Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Red Light Reverie

Sam Baker

Sam Baker asks if the electro swing can play a similar role in combatting toxic politics as the original sound.

As we envelop ourselves in the re-creation of a genre long thought dead, reviving fashions, songs, and slang, it’s brutally important that we do not ignore the deeper meanings and the historical parallels, as well as the differences between our world and those of ages past.

Swing has meant many things to many people throughout it’s century-old history. To many Americans, it represented the opulence of the Twenties, and later an escape from the desolation of the Thirties. For blacks in Harlem, it meant a means to own their own personage in an era where most minorities were kept from owning land and exercising their right to vote. In Europe, it was a cultural travel-agent, allowing people to leave their homes and scoot across the Atlantic and the English Channel by means of the short-wave radio and innumerable local dance halls. Even the Nazis couldn’t quell the thirst for swing’s syncopated rhythms and blasting brass.

The music known today as electro swing is often very much apart in terms of performance from the genre we celebrate. Today it is mostly DJ/Producer-centric, albeit with a handful of stellar live bands and live-electronic hybrids; however, the early days of swing and jazz in general were a free-for-all of wild improvisation and musical conversation. What it’s lost in spontaneity though, it has made up for in community forged through means never before imaginable. Early swing made a world tour by way of the radio, and to this day has continued to step in time with the forefront of technology.

Swing bands, once eschewing even amplification, have now taken up the mantle of electronic bass and digital performance. DJs freely meld together sounds from the early years of jazz and swing with sounds so forward they sound as if they’re from a future which has yet to come. And somewhere in this tug and pull of yearning for the past whilst reaching for tomorrow, something is cooking the likes of which haven’t been seen since the hot houses of New Orleans’ Red Light District on the eve of the Great War and the birth of the modern era.

Swing is distinctly American, and yet it is not. The rhythm and the melodies came largely from traditions rooted deeply in Africa, fuelled by Hindu cannabis spread by the Spanish, and nurtured at the breast of a largely French city before steam boating up the Mississippi and out through the arteries of a nation still searching for it’s voice and identity. Today, we see and hear the results of it’s curation to and by the rest of the world and the results have been astounding.

Unlike many other popular musical movements, such as hardcore rock and mainstream EDM, the progenitors of electro-swing and neo-vintage connect across borders and disparate cultures, almost instinctively. This reminds us all of the fact that we are global citizens first, and national citizens second.

In the era of European fascism, swing was a bridge between increasingly separated worlds. Men like Günter Discher risked life and limb to collect and share the sounds and styles of swing, eventually spending three years in a concentration camp for his brazen defiance of the Nazi’s cultural control.

Swing wasn’t outright banned, but was controlled and scrutinised, it’s patronage punished. It was “nigger-kyke” music in the eyes of the Nazis so those who enjoyed and proliferated it were identified as enemies of the state, routinely being beaten, arrested, and thrown in concentration camps.

Now, we face a wave of democratic nationalism which threatens to undo more than a half century of multicultural integration and democratic advancement. As people seeking power aim to split people across ethnic divides, it’s all the more important to highlight what we share with our fellow humans.

We are not, as many people like to claim, at the gates of fascism. Fascism took hold as a reaction to a very real threat of communism, in an age where Bolshevists had just violently stripped entire classes of people of their land, wealth, and titles and in which Communists clashed with authorities in the streets of Germany using guns and grenades. Hitler, for example, was able to play off these fears and invoke Article 48, allowing for suspension of democratic rule in the face of a state crisis.

Things may seem grossly divided, but we aren’t embroiled in the often-fatal political violence of the 30’s. We are; however, seeing a rise of ethnic nationalism which threatens to undermine and unravel the European Union, as well as the relative peace enjoyed in America. The far reach of this is hard to predict, but it would certainly lead to less stable markets and more polarised populations. Unlike the fascists, the modern nationalists seek power through democracy, as opposed to trying to unseat it. It’s a crucial difference and important to avoid alarming sensationalism which only further divides us. This still doesn’t bode well for free and prosperous societies, as even those nationalist surges which do well by economic indicators leave behind those they characterised as out-groups to scapegoat in the pursuit of power.

So here we are, swinging into the future with our hearts in the past. As we, strap on our suspenders, don our stetson hats, and groove to house beats beneath the swing-era hits, let’s remember where we come from and keep close to heart where we can grow from here. As the swingjugend of Germany did, we must strive to highlight what we share in common, and express ourselves through voice of art and dance, transcending class, creed, and borders. Those who seek to divide us don’t stand a chance if we continue to come together over what we love — building bridges instead of walls.

