KONTRADIKSHN Achieves Immortality In New Video For “027”

As Slovenian electro-rock trio Kontradikshn embark on a European tour, the group releases a new video for the song “027” from their debut album, “Reframing.” From the song’s rousing refrain:

“Time. Endless. Check your code.
Time. Endless. Start Again!”

I asked vocalist/keyboardist/songwriter Petar Stojanovíc, who is 27, if the song is a reference to that mythical age at which the music world lost many icons, including Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse.

“You are really close,” Stojanovíc told me. “The song is about avoiding death. It’s about my fast living a few years ago, actually long gone now. So a few years ago I wrote this song in a wish to survive 27.”

Congrats to Petar for turning his life around. The video features lots of eye candy in the form of odd camera angles, digital displays of synthesizers zeroing in on the number “027,” a mysterious star logo, and enticing glimpses of the band in action. Stojanovic describes the experience of shooting the video:

“The creative team was brought together in a day or two, and it took us one day to record the video,” he says. “We played live underneath the song, because we wanted to capture the ‘true’ feeling of us looking exactly the same as in concert. Much fun, but we were exhausted after shooting, as it took us more than 30 takes of the same song over and over again.”

The band, a self-proclaimed “touring machine,” will hit stages in Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, Poland and Croatia over the next five weeks. If you’re fortunate enough to be in Europe, check them out!

In the meantime, check out the video for “027” below:

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The Analog Girl’s Sweet, Elegant “Golden Sugar Crystals”

The Analog Girl returns after a five year silence with her most elegant set of songs yet. Titled “Golden Sugar Crystals,” the album features ethereal textures, sultry vocalizations, and tripped out beats, all coming together in a futuristic unity built upon synthetic foundations. There’s a unique brand of magic at work here, as The Analog Girl, aka Singapore’s Mei Wong, coaxes sonic bliss out of her Ableton-equipped Apple laptop and her microphone, using the studio as an instrument.

The one-woman band behind all this accomplishes an ethereal, moody mystique employing minimalist beats, dreamy analog melodic structures, and delicate, half-whispered vocals that leave room for the listeners’ interpretations. Elements of trance, ambient, 8-bit, lo-fi, and techno pop mingle in a sweet mix that sparks the listener’s imagination, prompting cinematic visions in the mind’s eye.

“I discovered that there is more to life than what’s harboring inside our minds. I was reminded that this universe is huge, and it gives us so much, and there is so much to be thankful for.” The Analog Girl

Building on the techno pop forms of her previous three albums, GSC adds more complex polyphony and richer, more sonorous textures without abandoning the charming style she is known for. The familiar minimalism that became her calling card is still there, as are the  mysterious vocal stylings and abstract lyric poetry, this time centered on themes of hope and discovery.

Mei explains: “For some of the more recent tracks on the album I turned to immersing myself in songwriting once again when I was living through some dark times, and in the process, I discovered that there is more to life than what’s harboring inside our minds. I was reminded that this universe is huge, and it gives us so much, and there is so much to be thankful for.”

While previous albums addressed love and friendship, gender politics, and the ever-important caffeine, GSC features songs portraying admiration for nature and appreciation of aesthetic experiences. The melancholy “Wonder,” and “Run,”  and the haunting “Monolith” flirt with disillusionment, but these songs are the exceptions. As demonstrated in a majority of its tracks, GSC is The Analog Girl’s most hopeful album, reflecting a move from despair to optimism. A big part of this journey is letting go of fear.

From “Mountains”
“As the sun begins to shine upon the earth you’ll start to know
The world beyond you
We can fly across the universe and wave our fears goodbye
If you know how to.”

The album is imbued with this sense of possibility. As The Analog Girl, Mei has traveled the world performing, and now has more than a decade behind her releasing music, and before that as a producer at MTV Asia. She’s been places. Perhaps that’s reason enough to pay attention when she shares her philosophy of appreciating the cyclical nature of change, of moving through heartache with no regrets and changing one’s perspective to change one’s life. She describes the following lyrics as “accepting life for what it is, and for whatever it may present.”

From “A Circle”
“And it’s moving out in pieces
As it goes through all the phases
Past and present in the future
Does it feel like it’s a circle?
No time for regrets
It’s starting to feel a part of me.”

Mei’s use of surreal lyrics and vocals that are nearly a whisper are captivating features of The Analog Girl’s music. Combined with the layered instrumental harmonies of her songs, the result is a mesmerizing,  hypnotic effect. “I think it’s because I am always writing from an organic place,” she writes, “trying to do as much with my voice as with the instrumentation. And I just like singing in repetitive phrases which creates that sense of hypnotism.”

The chant-like repetition interplays with the layered textures of the music and pulsing rhythms, portraying a musical union of the primal and technological. Questions are raised about the role of technology in society, and the union of woman and machine, as Mei’s seemingly vulnerable stage persona is contradicted by her expert control of the studio and its electronic devices. The answer: there’s a strong personality in command at the center of the elegantly harmonious structure of The Analog Girl brand.

“Happiness Is Precious”
Before The Analog Girl, there was Mei Wong. Before that there was Pamela Wong, music student, who as a child was inspired by her parents’ ’70s vinyl collection and the TV show Solid Gold, along with artists as diverse as ABBA, the Bee Gees, the Beatles and Olivia Newton-John. A piano student at 5, Pamela became fascinated by the possibilities of electronic music technology, experimenting with a Casio sampling keyboard and a portable synthesizer that allowed her to construct complete songs. At the age of 7, Pamela created her first “single,” a one-off cassette featuring the tune “Happiness Is Precious.” It even had a B-side; her dad contributed the artwork. As she grew, the charms of music continued to compel her. After graduating from university with a degree in business, Pamela landed a job as producer at MTV Asia.

By the early 2000s, inspired by the computer revolution and what it meant for electronic musicians, she embarked on her career as singer/songwriter, releasing her first album in 2005. Since then The Analog Girl brought her act to New York, Tokyo, and Paris, to name a few. As demonstrated by the uplifting nature of GSC, The Analog Girl hasn’t let the world get her down. And she still knows a good party when she sees one. The album’s quirkiest offering is the anti-anthem, “Weekends” with its melodic and thematic strangeness and upbeat tempo.

From “Weekends”
“Come and stay until the weekend’s gone
Stay until you are born
Come and stay until the weekend’s gone
Stay until you belong.”

After a couple choruses the tune derives into an electro-psychedelic dance tune that may be one of the most deliberate attempts ever to explode the dance music form. Fans of The Analog Girl’s quirkier numbers like “Caffeine” and “Hey Mr. G” will love it. Fun as it is, the tune is an outlier on an album packed with lush beauty and life lessons.

GSC features lovely textures and richer atmospherics than any of The Analog Girl’s previous three offerings, as the sense of hope that bubbles up from the mysterious sonic poetry works its entrancing, inspiring spell. It’s no surprise really, that this innovative techno pop artist should return to songwriting as a way to get through less than ideal times, and emerge from the darkness with a message of hope – hope for a sweet, golden future.

“Golden Sugar Crystals” is available now at iTunes, Amazon Music, Bandcamp, and Spotify.

The Analog Girl At Bandcamp.com
http://www.analog-girl.net/

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Gilles Snowcat’s Fun, Bewitching Mardi Gras Spell

Gilles Snowcat’s  involvement in voodoo is more than a passing interest — it’s a powerful obsession. His new single “Mardi Gras Station,” released to celebrate Mardi Gras Day (Feb 28th) features “Love Spells,”  a 10-minute funk rock groove that finds the tormented Snowcat waxing poetic about witches, voodoo dolls, and rock and roll.

This obsession is no coincidence. Gilles was born on Mardi Gras Day, several decades ago (exact details are hard to come by), a fact that explains his magical musical mojo, which can be seen as both a blessing and a curse.

He explains: “The day of birth influences one’s whole life, let alone a special day like that one. My music would have been different if I had been born another day, or might simply never have existed. Who knows?”

Snowcat tries to pass off his voodoo fixation as merely “fun,” but he’s clearly really into it.  “It’s a fun branch of psychology,” he says. “It’s to psychology like what Chinese medicine is to the pharmaceutical industry.”

