Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Art Of Noise A-Z Of Music: D

D is for …

... Daft Punk (Del)

They are D delirious.

They are I incredible.

They are S superficial.

They are C complicated.

They are O oh, ow, wow… wow… wow…

Woooow...wowowowoooow....wowowowoooow... wow

What the hell was that?? OK, so there’s a dog-man on crutches walking round New York. He’s bullied by kids, rebuffed by someone taking a survey cos he hasn’t been in the neighbourhood long enough and loses the cute girl he knows when she disappears on a bus. But the most striking thing about the music video is what emanates from the boombox he’s carrying around with him.

" wow"

The riff keeps on going, like pure mutant disco. It’s early 1997. Most dance music around is either cheesy as it gets handbag divaness, or what the Yanks innocently termed electrorock (bless!); dance music with a rock edge from the likes of The Chemical Brothers or The Prodigy. But this is unashamedly house music. There’s bits of techno and disco chucked in in equal measure, and it said to this indie kid that there might just be something in this dance music lark.

The Homework album sums itself up in its first looped vocal: “The funk back to the punk, come on!” It was funky, yet had an almost indefinable punk edge. The Daft Punk monicker was born from a Melody Maker review of an earlier project by Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem Christo. When they threw away the guitars, they kept the attitude, and made Homework, an album of minimalist, seductive, repetitive, filtered house music that still had enough pop hooks to make the Top 10. In an age of superstar DJ’s, they hid their identities behind masks. They took house music, the “coolest” thing in the world at the time, and turned it into geekchic homework. And check the shouts on ‘Teachers’, amongst the house music royalty: George Clinton, Dr Dre and Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who’s also quoted on the sleeve: “I wanted to write joyful music that made other people feel good. Music that helps and heals, because I believe that music is God’s voice”.

Cripes. And whereabouts in New York are these guys from? What? They’re what?! Sacre bleu!

With the second album, they pissed off the purists by going POP POP POP. From housework to disco – very disco. Discovery ripped up huge slabs of horn with widdly prog rock guitar solos and Buggles era helium vocals with autotune and vocoders all over them. Oh, and Barry Manilow. And people DANCED to it. They went from sporting masks to dressing up as robots. Appropriately, they then became one of the first acts ever to use the internet to their advantage, with Daft Club; giving fans free remixes and bonus tracks. They made a feature length Japanese animation to run parallel to the album that puts playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon over ‘Alice In Wonderland’ firmly in its place.

Alongside this, they each had their own labels as side projects (presumably being house music overlords just wasn’t enough). Guy-Man’s Crydamoure released a plethora of wonderful records from his own Le Knight Club alias, The Buffalo Bunch (his brother, sampling Leo Sayer on one memorable release) and lots of his mates (Paul Johnson, Archigram, Deelat, etc). Meanwhile Thomas had Roule records, which released great stuff from himself, ‘One More Time’s’ Romanthony, Roy Davis Jnr, DJ Falcon et al. Oh, and a one-off record he did with Alan Braxe as Stardust. You might’ve heard of it.

Then this year they released Human After All. Which proved they were nothing of the sort, vocoders present and correct, but this time the punk was more prominent. It was dirty, funky, raw, but also in places gentle and serene. More to the point, it was as different from Discovery as that album had been from Homework. I’m still not sure quite what I make of it. But I know I can’t wait for the next release, be it another hyperlooped Bangalter track with DJ Falcon, or another Daft change of direction.

Daft Punk are like Gods to me. Dance’s current Emperor Du Jour dreams that they might one day play his house. They seem enigmatic and otherwordly: where their peers like Fatboy Slim or the Chemical Brothers trade on an image of the ordinary, Daft Punk appear to be on some higher plane with legends like Chic. Which is where they belong.

Oh, and Thomas’s dad is called Daniel Vangarde. He wrote D.I.S.C.O.

… dancing (Paul)

Whatever you choose to do – be it sway, waltz, mosh or body-pop – the most vital element to dancing is the music. To feel the sounds vibrate through your body is to want to move in time to it. It’s almost impossible to listen to music and not feel some part of your body move – whether it be tapping your toes, or your hands on the steering wheel of your car, it doesn’t matter.

The point is that it’s all part of the enjoyment and the thrill of music.

At its most graceful and stylish, dance is an art form – but on a much more earthy level it’s just great fun to do – whether you happen to be shaking your maracas like Bez, swaggering like Liam or going apeshit like Keith, it’s all part of the experience.

