Album Review: Tensnake – ‘Glow’

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Imagine an album that was the result of a night of passion between Random Access Memories and Settle, one whose heritage contained the 2010 hit ‘Coma Cat’ and oozed deep disco. Of course, Nile Rogers is it’s cool great-uncle, Jacques Lu Cont babysat it, and it looks up to Moderat, Lindstrom and Pharrell Williams just as much as Prince and Michael Jackson. A little spoilt, a good dancer, weighed down with high expectations after this drawn-out, hyperbolic comparison. Born the 10th March 2014 at Synthesiser General: Tensnake’s first LP, Glow.

Though it isn’t as quite as good (and certainly won’t make as much money) as Disclosure and Daft Punk’s 2013 giants, their DNA looms loud in the 80s funk guitars, UK Garage beats and the sheer dancefloor pop appeal strewn through the record. And like it’s chart-topping ancestors, Glow is infused with dance music’s past, paying homage to funk, house and disco as it ranges from pounding intensity to inane club-pop. It’s even got a meta-‘Giorgio by Moroder’ bit. Wisely, since he is neither French nor yet universally revered, Tensnake doesn’t try the philosophical robot angle, but mocks his work: the vocals insist “I’ve been listening for ten minutes already to this Tensnake shit. What the fuck are you guys talking about. I know, but whatever, I don’t need any twinkly, 80s, c’mon-lets-wear-a-tanktop-shit-fucking-rah-rah-rah-shit. I just want something hard, I just want big bass like, wah-wah-wah, like dubstep, like club step, like electro”.

Intermittently the strident 80s pop and the 2-step vibes come together in hugely fun disco flourishes, as on the pulsing ‘Good Enough To Keep’ or 2-step flavoured ‘See Right Through’, both of which sport excellent, diva-worthy deliveries from Fiora. This isn’t house for skanking or eye-rolling or gurning, but for all out, probably-will-be-embarrassed-later, committed boogieing. Other potential soundtracks for montages of silly discoing include the Michael Jackson-referencing, funk-laden ‘Selfish’ and irresistible slink ‘Love Sublime’ (feat. Nile Rogers! Of course!), which takes the minimal disco of ‘Inspector Norse’ and blends in a vocal line worthy of Kylie.

With all these references to juggle, you might be wondering whether Tensnake risks losing his own sound under those of his influences, but there are careful, contemporary clues scattered throughout and 2014 rises clearly through the callbacks and tipped hats. There’s a hint of trap in ’58 BPM’’s intro before it becomes a slow-burn 80s ballad, an EDM wobble amongst ‘No Colour’’s Discovery synths and hip-hop beat, that anchors Glow in the present. Occasionally, the cheese gets away from Niemerski, but on the whole, it’s fantastically produced, hip-friendly dance fun.

Forgive me one last link to R. A. M. and Settle…  This is yet another dance album that avoids the pitfalls of stringing together separately conceived singles. Just like the aforementioned, regardless of many collaborations and genre switches, Glow makes complete sense taken as a whole. From the stretching bass muscles and flexed synths of the uplifting warm-up ‘First Song’ through to the Hawtin-worthy repetitious build of ‘Last Song’, this is a real escalation in Tensnake’s sound. Dancing is awesome. It’s sexy, it’s fun – we can stand to do more dancing!

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Festival Review – Sonar 2013

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Maybe it’s because most of what I already knew about Barcelona was based on a Tony Hawk’s level, but I was impressed by Sónar’s host city. Despite their crippled economy, staggeringly high unemployment, and increasingly fierce campaign for Catalonian independence (or perhaps because of it – Sónar apparently brings in around €52 million), Barcelona was evidently embracing Sónar’s 20th anniversary festivities.

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This year, Sónar by Day debuted its new location by Montjuïc magic fountains and the Palau Nacional (leaving both holidaying families and monged festival-goers confused by each other’s presence in the surrounding streets), with fewer queues and crowding than ever before.

Closing out Thursday’s music, Lindstrom and Todd Terje impressed with a live set of scorching, irresistible disco as the sun set. Of course ‘Inspector Norse’ brought the house down, but ‘Snooze 4 Love’ and ‘Lanzarote’ stood out too, and their rework of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ was an infectious, perfectly absurd, end to the day.

The best of Friday came from Elektro Guzzi and Diamond Version; the former creating devastating soulful techno from nothing more than the unlikely tools of a three-piece rock band, whilst the latter sent dark glitch and minimal loops throbbing through the crowd’s ears and chests.

