Author Archive for Andrea K

05
Dec
11

Transformers Music: The Rise of Skrillex and “Bro-Step” in EDM

The dynamics have severely shifted in electronic dance music as indicated by the popularity of Skrillex a.k.a Sonny Moore in 2011. The bespeckled former frontman of screamo outfit From First to Last, established a house hold name for himself within America’s dance scene this summer after playing numerous headlining sets at festivals across the country. His rise to success undoubtedly coincided with the awakening of America’s new dance music trend among youth: dubstep.

Go to YouTube and type in a top 40 song, in fact any popular song and you will find a plethora of dubstep remixes and most of them are AWFUL. But according to the “dubstep” experts out there, the “dubstep” made in America is an inaccurate interpretation of what it actually represents. The genre became heavily bastardized from its London origins since gaining traction in the states this year, like most electronic music. Now it’s commonly referred to as “brostep,” a subcategory of dubstep described by its frequent use of obscenely loud distorted bass wobbles and glitchy electro sounds that makes fans go buckwild. Many people claim this sub-genre sounds like a cacophony of lazer farts or transformers fornicating. Hilarious, but I kid you not. A lot of folks do not enjoy dance music that feels as though their ears are being raped by harsh frequencies. I was never a huge fan of hardcore, but I can tolerate the loud, fast and angry style of playing so much more than Mr. Moore’s music.

Skrillex has become a figurehead of “brostep” and especially appeals to the rave curious high school and college demographic. While he displays a lot of “Brostep” elements in his productions such as obnoxious formulaic drops and hard metallic bass, his music is also categorized as “Fidget House,” which incorporates a mix of dubstep, electro and house styles.

In “Rock N Roll (Will Take You to the Mountains)” it starts off as said fidget house: a generic electro house beat, repetitive vocals, claps, glitchy laser synths which leads to more choppy samples, a build up and then the anticipated “Rude boy bass” drop: robot burps, video game samples, elephant trumpet calls and other distorted noise. This combination of schizophrenic, stutter noise defines Skrillex’s “signature style,” something that not only grinds my gears but sounds like gears grinding.

Then there’s his breakout hit “Scary Monsters N Nice Sprites,” the song used in a Go Pro action camera commercial and apparently a modern DJ’s wet dream. Sigh. Countless producers have remixed it and I’ve even heard it play at bars. Now it’s nominated for a Grammy (which lose more and more credibility each year). Okay, I get the intro synth is SORT of catchy but again, more elephant bellows and goblin robot bass. I’ll admit his use of the famous speed stacking girl’s “OH MY GOSH” is pretty funny, but is it really necessary to use in multiple other songs? Good grief, Sonny Moore. Mix it up, kid.

Now let’s talk about the happy, uplifting message of “Kill Everybody.” No wonder Korn collaborated with Skrillex on their latest nu-metal-dubstep album. Metal and Dubstep have combined forces to make music exponentially worse than the two separate genres! The introduction begins with ramblings by the malicious Megatron over a standard dance beat. Throw more wobbles, processed engine noise and an annoying chipmunk repeating, “I Want to Kill Everybody.” Ugh. The title explains how this song makes me feel. But again, one somewhat redeeming synth part and that’s it. More noise, Decepticon confessions and predictable use of samples that frequent EVERY Skrillex song. Basically, certain parts sound like Megatron ate a bad taco.

The 3 aforementioned tracks are on Skrillex’s unfathomably popular and recently Grammy nominated Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites, an EP produced entirely on his lap-top. It’s no wonder he’s often criticized as a “push play” performer. Yes, I unfortunately caught him very briefly at Camp Bisco this past summer and he does indeed, press play. Sure, he occasionally turns some knobs and adjusts some faders. But his classic “rock star” move? Triumphantly lifting his arms in the air to screaming, sweating frenzied bug eyed teens, all while chain smoking cigs. In fact, I wonder which thing Sonny would give up if he had to choose between cigs or his beloved use of the transformer rape and video game laser sound library.

