Today has unofficially become "Cover Friday" here at the offices of FILTER. We've already seen Magnetic Fields and Moody Blues covers, but no "Cover Friday" (patent pending) is complete without some contribution from R. Kelly's extensive body of
Enter Joseph Gordon-Levitt who has made our posting coincidences a legitimate theme for the day. Without further ado, I give you "Ignition (Remix)" by R. Kelly as performed and imagined by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
NOTE: The "Cover Friday" after-after party will indeed be held in a hotel lobby.
When it seems every music video needs a complicated plot and a huge production value nowadays, it's refreshing to watch an artist just perform their heart out.
This is the basic idea of Malaysian singer/songwriter Zee Avi's video for "Concrete Wall"--the second single off of her sophomore album Ghostbird which was released last year. There is one catch to this a cappella video which showcases Avi's amazing set of pipes: she just happens to multiply in a room all by herself. That makes sense right?
Check out the entire video which features the turntable handiwork of Cut Chemist below!
Iceland's Sin Fang just released a cover of The Moody Blues' 45 year old hit "Nights In White Satin" and have clearly put an Icelandic spin on the tune. How do you think it compares to the original?
He's one of the most influential men in music, spanning underground scenes and chart toppers. And with Major Lazer, he's still on a mission in search of the perfect beat
If one thing can be said of Diplo, it's that he puts himself out there. Midway through Major Lazer's set at the Corona Capital festival in Mexico City, he is zipped up into a giant plastic bubble that is then propelled out and over a sea of hands, scrabbling to stay upright, and failing; later, shirt off, he elects for a more straightforward stage-dive, and is lucky to escape unbloodied.
It doesn't matter that the hamster-ball trick isn't his own, but borrowed from the Flaming Lips. Key to the creation of the Diplo brand has always been the fearless magpie fashion in which he has grabbed ideas from everywhere. The band Major Lazer was conceived as a dancehall reggae group, but for the Mexican crowd they mix up soca bangers such as JW and Blaze's ridiculous Palance with "mad, random shit" like a version of The Boy in the Bubble by Paul Simon.
The other two members – Jillionaire and Walshy Fire – hype the crowd, and their dancers teach a hapless male member of the audience about the Jamaican dance style of daggering. Guns spray confetti everywhere. It was fun, and little wonder Diplo says, in the tour van afterwards, "if I had to go out there and play Avicii and dubstep remixes every day I'd go insane".
Diplo is the Kevin Bacon figure who has joined the dots between characters as disparate as pop hearthrob Bruno Mars (the pair visited a Paris strip club in search of inspiration for Mars's new album) and contemporary composer Nico Mulhy (who arranged the strings on Usher's Climax, one of the year's biggest songs, and which Diplo co-wrote and produced). He has made records with superstars such as Justin Bieber, produced the new No Doubt album and is working with Snoop Dogg, but has also involved himself with Sheffield mathcore exponents Rolo Tomassi.
He can count himself among the new wave of superstar DJs, like his friend Skrillex; he even has a residency at the new club epicentre that is Las Vegas. But the latter, he insists, is "mostly just a way of paying the bills".
Instead, the reason that brands – whether BlackBerry, with a role for him in an advert, or Beyoncé, who enlisted him for work on her last album – hunt him out is that this 34-year-old "random ass white dude" (his description) from Florida knows better than anyone where to find the next thing. If anyone is a conduit to underground club culture around the world – in a way that wouldn't have been possible even five years ago – it's Wesley Pentz.
Vanity Fair even featured his book: 128 Beats Per Minute: Diplo's Guide to Music, Culture and Everything In Between.
When I first track him down, it is the night before the festival in Mexico, and just gone midnight when he appears at the hotel bar, in spectacles and a chunky jumper, complaining that his ex-girlfriend, Mexican, a model, has got him terribly stoned.
"I'm not good at doing anything else," he says. "Just making music and having ideas, and putting people together."
Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, he grew up mostly in south Florida, where his father ran a bait shop; at university in Philadelphia, he studied film and anthropology but also started a series of parties, mixing the hip-hop of David Banner with world music, house and (he remembers particularly) Soft Cell's Tainted Love. "In Florida there was such a mix: you had the ghetto stuff happening, and then you had the Miami bass and freestyle, and then the white people liked electro and disco – you had to rock everything in Florida. It was a real melting pot.
