I’m kicking off this year’s edition of “Coachella: GET PSYCHED” with an audio rebuttal to DJ / producer Diplo — who you may know as the beats / music guy behind early work from artists like MIA and Santigold. According to Pitchfork, upon seeing this year’s lineup, Diplo remarked via Twitter, “maybe im just throwing shade but coachsmella looks pretty lame this year.. u used to be a place to check out new bands/music”, and then, “besides snoop and dre thats boss shit right there” and “its like bootleg ultra w a few bands that are ‘safe'”.
Now, I could give two shits what Diplo thinks about anything, but I do take issue with the notion that the lineup is somehow “safe.” Coachella actually impressed me this year by staying true to its annual commitment to bring in a few really left-field acts. Admittedly, none of these folks are on par with Throbbing Gristle, who played in 2009. Many of them are widely known. But that has more to do with tastes shifting — and really with alternative tastes finding wider outlets as technology democratizes both the distribution of music and the distribution of opinions about music.
So, I thought I’d take this first post of the GET PSYCHED series to shout out a few acts who, while they have drawn almost mainstream attention, still fly the freak flag a bit in their respective genres.
Amon Tobin: Get Your Snack On
It’s a little tough for me to wrap my head around the fact that Amon Tobin has been making music since the mid-90s, even before he began recording albums for the legendary Ninja Tune label. Almost twenty years. Really? Good luck catching up to where he was back then, much less where’s he’s at now.
Always experimental to a certain degree, Tobin started making heavily jazz-influenced downtempo and big beat tracks, veered dangerously close to ambient territory for a while, and now (alarmingly) generates what one might term “Skrillex-bait.” (Seriously, if you look at the comment threads for some of his tracks on YouTube, the less initiated have the gall to suggest he’s making something akin to dubstep.)
The reality is: the guy has taken sampling in electronic music to a whole other galaxy. It’s beyond sampling at this point really; earlier tracks ransacked crates and pillaged rhythm tracks with reckless abandon. Now, Tobin is working almost exclusively with found sounds, recording everything from wild animals to his own crying baby. Here’s the rub: it all still grooves. You can dance to it. Even better, he’s now added a widely acclaimed visual component to his “ISAM” live show — and he’s apparently bringing that to Coachella’s Sahara tent this year.
“Get Your Snack On” is one of my favorite Tobin tracks, dating back to 2000. Also be sure to check out the official ISAM trailer to get a sense of what he’s going to drop on folks in the desert.
Flying Lotus: MmmHmm
You may know Flying Lotus from his work producing “bumpers” for Cartoon Networks “Adult Swim” programming (see an example of sorts here) — but he also creates his own stuff, semi-glitchy downtempo released mainly on Warp Records (home to Aphex Twin, Battles, Squarepusher, and many other mind-bending experimental / electronic acts). His stuff is out there in a deeply funky way – probably due in part to the fact that he’s the great nephew of John Coltrane’s wife, Alice. That’s some lineage, there. He’s also known to rub elbows with the cats from Radiohead, having remixed a track or two, and having brought in Thom Yorke to provide vocals to the song “… And The World Laughs With You” on the FlyLo full length, Cosmogramma.
Pitchfork dubbed Erika M. Anderson’s nerve-shot middle finger to the Sunshine State its third best song of 2011 (right behind Bon Iver and M83, if you can believe that) … despite the fact that it’s built entirely around a litany of lines sung-spoke in an apparent effort to provoke extreme discomfort and / or the prelude to some bone shivering catharsis. And then there’s that fairly agitating instrumental backdrop that’s, literally, nothing but electric violin and doomy-sounding programmed beats. There’s something mesmerizing about it all, though, which may be why the song broke through.
It’s worth reading Pitchfork’s explication of the track to get the full flavor of what all Anderson does here to provoke, surprise, and dismay. And it’s worth listening to the song four or five times to let it sink its hooks into you. I’m still a bit mind-fucked to know that EMA got as much attention as she did with this song last year, given that it’s a pretty intense affair all through.
Everyone from KCRW to the Village Voice lost their shit over Merrill Garbus, aka tUnEyArDs, this past year, which left a few other people — namely, Chuck Klosterman — really confused. One listen and it’s easy to hear why (although the music isn’t the only thing confusing the poor metalhead from Fargo). As the Guardian’s music blogger, Charlotte Richardson Andrews, noted in a rebuttal to Klosterman’s piss-take, Garbus draws a lot of vocal inspiration from Nina Simone, whose voice, though considered a classic now, provocatively de-femmed Jazz vocals in her time. And she doesn’t stop there. The music itself incorporates loops of her voice in ways that are, by turns, grating and delightful. It also stop-starts frequently, pulling the rug out from under the listener just as as one begins to find safe purchase. This is un-easy listening … but fun, somehow .. and also annoying … but ultimately great. And then there’s the whole queer politics thing sort of running interference when you start digging into the lyrics or watching the performance.
So, while I agree that Klosterman was being a bit of a sexist (homophobic, even?) bastard in his essay, I’m right there with him in being baffled at how music like this could top the annual Village Voice Pazz + Job music poll last year. And yet, I’m sure this is going to be a phenomenal set at Coachella, and that there will be a capacity crowd watching at whatever stage Garbus commands, completely freaking out over it all.
Atari Teenage Riot: Live in Berlin 2011
Germany’s Atari Teenage Riot (and its primary musician / songwriter, Alec Empire) pioneered a harshly confrontational sub-genre of electronic dance music in the mid-90s. Sharing its title with ATR’s record label, “digital hardcore” drew inspiration equally from hardcore punk, gangsta rap, noise, and gabber — a particularly aggressive, gritty strain of hardcore techno especially popular in the Netherlands. This was music designed to provoke confrontation on all fronts: between listener and an external target (for ATR, this meant neo-nazis and fascists), but also between band and audience, and between audience members themselves. Never has a band’s name more accurately described its music.
I don’t do cocaine, so it’s tough for me to truly love ATR the way that the band’s most fanatical fans do. But, in watching this clip of a live performance in Berlin late last year, I’ve realized that I do like them an awful lot — and I absolutely can’t wait to see them live again.
I admit to feeling a certain nostalgia for it all, too. ATR’s first album dropped while I was DJing industrial and experimental music in college at KDVS back in 1996-97, and we all went completely crazy for it. Nothing else sounded like “Deutschland Has Gotta Die” at that time. And the music had a weird impact on people who experienced it live. I remember going to see the band — and several other Digital Hardcore — acts at a show in Riverside, Calif around that time with one of my best friends. We had to physically lift some meth-fried teenage girl off the ground, hoisting her by both arms, in order to stop her from angrily throwing ice cubes at ATR during its set. After we told her to settle down, and then put her back on the ground, she immediately launched into a frenzy of fake-ass karate kicks and chops, aimed at us but connecting only with air, before storming off (presumably to get another cup of ice to throw).
The group’s performance at Coachella 2012 is part of a series of reunion shows, featuring a new lineup. A vocalist named “MC KidtroniK” now stands in for original member MC Carl Crack (who died in 2001); Nic Endo replaces original female vocalist Hanin Elias, who apparently shredded her vocal chords recording all those early ATR tracks (not a shocker … there was a lot of intense screaming going on).