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Sunday, 19 August 2012

Open Head Wounds 2: Boards Of Canada, Chilled Euphoria and Sunset at the Café Del Mar

....And then Cabaret Voltaire released the single 'Yashar'!

Cabaret Voltaire had been my outsider band of choice at high school, a name I would drop to perplex and bemuse the chart orientated Pop fans among my school friends. Cabaret Voltaire made discordant, awkward, difficult, avant garde electronic music full of snarled vocals and samples from movies, TV, radio broadcasts etc. The use of electronics and of electronic drum machines meant that there was always a mechanical, repetitive rhythm to their music, and as the 80s progressed the early Post-Punk skreee was replaced with more emphasis on rhythmic structure. 1982's breakout album '2x45' saw them embrace a gritty funk sound, and the following year's 'The Crackdown' had an almost commercial electronic sheen that almost spawned a chart-hit with 'Just Fascination'. It didn't occur to me that CV may have started to make Dance records because 'Dance music' as we know it now, didn't exist fully in the public domain.

In July of 1983, Factory Records released a 12" single of Cabaret Voltaire called 'Yashar'. The track had appeared on their album '2x45' but now had been extensively remixed and had become a huge dancefloor hit at the Hacienda. Being a CV completist, obviously I bought the single and thus, the Trojan Horse of Dance Music entered my record collection.

Of course, it didn't really twig with me that it WAS Dance Music! To me it was just electronic music filled with lots of samples, but it made me realise that a lot of records that I owned could be classed as Dance Music, from the sinewy Post-Punk Funk of PIL's 'Metal Box' to New Order's 'Blue Monday'. In fact New Order's follow up to 'Blue Monday', 'Confusion', is really just a collection of sequenced electronic dance rhythms.

In 1987 two Indie bands that I was fond of, AR Kane and Colourbox, collaborated on a record under the guise of M/A/R/R/S  that unknowingly changed music history; 'Pump Up The Volume'.  I won't lie and say that I loved or even liked the record at the time, but I have grown quite fond of it over the years. But 'Pump Up The Volume' was one of the very first British records that acquired the tags 'Techno' or 'House'.

By 1988 Techno and House had merged under the chemical sunset of the drug Ecstasy to create Acid House, and for the first time since Punk, a genuinely new and counter-cultural musical movement had enveloped Britain. As a torn-faced old Smiths fan, you would expect that I detested all of the Acid House malarky, right? Well....not so. I already had one of the first underground Acid House records 'Jack The Tab' by MESH (which apparently involved Genesis P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle), some early Meat Beat Manifesto records and, of course, albums like 'In Gorbachev We Trust' and 'Phorward' by The Shamen before they got crap!
Now I am not pretending for one second that I am any kind of authority on Dance music, and sure some of my comments and musing here will be embarrassing to those who really know their stuff on the subject, but I guess I'm just saying that the electronic music that I loved while at school, I still followed as it morphed into Dance Music, even if I wasn't fully aware of the fact.

If we go back to Cabaret Voltaire for a moment; my first ever encounter with them may have been the very moment that subliminally programmed me to appreciate Techno, Rave and Acid House music whilst retaining my Indie-saddo mantle! Back in what I assume must have been 1981, I was lying under the bedcovers with a tiny mono radio with it's hearing-aid style earpiece listening to John Peel (a scenario a whole generation will doubtless recall). He introduced a song entitled 'Walls Of Jericho' by Cabaret Voltaire and for the next seven minutes or so I found myself listening to music so unusual, so alien that it may as well have been beamed in from Mars. Yet 'Walls Of Jericho' seems to predate Techno and Acid House by a good half decade. Given that I was already quite a fan of electronic music, this track (which I bought the following Saturday) seems to have planted the seeds of appreciation of what would be classed as 'Dance' music, a phrase that withered in the mouths of we Indie-Pop kids....

Given that 'Dance' music is such a broad church these days, it's no surprise that a lot of purveyors of electronic music often get branded as 'Dance' acts. Take The Orb for instance; pretty much an electronic Pink Floyd for today, though FAR better than that suggests!
Or indeed one of my favourite bands of the last 10 years or so, Boards Of Canada....

Boards Of Canada are two Scottish brothers, Mike and Marcus, who have been experimenting with sound from as far back as 1986 when, as kids, they used to create sound montages on their old cassette recorders, layering found sounds and library music into sweeps of weird resonance. Ray and I used to do something similar back in our school days when we both had cassette recorders and a Casio organ....if only we'd stuck at it!!
By 1995 Boards Of Canada had pretty much arrived at the fully formed item they are today, and since then have turned out otherworldly collections of dreamy and affecting music that often taps right into hidden thoughts and subdued memories.
Take 'Roygbiv' for example; after an ominously lumbering intro, the track suddenly bursts into a whirl of keyboard sounds that recall old 1970s TV adverts, music from those strange educational shows we used to get at school that never seemed to appear on 'normal' television, and that whole bright, breezy optimism you only seem to have as a child....

With 'Everything You Do Is A Balloon', the track begins with a minute or so of tones that bring to mind that unusual feeling you have directly after a head-knock, before a somnambulent rhythm leads us into the heart of the music and suddenly you're a child again, off sick from school and loaded up on Benylin, trying to watch children's TV and lapsing in and out of pharmaceutically altered dreams....

There is no doubt that Boards Of Canada's music creates a feeling of childhood dreams and memories, particularly if you were a child in Scotland in the 1970s and 80s. There's a wooziness, a feeling of chemical unbalance that threatens to tip either way; into nightmare or pleasant recollection that can actually affect your mood or mindset. Take 'In A Beautiful Place In the Country' for example....

Staying with 'Dance' based music that can act as mood enhancer, but moving away from Boards Of Canada, one of my musical 'guilty pleasures' (and this will probably come as a surprise to Griff and Ray) is the Techno music known as Euphoria (Griff and Ray: "JUDAS!!").
Basically a subgenre of Trance music, Euphoria emerged around 1998 and was a more extreme version of House/Techno with rising tonal modulation that creates a feeling of uplifting joy, probably designed to be experienced through a haze of MDMA, but which for jaded, cynical, unchemichally enhanced depressives like me, can be as equally joyful.
I first became aware of Euphoria when I started my relationship with my (now) wife Libby. She wasn't into 'Rock' music at all, but liked Dance music, and not just the cheesy chart stuff either. By wading through her collection of Dance compilation CDs I became aware that there were certain tracks and genres that I was actually quite partial to. Pretty soon I began listening to collections by Lisa Lashes, The Tidy Boys, and anything the Ministry Of Sound put out. It may sound a tad pretentious, but I can honestly say that I find their mood enhancing properties more viable than any chemical crutch....

The one variety of Euphoria/Trance that I love above all others is the more chilled wave. These softer variations with less rush but the same uplifting feelings have become synonymous with the sunset on Ibiza. Even though I've never been to Ibiza, there's nothing I like more than a good sunset over the ocean when I'm on my holidays, and often over the last 12 years or so they have been accompanied by the sounds of Ibiza's legendary Cafe Del Mar....

So there you have it.
Perhaps not a Blog I ever anticipated writing when we began the ~Streetlamp~, but hopefully I've managed to convey my love for electronic music in it's myriad guise, and that it stems from the simple fact that I believe that analogue synthesisers can tap into parts of the brain and memory that chiming Rickenbackers simply can't.
And why my favourite record of the moment is 'Language' by Porter Robinson.

All from that tiny mono radio!

Normal Indiepop service will resume shortly!


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