And, of course, like everyone else out there, I've been getting many moments of mirth from this isolated vocal track of David Lee Roth flexing his histrionics on Running With The Devil from Van Halen's debut album, which was featured on WFMU and Metafilter. I hear there are mash-ups planned and I look forward to them with great anticipation...
David Lee Roth - Running With The Devil (Vocal Only Track)
Also, big ups to WFMU and BAF for exposing the world to this teenage incarnation of NWA. Black Beastie Boys, indeed...
In the process of preparing the previous post on Rio drug gang funk, I visited the Sublime Frequencies site to discover - to my immense excitement - that Sumatran Folk Cinema is coming out on DVD! Described on the site as "a psychedelic collage of images and sounds from the heart and soul of [Sumatra's] culture", this film was part of a roadshow with Musical Brotherhoods From The Trans-Saharan Highway (also due out on DVD) that did the rounds last year and, if the trailer is anything to go by, it looks to be an absolute cracker!
In the past couple of the years, baile funk – the raucous amalgam of Miami bass, hip-hop, funk and samba breaks that emerged in the ghettos of Rio De Janeiro in the 90’s – has gone from occupying pride of place in the record collections of the hip cognoscenti to becoming one of the biggest block parties in global urban music. In this country, it has even found its way in to a TV underwear ad… briefly.
(The ad was pulled when a translation of the backing track’s lyrics revealed a young woman lewdly declaring “meet me after school/ And I’ll beat you like a gorilla/ Bite you like a whore/ Come and play with my pussy”. All in all, much too racy to be legally broadcast on free to air TV.)
And as it has grown from ghetto obscurity to worldwide fame, this image of booty-shaking hypersexuality has become its global “face”. To quote long-time champion Diplo: "The only concern for these artists is, ‘What’s gonna make the girls dance, throw their clothes onto the stage and wanna have sex?’"
But there are other sides to the baile funk phenomenon as well; some positive, others less so… Among the latter is that exposed by Probidao CV, a CD of drug gang baile funk released in November last year by Sublime Frequencies.
In the Rio favelas (the local term for ghettos), the dominant economic organisations are the drug gangs – they process over a million dollars of cocaine a month – and so they inevitably exert their influence over any large scale community activity. And baile funk parties are no exception. As one cynical local commented in a 2005 Blender article on the scene: "The bailes ["balls" or parties] are profit-making exercises. They attract customers to the favela to buy their drugs."
In the days before bailes become popular and could serve as indirect marketing exercises, the drug gangs took a more direct approach; staging their own parties and enlisting MCs to perform tracks that glorified the gang and spewed invective on its rivals. Unlike the effervescently technicolour baile funk that we have become used to, this was far simpler and darker fare. Generally, they consisted of a single rhythm track from a Miami bass sample CD accompanied by vocal harangues barked into the mike at maximum volume. (Even if you knew nothing about the context in which they were made, you would have no difficulty guessing their link to violent illicit activity.)
As with all Sublime Frequencies albums, this one can be purchased from the label’s website.
Tomorrow is the start of our annual Long Weekend of Rampant National Chauvinism, so I thought I’d get into the spirit of the occasion by celebrating one of this country’s forgotten musical pioneers.
Born in 1906, Jack Ellitt showed promise as a musician early, winning a scholarship to the NSW Conservatorium of Music at the age of 16. In his early twenties, though, he was drawn away from the academy and into the dive bars of The Rocks where bohemian artists engaged in long, animated discussions about the new modernism. In this environment, he met the awkward but intense New Zealand artist, Len Lye, who became a life-long collaborator.
In the late 1920’s, Ellitt and Lye moved to England and fell in with the surrealists and abstract modernists of the Seven and Five Society. Lye began making experimental films by painting and scratching patterns directly on to film stock, and Ellitt began toying with ways of incorporating abstract sounds into film soundtracks. Sometime in the 1930’s, it lead him to work on soundtracks composed entirely of manipulated pieces of recorded sound… and to conceive of a time when they could be produced by anyone.
In 1935, he wrote: “When good recording apparatus is easily acquired, many people will record everyday sounds which give them pleasure. The next step would be to mould these sound-snaps into formal continuity.”