Yeah, right. To wit:

“I was born on Mardi Gras Day,
Yes, I was born on Mardi Gras Day,
Nine witches brought me wine
Amazing charms and luck
Gris-gris, love and evil spells.
Loa loa loa loa loa…..”

The x-rated track features powerful live drums by Sebastien Bournier (of Sousbock), who also contributes acoustic guitar, ukulele and background vocals. Gilles’ “Continental Breakfast” co-writer Renato Ronchetti (from Cinnamon Lilly)  also contributes background vocals. It’s a quirky, funky rock track that finds Gilles calling on voodoo spirits (“Loa loa loa loa loa”) over an energetic groove that features his expert keyboard work. In a perfect world, every holiday would have its own theme song — and a less explicit version of”Love Spells” would be a good choice for Mardi Gras.

“It’s impossible not to be influenced by the Stones, since they’re the ones who mixed the looseness of dirty rock and the trickiness of funk.” Gilles Snowcat

One finds a strong resemblance here to the music of the Rolling Stones. Gilles explains: “It’s impossible not to be influenced by the Stones, since they’re the ones who mixed the looseness of dirty rock and the trickiness of funk. But more than the Stones, it’s the New Barbarians, who did the trick the best. It was an impromptu band with members of the Stones, the New Orleans funk masters The Meters, The Faces, and Stanley Clarke.”

The b-side of “Mardi Gras Station” is an odd instrumental that features synths, electronic and live drums, and an entrancing, funky vibe. The whole affair is a glimpse into a fascinating world of forbidden love and strange magic. Yet the cost of admission is just a couple bucks. Get these tunes at: Gilles Snowcat’s Mardi Gras Station.

www.gilles-snowcat.com
www.gillessnowcat.com

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Slovenia’s KONTRADIKSHN: Hope, Cynicism, And The Eternal Drama

Thanks to technology,  the world is a smaller place today than ever before. A couple years ago I had a chance that wouldn’t have been available even 10 years ago, to report on a band called Karmakoma who are from Slovenia, a place many people hadn’t heard of (until they asked “where?” regarding U.S. first lady Melania Trump).  I loved the experience, and now I find myself with the extraordinary luck to report on another band from Slovenia – the electro-rock trio Kontradikshn, who are friends and stagemates with Karmakoma.

Kontradikshn’s debut album, Reframing, features intense, powerful electronic music worthy of attention. It’s industrial electronic rock, with an energetic sound that is at times macho, other times quirky, with aggressive synth riffs, pulsing synth bass, techno break beats, live drums, and fiery vocals. Kontradikshn is essentially a rock band with progressive drum n’ bass leanings that uses synths instead of guitars (at least in the studio), to create an effusive, passionate mix that’s as irresistible as it is danceable.

According to all sources, they’re a powerhouse trio live – their setup features the efforts of vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Petar Stojanović and guitarist/bass synthesist/computer whiz Matej Plešej, lots of live and sequenced synths, as well as live drums by Anže Kump that drive the beat. Their on stage setup features prominent use of the electric guitar, including amplification by the notorious Marshall Stack, while computer support is provided by a MacBook Pro sending and receiving MIDI data to and from Ableton Live.

“I have a small project studio in my home town, recording bands and artists around the country, with which we started to kinda get noticed, like a local scene that (got more and more attention) from other parts of the country. It’s kinda cool to work with different people and feel the cumulative spirit.” Petar Stojanović 

Since their 2010 debut playing clubs in and around Slovenia, their reputation grew and in 2016 they completed a tour through a number of former Yugoslavian states. The group has enjoyed radio airplay on Slovenian National Radio Program 2, including of the single “Memory Dump” as well as frequent airplay on smaller stations. Currently Kontradikshn is touring Slovenia and beyond, promoting the new disc. And wherever they go, they bring a party and lots of noise. These guys like to have fun.


Doubt and Discovery
Themes of cynicism are present on the album, but the underlying idea is one of hope, along with the irony you might expect from self-aware artists living in the shadow of political change.

