Thursday, May 30, 2019

Kraftwerk Sky-Dancer: She said "wouldn't it be funny if ..." and I said YES!

Sometimes an audacious idea pops into your head and you mull it over and then ... do it. For example, I jokingly suggested to my best friend and wife Jennifer that we should have a Kraftwerk themed wedding ... and without a pause she said SURE!  Point being: you should pursue the flashes of brilliance you're occasionally blessed with and also be the positive influence and enabler in someone else's life who needs that little push to make it happen. To wit, the creation Jennifer has crafted known as the Wild Wacky Wiggly Wolfgang.

Wolfgang Flür's face - from the Dentaku 7"

Constructed of ripstop nylon bought from eBay and with a few back of a paper bag measurements of existing Sky Dancers, Jennifer plunged into this project without being sure if it would even work properly. Red, black and a kind of eggshell color were the settled upon choices, but not before ordering many color swatches and fabric samples so she would have a clue as the fabric's pliability, color suitability and hue.

Also initially purchased but found to be unsuitable were a 12 volt automotive radiator fan and high amperage 110v ac to 12v dc converter. This experiment was to hopefully make our Sky Dancer portable but in reality would only inflate our Wolfgang without the wiggle we desired.

$100 down an interesting drain.

On the other hand, it did inflate our Wild Wacky Wiggly Wolfgang for his inaugural moment in our back yard, late at night. To the chagrin of our very middling neighbors.

First inflation looks good!
For reference, here's the Big Bear 3/4 hp blower we found locally for a fair price. Maybe this could be done cheaper but not without some expensive and failed experimentation.
"Big Bear" 3/4 HP Skydancer Vortex Fan Blower
For anyone wondering what our Kraftwerk Air Dancer looks like in real time and not projected backwards in time ...

Some fans collect autographs. We make artifacts and memories. This artifact is in honor of our friend Wolfgang and all our friends both in Kraftwerk (hello Fritz!) and the fans of Kraftwerk (hello John Shilcock, Paul Wilkinson, Thilo Schölpen, Rudiger Esch, Rob Keene & many more!). 

Stay tuned for our Hazeltine 1500 computer terminal restoration (as seen on the cover of Computer World) and a review of Kraftwerk's discography on floppy disk.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Rev. Fred Lane: Icepick To The Moon

Tim Reed aka Rev. Fred Lane with Icepick To The Moon
director Skizz Cyzyk at its Tampa premier March 2019
There's a magic, shining moment in Fred Lane's jazzy "White Woman" that (lyrics aside) has put a demented smile on my face for three decades now. It's a moment so symbolic and such a poke to the eye of convention that it stands out like a billboard in a desert. Any fan of jazz understands the language: pick a key, choose a thematic melody and tempo then ... go.

Each instrument gets a moment to riff as the band members hand off solos through a combination of telepathy and subtle cues. Thus it is that one must sit through the horrifying cacophony of the saxophone solo in White Woman, ears ringing from its icepick stabs to sensibility when finally it's over and a tremulous and polite flute solo briefly bows in with promises to undo the harm - then the saxophone, defying every convention, barges back in and stomps the flute solo into the ground.


Totally a real album that exists.

This moment is the penultimate summary of Rev. Fred Lane's oeuvre - taking everything you know and expect and turning it on its head. He's a demented Dean Martin exuberantly answering the question "what if Marcel Duchamp was from Alabama and played jazz" and then answering it with a backstory so opaque that further questioning is not possible. The Duchamp comparison isn't too far out of bounds either: The Rev. Fred Lane is the alias and absurd alter-ego of Tim Reed who was a member of the Raudelunas collective, a Dada inspired cabal of University of Alabama students who were willing to live for their art in the midst of a city dominated by football and greek fraternity culture.

Anyone who has ever studied the back cover of Car Radio Jerome has marveled at the astonishing musical catalog depicted there of Fred Lane recordings, albums with titles like "Abdul Ben Camel and the Anatolian Rave Ups", "Stand Up and be Counted Sherlton Welley", "Colonic Olfactory Cartel", "The Dog who Loved my Leg", "Fred Land Live at First Baptist Federal Prison", "The Hit" or any of the other thirty five depicted there know that it hinted at an unbelievably deep well of music, if only any of those LP's were to be found. Which they could not. Only two were released: 1983's "From the One that Cut You" and 1988's "Car Radio Jerome", both on Kramer's Shimmy Disc label.

