Wednesday
Jul022014

The Midas Touch: Sterling Golden Weighs in on Boston's Music Scene, How To Promote Shows, and $850 Vinyl Finds

When it comes to Boston’s underground music scene, it can often be uncommon to run into a promoter, artist, or DJ outside of a club during the day. But if there’s one person I can always count on running into, especially if I’m in Cambridge or Back Bay, it has to be DJ Sterling Golden. Sterling is a guy who commands presence anywhere he’s seen. He’s been an avid record collector since childhood, can talk very articulately about multiple forms of music, and is not ashamed to wear his signature aviator sunglasses indoors. But don’t worry, he prefers the band Kiss over Pitbull.

Click to read more ...

Monday
Jan272014

Backyard: Boston’s Lifted Contingency Releases 20 Fresh, Free Cuts on New Compilation

The Lifted Contingency is a brand new artist management crew who launched less than a month ago. Their backbone is a blog, which is updated daily with links to different styles of music that seem to have two attributes in common: 1) the tracks are underground, 2) the tracks are good. Founded by well-known local promoter and DJ Dustin Labbe (aka Kidd Drunkadelic) and Logan Irish, the Lifted Contingency wasted little time getting an entire compilation to market shortly after the birth of the blog. Simply titled Lifted Cuts Vol. 1, this album sports a variety of forward-thinking styles across 20 tracks and almost as many individual artists.

What Lifted Cuts is not is a compilation of color-by-number anthems crafted with the dancefloor in mind. Instead, it’s an honest, uncompromising look at the crumbling of the walls that once separated hip hop and dance music. While trap certainly was not the first genre of music to help facilitate this merger, it’s currently the most undeniable in 2014. With highly-established producers such as Flying Lotus and Gold Panda providing an equal amount of influence as the likes of Flosstradamus and LOUDPVCK, there’s a lot of creative leeway to work with on such an undertaking. And all the producers on Lifted Cuts made themselves comfortable, taking advantage of the space.

Download these tracks by “liking” the Lifted Contingency page on Facebook

When Labbe and Irish sought to assemble this compilation, their main goal was to focus on maintaining a “chill” vibe throughout the entirety of Lifted Cuts. The volumes of space between the snappy kicks and snares afforeded by hip hop and trap made the theme easy for the producers involved to stay true to. 1963’s dramatic opener “U R My Hero” perfectly sets the tone: syrup-speed vocals, sharp 808 drumkits, and sprawling synths. Other highlights include Ele’s spaced-and-screwed interpretation of Robin S’s “Show Me Love”, the rough and raw “Pon(d)song” by John Pon(d)scum, Sartana’s galloping take on two-step garage with “Rule No. 1”, and the dreamy allure of Inspektah’s “Polar Vortex”, probably the most viable trap jam of the lot. I should also mention SevnthWonder’s R&B-influenced ballad “Chardonnay” appears to be the most well-received of them all thus far. Most of these tracks tapdance between hip hop’s standard 70 beats-per-minute and the double-timed 140 bpm we associate with trap. A solid offering from all involved. 

If you want to keep up to speed with everything that’s going on with Lifted Contingency, definitely be sure to add their blog to your feed and follow their Soundcloud. It’s always great to see fellow curators keeping quality music in checking order here in Boston

Monday
Jan132014

Backyard: An Interview With Cirrus, the Brains Behind New Experimental Label Terra Null

Following the unveiling of Ali Berger’s 707 Trax 2013 LP yesterday, I have some more hot news on the homefront tip to share. Local drum and bass producer Cirrus, who you may know from the EP I released several months ago on my Zakim label, is officially launching a label of his own. Dubbed Terra Null Recordings, he’s kept the details and the logistics of this imprint close to his chest for a couple months, until now. I’m honored to be the first to break the news!

Anyone who knows Cirrus knows he’s been keeping his head down and crafting music relentlessly over the past two years. His production style especially improved in 2013, to the point he’s earning the respect of fellow drum and bass technicians not just locally, but worldwide. I’m confident these relationships are going to help open doors for Terra Null in the coming months; the producers he got involved to kick things off alongside himself on the first release are bigger names than you might think.

