Above: Neil Case, photographed at home in Hollywood, Florida by So-Min Kang.
Car audio bass is the subgenre that everybody has heard but nobody has heard of. That’s right, there’s a name for the boom pulsing from tricked-out Chevys and Opels on slow, endless drive-bys, rattling shutters with maximum sound pressure levels the world over. And Neil Case, aka Bass Mekanik, is the man responsible for that low end. Born in London and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, Case was schooled as a recording engineer in the legendary studio of Byron Lee, where he learned the art of creating dub soundscapes and recording forty-member Rastafarian collectives with the lights out, like Ras Michael and The Sons of Negus, their chillums glowing in the dark like fireflies. Due to growing political violence, Case emigrated to Miami in the late seventies where a few years later he would discover speedy, bumping, 808-enhanced Miami bass, which was fast becoming the music of choice in the city’s strip clubs and car stereos. Hearing room for technical improvement, he spent the early-nineties tailoring the Miami sound to car audio and, with a series of releases on the legendary Pandisc label, a new sub(bass)-genre was born—one which has since altered commercial hip-hop and American bass music production for good. In advance of Miami’s annual Winter Music Conference, we present this interview from our Spring, 2013 issue of Electronic Beats Magazine.
Neil, what are the origins of car audio bass as a genre?
First and foremost, it’s important to know that subsonic bass—infrasound—is everywhere. All things have a resonant frequency. For example, the resonant frequency of planet earth is like 7.83 hertz. When tigers roar before they strike their prey, it includes an infrasound component that shocks and stuns the prey, making it easier to kill. Elephants hear infrasound better than humans and can perceive audio events over very long distances. Sperm whales use pulses of infrasound to stun the large squid that form the basis of their diet. The vibrations of thirty-three cycles will give a woman an orgasm—you could make a bass vibrator! Then there’s the supposed “brown tone”, which at around eight cycles will cause bowel movements involuntarily. In medieval times, musicians and especially organ builders used infrasound by employing massive organ pipes to instill a sense of awe in the congregation. Your insides would feel different when you heard it. You might have thought it was divine. Subsonic frequency is a very powerful force.
Indeed. And what about its relationship to car stereos?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, car audio bass is directly born from a technical phenomenon, which is an interesting perspective because although there are car bass audio “producers”, people don’t usually talk about the genesis of the music, per se. I see the beginning as a confluence of events: First, coming out of the seventies into the eighties, you had a huge revolution in car audio technology. It used to be that great car audio was a six-by-nine coaxial Jensen speaker that would blast Led Zeppelin or the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack from an eight-track. However, as soon as crossovers, equalizers and larger, high power stereo components were introduced into the game, the handling capabilities improved dramatically. At the same time—and purely by coincidence—the Roland 808 drum machine came along, which was featured in lots of early rap and electro. And nothing sounded like it, nothing would give you that big boom in a car or anywhere else for that matter. Once you heard that big fat bottom end, everything else just sounded puny. So when Miami bass appeared in the early eighties, the whole bass experience was intensified by the faster, dance-oriented tempos. Immediately you had a party on wheels.
Above: Case willingly admits that there is a vaudevillian aspect to car audio bass, preferring to see it as a form of “entertaining calibration” for car stereos as opposed to music.
But of all the music that was being made with the 808 at the time, why did Miami bass specifically become so popular for car audio?
Because of the speed! But, that morphed and eventually spread to Atlanta and became crunk, southern rap and trap, which also slowed down—or should I say the hi-hats sped up while the rest moved half time. Or it got chopped and screwed, pitched low for more bass. Either way, all of that southern hip-hop I see as an outgrowth of Miami bass. Also in the early nineties, techno and Eurodance started to appear. I was never into rap that much, and I had been a recording engineer since I was a teenager, so the fidelity of the techno productions fascinated me. That’s why I decided to try and layer it over the bass music to see what I could come up with. I didn’t know that guys like Dynamix II were doing the same thing independently. What we did formed the genre “techno bass”, which is a kind of electro, I suppose.
What do you mean by layering the techno on the bass tracks?
