Aug202018| August 20, 2018
With new Midori Takada, Blood Orange, Mitski and more.
This week sees the return of Japanese maestro Midori Takada with her first new record in 20 years, boogie-centric modern soul from the Hawaiian islands, and tropical drum incantations courtesy of Düsseldorf’s finest.
On the albums front, highlights include Specter serving up booty house for his debut full-length, Mitski returning with playful pop meets melancholia, and a long-awaited reissue of Gboyega Adelaja’s afro-disco holy grail.
Scroll down for our definitive across-the-board rundown of the week’s new vinyl releases as selected by The Vinyl Factory’s Chris Summers, Patrick Ryder and James Hammond with help from Norman Records. 5 singles and 5 LPs every 7 days that are unmissable additions to any collection.
Midori Takada & Lafawndah
Le Renard Bleu
If the reissue of Midori Takada’s debut KI-Motion album didn’t adequately perk your percussive passions, or even if it did, you’re in luck! Because she’s back, releasing her first new music in 20 years. Composed over the course of one week at Avaco Creative Studios in Tokyo, Takada crafted the instrumentals using waterphone, bells, marimba and various forms of drums, with Lafawndah then adding melodies and lyrics to the 20 minute recording. The collaboration is well worth repeated listens. We’re also seriously holding out for an instrumental version, where Takada rides solo once more.
‘Cool It Pump the Breaks’
(Aloha Got Soul)
Aloha Got Soul has been doing a fine job of highlighting under-heard musicians from Hawaii, and here they turn away from a wealth of archival material to focus on the present, with Frnt Bznzz’s first 7” single. Son of legendary percussionist Carlinhos de Pandeiro, Frnt Bznzz has the same flair for rhythm. Keeping things boogie-centric, he brings a sound that is decidedly different from the new age connotations and tropical soul flavours which the Hawaiian Islands are commonly associated with.
‘Ice Station Zebra
(Third Man Records)
Jack’s third single sees him going full gonzo over a rocking break beat, a killer riff, pianos, synths and a bass-line RZA would love. Yeah it’s pretty crazy, but that’s what we want from Detroit’s own Willy Wonka. Right?
(Themes For Great Cities)
Arne Bunjes’ excellent TFGC imprint drop the fourth edition of their Mogul series this week, reminding us that Düsseldorf does things differently, thanks to four leftfield dancers from their impressive roster. Regular contributors Stabil Elite start the party with the maximal dance floor psychedelia of ‘Snack Jam’, a heady journey through warehouse acid, NYC disco and NJ house which should tear the club apart. Next up, new school heroes Phaser Boys hit us with an entheogenic excursion into Street Sounds electro, before tropical drummer Wolf Müller engages in more paradisiacal percussion music. Last but not least, the Aiwo Posse power into your life with a totally tropical breakbeat trance dance which should mix nicely into that Plez record you’ve got at home.
Listen / Buy
Jerry Paper is not his real name of course. This is the Stones Throw debut from Lucas Nathan, a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who will appeal if you adore the likes of Homeshake, Mac DeMarco and Mild High Club. Wooze pop at its wobbliest.
Built To Last
Specter aka Andres Ordones has been producing shimmering, Detroit-style productions for over 20 years, but Built To Last marks his first full length proper, and boy oh boy does it deliver. Released on Theo Parrish’s Sound Signature, Specter serves up a mighty helping of what can best described as booty house. Best prepare thy asses and minds for the bass machinations that will be powering dance floors through autumn and beyond.
What a week for Domino, with Dev Hynes keeping Animal Collective off this list. Although not released on vinyl until earlier October, it would be remiss not to mention the latest Blood Orange album, which Hynes describes as “an exploration into my own and many types of black depression, an honest look at the corners of black existence, and the ongoing anxieties of queer/people of colour.” Soulful early singles ‘Charcoal Baby’ and ‘Jewelry’ (with stunning videos to match) pointed towards Negro Swan being one of the year’s essential releases, and the full album doesn’t disappoint.
In terms of reissues, Livingstone Studio have certainly delivered the goods this week, as Gboyega Adelaja’s funk and disco heavy debut is made available again for the first time since 1979. With original copies of this all killer no filler effort trading for “holy grail” prices, this is a much needed reissue that puts to shame all those unnecessary legacy editions that typically clog up pressing plants. A staple of the Lagos scene at the time and having toured with the likes of Parliament Funkadelic and Herbie Hancock, Adelaja and co. managed to pack this LP full of seriously addictive grooves, weaving a tapestry of guitar, brass and synth lines around a floor-moving formula.
Be The Cowboy
Pitching the joke of melancholy perfectly, Mitski’s fifth album is a series of playful pop moments that give humour to the big themes dominating the album. Her lyrics are daring, and often comical (check ‘Me and My Husband’), the music extravagant and buoyant.
Thee Oh Sees
From the first few tracks you begin to think John Dwyer’s crew have gone all ELP with the Hammond thumping away in the background, but you soon realise it’s business as usual. The record also boasts one of the best sleeves of the year.
Jul262018| July 26, 2018
Stones Throw’s latest recruit gets into the music of the influential Bollywood composer and director.
Inspired by a series of lucid dreams, Rejoicer aka Yuvi Havkin’s debut album Energy Dreams twists melodic, spaced-out psychedelia around jazz roots.
“I wanted to create an atmosphere of freedom; of walking in unfamiliar territories while still feeling at home and at ease,” he describes, hinting at the cinematic quality of his music. “There’s a huge musical world in my head that I hadn’t expressed or explained, and I decided to try tap into that world of sounds.”
Therefore, we were delighted when he put forward Bollywood legend, composer and director R. D. Burman for this mix, tripping out on a selection of atmospheric soundtracks and future samples.
Working between the ’60s and the ’90s in the Hindi music industry, Burman scored over 331 films, collaborating with the likes of Asha Bhosle, with whom he was married, and was widely celebrated for revolutionising the Bollywood soundtrack form by introducing electronic, rock and disco elements with more traditional Bengali folk music.
Over to Yuvi for a few words and the tracklist.
“In 2004, I was 19 and travelled to India with my girlfriend. We had a very psychedelic and emotional few months there. It was definitely life changing.
“A few weeks later I was strolling in Tel Aviv, where I found dozens of Bollywood soundtracks on vinyl and bought them all from the local store. The name R. D. Burman was on all the best ones – super melodic, groovy and with mind-blowing orchestration. I sampled these records for my very early hip-hop beats under the Guadalooop moniker and still find mad samples on records I’ve know for 15 years.
“I guess I’ve bought every Burman record I’ve seen since, and touring in last few years in India (with Buttering Trio) I’ve found more beautiful and fun albums.”
2. Kisi Ke Vaade Pe Kyon Etabar Hamne Kiya
3. Meri Nazar Hai Tujhpe
4. Koi Mar Jaye
5. Kuchh Log
6. Wah Re Naujawan Aajkal Ke
7. Pal Do Pal
8. Dukh Sukh Ki
9. Hamen Tumse Pyar Kitna pt.2
10. Nachan Nahin
11. Ae Aasman Bata
13. Rejoicer – Burman Love
14. Hamen Tumse Pyar Kitna pt. 1
15. Buttering Trio – Star Shroom (Oh No Remix)
16. Guru Vanda
17. Guadaloop – Difficult Cut
18. Koi Koi
Jun152018| June 15, 2018
With 5,000 records from Peanut Butter Wolf’s personal collection available to play.
Iconic Los Angeles label Stones Throw is opening a new Japanese-style hi-fi bar in the city’s Highland Park area this August.
Gold Line is a collaborative venture between Peanut Butter Wolf, Stones Throw General Manager Jason McGuire, and restauranteur Tyler Bell.
Aside from its address – 5607 North Figueroa Street – Gold Line has shared just one elusive photograph on its social media:
Though no word has been revealed on what records the 5,000+ strong collection will include, having released music from the likes of Dilla, Madlib and Sudan Archives, trust there are bound to be many (many) gems contained within.
Jun062018| June 6, 2018
Next month’s wantlist.
