"Techno" is often funny, but it´s hardly a genre which could be mistaken for having a sense of humor. One would certainly not start looking for it in German Techno!
Yet, the "in-house"-compilation "Cityspace" from infamous, Düsseldorf-based label Ata Tak managed to mix house with tongue-in-cheekiness without being blunt.
From the late 70s, Ata Atk was either cutting edge (or between the chairs) of art-punk, jazz, synth-pop, Schlager and Exotica. Run by members of Der Plan, the spirit of Ata Tak was actually exploring themes that would become hip half a generation later.
In the early 1980s the label was a hothouse for young and fresh talent. Der Plan, Andreas Dorau, Pyrolator, Holger Hiller were mixing punk with the Residents, Martin Denny and Charles Wilp and dared to sing in German!
The naive retro-futuristic paintings of Moritz Rrr made up the sleeve design and provided Ata Tak with a corporate identity that other labels would later emulate.
The equally young label Mute Records would hire Moritz Rrr to do a sleeve for Depeche Mode ("See You") which resulted in a mutual, lasting relationship with some of the artists.
Andreas Dorau would become a sort of figurehead for the "Neue Deutsche Welle", a movement that young Germans could identify with for a short time. It was modern, clever, witty , futuristic, aloof and would only last for a short time before the old lecherous group of Schlager producers jumped on the bandwagon.
When Ata Tak decided to do a house-music compilation according to their standards, they soon found out that there was not much to compile. So they made up a bunch of hilarious names, and recorded a bunch of tracks that were closer to the british sound of William Orbit´s Guerilla-label and Warp Records, than to the dire Westbam and Sven Väth.
The Music on Cityspace was mostly done by Der Plan, Andreas Dorau and Tommy Eckhart, who would much later become incredibly successful with "2Raumwohnung (2 room apartment), a duo which he formed with his partner, the legendary Inga Humpe.
The mostly made-up bands had names such as "Kitschfinger", "Boogie Mobile", "Ready Made" and "Schreibmaschin" (sic!). The latter (or the whole project?)must have been a nod to Mike Myers and his "Dieter"-character. I remember one of the few sketches I was able to see, where Dieter was presenting a fake "hitparade" with "Schreibmaschin" as a new entry. (Where are those skits on Youtube, btw?)
Musically, most of the tracks are pretty dated now. Stand outs are of course "Der Plan with an abstract robo-dada poem: "Uin Uin Moon Kona Bob Uin", and Andreas Dorau with ragga-rip-off "Das ist das wirkliche Leben".
My favourites however are two tracks which are so off base that they were actually foreshadowing two entire sub-genres by a decade: Kraftwerk cover-songs and Hiphop Mash-ups.
Tiny Sexy People: Rhymes to Kill
"Rhymes to Kill" by Tiny Sexy People uses a fantastic rap by the one and only Sparky D. (who was always a bit overshadowed by Roxanne Shante) and packs it ontop a groovy beat. A cheesy soundtrack sample (I have still not figured it out) makes this a smile inducing, timeless piece of forgotten pop.
The lol-track on Cityspace is probably the best Kraftwerk cover ever: "Autobahn" by Kernkraftwerk (!!!). I still have to giggle about the brilliant silliness of it all.
Keep in mind that this came out around the time the real Kraftwerk were destroying their legacy with the sad "Mix"-album. Now listen to "Kernkraftwerk" and compare it with the Senor Coconut versions from 2000! It´s not that far off, is it?
Sadly, I don´t have a proper scan of the brilliant sleeve (there´s an ocean inbetween). It shows the public-transport plan of Hamburg, but the stops are exchanged with global cities, placing them in their equivalent position on the globe. And yes, since 2004 I do actually live in Brasilia (green and purple line)! Next stop Buenos Aires!
I was never a big fan of Sylvie Vartan - I am more of a Francoise Hardy Person myself.
Sylvie was always a bit too "Roque" for me. You know, this typical French interpretation of ROCK, which eternally resonates between Iggy Pop and Johnny Halliday (Sylvie´s husband).
Of course Sylvie did also some covers of contemporary hits in the sixties. I dare say that she didn´t know when to say "no" at times. Her versions of "Twist and Shout" and "Money" she did on Shindig! are pretty exotic.
But she did hit the nail on the head with a French version of "I can´t help myself. The Four Tops hit becomes "Garde moi dans ta poche" and La Vartan almost invents a new style of twist-dancing in this "Scopitone"-clip. Check also the other dancers! It´s great fun.