After witnessing the mania of Skrillex’s set, my ear drums and I felt immediately violated from hearing the abrasive noise and bass overkill, never mind the teenage wasteland unfolding all around me. Hey, I’m all for a good time on the dance floor but when people are collapsing and convulsing around you, irresponsibility can only be tolerated for so long. Poor EMTS at Camp Bisco had their hands full this year. Anyways, I walked away knowing I was immune to the possibility of experiencing an epileptic seizure. The recent bass culture movement has become a new low (pun intended) at festivals; especially this year at Camp Bisco where I had to suffer through Borgore’s bro-tastic electro dubstep during an early evening main stage set that was 300 feet from my campsite. I just don’t…get the hype or gratification people feel from experiencing Skrillex or “brostep” productions, live or recorded. I must be getting old.

Speaking of inspiring performances, I don’t know which is more exciting to watch: Skrillex smoking cigs and raising his arms for every similar, predictable drop or house producer Steve Aoki running around, spitting and pouring champagne at the audience while his “music” magically plays in the background. I mean, I’m all about tomfoolery onstage, but are you actually mixing anything live at all? Obviously the audience doesn’t care because they’re too busy getting their faces melted with bass. Duh.

Worst of all, Skrillex collaborated with remaining members of the Doors for the “Re:Generation” music project which teams up modern producers and DJs with older, reputable musicians. The keyboard and guitar tracks sound synthetic and over-processed and of course, Skrillex adds his transformer effects and lazers. To me, it’s cheesy and brings nothing exciting or innovative to the table. It’s a 21st Century flop.

I don’t care how many people like him. The fact is my ears bleed and skin crawls when listening to Skrillex or “brostep.” Personally, I like music that’s pleasant to my ears and displays a range of high, mid and low end frequencies. One friend of mine summarized, “I listened to Skrillex once. Nearby electronic devices came alive and tried strangling me with their cords.” If the other songs haven’t convinced you of a truth to his experience, then listen to the drop in “First of the Year (Equinox)” and see if your electronics turn to the dark side…then call 911 NOW!

I guess to each his or her own, though it’s a shame we live in a world where most talented musicians and producers don’t get the credit or attention they deserve. I mean, have you seen 2011’s Grammy nominations? Oh wait, the Grammy’s have been a joke for years now. Anyways, as the bass culture wave expands and people continue to get their fix of filthy, grimy, dirty drops, maybe we’ll all be too distracted to notice actual evil robots taking over the airwaves so they can “kill everybody.”

Let’s hope they start by pushing Skrillex off a bridge. It’d be his best drop yet.

11
Nov
11

A Soundtrack for Sunsets: Tycho–Dive (Ghostly International, 2011)

It’s no surprise Scott Hansen is a native Californian. He’s known by two aliases: Tycho for music and ISO50 for graphic design. The faded warm colors and sixties inspired aesthetics of his visual works undoubtedly correspond to the sun inspired arrangements of his music. Hansen owns a large collection of vintage analog synthesizers including a Minimoog and Korg Mono/Poly, which explains his music’s frequent use of rich timbres and ethereal layers, an integral characteristic established in his debut LP Sunrise Projector (later released as Past is Prologue) and a continued theme in Dive

With shimmery tones floating over celestial pads and down-tempo beats of opening track “A Walk,” my memory immediately revisits a time spent in Santa Monica where I watched the sun slowly sink below the Pacific Ocean’s horizon. Later in the song, an acoustic guitar breaks up the relaxed vibe and switches the tempo, adding claps, more drum fills and swells, almost like going from a calm, pleasant walk to a fast, exhilarating run.

In “Daydream” the title speaks for itself. A simple guitar melody fades in and subtly dwells throughout the majority of the song, underlying the dreamy flowing instrumentation of ambient synth inflections, definitely making it a relaxing, mesmerizing tune. Following the sonic surreality is title track “Dive,” the eight minute atmospheric voyage which in my opinion is the climactic point of the album. Brief, incomprehensible female coos introduce the eighties pop beat and heavily reverberated poly-synths. It sounds like it could be a theme song for an aquatic journey.

Dive is a buoyant, sunny adventure filled with ambient lullabies like “Epigram” and soothing harmonies heard in “Coastal Brake”, a musical interpretation of the experience and need to “brake” when witnessing the beauty while driving on the Pacific Coast Highway. Tycho’s repeated combination of similar synth textures and basic guitar riffs with mellow rhythms is what defines his familiar yet distinct brand of sound.

