It's baaaaaack. I've been busy with some bigger, more time-consuming projects alongside attempting to eke out a living via other avenues. But just cuz I'm finally getting going on the UK piece doesn't mean I'll let the For A Song section die from neglect. (And the fact that I'm still calling it the UK piece should give you a sense that I still have quite a bit of work remaining...but it will come, oh yes, it will.)
I started the section at the start of the year as a way to try and write everyday in addition to realizing that instead of emailing a few friends with the banging tracks I find or am shown, why not share them with you all? And hey, if a rant works its way in there, well, it’s not like I’m not known to ramble. Although the section got quickly hijacked as a means for me to do some pre-writing for the aforementioned piece by analyzing a selection of outstanding tracks and releases from post-/dubstep-influenced artists, I hope to widen the purview going forward.
That said, I’m also going to be reviewing hella recent UK jammers cuz that’s a lot of what I buy and listen to though that doesn’t mean even a favorite artist doesn’t sometimes fall through the cracks. With the exception of the Young Marco-curated edition—which featured the revelatory “Televisiewereld” by Gerrit Hoekema—I haven’t paid much attention to the Dekmantel Selectors series. What’s ironic is why I admittedly turn up my nose at ‘Selector culture,’ until a couple of years ago I would have likely classified myself as just that. Not being able to beat match particularly well and having mixing ambitions that far outstripped my abilities, I found my best sets tended to be when my focus was just on the songs I picked and their sequencing.
Recently I was speaking with a frequent interlocutor about dance music culture and we were discussing a rather successful DJ collective whose abilities at mixing we both found more than a bit lacking. Indeed, hearing an online mix of theirs took me back to my early DJ’ing days as the track selection was solid, but ultimately undermined by a compulsion to beat match. Expanding outwards, we started sharing story after story of nights that were kinda ruined by inexperienced DJ’s feeling obligated to beat match every track, even when the tracks themselves seemed to be crying out to just be played all the way through and tastefully segued into the next.
I soon found myself recalling a conversation I had with an older music writer friend who is also an extremely versatile selector, being an avid record collector for several decades. Commenting on a couple Profan records that were staples in his 90s DJ’ing days, I asked him if he could beat match. “Nope,” he replied with the type of effortless confidence obtained through five-plus decades on this planet. “But, what, how…” I stammered bewilderedly.
“Well Nick,” he smoothly replied, “as you know, techno and house tracks have breakdowns and plenty of beatless sections where you can blend in another record and it sounds perfectly fine." I recall feeling an annoying sense of frustration as I realized just how stubborn and selfish I had been for all those years, subjecting tiny audiences to train wreck after train wreck (and subjecting myself to some trainwreck as well, yuk yuk.)
A DJ is there to make people feel something and hopefully inspire them to dance. Outside of the pale white virgins bemoaning a blend being a nanosecond off, 99% of the audience likely isn’t clocking how you mixed bassline A with bassline B or if you boast surgical-light tightness. They just want to keep enjoying the music and they don't care if you mixed B12 with the B-52's unless you had a damn good reason to. Going out dancing is something that begs for a soundtrack and soundtracks work best with a narrative. Yet when was the last time you felt a DJ told you a story with their mixing? Is it even something people listen for anymore?
What I do know is regardless of how well you beat match, at the end of the day, people come up to ask for track ID's or tell you how much they like that one song you played earlier, not to critique your mixing. And I get it, it's all too easy to become your own worst enemy when you hold yourself to a standard that allows you to lose sight of what you've been hired to do: soundtrack people having fun. Leave the mangled mixing for when you practice and stop subjecting us to hearing you get paid to practice. Listen to your records and let them do the talking, not your ego...you'll be amazed what happens when you stop telling them what to do.
Track Review: Beatrice Dillon - "Curl"
One artist who's proven to be a major character in my research is producer Beatrice DIllon, an artist whose command of experimental and functional musics typifies the atypical approach to dance music we're seeing arise in the UK and elsewhere. 2017 was the year that I stopped equivocating and got on the Dillon wagon in a big way thanks to the monumental "Can I Change My Mind?" A thirteen-minute rhythmic odyssey not seen since T++ unleashed his "Space Breaks" on an unsuspecting world back in 2006. But where his breaks stayed within a functional formalism from the sound design to the beat patterns, Dillon's rhythm track took a basic motorik structure--that most planar of beats--and transmuted it into a four-dimensional fractal.
Originally released as part of a super-limited split twelve on boutique label Alien Jams with her countrywoman Karen Gwyer back in 2016 following a solid few years of releases that helped put Where To Now? on the map in addition to a legendary cassette for The Trilogy Tapes and a few months before that epochal Boomkat release, "Curl" was finally given a wider pressing on the Joy Orbison-selected installment of the Dekmantel Selector series. As I alluded to above, "selector" is a loaded term as it implies curational skills that are at least on par with your professional DJ and, increasingly, is seen as surpassing your common DJ. Perhaps that distinction has become necessary as DJ's have become more common than ever and the idea that to become a DJ, one must have 'the bomb tracks' fades into irrelevance.
Each volume of the series has presented a different conception of the term, from Motor City Drum Ensemble's fetishizing of black music rarities to Young Marco's joyful selection of oddball tracks and Lena Wiliken's using her volume to illustrate how 'selector culture' can simply refer to how new music is obtained these days. Joy Orbison took a similar approach as Marco and Dettmann in going for a mixture of tracks both readily available and impossibly expensive as a means to reflect how he shaped his own voice as a DJ. And really, that's what makes this series--annoying as it may be--so representative of the current dance music zeitgeist. Sure, clubbing has gotten way shittier, the bar of entry has plummeted, and the opportunists have crawled out of the woodwork. But maybe, just maybe, this is an early indication that the bubble is going to burst and those left with a roof over their head will have the actual skills and singular artistic voice needed to stand out from DJ Sheeple.
Believe me, this is not where I expected this rant to go, but that's part of the benefit of writing one's inner monologue out rather than shouting it out loud. You give yourself the time to sharpen your own point (or just figure out what it is. Even if the Selector series was shit, the fact that it's now made two songs I would give up a organ for readily availabe is kinda really cool. And what is it about "Curl" that makes it work spending $30 for ten other songs you don't care about? (granted, as soon as I hit publish, I'm listening to the rest of the comp) Riding a low-100s BPM and the type of atonal rhythmic arpeggiation upon which technopop was built, Dillon's preternatural sensibility for sculpting sound renders the twelve-note octave meaningless as she fuses tones and rhythms into something far more organic and primal. Often referential but with zero interest in repeating the past, "Curl" is Dillon's digital interpolation of chugging EBM, machine music that was also keyboard music and thus hemmed in by Bach and his progeny. Like Harry Partch before her, Dillon hones into on those tones in between the notes and finds a home somewhere between EBM and ECM, musique popular and musique concréte. Who says granular synthesis can't be sexy?