Alexandra Droener on Gonjasufi’s <em>MU.ZZ.LE</em>

Alexandra Droener on Gonjasufi’s MU.ZZ.LE If I had to describe Gonjasufi’s output over the last year in a single phrase—his music, appearance, quotes and so on—I would probably go for “under the influence”. And I’m not just refering to drugs but also to his mishmash of spiritual ideas and musical styles. From what I understand the guy is an ex-user, even though the music still sounds very stoned. For me, his almost dialectical take on drugs is an indication of some kind of inner struggle—one that clearly manifests itself on MU.ZZ.LE. It’s hard not to have the impression that this is a score to something semi-auto biographical; a would-be spiritual quest involving lots and lots of crate digging and various forms of psychedelicism.

But every album has—or at least should have—a story to tell. And sometimes that story is rooted in a mythical backstory, which is the artist’s persona as marketed by professional labels. My approximation of Warp’s biographical selling point for Gonjasufi’s first album is: “If Gonjasufi wouldn’t be making music, he’d be a killer.” In the past, appealing to listeners by scaring them has proven lucrative. MU.ZZ.LE marks the next chapter in the Gonjasufi story and is a vehicle for the artist’s intoxicated “wisdom”. The muzzle is usually a metaphor for concealing truth, which, of course, Gonjasufi cannot do. But “truth” certainly isn’t what the album conjures up for me.

Gonjasufi says that he doesn’t judge music by when it’s from or who made it—which explains his foundational eclecticism, combining golden age hip-hop with ragadriven Hindu music and Persian sounds. But African-American musical traditions seem to be at the album’s core: Sun Ra, Rammellzee, and On the Corner-era Miles Davis are maybe the best examples of the kind of retro afro-futurism MU.ZZ.LE radiates. Drexciya, Dopplereffekt, and Underground Resistance are also good comparisons—less because of the music and more because of the ideology. But I get the impression that even though he wants to follow in the footsteps of the great African-American truth tellers, his vanity and drug use somehow get in the way.

Gonjasufi produced MU.ZZ.LE on his own, which is maybe why it doesn’t sound as light on its feet and advanced as A Sufi and a Killer. As the title suggests, the latter was produced by friend and collaborator The Gaslamp Killer and had more lo-fi rock in it, as well as aspects of dubstep and hiphop. It also placed greater emphasis on sound design. With MU.ZZ.LE Gonjasufi plays with all of these aesthetics but generally gives them a rougher finish. It often feels like he’s preaching, which is underscored by the “street riot” megaphone effect on his voice.

Word has it that yoga brought Gonjasufi to a permanently higher state of mind. Born a Coptic Christian, he began studying the teachings of Islam before eventually turning to Sufism. Clearly, the man is on a journey. But he still seems to have a ways to go. ~

Alexandra Droener is a longstanding activist in the Berlin club scene and part of the dj team Sick Girls.

Gonjasufi – MU.ZZ.LE released on Warp Records, January 20th.
Full album stream below:

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Chris Bohn on The Grateful Dead’s <em>Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings</em>

Chris Bohn on The Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings Chris Bohn is a long-time editor of London-based avant garde music magazine The Wire. Bohn, who sometimes writes under the pseudonym Biba Kopf, is also an expert on improvisation in pop music.

Like Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead are not the sort of group you impose on people. I know that when Jerry Garcia was confronted about how inaccessible The Dead’s recorded output was, he would just tell them that their music wasn’t for everybody. It’s understandable that people would have problems with the “social” or “cultural” aspect of what The Dead appear to represent. But when it comes to the actual music, I think it’s much harder to deny that we’re dealing with one of the best improvisational bands in the history of rock and roll—with CAN perhaps sharing the crown.

But first to the misconceptions: The Dead’s presumed position as one of the ultimate icons of peaceloving, edgeless hippy culture is, in many ways, a total fallacy—and that’s exactly what the Europe ’72 box set brings out. From very early on in their career, The Dead were an outsider band. Their connections to The Hells Angels established their affinity for outlaw culture and their inextricable link to drugs of all sorts—although acid was perhaps the most important element in their creative venture. And I’m not talking about the “Hello tree, hello sky” style, carefree utopian trip experience—I’m talking about the dark, cold, frightening, permanently mindaltering influence of LSD that defined the band’s explorative vein.

Throughout the box set, you can hear how deeply the acid experience has penetrated the fabric of their music and transformed the way they improvise and relate to each other—not to mention affect the length of the songs. The Dead were really the first band to play for hours and hours on end and develop an entirely different concept of time—resulting also in an incredibly original sense of rhythm, melody, and build.

Europe ’72 shows the band at the very height of their powers, and in my opinion, captures nothing less than the infancy of rave culture, with the separation between the band and the audience dissolving amidst the music’s lengthy and unpredictable direction. While The Dead’s pioneering ballroom rave was born in the mid-sixties during Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters’ acid tests, it wasn’t until the late sixties and early seventies that the endless improvisation and song stretching reached its creative peak.