It essentially meant taking the bottom end of a faster tempo song—the kick and bassline—and then combining it with the top and melody of Eurodance along the lines of Culture Beat or 2 Unlimited. Except that this wasn’t on a four-to-the-floor house beat. At the same time, I was working as a recording engineer and one of my clients was the legendary Miami bass label Pandisc, which is how I met James McCauley, who most people know as Maggotron. Anyway, I put out my first bass record and it sold like hotcakes because back then the classic Miami bass labels like Pandisc, Luke Records and Joey Boy were being played in clubs. That’s when somebody told me we should go check out a car audio event-competition in Daytona—because of Miami bass’ popularity in this burgeoning scene. We drove up and immediately when we arrived I heard dozens of cars pumping my music. And in the convention center, people were literally lining up to buy my CD, which should have been an ego booster. However, what I noticed is that they weren’t playing any of my songs in their entirety, but rather only small bits and pieces that made their car systems boom and sing in different ways. At first I was very disappointed because I had put a lot of work into my songs. But pretty soon I understood it was all about measurement; competitions are about who has the loudest system, measured in SPL which stands for “sound pressure level”. And when they measure, it’s usually clips of thirty seconds, maximum. Sometimes even shorter.
So you felt your music had been degraded in becoming just a link in the chain of SPL measurement?
At first, yes. But armed with that nugget of info, I decided to create a bass alias where I would make an album where each song focused on a different frequency and different style of bass. Instead of arranging the song for it to fit, say, a radio format, I tailored it all to car stereos. Instead of drum breaks, I had bass breaks. And I was the first. This was circa 1994. That’s also when I got the idea to create a test section on the CD where they could skip ahead and play bits of twenty cycles or thirty cycles or forty cycles [bass frequency on the sound spectrum], or a level setting tone, or a left-right sweep, or maybe some pink noise [all frequencies at once] to scope their systems out. The result was that I quickly sold insane amounts of CDs. All the stores that specialized in car stereos were selling and using my stuff in their installations.
So you essentially made your music into a form of calibration.
Yes, but entertaining calibration—how’s that for a production style?
Above: Bryan Chuechunklin of custom audio website modifiedshow shooting the scantily clad Anna Marie Fox in front of a purple hummer at the DUB show tour in Miami. Car audio bass culture proudly resists all sorts of current trends, including greentech, low bitrate MP3s and post-heteronormative ideals.
Has car audio bass as a genre had any reach beyond the ghetto of competitions and conventions and the obsession with measurement?
It’s an interesting question because I think after the rise of car audio bass in the mid-nineties, you started hearing much more bottom-heavy production in hip hop. How it sounded in a car became very important, and I see it all as a result of car audio bass and Miami bass. But that’s also why the bass market has shrunk over the years: other kinds of music caught up with our bottom end! We’re not the only game in town any more, and if you could find the same amount of bass on a Jay-Z album and you’re more of a rap fan, then the choice is obvious, which is fine. But gone are the days that people who didn’t even like Miami bass would buy the CDs just to show off the depth of their systems. And like the rest of the industry we’ve also been seriously impacted by the Internet. People don’t buy albums anymore—that’s just reality.
But for car audio bass, fidelity is still king, right? That seems to go against the grain of MP3s and current listening trends.
Yes, absolutely. Cheap rips and MP3s don’t play much of a role in what we do. Both as a consumer and an engineer, I think the development towards MP3 sales is ass backwards. Sooner than later, people will demand full bandwidth versions of the music they’ve purchased over the past ten years.
It’s interesting how much car audio bass doesn’t translate to online platforms. Watching hair trick videos on YouTube for example, all you hear is insane digital farting, and even clips from the Pandisc site can only hint at the musical experience of car audio. But I also think the focus on fidelity has certain aesthetic implications, like in terms of hearing each musical element with total clarity. This necessarily translates into a kind of minimalism.
I think in some ways, car audio bass is about listening to sounds, not music.
Some people call car audio bass soulless, but I think its appeal, or even its “soul”, is in the pragmatic focus on using very few elements.
That’s one way to look at it. For me, it’s always been interesting from a technical aspect, but I think there are different ways to express creativity. Any form that has inherent limitations forces you to refine the style, but I’m not trying to change the world with what I do. People like things that showcase different aspects of their system, like with different forms of bass. You need different kinds of bass hardness: big fat kick drums, big sustained bass, or sine waves—all of which I tune. I’m not the first to make tuned bass music, because if you were using early Roland samplers and played the boom out of the box, it would be in the key of the song. But with Miami bass, you often don’t hear that. You hear some guy who uses the same boom for everything, regardless of key or tempo. Most people didn’t care, but I am one of the first to take to the extremes, tailoring the kick to tail off right before the next kick comes in, sound sculpting and all that.
