Electronic: Year in Review 2006

Electronic: Year in Review 2006
Photo: Mark Coatsworth
1. Hot Chip
The Warning (DFA/Astralwerks/EMI)
There’s something about seeing a band in the throes of ascendance, that ephemeral moment when a slow-burn starts blazing and both artist and audience put aside pretensions to just revel in the joy of it all. A moment like this can restore your faith in music — in life for that matter — but mostly it makes you feel fortunate to be here, dancing, in front of this exact band at this precise second.

Hot Chip played a Toronto date last spring, months before their Mercury Prize-nominated album The Warning dropped but also months after blogs and bit torrents began spreading the sounds of this latest, greatest dance-rock hybrid. That tour sparked Hot Chip’s yearlong rise as their songs started working their way onto iPod play lists, barroom stereos, DJ club sets, college airwaves and countless homemade mix discs. Hot Chip’s emo-disco sound — imagine Postal Service if they weren’t such pussies — is enviably all-access, appealing to indie kids and clubbers alike. Put ’em in a room together and you often get arms-crossed confusion, but not when Hot Chip is throwing the party. Their triumphant return to Canada last month was not only oversold-out weeks in advance, but latecomers were forced up to the balcony for safety concerns. The alcohol-fuelled anger built until, a couple songs in, fans rushed past security onto the already writhing dance floor. Clearly tired from playing New York on the weekend, the synth-based band — beefing up their analogue keyboards, rock guitars and programmed beats with a live drummer — seemed taken aback by the unexpected intensity of this Monday crowd. But feeding off the energy, this soon-to-be legendary performance quickly lit up like a roman candle.

"I think there’s quite a lot to be said for having confidence in what it is you want to do, rather than worrying about getting the indie kids dancing,” offers pint-sized singer/keyboardist Alexis Taylor, wearing geeky green glasses and a black hoodie while kicking back in the dressing room after soundcheck. "We don’t like to think of ourselves in either camp. People get put in categories because they like to simplify, but we don‘t feel an allegiance to one style over another. If I had to pick one it would be pop music.”

Fair enough — Hot Chip recently did some acoustic radio sessions and their hyper-melodic songs held up extremely well, as does their recent cover of Marvin Gaye‘s "Sexual Healing” — though their take on pop does sound as if beamed in from the future.

On their full-length debut Coming On Strong, high-school chums Taylor and Joe Goddard co-wrote an album combining hip-hop and dance music tropes with brittle, blue-eyed soul harmonies and quasi tongue-in-cheek tributes to Prince and Yo La Tengo.

"Joe was disappointed with how we mixed the last record, that the songs didn’t stand up when a DJ would play them in a club, so we tried hard to make those grooves better,” Taylor says, noting The Warning’s added oomph was a response those criticisms. That would be why their 2005 breakthrough single — "Over and Over,” their first release on New York’s revered dance-rock imprint DFA Records — begins sarcastically with "laid back, we'll give you laid back” before the house beats drop in and rock guitars kick off, blowing this song about "the joy of repetition” up into the year’s most enthusiastic dance floor-filler.

"We were aware we were making an album but we were just very quickly making lots of new songs,” Taylor explains. "I don’t think we make records in the way other artists do, with recording sessions or using the same instruments or in the same studio. All of those things can add a sense of coherence to a record. Our record, the only thing to give it coherence are the two individuals rather than the palette of sounds.” "…and the Casio,” pipes in Al "Do It” Doyle, the multi-instrumentalist member of the quintet and, being from Leeds, the only one to not have grown up with everyone else in London. But as important as their outdated synthesisers may be, Doyle realises more modern technology also helped fuel their rise.

"The people that are fans of the music tend to be quite vocal about it, talking it up on blogs and stuff like that,” he says of the online file-sharing that helped promote not just Hot Chip’s own songs but their highly-praised remixes — done primarily by Doyle and the other two members Felix Martin and Owen Clarke — for everyone from M.I.A. to Scissor Sisters, Ladytron, the Go! Team, Le Tigre, Architecture In Helsinki, Gorillaz and Booka Shade. (Upcoming candidates include Junior Boys, Beck and Matthew Dear.) "People tell us [blogs] were important. I just enjoy looking at them to see what they say about us. The funniest ones are in a different language that we have to Babelfish and you get funny translations and good descriptions of Alexis. But people say awful things about us as well; just type in ‘Hot Chip sucks’ and see what comes up.” Self-deprecating or not, critics have become increasingly few and far between. Still, the band is set to change up their sound. They’ve already written about ten new songs for their next album, which they plan to start recording in January, and the ones they’ve been playing live sound rawer and rockier than anything they‘ve done previously.

