Live Report: Electronic Beats Festival Graz 2013

We report from Springfestival’s opening night, featuring performances from Chilly Gonzales, Rangleklods, BCK2BCK (Ronson & Riton), and COMA. Photos: Oreste Schaller.

 

After Prague, Bratislava, Poznań, and Cologne, the Electronic Beats Festival heads to southern Austria—this time not as a solo venture, but in collaboration with the Springfestival, Graz’s annual sonic fun feast. Undertaking Springfestival’s opening night, Electronic Beats presented an eclectic line-up encompassing a seated rap-waltz, gentle indie-electronics, and bass-heavy thump. Surrounded by the bucolic environs of flawless Austrian countryside, which revealed itself in its full glory en (train) route from Vienna to Graz, the airy Helmut List Halle, situated in an aptly unassuming area of the city, became carte blanche for the later musical ventures.

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Jason Charles Beck is a “man of our time”, an entertainer and an avid music evangelist. On stage, there is only a single piano and minimal lights. He emerges from the darkness, clad in a black nightgown: the look of a—facetiously—self-proclaimed, nonchalant musical genius, Chilly Gonzales. Before his concert, Chilly told me about his objective to entertain people, to incorporate audiences into his one-man show and deliver something they will find enjoy. And this he certainly provides as the concert unfolds, delivering a kind of meta-musical narrative, bearing the stamp of an avid educator explaining his craft to the uninitiated, talking about chords, harmonies, and electronic beats. Beethoven’s 5th on a bongo? Rap with waltz? Live remixing with his iPad? You get it all.

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Next up is Rangleklods, armed with an upcoming EP, the photogenic Danish duo took the baton from Chilly, and in a way, continued where he left off. Pleasing the audience, but slightly different way, with their buoyant beats and bold vocals—Esben Andersen’s baritone and Pernille Smith-Sivertsen’s ethereal delivery—against the backdrop of their sophisticated electro/dance pop. As is evident from the mixtape they did for Electronic Beats in April, they sport an affinity for club music, and live, they oscillate somewhere between the dreamy, dancey, and catchy.

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The newly-formed “DJ super-group” BCK2BCK, a project of Grammy-winning producer Mark Ronson and Henry Smithson, aka Riton, hijack the bass. The soundsystem suddenly becomes a physical organism, emitting basslines as if it were breathing. Starting off with Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life”, with a dash of Aaliyah and Young Jeezy and culminating with Crystal Waters’ “Gypsy Woman”, their heavy DJ set coupled with the trusty old 909 drum machine was just as eclectic a ride as the whole night itself. “I mainly come from playing hip hop and it probably is still the bulk of my set. Whereas I guess Henry comes from the opposite,” Mark told us in an interview.

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COMA fill in for SBTRKT and follow up somewhere where Rangleklods left off, though in a lighter guise. COMA, from Cologne, release on their home city’s Kompakt Records, and their mixture of electronics, pop, and indie flavors fits well into the imprint. I don’t envy their job following up on BCK2BCK’s dancefloor-centric club tunes, but they seem unfazed and ready.~

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I Got Your Back: An interview with BCK2BCK (Mark Ronson & Riton)

In advance of their set together at Springfestival Graz tonight, we speak with the DJs, producers, and London neighbors about their collaborative, B2B session and DJ philosophies.

Plus grab their brand new track “Nine-Whoa-Nine” below.

Mark Ronson and Henry Smithson aka Riton are hardly novices of the music scene. Each of them has a prolific portfolio of collaborations and projects under their respective belts, ranging from the Grammy-awarded to underground clubs. Their musical worlds also encompass a wide spectrum, from hip hop to krautrock and electro. Both now based in London, they have embarked upon a new mutual back to back (or ‘B2B’) project BCK2BCK, a term borrowed from DJ culture, of which they have been an inseparable part of. In anticipation of their shared set at the Electronic Beats Opening Night at the Springfestival in Graz on Wednesday, May 29th, we caught up with the busy duo to take a sneak peak at their latest musical endeavor.

 

What are you going to do live at Springfestival?

Riton: It’s like DJing with a 909, the old house and techno drum machine. It’s from the ’80s and it’s quite tricky, because it’s all analogue. We do everything with vinyl and analogue machines. We wanted to do something more than DJ; we didn’t want to be those guys sat on the stage with laptops.

Is it going to be house/dance music?

Riton: No. It goes right across from hip hop to house.

