Boom and Doom

July 21st, 2014

To follow up on my recent post about Warm Up 2014…

After a week of bad news around the world, Warm Up brought some good news: techno is here to stay. With a premium line-up of Robert Hood, Objekt, Rrose, Vatican Shadow, Container, and Young Male, the techno takeover made strong arguments for the genre’s durability and innovation.  This resilience and flexibility was reflected in the metallic silver and gold grid quilts onstage, designed by CONFETTISYSTEM, who also are included in NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial.

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Darth Vader: so techno (white socks: not so much)

I missed Young Male, but Container, Vatican Shadow, and Rrose explored the darker, dystopian, and dyspeptic corners of the genre. To hear these artists was to confront hours of rumbling, blasts, drones, and unsettling sounds of conflict that seemed to push PS1′s powerful speakers to the edge, no small task:

“The speaker system has a total power rating of about 40,000 watts. The speakers are my latest design, utilizing drivers from the best manufacturers in  the world. The main cabinet houses 20 high-power devices and the curvature is critical, using technology discovered by the Navy in the 1970s! The large subwoofers are 21″ in diameter and 4000 watts each. You may have noticed that some of the speaker cabinets were not painted yet – that’s because we just built them. We are currently comparing 18″ and 21″ subwoofer designs and tweaking the tuning each week. This is what we love about Warm Up, it is a fantastic event for us to run our latest designs through their paces.” -Jim Toth, acoustics sage

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Container at Warm Up 2014

Saturday’s performances, which generated a giddy and friendly vibe on the dancefloor, sounded like Detroit techno clocking in for its latest shift in a 30-year legacy, paved by industrial, electropop, and acid house (and pioneered by artists with names like Underground Resistance, who performed in ski masks and combat suits).

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Vatican Shadow at Warm Up 2014

Saturday’s crushing soundscapes were initiated by Container’s live set, featuring agile and elastic collisions of distorted thumps and hammering rhythms, and embodied by the visibly agitated Vatican Shadow, who accompanied his murky doom beats with physical headbanging, writhing, grimacing, and shouting, and even hectoring the audience for not dancing. Occasionally danceable, his 4/4 beats bubbled up from a noisy, growling morass signifying decline, dissolution, and doom. Wartime techno. The military industrial complex crushing museums and hospitals. On point!  His stage aerobics distracted me from his fluid, ambitious, and militant vision, especially among the other, more ice-faced DJs. Then again, who am I to judge someone else’s catharsis, channeling everything that is wrong around us, a catharsis I also envied from Container’s live set?

Objekt instantly transformed the scene and repopulated the dance floor with fecund, full-spectrum, and crackling dance beats. His acceptably peaktime jams sent many hands upward, but artists like Robert Hood are there to take us infinitely higher and higher. Hood, a Detroit techno pioneer now living in Alabama as a DJ/Christian minister*, opened with Floorplan (his alias) – Never Grow Old, brought cheers with The Bells by fellow post-Detroiter Jeff Mills, warmed it up with Chicago – Street Player, and closed with – what else? – Blue Monday.

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Objekt at Warm Up 2014

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Robert Hood at Warm Up 2014

And then it was over. Back to earth. Back to Detroiters without water.  Back to South American kids stranded in Texas.  Back to Eric Garner dead in Staten Island.  Back to MH17 scattered over Ukraine.  Back to “Israel uses its missiles to protect citizens, whereas Hamas uses citizens to protect its missiles.” -Till next time.

*Robert Hood on the hope of techno: “If you picture yourself as a young Luke Skywalker, with no Jedi training, and you meet this guy Mojo, or Obi Wan Kenobi, and he’s training you to use the force—at first you’re clumsy with it, you don’t know what you’re doing, but once you learn to harness the power of the force, when an adversary is coming against you, the enemy, he don’t even know who he’s messing with. So I guess the sinister strings and the power in those Detroit techno strings, that’s the force.”  -So techno! 

