Beat Diaspora: Beats, Buses, Bricks

an omnivorous take on music of the beat-based variety and the urban spaces that nurture it

Friday, December 29, 2006

James Brown is Dead, the tunisian edition

Some time after 11 pm on the streets of Tunis:

"Tu connais James Brown?"
"Il est mort."

Back from Tunisia, half-vacation, half-research (more of the literary-historical than the beat variety). Will have a thing or two to say.

Soulwax - I Love Techno

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Bo knows / Cabide after the jump

Catching up on some long-neglected RSS feeds and came across an insightful Maga Bo post. He uses mp3, YouTube, and his own observations on the Volt Mix to Tamborzão progression of rhythms (or more accurately riddims, given how they freely they float around) in funk.

Tamborzão Mix 2005

From Batidas Instrumentais Ineditas Vol. 5, a compilation of instrumentals for aspiring funk producers, that I copped at the Uruguiana market in Rio. The tamborzão (tambor = drum, ão = intesifer, so "big drum") will sound immediately familiar to anyone who's heard a fairly recent funk track. As Bo points out, "It's a big dry sound that works really well on a massive sound system in a mostly open air space. It's a mix that has lots of room for vocals and other elements. I would say it's as big and ubiquitous as sleng teng was in its heyday." As of summer 2006, DJs would ride the tamborzão beat through a whole set for easy mixing, and there certainly wasn't a lack of tracks to choose from if one stuck to it.

My man Cabide DJ (his site's down at the moment, but I'll tell him to fix it), who I interviewed over the summer, told me the the tamborzão was invented by Luciano DJ on a Roland-808. But as I've mentioned briefly, the dominant beat used to come from Miami bass, natch.

Cabide with record in hand.

Zoom-in to the goods: 808 Volt Mix, DJ Battery Brain

What's that in the corner? Something to make the Philly heads flip. $4.99 went a long way. Too bad they're closing up shop.


Sany DJ holds up his copy in the YouTube vid (sorry, português only), but just to show that other old-school DJs had their hands on it too. Cabide said a friend picked it up for him in Miami. Miami --> Philly --> Miami --> Rio --> Philly over 18 years. Not a bad run.

The tamborzão mini-doc is also a hot demonstration of the live MPC DJ style that I found very prevalent in Rio. More from Cabide. First, as he says, "This here was the first sound used on a sampler in Rio, by MC G, with the Volt Mix beat."

Now some of his more contemporary stuff with a tamborzão flavor:

Cabide also claims to be the first DJ in Rio to use the Rocky Theme. He told me he bought a CD put out by O Globo (media corp) called "Sons do Cinéma" (Cinema Sounds). I tried to explain to him how the Rocky Theme has become synonymous with funk to Americans and Europeans, although getting into a detailed explanation of M.I.A. and pop stardom didn't really translate well. He was pleased that it had some popularity, suffice to say.

Something else dovetails nicely with all this discussion of rhythms and origins. I asked him how Rio DJs discovered Miami bass -- did folks go to Miami because they had heard about it, or when expat cariocas returned from abroad it came with them? He was stumped and called his friend MC Paul. While Paul didn't answer my more specific question, he sidestepped it to a broader point [audio in portuguese, translated & edited for clarity below]:

MC Paul on the origins of funk

"The beat of funk evolved in Africa. Africans began the beat, the drum beat, boom boom. Os americanos [in Portuguese, americanos refers to both North and South Americans collectively] brought this beat over and people made funk out of it. James Brown, hip-hop singers, they use the map of Africa because the beat comes from there, understand?"
That puts it in a much deeper perspective -- you can call anything from James Brown to 2 Live Crew "American" without being wrong, but you can likewise point to a historical arc that goes all the way back to Africa. It brought certain sounds to the USA and to Brasil, so it shouldn't be surprising that they link up and recombine themselves a few centuries down the road.

All in all, it was a productive interview -- who knew I'd stumble over the Rocky Theme originator? Cabide's a really nice guy and a testament to the friendliness of Rio's music scene: I had bought his CD at Uruguiana market, liked some of the tracks, and wanted to know more. There was a phone number listed on the back so I called him, explained what I was doing, and we set a date a few days later where I could come out to his studio and do an interview. He's 31 years old and has been DJing since 1987 -- he was adamant that Marlboro doesn't deserve credit as the sole originator of the Miami bass-tinged sound. Several DJs, himself included, were doing the same thing back in the late '80s.