From “Neverland”:
Slow down, think for a bit
World ain’t moving so fast, just listen.
Don’t you dare, leave her alone.
‘Cause you know how it feels in the dark, now.
Sit down boy, take a sip
Universe doesn’t need another prick like me
Work hard, do good, work hard do good
But be good to yourself (in the morning).

Stojanović’s life changed dramatically at the age of 11, when his father passed away. Friends, family and music were available to help ease the pain and doubt. Channeling the forces of loss and change in his life, Stojanović  found inspiration and hope in the study of various instruments, and found that the way out, as they say, is through.

“Music was forever a part of my life,” he says. “Although no one in my family was a musician, they kinda liked the idea of me playing an instrument. So I started playing clarinet when I was 7 years old. A bit of music school and orchestra until I was 13 or so. Then I quit the whole classical thing and went for the guitar – yeah, the guitar and a bit of piano. Started my first band when I was 15 and played in numerous bands until now. Then I quit university and concentrated only on making music and music production. Kinda went my way, rebellious in a way.”

In the song “027” Stojanović, who is 27, gets confessional:
Holding on, wanting my special line,
That keeps me back on track.
Keep it on, realizing, life is never ending,
So let’s keep sharing, baby.
When I hit the bottom, I miss that peak.
Must confess, that it makes me weak.

A journey of self-discovery is a frequent theme of rock artists (usually spread out over several albums) and it’s true here, as Stojanović  wrestles with hedonism to seek relief from pessimism and cyncism. Yet the album’s elements of hope and faith in human nature and in oneself and the importance of friendship dominate.

From “Free”
Inside of me, there’s a storm again
So I seek for release
Inside of me, I still believe,
That inside of me there’s no shame ‘cause I feel again
Inside of me the only one that lives, Inside of me.

That storm inside comes across in a very definite way, lyrically, vocally, and melodically. One particularly intense moment comes at the end of Evacuation, when the vocals and lyrics veer into decidedly frightening Trent Reznor territory. Stojanović’s favorite synth is another indicator. “My favorite piece of gear is actually an analog mono-synth (the Novation Bass Station II) that arpeggios and bass-lines are played on. And tweaking its filter section really gets the grit.”

An Emerging Kontradikshn
The members grew up in a medium-sized suburb of about 20,000 people on the outskirts of Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, not too far from the similar suburb where Karmakoma’s members were raised. In 2010, Stojanović and Plešej, friends since the age of 15 (they’re both 27 in 2017) formed a few bands until they settled on the current name and approach, playing 20 shows or so. With the addition of Kump as a permanent member on drums, things began to get serious.

“With previous members, we joined numerous competitions and battles of bands, just to get some gigs and our name out there,” Stojanović  says. “Then we got more and more known and made a tour with Karmakoma. After Anže came into the band,  things got more serious and better. He really brought fresh wind into the band.”

Around the same time the band was formed, Stojanović built a recording studio, the same studio where Karmakoma’s debut was recorded. He explains: “I have a small project studio in my home town, recording bands and artists around the country, with which we started to kinda get noticed, like a local scene that (got more and more attention) from other parts of the country. It’s kinda cool to work with different people and feel the cumulative spirit.”

The band’s sound was developed both in the studio and by participating in the robust club scene in and around Slovenia, including at Klub Kocka in Croatia, DemoFest in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the ChannelZero venue in Ljubljana, and others. The band’s diverse influences point to a cosmopolitan array of sounds, from Stojanović’s faves: TransAM, Cabaret Voltaire, Skinny Puppy, Turing Machine, Justice, Aphex Twin, to those of Plešej: Korn, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Linkin Park and Marilyn Manson, to Kump’s influences: early on they were: Korn, Slipknot and Nightwish, and more recently Taylor Swift, Robbie Williams, and Prince. At 20, Kump is the youngest member of the band.

Clearly, Stojanović, Plešej and Kump relish their roles as musicians; perhaps it is necessary to overlook the few unfortunate drug references on their debut album to enjoy it. Still, the music is all one needs. For both audience and artist, music can combat depression and apathy; we’ve all experienced the lift in mood a familiar song can bring. Multiply that by 1,000 when hearing a band you admire play live, in an arena with a powerful PA and pulsing lights, along with other fans.

