Sunday, December 31, 2006

Tape to tape

raj deep videos2

It’s been on my to-do list all Christmas: visit that subcontinental music shop in Brick Lane. It’s got so many tapes in the window, by artists I couldn’t even read the names of let alone have known who they’re by, that I just had to pay it a visit.

Late yesterday afternoon a mate and I found ourselves down in Brick Lane so we headed towards it. With rain beginning to fall, we passed the Truman Brewery and I looked up to the window where the old Ammunition offices used to be. It occurred to me that was probably the room where the word dubstep was invented.

We headed up to the shop, further up on the right hand side. We stepped in out of the rain and immediately began looking at the amazing collection of tapes.

“Can I help you?” asked the shop assistant, kind of gruffly.

Brick Lane might be famous for its “Indian” curry, but it’s predominantly a Bangladeshi area. From this, and the shop assistant’s appearance, it was fair to guess he was Muslim.

“We’re just looking at the music tapes…” I replied.

“No music tapes,” he replied equally gruffly.

At first I thought he meant there weren’t any tapes, which clearly wasn’t true. Instead he meant they weren’t music tapes. They were devotional tapes and from his tone, I could tell we weren’t welcome to buy them. I left the shop a bit disappointed that I’d not found any new music, but pleased I hadn’t bought something sacred to Muslims which if subsequently sampled or played inappropriately, might cause deep offence.

My mate had another idea. He lives in Tooting and had bought some Indian music for his Sri Lankan parents. We could try again there, so we headed from east to south.

The place where my mate had bought a Lata Mangeshkar compilation for his dad didn’t prove that useful, which is often – when you don’t know what you’re looking for – a function of how friendly the shop owners are. We headed off to another place I’d seen on the other side of the road. It was exactly what we’d been looking for:

Raj Deep Video’s Ltd
Sales & Hire, Audio, Video, DVD, VCD.
124 Upper Tooting Road
London
SW17 7EN
0208 682 1120


Ohmydays: Raj Deep Video’s was a veritable treasure trove. My pupils dilated to take in the sheer expanse of new, unknown CDs, DVDs and most amusingly, tapes. Thousands of tapes.

raj deep videos1

We began to look around, over the counters at the sea of new music in front of us. Although Tooting is a predominantly Muslim area - “Eid is much bigger than Diwali” mentioned my mate – it became quickly apparent that this was a Hindu shop and more specifically, a Bollywood specialist. It also had one other great asset: a friendly and enthusiastic owner who was willing to put up with inane questions from a lanky blogger who didn’t quite know what he was looking for but was enthusiastic all the same.

I started asking general questions, to work out what they had on offer. One wall was Bollywood DVDs only. The other, music, in tape and CD form, mostly from Bollywood films. Some were grouped by artist. I recognised Lata Mangeshkar and her sister, Asha Bhosle, which I mentioned. This seemed to break the ice. “You know Lata has recorded over 70,000 songs,” said the owner.

Suddenly we were getting somewhere. He showed me the older, classical section, which was tucked away at the back. The front had up to date Bollywood stuff, with the odd “DJ remix” collection too. He didn’t seem to have many Qawwali’s. He also assured me that tapes where a dying format, which made me laugh. “I know,” I said to him, “you’re the one with ten thousand tapes behind you!” He laughed back: “yes, but they’re already paid for.”

mughal-e-azam

I was finding it hard what to choose. The selection was overwhelming. But then the owner started to talk about ‘60s Bollywood. “This is the greatest film ever made of all time,” he enthused, pulling out the soundtrack to Mughal-e-Azam. The CD came in a gold box and had “The Biggest Indian Film Ever” written on it. “It would take £200 million pounds to make this film today,” he added. “You can listen to the songs over and over, same with these ones too.” He pulled out the double CD of Yaadon Ki Baaraat and Hum Kisise Kum Naheen, both scored by RD Burman. “He’s the best composer,” explained the shop owner. He also got out another double CD, Kaala Patthar and Doosara Aadmi. I couldn’t help but ask if he had the soundtrack to Sholay, after the dubstep stone cold classic by Goldspot and Benny Ill. Of course, our man did.

I bought them all and some tabla tapes for £2 and left the shop a happy man. The other assistants were happy too – my guide had put on the DVD of Kaala Patthar to impress on us how good it was and how great the live orchestras that they don’t use now-a-days were, and the assistants were watching it again for the umpteenth time.

raj deep videos3

Leaving the shop left me thinking about two things. Firstly on the importance of recommendation. There were tens if not hundreds of thousands of releases in that shop. But without the owners obvious passion for four or five greats, I might have left empty handed or with some third rate also ran CD.

