Friday, May 18, 2012

Pressing Play

There is a disproportionate amount of respect going towards Disk Jockeys these days and I feel the need to say something about it.

You may have noticed clubs and bars advertising upcoming events starring a DJ, not a band, or a musician, but a DJ.   Now a DJ serves one fundamental purpose, playing music. The difference between a good DJ and a bad one falls entirely on how well they understand their respective audience. A good DJ will choose the right songs to incite the crowd; while a bad DJ will fail do this. It’s that simple really, as long as you know your audience disk jockeying is easy.

Many “musicians” have taken the whole disk jockey thing to another level. They mix, scratch, and do a bunch of other things I do not appreciate or understand. I do not understand what they are doing, or the rationale behind ruining on a song.

There are many musicians who use electronics to great effect to create music. VNV Nation, Covenant, and a majority of modern pop music follow a methodology of using computers to laver, organize, and then play various sounds thus creating music. I would dare say that this methodology for creating music resembles producing music much more so than disk jockeying, because that is an obvious observation. Timing is a tricky thing, using a machine to yield perfect timing within a series of multilayer complex sounds is perfectly understandable and interesting. When you look back on the history of music, all music, the great orchestras were accomplishing this same goal only without any of the wonders of modern technology.

If respect is to be divided out fairly, it is obvious the composers of yesteryear and those few who still exist today deserve a sizeable amount more respect than the producers calculating out sounds with machines. I mean no disrespect to the producers of such music, I mention VNV Nation and Covenant earlier out of respect as I enjoy both those groups, however the struggle to write complicated orchestra based music faces the great challenge of human error. A composer of classical stylized music must consider how to recreate all those complex sounds and to organize and time it so the song can be reproduced live by a group of humans. That is a greater challenge, and our respect for Beethoven should always outweigh our respect for any electronic producer.

Having said that, producing electronic music can still be very cool, as the same kind of imagination is necessary to write music, in fact the whole creative side of this comparison should be noted as a draw or equal. It takes equal creativity or brilliance to write good music whether you are preparing a piece for a whole orchestra to play or just a machine. The difference here is choice of tools. Beethoven and his many great colleges used men and women on instruments to create beautiful music; meanwhile “DJ”s uses a machine.

If you read over my opening statement you will see that I am not challenging the respect owed to song writers, I am challenging the overwrought respect we have bestowed to DJs. A disk jockey is someone who plays music, not necessarily someone who writes music. Most disk jockeys have never written a song. These two functions, writing music and playing music, are mutually exclusive; if you create music than you are a producer/song writer; if you play music for others than you are a disk jockey. You can be one or the other, or both, or neither.   I am only challenging the respect we give the disk jockey.

Someone recently told me that more people go to see Lady Gaga to hear her DJ than to see her. No; just no. Lady Gaga, despite what anyone might think of her (I think she is a fucking weirdo, and I’m not convinced she is weird in a way I like) has written many songs; she is the producer. Also, when going to a Lady Gaga concert you going to see her perform her songs. It would not surprise me to learn that yet another pop star lip syncs in concert, I believe Lady Gaga is innocent of this, I have seen her sing with her natural voice and I see no reason why she should resort to such silly shallow tactics, however it would not surprise me to learn otherwise, but even if she does lip sync that does not change my point. Given the nature of Lady Gaga’s heavily electronic based music there is little “performing” necessary, all the sounds needed to share Lady Gaga’s music was from a machine, all she needs to do now is have someone play the right songs at the right time so she can sing and dance and do whatever weirdo thing she is going to do along with the song.  So when you go to a Lady Gaga concert you are witnessing Lady Gaga singing all her songs. Who the fuck is impressed with the dipshit back stage? Perhaps he works very hard and keeps things organized, but he is in no way a musician for performing this function, that would be like saying the roadies are better musicians than the band they are prepping the stage for because you like the set up. It could be anybody back there; it literally takes little or no creative skill.

Another comment I have heard is that DJs create an ambience for the crowd. They can create the ebbs and flows of the crowd’s moods with music. That’s nice, and probably true of the night club scene but that simply refers me to my original comment about playing the right songs for the right people, at the right times; not a particularly challenging task. This is a skill of extroverted understanding of people more than any calculable quantifiable skill. This is like being a bar tender. Any dumbass can pour drinks, the real purpose of your job is to be charming and likable; that is an intangible skill; as unwarranted for respect as being physically attractive or smelling good. The only skill required of a DJ is to play songs people will like.