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Chromatics, in one of the Day line-up’s most anticipated appearances, put on an absolute masterclass during their Saturday afternoon slot, with most of the crowd looking as though they’d dragged themselves to the show after mere minutes of sleep, determined to catch a band who were arguably slightly out of place amongst all the house and techno, let alone the glaring sunshine. Kill For Love songs dominated, alongside a delicious cover of ‘Running Up That Hill’. A sultry, majestic end to their European tour.

Finally, closing Sónar by Day, and following on from the Friday night’s EDM onslaught, came the gurgling trap of TNGHT. Hudson Mohawk and Lunice doled out the drops as they danced beneath a fairly conservative light show and an onslaught of bass. Earworm ‘Goooo’ was colossal, and closer ‘Higher Ground’ gave the soundsystem the most strenuous workout of the weekend.

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 Sónar By Night

Whilst Sónar’s daytime incarnation retains a classic festival vibe (sunshine, fake grass), Sónar by Night has a completely different atmosphere. More a rave than a festival, it takes place in a series of enormous aircraft hangers and the roofless, walled spaces that link them. There were massive empty spaces, which came to act as chill out zones, and, if you were feeling more recklessly fucked, there were dodgems.

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First then, the rather controversial presence of some of the U.S.’s biggest EDM acts. Though there had been some pre-emptive complaints regarding Skillex’s headlining slot, he had a decent crowd, and many people seemed to be willing to give him a chance to prove them wrong. From atop his giant spaceship, Skrilly jumped around and kissed his Barça shirt, before firing off some pretty impressive lasers and “dropping the bass”. The music didn’t stand up to the visuals. I went with an open-mind, but it was repetitive and dull, despite the aggression. Earlier, Baauer put in a fun, fast DJ set (though it was rather more commercial than Sónar aficionados would have liked), but it was Diplo’s Major Lazer who triumphed, battering down any resistance with a joyously energetic performance. With confetti canons, a Wayne Cohen hamster ball, and manically gyrating dancers on stage, most of the crowd were close to drowning in their own sweat as much of the second album and the rapturously greeted ‘Get Free’ boomed out – it was a long way from typical Sónar fare, but they pulled it off with aplomb.

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Next, the abundance of disco influences. Breakbot’s live bass and electric guitar brought slinky Saturday Night Fever struts to the dancefloor, whilst Justice’s DJ set, though somewhat predictable, packed the punch of ‘We Are Your Friends’, a raft of hits from , and even the Ronettes and Diana Ross. Of course, the disco scene was ruled by the Pet Shop Boys who dominated the mainstage with the festival’s strongest visuals (sorry, Skrillex) and their high-camp power-pop. With suitably Spanish bull dancers and an array of costume changes (including an amazing disco-ball helmet for Lowe), their newer records were followed by an encore that boasted more hits than anyone else on the bill; ‘It’s A Sin’, ‘Rent’, and ‘Always on My Mind’ have lost none of their irreverence and none of their hooks.

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Of course, opening proceedings amid widespread excitement, were Kraftwerk bringing the same show that a select few saw at the Tate Modern to a crowd of 10,000+. Everyone was childishly excited about the (much-photographed, suitably 80s) 3D glasses, but the robotic Düsseldorfers opened big with a goosebump-inducing ‘We Are The Robots’, and everyone remembered quite how phenomenal it was to be watching the genre’s godfathers, more than forty years into their career. A full length ‘Autobahn’ proved slightly inaccessible, but ‘Radioactivity’, ‘Tour de France’ and ‘Radioactivity’ were amongst other highlights, all paired with simplistic, iconic 3D images.

Despite the mutterings about EDM and the slightly poppier fare on offer, there remained a very strong “traditional Sónar” line-up of outstanding techno. Richie Hawtin’s ENTER provided hypnotic pulsing techno, with Hawtin showering the 6am crowd in black confetti and a surprise Skrillex appearance! 2ManyDJs’ mashup set, littered with huge hits from Kavinsky to MGMT, demonstrated incredible live mixing and allowed everyone to finally lose their shit to ‘Get Lucky’.

Inevitably though, the absolute best sets came from Sónar’s core sound – veteran European techno and house producers. Paul Kalkbrenner blended new tracks with classics and dropped a phenomenal set, laden with touchstone Berlin techno. As ‘Sky and Sand’ blasted out, everyone hugged anyone within reach – a perfect conclusion and amongst Sónar 2013’s best moments. Equally impressive was Laurent Garnier’s French house, which like Hawtin, enjoyed the euphoria of the closing, sunrise slot. ‘Jacques in the Box’ is always fantastic, and closing with Prodigy’s ‘Out Of Space’ was inspired. As Garnier had played the first ever Sónar, it was a neat full-circle.

Amongst the Guadí and the rollerbladers, the lost tourists and the omnipresent Catalonian flags, lurks an utterly incredible festival. Festivals are always about euphoria; but Sónar does it best.

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