Sunday, April 12, 2009

Electronic Explorations

Lately, I have been exploring new music for the first time in about 2 years. Last time that I remember I was checking out new performers was the summer of 2007 when I got introduced to the wonderful worlds of ska punk and folk punk through Gogol Bordello, Flogging Molly, and Streetlight Manifesto. The amazing beat and major (happy and exciting for music-terms challenged) tones made these bands and the similar ones my favorite Pandora station. Yet, even though these were new bands and new styles they still fell under the general definition of rock music, of which I had been a fan since early adolescence. This time, however, I am truly exploring a new type of music.

When I was in Belarus the past new year’s, one of the points of interest that I visited was the largest nightclub in Viciebsk called Energy located in a former factory. The night I was there was a so-called “Retro Night” when “resident” singers were doing cover performances of pop hits of ‘80s and ‘90s. Even though the songs brought memories of my childhood it was impossible to enjoy them because the performers were bad. My friends who knew the club invited me to join them in the electronic music hall, which was located in what looked like a former control room (as it turned out later many of the people who visit the club don’t even know about it). The first encounter with the modern club music turned out to be ambiguous: while I enjoyed the music played, it was too loud for the barely 2,000 square feet room.

Then just over a month ago Bi-2, a famous Russian rock band with roots in Belarus, came to DC as a part of their US tour. The tickets included entrance to the afterparty at a nearby club. Since I went to the concert with a group of friends who were planning to go there, I decided to join them (the no-cover entrance was the deal breaker). I was expecting to hear what I considered to be typical American club music consisting of hip-hop, reggae, and variations there of where lyrics came down to “Shake that booty”. To my surprise, the dance floor where the afterparty was taking place was playing electronic music. Not only I could enjoy listening to it, I even tried to dance a bit when my friends went to actually dance in between their drinking. At that point, a thought ran through my mind that the music might depend on the DJ and the crowd and that I had been to the “wrong” clubs before.

The next weekend there was another club party organized by one of the DC’s Russian promoters where Eastern European DJs were supposed to perform. I decided to check it out to confirm my thought that I could attend such events and have fun there (as my previous club experience was obviously far from enjoyable). Well, the theory turned out to be true. I heard music with major tones and barely any lyrics that I could care about. They even played some remixes of Nirvana and Depeche Mode, which surprisingly found positive feedback from the audience. On that day, I got a new obsession — I wanted to know as much about electronic music as I could.

My quest started at the websites of the Russian party organizers in DC. As I was looking through upcoming events, I came across some of the night mixes they made available for listening and downloading. As I listened to those recordings, I started to discern good quality tracks and mixing. However, I was completely deaf to the differences in styles unless it came down to the presence of lyrics (electro-pop is quite distinct after all). That’s where my buddy Arthur, a fan of trance, techno, and all things electronic, came to help by introducing me to Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music. The strange thing is that even after listening to some of the samples and reading style descriptions I am still struggling to discern trance from techno and house. It seems to me that the difference lies in beats per minute unlike instruments involved, tonality, and lyrics as it is the case in most other music genres. Yet, it is very easy to understand whether or not you like a performer because each of them has a unique style of composing mixing their tracks.

So far I liked Arnej, a Canadian DJ of Balkan heritage. What is unique to him so far is what sounds to me as canonical composition style with clear sections and the use of many samples to change the mood of the piece throughout its length while keeping a steady beat, a requirement for trance. Unfortunately, electronic DJs have just a handful of pieces so a full collection is very short, which becomes a problem when forming a taste for this music.

Any suggestions of artists and explanations of styles are welcome!

1 comment: