Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Essay: R&B and Pop music raise the bpm's. Have they found a groove or a rut?

 by DJ Bobz

R&B and Pop fell into the cloud, and now it's raining house tracks.

You can see the generational divide forming as each new track descends from the heavens.  On one side, tThose who loved Beyonce and Usher in their former incarnations as the purveyors of a more robust, Hip-Hop influenced R&B sound, and those of Generation Now (A generation in mind, not age), who wonder why it took so long to marry these genre's together.

The uptempo chartbusters seem so seamless and integral now; so why did it take so long to get her? R&B's inability to step too far away from the streets is a likely cause, as was the pop cash-cow, playing it safe for guaranteed album sales.  It took house producers remixing their favourite pop and r&b tracks to convince these artists (and their record companies) that splicing genre's was a good thing.

Lets take a look at who are the top (dance) pop/r&b producers of today.
1. Dr Luke (Katy Perry's Teenage Dream)
2. Max Martin (Usher's DJ got us fallin in love)
3. Stargate (Rihanna's Only Girl in the world)
4. Benny Blanco (Ke$ha's We R who we R)
5. JR Rotem (Jason Derulo's Ridin' Solo)

Now, lets look at what these guys were doing 5 years ago

1. Dr Luke (Kelly Clarkson - Since you've been gone)

2. Max Martin (Kelly Clarkson - Since you've been gone)

3. Stargate (Ne-Yo - So Sick )

4. Benny Blanco (Spank Rock - Bangers & Cash)

5. JR Rotem (Rihanna - S.O.S.)

So we've gone from defiantly Hip-Hop, Pop or R&B tracks, and injected them with a euro-dance sensibility.  Why now?  I'm sure when Dr Luke and Max Martin were crafting perfecto-rock for Kelly Clarkson, they were also wondering why dance diva's weren't also successful?

A lot has happened to music in general in the last 10 years.  The Berlin wall of record company compartmentalization has collapsed, and musical looters have run riot on the internet creating hybrids of hybrids of hybrids.  It all began when a DJ under the moniker of Freelance Hellraiser dropped A Stroke of Genius, mashing the Strokes garage guitar sound against the winsome vocals of Christina Aguilera.  It worked.

So when Belgian duo Two Many DJ's released As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2 in 2002, they mixed a slice of Bobby Orlando in with Felix Da Housecat's house classic 'Silver Screen Shower Scene', and a classic compilation was born.  The mash-up era had begun, and although it was still in its infancy, it's modus operandi had been set in stone: There were no rules.

With the prevalence of mash-ups and the maverick attitude of 'If it feels good do it', up-and-coming DJ's and producers felt more comfortable mixing genres, just to see what happened.  By 1994, Daft Punk was rocking out before their time on Human After All, LCD Soundsystem was beginning making the rock kids dance, and Robyn showed that pop ingenue's can have some balls too.

In terms of the US at least, this is where Will.I.Am comes in.  The erstwhile Black Eyed Pea and uber-producer spent downtime whilst the Pea's were on hiatus, checking out the dance clubs of the world, from Ibiza to Sydney.  Convinced that he could infuse his Hip-Hop joints with dance sensibility and still retain a sense of sincerity and honesty in the music, Will set about re-defining urban music in his Auto-tuned image.  The result was 'The End', a record that, if we're honest, is not sincere or integral, but did achieve its aim.  It got the dance-floors moving.

The success of Black Eyed Pea's opened the door for European pop producers to indulge the dance-floor and raid the pop charts with House, Techno and Electro.   Americans such as JR Rotem and the Euro-trained Dr Luke followed, and the next thing you know, the pop charts are chock-full of dance influenced tracks.

As with any musical trend, it's bound to fade out at some stage, with the cyclical nature of popular music dictating that another hot new sound will take its place.  It won't disappear though, good music never does, and those dedicated to making the honest and sincere pop and r&b records with dance music as a major influence will continue to flourish on the fringes of the pop community, long after the chart success is gone.  This is no more evident than in the micro trend capital of the world - England.

Bass music's resident diva-in-waiting Katy B's new album was released this week, and I popped it on the i-phone, and I heard the sounds of something more than just chart-topping elevator music.  In each track there were possibilities for pop and r&b's future, and it was all borne out of the ashes of Garage and Grime, Dubstep and UK Funky. It was vital and real, something urban british music achieves time and again, to little fanfare.

Another unique release this week was The Weekend's debut album House of Balloons.  Building on a sound that Drake has shoe-horned into the charts in the last year, The Weekend offer a dirty detour from the perfectionist pop of Katy P and co, with woozy, drugged-out basslines supporting lyrics that would be lecherously unbearable if they weren't so intriguing and sung in a way that would make both The-Dream and Jodeci golf clap with respect. 

