Thursday, 18 August 2011

The Kool Kids Klub's Moombahton Special: the night the UK caught up

All photos: Lee Tickett

If you look closely enough, you can see the smear. The ugly, jealous smear left on the window, put there by my nose, after it was repeatedly pushed up against the pane, enviously watching the rest of the world enjoy what we here in Britain were being deprived of. Amid all the excitement and, yeah I admit it, my obsession for moombahton, one of my key joys was reading Marcus Dowling’s heady, sweaty, evangelical reports from the Moombahton Massive parties over in DC, along with raucous tales from the Arizonaton bashes of DJ Melo, Pickster One and Frank Mendez’s El Cuco fam. Meanwhile, the likes of Dave Nada, Heartbreak, Dillon Francis, Sabo, Munchi and Skinny Friedman were jetting all over Europe and the rest of the planet, spreading the word like hipster jehovah’s – yet apart from a short residency from Dillon Francis, the UK’s door remained unknocked.

The irony was painfully clear – for a scene forged in a global workshop, only a handful of geographically favoured people could get the full picture, right there, in the clubs, where moombahton truly makes sense – the punk-acid house energy streamlined by an unfettered, languid and sexy latin grace and nobility. Moshpits kicking off and G-spots being located on the dancefloor: the same hedonistic vibe you get from any great scene before it’s co-opted by the mainstream – the debauched freedom that comes from knowing you can do your own thing while the uninformed majority aren’t paying attention.

But it’s okay, we’re here now. It happened. The Kool Kids Klub, Smutlee and Jake Twell made moombahton work in the UK. This isn’t to demean what has gone on here before, far from it – both Club Popazuda’s Fiyahpowa and Boyfriend’s Club Tropicana were perfect ambassadors, both stepped up to try to bring moombahton to London, both were offered scant reward for their efforts. DJs, producers and club nights had also sprung up all over the country – but there had yet to be a major statement event that resoundingly gave the club scene the UK cosign to corroborate the media support from Toddla, Annie Mac, Mistajam and Nihal from BBC radio, and Mixmag and The Guardian *proud face x2*. Yeah, it’s arrogant of us to think that it matters, but even though we live in the era of a global community, this place remains an unquestionable epicentre of dance music - just ask Dave Nada: “I'm beyond excited about all the positive UK response to moombahton. To me that's the biggest compliment. I feel like if you win over the UK, then you’re automatically ahead of the curve.”

Anyway, we’re here now, we’ll have what you’re having, ta very much – and it’s all down to The Kool Kids. Alex Baker, George Smith and Justin Reid-Simms already stood tall on the bass scene from their base in Southend, just outside of London - their last three guests were Toddla, Annie Mac and French Fries, while A-Trak, Herve have also done a shift, as have any number of up-and-coming talents like Mele and Warrior One. If you do bass, you either play or want to play there. The Kool Kids haven’t just swooped in to claim the prize, by the way – when I discovered moombahton last year, two of the first people I found in the UK who were on it here were Smutlee and Justin, Whole Sick if you want to find him on Soundcloud. For around a year, Whole Sick was dropping 108s into his warm-up sets, to the point that Smutlee’s Majic had become a minor anthem.

There’s a neat symmetry to it happening outside of London. With the rise of regional hip hop and moombahton setting up shop in DC and Phoenix, the dominance of traditional cultural meccas like New York and London has been challenged. Arguably, it was the strength and diversity of the London club scene that stopped it bedding in earlier, with both Fiyahpowa and Club Tropicana coming up against a city with a fiercely competitive club scene that wasn’t keen on nurturing fledgelings. Away from that mecca pressure, it can grow, and it’s no coincidence that many of the producers and DJs in the UK are from outside London – guys like Twell, Jamrock, Mr9Carter, Untimely Sounds, Jera and Jimi Needles.

