Ahhhh, Thelma!

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, October 24, 2007 01:19am | Post a Comment

"This Amoeba thing is getting to be very catchy," said Houston from the stage of her SF in-store appearance. (She was referring to her other appearance earlier in the year at the Hollywood store.)

The 61-year-old daughter of a Southern cotton farmer turned disco diva is touring in support of her new CD, A Woman's Touch, which is a mix of covers from people like Luther Vandross, Marvin Gaye, and Sting. Houston explained to the crowd why all of the songs that she sang were originally done by men, and not women, considering the name of her record: "Once Gladys, Chaka, or Aretha record a song," she said, "you don't need to go there!"

The audience was loaded with old queens (this being SF, after all), all there to pay homage to the woman who sang one of the top ten disco songs of all time, "Don't Leave Me This Way."

But besides being a disco icon, Houston is also an accomplished stage actress, and it showed in her delivery. She came out to the platform dressed like Tina Turner, in a tight tunic and leggings, with a shock of neatly dredded hair in a ponytail cascading around her. She placed a top hat upon her head, which had gigantic feathers dripping off of it. "This is my good luck thing," she joked, "my good voodoo spirit."

Accompanied only by a backing track and a microphone, she lit into her first song, "Wake Up," and then into an Al Green cover, "Love and Happiness." Before she sang it, she told the crowd a story about Al Green, and how she and a certain male friend of hers both had a crush on him in the '70s. "[This was] before the grits," she joked, referring to Green's run in with the law, a hot pot of porridge, and his woman's back.

Continue reading...

Sorcerer, Hatchback and Windsurf

Posted by Mike Battaglia, September 25, 2007 03:25pm | Post a Comment

Little did I know that the amazing 12" by Sorcerer that I had picked up earlier this year was by an artist living in my backyard! I had been initially attracted to "Surfing At Midnight" due to its fantastic Prins Thomas remix and the fact that it was on white-hot UK label Tirk (aka the folks behind the highly revered Nuphonic imprint), but I was further intrigued - who is/are Sorcerer? Well, it didn't take too long to find out.

Sorcerer's debut full-length White Magic was released in August and the SF Electronica section has been singing its praises ever since. The album is chock-full of sun-drenched beach vibes, slow tempos, wistful guitar melodies and gentle, rolling beats - basically everything I'm feeling in 2007. I finally met Daniel Judd - Mr. Sorcerer himself - recently, at Prins Thomas' SF debut earlier this month and got to tell him how great I thought his music was. He's a chill, friendly guy, not unlike his music unsurprisingly, and he introduced me to his partner Sam Grawe aka Hatchback, who recently released a fantastic 12" on SoCal boutique label Sentrall Records, and who Daniel collaborates with as Windsurf. Not long after we exchanged pleasantries, Thomas played a tune that was so great I *had* to find out what it was. Lo and behold - it was Windsurf's remix of "Us vs Them" by LCD Soundsystem, coming out soon on the Bunch of Stuff EP on DFA. Awestruck, I walked over to Sam and Daniel. "This is your tune?!", I gushed. They confirmed it, and it was then I knew I had a new favorite artist. I invited the duo to play a DJ set for Mandala, Amoeba SF's weekly DJ series, which they will be doing this Friday at 7pm. In the meantime, I asked them some questions via email; here are their responses:

MB: Okay, let's start at the beginning. Who are you guys and what have you done before Sorcerer/Hatchback/Windsurf? Are you studio heads or instrumentalists? What do you play?

Sam Grawe/Hatchback: I've been in bands and making computer music since I was in high school, but I never really knew anyone who put records out or how to put a record out, so I did it for myself mostly, first on tapes, and then to cd-r's. A few years ago, Dan, who played guitar and wrote songs for Call & Response (and was also in bands through-out high school and college), and I started jamming together on Saturday mornings and we liked the vibe of the tunes, which was different from the stuff we made on our own. Just stuff that was fun to listen to on BART or in the car. Eventually that evolved into a live show we did under the name Brown Rainbow with our bass-playing pal Adrian Meyer Dentzel (who subsequently moved back to Santa Barbara). We played our first gig on a sidewalk in Sacramento in 2004. In 2005 we played a bunch of shows around town, mostly with our friends Run_Return. Somewhere around that time, I think it was early 2006, the idea for Windsurf was born—not as in, we're going to rule the world—but it gave our Saturday jams a little more direction.

Dan plays guitars, keyboards, and MPC. I play keyboards and do the vocals. Usually a song starts with a beat or a loop or something one of us has cooked up on our own and we just jam until we hit something we like. We both have Logic and share the nerdy production responsibilities. 

MB: Are you both Bay Area natives? Your music has a particular sun-drenched vibe to it, is that a result of a California upbringing? 

SG: Dan grew up in Oakland and then later moved down to Santa Barbara. After college he made his way back up to the bay. I think you can hear the California in his tunes. I grew up in Washington DC and India, and traveled a lot when I was a kid. We used to go to vacation in Goa in the early 1980's... I never heard Goa Trance though. I think you can hear the fact that I listened to too much prog rock in high school in my tunes.

MB: How did the two of you meet, was it love at first sight?

SG: We keep it professional. There's also a no touching rule... we once reached to tweak the same knob at once and it was totally awkward.

We met through our friend Simone Rubi, the keyboardist in Call & Response. I think I first hung out with Dan the night they accepted a CMJ Award in Oakland. He played some Sorcerer tunes at the afterparty, I played him some Boards of Canada style thing I had been messing about with. I think we said we should meet up and jam sometime. 

MB: What influences you guys? Musically? Non-musically? What current ("new") music is working for you?


MB: Can you give me a chart with your top five songs of all time?

SG: Africa - Toto
Why I Came To California - Leon Ware
Give It Up For Love - Ned Doheny
Worry Beads - Haruomi Hosono
Half Forgotten Daydreams - John Cameron

MB: If you could collaborate with one artist, who would it be? Any special circumstances (like, say, live at the Acropolis)?

SG: We hope Ned Doheny will bust some vocals for us one day. No special circumstances, but it would probably only happen if we came to Malibu.

MB: Your sound seems to have found a foothold in this burgeoning Cosmic Disco/Balearic scene. Do you feel any affinity towards it, or do you think you're being mis-categorized? If so, what *is* the Windsurf ethos? 

SG: It's cool that people have actually found a way to categorize our music, but we certainly didn't set out to make Balearic or cosmic disco. 

The Windsurf ethos is to treat each song like its own universe with its own set of rules. For the next song you have to start over. That sort of defies categorization.

MB: Who would you say are your contemporaries, ie, artists you would say share a similar vibe to what you're doing? 

SG: There are the Europeans and then our Pacifica crew (as in the genre, not the city)...

over there you've got Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas, Studio, Aeroplane, Smith & Mudd, White Light Circus

over here you've got The Beat Broker, Rollmottle, Project Sandro, Mardu

MB: What's your view on technology in music? A means to an end, or The End?

SG: We wouldn't be making music if it weren't for the availability of quality home recording devices, so technology is amazing. but we also think its important to leave some humanity in the music... mistakes, live takes, analog bloops and bleeps, etc. Sometimes its cool just to use the computer like you would an 8-track, but other times its cool to dig into some crazy plug-in synth. All in all its just about making what sounds good.

MB: You've got records coming out on Prins Thomas' new label Internasjonal, and have had releases on influential labels like Tirk and Sentrall. How were those connections made?

SG: Dan and I have been posting our "track of the day" over on for a long time. Just sharing music with friends. That pretty much used to be our entire forum for releasing Hatchback and Sorcerer and eventually Windsurf into the world. People seemed to be into it (and we had no idea how many lurkers are on that site) and eventually they started contacting us, well Dan. Tirk asked Prins Thomas to do a Sorcerer remix while THISISNOTANEXIT asked Prins to do a Hatchback remix. Prins put together the dots and found out about Windsurf and asked if he could put out the EP and then finally a full-length.

