Dusted Features

[Mutek 2003] : [4] : Desire in the House

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Features

Dusted's tobias c. van veen brings us part four of his journal from this year's Mutek festival.

[Mutek 2003] : [4] : Desire in the House

4:12am & 9:48am. Monday, June 2 & Tuesday, June 3, 2003.

.. there are a few corrections to be made: any gonzo-report, direct from the frontlines, speculations made amidst the thump of speakers and the driving bassbins, or the extreme aural frequencies of a Mego showcase – which we are getting to, slowly – all of this fucks you up, a little. So here's some more on women & gender at Mutek: namely, that there was a woman panelist, none other than Patti Schmidt, with Brave New Waves, the infamous CBC late-night radio show which has maintained the alternative music scenes in Canada for eons. Patti's deep voice is probably the most recognised in underground radio up North .. and unfortunately I missed the panel. Had to sleep sometime. Had to write this all up sometime, even though a good chunk of it was actually written during various showcases, half passed-out on some stage or basking in the cold clouds at some café between shows .. Mutek is a marathon, and this year, now that all is said and done – probably the best marathon yet, rewarding all with superb endorphins culled from the aural ectomorphs of the globe's experimental audio regions .. but enough: Mutek this year also featured the highest number of women performers. These were:

[sic], Diane Labrosse, Myléna Bergeron from Montréal; Tina Frank from Australia; Magda from Detroit; Marina Rosenfeld from NYC; Tujiko Noriko from Japan and Robin Judge from Toronto [although she is, as of Monday, a Vancouverite .. ]

This is important to note, as the discussion of gender in electronic music raised some response from various people at the festival who read the coverage, posted to microsound, while the festival was underway. Specifically questions of tactics; why we must, in the first place, recognise women as anything different from men in this regard, and how specializing women's contribution to electronic music could simply act as a way of excluding women from an equal terrain. It comes down to managing the politics of "community" and how the creation of a "community," at the same time, is the creation of the outsider, the other, or even the enemy to a specific coagulation-i.e., a clique, plain and simple. That women are not on equal footing in the domain of electronic music, and that moreover, their position has been used to exploit women in such positions – the numerous female trance DJs letting records run out their grooves while handing out autographed photos & swinging their booty .. mid-90s bad memoirs.. comes to mind – has only served to make difficult a critical position or any kind of critical action. Even in writing on Mutek, and offering critique of two women performers (Magda and the critique I will write on Marina Rosenfeld), it remains a difficult task, due to these considerations; however, it should not affect one's critical appreciation or consideration of the art-work at hand. It should, however, inform the context that one employs, even if it is possibly negative ... For, on the other hand, those I talked to agreed agreed that addressing the politics of gender on a panel, and not women exclusively, would benefit the community as a whole. It would be a step or an act to at least acknowledge the situation. I would say that Mutek's programming this year in many ways is the best yet, in terms of overall flow, tension and release, and yes, gender distribution. I think, however, this needs to be reflected in the developing "professional" side of the festival – the panels. So here's an idea for next year, basically; hopefully Mutek will embrace the dialogue.

While I am at it, I should note that when I quoted Ben Nevile and Colin the Mole in the first report, it was in a casual matter and should not be taken as their tried-opinions .. An "unnamed producer" threatened to "beat me with a cane" if I did that again. And point taken – because oft-hand comments kill not lives (there was a British WWI motto to this effect), but label contracts and international back-scratching.

All of which brings up the issue of "scene politics" – another big no-no to discuss openly. Oh well. "Ooops" ...

But let's get onto the event.

