The Electronic Beats festival season is underway, which means that we’ll be hosting bashes in Vienna, Budapest, Zagreb, and Leipzig throughout the coming months. To glean a better understanding of the personalities who will be rocking our stages, we’re rolling out a series of interviews with several of the artists who will perform at the concerts. This week stars Canadian producer Caribou, who’s set to appear at Electronic Beats Vienna on October 18.
Dan Snaith may seem like a mild and polite sort of guy, but in the 2000s he was running a scam. “I would go to the local record store, buy ten CDs, and return them the next day,” he explains. “I had already ripped them onto my computer.”
Okay, so, as far as cons go, Snaith’s was pretty benign. Furthermore, it allowed him to build an extensive knowledge of jazz, particularly the spiritual and experimental strains that were championed by the inimitable legend Sun Ra. Snaith’s careful study of Ra surfaces in his own music—which he releases under the monikers Caribou, Daphni—as a sense of freewheeling improvisation and experimentation. His latest Caribou LP, Our Love, drops on October 6 in Europe via City Slang and the next day in the US on Merge, just two weeks after the release of In The Orbit of Ra, a compilation of Sun Ra Arkestra hits assembled by bandleader Marshall Allen. Coincidentally, Snaith played alongside Allen in 2009 and 2011, when he united with Four Tet, James Holden, and about a dozen Arkestra members as the Ra-inspired Caribou Vibration Ensemble. We took advantage of these kismet connections and asked the Canadian beatmaker to compile his guide to his most essential Sun Ra LPs, which you can peruse below.
I watched an interview with Sun Ra in which a journalist was asking him about the message in his music, and what inspired him—the sort of boilerplate questions I couldn’t walk in here and ask you, especially on a press day when you have a dozen interviews to do in one day. It got me thinking about how the contemporary the media environment has evolved, and how talking about or to artists has changed from a fan and media perspective.
The thing that’s hard to wrap our heads around is that Sun Ra was born 100 years ago. Marshall [Allen] was an infantryman in the second World War. When Ra was recording and releasing those records, people were like, “This is not fuckin’ music anymore!” It was one of those Stravinsky moments where people were like “This is garbage, this is evil shit.” What music does that anymore? We don’t have that. Parents today are challenged by drug use in music culture, but with the music itself, it’s not the same—music reviewers at that time were just like, “This has to be stamped out. This shouldn’t be allowed.” It’s hard to imagine that.
What has changed? Why is it harder to imagine music being so transgressive?
Artists like Sun Ra have expanded the sphere of what’s possible to the point where now you can have a Merzbow record and everybody’s just like, “Let’s put that on while we make dinner.”
You’re suggesting that the role of the artist and musician has transformed, and that they’re not expected to expand the perceived realm of possibility anymore. Even the idea of having a message attached your music seems quaint or cheesy. The one big example that I could think of is Pussy Riot, and they’re not even really a band in a traditional sense—newspapers and magazines call them a “punk band,” and then people are surprised when they realize Pussy Riot doesn’t release much music, and that they’re more of an activist group that often uses music to transmit political messages than a band, per se. So, the idea of the an artist having a message seems to have changed.
Pussy Riot are a great example of something that stands for something more, or whatever. That is extremely, exceedingly rare. If you try to do that, it seems ridiculous.
Or, it seems like a gimmick.
Exactly. In Ra’s life, it was definitely not a gimmick. It’s pretty clear that he lived it and believed it. I think it’s valuable for all those reasons as well.
Obviously, many, many artists talk about being influenced by Sun Ra. When someone cites Ra as an influence on their music, I tend to think, “Oh yeah, you too?” How do you make that influence meaningful or personal in a very saturated environment?
Part of the value of his music is that it just exists, and you know that it’s there. It’s not like people who say that they’re influenced by Sun Ra have to have something explicitly that references his music in theirs to have some of that spirit, some of that sense of otherness or doing something weird. For me, it’s much more explicitly referenced, for example, on my older records, just loads of big chunks of free jazz saxophone, or whatever.
Still, would it be important to you to to introduce your child, or even a young up-and-coming artist, to Sun Ra?
Definitely. That was the moment when I learned about weirder jazz music. It’s like, “Oh, there’s more possibilities that music can do these other things that I didn’t realize it could before.”
If someone had just decided to start listening to Sun Ra, which would be the first album that you would give them?
The album Space is the Place is a great starting point, or you could see the Arkestra play live, I think that would be an equally good place to start, and then go back to the records. The song “Space is the Place” is one of the few anthems, one of the songs that captures everything that they’re about. Space is the Place, and other albums that I think are my favorites, are in this middle ground where there’s melody and rhythm combined with more out-there ideas.