For me, listening to Tycho is analogous to spending a day at the beach—the tranquil ambience of closing your eyes while basking in sunlight or watching reflections in the waves continuously crashing. It evokes a very meditative and spiritual feeling and is great complementary music for a positive, pensive and peaceful state of mind.

4/5
04
Nov
11

Shpongle Live @ the Hammerstein Ballroom–New York, NY 10.28.11

Experiencing a rare Shpongle live ensemble performance at Camp Bisco X this past summer was a glorious moment in festival history for me. Therefore I knew an indoor headlining show in New York City for Halloween weekend would be another unforgettable night and a fantastic way to start my “Halloweekend.” Marking their 2nd U.S. appearance as a full band, Simon Posford, Raja Ram and company brought even more mind-bending sights, sounds and characters with them to the city that never sleeps. It was a special premature commemoration of a beloved holiday but more importantly, Posford’s date of birth.

Arriving late after 11pm to the Manhattan Center, the entrance was mobbed with people in kooky outfits and ghastly attire. After all it was “Shpongleween”, an appropriate title for this bizarre costume affair and a scene drawing curious gazes of passersby. We entered the ballroom to flamenco guitar, entrancing salsa rhythms and schizophrenic vocals of“Dorset Perception.” The first balcony section was a quintessential location: having the bar and bathroom in close proximity to your seats is always advantageous to the show experience, but not your wallet ($8 cranberry vodkas, you say? Sigh.) Anyways, nobody actually sat in their designated seats so the first balcony was practically a free for all. But that didn’t matter—most of the time everybody was joyously dancing or completely transfixed by the performance onstage.

The stage was a colorful concoction of costumes and acrobatic performers wearing feathers or garments lined with bright, neon shapes and patterns, donning tribal masks. A horned man paraded the stage on stilts. Singers Michele Adamson and Abigail Gorton wore vibrant wigs and glow-in-the-dark tights. Yup, we had reached our far-out destination: Shpongleland, a psychedelic dimension created from visions and adventures inspired by the drug induced hallucinations and experiences of Posford and Raja Ram, akin to a spiritual and ritualistic gathering.

One of the most anticipated songs of the night was “Nothing is Something Worth Doing.” Everybody’s attention was directed to the man dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow (not sure if it was Manu Delago) sitting front and center under a spotlight, playing the rich melodic introduction with a hang. The hypnotic buildup made this a climactic point of the show, the crowd spellbound by the profound music, harmoniously tangled up in bliss.

Then a striking guitar melody ascended from the mystics, conjuring the exotic tones of “When Shall I Be Free” right into “Stamen of the Shaman” off 2005’s Nothing Lasts…But Nothing is Lost. While the latter song was missing the organic sound of a live trumpet, the ballroom went bonkers and current Furthur drummer Joe Russo kept the crowd grooving with pulsating latin dub beats. The next batch of songs were from Shpongle’s latest release Ineffable Mysteries from Shpongleland. Adamson and Gorton lent their impressive vocal range to “No Turn Unstoned,” while celestial tones of the harp, violinist, cellist and flute added instrumental depth to this ambient piece. Next thing you know, a cryptic Indian chant and deep sitar timbre introduced, “I Am You.” Raja Ram spoke through a processor that fluctuated the pitch of his voice. Ominous violins and metallic synth arpeggios picked up the tempo and the cosmic fantasy unfolded into a dark, psy-trance journey. From there I did not expect them to go into the orchestral centered “Invisible Man In a Fluorescent Suit,” but it was a nice change of pace and wonderfully enchanting once it progressed.

Divine Moments of Truth” and “My Head Feels Like a Frisbee” were two strong closing choices, the former being a popular Shpongle tune that was heavily in rotation during Simon’s Shpongletron tour as well as at Camp Bisco. “My Head Feels Like a Frisbee” fuses so many styles of music, you simply cannot fight the urge to dance. Listening to Raja Ram’s flute part in the closing song was indeed a satisfying experience, but when they came out to perform the encore “Around the World in a Tea Daze,” all senses were stimulated by the vivacious flautist. Gorton and Adamson’s operatic vocals soared in unison over confetti and balloons dropped from the ceiling in celebration of Simon Posford’s birthday and Shpongleween.

