Friday, November 16, 2012

Michael Schwarz "Neuronum vs Neuronorm" (Rooftop Audio): Sven Wittekind "Broken Mirrors (Remixes, Part One)" (Sick Weird Rough)
 
One of the perks of le château d'in love with these times, in spite of these times being only a few doors down from a live venue is that while going about our daily business we often have to weave through a snaking line of random punters, queueing eagerly to see the band of their choice. This can be quite pleasant, an opportunity to chat with fellow music-lovers: some crowds have been very nice (Ian Anderson gig-goers gave a generous round of applause to our touch-parking, as well as taking a quip about "living in the past" in the right humour; Devin Townsend fans were friendly too, if somewhat perturbed that a random passer-by seemed keener than they were on his Bent Sea side-project; just this evening, Opeth acolytes were lovely, which we strangely knew they would be). The obligatory question to ask the queuers (queuees ?) though is "who are you here for ?", even if you know the answer perfectly well, and then when they tell you, to say with mock-surprise "oh, and you're queuing to get *in* ?" Thankfully this, too, is usually taken in the spirit intended, although Keane fans are an exception. Very touchy, they get.
 
Ooh, and here's a quiz for you: see if you can guess the one act who was so, um, self-regarding that he (a clue there) insisted on having a purple carpet and gold railings draped across the pavement to the entrance doors, quite a pain for the wheelchair and buggy users who then had to step into the road to get around them...
 
Anyway, the other night none other than Brian May was playing the venue, so we struck up conversation with some Queen fans, sporting "We Will Rock You" t-shirts, who were waiting outside. They were quite receptive to our (genuine!) compliments on Brian's recent work for badgers, as well as his astronomy expertise, but then got all hot under the collar when we um, kind of steered the conversation to Sun City. There seemed to be this idea that it's not "done" to go on about such things, that it's just water under the bridge, that it's somehow below the belt after all this time to even refer to the way that Queen "inspired" Artists United Against Apartheid (same goes for the way Eric Clapton "inspired" Rock Against Racism, we suppose), yet surely people - especially those in the public eye or who make a play for public adulation - need to take responsibility for their actions, and if you let them off after some kind of arbitrary limitation period in relation to something so fundamental, especially when they've never seemed to express any real remorse or understanding, well... oh, maybe we're just getting old.
 
Or, perhaps we've missed some public act of contrition: we confess to not having seen "We Will Rock You" (not least after reading Stewart Lee's extremely entertaining description of it in his book, plus the fact that we've been concentrating instead on writing the libretto for our own, fifteen-minute rock opera, a tribute to the songs of Bubblegum Splash! entitled "Plastic Smile At Yeovil Junction"), so for all we know there may be a segment of "We Will" that Ben Elton has specially written about Queen playing Sun City, maybe even admitting the somewhat craven attempt to capitalise on Live Aid so soon afterwards. After all, Ben is a man of dignity and impeccable socialist credentials, and it would be hard to believe he would ever resort to hagiography for cash. But... the fact the episode seems to have been airbrushed from history just gnaws at us, that's all. It's probably just as well that we didn't get on to what we thought of Brian playing the roof of Buck House, or indeed what we think of Queen's music. But we wished the guys on the pavement well, of course, and we hope they had a great evening. Ours ? We spent it listening to these.
 
* * * * *
 
Yup. New music. "Neuronum vs Neuronorm" from Michael Schwarz is, oh yes, the latest offering to tickle us from the über-fecund German black techno scene... technically, it's a double A-side (of "Neuronum" and "Neuronorm", you'll be unsurprised to learn), but by the time you add in the weight of remixes from Marco Asoleda, M.I.T.A., Alejandro Trebor, Plankton and Niereich (x2), you've got something that keeps yr heart pumping (and your other half complaining) for well over an hour, so it's not your three-minute summer single smash or anything, but a fairly bona fide "extended play" (and Plankton's decoration of his / her / its / their remix with random barbs of ambient noise is really rather pretty, you know). Ummm.... look, I just LIKE this stuff, at once urgent *and* soothing, pounding away with a serene disregard for the conventions or fashions of the day... pock-marking the night horizon with a galaxy of aural fireworks. There's something timeless about it.
 