Musical tools are now readily available virtually anywhere. In a world ruled by capital, we are called to make projects of ourselves.  Self cultivation is a reasonable response to the challenges of an imperfect world. In times like these, artists are left to cultivate hope and optimism, in spite of adversity. For example, even on a relatively dark album like Reframing, Stojanović’s optimism overwhelms.

From the moody and mysterious “108 Hours”:
There’s no mistake from your past that you’ll forget, 
But why would you want to? Embrace the human in yourself.
There’s no absolute value when you feel, and you feel
The eternal drama is here to heal you. Just say:
‘I – I’m gonna be okay, I’m gonna be okay
It feels, it feels right.’”

There’s no denying that musical technology has been a positive force in giving a voice to artists around the world. Contrary to the dark dystopian view of machines taking over, the sonic art of Kontradikshn demonstrates that in the midst of loss, pain, frustration, nihilism (fill in the blank), electronic musical tools are empowering people. Writing, performing, listening and dancing to music and poetry is healing and cathartic. After all, music is an important feature of the eternal drama.

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The Analog Girl’s Hypnotic “Fantasy” A Darkly Sweet Confection

The Analog Girl welcomes 2017 with an elegantly ethereal new tune. “What You are Showing Me Is A Fantasy” shuns convention with its ABCBB  structure, along with Analog Girl’s trademark delay-drenched synths,  futuristic beats, and mysterious, sultry vocals. It’s a  synthpop lover’s dream, a darkly sweet confection packed with lots of melancholy beauty and a mystique that draws the listener in.

This tripped-out electronic ditty is only the beginning; The Singapore-based singer/songwriter/studio whiz is playing live and just put the finishing touches on her new studio album, “Golden Sugar Crystals,” coming in February. The much anticipated disc is her first in five years, and a follow up to 2011’s “Tonight Your Love.” Far Out!

Check out the official video below:

www.analog-girl.net

https://twitter.com/theanaloggirl

 

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Synthpop Diva Stacey Q Goes Hawaiian On Enchanting New Duet With Scott Larson

Fans of classic ’80s electronic music know Stacey Q for her charming pop hits “Two of Hearts” and “We Connect.” Yet there’s another side to Ms. Q:  Her 1997 release “Boomerang” features backing by a standard rock band, playing a mix of rock, folk and pop . (It’s a great disc, and rare — you can find one on eBay if you’re lucky.)

Fast forward to 2016: Stacey’s love for acoustic music has led to recording sessions with her longtime pal and former flame Scott Larson. The latest is the sweet and lovely “You Are Hawaii To Me,” an enchanting island getaway that’s perfect for lovers of mellow pop and classic rock — and fans of Stacey Q, of course. Four songs by Larson and Q are available for download on iTunes and Google Play. Check ’em out!

 

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From The Bogtrotters to The Beatles: Ed Ward’s “History Of Rock & Roll, Volume One”

It’s a truism that technology can (and should) liberate. The history of rock music demonstrates this axiom quite well, as shown in Ed Ward’s new book “The History of Rock and Roll, Volume One –1920 to 1963” (Flatiron Books, 390 pages, $35). Beginning with folk music and what was called race music, first recorded on phonographic discs in the 1920s, to the birth of the radio and the electric guitar, through the electrifying of the blues, to jukeboxes, early TV broadcasts, and Hollywood films,  the book is packed with info about the personalities that created rock and roll, and the technologies that made the genre possible.

Decades ago, long before techno-pop artists adopted popular music forms, filling stadiums with shows featuring banks of electronics,  laser lights and towers of amplified speakers, a rip-roaring night on the town may have consisted of heading down the road to hear a simple unamplified guitar, banjo or fiddle accompanied by a vocalist. Folk, country and western, blues, gospel, rhythm and blues, pop and rock all come into play, across the decades in Ward’s detail-rich book. It’s a page turner, ideally next to your computer, smartphone or tablet (YouTube has pretty much all the tracks he mentions), so you can follow along while listening. All the characters that transformed a diverse array of genres into the world’s (arguably) most influential music genre are presented, and Ward doesn’t disappoint those who prefer their music history served with a side dish of gossip (Colonel Parker was an illegal immigrant, Chuck Berry went to jail for violating the Mann Act, John Lennon was a popper of pep pills, etc.). Oh My! 