"Pretty much just me and Joe made The Warning,” Taylor explains, "so three of the people in the band didn’t feel that involved in it. Although I’m proud of it, we don’t, as a group, feel like we made it all together. What we do we feel we made together is what we do live. We’d always just been a songwriting/ production duo and now we’re that as well as a five-piece band.

"I think quite a big influence on our group is Devo,” he continues. "It’s music that makes you dance but it’s played live using synthesizers. We’re not nearly as punk as them but there’s something in the idea of all five of them across the front of the stage using those bright synthy sounds. We don’t want to be a techno group with guitars. Devo’s an actual band and we are as well.”

Maybe that’s the big difference between Hot Chip and similarly hyped, genre-blurring acts — certainly, Annie did not hold up to scrutiny live and it took M.I.A. two tours to pull her show together. Even Taylor admits he was surprised Hot Chip’s music "got more interesting played live” but it did and as they demonstrated at Mod Club, they are unbeatable onstage when stretching tracks like the plaintive "And I Was a Boy From School” and retro ‘80s "No Fit State” into floor-stomping sing-alongs and peak-hour house and garage jams.

Their beyond epic breakdowns culminated with set-closing encore "Over and Over,” which became a city-crushing monster that completed the Toronto rock club’s transformation into a full-on, arms-raised, old-school rave.

Y’know how the frail falsetto chorus to The Warning‘s title track goes "Hot Chip will break your legs?” Well, that de facto band slogan might be funny, but it sure as hell ain’t ironic.
Joshua Ostroff

2. Herbert
Scale (Accidental/!K7)
The man who made a name for himself by sampling the destruction of McDonald's packaging has entered middle age. Sure, there were signs before: the expertly chilled jazzy house of Bodily Functions, the cut-up big band swagger of Goodbye Swingtime. But less than a year after his concept album about industrial food production, Herbert drops the conceits to encase his pointed social critiques in a cushion of bumping, lush disco, complete with big strings and brass, balanced by beautiful blips and blurps that he and singer Dani Siciliano weave into seductive pillow talk. Activists — both aesthetical and political — need to unwind at the end of a long day, too. Michael Barclay

3. Junior Boys
So This Is Goodbye (Domino)
Using the one-two punch of the iciest beats this side of winter and Jeremy Greenspan’s warm, pining voice, a journey through the world of Junior Boys is an examination of the brave faces we put on in spite of our inner anxiety. Each bitter thump forces us inside ourselves, while the brittle urgent harmonies surgically pull out our true feelings. Though it may feel emotionally inaccessible, it is a guarantee that you’ll either feel either completely drained or absolutely elated at journey’s end, proving this is absolutely necessary aural therapy. Indeed, the boys are not just all right, they’re absolutely amazing. Chris Whibbs

4. The Knife
Silent Shout (Rabid/Mute)
Finally out in North America, this brother and sister team Karin and Olof Dreijer awed listeners with their third full-length record. With vocal range between an exuberant coo and a mournful brood, Karin emphatically lays her mysterious lyrics atop Olof’s hooky electro-synth melodies. This is their most mature album in terms of how they manage a variety of different tempos that seamlessly flow from one to the next — from the three minutes of wandering synth that introduces "The Captain,” the helium full waltz "Na Na Na” and the haunting narrative of "Still Light” to the dance floor-oriented and heavily remixed track "Like A Pen” and the quirky "We Share our Mothers Health.” Stephanie Kale

5. Lindstrom
It’s a Feedelity Affair (Feedelity/Smalltown Supersound/Fusion III)
Although much acclaim has been piled upon the thriving Norwegian indie scene, it is a thoughtful collection of vinyl-only singles culled from the catalogue of country music lover turned space-aged disco maestro Lindstrom that is the country's most refreshing release. Like the Metro Area album of a few years back, It's a Feedelity Affair dropped from out of left field to provide a soulful melting pot of classic disco, house, and constantly shifting techno beats wrapped in a cosmopolitan European sound that defy the listener to shake their ass old school as well as reaching for their headphones to hear the edgy mind-fucks that he so uniquely drops. Derek Nawrot

6. Ellen Allien/Apparat
Orchestra of Bubbles (BPitch Control)
Ellen Allien (pronounced ay-leen) was a well established DJ and producer before ‘98 when she started BPitch Control Records. Since then, she’s released three solo albums that blend techno and electro with alt-pop sensibilities, culminating in the album Berlinette. Sascha Ring aka Apparat works with T.Raumschmiere in running the Shitkatapult label. Apparat’s solo work has been moody, glitchy electro and IDM that flirts with the classic rave sound. Apparat and Allien’s Symphony of Bubbles pushed the sound of both artists a little further and captured the imagination of listeners with catchy and beautiful, genre blurring music. Marinko Jareb