We’ve combed through the pre-orders, promos and release listings so that you don’t have to, showcasing a diverse selection of music from our favourite artists and labels, alongside newcomers we think you need to hear.
Far from being doctrinal about it, we’ve extended June’s selection by five to capture just how much music we’re excited about this month. Expect dance floor mutations from Syclops, Martyn and Mutant Dance Beat, soulful musings from Kadhja Bonet and Sudan Archives, the spiritual awakenings of Kamasi Washington, Tenderlonious and Jimi Tenor, and a masterclass in ambient extroversion courtesy of Kate NV and the inimitable Jon Hassell.
Due: 8th June
From the moment we heard this Hilary Woods debut a few months ago, its inclusion was a given. The Dublin-born multi-instrumentalist channels the tender and assertive sound of Grouper and Lynch Collaborator Julee Cruise, weaving a sound world that is at once surreal and comforting – like finding a perverse joy in the depths of grief and loneliness.
Order Of Nothingness
Due: 8th June
Helsinki’s idiosyncratic multi-instrumentalist Jimi Tenor is something of a cult figure whose strains of wonky, jazz-inflected Afrobeat are beginning to sound very much like the Finish mushrooms he picks on his days off. With a CV that includes countless collaborations (not least with Tony Allen), here Tenor flits between a variety of horns and a shelved Extravoice keyboard to craft a record that blooms with psychedelic intensity and a wry playfulness that makes Connan Mockasin look positively earnest.
Listen / Buy
Due: 8th June
Kadhja Bonet fuses soul and rnb vocals with classical and jazz-hued orchestrals in her second LP Childqueen. In the hands of a lesser singer the mix might verge on cloying, but not so with Bonet. If you’re in need of convincing, look no further than its first single ‘Delphine’, followed by ‘Mother Maybe’ with a sublime vocal breakdown at 3 minutes in, to wholly assuage you.
Listening To Pictures
Due: 8th June
Fourth World progenitor and legendary ambient musician, Jon Hassell launches his new Ndaya label with the release of his first record in nearly a decade. Apparently it is inspired by the process of vertical listening, which is “letting your inner ears scan up and down the sonic spectrum, asking what kind of “shapes” you’re seeing, then noticing how that picture morphs as the music moves through Time,” explains Hassell. If you’re rather confused by what that means exactly, you’re not alone. But with a record that sounds as beautiful as Listening To Pictures, no matter what direction it comes from we’re all ears.
The Shakedown ft. The 22archestra
Due: 15th June
Cut in one single frantic 8-hour session during downtime at Abbey Road Studios, Tenderlonious’ debut proper has been teased in the last few months with a couple of tantalizing 7”s that have sold out in minutes. Alongside elements of his shape-shifting label house band (here including Yussef Dayes, Jean Bassa & more), Tenderlonious forges a record that fizzes with the speed and intuition of its creation, assimilating diverse influences like Yussef Lateef, Slum Village and Good Lookin’ Record without a moment to catch breath.
Here Lies Man
You Will Know Nothing
(Riding Easy Records)
Due: 15th June
A wild-card in last year’s favourite albums list, LA outfit Here Lies Man return with a second sucker-punch of distorted, psychedelic. The massive riffs remain, but it’s the rhythmic muscle bursting out from behind a wall of fuzzed-out psychedelic that really propels You Will Know Nothing to new realms.
(Running Back // Bubbletease Communications)
Due: 15th June
House pioneer Maurice Fulton is having one helluva year. Following the news that he’s produced a new collaborative 4×12″ series with Róisín Murphy, Fulton resurrects his experimental electro arm Syclops in fine fashion. Released digitally in the spring, Pink Eye gets a much deserved vinyl outing this June. Though less disco hued than I’ve Got My Eye On You, there are certified 100% rump shakers lying amidst these delightful weirdo musings.
Nothing Is Still
Due: 15th June
Though technically his first full length album, Leon Vynehall has been releasing singular, instrumentally-led dance EPs (and medium-Ps) since 2012. If you’re unfamiliar, Music For The Uninvited with the essential ‘It’s Just (House of Dupree)’, Butterflies, Midnight on the Rainbow Road, and Rojus are must peeps, the kinds of records that thrill on first listen but absolutely get better with age. Inspired by photographs Vynehall discovered of his grandparents, Nothing Is Still takes his sounds away from formal dance floor machinations and into more ethereal – though no less impactful – terrain.
Gang Gang Dance
Due: 22nd June
Absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder, but seven years on and news of Gang Gang Dance’s return has revived an awful lot of positive sentiment towards the experimental Brooklyn outfit. Lead track ‘Lotus’ already has the dreamy gravitas you’d expect from a comeback that deserves every bit of anticipation it’s receiving.
Heaven & Earth
Due: 22nd June
How much grander can you go, Kamasi? The saxophonist who named his 3-LP debut The Epic, delivers his answer in the form of 150-minute Heaven & Earth LP this month, unloading a thunderous cascade of Black Jazz-esque spirituals and fevered improvisations across four discs. Like the second season of a Netflix show that has had its budget bumped off the back of rave ratings, Heaven & Earth is given a bombastic sonic upgrade thanks to the irrepressible chorus and orchestra on what promises to be an expansive addition to Kamasi’s canon. A massive effort, without doubt, but will somebody please find this man an editor?!
Due: 22nd June
Martyn’s signature post-dubstep meets UK garage sounds mixed with Nyabinghi, drum ‘n’ bass, and gqom, in fourth studio album Voids. Recorded in the wake of his recovery from a heart attack, unlike previous LPs, Voids doesn’t feature any guest appearances. Lucky for us, this solo outing leaves Martyn to explore his own percussive swings and roundabouts to the fullest – creating nine tracks that are filled with sheer rhythmic pizzazz, regardless of what genre you think they fall under.
Due: 22nd June
Who knew the violin could sound so badass? Producer and vocalist Sudan Archives, that’s who. Given the love for her lauded debut self-titled EP, our favourite 12″ of 2017, the stakes (and anticipation) levels were high for what came next. With Sink, SA doesn’t fail to disappoint in the slightest. Weaving violin with electronics, North African influences and samples, she crafts six tracks that range from rnb ballads to the kinds of glitched-out beat explorations that’d make someone like Dilla proud. A stellar EP from one of the most unique and exciting new musicians we’ve heard (and seen) in time. A word to the wise: if you get a chance to see her live, don’t sleep.
Binker & Moses
Alive In The East?
Due: 22nd June
Almost bang on a year after the release of their album Journey To The Mountain of Forever – one of our favourite albums of 2017 – tenor saxophonist and drummer duo Binker & Moses are back. “A companion piece to Journey to the Mountain of Forever” and “full of vehement improvisation and shamanic spiritual free jazz trances”, its 10 tracks serve up heavy and hypnotic rhythms to suit all whims and fancies. Yazz to the continuing ascent of UK ‘jazz’.
Due: 22nd June
Although Kate NV’s RVNG Intl. debut is billed as a score to her native Moscow, it unfolds as though viewing the city in a petri dish – a magnificent, magnified symphony. Sharing some of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s ability to bend electronic instrumentation into organic forms, like mutating microorganisms, для FOR is an intoxicating and inviting record that stands apart from the city to create a feeling of deep and utopian calm.
Mutant Dance Beat
Mutant Dance Beat
Due: 29th June
You simply can’t call your outfit Mutant Dance Beat and expect people not to take notice. Traxx and Beau Wanzer bringing in Steve Summers for this 200-minute epic, that will be delivered across six records of varying formats (12”, 10” and 7”), and features what the label arresting calls “funky grooves, industrial soundscapes, nu age dancehouze, prototype disco dub, Detroit dirge, cryptic ankle bitter anthems and even a punk cover collaborating with members of LCD Soundsystem.” This one already sounds essential for those who like their dance floors on the gnarly side of respectable.
Apr062018| April 6, 2018
The follow-up to our favourite 12″ of 2017.
Singer, producer and violinist Sudan Archives will release her second EP Sink via Stones Throw in May.