Will the minute movements of these two newcomers become the sound of an recovering industry, or will they remain the other sound?

US chart music has moved through Britney's tween tones, Timbalands skittery soundscapes and Beibers Baby, but how much has it really evolved?  Are uptempo R&B and pop beats a sign of a revolution or a temporary diversion? 

Reviews of The Weekend and Katy B are coming soon...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Show: LCD Soundsystems final ever show - Watch it Live

LCD Soundsystem are playing their final ever gig this coming Sunday morning (Aussie Time) and it will be streamed live through right HERE.

I'll be dropping some articles, video about the band over the course the week.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Video: Alex Clare - Too Close (Produced by Diplo & Switch)

Diplo and Switch make up the group Major Lazer, but they are better known as producers.  Here's one they probably cranked out in their sleep for Alex Clare.

Video: New Zealand crew ReQuest compete in America's Best Dance Crew!

New Zealand all-girl B-Boy troupe 'ReQuest' have been added to the line-up for Season 6 of America's Best Dance Crew.  Check out the ladies below!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Video: Black Eyed Peas - Just Can't Get Enough

A low-key video for the normally hyper-kinetic Pea's, with the troupe rolling through Tokyo.  The video will likely gain a little resonance given the recent tragedies in Japan, likely more than it deserves, but I at least give the Pea's credit for bankrolling a nice travelogue in one of my favourite cities.

Or, if you prefer, they also perform the song live on the hit factory that is American Idol.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Video: Kanye West, Jay Z & Friends killing it at South by Southwest Festival

The South by Southwest festival runs every year in Austin, Texas and it serves as the platform for new and emerging artist.  Lots of fans and lots of records execs running around trying to sign the next big thing.  It's also a great place to launch a comeback record (The Strokes) or in Kanye Wests case, just blow peoples minds.  With Jay-Z in tow, Kanye closed out the festival in style.  Check it out below.

Review: The Strokes - Angles

The Strokes are the ultimate new rock paradox. They were a band that suffered commercial failure and hipster backlash upon unleashing their debut Is this it?, at the same time becoming the saviors of not only the New York music scene, but all of rock music.  Their influence stretches across the globe, and the release of their fourth album sees them entering the second decade of this century as elder statesman in a fading rock scene.

Maccu Pichu introduces the album, and its slow build groove bounces along before Albert Hammond Jnrs guitar gushes forth and properly announces their return.  First single 'Under the Cover of Darkness' is next, a rollicking track with multiple rhythm transitions and another great Hammond guitar solo.  Even Casablancas' usually rambling lyrics seem more lucid here.

'Two Kinds of Happiness' and 'Taken for a Fool' expand on the bands original sound, with the band taking liberties with the structure of the songs to great effect.  'You're so right' is a darker turn musically for the band, but no less propulsive or addictive, whilst 'Games' mines new wave for some inspired, although familiar, moments.

The bands refusal to pin themselves down to one sound continues on the albums sole ballad, the sweetly simple 'Call me back', before 'Gratisfaction' kicks in, basking in its retro rock pedigree without ever reaching any great heights.  Just when you thought they had packed the album in, 'Metabolism' re-establishes their polished, muscular sound and struts toward a tidy conclusion, from which 'Life is simple in the moonlight' picks up the baton and bolts for the finish line. 

I doubt this album is going to inspire another generation of garage rock kids to revive the scene once more, but what it does show is that the cruciate pariahs of this generation are still very much a part of its future.

Listen to the album HERE

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Obituary: Nate Dogg

It's been confirmed that R&B singer Nate Dogg died yesterday at age 41.  Nate's signature G-Funk vocals could be heard on classic tracks from Dr Dre and Eminem, Ludicras, Snoop Dogg and Fabolous, to name but a few.  One of the best ever to sing a hook, Nate will be sorely missed.  Enjoy his biggest hit, 'Regulate'.

Video: Adidas Ad featuring new Justice single 'Civilization'

What better way to announce your return after 4 years than through an iconic Adidas ad.  The music is easily identifiable as French blog-house legends Justice, aka the band that inspired a thousand crappy bedroom producers.  It's great to have them back and good to them in such esteemed company; the ad features such luminaries as Basketballer Derrick Rose, Soccer star Lionel Messi and (ahem) Katy Perry.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Essay: Chris Brown - Can we separate the man and his music?

The history of popular music contains a wide variety of music and an equally varied coterie of characters making that music.  When we love a song or an album or even just the performer, what are we pledging to that song, that musician?  What are we giving of ourselves and why?

