Electric Fling

Just before the end of the year, Pitchfork retweeted an old column of mine from 2015 about Italo with the subhed of most “uncool” genre ever. Nevermind that the word “uncool” doesn’t appear in my love letter to Italo, it stirred up all these memes from wankers people trying to ratio the tweet who had clearly never read the piece nor heard Italo until two years ago but couldn’t help publicly posting their ignorance. (And cheers to a former employer for the clickbait-y engagement.) I lament the loss of reading comprehension, but I also hate the loss of nuance that accompanies such knee-jerk responses that defines our online engagement.

Here’s video proof about Italo with a panel of supreme record nerds.

So before every other creative endeavor turns into Pitchfork regurgitated clickbait and gets erased from history, thought I should put up links to my old dance music column, Electric Fling (fun trivia, the original column name was Machine Vibes, but there was another column there with “machine” in the title, so I named it after –yes– an old Italo track by Stefano Breda). Without further ado:

Mister Sunday’s Neverending Dance Party

Ambient Music’s Alternate Realities

Sketches From Ibiza Island

Lisbon’s Batida Revolution

Capitol Sound

Electronic Warfare: The Political Legacy of Detroit Techno

Let Me Be Your Radio: The Bizarro Universe of Italo

Sun Ra’s Free Space

Western Dance Music’s Ongoing Dialogue with Africa

Constant Vacation: Inside Amsterdam’s Dance Scene

The Next Revolución: Adventures in Modern Mexican Dance Music

2021 was the year smooth jazz gave us some serenity b/w Oh f***, now I like smooth jazz?!

“A Pitchfork think piece meditated on albums like Promises, the critically acclaimed collaboration between electronic producer Floating Points and legendary spiritual jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, deeming such “soothing moods and healing frequencies” to be a new genre: “ambient jazz.” Meanwhile, a New Yorker profile on Gendel and Wilkes grappled with the idea of whether they were “not primarily a jazz duo but an electronic-production team, providing listeners with not many notes but a great deal of ambiance.” But rather than hand-wringing over labels, there’s already a handy genre tag familiar to radio programmers, shopping malls and chiropractic waiting rooms nationwide to describe this sound: smooth jazz.”

I spent a good deal of the pandemic taking in spiritual jazz of all stripes, finding strength, solace, and resolve in its fiery shrieks. Now into year two of pandemic life, there has been a slight shift. Two of my most-played albums for 2021, Sam Gendel and Josiah Steinbrick’s Mouthfeel and Bremer & McCoy’s Natten, led me down a path from ambient jazz towards something I can only describe as “smooth jazz.” (Special shout-out to Joseph Shabason’s The Fellowship, which got left out of the final edit.)

Just last year, the prescient Numero Group label put out Nu Leaf, a cheeky compilation excavating ‘70s jazz players like guitarist Calvin Keys and DMV’s own Plunky, who in the Reagen era all turned to MIDI synths to make music for –as the label sticker put it– “a commercial audience held captive in dentist offices and waiting rooms across America.” I bought an 80s jazz album from Jamaaladeen Tacuma for its synth-y textures and cold DX-7 drums, but found myself staying for the ugh pillowy cover of “One More Night.” But you can’t deny the smooth genius of George Shaw’s “6295 SW Fisher.”

2021 was the year smooth jazz gave us some serenity b/w Oh f***, now I like smooth jazz?! for The Washington Post

Ben LaMar Gay

“I’ve played in small villages in Western Europe, in Africa. When you go to these small places –especially when you travel with sound– it makes you realize most folk cultures are the same. These people gather up instruments from their environment and try to imitate their environment. These cats are between the earth and the stars trying to figure out this shit.”

Chatted with cornetist-composer-beatmaker-seeker Ben LaMar Gay about “The Alphabet Song,” oxygen flowing through machines, records-as-portals and songs-as-portraits, ducking around the 1, the Brazilian notion of samba de mesa, and having both Igbo and Kinyarwanda on his new album.

“Blues, jazz, electronica. It all flows through Ben LaMar Gay.” for The Washington Post

Circuit des Yeux

“In my first meeting with Matador on Zoom, I said, ‘Thanks for being here. Thanks for working with me. I really want to jump off a building.’ They set me up with a stuntman, Talin Chat, who is seen in The Mandalorian and Chicago Fire, and I had to go train with him and it was hilarious. I was in this YMCA gymnasium and I was the oldest person in there by like 15 years. And I was training with two other people. One was this 11-year-old who was going to be a Chicago Fire person who falls out of a window. The other were these twins that were doing back flips and crazy gymnasts. And I was just this kind of geriatric chick who showed up in boots.

