Thursday, February 01, 2007

It's the NEU Thing
As I'm sure you know, I am – like many other tragically nerdy 30-something men – very fond of compiling mix CDs. Boy have I been having fun making that My Bloody Valentine rarities CDR for myself.

Generally, I make two mix CDs for each season of the year – one collection of catchy choons I've been listening to and one more genre-based mix. Most recently, for example, I've been blessing my ungrateful friends with copies of Sam's Mix CD for Winter 2006/7 and The Acid Folk Volume Three (to be fair, people actually get quite excited about my UK folk compilations).

For Spring 2007, I'd been planning to make a mix showcasing artists from the rather nebulous scene that I've been calling the New Electronic Underground. I ran into a problem with this when I realised that I hadn't actually bought many of the albums from this scene that I'd been listening to at work (back when I still spent my days at the record store).

The problem is that I'm a vinyl snob and most of these albums have only ever come out on CD. To be fair to the artists and labels involved, they're probably losing a fair amount of money putting this stuff out at all and would almost certainly bankrupt themselves if they tried to release any wax. And I really want to give something back to these people (heaven knows, they probably need it). Honestly though, I can't buy a CD, without feeling like I've wasted my money.

I guess my feeling is that, while downloading has only served to strengthen the allure of vinyl, it's made CDs seem awfully obsolete. So what I'm saying is, I wanted to listen to this stuff at home and make a mix CD of the best tracks but I balked at paying a bunch of cash for a pile of stinking little silver discs which are really hardly any more desirable than downloads.

So, why not download it all for free, like everyone else? Well, aside from my aforementioned desire to give something back to those responsible, I've never really been into the downloading thing. Again this is due to my untrammeled snobbery. I'm a Mac snob see and - historically - peer-to-peer file-sharing networks have been the preserve of PC users.

Just recently, Saelan hipped me to the existence of Solarseek, a Mac equivalent of popular PC peer-to-peer application Soulseek. Solarseek is still very much a beta release but it really does work rather well. I've already used it to download a song from that new Damon Allbran album everyone's banging on about and I'm currently 256th in line to download the new album by The Fall.

By the time I discovered Solarseek, though, I'd already gathered most of the tracks for my NEU compilation using a mix of bought and borrowed CDs alongside downloads from record company websites. Most label websites only let you stream their MP3s, so I needed to discover a way of downloading these streamed files permanently to my hard-drive. Luckily, such a tool exists. It's a Firefox plug-in called Unplug and I named the resulting mix CD in its honour.

Below is an annotated track-listing of said compilation. Where relevant, I've put links to the MP3 streams that helped me harvest tracks for the mix. While I encourage you to employ UnPlug to permanently download these streams, I also urge you very strongly to go out and pay money for CDs by the NEU artists you enjoy the most. It's downright heroic that labels like Hapna and Apestaartje exist in the current climate and they probably won't be able to keep up their valiant efforts unless they receive some positive monetary feedback from the likes of you and I.

UnPlug: Sound from Above and Beyond The New Electronic Underground

1. Track 03 of Songs Sebastien Roux
This is a nice introduction to the world of current abstract electronic music and post-rock. Finger-picked acoustic guitar plus digital signal processing, pretty much sums up the whole scene. This is from the talented Frenchman's album on long-running minimal electronica label 12K. His CD Pillow (Apestaartje) is also highly recommended. Nic at Zulu told me about this guy.

2. Plans (extract) Giuseppe Ielasi
I first heard this Italian fellow at my friend Dave's house in Portland. As with Nickand Sebastien Roux, it was one of those “Listen to this, you'll love it” situations. I guess these folks know how I feel about Fennesz because his influence on both Roux and Ielasi is very much apparent, as it is throughout the whole New Electronic underground.

3. “Decay” M Rösner
Again, this is very representative of the NEU sound. Rosner has albums on Room40 and Apestartje. Mapadasical is a fan.

4. “Punked Up Fuck Attitude” Tsukimono
A particularly obscure one but it fits right in. Recommended by Lim, who informs me that Tsukimono is some guy from Sweden.

5. “What You Say?” Tu M'
An Italian duo who make the very radical move of combining electric guitars with DSP. They have a new album out on Japanese Touch affiliate Headz.

6. “In Every Tree a Heartache” 3/4HadBeenEliminated
Also, Italian, I think. Closely linked to Sweden's Hapna label and, like most of the artists associated with said label, more towards the post-rock end of the NEU. They seem to be getting some love from the free-folk/noise underground right now, which can only be good for their profile.

7. Track 04 of Sewn Mountains
Likewise these guys have been getting some props from the hipsters and if any NEU band is likely to build a decent-sized cult audience, it's Mountains. They run the Apestaartje label.

8. Track 03 of Rideau Tape
And these guys run Hapna. They're a really really fantastic Swedish post-rock trio.

9. “hauschkamp3” Hauscka
This time it's piano plus DSP. With more emphasis on the piano, generally.

10. Track 02 of Modern Ogurusu Norihide
Similarly, this guy emphasises the requisite acoustic guitar picking and only adds subtle smatterings of DSP. Bizzarely, I saw him support the Animal Collective on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside a couple of years ago (they're both related to the Carpark label).

11. “Campestral (Textured)” Greg Davis
Another Carpark artist. If Fennesz is the major influence of the scene, then Greg Davis is its prime mover. He was pretty early in on the whole bucolic Gastr del Sol-esque pick'n'glitch thing. Has also released albums out on Kranky, plenty of Vinyl and an excellent collaboration with Sebastien Roux.

