Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Picture by Hubert Kah

"The Picture" was formerly a German language single from would-be Alphaville band Hubert Kah  It was called "Wenn Der Mond Die Sonne Berührt" and appeared on their 1984 album Goldene Zeiten.  This was before they even attempted to expand their market out of Germany, but in 1985, it was included as an English language song on the soundtrack for Once Bitten, a rather forgettable screwball vampire comedy movie, which happens to be Jim Carrey's first leading role.

The movie itself is probably pretty terrible (I've never seen it); it's Rotten Tomatoes score is something pitiful like 18%.  Because it's Carrey's first leading role, it's become a bit of a cult classic, and the soundtrack is also a bit of a cult favorite, in part because of this song (it also has a a Real Life song, "Face to Face" on it.  The Remastered version of the soundtrack also has Hubert Kah's "Angel 07" in two versions, as well as two versions of the song I'm highlighting.)

Hubert Kah was never as well known in the Anglophone world as, say, Alphaville, even though they were a very similar type of band in every respect.  Curiously, when Iris (formerly Forgiving Iris) got together, their love of Hubert Kah was one of the things that brought them together in the first place, and they even delayed the release of their debut album while they went out of their way to secure the rights to cover this song.

As an aside, I notice that I never featured an Iris song here.  That's a major disconnect (no pun intended) because they were absolutely one of the hottest synthpop acts at the very end of the 90s, and their debut album (1999) Disconnect is still one of my favorites.  The remix album, Reconnect is also a real winner.  Sadly, they seem to be out of print on Amazon, and therefore extremely pricey.  It's a real shame that they seem to be a little hard to get at a decent price, because it really is phenomenal music.  I've got at least four or five tracks from the first album alone that I'd love to feature here.

Sadly, the band broke up after one album.  They still put stuff out; the singer retained the name and got another instrumentalist.  They've got some good stuff too—some real good stuff, even—but they didn't ever really manage to capture the magic of the first album again.

Anyway, I'd heard of Hubert Kah already because of their other song, "So Many People" which I'd happened to stumble across on an early internet radio station.  It was Iris' cover version that made me aware of this song (which doesn't appear on any of their albums, by the way; at least not in English).  Finally I investigated a few other of their minor hits: "Limousine," "Angel 07", etc.  I'm still not a Hubert Kah fanatic; I've got all of four of their songs (admittedly in multiple versions).  Here's the 12" version of the song, remixed by François Kevorkian of later Depeche Mode production fame.  Keep in mind that remixes in those days weren't very dramatic; they were usually just longer and maybe rearranged the existing elements a bit, so it sounds very much like the original version except longer and with a more dramatic introduction.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Tiefenrausch (The Deep Blue) (A*S*Y*S* Remix) by Kai Tracid

I continue to explore the intersection that happened between about 1998 or so at the earliest and maybe 2005 or so on the late end between hard trance, acid and early hardstyle.  Very different stuff than the 80s synthpop that I grew up on (in some ways, anyway) but clearly descended from aspects of it too.  One thing about trance that is great but also... not... is the fact that the beats are pretty predictable.  By that I mean that it starts off lean, builds up, has a big drop, then has a beatless soft interlude, before building back up to another big drop and then kind of "leaning out" again near the end.  This is part of the reason why I like the intersection; some of the other stuff, especially in remixed form, isn't quite so predictable.