The best way to give you guys a sense of Terra Null is to let the man himself speak. I threw a bunch of questions at Cirrus, and he wasn’t shy at all to talk shop for a little bit. Read away, but be sure to do it while playing Cirrus’s label kickoff mix.

Nick: What is the aesthetic for your label? Is there a certain sound you are going for?

Cirrus: The name Terra Null comes from the Latin phrase “Terra Nullius” which is derived from an ancient roman law meaning “Land belonging to no one”. With this idea we try to imagine a place that has evolved organically without restrictions or traditional constructs. I like to imagine that a world free of humanity is ruled completely by nature, and that nature is strange, harsh and unforgiving. This is the basis for our aesthetic and is why I think a lot of our sounds so far are dark and experimental, and a lot of our artwork has a cold, minimal and futuristic vibe to it. Essentially we’re trying to push boundaries as much as possible. Not necessarily catering for the dance floor as much as the headphones, hopefully creating vibes for someone to get lost in. The same kind of lost as you would be if you were plopped down in the middle of a jungle that truly did belong to no one.

It’s also important to note that we are not genre specific, we are aesthetic specific. You will be able to hear Terra Null in everything we release, but it will not be limited by style or tempo. Although I think there are definitely advantages to having a label that applies to a specific sound such as drum and bass or techno, it feels too limiting to me personally. It allows people to stamp you too easily with a word or phrase, like “oh its just a drum and bass label”. I want people to have to really listen to us to understand what Terra Null means.

Nick: What prompted your decision to start the label?

Cirrus: There are some incredible experimental ideas being passed around the electronic music community right now that I don’t see in any other genre. That being said, I don’t think this experimental and boundary-pushing music is very well represented in the United States, so that definitely prompted a big part of it. I want to give exposure to this new generation of music that I love. 

Another reason is that I see a lot of digital labels these days, especially in the electronic space, falling short in one aspect or another, whether it be art direction, mastering or overall aesthetics. With a label I can do my part to correct this by working as hard as I can to curate every facet of Terra Null. I refuse to put out anything that is half-assed. If that means we have multiple months between releases so be it. It’s basic quality over quantity, and I want Terra Null to continue to be something I am proud of, and right now it very much is.

Nick: Tell us a little bit about the first release. Which artists will be on it, why were they selected, and what was the thought process behind which songs to include?

Cirrus: The first release is an EP that features two original tracks by myself (as Cirrus) as well as two remixes from a couple of my favorite artists out there at the moment. I want to stress though that I will not simply use this label as a platform for my own tracks, and I doubt I will be releasing on Terra Null as Cirrus anytime soon after the first EP. These tunes just seemed to fit with the initial ideas around Terra Null, and I’m immensely proud of these tracks (“Shiver Shrapnel” and “Tension and Confusion”) above any others I’ve done. 

Remixers were carefully considered for this as I wanted the first EP to be something of a mission statement for the label. I wanted to get some artists involved that I both highly respected and fit in with the Terra Null sound. I ended up getting DnB don L 33, who I’ve been immensely impressed with lately. Not only is he blowing up in the UK scene currently with a recent track being released on Andy C’s Nightlife 6 compilation, but he’s also been making some of most forward thinking beats in all of Drum and Bass right now. The other remixer is an IDM/Glitch producer from Montreal by the name of Woulg who I really think should be famous already. I’ve never heard sound design on that level before and it’s a crime that he’s not already a household name. I’m incredibly honored and humbled to have him remix one of my tracks. I think he did an amazing job. The EP will be out February 3rd on Juno and then in all other major digital retailers two weeks after that.

Nick: How are you distributing your music?

Cirrus: We are distributed digitally through a great company called Triple Vision out of the Netherlands. They’ve been wonderfully helpful and have made things very easy. We’ll be trying out a two week exclusivity with Juno for the first few releases since I really like what they do over at Juno. After that two week period our releases will be in all major digital retailers (Beatport, Juno, iTunes, etc.)

Of course I would want to do vinyl one day in the future but the truth is the label just isn’t ready. I hope we are able to do it someday but right now there would be no way to approach it without losing a lot of money. This would greatly damage my efforts to set up Terra Null for the long term which is a very high priority for me right now. Everyone appreciates vinyl but the hard part is actually getting people to buy it. Once we are in a place where we think we can make that happen, we will try.

Nick: What is your labels’ goals for 2014?