And I’m not talking about that track that you like that has the great beat but you can’t quite remember who it’s by.   I’m talking about the songs, albums and performers we love.  The over-arching question is - what is our relationship to their music?

Take Chris Brown for example.  We love Chris Brown.  We love the way he dances, we love the way he looks and we especially love the music he makes.  We love ‘it’, but do we love ‘him’?  How do we reconcile the music with the man?  Do we reconcile the music with the man, or should the two remain separate, with the images in the video-clips being an extension of the music and not the man? 

Music fans have had to face this dilemma time and again.  As they got older, the baby boomers (your parents and grandparents) had to reconsider their love for The Grateful Dead and The Rolling Stones, after they became more responsible, had kids and questioned the drug addled lifestyles of their musical heroes.  And don’t forget the loyal legions of Michael Jackson fans, most of whom have been grappling with their feelings for Jackson's eccentricities for many years now, although with Jackson, the music ultimately exonerated him.

Whilst Michael was weird and therefore ‘not normal’ in the eyes of mainstream America, Chris Brown always seemed well-adjusted and just plain cute.  But whilst Jackson fought off several legal challenges to his moral throne, Brown had no choice but to plead guilty to a shocking crime for which there was evidence.  There was no hiding this one.  Brown had done something morally reprehensible, and so mainstream America and many other fans had to ask themselves - should the man/music divide still exist?

Brown blurred this line even further, as he sported a pink bow-tie and awkwardly failed to apologise on Larry King live. Was that the man or the musician we were now seeing? That was then followed by his album ‘Graffiti’, which contained songs that were bogged down in self-pity and contained lines like “Why is it so easy for you to blame/I’m only human, we’re all the same”.  If his fans were expecting contrition, they were looking at the wrong guy.

In 2011, Brown, like us, can no longer hide who he is.  For superstars like Brown, this has been proven time and again to be true.  His private life is no longer private.  His music, which was once a pop world constructed around his image, is now an image cast in the shadow of his real world.  

So is a hot song, just a hot song, or is it more than that?   Can we forgive Chris Brown for the sake of a hit?  What if that ‘hit’ is the song ‘Deuces’ and features lines like ‘Always hoping for the worst, waiting for me to fuck up/You'll regret the day when I find another girl, that knows just what I need/She knows just what I mean, when I tell her keep it drama free’.  If we go by the lyrics, whatever apologies he may have issued to Rihanna in the past must have had an expiry date.

‘Deuces’ is a weirdly meta piece of pop culture, a diss record to a former flame who suffered humiliation and physical abuse at the hands of the disser.  How do we take that song?  Can we look at the lyric as being about ‘relationships’ generally, rather than about a particular relationship; or are we watching someone write revisionist history in the form of a pop song?  It’s not easy to listen to your head or heart when your feet are tapping along with the bassline.  As Becky Bain of Idolator pointed out "As damning as some of the lyrics are, this emotional jam is actually a step in the right direction for Brown."

Chris Brown(the man) and his music seem to be moving forward as one, and this man is asking us to draw a line in the sand as to what we accept as morally acceptable and morally unacceptable in music and life.  It would seem that if Chris Brown cannot burn the bridge that spans the man/music divide, then neither should we.   

We need to pick a side.

Could it be irresponsible to invest yourself emotionally in musical concepts (Deuces and his future recordings) that were borne out of the self-pity of an abuser who has cast himself as the victim.

Video Debut Chris Brown ft. Tyga & Kevin McCall – ‘DEUCES’ from Gloob Marketing on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Video: Chris Brown feat. Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne - Look at me now

Just FYI, I'm not going to start hating on Chris Brown, because it's becoming way too easy.  So, even though he's now having to face the fact that nude pics of him are out there on the internets, he does have this; and what this is, is a hot song.

If you looked up 'hot song' in your Roget's, it would show a picture of Chris Breezy, Busta and Weezy stuntin' in front of sick Deloreans, and the caption would be 'Look at me now'

Check it out.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Video - Dude silent dances in a school (no, but seriously the ending is hilarious)

Anything I would say about this would have to be pre-empted by the phrase spoiler alert, so I'll just tell you to hang around until the end (:58 second mark), you won't be disappointed.

How to dance like Radioheads Thom Yorke

Radioheads album 'King of limbs' was inconspicuously released a couple weeks ago, and the main talk seem to centre not around the album, but around Thom Yorke's dancing in the video for Lotus Flower.  Maybe the album should have been called 'The King of loose limbs' as Yorke flails about fluidly in the clip.  Some resourceful soul has decided to conveniently break down his dance style into a series of moves that you can see below, just in case you get the urge to kick it Yorke-style on the dance-floor.