Anyway, Kai Tracid is one guy, who apparently founded Tracid Traxx record label, which as you can guess focused on trance and acid, although the hardstyle sound grew out of this same community or like-minded German and Dutch DJs.  A*S*Y*S*, whom I've talked about before, was on the label; it appears (from vague commentary on discogs as well as song credits) that Kai Tracid was probably an early member of the band, and co-wrote some of their tracks (like "Acid Nightmare" among others.  When he went solo with Kai Tracid, he seems to have become more "trancy" rather than the much more overtly "acidy" sound of A*S*Y*S*.  But since A*S*Y*S* was still on his label, even as he was no longer associated directly with the name, they've clearly kept in touch, and A*S*Y*S* did this awesome remix of Kai Tracid's "Tiefenrausch (The Deep Blue)".  In fact, it's clearly the best version of the song, in my opinion.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Derb by Derb

I always like the voyage of discovery, and where it leads me—even for works that are rather older.  During much of the 80s, I was on a merry chase for material by Visage, for instance, after having heard of them in a library book, but struggling to find anyone who could get a copy of their seminal first eponymous CD for me, even by mail order.  Little was I to realize that it was shortly to be re-released in wide distribution, of course—but then, little was anyone to realize that the internet was about to make the most obscure releases widely available anywhere.

Of course, we now have almost the opposite problem; there's so much stuff available that it's easy to get lost trying to figure out what's even out there.  And as I explore styles of music that I may not have been paying attention to the first time around, I can often have circuitous trails into finding songs that maybe weren't really necessarily obscure to fans of the style... but which were to me.

As an example, I've spend a lot of time lately (and by lately, I mean for about four or five years, although I had quite a bit of stuff from before that) exploring the continental techno scene of the late 90s and early 2000s; some classic trance, hard trance, acid trance, and stuff like that in particular.  While I don't necessary consume it at a rabid pace, I've been steadily picking up new tracks here and there since about 2012-2013 or so.

So here's one story of a winding trail.  I'm a fan, of course, of New Order.  I also remember the track from Blade where the blood came out of the sprinklers in the slaughterhouse vampire rave... although it took me quite some time to recognize that it was actually the Pump Panel Reconstruction Mix of "Confusion."  For many years, I assumed (as many people still do, for some reason) that it was a Chemical Brothers song, or perhaps Crystal Method.  That's what one of my next door neighbors told me, and I assumed that he knew what he was talking about.  I wondered why I couldn't find it anywhere, though.  Heh.

Once I finally got it correctly identified, I realized that it had been sampled a few times and included in other songs, the best of which (in my opinion) was Caribbean born Dutch trance artist Randy Katana's (Randy Joubert) "Play it Loud."

Later as Youtube and Spotify came to be the way that music is most often consumed, I found bootleg remixes that are pretty fun, including one that remixed "Play it Loud" with "Flight 643", a Tiësto trance classic.  I wasn't aware of "Flight 643" actually, although I'd heard of Tiësto (also Dutch; real name Tijs Michiel Verwest) mostly from his remix work after he became more mainstream.  But "Flight 643" was a brilliant example of early 2000's hard trance (I guess if I played old FIFA games in the early 2000s, I would have heard it, apparently.)  Any, while gobbling up what I could of "Flight 643" versions, I found a "reworking" of the track by John Christian, which is probably my favorite.  I liked it so much that I looked for more John Christian, and the first thing that turns up for most if you're looking for him is his electro-house track "The Grimm."  "The Grimm" has a part in the middle—my favorite part, which is sampled.  Youtube comments suggested that it was sampled from the Alpha Twins "Smack".  This may be true, but probably not—"Smack" samples "Smack My Bitch Up" by Prodigy and... "Derb" by Derb.  The main synth line from "The Grimm" that I really loved was, it turns out, "Derb."  This makes Derb seem pretty obscure, but I'm not sure that that's really the case.  It was familiar and popular enough to be re-released with new remixes and stuff in 2014 (although decidedly indie).  I'm picking one of those remixes to highlight today; the Richie Romano remix.

If you're looking for the original, you can also get on this same single, or you can get the original single, where curiously it's named "Derb (Derbus)" to avoid confusion with the different version of the song called "Derb (Dernimbus)".