Blending indigenous traditional music of Middle Eastern and Asian cultures with psychedelic, trance, dub and ambient styles is what makes Shpongle more sonically diverse than most acts in the world. Additionally the eccentric theatrics, lazer visuals and humorous antics of Raja Ram were essential factors for producing such a unique and fascinating show. This is a stimulating presentation that music lovers from all walks of life wouldn’t want to miss with its mysticism, majesty and moments of musical transcendence. Although the opportunity to catch them in the States is uncommon, I’m sure they’ll be back again after three successful appearances in 2011. And of course, Simon Posford in New York State means chaotic climate as indicated by the subsequent snow storm on Saturday and rain he brings to Camp Bisco every summer.

 5/5

26
Oct
11

Weird Al Yankovic @ the Palace Theater in Albany–Tuesday October 18th, 2011

When asked if I wanted a free ticket to attend Weird “Al” Yankovic one and half hours before the concert started, I simply couldn’t refuse this random and spontaneous opportunity. Especially since my memory was immediately flooded with absurd verses from 1996’s Bad Hair Day, my first and only copy of a Weird Al album.

My friends and I arrived ten minutes before show time; the orchestra level was almost full and I imagine nobody was up in the balcony. From young children to baby boomers, the age range of the audience was pretty diverse. A lot of adults weren’t there with kids either, but that didn’t surprise me. Weird Al has been making parodies of popular songs since the early 80s and is still relevant and appreciated by generations old and new. Touring off his latest release from June, Alpocalypse, Yankovic emerged onstage to boisterous applause and cheers, beginning with his most recent polka medley, “Polka Face.” Strapped with an accordion and backed by a rock band, Al proceeded to perform top 40 radio hits from 2008-2010 with his trademark polka twist, including the obvious “Pokerface” by Lady Gaga, “Day ‘n Nite” by Kid Cudi, “Fireflies” by Owl City and “I Kissed A Girl” by Katy Perry.

Yankovic continued to play songs off “Alpocalypse,” probably to keep the younger demographic satisfied, knowing their attention span and invested interest wouldn’t outlast their elders. A satirical new song “TMZ” pokes fun at the gossip site, notorious for posting photos and stories about the outlandish antics of celebrities. “Another Tattoo” comments on people’s strange need for more bizarre skin markings to fulfill their ink obsessions. One performance I thoroughly enjoyed was “Craigslist”, the music being a blend of various Doors songs with lyrics mocking the missed connections section and free stuff posts: “You were a blonde half-Asian with a bad case of gas/ I was wearing’ red Speedos and a hockey mask.” Al tapped into his inner Jim Morrison, wearing tight pants, a bohemian white blouse and shaggy wig, vigorously gyrating as if inebriated a.k.a classic Morrison. Of course the night wouldn’t have felt right without him doing his Lady Gaga parody “Perform This Way”, a youtube sensation receiving over nine million views. Wearing a peacock costume with his band also dressed in outrageous costumes was laughable though not nearly as ludicrous as Gaga would have done it.

Visual presentations of zany clips and references to Weird Al in popular culture kept the audience entertained during his numerous wardrobe changes. His famous “Al TV” interviews with musicians such as Madonna, Eminem, Robert Plant and Keith Richards were edited to create a humorous interplay between Al and his chosen subjects. Sure, they were silly and corny but funny nonetheless.

Going all out is Al’s forte for sure. Other memorable performances included his nineties hit “Amish Paradise” where he and his band dressed as Amish folk. During “White and Nerdy” he recklessly rode around on a Segway, rapping in a tacky red jumpsuit. And of course, Al performed his Grammy award winning songs for “best comedy recordings” and most beloved Michael Jackson parodies, “Eat It” and “Fat.” Yankovic dressed as MJ for the former song and donned a chain laden fat suit, complete with a double chin for the latter performance.