— I would like to thanks Benjamin Studebaker, longtime friend and current PhD candidate at Cambridge, for taking the time to discuss the histories of fascism and nationalism in modern times.—

Monday, 5 December 2016

All Aboard the South London Soul Train

Jack went to the South London Soul Train to catch the Dutty Moonshine Big Band live in concert

It Is a pretty cool time in the UK vintage remix scene right now. With the release of the new Captain Flatcap album just over a week ago, any concern that the scene might be turning in on itself that I may have had started to dissipate. Add to that the imminent prospect of new music from Electric Swing Circus and reports from the festival scene that Jenova Collective are going from strength to strength, plus the arrival on the scene of Tuxedo Junction, and things are starting to look really interesting.

If ever there was an act that I felt could potentially develop a following outside the vintage remix scene it is the Dutty Moonshine Big Band. Having played sets on some pretty massive festival stages (Glastonbury’s Shangri-La and Boomtown’s Town Centre), they have had the sort of exposure that they’d need. But perhaps more importantly their music is varied enough to create an hour-long set that feels at one and the same time part of a unified concept but with enough variety that it doesn’t get repetitive.

I had the chance to put this theory to the test this weekend past as I headed along to the South London Soul Train at the CLF Art Café in Peckham. As you might guess from the night’s name, this ain’t no vintage remix night. Now, Dutty Moonshine might not be the easiest thing to come to terms with if you’re not familiar with them, so I was interested to find out what the crowd would make of them.

As I often do when I’m attending a gig for journalism reasons, I went by myself.  This is a great way to ensure that a) I don’t get too hammered, meaning I don’t have to make up half of the review, and b) it forces me to talk to other people at the gig, which helps to get an impression of what people make of it.

I’d been to the Art Café before for a Correspondents gig a few years ago. It really is one of the coolest venues in town. Set over three floors, it is a far cry from the trendy clubs in Shoreditch that often host Vintage Remix nights – no snazzy sofas, no quirky light fittings, no overpriced cocktails. The concept is simple: put a stage and a bar in, and let the people dance. The bare concrete of the stairwells helps to create an underground-y vibe. Furthermore, it is conveniently close to my house, so that’s a big tick.

The next thing to say is that the crowd is undeniably cool and sexy. I lost count of the number of times I had to double-take as some vision of loveliness sashayed past en route to bar or dance floor. The style is very relaxed: unlike many vintage remix nights, I was the only person in the place wearing a trilby, so far as I could tell. What’s more, everyone was super-friendly, being more than happy to chat to me. Of all the people I spoke to, maybe six or seven in total, not one had heard of the Dutties before, and no one was there specifically to see them.

Read Syed's interview and post about Dutty Moonshine

When the band came on stage shortly after midnight they got a warm reception, and if there were any doubters, once they’d played their first couple of numbers the doubts were banished and the dance floor was jumping. There’s no doubt in my mind that if you really want to make a vintage remix night pop you need MCs, and in HypeMan Sage Dutty Moonshine have one of the finest. His delivery and presence on stage are fantastic, as is his appreciation for the original sound. Tracks like ‘Caravan’, ‘Bonklet’ (for which Captain Flatcap stepped out from behind the decks, where he was deputising for Dutty Moonshine’s regular disc-botherer, and gave his flute a tootle) and ‘SuperSharpSwinger’ were definite favourites with the crowd. My personal favourite Dutty track, “Yeah, Yeah” was received with similar enthusiasm. By the end, the chant of ‘one more song’ shook the floorboards, and for an encore the gang delighted the crowd with a Game Of Thrones / Mary Poppins medley that was weirdly heavy and amusing at the same time.

Once the set was over I hung around for a short while. If you’re a vintage remix fan and you’re in London but can’t find a specific vintage remix event, the South London Soul Train is as good an option as anything. It has a certain griminess to it that’s very appealing, and if you like old tunes in modern contexts like I do you’re laughing. It’s a welcoming, fun crowd, the drinks aren’t stupidly expensive, and getting home (at least, if you live where I do) is easy. The atmosphere is similar to one found at a vintage remix night – no aggro, no posing, just people dancing and having fun together. The next Soul Train pulls in on 17th December with a James Brown special… I’ll be there with (Crimbo) bells on.

