machines for lovers

ghostly international and its spinoff label spectral sound have been gradually insinuating themselves into my psyche since seeing their disco nouveau and idol tryouts compilations floating around a few years ago. more recently i realized that several of the times i was blown away at the bunker, the records or DJs were ghostly-affiliated. thinking this was purely a techno label, i was surprised to hear the more rock-oriented dykehouse and mobius band (who i've also seen recently). now i keep an eye out for anything going on around town with their artists.

first up at rothko last wednesday was dj plexus, who started late but still spun to a mostly empty room. damn the "fashionably late" attitude, this was great music, right from the start. the music was seamless, seeming to simply morph continuously into different versions of an endless minimal techno song originating somewhere between detroit and berlin. excellent choice of warmup dj. i had been thinking the turnout wouldn't be too good because it was thanksgiving eve, but by the time he finished, there was definitely more of a crowd, however reserved.

if i gave an overview of derek plaslaiko's set, it would sound pretty much the same as above, and yet it was noticeable when he took over. the energy went up a notch, his choices became a bit more aggressive. he was also very fond of creating tension by pulling out all the bass, adding a growing effect that would take over the entire room, and make us wait for the four-on-the-floor to drop back in. sometimes he mercilessly built it up for far longer than the expected duration, only to slam into a completely different but utterly appropriate record. again, non-stop, never a dull moment. people really got moving during his set. ben leaned over to me and ironically commented, "and they say electronic music has no soul."

audion was the main reason for being there. the techno-acid alias of matthew dear, this project's songs are 95% instrumental, and obsessed with two things: punchy, squelchy, grinding grooves and sex. there is no overt sexuality in the music, since it's instrumental, although the angry synths rubbing against each other at times make perfect sense with the simplistically raunchy titles. you would never expect this kind of raw, angry, beat-driven music from the calm, boyish figure onstage. using only a laptop and outboard mixer with effects, dear kept the music going for over an hour, wearing everyone out with his constantly great sounds. ben bowed out first, then even bianca succumbed to exhaustion and left. i was fairly drained, having been moved to dance so much by the earlier DJs. but i was determined to hear the hardest sounds this man had to offer, and i soon got them. the rhythms became more complex on top of the relentless kick drum, more layers of bleeps and bloops were added, and the synths squiggled more uncontrollably. the audience really got into it, whooping when they recognized a new synth riff. finally, he ended with "just fucking," a groove as single- and dirty-minded as it sounds. true to its name, it pumped away furiously until an abrupt finish. he had no stage show to speak of, but the music made that fact irrelevant.

after such a musical climax, i was ready to leave, and yet i saw plaslaiko setting up at the turntables again. i wished that wasn't the case because i hated to miss hearing more. no one record jumped out as being one thing i had to get; it was pretty much non-stop good music, just like the amazing second disc of the spectral sound vol. 1 compilation. one of the amazing things about ghostly/spectral-related music is its consistency. if you like an artist or DJ, they are pretty much great all the way through, with few exceptions. this night cemented that impression in my mind.

the title of this post is a record by spectral sound's hieroglyphic being.


give me something i can feel

i've wanted to go to a u2 concert since seeing live clips for years. the band really seemed to put themselves into their performances, and however sweeping or trite bono's onstage pronouncements and lyrics might have been, he at least gave the impression of passionately meaning them. i thought i missed my chance when, after dialing and holding on two phone lines for 20 minutes solid, i was informed that tickets to their zoo tv tour were sold out. immediately after that, in my opinion, the band went swiftly downhill and i lost interest.

that is, until i realized that all that you can't leave behind was a pretty darn good album, but their tour was over by the time that sank in. a few years later, they released another album (not as good) and launched a world tour in support of it. but the fact that bono has been on oprah twice, and in news headlines relating to drop the debt, sending AIDS drugs to africa, and ending world hunger, looms larger than his band's new music. it seems like u2 playing on a flatbed truck in the streets of new york city made more of a splash than the single it was filmed to promote. in other words, u2's media presence is bigger than they are.

these were the central themes of their tuesday show at madison square garden, a venue i've never liked. being at the garden is a disorienting experience due to many factors: the sheer size of the venue, the number of people, the volume, the sound slapping back at you from various angles. because of this, entering during "vertigo" felt very apropos. i misjudged the door and performance times and sadly missed patti smith, whom bono later lauded along with tom verlaine's television and other late 70's nyc punk bands. people were constantly coming and going, whether to put beer into their bodies or drain it from them. ushers and security were at every one of the dozens of entrances. having already played the garden for several dates back in may and october, this last night in new york city had the air of being more than just a concert. this was an event, a victory lap, a celebration of the band's longevity, a noble cause, a lifting of the white man's burden.

