Saturday, July 28, 2007

On My Music Listening History

I've uploaded some mixes by Dave Mothersole for Brownswood's Olly which I'll also be sharing with you here shortly. I got a bit carried away with the write up and I've written a very tangential piece about my music listening history so I'm posting it separately.

Olly's a house fan who got into Gilles but I'm the reverse.

When I was 15 I was listening to an eclectic but almost completely organic mix of music including Teenage Fanclub, The Smiths, Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa and doo wop groups. One of my best friends was fanatical about The Prodigy, which I used to constantly mock him for, as I didn't consider electronic music 'real music'.

Go forward a couple of years. My first live music experience was witnessing the live force that was The Prodigy during their tour leading up to the release of The Fat Of The Land. Though I was impressed, it did not convert me to electronic music in my home listening.

John Peel was always a constant force in my musical development since the age of 13. I went through several long periods of not listening to his shows because of the more abrasive death metal or industrial tracks which, frankly, scared me! However his taste in crackly vinyl and unsung acoustic / organic talent would draw me back in. He used to drop the odd classic now and again too. His show was the first place I heard the magnificent psychedelic folk jam A Sailor's Life by Fairport Convention which is still one of my favourite tracks of all time.

After Britpop, electronically inclined artists like The Verve, Primal Scream and Black Grape had started to infiltrate my musical universe. Somehow Kowalski by Primal Scream or the nightmareish Setting Sun by The Chemical Brothers (with Noel Gallagher on vocals) were acceptable where The Prodigy or (God forbid!) house music were not.

In this spirit of open-mindedness I began to listen for electronic nuggets on Peel and started making a tape of my kind of dance music. I think I still know where it is and if I ever find out how to convert cassette to mp3 I will upload it. I still remember the names of some of these tracks as I asked for them at my local Our Price. I was not really aware of the new realms of musical obscurity I had reached. One was Danke Radio by Blanche. Another was Suspense by Trend. They both (incredibly) have listings on Discogs.

Meanwhile, I continued to get into organic music. Two of my favourite bands at this time were The Flaming Stars and Jack, both London groups, who I discovered, respectively, through Peel and GLR's Gary Crowley. I was also getting Melody Maker every week at this point. I reflect now that I could've met some fantastically dirty indie girls at this point. Sadly it wasn't to be and I was destined to spend years being turned down by girls who liked wearing pink and listening to R&B.

The single day which most changed my outlook on music was sometime in late 1997 when another friend suggested I listen to a DJ on Kiss FM (the London dance music station - so I would've made a disgusted face at him then) called Gilles Peterson. After two or three shows (sadly untaped) I realised this was not only a new musical world but a new musical universe. as Gilles often says he likes to join the dots between genres. And indeed he did, dots between folk and jazz, Latin and garage, Afro and psychedelic, jazz and rock... A little bit of everything. A musical cornucopia. 'Essential music for your ears, your ears, your ears...'

This experience was followed by another more powerful a couple of weeks later when I went with the same friend and two others to see Gilles playing live at a night called That's How It Is at Bar Rumba in London's Shaftesbury Avenue. I don't know if the music or people were more significant - it was the combination. Truly multi-racial, truly cosmopolitan crowd. Mind-bendingly fashionable Japanese youth, thirtysomething, broadly grinning, jazz dancers, outrageously camp househeads and young stoners like us all in the mix. I think we went back the very next week. Those 3 or 4 early visits and their tunes have melded into one for me but there's a few tunes I tracked down which will always be special for me from those sets.

Stars And Rockets - Peter Thomas.
I think Gilles was messing with the speeds on this because I thought it was ultra phat instrumental hip hop. Turned out to be recorded by a German big band in 1967 a I found out when I got one of my first vinyls - his compilation with Rainer Truby, 'Talking Jazz III'

Retro and Live At 237 - Peshay
Seminal tune of this time was of course Roni Size's Brown Paper Bag but I have fonder memories of these stormingly jazzy tunes by Peshay. They still sound pretty much unique today.