The follow-up her self-titled debut – our favourite in 2017 – Sink is heralded with new track ‘Nont For Sale’ which you can stream below.
A unique blend of West African desert blues, syncopated violin riffs and future roots RnB, Archives describes the album as “inspired by my love of fluidity, movement of jellyfish and water,” moving freely between influences, eras and sounds.
Last year, Sudan Archives also appeared in our short documentary inside the Stones Throw studio.
Sudan Archives’ Sink is out on 25th May. Pre-order the single here and check out the artwork for ‘Nont For Sale’ and tracklist below.
2. Nont For Sale
3. Pay Attention
4. Mind Control
5. Beautiful Mistake
Mar272018| March 27, 2018
Back to the funky future.
In 1984, a little known artist by the name of Prophet released his one and only LP, Right On Time, on a tiny San Francisco label Treasure. The record went down in funk folklore, coveted by collectors and enthusiasts, among them Stones Throw’s Peanut Butter Wolf, who had the record on his reissue list decades.
“I thought it sounded just like the kind of music I grew up on, with Prince and The Time vibes, but a rare, lo-fi bedroom version of it,” PBW explains. “Having said that, it doesn’t sound like anything else from the time period either.”
Now, given access to a studio for the first time, and working with Stones Throw in-house producer MNDSGN, Prophet has cut a new record of West Coast funk and DIY boogie entitled Wanna Be Your Man, almost thirty five years since his last.
You can pre-order your copy ahead of its 11th May release here, and check out the full artwork below.
Feb062018| February 6, 2018
He’s played back-to-back with Dilla, sold records to Björk, and regularly hangs with Gilles Peterson. He’s also one of the most respected international DJs and curators in music, and with a 15,000-strong collection at his home in Belgium, we needed to hear his stories for ourselves.
There are very few DJs or producers who can make the jump from being part of a scene, to being custodians of new music for an entire generation. And even fewer who can do so at the forward-thinking end of the spectrum for almost two decades.
Like his mentor and close friend Gilles Peterson, Lefto has become an internationally respected curator, holding down a show on Studio Brussel (Belgium’s BBC equivalent) since the late ’90s, opening musical minds and blooding generations of young artists in the process.
He’s worked in Belgium’s most important record shop Music Mania, A&R’ed B9000 Records to the point where he was practically one of the Oxnard gang, shared his record bag and MPC with J Dilla, and has amassed a peerless collection of records in the process.
Most importantly though, and despite his international acclaim, Lefto has always sought to amplify the innovative, often overlooked music coming out of Belgium, a country for which he has become something of an ambassador.
We caught up with Lefto on the eve of the release of a new compilation My Friends Make Music Too to hear some of those stories from his life in music.
Were you always a hip-hop head or did you things start somewhere different?
The music in the house was always more jazz than anything else. My dad had a big jazz collection and he used to put on jazz every morning. I would basically wake up every morning to jazz music, a lot of music by Miles Davis and Stan Getz.
And then at some point started finding elements in hip-hop that reminded me of the jazz I woke up to every morning.
I remember my dad being very cautious about his records, and every time I wanted to switch the record or turn it over he would say, ‘No, no, watch out, it’s expensive.’ But a lot of the records he used to listen to I now find in the 50¢ bins, so they can’t have been that expensive!
A lot of people go the other way, and listen to hip-hop first before getting into jazz through the samples…
Of course, although I would say that I discovered other music genres through hip-hop. I have to thank the homies like Madlib and others for helping me discover hidden gems from Brazil and other places. I was really into this documentary they did a while back with B+ called Brasilintime. That was, for me, one of my first introductions to the Brazilian music scene.
And Madlib became a close friend, right? How did you get into that West Coast scene?
In the late ’90s we had a label here in Belgium called B9000 Records. It first started very locally with some local artists on there. When I moved to Ghent, which is the home base of that label, I proposed my services as an A&R and wanted to really expand the label and do it internationally. We had a good connect with LA already because the owner used to go to school there, and so we would go to LA a few times a year, meet up with people and offer our services.
Of course it was at a time when Stones Throw and those labels came up so we were into that. We met up with some of the artists and we went to the old Stones Throw house where Madlib had the Bomb Shelter. We went downstairs and chilled with Madlib, Egon was at the house at the time, Peanut Butter Wolf was living there, and Jeff Jank as well I think. I met up with all these guys pretty early. Like Egon said in one of the documentaries, it was kind of weird that two youngsters from Belgium would come all the way to Oxnard! It was very interesting for us because we were at the heart of the whole new generation LA scene.
I suppose it’s also easy to take that kind of thing for granted now where everyone is connected all the time, but back then you really had to seek people out.
It was very welcoming. We would go to Kankick and then have dinner at Wildchild’s house, which was next to an Amtrak trainline – you’d be having food and feeling the house shake. We would visit DJ Romes [Lootpack], who was working in a sneaker shop, and we would go and see Oh No as well. All these guys today are still family. Now, every time I go to LA I see Madlib come to the party with his girlfriend and just dance, so it’s cool.
There’s a story about how you once shared your record bag with J Dilla too?
Yeah, there’s a famous interview with J Dilla on Youtube. I’m basically sitting next to the guy! You can’t see it but you can hear my voice every now and then. It was in Eindhoven and I had to play with J Dilla that night, but he comes in and says ‘I don’t have any of my records. Except this little bag of test pressings, my bags never arrived form the plane, so let’s do this.’ So we basically played all night, back-to-back.
To play with J Dilla was very special, and I’ve met him a few times – I was actually also the guy who booked him for his last show a month before he passed. He was staying a few days in Ghent and I decided to take my MPC3000 to his hotel room and then seeing him just laying in the bed, having a kind of iPod sound system that he would plug into the MPC.
It must have been a really poignant moment.
Yeah, it was, because he’s basically one of my all-time heroes, and in such bad shape you realise that he also is just a human being. You forget that those people can also die. You always think your heroes can’t die, but they can.
Was there a moment or a record for you which transformed music from a hobby into something you could see yourself dedicating your life to?
I think it came at a time when I went to secondary school, where I met a lot of people who were already very involved in hip-hop and hip-hop culture. We would chill in my homie’s bedroom where he had two turntables, a mixer, and records – and those things are like toys. You see those toys and you want to start playing with them. So I got totally into that around ’95, playing records and even writing a little bit, being an MC for a second, as a few opening acts for bigger groups here. I was a rapper before…
Everyone’s got a couple of years back there somewhere that they’d rather not remember…
Exactly. And when I remembered the lyrics that I wrote… ah man. You know what, I was totally into Gravediggaz and Flatlinerz and all those guys. It was a time, particularly in American hip-hop, where it was kind of dark. People were talking about ripping your skin off, and I was kind of into that mood too! I would even write my lyrics in a sort of gothic font.
You were a teenager… It’s got to come out somehow.
Yeah, and it’s a creative process too. It lets you grow into something else. That’s around the time I got purely into DJing. And then around the end of the ’90s when the Madlibs came up, I got totally into the samples – jazz, Brazilian, reggae, dub, Turkish music – and then after that I realised that maybe it was time to start producing, so I got my first Akai S-950 sampler and an Atari screen and started making beats with QBase. And then I got an SP-1200 because Madlib had one, and because I knew that the Lootpack record was pretty much made on a 12-second sampling time sampler, which was the SP-1200. I wanted to see what I could do with 12 seconds of sample time.
The limitations of the equipment can force you to be more creative, right?
Yeah, especially at that time because there were no computers to make unlimited amounts of music. You had to make a beat with the amount of memory you had in your MPC.
Were you already buying records like a collector at this point?
Yeah, kind of. I started buying records in ’95, buying hip-hop records and also breakbeats and scratch records. Then I got myself a job working in one of the major record stores in Belgium, called Music Mania. The whole scene would come through that store to buy records. I would sell records to Björk when she came in, the guys from The Prodigy, I remember Puff Daddy coming in.
What did Björk buy?
She was with her husband and kids so I don’t remember. I think it was some Sufjan Stevens-type folk stuff.
