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Full Circle

June 1, 2010

 

A few days ago Kathy and I got into a conversation about artistic vision. If the guy who did that fecal painting of the Virgin Mary and Thomas Kinkade both create original works without directly copying from anyone else, wouldn’t they both be considered artists? One might argue that Thomas Kinkade doesn’t have that artistic vision, because he arguably makes the same unchallenging, bland thing over and over with little variance. Now Thomas Kinkade is one person with an army of employees to make those same paintings over and over with crazy efficiency. Does the “it’s not art because its repetitive” argument apply when different works made at different times by different people from different parts of the world all come out pretty much the same?

When aspiring hipsters want to move their music tastes “beyond the mainstream,” often the directions in which their friends will point them are towards big indie labels. Record labels are important in big indie because they tend towards a certain aesthetic and will sign acts that will fit some part of that aesthetic. In turn, certain music consumers look for labels because they like and expect that aesthetic (what comes into your mind when you think of the word “Motown?”). What a music label must be careful with is to not have so much cohesion that it becomes uniformity. Unfortunately, Turbo Recordings has fallen into that trap.

Omnidance is the 10-year retrospective of the Canadian dance label Turbo, which is run by the DJ/singer/impresario Tiga who (like DJ Sammy) made his first big impression in the early 2000s by doing dance covers of Corey Hart and Nelly. And those were pretty fun covers!

So when I learned a few years back that the guy had his own record label, my interest was piqued: were the acts he was signing this fun?

Hearing this compilation the answer is, not so much. My big criticism of this compilation is that most of the songs tend to sound the same: somewhat funky drum machine beats, hard electronic basslines, repetitive structures that aren’t quite verse-refrain-verse, and exactly one extravagant feature: a “woo!” vocal hit played rapid-fire, a keyboard stab that sounds like it was lifted from Super Mario Bros., or a Hans Zimmer-esque arpeggio.

Going through the first disc, it was telling that even though it was not DJ-mixed, I had trouble telling one track from another. I would play a song, go make a sandwich, come back and be surprised to find that the next track was playing. And I think that you would have to be very patient to find each song’s internal variation, which while there isn’t fun enough to encourage the listener to stay. That’s not to say that the first disc is boring. The instrumental songs themselves are very groovy (especially Zoo Brazil and Adam Sky’s “Circle Jerk”) and upon closer listening reveal their individualities (such as how Popof’s “The Chomper”’s skittering percussion seemingly mutates into its synth line), I just feel that they can be too minimal and don’t go very far beyond the groove.

There needs to be more going on, which is why when songs that have actual vocals come in it’s a breath of fresh air. I admit I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the words to Electric Six’s “Synthesizer” come in over the driving techno of Zyntherius (who partnered with Tiga to make the previously mentioned “Sunglasses At Night” cover) and The Dove – “You can’t avoid my techno.” Moby’s “I Love To Move In Here” gets a nice revamp from Proxy that’s more uptempo then the original while maintaining some of Moby’s late-night melancholy mood. The only real dud on Disc 1 is “Lower State of Consciousness” by ZZT, a collaboration between Tiga and Zombie Nation (whom you may know as the guy who made “Kernkraft 400”). While the time signature speeds up and slows down like a rollercoaster, the synths blare with distortion or reach “dogs-only” pitch levels, and it almost feels like ZZT were trying to make a parody of hard dance music, because I fail to see how this would be enjoyable unironically.

At least things pick up a little bit on disc 2. The material starts to branch out a bit from the steady techno grooves on disc 1. Four of the songs are less than 3 minutes long, there are more vocally driven numbers, and the instrumental songs like “Antimatter” by Compuphonic and Kolombo get more extravagant.

The stars of disc 2 though are Chromeo, a Montreal duo that combines 80s electro-dance with smooth, cheesy R&B. “Mercury Tears 2” shows the duo doing the light dance-pop that they do, but Finnish producer Jori Hulkkonen’s remix of their big single “Bonafied Lovin’”  takes the duo into the ‘70s with a smokier, slow-burning, disco soul number. Singer David “Dave 1” Macklovitch’s voice falls like raindrops against the coldness of Hulkkonen’s production, which isn’t all that danceable and pads things out too much on the front and back ends, but is a very good listen in the car or on headphones.

And I suppose that’s where one should be dancing the Omnidance – not with the expectation of high-energy uptempo fun (though that is present in small doses,) but with a patient ear that can see past the initial monotony and see the deeper layers. It’s false advertising, but it works on a low-key level (hey, Thomas Kinkade sells). I can only hope that in the future Tiga and his team continue to branch out and add more accessibility to the Turbo catalog because right now it doesn’t feel top speed.

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