Cirrus: Of course before everything else is putting out amazing music and art. I’m not worried about this though since we already have great things lined up for our next few releases. I’m already very proud and excited about forthcoming Terra Null music, and I think everyone else will be too once they hear it.

Beyond that, with it being the inaugural year there’s a lot that needs to be accomplished to ensure our own longevity. Most of that is establishing a network of fans, which is of course never easy. It’s especially difficult being in the USA where the market is considerably smaller than it is in Europe. That being said I think we’re off to a good start. Beyond that I just want to grow Terra Null to a point where it is stable and established, and if we could have that achieved by the end of 2014 that would be a dream come true. 

Nick: If someone wants to submit a song for your labels consideration, how would they do so?

Cirrus: There are instructions on how to submit on our website and it’s very simple. Submit any and all music via email (terranullrecordings@gmail.com) with links to download full tracks (no clips) that are compressed to 320kbs (no wavs or aiffs). I will also need some basic information about you like your name, artist alias, track names and contact info. If we like the music we will get in touch.

It’s important to note that we will sign music that fits within the Terra Null aesthetic so just because we aren’t interested in a track, doesn’t mean it’s not a great tune. The best-of-the-best banger electro-house track just doesn’t fit in Terra Null, regardless of the quality. That being said I don’t want to discourage people from sending tracks just because they don’t think it will fit. Send it anyway and let us do the work deciding.

I’d personally like to wish Cirrus the best of luck on this exciting new chapter. When the first release draws closer, we are going to do a t-shirt and MP3 release giveaway contest to help build the hype a little bit. Look for that in early February. 

Sunday
Jan122014

Backyard: Ali Berger Releases Exclusive LP Paying Homage To Roland's Legendary TR-707 Drum Machine

Way back in 1985, Roland released their successor to the now-legendary TR-909 drum machine. While many felt the TR-909 was too expensive, the TR-707 was easier on the wallet, putting it in the hands of more people than the former behemoth. The primary reason the 707 was affordable was because of its drum sounds. They were very close in sound to the 909, but comprised of digitally pre-recorded samples (rather than it being a series of analog signals like the former). Purists scoffed at the 707 not having as pure a sound as the 909. But with the same core functionality and low price tag, it put these classic drum sounds into the hands of many more people—particularly in the early house and techno scenes that were just taking flight in Chicago and Detroit. 

And almost 30 years later, the 707 still remains relevant. It allows many producers who are looking for a rawer, more hands-on approach to produce electronic music the classic, pre-computer way. With fully-functional 909’s running upwards of $2500 on the second-hand market, a 707 can be had for as little as $400—a justifiable price tag for Boston producer Ali Berger

 

Berger’s style of producing is rather unorthodox. While most utilize only a computer and maybe a basic MIDI controller to cook their creations, Berger’s laptop and Ableton are merely a piece to a larger puzzle. His studio desk is lined with an assortment of hand-held instruments, the TR-707 being just one of them. Korg Volca Keys, a classic Akai sampler, a Korg Electribe, and a massive Mackie outboard mixer are all part of his formula. He prefers making his music the old-fashioned way, and the craft behind the music speaks volumes in his brand new, 707 Trax LP, a Beantown Boogiedown exclusive!


Photo by Sarah Robertson 

It goes without saying all the percussion on this long-player come from Roland’s little beige and orange box. For any naysayers who think hearing the same claps, kicks, and toms over and over again will sound a bit nauseating, fear not. Berger dishes out a very wide array of styles on 707 Trax. What impresses me the most is the fact you don’t even realize only TEN different percussive sounds are used across this albums 40 minutes; a testament to the timelessness of the 707 kit as well as Berger’s ability to stay creative under such limitations. 

Berger even posted a mildly amusing teaser last week before sending me these tracks that got me pretty excited about this effort, which even he did not announce to anyone until last week.

 
“What About” warms things up with the classic late 80s/early 90s Chicago house sound; swinging drums punctuate brief vocal stabs and a feelgood synthline that balances simplicity without staleness. “The Howl” incorporates a similar context, but with grooving disco samples. You certainly cannot ignore disco’s anything-goes philosophy when it comes to the roots of dance, and other late 70s undertones find their way into other cuts on this LP. Most distinctly, the vocals on “Don’t Want Nobody”, which you probably recognize, albeit in more of a chopped-and-screwed state. 

“QT” is the most dancefloor-friendly of the batch, donning an electroclash outfit that reminds me of its dominance in dance circa 2008-09. “Pump Shake” also keeps the BPM and energy level high while whimsically juggling a disco groove and vocal edits that woudn’t sound out of place in a DJ Funk set. The almost-ten-minute closer, “Grooving With Chord Memory in Paradise”, is primarily synth based and vibes off vintage acid house with sprawling TB-303’s that play dual role of bass and lead synth. 

 
Many of these tracks were the result of a long studio session that took place this past December, while the last two were put together earlier that year. Have a listen to these tracks on the Soundcloud links above; the 320kbps MP3’s are available there for download. If you are interested in the lossless version, Berger will also have WAV’s readily available on his Bandcamp page for a suggested donation of your choice.

If you’re ever interested in seeing Berger play out, he’ll be DJ’ing at Music Ecology this Tuesday at Wonderbar. You may hear some cuts from this album on a proper system there, along with some unreleased bits I’m sure he has in hiding. In the meantime, enjoy the LP!

Wednesday
Sep252013

This Old Mixtape: Jackmaster Flash Revisits Early-Day Drum & Bass in "Jungle Kait", Recorded in '99

I haven’t posted anything in the “This Old Mixtape” section of BBD for a long time. Like, we’re talking YEARS here. I’m hoping to change this, as I’ve recently connected with a few good veterans who helped lay the groundwork for dance music culture in New England in the early 90s. One of these cats is Mixmaster Flash, who played many shows in the ‘Bean and now resides in the quieter soundscapes of Maine. He has yet to hang up the headphones, and is in the process of digitizing many of his old mixes that haven’t seen the light of day in ages.

Mixmaster Flash recorded dozens of mixtapes during the 90s and early 2000s across a wide variety of styles. While the majority are house, he is known for the occasional broken-beat re-rub, such as a mix he did entitled “Jungle Kait”. Over this tape’s 80 minutes, Flash works his way through the decade-long progression of jungle and drum and bass music. It was recorded around 1999 or 2000.

People often wonder how those chipmunk’d vocals and overzealous pianos from the early 90s lead to the dark, brooding sounds of Bad Company and Optical less than a decade later. Fact of the matter is in those years drum and bass music evolved more rapidly than any other style of dance music prior to the Internet 2.0/social media explosion circa 2008. 

 
Flash’s mix encapsulates all of these changes fluidly across this mix, where the pianos gave way to ragga shout-outs, stacks of rhodes, jazz licks, and finally, menacing bass textures. Even the amen break itself got demoted from being a primary part of the rhythm to more of a supporting act underneath menacing kicks and snares. Although it never disappeared, and fast-forward another 15 years, it still hasn’t!

Be on the lookout for more incoming tape rips. Mixmaster Flash is archiving not just his own, but other legendary jocks from around town as well.

Tuesday
Aug132013

Backyard: Andy Kershaw Preps New Release by Menage a Moi on 3AM Devices

You may recall former Bostonian Andy Kershaw and the guest podcast mix he recorded for BBD back in June. He was well on his way into launching his record label, 3AM Devices, complete with two releases by Menage a Moi already in the bag. Following last month’s “Resistance” by Blue Soul comes yet another release by Menage a Moi, a split between two tracks: “The Syrup”, and three different versions of “BBW”. “The Syrup” was actually the opener on Kershaw’s mix, so we managed to get a sneak preview in before most other people!

 

“The Syrup” is appropriately titled; it’s a think and chunky helping of house that will fill you up yet isn’t over-cooked. Its simplistic recipe of bubbly bass and rich melodic accents results in a mixture that is easy for the chef behind the wheels to lay down….OK I’ve exhausted all my cooking analogies! Well, maybe one more: if you’re hung over and there’s no food in the kitchen, this might be a sufficient sonic substitute. 

