Thursday, December 14, 2006

Jonathan Weiner

Jonathan Weiner is a Brooklyn based artist who's been creating some great pieces as of late. His work always has a great mix of colors and the facial expressions on his characters always manage to convey a lot of emotion. I like the semi-cartoony look of his drawings and the dreamlike quality. Fecal Face has an interesting interview with him on their site.

Also, check out his website.

Music 2006: My Half-Assed Overview

"So what kind of music do you like?" "Um... well you know... a little bit of everything." If that sounds like the start of many conversations you've had this year about music, you're definitely not alone. It is fairly hard not to have eclectic tastes these days (although many people manage to pull this off) because of the abundancy of cheap (and free) download sites on the Internet and the ever-present file sharing services. As a result of all this, the market for music has splintered into many different pieces, with an increasing amount of artist opting to distribute their work themselves over the Internet.

There are definitely some genres that are more popular that others. In San Francisco, most young music fans are either into hip-hop, indie rock, or a combination of the two. In the hip-hop world, Hyphy was all the rage this year (at least in the Bay Area), but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get it. The beats are too cheesy for my tastes, and I can't relate to any of the lyrics.

Hipsters multiplied like rabbits this year and so did indie bands.

Electronic music remained in the ghetto this year, although some electro groups like the Knife and Junior Boys managed to achieve some cross-over success. Minimal house was huge this year... over in Europe. However, there is a burgeoning scene here in San Francisco. The monthly Kontrol parties brought in some great artists like Modeselektor, Akfuen, and Isolee. The Burning Man dance scene is poppin'. There are a lot of cheesy breaks DJ's around right now, but there are a few artists that are absolutely killing it. Tipper, The Glitch Mob, Bill Bless, Kraddy, and Ooah The Mad Turntablist all put out some excellent work this year. Glitch breaks is a sound to look for in 2007.

I'm obviously over-simplifying things here, but to accurately cover all of the new developments in music this year would require at least a ten page paper, time I don't have. I thought 2006 was a great year for music. Many music critics have called it a "lean year"... but when don't they say that? Anyways, here are ten albums I really liked this year.

1. Final Fantasy- He Poos Clouds
2. Vorpal- Digressions
3. Owusu & Hannibal- Living With Owusu & Hannibal
4. Orla Wren- Buttefly Wings Make
5. Califone- Roots and Crowns
6. Hot Chip- The Warning
7. Grizzly Bear- Yellow House
8. Clark- Body Riddle
9. Bonnie Prince Billy- The Letting Go
10. My My- Songs For The Gentle

Albums I've Been Diggin'...

Vorpal- Digressions

Vorpal is an electronic music artist that lives in Montreal. I stumbled across this album when I was shopping on the emusic website a few weeks ago. I have never heard of him before and this is his debut album. This is pretty amazing stuff; I like nearly every track off this album, which is a rarity for me these days. It all flows together nicely and he touches on a few different styles of electronic music from skittering, hyperspeed drum and bass (similar to Aphex Twin and Squarepusher), to downtempo grooves with live drums. He infuses melody into a few tracks like Jessica In The Sky With Diamonds, which has a nice piano line that floats softly over the aggressive drums. His tracks tend to take a lot of twists and turns and, unlike a lot of electronic artists, manages not to stick with just one loop for a whole song. Check this guy out if you're in the mood to hear something different and challenging.

Final Fantasy- He Poos Clouds

If you can get past the questionable title, this is an awesome album. Final Fantasy is the brainchild of Owen Pallet, a musician who serves as a touring member for the Arcade Fire and the Hidden Cameras. He goes in quite a different direction here, these songs are basically classical music pieces infused with a modern rock aesthetic. The instrumentation is excellent and the songs are extremely well structured. He sings with real passion and his lyrics are clever and funny. Mr. Pallet is an amazing talent and I highly recommend this album.

Superthriller- #1

Superthriller is a fun, dance-rock/electronic group from the UK. They sound a little like Prince mixed up with the weird humor of Ween. I like a lot of the grooves on this album and the singer doesn't have a whiny, annoying voice like a lot of other singers in current dance-rock bands. The album is pretty varied, there are several acoustic interludes and the whole project flows well. Some of the songs made me laugh pretty hard like "Idiot" where the singer complains about handicapped people who act like assholes ("just because you've only got one leg, don't mean you have to be an idiot"). Good stuff.

You can find all these albums on eMusic. It's a pretty cool website, for ten bucks a month you get 40 downloads, and for 5 bucks you can add another ten downloads. There's lots of excellent indie rock, hip-hop, jazz, and electronic music on the site and their library keeps getting bigger.

Tiffany Bozic

I LOVE Tiffany Bozic's work. Her compositions have an organic, flowing quality to them and are quite psychedelic. Surrealism for the 21st century.

"Rockism" And Electronic Music

I was leafing through a SPIN magazine the other week and I came across an article written by Douglas Wolk entitled "Thinking About Rockism" (you can read the article here). I found it to be a fascinating article mainly because it put a name on an bias that I have noticed in popular music criticism for many years.

The following definition is from wikipedia:

"The term "Rockism" is an ideology of popular music criticism, originating in the British music press in the late 1970s or early 1980s. The fundamental tenet of rockism is that some forms of popular music, and some musical artists, are more authentic than others. More specifically, authentic popular music fits the rock and roll paradigm; it is made using the basic rock instrumentation of guitars, bass guitars and drums, and fits the structures of a rock and roll song". You can read the rest of the article here.

The debate over rockism has been raging within music geek circles for quite some time now. It is a somewhat confusing discussion because the term has also been applied to broader social contexts outside of the music sphere. Many critics have framed the debate in terms of race: the heterosexual white male "rockists" on one side and minority and homosexual "anti-rockists" on the other. Some music historians cite the vicious disco backlash of the late 70's and early 80's as an example of the white male "establishment" trying to stamp out a scene and a style of music that they didn't agree with.

While I don't equate disliking certain types of music with being a racist, I do think there is validity in some of the arguments put forth by proponents of the rockism theory. The main part of the theory that I agree with is the assertion that many popular music critics tend to review albums based on the criteria they would use to review a rock album. This is obvious when you read reviews or opinions on electronic music.

Many American music critics and fans are quick to discredit modern electronic music, particularly genres that emerged out of the rave scene like drum and bass, techno, house, breaks, trance, etc. Electronic music, dance or experimental, has never been able to gain a solid foothold in America despite being widely accepted in other parts of the world. One of the reasons for this is because most American critics refuse to validate the electronic music on its own terms. It is always unfairly compared to rock or is considered to be a bastard child of hip-hop and turntablism. The experience of going to an electronic music show is very different than going to see a rock band perform. Judging a performance or an album by a DJ or a producer using the criteria you would use to rate a band is lazy and uninformed.

There are a lot of talented artists making some amazing electronic music these days. It is unfortunate that many of them are unable to gain acceptance and recognition in America. Once people are introduced to quality electronic music on a more consistent basis, I think the public's perception of the genre will change.

We need more fesitvals like these in our country:
Sonar Festival
The Melt Festival
Norberg Festival

Digital DJ's

You may have been dancing at a club recently and noticed that the DJ was using CD's and a Laptop instead of vinyl. What was once taboo has now become commonplace in many clubs around the world. The popularity (and cheapness) of digital files have pushed more and more DJ's into the digital realm. Software programs like Traktor, Serato Scratch, and Ableton Live allow DJ's to do away with lugging around heavy record bags and also open up a host of creative options for those looking to make an artistic statement with their sets. With Ableton Live ( the program I use), you can create loops in real time, add effects, and layer several different tracks all at once. The program keeps the tempo locked, allowing for more control over cutting up tracks, setting EQ parameters, and adding in live instrumentation or scratching. You don't use turntables in Ableton, everything is controlled through the program. Serato Scratch emulates a traditional vinyl setup, the program comes with two specially encoded pieces of vinyl that allow users to manipulate the digital files with a turntable. Sound quality isn't a problem in either of the programs if you use Wav files instead of MP3's.

There are many DJ's who believe that using anything besides vinyl records consitutes "fake" DJing and are openly hostile to those who choose to play with digital formats. Critics point out that some of the programs (Traktor and Ableton) auto-beatmatch tracks, a feature they feel takes away a lot of the skill involved in playing a good DJ set. Many DJ's simply love the tactile feel of manipulating a vinyl record and are uncomfortable moving on to a more cerebral set up like Ableton Live. Others love the "warm" sound of vinyl and insist that nothing sounds better.

I have decided to cross the digital divide and couldn't be happier. Vinyl is expensive, a pain in the ass to store, and limiting. I respect people that still use it, but am getting annoyed by trash-talking purists who refuse to accept or try out new ways of doing things. Using Ableton Live has allowed me to get much more creative with my mixing and I can focus more programming a good set and playing good music... which is what really matters on a dancefloor.

Check out some of these programs:

Serato Scratch
Traktor DJ

Jeff Soto

Here's another artist I found on Fecal Face. He started writing graffiti when he was 15 and you can see the influences from that in his latest work here (look at the way the thought bubbles are drawn). I like this guy's work; it's clean, psychedelic/surreal, and holds my attention.

Check out his website.

Concept Art

A friend of mine who goes to Expression College over in Emeryville recently turned me onto a very cool digital art website called Concept Art. If you're into science fiction art or anime, this website will keep you occupied for a while. Concept Art also offers excellent opportunities for artists to display their, network, and even sort through job listings. It is a really well organized website with some amazing work... I urge all of you to give it a look.


Thursday, December 7, 2006

2 New DJ Mixes From... Me

Here are two new mixes from Xander (me). The first mix, Minimize, is a collection of minimal house tracks and the second mix, All Glitched Out, is a glitch breaks mix similar in style to Tipper. I hope you enjoy them both.


1. Phil Parnell- Do Your Living In The Night
2. Herbert- Leave Me Now
3. Liebe Ist Cool- Regenbogen
4. Marc Romboy- The Alchemist
5. Stratos- Hole In A Red Nose
6. Marc Houle- Black Jack 13
7. Format B- Knarzer Roller
8. Daso- Daybreak (Jona Remix)
9. Sleeper Thief- Full Of You
10. Bobby Peru- Erotic Discourse
11. Robag Wruhme- Hugendubel
12. Pink Elln & Bucci- Mavis 350
13. Morgan Geist- Chinatown
14. Liebe Ist Cool- Fur Dich

Download here

All Glitched Out

1. Si Begg- Trigger
2. Dicrylium- Nu DBX
3. Synapse- Mid-Range Trauma
4. Ed Chamberlain- Sky Face
5. Volsoc- Jrumn
6. Bass Kittens- Beside
7. Ed Chamberlain- Cakey Boots
8. Volsoc- Try To Save Your Song
9. Bass Kittens vs. Single Cell Orchestra- Easy Money
10. Jason Sparks- Gangsters (Si Begg Remix)
11. Rauschwerk- Electronic Unit Plug

Download here