Here is "Twist and Shout".
Emi and Yumi Ito were in a way the first Japanese Pop-sensation to make an international impact. Born in 1941 they would start their showbiz career in the mid-1950s in Nagoya as the Ito Sisters.
A new manager brought them to Tokyo and named them The Peanuts in 1958. They became presenters for one of the first Japanese teenpop TV program and soon recorded one hit record after another.
In Germany they would appear with Caterina Valente on her TV-show and in the USA they were invited by Ed Sullivan and Danny Kaye.
In 1975 the twins decided to leave showbusiness for good and gave a farewell performance on Japanese TV.
But forget the numerous hits they had! The Peanuts are famous and beloved by filmnerds around the world for their appearance in three Toho Mothra monster movies!
As miniature fairies, they are somehow mentally connected to the giant moth and express this by flying around in a golden coach and singing the Mothra theme-song.
You know, this one:
As grown-ups they had some fine hits which are somehow a cross between contemporary pop, traditional Japanese ballads and Serge Gainsbourg.
Check this 8-minute medley of three of their songs.
"Koin No Fuga" was a big hit and is occasionally covererd until this day. Their dance -routine is especially great here.
The second one is a bit of a drag, but make sure to stay for the third song.
"Kawaii Hana" was their first big hit. Its a beautiful song, but the colour-video that is shown here is especially haunting. It is exactly how I always expected flower-shops in Tokyo to look like (had I ever thought about it.)
Koi No Fuga/Aie No Inori/Kawaii Hana
"L´homme de Rio" is the best adventure film of all time! It has great pace, a sexy young Jean Paul Belmondo, who actually does all his stunts himself and the late beautiful Francoise Dorleac. To top it all: It has the best set-design ever used and no film will ever be able to use it again: Brasilia in 1963, while it was still being built.
The ultimate StellaVista dream-movie!
I think it is safe to say, that "Pop Muzik" by M is one of the best pop-artefacts ever. From the diabetes-inducing cover to the gimmicky "double-groove" pressing, the infectious music with its pre-digital editing, the piss-taking video and the brilliant band-name: pure genius!
When it came out in 1979 I was in my second year of learning English and deciphering the wacky lyrics helped me to appreciate it´s sexy precission ("infiltrate it!") and the bold impact of random juxtapositions ("Listen to the countdown! They´re playing our song again").
After the huge, international success of "Pop Muzik" (six million copies were sold) it was follow-up time for Robin Scott. Together with his girlfriend and later wife Brigit Novik they booked themselves into expensive studios in Montreux to recprd their debut album "New York, London, Paris, Munich". Occasional Handclaps were provided by David Bowie, who happened to live around the corner and hung around in the studio (probably recording "Lodger"?)
"Moonlight & Muzak" was chosen as the next single. The title (which I considered as a name for this blog) was of course inspired by the mysterious and obscure Muzak Corporation, which Scott visited while being in North-America. He described it as "a very weird experience. There were all these white collar workers conscientiously putting together music with the precision of chemists. Way before Eno was doing it, these guys were doing it for real. They were pre-occupied with the pace of workers in factories, and how to maximise their efficiency".
Listen: Moonlight & Muzak
"Moonlight & Muzak" is a very serene and souave composition, which is counterbalanced by an antiseptic, rhumba-esque beat that is totally drained of all emotions that are typically associated with latin music. It´s muzak! A Theremin melody and other exotic-sounds are drawn from mood-music of the past, while Scott speak-sings a story about being a secret agent who is brainwashed by all the muzak that is constantly playing around him in this "international motel fantasy".
Of course there is also a sax-solo by Gary Barnacle, which almost sounds synthetic in its planned blandness.
"Moonlight & Muzak" is as intelligent as "Pop Muzik". Maybe it was too clever for its own good. It was a Top-40 hit in the UK, but fell pretty flat elsewhere. After all, who knew anything about Muzak?
The rest of the M album is a pretty mixed affair. There is the overblown rock-musical "Moderne Man/Satisfy your lust" and some filler material. Highlights are the wonderfully seductive "Woman make Man" and the title track with its military breaks and the endlessly repeated lines of "Marching to the music. Music made in Munich".
M would record two more albums to much lesser success (and limited release). Robin Scott would also produce "The left handed dream" a collaboration album with Ryuichi Sakamoto. Today Scott works as a musician and graphic artist.
"Swimming in Shrinkwrap" by Robin Scott
Just recently The Gentle People have used "Moonlight & Muzak" as the basis for a new song "What do you know". Check it out on their Myspace site.