the stage was designed in a strange not-quite-but sort-of-in-the-round manner. it was built at the end of the floor and not in the center, and still they sold every last ticket in the place including those doomed to look at the back of larry mullen jr.'s head throughout the show. the double-ringed stage (whose edges lit up in various colors) served a purpose of creating a special pit between the rings for the most fervent fans to be at the center of the show along with the band; at times the three mobile (and wireless) members strolled along the catwalk into the crowd. of course bono would actually reach out and even step into the sea of grasping hands. these actions didn't seem to coincide with any particular lyrics or have any meaning other than to give those directly involved a thrill.

the sound was probably the worst i've heard at the garden, and further seemed to distance the experience from the music. but music came through nonetheless, albeit mostly in a "you sing it now" type of way. anyone not familiar with "elevation" must have felt somewhat confused at the long stretch of nothing but two-note distorted squelchy guitar and indecipherable audience-only vocals. but of course u2 aim to please, because they know they wouldn't matter to as many people if they didn't, so they played a lot of songs people did know. bono also pulled his trademark trick of singing other songs over their own (tonight's quotes included "send in the clowns" and "rock the casbah" as well as pieces of other songs of theirs).

anyone too far away could always watch the four individual members close up on the giant video screens (see above). i'm fully in favor of using visuals, especially in concerts of this size, but i prefer them to be somewhat artistic. i've always felt just displaying the show from a fixed perspective increases detachment and heightens the sense of being at a sports event or just watching from home.

spectacle dominated over all. the ceiling sometimes lowered hanging strings of lights which doubled as very pixelated video screens, displaying a variety of colors. during "miss sarajevo" a dispassionate female head rotated in a loop; later, dozens of national flags scrolled by. during "love and peace or else," a stagehand at the back of the outer ring of the stage set up a floor tom and cymbal for bono to add additional drums - that is, if they were even miked (they were about as audible as his periodically strummed guitar). he changed some of the lyrics of "pride (in the name of love)" to include a reference to the assassination of jfk. he pulled a girl onstage to dance with him (which he's been doing off and on at least since live aid), except she bizarrely got a piggyback ride instead. before "sunday bloody sunday" (during which bono announced "this is your song now" twice, as if to distance himself from it), he put on a white headband. the video monitor revealed a seemingly hand-scrawled crescent moon, a star of david, and a crucifix, equating the three. later in the song he repeatedly intoned "jesus, jew, mohammed, it's true". he then pulled the headband over his eyes, crawling across the stage blind to find his mic stand and sing more. this struck me as both pretty powerful and somewhat contrived. a little internet research has unfortunately turned up that not only is the headband prefabricated (it's the logo of hip liberal clothing line coexist), but this entire sequence has been done several times before on this tour.

in the biggest and most interactive gesture of the evening, he asked the audience to light up their cell phones, which looked pretty amazing. the screeen asked the audience to text their full names to a certain number to show support for ending poverty. i figured "why not?" and did it. a few minutes later, my phone rang and i had a message saying "this is bono, thx 4 taking action with the ONE campaign 2 make poverty history. check out www.one.org on the web for more. peace." it was thoughtful of bono's automated web server to text me back so it didn't seem like a totally empty gesture. seriously, as a result of that, thousands will probably go to the website and see what they can do to help.

that sort of thing is great of course, and it's one of bono's saving graces, since he tends to irritate a lot of people. good intentions aside, much of this was extraneous and ultimately distracting from what i think makes up a good show: good music played with conviction and at least somewhat interesting to watch. i know the garden is hard to play, and grand gestures and big lightshows are ways in which bands try to play to the back row. but i felt less a part of the audience and less connected to the music and the people onstage than at any other show i've been to there. to me, u2 have become so large they are unreachable. they are still uniquely talented, and the causes they attach themselves to are worthy. but when people become bigger than life they also somehow seem no longer human, and thus harder to relate to and make people really care.

the title of this post comes from the lyrics to vertigo.


beat of the nation

front 242 are a band in a strange position: neither fully active nor completely finished. in the 80s, they were part of the wax trax! label axis (by way of play it again sam) of "second-wave industrial" bands. basically hard electronic dance music, they (along with skinny puppy, front line assembly, and nitzer ebb) are responsible for the basis of what is (somewhat mistakenly) called industrial music today. throbbing gristle started it, and nine inch nails and ministry popularized it (by adding lots of guitars), but these belgians and their peers solidified the subgenre dubbed ebm, being among the masters of the burbling sequenced synthesizer bassline. kraftwerk may have invented the man-machine, but front 242 made the hybrid ultra-cool and more masculine. their vision has always been more terminator than metropolis.