And then, over that horizon, gallops the first of a promised *series* (yaaay) of remixes of Sven Wittekind's "Broken Mirrors" and as you know "Broken Mirrors" was the don, a bright mix of the minimal and commercial (M.E.S. pointed out on "Cash n' Carry / Stop Mithering" that "the conventional is now experimental", and we're sure that works vice-versa). So now, as night follows day, it's time for the remixes to trickle out, also via the imperious Sick Weird Rough. We talked about the nature of the remix a little when we talked about Morbid Angel (ooh, so nearly a Robert Forster song title) but thankfully there's no Oakenfold-ish original-ruination going on here.
 
Remix single one is an all German-affair, as it pairs Klaudia Gawlas' version of "The Twirl" with Pierre Deutschmann taking on album opener "Rapture of Deep". As you'd expect from Gawlas, who delivered the exquisite "Szcz" last year on Abstract, her version is single-quality in itself, all effervescent sashaying caress, warming beats and and drivingly dark (yes, positively Schwarz-ish) chime. Deutschmann's track has presence, too, although it removes much of the careful layering of the original - the "rapture", if you like - and goes for something better calculated to drive the dancefloor, including a great central section with deep bass tones that sounds like Sven and Pierre have kidnapped the brothers Bronski and forced them to improvise their way out. Also, in contrast to the subaquatic longing of the original, the remix sounds airborne in places: the ambient hum that fuels it sounds like the track is taking off, rather than plumbing the deep blue.
 
And soon we're going to write about something that squares the circle, for after years of the two coyly dancing around each other's handbags (or something), the Schwarz has now released a single for the Wittekind, on the latter's fabled SWR, a fact which makes our heads implode in itself (it's called "Function", and the prospect of it is like, well, you know, one of your favourite bands signing to one of your favourite labels (feels good, doesn't it ?)) so we're bound to bring you more on that story. Later.
 
Mmmm... or, actually, perhaps NOW, because we can't sit on it until we next meet, especially as we have no idea as usual whether our next post is two hours or two years away... um... so... in the words of the Spook School (or, for older bods, Arab Strap), "here we go"...
 
Michael Schwarz "Function" (Sick Weird Rough)
 
Another double A-side (yup, "Function" and "Disfunction" - on paper, could there be two less promising songtitles ?) but one then supplemented by nothing less than a *Ryuji Takeuchi* remix of "Function" (yes, all of ilwtt,isott's Christmases have come at once). All of which provides another 25 minutes' worth of Mr Schwarz's redeeming rhythms to savour, to add to the sixty plus minutes of "Neuronum vs Neuronorm".
 
As the beats kick on and the slick, sleek pulses high-five you all the way down the street, we're reduced to reflecting again on the fact that we don't have the critical vocabulary to explain quite why these songs drill so deep into our hearts, and we're reminded of those conversations with people at work about art, where they start from a position that Rothko is "rubbish", or Twombly is "rubbish"- just as our friends did, 25 years ago, when excoriating the likes of Bubblegum Splash!, tho' they'll be eating their words when "Plastic Smile At Yeovil Junction" transfers to Broadway - and we struggle gamefully to find words to explain why that's not how we feel about those artists, only to end up resorting to platitudes that don't properly elucidate our thoughts at all, or asking said colleague to name an artist that they actually do like, all the while moving further and further from the *point* of it all... and they say "oh, but I could paint that", to which we want to say "no, you couldn't" and "even if you could, so what ?" but by then you're really only in the realm of playground namecalling, and that's to be resisted at all costs...
 
And the thing is, "Function" and "Disfunction" build the tension perfectly - the former in particular is the expected hulking mass of minimal brilliance - but it's the remix that kills us, a track so elegantly contrived, by the framer of the stonking "Upside Down", that we wish that it, too, could be hung on an art gallery wall for admirers and besmirchers alike to debate; that it could be used to generate heat and light, acrimony and fury about *art*; that it could help distract us all from the various mendacities and mundanities of modern life, just as the Tate Modern's Rothko and Twombly exhibitions did.
 
Oh, and we've come up with an addendum to our reasons for clasping techno to our hearts, one that goes beyond our past splurgings about it replicating the human heartbeat, or how it kyboshes those groundless assumptions about what music can and can't be truly rewarding.
 
It's this: the refreshing realisation that, for the most part, we simply have *no idea* what any of these artists look like, whether they're old or young, black or white, what clothes they wear; we have not the first *clue* as to their cliques or circles or affiliations. The fact that when it comes to these records,we're unencumbered by our usual baggage of how we grew up with x or doted on y or once bought a pint for z. Should Sven or Michael or Ryuji ever play live on our street, we won't be equipped to make any sarky remarks about their looks or their politics or their public image or their past: the only conversation we'll be able to strike up with their devotees will be all about the music. We're looking forward to it already.

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