Secondly I wondered about distribution and the power it has on our listening tastes. As big as Raj Deep Video’s selection was, it could have fitted into one corner of HMV Oxford Street. You cant get half those titles in HMV (HMV have the DVD but not the CD it looks like, but then again this is the most famous Bollywood film apparently…), most probably because they’re not distributed to them. The result is they don’t sell many so they don’t reach a wider audience. Distribution matters. So does going that extra mile for new music.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Kicks, blogs and JME



I think it’s a function of so many kinds of media around is these days (email, newspapers, radio, TV, blogs, myspace, forums, IM, mobile…) but generally, of late, I find my cravings for good music content are greater than the amount of content I can find to feed it. Magazines and newspapers don’t nearly hit the spot anymore, it’s all about online but recently it’s been a bit barren. Then one day last week I seemed to hit a rich vein of quality. Clearly, it’s time to share...

BlogaBIGriddim

First of is Wayne and Wax with a quite breathtaking post to accompany his blogariddim mix. Now, magazines/broadsheets often like to think they’re the top boys. Holistic trans-new media posts like these make that claim look utterly laughable. First off you’ve got the mix to download that this post is built around, spanning “crunk and clave, reggaeton and ragtime (!), bhangra and bounce, to name a few.” Yes that’s ragtime!

The mix is built in Ableton which is illustrated in embedded .jpgs within the post. Then there’s the post, which ends in sleeve notes for the mix, breaking down how and why each section exists and hyperlinking it to a wealth of secondary sources. Between them are embedded screenshots demonstrating rhythm patterns in each section, programmed in Fruity Loops and then exported and embedded as audio links (can I get that implementation if I don’t use Wordpress?). Add to on the layer of knowledge Wayne’s dropping as to the origins and types of music here and this is the mother of all blog posts.

It’s music, new media and cutting edge knowledge in perfect harmony. Frankly I’m blown away.

BBC WOE

woebot.tv

OK so if you don’t think online is utterly victorious in any new music media v old struggle, check what Woebot’s been up to. Yes it’s Woebot TV and a Blissblogger points out, its next level.

In essence Woebot has, with one sweep, upped the blog ante. If Wayne and Wax is a master in synergising many existing media, Woebot.tv is deploying one new one to great effect.

And it’s not like he’s just doing on-camera interviews, like Chantelle has been recently. That’s comparatively easy to do: this is proper web-documentary. With his background of moving animations and himself in the foreground, he’s seemingly developed his own identifiable format: the name of the game in this medium surely.

Deploying a monitor screen over his head in a Daft Punk mask approach is a hilarious masterstroke, but it works as you’re quickly drawn into the presenting and narrative. It also bypasses any issues about ego when casting yourself as your own documentary’s presenter. But the way Woe moves about the screen casually and the strength of the animations shows a kind of video professionalism that can’t be easily reproduced by other would be web docu-bloggers.

If Blogger, Wordpress, Moveable Type et al put the power of self publishing in the hands of the people, how can Woebot.TV be democratised? I suspect, given his various hints at his day job, that he’s using his work background to make this happen. Great for Woebot.TV. Unscaleable and useless for precipitating a revolution in blogging.

I’d speculate (correct me if I’m wrong anyone) that Woebot.TV requires the following to produce: a decent digital video camera, some video editing software, the ability to encode the final program in flash and then some web software to build and publish the site. The difficult step in that chain looks to me like the video editing software. Final Cut Pro ain’t cheap. Jumpcut’s technology bodes well, but I’m not sure it’s a full solution. Can all this be bundled (bar the camera hardware) into one easy, for-the-people software package? It will be interesting to see.

It will be interesting to see because if it can, committed, talented enthusiasts can really begin to challenge TV for audience share. YouTube’s breakthrough this year has no doubt eroded TV’s dominance, but for the large part users look for recent football goals, jokes/bloopers, music videos and porn. That’s three out of four that are “head content” (pun not intended) from mass media rather than “tail/user generated content.” If software like this did become cheap and mass market, then we could really see bloggers challenging the major players on their own terms, producing lengthy, professional content to rival that on TV yet with an editorial agenda free from the constraints of narrow minded, advertising-obsessed gatekeepers.

Unless this kind of software is already available, I’d suggest a more likely outcome is that someone like Channel 4 buys up Woebot.TV. That in itself would be quite a victory for any new music media v old struggle.

(Footnote: does anyone see the amusement factor of using such cutting edge media to document prog!? And is it me or do the illustrations have a hint of Terry Gilliam's Python work about them? In a good way...)