"You had the Cubans, the Haitians, the black kids, the white kids, redneck kids ... you had everyone down there."In 2003, he released his debut album, titled Florida, under the name Diplo (because, he said, his favourite dinosaur is a diplodocus). But in search of an even more perfect beat, he visited Brazil the following year, and disovered the baile funk scene. Mixtapes such as Favela on Blast (2004) followed and he signed the band Bonde do Role to his own Mad Decent imprint.
"With my label, we always want to put out new shit that we're excited about, but it is hard to give it longevity," Diplo says – and it's possible the fad for baile funk has now faded. But through his Brazilian adventures, he discovered a talent for unearthing different musics from around the world – and since then has championed acts including South African rave-rap duo Die Antwoord, kuduro outfit Buraka Som Sistema and exponents such as Dave Nada of that US hybrid of house and reggaeton, moombathon. All are strains or representatives of what is sometimes called the tropical bass (or global bass or global ghettotech) movement.
There has also been his genre-busting work with MIA, whose breakthrough hit Paper Planes he co-wrote and co-produced. The pair also dated, before a public falling out: Diplo accused her of "glamorising terrorism" on her album Maya and called her out for playing the Super Bowl with Madonna ("it was kind of stupid").
Criticism of his own "venture capitalist imperialist ass" is familiar: he's had beef with critics such as the New York Times's Jon Caramanica, who questioned the element of "cultural appropriation" at work in an early Major Lazer show, and earlier this year Diplo debated these issues with Sierra Leonean-US writer and "cultural activist" Chief Boima.
"It's not the same world they had when they made Nanook of the North," he said then, making the point that globalisation has meant that kids in Cambodia and Indonesia can make records on an increasingly equal footing with his peers now. "Everywhere I go, there's not this world of exoticism that you guys think exist."
It is a point he reiterates now when I mention a conversation I had recently with the veteran Ry Cooder, who worries that local cultures are heading the way of the dodo.
"Well, when I go to South Africa, for instance," he says, "and go to a ghetto party, the kids there love Masters at Work and they'll be playing house music, but the music they're making is still definitely African as fuck. You can't take that out of the people. The world is becoming more homogeneous because there's just one YouTube, but kids everywhere are hyper-aware and they have so much access to different cultures now. For me, it's exciting."
Sometimes his travels have resulted in records of his own, such as this year's Express Yourself, the ass-shuddering result of his anthropological research into New Orleans bounce music and artists such as Sissy Nobby and Big Freedia. The record has also inspired a piece of marketing that could win awards: Diplo's Twitter feed has been inundated with several thousand pictures from fans emulating the dancers' signature move in its video. Recently, one girl hit him up with a shot of herself, head down, legs in the air, on the Great Wall of China.
By now, we are at Mexico City's latest club opening, where Diplo deejays for a couple of hours to a crowd of Mexican hipsters. He introduces me to a dreadlocked figure hanging backstage who turns out to be Toy Selectah, a key figure in another of these emerging underground sounds, "tribal" (or even "3bal")."Tribal is total bastard Mexican music from the 21st century," Selectah explains, citing his work with the group 3Ball MTY as an example. "It's made by kids in the suburbs of Mexico City and in the north who grew up listening to mainstream electronica, but also regional Mexican and tropical music like cumbia and pre-Hispanic sounds."
Recently, he and Erick Rincón were guests on Diplo's own weekly late night show for Radio 1, Diplo and Friends. Is tribal authenticallly Mexican? "Of course it is!" he says.
The following afternoon at the Corona festival, though, the world does feel flatter. It's an impeccably organised affair staged at a race track on the city's fringes, with the Black Keys, New Order and Florence and the Machine headlining, and just a handful of Mexican indie acts propping up the bill.
Before Major Lazer's set, the three group members change into dark suits, at which point Diplo decides that for a group shot, they should scale a derelict building backstage. "I've already got so many rips in my pants," he says, hauling himself up. "Top Man do an elasticated pair," says Jilllionaire, "or we could get jeggings …"
The group originally comprised Diplo and UK producer Switch, who recorded debut album Guns Don't Kill People … Lazers Do at Tuff Gong studios in Jamaica. Guests included Santigold, Vybz Kartel, Amanda Blank and Mr Vegas.
