Photo by Jos Kottman.
Following the first edition of Clubland, in which François K talked about the ethos of his influential N.Y.C. night Deep Space, the veteran DJ chooses four different records which channel the Deep Space spirit.
Objekt – “Agnes Demise” [Objekt]
I’ve been championing this heavily for at least half a year. I don’t know what style it’s supposed to be. I’m not sure if it’s electro—as in post-Detroit electro—or if it has dubstep affiliations or not. It’s just one of those songs I can fit into everything. It has a very strong, driving, electronic thing going on, which, as I say, reminds me of an offshoot of stuff like Drexciya but he has his own style, too. We’ve had TJ [Hertz] play a few times at Deep Space already, and every time he’s been absolutely terrific. The highlight of the record for me is that there’s a middle section where the beat completely drops and these electronic sounds sort of go into overdrive and distortion mode. It becomes the same thing that you sometimes see rock bands do with electric guitar, when the wall of distortion is so heavy it just drives people crazy. I think that makes the record absolutely stunning. It’s one that I have kept playing at Deep Space very regularly.
Jon Hopkins – “Open Eye Signal” [Domino]
DJ Cosmo/Colleen Murphy came to Deep Space to play with me in February and she brought a few records with her which I thought were absolutely stunning. She had this one that I was completely unaware of by Jon Hopkins, “Open Eye Signal”. This is one of those very dark, brooding records with distorted melody and bass. I don’t know what to compare it to, but it completely took me by storm. Let’s be honest, most DJs are turned onto music by other DJs. Of course, you do all the listening you can and you try to find all the stuff on your own, but at the end of the day, sometimes it’s really about going to see someone else play and they do something that you were never going to consider. The thing is, whether it’s at the record store or whether it’s listening online, music never sounds quite the same as how it’s going to sound at the club or a big party.
Special Request – Soul Music [Houndstooth]
I’m crazy about this album—I can’t stop playing songs from it. There’s so many great things on that album. What I really, really liked about it was that Paul Woolford managed to capture all the excitement and the mood of the junglist music from the mid-nineties but he completely updated it to a different context and different tempos. And it’s not just a nostalgia trip, Woolford managed to do something that’s very special and stands repeated listening. He managed to stray away from the original drum’n’bass tempos and actually present a lot of stuff that’s more dubstep tempo and some of which is almost house or tech-y tempos. I think that’s not just an accomplishment, but something that’s really special.
FK: My friend Matt Edwards aka Radio Slave gave me an advance copy of this. It’s a project he did with his friend Thomas Gandey, an album called Love Mistakes. The song that I’m in love with is “Warsaw”. It has a vibe that’s maybe similar to some tech house but more organic, more lush, with real instruments rather than just some pre-programmed crappy loops. When I hear it on the soundsystem at Cielo it’s gorgeous. It doesn’t fit into a mold of pre-packaged and endless corridor music, where you feel like you’re in a tunnel, and all you see is the side of the tunnel forever and it’s the same, the same, the same. Sadly, as I was telling you before, that’s the way I feel about a lot of music nowadays because people are adverse to taking risks. And because electronic music has been going on for so long, they’ve now developed it to such a formula that no one really needs to think about it. You can provide people with music that they can endlessly dance to, and it doesn’t matter whether the music is saying anything or not because the production, the presentation, the window-dressing is so strong. I remember last year when I was in Ibiza and many other places during the summer, I was going around listening to all these DJs playing music that was so incredibly made, powerful and absolutely lethal as far as slaying the dancefloor and immersing people in that sound. But for most of the crowd, that music went in one ear and thirty seconds later I’d be damned if anyone could remember any of it. Music has changed from being about the melody, the song, a story to being about delivering the maximum amount of efficiency. This is what club music has become, in many respects. However, “Warsaw” or some of the other songs on the album like “Love Mistakes”, they don’t conform to that. ~
For more editions of Covering Tracks, head here.
François Kevorkian may have been born in France, but he’s inextricably linked with the sounds of New York disco and house. Coming up with the likes of Larry Levan and David Mancuso at such dance music institutions as the Paradise Garage and Studio 54, his nearly forty years in the city that never sleeps saw his star rise quickly as a producer and remixer, working with artists as diverse as Loleatta Holloway, Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode, while also becoming a revered DJ at his Body & Soul party, held together with veteran selectors Joaquin “Joe” Claussell and Danny Krivit. Having celebrated his sixtieth birthday this year, Kevorkian could easily rest on his laurels. Instead he has taken his now eleven-year-old dub-inflected clubnight Deep Space at Cielo in Manhattan to new heights. Here, for the uninitiated, François K takes you to Deep Space in his own words.