The box set is clearly also an archival feat enabled by digital technology, which makes it not only ultra-modern, but also a key factor in understanding The Dead’s progression and the evolution of their live show. Included are seventy-two CDs with around sixty hours of music—essentially every single note of the band’s twenty-two European dates. For those who aren’t already fans, the box set might be a somewhat difficult place to start. But for those who know and like The Dead, this tour is maybe the best example I know of the sonic melting pot that was the band’s varied influences: Pigpen’s R&B, Bob Weir’s rock and roll, Jerry Garcia’s blues and bluegrass and the whole band’s overall psychedelic, avant-garde wall of sound. Also, The Dead’s reported “discovery” of cocaine on the European tour gives the playing a euphoric sheen—especially noticeable on the various versions of “Dark Star”, “The Other One” and “Turn on Your Love Light”. Not to overstate the point, but the influence of drugs on The Dead is not to be underestimated.

People like to say that the atmosphere of raves or clubs is more egalitarian than the average rock show, because the DJ isn’t always the focus of attention. There’s some truth to that, of course, but there are also plenty of club-goers who love staring at somebody work the turntables or even a laptop—as there were plenty of Deadheads who paid little attention to what was happening onstage.

That’s why the Europe ’72 box set sounds like a pre-computer age blueprint of a rave future—especially in terms of the length of the music, its chemical foundation and the atmosphere that spawned these brave, seemingly endless musical voyages. And by brave, I mean that The Dead are entirely unafraid of taking risks—not just because they’re proficient musicians, but rather because they have an entirely different approach to making music. Some might say that in the past that’s resulted in unnecessarily sloppy output. This box set is exactly the opposite. ~

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Andreas Reihse recommends Conrad <em>Schnitzler’s Endtime</em>

Andreas Reihse recommends Conrad Schnitzler’s Endtime Andreas Reihse is a Berlin-based musician, producer, blogger and founding member of the post-krautrock band Kreidler. He recently released his first solo album Romantic Comedy.

Conrad Schnitzler isn’t a household name, and in many ways, I’d consider him an outside artist. He was certainly never able to live large from the music he made and the ideas he developed, even though he had an enormous influence on the musicians and artists around him. I guess you could say that influencing your peers is one of the most important things you can do in his line of work—certainly more than making money. But artists shouldn’t have to worry about financial and bureaucratic bullshit. It’s not only boring; it’s also bad for your health. I think worrying about things like that is one of the reasons why people, and artists especially, die young. And saying great art is only made by those who suffer is complete bullshit. Schnitzler wasn’t really young anymore when he passed away last August, but he still should have lived much much longer.

He knew he didn’t have long to live, which is why he worked so hard to finish his last “album”, if you can call it that. It’s no secret that Schnitzler’s known for despising catchy melodies. The closest he ever came to making pop was in the early eighties when he released “Auf dem schwarzen Kanal”, which fit well to the whole punk and new wave thing in Germany at the time. But even that wasn’t the same as other pop music of the era. You could hum to “Los Niños Del Parque” by Liaisons Dangereuses and you could hum to DAF, but you couldn’t hum to Schnitzler. But you still wanted to listen to it again and again.

Schnitzler had an incredible archive of his music and he was adamant about putting all of his old cassette tapes onto CD-R. Most of these recordings—and there are hundreds, if not thousands—are a mix of various soundscapes and individual synth lines that sound distinctly like Schnitzler. The amazing thing was that he made these “raw” CD-Rs available to the public, with all these interesting little musical vignettes that sound sort of unfinished. You don’t even really know what’s on the CDs before you buy them—they’re usually not dated or explicitly labeled. Occasionally the disc will have a name, but you don’t know if you’re getting synth parts or drum parts or whatever. He liked the idea that people would have one-offs of his, and he also liked people mixing these various tracks together live, like a Schnitzler concert without the man himself, which happened quite often. It makes sense when you consider that Schnitzler was a student of Joseph Beuys and very into communication-related ideas of performance and recording, even though he often liked to work alone.

Endtime is like Schnitzler’s other self-released CD-Rs in that the tracks are short and, at first glance, you don’t really see a larger narrative. However, the album is made to be consumed as a whole, because the tracks do seamlessly float into each other. I know that he finished the album four days before he died when he already knew the end was coming. But it’s definitely not a bombastic epitaph, and it’s not depressing or euphoric or “transcendent”-sounding in any sense. Endtime retains the same sort of explorative character of Schnitzler’s other releases. The music is typically unpredictable—you really have no idea what’s coming next. Ultimately, it’s experimental electronics at its most explorative—within a musical cosmos that Schnitzler created for himself. ~

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Gudrun Gut recommends The Field’s <em>Looping State of Mind</em>

Gudrun Gut recommends The Field’s Looping State of Mind Gudrun Gut is a musician, DJ and owner of the label Monika Enterprise. Not only being an early member of Einstürzende Neubauten Gut also co-founded the legendary German bands Malaria! and Mania D. She lives in Berlin, where she co-hosts the weekly radio show Oceanclub together with Thomas Fehlmann.