MB: How come all these fancy-schmancy Scandinavian and European DJ's know all about you, yet most San Franciscans would be hard pressed to even recognize your names? 

SG: Isn't Train from San Francisco? There you go....

MB: Are you guys hippies?

SG: No. We have jobs.

MB: It seems there are a ton of rock/electronic fusion bands/acts around these days, but rarely does it mesh so well as with what you guys are doing. why is that?

SG: We've just been doing our thing for ourselves and just making music that sounds good to us. We listen to music all the time and we're pretty critical of it, not in a "that sucks" way, but in a way that when it comes to making a new track you push for something you haven't heard before. We also listen to a lot of things outside of one genre. I like Simon & Garfunkel, Dan likes MF Doom, and it all adds up to something unique. We're not listening to LCD Soundsystem or !!! and thinking, "ok, we need to get a chunky rhythm guitar and cowbell."

MB: So what's next? Any releases coming up from either of you guys? What should we be looking for in the shop, and when? 

SG: Sorcerer's "Surfing at Midnight" is on the new Milky Disco compilation on Lo Recordings. He's also got two 12" on Tirk in addition to the full length. Hatchback has a 3-track 12" EP on Sentrall, and "White Diamond" b/w Prins Thomas' mix is coming out next week from THISISNOTANEXIT records. Faze Action just remixed the follow up to that which is called "Jetlag," which is going to come out in February of 2008.

In Windsurf news the LCD Soundsystem remix we did is available from iTunes and is supposedly coming out on vinyl and maybe CD on October 22.

From Internasjonal, the Windsurf EP should be coming out on vinyl any minute now. And we're just putting the finishing touches on our full length record.

Thats about it for the moment, but we'd like to do more remixes.

MB: Any plans to take it live?

SG: Once we finish the record. Dan is trying to find a MIDI guitar.

MB: Well, thanks for your time!

Windsurf DJ live at Amoeba SF this Friday the 28th at 7pm, and it's FREE! Come down and check it out. Want to hear some sound samples? Many of the links above feature playable audio, just get to clicking!
Hatchback's "White Diamond" 12" with an amazing 18-minute Prins Thomas remix is available the week of October 1st and his killer "Carefree Highway" 12" on Sentrall is out now. Sorcerer's White Magic album is out and in stock now.

The Cream of the Crop

Posted by Mike Battaglia, April 25, 2007 02:50pm | Post a Comment

That's right - I said hott - with two "t"'s please. Lots of great music only comes out on vinyl. Here's a few 12" releases that are killin' it for the SF crew:

Dub Pistols - "Rapture" (Sunday Best)
Chin Chin - "Toot D'Amore" (Dialect)

Two seperate 12"s here, with the connection being their solid Prins Thomas remixes. "Rapture" is indeed a cover of the Blondie classic with ex-Specials vocalist Terry Hall on vocals, and it works just fine with its bubbling underbelly of faux-acid, big beat guitar riffs and hip-house. Flip the record over, however, and you get some *actual* acid as Thomas' mix is where it's at, adding a smidge of swing and sounding like some proper Chicago action. Chin Chin, on the other hand, come out on top with no less than three PT mixes on one 12". The Diskomiks is a funky congo affair replete with horn section and hella-funky afrodisco percussion while you get two 'bonus beat' tracks that work great as DJ tools or full songs in their own right. SF Electronica floorperson Brian is super geeked out on this as well, so i'll give it two thumbs up.

Random Factor - "Digitize - The Emperor Machine Remixes" (2020Vision)

Another funky, tripped-out disco remix from The Emperor Machine on this 12" from 20/20 Vision, out this week. Phased sounds begin the uptempo track which is immediately anchored by a gigantic bassline and chicken-scratch guitar licks that firmly plant this remix in rock territory. This groove is worked, heads-down, with vocal bits scattered here and there, straight down to the bone in a punk-funk stylee and it's excellent. As usual, it's the dub on the A-side which wins out, eliminating the vocal and introducing an equally-gigantic 4/4 kick while the track echoes off into space. I will be dropping this at a party this Saturday night, and I have no doubt it'll blow the place up.