If Friday was somewhat of a grab-bag, Saturday's Studio event was a concise elaboration of a singular concept: the exploration of sound with experimental turntablism. Philip Jeck, Marina Rosenfeld, Martin Tétreault and Martin Ng played an improvisational *group set* that worked along with jazz parameters; basically, one of them would begin a section, and the rest would follow in. Often Tétreault would cue the others.. the result was a treat for lovers of phonography, hearing this quartet improvise live. Each had their own unique approach; while Martin Ng works with stock Technics SL 1200s, focusing on line noise, needle noise, and processing it through effects and a Kaos pad, Martin Tétreault utilises home-made & altered, older turntables, one with two tone arms, and a number of built-in knobs, pick-ups, and other innovative rewirings and routings of the basic turntable concept. Philip Jeck is along the same lines, although his focus is carefully selected cuts and loops, often via tape on the vinyl hip-hop style, carefully mixed and timed [he had a score sheet of maneouvres, much like Janek Schaefer]. Jeck also works with older turntables. Rosenfeld, however, utilised stock SL 1200s and basic vinyl... and to be honest she was probably the least impressive out of the four. While I've read of her sound installations and all-women guitar orchestra [plucking with nail polish bottles] & her soundscape work, her turntable work was basic; it was basic because it relied upon her turntable skills only, lacking as it did any effects or focus on surfaces / line noise like Martin Ng, or any home-built apparatus like Jeck and Tétreault, or any programmed series of cuts and loops. In fact, it seemed she was utilising the same records for most of the session; and unfortunately her basic beat-juggling and general mixer skills simply weren't up to par. I'd like to see Rosenfeld push herself much farther in this respect, as I feel she has much more to offer than what she pulled out at Mutek. Altogether, it was a beautiful excursion into weird and wonderful spaces of loops, delineations, and vinyl vats, with Jeck often providing the harmonies necessary to give the collective aural atmosphere some direction, and Tétreault pulling it all apart with random, non-linear, and often frantic tone-arm mashing and spates of pocked sounds, while Ng provided counterpoint noise and tonal disturbances. The crowd was enthusiastic, and a friend of mine from Vancouver, who had never heard this type of thing before, was "stoked" after hearing this needled quartet ...

Then, ladies and germs, came Colin the Mole. I was expecting the infamous, ex-Vancouverite and now-Montréaler Mole, who holds down a Saturday residency at Läika, to bring out his dub-atmospheric loop project which he demo'ed at the Micro_Mutek featuring Basic Channel & Tikiman. At the Micro, the Mole layed out 5 decks replete with loops culled from a strange array of source – Muppets records, the laugh from a Monty Python sketch – all cut to skip at the right moment, run through delays and echoes and all intricately layered with delicate beatjuggling, cutting, and scratching .. Well, the Mole was not to disappoint, but this was no dub: Colin the Molar Mole pulled out the techno crates, juggling five decks of loops through two DJ mixers and a master mixer, all run through various effects. At one point, he traded off contrapuntal (offbeat) rhythms across all 5 decks, the concentration straining his slight frame. Impressive to say the least, the Mole demonstrated an analogue reconstruction of techno, basically recreating techno records by grabbing jazz loops, beat loops, percussion, all the elements of tracks, and (de)constructing it live... While some speak of Hawtin's innovative use of Final Scratch, this was, in difficulty, an immensely innovative techno set that went far beyond a DE9 set. Certainly the Mole should have been given the pleasure of playing on the Metropolis soundsystem [I'd like to say "he should have opened for Richie & not Magda.." – but as I know this was out of the control of the Mutek organisers, I can only say this with hindsight, which is never all that forceful] – maybe next year.

[click here for a Colin the Mole video]

& on to Metropolis, to a night dedicated predominantly to house. If Friday was the technohead coven, then Friday brought out the househeads and.. the Yuppies? Fifty-year old couples? Yes indeed: Senor Coconut, the entire full-piece band, was to play. We'll get to that conceptual fuck-over from Uwe Schmidt in a minute. Because before that were a few acts that threw down the house.. or brought it down.. even if not all house: these were, to begin with, Toronto's Jeff Milligan, aka Algorithm, who played a live set, manipulating, to the best of his turntablist skills, a live set of his own material on a laptop and knobby box. While one would wish he had been able to DJ his own material with Final Scratch – as his techno-turntablist skills are second-to-none, a DJ's DJ, so to speak, a real cutter and one of the fastest mixers I've ever seen – his impressive tweaking and mastery of his set-up enabled an invigorating journey through his more abstract compositions, full of miniscule pings and pauses, through to his 4/4 minimal techno compositions, layered with precise sounds and precision mastering. Next was Cobblestone Jazz. Let me say that again, for it's a name you'll be hearing again: Cobblestone Jazz.

Cobblestone Jazz rocked the shit out of us. The Victoria, BC based trio, composed of minimal techno composer Mat Jonson, DJ Tyger Dhula, and jazz keyboardist Danuel, got on stage in front of a _full set-up of live gear_. No laptops here: just a few selection of synths, drum machines, a 303, an 808 and 909 – and proceeded to lay down the deepest, hardest-hitting yet minimalistic jazz-house to ever grace North America, nevermind Metropolis .. Danuel, once he began playing those keyboards with his long and lanky arms – he's thin like a rake and quite tall – smiling away, this obscene smile, eyes closed, head-back, just grinning, loving every moment, throwing down *excelled* jazz keyboard work – then we knew we weren't watching producers, but composers, real composers, a jazz keyboardist who, instead of playing in a jazz band (which he easily could), chose techno – chose the difficult path, for a jazz musician. And in every bone in our bodies we followed their path, through two house jams, and finally a pause.. and a bout of screaming from the crowd .. Next was an entirely different beat – uptempo, it was techno-time, and Cobblestone Jazz entered a track that could only be described as akin to early Rob Hood, with stripped synthlines playing offkey rhythms over live, sung vocoder from Danuel, while chords echoed in and out every few bars, and the thud of the techno rhythms took over.. when it finally ended, the house was brought down: these local boys, working at this for years, "Did It;" some "play Mutek," others *play* Mutek for everything it is, could be, and was: such was Cobblestone Jazz's performance.