We all know “Weird” Al is big geek and speaks to the nerd inside us all, making his Star Wars inspired encore of “Yoda” and “The Saga Begins” a totally appropriate note to end on. “Yoda” uses the music of “Lola” and “The Saga Begins” is Don McLean’s “American Pie” (Anakin guy). Most definitely a clever lyrical homage to the Lucas legacy, especially the acapella and dance breakdown during “Yoda.”

While I never expected to attend a Weird Al concert in my life, this show undeniably exceeded my expectations. The man can perform in more ways than one, humorously yet impeccably embodying the spirit of the musicians he mocks (can’t forget “Smells Like Nirvana”) and continuing to deliver his traditional polka versions of popular songs throughout the past decades. He’s funny, quirky, dorky, and clever and knows how to put on an interesting concert for all ages. My friends and I couldn’t help but laugh and smile when we discussed our favorite moments post-show.

4.5/5

19
Oct
11

EOTO @ Jillian’s in Albany – Thursday October 13th, 2011

String Cheese Incident’s live improvisational side project EOTO returned to Albany this past Thursday, redeeming themselves after a redundant and unimpressive set back in April when they opened for Bassnectar at the Washington Armory. Instead of catering to the “basshead” crowd like last time, their set at Jillian’s demonstrated the duo’s uncanny ability to create and execute multiple styles of dance music. While both are trained drummers and percussionists, Jason Hann sits behind the drum set as Michael Travis stands surrounded by samplers, keyboards, a guitar, and bass, focused on crafting melodic loops.

I only caught ten minutes of ELECTRONICAnonymous, EOTO’s opener. This DJ project of Jules Jenssen, the drummer of Higher Organix and more recently Indobox, warmed up the dance floor by playing dubstep and electro-house for the eager young crowd. After a short break, Hann and Travis came onstage and the main event of electronic music magic began.

Performing two sets for an approximate total of 3 hours, EOTO continuously explored various genres and thoroughly excited the audience at every turn, much to my delight (considering their previous wobble heavy sets from the Armory and The Big Up). They cohesively concocted one style of electronic music to the next with a nice balance of breakbeat, house, dubstep and techno. At an early point in their first set, EOTO went from an upbeat electro-house tune to a west coast hip-hop instrumental, very reminiscent of a Dr. Dre beat. From there, Travis plugged in an electric guitar and used a sitar setting, creating a very psychedelic, middle-eastern vibe as Hann laid down a mellow, dub beat. Glancing at the six flat screen TV’s displaying kaleidoscopic visuals made it an especially trippy show moment for me.

In addition to bass and guitar loops, EOTO threw in popular vocal samples over fun and quirky dubstep rhythms, including Salt N Peppa’s “Push It” and Cali Swag District’s “Teach Me How to Dougie.” Watching Hann switch tempos and drum styles, smoothly transitioning from fast aggressive patterns to slow, syncopated beats was also very entertaining. Basically he is the groove monster and Travis is the loop master.

It was incredibly enjoyable to witness EOTO’s charismatic musical prowess and energy onstage at Jillian’s. For two middle-aged men to appeal to young twenty-somethings nowadays is rare. After Thursday’s experience, it’s apparent Hann and Travis are tuned into what’s new and relevant in today’s electronic music scene, indicated by their diverse palette of styles and unique take on live improvisation. With a demanding fall tour schedule (playing 29 out of 31 dates in October) it’s remarkable how hard this aging yet rambunctious dance factory works, striving to captivate and move audiences from one city to the next. I hope EOTO continues to bring the same raw energy and variety that was present at Thursday’s show because it truly reminded me how talented and multifaceted they are as musicians.

Performing at Electric Forest Music Festival in Michigan

Rating: 4/5

06
Oct
11

Apparat – The Devil’s Walk (Mute Records, 2011)

Sascha Ring, working under the moniker, Apparat, has transcended to a new level of composing as indicated by his latest endeavor, titled after a poem by 19th century romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. The German musician’s 2007 LP Walls showcased a dreamier blend of ambient and electronic pop, suitable for an array of moods. Whereas The Devil’s Walk uses minimal percussive elements and focuses on beautifully crafted pieces; most soaked in melancholy and poetic lyricism while others include smatterings of uplifting string arrangements and tonal progressions.