Alt.Comment

DotAlt have been busy recently. I first clocked them as mates of Infinite’s but as her involvement in the scene has tailed off, Dan and Alex’s efforts have come into their own right. What with Gutta quarantining himself, it’s nice to have someone else pushing onwards alongside myself and Paul Autonomic. I also feel a grime kinship with Dan and Alex DotAlt. People gave up on 2step circa 2001 and pissed off elsewhere. Then came grime...

Dan and Alex interview Logan in the current post. His Kiss show has been essential listening for me this year, the way the Roll Deep show used to be. I’ve had Logan on my “to interview” list for most of this year. I probably would have asked quite a few different questions but it’s great to see Logan getting the in depth treatment he deserves.

Hype

It almost bores me to mention it again, but in case you didn’t notice, recently there was some hype around a misguided Guardian blog post about dubstep. As an ex GU employee and someone who doesn’t tend to pitch to magazines/newspapers much at the moment (it’s a mugs game… sorry thankless task), the whole thing’s kinda irritating. Thankfully the Dot.Alt crew were around to chat some sense.

But why would GU get it so wrong? Actually, given how much they care about underground music, it’s not that surprising. The bigger question is why do we care about GU/arts? I can only answer from my perspective, but it is because I take so much pleasure in their international news coverage and tolerant left wing views (amid a sea of tabloids and nasty right wing hate) that I refuse to abandon hope of better or at least broader from their arts coverage. If the site can act as an “early adopter” with new media technology (RSS feeds, MyWeb integration, tag clouds etc…) why not with arts coverage? Anyway getting your facts right isn’t a new media requirements, it’s firmly traditional journalism. Fix up.

Just for kicks

Joe Nice: so dutty should we rename him Joe Nasty? Either way he’s interviewed here to great effect. Am loving this quote: “Baltimore ... I’m unofficially the mayor of the city.”

His latest radio show is online and again he’s smacked it. It’s great to hear that Random Trio beat, with the interplay between the hits on the second and fourth and the snare on the third, like he switching the crossfader between the past roots and the present dubplates of dubstep, and a track that made Cyrus’ recent DMZ set both so danceable and enjoyable. It’s also more proof, if more were needed, that Mala’s on fire right now. “Jah Power Dub’s” a personal fave, the rolling beat and deadly deep subs so reminiscent of mid 90s jungle, yet sounding so fresh today.

Another Mala dub that Joe doesn’t drop this time, but is clearly part of my dubstep top 5 this year, is “Bury the Bwoy.” I’ve written about why this tune is so incredible here but I’m also willing to speculate how it’s going to be influential too. Just as Loefah’s reductionist “Horror Show” ushered in the halfstep era, “Bury the Bwoy,” with it’s galloping kicks, seems to return dubstep to polyrhythm. Interestingly, listening Joe drop “Changes” you can see how Mala’s been on a multi-kick mission for ages; literally years. But perhaps only now, as halfstep edges towards the default, the impact of these tracks emerge.

The emphasis of polyrhythm through kicks, and not say snares, diverts the rhythmic possibilities away from the post-jungle/funk breakbeats/Toasty Boy direction and instead towards a possible dark house and techno direction. Mala’s always been on the former (see “Left Leg Out”) but there now seems evidence of others too.

Take Appleblim v Headhunter’s recent triumph on the decks at FWD>>, a joy of dark understated rhythm rather than an assault of “lets ‘ave it” energy. I enquired about one Basic Channel-esque track during the set and got two answers from Appleblim. It was either “The Grind” by Peverelist (aka Tom from Bristol’s Rooted Records), forthcoming on Punch Drunk. Or Moog Dub by 2562.

The Basic Channel approach in dubstep is a bit of a no-brainer. BC are one of the great cannons of 90s dance music and their sound has not suffered with age. It’s dubby, techy, delay meets decay, it’s music with space: just like dubstep. I even tried it myself about two years ago, not with the poly-kicks approach, but an attempt to get some dubby BC space into dubstep. The thing is Maurizio and co not only really know what they’re doing production wise but they’ve made their sound their own, so that it’s very hard to deploy without sounding like imitating. And it’s sonically very, very hard to imitate well, with all the crackles and analogue warmth, as well as them.