I don't have a good excuse for having sat on all this for so long, but here are a few more pics from that day:

You know he's old school when he can crate dig.

Another classic Miami bass artist who had a strong influence on funk.

Cash Box was one of the earliest Rio soundsystems -- they even cut vinyl!

On the back: You can tell it's the pre-Portuguese vox days.

His studio was like an archaeology dig of music gear: from a Roland R-8 drum machine

to a Roland MC-50 sequencer

then moving to the present with his prized MV-8000 MPC

a less ancient keyboard

and his CD-J rig (he had turntables in a corner, if I recall).

Plus of course the computer set-up

from which he ran Sony ACID.

All in a soundproofed room, I might add.

I thought the bright pink house was a nice touch -- it's actually a sort of complex with several houses surrounding a courtyard. There's space for that out in São Gonçalo, a suburb of Rio on the other side of the Baia de Guanabara (and over an enormous freaking bridge).

And last but not least the wheels: a VW that's prized only second to his DJ gear.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Remix Politix

On the left: DJ Technics, an originator in the bmore club game. On the right: Sany DJ, an originator in the Rio funk game. A similar enough stature in their respective genres, and a remarkably similar recent trend: taking the music places it hasn't been before.

A little over a month ago, Technics alerted the Hollerboard to some golden new remixes -- still available for d/l on his site -- to much acclaim. Mostly recent hip-hop: quick fixes on Beyonce (w/ and w/out Jay-Z), the new Ciara single, Rick Ross gets tweaked another go around, dusts off an old 2Pac track. But one sticks out like a sore thumb.

Radiohead - Everything In Its Right Place (DJ Technics Remix)

It's gotten mostly rave reviews, cropping up in mixes all over the place, and Technics himself affirms that it's among his favorites of his recent tracks. But at first glance, it seems like something you'd expect from a dude who spends too much time on music blogs, knows his way around a copy of Reason, and likes the irony of applying an aesthetic from black Baltimore to white indie kid music.

Technics explains in the thread, "i'm trying to breath new air into the style of track making....ya know messin wit shit that folks wouldnt even touch." And in the initial post writes, "I BEEN BUSY TAKING MY SHIP BACK."

The sound definitely is something new -- it's much sparser and more minimal, even a little slower (it's Radiohead after all) than the club music I'm used to hearing -- as is the source material. I certainly can't fault the originator for originating, but it still strikes me as a noteworthy phenomenon. To overtake the upstarts, whose West Baltimore roots don't go quite as deep (and for whom the grab bag of other sounds comes more easily), you've gotta branch out.

Then again, the roots of it have been in the works for awhile, as the Baltimore City Paper reported earlier this year. As far back as 2003, club DJs were invited to play parties in NYC and Hollertronix helped blow it up via live gigs and white labels. So slowly the local crews got a clue. Scottie B: "I didn’t have any idea. We knew they were into it in Philly, in the black crowds, but we didn’t know anything about any white crowds anywhere."

And with a new audience you've gotta appeal to them, right?

Sany DJ rolled through Europe last month. Not the first Rio DJ to do that, but one of the few certainly. I saw him at Favela Chic (a questionable name, but a critical mass of Brazilians work there [including the owner] and they bring in some legit Brasileiros to play from time to time. then again, would I feel comfortable opening a bar called Ghetto Chic abroad?), where he dropped the Madonna "Hung Up" remix I commented on over the summer and posted more recently.

While funk has been celebrated for its blender-like aesthetic, from my experience it's less wide-ranging than we think. A lot of folks were hyped up on hearing The Smiths or The Clash with Portuguese rapping overtop, or the more general formulation "punk rock + new wave samples + little kids screaming + miami bass + outsider music industry = most exciting thing going on right now". Call it the unintended Radiohead remix.

But I've listened to a ton of funk this year, and the punk/new wave sound is definitely in the minority. From what I can tell, it had its hey-day in the late '90s, the era of the Bondes ('crews', roughly, like Bonde do Vinho, who did the "Rock the Casbah" cover). In the present day, however, DJs and MCs are a lot more cognizant of who they're imitating and what they're sampling. "Hip-Hop Radio Traxx" was one of the most popular pirated CDs available in Rio, carrying the most recent commercial rap. Nobody was interested in if I knew who The Strokes were, they were more keen on my knowledge of 50 Cent (or "Cinquenta Centavos"). Indie rock had its place -- A Maldita ["The Damned"] at Casa de Matriz was very much au courant -- but in an environment far removed (culturally) from the baile funk.