This is the extended version of the text that appeared in the Summer issue of Electronic Beats Magazine. To read a Covering Tracks: Deep Space Special, go here.
Throughout my career, especially when I started going in the studio somewhere around 1978, I found myself very attracted to a lot of production techniques that clearly came from people using a lot of effects processing and delays and things. Whether it was more like traditional dub records from Jamaica or experimental records that came from krautrock in Germany, or whether it was some of the avant-garde free jazz that incorporated elements of tape music, like the Teo Macero productions of Miles Davis. All of these things, they had a confluence: astute producers were making heavy use of electronic music production techniques to enhance the live playing, whether it would be jazz, reggae, rock or whatever else. It was immediately clear in my work in the studio, and I became quickly known for being one of the people within the “dance music’”or “disco” world who could deliver the trippy elements and exaggerated processing.
Others were great at extended versions of songs or transforming them into something that had more muscle for the dancefloor. For me, it was that dub element—be it more electronic, like my work with Yazoo, Kraftwerk or Jean-Michel Jarre, or on a more traditional reggae tip, like with Black Uhuru, Jimmy Cliff, or Bunny Wailer. I could work within a pop context, too, like when I did dub versions for Mick Jagger, Diana Ross and Foreigner. But for the people who were hiring me to do these remixes, this idea of the dub was always the thing on the side, rather than the main A-side version they were normally after. Obviously I was getting hired to do a specific thing for people, even though in some instances I just turned out a dub version and said, “There’s no vocal, that’s my mix.” I did that for several big acts who accepted it and put it out, like The Fatback Band and Midnight Oil—I ended up producing them after that.
Then, in the early 2000s, I was approached by the owner of Cielo, Nicolas Matar, and he offered me a night. We were close friends, and being a DJ himself, he dug what I was doing. It was pretty much with the understanding that it was going to be something related to house music. I think they were really surprised when I came back and said, “First of all, I don’t want to do a big night, like the weekends. I want to do something as obscure and out of the way as possible. Monday sounds great.” Because when you do that, you’re guaranteed that the big weekend crowd and fist-pumping advocates are going to be at home getting ready for their job the next day during the week.
In the context of what the club looks like and how incredible everything is there—the soundsystem, the intimate setting that allows for a lot of seating around the dancefloor area for people not to feel awkward if they don’t dance—I figured I wanted to focus on trying to do something that was going to be totally unique and in some respect related to dub. Even though dub had been a very integral part of my career and what I was doing since the beginning, it was never an acknowledged thing. It was just like a bonus. But I felt it was the time for things to change. Instead of just starting another night where I would just be playing authentic Jamaican reggae from 1975 by Lee “Scratch” Perry, King Tubby, and Niney the Observer, it was more going to be about trying to showcase and connect the dots for people to incorporate that dub aesthetic into all sorts of different backgrounds. Or in conjunction with that, to take songs that would otherwise be very ordinary and to actually do whatever processing and treatment to them, sort of an abbreviated version of what I’m doing in the studio, but live and in front of people. Which is why it says, “François K live on the mixing board.” It’s not that I’m playing multi-tracks and doing remixes, but with technology today there are a great deal of things that are available in order to do things that are pretty close to that. And after having done a few thousand remixes and spent a few decades of my life in the studio, I have a basic understanding of what it takes to do it. There’s a real separation between the idea of DJing—i.e. playing records—and being in the studio where you’re fully making sounds from scratch. What I’m striving to do is show that those boundaries don’t exist; that you really should be able to do a little bit of all that while you’re in front of people.
Deep Space represented an opportunity to bring this to the forefront. We courted dub poets, DJs, or other artists who we felt were compatible with that aesthetic and somehow they’d accept and do, say, “special” sets around this point of view. In that sense, another turning point, even though we were already established, was somewhere around 2006 when we started hearing all of these rumblings from London and all these strange new types of music that no one had ever heard before, like Digital Mystikz and dubstep. It made sense to me right away, but the crowd took a little time to catch on. When I started championing that music it sent a lot of people into a tailspin—they thought that Deep Space had sold out because now we were playing this so-called crap dubstep. They weren’t used to it, they just wanted the smoothness of what they already knew. Until we actually proved that there were a great deal of people who wanted to hear this music I needed to get people’s ears used to that new sound. We became, in New York, a very significant supporter of many artists visiting from the UK or other parts that were very much into that dubstep sound. Because no one else wanted to book them, it was pretty easy for us to get almost anyone we wanted. People were just delighted that there was anyone in New York interested in giving them a chance to play. Most clubs just want to have house and techno. Ultimately, I’m trying to approach sets at Deep Space with a totally open mind. It’s really a matter of consciously aiming to create a certain amount of contrast because I think it’s really necessary in music, especially as everyone else is striving for uniformity and sameness. I think that my mission, my role, is exposing that, even if it means taking risks.