 

“BBW” is the other track highlighted on this EP, of which there are three different versions. Do you know what BBW stands for? Think along the lines of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”, only in a slightly more subliminal context (Menage a Moi’s name isn’t a dead giveaway, is it?) The undulating basslines, which are as voluptuous as the derrieres this dude is paying homage to, round the sections off perfectly. No bun intended. To all you radio DJ’s and sunday school teachers out there, a dub mix without the suggestive vocals is also up for, eh, GRABS. And ending things is an alternate version of BBW, which packs on saw-wave synths in spades and leans slightly towards the window of trance and electro. 

Be on the lookout for other releases on 3AM Devices in the very near future by following the Soundcloud page! Next up for grabs will be the Seitan Worship EP by Soft and Crispy, due in late August.

Tuesday
Jul232013

Backyard: Kon Finds His Way to Recapturing the Spirit of Disco on Debut LP

If you need any sort of reassurance that disco music isn’t going out of style anytime soon, don’t take it from me. Take it from DJ Kon, who as a DJ, music producer, and serious record collector, is one of Boston’s most respected and revered veterans. Kon’s debut LP, On My Way, hit the streets today and is a hearty, long-awaited full-length debut. 

Kon’s signature style strips the complex, traditional sounds of disco down to the basic exoskeleton of rhythm, groove, and riff. In 1979, when radio stations were telling people to make “Disco Sucks” signs and to score free tickets to baseball games by bringing their Saturday Night Fever records to the stadium to be burned, a new wave of artists began taking a different approach to help the flailing genre rise from its proverbial ashes. 


When the glitz, glamour, mindless indulgences, and six-figure studio budgets for disco faded away as the 1980s rolled in, only two things remained: the music, and the die-hard fanbase. When I listen to On My Way, the first thing that comes to mind is how well Kon manages to capture the rawness of early 1980s post-mainstream disco music. This was at a time when the mass media was no longer scrutinizing it, songs weren’t being watered down for airplay, and a 20-piece string section was no longer needed to cut a 12” single. The disco formula was simplified, and all the artist needed was a good vision, a first-generation drum machine, and a sampler. Kon works within these guidelines to craft rudimentary, yet well-versed compositions for a record that has few frills and even fewer pretenses.

 

One of the most important collaborations worth noting is “You Don’t Know”, which showcases the R&B-infused vocal hooks from Ben Westbeech. For those who have been in the scene for less than a couple years, Westbeech is the man behind “Jack”, easily one of the most played (and best-selling) house singles on the year, albeit underneath his “Breach” alias. A man of versatility who first cut his teeth in the drum and bass scene back in 2006, Westbeech met Kon when he was on tour in the UK several years ago, and the mutual respect these guys had for each other naturally lead to this piece.

While vocals were an important facet of disco even following its infamous collapse, they weren’t always necessary. Similar to how many timeless Italo records from the early 80s were entirely instrumental, many tracks on On My Way don’t need a hook to get their point across either. “Awe Baby” builds itself up from a ripe upright bass riff, slowly adding carefully placed layers of sampled strings as things unfold. “808 State” pays homage to Roland’s beloved drum machine, using a very relaxed breakbeat as the foundation for light keys and lots of open space. 

And there is the self-titled closer, “On My Way”. A melancholy affair, this instrumental needs no words to tell the story of what the last days of disco must have been like. Clubs were closing down, communities were broken apart, an entire culture shattered, but the music remained. Amidst the bittersweet chaos there was still a glimpse of hope for some kind of scene that musicians and partygoers could identify themselves with. The title “On My Way” can mean a number of things, but to me personally, I’d like to think of it as the transitional period that took place in disco between the gloss of the 70s and the underground D.I.Y. ethos of the early 80s, which preceded house and the modern dance music as we know it today.

There’s a lot of talk about the current interpretation of disco music in 2013, most notably in the form of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories LP. That album is a lofty affair that gathered dozens of session musicians, spread across a sprawling, seven-figure budget, to re-ignite the 70s sound of disco as most know and remember it. While an effort that colossal is tough to ignore and impossible to deny, listening to Kon’s interpretation of disco on the other side of its infamy, where machines began to replace the musicians, is equally as (if not more) refreshing. With his vast knowledge-base of music in general, Kon has assembled a collection of original ideas that will ensure the continuation of disco’s heritage for years to come.

Listen to the sound clips from On My Way and buy today on the Juno player below!


