just discoverd this cool little widget that uses the last.fm data to determine how open minded your music taste is.






    Not a bad score..
  • Pierre Bastien in Amsterdam

    18 jan. 2008, 23h29m

    I went to see Pierre Bastien in Amsterdam (Sun 13 Jan – Philip Jeck, Pierre Bastien) and what an amazing performance it was! The performance was at the Bimhuis which is a small but very modern jazz stage located in a big building with several stages. It wasn't very crowded but that wasn't any problem at all. The ambiance was still very nice an intimate.

    Pierre Bastien was doing his trademark performance with a small self made installation that made all kinds of crazy sounds. You might think these sounds wouldn't have any coherence but the opposite was true. The music was full of live and sometimes even emotional. Its hard to explain if you never seen him preform but I can recommend it to everyone.

    Next on was the main act Philip Jeck which wasn't really my style. It was an ambient performance with two old turntables. Although it was ambient the sounds almost hurt my ears an made me pretty restless. I respect what he does but its just nog my cup of tea.

    All in all a night to remember. The performance of Pierre Bastien is one i'll never forget.
  • SMS 2006

    16 août 2006, 17h44m

    When it comes to festivals that require some serious traveling I always have this special rule. If I liked such a festival very much a particular year I always skip the next edition. Why you ask? Because it can never be as fun in your mind as last year. This rule has led me to visit the sonnemondsterne festival for the third time in five years this year which proves to me that it’s a great festival.

    SMS is always programmed in such a way that you have to dance your feet off on friday night and then have time to listen to beautiful music on saturday. Some people dare to say that saturday night is the “lesser” night. I do disagree with that. Part of the fun of SMS for me is walking into a place and hearing great music by an artist I have never heard before. People who come strictly to dance may be disappointed. Another thing I like about the programming is that it has so much variation without crossing to much borders to very commercial music.

    The friday started off for me with Dapayk the german producer from who I own some records was doing his best to look enthusiastic but couldn’t really get the crowd going. His very minimalistic music was just not suited for the biggest tent of the festival. The real reason I was waiting in that tent was Cristian Vogel. I have been wanting to see mr Vogel for several years now but I never succeeded in doing so. This year was no different. Cristian was stuck in traffic and was to late for his performance. A shame cause he was really one of the artists i was really looking forward to.

    After the first disappointment of the festival I decided to walk into the “freude am tanzen” stage. Mathias Kaden was playing when I walked in and I immediately got that SMS feel. Everyone was dancing including Mathias himself and although the first hour I heard too much familiar records the second hour of his set was a real dancing bomb. Because of this great experience i decided to hang out some more. Mathias his producing buddy Marek Hemmann was playing next and really kept the vibe going with his live act.

    At 3 o’ clock it was time to go and see Henrik Schwarz, another name I was looking forward to see for the first time. Henrik played more of an experimental detroit minded set which I really liked. Great producer although some tracks are not really up my ally. After Henrik it was time for my favorite DJ: Richie Hawtin. And what a set he played again. I am still of the opinion that the best place to see Richie is germany. His set featured almost exclusively tracks I have never heard before and it was all really sterile an minimal just the way i like it. Matthew Dear’s “mouth to mouth” finished his set off and if you heard the track you know exactly what feeling it gives you.

    One of the thing’s I have noticed about SMS is how when another artist enters the change the whole mood on that stage swings in another direction. Something I have never experienced in this extreme manner. Ellen Alien & Apparat played after Hawtin and it just felt like a whole new day. I haven’t heard enough of this act to give a fair opinion about them the only track I heard was “Turbo Dreams” which sounded pretty much like the original to me. Which brings me to the question how much of live acts is actually live. Or even of DJ sets. Take for example Pascal FEOS who was playing on the saturday. He was constantly busy turning the knobs of his mixer but I heard absolutely no result in the sound. Same goes for Kraftwerk it just felt to me like they where playing a cd although it was great to see them.

    Another Act that is really worth mentioning was Metope & Ada. I have heard them both before but this new live act together was new to me. The result was a more laid back act with beautiful melodies and crawling rhythms. For sure one of the highlights of the festival.

    When I come to think of it I can go on and on. I can tell you all about Villalobos his mad structered records and the crazy after party on sunday. But there is only one way to really experience it yourself... Visit SMS next year...