Archive for February, 2010


I Shot the Sheriff, but I Didn’t See the Movie

February 13, 2010

Mantronik vs. EPMD – “Strictly Business” from Blade: The Soundtrack [TVT – 1998] and Dance Dance Revolution (1st Mix) [Konami/Toshiba/EMI – 1998]

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Note: This is another one of those records that has been discontinued and is hard to find. Again, get it any way you can.

When I was younger I felt weird about buying soundtracks for films that I hadn’t seen, as though I wouldn’t understand the music or that I hadn’t earned the privilege. This was especially troublesome when I was really young and couldn’t get into R-rated movies that had promising soundtracks (Lost Highway). Thirteen years and one Mortal Kombat Annihilation later, I no longer have this hangup.

A recurring case of my digging the music for a movie I still haven’t seen is the Blade series. I haven’t seen the movies. I read the Rise of The Midnight Sons miniseries in Ghost Rider where he made his first appearances. I read the Nightstalkers comic books in the early 90s. I even caught a few episodes of the TV show on Spike, so I feel like I can summarize the series.

The title character of the Blade movies is a superhero who is part human and part vampire. Blade’s powers stem from his mixed heritage. That mixed heritage is also reflected in the film soundtracks, which mix hip hop and electronic music. Usually this means a mix 50/50 or 60/40 one or the other. Occasionally, though, the soundtracks really try to fuse hip hop and electronic.

For the most extreme example of this, the entirety of the Blade II soundtrack consisted of collaborations between rappers and dance producers (The Roots and BT, Paul Oakenfold and Ice Cube, Redman and Gorillaz, etc.) While some of the collaborations sounded really fun (see previous sentence) others probably sounded good on paper and came out half-hearted (Moby and Mystikal). It was kind of like Judgment Night, and it fared just as well among music critics.

Of course, nowadays this sort of cross-pollination is commonplace, from the electro-pop that is hot in top-40 radio to the plethora of semi-official dance mixes one can find on the internet, and we’re the better for it. Back in 2001, I never thought I’d hear Will.I.Am making techno records, but I like it! Genre mixing has lost its novelty, but a good track is a good track, which brings us to today’s post.

Anyways, the song I’m posting comes from the first movie. It’s Kurtis Mantronik remixing EPMD and turning out a hip-house cut that’s as cool as ice and slick as Blade’s coat. I also love this song because it was one of the first to appear in the Dance Dance Revolution series, and y’all know I can’t get enough DDR. Amid a sea of cute J-pop and Eurodance fun stood “Strictly Business,” like Blade in a club full of vampires.


Originality Is No Fun

February 9, 2010

Kodiax – “Moonrise” from Bears In The Hood

Stream and Download the EP from AcidPlanet

Gwen Stefani vs. Kodiax vs. Richard Bartz – “Crash The Skywriter Into The Moon” mixed by Kodiax

Over the past decade I read several music retrospectives about the success of bedroom producers, and how it’s easier than ever to make a hot record in the internet age. That may be true, but what those retrospectives don’t mention is that while the barriers may indeed by lower, that just opened the floodgates for more and more bedroom producers. For every Dntel, Mylo, or Owl City success story, there are thousands, if not millions of aspiring producers who with the best intentions fire up Ableton, Fruityloops, Acid, Mixman, Garageband, Cubase, Reason, and/or Logic and churn out absolute garbage. Are you friends with someone in a crummy band who pressures you to come to his/her show at a school or bar? This post is like that, only nerdier. I am my own crummy band.

I recorded “Moonrise” during the start of the Top 12 competition last season on American Idol. I vaguely remember laying down the intro during Kris Allen’s performance. I knocked out about 5 songs during that season of Idol and “Moonrise” was my favorite. That’s not a commentary on Idol, it’s just what was going on.

