Saturday, June 21, 2008

Something Outta South Africa

The Real Estate Agents have ruled the South African electronic music scene from their Cape Town base for half-a-decade, and have made headway outside the borders, with various bytes and pieces appearing on international labels.

The duo – machinist Markus Wormstorm and turntablist Sibot – sizzle on stage and are brimming with bright ideas: so many ideas, in fact, that their last self-titled release spread their high-octane electronics over three CDs. Add to this that in the past couple of years they have busted out with various side and solo projects, including Markus's 'The Wormstorm EP' (on NY's avant-rap label Sound-Ink) and Sibot's excellent In With The Old long-player.

Two of these additional projects – both of which are in many ways more forward-thinking than the Prefuse vs Oizo template that the Real Estate Agents have down pat - happen in tandem with super talented emcee Spoek Mathambo. Alongside Markus it's Sweat.X, and the sound is a little like Jamie Lidell tweaked on “tik” (the South African name for crystal meth); their 2007 'Ebonyivorytron' EP on UK label Citinite is breathtakingly brilliant in places. Spoek + Sibot = Playdoe, and the latest project from a prolific and precocious crew has found a home on Lyon-based label, Jarring Effects.

“Hungry Waste Line” comes off their free label sampler JFX BITS 2, a 24-track trawl through jumped-up electronica, jungle dub and jagged breaks from a batch of producers you've probably never heard of, but who nevertheless impress in places. Playdoe's 7-track debut EP is available now through this French entity.

Also worth checking are Spoek's collabs with DJ Edjotronik (who I think is French – info is sketchy) available via The Fast Life, exclusive Sweat.X tune “Shut Up” on Discobelle, the loud and cool Sweat.X blog Throwing Shade, and The Fader's great article on X in their recent Africa issue.

Playdoe – Hungry Waste Line

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Where The Wild Flowers Grow

Coming on like the lovechild of Jeff Buckley and Kate Bush, Rufus Wainwright is a maverick who operates at an event horizon where jazz, rock, folk, classical, gospel and even opera converge. He labels his richly-layered output "Baroque Pop".

Like Jeff Buckley, Wainwright is the progeny of rock royalty - his parents are Loudon Wainwright III and folk singer Kate McGarrigle - and the two met a couple of times before Buckley's untimely death. Wainwright's "Memphis Skyline" is a tribute to Buckley and references "Hallelujah", the sweeping Leonard Cohen-penned number that is the late singer's best known song and that Wainwright regularly plays live (and actually recorded for the 'Shrek' soundtrack).

Thankfully the connections between the two end there. Wainwright made it through the mythical late 20s that are so often the end days for musicians, overcoming a crystal meth habit, temporary blindness and a vicious sexual assault to emerge mostly intact – and on a career path that's still yielding seductive results.

Wainwright at his most baroque: performing "Agnus Dei" off the 'Want Two' album, live in Central Park

Wainwright excels at reaching left of field and positioning the oddities he finds out there in between cosy pop cushioning. It's an MO that climaxes in captivating songs, critical commendation and, for the most part, mainstream obscurity. His half-a-dozen albums have met with high praise and low sales, but that hasn't deterred him from pursuing a unique trajectory that's included collaborations with the Pet Shop Boys, Burt Bacharach and Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons.

Long before the latter made a surprise cameo on the microphone for sublime DFA-signed disco evangelists Hercules and Love Affair (their self-titled debut may just be the best album of '08), Wainwright enlisted the services of playful dance music duo Supermayer to tear apart and stitch back up "Tiergarten" (off his most recent long-player, 'Release The Stars'). The unlikely get-together resulted in one of the finest dancefloor highs of last year. In fact, it's one of the most memorable techno moments of the millennium, period.

Written for his German boyfriend, "Tiergarten" takes its title from the massive Berlin park that houses the Reichstag and the Brandeburg Gate, and fittingly it gets re-fitted by the Berlin-based dream team of Superpitcher and Michael Mayer. As Supermayer, this odd couple unleashed the extraordinarily diverse "Save The World" album (on quintessential techno label Kompakt) in 2007.

As impure as it is impressive, that record flirts with indie, lounge, jazz and an array of strange instrumentation, strapping the disparate strands onto streamlined digital arpeggios and pile-driving bass pulses. The outcome: thrillingly animated anthems like 'Two Of Us' and 'The Art Of Letting Go'.

Supermayer go even further out on their remix of "Tiergarten". It's what might have been born out of a meeting between Burt Bacharach and Giorgio Moroder - if it was scripted by Steven Spielberg. Techno with a human heart, digital abstraction with feet firmly on terra firma: super-heroic sonics in the midst of the collosal rainstorm that is the track's centre-piece. I suggest you get wet...

Rufus Wainwright - "Tiergarten"

Monday, June 9, 2008

Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas

For the inaugural entry in what I hope will be a long-running and reliable endeavour, I've decided to share what's been my favourite song for the past two decades - a tune that's unlikely to be eclipsed in the near or far future.

A melancholy meeting of two musicians who've successfully managed to move deftly between - and reconcile - the radical and the accessible for thirty-something years, "Forbidden Colours" couples Ryuichi Sakamoto's gravity-defying synth and string signals with David Sylvian's otherworldly vocals.

Released in 1983, this elegiac and angelic piece is essentially Sakamoto's main theme from Nagisa Oshima's movie 'Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence', with Sylvian's desert-swept narrative hovering over its sublime surface.

Sakamoto, the former Yellow Magic Orchestra magician, also stars in 'Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence' along with David Bowie, and despite minor flaws it's worth watching for the sublime score alone; it also happens to be one of Bowie's more successful cinematic turns.

The film's script was based on work by South African author Laurens van der Post, specifically 'The Seed and The Sower', which diarised his real-life ordeals as a Japanese POW in World War II.

There are a few versions of "Forbidden Colours" and the Sylvian-less 'Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence' main theme floating around, all well worth seeking out, but this beauty is the best - and an all-time favourite.

Ryuichi Sakamoto & David Sylvian - Forbidden Colours