Thirty three of these albums are as real as the set of fictional encyclopedias from Jorge Borges' short story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" - another beautiful speculative fiction of enormous proportions. And so it is that I unabashedly compare Fred Lane to titans of Dada and literature. I could go on at length about Fred Lane but my pals over at Dangerous Minds already wrote a short and illuminating piece on the man and his legacy so I'll leave it to you to check that out. For those unfamiliar with the music, give this a listen, and don't weep overly much for the flute solo cut down in its prime:

Nope, not real.

Not real either.

Totally a great LP if it existed, which it doesn't.

Some of the best jazz I've never heard.

For those of us who have spent the last few decades wondering whether these albums might exist or about the man behind the madness, fear not as a film documentarian improbably named Skizz Cyzyk has already spent two of those decades asking these burning questions. His debut effort "Icepick to the Moon" has touched down after an astounding two decades of halting production. It's a sampling of the evolution of digital video from the pixellated potato days of the late 90's to the 4k resolutions today as the technology evolved during production, yet this mixture of video qualities is natural if quirky. Mr. Cyzyk admits he learned the art of documentary film making by osmosis as his vocation is traveling to facilitate film festivals and has viewed thousands of films and documentaries. A recent job that thankfully involved far less traveling allowed him the desk time to learn Adobe After Effects to create the lovely animations that are peppered throughout and begin the process of editing footage into something cohesive. It was worth the two decade wait: lost footage was unearthed from the mid 70's and people came out of obscurity to talk on the subject who'd otherwise have been omitted had Skizz been a more hurried auteur.

Your humble narrator would rather meet this guy than the Pope or Mick Jagger:
The University of Tampa screened the documentary in the Cass center's theater and promised a "special guest".  Initially we were concerned that no one would show up as it didn't seem to have been properly announced. Doors opened at 7:30 for an 8:30 showing and we sat alone in the dim listening to the banter of the three Radio-TV students who were sullenly assigned the task of operating the equipment. I felt sorry for them, having no idea as the significance of this documentary. It wasn't until well after eight that people began filtering in and before long all seats were occupied and I could breathe a sigh of relief. The fans looked like I expected: over 40, marching to the beat of a different drummer and proud to be a part of this. I was grateful to see a millennial couple behind us and upon introductions it was revealed that one is Tim Reed's nephew William - cool!

Peering further into the dimness behind us revealed a familiar figure at the back row. Our special guest was indeed special: band aids on his face, a dapper hat, chunky eyeglasses and white van dyke facial hair ... jackpot! There are times that warrant being a gushing, foolishly grinning fan-boy and this was one. I walked back and sat by him with a dumb smile plastered across my face and told him fan-boy stuff and he smiled back and was very gracious and appreciative to hear it. I told him about how he helped me embrace my southern heritage, that it was people like him and Flannery O'Connor, the Butthole Surfers, Wayne White, William S. Burroughs, The Residents or Truman Capote that could only have been forged in the crucible of the deep south to such great effect. I basically blathered, but I meant all of it from the bottom of my heart. Then I asked if he could sign the Icepick posters that the RTV department had thoughtfully given me, which he did.

Icepick to the Moon answered many questions for me, like what cauldron of the absurd could've cooked up a being as unlikely as Fred Lane and how did the very creepy song "From The One That Cut You" come about ... and why? That's a story best explained by the documentary, let's just say that it's based on something found in a derelict panel van ...

The kind of note you don't want to find in a panel van.
The Q & A after the movie was enlightening though the audience was shy about asking questions. I felt obligated to again chip in my two cents about the deep south being a crucible from which some amazingly offbeat talents have been forged. Here it is in its entirety:

I'd like to leave you with this: you too can own a piece of Tim Reed, so to speak. His focus lately has been on kinetic sculptures; things that whirl about in the wind and inspire whimsy, or as he puts it, "unusual kinetic sculptures for people who have nothing better to do with their money". I'm down with that. I must have a Booley in my yard STAT.

Tim Reed's contact info:
172 North Crest Road
Chattanooga TN 37404

Jennifer Huber hearts Tim Reed!

