Happy holidays! By the time you’re reading this you’ve probably already unwrapped your Christmas gifts and finally sobered up from a boozy yuletide shindig with friends. Let’s just hope you saved some of the money you’ve got for Christmas as a present, because you’ll need it to invest into the records listed below. It’s far from complete, but I think it works nicely as a kind of mind map to my musical taste of the last 12 months or so. For one thing, these are the songs that stuck in my mind the most (and for another thing, I’ve also scrobbled these quite often to my Last.fm profile). My favorite songs of the year aren’t listed in a particular order, hope you don’t mind…
THE NARCISSIST by Dean Blunt feat. Inga Copeland
Released on the album The Narcissist II by Hippos In Tanks
Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland definitely lived up to their other name—Hype Williams—in 2012. Their stripped-down, lo-fi music hints towards rhythm & blues, but at the same time feels futuristic. This song is possibly my favorite duet of the year—very intimate, hypnotic and touching.
FOREVER DOLPHIN LOVE (EROL ALKAN’S EXTENDED REWORK VERSION 2) by Connan Mockasin
Released on the single Forever Dolphin Love by Phantasy Sound
This track—just like the last year—feels like a constant rollercoaster ride: from the lows to the highs—and backwards. I’d like to thank Erol Alkan for not making a rave monster out of this track, but instead turning it into a friendly afterhour soundtrack.
INSPECTOR NORSE by Todd Terje
Released on the EP It’s the Arps by Smalltown Supersound
If you haven’t danced to this analogue synthesizer-driven cosmic and disco monster of a song during the past 12 months, then you must have been living under a rock.
CRUSHING SHELLS by John Roberts
Released on the EP Paper Frames by Dial Records
This is classic Dial sound, but then again it’s not quite. John Roberts keeps manipulating the rhythm, looping and reverberating it. The fine selection of sound samples had me listening over and over again.
GRASS by Cubenx
Released on the EP Grass by Infiné Music
I already liked Cesar Urbina’s album On Your Own Again (2011), and I especially liked “Grass”. “It’s an explanation of how I was feeling during an experience of salvia divinorum”, Cubenx told me in 2011. I can guess what he’s referring to. Actually, it’s giving me ideas…
TIMEAWAY by Darkstar
Released by Warp Music
I already told you about this one: I picture the music being played from a music box, with a porcelain ballerina dancing on top of it. Only that the ballerina isn’t wearing a tutu, but raddled jeans, a dirty trench coat and has oily hair. Get the picture?
TRIO VON AUSNEHMENDER HÄSSLICHKEIT by Jacques Palminger & das 440 Hz Trio
Released on the album Jazz & Lyrik by Staatsakt
I guess you need to be German to get this kind of humor. Hamburg-based singer Heiner Ebber released a Jazz album earlier in 2012. I love it. Especially because of its humor.
SMALL TALK (FOUR TET REMIX) by Ultraísta
Released on the single Smalltalk Remixes by Ghostly International
Hit! Makes me wanna have more… still!
YET AGAIN by Grizzly Bear
Released on the album Shields by Warp Records
I’ve waited eagerly for this album. Grizzly Bear have been favorites of mine since their debut album Horn of Plenty in 2004 and they never seem to let me down—especially during the cold days of the year.
WAS FÜHLST DU by DJ Koze
You don’t know this song, because it never leaked. Maybe you’ve heard of the latest Koze-track “Maulguss”? If the answer’s yes, chances are good that you’d also know what “Was fühlst du” feels like. Kozalla sings: “Hey / was fühlst du / bist du nice angegeilt / Hey / du bist mein geiler Digger bist du / heute Abend wird gesoffen”. It’s same same, but very different! Digger bist du!
As a bonus: here are my top ten albums of 2012, in alphabetical artist order:
– Actress, R.I.P.
– Chromatics, Kill For Love
– Dirty Beaches, Badlands
– Gonzales, Solo Piano II
– Grimes, Visions
– Grizzly Bear, Shields
– Health, May Payne 3 OST
– Mala, Mala in Cuba
– Jacques Palminger & das 440 Hz Trio, Jazz & Lyrik
– Phantom Ghost, Pardon My English
Photo: © Elena Klein
CREEP‘s ‘Days’ single has simply been destroying the year, its subtly-shifting dark and melancholic synths and clever pop hooks wrapped up in lovelorn vocals of The Xx’s Romy Croft. Now the official remix collection is out on Young Turks, and while it doesn’t feature one of our favorites (the death-discofied house delight from Azari & III) there’s still some fantastic stuff here. We particularly love the dancefloor destroyer that is Drop The Lime‘s take, and the mellow funk that Soul Clap lays down over Romy’s vocals (hear it below). You can pick up the remixes here.
John Roberts released Glass Eights, his debut LP, on Dial Records last autumn. Probably due to it’s hybrid sound that is not too far away from DJ Nate’s neo-ghetto house stylings, the record was praised from all sides: Techno veterans as well as dub-steppers, Panorama Bar patrons as well as hip-hop aficionados.
Perhaps then it was no surprise to see Roberts’ name on a flyer, advertising a club night in Lucerne. The central-Swiss city is mainly known for being a hotspot for Asian tourists as well as being the setting for most of Bollywood’s honeymoon-scenes and maybe also for having the oldest art school in Switzerland. But thanks to indefatigable bookers like Südpol, Korsett Kollektiv and zoorotor, Lucerne has also built up a reputation for hosting boundary-pushing contemporary acts like Mount Kimbie, Kompakt novices Walls, soul / bass music producer Jamie Woon or the prog-step visionaries of Hype Williams (who unfortunately terminated their set after 30 minutes after being asked to play “some party music”).
Electronic Beats met John Roberts at Treibhaus in Lucerne to talk about influencing records, sharing introverted feelings with a party crowed as well as being part of the Dial posse.
Hello – could you please introduce yourself briefly?
My name is John Roberts. Originally, I am from Cleveland, Ohio. I have been living in Berlin for almost the last three years and I try to make nice records for Dial primarily.
How did you get into music?
When I was five years old I started playing the violin. It was really intense: three days a week packed with private and group lessons, orchestra and theory classes. When I was fifteen I got rebellious against my parents. As a result of that, I started playing the drums, then the guitar and finally I begun messing around with samplers and stuff like that.
How did you get in touch with electronic music?
It was a totally random occurrence. There is a used records store outside Cleveland called Record Exchange. In there I picked up a CD because the cover looked interesting. It was Smarties, an early 90s UK hardcore group. On the back of the record it said something like ‘Thanks to all the raver’ and I was wondering what is a raver. I investigated a little bit and found out that Cleveland and Pittsburgh had a rave scene. Well, I started sneaking out going to those parties.
When did you start making music?
I was DJ’ing first. When I was a teenager I started buying records from Juno in the UK. They would take super long time to arrive and therefore, it was an amazing gift to get them in the mail. One day, I tried to figure out how these tracks were made. I started fiddling around with cheap computer programmes and old guitar effect processers.
Do you remember the first time you were happy with something you created?
Eeerrmm… (laughing bashfully) that didn’t come for a really long time actually… until I was 20 maybe. I started to take making music a little more seriously when I heard Jimmy Edgar’s Bounce, Make, Model. I remember being really obsessed with it. When I was investigating Jimmy, I found out that he was my age. This was really motivating because I though that what he was doing is something totally possible for me. I started producing sort of bizarre hip-hop tracks I liked at that period. So probably one of those was the first one I actually liked.
Talking about influential records, what was besides Bounce, Make, Model was groundbreaking for you?
Basically all of the Dance Mania records that I bought were really inspiring to me. They sounded so bad, but in a really amazing way. There was a certain naivety in the way they were produced: terrible pressing, totally incorrect levels and distorting noises. But in the end, they sounded really energetic.
There was also a time I was really obsessed with the whole Kompakt sound, especially with Superpitcher’s mix CD [Today]. Actually, around that time I first heard of Dial Records. That’s why to me Dial’s music somehow is linked to Kompakt.
What about more recent releases?
I am kind of stuck in the past with that thing. I am really bad about following contemporary house and electronic music. Any records that I am buying these days are old Dance Mania records, every once in a while also some Chicago and New York house from the early 90s. It’s funny: there is such a weird market for this kind of vinyl. The worse and more naïve the record is, the more collectors are willing to pay.
So you are not getting inspired by contemporary music. What’s your main source of inspiration then?
Hmm, I guess just personal problems, anxieties, maybe depressions. With music I try to overcome that in some way. Obviously the place where you live also has an influence. When I was living in New York, I constantly was hearing hip-hop and R&B on the street. It was always sunny and everyone is really energetic and working super hard. Berlin is kind of the opposite world: dark and grey and everyone’s moving slowly and kind of fawning. Plus the city’s soundscape is defined by club-related music. It also depends on by whom you are surrounded. In New York I was living with my friend Eliot Lipp . He was really inspirational.
You used to study applied and fine arts at the Art Institute of Chicago. Do the studies have an influence on how you are producing music?
I think a little bit. The ideas I had about fine arts are the same ideas I have about music. Which is actuating an assortment of things you really like and finding a way to combine and use them to create your own aesthetics…
…and in terms of translating abstract ideas or feelings into something tangible?
My music is definitely introverted. It’s always been very private for me and I’ve always done it in a closed room with none else around. There are definitely some feelings coming from that, but I never would go and say ‘here is an idea I want to capture’.
Before you were saying that anxieties and depressions are influencing your music. How does it feel to share fragile impressions like that with a crowd at a club?
When the album got released I really felt vulnerable. Sharing it with other people felt weird – like someone is reading your diary. Since a club crowd wants something extroverted it was even weirder to play the album live. But the performances get better and better because there is more understanding now.
The Dial posse consists of a bunch of friends, that are in their thirties, that know each other for ten years – and that all are German. How did you, an American twentysomething, manage to get into this exclusive circle?
Again, it was a totally random occurrence. I was visiting some friends in Berlin and before that I had created a MySpace profile, where I uploaded some songs I made. Romy Zips, Dial’s booking agent at that time, checked it out and wrote me a message, that I happened to check when I was in Berlin. I thought that she was cute and because she was living in Berlin I asked her out for a coffee. When we met she was telling me that she had a boyfriend who lived in the US and she was working with Dial et cetera. Next time we met was when she went to visit her boyfriend in New York, where I was living back then. We grew friends and one day Romy gave all of the Dial guys a CD with some tracks that I e-mailed her. They then wrote me a really amazing letter, asking me to be a part of the label. It really came at the perfect moment because I couldn’t find a label that seemed to fit correctly. I already had given up on it…
There is this Sten record with the anti-fascist flag on the back… Is Dial’s political aspect of importance to you too?
Actually, that’s my favourite record in the Dial back catalogue. But for me it’s more about music. My political stand is always kind of being completely hands-off because I think it’s really depressing.
Was that a problem for the guys?
No. I think the high level of political involvement was in the earlier days.
You are releasing your music on Dial Records and you have a residency at Panorama Bar. In other words: You are part of the contemporary rave elite. What are your plans the future?
I have been working on a book of photographs that I have taken over the period I was making the album, images that in some way have been influential. I keep going back and forth though, deciding whether it would be a totally stupid project or not…
I am also working on a travel magazine with Pawel [Dial co-founder Paul Kominek]. It has interviews with artists, filmmakers and writers, and also reviews of hotels in different destinations. After travelling Japan we did a story about Ryokan [traditional Japanese hotels] for example. It’s really fun and an amazing side project with having music as your profession, where you are travelling anyway. And it is a nice little break from producing music. I was kind of tired out after I have been working on the album for so long…
Who would have thought Geneva had more to offer than just over-paid bankers and super clean water? The electronic festival Electron will be looking to change all that when they bring some heavy electronic heat to the small town for four days of partying madness.
We will be seeing a huge swathe of amazing dance artists descend on Geneva, such as Nitzer Ebb, Isolee, Kruder & Dorfmeister, John Roberts, Moritz von Oswald, Siriusmo, Agoria, Juan Atkins, Dave Clarke, Instra:mental, Loefah and Andrew Weatherall.
Pretty intense to say the least. They have also announced a Planet Mu Footwork tour, conferences, workshops and films throughout the extended fiesta.
Have a look at their trailer for this year:
Electron Festival runs from the 21st of April until the 24th of April.