From Jennifer Lopez to Garage-swing: What is this Dutty Moonshine of which you speak?

Syed Fakhare Haider

From Jennifer Lopez to Garage-swing: Syed Fakhare Haider's upbringing in conservative Pakistan left him ill-prepared to get a grip on UK vintage remix, so he spoke to Mike Rack, the outspoken driving force behind Dutty Moonshine and the Dutty Moonshine Big Band, to try to get his head around the vintage remix pioneer's sound.

I was not raised in North America and I come from a country where almost all of the population is not aware of what swing music is - Pakistan. The only possible way I could have been introduced to such music is through movies but I had not seen more than, maybe, two or three movies back home. Do not get me wrong, I could afford as many movies as I wanted but I was raised in a strict household. The only western music I had listened to was two songs by Spanish-speaking Jennifer Lopez, a couple of songs by Nigerian-born Swedish musician called Dr. Alban and, of course, several songs by Michael Jackson – he was famous everywhere. My world revolved around Eurodance, reggae, Latin and pop – although I did not know the names of these genres at the time. Since I was little, I was in search of songs with beats and had no idea what they were called.

After moving to Canada in 2004, I got introduced to free movies in Toronto libraries. That is when I went nuts with movies and saw everything I could get my hands on. I was introduced to American vintage culture through several movies and did not think much about swing music. It was all very confusing – these movies showed war, great depression, prohibition and, yet, they seemed to enjoy this strange music in their leisure times. It was a lot of information to digest for someone who JUST saw all of this for the first time.

"we called ourselves Swing and Bass. We never called ourselves electro swing because we played a lot of swing and we played a lot of bass"

Over time, I discovered ‘beats’ and started listening to Trance and Techno. I still did not know what I was listening to. One day, I discovered this gem called “We Play House Music” and I knew this is what I had been looking for all my life. It had the perfect ‘tempo’ (a term I learned very recently) and I knew what this music was really called. I went nuts with house music and tried to listen to everything I could find. Over time, too much melody was not doing it for me and, later, I found out that it was all progressive house which got me bored.

In 2010, “We No Speak Americano” became a huge hit. However, my love for electro swing only came when I decided to search for similar tracks and came across songs by IncontroL, Jamie Berry, Klischee, Minimatic, Parov Stelar, Caravan Palace, Dunkelbunt and Electric Swing Circus. I could suddenly imagine myself in a time I had - even my parents had not - lived in. Maybe because I had seen over two thousand movies in just 6 years and was able to suddenly imagine I was in that world.

"their music was as rebellious to electro-swing as swing was to the existing sounds of that time"

I had been listening to the same swing-house and traditional swing for about three years when I came across Dutty Moonshine. I listened to their most famous track Taking It Back (nearing 2 million views on YouTube) which started with the phrase “What is this Dutty Moonshine of which you speak?” I did not know either.

I say that this is the perfect introduction to this band because they really broke all the rules when it comes to vintage remix. It was like nothing I had heard of during my journey through the genre. I did think: “Wait, this is not electro-swing! What is this Carol of the Bells tune doing in there?” I did search more of their songs but could not understand how they were electro-swing. I did not understand because they were not sampling older existing tunes and putting house beats into it. They were not clap-your-hands-parov-stelarring it. I must admit that, other than Taking It Back, I could not get into their music, perhaps because of my background in music which, though it is very short, was rich of European and North American house music – not UK-based sounds.

Through Dutty Moonshine and this blog, I discovered more non-swing-house not-so-traditional-swing artists from the UK. I knew their music was as rebellious to electro-swing as swing was to the existing sounds of that time. Later, I came across this set by Dutty Moonshine called “Kicked Out of the Club” which seemingly referred to suggestions that Dutty Moonshine was not making electro swing. For a North American it was actually very hard to understand their music or their influences. I really could not put my finger on what genre they were and, in this interview with Michael Rack (the founder of Dutty Moonshine), I found out that they actually invented a genre as well!

Check out the transcript of our chat:

Syed Farkare Haider: Good Evening. How are you?

Mike Rack: Hello. Good Evening.

S FH: So, I've been listening to your music for a long time, man. To be honest, as a person who was not raised in the UK – I mean, I know a lot of your influences are from UK Garage and other UK-based sounds, so, this is why for me, personally speaking, I am a swing-house fan. So, it is very hard for me to understand your music or, let’s say, C@ in the H@. So my first question is that I understand you have a very long history of speaking against Electro Swing – the term itself. So, Mike, can you please explain why you have the problem with the term? What is your beef with electro swing? Was there ever a time that you can say that Dutty Moonshine was actually an electro swing act as opposed to a vintage remix band?