Cosmic Gypsy (Toshio's Remix) - United Future Organisation
I tried and tried to buy this tune. Last year I almost creamed my pants when I found it on EMule. It takes the flamenco guitar which opens the original tune and extends it with drums and eventually Josh Wink- style beeping. The version I did find is only four minutes long but I remember Gilles playing it for ten minutes. Or maybe it only seemed that way. But I think he was probably looping the opening. And a couple of the old jazz cats (people who remember Dingwalls etc) started stepping and shuffling on the empty floor dancing to inaudible drums. There was something of a frenzy by the end of this mighty and underrated tune. But I remember laughing at my friend during those long beatless guitar passages! What I still didn't know was that I was having my entire understanding of music changed forever.

Song In The Key Of Knife - London Elektricity
Admittedly this has dated less well but in 97 / 98 it sounded awesome. An explosion of organic jazziness and drum n bass rhythms, soaring strings and twanging double bass. Plus some mental flute action refrencing War's 'Low Rider' - or 'the Marmite advert' as we knew it then.

Samba tune - Jazzanova(?)
A 'faster and faster' samba tune which popped up a couple of years later as a remix of Max Sedgley's 'Happy'. I much prefer the original. I felt Gilles played it to sort the men from the boys on the dancefloor. I was a boy.

As always with such things, this vibe didn't last and we started to attend sessions where we didn't get the same feeling. And the Rumba's drug policy changed. Party over.

Saw Gilles at the Big Chill 99. Great set, big crowd pleaser, but it had already become more about the Radio 1 show than the music. Caught him a couple of times at big venues like the Barbican and Herbal. He was playing 'All Winners' selections both times and I hate to sound like a hater but I prefer to hear a fresh mix every time. Plus he was doing a PA which made me mentally search for the fast forward button (!)

My next big club experience was seeing Liam Howlett and DJ Die at Fabric in 99 / 2000. This night I took ecstacy for the first time. I don't take any drugs any more for simple health reasons but I'm no moraliser. They can be absolutely brilliant. And that was the night I understood dance music. It wasn't about image or brand loyalty. It wasn't about anything you could buy or own - other than the moment. It was about being alive and experiencing being alive. Experiencing being alive, experiencing having a mind and a body and a sex drive and hands and lips and a shirt like they were all brand new things. All this was expressed by the rhythm. The interaction of random and deliberate, man and machine, soundsystems, time, space, dusty samples and tribal rhythms. And I didn't have to search for the beat. The beat found me. And I still dance that way, when the music reaches me, tapping my pockets and snapping my fingers.

I only remember one tune from that evening - Dub MPLA by Tappa Zukie remixed by Subsonic Legacy. Dubby vocals with big bouncing bass and dub horn blasts.

I didn't take ecstacy too much but got heavily into weed. My listening tastes continued to branch everywhere - Coltrane, Velvet Underground, Leonard Cohen, Things Fall Apart by The Roots, early Bob Marley, Autechre, an EP by DJ Food called the Quadraplex EP, The Three EPs by The Beta Band, Mocha Supremo by Buscemi, Nedi Myra by Bjorn Torske and a high turnover of new vinyl and cds (thanks to the Student Loan Company).

Hungry for new sounds, I obsessively taped a number of radio shows including Gilles, John Peel, Radio 3's Late Junction, Solid Steel and Now Is The Time (new jazz not nu jazz) on London Live, One World, Breezeblock (though it clashed with Solid Steel - though I sometimes used my parents' stereo!) and various people who passed through Kiss on Sunday evenings like Tom Middleton. But I was sure there must be something else worth seeking out on Kiss amongst all the crappy hip hop and house. And then one night I found Dave Mothersole.

And here my musical world changed again. Great house did not need to be jazzy, dubby or soulful. It could be pure machine music but still as deep, intricate and expressive as fuck. Dave gradually took over my walkman. The purity and seamlessness of his sets started to make Gilles and Solid Steel seem like waffling schizophrenics with ADD.

And, now that I'm into house in general, I still maintain there's something very very special about Dave's mixes. He seems to put more dedication into the progression of his mixes than anyone I've heard. His mixes cover many bases of house music - progressive, tech house, deep with a bit of acid and electro - but there's always something a bit special about almost any of the records he drops. The man has an impeccable ear for the music and his selections and mixing richly deserves to be heard more widely. I'll be honoured if the next post helps towads that.

Peace and respect to all the artists, musicians, producers and DJs doing it for the music!

Let the journey continue!!!

Image is 'Greenwich Village' by Judith Rothschild.

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