Car audio bass has a certain cult-like quality to its following. Fans like to talk about bass and systems in almost religious terms.
It’s funny to me that in contemporary techno and dance they often take the name in vain. They don’t usually have the same subsonic frequency that we do, but that’s the music business, I suppose. In house you sometimes hear people call out, “Let the bass explode!” but no bass suddenly appears. I guess it’s fun to say it—like “rock”, another chunky four-letter word that people like to say in all sorts of situations.
James McCauley told me that Miami bass as a genre came into its own not just when people started making sped up electro-funk with an 808, but rather when they made the bass the actual subject matter of the song and naming everything with “bass”.
I would agree with that partially, but there were a few songs before that mentioned bass. I suppose the reference thing is a good starting point though. Growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, I remember my mother’s boyfriend had an amazing stereo system, and I loved listening to things on it that just sounded good, like pure sound effects records, or movie themes. Of course, car audio bass is no different, and that’s where the cheese factor comes in. There was an album of all bassed-out TV themes—X-Files and all that. It was called Boom Tube. And there were other themed productions. Most of my bass records together with my partner Billy E have bass references in the title: I Rock Bass, King of Bass, 808, Boom Style, Lowd Slowd, Powerbox – The Bassest Hits, Quad Maximus, Nightmare on Bass Street… you get the picture. There’s always been a semi-vaudeville aspect to car audio bass, with the girls in bikinis and horror graphics or whatever.
Tell me about growing up in Jamaica and cutting your teeth on reggae and dub productions as a studio engineer. How has that influenced you bass-wise?
Unlike treble, bass travels for miles and I remember being seven or eight years old and always hearing a throb throughout the city, night and day. In Kingston you’d hear dogs barking, you’d hear cars and you’d hear reggae bass lines. The Jamaican music evolution, in a crude nutshell, went from folk and mento in the forties and fifties to ska in the sixties, which then morphed quickly into rocksteady and reggae. That of course would become various reggae offshoots, including dub and dancehall. Aside from mento, bass was central to all, and music was everywhere. I think there was a time in the sixties and seventies that there were more recording studios per capita in Kingston than anywhere else in the world. That was also coupled with a really vibrant party and dance culture. Back then, it was the most normal thing in the world for teenagers to dance—that’s just what you did. Because I was already into sound and stereos, I decided to team up with a friend of mine to set up our own sound system with big fifteen-inch speakers in big boxes. When we started the sound system, I would DJ and I had eventually amassed a massive collection of forty-fives and was always curious about how the music was made.
You ran your own soundsystem?
Yes, but more importantly, my dad helped me get an apprenticeship as an engineer with the legendary Byron Lee at Dynamic Sounds, which was both a studio and a really important label. You would probably recognize it from The Harder They Come, which was partially filmed there. Anyways, back then, there were really two guys in Kingston who ran things in the music scene: Byron Lee and Ken Khouri over at Federal Records. With Byron, I learned the ropes from the best and got used to a big bottom end from the beginning, so the 808 just made perfect sense to me when I heard it years later in Miami. I definitely started out with an advantage having worked with guys like Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, and Toots and the Maytals. My first engineering and mixing credit was with Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus’ “None Of Jah Jah Children No Cry”. I used every mic in the studio in that session because they were a forty-person Rastafarian crew, all smoking the ganja in their chillums with the lights out, playing in the glow.
Above: Bass boxing champion Anthony Leverett holding the belt at the Spring Break Nationals car audio competition in Daytona Beach, Florida. Photo: Bryan Chuechunklin.
And what about dub?
The thing is that the reggae records at the time were amazing, but they didn’t really live on their own without the vocal, and because bands didn’t have a lot of money, they used the vocal version on an A-side and let us manipulate the instrumental B-side. This was the true beginning of dub. I remember a lot of people in the studio starting to boost the mids and sweep the frequencies to produce a flange or phasing effect and then add some delay and just play with it. Eventually you’d create a soundscape, and that was a chance for the engineer to get creative. I often thought, “I hope they finish the vocal pretty soon because I can’t wait to get to the dub.” That was our time to shine.