12. "Swaying Curtain In The Window " Chihei Hatakeyama
Another Kranky artist. Another lovely waft of granular haze and acoustic guitar ruminations.

13. “Hundloka” (extract) Anders Dahl
Hapna artist with a more unconventional guitar style than most players on the scene.

14. Ghost Towns (extract) Lawrence English
This guy runs the very excellent Room40 label and has collaborated with Noriko Tujiko. Despite the name, he's actually Australian.

CDR copies of this mix (possibly with a slightly different track list) will be available upon request in the springtime. For now, just enjoy those downloads. And buy buy buy!

Bye Bye.


Saelan said...

A promising mix, but I'd worry it might suffer from uniformity. No?

Also, you spelled my name wrong, but I'm prepared to forgive you.

Biggie Samuels said...

"Also, you spelled my name wrong, but I'm prepared to forgive you."

Sorry about that. Totally meant to check it.

Apologies must also be made for the Me Me Me tone of the post. Shoulda written something substantial about the NEU, rather than just going on about me dicking around on the Internet.

"A promising mix, but I'd worry it might suffer from uniformity. No?"

Well that's an interesting point. The starting point for the comp was to tie together various strands of what appeared to be a rather nebulous scene (as already stated in this post). What emerged, though, was as consistent in its sound as it was in its quality.

The negative way of looking at this would be to say that all this stuff may be great butit all sounds the same. The positive upshots for the mix CD are:

(i) It kinda proves that the NEU exists as a sound as well as a scene.

(ii) It makes the full mix a remarkably coherent and well-rounded mix.

The other thing that should have been in the post - in relation to Lim's tip-off about Tsukimono - is that this scene seems to be fairly huge. Communicating with Lim has made it very clear to me that beneath the NEU CD labels there is a teeming microcosmos of CDR imprints and web labels. According to him, tonnes of this stuff is actually really good. Heaven knows, his own stuff is freakin' fantastic.

Anonymous said...

your comment about TU M' ("An Italian duo who make the very radical move of combining electric guitars with DSP")...made me think of mentioning ULTRA MILKMAIDS...maybe the french duo equivalent of what you described ( TU M'...UM were also once a trio. andrea gabriele of TU M' now part of MOU, LIPS!)

but i don't combining electric guitars with DSP really that radical a move? anyway, ULTRA MILKMAIDS' more recent releases (they've been around since like 1995 or something) have been leaning more and more in this direction...and i'd hate not mentioning them.

i also just noticed UM are on a compilation with TAPE and ANDREGG on spekk...who's tracklist looks like a pretty decent companion to your "NEU" mix CD.

about the teeming microcosmos, though...i find it sort of comforting that this scene is also fairly incestious...without a whole lot of label exclusivity as far as who releases what where, plenty of label one-offs, etc. while this family-tree type stuff isn't uncommon in other scenes, it makes it that much easier to uncover other artists fairly easily...and like you said, i do consider much of this "NEU" stuff actually really good.

but i starting at stilll for instance...would lead you to SEBASTIAN ROUX, SOGAR, MITCHELL AKIYAMA (all three in ARDEN--a "NEU" supergroup i guess :)...and at least twenty more artists. plus, stilll isn't even the most prime example of this...i mean...for a total NEU meltdown you could start trying to dive into mimaroglu...sheesh.

Biggie Samuels said...

"but i don't combining electric guitars with DSP really that radical a move?"

No, I was kidding. Just about every track on the comp up to that point consists of acoustic guitars plus DSP, so it seemed amusing to make out that this slight change of technique/sound represented some kind of sea-change in the context of the mix. In fact, combining electric guitars with DSP is about generically NEUish as it gets - it being Fennsz's thing, after all. I'm pretty sure that not just Fennesz but also Raphael Toral and Oren Ambarchi etc. are major influences on most of the NEU artists.

"but i starting at stilll for instance...would lead you to SEBASTIAN ROUX, SOGAR, MITCHELL AKIYAMA (all three in ARDEN--a "NEU" supergroup i guess"

I nearly included a Mitchell Akiyama track on the comp (from his Raster Noton CD) but left it off , in the end. Tim Hecker didn't make the cut, either. Not sure if this is becasue they're both Canadian or because they've both been around for too long to be considered part of a "New" scene or because their sounds didn't fit into the flow of the mix. Anyway, I like them both quite a lot and Akiyama's Intr.Version label does excellent work.

Anonymous said...

Btw the acid folk cd is EXCELLENT, thanks. I especially liked the vashti and the steeleye span.

- barbara

charlie m. said...

I dont suppose soulseek for mac is on the same server as the windows version? if so see if you can browse esperik glare that would be me.

Biggie Samuels said...

"Btw the acid folk cd is EXCELLENT, thanks. I especially liked the vashti and the steeleye span."

British music fans can usually tell you a story from their childhood which explains why they were so prejudiced about British folk music for so long. Mine involves Steeleye Span's "All Around My Hat".

I avoided listening to "Ver Span" long after getting into Britfolk but eventually caved to peer pressure and bought a copy of "Parcel of Rogues". I'm not sure it's as great as people had suggested to me but that song "Rogues in a Nation" has certainly become one of my favourite recordings of the whole UK folk-rock era.

Saelan said...

I just realized there's no Jan Jelinek on here. Is it that he's not new enough/too recognized already? Are you less into his stuff? I think the direction he's taken with Kosmischer Pitch and Tierbeobachtungen is great.

Biggie Samuels said...

"I just realized there's no Jan Jelinek on here. Is it that he's not new enough/too recognized already?"

Way too well established and also too tied to dance music. But I do agree that his last two albums fit the scene sonically, that they're great and that they're probably his best works to date.