Well, working in that record shop was sort of the start of everything for me. One day, the boss of the radio station came in and asked me if I wanted to start a hip-hop show on Studio Brussel, which is the equivalent of BBC in the UK. Of course I was at the source, so for him it made sense to have me on board because I was getting all the records up-front before anyone else.
Were you mainly playing hip-hop? I’ve seen you DJ several times in the last 10 years or so, and it’s always so eclectic.
I started strictly with hip-hop, but once I got into the samples and all that stuff I started blending in a few, playing the original and then the hip-hop track. I started to be very eclectic early on, and it scared people at some point because the crowd wasn’t really ready for that. They wanted hip-hop and only hip-hop. For them, hearing jazz and all that stuff in between, it was maybe an anti-climax. But I was very stubborn and I just followed my line and kept on doing it.
I wanted to ask you how you thought things had changed in the 20 years or so since you started out – one thing is that people seem to have become more open minded, but yourself and someone like Gilles Peterson have also been instrumental in helping people reach that point…
I don’t know how it was in the UK at that time, because it’s always seemed super eclectic there, but it takes a while for the smaller countries to jump up on the same train. It takes courage and being stubborn. I had a lot of people telling me to stop doing it. Today it’s cool because people are capable of enjoying all sorts of music, because they have all the doors open for them. For me, YouTube is the best way for people to discover music. YouTube has the craziest playlists, where you listen to one disco joint and then discover some guy has collected 50 more songs of the same thing and your world opens up.
Or you just end up with Japanese ambient records…
Haha yeah, there’s always a point where you get to Japanese! But you know the otakus, when they do something, they go for it, so they are real super diggers.
Do you still dig yourself?
I always go into record shops whenever I can, and I also have a few local dealers that invite me to their houses when I’m in town. And that’s usually the best thing because you sit on the couch and he takes out the record, puts it on, and tells a whole story about it. I used to do the same in the record shop, I would sell the record just by telling a story about it. You start listening to that record in a different way.
It’s like this thing that just got reissued by Dr. Mary Sullivan Bain. People put it on and it sounds like a cool, soulful, housey record. But if you also know that that record was made in the ’70s somewhere in Miami, and was made for a school class to let young black Americans know about the achievements of other black Americans, then that gives the record a different dimension.
It sets the music in a context – in a person’s life, in a scene or in a story. After 20 years, what is it about DJing that you still enjoy?
Playing unknown music for a crowd is always exciting – to see their reactions the first time they hear a new record. Also, when you know the story of a club, it’s also very important.
Are there places you particularly enjoy or go back to?
Not really, because those places don’t exist anymore, but I had a few good places where I really liked to go, or where I had residencies. There was a club in Ghent called Chocolate, and I would have my nights there with 100-150 people every Wednesday. My girlfriend at the time would make waffles or Nutella crepes for people, and we would go into the crowd and give people Chupa Chups and other sweets. I miss those days.
Do you feel like your role has changed now?
I still do parties and I have a different message now. They’re called Lefto Presents nights and it’s a place where I invite acts to come and there’s a party afterwards in a much bigger room. It’s a night which is totally not what you’d expect. You have a thousand people and then somebody starts playing jazz for thirty minutes. It’s fun to see so many youngsters involved. There are 16 year old girls who come in and come to me with something written on their arm and I’m like ‘oh no… no requests!’ And I look at it and I see it’s Selda and I’m like Wow… you want me to play ’70s Turkish folk music? I’ll definitely do this!’
In that sense, both you and Gilles have assumed a role that has seen you move from being part of a scene to being curators of what’s around you.
Yeah, I think a lot of DJs work for themselves, whereas we try and work for the whole scene.
It started in 2002, that’s when I really started to curate and I started curating Dour Festival as well – it’s 240,000 people over four days and it’s just amazing to see how many people are into a festival that’s super alternative.
Back in the day when I started those Lefto Presents nights, I was one of the first to just do a melting pot of different music genres that I liked. And I think we slowly got to somewhere where now we have a lot of people doing similar stuff with quality music. We have a festival called Horst which is an architect school doing a music festival where last year we had MCDE and Gilles, it was crazy.
The only problem we have… it’s maybe not a problem, but Gilles says it a lot, that Belgium is the hidden gem, and somehow he’s right. As Belgians we don’t like to hang out our qualities, we don’t really share it with the world. If you want to come and see it, great, but you won’t hear too much about it in the UK.
That’s quite an attractive trait.
It is, but at the same time it’s very disturbing, because you only realise it when you’re here. Especially the bigger countries, they don’t really expect to hear things from smaller countries. They tend to think it’s only happening where they are. I think that’s also why you don’t see too many French, or Belgian or German acts playing in the UK for example. It’s really hard to break that protectionism.
It’s strange in the context of the popularity of Brazilian or Japanese music which we discussed. DJs, collectors and music fans in the UK love that stuff even though most of us can’t engage with it on a lyrical level. Somehow hearing music in French or German is perhaps more familiar and therefore less appealing?
It’s strange, yeah. Certain languages are more funky and tropical, and maybe that sounds OK. But there are a lot of corny lyrics in those genres, especially in Brazilian music because a lot of those songs were made for TV series and soaps.
Then again, there are a few artists from Belgium who are crazy. I went to New York and I heard a car pass by playing music really loud from one of our most famous Belgian artists, Stromae. Some artists really cut through, but it’s so rare.
Also, DJs never really play in the UK. When I play in the UK I realise that the UK crowd is really great, they give some love and it’s a cool crowd, but it’s just a shame that nobody really pays attention to DJs coming from Europe.
When you’re not championing new music, are there any records that you’ll return to regularly at home?
One is definitely Ahmad Jamal’s The Awakening. It reminds me of New York, I guess because a lot of those samples are in Nas’ Illmatic, and that record is the ultimate record to listen to while you’re strolling down the street in New York. You take the subway, you cross the bridge, you go to Brooklyn, and if you’re listening to Illmatic, it all makes sense.
I would say that I also like to go back to hip-hop records, and I’m parent-less now so sometimes I like to go back to a few records I would listen to when my father was around.
Are there any genres that don’t feature in your collection?
Yeah there are a few. I would like to know more about punk music, about the whole culture. I know Soul Jazz have done a few things on that. I should find some time to find out more. But yeah, there’s no hard rock and all that stuff. That’s about it I think.
Do you know how many you have in total?
Between 12,000 and 15,000. Mostly alphabetically arranged or in genre, especially the hip-hop collection. I have a very good hip-hop collection with a lot of stuff that’s really rare to find these days.
You said in another interview that you describe your collection like a ‘Museum of Magrittes’. What does the whole collection mean to you?
It is pretty much my life. I could take out one record and listen to it and remember exactly the time when I listened to it for the first time. It would put me back into that era for second. Every record has a connection, and it’s basically a timeline of my life.
Do you think you could tell a story about every one?
I think I could, the ones I bought myself, definitely. I’m very bad at years. If you ask me ‘what was happening in ’96?’ I wouldn’t know, but if you ask me, ‘what happened around the time the Lootpack album came out?’ then I could probably tell you. For me the years are pretty much the records.
Photos by Lefto & Rik De Bruycker
Dec272017| December 27, 2017
Starting with an exclusive J Dilla x Knxwledge remix 7″.
Stones Throw is launching a vinyl subscription service for all new records it releases between 1st January – 31st December 2018.
The label shared the announcement via its social media, with a preview of the exclusive first record that subscribers will receive: a 7″ of J Dilla ‘Let’s Take It Back – Knxwledge Remix’ b/w Washed Out ‘Floating By – Mndsgn Remix’.
All new Stones Throw vinyl released in 2018 – single LPs, double LPs, 12″s, 45s and box sets –will be included in the one year subscription, which costs $300 plus a one-time shipping fee ranging between $50-$250 depending on your location. Digital downloads are not included.
Regarding the number of records subscribers should expect to receive Stones Throw explained: “we don’t know the exact number of records we’ll release in 2018. Last year was our busiest release year, with some 17 records by NxWorries, Tuxedo, Mild High Club, etc. We expect this year to be about the same.”
Head here for more info and listen to the original version of J Dilla’s ‘Let’s Take It Back’ below.
Dec052017| December 5, 2017
From essential track IDs to crafted EPs.
Having picked out our favourite 7″s and 10″s, we turn our attention to the 12″ in the second of our retrosepctive rundowns of the last twelve months.
And just as 7″s no longer represent the year’s biggest chart hits, so has it been some time since 12″s were exclusively the domain of the dance floor.
From the simple 2-track club banger to EPs that border on mini-albums, we’ve demanded that each 12″ offers something more than just an aggregation of the year’s best tracks.
Some though, like Objekt, Denis Sulta and Bufiman do represent the year’s most urgent dance music, or in the case of Bicep, Four Tet and Nathan Fake distil new albums in more forms.
This year, the 12″ has also been the friend of the UK’s burgeoning grassroots jazz movement, capturing the nascent scene as it grows and evolves, whether on Joe Armon-Jones & Maxwell Owin’s Idiom, Moses Boyd’s Absolute Zero or the improvised voyages of A.R.E. Project.
And finally, the 12″ was also home to several beautifully crafted EPs, cementing concepts and musical ideas – from Fatima al Qadiri’s provocative sexual politics to LAPS’ DIY dancehall – that circumvent generic boundaries for something true to the musical diversity of 2017.
You may have also noticed that we’ve changed the emphasis of our lists this year away from the tired, arbitrary and frankly over-used ‘best’, to the more openly subjective ‘favourite’. We believe this more accurately reflects the fact that these rundowns are essentially recommendations of what we’ve enjoyed most this year, as selected by our weekly contributors Patrick Ryder, James Hammond and Chris Summers, alongside VF’s editorial team, Gabriela Helfet and Anton Spice.
What were your favourites this year? Let us know in the comments below.
See the rest of our 2017 review:
Our 50 favourite albums of 2017
Our 10 favourite 7″s of 2017
Our 12 favourite reissue singles of 2017
Our 30 favourite reissues of 2017
Our 12 favourite soundtracks of 2017
Our 12 favourite record sleeves of 2017
Bicep may have dropped their long-awaited debut album, taking first place as the most track ID-requested producers of the year by a country mile in the process, but the audio pinnacle from this Belfast duo actually came in the form of their final release of 2017. The Glue EP delivered one of the LP’s finest cuts on the A-Side, plus fresh tracks which included the delightfully acid-tinged ‘DLR’ on the reverse. – GH
Don’t Get Me Wrong
This curveball dropped right at the start of 2017 and hasn’t left the record bag since. Lead track ‘Be A Man’ sashays across the dance floor with jasmin-infused disco pizzazz, lush synths and a belly-dance bassline underpinned by sharp-as-brass percussive shuffle. Things take a step down to Room 2 on ‘Rigola’, the groove staying in the pocket, with vibraphones to the fore. A triumph for the Music From Memory off-shoot that was heard far and wide this year. – AS
18. Carla Dal Forno
(Blackest Ever Black)
A VF favourite coming off the strength of last year’s debut full length You Know What Its Like and its accompanying singles, this year gave us four new cuts from Carla Dal Forno which made for more essential listening. An artist who sets out an alluring sound world of mysterious and uneasy pop music, The Garden carried on where her debut left off in its sparingly affective structures and ability to craft distinctive vocal hooks that work their way in with repeated listens. – JH
17. Denis Sulta
Nein Forteate EP
Glasgow homebro Denis Sulta launched his own label with two choice EPs this year, the highlight of which was its inaugural release, Nein Forteate, featuring ‘Dubelle Oh XX (JVIP)’. The kind of synthy club anthem that Sulta is rightly becoming known for, its greatness lies about 3 and a half minutes in, when the track, seemingly at its peak, suddenly cuts out… Is it a mistake, a DJ faux pas, a power problemo? Nah. It’s Sulta bringing in a silky smooth “ohhhh yeah” vocal, before dropping the ole hook in back again to maximum effect. – GH
16. Beatrice Dillon & Call Super
‘Inkjet / Fluo’
One of our favourite collaborations of the year also appears on one of our favourite labels in sweet symbiosis, as Beatrice Dillon unites with Call Super for this Hessle Audio affair. As with many of the 12”s gracing this year’s list, the A-Side ‘Inkjet’ is a legit slice of aqua electronics, but it’s the flip – ‘Fluo’ – that we’ve been rinsing since it dropped. A soundtrack for the robot takeover to come, with Blade Runner-esque dial tones making way for exquisite saxxy breakdowns midway through. Proof, if ever you needed it, that no B-side should be left unturned. – GH
15. Avalon Emerson
Avalon Emerson returns to Whities for the follow-up to her Narcissus in Retrograde EP – one of our favourite 12”s of 2016 – on a different, but no less excellent, tip. With this catchy double-dose, she continues her well deserved ascent as one of the most exciting producers around: ‘One More Fluorescent Rush’ serves glitchy, spaced out feels, before ‘Finally Some Common Ground’ takes off on a Soichi Terada-esque, one-way trip to the intergalactic mothership. – GH
14. Four Tet
‘SW9 9SL / Planet’
Aside from a couple of split 12”s last year, 2017 marked something of a return to the prolific output we’ve come to expect from Kieran Hebden, releasing a handful of 12”s, a load of material via multiple Spotify aliases, some brilliant remixes, the year’s most ID’d edit ‘Question’, and a new full-length infamously made using just a laptop and a view over some unspectacular woodland. Thankfully, the album’s two stand-out tracks were also collected on this limited 12”. Propulsive, melodic dance music for the headphones or the dance floor, ‘Planet’ is Four Tet’s finest since There Is Love In You. – AS
13. Craven Faults
Elusive, evasive, but delivered with unerring authority, Craven Faults is one of this year’s wildcards. Arriving on a mysterious label with a soaring two-track EP of airborne krautrock, Netherfield Works pays its dues to ’70s Düsseldorf and the San Francisco Tape Music Centre and casts them to the English winds, forging two sprawling tracks from within a nest of patch cables in an old Yorkshire textile mill. A modular synth record that, like recent works by Kaityln Aurelia Smith seems to shed its machined origins to become something altogether more organic, Netherfield Works overflows across two sixteen minute tracks that will appeal to fans of Cluster, Steve Reich and the like. – AS
12. Fatima Al Quadiri
Few EPs set out to challenge norms and hegemonies like Fatima Al Qadiri’s Shaneera, which riffs on the English mispronunciation of the Arabic word for “outrageous, nefarious, hideous, major and foul.” Reconstructing snippets of Grindr chats, online drag and femme comedy skits, and Iraqi proverbs into a hybrid vernacular built from Kuwaiti and Egyptian Arabic, Shaneera is an intoxicating listen – all menacing dubbed-out electronic arrangements – and a self-confessed “love letter to evil and benevolent queens around the world.” – AS
Dekmantel celebrated a decade as a champion of left-field, dance floor meditations by delivering its strongest year yet, hosting an annual sell-out festival in Holland, a smaller soiree in Croatia, and releasing some of the label’s finest music along the way, including Dekmantel 10 Years 04 EP and Juju & Jordash’s Sis-Boom-Bah LP. However, it was Bufiman aka Wolf Muhler’s Peace Moves EP that best represented the weird af and wonderfully off-kilter sonics which have come to define the Dutch imprint. A seemingly bizarre combination of growling vocals and cranky, bent out of shape jack-in-the-box effects that sounds so wrong it’s right. – GH
10. Moses Boyd
(The Vinyl Factory / Exodus)
Drummer and producer Moses Boyd exploded into the wider musical consciousness with ‘Rye Lane Shuffle’ in 2016, and this EP, co-released between VF and his own Exodus imprint, was his much-anticipated follow up. Ditching the horn stabs for shimmering krauty synths, Absolute Zero was born out of Boyd’s solo live shows but has since been reintegrated into the Exodus band with which he has sold out the likes of Corsica Studios and Jazz Café this year. Underpinned by his live-wire drum sound, this EP swells with a restless ease, referencing influences as broad as grime, ambient and hip-hop, rooting this new jazz mode in an urban context. One of the year’s breakthrough artists, expect to hear much more of Moses in the coming months. As objective as we can possibly be, the soft-touch laminate artwork by Optigram may also make this one of our favourite sleeves of the year. – AS