The mashup came from randomness. My wife might have been playing the original “Crash” track on her iPod. I heard “Skywriter” on Pandora and thought “this track needs a song to go on top of it.” Finally, I wanted to be like one of those DJ/producers who use their own songs in their mixes and I picked the song that seemed to clash the least. It all kind of came together.

I like the mashup version more, and perhaps that’s because of familiarity with the other parts or perhaps that’s because of my lack of talent.

I guess I like making mashups because I feel like I can make something at least kind of new. I can take something great and make it my own and still sound kind of good (though if you didn’t like the mashup I suppose my argument doesn’t hold up).

Musical decoupage is personal fulfillment and originality is no fun for me.


So You Want To Save Music Games: DJ Hero

February 6, 2010

Ne-Yo vs. Dirty Vegas – “Closer Days” mixed by Kodiax

With the declining sales of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games, along with the disappointingly low sales of DJ Hero (which I flipping love), several video game writers have declared that music games are dying, never mind that the Dance Dance Revolution games have been alive and kicking for more than ten years and that Just Dance sells like hotcakes despite abysmal reviews.

I love music and I love video games. I credit DDR with helping me develop the rhythm sense to get into DJing. I have put tons of time into both DJ Hero and Rock Band 2. So it breaks my heart to hear that one of my favorite genres is dying. So here’s free advice for Activision, MTV/Harmonix, Sony Studios London, Konami, et al from an unqualified amateur writer. You want to save music games? I will write a series of pieces with proposals to save each major music game. Today – DJ Hero.

Here’s what DJ Hero should have been:
DJ Hero’s problem wasn’t the expensive controller or the ugly, ugly characters. It was that it seemed to forget about all of the changes that Rock Band had brought about. Two players tops? Oh and you can plug in a guitar controller for some of the
songs, but it’s still two players? You can plug in a microphone, but it isn’t for points and since there isn’t space for the stone cold rhyming, whoever is your MC looks like a tool? Sigh. DJ Hero should have been an add-on to the Guitar Hero games that added keyboard/turntables to the band set-up. That would have made those keyboard-driven songs in GH5 and Band Hero a lot more realistic. Make it a 5-player game minimum.

DJ Hero’s other problem was that it seemed to focus on mashups and turtablism. While the image of a DJ scratching records back and forth is the image most people have of a DJ, turntablism doesn’t really factor into most pop songs. The reason Mixmaster Mike (apart from his work with the Beastie Boys) or DJ Craze haven’t cracked the Billboard top 40 is the same reason Joe Satriani or Yngwie Malmsteen didn’t: virtuosity while technically impressive doesn’t mean sounding good. It can be alienating. Back in 2002 I went to see the X-Ecutioners live and the crowd didn’t really get into it until they played their crossover hit “It’s Going Down.”

Meanwhile most DJs in clubs and on the radio don’t scratch records. Most live DJing is about 1) picking the records and 2) mixing the records. Few gamers want to play a beatmatching game.

The pop, hip-hop, and dance producer’s biggest live tools are the keyboard and the sampler, both of which could be translated into gaming. Hell, you could map a simplified Akai sampler onto your basic controller (or an Alesis Air Synth for the Wii remote). That would make a much better game. Konami did it best with their 5-key-plus-turntable controller for Beatmania, they just did it too early in the product cycle of music games. Keyboard, drums, bass, guitar, vox. That’s what DJ Hero should have been.

Finally, the setlist: one criticism of DJ Hero was that its focus on mashups skirted the middle while failing to appeal to either the hip-hop or the electronic audiences it was targeting. The band concept I outlined above would have made single songs much easier to chart. Then can release an 84-song set (Rock Band 2 set the precedent) as a single game or better yet, two 84-song games, with one in hip-hop and one in electronic, with both titles exportable to your console’s hard drive so one could arguably have 168 playable songs,  (half on disc, half on hard drive) on day one. Or put the game engine as a download with, say, a 20-song download voucher, and sell the controllers separately to be more budget-conscious.

