Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Todd Terje, Remaster of the Universe

The Norwegian trio of Todd Terje, Prins Thomas and Hans-Peter Lindstrom spearheaded the Nu-Disco, Space Disco or Nu-Balearic (the music went by lots of names) movement.  Remaster of the Universe is Terje’s summation of his work in that genre.  It’s a two disc collection that includes a 17-track mix by Terje on the first disc and an unmixed compilation of 9 of his remixes on the second disc.

The press release for Remaster of the Universe indicated that the collection is intended as Terje’s farewell to the world of remixing and that now he is going to “heal the world with proper self-composed music”.  Wow.  “Heal the world”?  “Remaster of the universe”?  Sounds like Terje has an immensely inflated opinion of himself that’s out of all proportion with his actual abilities.  He’s good, but he’s not anywhere near as good as he apparently thinks he is.

Terje’s mix on CD 1 is composed almost entirely of his own remixes.  It’s a decent mix that’s certainly worth a listen or four but it isn’t in the same league as the DJs who do this kind of thing for a living.  The meat of Remaster of the Universe is the compilation of Terje’s remixes on the second disc.  On the basis of what he gives us here, Terje doesn’t have the musical depth of Lindstrom nor the timbral breadth of Prins Thomas but within his narrower range of ability he produces first-rate remixes.  Almost every track on the disc is a winner and more than a few are recognized as classics of the genre.

Listeners who like space disco/nu Balearic/nu disco or the music of Lindstrom or Prins Thomas will almost certainly enjoy Remaster of the Universe.  If you’re unfamilair with these names or genre labels but like music that rides a compelling groove into laid-back bliss, check Remaster of the Universe out.

Terje’s remix of Rogue Cat’s “Magic Journey”

09/01/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Walter Gibbons, Jungle Music

In the world of dance music, Walter Gibbons’ reputation is an all or none kind of thing:  People either revere him as an immensely talented and creative pioneer of both live turntable-based mixing and studio remixing or they’ve never heard of him.  I’m guessing most people fall into the latter group which is a shame because the people in the former group have it right.  Walter Gibbons was a monster.

Gibbons became widely known in the very early days of the underground dance scene in New York when he became one of the regular DJs at Galaxy 21.  He was exceptional at extending breaks and beat matching records and could handle the turntables with a precision that rivaled Grandmaster Flash.  Galaxy 21 was an after-hours joint and Gibbons became the DJ the other DJs went to see when their gigs ended.

Ken Cayre, one of the owners of the foundational disco label Salsoul Records, heard Gibbons mix two recordings of Double Exposure’s “Ten Percent” during one of Gibbons’ sets and asked him if he could do the same thing in the studio.  Gibbins said no problem and Cayre asked him to make a remix for Salsoul.  Cayre gave Gibbons three hours in the studio to do it.  In those three hours Gibbons extended the album version of the song by almost three minutes and gave Salsoul a remix that outsold the original by two to one and was widely seen as opening record company eyes to the fact that remixes could provide a lucrative revenue stream.

As Gibbons’ life as a studio remixer grew, his career as a live DJ waned.  His career in the studio would soon follow.  A good deal of his professional downslide was due to Gibbons’ personality and his approach to music.  Gibbons was a creative and original artist who focused on the quality of the music he was making to the exclusion of what anyone else wanted to hear.  As a result, he was often way out in front of the curve making music that many in the dance audience weren’t ready to listen to.  “Set it Off”, the first release from a label Gibbons partially owned, is a good example.  It combined elements of early hip-hop and contemporary dance music in ways neither audience was prepared for.  When first played in clubs it would clear the dance floor.  However, DJs who heard the value of the track made it a regular part of their mix and audiences came to demand it once they became familiar with it.

