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SONIA BOMBS THE DANCE FLOOR… Even in remixed form, it’s not often that you hear a folk song on the dance floor. And it’s almost as rare to hear a politically charged song there. But with any luck, you’ll soon hear both at once. Baltimore-based lesbian folk singer SONiA has just released remixes of her song ”No Bomb Is Smart,” a song originally drawn from her third solo record, the same-titled 2004 album that garnered SONiA her first Grammy nomination. The original was a rocking folk gem, with angry beats, mournful strings and SONiA’s sunny and sweet voice singing pointed antiwar lyrics. Most obviously, about how oxymoronic it is to call any bomb a smart bomb. Now SONiA has commissioned remixes in an attempt to drum up new attention on the occasion of the third anniversary of the Iraq War’s start. It’s her first foray into the realm of dance music. ”If people can dance together,” she says in a press release, “we can live together.”
Althen and SONiA
(Photo by Roy Cox)
Available for purchase at her band Disappear Fear’s Web site (www.disappearfear.com), all remixes feature rapid-fire military-esque beats, which suit the dance floor and, in a warped way, the song. But the up-and-coming local musician Blake Althen provides the primo remix here, besting the better-known New York-based Twisted Dee. Dee’s Tribal Mix is appealing and entirely smart, with its bombs and siren sounds that she keeps from turning into all out war on the listener’s ears and nerves. The remix isn’t especially captivating, however. You could say it doesn’t quite detonate as expected, or with the same force as Althen’s Anthem Mix. His version, like the original, is both sweet and moody, and it marches to a bubbling beat. Althen keeps things light, with the focus squarely on SONiA’s lyrics….
THE DOLLS’ LATEST MEOW… It’s not enough that they were ubiquitous on the dance floor last summer with first hit ”Don’t Cha,” or that they may soon be ubiquitous again, with ”Beep” or another single from the group’s platinum debut album. And shouldn’t it be enough that the Pussycat Dolls have sold more than 1 million copies of PCD?
Apparently not. So we can soon expect to see the Dolls in a whole new medium: television. You didn’t see that coming, did you? Actually, the Dolls have already been there before, having appeared and performed on ”Dancing with the Stars,” among other shows. But now the Burlesque-style dancing troupe wants its own show, and an unscripted series is currently being shopped around Hollywood, Billboard reports. It’s just a matter of time….
FROM GARBAGE COMES SHIRLEY MANSON… Last fall Garbage requested its fans not throw the group into the pop trash heap just yet. A post to its Web site said that its members merely wanted a second hiatus. While the band’s status as a band hasn’t changed, its lead singer isn’t gonna just sit around and wait. Shirley Manson has begun work on her first solo set. Billboard didn’t uncover many details, so it’s not clear if Manson will stick to the uptempo rock sound that defined Garbage at its best and gave it several dance hits, including last year’s ”Bleed Like Me.” Manson told the magazine that she’s not working from any timetable in producing her own music. So there’s no way to know when or if we might hear from her again….
A NORWEGIAN NIGHT OUT… The Norwegian electronica duo Royksopp has been one of those best-kept-secret type of groups, at least stateside. Only hardcore danceheads have even heard of the group, and an even smaller circle actually knows the band’s music, which you might describe as disco-pop with an edge. But TorbjÃ¸rn Brundtland and Svein Berge are so well-regarded among those in the dance music industry, and especially its European branch, that the genre’s best remixers clamor to recreate its singles. So you find Jacques Lu Cont, Trentemoller and Vitalic providing remixes for current single ”What Else Is There?” And though you expect Lu Cont to do the best work based on his nearly flawless and prodigious track record, actually it’s the increasingly prominent Trentemoller who blows away the competition. The German producer provides a minimal but incredibly fierce bouncing remix of the track that responds to the song’s lyrics. For example, he creates an explosive beat after guest vocalist Karin Dreijer sings the word ”explosion” in her tremulous voice.
Royksopp also apparently has enough of a following to justify the duo’s latest release, Royksopp’s Night Out, which is a rarity in itself: a live recording from a dance act. Yes, Royksopp sounds nearly as great live as they do in the studio, and no, it’s not because they simply pressed play and danced around as their synthesizers did all the work. Instead, this EP finds the duo improvising and adding creative touches not heard on its two studio albums. Recorded live near the duo’s hometown, the nine-track Royksopp’s Night Out features versions of all of its previous singles as well as a cover of Queen of The Stone Age‘s ”Go with the Flow”….