Mark Ronson: I mainly come from playing hip hop and it probably is still the bulk of my set. Whereas I guess Henry comes from the opposite. We use the 909 drum machine and segue between our sets. If I’m playing a hip hop record, we go through an a cappela piece of music, and Henry is programming the 909 live, and also gradually speeding it up. You have to do it by the feel of it because there is no tempo dial and hope to end up in the right place. Basically, there is a lot of error in all these things that happen, but I think that makes it exciting.

Riton: This is a DJ show, firstly. Mark is pretty good with playing guitars and keyboards, I can mess about with the drum machine. But DJing is probably what we would consider our strongest instrument.

Has the notion of DJing changed over those years in your perception? What are the roles of DJs these days?

Riton: I think it’s probably more popular than it has ever been, which is good. Personally, I’m quite in a bubble. I often play with the same types of people, and only really see one side of it. It’ s always changing, but it is a slow, gradual change.

Mark: I’m so old, I feel like I’ve seen so many trends in clubs coming and going. DJing is probably the biggest it has ever been with people like the Swedish House Mafia filling two nights at an arena.

Riton: One thing that is missing now is that it’s hard for somebody in the middle who hasn’t got a hit record to fill a club now. They don’t trust a club or promoters of a regular night. You either have very small parties which are free for mates, or you have those mega dome events. That’s a shame.

Nowadays, DJ is a recontextualizer of an increasing amount of music, of past, present, and future. How do you choose it?

Riton: Just play your favorite things.

What are your favorite records right now?

Mark: I’m enjoying Young Jeezy’s R.I.P., or Rich Gang Tapout, for instance.

You have collaborated with other musicians and DJs, how did you decide to work together?

Mark: He just lives near my studio. I used my Google app, and he was the biggest DJ that lived close to my studio. So, we just figured it would be easier [laughs]. He likes to skateboard and luckily I live in the bottom of the hill, so it’s an easy ride for him to the studio. This is all actually true.

What was the best music-related experience that you’ve had recently?

Riton: I’ve just had a great time in the studio lately. I’ve got a lot of new material to put out, my own stuff and few other bits and pieces of production that I’ve been working on for other singers.

What about your krautrock project?

Riton: I’m definitely doing a new krautrock album, but it might not be for another five or six years. I think that it will be my retirement project. Once I’m in a place where I can do what Daft Punk did, and spend lot of money on producing an album, that not many people like.

Mark: Oh…!

Riton: Hey, I like it. That’s what I did last time, I had about 15 musicians on this, and that was a labor of love. When I was making it, the only thing I was talking about was krautrock. It will probably come when I’m sick of dance music, but I’m not sick of it right now. That is what happened to me last time—I thought, I just need a break from listening to electro.

How do your musical worlds interact? Mark you are familiar with hip-hop and also the more pop side of the music world, whereas Henry is more club-oriented?

Mark: I’ve always liked Henry’s music. For his mixtapes, he often includes things that I have a great affinity for. Even though Henry and I differ in tempo, genre-wise I enjoy everything that he plays.

These days there are no genre boundaries in music, it is all on one stage.

Riton: It’s good right now.

Do you get inspired by where you are, does it translate into your music?

Riton: When I have a really good gig somewhere, I feel quite inspired by that. As soon as I hear something, any piece of music that does inspires me, which is annoying because when I try to finish songs I keep hearing other songs and it keeps me sidetracked. I try to not listen to too much music, when I’m working on my own stuff.

It must be hard with DJing though, I guess it is quite difficult to combine DJing and production in this respect.

Riton: I play once or twice a week though, so I have five days for the other. I love being in London for working, though. The weather is just bad enough to not want to go out too much, I can stay indoors all the time, and not feel like I’m missing too much.

Are you interested in the new musical styles that are coming out of London now?

Riton: Yes, all the stuff that is popular right now is quite house-y, it’s quite melodic, and quite good quality. You have to be pretty careful with that type of music though. You don’t want to get bored. I like the deep stuff when it is soulful, but I don’t like it when it’s deep just for the sake of it.

Where do you see yourselves in future?

Mark: I think in five years I will probably be doing the same shit but hopefully I’m a little better at it, a little wiser.

Riton: I wouldn’t want to think, “If I do this, then I can stop, and I have loads of money.” I know that I will always be making music. Hopefully making krautrock or something when I’m 70.~

 

BCK2BCK perform tonight at Electronic Beats’ event for Springfestival’s opening night. You can listen to and download their new track “Nine-Whoa-Nine” below.

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