Friday, May 22, 2009

Simple Minds “New Gold Dream (81, 82, 83, 84)” (1982)

New Gold Dream holds a special place in my heart because it is the first Simple Minds record I ever owned. It was the record that really got me to dismiss their “80s Music” legacy and seriously examine their back catalog.

The story of "New Gold Dream" begins in January 1982, when the group recorded demos for “King Is White and In the Crowd,” “Promised You a Miracle,” and “Hunter and the Hunted.” Following these demo sessions, the group returned to the road until the end of spring. A completed version of “Promised You a Miracle” was released as a single in April 1982. Much to everyone’s surprise, it crashed the top twenty, landing at number 13.

With a top-20 U.K. single and a supportive record label, Virgin, behind them, the band retreated to Fife in late spring to record some more demos for the new album. Producer Pete Walsh would later recall “They would jam for two hours on the same song, and then we would listen to it back on cassette, pick the good bits and make the song around that. A lot of it was what they'd call pure shit, or not very good anyway, and there were some magic bits that maybe were never captured on the album.”

Following the Fife rehearsals, the group headed to London to record the album’s basic tracks. Virgin encouraged Walsh to capture the energy of the group’s live sound, and so it was decided that the album would be a live studio album with minimal overdubs. To achieve this, the band would play each song several times, and Walsh would assemble an edit of the best performances.

Now, lineup changes were nothing new to the group. So it was rather unsurprising when they ran into drummer issues while recording the album. Drummer Kenny Hyslop, who played on “Promised You a Miracle,” left the group after that single’s release and Mike Ogletree was quickly drafted in to replace him. But despite his competence on the road, the other lads found his style of drumming was not meshing well with the new material. In an attempt to rectify this, Pete Walsh suggested his friend Mel Gaynor to fill in the gaps. Ultimately, both Ogletree and Gaynor are credited on the album’s sleeve:

Ongletree plays on:
“Colours Fly and Catherine Wheel"
"Somebody up There Likes You”
"New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)

while Gaynor plays on:
"Someone Somewhere in Summertime",
"Big Sleep",
"New Gold Dream.",
"Glittering Prize",
"Hunter and the Hunted"
"The King is White and in the Crowd".

Upon completing the basic live tracks, the band again moved house to record the overdubs. This time to Virgin’s “The Manor Studios” in rural Oxfordshire. The manor was more country club than recording studio, and the group regularly dipped out to swim or play ping pong when they found themselves feeling stuck. If only every band had this sort of luxury...

Interestingly enough, Simple Minds did not stop touring altogether while recording. A quick examination of their 1982 calendar shows that they managed to squeeze in a number of European Festival appearances between June and August. That the group were able to keep such a hectic schedule AND be productive in the studio is impressive. It really makes me wonder how bands today can defend taking such lengthy pauses between touring and recording.

The first word that comes to mind when I think of “New Gold Dream” is FOCUS. “Sister Feelings Call/Sons & Fascination” and “Empires and Dance” may have been ambitious, but they were cluttered and even sound unfinished in some parts. But it seems as though the heavy experimentation that defined Simple Minds’ first four albums paid off. On “New Gold Dream,” they emerge as a band with a sound that is very much their own. While the album does sound glossier than previous releases, it never comes off as boring. The melodies are strong and memorable, and the songs are cohesive. So unlike "Empires and Dance," it's much easier to listen to this album start-to-finish on repeat.
My favorite song on the album? “Hunter and the Hunted,” because it features it features a keyboard solo byHerbie Hancock. Apparently, the jazz-funk legend was recording in a studio next door when the band asked him if he’d like to contribute to the album. His solo is probably of the most poignant and moving performances on the album.

*Interestingly enough, this album sits very comfortable next to Roxy Music’s final release, Avalon, which was released in June of 1982. Simple Minds, like many of their contemporaries (e.g. Duran Duran), were heavily influenced by Roxy Music. So it’s rather interesting to notice how their work matched up stylistically in 1982.

More Information HERE
Wikipedia Entry HERE

Monday, May 11, 2009

Simple Minds “Empires and Dance” (1980)

For better or for worse, people will remember Glasgow’s Simple for two reasons
1) “Don’t You Forget About Me” from The Breakfast Club
2) Their performance at Live Aid.