9. Agnes Obel
‘Stretch Your Eyes (Quiet Village Remix)’
(Phonica Special Editions)
You don’t need us to tell you how great it is to share a building with a record shop, let alone one as consistently on point as Phonica. So when manager Simon Rigg called us into his office one afternoon last summer with news of an extra special 12” on one of the shop’s in-house imprints we knew it was going to be good. Here Quiet Village pull apart Danish singer Agnes Obel’s ‘Stretch Your Eyes’ into a dark and dubby chorale, backed by an eerie a cappella imbued with the same haunting longevity of Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrops’. – AS
8. SW. / SVN
Who needs things like track names when the music can do the talking? Not SW. that’s who. The producer follows up a close-to-perfect 2016 LP (appropriately called The Album) to team up with SUED co-founder SVN. SUED 18 kicks off with Pepe Bradock-esque house heaviness on the A-Side, plus a knockout, subdued techno ride on the reverse. – GH
7. Floating Points
‘Ratio (Deconstructed Mixes)’
Though Floating Points debuted versions of the slow-rolling, emotional synth-filled ‘Ratio’ via live shows and DJ sets last year, it finally saw a long-awaited official release this October. Well worth the wait, ‘Ratio’ is a shimmering number that harkens back to Floating Points’ supreme ‘Myrtle Avenue’ and ‘ARP3’ fare. And though it may seem like a mere sales gimmick to release the track in ‘deconstructed’ parts, as he did on the B-side, it’s not. If you caught his live set this year, this seemingly fractured 12″ actually makes perfect sense because no live version of ‘Ratio’ was identical. An exciting hint that the best of his new material is yet come. – GH
6. Joe Armon-Jones & Maxwell Owin
A record that captures the jazz routes and roots coursing through London at the moment, tying together the convergent legacies of broken beat, house, 2-step and fusion that having been coalescing south of the river for some time. Aside from being assembled from a quintet of fiercely accomplished musicians (Armon-Jones & Owin are joined here by Nubya Garcia, Oscar Jerome and Jake Long), Idiom is a refreshingly playful record that never takes itself too seriously. With discrete improvisations woven into the fabric of each track, Idiom is greater than the sum of its parts, and a testament to the community that has helped elevate it. – AS
5. Nathan Fake
Providence Reworks – Part I
A primer on how a track, in this case Nathan Fake’s ‘DEGREELESSNESSS’ from his Providence LP, can be turned into (two times the) greatness, thanks to formidable edits. A-Side sees Overmono assuming the rework duties to craft one of the anthems of 2017’s festival season, teasing out the most euphoric moments of ‘DEGREELESSNESS’ across seven and half minutes. Meanwhile, a no less worthy of rotation revamp from Huerco S brings a psychedelic, Middle Eastern-hued séance to send you into a zen-filled trance. – GH
LAPS are Ladies As Pimps, the Glasgow duo and Golden Teacher affiliates forging an industrial dancehall sound that’s unlike anything else we heard this year. If there’s one big hit here it would be title track ‘Who Me?’, which finds a sweet spot between the sensual, the confrontational and the surreal we had no idea existed. It’s a trick ‘Edges’ manages too, before rounding off the EP with the fragmented “pyjama house” of ‘Lady Bug’. A charismatic record that pulls no punches, and a fine first foray into new music for 2017 label newcomer MIC. – AS
If in January someone had told us one of the biggest tracks of the year would be a slowed-down two-step garage beat-meets-techno superjam, we would have been rather confused about what the year held in store. But so it was. TJ Hertz’s first release since 2014, a 12” on the club-focused white label series under his Objekt alias, stormed dance floors far and wide thanks to its unexpected B-Side. ‘Theme From Q’ is the kind of track that works in sets of all shapes, speeds and sizes, because it’s just that great. – GH
2. Hieroglyphic Being, Sarathy Korwar & Shabaka Hutchings
A.R.E. Project EP
Arguably one of the UK’s most prolific and inspiringly creative musicians, Shabaka Hutchings leant his saxophone touch to a number of contenders for our favourite releases of the year, including the Comet Is Coming’s psychedelic jazz 12” Death To The Planet 12”. That said, A.R.E. Project, a unique and forward-thinking, improvised collaboration between Hutchings, Hieroglyphic Being and Sarathy Korwar was the obvious choice. Captured during a completely live, two hour performance aboard a studio moored inside a ship along the Thames, the EP sees cosmic sax merging with Indonesian folk music and space-age electronics for a truly one-of-a-kind result. – GH
1. Sudan Archives
One of this year’s most enchanting debuts came from violinist, producer and vocalist Sudan Archives, whose self-titled EP on Stones Throw takes the award for our favourite 12” of 2017. Channelling the bedroom RnB production that sustained her early forays into music into an outward-looking hybrid sound, Archives draws as much on North African melodies and instrumentation as Stones Throw’s storied left-field hip-hop tradition.
A self-taught violinist, she weaves finger picking rhythms into the fabric of her productions, and uses its sawing melancholy to lend a gorgeous nostalgia to each song. And while ‘Come Meh Way’ might be the track you’ll have heard most, ‘Oatmeal’ and ‘Goldencity’ exude the same singular clarity, marking out a route between the percussive, earthy RnB of opening track ‘Paid’ and the syncopated folk musings of final track ‘Wake up’. A modest record, both utterly new yet uncannily familiar, we revisited this EP time and again this year, and can’t wait to hear what comes next. – AS
Illustration by Patch D Keyes.
Oct202017| October 20, 2017
One of 2016’s best albums gets the rework treatment.
NxWorries, aka singer/drummer Anderson .Paak and producer Knxlwedge, are releasing Yes Lawd! Remixes on Stones Throw this November.
The album sees Knxwledge reinterpreting nine songs from their neo-soul, hip-hop mixtape-esque, debut collaboration, as well as three new tracks, ‘Alltypeofchnces’, ‘Idntrememberwell’, ‘Reali(The)Nd’.
“It only made sense for Knxwledge, being the prolific remixer that he is, to remix his own album, adding a new interpretation to the tracks featuring Anderson .Paak’s vocals,” says Stones Throw. “The first transmissions of this were previously shared in the epilogue of the ‘Scared Money’ video which contained Knxwledge’s remix of ‘Best One’.”
Yes Lawd! Remixes is available in standard black on 17th November, as well as a limited edition transparent Black Friday variant exclusively available via Stones Throw on 24th November.
Pre-order a copy here, listen to ‘Best One Remix’ and check out the track list below.
2. Livvin (Remix)
3. Wngs (Remix)
4. Best One (Remix)
5. Kutless (Remix)
6. Lyk Dis (Remix)
8. H.A.N. (Remix)
9. Scared Money (Remix)
10. Bstwun (Chppd)
11. Suede (Uptwnmixx)
Jul142017| July 14, 2017
A genre-hopping, identity-switching, crate-digging guide to the many faces of Madlib.
Getting into Madlib means getting into dozens of other artists – some of whom are also Madlib. Otis Jackson, Jr. has taken the artistry of sampling to an extent that he can use it to explore not just other areas of music, but other ways of presenting himself – through alter egos, collaborations, and mixes that blur the lines between sampling and traditional musicianship. Spend enough time digging through crates and pulling apart other peoples’ music, and it’s not just understandable but insightful to try and rebuild it from multiple perspectives. Madlib’s whole legacy, for more than twenty years, has been built around just that.
Even with all his excursions into cross-genre pollination, time-warping postmodernism, and identity-obscuring deconstruction, Madlib’s central sonic persona is still easy to grasp: he’s rooted in the classic hip-hop sampling techniques of the late ’80s/early ’90s, even if he runs some unlikely styles through it – dub reggae, Brazilian pop, and the more abstract corners of jazz have been more integral to his blueprint than they have for just about any other artist to helm an SP-1200. And his sense of musical adventure has taken him plenty of far-flung places – these ten albums are just the beginning of a long, unpredictable itinerary that’s taken him from Tha Alkaholiks to Kanye.