Decades ago, long before techno-pop artists adopted popular music forms, filling stadiums with shows featuring banks of electronics, laser lights and towers of amplified speakers, a rip-roaring night on the town may have consisted of heading down the road to hear a simple unamplified guitar, banjo or fiddle accompanied by a vocalist.

As the resident rock and roll historian for NPR’s Fresh Air, Ward’s encyclopedic knowledge serves him well here, and offers up more than mere gossip. Along the way he covers the clubs, the rise of the labels, the record stores, the DJs, the managers, and the stars they created, along with Billboard stats of hundreds of songs making it convenient to listen as you read. There’s an emphasis on the United States, with a few chapters devoted to Britain, which reacted to this uniquely American creation in a variety of interesting ways.

It starts with the music presented in traveling medicine shows, which allowed new sounds to spread from town to town, and eventually, when radio caught on, it spread even faster. When things really start to take off in the ’50s, the book goes deeply into vocal groups, the beginning of Motown, pop groups and rock groups, as well as the role of the electric guitar, mentioning the Fender Stratocaster at least four times (Fullerton shout out!) as well as continuing to follow the second and third careers of those who started out in the ’30s and ’40s. Lots of background info here, along with the wonderful songs that are still staples on oldies stations today (and many others that should be).

Ward’s book ends in January of 1964, just as the Beatles are set to take the United States by storm. Ward spends more than 50 pages on the Beatles and Rolling Stones, and a good number of pages to the beginning of Elvis’ career as well, but only after setting up these pop/rock phenomena in the context of the decades of blues, gospel, and folk artists and others who started it all. Highly recommended.

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Thanks To Steven Boriak at Flatiron Books for the review copy. Get yours at: “The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1” by Ed Ward at Amazon.com

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Thomas Dolby: The Speed Of Sound

When Thomas Dolby hit MTV and the airwaves in 1982, the world discovered a new kind of electronic artist, someone quite different from the typical synthpop performer selling songs about romance and despair. On his first album, “The Golden Age Of Wireless,” Dolby presented a parallel sci-fi universe of retro technology, youthful idealism and Cold War politics with motifs that were nearly mythological in their grandeur, condensed into masterfully engineered three and four minute pop tunes. I was all of 18 in 1982;  I admit to having been more than a little perplexed by the paradoxes present in his style and image. What to make of his compelling synthesis of past and future, of traditional singer/songwriter tropes intertwined with an honest fascination for humanity’s complex history and faith in our better natures, wrapped up in some of the most ear-pleasing techno pop ever created?

1984’s “The Flat Earth,” Dolby’s second album, confronted listeners with its soulful style, driving home the fact that Dolby’s romantic optimism and willingness to depart from formula put him in a class apart from the hordes of synth-wielding popsters on the radio. Dolby didn’t merely pose with electronic instruments as artwork – for him, technology coupled with our common humanity represented a way forward, the dawning of a new paradigm. With its exploration of jazz and the paradoxically synthetic/acoustic sounds of the Fairlight CMI electronic workstation, the album was a sophisticated departure from the techno pop of the day. 1988’s “Aliens Ate My Buick” delved further into funk-flavored electronica, causing confusion and frustration for record executives and promotion people who found it difficult to categorize and market Dolby’s music.

When I learned a few weeks ago that Dolby’s memoir, “The Speed Of Sound:  Breaking The Barriers Between Music And Technology” (Flatiron Books, 277 pages, $27.99) was due for an October release, I eagerly got my hands on a copy. It’s a gripping read, as Dolby recounts his rather quick journey from working musician to pop superstar, and beyond. It’s not surprising to discover that Dolby is a gifted storyteller, given that from the beginning his albums have been filled with cinematic tunes with stories from imaginary historical narratives.  