Alongside the interest in the overlap between Pinch’s Pointillist sound and microhouse and the anticipation of the microhouse mixes of Shackleton, the BC influence in dubstep is a welcome one. My only concern is how it’s so “inner.” You can often divide urban music from dance music along inner/outer lines. Much of dance music is introspective “inner” escapism, drug fuelled trance, saccharine warm house, innermind futurist techno and navel gazing electronica. Much of urban music is “outer”, human-to-human vocal dialog of hip hop and r&b, grime as an angry response to it’s environment, the raised voice reflecting off society’s outer walls, dubstep as a reverbed reflection of dark dirty streets. Lots of techy, Basic Channel-esque stuff does get a bit “inner” but… whatever, in the spirit of diversity it’s very much welcome, mostly because of how it’s deployed rhythmically.

Any response to halfstep that just slaps on a 4-to-the-floor kick would be inane. Total stupidity, given the 19 years of straight dance music since ’88 and all that. But wonky 4/4, now you’re talking. You’ve got “Bury the Bwoy,” “Changes” and while we’re talking mad kicks, Kano & Vybz Kartel’s amazing “Bus It Up” 7”. Peverelist’s “The Grind” fits nicely into this: just check the bouncing off/wonky 4/4 on it and get ready to shake a leg. All hail the rhythmic risk takers. Speaking of which...

On the above Joe Nice show, Mala’s “Jah Power Dub” gets mixed out of a quite remarkable Shackleton riddim, "The Stopper". It’s not new but given the car test recently on a foggy damp night, where the lights on the cold motorway took on new levels of eerie spectral luminescence, rows of downward facing street lamps making sine waves of pitch black night in the skies, it took on new levels of brilliance. Built around a Cutty Ranks accapella, the tune begins with Shackleton’s trademark wonky percussive style, rolling the listener along. Then, right in the middle the arrangement has the audacity to simply implode, as if dropping the listener down a pit trap in a Wiley “Devil Mix” or Kode 9 “Sign of the Dub/Sine” style. The vocals disappear for what seems like an age, like hope of ever being found evaporating, and a deep resonant synth booms, as if echoing back up the pit trap’s high side walls.

Shackleton soon throws the listener a life line and hauls them out, but such arrangements are an act of glorious production bravery. In an era of dubstep where venue capacities have increased five fold in a year and big room anthems are increasingly prioritised, it’s key that the sound retains the balls to perform such blatant risk taking if it’s to avoid the blinkered attitudes of constrained scenes like new school d&b (amongst others).

Great soundsystems help this. I know Simon’s talked about how limited value he sees in the “you have to hear it loud” mantra and perhaps that’s fair enough if you take it simply as an academic concept to be assessed, but in practice great soundsystems facilitate other implications. Without a system that can not just handle such deep bass but allow it to be a fundamental part of the experience then this kind of risk taking becomes impossible, and producers can not be liberated from the constraints of propulsive percussion to find new ways to produce a powerful emotional impact.

As one aside to both the wonky techno phenomenon and the power of great blogging, I’ve clocked several pieces on a new sound called Kuduro aka “African rave Techno”. I need to investigate more fully but Fatplanet, Ghetto Bass Quake and Crucial Systems ably demonstrate the power of bloggers to surface a new sound quickly.

JMErkery


Concluding an excursion into kicks, I can’t not blog about “96 Bars of JME” from JME’s Derkhead Edition 3 CD. While the accompanying funky house CD “Tropical Edition 4” grabs more headlines for its implications (grime goes funky...), just like when Horsepower released tracks on a No U Turn offshoot: the symbolism is stronger than the music. The real quality, in what is one of the strongest grime mixtapes around, lies on “Derkhead.”

As I’ve written already this year, grime’s exclusive obsession with war and hyper aggression has been counterproductive to its goals, namely generating a large audience and making p’s (pounds). JME’s had an immense year not only because he was organised enough to release a slew of mix CDs (rather than just talking about it) but because the content of his bars often escaped the war trap.

“96 Bars of JME” starts with three and a half bars of 4/4 kicks, before filtering into an off-3-step pattern (essentially kick-kick-kick-snare, like say Search & Destroy’s “Candy Floss”). Produced by grime newcomer the Grime Reaper, it’s good to see the scene embracing the comedy puns (see also Griminal from NASTY) that are usually forced upon them by journalists (see also “Grime doesn’t pay,” “Grime wave”, “Grime watch” oh and look, "Grime Scene Investigation"). I like a good pun more than the next man, but the undertone of grime = crime coming from journalists is ugly, as the Dot.Alt crew will no doubt agree.

The beat then drops into a lush, analogue bassline straight out of Mr Fingers’ keyboard collection before lush off kilter pads hover and shimmer. Then in comes JME...

