Music

Beat Connection: A Nightmare Soundtrack to the Age of Trump

DJ Bus Replacement Service brings laughter and tears, Seth Troxler and Craig Richards chill things out

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Right, dance music is “specialist” — feel free to cling to that notion, rockers whose festivals are two-thirds electronic because promoters want people under thirty to actually show up. But the most confounding, reverberant, and perhaps important set here isn’t specialist — it’s not even particularly electronic or dance. It’s a deliberate affront to every verity of taste in that realm, or rock, or anything else, for that matter. Geek girls who grew up on Dr. Demento are an under-recognized demographic I suspect we’ll be hearing from more.

DJ Bus Replacement Service: RA.610 (February 5, 2018)

Doris Woo dresses in a Kim Jong Un costume when she performs as DJ Bus Replacement Service, but she’s not kidding, and neither am I when I say this is the most accurate, horrifying, drop-dead funny, burn-it-all-down reflection of the Trump age I’ve yet encountered. It’s all novelty-record ridiculousness broken up by occasional white-noise bomb bursts.

An accompanying interview on the Resident Advisor mix host page confirms Woo as a resolute dork. Her day job is in “commercial/data protection” law, and her track list — just the track list, not the interview — contains sixteen footnotes. She’s such a student of Dr. Demento and Irwin Chusid and Jim Nayder (host of The Annoying Music Show, WBEZ-Chicago, mid-1990s to mid-2000s) that — like a house DJ opening with First Choice and closing with “No Way Back” — she leads off with Ivor Cutler and closes with Weird Al. (If you’re questioning her DJ bona fides, ask yourself — did you interview Daft Punk in 1997?)

What makes her RA.610 not just outlandish but delicious to the bitter end is that she sets out to find the best possible examples (or at least the most contextually apt) from an ocean of one-joke novelties (James Vincent’s “ ‘Roxanne’ by the Police but every time they say ‘Roxanne’ it gets faster”), badly dated historical markers (Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Posse on Broadway”), and pure silliness (see above). Then, true to her DJ calling, she makes them resonate off one another. Everything’s a zigzag. Hence, this mix’s effectiveness goes well beyond matters of taste — DJ culture is about sensibility, and DJ Bus Replacement Service’s is truly gleeful. This is a testament to a lifetime of listening, just to the “wrong” (to use her word) stuff. Compare Floating Points & Four Tet on NTS Radio (February 9, 2018), where recently reissued obscurities from labels like the Numero Group and Melodies International serve to give a basically tasteful selection some tang; by contrast, this is like diving into a swimming pool full of Jell-O. It’s not for everyone, but you’ll never forget it.

The selections resonate even harder because of what the DJ does for her final third. There are hints of what’s coming on the tenth track: MC Mr. Napkins’ “Mussolini Miscellany,” which probably seemed highlarious when Comedy Central released it in 2010 and now comes across as a Reddit site in motion, right down to the jaw-dropping tasteless final words: “Fascism, my nizzle.” (We can hope for this mix to give Steve Bannon a richly deserved aneurysm.) The USA Freedom Kids’ “Freedom’s Call,” as one YouTube commenter puts it, “reminds me of a certain German youth group from 1943.” Naturally, the follow-up is a gabber record from 1994 titled “North Korea Goes Bang” (on Earache, home of Napalm Death), followed by a Korean newsreader from the summer of 2010, and Ghost in the Machine’s “Hold My Drink,” from last year, on the industrial-leaning London techno label Perc Trax. It’s stomach-churning; that’s the point. Following that, a segue from Ethel Merman’s disco “There’s No Business Like Show Business” into Shitmat’s IDM-jungle “There’s No Business Like Propa’ Rungleclotted Mashup Bizznizz” isn’t just a relief but the very thing this medium was made for. Thank her after the nightmare subsides.

Charlotte de Witte: Essential Mix (February 10, 2018)

In techno, the line is all — as long as it undulates persuasively enough to make you notice it at whatever your entry point is, you can follow it till it fades or fizzles out. Belgian comer Charlotte de Witte’s debut Essential Mix offers us a handy place to start: Luca Ballerini’s “Prelude,” whose futzing little out-of-focus synth part wows more than flutters. When the beat finally kicks in after two full minutes, it reveals even woolier edges before flicking into the background and back. About twenty minutes later, de Witte draws attention to the environment she’s created when she brings in her own “Look Around You” —  the filtering breaks each couple of letters of the phrase “look around you, it’s a beautiful life” into shivering stand-alone phonemes. The Belgians tend to design their long, dark tunnels with real style.