While the band certainly benefited from the exposure, it’s unfortunate that they became so bland and pompous in the late 1980s. To me, it seemed as though this group had produced nothing of any real value. So you can only imagine my surprise when I learned that the cover of the Manic Street Preachers “The Holy Bible” was inspired by Simple Minds’ “Empire and Dance.” I remember thinking “Wait, what? Simple Minds? The band with the song from the Breakfast Club – get the fuck out!” Since then, I’ve gained a real appreciation for Simple Minds’ early albums and I’ve decided to share some of the things I’ve learned about this group over the last couple of years.

First up, 1980's “Empires and Dance.”

At the end of 1979, Simple Minds embarked on a tour in support of their sophomore album, “Real to Real Cacophony.” While their record label, Arista, initially refused to release the album, critics loved it and the band was excited to hit the road and expand their audience. Between October 1979 and June 1980, they performed in the UK, Germany, France, Sweden, and the Benelux region. They even managed to squeeze in two dates in New York.

It was the European leg of the tour that turned out to be the biggest eye-opener for the young band. The Continent was stumbling further into economic and political crisis thanks to a spike in oil prices, civil unrest, and a recently reignited Cold War. Singer Jim Kerr would later recall “I was twenty, and I looked around me. We had the talent always to be in the place where the neo-Nazis exploded another bomb. Bologna, a synagogue in Paris, a railway station in Munich. Don't tell me anything like that could leave you unmoved.” Despite the ever present instability, the tour was a resounding success and left a profound effect on the young group.

Upon returning to the UK in June of 1980, Simple Minds immediately began work on a new album. This time around, they were much better prepared to record. Seven new songs had been road tested and demoed by the time the band entered the studio. The album, which was produced by John Leckie, was completed during the summer and delivered to Arista Records, who refused to release it. But after much pressure from the band and their management (Jim Kerr took it upon himself to regularly telegram label representatives to release the album), “Empires and Dance” was released in September 1980. But this was not without controversy; Arista initially pressed 15,000 copies, waited for those to sell out, and then pressed another 15,000. As a result the album stalled at number 41.

(That’s all well and good, but what about the music).

The album begins with the stunning, “I Travel,” that was inspired by the group’s visit to a divided Berlin and tumultuous changes in geopolitics. Jim Kerr’s lyrics reflect both fear and fascination. (Again, he was only 20 years old at the time). Musically, it’s one of the most exciting songs the band ever produced. Drummer Brian McGee and bassist Derek Forbes provide a funky backdrop to Charlie Burchill’s soaring guitar and keyboardist Mick MacNeil’s gurgling synthesizers. At times, the song recalls Donna Summer’s 1977 “I Feel Love,” a song that went to #1 in the UK Charts. That such a danceable track could come from a Glaswegian band is actually no surprise. Dance Music was immensely popular among the post-punk crowd, with groups like Orange Juice singing the praises of Chic.

Now, while “I Travel,” is an excellent leadoff track, it is a bit misleading. Yes, the album has its groovy moments, e.g. “Celebrate,” and “30 Frames per Second,” but the remainder of the songs are not that dance floor friendly, and they draw more heavily from the experimental end of the Krautrock spectrum. “Twist/Run/Repulsion,” seems to capture the feelings of confusion and alienation that one might experience in a European train station – complete with announcements in French. (The French announcements are actually passages from Lolita read by Chantalle Jeunet, a friend of the group).

The album’s undeniable apex is “This Fear of Gods,” a song that best be described a Giorgio Moroder track being played at half-speed. The steady bass and drums are augmented by screeching saxophones and synths; all of this topped with a distant and ominous vocal by Jim Kerr. “Don’t You Forget About Me,” it is not.

Listening to “Empires and Dance,” I get the impression that Simple Minds were a young band in a hurry. They were full of ideas and wanted to commit them to tape as quickly as possible. Perhaps they should’ve taken a little bit more time to polish their ideas and make a more cohesive record. This is not to say that this is a bad record. But I can sort of understand Arista’s frustration with the group.

Almost immediately following the completion of this album, Simple Minds hit the road. This time as an opening act for Peter Gabriel, who was touring in support of Peter Gabriel III (aka Melt, featuring the songs “Games Without Frontier”, “Biko”). Problems with Arista Records would come to a head in early 1981. The label had routinely failed to promote albums, singles and concerts and the band nearly broke up in order to avoid dealing with the situation. Eventually, they were let go from their Arista contract (at considerable cost, the band was forced to take on a significant amount of debt) and signed to Virgin.