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A Dozen Surprises

July 9th, 2014

Through his career of over 20 years, Robert Melee has famously combined objects, performances, and environments that he augments with his signature, and often disfiguring, Midas touch.  Central to this oeuvre are his photographs, but this fact might not have been obvious before a dozen roses, his new solo show at Higher Pictures.

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Robert Melee, “Facelift,” 1997 (l), “Penthouse,” 2002 (r)

In most of their prior appearances, Robert’s photographs have been integrated into his excellent “Units.”  In those compartmentalized, multi-media structures, Robert’s photos are almost indiscriminately crammed together with videos, party decorations, bric-a-brac, and disposable goods.  In this visual forcefeeding, the photos can get subsumed into the swirling marbleized surfaces and rigid planar geometries of the hosting Unit.  They remain within, unlike Freudian slips.

Yet, on a closer look, the photographs decode valuable scripts written through our Melee-ology.  Collected together, they are like a Rosetta Stone.  They are capsules of Robert’s performative values, which include bare flesh, movement, fetish, and unflinching sexuality.  One individual emerges as their champion.  The undisputed queen of Melee-mania is his mother, Rose.  “Mommy” is the star and muse of Robert’s suburban glamour, and of this selection of photos from his photographic catalog.

Most of these shoots with Mommy have been spontaneous: Robert visited her in New Jersey, the tempo quickened, and Robert whipped out his camera.  He styled her and arranged props and lighting.  He gently directed her, but Mommy seized the moment and improvised her role.  From looking alone, we don’t know enough about what these shoots have meant to Robert and Mommy, so we can’t comment on the power dynamics.*

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Robert Melee, “Kitchen Table,” 1998 (l), “On the Road,” 1993 (r)

Indeed, if we didn’t know the story, would we guess that she is the artist’s mother?  The woman in these photos is mercurial, vivacious, clownish, and licentious.  Those qualities suit a cabaret performer or movie star.  But a mother?  Aren’t we culturally conditioned to seek other signs of motherhood, even for an adult son?  There are fictional precedents for all kinds of outrageous, discordant, or even villainous mothers: Norma Bates in Psycho, Eleanor Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate, Babs Johnson in Pink Flamingos, Livia Soprano in The Sopranos.  But for artistic glimpses of real-life mothers of adult sons, many of us are accustomed to being fed mothers with domestically acclimated postures, tempered gazes, perseverance, and quiet dignity, despite the rocky pluralism of actual mothers.**

What drives these photos, among other things, is how we see Robert’s mother perform and behave in ways we don’t ascribe to mothers, and that is a chance to ask ourselves when our own mothers surprised us by stepping out from behind their motherly veils.  Whose mother hasn’t ruptured the patterns of motherhood with an unexpected opinion, outburst, or act, or even an unprecedented habit?  And maybe those surprises aren’t as extreme as Mommy’s misadventures, but is extreme degree the only difference?

*John Mendelsohn interprets Robert’s work with his mother as reenactment.  He writes of Robert’s Mommy videos, and I see no reason to exclude Robert’s photographs here: “These ‘home movies’ were in a sense caricatured portraits of a fraught relationship performed as farce or psychodrama.” Sculpture Magazine, November 2010

**Luckily, Richard Billingham, Leigh Ledare, and other demographically comparable artists have helped to diversify this field of imagery.

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The Low Down on Warm Up!

June 25th, 2014

Warm Up 2014 begins this Saturday at MoMA PS1!  This annual outdoor music series has become a landmark of New York summers and an essential bridge connecting the art world with experimental live music, sound, and DJs from New York and beyond.  Warm Up 2014 spans eleven weeks and features almost 60 performers.  If you can attend only one or two dates, which should they be?  I asked NYC-based DJs, producers, and promoters which performances they recommend.  Their responses are below, but first, a bit more about the Warm Up season.

Warm Up will feature Hy-Fi, an installation by The Living (David Benjamin), and rotating stage installations by local design talent—including CONFETTISYSTEM, Chen Chen and Kai Williams, Fort Makers, Fort Standard, Nightwood, and The Principals—organized by Jocelyn Miller.  ARTBOOK @ MoMA PS1 will feature design objects and music by Warm Up talent.  MoMA leaders Klaus Biesenbach, Margaret Knowles, and Eleanor McKinney selected this year’s Warm Up curatorial committee, which includes Dean Bein (True Panther Sounds), Jonathan Galkin (DFA Records), Brandon Stosuy (Pitchfork), Imogene Strauss (Cool Managers), Matt Werth (RVNG Intl), and Eliza Ryan.

Rendering of The Living’s Hy-Fi, winning design of the 2014 Young Architects Program. The Museum of Modern Art and MoMAPS1. Image courtesy of The Living.

Rendering of The Living’s Hy-Fi, winning design of the 2014 Young Architects Program. MoMA and MoMAPS1. Image courtesy of The Living.

I sought opinions about Warm Up from booty-moving and speaker-shaking experts, including James Friedman, Gavin Russom, Kim Ann Foxman, Alex Pasternak, DJ Scallywag, and Mr. Blacklauren.  Here they are, in no particular order.

-James Friedman is a DJ and co-founder of Throne of Blood Music.  He recently released Most Excellent Mixtape 007 with Most Excellent Unltd, while ToB talents Jokers of the Scene are collaborating with visual artist Sean Dack.  James picks A/Jus/Ted and Pantha du Prince on June 28th:

 “A/Jus/Ted are a super talented duo featuring Justin Strauss, who is a real legendary NY dance music character and one of the most humble dudes I’ve had the pleasure to become friends with over my years as a DJ.  Pantha du Prince is probably the single most achingly beautiful techno artist out there today. That label feels inadequate to describe his music, which over four or so albums has evolved from delicate minimalism into this harmonically rich, musically serious version of dance music. His live set with the Bell Laboratory during Red Bull Music Academy last year was my favorite show in recent memory.”

-Gavin Russom is a co-producer of The Crystal Ark and resident DJ of the monthly Drakkar Noir at Bossa Nova Civic Club. His new 12-inch, The Purge/Enthroned, is the first release by the new label Entropy Trax.  Gavin selects DJ Spoko on June 28th and Robert Hood on July 19th:

“DJ Spoko basically because I was already a big fan of the South African house sound and then his track Sound of our 4Fathers blew me away. Whenever I play it people ask me what it is. Really interested to hear what he’ll play.  Robert Hood is a living African American artist of the type anyone would be blessed to witness in person, like Miles Davis or James Baldwin. What he’s achieved in terms of a specific and clear personal style and a synthesis of radical politics, storytelling and technological innovation is really impressive. Plus, I saw him play at Berghain a couple years ago and hearing him weave disco and soul music into his set, on that sound system, is something I’ll never forget.”

Kim Ann Foxman at Warm Up 2013. © 2013 MoMA PS1; Photo: Charles Roussel

Kim Ann Foxman, Warm Up 2013. © 2013 MoMA PS1; Photo: Charles Roussel

-Kim Ann Foxman is a globe-trotting DJ and producer.  This month, she released two new singles, Be Mine and Let Me the One, with Heidi Presents Jackathon Jams.  She performed at Warm Up 2013.  Kim Ann recommends Kevin Saunderson on August 23rd:

“Kevin Saunderson will definitely be amazing to see at PS1 Warm up!  He is surely my all time fave electronic music producer ever. He is Detroit Techno and acid house heaven for me. He has made the best of dance music pop hits such as Big Fun and Good Life, as well the best underground gems like Just Another Chance, Feel the Mood, and so many more! He is sure to get you ‘Groovin Without A Doubt’. He is a huge inspiration for me.  Don’t miss him!”