We have finally come to the point where I must address this delusion that DJs make songs their own. When disk jockeys scratch and mix songs live, they are not making songs their own for a variety of reasons. First I have never, and I know I never will, hear a mixed song live that sounded half as good as the untouched version. It is almost like the original song had a deliberate song structure for a reason and someone randomly screwing it up and added “bleeps” and “blobs,” is adding NOTHING of value. Second you are not recreating or reimaging a song when you randomly stretch it out, or make it repeat at times; all you are really doing is playing the song strangely. When taking on the challenge of a cover song the option to re-imagine that song becomes present, you can change the structure, the instruments used, the timing, whatever, you can make the song your own. Even if you cover a song and add nothing new to it, you still must recreate the song from scratch. When I play guitar and I am playing other people’s songs (which is about all I can do) I may not be very good at it, but it cannot be denied that I am creating those sounds on my guitar and the vocals are coming from my mouth. So no matter how bad I am be at recreating the song I am covering, I can at least say I am performing the song. A DJ has done nothing to recreate anything. All the original sounds are there at the press of a button. Nothing in his arsenal is truly his, and never is he performing anything. The DJ is not a musician.

A disk jockey does not create or perform music; he is just presses the play button.

Back in the 1920s and 1930s a lot of music critics were furious with current “song writers.” What had become a popular trend at the time was to take old pieces of classical music, most notable Tchaikovsky and the “1812 Overture,” and to cut and rearrange the music in a different manner. These “song writers” even had the audacity to put their names on the final product and claim they had created a new song. You can imagine the anger music critics and Tchaikovsky fans alike felt. This method of “song writing” was little more than plagiarism, and worse than that it was a parade of egoistical glorified incompetence. No one will ever be able to improve upon the “1812 Overture,” the song is pretty much perfect. It takes an incredibly arrogant person to think they could do a better job at structuring Tchaikovsky work better than the man himself, and it takes an even greater fool to attempt to do so by sampling the man’s work without any of the painstaking challenges of recreating the song from scratch, you remember we call that a cover song. When you think about these assholes back in the 1930s claiming to be song writers because they pissed on the great Tchaikovsky, you will realise they were really the DJs of their time, and the horrible things that were being done to good music back then is a problem that has not gone away.

I get the appeal of being a DJ. You want to make a connection with people through music, music you love. You may lack the talent to create and/or perform good music so you branched out in a different way, not unlike myself writing these reviews, the difference is ego. I am under no illusions that what I am doing is some great feat. It has always been easier to criticize than create, that is true of all things, and they often say those who cannot, teach. I cannot be a great musician, it was a great dream but my life took a different path. I accept the humble role of amateur music critic and try to connect with people through music I love in a different way. You wanted to be a great musician but you became a DJ instead, there is nothing wrong with that, but playing songs at someone’s wedding does not make you fucking Daft Punk. And to the rest of us, do not be fooled by the glamorous guise electronic music has created for these tools who press play on the tool that plays music. The true greats of electronic music are producers first and DJs second. The people who are good DJs are the same sort of people who are good bartenders, they are charming and likable, we enjoy their company, we enjoy their tastes in music, but they are not great talents, they are not talented at all.

Keep on Rocking in the free world.

- Colin Kelly

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Andrew W.K. - Fly Gundam!

In 1979 “Mobile Suit Gundam,” the first Gundam series, and the first ever “real-robot” anime was released. Unlike many works of science fiction the original Gundam was actually very well thought out and in many ways very believable (there was science actually present amongst the fiction). Unlike many war dramas, Yoshituki Tomino had a great talent for writing complex war strategies and relatable characters on both sides of the battle for us to deeply relate too and care about. Unlike almost every Gundam series that followed the original “Mobile Suit Gundam” is intelligent, mature and just fantastic.

You know who else is a fan of “Mobile Suit Gundam?” Andrew W.K.

If there was ever a moment that demanded a double take of my attention it was discovering tracks from Andrew W.K.’s “Gundam Rock” album. I was browsing trying to find a good version of “Char the Great,” (he is by the way) when I found a link to Andrew W.K. – “Char the Great.” Thoughts like “what really?” ran through my head, and sure enough it was real, and it was awesome. To my surprise, and delight, Andrew W.K. had not just taken a random anime song and done a random cover, no, he took a classic anime and redid the entire soundtrack.

The original soundtrack to “Mobile Suit Gundam,” is good. Perhaps the original Gundam’s soundtrack is not so amazing that I would consider it a must listen, but it is good enough that if you watched the show I am sure you would enjoy the score that went with it, very jazzy songs, and as I understand it, a cult classic in Japan; a cult classic in Japan, not in North America.

It takes a special kind of nerd to make an all metal, all English, version of the “Mobile Suit Gundam” soundtrack and that is exactly the kind of person we are dealing with. After discovering the album “Gundam Rock,” and taking a few moments to realize that I was in fact not dreaming, the craziness of it all really sank in, and I realized that Andrew W.K. is probably the world’s most badass nerd... ever.