Found this rare Richard Avedon photo of legendary Candy Darling, snapped off of an Parisian gallery wall at Lady Bunny Blog.
I then realized that I really don´t have a respectable amount of interesting nude-pix on this site, except for these hideous examples.
Now, should I tell you about my mother...?
Stop trying to tie me
Pedal to the Metal
Death Race 2000! The ultimate car-crash film left the Roger Corman assembly-line in 1975. Directed by the late and horribly undervalued Paul Bartel, it´s an exercise in cheap, creative exploitation film making that puts its foot on all the right pedals at once. One of the very few films that offers thigh-slapping fun, while simultaneously working on all sort of meta-levels (if you want it to).
The cast is fantastic: Mary Woronov, the Catherine Deneuve of exploitation cinema meets with David Carradine and Sly Stallone, who was halway between ill-fated porn-career and future action-hero.
A sort-of-sequel will be released this august. Directed by the notoriously maligned Paul W. Anderson, a director who does "cheap" without the "thrills". The lead is played by Jason Statham, an action-hero who would be better suited as a porn-actor.
In short: The new Death Race will have it all wrong from the get go!
The music that goes with the pictures is by Wiseblood. A side project from the insanely talented and amazing J.G. Thirlwell aka Clint Ruin and a million "Foetus"-manifestations. Together with Swiss drummer Roli Mosiman (Young Gods, SWANS) he created a sound that is still unmatched in its fuel-drunken virtuosity.
"Motorslug" was the first of only 3 singles. This hyperspeed orgy of techno, rock n´roll, rockabilly, blues and orchestral pomp is so accelerated that its echo is still miles ahead of comparable efforts.
The flip "Death Rape 2000" is one of the most radical pieces of minimal music. For nearly 8 minutes it repeats the same 3-note orchestra-hit (the sample which was everywhere back then) without the slightest variation. Wiseblood used to open their gigs with this and it would hypnotize the audience and break their resitance, before the actual show had started.
"Stumbo" is from Wisebloods only album "Dirtdish", which also contains one of the most evil and threatening tracks of my record collection: "0-0 (Where evil dwells)".
"Pedal to the metal" and "Stop trying to tie me" are from the last "Wiseblood"-ep "PTTM" which features some of the most impressive jazz-sampling you could find in 1991.
I highly remommend to get all Wiseblood and Foetus records you can get your grimy hands on. Either here or here
I am a sucker for Japanese product-design. And sucking is definately on my mind after checking those delicious "Ice Candy"-packages over at the lovely PingMag.
Since it is so hot out here in the Prairie today I am in desperate need of some iced treats, even if they were made out of beans, which - surprise - some of those Japanese Ice-Candies actually are!
Despite some exotic ingredients which mostly are incredibly healthy and incredibly yucky for western tastebuds, those small frozen treats look wonderful with - or without packaging.
I also can´t stop admiring the constant use of pastels in Japanese design.
So, "green tea"-icecream, eh?! I am sure it won´t take long until the "wellness-mafia" will market this for for the western market as a cure for everything.
Meanwhile I am still contemplating the licking and sucking part of it all.
While I was compiling a post about French-Pop from the 80s onward I learned that Fred Chichin of Les Rita Mitsouko died last November. Even in times of information overload you can miss these things. Fred was born in 1954 in Clichy and started working with Catherine Ringer in 1979. By the mid-80s they became the bonafide French avant-pop-band, which could do no wrong.
I was never a huge fan of the band (I only own the album "Marc & Robert"), but I always adored their videos and their full on OTT-style.
Looking back it is easy to see how truly fantastic and forward looking Les Rita were, especially if you compare them to the other stuff that was out at the time.
Fred Chichin was a great musician and arrangeur! He was also a great dancer. He holds his own next to Catherine Ringer, who really is one of the best dancers on pop!
When Les Rita Mitsouko stormed the charts with "Marcia Baila" and "C´est comme ca" in the mid-80s they appeared to be a surreal French version of The Eurythmics, the B-52s, the Associates and the Sparks. Their videos were frantic and chaotic and their music was overdoing their "french-ness" to an hysterical extreme.
I don´t know how popular they were in North America (if at all) but they have clearly inspired Deee-Lite, Madonna and other nineties artists with their interest in outrageous fashion and stylized music.
They also did a record with the Sparks, who they quite obviously adored.
