dance music as it was meant to be?

It’s rare when I listen to new music and realize I’m listening to something that represents a marked departure from everything I’d heard before.  I may not always realize how unique something is on the first listen, but in subsequent listens I would realize that I’d stumbled upon something remarkable.

The first time it happened was when I was listening to Cocteau Twins’ Treasure a few months after it came out in 1984.  While the mainstream music critics wrote glowingly of a “guitar revival” movement that included U2 and R.E.M., the Cocteau Twins quietly created textures and sound-scapes never before considered possible with a guitar.  The second time was when I first heard LTJ Bukem (born the same year I was) in the latter half of the 90’s and the way that he took drum n bass and turned it into a kind of ethereal jazz from outer space, with long spacey tones layered over complex and rapid staccato beats.

I might be exaggerating to put the record label Claremont 56 into that category–nevertheless, I am quite blown away by a compilation of theirs that I downloaded recently.  The artists on this label produce, for the most part, DJ-friendly dance floor tracks–but with a heart and soul that has often been missing from electronic tracks.

I need to note that it took me a long time to warm to house music and other made-for-the dance-floor electronic music that developed in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  I couldn’t understand the appeal of this “underground” dance club movement.  All of it sounded repetitive with little variation–something mass-produced, generic with little thought put into it, yet surrounded by hype.  It felt like the McDonald’s of underground music.

Only later did I grow to appreciate a lot of what was coming out of that scene.  Some of my appreciation was of artists that came out of that scene but matured and diversified themselves, Moby being a prime example.  Other acts I liked were ones that had developed catchy little hooks, but even with many of them I felt uncomfortable playing them because of their repetitiveness.

Granted–many of these tracks were designed for beatmixing and while I do a bit of that, I feel that technique is way overused and an artificial way to keep dance floors full.  One popular event in London explicitly avoids beatmixing.  (London, also home to Claremont 56, is also where LTJ Bukem developed his unique beats and where the Scottish trio Cocteau Twins recorded Treasure.  As usual, London’s light-years ahead of anything beyond the western shore of The Pond.  And I’m not complaining.)

While searching online,  I found an interesting compilation album called 5 Years of Claremont 56.  I don’t know what drew me to it, but I realized I was listening to something different just with the 30 second samples of tracks I was listening to.  After listening to the album in its entirety–23 tracks plus an hour-long continuous mix, I realized this was something I felt had been missing from dance music.  They describe themselves as “an independent label dedicated to releasing beautiful music.”

I would describe much of Claremont 56’s sound as a combination of Zero 7 with early Beta Band.  But other elements are brought into it, depending on the artist–folk, punk, early 70’s soul, jazz, disco, and many other elements.  Furthermore, although dance-floor friendly and leaving behind the traditional pop song structure, the songs evolve rather than just repeat, and in a more natural way than the automated layered changes in progressive house.  A lot of this is inherent in the live instrumentation that is reportedly used with the recordings.  Two examples are below:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZTSkbwF5CA&w=640&h=360]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DseEaD11HQ8&w=640&h=480]

The label was started by longtime DJ Paul “Mudd” Murphy in London.  You can see the text of an interview here.  I wish this label continued success–I feel like they have a lot to offer the DJing and dance world.

what a difference a year makes–or does it?

A tale of two views of the same street–a year apart:

43 degrees North 2012-03-26

43 degrees North 2013-03-26

43 degrees North 2013-03-26

This time last year, we had May weather in March, including some 80°F days.  This year, still a lot of snow on the ground, with our most recent snowfall on Sunday.  So this means global warming’s over, right?  (Ba-bump, crash).

Yeah, easy for some people to say.  Sure, we’re having a colder than normal March after a more or less normal January and February.   Yet these wild swings in temperature are also evidence of global warming.

The rapid warming of the Arctic in winter causes the jet stream to become more wobbly and unpredictable.  Last year, the part of the Arctic jet stream at Wisconsin’s longitude was much further north–this year, it has been much further south.  So, basically, we’re talking more weird weather.  That’s why, in 2008 we ended up with over 100 inches of snow here in Madison–the previous record was 76.1 inches.  It’s one thing to break a record–it’s another to blow it to smithereens.  It’s yet another thing to see snow in Las Vegas.  And who said “don’t mess with Texas?”  On the flip side there’s the insane Moscow heat wave of 2010.

In any case, it is warming up, with temperatures reaching the 40’s (Fahrenheit) later this week.  So here’s to a hopefully normal summer this year, after a record-breaking summer last year.

they can keep my ear (some music that has caught my ear recently)

Hey, I just realized that it’s been a few months since I posted some videos.  The last time I posted some was in December with that rather epic history of shoegaze that was probably the video equivalent of a box set. This post will be shorter. Just wanted to share a three videos of musical artists I’ve discovered recently and highly recommend.

I discovered Washed Out recently while looking for more danceable dreampop to spin.  This particular song is quite catchy and you will probably be hearing at a dance event of mine soon.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etGJUeYtdxE&w=640&h=360]

Last year I discovered Peaking Lights, a husband and wife band that just recently relocated to the Madison area from the Bay Area.  Their music is incredibly eclectic and all over the map.  This sounds a little bit like blues as if played at an alien carnival.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRJO5lVYEPU&w=640&h=360]

While surfing YouTube videos, I discovered Warpaint, an absolutely brilliant alternative rock band. This haunting video is a partly a tribute to Billie Holiday, and partly a cover of Mary Wells‘ “My Guy,” but it seems to me they are saying a lot more about the artists and their songs than might initially meet the eye. I have my own interpretation–what do you think?

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWcTp1r_Nls&w=640&h=360]