Addendum from the Rev. Fred Lane (Tim Reed) himself:
The stage show of FTOTCY was originally produced November 13,1976. The recordings Fun in the Fundus & Oatmeal are both from this production. Rubber Room was recorded in 1978 in anticipation of the Recommended Records sampler. This was delayed because of that label’s objection to the song’s content (literal minded maybe). They finally released I Talk to My Haircut (Why is this song’s subject matter less objectionable?)
Any how, the remainder of the tunes were recorded in 1981 at the Northport, AL chamber of commerce. We always used whatever space we could get away with.
The  record was at long last released on my fake label Say Day Bew records in 1983, seven years after it should have been and since I was young it seemed like forever. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Düsseldorf: Past is Prologue

We wanted to do this documentary months ago but didn't know where to start so finally Jennifer just ... started. This trip was life changing; we met a personal hero of ours, Kraftwerk's Wolfgang Flür, toured the formerly top secret Kling Klang Studio and even made it onto a nationwide German news program ... but more importantly we left with a coterie of new friends that we admire.

Thanks to Rudi Esch for your magnanimous donation of time and energy and loaning your mother to Marshall so that he could perfect his Rhineland dialect! All joking aside - our pal Marshall learned to speak German watching watching war films so any softer, more thoughtful tutors are welcome.

Jan Wiefels: our impetus for going. It's amazing that a person we don't know / have never met would put two tickets to a sold-out show aside for us. We came this close --> <-- to not going before you stepped in! Thorsten Schaar was our other motivator: your intriguing proposition of being in a Tour de France press junket and city tour cemented the deal.

Thanks to Memo Torfilli for making a positive 1st impression of the city and for hanging out with the odd Americans. Also your Mod Lord fashion shop is on point.

The journalists we met were all singularly awesome, no big egos or bloviators, just salt of the earth talent like Mark Roland, Andy Pietrasik, Tobias Rüther and Kevin Pocklington

Plus the colorful denizens of Düsseldorf: Fender Rhodes maestro Thilo Schölpen, edm crushinators Rob Keane (WATT!) and Daniel Fassbender, Wiebke Keane, Christina Hooper (Munich but whatever!), Frank Soentjens (Belgium but whatever!) and Wim Wenders who sadly wasn't there. Props also to Les & Hilde for meeting us and enjoying a concert by a band not named Die Toten Hosen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Kraftwerk Aren't What You Think They Are And That's Okay

Wolfgang Flür is sitting across the bar table from us in Düsseldorf's posh me and all hotel's penthouse lounge. He's small in stature despite my mental image of him as a musical titan and rather fetching for someone knocking on 70. Flanked by floor to ceiling windows looking out over a Rhineland cityscape preparing for the 2017 Tour de France Grand Depart I steel myself to ask an illuminating question or two from the one member of the band that I in years past found most compelling in their cryptic band and album photos. Wolfgang always seemed the most beatific, to the point of having a resting smile-face.

Kraftwerk Robot Wolfgang Flür & Former Propaganda
Chanteuse Claudia Brücken at Me And All Hotel, Düsseldorf

At the moment he's animatedly splitting his time talking to a lovely post-Propaganda Claudia Brücken as well as former Die Krupps member and Düsseldorf documentarian author Rudi Esch about ... I haven't a clue. My collegiate German skills withered on the vine the day my degree was handed to me. Then he turns to me, pushing a vintage 90's cd walkman across the table and asks if I'd like to hear the latest project he's working on. 

My journey to this point was an unusual one. Only a few years earlier I'd held an entirely different view about Kraftwerk, one carefully cultivated by both my ignorance and the shiny veneer created by founding members Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider of the aloof inscrutability of four teutonic men working together towards a common goal. When I did read about the band it was typically breathless proclamations of More Influential Than the Beatles or The World's Most Influential Band with the usual boilerplate brimming with superlatives of having invented electronic music and made hip hop possible. Who was I to argue? 

Indeed Kraftwerk were my first musical love, having been gifted at age twelve a cassette of Man Machine from an older brother who found it trite but my instant and fanatical love for their music made them the most influential band ... in my world. Growing up in the pre-internet blue collar cultural wasteland of Florida's Baptist churches and cheap tourists eschewing the more expensive hotels near Disney World, that cassette represented a lifeline to a better place and signified a world of possibilities with its lovingly crafted soundscapes. Like many youth of the era waiting at a bus stop and feigning interest in Van Halen or Michael Jackson to their peers  I knew I'd likely wind up eating that tape if they realized an alien was in their midst. Bands like Kraftwerk, Devo or The Residents gave the quirky youth of that time a sign that being a Beautiful Freak was indeed okay even if one had to be circumspect about their love for them.

It was at this point I constructed my Kraftwerk time machine. Years came and went at a rapid rate; Reagan promised an economic reach-around for America, I graduated high school, Electric Cafe was released and a Space Shuttle exploded. I got a degree, opened a record store, the wall fell, Klaus Kinski got uglier, The Mix debuted and another Space Shuttle exploded. I taught English in Japan, got married/divorced and a really cool black man became president. It was a dizzying trip and it's surprising I survived the fast 1:1 ratio of time travel (only limitation: no reverse). It felt at times like riding a toboggan down a ski jump. So I get out of my device and stand there blinking uncomprehendingly at 2014's Moogfest Kraftwerk show and realize that there have been developments as Ralf Hütter and ... three blokes I completely don't recognize take the stage and positively knock my socks off with a nearly orgasmic musical experience.

Ralf & Friends land at 2014's Moogfest in Asheville NC

It's perfectly reasonable to believe that Kraftwerk = Ralf, Florian, Karl and Wolfgang. It's emotionally etched in stone, like John, Paul, George and Ringo. Or Joey, Dee Dee, Johnny and Tommy. It's what I was sold as a kid, they couldn't possibly have seemed more cohesive, like a married couple (or two couples) who finish each other's sentences. Yet I was now conflicted like the protagonist in The Crying Game and trying to make sense of this curve ball.

Ralf, Henning, Fritz and Falk: this is the new reality. How did we get here?

Wolfgang's book just got a redux
Wolfgang has written at length in his tell-all 1999 autobiography Kraftwerk: I Was A Robot about his split from the band in 1987 and the acrimony that followed, shining a spotlight on their dysfunctional relationship and prompting a lawsuit from his former bandmates (minus Karl who quit in 1991). His story is enlightening, at times riveting and laugh out loud funny but its core theme is one of alienation and loss: his name was expunged from some album credits, Ralf and Florian patented the drum pad that he designed, Wolfgang and Karl were shunted into cheap hotels separate from the founding members on tours and a litany of other slights and grievances.

Most astonishing was the idea that he and Karl were considered merely as employees ... earning a wage. The immense frustration he experienced peaks during the years that Ralf and Florian focused on cycling to the detriment of touring or recording new material: he didn't get paid for riding a bike. The founding members both came from wealth and had financial safety nets but Wolfgang and Karl had to seek outside work to stay afloat with Wolfgang once posing nude for a men's magazine, though knowing his outgoing nature he'd probably have taken that gig regardless.

Inarguably the most creative and productive years of Kraftwerk coincided with Karl and Wolfgang's ~15 year "employment" with little substantially new conceptual material or albums produced since their departure. Indeed, Wolfgang had a hand in every album spanning from 1974's Autobahn to Electric Café in 1986 after which he bid his bandmates auf Wiedersehen. Every release since has consisted of remixed or reworked material with only 2003's Tour de France Soundtracks debuting new material alongside reworked versions of their 1983 hit ep Tour de France.

It's too bad that the employees in this scenario didn't have better union representation.

Then there's the counterpoint: if Kraftwerk were truly a two person band with Ralf and Florian at the helm (Florian later bowed out in 2008) it's not so surprising that they maintained such an iconic air of evolution and teutonic perfection for the outside observer. It's nearly impossible to maintain high creative standards when work is filtered through a committee, usually there's an alpha figure navigating towards a goal that only they fully understand. Even the legendary Klaus Dinger (who went on to found Neu!) was booted out of an early iteration of Kraftwerk for wanting (among other reasons) his name emblazoned on a red neon light rather than the blue of his bandmates. An apt automotive analogy would be that brilliant designers working solo like Harley Earl, Giorgetto Giugiaro and Bill Mitchell respectively designed the '59 Cadillac, VW Golf and Corvette Sting Ray. A committee designed the universally reviled Pontiac Aztek.

It's important to not downplay Fritz Hilpert and Henning Schmitz's recent-ish Kraftwerk contributions as they've been with the band for more than two decades now and had a hand in some of the original studio recordings as sound engineers and programmers before that (Falk Grieffenhagen is the on-stage video technician). Time moves on and bands evolve. The perception that I carried for so many years of Kraftwerk as a monolithic entity was false. Music, like sausage, is often a production that is best left unobserved.

Review of 3-D The Catalogue LP & Blu-Ray

And so the world spins on with Ralf gifting us one more jewel of a collection, this year's 3-D: The Catalogue, a curated nine lp / eight cd box set retrospective of all albums since Autobahn recorded binaurally for an immersive audio experience and a companion four disk Dolby Atmos mixed blu-ray box set for those fans with 3-D capable televisions.