Those are just ideas. I don’t have all of the facts. I’m just going off of common sense.


Excerpt from The Analyst

February 5, 2010

Tin Star – “Viva” from The Thrill Kisser
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Note: I tried looking for this record on Amazon, iTunes, and EMusic, and I found nothing, so get this any way you can.

“We’ve got to live,” thought Kelly as she paced down the office hallway. “We’ve got to live.” Earlier in the day she had never thought things would come to this. She was shocked and in denial when the order came down from her division’s director, but that seemed like a long time ago. The situation now called for a new perspective. After all, her managers always said that she had “learning agility.”

She had studied for her MBA in marketing and finance in order to have “transferable skills,” but at this point in her career, so did most of her competition. She knew that once she was out she was out, and out on the street it was a tooth and nail struggle, a survival of the fittest.

Her firm’s board of directors was hitting the CEO Alan Byrne hard for his executive compensation. At one point, that compensation may have been lavish, but now those millions were protecting his network of family and friends from poverty and the desperate masses. It was time for him to implement his own survival plan and show how he came to be the CEO. He drafted an order to be distributed through the company vice presidents and their directors. Through the legalese the message was clear: the street was coming to the boardroom….

Kelly froze halfway to the executive conference room.  She flashed back to her last debate meet in high school. Sitting in a cafeteria in someone else’s high school, Kelly was quaking in her seat. She would have fled that meet were it not for her muse. The hard dance rock that never seemed to catch on made her feel unique. The dirty bass made her feel confident. The tough posturing made her feel hard by proxy. Did she win that meet?

Today the band was dead, but she wouldn’t be. Kelly wouldn’t merely keep her job, but she would lead her team to victory under the banner of a forgotten artist. Kelly would run this company some day and her path would start with her first kill. She pulled out her battered old CD player and cued up track 4. Time to win or die trying.


The Ruined Auditorium

February 3, 2010

“Get drunk quick,” he commanded the concert guests. The organ swelled and the piano twinkled in the air, and the red and yellow stage lights bathed everything in a warm, oppressive amniotic glow. The faded wood paneling looked even further decayed as the dust on the auditorium carpet began to rise with the movements of the audience. This was their last show.

The man onstage wore makeup that was fading and smearing as time went on. He clutched the microphone and began to sing about some lost love and breaking apart like glass. His voice grew more urgent with each verse to the point where he was looking into the crowd like a cornered animal, at once uneasy and flighty. His white shirt was open, exposing his skin to the hazy light and his jeans were soaked with sweat. By the song’s coda he was crying.

Behind him were his bandmates, the organ player and the pianist, both decked in flamboyant suites, the pianist’s white and the organist’s sky blue. Both had looks of certainty, a grim determination to keep playing no matter what. Their playing seemed to be getting slower and slower to the point of a dirge, a serious decrescendo.

Out in the auditorium, the audience nodded their heads and drank their drinks of cheap beer and warm scotch. A few had their flasks of rum and their fifths of vodka in their jacket pockets. Some of the couples cuddled and embraced against one another, some in boredom, others in passion. Coats were piled to the side and in the burnt-orange colored seats.

Most of the auditorium doors were closed to keep the sound in, but one was open into the atrium/lobby. The lobby, with its white marble floors and dark oak walls, was empty, save for two women sitting on a couch near the ticket table talking about the graffiti on the opposite wall with a detached amusement. The graffiti, written in white spray paint, read “Protect me.”
“Protect whom?” the first woman asked. “Protect the wall? The auditorium? Protect some person? It’s just so vague that the act is just in vain. Whoever needed protection isn’t going to get it because they didn’t specify.”

The second woman didn’t respond at first, but continued to think. She sat silently for about two minutes before she gave a response. “It’s not a plea.” The first woman tunred towards her. “It’s a prayer.”

Around this time the monster revealed itself.


-RJD2 – “You Never Had It So Good” from The Third Hand (XL)

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