Friday, May 26, 2017

Felix Laband - A Life In Collage


Does instrumental music devoid of vocals give you an escape route from the grinding banality of meaning? Does it afford an opportunity to not parse lyrics about love or love lost or unrequited love or primal animal love or cold calculating love or etc. ad infinitum?

Yeah. Me too. 

As much as we love the passionate lyrics of wordsmiths like Tom Waits, Stephin Merritt, Kristin Hersh or Elbow - there's something 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 one of the most talented architects of music sans-vocals is Felix Laband.

Beyond that, trying to explain or categorize Felix Laband's music is fraught with peril and not because of the music itself (which is sublime) - but because it's a disservice to just pound the round peg of his art into a square hole called "electronic music".  That would be lazy and might 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
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?

Please?

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:











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