Soundwaves

Scumfrog at the new Cubik, plus recording news from Kim English, Donna Summer, Cher, Erasure, more

CREATING A NEW BUZZÂ… DC nightlife watchers were abuzz last week over the return of Buzz to Nation after a yearlong exile in Baltimore. Buzzlife Productions is emphatic that its reborn Friday night dance-music extravaganza, rechristened Cubik, is not the same rave-style event that drew unfair and unbalanced media attention in years past. As Cubik, they’re going after an older, more mature crowd, organizers say, and the Rubik Room (as in Cube) they’ve established upstairs playing ’80s style synthpop and today’s electro should aid this goal quite nicely. So too will this Friday’s DJ, the Scumfrog. He’s the remixer-producer extraordinaire of the moment. He gave us one of the best mixed CDs this year, the two-disc Extended Engagement (Effin), and the best dance remix so far this year, his dark and moody reworking of Monica‘s bland “So Gone.” We could only hope that he would bring with him former Washingtonian Crystal Waters, who sings his latest dance song, “My Time,” currently No. 1 on the Billboard dance chart. He produced this under the much better name Dutch, also his nationality. Don’t count on her appearance, but do count on a great, (largely) straight night outÂ…

DANCE’S DIRE STRAITSÂ… These are nervous times for the music industry, but especially so for its dance music segment, in its worst predicament in recent memory. The major labels mostly abandoned dance music years ago. Three of the main independent dance labels closed in the past two years, and a fourth, Nervous Records, just exited the dance music scene for hip hop, leaving Kim English‘s anticipated soulful house-infused album, Simply Grateful, in the lurch.  English’s publicist, Vickie Markusic, told us that English is busy in the studio working on another batch of songs for another album, since copyright-holder Nervous may never release Simply Grateful. SuSu Records in Europe has licensed for the continent the first two songs that were to come from that album, the title track and “C’est La Vie,” and eventually English’s next album. SuSu hopes to eventually release all on this side of the big pond, but naturally makes no promises. Save for the handful of labels sticking it out with dance-pop — foremost among these TommyBoy, Star69, Robbins and Ultra — the one bright spot appears to be at alternative-friendly Artemis Records. Recently appointed Artemis president Daniel Glass told his boss, the liberal firebrand Danny Goldberg, subject of a recent Washington Post profile, of his desire to move into dance music. Glass, known around New York as DJ Disco Danny in the late ’70s/early ’80s, officially opened his label’s doors to dance when he released Junior Vasquez‘s remixes of "Time" by Artemis act The Pretenders. Said Glass to Billboard: “Remember Technotronic? Well, I want one of those groundbreaking dance records again.” I’m not sure Technotronic was all that "groundbreaking," but it was enjoyable nonetheless. So, as they say, pump up the jamÂ…



Duran Duran

LOOKING FOR SOME HOT STUFFÂ…The music industry relies on making major bucks at the end of the year, a time of gift-giving buying frenzy. And guess what? The time is drawing very near. How to tell, other than a glance at the calendar? The number of greatest-hits sets coming our way, with special appeal to those most likely to still pay for music these days: those over 30. First up: The Journey: The Very Best of Donna Summer, a two-disc set that UTV/Mercury/UME will release September 30, two weeks before the Villiard/Random House release of Summer’s autobiography, Ordinary Girl: The Journey. The CD-package will feature all of the disco diva’s biggest hits as well as two new songs, recorded with storied dance producer Giorgio Moroder — "That’s the Way" and "Dream-A-Lot’s Theme." As far as we could ascertain it will not include "You’re So Beautiful," a new Summer beginning to make the rounds of the clubs. A month later, Mute/Warner Bros. will release The Very Best of Erasure, a 19-track CD, as well as a two-disc DVD, Hits! The Videos, which features an inconceivable 35 videos (Erasure had 35 hits?), with performances and short promotional films thrown in the mix. A week later on November 4 another gay-popular Britpop group will release a two-disc DVD video anthology: Duran Duran‘s Greatest will feature all the group’s hits as well as a club version of "Planet Earth" and uncensored versions of "Come Undone" and "Girls on Film."

Tori Amos will release her own best-of package Nov. 18, courtesy of Atlantic Records. Rolling Stone reports she’s approaching the set as an autobiography of her ten-plus years in the spotlight. It will include the Maryland native’s best-known songs plus four others, two re-recorded outtakes from her debut album and two new songs, “Snow Cherries From France" and “Angels."

