Earlier this week, I did a set for The Lot Radio. Call it a mid-summer mid-morning moody affair, but for once, it wasn’t overcast and raining. Started slow and dubby before moving towards something bright, vibrant, bouncy.
“People often only think of Mood Hut as a record label, but we are foremost a collective, and for a long time we did free park parties in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. For me, those nights reached close to the potential of what dances can be. When none of the usual constraints are put upon you, and when everyone is present in a beautiful place, willing to give themselves over to the whole thing. That’s when things can really ascend.”
Back in 2014, Andrew Morgan dosed me with a jam called “Openin’ Up,” which opened me up to the curious incubatory sound emanating from Vancouver and a span of cryptic 12″s on the nascent Mood Hut label. Over the years, the label/ collective have remained elusive: going ambient instead of clubby, dropping an album of diffuse disco edits, and other unexpected left turns.
Nearly ten years along, Jack J drops the first proper artist album for Mood Hut, a lovely, effervescent, contemplative album which a certain music website lamented as having “no obvious epic or clear highlight.” As a longtime fan, I took the opportunity to chat with Jack (as well as Chris Wang and Yu Su) and to dip a toe into the Mood Hut mystique and “that sound.”
Last month, I did a special Sunday morning set for The Lot Radio. That day was thick with chilly clouds, so I leaned into that sort of ambience, starting off with some chorale clouds, gradually adding a little sprinkle of some more spring-beckoning sounds on the back half of the set.
“I was playing around with a radio transmitter I’d made when I heard something from outside the house and, fascinated, followed the sound outdoors. Striding off down the path between the rice fields, I paused halfway along the expanse of paddies to listen, and heard a chorus of thousands, tens of thousands of insects, like a wave of electronic sound washing over me. It was this experience that sparked my interest in sound and space, and which inspired me to begin exploring the many different sides of what we call sound.”
“The way the Japanese film industry works, you have very little time to do the soundtrack. There’s very little real instrumental music in Japanese films now. Most soundtracks are done by one person on a keyboard. Eiko’s soundtrack is so different that people here overlook it. It doesn’t operate in telling you what your emotions are.”
Congratulation to Drive My Car for its well-deserved Oscar! Two of my early favorites for 2022 come from Japanese singer/ composer/ flautist/ songwriter/ drummer/ noisemaker Eiko Ishibashi. One is her indelible soundtrack for the Oscar-winning Drive My Car, the other an imaginary soundtrack of sorts for Law & Order, entitled For McCoy. I was honored to speak with her and Jim O’Rourke, as well as director Ryusuke Hamaguchi for the story.
“Gwoka was born out of necessity to reflect the moods of a people—its joys, its fears—and that’s why there are so many different rhythms. In Guadeloupe, gwoka is considered to be much more than a music style. It’s how they assert their Guadeloupean cultural identity as distinct from French national identity. Transmitting gwoka music involves the transmission of a collective history.”
Three years ago, Séance Centre’s eye-opening Gwakasonné compilation opened my ears to the music of Guadeloupe. A sound that seemed to encompass Sun Ra and Pharoah Sanders’ seeking ’70s work, the tireless drums of Jamaican nyabinghi, the Afro-Caribbean fusion of Cedric Im Brooks, and the synth patches of private issued new age music, gwoka nevertheless defied easy categorization. As I learned more about the form, I realize that the themes underpinning this form of expression tie into so much of our current narrative. It’s music with roots embedded in 17th century colonization, slavery, and creolization. It’s a music of defiance, of protest, of ritual, a music that has strong spiritual ties, acknowledging ancestors and fearlessly moving forward.
The incredible new compilation Lèspri Ka: New Directions in Gwoka Music from Guadeloupe 1981-2010 shines a much-needed light on this music. And the past few years have seen a wondrous amount of this music available once more.
“Hardy was kind of like a premature old man or Yoda, wise and cynical and merry. He seemed to have had the courage to think clearly for himself early on. Hardy’s odyssey was sexual in part which takes courage and energy. He explored himself and other people until he found the place he liked.” –Gary Panter
For those not familiar, Hardy Fox is co-founder of the Residents and their primary arranger and producer. Spent the better of two pandemic years talking to friends and family of the late Hardy Fox for a story close to my heart, about how a weirdo from small town Texas deals with familial alienation and Texas-sized repression to find solace and salvation in art/ music. It’s also the true origin story of the Residents, well before their days in Shreveport and San Mateo.
“Texas is so straight and insane that smart people there sometimes –as a form of protest or simple mutation and rolling of the dice– want to raise a more bizarre form of hell than people who are happier elsewhere.” –Gary Panter
Late last year, a German magazine reached out and asked me if I would write an essay revisiting my interview with Leslie Winer (since my NYT article was the lone interview she gave). We had corresponded for a week and the exchange revealed that her typing voice is exactly as dry, acidic, tentacular, and whetted as her speaking voice. Which doesn’t always jibe with the NYT house style. So I contributed an essay featuring far more of Leslie’s singular voice and rhythmic wording uninterrupted.
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.
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:
“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.”