In its defense, the 3-D box set's quality and documentation is fanatical, yet it's no surprise that Ralf's most popular question when interviewed is "when will a new album be released" to which his standard reply is “when it’s finished”. I suspect the Space Shuttle has nothing to worry about.

So I'm sitting across from Wolfgang (someone pinch me!) and put his headphones on, marveling for a moment at this cd Walkman relic from the 90's then hit play. After a studio fade and introductory motif I'm experiencing a good piece of electronic pop music with Claudia Brücken contributing her dulcet and subtle vocals to the track. I nurse one of Düsseldorf's famous Altbiers and try to savor all four minutes of the moment. It sounds reminiscent of his 1996 Yamo album "Time Pie", a perfectly serviceable if somewhat ephemeral bit of techno-pop. Existing fans will certainly shell out for it.

Headphones off, he asks what I think. I'm nonspecific but upbeat, choosing words I hope don't sound parsed. My love of electronica has always veered into the abyss from Severed Heads and Throbbing Gristle to modern artists like dark folk-electronica Tunng and the quirky Felix Laband so it's a struggle to review music that's intentionally crafted for mass appeal (take this with a grain of salt as I know I'm the minority here). Appeased, he says it's an homage to England's Birmingham, an industrial city of "brutal loud sounds" with factories and noisy steel mills and clarifies "My new pal Peter Duggal formerly known as Moonraider is my partner in music production. He's originally from Birmingham and comes from a film music and soundtrack background and invited me to Hebden Bridge to play the famous Trades Club. It was one of the best shows we ever did, it was crowded and the people went crazy about my music! That was the day we became friends and I was interested in his music ... we fit very well together."

Another artist with a very similar oeuvre is Wolfgang's pal Karl Bartos. For this trip I'd packed a copy of Bartos' Off The Record which was in my rucksack in the hopes that we'd cross paths. Again, it's a good album suffused with the overt melancholy of hope that lightning might strike twice, repeating most of the tropes and themes of Kraftwerk with a major clue being the album cover: Karl's Kraftwerk-era mannequin head. I'd bet on the wrong horse bringing this but it did lead to me asking a painfully obvious question to Wolfgang. I knew from his book that he's a sensitive man who doesn't tolerate awkwardness or ambiguity well. True to my nature, I made it awkward.   

"As Kraftwerk have failed to put out new material for so long," I offer, "and knowing that your fans love your solo work as well as your former bandmate Karl's ... why haven't you two collaborated on any projects that would show the world what they're missing?" 

He doesn't pause to think, responding reflexively, "Many fans and journalists have asked me that. The reason is we are developing in two different directions musically. I think we are great friends but musically we are too different." I'm sure I wore a sour expression as I wasn't buying it.

Knowing that people don't like being contradicted I plow ahead and say, "It's not like you're klezmer and he's gangsta. You're not that different, pretty similar actually within the world of electro-pop at least from my point of view..."

Wolfgang scrutinizes me and I fear I've made a horrible gaffe. One never knows what emotional cyclone exists within our fellow humans. Then his demeanor softens and he quite sincerely states, "Ask Karl. I would be open to it. I think I'm more open to it than he is. We've discussed it a lot of times but he always has an excuse for anything else. I think the main reason for it is that Karl seems to be still too close to the whole Kraftwerk sound and themes and I ... I am not. I have developed into the story teller and other things."

The excellent me and all hotel düsseldorf lounge (yes, it's lowercase) is crowded with journalists and some of Düsseldorf's musical luminaries like Rob Keane, Daniel Fassbender and some journalists who'd make a far bigger story than me so I thank Wolfgang and return to my table to contemplate my jet lag and excitement at having met someone I'd previously assumed to be a pop cultural chimera. There's still a full week ahead for our visit to Düsseldorf and the Tour de France's Grand Depart, but it still feels like we might've peaked too soon; this was only our first evening in one of Europe's most metropolitan and artistic cities.

Epilogue: I wrote this for Electronic Beats magazine but failed to see it published with no explanation from their managing editor. My hypothesis on it being spiked is it's not entirely a positive piece about the band - a band that's notoriously fickle with the press. Perhaps they felt this might jeopardize future opportunities for band interviews or promotional items? A follow up story was planned about visiting the historic Kling Klang studios and the Düsseldorf music community in case anyone wonders about the abrupt ending of this piece.