Char Aznable (The Great)
In my personal opinion the best song from the “Mobile Suit Gundam” soundtrack has always been “Char   the Great,” now I am biased since like most people Char Aznable is my favourite character. Every time   Char appeared in his red Zaku that steady drum beat would play and the trumpet would lead the violins in, and the violins would lead that sassy saxophone in. It was always so cool, the song was a like a quick salsa   instrument in space, and for some reason that really seemed appropriate for Char the “Red Comet.” Again I   am biased but I feel the best song on “Gundam Rock,” is still “Char the Great,” but if I am to share only one song with you it should be the main theme, “Fly Gundam!” I just thought it necessary to give “Char the Great,” an honorable mention.   

“Fly Gundam!” is the main theme from the original Gundam series, and predictably the song is about the Gundam itself. Now like any cover we have to ask if it honoured the original, and Andrew W.K. being the fan that he seems to be has stayed very true to the original, he even pronounces Gundam “Gundamuo” like the original, which is something I’ve never understood, “Mobile Suit Gundam’s” opening theme “Fly Gundam!” has always pronounced the mobile suit as “Gundamuo.” Just the way it sounds works for the song, and it has always been charming in its own silly way, but always a tab bit mysterious, why is the show’s opening theme pronouncing its own title incorrectly? There was a passion in the original that Andrew W.K. has matched in his cover, and sure, it may seem funny for a singer song writer, to get passionate about a robot cartoon, but again that has always been part of the charm, and at this point Andrew W.K. getting excited should be assumed.

Now the second question that needs to be asked of any cover, did Andrew W.K. make the song his own? He translated all the words into English and made it into a hard rock song, enough said right? Those actions are interesting and awesome, and in that order.

Basically all I have to really say is “Andrew W.K. ‘Gundam Rock,’ this exists.” This is the kind of person we are dealing with, and now you know the extremes of Andrew W.K.’s rock craziness.

Until next month keep on rocking in the free world.

- Colin Kelly

Honorable mention, "Char the Great"

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Andrew W.K. - She is Beautiful

Most people know who Andrew W.K. is. He is a hard person to ignore. What with the flailing limps, the wild hair, the rock star status, the screaming vocals, the intense energy, the bizarre motivational speaking tours, with all that, he is quite the character. He one rocks out quite like Andrew W.K.

I remember when Andrew W.K.’s first album “I Get Wet,” came out and people were comparing him to professional wrestler Al Snow. Al Snow and Andrew WK did look somewhat alike, and they were both crazy, but one key difference is that most people actual remember who Andrew W.K is.

After “I Get Wet” come out there was a few years where “Party Hard,” was THE partying song. The crazy thing is “Party Hard,” is really just one of many songs that Andrew W.K. has specifically about partying. It’s really cool someone has found the right amount of intensity to write songs about happier themes, namely partying. On the same album there is also “It’s Time to Party,” and “Party Till You Puke,” other partying songs by Andrew W.K. include “Long Live the Party,” “Big Party,” “Party Music,” and of course “Party, Party, Party,” and those are just the songs that have the word “party” in the title. Which raises the question does he have any happier songs about partying?
Makes me laugh every time.

I also remember when “I Get Wet,” came out how his songs were popping up everywhere. They were in commercials, video games, and movies, and I sort of vaguely remember my favorite Andrew W.K. song “She is Beautiful,” appearing in a variety of films, most of which I never saw but for some reason I remember. Since “She is Beautiful,” is my favorite Andrew W.K. song, let us focus on that one.

I have always loved unorthodox love songs. I think we all adore unorthodox love. It is a very special thing when you can find someone weird in all the same ways as yourself and jives with your own unique strangeness, but if you are thinking like that while hearing “She is Beautiful” then you are over thinking a very simple song. “She is Beautiful” is about one thing, a crazy man roaring about how much he likes a pretty girl. That is a good theme for a song. Out of all the hard rock songs out there few are about telling a girl you like her, not counting ballads of course, but then again most rock ballads are not hard rock songs.

There are probably only a handful of songs in existence that are similar to “She is Beautiful,” a raw love song... no not a love song... “I think you’re pretty” song, that’s a better way of putting it. Basically “She is Beautiful,” is a manly way of rocking out and hitting on a girl at same time. This would be an ideal song to sing to a cute girl at karaoke, in fact that’s a pretty good idea, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner; it’s obvious really. The world could use more songs like that. The world could use more Andrew W.K.

I think if you removed Andrew W.K. from “She is Beautiful,” you would still have a good rock song. The drums are heavy and lead the song well. The opening guitar rift is distinct and memorable, and so are the frills throughout the song. Still this is a good example of the importance of a good front man, Andrew W.K. brings that something special to everything his does, call it intensity, insanity, or both, Andrew W.K. is an awesome dude. Can anyone imagine a more fun front man than Andrew W.K.? There are better front men for sure, and many better singers, but there are few, if any, who rock out as hard and entertain as intensely as Andrew W.K.

Andrew W.K. is a special man who has given us something special to enjoy. I’ll wager few of you know the extremes of Andrew W.K.’s rock craziness, but more on that later this month.

- Colin Kelly