Download the album HERE
Buy the excellent reissue from Amazon.
A very helpful source of information on this album HERE.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Friendly Chat with 100 dBs

I have a really wonderful story about Dan “100dBs” Brenner. Back when were students at University of Maryland, he expressed an interest in Dj-ing at one or two of the local bars in College Park. He went to every bar in town (all four of them) and handed the nightlife promoters a copy of a reggae/hip-hop mix he’d made.

None of them returned his calls.

A year later, me, him and a few of our roommates began throwing parties at a dilapidated colonial house that we called the Francis Estates. The combination of Dan’s dj-ing, cheap drinks (dollar shots, $4 for all you can drink beer) and a very good looking crowd made the parties legendary. If only the folks at Cornerstone and Santa Fe knew what they’d missed out on…

It is now 2009, and 100 dBs has not DJ’d a grimey college basement in at least two years. But his strong sense of independence and belief in DIY ethics has not diminished one bit. If anything, it helped prepare him to navigate the unfriendly waters of the NYC hip-hop scene. Homeboy was kind enough to take a few minutes to speak to us about setting up an independent label, real vs fake DJs, and NY’s finest fried chicken establishments.



Right off the bat son, tell us a little bit about your new label, Drum Attix. What is the label’s philosophy? Who are your artists?

Drum Attix is the label I'm officially launching this year. I think our goal is the same as any label: bring dope music to the people. But I think I have a unique perspective in that I really embrace technology while maintaining interest in traditional techniques. All of us are down with that philosophy in some way. There are a few rappers I'm producing for... of course Ryan-O'Neil (we're working on a second LP now), Sirah (really fly girl from LA), and Hicoup (dirty Jersey all day).

We've got DJ Scallywag, whose club mixes are just phenomenal. I swear, I lived in Maryland for years but didn't fully appreciate Bmore Club til I started spinning with him. DJ Far East is a young cat who is really ahead of his time with the mashups he's been executing. It's Overture are also killing it with the mashups, and their mixes are always flawless. Nefarious and Voidstar Runner are working on a grimy EP of breaks and blips.

One of the projects I'm most excited about is a full-length dub treatment of NYC's own Slackers. A while back Dave Hillyard handed me the masters to their back catalog and I've been slowly compiling a series of remixes for them. So yeah, I have my hands full, and we're coming from all angles.


What are some of your upcoming releases & projects for 2009?
#1. Sirah's EP. This girl has tons of attitude and an appreciation for classic material that is pretty hard to find these days. I went out to LA this past January to record with her and we did this release from scratch in five days. She is a beast in the studio.

#2.Hipster Bullshit Redux. This is really just a bunch of leftovers that people have been asking me about. No real concept, just remixes and such that didn't see the light of day for whatever reason.

#3.Voidstar / Nefarious Split EP. Nefarious is a jungle producer (yeah, jungle) with an attention to detail that scares the shit out of me. Voidstar makes breakcore and electronic compositions that bump. These guys are going to blow out your eardrums

What advice do you have for artists who are trying to release their music independently?
Forget about getting signed. Put out some QUALITY music for free, do a lot of shows in your hometown, and build a support system. Slow and steady is the way. Everyone is so worried about blowing RIGHT NOW that they're missing the point: if you release garbage today, nobody will be listening tomorrow.

What’s changed the most about your working habits and lifestyle as a producer/DJ?
I think a few years ago I was still pretty scattershot with scheduling sessions and knowing how something is going to form. These days I'm still pretty random, but I generally know what's going to work and what's not before I even approach it. I've also learned how to work with different artists and understand who needs to be pushed and who needs to be left alone. It's important to focus on the human aspects of producing a session; definitely even more important than the technical ability to do so.



OK you seem to be a bit of a serial mover. When you first moved to NY, you were in Sunset Park. Then you were in the East Village. Then you were in Bushwick for a minute, now you’re back in Sunset Park. What’s real good man?
I'll tell you what's NOT real good. Scumbag landlords who don't turn on the heat in the winter. To tell you the truth, I'm really happy to be back in south Brooklyn. The rent is reasonable, kids don't have asymmetrical haircuts, and there are (a few) trees. And people are definitely less uptight. No one can yell at you for swamping your building with dub basslines when they're cranking bachata all day.