SO LONG, FAREWELL, NEVERMINDÂ… Cher‘s very own Very Best of set came out earlier this year to much commercial success. But not to be outdone, she’s found a way to keep herself alive in the news. Maybe you expected a Farewell Tour to imply that Cher would retire from the business. Pshaw. She’s in no hurry to even exit the stage more than a year after beginning the tour. And now, Billboard reports, she’ll be going back into the studio to record another album as early as next spring. It’s official: Cher is the modern-day Bionic WomanÂ…


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Soundwaves

Gwen Stefani, Seal, Echo and the Bunnymen, and the producers behind pop

POP POWER PRODUCERSÂ… When a pop star needs a hit, she turns to a hit-making pop producer. A pop producer does basically the same work as a dance remixer — toying with melody, vocals, tempo, rhythm, all to make the song work for its intended audience. But only in the past decade or so have producers become as essential as remixers are on the dance floor, and only recently have they become so well known. Much credit for this has to go to Sean "P. Diddy" Combs. Back when he was Puffy and before he became a Daddy, he paraded himself in the spotlight alongside the pop stars he was working for, in a way foreign to Nellee Hooper, Trevor Horn, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and other silent-but-strong pop producer predecessors. Unlike P. Diddy and his new generation, the old guard still keeps some distance behind its pop-star employers. So you probably aren’t aware that Horn, for example, produced one of this week’s most eagerly anticipated albums, Seal‘s Seal IV (Warner), as he has past Seal albums, as well as Depeche Mode. And t.A.T.u., giving the thespian-lesbians a shine they probably didn’t deserve.

With the increased attention to the craft, and as the craft increases to merge with out-and-out songwriting, more people are jumping on the producing bandwagon. And then jumping off — to become artist themselves. The Virginia Beach-based Neptunes are the most active — and the best — producers, having transformed Justin Timberlake and fellow teeny-bob Mouseketeers into somewhat reputable hip-hop-pop acts. And the Neptune’s Pharrell Williams is making a name for himself, as an appealingly old-school quavering-falsetto singer. But the Neptune’s competition is growing by the day, and not just from the also great Virginia Beach-based Timbaland (Missy Elliott, Justin again) or The Matrix (Avril Lavigne, Liz Phair 3.0). The next big fish in producing land? Andre 3000 of Outkast. The modern-day hip-hop reactionary’s latest contribution to hip-hop will come Sept. 23, when he and his Outkast partner Big Boi will offer a two-disc set, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (Arista).



Stefani

But Andre’s debut as a pop producer will come next spring. Pop-music’s Best Dressed Gwen Stefani has auspiciously enlisted Andre 3000 to produce her long-awaited debut solo album, suggesting that she is as fashion-forward with music as with cloth. That’s not much of a surprise, since her group No Doubt has always been musically savvy, growing with each successive album. For her solo album on Interscope, Stefani is collaborating with No Doubt bandmate (and ex) Tony Kanal as well as with lesbian songwriter du jour Linda Perry, who has once again worked with Pink on Pink’s next album, Try This (Arista), due in November. Billboard reports Stefani’s album "may also include tracks with Missy Elliott," which would be just grand. Besides helping produce the album alongside silent-but-strong producer-types Dallas Austin (TLC, Madonna) and Damon Elliott (Destiny’s Child), Andre 3000 will also make a guest appearance on a song he wrote, "Long Way to Go." The song is about an interracial relationship, according to Billboard, and was originally intended for Andre 3000′s The Love Below set, but he "didn’t feel like my audience was ready to hear this type of song." That’s quite a cop-out. Methinks his audience will hear it anywayÂ…

P. DIDDY DANCE UPDATEÂ… Since we dropped his name, we must make mention of P. Diddy’s forthcoming dance music album. There, we mentioned it. Obligation fulfilled. On to the next, infinitely more welcome subjectÂ…

ECHO BUNNIESÂ… One of the seminal ’80s Britpop groups, who’ve influenced artists ranging from Coldplay to Moby to Radiohead, will celebrate its 25 years together with a world tour. Echo and the Bunnymen didn’t see much chart success in the U.S., but did gain airplay with "Lips Like Sugar" and its cover of The Doors’ "People Are Strange," among other hits. All of the group’s first five albums will be reissued in October, when they launch the U.S. leg of their tour. Group frontman Ian McCulloch toured earlier this year in support of his solo release, Slideling, (spinArt), kicking off the American leg of it at the 9:30 Club in May. But either the audience wasn’t up to snuff or there were other scheduling snafus or oversights, because the group will not stop in DC, sadly. The closest they’ll get is Webster Hall in New York on Oct. 25Â…

THE WEB AND OTHER MUSIC INDUSTRY ‘ILLS’Â… Adult porn makers "are much smarter than the music industry," according to one Web porn exec quoted in the New York Times. "They see [file-sharing networks] as money to be made" by distributing through them sample images to attract paying customers to their sites. Among the music industry’s other tactics, the newspaper reported on its latest salvo against illegal downloading: encouraging Congress to shut down file sharing networks like KaZaA, equating them with Joe Camel and the tobacco industry, luring underage consumers and hooking them on "ills," in this case pornography. As KaZaA’s founder told the Wall Street Journal: "Basically what the [music industry] should do is outlaw the Internet. That’s what they want to do"Â…

Doug Rule can be reached at drule@metroweekly.com.