7. Booka Shade
Movements (Get Physical)
Making minimal funk beneath the clean shimmer of tech house, Booka Shade, aka Walter Merziger and Arno Kammermeier, proved themselves serious contenders in tech house. Responsible for last year's techno anthems, "Body Language" and "Mandarine Girl," Booka Shade released Movements to eager tech house heads and international dance floors, all of whom addictively embraced the duo's luscious bass lines and moody synths wrapped in hook heavy melodies and buoyant grooves. Romina Wendell

8. Burial (Hyperdub)
If you’re the kind of music fanatic who keeps an ear open for what’s hot in the UK, then chances are you’ve noticed that 2006 belonged to the dubstep massive. While journalists spilled ink over grime’s inability to grab North America, mysterious names like Burial, Kode 9, the Spaceape, and Plasticman took over the South London underground. Burial’s CD debut, which collects five year’s worth of singles, presents a benchmark for a vinyl-only scene and a retrospective for one of the genre’s most talented acts. Dubstep’s waves haven’t rippled over to North American shores just yet, but if Burial offers any indication, you may want to keep your eyes on the coast. Dimitri Nasrallah

9. Trentemøller
The Last Resort (Poker Flat)
Anders Trentemøller could write the book on setting a mood while demonstrating his musical scope. Integrating acid, micro-house, ambient and minimal techno into his artistic spectrum, with The Last Resort the Danish producer provided down-tempo with its boldest and best statement of the year. Evidently designed as mood music, this album is evidence of a meticulous sound sculptor at work, capturing the essence of his song’s titles with a picture perfect soundtrack. "Vamp” smacks of something dangerously seductive waiting in the shadows, while "Like Two Strangers” builds up intense drama for a suggested carnal rendezvous. Your headphones will still be screaming out in ecstasy for years to come. Cam Lindsay

10. Tiga
Sexor (Pias/Turbo)
Montreal’s electro scene pioneer and one of the world’s most sought-after DJs finally dropped his debut album, laden with covers and nods to his influences, assisted in production by ‘80s electro revivalists Soulwax. Single "Far From Home” garnered immediate attention with its radio-friendly hook while "3 Weeks” began blazing up the clubs. Whether working with "Hot In Herre” accomplice Jake Shears on "You Gonna Want Me” inspired by the old-school hardcore of Altern-8 or remaking Public Enemy’s classic "Louder Than A Bomb,” Tiga fulfilled expectations with an immaculate collection of sexy, bass-oriented electro-pop club anthems. Rob Woo




Rave-ival

For a half-decade, wagging tongues have declared dance music deceased, following the government’s anti-rave crackdown and the mook club invasion, but the grassroots party scene is finally enjoying a resurrection. Though the odd event like Vancouver’s "Doom’s Night” Pacific Coliseum "rave” continue, for the most part $75 cover charges and five-figure crowds have been replaced by smaller, friendlier parties that are either free or at cost.

This year across Canada, all-nighters increasingly took place in lofts and warehouses while summer was marked by community-based outdoor events. Though Toronto’s Cherry Beach was busted by mounted police during its season-closing Labour Day weekend party, the lakeside site attracted hundreds weekly for Promise’s Sunday afternoon soundsystem parties. Many Friday and Saturday nights, too, hosted free techno, house and jungle throw-downs.

Montreal also had a successful summer of Piknik Electronik parties at Ile St-Hélène on Sundays, peaking with Ricardo Villalobos’ and Richie Hawtin’s mind-melting Mutek set in front of thousands, while Tim Hecker has been performing at ambient loft parties in front of small crowds lying on the floor.

Nova Scotia’s Evolve Festival and Ontario’s World Electronic Music Festival may have included non-electronic acts like k-os and Broken Social Scene, but the cyber-hippies did their part to keep the more traditional techno/psy-trance open-air massives alive, attracting thousands to Shambhala in the B.C. interior, Eclipse in Quebec and Motion Notion in Alberta.

Ontario’s three-day Om festival downsized into the longer-lasting but more manageable members-only In:Tent with hundreds squatting on crown land up north to dance in the woods while the annual Harvest Festival, on an organic farm outside of Toronto, continued its reign as the year’s best two-day bash, adding circus performers to the annual bacchanalia. Not to mention the FreeTekno scene that continued throwing illegal and stridently anti-commercial "teknivals” across Canada and around the world.

In the late-‘90s, old-timers would gripe about how much better it was back in the day when parties were underground and organisers did it for fun, not funds. It’s looking like those days are back.
Joshua Ostroff