DANCE AWARDS GO DEEP… Previous Grammy winner Deep Dish failed to grab a Grammy this year, but the International Dance Music Awards is the D.C. duo’s to lose. Ali Shirazinia and Sharam Tayebi racked up the most nominations — seven — at dance music’s most prestigious awards ceremony, to be held a week from Sunday during dance music’s biggest annual event, Miami’s Winter Music Conference. Other artists with multiple nominations at the 21st annual IDMAs for their work in 2005 include Paul Van Dyk, Above & Beyond, Gabriel & Dresden and the Pussycat Dolls.
Deep Dish’s recognition signifies the duo’s influence at all levels of the genre, as a DJ act, remixer, producer and label owner. The song ”Say Hello” featuring Anousheh Khalili on vocals was nominated three times. The only category for which Deep Dish should have been eligible but was not nominated is as Best Dance Artist Group — and that’s the only category in which you’ll find the group that stole this year’s dance Grammys, the Chemical Brothers. And the Brothers won this IDMA category just last year, so that’s another reason to hope Depeche Mode will best them, or failing that, The Killers. You can aid in the cause, if you hurry — voting in the IDMA’s 38 categories is open until this Friday, March 17 at www.wmcstore.com/idma/ballot.asp….
GET JUNKIFIED… He was mostly quiet last year, so understandably Tom Holkenborg, the California-based Dutch dance music producer known as Junkie XL, was not nominated for the IDMAs. Better luck next time: Junkie XL will release his fourth studio album, Today, on April 18. Today will feature just one vocalist, newcomer Nathan Mader, and is said to be focused on the rock-tinged progressive house sound for which Junkie XL is known. A press release says the new album often recalls the ”melodic beauty of New Order, while sometimes throbbing and pulsing like a house record.” Sounds promising — or you might even say, XL-ent….
PON DE RIHANNA… Another multi-nominated artist at this year’s IDMAs is newcomer Rihanna. The Barbados native’s infectious dancehall reggae-styled hit ”Pon de Replay” was nominated in three categories. She was also nominated as Best New Dance Artist Solo. If she doesn’t win, no worry, she’ll assuredly be back next year. Less than a year after she burst onto the scene, a sophomore album is already ready. A Girl Like Me will be released late next month, preceded by first single ”S.O.S. (Rescue Me),” which heavily samples Soft Cell‘s gay anthem ”Tainted Love.” The end result is a song that works better than you fear, but not as well as it could. It sounds like it took all of 10 minutes to create. It’s also not at all dancehall. Rihanna is obviously trying to show versatility in the uptempo genre, though so far she comes across as Beyonce Lite: tastes great, less filling….
FREEMASONS, A SECRET NO MORE… Last year saw the popular emergence of yet another dance music production duo. But Russell Small and James Wiltshire as the Freemasons are quickly becoming the go-to duo in the industry to remix R&B divas — where have you gone, Hex Hector? And with good reason: the duo is part of a mostly European-based contingent of dance music producers successfully reviving the happy, ecstatic sounds of R&B-based disco, often through the use of disco-era samples. It’s not clear if Small and Wiltshire are actually members of the secret society from which they derive their remixing handle, and it could be just a matter of time before that fraternal order legally threatens them to change their name.
But for now, the Freemasons are using the name to make a name for themselves. Nominated three times at the IDMAs, the duo recently topped the Club Play Chart with a remix of Heather Headley‘s ”In My Mind,” and they generated some club heat with a remix of ”I Wasn’t Kidding” by Angie Stone. A new song from the duo called ”Watchin”’ has just been released, a follow-up to the duo’s hit last year, the IDMA-nominated ”Love On My Mind.” Both songs feature vocalist Amanda Wilson, and both are neo-disco songs built on deft use of old samples. On ”Watchin”’ Wilson sings the main vocal line from Deborah Cox‘s discofied 1999 hit ”It’s Over Now,” while the Freemasons add syrupy see-sawing strings and a punchy piano riff to create a cute but not very compelling track. The superior and more complex ”Love On My Mind” sampled the music from a disco hit (”This Time Baby” by Jackie Moore) and created lyrics using a line from that same song combined with a line from a recent Tina Turner song (”When The Heartache Is Over”).
Still, you’re probably most familiar with these Brits because of their remix work for Faith Evans. On ”Mesmerized,” Evans repeatedly sings, ”My heart is on fire since you put that thing on me…that thang, ba-bay.” The Freemasons’ chart-topping remix work here, with a jazzy piano sample and a quickly climbing synth line, is every bit as deliriously giddy and on fire as Evans. If the duo wins the Best Remix IDMA for which it’s nominated, this will be the reason why….
”PRECIOUS” PAIN, ”SUFFER WELL”… Depeche Mode is preparing to release the third single from last year’s Playing the Angel. Yes, the third single. Maybe you, your favorite DJ and various music-playing stations are still savoring the savory first single ”Precious.” But while you weren’t listening, ”A Pain That I’m Used To” came and went. It made a bit of a dent on the Billboard Club Play Chart, thanks to a smoking remix from Stuart Price (recording as Jacques Lu Cont), but didn’t reach the pinnacle that ”Precious” did before it, that time largely on account of Victor Calderone and Mac Quayle‘s bright and bouncy remix. Listening to both remixes, you’ll find that, unlike the originals, neither bothers to change the progression from verse to chorus. They sound almost exactly the same, and you only know you’re at the chorus because Dave Gahan crams more words into the measure. It makes you appreciate diversity in song structure, and it makes you wish Price and Calderone — in this instance, anyway — appreciated it too.
The band’s forthcoming single ”Suffer Well” is also the first release of a Mode song written by Gahan instead of chief songwriter Martin Gore. You wouldn’t know it, though; Gahan does a fine job of recalling the Gore of yore. The song’s foreboding synths and pleasurably painful lyrics recall the classics from Music for the Masses, especially ”Strange Love.” So enlisting Canadian producer Tiga to remix the song is promising, since Tiga has a penchant for dark ’80s-styled electro music. Let’s just hope he differentiates between verse and chorus.
Given that it’s only had marginal and intermittent success in the U.S. recently, Depeche Mode is doing its best to live up to its newest single’s lyrics. ”Just hang on, suffer well/Sometimes it’s hard, it’s hard to tell.” To help them achieve more, the band is continuing to tour, making a second stop in our area May 21 at Nissan Pavilion. The band is also preparing a live DVD for release in September.
And late next month the band will remaster and reissue several previous studio albums, recording them in 5.1 surround sound and including extra tracks and remixes on new DVD versions. Among these: ”Just Can’t Get Enough (schizo mix)” on Speak and Spell; and ”Never Let Me Down Again” (Aggro Mix)” and ”Pleasure, Little Treasure (Glitter Mix)” on Music for the Masses….
SYNTH-POP CATFIGHT… They presumably won’t play any Depeche Mode, but if you’re a fan of that band then you’ll be interested to hit the Black Cat this Saturday, March 11, for the equivalent of a British synth-pop catfight. ”FYM Productions presents: New Order vs. Duran Duran Dance Party and Cage Match.” If so inspired (and braced for rejection), one could at least request DJ Dan‘s 4 A.M. Mix of ”Precious,” since among other treats he incorporates New Order’s ”Blue Monday” beats at the remix’s bridge. Doors open at 9:30. $9. See www.blackcatdc.com….
HOT ”TALK” ABOUT COLDPLAY… Like Depeche Mode, Coldplay is gearing up to release its next single from its last album, X&Y. But you’ll have to read about ”The Hardest Part” some other time, because right now its third single, ”Talk,” is, well, still all the talk in dance circles. And really, talk about Coldplay hasn’t happened in dance circles since the band’s American breakout track, ”Clocks,” three years ago. That song only reached No. 31 on the Club Play Chart, and remixes of it were hard to come by. Not so with ”Talk,” which is No. 3 on the same chart. And all-star remixes are just one-click away at iTunes.
Several reviews from iTunes customers have bemoaned that it’s another case of a ”rock song ruined by techno.” The comments are wrong on all counts. You might even say, to pharaphrase Coldplay, they’re spoken in a language right doesn’t speak. In the first place, ”Talk” is a rock song that only exists because of techno: its catchy melody and signature riff come from ”Computer Love,” an early track from Kraftwerk. Coldplay obviously commissioned remixes of ”Talk” as a way of honoring those German techno pioneers. And Junkie XL, Francois K and Stuart Price — here recording as Thin White Duke, his moniker for honoring David Bowie — all show they were worthy of being tapped for the honor, turning out amazing remixes as good as the original.
But once again, it’s Price who does the best work. His driving and building dance-rock remix progresses in his own dazzling and thoroughly characteristic fashion, yet he doesn’t lose sight of either Coldplay or Kraftwerk. In homage to the latter, he incorporates computerized blips and bleeps, as well as a computerized voice that chants ”Talk to Me” and spells out the name of the game. ”R-E-M-I-X”….