Soundpieces: Da Antidote
(Stones Throw, 1999)
Madlib was one of a number of West Coast producers who had more interest in revamping underground East Coast sensibilities for Cali vibes than in following in the g-funk foosteps of Dr. Dre and DJ Quik. And as Stones Throw emerged as a label simpatico with the battle-hewn mindset of L.A. indie showcase/collective Project Blowed, Lootpack built off a near-decade-long body of work to provide one of the young label’s first bonafide classic full-lengths in 1999. The sample-slayer bonafides are made clear from the start – the titular intro track features a seemingly disjointed Prince Paul-style collage of soundbites seguing into “an appointment with Dr. SP at 1200 hours” – and it’s evident throughout the album that Madlib as a producer is intent on taking the Pete Rock style of jazz-informed loops and headnod drums into more esoteric lo-fi turf.
It’s also a quick-moving listen for an album with two dozen tracks: a who’s who of Cali fellow traveler guest spots (Dilated Peoples, Tha Alkaholiks, M.E.D., Madlib’s brother Oh No) and an attention-deficit-stifling array of beats back up Wildchild and Madlib’s zero-bullshit verses. And even at this early phase, a lot of Madlib’s familiar techniques and traits were well in place – check out his producer-as-antiquarian anthem ‘Crate Diggin” (“Diggin’ for them unordinary soundin’ loops/Even if it’s not clean to thee”), or an early appearance of his squeaky-voiced alter ego Quasimoto on ’20 Questions’.
(Stones Throw, 2000)
Madlib’s first solo album was released just a couple weeks less than a year after Soundpieces, yet it already came across like a forward leap – no slight to Wildchild, but it turned out that Madlib’s best lyrical foil was himself. Alter ego and album headliner Quasimoto is a big part of that breakthrough, an instantly iconic voice that, in the form of a brick-tossing, vaguely anteater-esque creature designed by in-house art director Jeff Jank, would soon become a central character in Stones Throw iconography. The high-pitched Quasimoto voice originated as an early attempt on Madlib’s part to disguise his mumbly deep baritone, but it also feels like a striking complement, tossing out back-and-forth conversational hooks and amplifying Madlib’s own philosophies into Fantastic Planet-size cartoon freakouts.
There’s a good mix of conscious-rap uplift (‘Real Eyes’), diabolical threats (‘Put a Curse on You’), cop-mocking crime stories (‘Low Class Conspiracy’), and straight-up record-geek anthems – ‘Return of the Loop Digga’ is the spiritual sequel to Lootpack’s ‘Crate Diggin” that goes even deeper into Madlib’s record store archeology (“Would you happen to have any, uh, Stanley Cowell? Like 1970s stuff… I think his stuff is on Strata-East or something”) as Lord Quas details the modus operandi. The beats bear this out: Melvin Van Peebles spoken-word routines mingle with Quasimoto’s own comic asides, spiritual jazz and psych-funk deep cut samples set up alley-oops for knowingly deployed old school breaks (check for that ‘Impeach the President’-via-‘Top Billin” drop in ‘Basic Instinct’), and the whole atmosphere is perfectly calibrated to engage both high-energy head-nods and blunted zone-outs.
Shades of Blue: Madlib Invades Blue Note
(Blue Note, 2003)
By 2003, Madlib’s reputation as one of hip-hop’s top-tier jazz fiends was enough to land him a gig remixing tracks for Blue Note, a prestige label that had already been on nodding terms with its influence on sample-based production dating back to the early ’90s and their Blue Break Beats series. Like those collections, Shades of Blue draws in part from Blue Note’s late ’60s/early-mid ’70s when soul jazz reigned supreme, the same boom-bap-heavy material that provided so much of the structure of classic early ’90s NYC hip-hop and subsequently fell into Madlib’s crates on the other coast.
He works well within the classic structures of those breaks, maintaining the original spirit of songs like Gene Harris & His Three Sounds’s ‘Book of Slim’ (the scratch-heavy bricolage of ‘Slim’s Return’), Donald Byrd’s ‘Stepping Into Tomorrow’ (extended into a meditative haze with a foreshadowing MF DOOM cameo), and Ronnie Foster’s ‘Mystic Brew’ (redubbed ‘Mystic Bounce’ and given an uptempo disco-boogie revamp to set it a world apart from A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Electric Relaxation’ flip). But he shines through the older material, too – particularly a remix/cover of Horace Silver’s ‘Song for My Father’, a partially-live performance featuring members of Connie Price & the Keystones and given an enjoyably off-kilter vibe from loose-but-spirited contributions by bassist Monk Hughes, keyboardist Joe McDuphrey, and percussionist Malik Flavors. Those last three musicians, by the way? Let’s just say none of them have ever been spotted in the same room as Madlib.
(Stones Throw, 2003)
Jay Dee – later J Dilla – was dearly respected by pretty much everyone who worked with him. But the artists who he helped realise new ideas respected him the most, a respect that was often repaid with an exchange of influence. Jay and Madlib were both producer/MCs with underground followings, but they still diverged in important ways, from their spheres of influence (Dilla’s Soulquarian hip-hop/neo-soul reach vs. Madlib’s miles-underground woodshedding) to their contemporary styles (clean and glowing vs. hazy and dubby). But they were mutual followers, and once they started trading beat tapes between Detroit and L.A. they started working out the structure of their teamup on Champion Sound – and the kinds of mutual interests and concepts that would later inform both J Dilla’s Donuts and Madlib’s Beat Konducta mixtapes in the near future.
The gimmick seems simple enough – Dilla raps over Madlib beats, and vice-versa, alternating tracks between the two for a deliberately contrasting yet gradually unifying vibe. They wind up meeting each other halfway, with Dilla’s digital funk mode hissing and sparking a little grimier than usual and Madlib’s jazz-laced eccentricities pared down into the most no-nonsense heavy-hitting beat-driven side of his production. Their lyrical styles complete the fusion dance: Madlib’s understated flow and stoned wit make Dilla’s beats seethe inside a hotbox, while Dilla’s club-hedonist lyrics bring Madlib’s beats from the musty record stacks to the VIP section.
(Stones Throw, 2004)
There’s not much that can be said about Madlib’s teamup with MF DOOM that hasn’t been said before: long story short, it’s a top-of-their-game teamup that was legendary even before it came out (thanks in part to a release-date-sabotaging promo leak in 2003). Both DOOM and Madlib were of a similar mind as producer/MCs attuned to both the spiritual depth and the comic-book weirdness that hip-hop could bring, and two artists who were uniquely idiosyncratic on their own became the most compatible collaborators of the decade this side of Kanye and Hova. A favorite of public-radio aesthetes and underground hardcore heads, artists and weirdos, all-day smokers and sober listeners who found the music itself narcotic, Madvillainy remains one of the biggest bonafide successes both artists and their label had ever experienced.
It’s not hard to hear why: it’s weird, but weird in a way that feels somewhere between timeless and prescient. Madlib’s beats wrangle the old traditions of boom-bap into other forms (Skulk-lurch? Weave-jab? Glide-bounce?) that challenged DOOM’s ear for rhythm and got a fistful of anthems in return. Madlib went nova here: the hopped-up step-lively piano jazz of ‘Raid’, the schmaltz-turned-sinister bossa of ‘Curls’, the Benihana’d vintage R&B banger ‘Fancy Clowns’, and that bulletproof psilocybin soul-jazz ending run of ‘All Caps’/’Great Day Today’/’Rhinestone Cowboy’ alone put most of his indie peers’ formalism to crying shame.
