Music

Beat Connection: The R&B-House Interface

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My friend Michael Daddino isn’t a DJ, per se, but the 24 sets he’s made over the last month under the title Mixcloud GO! 1971 have provided some of my favorite summer listening. He’s done other things like this in the past, as he outlines on this project’s helpful explanation page, but this is certainly the most immersive, some 330 recordings from and/or released in Daddino’s birth year of 1971, with each hour-long set compiled and segued in mood-based rather than genre-led cycles. His more unorthodox picks are frequently revelatory — Van Morrison’s astonishing live “Friday’s Child,” recorded in Berkeley, on the 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. set, rather than anything from that year’s Tupelo Honey, for example. The most rousing volumes are also my favorites: 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., which climaxes with two of my favorite recordings from that or any other year, by Caetano Veloso and Sly Stone; and 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., which opens with screaming live James Brown before going on to limning the glam-rock groove by way of Fanny, T. Rex, and Slade. One of the key inspirations is Christian Marclay’s The Clock, which has no “narrative” yet insists you follow along, creating its own rules, and that sort of what’s-next? suspense makes me love the whole even when I don’t love the parts. Which leads us to …

Finn Johannsen, Twin Cities Mix No. 11 (June 11, 2018)

To cop a line from Melissa Weber, a/k/a New Orleans rare groove specialist DJ Soul Sister, DJs are historians, and this five-hour, fourteen-minute monster is a history lesson. “Song after song, no dubs, no instrumentals,” goes the SoundCloud listing. But the vocal-only remit doesn’t limit the DJ to singing. There’s a handful of spoken-word tracks and plenty of instrumental passages — Johannsen likes playing these records to their full lengths (obviously; it’s five hours long). What’s crucial is that these tracks’ roots aren’t in disco, the source of the screaming-diva archetype, but R&B; in fact, there isn’t a shriek on here. It’s gospel heavy, stunningly consistent but also super peaky. And since I’d heard almost none of these tracks (or, in the case of some remixes, these versions of them) before, it played tricks with my sense of its historical timeline.

Johannsen’s c.v. is as long as the set. In addition to being a busy DJ, he’s a journalist, the co-head of Macro Recordings, an employee of Hard Wax, the Berlin shop whose collective tastes have been a techno standard-bearer since it opened in 1989, and a historian by word and deed. He makes mixes prolifically — the set in question is a sequel to Twin Cities Mix No. 1, from last fall, which opens with Frankie Knuckles remixing Chanté Moore and spends three and a half hours following the same house-remixes-of-major-label R&B seam. (Your author, a St. Paul resident, notes that, despite its name, the podcast series comes from Copenhagen.) A lot of records pass through Johannsen’s hands, and Hard Wax and its musical syndicates have stayed faithful to techno’s dub and Detroit roots.

In addition to being a historical marker, a DJ set is also an argument about sensibility. It is, or can be, a narrative about sound — or a sound, as here. To me, Mix no. 11’s sound connoted — instantly — the late-Eighties-unto-Nineties boom of major-label house remixes of house hits. There’s a lot of that era here, of course — my favorite surprise there was hearing mid-Nineties Toni Braxton remixed by Frankie Knuckles. But what’s striking is just how many of these tracks — how many of them I love best, anyway — post-date that era. Of the tracks I was most compelled to search for, three came from 2000-’01 (the transporting “Guidance Mix” of Yolanda Adams’ “Open My Heart,” a cover of Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love” by DJ Spen Presents Three Fierce Divaz, and E-Smoove’s reworking of Sunshine Anderson’s “Heard It All Before”). Just as many are from 2014: Artful & Ridney feat. Terri Walker’s “Missing You (Eric Kupper’s ‘Director’s Cut Tribute to FK’ Mix),” Angie Stone’s “Brotha (DJ Spen & Karizma Remix),” and Louie Vega feat. Byron Stingily’s sharp-stepping Pride anthem “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Love.” This isn’t over five hours long because Johannsen can’t stop himself (though it’s clearly that, too): it’s over five hours because gathering it all in one place was long overdue.