So did Sany remix Madonna with an eye toward the world beyond Rio? Probably. But is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. I've highlighted before his new, more avant-garde style, which he can't play at traditional bailes becuase the crowd's not ready for it yet.

I can't speak as knowledgably about Technics & Bmore, even if I do have the Maryland connection that the City Paper vaunts (but don't give me & Roxy -- Columbia, Howard County raised -- too much cred: Naymond and Mike, city kids in The Wire, argue this season whether the KKK exists in HoCo). Sonically, at least, compare the recent cuts to /rupture's archieved piece from '96 and you'll hear the difference. The newer stuff is, I think, more cerebral, especially the killer choice of the 2Pac vox-cum-manifesto. Maybe the new audience is liberating for some creative ideas that were thus far suppressed. Ditto for Sany. The ass gets tired of shaking and the head wants to enjoy it some more. Of course the music's going to evolve -- none of these sounds are or ever were static -- but the question is with an influence from where and toward what?

Am I hinting at a certain disapproval of these styles being plucked out of their "natural habitat" (or "local scene", for a less objectifying terminology), a process that I myself am implicated in (like I said, don't give us suburbanites too much cred -- Bmore club was news to me too)? Maybe just some caution.

"The only people that are concerned about outsiders are the real outsiders," Aaron LaCrate comments in the City Paper piece.

In club, perhaps it's less of a concern. It's not too hard to get a Bmore DJ or MC up to NYC for a show and have him or her return to Charm City with some extra scratch. The long-time players are playing out, selling records, getting press, and obviously don't mind sharing the trade secrets: Fork out for Technics' Club Tools and let's hear your remix. But Mr Catra, the biggest MC in Rio, doesn't think he can get a visa to play in the U.S., so we end up with a Bonde do Role tour instead.

I've avoided the 'a' word -- authenticity -- thus far, but man those kids just don't have it. The sound simply doesn't come natural to art school students from middle-class Curitiba, nowhere near Rio. It's self-aware enough to appeal to Americans and European -- and hey, they're Brazilian, that's enough caché for an unaware audience up North -- but doubtful any bailes in the carioca hills. To bring it full circle: It's the equivalent of me starting a Baltmore club crew.

Yet Sany loves Mariana's vocals and isn't he the best judge? Muito complicado, muito.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Up and Down, Side to Side

“I wouldn’t glorify that ecosystem,” Ms. d’Cruz said of the slums. “But people have found an equilibrium within their means. The moment you give them something beyond their means, it’s a disaster.”

Not Everyone is Grateful as Investors Build Free Apartments in Mumbai Slums

Or, from my frame of mind, the transition from favela community to banlieue cité. Pros and cons to both, but I'm with d'Cruz, "Big buildings also deprive slum dwellers of self-sufficiency."

[via Squattercity]


Friday, December 08, 2006

Climbing the Family Tree

wayne&wax follows up his first crunk genealogy, which served as a heuristic into his inimitable electronic music class, with a sequel: the appropriately-titled another crunk genealogy (direct to download here).

He did so at the behest of the Blogariddims podcast, now on #11 of their series that attempts to answer the age-old question: Which takes longer, listening to the mix or reading the commentary?

Only joking of course, as I'm more than flattering to find in wayne's extended analysis a tune that I dropped on the blog, Beat Club's "Security Remix", when his crunk wanderings creep down the Atlantic littoral to R-i-o. Glad I could contribute to marking up that map of the "Americas."

Who knows, maybe there will be a royalty check coming for me too.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Saturday Night Fever

Obviously been lackluster on the blog front, but I'll try and get out a few small items before endlessly delaying the big stuff (the rest of Rio, I Love Techno, other Parisian happenings).

Saturday a week ago found me at Paris's newest and biggest (an anecdotal claim, but trust me most clubs here are tiny) night spot: Showcase, creatively situated in an old sewer duct under Pont Alexandre III. Watch the virtual tour for a stylized take, but be warned it doesn't show, for example, how water (I hope not of the sewer variety) still drips down the walls and onto you, if you're not careful.