after their brief brush with the big time (signed to epic records and playing lollapalooza), they dissolved into largely ignored splinter groups and guest spots on other people's records. they reformed 5 years later for touring purposes, but without original member daniel bressanutti. a slew of remix and live albums and one lukewarm new offering in 2003 have kept the name alive long enough to elevate them to the position of elder statesmen of their corner of the music world.

like last year's skinny puppy reunion tour, the nyc date was at irving plaza, where i also saw them in 1998. this time, they had the benefit of a huge video screen behind them, pushing name-brand self-worship (the only band of its kind who does this more, albeit vocally, is KMFDM), and cold, security cam-like imagery and intentionally glitchy animation. two supporting players (a drummer and a laptop keyboardist) took the stage first. then the band's most recognizable member, patrick codenys (whose swim-goggled face is the only one to appear on any of their CD's, 1991's tyranny for you) took his place stoically behind a virus keyboard. an ominous drone began, which quickly built up into pummeling beats. richard 23's processed vocals echoed through the sound system, until he bounded onto the stage, singing the first song by himself. when the next song began, jean-luc de meyer appeared to greater applause. many consider his sinister accented baritone to be the heart of the band's identity.

after a fairly strong opener, they continued with a string of songs unfamiliar to me and only somewhat more interesting to most of the crowd. one of the things i noted right away was the live drummer, seemingly a concession to rock show standards. front 242's music is clearly programmed, almost metronomic; at first the drumkit stood out as being nowhere near as powerful as the synthetic beats and pulses making up the bulk of the music. suddenly, out of nowhere, i realized they were playing "welcome to paradise," with its sampled evangelical exclamations, including everyone's ironically authoritarian-mocking favorite, "no sex until marriage!" this song finally woke the crowd up enough to really get them moving.

everything improved from that point onward. sounds began to separate, the synths became sharper and more defined. even the live drums seemed to make more sense, especially for songs like "religion," which contains sampled distorted guitar squiggles and was originally mixed by the same man who has mixed slayer. a few slower songs actually somehow approached being funky in a clunky electronic kind of way. i noticed a lot of reprogramming and updating of sounds and song structures of old material, much like depeche mode did for their 101 live album.

in a strangely solemn moment, richard 23 told the crowd that a huge fan of theirs named chris had passed away a few days before the show and dedicated "quite unusual" to him. after several more excellent selections from their back catalogue (including one acutally from backcatalogue), they announced the last song of the night. this was of course "headhunter," arguably the biggest dance club song of the genre. this is where the crowd expectedly went wild, aggressively dancing up a storm in a chaotic ballet of punches and kicks into the air. even the more jaded people (and i count myself among them) couldn't help singing along with the simplistic but classic chorus. then, when the song should have been over, they took it up several notches by adding a vicious new keyboard riff in counterpoint to the original. this made a good part of the audience go ballistic.

this was obviously the highlight of the night, and several people left before the encore. the songs were as good as the second half of the set, but mostly anticlimactic. however, to those of us who had been energized by moving furiously for half the night, "punish your machine" was very appropriate for its line "i feel so fucking alive." which is what a good concert should make you feel.

the title of this post comes from the band's song rhythm of time, which sadly, was not played. the picture above comes from release magazine.



one year ago today, i started this blog out of one of the great priveleges of modern western civilization: boredom at work. my first post had nothing to say, but i said it anyway. now i only bother posting if something needs to be said; i don't have much time to be bored at work or anywhere else.

one of the things i hate about the time of year we're about to enter into is the lack of anything new or with real content. in its place is a lot of dwelling in the past and list-making. however, i feel there's a decent reason for doing something like that with this blog. while several entries were somewhat frivolous (or simply announced updates to my ocular spectra photoblog), there are other more read-worthy ones, which people may not have the inclination to plow through the archives to find. here are what i think are the more worthwhile posts of the past year, in chronological order (oldest first), named by their subject matter.