-Alex Pasternak is a DJ and member of Lemonade.  The new Lemonade record comes out September 9th.  Alex writes:

“My faves are Pantha du Prince and DJ Spoko.  I went on tour with Pantha du Prince last month and he KILLS IT live.  Also, Total Freedom (Ashland Mines) is one of my favorite DJs; he’s the best in LA, as far as I’m concerned.  He doesn’t do straight dance.  Ashland has a more conceptual approach to DJing. I’ve heard him mix an R&B acapella over a drum solo from some metal band…I believe it was a Mayhem solo.  Regardless, Ashland kills it as a DJ.  Finally, Dubbel Dutch will be epic.  They are great producers.”

-DJ Scallywag and Mr. Blacklauren are DJs who co-host the monthly party The Long Count at Bossa Nova Civic Club.  Mr. Blacklauren writes:

“I am keen on the Robert Hood line-up because it’s the only one that caters to my interests in darker, conceptual and even philosophical techno & electronic music. That’s not to say that the music won’t be dance-able or alienating for people with little to no knowledge of these artists. I think it will be just as enjoyable for the novice and die-hard fan alike. I know as a producer and DJ that when I leave this event, the creative gears will be a churnin’.”

-DJ Scallywag has multiple picks, but with caveats and conditions:

“For me, Warm Up is kind of a mixed bag. I’ll definitely give it to ‘em for having the best ‘all around’ line-up in the city, but I don’t always enjoy the crowding, the drink ticket loophole hurdles, and the constraints of the acoustics as related to the space. -Not to be a jerk, though, haha! If you wanna climb up those steps and bob up and down all day like you’re on display, then more power to you! I guess I’m just usually not drunk enough at that hour to really enjoy being sardined in that little pit.;)”

“That stuff aside, the Robert Hood, Rrose, Objekt, Container date is a dream line-up of harder-edged sounds. Rrose was phenomenal the night she played with us at Bossa, and Container’s live show has made me go feral on multiple occasions. But if it’s a super hot day, then the sun might already be throwing down hard enough. Heaviness in the right context, you know? But I could see Robert Hood slipping in a couple tracks that are nice n’ breezy.”

“The real bucket-list show is Daniele Baldelli with Charanjit Singh. Both of them are early 80′s guys. Baldelli is a legendary Italian dude usually framed as the original Balearic / cosmic disco DJ and credited for ushering in what would become Italo Disco as well. I found out about him in the djhistory forums. I always imagined him as kind of a proto-DJ Harvey, but he was known for pitching down records a lot, so you might say he was more like the DJ Screw of the bougie Italian shore scene. He’s the same in that all I’ve ever known are his mixtapes. Anyhow, I know most people in the US have never seen him, so feel free to print that!  Charanjit Singh seems even more of anomaly. He was a Bollywood soundtrack composer who put out an album that took the intricacy of classic Indian ragas and rendered them using Roland’s most famous synths and drum machines (the ones even us non-gearheads hear referenced all the time: the TB-303, TB-808, Jupiter-8, etc). The ragas translated nicely because of the 303′s glissando function (the smooth pitch glide between notes that a lot of acid records have) and most of it had a 4/4 kick under it because of the 808. The record came out in India in 1982, when most of those machines had just hit the market. It’s kind of a big deal because it was rediscovered a few years ago; it actually predated the ‘acid house’ movement by about five years. I’m assuming he’s never played NY, either, but I’m hoping that that bill is obscure enough to avoid the whole ‘Kraftwerk effect’ so I can just sit somewhere comfy and vibe out. Check out his Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat if you’re a fan of vintage sounds or notable curios, and also check out the inside of PS1 because they have A/C in there. Plus, the bathroom lines are shorter. ;)”

Warm Up 2013. © 2013 MoMA PS1; Photo: Charles Roussel

Warm Up 2013. © 2013 MoMA PS1; Photo: Charles Roussel

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