At the time, the first tape recorders had only just been invented; their use in the musique concrete of pioneer Pierre Schaeffer was a full decade and a half off; and the idea of sampling and sequencing as a commonplace of music-making was something that would take half a century to be fully realised…
Despite his incredible prescience, Ellitt never pursued any claims to be a groundbreaker and toiled away in obscurity; avoiding even the admiring approaches of other musical innovators like Stockhausen. He died in 2001, and sadly, most of his recordings were destroyed after his death.
The piece below, which is taken from the 2007 compilation Artefacts of Australian Experimental Music, was pressed in 1954, but it is believed that it was first recorded in the 1930’s. If this is indeed the case, then it is the earliest piece of musique concrete and marks Ellitt out as one of the most significant sound artists of the 20th Century… And he’s Australian, so Ellitt! Ellitt! Ellitt! Oi! Oi! Oi!
The album that Jack's track comes from can be purchased here.
Mariem Hassan is the premier songstress of the Saharawi, a Berber Arab people made stateless by one of the longest wars in post-colonial African history. The homeland of the Saharawi is the country commonly known as Western Sahara, a largely arid chunk of land wedged between Morocco and Mauritania on Africa’s far western coast.
When its former colonial masters, Spain, were driven out of Western Sahara in 1975 by an indigenous guerilla movement known as the Polisario Front, both Morocco and Mauritania claimed the fledging nation as their own. After an initial carve up that divided it between the two, the Polisario (who had formed a government called the Saharawi Democratic Arab Republic) went to war against their new occupiers. After four years of fighting, they ousted the Mauritanians only to be ousted by the Moroccans who, till this day, remain the effective rulers of Western Sahara.
The SADR and its followers, meanwhile, have spent much of the past 25 years in refugee camps in the harsh desert of Western Algeria. In that time, their plight has become increasingly invisible to the outside world, and their only real exposure on the international stage has been via Meriam Hassan, who has had records released in the West and has become the de facto voice of the Saharawi.
And, as far as a “voice of a people” goes, hers is something special indeed – raw, guttural, explosive and filled with wailing passion… Just listen to the following two tracks from her 2002 album, Mariem Hassan con Leyoad.
(Many thanks to Benn Loxo Du Taccu for switching me on to this amazing singer)
Wacky French auteur Michel Gondry has taken a bit of time out from hawking his new flick Be Kind Rewind at Sundance to post some of his fave video "picks" on YouTube. Although he introduces them with a cringingly unfunny nose-picking gag, there are some genuine gems in the set, including Ornette Coleman on a game show, Max Roach showing off with brushes and snare, an animated food-toy-n-insect tribute to old school video games, and the video at the top of this post, a charming fan produced clip of Pussy On The Mat by Ivor Cutler.
If you have any sort of interest in avant garde music, then you owe it to yourself to check out The Avant Garde Project, a treasure trove of recordings of "20th-century classical-experimental-eloctroacoustic music"; all free and available as mp3s or lovely lossless FLAC files. In this ever-expanding archive, you'll find work by such luminaries as Morton Subotnick, John Cage, Harry Partch, Pierre Henry and Pauline Oliveros, and in a move that should keep them safe from the ire of the industry, they've restricted the repertoire to recordings that are out of print.
In addition to works by notable and less well known composers, the collection is rounded out with what the Project calls "found" avant garde music. Included under this loose rubric are an LP of haunting whale songs and an assortment of music boxes, street organs and mechanical musical instruments. (The explanation of the inclusion of the latter set of recordings is that they "arguably represent the origins of concrete music, in which the human performer is taken out of the equation".)
Good God! I suddenly feel sorely culturally deprived for not visiting Cake And Polka Parade over the past twelve months. After reacquainting myself with Fatty Jubbo's wonderful blog, I was confronted with this incredible music video from Bulgaria featuring Azis, a goateed drag queen who performs a type of hybrid local pop known as chalga. Appearing with her is a local rapper with a penchant for pet ocelots known as Ustata, who ends the clip stripping for a bouncer who watches him on a CCTV while stroking his nipples.
As we drift into the second week of 2008, we finally come to the end of "list" season; that time of the year when anyone with a web presence and a pet obsession posts their list of the top 10/20/50/100 examples thereof from the year just past. (As I’ve been asleep at the wheel for much of 2007, I’m going to refrain from doing one of my own. Indeed, I’ll probably be spending much of the next month catching up on and posting about stuff from 2007 that would probably go in that list if I had one.)