Switch quit last year, citing "creative differences", but the mission remains: to bring dancehall music to a wider audience – and with the live shows, "to take some of the theatrical atmosphere of carnival music into the dance scene," in Jillionaire's phrase.
"The first Major Lazer was just jumbled together with Switch – he was my mentor – but now we're a group, and it's also more about the songwriting," says Diplo. "I'm bringing the level of seriousness I apply when I produce other people's records."
Jillionaire interjects: "The first record was ahead of its time, though, because now that style is de rigueur. Everyone is making tropical inspired records ..." (Cited is the example of Cheryl Cole, who sampled Major Lazer's Hold the Line on Make You Go.)
Jillionaire was born in Trinidad, while Walshy Fire comes from Jamaica, the younger brother of cricket legend Courtney Walsh. ("English people always freak out when they hear that ..." Diplo notes. "I don't know why.")
Diplo says the project means so much to him because the Caribbean has always represented all he loves best about music, that anything-goes attitude. "If you go to a Jamaican party, they'll mix funk into ska ..."
"They'll play some Whitney Houston." Walshy interrupts. "And some Kenny Loggins!"
"When I go there," Diplo continues. "I learn so much ... LA is so much on schedule, and splits in the budget and all that shit, and you lose the energy. Music is just so stagnant there."
It's true that he has ridden the coat-tails of the dance music explosion in the US – dubstep producer Flux Pavilion is all over the new Major Lazer single – but he's also deeply suspicious of it. "We played Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas – the biggest festival, 300,000 people, and we mashed the place up – but they didn't want to book us to begin with," he explains, adding entertainingly: "They thought we were too weird. Too black.
"The kids there, though, just see the same DJs, playing the same records. In England you have a culture of all different styles of dance music but in America it's just EDM [electronic dance music] – which the festivals love because it's easier to market and bring in sponsors ... it's easier to homogenise it."
What follows is their show – a coals to Newcastle affair, if Mexico is supposed to be the country of the fiesta. The group switch from their own hits, like Pon De Floor, to a novel take on Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. "Every time a big techno DJ sees us play, they're just so confused ... 'how do you get away with playing whatever you want?'" Diplo says later, en route back to his hotel.
None the less, he insists – to my surprise – that on a Spinal Tap-style scale, "tonight we were, like, on volume five. When we play a techno party, we go on, like, volume 20. We want to set shit on fire, we want to get naked ... we want to ruin people's perspective of what a DJ can do," he continues.
Back at the hotel bar, former LCD Soundsystem figurehead James Murphy wanders by. "There's my homie. Hey, James!" Murphy is DJing at the festival the following afternoon, and Diplo says something about what a pain it is to lug vinyl around the world. "Is that a real complaint?" Murphy asks. "I used to be in bands ... we used to have to carry bass amps! Now I either want to carry my records or I want to get off the plane in flip flops and a pair of Speedos and my passport with my credit card in it and one USB stick ... and that's it."
There is, Diplo concludes, just a touch glibly, only one job that's easier in the world: "videogame testing ... I mean, we do actually have to leave the house ..."
The new Major Lazer album is due in early 2013, and guests include everyone from Dirty Projectors' Amber Coffman (on recent single Get Free) to Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig, Wyclef Jean, Shaggy, Bruno Mars and more. (But nothing from Swedish singer-songwriter Lykke Li, even though she was flown to Jamaica to record with the group: "I hate her so much now, she's the worst artist in the world," is Diplo's take on the subject.)
But then there's also a Snoop Lion album in the works – Snoop Dogg, as was – a reggae record produced by Major Lazer. "I'm writing for this project hard," says Diplo, "because the records are amazing, and Snoop can bring reggae to people like nobody else – he's someone my mother knows about."
The search for the next new thing also continues. So where's it happening now? "Indonesia, I'd say. Kids there are creating crazy shit ... there's this Dutch house scene, but then they have this real ghetto attitude towards it."
"It's about the democratisation of technology," Walshy says.
"Back in the day," Diplo adds, "you had to find a couple of kids you liked and who wanted to be in a band and you had to practise and then find the time to write together, and then maybe borrow some money to get into a studio ... and then work forever to record one record, and then maybe promote it, find someone to release it ... and in two years' time you might have a song that people like. Now you can download Fruity Loops [software] for free, watch a video on YouTube which tells you how to make something, you make it, you put it on YouTube the next day, you get signed ... within two months you're opening for Madonna."
"There's this Afghani kid in Stockholm called Phat Deuce who's started sending us his music and he's amazing," Jillionaire says.
It is this native media appreciation of the hyper-accelerated world in which we live that so unsettles Diplo's critics: is he really just a cool-hunter, concerned first and foremost with his own brand? I asked Toy Selectah about working with his friend of eight years, and he said: "I've never believed that he takes advantage of what we been doing – our great relationship is based on respect for what we do.
"He's met some interesting people from the Latin world through me, like Calle 13, and I've met lot of people through him – his support has been crucial to me as a producer and as A&R man, and with my work with the likes of 3BallMTY."
Listening to Diplo, in the bar, talk on into the night about how he wants to help other dancehall artists, too, like Konshens and Popcaan, it's pretty hard to doubt his sincerity. (and there's also his not-for-profit organisation Heaps Decent, set up to encourage hip-hop artists in underprivileged communities in Australia). So – what if it can be hard to keep up with him?
There is talk of a festival after-party, with maybe James Murphy deejaying. But instead he leaves for his room , perhaps to work on a remix he says he owes another friend, Cat Power. In the morning, it is back to LA (where he's mostly resident) in time for his son's second birthday party.
Another parent might think to hire a clown for the occasion. Instead, Diplo has booked Skrillex to deejay. "How crazy is that?" he laughs.
• The single Jah No Partial is released on Mad Decent on 3 December. Caspar Llewellyn Smith travelled to Mexico courtesy of the Corona Capital festival.
Sometimes, an idea is so beautifully elegant, it just seems obvious.
That’s the feeling I get from Koma’s newest prototype. The Kontrol Surface is a touch controller device. In its Light version, it’s an X/Y touch controller with CV output. The Pro version adds MIDI so it works with both analog and digital gear, and ups the ante to three-axis X/Y/Z capacitive touch.
Folks with MIDI gear will wait for the Pro version, but the Light edition already appears like it’ll become a must-have for analog/modular owners. Specs:
- 1 x CV output
- 1 x inverted CV output
- Manual gate output (so you can use it as a trigger)
- Hold function, per-channel, including a momentary hold
- …and you can clock the momentary hold. (Oh, yeah – so you can do rhythmic effects with the hold feature. It’s subtle how they’re doing this; see their post for a full explanation of what they’re planning.)
Watch a first video demo:
We’ve seen the occasional X/Y touch controller, but typically MIDI-only – KORG’s KAOSS Pad being the only one I can think of off-hand that got wide distribution. Maybe you don’t care about such a thing in the Age of the iPad, but for hardware lovers, it seems perfect – jack in CV to some analog goodies, play.
You’ll see the final versions, they say, at NAMM 2013 at the end of January in California, with shipping end of Q1 2013.
New development: Kontrol Surface CV Controller! [Koma Elektronik]
Media : MP3: Young Statues Strip Down For “California Girls” (Magnetic Fields Cover) (FILTER Premiere)
It's always been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and if that's the case, Young Statues is setting out to flatter all of their musical heroes. The Philadelphia indie-rock quartet has just released a new EP (aptly titled Covers) via Run For Cover records which includes remakes of tracks by great artists like Ryan Adams and New Order.
Our favorite track from the light-hearted EP is their take on The Magnetic Fields' classic "California Girls" from 2008's Distortion which--unlike the Beach Boys ode to West Coast ladies--exposes the worst of the women that the Golden State has to offer. Instead of the fuzzed-out and droning tone of the original, Carmen Cirignano and co strip the track down and give it new life.
Check out the full track below!
’Tis the holiday season and here at FILTER we believe in giving gifts that keep on giving. So in the spirit of the holidays, throughout December we’ll be posting our Good Gift Guide ideas for your picky loved ones.
It's now Day 3 of our "Good Gift Guide," which means it is time to present a whole new array of mouthwatering products destined for at least one, if not all, of your friends. What will make any music lover turn green with envy are two products presented by Blue Microphones: Mikey Digital (featured to the left) and Spark Digital (pictured below), which are both compatible with the iPad 4G, iPhone 5, and the iPad Mini with Apple’s Lightning adapter.