Christian Prommer's Drumlesson - "Strings of Life" (Sonar Kollektiv)

Yep, it's Derrick May's stone Detroit classic, reworked in a dancefloor jazz style by Christian Prommer of Fauna Flash & Trüby Trio. I'll admit that I wish it had a bit more kick but it'll still induce dance moves, which I can testify to from hearing this tune played out on CDR in the club by folks like Alex from Jazzanova. After experiencing this on the floor, I picked it up the minute it came in.
Prommer has assembled a trio here, and they finesse their way through the tune in one go with exciting results. The drums are hitting all the right spots and *those* piano chords never sounded so good outside their original use as they do here floating on top a rolling, syncopated rhythm section. No real surprises here, but this will work a treat on more adventurous dancefloors. Flip for "Space Jam 2000.17", a more electronic affair featuring congas, an ethereal atmosphere and a steady house kick, very Joe Claussell and living up to its title.

Attias - "Nebukai" (Still Music)

Finally, we've got two dance-music-producing brothers from Switzerland named Attias. Alex Attias you may know from his high activity in the Broken Beat/Nu Jazz scene under a variety of different monikers and from working with folks like Dego McFarlane of 4 Hero. His brother Stephane is also accomplished, with a slew of releases under his belt for labels like Compost and Laws of Motion (including "Listen Luv", one of my favorite nujazz tracks, off of Compost's Future Sound of Jazz Vol. 7 compilation).
"Nebukai" is a missive sent straight to the heart of the "new deep house" movement, the major proponents of which are folks like Âme, Henrik Schwarz and Dixon and whose sound is a mixture of Detroit techno, NYC soulful house and German ingenuity. The tune sits well in tech-house & electrohouse sets, but also swings enough to compete with yer Osunlades and Kerry Chandlers. It's melodic, thumping, and sets the vibe perfectly. Grab this one now, as it keeps selling out!

More 12" reviews to come next week!

Sweet Sweet Music

Posted by Mike Battaglia, April 16, 2007 12:43am | Post a Comment
    At Amoeba SF's electronica section, we've usually got at least four or five titles each month that we're extremely hyped on. Here's our current batch:

    First we've got Gui Boratto's Chromophobia on Kompakt. Boratto's Brazilian heritage gives him an edge when making his brand of tech-house, and that's an ear for rhythm. Straddling between minimal and electrohouse, Chromophobia avoids any LP pitfalls by working equally on a dancefloor as on headphones, it's got enough oomph to sound fantastic on a large sound system, but intricate enough that you notice small details while listening at home. I love his way with melody, particularly the swooping tones of "Terminal" and the bleep counterpoint in "Gate 7"; it gets quite emotional. The rhythms are key, though, and it's clear from the first track on that Boratto has a good grasp of syncopation and funk. Between the Hug and Field albums and now this, Kompakt are on a bit of a roll, again!

    Next up is We Are Together by Japanese producer Kuniyuki Takahashi, released on Mule Musiq. This is an album that is a unanimous vote amongst the electronica staff - everybody loves it (well, at least four of us). It's jazzy house music only in the loosest sense of the phrase, managing to perfectly walk the tightrope between noodly and stiff. The thing I like best about this album is its sense of space, the production on every track sounds so expansive and widescreen as to conjure up images of the music's physicality. In that sense it reminds me of the Burial album where there's a very conscious sense of three-dimensional space - it's a real "smokers delight". Check Kuni's MySpace page to hear more of this excellence.

