It is with great sadness that I heard of the untimely passing of Frankie Knuckles who died on March 31st, 2014 in Chicago.
Knuckles was born in New York City and later moved to Chicago, where he played a pivotal role in helping to define the post-disco sound that came to be known as house music. The 59 year old is suspected to have died from diabetes complications.
A talented producer, remixer and DJ, he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, Diana Ross, Eternal and Toni Braxton, worked along side David Morales, won the Grammy Award for Remixer of the Year, Non-Classical in 1997 and in September of 2005 was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame for his outstanding achievement as a DJ.
Tributes have been pouring in across all social media as a the achievements of this great legend are remembered and no doubt will live on as future generations are reminded of just who is responsible for the house music movement. Rest in peace Frankie Knuckles, you’ve earned it.
As the ultimate tribute to Knuckles here is a 60 minute DJ set recorded in 2013 at the ‘Boiler Room’ New York where he performed with House of House, Juan Maclean and Mike Servit.
The name Skrillex has made its way into every teenager’s home it seems. He must be, without a doubt, the most overhyped name in the music industry today while at the same time also being the most under-appreciated. Let’s not forget that Skrillex was partially responsible for the resurgence of Electronic Dance Music in the late 2000’, he’s been nominated for 8 Grammy’s having won 6, rubbed shoulders with who-is-who of the celebrity A-list and all this at the age of 26. No mean feat. But one look at his entire discography and one get’s the feeling that some of his decisions could be deemed as rash, spasmodic, repetitive at best and quite often totally off-the-wall and that’s when you really do get the feeling that he still has some growing up to do.
Like any public figure, Skrillex, or Sonny John Moore as his parents call him, has a legion of loyal fans but not without his fair share of haters. In true Beyonce style, Recess was dropped practically out of thin air. No mystery tweets from his account, no publicity, just a low-key App titled “Alien Ride” which was uploaded to Apple’s App Store on March 7th. The App contained a secret folder with 11 hidden objects and a countdown ending March 10th at 6:30 EST. The official Skrillex website was updated with the App’s picture on the front page and was later revealed to contain a folder of Google Play and iTunes links which were released to his fans one at a time. Naturally these links were in fact the 11 new songs available to stream and which made up his latest offering titled “Recess”. A novel and entrepreneurial idea, I’ll give him that much.
Is it any good?
Yes and no. It’s Skrillex at the core. Look no further than opening track ‘All Is Fair In Love And Brostep’ which oozes Skrillex through and through. It’s one of two collaborations with the Ragga Twins and had me bobbing my head along to it from beginning to end. Track 2 is the album title track, featuring the likes of Kill the Noise, Fatman Scoop and Michael Angelakos; and that’s where my interest really started to fade. I almost had to double check to see if my iPod had accidentally skipped to another album, but no, it was still ‘Recess’. Track 3, ‘Try It Out’ perked my interest for a minute or so while 4 and 5 had me pushing the ‘Next’ button within the first 30 seconds. Track 6 sees the second collaboration with the Ragga Twins in the aptly titled ‘Ragga Bomb’. Like ‘All Is Fair In Love And Brostep’, it too follows the Skrillex staple formula. ‘Doompy Pomp’ is somewhat of an ill-conceived homage to the likes of Aphex Twin and Squarepusher, with Skrillex admitting on more than one occasion that he is a big fan of the scene and these two very influential heroes not to mention innovators. Does the tribute work? Well, not really. Disjointed at best, coming across as a b-side that should have perhaps stayed filed under “Work In Progress”. With 3 remaining songs, I skimmed through them and pretty much gave up.
So what does this say about Skrillex?
The album is hit and miss. Some of it is cleverly crafted and no doubt will make it’s way through the EDM charts and possibly cross over into the mainstream Top 40. His loyal fan-base will surely defend him, his choices and the album, and no doubt it will be a commercial success by today’s standards. But the reality is, as popular as the name Skrillex is, his music is still confined to what he is known for and what he does best. Any attempts to push the envelope in ‘Recess’ have fallen flat, sounding more like experimentations and leftover ideas, a “let’s test the waters why not” approach. In reality he’s got nothing to lose but this is one album I would personally rather forget. No doubt the internet will be ripe with the “It’s brilliant” and “It sucks” comments from fanboys and haters – let me know who wins.