Are you asking yourself, "What exactly is the Mikey Digital?" What if we told you it's a transportable plug-and-play stereo microphone? All you need to do is connect it to your iPhone or iPad and then you are instantly ready to record audio, visuals, or both! It's essentially a concert in the palm of your hand. Record your solo bedroom-based project now, priced at $99.99.
Also currently on the market this month is the brilliant on-the-go studio dubbed Spark Digital. For $199.99, your iPad has literally just been upgraded to a full-on recording studio. There is also a convenient USB connectivity option, allowing you to transfer the tunes you just created to a computer or tablet.
Welcome to the first instalment of our new Frame-by-Frame series where we subject music videos which inspire us or otherwise please our creative senses to close analysis. Taking four frames from a video, we let the directors tell their own story about the process of realizing the work. Today it’s the turn of Berlin-based director and editor Pol Ponsarnau, who was commissioned to make the video for “Little White Lies”—the first fruits to be borne of Robot Koch and John LaMonica’s new project Robots Don’t Sleep. You can see what they’re capable of by watching what happened when they hit the Boiler Room recently. Enjoy.
“The characters in the video were inspired by ‘Invisible Empire’, which is a series of black on black photos by photographer Juha Arvid Helminen. We contacted him about collaborating; he loved the ideas that we were shooting around, and in the end he designed these two outfits for us.”
“We were lucky that Medea Paffenholz, our female lead, was not only an actress, but also a very skillful acrobat. These shots were captured on very high frame rates and Medea is actually doing extreme drops on a trampoline. The outfit that she’s wearing was designed by Mareike Bay, it’s pure silk—we wanted the fabric to come alive in the air.”
“The story in the video in part deals with themes of power and conformity. In the short screen time that we had we wanted to establish a power relation between our characters. We went for a seductive, paternal angle, and I think that it really comes through on this particular still.”
“The only actual color that’s in the video is blue. We shot black on black, with some of the outside shots shot after dark. Pana, who did our color grading thought that we could make the blue even more powerful if we went for real black and white. It was a great choice, and it gave the video this nice indie film look.”
And a short Q&A with director Pol Ponsarnau and creative director Lukasz Polowczyk below:
How did it get filmed, animated and edited? What’s your technology of choice and how many people were involved?
Pol: It was a three-day shoot and a long post production process of about four weeks. We shot two days at the Blood Orange Studios in Berlin and one more day at a real lake, also in Berlin. This was October so that meant neoprene suits for Sebastian and Medea. It was freezing cold. Everybody involved was simply great. All in all we were around 15-20 people and it was one of these smooth shoots where things fall into place naturally. It is very important that this magic happens during a shoot, that people from different departments help each other and we become something of a big machine. It sounds cheesy but it’s not easy to achieve this and it is really important. I believe this is something that emanates from the video when you watch it—you can definitely sense this.
Was there a pitch with several possible directors like the old days? Did you feel like family?
Lukasz: It was an old school pitch. I’m not sure how many people we were going up against originally. We were only told that Partizan had a candidate in and that they had a very solid idea. So for us it felt a bit like going up against Goliath because Partizan is a great production company and their references are thick. But in the end we were told that our idea sparked with everyone, from the band to the label and the management. And yeah, the Robots are definitely family!
P: This was definitely an encouraging step for our Polacos project. We just started this creative tandem with Lukasz, and winning a pitch against Partizan at the very beginning of it—I wouldn’t have believed it if someone would have told me that this would happen a few months back. Robot must’ve heard our mantras, we do them over coffee every morning.
Why you have these topless girl shots in the videos which make the video kind of NSFW. Is this a plus for a video these days?
L: Actually, this character was envisioned as a young man in the original draft, but Robot asked us to cast a woman instead. So what would’ve passed under the radar before is getting a bit more attention now. But seriously, it’s 2012 and I really don’t know how anyone could have a problem with an exposed human body, male or female. And we’re only featuring it in the video because it was a part of the story—we’re essentially spinning a coming of age theme.