 

Monday
Jul152013

Backyard: Adam Noya and Michael Savant Join Forces on BLVCK ALIVE Debut

BLVCK ALIVE might be a name you haven’t heard before, but if you’ve been keeping tabs on the budding dubstep and bass talent in New England, you may know the names of duo who comprise this outfit. Adam Noya and Michael Savant are no strangers to the local scene; both of these dudes have spent a major part of their recent lives hitting the studio. And in Savant’s case, hitting the event promotions game with his highly successful DGAF night, and in Noya’s case, hitting the gym. Not at all a bad set of skills for BLVCK ALIVE to bring to the table.

Savant’s veteran experience in both throwing and attending events in Providence and Boston means he knows precisely which soundscapes keep bodies in motion on the dancefloor at all times. Noya can craft a jugular-punching bassline in his sleep, while making his super-clean mixdowns and complex track arrangements look effortless. Released last week, BLVCK ALIVE’s dubut “The Reality” has already been making dents on multiple charts on Beatport.

The title track juggles Noya’s signature wobbling bass with multiple chaotic 4x4 bridge sections, ensuring a high level of tension and listener interest. “Phone Home” slows the tempo down to electro-house territory while throwing any formulaic pretenses out the window by using a rhythmic structure that has more in common with Cumbia music rather than your typical Porter Robinson or David Guetta template. “Seeds” returns to dubstep form with a strong melody without allowing the low frequencies to sit on the backburner. The EP’s coda, a very short tune entitled “Gamma Death”, balances a grooving four-on-the-floor workout with dubstep kicks, a nice polyrhythmic spin executed well under tight constraints.

Photo credit: Kevin James

What I especially like about this four-track affair is Savant and Noya’s ability to genre-hop without the final product sounding incohesive. It fully embodies the ethos of Savant’s DGAF parties, where he manages to book a wide array of guest DJ’s playing different styles, but each one carefully curated to ensure a specific level of congruency. 

In fact, this saturday, Savant will be throwing a DGAF party at the Colosseum in Providence to highlight this release, the first of hopefully many from BLVCK ALIVE. Noya and Savant will play, alongside regional drum and bass favorite Mizeyesis, and residents Mista Manc and Jackie Treehorn. Check the details for that event on Facebook!

Click here to purchase this EP

Sunday
Apr072013

Backyard: Chas Bronz Debuts New Indie Dance Project, BBD Exclusive!

If you haven’t heard of Chas Bronz yet, consider yourself warned. Wrapping up his degree at Berklee School of Music, Chas is ready to hit the “real world” with his foot on the gas. He currently has his hand in a number of different pies, drawing influence in everything from house, to disco, pop, and indie rock. He recently shared with me several unheard songs focusing on the latter of those styles, and is granting me exclusive use to post a few of them right here on BBD!

The first one I’m going to share is “The Best Night”. Featuring vocal support by Evie and guitars by Evan Langley (DJ Vous), this piece really showcases Chas’s strengths as a songwriter and an arranger more so than anything. Those familiar with his house stylings will get throw for a loop here; this one is more on the indie rock/pop tip! I’m all about diversity and unpredictability, which is why I think Chas has a promising career ahead of him.

 
There will be several other Chas originals in this vein which I will be sharing with you guys in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Thursday
Mar212013

Featured Mixes: DJ Knife Cuts Another Notch in the Strange Brew Mix Series

When Boston’s DJ Knife puts out a new mix, there are two things that instantly come to mind: chainsaws, and strange brews. While the bass-heavy rumblings of his Chainsaw Dubstep series have waned a bit in the pop-culture context, many of the tracks he showcases in his Strange Brew series (now in its third installment) have broader appeal and a timeless aesthetic. They’re mixes I can listen to three, hell even thirty years from now, and still enjoy. I bet my grandmother would, too.

So on “Strange Brew 3”, we get the works. Everything from Toto to Tony! Toni! Tone! to Top Billin’. Coming from a hip hop background, Knife is all about the quick transitions and no-nonsense mixing tricks to keep the party grooving without any vocals colliding with one another. Even the most ADD of listeners are accounted for. If you’re a niche-genre DJ and are looking into getting into playing more top-40 format gigs (and make a couple bucks doing it), I always recommend dissecting Knife’s mixes as a starting point.

 
Knife plays all over Boston, so be sure to follow his Soundcloud to keep tabs on his whereabouts.