That sense of the antic nosing around the edges of hard refinement works perfectly with the alias the 25-year-old producer-DJ started off with: Raving George. On Facebook, de Witte admitted she’d picked the “masculine name…because I didn’t want people to book me because I am a woman.” If comparing her to another woman is reductive, so be it, but the set my mind reaches straight back to is the Helena Hauff Essential Mix from February 2017, named the year’s best by listener vote. Me, I’ve always preferred the September 2015 XLR8R Podcast that converted me to Hauff — and I’ve already played de Witte’s more than either. It’s more rigorous, more playful, more lurid — more techno.

CP Smith: CPU Records x Boiler Room Sheffield Off Camera DJ Set (March 2, 2018)

This passed the crucial investigation we’ll call the You Fucker Test: Count the number of times a DJ makes you say “You fucker” out loud during a set. Consecutive selections get bonus points, and better still if the DJ waits nearly thirty minutes to start pulling out the stops, as CP Smith does. Smith runs the Sheffield label Central Processing Unit, which specializes in acid-tinged, thick-toned, unhurried electro by old hands such as Cygnus, DMX Krew, and Neil Landstrumm. That’s what prevails for this set’s first half — gauzy, naive music-box tunes, menacingly playful Vocoders-or-whatever (“Welcome to the future!”), aggressively slurp-and-slide “snares,” the works. Then, over the course of a long, slow slide to the Prodigy’s “Your Love,” he says the hell with it and gives in to his party impulses — and the “You fucker” moments become a chorus, especially when he follows the Prodigy with one foundational Detroit techno classic (“You fucker”) after another (“Oh, you fucker”). Incidentally, the host explains the evening’s title at the set’s very top: “I don’t think we’ve ever done this before, it’s a Boiler Room without cameras — we basically got bored of ourselves and decided to switch the cameras off for one night only.” Really, guys, you can do it again.

Seth Troxler & Craig Richards: Beats in Space Radio Show #925 (February 13, 2018)

What happens when two famous DJs get together? That’s right — they audition for the chill-out room. Not that you should necessarily ever hope for, much less expect, congruency from your average back-to-back DJ encounter. Richards is an old hand at this — as the long-standing resident of London’s Fabric, he is cognitively prepared for anything, while we could say that Troxler, shedding his earlier bad-boy persona a lot more tidily than the EDM bros he so aptly blasted a few years back, is congenitally so. So you’ll want a seat when these two low-key show-offs build a slow-winding staircase to the stars and/or a groove, each step of which is only obvious in hindsight. (Sun Ra into Aphex Twin, ho-hum, right? Nyet.) The grooves that follow in the second half are just as laid-back and unendingly curious — at first suspiciously lightweight, then holding tightly rather than quivering out. Troxler and Richards’s mutual taste in obscurities is genuinely sly — damn if I can find anything concrete by searching for the track labeled “Craig Paul — Elektro” on the BIS episode page, and damn if its slumping groove and askew snare don’t make me want to cockeyed sing along to its half-garbled refrain every time. “This world could be this world,” I think he’s singing. Sorry, did I say “chill-out room”? Maybe I meant “salon.”

Adam X: Welcome to the Sonic Groove: The 2001 Mix (2000)

When I interviewed Adam X a few years ago, he told me that he felt like techno had reached an end point around 1998: “The market was flooded with all this loop techno stuff that was all sounding redundant.” He jumped ship for a decade to EBM (electronic body music, not to be confused with you-know-what), sneaking back in under the alias Traversable Wormhole. “With EBM and industrial music, there’s as many different elements as techno,” he said. “I was even trying to break some of this music in the techno scene. Now it works! It only took ten years.”

Yet somehow, in 2000, Adam found enough new techno records not to bore himself, or you, silly. Time may have had the last laugh here — when I re-upped this set to Mixcloud, it recognized a whopping two selections, Tribal Crew’s “Tribal Beats 1” and Makaton’s “Module Man,” back to back between 29:00 and 35:35, of eighty-eight total. Discogs doesn’t offer much either. These are notes rather than complaints; they’re also telling of just how unloved techno was in that era.

And they’re misleading, because this is my favorite Adam X set out of many. Listening to his sets through the Nineties you hear a conscious, levelheaded distillation that stops mostly because he did. Nowhere near as prolific as his older brother Frankie Bones (my surface-scratching guide is here), Adam was also nowhere near as scattershot — in fact, let’s just call him New York’s finest techno DJ and get it over with. For a guy who was ready to turn over a new leaf, he never stopped finding truffles.

Adam X plays Output on March 24.

Michaelangelo Matos lives and raves in St. Paul, Minnesota. He recently wrote a Primer of UK pirate radio DJ sets spanning 1988–2008 for The Wire’s April issue. Tweet recommendations to @matoswk75.

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