The latter pair appear at opposite ends of the set (Vega near the beginning, “Brotha” close to the end), but their framing makes particularly plain that, whatever the fact that a pale Berliner made it, this is an unblinking celebration of house-music blackness. That becomes utterly clear nearer the finish line, when Johannsen drops Todd Gardner’s “Do You Know House?” (1998), a spoken-word track that throws ‘bows at progressive house, the big-room stuff coming from the U.K. (cf. Sasha and Digweed): “Now as we move into the new millennium, some people think the progression of house has turned into progressive. But we all know progressive ain’t progress and progressive ain’t house,” eventually followed by a laundry list of, pointedly, black (and mostly American) producers and DJs: “Tony Humphries — that’s house. Larry Levan — that’s house. Frankie Knuckles — that’s house. David Morales — that’s house.” I loved this track then, too — those horns! — but I was a 23-year-old in the Midwest who hadn’t traveled and thought it protested too much. Today I understand: There’s no such thing.

On July 4, in transit to a friend’s barbecue, I read a conspiracy theory being passed around by Twitter — that Trump’s then-upcoming private meeting would involve giving Putin the United States’ unconditional surrender — and spent the entire bus ride with a knot in the pit of my stomach. This set is the only thing that calmed it. More than once, the upfront humanism of Johannsen’s mix has helped me gather my resolve.

SOSUPERSAM, XLR8R Podcast 546 (June 13, 2018)

L.A. native Samantha Duenas wouldn’t be the first DJ this column has covered with a more or less traditional showbiz-kid background, though she is certainly the first to have done time as a backing dancer for Miley Cyrus and the Cheetah Girls. But as a DJ of ten years’ experience as well as an R&B singer-songwriter and the promoter of a popular L.A. R&B club night (she’s bringing it to Schimanski this week), SOSUPERSAM negotiates R&B and DJ aesthetics as nimbly as Johannsen above, albeit in a wilder spray than his noble arc. Modern R&B is very elastic sonically, but this mix uses the genre as diving boards into  frisky deep ends: minimalist deadpan talk-rap that takes electroclash into squeakier future-pop territory (Yaeji’s “Guap“); or hip-house-era ricocheting breaks that loop but don’t roll under samples like Todd Terry in riot mode (LSDXOXO’s “Codename Cottonmouth“); or best of all, a twenty-minute finale that detours into some of the most lustrous jungle ever cut, starting with Photek’s “The Rain.”

SOSUPERSAM plays Schimanski with Siik on Friday, July 20.

Yaeji + Kim Ann Foxman, Beats in Space radio show #944 (June 26, 2018)

Radio is where you get to spin for roaming ears more than moving feet, and June was a good month for rangy sets created for the medium. My favorites came from Rinse FM’s DJ Python with Sleepy G and DJ Freez (June 13),  Dekmantel Radio’s Ivan Smagghe and Borusiade (June 15), and Francois X’s hour two from Solid Steel (June 22). But WNYU-FM’s Beats in Space seems to bring out something extra, or maybe host Tim Sweeney just books the most consistently excellent guests: Paulor (June 12), Francis Inferno Orchestra + Andras (June 19), and the first half of this rousing double-header.

Loose and ebullient, the Brooklyn-based dance-music singer-songwriter and rising star (“House Music’s Most Exciting New Voice,” is how Pitchfork put it in December), Yaeji’s first half has a similar build as the SOSUPERSAM set (which uses Yaeji’s “Guap”), only it’s different as rain is from mist, which is a metaphor unto itself, not one for either set. For one thing, Yaeji’s set swerves around a lot more than Sam’s, tempo-wise — as when X-Coast’s “Ghetto Baby” slides down the pitch into a drastically slowed-down edit by L.A. producer Luxxury of, yep, “Vogue,” before things rev back into the hypnotic steady-state plunk-and-sizzle of Hoel feat. Dorian Moist’s “Voice.” For another, the selections are sharply defined sonically while placing hazier elements — like the futzed-with vocal samples on Tekowa Lakica’s “Dangerous (Riite Edit)” — right in center frame.

Kim Ann Foxman came to prominence as part of Hercules and Love Affair, then part of the NYC disco revival of the late 2000s; she left the group in 2012. She’s sung on others’ records as well, from KiNK to Maya Jane Coles, but as a DJ and producer, Foxman’s stamp is as strong as her smoky voice. She’s been one of my favorite DJs since the night in the fall of 2015 where I danced to her in the Panther Room until about 7:30 a.m. Playing right around the time her label, Firehouse, had issued Jozef K + Winter Son’s immediate classic “Tribal Rhythm,” she was in the zone; I finally had to leave while she kept spinning and a small group of women kept right on dancing. It’s one of the clubbing highlights of my time in the city, and it comes right back while I listen to part two, even if little about the new set reminds me much of that night musically, which I recall as pretty sharp-edged.