“And yeah, the day of, I fell from this 9-foot rooftop onto a bunch of pads. And it was in March and the weather is so crazy in Chicago in March. It’s gorgeous. It was the first day of sun the whole year, and Mother Nature has really looked out for me on this record campaign, I have to say. It was life-affirming, though, that experience.”

“Circuit des Yeux Takes a Big Leap” for the Washington Post

Leslie Winer

“It can be difficult to talk about making music with people because they conflate ‘making music’ with ‘popular success’ and image and brand and all these other frightening, soul-destroying late-stage-capitalist concerns.”

In July, I began a weeklong email correspondence with Leslie Winer, to chat about her life and When I Hit You – You’ll Feel It, a new compilation of her decades of musical works. Due to personal concerns, it would be the lone interview she gave. I wonder if I should make a ‘zine of that long, winding exchange…but in the interim, here’s the published story.

“Leslie Winer’s Music Was a Mystery in 1990. She Still Likes It That Way.” for The New York Times

William Basinski

“September 11 gave people a keyhole…a way to understand Basinski’s music. It was catastrophic beyond imagination, not just physically but to our psyche. It affected everyone’s lives. That opened up possibilities for people to stop and listen.”

Like William Basinski, I too climbed to the rooftop of my home in Williamsburg on September 11th, watching the tragedy just across the river and also struggled with the resultant trauma of what we bore witness to on that fateful day. Some 20 years on, I profiled Basinski for Texas Monthly, exploring trauma, music as a healing force, the scent of orange juice and cigarettes, and the blues.

(Below the jump, I also added a few paragraphs that were ultimately cut due to space, going deeper into Basinski’s childhood and upbringing and early days in NYC.)

Things Fall Apart for Texas Monthly

Continue reading “William Basinski”

Football Dub

(In homage to the passing of Lee Perry, here’s an unpublished essay I originally wrote for the Believer about football, head injuries, MKULTRA, video “hash,” Roger Staubach, MNF, Burroughs, 1200 lb. videotape machines, digital delay, and dub reggae. Fun fact, I wrote parts of it while suffering from a concussion myself.)

Calling the meek and the ‘umble
Welcome to Blackboard Jungle
So don’t you fumble
Just be ‘umble-umble-mble.
-Introductory incant to “Black Panta” from the Upsetters’ 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle

1st DOWN

Shadowing the past few campaigns of the National Football League like a corner in man-to-man coverage has been the medical revelation of irreparable brain damage caused by merely playing the game. With every post-game recap, there seemed to follow even more news on helmet-to-helmet hits, new scientific studies revealing the depths of such trauma, all of it lingering over the game like post-concussion symptoms. Commentary last year alone ranged from 60 Minutes profiles to Time (deflated pigskin cover on its 2009 story: “The Most Dangerous Game”) to the New Yorker, where Malcolm Gladwell’s article “Offensive Play” discussed the brown tau and beta-amyloid stains that appear on damaged players’ brains from too many head-on collisions. He noted that NFL players suffered a five times higher than average diagnoses of “dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other memory-related disease” after their playing years were behind them, adding a lineman’s description of a standard downfield drive: “Every play, collision, collision, collision…literally, these white explosions –boom, boom, boom– lights getting dimmer and brighter, dimmer and brighter.”

Continue reading “Football Dub”

Behind the smokescreens, Lee “Scratch” Perry was a true master of sound and spacetime

Lee Scratch Perry at Black Ark Studio – Kingston

“To be enamored with that strangeness, that perpetual smoke screen of his, means getting caught in Scratch’s most profound musical trap. His own music could veer towards the nonsensical and ribald, but his greatest productions were also powerful and prophetic, the sound of a real revolutionary embodying the type of Black empowerment and pride.”

As a teenager in South Texas in the early ’90s (ie, before that Grand Royal issue came out and blew everyone’s minds), I came across a copy of Super Ape, having zero knowledge about what reggae was or who this band the Upsetters even were. But it passed the “King Kong with a Tommy Chong spliff” test so I took it home, unprepared for the heavy roots and nyabinghi thunder that awaited me. Decades on, I feel like I’m still learning about Perry’s tireless discography and profound vision. Perhaps the song I’ve returned to most this summer is Junior Byles’ “Curley Locks,” which is mentioned in my Scratch tribute.

“Behind the smokescreens, Lee Perry was a true master of sound and spacetime” for Washington Post