It all sounds pretty ideal. So why did you leave Jamaica for Miami?
In the sixties and early seventies everything was OK, but when Michael Manley and the democratic socialists started flirting with Castro and Cuba, things got really dangerous. Political gangs sprouted up everywhere and the Americans were funneling arms to the conservatives. People were getting shot, and it got to the point where you were sometimes scared to stop at a traffic light at night. At some point, my father, who was an architect and involved in construction and development, was getting death threats and international investors were pulling their funding right and left. Then it all happened really fast. I came home from work one day and he said we had to leave. So off we went to Miami where I eventually honed my skills on a different kind of bass, while still working on reggae productions.
When you’re making bass music for competitions, I imagine you need to test on more than just studio monitors, right?
Sort of. My fellow collaborator DJ Billy E has a bass van where we try it all out. He’s a bass head from the ground up, so he’ll always let me know how it works. But I know my monitors, so I know more or less how it’ll convert to a car system. Infrasound or ELF—extra low frequency—is something you get a feel for. I would say there’s a certain scientific element to what I do. Interestingly, there was a car one year that won for loudest system by playing Bass Mekanik, which went on to inspire The University of Florida in Gainesville to do experiments to see if they could kill cockroaches with bass!
Sounds like a candidate for the Ig Noble Prize. Did it work?
I think it did, but it wasn’t so economical to do it with sound pressure levels. You’d need a bizarrely contrived set of circumstances… even though car audio bass competitions sometimes seem like exactly that. Honestly, I’ve seen all sorts of cars and systems catch fire, smoke coming from the audio compartments, multiple thousands of dollars worth of audio equipment destroyed. But if you’re going to get to the moon, you got to have a rocket big enough to get there!
Right. But there must be different ways of measuring SPL. How does it work in competition?
There’s always been debate about testing formats. Recently, there was a move to reconceptualize the measurement for “bass drive-bys”; taking a hundred yard route within an auditorium and have the cars roll by with music playing out the window. To me, that’s a much more fun way of measuring SPL than the almost boringly scientific method of placing a mic inside the car, making sure the whole thing is sealed, hitting play on the stereo from a remote control and hearing a muffled burp on the outside that supposedly measured 180 dB. But hey, when mankind gets involved in competition, winning or losing can get pretty weird. ~
This text first appeared first in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 34 (2, 2013). Read the full issue on issuu.com or in the embed below.
In advance of our polls for records of the year, we present Sonic Boom’s review of m b v. Pete Kember aka Sonic Boom is a founding member of British neo-psych legends Spacemen 3 and the driving creative force behind the more experimental-psych projects Spectrum and Experimental Audio Research (EAR). He has recently produced albums for acts as diverse as MGMT, Panda Bear and Moon Duo. This recommendation is taken from the Spring 2013 issue and appears as told to A.J. Samuels.
I guess I’ve known Kevin Shields since around late 1986 or early 1987. We have some mutual friends and have always really got on as we’re both old school gear heads and swap info on the latest equipment discoveries—you know, band stuff. We have collaborated and toured together many times in the past, so we have bumped into each other pretty regularly over the past twenty-five years. I would say musically, our first meeting was pretty uneventful, because ’86 wasn’t my favorite period of My Bloody Valentine, a time often referred to as the “shambling” or “Anorak” phase, strangely enough. Some think it’s the greatest stuff they’ve ever done, but I wasn’t so keen on it. The band’s real awakening for me—their real change to what we know as the classic band they have become on Isn’t Anything and Loveless—happened almost overnight. If I remember correctly, in 1987 Spacemen 3 did a couple of shows with them at Dingwalls in London and then like a month or two later we did another show together and the change was really dramatic. Kevin has said in interviews that Spacemen 3 had changed the way they were doing stuff, and I witnessed that change. It was as though they had just flipped into this new mode, characterized by the sound of “You Made Me Realise”. As soon as I heard it, I knew it was an instant classic. I actually wondered if Kevin had appropriated it from elsewhere, which I don’t think he did. It just appeared fully formed so quickly and was so impressive.