breakcore show @ siberia
pandatone, akron/family, stars like fleas @ tonic
subway photo ban
post-post-post-modern culture
hellsbells, george steeltoe ensemble @ free103point9
experimental dance with music by grundik & slava @ cave gallery
wobbly, keith fullerton whitman, sagan @ tonic
on gentrification
pixies @ hammerstein ballroom
doveman + flashpapr @ tonic
la laque @ sin-e
female body image in mainstream american entertainment
colin potter of nurse with wound @ free103point9
new year's eve 2004
low, aarktica @ bowery ballroom + visions of the impending apocalypse
dirty projectors, the winter pageant @ tonic
in praise of leisuretown
stars like fleas, doveman, thomas fehlmann @ tonic
video as an instrument @ the tank
kid606, tommie sunshine @ rothko
WBAR radiothon: akron/family, dirty projectors, other passengers @ the west end
angels of light, akron/family @ tonic
xiu xiu @ knitting factory
onkyo festival: o.blaat, aoki takamasa, elliot sharp, otomo yoshihide, sachiko m + nobukazu takemura, yoshimitsu ichiraku. carl stone, taku hannoda @ japan society
choking victim: written on skin
the stone and nyc music venues
the church and fascism
flaming fire, the dewanatron, squaw @ galapagos + rubulad + contempt @ remote lounge
calla @ knitting factory
adult. @ mercury lounge
family guy live @ town hall
autechre, snd, rob hall @ webster hall
nyc photobloggers meetup
ashes and snow photography exhibit
edison woods, hopeforagoldensummer, the new radio band @ tonic
mahogany, auburn lull dj set @ the newly-opened cake shop
photobloggers 4 + other passengers @ sin-e
c.o.m.a. acoustic benefit concert for abc no rio
saints and lovers @ pianos
minor threat artwork mimicked by nike
a place to bury strangers @ knitting factory + the bunker @ subtonic
the lowered expectations of modern popular culture
get your war on
saxon shore, my best fiend, other passengers @ tonic
kid606, knifehandchop, eats tapes @ northsix
other passengers, a place to bury strangers, sonoma aero @ cake shop
to here knows when: autumn thieves, aarktica @ scenic
the strange case of jandek tickets
on stars like fleas
stars like fleas, flying, panicsville @ tonic
the bunker: end, monolake @ tonic
to here knows when: tungsten 74, my best fiend @ scenic
music media bias
jandek @ anthology film archives
merzbow @ knitting factory
arcade fire @ central park summerstage
stars like fleas @ northsix
calla record release show @ brooklyn lyceum
interpol @ webster hall
katrina benefit: sufjan stevens, akron/family @ bowery ballroom
live and recorded music
psychasthenia society @ collective unconscious
other passengers, skeleton & the girl-faced boys, my best fiend @ pianos
daylight's for the birds, the winter pageant, mobius band @ sin-e
xiu xiu, other passengers @ skirball center

the title of this post is a song by pink floyd.


down we go together

thanks to the kindness of other passengers, i was able to see them open for xiu xiu at the skirball center at nyu. i was pretty excited even though i just saw the latter band at bowery ballroom in september and wrote about the show back in april. to me, this was a great bill, since the two bands have some similarities to each other, although they may not be initially obvious to fans of either one. both are considered to be within the broad realm of "indie rock"; both of them are dark and dramatic in their music, while remaining fairly ordinary in their appearance; both write somewhat melodic music with odd structures interrupted by shocking bursts of noise; both feature passionate lead singers who tend to get worked up and sweaty in their performance. after that, the similarities end, which made the pairing as strange as it was appropriate.

for this show, other passengers created short semi-improvised atmospheric pieces as both intro and connecting sections, building from singer billy's vocal effects and flanked by subtle noise guitar attacks from travis and kevin. they all played well, though they seemed to be plagued by minor sound problems such as balance (not enough bass guitar) and hum. still, they came off pretty well on the biggest stage i've seen them on (since i missed them at the bowery katrina benefit show). this was aided by the invaluable visuals of berkoy, who also had a much larger canvas to work with. the effect was probably not unlike like being at a late 60s pink floyd show. however, theirs isn't the kind of music you should take drugs to, lest you have heart palpitations and visions more disturbing than you bargained for.

speaking of disturbing, a CD i've since found out is the langley schools music project was played in between the bands. school children doing not-quite-on-key versions of songs by paul mccartney, the beach boys, and david bowie continued the weird vibe of the night. that it was a general admission show but with stationary seating felt very odd for both bands.

xiu xiu command the kind of hushed, rapt audience attention reserved for very few musicians. perhaps it's because the room was full of people who take jamie stewart's songs very seriously, or perhaps, in this case, it was because his voice wasn't loud enough in the PA. but even half-buried under the pounding programmed backing, electric guitar, and synthesized noise, his emotional intensity was clear. i recall a website announcement that producer/studio member corey mcculloch would be joining the live lineup. unfortunately, this hasn't happened yet, if it ever will; only caralee mcelroy joins stewart on harmonium, percussion, and background vocals. she also seems to have taken on a more expanded role in adding synthetic melodies and stabs of shrieking distortion. the two of them ran through the catalogue of musical self-laceration, pausing only to tune or change drum machine sequences while the people sat in quiet tension after each burst of applause. it's worth nothing that even playing a very full set of songs from their four CDs, some songs were still missed (particularly "sad guerilla ponygirl" and "fabulous muscles").