I’ll be honest and admit that I’ve always felt like I’ve got two left feet, but I still enjoy employing both of them to effect on a dancefloor – I may not have (much) rhythm and I may not have (much) style but it doesn’t stop me, particularly once I’ve got a couple of drinks inside me.

Dancing is something which we all do – it’s our subconscious reacting to the music in ways which we can’t always control. I challenge anyone to put on their favourite record and just stand still, don’t tap your feet, or your hands or sway and see how long you last – it feels wrong, because it’s alien to our experiences and our natural reaction to music is to feel the rhythm and dance.

Whether in a hot sweaty nightclub or alone in the shower, the power of music compels us all to dance.

… ‘Dancing Queen’ (Ben)

From dancing bear (and yes, if you’ve met Paul you’ll know what I mean) to dancing queen. Or ‘Dancing Queen’, to be more exact.

Very few acts have emerged from the Eurovision Song Contest triumphant in the long term. The lustre of winning soon dulls, and even Abba, who were victorious in 1974 with ‘Waterloo’ – a preposterously brilliant song which used the nineteenth century naval battle as a metaphor in a tale of a fractious and warring relationship – found it hard to follow it up.

It was two years before their debut album – the aptly named Arrival – and its second track in particular proclaimed their presence on the pop stage.

Contrary to the slogan on the T-shirt beloved of metallers, goths, emo kids and other assorted sheep, disco does not suck – and ‘Dancing Queen’ is the proof, every bit as essential in the Grand Scheme Of Things as the first Ramones LP, which hit record shop shelves the same year.

On ‘Dancing Queen’ Agnetha and Anni-Frid’s voices dovetail beautifully (as ever), but the key is in the keyboard melody with which the song opens and then later in the spiralling effect as it builds towards a heady chorus in which the upturn in the vocal line communicates uplifting and ecstatic feeling. At first the lights may well have been low, but now they’ve been turned up as brightly as they’ll go, and the reflection off that glitterball dangling from the ceiling is dazzling.

‘Dancing Queen’ may have long been cynically appropriated by clubs populated by hen nights and sad Friends Reunited obsessed nostalgics as a means of extorting their money. But it’s worth remembering next time you find yourself in Flares clutching a fluorescent alcopop and watching a tragicomic post office-party scene unfold (invariably a drunken and balding but afrowigged middle manager alternately dribbling and sweating on his equally inebriated secretary) and the whoop goes up when ‘Dancing Queen’ suddenly comes blasting out of the speakers, that it’s a genuine pinnacle of pop perfection and quite possibly the finest song ever to reach number one.

… ‘Debaser’ (Swiss Toni)

In common with many other people, this is the first song that introduced me to The Pixes; the song that really made me sit up and take notice. Where ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, itself a spiritual descendent of this song, grabs you by the throat from the very first note, ‘Debaser’ is different: the intro is low key, a simple stepping bass line, joined by chiming guitar. Catchy, but like many songs by The Pixies, it’s not until Black Francis starts to shriek that the song ascends to greatness.

Got me a movie / Want you to know / Slicing up eyeballs / I want you to know”.

As first images go, that’s a pretty good one, but before you really have time to take it in, the shouting has started in earnest: “Don’t know about you / But I am un chien andalusia / I am un chien andalusia / I am un chien andalusia

Is that French? Is that Spanish? Is he saying he’s a dog? What? And then we’re straight into the chorus, with Black Francis’ manic screaming of the word ‘Debaser’ being echoed by Kim Deal’s sweetly sung backing vocal. It’s 2m 33s long, and it’s practically perfect.

Apparently the lyrical inspiration comes from the 1928 French surrealist film ‘Un Chien Andalou’, directed by Luis Bunuel, and containing a scene featuring an eyeball being cut open. Frankly though, it doesn’t matter.

As Black Francis himself put it: “I wish Bunuel was still alive. He made this film about nothing in particular. The title itself is a nonsense. With my stupid, pseudo-scholar, naive, enthusiast, avant-garde-ish, amateurish way to watch 'Un Chien Andalou' (twice), I thought: 'Yeah, I will make a song about it,' he sings: ‘un chien andalou’... It sounds too French, so I will sing ‘un chien andalusia’, it sounds good, no?

It certainly does.

… Detroit Cobras (drmigs)

Writing about music inevitably involves some level of self-analysis. That’s fine, and to some extent is part of the pleasure. However, sometimes the process diverts away from pleasure and leaves you cowering in the corner and covered in a cold sweat whilst you’re gibbering into your five-yard stare. This state is roughly where I’m at when trying to answer the question: “Why do I like the Detroit Cobras?