DANCE MUSIC’S LEADING ”LIGHT”… She’s been a leading lady in dance music almost without let-up since busting onto the scene 12 years ago. But 2006 could be Kristine W‘s biggest year yet. A fourth solo album is tentatively set for release in the fall, and she’s also joined an all-star dance band that is currently recording new music and beginning to tour. (See below.) Sadly, it hasn’t been a perfect year: the fourth hit single from the multi-talented singer-songwriter’s lively 2003 release Fly Again just missed the top spot on the Billboard Club Play Chart.
Part of the problem: ”I’ll Be Your Light” began getting notice as a single nearly a year ago. It just doesn’t sound hot and fresh anymore. Even a hot and fresh song, though, would have a tough time against chart heavyweights like Beyonce and Mary J. Blige, both of whom just leapt passed Kristine to take the top spots, with ”Check On It” and ”Be Without You” respectively. Not to mention Madonna, whose ”Sorry” is about to knock out all three.
What’s disappointing about ”I’ll Be Your Light” peaking at No. 2 — which would normally be considered an achievement — is that it mars what was a flawless record. Prior to this, every one of Kristine W’s singles since 1994’s ”Feel What You Want,” her first, reached the top. That makes for an impressive nine No. 1’s.
Also making this No. 2 peak a bit heartbreaking is the personal nature of the song. While every song on Fly Again was inspired by Kristine W’s successful battle with acute myeloid leukemia, ”I’ll Be Your Light” seems the most personal. The personal nature is reflected in the song’s video, which includes actual home video footage of her 6-year-old daughter, fictionally depicting a gradual recovery from leukemia as her mother plays the part of a guardian angel, helping her to get better. It’s slightly campy. And extremely touching….
A BAND OF DJS… In addition to her solo feats, Kristine W is involved in a relatively new concept in dance music: a band made up of DJs. DJs Are Alive was the brainchild of Jesse Houk, best known as dance remixer/producer and artist The Scumfrog. Houk thinks one way to revive a waning genre that has become increasingly marginal and fragmented in the past few years is to assemble an all-star collective of multi-talented dance artists that will tour as a live band and focus on having fun. As part of the collective, the Scumfrog and a famous crew of DJs — DJ Skribble, D:Fuse and Static Revenger — will sing and play on guitars, keyboards and drums in addition to spinning behind the decks, improvising as they go. And Kristine W will play saxophone and sing as part of the band. The band had its debut public performance recently in New York, and more concerts are currently being planned, as is original music. For now, you can hear a new song and see footage from a December rehearsal at www.djsarealive.com….
DANCE GRAMMYS… A decade ago, with “Body Rockin’ Beats,” the Chemical Brothers earned its first Grammy, for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. The British duo just picked up two more Grammys, and in the process nearly swept the dance field. Yes, the dance field. This rock band took home the trophies for Best Dance Recording (”Galvanize”) and Best Electronic/Dance Album (Push the Button). While not as worthy a dance song as fellow contender Deep Dish‘s ”Say Hello,” ”Galvanize” is appealing enough. But Push the Button as best dance album? Admittedly the competition was light, with also-rans Fatboy Slim, Kraftwerk and Daft Punk all working to overshadow LCD Soundsystem’s self-titled debut, the one truly cutting-edge album that deserved the nod. Honoring Push the Button betrayed the reality that the Grammys can’t help but be little more than a popularity contest.
Meanwhile, Louie Vega won the only other dance award, for Best Remixed Recording. While Jacques Lu Cont‘s remix of The Killers‘ ”Mr. Brightside” was better than Vega’s remix of Curtis Mayfield‘s ”Superfly,” the honor was the Grammys’ way of giving overdue recognition to house music legend Vega. And if the Grammy had gone to Lu Cont it would have been two years in a row, making this newcomer the first to earn two remixer Grammys. That probably wouldn’t have sat well — and might have hurt Lu Cont’s chances next year, when he will surely be nominated again if not for remixing, then for his production work on Madonna’s latest set, for which he used birth name Stuart Price…
DANCE WAMMIES… Last week the local version of the Grammys — the Wammies — were awarded by the Washington Area Music Association. Lesbian Bev Stanton took home two of the four Electronica categories. She beat Rob Harris, Yiannis and Scott Henry to take the DJ WAMMY, and bested Deep Dish and Thievery Corporation to take the Artist/Producer WAMMY for her work recording as Arthur Loves Plastic. It was a bad night for Deep Dish all around, with the duo also losing the Recording WAMMY to Thievery Corporation for The Cosmic Game. And Deep Dish’s guest vocalist Anousheh Khalili lost the Vocalist WAMMY to another name very familiar in DC’s gay community: Rachel Panay….