August 1st 2017 marked the long-awaited publishing of Karl Bartos' autobiography Der Klang Der Maschine. How Karl will approach the conundrum of telling the story of a band that historically prefers anonymity remains to be seen (for me), at least until there's an English translation. I wish him well at walking the fine line between Man and Maschine.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Kraftwerk Superfans In Düsseldorf + 3-D Catalogue Box Set Review

Review of 3-D Catalogue & Düsseldorf

Greetings germs, Germans and everyone else. We're here today to yack at you about topics near and dear to us - specifically us in Düsseldorf for Kraftwerk's July 1 2017 Tour de France concert. That and the just-released 3-D The Catalogue box set that will put a dent in your bank account and a smile on your face assuming that you can still smile after the dent. And what a dent it is ... especially if you're a superfan and must have all the formats. For those with OCD completist compulsions you'll be on the hook for:

3-D The Catalogue on Blu Ray $170
3-D The Catalogue on Vinyl $100
3-D The Catalogue on CD $45
Kraftwerk Panties $10

Be thankful that you didn't brave the merchandise lines at the concert to buy these. The vinyl box set there was €160 which when converted to our paltry dollars is $190. I know this because our pal Les was at the show and was 100% sure that the box set was €60 - so we braved the crushing merch line in which everyone pressed forward into a compounded crowd-smash which provided great insight into why there's so many crowd-crushing fatalities at European kick-ball matches.

I'm going to wildly generalize here and say that European people at concerts and sports matches are quite sociable and love a good dogpile so any excuse to jam up against another person is welcomed. From the perspective of anti-social Americans it's as confusing as the French's love of limburger cheese and explains why we rarely have crowd crushing deaths: we fundamentally don't like each other very much. But I digress.  We got to the sales counter only to discover Les somehow couldn't see the 1 in front of the 60 but I did experience the thrill of a middle aged man grinding on my backside for a few minutes so there's that.

Jennifer and I reviewed the Blu-Ray and LP box sets - or mostly did. This is part one, the unboxing and the chatting and the anecdotes about the unexpected competitive nature of the title Worrrrrld's Biggest Kraftwerk Fans - which we aren't. Watch and learn.

Stay tuned for specifics on what it's like to be granted entry to the former Kling Klang Studios, the thrill of knocking back Killepitsch Kräuterlikör with Kraftwerk's Wolfgang Flür and our attempt to make Tampa Florida look like a possible sister-city pairing for Düsseldorf.

Bonus topic for those who watched the video (above): who is nicer Canadians or Germans? Your vote can be placed with the widget at the top - right corner of this blog.

Until then - buy the 3-D Catalogue Box Set!

The former Kling Klang Studio's intercom.

Not Fritz - this is another superfan wearing a product of his wife's immense sewing skills.

As an aside - if $100 for the Kraftwerk vinyl box set is too spendy to justify or you already have it, why don't you buy this drop-dead lovely NASA Voyager Golden Record Box Set for about the same amount of your rapidly depreciating currency? Isn't it nice to have options?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Thilo Schölpen Plays Kraftwerk: Live at Düsseldorf's Kunst Im Tunnel Cafe July 2 2017

For any devout fan of Kraftwerk there's a fascination for their music in most any format. Señor Coconut Y Su Conjunto nailed the genre with El Baile Alemán (arguably the best covers of Kraftwerk theoretically humanly possible) but there's always room to expand the concept. If you dig Balkan sounds then the difficult-listening Trans-Slovenia Express is for you. Also: 8-Bit Kraftwerk for those with a chip tune fetish, an all Japanese band celebration called Musique Non Stop for the appreciative Gaijin, etc. and so forth. Feel free to comment below on your personal favorite covers that I likely don't know about.

We had the fortune of attending (and recording) a live Thilo Schölpen gig in Düsseldorf which we walked into with no expectations or preconceived notions - and it turned out to be magical. Here's your favorite Kraftwerk songs rendered on a Wurlitzer electric piano (Fender Rhodes clone) by a maestro. I associate this instrument with bands like Steely Dan and Supertramp - and that's a good thing. Ordinarily Thilo would play on a proper concert grand piano but they're pretty hard to schlep to venues so here he's making do with one less octave on an abbreviated keyboard.