    The Black Dog's earliest works are Modern Electronic Music 101; their innovations created a new genre of music (the odiously-named Intelligent Dance Music or IDM) and opened the doors for others to make funky, body-moving yet cerebral tracks. The music bleeps like techno but rocks sampled breaks that up the funk factor by a power of 100, and large, rolling basslines that were an unmistakable influence on early Jungle (and influenced by the UK Breakbeat Hardcore that preceded it).
    The Black Dog of 2007 is a solo act for the most part, but back in the early 90's it was a trio. Ken Downie was joined by Ed Handley and Andy Turner for what is considered TBD's best material. There was dissent, though, and Handley & Turner eventually broke off to form Plaid, one of my personal favorite electronic artists ever and a mainstay of Warp Records' roster.
    Book of Dogma
is the release that longtime TBD fans have been waiting for - it collects all of their essential early EP's, remastered no less, in one place. Most tracks have never appeared on CD, and many of these records are worth upwards of $200 on vinyl, peaking in the EBay heyday of the late 90's at $300-$400 APIECE, so you can see how momentous this occasion is. This collection is as essential as it gets, so buy it.

Finally, we have The Greatest Hits of G.A.M.M., with G.A.M.M. being the superb Swedish label dedicated to reinterpreting and mashing up Soul, Funk, Disco, Reggae, Brazilian, Hip Hop and last but not nearly least, Jazz. G.A.M.M. is loosely affiliated with Stockholm's Raw Fusion label, and includes many nujazz artists moonlighting under fake names including Spiritual South, Panoptikon, Freddie Cruger and Todd Terje (though I won't tell you what their aliases are!). The music is frequently incredible and usually surefire dancefloor material - kicking off with Red Astaire's smash hit "Follow Me", which takes an obscure D'Angelo vocal off a Method Man & Redman track and rocks a sick, jazzy vibe lick underneath it for maximum effect. Other standouts include Beatfanatic's funky reggae rework of Beyonce's "Crazy In Love" and Tangoterje's subtle samba edit of MJ's "Can't Help It" - probably the best tune on a compilation where deciding which one is best is a very difficult prospect. Undoubtedly due to unofficial status, this will come and go quickly so get on it!

The Scene

Posted by Mike Battaglia, April 7, 2007 05:43pm | Post a Comment
A direct descendent of American Bandstand, and the older, cooler cousin of Dance Party USA, Detroit's own televised dance show The Scene ran from the mid-70's until the late 80's, giving local urban teens a place to strut their stuff and be seen by nearly everyone in the metro area - literally. The show's popularity was so high at its peak that its ratings outshined all competitors, including the six o'clock news. The Scene was the focal point for local kids, as is evident by the enthusiasm of these young dudes:

More pertinent to this blog (and interesting to me) is that The Scene was popular during the birth and growth of Detroit's last enduring gift to the world: Techno.

The show aired on Detroit's only black-owned TV station, WGPR, and had its roots in the swinging disco Seventies, as you can see in this short piece from Detroit local news:

As disco "died", it was replaced by electro, boogie, and the eurodisco now commonly referred to as Italo-disco in the early Eighties. Its use of synthesizers would directly influence Detroit's black youth, not to mention the Belleville Techno triumvirate of Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. Case in point: Scene-sters dancing suavely to Kano's "I'm Ready".

Even more exciting, though, is this spectacular 1982 clip featuring a guys-only dance to "Sharevari" by A Number of Names, believed to be the first Detroit Techno record and coincidentally reissued this past week on vinyl. Peep the dude with the prop guitar!

With all the frenzied screaming, yelping and hollering, the atmosphere in the studio sounds electrified! Silly dance moves and outdated fashions aside, what you have here is a mostly black (but quite multicultural) audience getting seriously down to the sort of thing that was widely (and erroneously) considered "white" music - synthesizers, drum machines, minor keys. Not only did Detroit's musical climate at the time open the doors for this music to be appreciated, it legitimized it in the eyes and ears of a young, urban, black audience, which embraced it and made it their own. Today, it makes Detroit completely unique in the US - there is no other (S/s)cene quite like it, enough so that the Detroit Historical Society now has a permanent exhibit about Techno.
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