Despite disappearing slightly from the international stage, they went on recording and touring until a few days before Fred fell victim of cancer.
Check out some of their truly great and imaginative clips:
"Marcia Baila" started their career. It was originally released in 1984. It became an international hit in 1986. Now watch this and then look up some pics of Madonna from that time.
"C´est comme ca" Their second hit. A great dancefloor burner which would be played from exclusive big-floor clubs to underground discos.
"Andy". Check out her Minnie Mouse shoes!
"Le Petit Train". One of my favourites. Funky, hysterical and the video is a scream!
"Singing in the Shower" with the Sparks. A perfect match!
"Y´a d´la haine" I think this is definately their best video and one of the best of all time. Seen once, never forgotten! This won the MTV best Video award in 1994 and is probably one of the two Rita-Videos which are filed at the MoMA.
"Meme Si". The last one. A beautiful ballad taken from "Variety", their 2007 album. Fred, who was always pencil thin looks even more fragile than usual and Catherine´s eyes are heartbreaking in this.
Frederic Chichin died while the band was touring Europe. Catherine Ringer, who was also his partner off stage and mother of his three children, continued performing soon after his death. It was his wish.
"Degeneration" (it sounds so much better in French), the new video for Mylene Farmer´s new single is currently causing a stir in France.
Compared to the calculated controversy of Justice´s "Stress" from a few weeks ago, you´d expect at least something really shocking. I mean really shocking this time!
Well, see for yourself! However, don´t be disappointed when it turns out to be another "Waking-up-naked-in-a-lab-and-causing-a-
multisexual-orgy"-sort of scandal. It´s pretty stupid, actually and doesn´t hold a candle to the epic sex-dramas she did twenty years ago
I stumbled across this while looking up her older stuff for a bigger post on international French pop-hits, which can be found below.
Make a list of French pop songs of the last twenty years, which are not classic chansons or post-Daft Punk House and you will pobably come up with the videos below. All of them have been international hits and they sound as if they were designed exactly for this purpose.
I actually remember every moment when I heard these hits for the first time. I immediately felt amused and intrigued, slightly embarrassed to fall for the obvious commercial production and the Lolita-cliché of it all. I also knew from the first moment that there would be no escape from these songs as they had "Instant Mega Holiday Hit and Future Classic" written all over them. Well except one...
"Voyage, Voyage" by Desireless appeared in 1986 and there was no getting away from it. Boy/Girl, they did everything right! It combined Italo-Disco production, a Modern Talking-beat with French flair, ridiculous and late new-wave hair and clothes on a sexless, gender-bending singer. It was a bit like an update of Visage, catering to the secretary-set. I even saw goth-kids dancing to it. Talk about cross-over.
The same year saw a royal trainwreck crashing on the international stage. Princess Stephanie of Monaco, bored from being herself, she took the stagename Stephanie, hired expensive songwriters, stylists and Helicopters, and tried to form her image of being a just your everyday popstar.
Sadly, Stephanie could not sing one note and at times looked like an unfinished sex-change in the video of "Ouragan" ("Irresitable" for the rest of the world).
Speaking of the video: It´s fantastic! Filmed on Mauritius with a budget that was probably twice their domestic product, it throws every thinkable video-cliché at us and invented a bunch of new ones in the process! I wish it was in 3-D! You want slo-mo shots of running down stairs in a castle? Falling slo-mo glasses filled with jetons? Royal crotch-shots next to the ocean (in slo-mo)? Seedy gigolos? A princess being hunted by a Helicopter? It´s all here! The video that inspired every HipHop-promo of the 90s.
Another 1986 French export was of course the mighty Les Rita Mistsouko. Since their output was too flashy for one post, they will get their own.
The next smash from France was the great Mylene Farmer.
Her "Desenchantee" is another one of those slightly melancholic, but instantly gripping summer-hits. One thing Mylene Farmer became famous for were her ridiculously overproduced video-clips. Her promo for "Pourvu Qu'Elles Soient Douces" is a 16-minute cross between "Caligula" and "Barry Lyndon" (with equal production values and failed ambitions). It´s an overblown, totally humorless mini-drama. You don´t want to see this!
Instead take a look at the cover-version by the totally bland Kate Ryan, who would make a carreer out of "trancing-up" every single french hit of the past twenty years (and possibly every song featured in this post).
The production and the melody are perfect. You just need to know a few words of French to get the gist of it: "Je sui generation desenchantee". Watching her hang around some overlit "europe moderne"-architecture in Brussels is total science-fiction!