From 1988 onwards the band never looked back. At the time, Spacemen 3 and My Bloody Valentine were actually both supposed to be signing to Creation, a label where ten percent of the bands got great attention and the other ninety percent just floundered or got lost in the mix to varying degrees. Not so with MBV. Their first couple of EPs and B-sides are classic, and I absolutely hear Spacemen 3’s influence, like on the famous ascending line in “You Made Me Realise”. That’s definitely something we would regularly do live. I’m not sure if we’ve ever recorded it though—maybe on Sound of Confusion… But we’re not talking rip-off here. Good healthy inter-fluence. Certainly there wasn’t much music that sounded like that in those days; not much blurring of the lines and cross-fertilization between every single sub-genre like there is today. Which brings us to m b v, a record I have some mixed feelings about: I really, really like some of it, and I am looking forward to digesting it and living with it. It’s a gift I’m pleased to own. Actually, it’s one I need to own. But I imagine the things that get me excited are most likely the tracks that other people probably aren’t so crazy about. For sure, m b v is taking me to places. Special places. Places I recognize as beauty spots immediately, but I need time to really explore fairly and fully. Actually, I like listening to the album backwards: songs like “wonder 2” or “nothing is” appear to be the biggest jump forward from Loveless, which is what I had been anticipating before I had my first listen. This also goes for the organ and synth—or is it no synths Metal Machine style?—on “is this and yes”, with the band exploring a different kind of warble; a continent they discovered and have not yet seen their flag removed from or improved on.
On the whole, I would say that with the rest of the tracks there’s nothing less than classic My Bloody Valentine. Sometimes the drums sound like they’re being played a couple of houses away, the bass is in the next town, and you’re sitting in the room with Kevin playing guitar and singing together with Bilinda Butcher, the mix dislocated, but consciously so in a style similar to Loveless. They definitely do an interesting job of morphing their vocals together, at one point sounding angelically unisex, but the album certainly isn’t as blurred and indistinct as you might have expected. Perhaps on some tracks I feel like I’m hearing something they should have put out right after Loveless. Back then it would have been a stroke of genius.
Kevin used to say to me that he didn’t want to do a record unless it was going to be as good as Loveless. I always told him that he couldn’t possibly know if it would be or not—obviously he didn’t know beforehand that Loveless would be that good. He also told me this funny story once about how he went about finding his current studio. One day when we were working on recording stuff for Experimental Audio Research, he asked me “Do you know how many real estate agents there are in London, Pete?”—“3000?” I blurted out, guessing bemusedly where this might be heading. “No, 12,470.” I was like, “How the fuck do you know that?”—“I faxed them all,” he said, “The whole band did. I got this map of all the properties I was to look at and it formed a strange line on the map. A ley line! At the end of the line was this studio!” He then proceeded to tell me that the studio was special because he could only record at certain times and get the best results because all the traffic and electricity from the people who live and pass through the neighborhood affected the studio. In a good way. He could only record when he felt that energy. And he was totally serious. Perfect. Kevin Shields, his co-pilots and their ideas are all pretty special, and despite the odd song that doesn’t feel as “new” as I’d like, m b v is special too. ~
My Bloody Valentine’s m b v is out now via m b v. This text first appeared first in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 33 (1, 2013). Read the full issue on issuu.com or in the embed below.
Over the past seven years, Not Not Fun affiliate and 100% Silk label chief Amanda Brown has been involved in a lot of good music.
And because the virtues of associated acts like Sun Araw, Peaking Lights, Maria Minerva, and Ital have been rightfully written and blogged about to death, we thought it would be a good idea to get off topic. In this piece from our Spring, 2013 issue of Electronic Beats Magazine, Brown offers her thoughts on style icon Tina Chow, who, aside from being the sartorial darling and muse of New York’s overlapping downtown and art scenes in the eighties, was also tragically the most prominent heterosexual woman to die of AIDS in the early nineties. Photo: Ron Galella/WireImage
Michael Chow is a very famous restaurateur in Los Angeles, which is my hometown, so I always knew of him and his wife, Tina, as being this important family. And I always thought of Tina Chow as just his supermodel wife. However, the more I looked into her life and her style and the artists she knew and was a patron of, the more it became apparent that her role supersedes that of wife and even model. There are so many things that I like in which Tina Chow existed in the orbit of: I’m a giant fan of Helmut Newton, Issey Miyake, and fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez, and after I did some research it became apparent that Tina was a muse to them all. I guess you could say my attention was naturally drawn to her as the center of a scene. She was always at the heart of amazing art that was being made in the eighties and early nineties, and the famous portraits that Andy Warhol did of her are beautiful.