Cobblestone Jazz could only be followed, it seems, by Senor Coconut himself, and his Orchestra. Now let's get this straight from the top: this entire thing is a conceptual project brain-childed by Uwe Schmidt, aka Atom™, aka Atom Heart, etc.. I remember the original album fooling many an indie-rawk DJ at my old radio station, CiTR; it took a bit before everyone realised it was an electronic project by Atom™, and it took some a while to even understand that "Coconut" were covering Kraftwerk tracks. Well, it seems that some still haven't figured this out, and that the Coconut guise was so successful – perhaps even in spite of this layer of conceptualism – that they invented the band, taught them the tracks, and brought them up to Mutek, replete with cheese-light show, all yellow and red, all-in-white suits, the whole deal... A big, Latin dance party to slow, slow rhythms, all that electro transmogrified into cha-cha's and marambas... Is it a "faithful" replication of Latin American music run through Germany? A cheese faux-spectacle from the start? Kraftwerk on downers? Whatever it was, it was sincere: the lead singer of Coconut is none other than Venezuelan Argenis Brito, one half of techno act Mambotur (the other half is Chilean Pier Bucci). And away they went, taking us all into some fucked-up land where South America uproots its continental plates and collides with the heart of Europe... All very strange indeed. What was even more strange was the 100 or so 50+ Golden Age couples who came out to see this "Latin Band".. I was up in the stands talking to a few, and they couldn't understand why it was proceeded by this "horrid bang-bang music," as one elderly lady put it. They had, afterall, come to see the Real Music. I didn't say much, of course, nothing about the layers to the project, the German connections [or the ex-pat German community in Chile and vice-versa], all this piling up, rolling into a big, stinking onion, or even about how most of the musicians were not even Chilean. Hell I think some were not even from South America whatsoever. Regardless, then, the entirety is a success: a conceptual-art success, a financial success [it seems], and a showcase success: they played two encores, the crowd digging every moment, cheering and stomping for more, Metropolis rammed to its gills, rafters, and balconies, everyone horrendously drunk, so very, very drunk. I needed a drink too, although I couldn't tear myself away from an excellent rendition of "We are the Robots."

[Click here for Senor Coconut Video #1]
[Click here for Senor Coconut Video #2]
[Click here for Senor Coconut Video #3]

Well, after this, it was time to boogie to something a little more upbeat, and Chilean-Swiss Luciano, who is my age – makes me feel like I'm not moving fast enough, sometimes – got up and let loose with a minimalist exfoliation of what was essentially South American percussion over a stripped and minimal trance recombinated through a techno aesthetic.. kind of like an uplifting Ozy .. and it was beautiful, although somewhat predictable: but what we needed then was exactly what Luciano delivered. And as a whole it provided an uplifting end to the night – almost every act that night was reinventing a genre; Algorithm deconstructing techno and house and the limits of performativity, Cobblestone Jazz showing the real limits, talents and energies of live, analogue, jazzed-out performance; Senor Coconut remixing an entire tradition through two, if not three continents, and Luciano doing what I've been waiting to hear for many years: reworking trance from the inside out, bringing out what is good about it, and leaving the rest to rot [unlike "deep trance," which just slavishly samples techno rhythms into the same, boring structure with the same-old stock percussion, piano notes, and synth sounds]. The beautiful thing about the Chileans is that they hold few of the preconceptions and techno-bitterness so prevalent in us technoheads – I am speaking of myself here – who have been at this for so many years, and become somewhat embittered through the general downtrodding of techno throughout rave's short history. It took techno's reinvention, far from its Detroit centre, to bring it back to life. On the peripheries – that's where Mutek is taking us, a journey that, if it will remain on the edge, will be ceaseless in its discoveries through its perpetual motion.

By tobias c. van Veen

Read More

View all articles by tobias c. van Veen

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.