Another Mylene Farmer masterpiece is probably one of the best pop songs ever! Yes, EVER! Farmer and her partner wrote a song called "Moi...Lolita". This alone sounds perfect. They decided to get somebody younger to sing it (Mylene was born in 1961) so they did a casting and found Alizée. Bam! Instant goosebump inducing, timeless classic! I can listen to this for hours on end and still be amazed by it.
Released in june of 2000 "Moi...Lolita" stayed a record-breaking 73 weeks in the French charts, and became the most successful foreign language single in the UK.
"Lolita" is the sound of a million beach nightclubs. From the Cote d´azur down to Italy and Greece; to Thailand and some suburban bar in Germany. It plays early in the night, when the dancefloor is almost empty, you can hear it blasting from some jukebox after the last orders have been made. It´s euphoric and endlessly sad.
One year later saw the release of yet another of those hits which seemed to concentrate every available French cliché into a slice of 3:30 pop perfection: "Tou est Foutu" by In Grid has got it all! Cheesy accordeon, a blunt trance-beat, sexy vocals and -the creme de la creme - an insanely memorably cut-up effect. "tü tü tü di tü tü". This alone makes the whole song.
All of these hits share an equal sound, which I call the "lost-in-the-crowd-sound". While the production techniques are always up to date, there is a certain melancholy encapsuled within the melodies. The sound is always a bit removed from the typical dime-a-dozen euro-disco.
I did not include Trans-X´ "Living on Video", since they were from Canada. Although they had that sound down to perfection. Also missing is Plastic Bertrand and the instrumental band Space. Did I miss anything significant? Drop a message!
Club 8 (not "S Club 8") are producing Swedish-popmusic that sounds like you would imagine Swedish-popmusic, even if you have never heard Swedish-popmusic before. Summery meadows, long summernights, blond boys and girls strumming guitars and whispering songs. In short: Something short of a soft-porn soundtrack.
Jesus walk with me (Jimahl mix)
The duo of Karolina Komstedt and Johan Angergård have begun working together in 1995. Their very sporadic output consists of six albums and a few singles. Angergård is also the owner of Labrador Records and member of two another ridiculously good pop bands: The Legends and The Acid House Kings.
My favourite album is "Spring came, rain fell" from 2002. That´s the records were all their ideas are falling into place and the end result is a wonderfully, flowing record with brilliant production and great melodies.
Spring came, Rain fell
From the opener "We´re simple minds", with it´s underlying Thomas Dolby sample, to the wonderful title track, you get the feeling that Karolina is singing just for you, whispering in your ear. Club 8 are a bit like a more personal and intimate version of St. Etienne. Titles such as "The girl with the northern soul collection" and "The beauty of the way we are living" are clearly a nod to the London trio.
Their latest effort is an EP release from the 2007 album "The Boy who couldn´t stop dreaming". Once again they compiled a bunch of very relaxed campfire songs and unashamed catchy pop-hooks.
Take me Home
Labrador have re-released all their albums with bonus tracks, which can be ordered here
Rex The Dog is out again! According to his Myspace a new single and his first album will be out in late august on his own "Hundehaus"-label.
"The Rex the dog Show" could be the best Pet Shop Boys-album in 18 years, if he continues to produce songs like "I can see you, can you see me" and my favourite "Every Day (Could be the last day)"
What is inside the box? The end of the movie!
The stills are from "Kiss me deadly", a 1955 "Mike Hammer/Mickey Spillane"-film which was directed by Robert Aldrich.
Apparantly the ending of the film was changed shortly after its debut in the USA. Because the film did bad business and some religious nuts objected to the immorality of it all, the final minute of the film was edited in a way that suggested that the Mike Hammer-character and his secretary/fuck-buddy actually died in the fiery inferno that is unleashed after "the box" is opened.
I think this is a very rare case of changing an already bleak "happy ending" to an even bleaker one to increase the box-office.
For decades the mutilated ending was heralded as a stroke of genius and it was even suggested that the bumpy editing inspired the French Nouvelle Vague.
This is very unlikely because it seems that the originally intended ending was kept intact for the international market!
Francois Truffaut clearly describes the full ending in his critique and I remember having videotaped the original ending off of German tv sometime in the late 80s or early nineties. (I hope this will remain the only "Truffaut and me"-sentence I will ever write).
It is quite ironic that many great American directors salivated over this lost ending and even constructed whole theories about it, while the rest of the world watched the full version. To top it all: The short ending is actually the better one!