Monday, May 1, 2017

Mixed Signals by FM Attack

The number of tracks on my phone has exploded; from about 2,200 or so last summer to well over 3,100 now (and a good 100+ more to add; as soon as I calibrate the volume and trim dead space at the beginnings and endings of tracks.)  Much (but not all) of this growth has been in the synthwave space; gloriously, unapologetically retro 80s electronic music.  I've found that while I don't mind the guys making instrumental tracks that sound like part of some video game or 80s movie soundtrack, naturally my favorite stuff has vocals, and really is just overtly 80s synthpop rather than its own genre, I think.  It's amazing to me just how incredibly big this scene really is.  I still discover new guys completely by accident, often when I find that they've done a remix of someone else's song, or when they've been dumped into a mix video on Youtube, which is a great way to find new stuff.

FM Attack is the first of those to me.  I think I first heard of them when they remixed Coming Home by Visitor.  I posted this song (although I did a different mix) a few months ago, but the FM Attack mix is the one that seems to particularly get around as a favorite of the synthwave set.  That said, I still didn't really pay attention to FM Attack until I found a Best of FM Attack mix and found that I really liked almost every single track on it.  This is one of my favorites; and for an old timey electronic music fan, it's curious that I find that the use of an 80s flavored electric guitar is a great touch.  I remember there being a time when I denied guitars a place in electronic music at all (Depeche Mode's Music for the Masses cured me of that nonsense.  I don't know why New Order hadn't already done so, if not someone else.)

Friday, March 10, 2017

Acid Nightmare by A*S*Y*S*

There are a number of metrics one could use to determine favorite songs.  How often do you come back to it over the years?  How many versions of it do you have?  Despite the fact that you've got well over 3,000 songs on your phone, which are the ones that you deliberately seek out the most?

By any of those metrics, one song which is a completely different kind of electronic music than any that I've shown here on this blog yet, has to be one of my favorite songs of all time; "Acid Nightmare" by A*S*Y*S*.  Along with the Pump Panel Reconstruction remix of New Order's "Confusion" I think this is some of the most iconic samples of acid that you can hear.  Sampling a bit of the Nightmare on Elm Street soundtrack, the drop into a tortured 303 bass line from that is just freakin' incredible (at 3:10).

Some of the remixes out there make it somewhat less acid and more trance, but given that Kai Tracid was one of the early associates of A*S*Y*S* and his nom de plume is made by jamming together the words trance and acid, that's perhaps not too surprising.

Anyway, like I said, this is a far cry from the kind of stuff that I normally post on this blog, but my electronic music tastes do tend to be somewhat esoteric.  I like the purity of some techno, trance and other related genres, although they do tend sometimes to get monotonous over time.  The later acid stuff, like A*S*Y*S* is really hard and intense, though—especially compared to early acid house like Dr. Phibes or Phuture.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

We Are Number One But It's Synthwave by Florian Ollson

This is an odd entry.  Yeah, yeah... the whole "We Are Number One" thing is a jokey internet meme.  But one guy decided to turn it into a synthwave track and... well, it's actually really good.  Keep in mind that a lot of these early synthpop artists (and this is even more true for the italo-disco artists) were essentially a cottage industry of electronic garage bands, and that a lot of really interesting stuff comes out of the crowd-sourced, amateur or semi-amateur markets.

Anyway, here is, for your enjoyment, "We Are Number One But It's Synthwave" by Florian Ollson.  You can get it on Soundcloud, but I'm posting the YouTube version, because I like the fake 80s effects.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Ascend by Shelter

Who doesn't love a classic British electro-duo singing catchy, soulful synthpop?  Not me.  It may have indeed been many years since the early years of Blancmange, Soft Cell, Erasure or the Pet Shop Boys, but the trope remains current nonetheless.

One group that I only recently became aware of is Shelter.  They have a very (deliberate, no doubt) Erasure-esque sound, and their hit "Ascend" shows that quite well.

They've been around for a little while; this is their second album, it looks like, and they've even done some work with Andy Bell.  But they're new to me, and this song is the apex (to me, anyway) of their output as far as I can tell.