Winners of 2014: Caribou

Electronic Beats has decided to close out the year the best way we know how: by giving our readers a bunch of free stuff. This holiday season, we have a ton of autographed CDs and 12″s from EB favorites, as well as free trips and tickets to our forthcoming EB spring festival season, which will hit Warsaw, Bratislava, Prague, and Cologne between February 27 and May 29. We’ve bundled the items into five separate prize packs, which we’ll unveil over the course of the next week, and we matched each batch with a mix from one of five producers who left an indelible mark on 2014’s cultural fabric. In order to score the bounty, you’ll have to listen to the mix and send us as many track IDs from the set as you can. Whoever IDs the most tracks wins the prizes.

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It’ll be hard to look back on 2014 without thinking of Caribou, as it was hard to exist in 2014 without thinking of Caribou. Dan Snaith was a key figure in the EB universe surrounding the release of his latest album as Caribou, Our Love. Weeks before the record dropped in October, we met him in a hotel room in Berlin to discuss the legacy of Sun Ra, and soon after that we freaked out when a stream of his imminent album appeared online. And then, of course, he headlined our EB festival in Vienna.

Snaith has become a central artist in the Electronic Beats family because we’ve always been enamored of his ability to straddle both the indie and dance universes with grace and aplomb. We’re sometimes skeptical about indie artists’ attempts to court dance floor audiences, and vice versa, but with Snaith it never feels forced or clueless, whether he’s composing swirling melodies as Caribou or heads-down house chuggers as Daphni.

The mix we’ve chosen for our Winners of 2014 contest demonstrates Snaith’s ability to blend and move between many different genres. After all, one can cover a lot of ground in 7.5 hours. This set isn’t from 2014, but it’s too epic to ever sound dated. You know the drill by now: send us as many track IDs from this mix as you can, and make sure to include the time the track appears in the mix, and whoever identifies the most wins a batch of autographed CDs and LPs, which are listed below.

Metro Area, fabric.34 (fabric) [CD]
Daphni, Jialong (Merge) [LP]
Four Tet, Beautiful Rewind (Text) [LP]
A TBD James Holden LP
Trust, TRST (Arts & Crafts) [CD]

Submit your Track IDs in the form below. Be sure to include the artist name, track name, and the time it appears in the mix using the format time-artist-title (ie. 15:25-Lynyrd Skynyrd-Free Bird). When you’re done, hit Subscribe. Keep an eye out for more chances to win new prizes throughout the next week, and click here to enter our other year-end contests.

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Caribou—“People were like ‘This is evil shit.’ What music does that anymore?”

Photo by Thomas Neukum
Photo by Thomas Neukum

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.

 

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Never Look Back: André de Ridder and Daniel Jones on Arcade Fire’s <i>Reflektor</i>

The Canadian band’s fourth album luxuriates in baroque pop-rock. Electronic Beats’ online contributing editor Daniel Jones and André de Ridder— conductor for international orchestras including BBC Symphony and London Sinfonietta and collaborator with groups like Gorillaz, These New Puritans, Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy), and Mouse On Mars—contemplate it together.

 

Daniel Jones: It really surprised me to see what a massive release this turned out to be. Not just in terms of the release itself, but the teaser videos, the announcements and so forth.

André de Ridder: That’s something I appreciate about Arcade Fire; they don’t just think only about the music and the songs, but how they present and introduce new material and draw everyone into a new world. You may call it marketing nous, but I enjoy being taken on a journey this way. They really question the medium of the music video outside of just promoting the music. Their concepts go beyond that, to where, if you want to, you can discover things about the music and the context. It’s never just another music video, but rather like both a piece of art and a jigsaw puzzle. I’ve watched the “Reflektor” video a few times now as well as the half-hour live video where they play in this nightclub. There are a lot of things that are difficult to notice at first, and I think it’s the same with the new music. Perhaps some of the tracks are less immediate than on previous releases; it takes a while to explore the various levels of it. This is what I find interesting and alienating about the practice of album reviews. The reviews so far have been fairly mixed, it seems. You and I are now talking about the album after having had the chance to listen to it for two weeks, but obviously there’s this need to write about the album the moment it comes out. Nobody’s interested in reviews that take place three months or so after the release, when someone might have sat down and listened to the record ten times and can actually talk about what it means to them. It’s a fault in the system that people have to write about the album having listened to it once or twice. Great music and great albums often only reveal themselves after several listens.

DJ: That’s certainly the case with a lot of web-based music publications, this need to do it first. I’ve occasionally had the experience of writing a review for a record where my opinions transformed over the course of a review, causing me to have to start from scratch. For example I hated Crystal Castles’ III on first listen, and now I’d say it’s their best album yet. Was this the case for you here?

AdR: Definitely. I think there are a lot of different layers to it. Before I heard the music, I saw the album cover.

DJ: The sculpture of Eurydice and Orpheus by Rodin.

AdR: It’s such a strong image, and seeing it for the first time I was gobsmacked. The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice was very present for me in music, though I didn’t know the sculpture before. I’ve been spending the last to years conducting three operas by Claudio Monteverdi, the Renaissance composer. His first work L’Orfeo, of course, is about Orpheus. It was perhaps the first real opera, and really set the tone in general for opera. It has a lot of meaning for me, and when I saw this image I was very intrigued about where it would lead. This cover is so strong, this image of Eurydice hanging on the back of Orpheus, while he covers his eyes so that he can’t see. Even before we hear the music, there are so many mythological connotations. On the record, there are two songs that come from their changing perspectives. That’s a moment when the album reaches a depth of looking at love and relationships that floored me. There’s also a lot about not looking back…

DJ: Of course that relates to the Orpheus/Eurydice myth, but for me it also played with the somewhat childlike demeanor that the group has always had; ‘not looking back’ feels like ‘don’t live in the past’, ‘move on’, ‘grow up’.

AdR: It’s interesting; the group recently played two shows in London as The Reflektors, which is an alternate identity that they’ve given to themselves—like a mirror, playing with their identity as a band which I think is also a big part of Reflektor’s content and perhaps distancing themselves from certain perceptions, giving themselves space to play in. The day after one of their shows, I read a live review in The Guardian where the reviewer was… not despondent, exactly, but definitely critical about them feeling their way into the new material. I mean, why shouldn’t they? Playing this new material, which is something of a departure… this would happen to any musician.

DJ: Playing new songs to new crowds for the first time, you absolutely have to feel your way into it. Feeling what the music does to you in this setting, what it does to the audience, how they respond and how you as a band respond to that.

AdR: I think it’s good that you can feel a certain fragility in their performance, as well as in the music. I have a lot of respect for a band so much in the spotlight, with so many expectations to to what has come before, and doing something even more emotionally challenging than what they’ve achieved with their other recordings… it’s a big thing, to put that out on stage. I appreciate that they’re doing it in that way. It’s a living organism, not a fabricated industry thing.

DJ: It’s increasingly rare as well to see such humanism in bigger bands, where so often it feels as though everything has been planned out beforehand. You’re right to refer to them as a living organism, because you can really see how they’ve changed and evolved—as people, and as musicians. I’ve seen shows that were, musically, very powerful, but also felt slick, commercial in a way that robbed it of humanism and emotional power and made me feel like I was seeing a product rather than a musician.

AdR: They’re a band of many members, at least six at any given time as well as the musicians they collaborate and tour with on a regular basis. Since you mentioned that humanism before, I think that makes it feel even more like a living organism because it’s such a large and shifting collaborative unit.

DJ: Having been involved as a vocalist in several bands comprised of multiple members, I can say that it’s rather amazing that such a large group of people are consistently able to release music that’s so coherent and focused.

AdR: Absolutely, and that’s what makes the music on this record challenging as well. You can hear that there are so many layers to it, sound-wise and contextual, because there are so many people influencing it, so many different histories behind it even though there is also clear and focused songwriting there as well. It’s impossible to mistake their distinctive style in each new track.

DJ: As a compendium to their overall body of work or ‘sound’ in general, I think Reflektor is a strong representation. They’ve advanced in mind and sound, but you do hear these elements from The Suburbs and Neon Bible.

AdR: That’s another thing! It’s not as though they’re suddenly doing something completely different. There are at least two songs that could have come out of The Suburbs; for example this one, “We Exist”. Not just stylistically, but phonetically as well. It’s coming out of this sort of, as you said, childhood and teenage adolescence. You could interpret it as the next chapter of a suburban life’s experience. There’s a lot about dreams on Reflektor as well as nightmares, passages that feel apparitional and dreamlike. There’s a lot about discovering love…

DJ: Which certainly can be equal parts dreamlike and nightmarish!

AdR: The title track itself has the line, “We fell in love at 19,” which is when Win Butler met his wife Régine. I’m surprised at how personal that is. The first volume of Reflektor is all about adolescence and discovering the religion of music and love. Then they go a step further with the second disc, which is a transcendence of life and love. This is the emotional plateau where the story of Orpheus and Eurydice is set. They start the second disc with a recap of “Here Comes The Night Time” from the first disc and then go straight in to “Awful Sound” and “It’s Never Over”, the pretense of which is the two mythological lovers talking to each other. They swap roles the whole time as well, so the feminine/masculine roles are subverted as well. Then they refer to “what’s beyond the Gate,” which I think refers both to transcending our mundane lives and looking ahead. One of my favorite parts of “It’s Never Over” has a moment where the music in the foreground stops completely, and there’s just this sort of echo of the music as Butler repeats, “When you get older, you will discover it’s never over,” and the beat becomes a heartbeat. This is, to me, the most personal and magical moment on the album.

DJ: That particular line has that same sort of awe imbued in it that you feel when you enter a massive cathedral, as though Butler can’t quite believe that, oh wow, growing up isn’t the end but the beginning.

AdR: Not just grown-up life, but what’s beyond it. This is all quite apart from the musical aspects here, the rhythmic influences…

DJ: You and I were discussing rhythmic elements inspired by African musicians earlier, which is another aspect you can hear in Reflektor.

AdR: Yes, as I told you I recently went to Africa with other musicians, and there were these groups consisting of twenty drummers, and they had these talking drums. It wasn’t just call-and-response or code but actual communication; one man would use his drum to make a statement, and the others would play something that told you they were laughing, that he had made a joke. What’s interesting in this context is that, in a recent interview, the band were discussing about how they took a trip to Haiti and worked with groups of drummers themselves. They mentioned that, in drumming, there seems to be almost a medium of communication. Especially if you don’t speak the same language, you would use instruments as a way of speaking.

DJ: Or if you wanted to make a dance-rock album, you’d hire James Murphy to work on it.

AdR: That’s another big talking point. I was maybe a little worried, when I heard they were collaborating, about how potentially overbearing Murphy’s influence could be. Maybe it’s most obvious in “Reflektor”, but on the rest of the record his influence is more subtle. It’s not at all overpowering, but uses aspects that I think both parties are interested in. You can tell that he had a hand in shaping some of the synths sounds, but it’s still very much an Arcade Fire record.

DJ: I was always a bit surprised that Arcade Fire had never worked with LCD Soundsystem before. They were popular contemporaries of each other in the mid-00s who were making the sort of mildly eccentric yet extremely listenable alternative music that would, when placed side-by-side, feel extremely compatible.

AdR: With the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, of course it’s one of mythology’s greatest love stories, but it’s also, from the perspective of Orpheus and his talent as a musician, about the power of music. You can tell, for example, that Murphy, Butler, and Chassagne all grew up experiencing that power, and it was that power that brought them together. That’s also what they’re celebrating on this album.

DJ: You can tell a lot of love went into making it, and not just the music. The packaging on the vinyl, for example, is lovely and has a strong religious vibe to it, which is an echo of the musical undertones inside. There’s a strong literary feel to the layout that evokes sacred texts.

AdR: To be honest, I only got back in to vinyl recently and bought a record player. This classic mode of listening is another reference in the music. I read an interview where Butler talked about how they started out releasing on CD, and now this is the era when the CD comes to an end. He said the band had talked about what kind of album they would make if this were the last time it could be on CD. Of course, I bought it on vinyl anyway so that I could, as you say, enjoy the possibilities of the packaging.

DJ: The idea of vinyl being more appealing to the consumer than CD would have seemed bizarre even ten years ago. I met a musician once in Budapest, who told me that he was working on a six-album tribute to the CD as a dying medium for listening to music—but he was releasing it all on cassette. It’s fascinating how we view our tools now, their shortening lifespans as our technology evolves at a more rapid pace. Was anyone thinking about the death of the eight-track, for example? But there are still people today who will tell you that they invested a lot, emotionally, in their eight-track collections.

AdR: I’m from the generation where, when I was a kid, tapes were still very much present. It was the medium we recorded on, made mixtapes for girlfriends and so forth. I’m wondering at this recurrence of cassettes. Do you see a lot of younger musicians, those who never grew up with tapes, discovering it now? Because that is weird to me.

DJ: Absolutely, though you see it much more in underground scenes; noise, lo-fi punk, and the like. Like you say, a lot of these are younger musicians.

AdR: So there can’t be a nostalgic element to it.

DJ: It’s rooted more in DIY, in the ease of putting out an album on cassette. You don’t have to necessarily worry about production values or high prices; you just buy a lot of secondhand tapes and go for it. That grainy quality is appreciated. A lot of experimental musicians also appreciate the heft of something physical, which is why you see so many analog synths floating around in that scene. With a group like Arcade Fire, I feel like it’s almost the opposite. They do come from that CD era, this little silver disc as they say on “Reflektor”, when hissing grit and clunky plastic was cleaned up and streamlined.

AdR: As well, they’ve come from a very collectively minded scene, and there were always these big instrumental elements in their line-ups utilizing horns as well as strings, which is quite analog. On Reflektor, this element is pushed into the background, ‘transcended’ if you like. It’s subtle, and it sneaks in and then out again immediately while the core of the music is built much more on the percussion and a stripped-down band setup.

DJ: Which was the best decision they could have made. Had they come out with this massively, musically complex album across two discs and featuring a huge cast of musical characters and contributors, it would have felt bloated.

AdR: There’s still a lot of space in the songs, but it’s more reduced and more focused—and within that, very complex. The process of taking elements in and out is an art. They’ve always had good hooks, and sometimes you hear their music and go, “Oh, this is a really simple hook”, but these hooks stick with you. And they come from a place of having been whittled down from something else until it’s just the right size to really hit the spot.

DJ: It’s not an easy thing, to pare something down like that. The simple things are what always stick with you, though. It can be very hard to be so simple. And Reflektor is still complex, but without being overwhelming. It’s complexity simplified.

AdR: This is being artistically sensitive and sensible, you know. I’m involved with a lot of projects these days because of a growing trend in music where people want to work with orchestras. I think it’s a problem if there’s this big symphonic orchestra and it’s being used to prop something up, where it doesn’t gel in any way. It’s a very fine line you walk if you get into this world. It can go wrong really easily. Here, you can discover it, but if you don’t really listen out for it, you might not know that there’s an orchestra in some of the tracks. That’s a development I like, that they could have gone bigger, more sprawling in a symphonic way. Instead they used those same symphonic elements to create an ambience of echoes and reminiscence rather than the backbone of the music.

DJ: It mirrors the intimacy of the lyrics as well. It’s like you said before: it takes time to put these things into context.

AdR: These things are even still revealing themselves to me as we listen here together. Because my background is as a classical musician, whenever I listened to pop music I would usually ignore the text and focus on the instrumental. With Reflektor, this is the first time it’s been different. There are lines here about dancing and music, but also about being let into the real world while people are trying to keep you out of it: “And when they hear the beat, coming from the street, they lock the door. But if there’s no music up in heaven, then what’s it for? When I hear the beat, the spirit’s on me like a live wire, a thousand horses running wild in a city on fire. It starts in your feet, then it goes to your head, and if you can’t feel it, then the rules are dead.” This speaks to my heart, because after all, what’s music for? It’s this absolute marriage of body and soul that I experience through music. It’s the same world that love belongs to. ~

 

Arcade Fire’s Reflektor is out now via Merge Records

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