Massive Attack and Tom Petty, two generations live

Posted: September 27th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Ambient, Breakbeat, Events | No Comments »

Massive Attack 2

Massive Attack and Liz Fraser’s angelic music fills the Hollywood Bowl. Photo by Electrohound.

Massive Attack performed at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl this past Sunday to a crowd of fans and hipsters of all stripes. Only one of the original three members from the trip-hop innovators was present, 3D (Robert Del Naja). But a supporting cast, including reggae vocalist Horace Andy and chanteuse Liz Fraser of Cocteau Twins fame, warmed the cool air. The sound was expertly mixed as a live guitarist, keyboardist, and two drummers puounded, pulled and pushed Massive Attack’s heavily programmed music into a liquid, thunderous ball of lightening.

Classics like “Safe From Harm,” “Risingson,” and “Hymn of the Big Wheel” filled the bowl with soulful singing, whisping threads of melody and climbing electric guitar textures. The most exquisite moments belonged to “Teardrop” and “Unfinished Symphony.” The former worked around the song’s distinctive, honey-dripping bass notes, slightly delayed for awesome, dramatic effect. The latter breathed perfectly in the outdoor setting, lifting the audience up with its earnest lyrics and delirious rhythms. In this heady mixture of organic and electronic sounds, Massive Attack delivered its music and message from an enlightened core. “Safe From Harm” accompanied sobering statistics about the Iraq War flashed in red letters across lighting grids. Without killing the mood, it reminded old fans of Massive Attack’s common theme of protecting the vulnerable. All in all, it was a bloody professional showing from a band past its prime but sitting on top of one the best song catalogs of the last 20 years.

Jut two nights later Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers played in the same place to an entirely different audience. The old Southern rocker jammed through most of his classics, keeping the joys high with many standouts from his landmark Full Moon Fever album. When he introduced Stevie Nicks as his special guest, the crowd went wild. Having grown up during the early years of MTV, I couldn’t help but be deeply impacted by Petty. And while his live rendition of “Don’t Come Around Here No More” — a classic ’80s song with an unforgettably creepy video — reminded me slightly of Disneyland’s Electric Light Parade theme, it was still the highlight of my week.

Standing in the same amphitheater that Massive Attack rocked just 48 hours earlier, it was easy to observe just how different the two generations were. One relied on the iconic personality of an enlightened Southern rebel, maybe the last true rock and roller of our time, the other on the tasteful fusion of global grooves and island soul by three English blokes steeped in the electronic revolution.

Even though the outward effects were worlds apart, there was a deeper connection. Both drew on the clash of musical traditions from Africa, the Americas and Europe. And both reached through them for enlightened ecstasy and peace.

Stanton Warriors: "Lost Files" plus "Sessions Vol 2"

Posted: September 23rd, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Breakbeat, Techno | No Comments »

Stanton warriors vol 2

The Stanton Warriors’ first album of original material is finally here. The one to buy is the import release, which includes a DJ mix in the tradition of Stanton Sessions Volume 1. Together the package is impressive. As anyone who’s familiar with these party pranksters would expect, the beats are thumping and body-moving. The album proper begins with “Seeker,” featuring a guest vocal by Jhelisa of The Shamen fame. Her hushed singing gives the The Lost Files a rock feel very similar to UNKLE’s Never, Never, Land. Dancehall and street vibes come direct with solid tracks “Blaze,” “Get Em High” and “Bounce & Twist,” while tracks like the moody “Slip Away” give the album a pop atmosphere that still retains an underground edge. But that pop sensibility is also a party killer. Instead of letting the sexy, slinking grooves of “Slip Away” ride fiercely for another two to three minutes, the Warriors shorten it for radio play. The result sizzles rather than burns. And that’s the main problem with The Lost Files. Clearly gifted with a sense of what makes people boogie, the Stanton Warriors simply lose their way when playing too hard to the home-listening crowd. Still, the duo’s talent for crafting tough beats and old school vibes is always on display. Any one of these “lost files” would sit well in an alternative radio show or in a breakbeat DJ’s set. The Stanton Sessions Volume 2 mix is proof of the latter. Not as good as their awesome Volume 1, this followup mix still has a deliciously mean streak. Tracks like “Pop Ya Cork” are hard, psychedelic numbers fit to get any big soundsystem party off to a fearless start. Which reveals something about these breakbeat warriors — they’re still better DJs than bedroom rockers.