Gibbons was an intensely focused man and when his interest in the Bible and Christianity turned to zealotry, he became very difficult to work with in the studio.  He refused to work on songs that contained lyrics that he didn’t find uplifting or that celebrated what he saw as the degrading and promiscuous side of homosexuality.  He was intolerant of other’s views and given to delivering sermons in the studio.  Working with him became more trouble than it was worth.  Gibbons spent the last weeks of his life living in a YMCA in New York.  He died of complications from AIDS in 1994.  He was 38.

The core of Gibbons’ musical talent lay in his exquisite understanding of and appreciation for rhythm and percussion.  That talent is on display throughout the 14 tracks on Jungle Music‘s 2 discs.  The first disc focuses on his early mixes for labels like Salsoul and includes remixes of tracks by Gladys Knight, the Salsoul Orchestra and Bettiye Lavette among others.  Some of this material may sound like standard disco remix fare until you realize that when Gibbons built these tracks, there was no standard disco fare.  He was making the mold that so many others would use.

The second disc focuses on his later remixes and it is easy to hear how unique Gibbons was and how far beyond most of his contemporaries he had moved.  It’s no accident that two of the remixes on disc two were done for Arthur Russell, another recently rediscovered giant of the early underground music scene.  Some of  Gibbons’ remixes wouldn’t sound out of place today.

Gibbons has been criminally neglected in terms of making his music available for current audiences.  Jungle Music stands as the exception.  The collection includes two discs of high-quality remixes coupled with a booklet with an extensive essay about Gibbons written by Tim Lawrence the author of the superb Love Saves the Day.  Jungle Music may be hard to find but if you like highly creative, rhythmic dance music or if you have an interest in the pioneers of underground dance music or DJ studio remixing, grab a copy while you can.  There is some exceptionally good music here.

Gibbons’ 12″ mix of Strafe’s “Set It Off”

08/30/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Ewan Pearson, Piece Work

Ewan Pearson is an English music producer and remixer who is highly respected in the profession although he may not be as well known to the average club goer as the high-profile, globe trotting DJs.  Piece Work is a two disc collection of his remixes between 2001 and 2007.

Great sport coaches tend to fall into one of two camps.  Either they have a developed strategy toward their sport and they hire or recruit players who fit the roles needed by their master plan, or they adapt their strategies to the strengths and weaknesses of the players they have available.  Pearson is a remixer of the latter kind.  He shapes his remix to the song rather than forcing the song to fit his remix style.  This means his remixes don’t have a “Ewan Pearson” sound.  It also means that he is capable of producing remixes for an astonishingly wide variety of artists.  Piece Work contains remixes of tracks  by The Chemical Bothers, Fields, Pet Shop Boys, Franz Ferdinand, Ladytron, The Rapture, Depeche Mode, Moby and Goldfrapp to name just a few.

Pearson not only produces remixes for a wide variety of artists, he produces excellent remixes for these artists.  He has a marked ability to bring out aspects of the music that may not have been prominent or fully realized in the original track.  (If you’re familiar with the original, check out Pearson’s completely unexpected remix of The Fields’ “Song For The Fields” below for an example.)  Couple this with the flexibility with which he can adapt his sounds, instruments and effects to the source material and you get an endlessly varied selection of high quality remixes on Piece Work.

The breadth of Pearson’s remix work means that Piece Work doesn’t hang together as a coherent whole.  The tracks were not made to go together,  Piece Work is a collection of remixes, not a mix CD.  When he sits down to make a mix, he does it very well and in general I prefer to listen to his focused mixes on Fabric 35 and We Are Proud of Our Choices. However, the remixes on Piece Work are outstanding more often than not and the very high quailty of both his mixes and his remixes indicates that Ewan Pearson is a very talented man.  Listen to his work and it’s obvious why he is held in such high regard in the profession.

Ewan Pearson’s remix of Seelenluft”  by Manilla and featuring Mixmaster Michael Smith from Piece Work

And for something completely different, listen to Pearson’s Vocal Remix of The Fields’ “Song for the Fields’

06/18/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , | Leave a comment