The Funky Side of Life
(Stones Throw, 2005)
It’s not rare for someone who works heavily with samples to have a firsthand knowledge of the musicianship that went into the music being sampled – just ask funky drummer J-Zone, or classically trained violinist Dan the Automator. Madlib’s multi-instrumentalist side emerged early in his solo career; just check out 2001’s Angles Without Edges, billed under Yesterdays New Quintet, to get a sense of what he could do as a multitracked one-man bass/drums/keyboard/vibes ensemble. So by the time The Funky Side of Life dropped under his Sound Directions alias, he’d earned his reputation as someone who could reconstruct and conduct live music with the same feeling he could build a beat.
Like his live-band collaborations on Shades of Blue, Sound Directions has the backbone of instrumental input provided by the pseudonymous likes of keyboardist Morgan Adams III and bassist Derek Brooks (Madlib aliases both, along with his government name, Otis Jackson, Jr., on various percussion and keys). Members of Los Angeles-based funk project Connie Price and the Keystones provide the horns. And in a coup breakbeat fiends would lose their minds to get, the rhythms are held down by “Sloppy” Joe Johnson, whose ironic nickname belies the fact that his gig playing on Dexter Wansel’s 1976 fusion classic Life on Mars album landed his airtight drumming in the pantheon of classic breaks. The Funky Side of Life‘s itinerary of eclectic covers – Marcos Valle’s MPB reverie ‘Wanda Vidal’, Lesiman’s ’70s Italian library-funk obscurity ‘Play Car’, David Axelrod’s psych-jazz masterpiece ‘A Divine Image’ – isn’t just a sly reverse-engineering of Madlib’s break-source record collection. It’s a fun, gritty, minor soul-jazz classic on its own.
Madlib The Beat Konducta
Vol. 5-6 A Tribute to…
(Stones Throw, 2008)
Madlib’s first Beat Konducta mixes – 2005’s Vol. 1-2: Movie Scenes – were created roughly around the same time as an ailing Dilla was putting Donuts together. But the mutual acknowledgement, influence, and friendship between Madlib and J Dilla was evident almost immediately and lasted as long as it could – from their earliest Jaylib collaborations all the way through Dilla’s passing and on to the preservation of his legacy. The release of Donuts, Dilla’s crowning final statement and one of the finest instrumental hip-hop albums ever made, would grow to define the Stones Throw catalogue more than almost any other album released that decade. And few tributes to Dilla’s music and his legacy felt as the two-part Beat Konducta series that Madlib built off the memories and ideas stirred up by their past collaborations.
You can hear the stylistic acknowledgements right off the bat, with the mixes’ emphasis on the kind of choppy yet fluid, bass-heavy soul eclecticism Dilla traded in. It’s also peppered with direct references: the Mantronix air-raid siren that became a Dilla trademark, namedrop samples lifted from Champion Sound, the same “I don’t know” James Brown soundbite from ‘Make It Funky’ that Dilla built Slum Village’s ‘I Don’t Know’ around. But above everything else, there’s the pure emotion that Madlib can wring from these juxtaposed samples, of remembrance and re-envisioning, debt and gratitude, humour and sorrow.
Medicine Show #5: The History of the Loop Digga, 1990-2000
(Madlib Invazion, 2010)
Before the early Lootpack singles started building up in the late ’90s, Madlib’s production discography was scarce. He did stray beats for Tha Alkaholiks (‘WLIX’ from 1995’s Coast II Coast; ‘Tore Down’ and ‘Killin’ It’ from 1997’s Likwidation) and Boot Camp Clik members O.G.C. (‘Flappin’, off 1996’s The Storm), and the vast majority of early impressions didn’t really start gathering momentum until Lootpack’s first singles on Stones Throw in ’98. So in the midst of the massive dozen-plus-album series of archival releases, collaborations, mixes, and experiments that Madlib dubbed Medicine Show, he dropped this early-years collection that more or less clarifies the come-up years where he transformed from a workmanlike boom-bap practitioner to a full-fledged iconoclast on the verge of genius.
Of course, history is wildly blurred here: except for the tracklist’s order relegating the recordings from his early ’90s collective Crate Diggas Palace to the end, the old beat tapes Madlib pulled from his archives are jolted out of chronological recognition. Some tracks are mixed and cut into a continuous wave of music that hints at early-phase, no-nonsense versions of his beats and prototypes for tracks he’d later give to others or put on his own records. Others are left to unspool at their own pace, fragments of ideas that glint flashes of recognition. But the exact whens and wheres are kept close to the vest, ideas lifted from what could be another time but are contextualized into the head-swimming lo-fi continuum of all Madlib’s work. Even in a collection of work explicitly labeled as early and formative, time feels like an illusion.
Medicine Show #7: High Jazz
(Madlib Invazion, 2010)
Nearly a decade after Madlib put together his “Yesterdays Universe” assemblage of quasi-incognito jazz-musician alter egos, he expanded their names, identities, styles, and methods into a nearly impossible-to-parse squadron of imaginary players. Strikingly enough, it genuinely sounds like a multi-artist compilation, a culmination of a couple decades’ worth of accumulated fascination and knowledge and work spread out across a plethora of identities. This time around, his ensemble’s drawn in more and more real-world musicians to join him – including Azymuth drummer Ivan Conti, drummer/producer Karriem Riggins, and Roots member/pianist James Poyser – along with a dizzying array of genre exercises from electronic free jazz to cosmic post-bop to Latin fusion.
There’s a massive centerpiece from Yesterdays New Quintet, reprising their Wonder-homage Stevie Volume 1 mode for a recording of ‘Don’t You Worry Bout a Thing’ (allegedly) taken from a 2000 “live performance.” The Jahari Massamba Unit rolls through a beatific classic bop performance of ‘Pretty Eyes’ that glides like late ’60s Ahmad Jamal. The Kenny Cook Octet’s title track burbles through Headhunters-esque funk crossover that perfectly captures both the sound and the intangible feel of 1974. And ‘Tarzan’s Theme’, the Big Black Foot Band’s collaboration with The Black Spirits, is an Afrocentric spiritual jazz/spoken word piece in the righteously conscious mode of the Last Poets and the Watts Prophets.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
(Madlib Invazion, 2014)
It shouldn’t be that unlikely a pairing for Madlib to team up with a gangsta rapper of Freddie Gibbs’s calibre – Gibbs is as popular among the indie-crossover set as he is among the hardcore heads who checked for the Gary, Indiana MC dating back to his early mixtapes. And Madlib’s versatility behind the boards means he’s more than cut out for a classic-style yet still recognizsbly idiosyncratic take on the kind of beats that could accommodate Gibbs’s slick-flowing Chicago-adjacent drawl – or Danny Brown’s manic Detroit yelp (‘High’), or Scarface’s Texas-gangsta elder statesman reflections (‘Broken’), or Raekwon’s calculating narratives (‘Bomb’), or the L.A. clarity of OFWGKTA alumni Domo Genesis and Earl Sweatshirt (‘Robes’). A decade after Madvillainy, Madlib proves on Piñata that he can make just about any MC sound at home – and that the last couple generations of hip-hop artists aren’t as confined to the vagaries of regional affiliations and radio-ready marketing as they used to be.
Plus, it’s just plain across-the-board brilliant as a portfolio of beats. ‘Thuggin” might be one of Madlib’s all-time top five productions, a turn-of-the-eighties slice of de Wolfe British library music perfectly exploited for the ethereally wistful qualities of some semi-anonymous studio hand’s quasi-Floyd guitar riffs. ‘Uno’ distorts the diamond gleams of New Age synth-prog until it sounds tailor-made for Monte Carlo window-rattles. And the stripped-down soul of ‘Harold’s’, ‘Knicks’, and ‘Shame’ put him in the kind of rarefied class that made his funk-filleting gig doing ‘No More Parties in L.A.’ for Yeezy’s The Life of Pablo a natural destination. This is Madlib’s purest foray into mainstream hip-hop as a traditionalist – and that he comes out of it still at the vanguard of the genre’s avant-garde possibilities is all a veteran producer could wish for.
Madlib plays Sunfall festival in London on 12th August and is headlining one hell of an after party at XOYO, which you can grab tickets for here.
Main image: Carl Pocket
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Registered in England and Wales under no. 04184222.