The video's soundtrack -- is that Lenny Kravitz?! (L'As du Falafel notwithstanding) -- I assure you, has nothing to do with what they play regularly, or at least what I came for. Rather, DFA maestro James Murphy (downloading frenzy commence: OTD claims the new album by LCD Soundsystem leaked today, although I haven't turned up paydirt yet).

While LCD Soundsystem has had a considerable run so far as either everyone's favorite object of hipster scorn or champion of post-ironic musical synthesis, James Murphy's DJ prowess is less known stateside (even if his music collection is a matter of public record). My best exposure to it was via Tim Sweeney's unparalleled Beats in Space radio show on WNYU, a latter-day incarnation of the Midnight Funk Association that blends a treasure trove of new & used techno, house, disco, and The Holy Mountain samples (cf September 26's broadcast).

James Murphy - Beats in Space, April 11, 2006

His label's remixes have been celebrated for bringing the neo-disco heat of the last few years, as the Pitchfork review of DFA Remixes: Chapter 1 eloquently elaborates. Ever since the summer I've stopped checking Pitchfork with any regularity, but I recall this review from last spring for its engaging analysis of the extended (re)mix: "The 'song' remains as a corporeal latticework, holding everything together with personable charisma, while the 'track' elements (riffs, beats, noisy eruptions) are marshalled into elaborately staged configurations [. . .] At their expansive best, the DFA's remixes can resemble gleaming, lavishly detailed architectural structures."

It's a logic that was clearly at work in his DJ mix at Showcase, where he quickly salvaged a night that would have otherwise been ruined by an awful Matisyahu-esque opener. It was well after sundown, so he wasn't violating the Sabbath rules, but DJ Tevya (I'm Jewish, I can make these jokes) made me wish it were Friday night. There was nothing wrong with his selection of old-school R&B and soul tracks -- even if they were CDs and not 7"s -- but his habit of abusing the CD-J and "scratching" without any rhyme or reason (or rhythm) was aurally abusive. Neither his drastic fiddling with the volume nor his pièce de résistance, a "scratch"-filled "99 Problems" with lots of gratuitous dancing on his part, helped matters. I was ashamed that he was sporting a BoSox cap.

Luckily Murphy's lush disco saved the day with several hours of synthesized strings, groovy bass, and diva vocals. While he can obviously crate dig far better than I ever will, I did recognize a few songs, albeit c/o Mr. Sweeney and his aforementioned radio show, so I'm afraid I don't have any track names to share.

One observation I can make, however, is how clear at times the lines are between his cache of disco gems and his post-2000 production work. Several times my ears perked up at the opening bars of a new track he was mixing in because it sounded like one of the DFA remixes. I've never been a Murphy detractor, but it was particularly gratifying to hear how his mind and ear have been at work these past few years, how closely he's listened to his old records and internalized their sound structure for his remixes. Far from the ephemeral trendsetter he may sometimes be deried as, there's a definite appreciation for the remix as artform that shows dutiful homage to his predecessors.

I remember hearing parallels most often to an early number, a slowed-down mix of the dance hit by electrofied riot grrrl faves (or has-beens, if you disapprove of major label jumps) Le Tigre.

Le Tigre - Deceptacon (DFA Remix)

When I first heard it a few years ago, my ear was still more attuned to the frenetic pacing of punk and thought this decelerated version sucked all the manic energy out of it. But attaching it to the durable musical legacy of disco has arguably given it more longevity -- elevating it above flash in the pan trend status ("discopunk", "dancepunk", "hipster[anything]", etc.) by adding it to the bibliography of dance music's long long arc in America.

A quick p.s. to Saturday Night Fever. While discussing disco as gay music with Luis, a much more dilligent blogger than I will ever be, he explained to me how Travolta's breakout was in many ways an attempt to masculinize and heterosexualize disco, paving the way for the social acceptability of endless "Disco Saturday Night" throwbacks of the same two dozen songs on commercial radio stations. This conversation coming, of course, after our own fantastic night of watching gay disco on the silver screen thanks to French blockbuster Poltergay.

And so almost three decades later, a disco popularization crosses the East River yet again, thankfully with less polyester and less of a conquering eye toward sexual politics. Groove on, DFA, groove on.

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