there were definite light moments to the show, though always shadowed slightly by the heaviness of the songs' subject matter. stewart announced almost apologetically that they were going to be playing the whole set in reverse chronological order, and he hoped that wouldn't make them "seem like dicks." after a particularly intense rendition of the casiotone-meets-new order-gone-industrial song "crank heart," an audience member asked "what was that last one called?" stewart deadpanned, "party time," which had a good third of the audience stifling giggles for the next 20 seconds or so. even though happy hardcore is a stated influence of xiu xiu, their version of it is so obviously warped by horrible personal experiences that the idea of a partying xiu xiu seems ludicrous. nowhere is their unique brand of "so horrible it's funny" more apparent than in the classic "i broke up," with its oft-quoted line "this is the worst vacation ever, i'm going to cut open your forehead with a roofing shingle" (the exact moment of which the above photo depicts).

a more nervous laughter greeted the band's final song, "helsabot." instead of one of the funereal recorded versions, its first-person tale of an "alcohol-fueled robot" was performed in such an offhand, light-hearted way, as if they were playing a fun cover of an old popular campfire song. but it's precisely because of his removal of camp that has allowed stewart to surpass his idol morrissey's ability to mix such personal, human horror with the right amount of black humor.

the title of this post comes from a morrissey song.


the loving sounds of static

saturday night was the first show for daylight's for the birds, a band formed from the rubble of the imploded on air library (whose early shows and first EP i loved). unfortunately i got to sin-e too late to catch the band's bassist paul duncan playing a solo set. as a bassist, he's very good, so i'll have to check out his new cd on home tapes.

this band faces the same problems as their former incarnation, which i've touched on before: vocals getting lost in the mix. the soundman did his best to resolve the issues, but the two things that needed to happen were singer claudia deheza singing louder (and perhaps being given a hotter mic) and some of the other instruments turning down onstage. sadly, fellow OAL alumnus phillip wan's parts were also mostly obscured, although what came through was melodic and inventive. that aside, the band has talent and potential, especially when you factor in the songs on their myspace page. the poppier aspects of OAL failed to gel for me, but now the beautiful blurriness has become crystal clear instead of meandering somewhere in between. the new drummer is rock solid while not bludgeoning the beat, and the rhythm guitar chimes away beautifully. at times, the two instruments meld together in the classic shoegazer wash of ebbing and flowing harmonic noise, without relying on it as the cornerstone of their sound.

also eschewing traditional shoegazer techniques (while being informed by them) are the winter pageant. instead of walls of distortion and/or pop confectionery, they favor ethereal drones and expansive prog-like song construction. several changes have occurred since the last time i saw them. for one thing, they've replaced one of their guitarists with two others, which seems superfluous until you notice the additional layers this creates. they also seem to have replaced their last bassist with another (who also picks up a guitar for one song). however, the most striking difference is the mixing. singer byron's every breathy tone could finally be heard above the swirling ocean instead of drowning in it. even when heavily effected (which at times seemed a bit of overkill given the amount of effects on nearly every other instrument), his gentle tenor cut through and reminded the audience of a human soul at the center of the music.

mobius band is yet another ghostly signing that defies the label's categorization as a dance label. while most of their output (as well as their even more underground imprint spectral) is focused on a detroit-centric techno sound, this band seamlessly weaves their electronics into sunny indie rock tunes. the drummer's mostly-live kit was augmented by a few discreet electronic pads that blended in together perfectly. both the bassist and guitarist took turns strumming their axes and poking at the analog synth racks, often in the same measure. the singers' voices are both pleasantly nondescript in a midwestern sort of way (though they seem to hail from massachussetts and are now partially based in brooklyn). this is the kind of band that would be on morr music if they were german, as they frequently bring to mind the sound of the notwist axis. however, there's something far less precious about their songs as well as their presentation - there may be as much r.e.m. in their dna as d.n.a. in their rem. if they come up with a perfect pop tune, it's because they let it fall into place instead of constructing it with teutonic efficiency. neither better nor worse, just a slightly different vibe. it definitely works for them, and it worked for me too.

the title of this post comes from the new album by mobius band.