The idea of adding to the general chorus of syrupy pop chatter and unrequited love songs filled me with loathing. I was determined to go full-on with my own peculiar brand of dieselpunk music and visuals; and if I couldn’t crack the big time, I would go down behind enemy lines in a blaze of glory.” Thomas Dolby

It turns out that Dolby’s early style and content choices were based on solid convictions and instinct.

He writes: “If I’d stopped for a second to reflect on the fact that my obsessions with science fiction, ham radio and the Cold War might prove a little unsuitable for the delicate pop sensibilities of the mass record-buying public, I’d have chosen a different path. I could have written catchy songs about jealousy and teenage angst, I might have joined the ranks of the smiley poster-boy singers of the early 1980s, got my hair cut at Antenna and bought my clothes on South Molton Street. But when I turned on BBC Radio 1, or watched Top of the Pops, there was nothing, absolutely zero that appealed to me. The idea of adding to the general chorus of syrupy pop chatter and unrequited love songs filled me with loathing. I was determined to go full-on with my own peculiar brand of dieselpunk music and visuals; and if I couldn’t crack the big time, I would go down behind enemy lines in a blaze of glory.”

The anecdote-packed narrative tells the tale of Dolby’s brief time at the top of the charts, followed by his increasing disillusionment with the recording industry and his subsequent ventures into producing, film scoring, and the world of Silicon Valley startups. Dolby’s public image has always been carefully cultivated, so it is quite revealing, after 35 years to encounter the actual person behind the boy genius image. What is surprising is that he is more or less an ordinary fellow, albeit one gifted in the arts, and apparently business as well. It turns out that the same ear for musical innovation guided his forays into the tech world, where Dolby had a hand in transforming the way music is heard on the internet and cell phones.

Dolby writes: “In 1994, investment started to pour into small Internet start-ups from San Francisco to San Jose. If you were an eager young entrepreneur with a germ of an idea, you could take several meetings in a week with angel investors and VCs. Anyone who could sketch out a plan for world domination on the back of a paper napkin was a strong contender for an infusion of cash. A hundred and fifty years after the first hungry speculators poured into the Bay Area, the new Gold Rush had begun.”

Yet Dolby did much more than merely sketch plans on a napkin. In the early days of the Internet, Dolby’s company Headspace Inc., with their Beatnik Audio Engine, allowed web browsers to play back audio with ease, thanks to code that made it possible to compress large audio files. This technology was soon bundled into the Sun Java Platform, found on virtually every PC. Headspace (now Beatnik Inc.) followed up on this success by creating a version of the Beatnik Audio Engine that eventually ended up on billions of cell phones. Yet ever the perfectionist,  Dolby was somewhat unsatisfied with the way things turned out.

“When I was on the charts with ‘Blinded Me with Science,’” he writes, “I was known as a sonic innovator, the man who put warmth and humanity into synthesized music. I was embarrassed that now I was the guy people would blame for the global ringtone plague. Had I unleashed a monster? I couldn’t wait for phone power and storage to increase so we could improve the way ringtones sounded. I badly needed Moore’s Law to kick in.”

And indeed, Moore’s Law did kick in – the powerful smartphone we have today was only a few years away. Meanwhile, despite his Silicon Valley successes, at the beginning of the 21st century, Dolby couldn’t ignore his hunger to create new music. Longing for his childhood homeland, Dolby left Northern California with his wife and three children, settling again in England. Always the innovator, he set up a state of the art recording studio in a restored 1930s lifeboat, and got down to the work of once again creating stunning electronic music. 2011’s “A Map Of The Floating City” is his most recent musical endeavor.

“The Speed Of Sound” is recommended for anyone who enjoys a good music industry story, and though the final third of the book recounts Dolby’s adventures in Silicon Valley, it’s loaded with entertaining and humorous details, as he brushes elbows with some of the leading figures in the computer revolution.