So logic was on the Kool Kids’ side, as was the crowd - loyal, committed and fervent. If you have a crowd’s trust, you have more freedom to take them places. It’s only right that Whole Sick prepped the crowd for Smutlee – and gave us the first of the night’s key moments, supervising the switch to 108 for a crowd weaned on 130. After French Fries’ Senta got the place up, a pitched-up DJ Sabo’s Spock’s Delight dropped – which could have indicated an evening of compromise, but instead it morphed smartly into Snoop’s Drop It Like It’s Hot - and then back to the Sabo track at the correct speed. The gear shift was palpable – as was the cultural shift. The hard part over, Smutlee had carte blanche. Lee excels in smart, melodic, well-crafted sets, warm in character and diversity. From his own dancehall-informed edits, to the metronomic squeaks of Halo Nova’s Get Sticky, via DJ Melo’s Told Ya, that Get Yr Freak On edit by Alvaro that I really need to get my hands on and Heartbreak’s monstrous remix of Toddla’s Watch Me Dance, Smutlee packaged up the depth and breadth of this sound, and provided symbolic moments two and three. Much of what was played early on had the feel of a Trojan horse, edits with enough familiarity to reel in those on the fence, so hearing Ckrono’s edit of Samim’s Heater felt pivotal. Sure, it’s an edit, too, but its cleaner use of the dem bow, reined-in bass and cumbia-tinted melodies suggested a point in the night when moombahton stopped wanting to be something else and claimed a spot of land for itself. Then Smutlee delivered a simple, devastating few minutes: Daft Punk’s Da Funk into Dave Nada’s Moombahton, two mid-paced, unique EDM icons providing a sweaty cosign. Next to DC, we’re at ground level still here, so you’ll forgive me for reading small moments as portentous.

There was nothing small about Jake Twell’s set, though. Put simply, Smutlee popped the cork, then Jake quickly shotgunned the contents (note: check metaphor works before publishing). Twell’s one of the nascent UK producers brought over to the scene from dubstep by Munchi’s Firepower, and brings a sound that works on a partycore level of beats and bass that both bounce and wobble. His set felt like blue balls being drained in the middle of a primal scream therapy session – the pressure of a year’s wait being released in one fierce burst. It was a blistering set, and the kind you can only ever hear once, packed with the cherry-picked killers that people aren’t tired of yet. This was Moombahton 101, bringing newbies up to speed at pace: Firepower, King Kong, Cam Jus’ Big Boss, Sandungueo, Sabo’s Jump Around – tick, tick tick. Yet this wasn’t just a hall-of-fame routine, this was fully up to speed, with still-fresh tracks like Sazon Booya’s La Bomba, Pickster’s Dem Bow Is The New Amen and Bro Safari’s Wombats ensuring that this was no half measure.
It worked - Smutlee and Twell helped the Kool Kids provide a platform for moombahton to grow here in the UK, using both tropical and bass as door wedges to let it in. Seeing that Munchi played London shortly after, and Smutlee gained his wings by playing at New York’s Que Bajo, signs are this won’t be the end of it. The real pity is that The Kool Kids appear to have no immediate plans to follow it up, which is a huge shame, as they could seriously boss it here in the UK. Who will profit from their hard work? We’ll see.

It’s funny, a few years back, I was writing a new music column for The Times’ website, and the need to write about the newly formed Mumford & Sons was far outweighed by the urge to big up what was emerging stateside, hipster rap, with acts like The Cool Kids offering a buoyant, populist sound that cut across much of what I was hearing. We all know where that ended up. Yet, now, another buoyant, populist sound just took a step to making the grade. It’s an irony that isn’t lost on me: Kool Kids 1, Cool Kids 0.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

A quick look at the Scala Forever season - plus ticket giveaway!

"The Scala existed to stick two fingers up to formal mainstream movies," so said founder Stephen Wooley, who oversaw an era of bold, left-field programming that has rarely been seen in this country - and certainly not since its demise in 1993, a victim of both the video boom and a legal battle with Stanley Kubrick and Warner Brothers over an illicit screening of A Clockwork Orange. Inspired by the legendary US grindhouses, the Scala boasted an incomparably eclectic programme that ranged from Argento, Waters, Romero, Meyer and Woo through to Herzog, Capra, Bunuel, the Marx Brothers, Leone, early cult classics like Freaks, euro-smut and any genre you like that ended in -sploitation.