This was recorded the day after the Düsseldorf Kraftwerk Tour de France concert July 2, 2017 at the Kunst Im Tunnel Cafe on the Rhine, a venue known for hosting artistically rewarding musical events. A Roland R-05 served yeoman duty here, a great gadget for lovers of live music. Any fan of Kraftwerk and the Fender Rhodes electric piano will likely swoon over this live recording.

Thilo has quite a repertoire of other music as well, though his Kraftwerk renditions are truly astonishing. Thilo's personal site:

A great place for Düsseldorf's specialties: Altbier and music:

Thilo's axe: the Wurlitzer twin of the archetypical Fender Rhodes.
Set List:
01 Computer World
02 Showroom Dummies
03 Neon Lights
04 Autobahn
05 Pocket Calculator
06 Trans-Europe Express
07 The Model
08 The Robots
09 Computer World Reprise

Thilo's a rather cool guy. I'm taking notes.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Felix Laband - A Life In Collage

Trying to categorize Felix Laband's sublime music is fraught with peril.  It's a disservice to haphazardly pound the round peg of his art into a square hole called "electronic music"-  that would be lazy and devalue what he does, potentially equating him to any common aspirational DJ with a MacBook Air and Bandcamp, like calling Nick Drake a "singer-songwriter" or Augustus Pablo a "reggae artist". It's an inadequate appellation.

Then again, Electronic Music is a Lernaean Hydra, a mythical beast that sprouts two heads for every one that is cut off. The branches and categories spawn subcategories and endless fractal iterations that are maddeningly OCD. Imagine if you walked into End Of An Ear Records and saw that they'd subdivided their electronic music bin into genres: 
Ambient dub Dark ambient Drone music Breakbeat Baltimore club Big beat Breakbeat hardcore Broken beat Florida breaks Nu-funk Miami bass Jersey club Nu skool breaks Disco Afro/Cosmic disco Disco polo Euro disco Italo disco Nu-disco Space disco Downtempo Acid jazz Chill-out Space music Trip hop Drum and bass Darkstep Drumstep Funkstep Hardstep Liquid funk Neurofunk Neurohop Sambass Techstep Dub Ambient dub Dancehall Dub poetry Dub reggae Dub techno Dubstep Dubtronica Electro music Freestyle music Electro swing Electroacoustic music Acousmatic music Musique concrète Electronic rock Alternative dance Indietronica Coldwave Dance-punk Dark wave Electroclash Electronicore Electropunk Ethereal wave Krautrock Minimal wave New rave Nu-gaze Space rock Synthpop Synthwave Electronica Berlin School Dubtronica Folktronica Funktronica
Laptronica Livetronica Ethnic electronica Al Jeel Arabic pop music Asian underground Bhangra Bhangragga C-pop J-pop K-pop Shibuya-kei South Asian disco Worldbeat Hardcore Gabber 4-beat Breakbeat hardcore Bouncy techno Breakcore Digital hardcore Frenchcore Happy hardcore UK hardcore Mákina Speedcore Hardstyle Dubstyle Jumpstyle Lento violento Hi-NRG Eurobeat Eurodance Bubblegum dance Italo dance Hip hop music Alternative hip hop Electro Electro hip hop Hardcore hip hop Hip house Neo soul New jack swing Trap music Trip hop UK garage House music Acid house Ambient house Balearic beat Chicago house Deep house Future house Tropical house Diva house Electro house Big room house Complextro Fidget house Dutch house Moombahton Moombahcore French house Funky house Garage house Ghetto house Ghettotech Hardbag Hard house Hard dance Hard NRG Hip house Italo house Jazz house Kwaito Latin house Microhouse/Minimal house New beat Outsider house Progressive house Rara tech Tech house Tribal house Trival Witch house Industrial music Aggrotech Electro-industrial Dark electro Electronic Body Music Futurepop Industrial metal Industrial rock Japanoise Neue Deutsche Härte Power electronics Death industrial Power noise IDM Glitch Glitch Hop Wonky Oldschool jungle Darkcore Ragga jungle Raggacore Post-disco Boogie Electropop Chillwave Dance-pop Dance-rock Techno Acid techno Detroit techno Dub techno Hardtek/Free tekno Minimal techno Nortec Tecno brega Techdombe Trance music Acid trance Balearic trance Dream trance Hard trance Nitzhonot Psychedelic trance Full on Suomisaundi Goa trance Progressive trance Tech trance Uplifting trance Vocal trance Trap Drill Future bass UK garage 2-step garage Dubstep Brostep Drumstep Chillstep Reggaestep Breakstep Future garage Grime Grindie Speed garage Bassline UK funky Vaporwave Vaportrap Future Funk Music Video game music Chiptune Bitpop Game Boy music Skweee Nintendocore ...
But I digress. For the sake of simplicity let's skip the categorization, but note that Felix is an electronic musician with a heart. He's an alchemist mixing seemingly mundane samples of found audio, primitive tribal music, delta-blues riffs, radio jingles, street preachers, snippets of obscure and genius movies like Blue Sunshine or Night of the Hunter and pairing them with both acoustic and digital tapestries. It's organic, soulful, provocative .... any fan of Brain Fruit, Pram, Tunng, Porn Sword Tobacco, Cliff Martinez, The Books, Four Tet or Plone would feel right at home. 