I love models, and I feel I have this… relationship with model culture. I’m very sensitive when people don’t say kind things about models because it always seems so unfair to belittle their profession. Tina Chow is undoubtedly one that jumped out of the fashion spread; she stepped off the runway and became something else. She became an icon—not just simply a hanger for clothes. On her body, clothes become less about the external and more about an expression of her own personality within them. Anyone can take clothes from an amazing designer and look good in them, but she accessorized with jewellery and striking hair and make-up, which is to say that she possessed the ability to transform outfits into style. I think people like Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat wanted to be around her for exactly that reason. That is, she was essentially an artist. I mean, I’ll buy an Issey Miyake blazer and I don’t look like she looks in it, though as I’ve gotten older and my fashion palette has begun to morph—I wear more black than I did when I was younger, more sculpted Japanese designs—I begin to see more and more correlations with Tina. I look at photographs of her and I’m just blown away by the elegance, the use of minimalism, the love of simplicity, the streamlining… attributable to her German and Japanese heritage? Pure speculation. But what is clear is that these aesthetic clues spoke to the world: “This is my body and I want to put my body inside of art.” Tina Chow represents a rejection of what was trendy, or what looks good on her specific shape, or what my friends and peers and fans will think. In this way, her sartorial vision actually has little to do with fashion in a conventional sense and everything to do with a kind of timelessness. I find that to be completely empowering as a woman; the belief that you are inherently sexy and your clothing is the art that enshrines you, as opposed to the established idea that you need to wear sexy clothing to be sexy. Chow could just slick back her hair, put on mascara, throw on a drapey coat and suddenly be the most exuberant, alive and vibrant person, without sparing a moment thinking about what’s fashionable. That’s how I like to imagine it.
Ultimately, her life influenced fashion as opposed to being influenced by it. The expensive things she wore weren’t purchased out of vanity or self-obsession but because she wanted to support the fashion designer as an artist, as if she was buying a painting. She was a collector and like all collectors cared about what would be art forever. When she sold her collection in 1991 to Christie’s it was insane; you might as well be talking about Robert Mapplethorpe’s collection of photographs when he died. And like so many iconic people, her life is marred by tragedy. She was one of the first well-known heterosexual women to die of AIDS, which, for me, serves as a reminder of how fleeting life is. Art can be forever but we, of course, cannot. And what makes the tragedy all the more resonant is that she died of a disease that was so “of the time” and representative of what was happening in America and around the world then. For that reason, she will forever be linked to the late ’80s, as well as early ’90s AIDS activism and the New York art scene that was so drastically affected. It’s terrible, yet somehow it makes Tina Chow seem like a weird angel. ~
Interview conducted by A.J. Samuels. This text first appeared first in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 33 (1, 2013). Read the full issue on issuu.com or in the embed below. Silk, the documentary on Amanda Brown and 100% Silk by Benjamin Shearn premieres on November 16th at Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival. Watch the trailer below.
Thomas Fehlmann is a musician whose career encompasses the Neue Deutsche Welle innovations of Palais Schaumberg and the ambient house of The Orb. In this monologue, taken from our Spring 2013 issue of Electronic Beats Magazine, he recommends Voigt & Voigt‘s Die zauberhafte Welt der Anderen. You can read an interview with Voigt & Voigt, which discusses the record in their own words, here. Thomas Fehlmann’s latest 12-inch, “Eye”/”Tree” is released via Kompakt this week.
I’ve known the Voigt brothers for a long time and although I’ve never collaborated with them, I’ve paid close attention to their output over the years. If you look into their back catalog, particularly Reinhard Voigt’s, he’s been making some pretty extreme ambient records for a one-time progressive rock label called Harvest under the moniker Kron, amongst others. Die zauberhafte Welt der Anderen [The Magical World of Others] feels related to those records, as if Reinhard’s break from ambient music has since led to a renewed enthusiasm for reapproaching these alien textures. Of course, this isn’t explicitly ambient music and Wolfgang also had a very profound say in this, soundwise. Voigt & Voigt aren’t treading old ground. Rather, their beat-driven sonics gain traction, even power, by functioning atmospherically—paradoxically enough. These sound worlds are singularly strange constructions: the looping in “Die Glocke (Endstation Wiener Platz)” is embellished with shards of obfuscated, unplaceable found sound, while the psychedelic drone of “Akira” is spun out on the unlisted eleventh track “Akira Mantra” for a whopping twenty-six minutes. Other tracks, such as “Tja Mama, Sandra Maischberger”, have an almost Roxy Music feel to them. They have spent time finding inspiring, unexpected solutions to making their grooves disarming, There’s a similar attention to detail in the album’s title, too; Die zauberhafte Welt der Anderen seems to reference to two well-known films, Amélie, known in German as Die fabelhafte Welt der Amélie and Das Leben der Anderen [The Lives of Others]. Though I read the title more as a social observation than cinematic reverence.
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of the Kompakt label. Beyond the variety of the music it releases, the imprint occupies an almost patron-like position, harboring an artistic conviction in what’s good over what might sell as its foundation. And most importantly there’s a distinct sense of humor at play throughout pretty much their entire catalog. Die zauberhafte Welt der Anderen certainly continues to maintain that special reputation. ~
Voigt & Voigt’s Die zauberhafte Welt der Anderen and Thomas Fehlmann’s “Eye”/”Tree” are both out now on Kompakt. This text first appeared first in Electronic Beats Magazine N°33 (Spring, 2013). Read the full issue on issuu.com or in the embed below.
As the much-discussed, German photographer’s solo exhibition at Berlinische Galerie draws to a close, we revisit our editor-in-chief’s recommendation—originally published in our Spring, 2013 print magazine—of Zielony’s photo book Story/No Story. Above: Tobias Zielony, Mädchen, 2003 (courtesy of Tobias Zielony and KOW Berlin).
In John Carpenter’s 1976 film Assault on Precinct 13, an ultra-violent street gang lays siege to a remote police station in a vast Los Angeles wasteland of neon and streetlights. In somewhat dialectical fashion, this low budget classic focuses on the tension between angry teenagers and society, and between darkness and glow. The same can be said of German photographer Tobias Zielony’s haunting, cinematic photo series, The Cast, shot at night in The City of Angels (and lights). Bookended by two images of palm trees and the Pacific Ocean, you can’t tell for sure if the teenagers Zielony recurrently portrays are posing for him as if they were being cast, or if posing is simply an important part of figuring out teenage identity. There they stand, they can do no other. Zielony’s young subjects seem drawn to sources of light like moths and, in the artificial glow of gas station signage or out on the streets, seem reminiscent of characters from Carpenter’s film. But unlike the nameless gang members, these kids seem to be waiting for a moment that never will come.
Before his Los Angeles series, Zielony, had set out to portray young people all over the world, from Bristol, England and the eastern German city of Halle to Marseille on the French Mediterranean. What’s fascinating is that the results, compiled in the photo book Story/No Story, begin to blur together, with the protagonists becoming a global community of nocturnal youth, searching for meaning on the geographical and social fringes of their respective urban environments. Indeed, Zielony is highly aware of the cinematic quality of his images, though he insists that they evoke numerous possible narratives. As he explains to German director Christian Petzold in a conversation featured in the catalogue: “There’s a latent narrative. It’s in the situations, in the youths’ imaginations. You can’t say that nothing is happening.”
But you can say nothing would be captured without the artificial light. He has credited everything from classic film noir to Walter Hill’s The Warriors to Richard C. Sarafian’s almost forgotten 1971 thriller Vanishing Point as artistic points of reference in that regard. These alternately shadowy and glaring atmospheres are particularly present in the series shot in Halle-Neustadt, one of the most impressive and prominent sections of Story/No Story. Unquestionably, the sense of “plot” in these images is heightened by the gigantic housing projects and oversized Stalinist avenues, which resemble the abandoned set of a dystopian science fiction movie. Or, more accurately, manifestations of an abandoned political reality.
Nevertheless, the center of Zielony’s focus is always the teenager: lighting a cigarette, hanging out in a car, balancing on a skateboard, surrounded by friends, or staring into the night and waiting for something to happen. Story/No Story is a brilliant and comprehensive collection of a decade’s worth of portraits, and was originally the accompanying catalogue for an exhibition at the Kunstverein Hamburg held in 2010. In light of the Berlinische Galerie’s upcoming Zielony retrospective in June, I thought I’d take the chance to recommend a book that is important—and, thankfully, still available. ~