Here, she keynotes things with something a little softer: Psychedelic Research Lab’s “Keep on Climbin’,” a 1994 acid-breaks gem that Firehouse has recently reissued, produced by New Yorkers Scott Richmond and John Selway and first issued on Satellite, the label attached to the store Richmond ran. (There’s some amusing talk between Foxman and Sweeney about the process of reissuing it at the set’s end.) Its rubbery groove and shake-your-chakras-loose feel imbue the rest of the set, from Richard Sen’s sped-up remix of Jeffrey Brodsky’s “I’ll Be Strong,” near the middle, to the Kevin Saunderson-produced “Rock to the Beat,” so much so that it feels through-composed, which is always the idea.

Yaeji plays Panorama Music & Arts Festival at Randall’s Island Park on Friday, July 27; the festival continues through Sunday, July 29. Info here. Kim Ann Foxman plays a Firehouse showcase at Good Room with Andrew Potter, Hunter Lombard, and Rachel Noon on Friday, August 10. Info here.

ZØE, fabric Promo Mix (June 19, 2018)

The hard-dark techno axis keeps nosing its way into this space because there’s a bumper crop about. To stick with the absolute cream, this month included Auspex’s The Bunker Podcast 170 (June 6); Batu’s Dekmantel Podcast 183 (June 18); Pär Grindvik’s Reclaim Your City 283 (Rinse France; June 16); Kwartz’s PoleGroup Radio (June 18); and Bart Van Rijn’s Radio Nachtlab (June 6); each could have claimed this spot. But this hour-long demo reel from Italian up-and-comer ZØE (I guess it’s All-Caps Month here at Beat Connection) has the forthright boldness you’d conjure given her longstanding musical association with Cocoon Recordings and Drumcode regular Sam Paganini. (She’s sung on his recordings as well as DJing on the same bills.) And her preview for an appearance at the London club institution has a beginning-middle-end quality that’s rare anyplace. There are no frills here; sonically it’s comfortably widescreen and hood-down. But the tone is playful, occasionally ruminative, even when the beats are battering the door down, meaning basically always. It flags only a little, near the end, before some white noise comes along to clear things out and then a glittering fanfare sees us to the door.

Maurice Fulton, Beats in Space radio show #472, part one (June 9, 2009)

We conclude our mini-survey of the R&B-house interface with this dual throwback. Maurice Fulton started out in Baltimore in the early Nineties, working with house producers the Basement Boys, and making regular trips to Jersey City’s Zanzibar — “Tony Humphries was God to me,” Fulton told RBMA in 2006 — and eventually moved to New York to expand on the Boys’ gospel-R&B-house template. He’s issued a wide array of recordings under a long list of aliases, as Discogs will attest, but the most memorable is 2005’s Out of Breach (Manchester’s Revenge), made by Fulton and his wife, Mutsumi Kanamori, working as Mu. Critic Jess Harvell called the couple “the Paul and Linda of vomit disco” and their album “the musical equivalent of a unicorn or a decent Christmas movie. Mu-sic is full of 1,000 mph hairpin turns and stylistic jump cuts but never stops grooving or feels like Frank Zappa shaking cookie crumbs out of his mustache. (Mr. Patton, please report to Room A4 for your audit.)”

Fulton’s Beats in Space set from June 2009 is another story. Even nine years on, following a saturation of disco revamps, revivals, reissues, and regurgitations, these selections keep surprising even when you know them. Chances are unless you’re a DJ you don’t: the slurping hi-hat that dominates the mix of Gentry Ice’s “Utilize the Beat” (produced by Adonis of “No Way Back” fame) are not only extreme even by early Chicago house standards, the track is from a compilation, not a 12-inch. There’s a lot of high-rolling disco, like Damon Harris’s “It’s Music” (1977) and the more Latin-flavored swing (despite the title) of Letta Mbulu’s “Kilimanjaro” (1981) that’s hardly deep but too propulsive to deny. And yes, that includes the close-out edit of Archie Bell’s “Any Time Is Right,” which goes on and on and on.

Maurice Fulton plays Warm-Up at MoMA PS1 on Saturday, July 21, with Josey Rebelle, Innov Gnawa, Antal, rRoxymore, and Emily A. Sprague. Doors at noon; info here.

 

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