“See I’ve got bare labels phoning me but,
Cashpoint ain’t showing me no love.
Everyone’s got my tunes on their phone,
And the CD in the PC at home,
Is packed with all the tunes that I’ve done,
But my wallet, ain’t saying one.
You think I’m making mad p,
You’re right: my money is angry with me.”


Straight truth from JME: frankly it’s very welcome amidst all the “I’m rich” boasting from other MCs. I mean, who’s British who boasts if they’re actually rich? You don’t get Mick Hucknall, Elton John or Jay Kay saying “actually: I’m loaded”, when they are multi-millionaires.

It also speaks of the tragedy of grime MCs, when they can get everyone in their ends and globally online to be fans of theirs, with JMEs MySpace getting hundreds of thousands of hits, yet they can’t generate income nor build infrastructures. That’s again why JME’s been so refreshing this year, he’s avoided the war and got down to business.

“It took five years to get five A-Cs but,
But in five days I get ten ACs,
Somebody out there please tell me,
What I’ma do with my uni degree?

I don’t want a job, blud, I swear down.
I just wanna be a big MC,
Or something along them lines.
I swear on my life music means so much to me,
Getting a degree is like a plan b,
I will mean so much to my family,
But understand me:
Javascript makes me wanna swear like Plan B”


I LOVE it when JME raps about Javascript. First of all it’s so clearly the bars of someone who’s at uni, of a mind being stimulated in other ways. Part of the tragedy of a lot of these guys, stuck in cycles of violence and counter violence, is that they can neither see a way out and have never been shown one. OK so maybe some drug dealers make immense amounts of money, but its usually only the few top dogs, otherwise as far as I’m concerned education’s gotta be the quickest way for the majority to get the big house in the country MCs always chat about.

Secondly I love Javascript bars because it documents the shift in horizons new media has caused in the last few years. The advent of mass market broadband has meant everyone can get online for less than the cost of a monthly mobile phone contract. Before MCs bars were exclusively about the ends, but access to a seemingly limitless pool of information (that they can pull in, not that is pushed to them like TV) is surely incredibly healthy. Just look at how awesomely abstract JME gets on another track, “Boy Betta Know”:

“Boy Betta Know dot com
Mashup the whole dancehall dot org
Forward slash gash love JME
Mashup the whole http

Colon double forward slash
Mashup the whole bandwidth of the page
Download MP3 click here
Mashup the whole PC sick brehr”


Anyone well versed in poetry care to make a suitable comparison?

Anyway, I for one am just happy JME’s happy to chat about his uni degree in his music. Anyone remember when Wiley was warring with Sharkey Major (circa his XL deal 2003/4) and cussed him for even having GCSEs (i.e. “A-Cs…”)?

Nonetheless JME’s still not fully convinced about his investment in education. His heart burns for music. Now this isn’t an exclusively grime thing - mine does too - but the tragedy of grime is that while so many MCs do it, so few ever truly succeed on a national or international scale. He continues on “96 Bars of JME:”

“I know [my degree] will come in handy,
I stick with it even when I get angry.
And I’m not on my own,
I’ve got a brother in this music game like Brandy.

He knows how much music means to me,
We’re just trying to make money legally.
I know guys who’ll go in your house,
Creep upstairs and steal a g.

That sounds like quick p to me,
But still I travel on C2C,
And WAGN and Silverlink.
Everything’s not what it seems to be.

You think I’m stupid: move on.
Stereotype me and I’ll prove you wrong.
Ask anyone that knew me ages ago:
They’ll say I had my head screwed on.


I’m loving the London transportation namecheck. Public transport is so part of the LDN experience and referencing it is so much more realistic than some of the inflated and unrealistic expensive car clich├ęs that get dropped. The above bars also reflect the difficult choices MCs have, when they see guys in their ends making quick money from crime and the long term benefits of work and uni aren’t immediately apparent in modern culture that demands instant gratification.

“My pockets are still filled with shrapnel,
Only difference is some of its Euros.
I’ve been travelling: capital to capital.

I’ve been nuff countries I swear.
One day I’ma write them all down.
If you turned the clock back two years,
I don’t think I’d have even have left town.”


Finally JME drops these gems, explaining how music has lead him to see far, far beyond his traditional cultural boundaries. I always used to chuckle when interviewing MCs. I’d ask “have you played up north” and they’d reply “yeah, we went to Watford”. (For those unfamiliar with London geography, Watford is a city inside London’s circular ring road the M25).

Why the “Euro’s” reference is so special is perhaps also because of the beat it sits over. With its cyclical pads, it could be a descendant of Krafwerk’s “Tour De France” or “Trans Europe Express”. From Kraftwerk to hip hop to grime... mmm perfect.