P: We never thought of it as a plus in that way, but it is a very strong point in the video: a fully covered body vs. naked skin. We wanted to raise questions with this, but the emphasis was not on having a topless girl in the video. Sexuality or beauty are definitely not the main topics and I’m sure people will notice that. ~
Director / Editor: Pol Ponsarnau
Creative Director: Lukasz Polowczyk
Line Producer: Paul Ohmert
DOP: Alex Jentz
Camera Assistant: Timon De Graaf Boele
Technical Assistant: MMC Group Berlin
Costume Designer: Juha Arvid Helminen
Stylist / Costume Designer: Mareike Bay
Tailor: Sabine Otto
Make up Artist: Tilo Nethe
Electrician: Mantas Jokus
Electrician: Daniel Goede
Production Assistant: Rudolfs Osins
Postproduction Lead / Online editor: Henning Falk
Postproduction / 3D artist: Eusebi Malvárez
Postproduction Composer: Robin Lochmann
Color Grading: Pana (Uncle-Berlin)
Shot at Blood Orange Studios, Berlin Lichtenberg.
Digital or analog, it doesn’t matter: any sound you hear is heard in the real world. The playback device, the environment, all impact the sound.
For evidence, try playing a record with a single frequency and nothing else. That’s the case with WOW. Perhaps the best recorded equivalent of John Cage’s legendary four-plus minutes of scored silence, the record WOW is in physical form as minimal as could be. It’s contains a single, ultra-low-frequency pitch (hear it on YouTube below, provided you have some speakers or headphones with enough low-end response). WOW is, then, about where it’s played as much as what it is.
The mechanical components of your record player, the resonating environment around you, all will cause the reality of listening to WOW to change. The creator even suggests playing multiple records at once, so that the “air around you will start pulsating,” and has an installation version that does just that. (The installation and release had its premiere last night in Berlin.)
We began this week with a look at resonance used in architecture. Here, you can play with it wherever you happen to have a turntable handy.
Berlin-born and Kreuzberg-based artist Carl Schilde has released WOW as a “heavylistening experience.” It’s an extremely-limited edition, starting at 33.33 €. There are 33 ⅓ Hz and 45 Hz renditions, accompanying the equivalent rotational speeds – at the low end of what you can hear, making the listening experience as physical as it is what you would normally consider auditory. Schilde also suggests that you can “play” the result like an instrument, by adjusting pitch.
Oh, and it looks realy cool, too:
WOW’s unique sonics also yield a very special visual appearance. The surface of the record reveals a characteristic spiral, resulting from the relationship of the constant bass frequency to the record’s gradually decreasing diameter towards its center.
Hold your WOW record up to the light and you will notice it breaking into all the colours of the spectrum.
Beautiful stuff. Listen – or feel – on good speakers/headphones to the YouTube demo, for a rough sense of what this is about:
For more on the thinking behind the project, Electronic Beats has an excellent interview with the artist and HEAVYLISTENING partner Anselm Nehls:
“Like selling a piece of art in an Apple computer kind of way”: Carl Schilde Interviewed [Electronic Beats]
Highlight, on why it matters that this is a record, and not a wave from another source:
You could reproduce the same effect on a synthesizer by playing two sinusoidal tones, but that’s not the original idea. “WOW” is about pitch shifting, or “playing your turntable”—rather than playing the record yourself. That’s where the name origins from: “wow” and “flutter” determine irregularities in the playback speed of analog recordings. Every analog device has a unique variation, and the individual characteristics of the record player become a part of the composition. Just playing a .WAV isn’t really thrilling in the context of vinyl, music and art culture.
(PS, yes, it’s unfortunate that this shares a name with a new Mouse on Mars album. Great minds think alike? Zeitgeist? Oh, well…)
It was seven years ago when a group of young Iranian guys started a band and knocked out their first song called Dance Floor. Keep in mind that bands and dancing is pretty much totally illegal in Iran. Now Brooklyn-based and alums of Culture Collide, The Yellow Dogs have been working hard establishing themselves in the indie community including recording at Converse's Rubber Tracks Studio earlier this year and a show with !!! (chk chk chk) and Sinkane on Dec 13th at Music Hall of Williamsburg. After all these years, a video for Dance Floor has finally been made and is a high energy non-stop dance party throughout NYC put together by the first friends/fans they met after moving to Brooklyn. Since it's Friday (which is definitely cause to celebrate), we're extending the party to you. Enjoy!