The evolution of what’s been happening at Deep Space has actually caused me to reconsider a lot of what I was doing previously as a DJ, music creator, and generally. It has made me realize how much I value improvisation, the instant of creation, that moment where you’re standing in front of a crowd and there’s thirty seconds left to play on the record. You haven’t yet decided what you’re going to play next, and you have to look through all of your records and find something and put it on, mix it in, and make it all sound effortless and entertaining. It’s an unbelievable amount of pressure. When that happens somehow you shed all the unnecessary baggage and what comes out is the one thing that you know you should be playing because, really, if you’re a DJ, you know what that is. Sometimes things that came from that voice were very crazy, completely strange, and totally odd. But if somehow I was going to be truthful about trying to be an artist, I needed to defer to that voice and not stay focused on logic. Showing that inner part of the creative process is what it is to be a DJ, for me. It’s still a work in progress. When you do stuff like this, you go in front of an audience and you don’t know what you’re going to do but that’s what’s honest about it. When I step in front of the crowd there, I am actually striving to give them my soul—not some pre-programmed, pre-packaged, pre-digested slice of predictable fodder that might make them feel good at that very moment, but they’ll have forgetten about ten minutes later. I’m going to give them something that might shock them, that might profoundly offend them, or make them feel uncomfortable, or totally thrilled, blissful, and in heaven. Deep Space definitely has been the vehicle that has allowed me to do this. ~
Ben Goldwasser is a founding member of American psych-poppers MGMT along with singer and lyricist Andrew VanWyngarden. Based in New York City, the group’s most recent self-titled album was released in September 2013 and featured prominently in our cover story from the same time. This is his first review for Electronic Beats Magazine.
I first met Caroline Polachek, aka Ramona Lisa, through Craigslist, of all places. In 2006, during the writing process for Oracular Spectacular, Andrew and I were searching for a practice space to flesh out ideas. Caroline and her band Chairlift posted an ad on Craigslist, looking for another band to share their room. We all became friends quickly and found that we had a lot of overlap in our musical tastes and a mutual desire to fuse pop music with more esoteric elements. On Arcadia, her first solo record, Caroline has accomplished this and more.
A little over a year ago, a friend invited me to a secret performance of Caroline’s new music. I had no idea that she had recorded an entire album of her own material, and while she may have been nervous to share her project with the world for the first time, I was struck by how the performance presented something fully formed, as though she had been hard at work creating her own universe. Accompanied by haunting videos and choreography, the music seemed unapologetically new but at the same time it was hard to imagine that it had only just been written. The fact that most of it had been produced on a laptop while on tour made it all the more impressive to me, given that that process can be really tedious. Unlike most music produced “in the box”, which lacks depth or falls too heavily on repetitive loops, Arcadia sounds rich and meticulously arranged and is constantly taking unexpected directions.
There’s a great interview with Angelo Badalamenti where he describes how he composed the musical themes for Twin Peaks. While sitting at a Fender Rhodes trying out ideas, David Lynch guided him through the various images and moods of the show. I can imagine a similar visual approach to writing music when I listen to Arcadia. While most of the songs on the album stand well on their own, such as “Backwards and Upwards”, which is an outright jam, the entire album seems to guide you through a tangible fantasy world.
There’s a great blend of old and new on Arcadia. I’m constantly reminded of other music that I like (for instance, I was tricked into thinking that I was listening to OMD at one point when “Avenues” came on when my phone was playing music on shuffle), but there’s always a novel sonic element or juxtaposition of styles that keeps the music from venturing too far into pastiche. It doesn’t hurt that her voice is a striking, singular instrument that she is in excellent command of.
This is the kind of album that takes you by surprise. It doesn’t seem to come from any scene in particular, but it could easily further the opportunity for music to be accepted as “pop” while retaining a feeling of experimentation that goes beyond just adopting whatever flavor-of-the-month production tricks happen to be in vogue. Maybe most impressive is that through Arcadia’s strangeness and familiarity, it conveys real human emotion, and what kind of music does that these days? ~
In our new regular feature, we ask artists to delve deep into their memory banks to surface with some of the tracks that have defined their lives. For this edition, we speak with Brooklyn art-poppers MS MR.