I like the Detroit Cobras. I really do. But it has to be said that the more I try to understand this viewpoint, the scarier it becomes. Firstly though, for those not in the know, here are the basics on the Cobras. They’re from Detroit, their exposure (to some extent) is due to the success of The White Stripes, and what they do is raw garage rock covers of (mainly) R&B and soul tracks. The twist the Cobras put into these songs is repressed passion and sexiness. Hence by the nature of such tracks, most of their songs are short and set-piece-y, and probably meant to be no more than a transient experience. Right, that’s all the basics you need to know for now.

If you’re feeling lenient, on the evidence above you’re probably happy to afford me the benefit of the doubt and say: “It’s OK drmigs! We all have skeletons in the closet. Blimey, at least it’s not some trashy 80s pop phenomena like Bananarama that you’ve not managed to shake off”. And I’d thank you for that. So what’s with all this insecurity? Well it’s little things.

All the little things about this band make me feel W(hite) A(nglo) S(axon) P(rotestant) ish. It’s undeniable that the dominant impression of the band is created by the alluring sultry depravity of lead singer Rachel Nagy’s voice. Is this all I’m drawn to, surely not? But is that all there is to the band? Their album covers; faux erotica nudity left right and centre. Despite what I might try to convince myself, I’m really not comfortable with these (and it certainly doesn’t make it very easy to pass on the CD to friends). Oh and if that’s not enough, there’s the print on the Mink Or Rabbit CD advising that it is suitable for the “uninhibited swinging set”. Eh! My inhibited WASPishness tends to think there’s something inevitably unfulfilling about sharing your partner that you’re not wholly satisfied with, with someone else’s partner they’re not wholly satisfied with. So then I’m thinking: “Is there something I’m missing in this sound that ‘uninhibited swingers’ get?” Maybe it’s that transient thing? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

All I know is that I seem to like it. And maybe that’s the overriding point to come out of this self-analysis. Sometimes music just works for you, and there’s nothing more to it than that. I think this is the type of music to enjoy for the moment and then walk way from. And sometimes that’s all that music has to do.

… Different Class (Pete)

I'm looking for inspiration by browsing through my albums that begin with the letter D. And there are quite a few candidates for the next entry. Dummy, Dubnobasswithmyheadman, Dog Man Star, Definitely Maybe, but then my eye rests on Different Class. A very apt title. It's a bit of a cliché I know, but this really was Pulp at their peak.

Until then (and perhaps secretly to their joy) they had been regarded as underdogs (or 'Mis-Shapes'?), but this album pushed them to the forefront accompanied by a wit that had been severely lacking from the increasingly laddish music scene of the mid 90s.

The album is noteworthy for the humour alone, with references to the dangers of one pill too many and some choice lyrics: “If fashion is your trade, then when you're naked, I guess you must be unemployed”.

The music was pretty bloody good too. From the stomping opener to the mournful ode to urban excess of 'Bar Italia', as well as the gorgeous 'Something Changed', there isn't a dud among them. And I haven't even mentioned 'Common People' yet. The erudite and Oxfam-clad Cocker had somehow managed to write an anthem for the 90s. Despite it being an album that reflected its time, it still sounds fresh today. But it's such an endearing record too; full of hope, frustration, longing and a good whiff of sordid goings-on. Simply different class.

And then Jarvis went and took the mickey out of Michael. Fantastic.

… Domino Records (Damo)

Ah, record companies. The place where bold ideas, innovation and bands whose records sell less than a million copies in the first week go to die. Right?

Sometimes. I might even get into that side of things when we reach P (see if you can work out what label that might be referring to…).

So this week I wanted to say a big “HOORAH!” to a label that aren’t like that. And no, not just because the band whose website I do is on said label.

Domino is an “indie” label, whatever that means. An “indie” label that just had a UK number 1 album and single in October of this year with different artists. But chart-topping potential isn’t a prerequisite for being signed… nope, the requisite appears to be (and you might need to sit down here) they need to like your music. How quaint! Franz Ferdinand were signed as a promising act some time before their first major tour supporting Hot Hot Heat, and Arctic Monkeys were… go on, tell me you had heard of Arctic Monkeys before the summer. The list goes on – someone at Domino obviously liked Pavement, so they signed Stephen Malkmus AND Preston School Of Industry. Simple.