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Soundwaves

Iceland's GusGus mixes, Depeche Mode divides, Colin Farrell sings, more

GUSGUS’S DANCE FLOOR RUSH-RUSH…  Most dance-music compilations simulate the music heard at peak hour on the dance floor. The rest tend to simulate radio. Mixed Live: GusGus (Moonshine) takes a new tack, one we haven’t encountered before. It simulates sex. Or more appropriately, the mood of a Saturday night dance floor, where a hookup is a distinct possibility. That it does it all implicitly makes it that much more impressive. That it comes from a nine-piece pop group not known as a DJ act makes us think more non-DJs should be enlisted to mix dance compilations. GusGus hails from Iceland, and like compatriots Bjork and Sigur Ros they thrive on crafting quirky music — half rock, half electronic. Thanks to their pioneering approach, this is the best Moonshine Mixed Live compilation we’ve yet heard, with a fetching mix of electroclash, soulful house, techno and punk sounds. Early on Gus-Gus hits us with flirtatious tracks with titles to match: "Price Gun Baby," "Grab My Shaft," "I Need a Freak." If you’re not good-naturedly laughing at this point, you will be with Aaron Carl’s techno-colored "Switch." ("Make like a fairy baby, and switch.") You’ll laugh some more as Harrison Crump has phone-sex on "Deep in Clouds." Crump’s sexy, jazzy vocalizations suggest sex too. The DJ-as-dance-floor-pursuer has won you over by the time the best song plays: GusGus’s own "David," remixed by the misnamed Captain Comatose. What is so homoerotic about "Homoerotic" and this rated NC-17 compilation, you ask? Aaron-Carl, who just has to be a gay drag queen, explains it in this GusGus remixed track: "Even though we could never, ever make babies, you and me could still have fun"Â…

DEPECHE DIVORCEÂ… We can’t say we didn’t see this coming. Several months ago, as Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan and Martin Gore released solo albums, the two expressed conflicting opinions about their next group album. Gore was ready to start work on it, Gahan in no rush. Now Rolling Stone quotes Gahan as all-but through with Depeche Mode. "Martin might as well be doing it himself. They’re his ideas, his songs. I don’t see that there’s any point in making another [Depeche Mode] record.” Until this year’s Paper Monsters (Reprise), Gahan had never actually written the songs he sang. We liked it better that way; Paper Monsters was a mess of a debutÂ…

BOYS, BOYS, BOYSÂ… Just over a month ago we mentioned the theater-as-clubbing Off-Broadway extravaganza that is De La Guarda. The show’s special weekly DJ appearances are over, but you’ll enjoy yourself even more if you can make it next week to the Daryl Roth Theater. On Wednesday, Sept. 7, the show will feature a special "Boys Night" (as in gay) edition of the interactive show, much like one held in June during Pride. D.C.-favorite Manny Lehman will spin Sept. 7 as the show’s Argentine performers take to the stage — and fly through the air. See www.delaguarda.com for ticket information. Meanwhile, on the other coast, there’s another kind of "boys" event featuring another era’s pop music. Los Angeles radio station KROQ’s 2003 Inland Invasion Concert will be a very electroclash affair, including ’80s artists The Cure (!), Duran Duran (fresh from their MTV Lifetime Achievement Award), Soft Cell, Berlin, Violent Femmes and Echo and the Bunnymen, along with some of their offspring such as Interpol, Dashboard Confessional and Hot Hot Heat. The Sept. 20 date, at the Glen Helen Hyundai Pavilion in Devore, Ca., is the third edition of this annual show, but the first to draw our attention. (Last year’s focus was on punk and the first year it was hard rock.) Could it be a sign that the already aging dance genre electroclash is truly going mainstream? Or is that just wishful thinking on our part?Â…

BOOZE AND BOO’SÂ… He can look cute, booze it up, act and apparently even sing. What can’t Colin Farrell do? Rolling Stone reports that Farrell recorded a cover of The Clash’s “I Fought the Law” for the soundtrack to his upcoming movie Intermission. And as odd as it sounds, he’s also in the running to play Ozzy Osbourne in a biopicÂ…. And speaking of boozing it up, rapper Nelly has launched his own energy drink, Pimp Juice, a mix of apple juice, vitamins and supplements named after a song from Nellyville (Universal). According to Nelly himself, the juice “mixes perfectly with numerous vodkas." Spoken like a true pimpÂ… American Idol‘s Simon "Mr. Nasty" Cowell sat for Madame Tussaud sculptors and recorded his voice for a talking model now on display in London in a "Pop Idol" set (the British version of the show). BBC 1 Radio reports that the Cowell model will even judge you, for a song. But why would you humiliate yourself like that?Â…

Doug Rule can be reached at drule@metroweekly.com.

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