In 2012, only a few people really knew who MS MR were. Fostering an air of mystique, their press shots were faceless, their names withheld, they left it up to the music to win over people’s overtaxed attention. And it did: tracks like “Hurricane” quickly garnered numerous blog plaudits and the ear of Pitchfork with the help of the ace Tumblr-referencing video. Now, with a successful debut under their belts, MS MR have thoroughly outgrown the internet sounding—and looking—every inch the arty popstars they always aspired to be. The time seemed apt to ask the band, who rocked Zagreb instalment of Electronic Beats Festival last month, to give us the soundtrack to their lives. These are the results. Warning: contains Eiffel 65.
1) What song makes the dancefloor go crazy?
2) What was the last song you bought?
3) Which song do you never want to play again?
4) What was the first song you ever danced to?
5) Which song would make you leave the dancefloor?
6) What song is your guilty pleasure?
7) Which song do you play to impress someone you like?
8) What’s your favorite song to play when you’re getting intimate with someone you like?
9) Which song do you know all the lyrics to?
10) What song do you want played at your funeral?
MS MR are a boy-girl indie pop act straight out of New York and London, except that makes them sound a lot less interesting than they actually are. Their catchy four minute songs may have the grandiose, Elysian appeal of Florence & the Machine or Bat For Lashes—think songs called “Bones or “Fantasy”, kettle drums and supernatural synths ascending to the firmament—but the band were born in the distinctly earthly environs of Brooklyn basements and Tumblr. This tension between the sacred and the profane, the emotional and the pop-transcendent is what gives their debut Secondhand Rapture its enigmatic charge. Allow us to make introductions.
1. If you were still in high school, which clique would you belong to?
Max Hershenow: Theater nerds/sarcastic academics
Lizzy Plapinger: Art kids
2. Your most memorable show?
One of our favorites was our show at Laneway Festival in Sydney this year. It was one of the biggest and most raucous crowds we’ve ever played to and the first time most of the crowd knew the lyrics.
3. An album or artist that changed the way you thought? And how did that happen?
M: I lived in Latin America in high school and was really influenced by Latin pop. The Spanish singer Bebe’s first album Pafuera Telarañas made me think about different ways to combine influences, which I think has profoundly affected the way I write now.
L: Music Has the Right to Children by Boards of Canada. Before listening to that record I had never heard anything like it and it totally blew my mind. It really opened me up to a whole new genre and experimental style of music and felt like the gateway to other acts like Avalanches, Prefuse 73, The Go! Team… It continues to be a strong touchstone for me in thinking about music and how you can meld and transform sounds to create new atmospheres.
4. What does underground and mainstream mean to you?
For us it’s about toeing the line between these two worlds. We’re very much rooted in a DIY and “underground” scene and sound and want to continue to explore unique and alternative ways of making and sharing music. However, we also have big ambitions for the band and genuinely want as many people to listen to our music as possible, so we’re absolutely not afraid of being accepted by the mainstream, as long as we stay true to our core identities and “underground” work ethic and style.
5. Should music be free?
There needs to be a back and forth—If music is free in one form than you would hope that a fan would pay it forward to the band in another way. We have always made our music available for someone to listen to for free in the hopes that if they enjoy it and believe in the band they will follow through and purchase the album and/or come see us play a show.
6. Latest find on Soundcloud or Bandcamp and what you like about it?
M: “Out of Yourself” by Truls. It’s such a good pump-up party anthem, and his voice is amazing.
L: This new band WET. They only have two songs up right now but I love her voice and how smooth the music is.
7. Describe your one indispensable outfit?
M: Doc Martens, black leather jacket, jeans and a t-shirt.
L: high-waisted pants, crop top, dragon lady jacket, wire framed vintage sunnies and my Vagabond shoes.
8. A film, book, or artwork that greatly influenced your music and why?
M: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez—it taught me to not shy away from my inclination to infuse the mundane day-to-day with a sense of high drama and a touch of magic.
L: Cats Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut—one of my favorite stories and the catalyst for “Dark Doo Wop”.
9. Your current favorite song and what you like about it?
M: Daft Punk, “Doin’ It Right”. I love the way the two melodies interact.
L: Chrome Sparks, “Marijuana”. It’s sort of become my go to in the car and just immediately puts me in a good mood.
10. If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
M: A choreographer.
L: I have a studio art background so I hope something with design.
Ms Mr’s debut album Secondhand Rapture is out now on Columbia Records