And now it's back, kinda. For seven weeks only, screens across London will pay tribute as part of the
Scala Forever season, organised by the Roxy Bar & Screen , which kicked off on Saturday at the Roxy with a screening of the 1933 King Kong - the first film to grace The Scala - and closes, fittingly, with A Clockwork Orange. Echoing the programming that made the Scala the icon it is, the season offers a taste of the unhinged joy it had to offer, minus the cats, the smell, the rumble of the tube train, the dodgy sound, the druggies and the couple copping off behind you.

Like the sound of it? Want more? How do you fancy winning a pair of tickets to a double bill of unforgettablly infamous arthouse world horror in the form of Jodorowsky's unhinged Santa Sangre and the Asian surrealism of Tetsuo: The Iron Man on Sunday 4th September at the Roxy?

All you need to do is drop us a mail here, making sure you put Scala Forever in the subject line. Please note, you must be over the age of 18, and seats are not allocated, so get there early to bag a good seat.

Main photo copyright dusashenka

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Submarine DVD review

There’s something really annoying about reviewing Submarine when it’s on DVD, as opposed to on when its theatrical run – basically, all you’re doing is looking over at the people who gushed the first time around and meekly validating what they said, with only minor variations you can call your own – maybe you can make a really stupid observation or aside that they rightly skipped over.

Still, bravely I soldier on and join the chorus of a million voices that came before me by stating for the record that Submarine is a genuinely fantastic, unforgettable and potentially timeless film, one that captures all the joy of cinema and undoes the damage to cinema done by Shyamalan, Bay and all the other cine-transgressors that we all kinda secretly love.

This classic fish-out-of-water plus coming-of-age tale follows school-kid Oliver (Craig Roberts) as he clumsily falls in love with classmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige), while watching his parents’ own relationship flounder amid their own failed aspirations. Struggling to convince the world of his own potential greatness, Oliver finds himself instead wrestling with frustrations – his own difficulty in fitting in with a world that doesn’t get him, and his mum’s mid-life crisis, as she risks her marriage to get reacquainted with a a boyfriend from her past who’s re-emerged, played by Paddy Considine. Directed by sort-of first-timer Richard Ayoade (well, he directed the Artic Monkey’s concert movie, Arctic Monkeys At The Apollo, and episodes of the impressive, yet a bit overlooked 80s terror spoof, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace), it’s so steeped in warmth, character, tone and style that it’s nigh on impossible to pick holes. If there’s a line to be drawn it’s to the likes of Harold & Maude and the films of Wes Anderson, deeply humanistic comedies that use eccentricity to draw out depth of character.

But Ayoade goes further – he never shies away from the flaws that could make his characters believable and unlikeable, therefore swerving the overly mannered schtick of Wes Anderson. And he does it all with an incredibly flamboyant and expansive directorial style; Oliver’s self-indulgent flights of fantasy give a widescreen view to the kitchen sink everyday story, and provide the Catcher In The Rye vibe - all of it done with a rich visual style that deftly mixes techniques and formats to keep it buzzing along. Much has been made of Ayoade's cine-literate approach, yet it is rich and always remains on the right side of indulgent. This restraint goes with the whole sense of deftly controlled execution - Submarine manages to be both big and small at the same time, bold yet intimate – summed up by the theatricality of Paddy Considine's Graham, who verges on parody, yet is ultimately as easy to empathise with as anyone else in this rampant joy of a film.

To recap: yeah, it's really good. And so are the extras. To be honest, they could be a procession of clips of cast and crew telling me I'm a dick and I'd still say you buy it. It's not though, it's a healthy pack of extended scenes, Q&As, featurettes and other nuggets. Nothing more to say, really, let's just assume you're off to buy it, shall we?