The Finns don’t have it easy—half the world isn’t sure exactly where their country is located or what language they speak, and their neighbors have a history of isolating them when they aren’t trying to invade. Personally, I think Helsinki is pretty cool. And being an anomaly isn’t always a bad thing—especially when it gives your take on underground music its own special flair. Which is exactly the case with Finland’s contribution to minimal synth/synthpop.
There’s an expression that everything is clearer in retrospect. I’m not sure what the expression is in regards to music, or the point at which haphazard trends morph into legitimate subcultures, but it does seem that avant-garde talent is better recognized when there’s been a lapse of time. At least that’s the case with Minimal Wave. Minimal Wave is an interesting genre in that it’s more an umbrella term coined in hindsight than it is a unified movement. The term was pioneered by renaissance woman Veronica Vasicka, New York based DJ, photographer, and founder of Minimal Wave Records. Characterized by its use of analog synthesizers, DIY-recording techniques, and minimal musical structures, the movement comprises a vast array of genres, from synthpop, to synthpunk, to minimal synth and coldwave.
Nu-disco is a weird term. For starters, it’s not really new, considering it first appeared over a decade ago. And of course, there’s also the spelling. Is new that much more cumbersome to spell than its alternate, edgy consonant + vowel equivalent? Although, there’s something to be said about abbreviating a three-letter word. Using “nu-disco” as a superset genre for several upcoming of artists also poses its own set of problems. How to describe the next wave of this category? New nu-disco? Nu-nu disco? Nu disco squared? Let’s just skip the labels and talk about the music.
Picture a guy who graduated university over a decade ago, sitting in the basement of a student dorm. Now picture that guy doing a radio show called Beats in Space. Different image? Thought so. True, Tim Sweeney has America’s longest-running college radio show. But Beats in Space is iconic, so synonymous with the underground dance music scene, it’s easy to forget its humble roots as a student radio show or the fact that every Tuesday you can find the host at WNYU’s studio located below a university dining hall. And when I say every Tuesday, I mean it. BIS recently celebrated 14 years. And Tim has never missed a week. The stuff of legend, perhaps, but urban myth it is not—he once finished the full two-and-a-half hours with a bad case of the flu (I saw it with my very own eyes.) It was then I realized: there are people who love music. And then there is Tim Sweeney. In a rare moment when he wasn’t on the air or in the air, flying to a gig, I had the chance to talk to Tim about upcoming projects and the beloved show listeners keep tuning into, week after week, looking to hear what they know they won’t find anywhere else.
The words “atmospheric” and “spacious” aren’t typically used to describe dance music. Neither are comparisons to the ambience of Arthur Russell with accents of Balearic rhythms and drum-machine soul. Good thing Fort Romeau isn’t typical. His music defies categorization, which is paramount to his success. And what success it’s been: since releasing his debut LP Kingdoms on LA record label “100% Silk” last year, Mike Greene, the man behind the moniker, has received widespread acclaim for his seriously fresh take on dance music, marked by smooth hints of old-school Chicago House. 2013 saw the release of singles SW09 on Spectral and Jetée/Desire on Ghostly International, followed by this month’s release of EP Stay True, whose title track is a seven-minute dance odyssey of epic proportions. In a sense, Fort Romeau is bringing house music to the home. He is one of the few artists capable of capturing the raw energy of a long night in a warehouse through your desk speakers, without sacrificing his signature sleek production and dream-like, sophisticated sound. And it’s not just his music that’s provocative: it’s also his opinions. I had the chance to chat with the artist about his upcoming LP, his creative process, and that whole digital vs vinyl debate. He had a lot to say.
I’m not sure how I came across Grup Ses Beats. All I know is once I’d heard a few tracks I had to know more. I embarked on a cyber-manhunt only to discover the act was part of Distortion’s 2013 lineup. Clicking the link, the Festival offered this enlightening biography: “Mysterious Turkish People.”