Among those who would nominally be listed in the community of those obsessed with music are the contributors over at the WFMU blog, who produce some of the more interesting end of year lists. Partly that’s because they don’t necessarily limit themselves to enumerating their favourite current releases. In this year's batch, for instance, there’s a list of top ten “imaginary sound events”, top ten 90’s singles and, courtesy of Clinton McClung, a top ten list of places visited in the US in 2007.
At the top of that last list is one of the most inspired pieces of professional petulance in architectural history, The House on The Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin. When budding architect Alex Jordan was spurned by Frank Lloyd Wright, he decided to build a house in the style of his cranky former mentor on a pinnacle not far from Wright’s home. His version, however, became a virtual wunderkammer filled with rooms devoted to Victoriana, dolls, musical automata, a carousel, and a 200 foot sea monster battling a giant squid. In an effort to capture the insane splendour of the place, Clinton has put together the above video of just a couple of the rooms; the soundtrack of which would definitely top my list of field recordings of 2007 (if I had one).
PS: You can see more photos of the rooms in The House On The Rock here
PPS: That screaming you hear at the end of the video is a visitor completely overcome by terror at the sight of a 200 foot sea montser suspended above her head.
These days, it's fairly common for a big name artist to release downloadable versions of a handful of tracks on their website. How often though do you see a whole (or most thereof) back catalogue? Shortly before Christmas, oddball electronica maestro Kristin Erickson (aka Kevin Blechdom) put up her entire solo output, two Blectum From Blechdom CDs, and a host of early works from the Erickson family band, Adult Rodeo. And it's all free! (Top that, Radiohead!)
If you're yet to be exposed to Kevy B's oeuvre, prepare to enter a magical world of icky sex, cheesy romance, bad hygiene and pornographic animal experimentation. Here, as a taster, are two tracks off her 2005 album, Bitches Without Britches. The first is a banjo-driven foot-stomper with some of her most luridly off-colour lyrics; the second contains possibly the only reference to Kid 606's penis in all popular music.
(And the best of this is yet to come... In the very near future, Kev will hopefully be posting pdfs of the seriously depraved cartoon inserts that accompany her releases.)
So, how did you all welcome in the New Year? I spent much of the evening engaged in the supremely dorky but strangely edifying activity of scouring a radio station’s CD library for rockabilly instrumentals, Vampisoul re-issues and tweaking French electro-schlock to be played on a ridiculously extended version of Daz’s drive-time show.
In the process, I came across a truly unexpected and mind boggling cultural artefact, an EP of mongrel mid 90’s country/metal/techno entitled “The Smell of Love” which features drolly intoned vocals by Australia’s most infamous hitman, Mark “Chopper” Read. (If you’re unfamiliar with him, you might want to check out his Wikipedia entry, or track down the DVD of his biopic, Chopper, which helped launch the Hollywood career of The Hulk’s Eric Bana.)
The music is nothing to write home about but Chopper’s contributions (which were clandestinely recorded while he was still in gaol) are genuinely creepy. Mind you, Chopper could recite lullabies in that menacing drawl of his and you’d still be nervously checking that all doors were locked and bolted.
The EP, which was released in 1997, earned Chopper and his musical collaborator, Colin Dix, an Aria nomination for best contemporary release and was followed up in 1998 by a full length album, "Get Your Ears Off" (a reference to the fact that Chopper had his ears sliced off while he was inside). Neither of these set the world on fire, so Chopper’s musical career remained on remand until its relaunch in 2006 by Australian hip hop impresario Jaydub, who produced the album, “Interview With A Madman” and got Chopper a run of gigs at the Sydney Opera House.
Despite the title and its marketing as genuine “gangsta rap”, this slick new product is a lot less chilling than its late 90's predecessor. Mind you, that’s still like saying someone waving a gun in your face is a lot less chilling than someone jamming a gun in your temple…
Anyway, here’s a couple of Chopper tracks from both of his “pop star” incarnations so you can judge for yourself. The first track is off “The Smell Of Love”; the second is from “Interview With A Madman”. Chopper’s website offers a number of options for purchasing his “gangsta rap” album, and one of his earlier albums can be purchased here.