The album starts with “Sweet Unrest”, which creates an aura of curiosity and wonder experienced when beginning a new chapter in your life. Definitely an appropriate opening track laden with vocal ooh’s, atmospheric textures and a string motif.

Two singles released prior to the album’s release were “Black Water” and “Ash/Black Veil.” (color coincidence or dark thematic implication?) While the former stands as one of the more powerful, cinematic moments on The Devil’s Walk, both tracks are equally poignant and mesmerizing. Once the instrumentation thickens in “Black Water”, a crescendo builds and a climactic point of the song is reached when these lyrics are sung, “Fact isn’t what you see. Not anymore than it used to be.” “Ash/Black Veil” brings string layers and vocals to the forefront, adding a nice touch of progressing percussion that enhances this compositional journey. These two tranquil songs are great tunes to listen to when in transit, especially as day turns into night or when darkness turns to light.

Goodbye” is a song you imagine accompanying a funeral or death scene in a movie. It starts off with ambient noise, when a ritual sounding drum enters, setting the tempo. Then guitar harmonics, prominent piano chords and haunting lyrics sung by Anja Plaschg contribute to the somber tone of this farewell inspired piece.

Another soundtrack style composition is “The Soft Voices Die.” The strength of this song unfolds at the two minute mark, when violins and subtle percussion aid to the bell and xylophone introduction, a nice tempo transition from slow to fast.

There are some truly grandeur sections throughout this album, but it’s lacking the rhythmic elements that Apparat mastered in his previous solo record. Though he began his career making techno oriented beats, even collaborating with electronic heavyweights Modeselektor in 2009 (Moderat), the shift is expected when Apparat mentioned he aimed to “design sounds rather than beats.” Sure, my expectations were high after hearing the first two gorgeous singles but I felt the entire album fell a tiny bit short of its epic potential. Overall, it’s a pensive, ambient soundtrack suitable for rainy and gloomy days.

3.5/5

30
Sep
11

Paul Basic “The Mirror”

Producer Paul Basic released his debut EP “The Mirror” on Tuesday off the budding Pretty Lights Music label. Hailing from Colorado, one of today’s popular electronic music scenes (where PLM is headquartered), Basic’s first effort focuses on high energy electro hip-hop instrumentals sprinkled with manipulated samples. Packed with dynamic beats, gritty bass lines, sequenced synths and arpeggios, this 8 song, 27-minute album will keep your head bobbing and foot tapping. The first sample I recognized was in “Daydream.” Basic takes the chorus and violins (title too) from Belgian band Wallace Collection, a track also sampled by Lupe Fiasco. While this tune isn’t necessary dub-step by definition, it utilizes the standard wobbly, metallic bass lines frequented in the genre today.

The song “Cops” seems like an electronic take on Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine.” Hearing the familiar atmospheric pads, strummed guitar chords and harmonizing synth parts highlighted the feeling of drifting away to a faraway place, fueled by heavy bass and hip-hop rhythms.

One of my favorite tracks, “Jaded,” cohesively meshes high and lo-end layers with a nice touch of filter and added build ups. It’s an up-tempo tune suitable for a party or night time driving. Another strong composition from the EP is “Daylit”, showcasing Basic’s classic influences. This bright, mellow track is riddled with piano and guitar snippets sampled over a crunchy synthesizer and simple hip-hop beat.

Overall Basic’s drumming roots, production skills and early rock influences shine through on “The Mirror.” Although it’s an EP, it flows seamlessly like a mix-tape and is free for download off the Pretty Lights Music Label’s website. In addition to Basic’s debut, other talented up and coming producers such as Paper Diamond (Alex B, former bassist of Pnuma Trio) and Break Science (drummer Adam Deitch’s new project) are available for free as well. The PLM label was created by Derek Smith, the mastermind behind national touring sensation Pretty Lights, a festival favorite who gained popularity by giving music lovers his material for free. He continues to follow this free promotion model that worked for him in order to expose the newly signed artists of Pretty Lights Music. Keep on eye out for these guys as they embark on a PLM showcase tour this fall.

Rating: 3/5




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