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Thanks to Steven Boriak at Flatiron Books for the review copy. Get yours at: Thomas Dolby: The Speed of Sound” at Amazon.com

 

 

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Gilles Snowcat’s Resurrected Rarities A Treat For “Awaken” Fans

Here’s an October Surprise that’s a refreshing break from the annoying circus that the American political scene has become recently.  Gilles Snowcat reveals more of his gonzo past in a triplet of lo-fi MP3 releases from the early to mid-90s, including Awaken’s “Numb,”  “Blurp,” and the Gilles Snowcat solo tape “Zéro Sur Dix : Encore Raté.” Gilles calls them “something between official albums and demo tapes.” Fans of Awaken and of avant-garde pop, art rock oldies and lo-fi electronica might want to check them out.

“It was rather MacGyverish, to put all those instruments into a basic analog 4 tracks,” Gilles recalls. “I think it was the average Tascam, but I’m not even sure. Then the masters were done on DAT, if anyone remembers DAT now. There was also the mighty ATARI and some synths, including a wonderful hybrid monster by Korg, the DSS-1. Some booze to do the vocals, but since then I changed the brand of my whiskey and the results are slightly better.” (Note: these new releases are taken from cassettes, as the masters have since been misplaced).

 What sets them apart is a growing freedom, in terms of interaction with musicians,” Gilles explains. “Actually I upgraded my status: on 1993’s “Numb” I was a leader, and on 1995’s “Blurp” I had reached the level of dictator.

Vintage synths and a variety of other instruments interplay, documenting late nights that became early morning episodes, along with inebriated vocals and that unique Snowcat perspective. It doesn’t get any more authentic than this.

Apparently the tapes, considered sequentially, tell a story of the rise to power of the curious, rockin’ creature known as Gilles Snowcat. “What sets them apart is a growing freedom, in terms of interaction with musicians,” Gilles explains. “Actually I upgraded my status: on 1993’s Numb I was a leader, and on 1995’s Blurp I had reached the level of dictator.”

Missing from the set is 1993’s “Phase 2: Scrappy”, slated to be digitized soon (it came out between “Numb” and. “Zéro Sur Dix”).  Still, there’s a lot here for Snowcat fans. Unrestrained and uncensored, this triplet of pure pop-punk-psychedelic delights is available exclusively to members of Gilles Snowcat’s Secret Club (it’s free to join).  Click on the link below to find out more.

Gilles Snowcat Secret Club Exclusive: Re-released Awaken Relics 

www.gilles-snowcat.com

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Remembering Stefan Oberthaler

The most exciting part of writing about music has been the chance to connect with creative people from other places. In 2011 Stefan Oberthaler replied to a post I made on a Yahoo music group, as I was looking for artists to interview. From the beginning I knew I had found a gem of a musician. Aside from his location in Vienna, home of the great composers, his training at the Mozarteum and his passionate embrace of electronic music, it was his warm, welcoming nature that encouraged me the most. I found him witty and generous, sharing his music with me, and always available to discuss it in depth. I eagerly awaited each new release, including his innovative nu jazz CD Journeyman and an array of esoteric electronic releases that challenge the idea of easy categorization.

“Music is a language from face to face, from soul to soul.” Stefan Oberthaler

In early 2015 he told me he was ill. I offered what encouragement I could via email, then decided to wait until I heard from him. In this instant internet age, one might think I could get info on his condition, though it wasn’t until May 2016 that I found the sad news of his passing. F*** cancer, as they say. Devastating.

During the several years that he and I corresponded, he presented me with advance releases of several songs. With the tune Robomanic in 2014, he sent along photos of his work process, including pics of his written manuscripts and a photo of his digital process as well. I present them here.

oberthaler_manuscript1 oberthaler_manuscript2Bildschirmfoto_2014_robomanic

Oberthaler put it best when he told me:”Music is a language from face to face, from soul to soul.” Stefan, I’ll miss your brilliant, traditional-meets-postmodern approach to electronic music, the friendly email discussions that you were always available for, and your deep knowledge of seemingly all genres of music, from today’s electronic music to the jazz and classical that educated and inspired you. There is no way now to thank you for all of the great memories listening to and writing about your music; I hope you know how much I appreciated all of it. I’m sure you’re making great music up there in the stars, with the incredible band being assembled in the heavens.

(Note: Some of the links in earlier articles are now down. But I found Stefan’s musical files (some previews) on Soundcloud, here: Stefan Oberthaler aka Keyminator, at Soundcloud.)

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