MR: Alright. When I first started doing it, we called ourselves Swing and Bass. We never called ourselves electro swing because we played a lot of swing and we played a lot of bass. Electro swing says that the genre can only be house music and lots of people are already making house. It is so much more. (With the term) electro swing, it puts limitations on the genre – it creates a limit. And, it shouldn’t be limited. Jazz and Swing were the original base and were never limited – everything from Dixieland to Charleston to Blues to Big Band to all the crazy stuff. It was such a good variety and electro swing is too limited as a genre and the name itself ruins it.

S FH: That’s fair enough. I personally started listening to swing house initially but, later, I discovered drum and bass swing and I, oh my God, I fell in love with it.

MR: I do play some swing house. I like all stuff. Everything is good. People put a limit on themselves when they shouldn’t limit themselves. They have so much more to discover.

S FH: I could not agree more. I know you guys, recently – in 2015 to be more precise, morphed into Big Band. How did that come about? Were you guys trying to follow in the footsteps of Benny Goodman and others? What was your influence and how did you go about doing it?

MR: Yeah, you know instantly that it was done out of a swing base. To go big was big bands. Big band was the thing. That is why we did it. There are a few electro swing bands out there or natural big bands doing electro swing. It is a tribute to the original days. It was a tribute to what it was based on and, of course, the delivery of the music. It is awesome. Anyone who has seen the big band show, they have gone like: “Yeah, that’s the shit, innit?!” It is something else. It is much more impressive than – having a  7-piece brass section paired with MCs. That is not something you play over saxophone playing with house music. That is some serious stuff.

S FH: I have seen your performances on YouTube. I was really looking forward to having you here in October but, maybe, next year – hopefully, in Toronto.

MR: I think we can get the big band over there at some point.

S FH: Yeah, for sure. I hope so. So... UK has a history of innovative scenes – UK based vintage remix is a case in point. As a North American, I do not understand a lot of UK based stuff. UK sounds were blended with swing in your songs and many other by UK-based bands. Do you think that it’s because of UK’s history in innovative scenes, it makes UK-based vintage remix bands harder for people from anywhere else, i.e. other parts of Europe and North America, to understand?

MR: I think you got some excellent observation skills. England, I talk about and always thought, is the dance capital of the world. Yeah, there are famous places. New York is famous for disco, Ibiza is famous for its trance and there are all these famous countries. America is famous for its trap music. In England, there are a lot of genres. It is a small country and such a lot of artists. I think it’s the capital.

What it means is that the 80% of the stuff, rest of the world does not get behind it and find it difficult to get. They do not understand and conceive it. But the other 20% would shape the future of the scenes/of the sound. You think about dubstep. We invented dubstep. America has now changed it to something else but we invented it. When dubstep was getting big, we had other stuff: we have grime – it all came about around the same sort of time. All of the stuff that we make and the rest of the world blow it to something bigger. So yeah, it will be difficult for people to understand the English stuff. I think England is very good for quality control.

S FH: Oh yeah, definitely. I remember I was reading history about trip hop and it started in Bristol actually – where you are from.

MR: And, drum and bass. That also started in Bristol.

S FH: I know you guys chose to self-fund your album. Is there a reason behind that?

MR: This is the first time we have completely self-funded. We had some labels in the past. Let me answer this question carefully.

Read Jack the Cad's review of a recent Dutty Moonshine Big Band gig

Let me think – we are self-funding it this time because we want more creative control. We want to control what we can do with this music and who can use it, and how it is available for people to use. We've got a big community, e.g. PlayStation and computer games, they have asked if they could use our music. We have got a problem because, in theory, it actually belongs to record label. It is pretty hard for us to have control over what we can give. In any scene – let’s say if we have a friend who is in charity and wants to use our song, we can say, “Yeah, use that”. If it is something big like Cartoon Network who recently used one of our tracks, we say, “Yeah, you can have it, if you pay a lot of money for it!" Many big companies and labels do that but it is a lot of paperwork and hassle. You feel like that you do not have a direct hands-on control over it most of the time. With this album, we will have direct control with what happens with the creative process and what happens in the aftermath.

It is also money directly going into our pockets. If we got a label, we have to split – we have to pay distribution costs, we have to pay for publishing, commercials and, also, you have to split 50/50 with the label. Before anybody is paid, there is 50% to 60% gone already. With the self-release, every bit or penny spent on it will directly go into our pockets.