‘Recess’ is available through i-Tunes as of March 18th.
Here is the album opening track ‘All Is Fair In Love And Brostep’.
Pharmacy Music is the brainchild of American and trance legend, Christopher Lawrence. For those unfamiliar with the name, Christopher Lawrence built a loyal fan base during the progressive trance movement in the late 90’s. He has a good 17 years of experience in music and lately he’s focusing this experience and knowledge to delivery the best he can out of trance, this channeled via his record label, Pharmacy Music.
While the website boasts that the label is strictly focused on the underground movement, I a statement true to its word (for now at least). See trance music hit its peak in the mid 2000’s, flooded by wannabe’s, one-hit wonders and a diluted, commercial sounding appeal. At the height of the progressive trance gravy train, I truly struggled to tell two tracks apart. Everyone was utilising the same formula and applying a copy/paste mentality. This is true for most of the sub-categories of trance music, be it psychedelic, progressive or straight up trance. Today, this same fate can be seen in dubstep which like trance was quickly adopted, exploited, was over-used, led to a host of sub-categories (drumstep, brostep, chillstep, psystep etc). Some call it evolution, I prefer to call it dilution. It is this overexposure that has led some talent to sit in the sidelines, away from the centre stage. The real question is, how long can this type of movement sustain itself without venturing into the limelight. More importantly, what happens when it does?
Platipus Records were the pinnacle of trance music at one point. Simon Berry’s unique sound transcended and captured the hearts and mind of a loyal fan-base. But as the label grew, I feel they also lost their way and with it, sight of what they were trying to achieve. Sadly this lead to the closure of the label in 2010. Thankfully however they are now back and trading as Platipus Music, doing what they do best, old school trance.
Academics (and personal opinions) aside, Pharmacy Music are a welcomed breath of fresh air. Gone is the cheese, sappy vocals and the super ego’s of the DJ, Pharmacy is all about the music. Back in is the old school trance appeal, a good mix of straight up trance, psychedelic with a strong emphasis on technique. These are well produced, well crafted songs. It’s not original, nor is it groundbreaking, but for lovers of trance like myself it’s great to hear a trance album that you can listen to beginning to end and not feel like you’ve heard it all before. Sure, there’s moments where those deja-vu techniques sound familiar but it’s more akin to receiving a visit from a welcomed friend as opposed to a door-to-door salesman.
If you’re looking for an introduction to the label I can thoroughly recommend the ‘Phase’
series currently in it’s third instalment. Having only just been released on March 4th, Phase 3 sees the label head to South America where, according to Christopher Lawrence, there’s a thriving trance scene. He recruited Buenos Aires artists Fergie (Fernando Picciano), Sadrian (Adrian Sartore) and studio partner Emiliano Ayub) to take the helm on this mix compilation. The compilation features 14 full-length songs and a near 80 minute non-stop mix courtesy of Fergie and Sadrian.
Here’s one of my personal favourites from this compilation as a taster, Fergie and Sadrian with ‘Mind Control (Original Mix)’.
Mancunian duo Synkro and Indigo are behind lo-fi house and techno act Akkord. The theme running through this surprisingly good release is that of intense, booming basslines and stripped down four-to-the-flour beats which at times really do pick up leaving you practically begging for more.
Sequentially the album is almost flawless beginning to end and is best enjoyed that way, given many of the songs melt into each other. This is not an techno-bagner, instead it’s a beautifully crafted and very technically accomplished formula which sees songs ranging from full on techno on ‘3DOS’, to floaty the dub-esque ‘Conveyor’ and even a hint of glitch hop on ‘Hex AD’.
I honestly felt that this album would run out of steam towards the half-way point given that Akkord seem to religiously stick to their well thought-out techniques, but at no point did it sound tired or repetitive for that matter. Just when you feel monotony is about to set in the duo throw in some much needed twists and turns in the form of a drum and bass break, a pause or moody passage. This is the first release for Synkro and Indigo as Akkord which shows much promise. We can only hope for a follow up and perhaps some remixes?
Here’s what I think is the standout track of this album album ‘3DOS’.