Let’s not be pious here – if a record company loses money, it goes broke; if it goes broke, everyone concerned is out of a job. But if Tesco went bust tomorrow, you’d get your tinned peaches from the Co-Op. It’s wrong to talk of the music business solely as a “business” because there’s too much in it that means far more to you and me than that. It’s gratifying to see that it IS possible to do things for the right reasons and survive in what can be a nasty little industry.

I digress. In charge is a man called Laurence whose speciality is connecting people, or to put it another way, he apparently knows everyone. And so it is that Clearlake got to have U2’s former producer work on their new record. And that a band called Test Icicles get regular national radio play.

But crucially, their modus operandi is to take bands that they like, and trust them to get on with it. Isn’t that refreshing?

(PS Two mentions in successive weeks of a certain band is a little cheeky, I know. I promise not to do it again between here and Z…)

... dry ice (Jez)

How easy it was to fool my impressionable mind. All it took was the pumping of some foul smelling smoke stuff to make it seem as though the band I had been anticipating for weeks had just returned from the mysterious world from the Tales of Narnia, rather than a pokey dressing room at the Aylesbury Civic Centre.

Roadies had set up the gear and all eyes turn to the side of the stage to those black boxes that had the potential to produce enough fog they actually had to be banned in coastal areas.

Trying to decide when the band would appear, wisps from the machine, then a full torrent of the smelly mist.

Sometimes there would be so much of the stuff it must have been like ceasefire at the Somme. And then, as if by magic, the silhouette of a fat bloke with a guitar could just be made out before the onset of the luxuriant rhythms. The music was invariably excellent, but in the case of Siouxsie the mist and the music was just an accompaniment for drivel about spiders, endless staircases and inverted religious symbolism. Even at the age of fourteen I used to giggle at it. In retrospect, I don’t think the Sisters of Mercy even turned up. I reckon we just paid to watch dry ice and listen to their albums played really bloody loudly.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a gig that attempts to build the atmosphere with the stuff. Maybe my tastes have refined or maybe people just think it’s naff now. Pop stars no longer look otherworldly, just some blokes from the suburbs trying to “connect”. Perhaps the idea was to disconnect, to appear to be above the paying throng in an effort to put on a show. To this effect perhaps the royal family should use it, the Queen suddenly appearing at the state opening of Parliament through swathes of the stuff, Camilla at a community fete, Prince Andrew on the first tee at St Andrews, William turning up for his work experience at the bank, Harry on the assault course at Sandhurst (please!).

I’m going to check eBay to see if I can buy the equipment, then I can try it at home with the cats. The neighbourhood felines will be aghast as mine appear from a flap along with the pumping dry ice.

Perhaps the reason I don’t see the stuff anymore is that it was actually made from powdered asbestos. There’s a thought, maybe I can get a job as a stagehand on the ‘X Factor’ tour.

* * * * *

Thanks to Del, Paul, Swiss Toni, drmigs, Pete, Damo and Jez for their contributions. More of the same, same time same place next week folks.


Blogger swisslet said...

I was in France in September. More specifically I was in Toulouse, which has a thriving music scene. For one reason and another, I found myself attending a party with a number of locals from the music scene. I speak a little french, and they spoke a little English, so we generally got on fine. Toulouse is a rugby town, so they were familiar with my town of birth (Northampton) and the conversation flowed. It really sprang to life though when we started rifling through our host's record collection. We initally put on the clash and nodded our heads appreciatively, but things really spiced up when we put on "Homework". It was clear from the universal approval in the room that this album was held in some esteem by all the hipsters present. One turned to me:
"You know these?"
He seemed completely unaware that Daft Punk are pretty much massive in the rest of the world too, but best of all, he was really keen to introduce me to them. We talked about lots of other francophone bands too: we talked about Air, we talked about Jacques Brel, we talked about Gainsbourg, we even talked about Plastic Bertrand, but the one band that got everyone excited and enthusiastic was Daft Punk.

Good call Del.


9:08 pm  
Blogger Damo said...

Daft Punk's "Discovery" is one of the greatest records ever made. And the "Intastella 5555" film's not bad either.

12:32 am  
Blogger Paul said...

Acurate describer of me you may be Ben, historically accurate you are not.

Waterloo is the site of a battlefield in the middle of Belgium. Whilst, admittedly, a fairly soggy country it hasn't played host to many naval battles.

Presumably Abba decided a song about Trafalgar didn't fit the music quite as well...

11:00 am  
Blogger Del said...

Play nicely children.

Good to hear about Daft Punk becoming part of the international language! Is there anything they can't do?

5:42 pm  

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