Support the Dutty Moonshine Big Band Kickstarter here!

S FH: A lot of DJs these days, among the famous ones, are re-visiting the older vintage music/sound starting from swing all the way to disco. What do you think makes it so effective revisiting the old vintage sounds?

MR: That could be an hour-long conversation. It is a good question. Let me think how to answer this without turning it into an hour-long debate. I think – two things: they may sound negative but they are not meant to be negative. I also revisited old music. My management, the guys who manage me, invented Ghetto Funk.

Number one – people do not like change. They like old stuff. What you are doing is giving them something slightly new but it’s something comfortable.

The second one is that a lot of people are fucking lazy. With the latest software and computers, it is pretty easy now to take apart existing sound on which musicians spent ages working on scales, the lyrics, the brute chords – all that sort of stuff. We can turn it into something else. We can hack it up, splice it, sample it, rip it into pieces and turn it into something new which is actually pre-made. So, yes, the producers are slightly lazy and they like to be comfortable. You can say that giving a new life to something old – something glorious and making it into a completely new thing is kind of hacking music. Hacking music is you take something and you hack it. Same thing about being lazy is that you are hacking music to bring more life into it.

That is my main two things. It is a lot easier for a 17-year-old Timmy in his bedroom to take apart some of the most famous Bee Gee disco tunes and drop breaks in it. Suddenly, he's got a dance floor banger that is going to get crowds hyped and stuff. Whereas, it is really hard for Timmy who maybe did not study music, to come up with something new – you know, if every 17-year-old kid could just come up with a number one hit, we would have a really bizarre music scene. You can remix number one hits and turn it into something else.

S FH: Which track best sums up the Dutty Moonshine’s ethos in your opinion? In your opinion, what is the best track by Dutty Moonshine? This is personally my own question. Maybe, it is a stock question – hopefully, it is not. I am just curious – one song which really sums up Dutty Moonshine’s ethos.

MR: I can think of a couple but they are not out yet. They are going to be in the album. I would say that there is a tune called “Yeah Yeah”.

S FH: I love that one. It was a free download. I really love that one so much.

MR: We did it live. We also had a band in the middle. We also had a vocalist do stuff too. Unfortunately, we do not have that version – we have to find that video somewhere. At the moment, there is something that people can listen to is “Yeah Yeah”.  Also, there are the ones coming out – they are not so hectic but “Yeah Yeah” is pretty damn hectic. Garage is a big thing in England. Our album is going to have three swing-garage tracks. One of them is Duke Skellington’s cover of Caravan. There is a small snippet of it on Facebook – one of the videos from boomtown, you can hear some rough audio of the song. That is a very good representation of what a big band is.

Dutty Moonshine Big Band - encore at South London Soul Train - GoT theme + Let's go fly a kite

S FH: My last question would be about your plan on upcoming gigs/tours mostly in England and, also, other countries in Europe and North America.

MR: I am going to be doing – I am looking around March, I will be coming to California. I am not doing a whole massive tour in America and Canada just because it takes a lot of time. I will do a long weekend and go back. I will do the California bit. I will probably going to come to Montreal in March/April – spring time. I am going to be hopefully in China in May. As well as tour of California in March, I am possibly going to do a Scandinavian tour which is Norway, Iceland, Finland and stuff like that. I was also going to go to Australia but Australian government have just changed the visa policy and it is not financially sensible for me to do it. I need to be a lot more bigger than I am for me to go to Australia. I did an Australian tour earlier this year and I was going to go again next year but, now, I can’t because of government policy changes. So, yeah, China and long weekend in California, a small Northern Europe tour, basically as well as festivals and crazy stuff all over the place.

S FH: Thank you, Michael. Thank you for your time. I hope you come to Toronto one day because the scene is getting bigger here.

MR: Cool! Peace, man.

My journey to house music took almost half a decade and, similarly, my journey to electro swing took another five years. I am slowly coming to appreciate UK-based vintage remix bands/artists who have influences from styles of dance music that haven't made it across the Atlantic. If you are only into what is mostly made these days: swing house, then you may want to give chance to some UK-based artists/bands who are creating entirely new vintage sounds. Benny Goodman, Andrew Sisters, Louis Prima and other famous names were innovators, so why do we accept unoriginality from modern artists? Show support to such artists and have an open mind about their music!