What’s number two?
One of my personal favorites is this album Lanquidity. Lots of these records were so rare—hand-painted releases and stuff—that, when I first started listening to Sun Ra’s music, I didn’t know they even existed. Lanquidity got reissued in 2000. There are tracks with wicked heavy drums, and great horn arrangements, and melodies. I think Lanquidity is probably my favorite of his albums to listen to the whole way through. It’s maybe not as great of a starting point, because the anthems aren’t on there, but it’s a real killer one.
Any other essentials?
Another amazing one is Disco 3000. It sounds more like Helden, or some weird Suicide B-side or something like that. This period is great too, because electronics started coming to the fore, and effects and weird stuff like that. There’s this label Art Yard, that, in the mid-2000s, did vinyl reissues of the rarest and some of the best records from this period in Ra’s discography.
Caribou will play at the EB Festival in Vienna on October 18. Tickets are sold out, but you can enter to win some free ones here.
The Casady sisters’ fifth album draws on the beguiling sonic shuffling ‘freak folk’ that made their name and playfully strange stories for a naturally evolved pop music, says Daniel Jones.
Growing up in the Midwest more interested in books than sports, I spent a lot of time using my imagination as a form of entertainment. I’d make ‘zines that gave as much space to musicians like Sonic Youth and The Birthday Party as it did to obscene and blasphemous skateboard designs my friends and I would make. Sandwiched between these rudimentary album reviews (usually ending in fart jokes, references to nihilist literature, or nihilistic fart jokes) and sketches of Doug Funnie doing a Chaos flip off our teacher’s head, we’d put strange little stories. They weren’t always ours; sometimes we’d just insert texts we’d found and liked, but usually we’d come up with something on the spot, staying up late into the dawn arguing the details of an abstract fantasy that only five or six people would see. We probably spent far more time on these pieces than the rest of the content combined. Stories are important.
I think that’s what attracted me to CocoRosie in the first place. Their debut album La maison de mon rêve is sweetly uncanny, an intimate gathering of narratives and toy instruments that felt as charming as it did unsettling. The stories within—of abuse, prostitution, racism, religion—have all been touched on countless times, but rarely to such a clever degree of playfulness; playfulness that underscored the points rather than made light of them. Their latest album contains just as many engaging tales, but the song structures and their production tell their own stories. Tales of a Grass Widow builds on some of the brighter and more accessible ideas of their previous albums and expands on them. Fourth album Grey Oceans felt like a hand stretched out, reaching to experimentally touch something new; Tales clenches that hand tight and takes control of it. Where once the instrumentation of the Casady sisters might have baffled, with some sonic shuffling these same sounds engage. The garbled electronics of an ancient child’s toy opens “After The Afterlife”, swiftly warping into piano and the dreaded specter of autotune, here used lightly to accent key moments. It’s a bit like hearing a rebirth from noise to pop; a just-subtle-enough wink that made me smile.
The Antony-led “Tears for Animals” is the first ‘true’ pop moment on the album, two unique and rich voices entwining against a capering beat and a subversively deceptive lightness antithetical to the depression buried beneath Bianca’s half-sneered sexuality: “All you fellows climbed me like a staircase, wore me down,” gently wailed even as Antony’s croons caress. Clockwork hip-hop beats strut and shatter, pan pipes drawing out a half-naturalistic, half-mechanical world that feels as easy to follow as if it had been conjured in a book. There’s plenty of subtle wonders to discover in the sonics here: metallic, knife-like scrapes and organ stabs in “Villain” startle when accented with big-room trap vocal punctuations; the shocking explosion of the happy hardcore-flavored hidden track “Happy Eyez”, wildly updated from their Coconuts, Plenty of Junk Food EP version. Surprise and delight remain equal contenders for the ears: “End Of Time” bounces past like a bizarro “Gin and Juice”, the delicate pleading of “Harmless Monster” is equally beautiful and pitiful.
Tales of a Grass Widow has everything that endeared La maison de mon rêve to me nine years ago. All of the strangeness is still here; it’s simply been updated for different ears, a natural evolution. It’s a compelling and thoroughly enjoyable album that not only shows how far the Casadys have come in terms of how they use their strangeness to create worlds, but also serves to highlight how our own ideas about pop music have evolved. Whatever it is that draws you in—be it imagination or simply a need to hear something different—CocoRosie prove that they still have plenty of wonderful stories to tell, and new ways to tell them.˜
Tales of a Grass Widow is out now on City Slang.
Each week in Videodrome, Moritz Gayard rounds up the best music videos the internet has to offer, so you don’t have to.