Well I'm sure Sunset Park is glad to have you back. You spent quite a few years in the DC area, and you’ve made a handful of appearances here since you left. What do you think it would’ve been like if you’d stayed?
Well, I think I probably would have started a dancehall/reggae party somewhere and that would be that. Not that there isn't any opportunity for growth in DC, but I found it sort of... anti-competitive. I feel like it's easy to get comfortable and stay "in a scene" down there.
In New York, I feel more stimulated, but yeah, I grind my teeth at night.

If you could move to any other city to continue doing what you’re doing (DJ ing, producing, etc) what would it be?
I really like Berlin, but it's really cold there. I can't quite deal with that, but the scene there is incredible. Still cheap as hell, and very friendly to artists and musicians.
If I'm honest, I'd like to go to Bucharest for a while too.


It seems as though these days everyone’s a DJ. But in my opinion, you’re not really a DJ if you’re not beatmatching, scratching, and doing good transitions between songs. Is it just me, or are people too drunk to realize that so many cats are trainwrecking for hours on end? What’s your take on the rise of the amateur DJ?
It's not just you. Those people are drunk.
Here's the deal: clubs don't want to pay twice as much for entertainment if they don't have to. So kids get Serato, show up to the club, and are happy to take $100 home for the night. The really great DJs (who aren't huge yet) are losing jobs to these guys... it's just the market playing out, but in the end the bar patrons are on the losing end.

It's funny, my brother (a senior in high school) recently told me he wanted to start DJing. Well, I went back home to surprise him with two turntables and a mixer... and he immediately asked about Serato. I told him he should run blind for at least half a year or so until he can blend properly. There's no other way to truly understand the mechanics of what's going on. We're losing the physical and tactile "feeling" of playing with instruments. We'd rather see what's going on than feel it, because it's a shortcut... and I think this is a vital oversight. And in more practical terms... what happens when your Serato box dies in the club?

What makes a good remix of a rock or pop song? What makes a bad one?
I think often times, producers feel like they have to outdo the original. A great remix is one that goes down a totally different avenue but respects the original ideas.
Redos are boring. I don't know.. take Rihanna when she did Tainted Love. Terrible. I would be embarassed to put that out. But I'm not Rihanna. An example of a good one? I don't know... oh! Diplo's old remix of Peter Bjorn and John's "Young Folks" was kind of cute. I like what he did to it.


Last time we spoke, we spent quite a bit of time discussing the work of J. DIlla. Is there anybody out there who, in your opinion, is carrying on Dilla’s legacy?
Well of course, everyone's talking about dudes like Flying Lotus and such... I think he's as good a torch carrier as any, really. It's good to see people loosening up their drums again.

Your thoughts on the return of MF DOOM?
Uh, he already returned. The new album was OK. At least there are some Dilla beats. He should probably stop trying to rhyme the last five syllables of every couplet just for the sake of doing so, though.

Favorite chicken spot in NY?
Birdie's in the East Village. Unfortunately the rent has gotten so high that the owner is closing it down soon. Mara's (also in the Village) is great too but kind of expensive. Nowadays it's just JFK halal chicken in Brooklyn.

Best record you’ve stumbled across in the last few months?
Recently I signed my mom up for Last.FM and she's been putting me onto a bunch of shit. Have you ever heard "Magic Fly" by Space? I feel like Animal Collective's video for "My Girls" really ripped off their video. Anyway, it's a 70s electronic pop jam that kind of blew my mind. Not too much new shit is really jumping out at me right now. Recently I've been listening to a lot of Stax shit. Booker T and the MGs' Soul Dressing is a classic, anything by Carla Thomas is great too.

Editor’s Update:
On 4/20/2009 100 dBs released Mr. Echo Inna Killah Dub. It is available for download here.


Friday May 8th 2009
100 dBs and Scallywag will be spinning at Flat Out!
@ Rock and Roll Hotel in Washington DC.

Saturday May 9th 2009
100dBs, Scallywag, Ryan O’Neil, Balagan, Hicoup,Outputmessage, and others will be spinning/performing
@ the Hexagon in Baltimore, MD