Music Samples:
Pop Ya Cork
Slip Away

Weekly playlist: The Snows of Canada

Posted: September 16th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Ambient, Techno | No Comments »

I know most have heard of Boards of Canada. Nor is it original to compile a playlist of their top stuff. But I know some downloaders out there have never bothered to buy their albums and E.P.’s or take the time to listen to all of them. Also, I doubt few have assembled a smooth sequence with the right peaks and valleys.

If you’re new to Boards or have only heard them in passing, imagine a grainy wildlife documentary and family home movies from the ’70s, mixed with childlike wonder, crunchy hip hop beats and the bleak beauty of the northern wilderness.

So here it is — minus some highlights like “Hi Scores” and “Happy Cycling” — my home version of the best way to listen to the Boards:

  1. Wildlife Analysis : Music has the Right to Children
  2. An Eagle in Your Mind : Music has the Right to Children
  3. Chromakey Dreamcoat : The Campfire Headphase
  4. Satellite Anthem Icarus : The Campfire Headphase
  5. Telephasic Workshop : Music has the Right to Children
  6. Triangles and Rhombuses : Music has the Right to Children
  7. In A Beautiful Place in the Country : In A Beautiful Place in the Country E.P.
  8. Amo Bishop Roden : In A Beautiful Place in the Country E.P.
  9. Kaini Industries : Music has the Right to Children
  10. Bocuma : Music has the Right to Children
  11. ROYGBIV : Music has the Right to Children
  12. Aquarius : Music has the Right to Children
  13. Nlogax : Hi Scores E.P.
  14. Seeya Later : Hi Scores E.P.
  15. 1969 : Geogaddi
  16. Ataronchronon : The Campfire Headphase
  17. Oscar See Through Red Eye : The Campfire Headphase
  18. Dayvan Cowboy : The Campfire Headphase
  19. You Could Feel the Sky : Geogaddi
  20. Tears from the Compound Eye : The Campfire Headphase

Techno 2006, the return of the future

Posted: September 16th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Events | 1 Comment »

A Milky Way

Los Angeles artist Testshot Starfish navigate the night. Photo by Electrohound.

2006 was the year that it all began to flow back into mass perception. Five years after 9/11, with a healthy economy, the shake-out of digital downloads and the persistence of grizzled artists and DJs, it seemed the time to get down was here again.

For five years we had to endure the whine and cheese of pop electronica and the return of rock chic. Moby, while a genius, had made techno too safe for corporate executives and investment bankers. He was right that America had already missed the creative peak of techno. It was a sad commentary on America’s isolationism that it had missed Orbital’s Brown Album and Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman only to catch both artists’ less spirited but refined follow-ups. When America finally learned it was part of a global community, it learned it by way of crashing jetliners.

The Orb 2

Dr. Alex Patterson and Thomas Fehlmann of The Orb at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Photo by Barry M.

By 2006, those dark clouds finally began to fade. In March, The Orb rocked the Frank Gehry-designed Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. Local techno wonderboy John Tejada globetrotted tirelessly while Breakbeat continued its comeback with the Plump DJs and the Stanton Warriors.

Sitting at the Terra Byte show at the L.A. County Arboretum in June, I could sense yet again a little bit of that giddy excitement from decades past. Like little jolts of electricity, the inventive, beautiful songs of LA’s Testshot Starfish and Sacramento’s Tycho compressed time to zero, gently calling up memories of past summers of love.

Still a murmur perhaps. But then months earlier it had been shot right into my sober brain. Daft Punk had landed at Coachella like space invaders, showing what pure techno — trans-dimensional, electrofied, funky techno — was capable of. The beats punched the hips while growling synths melted into fist-pumping house magic.

Daft Punk Coachella

Daft Punk booming daftendirekt from their stargate pyramid at Coachella 2006. Photo by Electrohound.

The Los Angeles Times barely mentioned their performance, deaf to its significance. But it was obvious to anyone who ever rocked out to a technoid drum: techno wasn’t dead, it was fucking alive and kicking ass. Eminem was right about Moby but wrong about the genre. In fact, Kanye West had a pitiful performance earlier that day, showing the major weakness of live, pop rap — its self-infatuation, its rants, killing the party.

When Daft Punk wrapped up, everyone stumbled away in a daze. One concert-goer shook his head, exasperating, “Motherfuckers stole the show.” As the kids pulled away from the parking lot, blasting Daft Punk on their car stereos, a blond teenage girl, born at the end of the ’80s when rave first came to be, cheerleaded to her friends as a truck crawled by playing “Around the World”: “That song is soooo amazing.”

It’s more than 20 years since Detroit and Chicago started the techno revolution. An economic bummer and the War on Terror knocked the wind out of its sails. But things are looking up in 2006. It’s just a feeling, but I think we’re beginning to discover again the optimistic power of techno.