It’s the first VIDEODROME this year brought to you by someone who actually saw the sun. Yes, the gray layer which covers Berlin every year from October until April has finally disappeared. Enjoy some psychedelia and get ready for the best time of the year:
#1 Phantom Love – “Psychic June”
This great debut 12” EP from Phantom Love, a mysterious Kosmische act from Southern Europe was just released through Mannequin Records – track’s even bigger with these strange visuals.
#2 The Growlers – “Row”
Psychedelic mish mash video from Row. What a funny, acid-laden music video which whets the appetite to get lost on the Teufelsberg. You know?
#3 Broke One – “Gravity”, directed by Luke Gilford
Broke One is actually someone who ‘graduated’ from the Red Bull Music Academy, and this week he premieres his “Gravity” video, which is the follow-up track to his Waiting Lines EP—out via Bmkltsch last year.
#4 SOHN – “Bloodflows” Christian Pitschl
Uk producer SOHN seems to have momentum right now; he just got signed to 4AD for his upcoming full-length and has this niiiice music video out, made by Italian artist Christian Pitschl.
#5 IS TROPICAL – “Dancing Anymore”, directed by Megaforce
Post-sexuality, or what? What starts with a Christopher Walken-esque move ends in a pretty crass NSFW video, where… Watch it yourself above to find your own words.
#6 Roger Robinson – “Ghost”
New, tight solo track for King Midas Sound‘s Roger Robinson. “Ghost” is taken from Robinson’s forthcoming EP Novella, which keeps him behind a wall of layers.
#7 Mykki Blanco – “Feeling Special”, directed by Danny Sangara
Mykki just dropped his latest car-based music video for “Feeling Special” taken from his EP called Betty Rubble: The Initiation, coming out later this year.
#8 Sébastien Tellier & Caroline Polachek – “In The Crew Of Tea Time”, directed by Guillaume Cagniard
Record Makers released an exclusive 7-inch by Sébastien Tellier & Caroline Polachek of Chairlift with the as-yet unreleased track “In The Crew Of Tea Time” – recorded last year in Paris. Now this Nick Cave meets PJ Harvey video appeared online.
#9 Helado Negro- “Relatives”, directed by Zircon Prince
Brooklyn’s Roberto Carlos Lange, aka Helado Negro just unveiled his video for “Relatives,” featuring vocals from Bear in Heaven’s Jon Philpot. Taken from his new album Invisible Life, out now on Asthmatic Kitty.
#10 CocoRosie “After the Afterlife”, directed by Mike Basich
Off their forthcoming album, Tales of a Grass Widow, due May 27th in Europe via City Slang, here’s Parisian freak-folk sisters CocoRosie’s new video for “After the Afterlife”, shot in Hawaii.
Ahmed Gallab emigrated from Sudan to the US when he was five years old. In high school, he became immersed in the DIY punk and hardcore scene, playing in several bands. On his latest album MARS he mixes a wide array of sounds and brings about a new and different kind of world music.
What led you to start your own project?
In high school I played music all the time, and later in college I got really serious about touring and was heavily involved in punk. I was always playing with other people and in 2006 I felt I had come to a place where I wanted to create music based on my own personal ideas. That’s how Sinkane started.
How did you come to work with Caribou?
In 2008 I went to one of their shows in Queens with a friend of mine and gave Dan Snaith my album. He seemed to like it a lot, he responded a few month later and from there we became friends. Then their drummer broke his wrist and they needed a replacement, so I started touring with them.
Did you also work on your own stuff back then?
I was releasing my first album Color Voice while I started to get really busy playing music live.
Your new album sounds like it was produced forty years ago. Did you use a lot of old hardware?
No, totally not! I spent a lot of my time crafting sounds, but it wasn’t as elaborate as you might imagine. I recorded it all on my laptop… there weren’t any crazy mic-techniques or amps, I just plugged in and played. There’s no romantic story behind it.
What’s influential for you on this album?
I listened to a lot of spiritual jazz when I was starting Sinkane throughout the process of recording. When I started working on the new album Jason Trammell, who plays drums in the band, put me on to Holado Negro and he was a huge influence! He is so good at what he does. His music is just beautiful.
Why the name MARS?
It’s about my experience of moving to New York. I was having a really hard time making friends, so I spent a lot of time working. I felt like I was in this desolate place and that shaped a lot of the songs. I spent every single day just working nine to five on the music. I just tried to find this place where I was comfortable, and it took me some time. The name MARS is just a reference to something alien, desolate or far away.
Isn’t Mars also the god of war in greek mythology?
You are the first person to say that, and I never thought about it that way. A lot of people think deeply into the album title, but it’s not meant to be that way.~
Sinkane’s Album MARS is out now on Cityslang.