Even though I listen to loads of music, I don’t usually listen to a new record every week. I’m more the type to get attached to a specific artist and then follow him or her intensely. I’ve been a big fan of The Field since the very first twelve inch, he released on Kompakt in 2005 and needless to say, I was anticipating big things from Looping State of Mind.

The album has surpassed all my expectations. It’s very much in line with The Field’s previous releases, which are very loop-based. But these aren’t your normal loops: they’re incredibly precise and bril-liantly cut and spliced moments of sound, that immediately draw you into the music. It’s hard to describe the difference between the average loop and what The Field does, but I would say it’s a difference in emotional quality. The repetition – often a spoken phrase or syllable – is embedded into the rest of the music in a way, that makes it kind of like the song’s motor – something, that drives or propels the music forward. Of course there is more than one sound being looped and the smallest non-vocal micro-samples are like cogs in the machine of a bigger, syncopated push … which is partially due to the fact, that some of the songs were written with a band and played with a live drummer.

But the sound always stays warm, which is why it has a kind of krautrock feel to it, even though it’s undeniably techno. I think you can categorize it as a form of serial music, because he’s clearly operating from within some sort of compositional system – mostly based in the framework of his loops. Maybe my description sounds intellectual, but honestly the music just makes me happy. It’s a deep, deep joy that I get from listening to Looping State of Mind, which also comes from the organic way in which the songs build and turn and explode— totally different from your average techno album.

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Peter Kruder on Elektro Guzzi’s <em>Parquet</em>

Peter Kruder on Elektro Guzzi’s Parquet Peter Kruder is a Vienna-based musician, producer and co-owner of the label G-Stone Recordings together with longtime collaborator Richard Dorfmeister. As a duo, Kruder and Dorfmeister’s downbeat soundscapes and inventive continental trip-hop would become some of most celebrated electronic music of the late nineties and early noughties.

It’s fascinating to me how far some musicians will go to get away from the stock, generic sounds of electronic presets and plugins. These days, sound design and sound architecture for electronic musicians has replaced melody and harmony as the backbone of writing music. It’s not like people don’t write catchy melodies anymore, but these aren’t really considered predictable factors of success or popularity. As somebody who’s well acquainted with the preset sounds of both software and hardware, one of the first things I noticed when listening to Parquet is how hard Elektro Guzzi have worked to modify their instruments—guitar, drums, and bass—in order to find sounds that are their own. That effort has paid off, because this record simply sounds different than the rest . . . even though it still operates within the context of a very specific style of techno; a kind of reduced Berlin-Detroit “minimalism”, if you can call it that. “Minimalism” here is maybe a misnomer, because most of the tracks—from the opener “Affumicato” to the pulsing “Moskito”—build into full, charging tunes. Nevertheless, you can still clearly hear all parts of the machine working individually, and in superb sonic clarity.

I would guess that’s also the result of working together with producer Patrick Pulsinger, whose contribution to this album shouldn’t be overlooked. I always especially liked the music Pulsinger did that was heavily influenced by Detroit and Berlin techno. But he’s really done so much. Like with Easy to Assemble. Hard to Take Apart, re-processed and reinterpreted tracks that he had recorded with these incredible Viennese jazz musicians. For me, the album was proof of the size of his musical vocabulary. But one of the most important things a producer can do is to adapt to a band’s musical impulses. When I was helping to produce DJ Hell’s Teufelswerk, it was no different. Instead of trying to squeeze and force him into my own scheme, I decided just to add my touches to Hell’s own ideas. And not only as a sign of respect, but also because what you end up with is usually better. Knowing Patrick’s work in the past and his affinity for jazz, it seems to me that he was able to rein in and direct Elektro Guzzi’s instrumental virtuosity towards ultra-straight, unwavering results, while still giving them space to breathe and improvise. And everything on this record just sounds really good, with the gates and compressors used to maximum pumping and breathing effect.

Twenty-five years ago, almost all music was played by people who had mastered their instruments—electronic or otherwise. Today, people have become fascinated by electronic musicians reintegrating that mastery back into dance music, especially through live instruments—from Hercules and Love Affair to Brandt Brauer Frick. But with Elektro Guzzi, maybe even more than other artists, you hear a band that refuses to rely on the “novelty” of their musicianship. In fact, they do quite the opposite: instead of dwelling on the uniqueness of playing live electronics, they’ve decided to get busy with experimentation, pushing both the boundaries of their instruments and, in the process, techno as a genre . . . or should I say rock? Rhythmically, most of what you’re hearing is machine-like four-to-the-floor, but the songs were played live. Parquet really made me wonder if man is not the better machine. ~

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