"Reprisal" collage by Felix Laband
His music, typically devoid of vocals presents an escape route from the grinding banality of meaning. The passionate lyrics of wordsmiths like Stephin Merritt or Elbow can elevate the spirit - but there's much to be said for a reprieve from lyrics when the music itself is fantastic. It's why traveling in countries where we don't speak the language affords the opportunity to imagine that the conversations we hear or the background pop music is nuanced and thoughtful, or at least don't plague us with their vapid nothingness. It's an oasis where we forge our own meaning, and this is the space that exists within Felix's creations.

Hailing from Johannesburg South Africa, Felix hasn't exactly become a household name here in the States. His obscurity made legitimate purchases of his music difficult, so like any rabid fan I resorted in the early 00's to *cough*piracy*cough* and felt the pain of having shorted an artist that has contributed so much to our well being. But now more than a decade later thanks to Discogs, Ebay and Amazon it's easier than ever to patronize the artists we love. And so we did, with the largest music related purchase we've ever made. 

Turns out Felix is a great collage artist. His Instagram feed has been a source of insight: shots of indigenous African tribesmen, moments of whimsy with his girlfriend Kerry, hanging out with dad, parties, EDM festivals and many intriguing cut-up collages. Collages that suggest a cultural heritage that's hard to parse, sometimes painful, often with a dark humor. The more one looks at his scissored and glued collages the more one can see the forces that cut, paste and bind his music together as if the art was an extension of the sounds. 

We've admired the collages from afar and were smitten when we first saw "Reprisal" pop up in his Instagram feed. It elicited from us a palpable emotional response on par with Felix's music. There's a power to the poverty of the bleak, dark figure with the bucket, his head bisected by a broad kanji-esque brush stroke and a splatter of paint that could suggest bloodshed. We can infer that South Africa's brutal history of apartheid might factor into this tableau. It's a desperate scene that challenges us to derive meaning, to look for a ray of hope to break the code of the random letters peppered above and below. 

The image on Instagram was hashtagged by the Kalashnikovv Gallery and after a couple queries on email and Facebook we were able to ascertain that this piece was both on exhibition and was also (happily) for sale. It wasn't cheap, even the cost of the wire transfer alone was $50. We flipped a coin then did a best two out of three and decided to forge ahead with the purchase.

It took over a month, but the axiom about good things and waiting proved to be true: it arrived unharmed in a well crafted 2x4 and plywood bomb-proof box with a certificate of authenticity. The frame is a minimal and sturdy shadowbox with glass protecting the art. It will be a cherished addition to our lives. Anyone so inclined, please stop by and admire it.

Here's the breakdown for those considering buying art from another continent. Your miles may vary, but these were our shipping costs (in South African Rand):

450R Packing & Crating
300R Collection from Braamfontein
700R Export Documentation
2990R DHL Courier Service
4440.00R Total
($345 not including the cost of the art itself or the $50 wire money xfer fee)

Thanks Felix for making the rough and unforgiving process known colloquially as "being alive" quantitatively better. If we could do the same for John Kennedy Toole for having written A Confederacy of Dunces or for Brian Hutton directing Kelly's Heroes we would, but they're dead so you're it. We hope that repatriating your art is adequate compensation.

Lastly, in direct contradiction to the opening assertions about the beauty of instrumental vs. vocal music, would you consider collaborating with either Stephin Merritt or José González? Maybe you could do an electronica revision of Rodriguez' Cold Fact?


PS: We made a video of the unboxing of Felix Laband's art. The part where the face-hugging alien popped out of his chest was really fun. Here it is: