Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Moonbootica and the Rule of Law

The Moonbootica remix of Luomo’s “Tessio” is one I always return to with a sense of wonder: having had such a deep and abiding love for the original for so long, the fact of the remix having slowly but surely superceded it in my affections seems unreal, the product of some conjurer’s trick? How did they do it? And furthermore, how did they divine within Luomo’s gentle, labyrinthine torch song the makings of the paradigmatic electro-house stomper? For, let’s make no mistake about it, “Tessio (Moonbootica Remix)” is precisely that – electro-house’s ultimate distilment: the sexily syncopated house beat going to war with synth riffs as murderous and all-consuming as Black Strobe at their most extreme; a heartbreaking love story struggling to emerge from a groove of stentorian physicality.

Given their success so early in their career, it’s either surprising or fitting that since then Moonbootica have set about systematically failing to be the paradigmatic electro-house act. But what have they become instead?

On the “DJ’s Theme/Bulldog Beats” from early last year, the duo provided one potential answer: they would fly the flag for German house trying to be French house. “Bulldog Beats” in particular was a stunning advertisement for the potential of this identity crisis, marrying sharp synthetic spurs to the amniotic warmth of French house’s EQ dazzle. Along with Superpitcher’s remix of The MFA, it’s probably the most ecstasy-soaked record the German house scene has produced in recent years.

But, as much as I would have liked to hear more tracks in this vein, Moonbootica evidentally felt restless: judging from their subsequent output, I can only assume that they listened to “Bulldog Beats” and thought, “It’s just not… populist enough!” And since then they’ve decided on a number of ever-more lowbrow hats in a bid to distance themselves from German electro-house’s associations with refinement. Their remix of Planet Funk’s “The Switch” is neurotic chart-prog, drifting from widescreen atmospherics and whiny rock vocals to assaultive bleeps and a bizarre actual-prog-rock keyboard solo on what sounds like a harpsichord assembled from duplo. “June” is a breakdown masquerading as a track: syncopated (verging on 2-step) percussion, dirty live bass, echoing background sighs and an endless succession of hype-inducing morse code riffs diving into anthemic four-to-the-floor cruise control. “Mustang 86” switches between ruff’n’ready crunchy bass riffs and, bright, sparkling synth melodies that DJ Sammy would be proud of.

All of this is merely a prelude, though, to the aim-for-the-jugular feel of the duo’s DJ Sounds Good mix. I’ve said before that if Tiefschwarz are the Chemical Bros of electro-house (simultaneously popular and credible; so obsessed with dynamics that their tunes feel like show-off Olympic competitors), with this mix Moonbootica hold themselves out as the scene’s Fatboy Slim (esp. the Fatboy Slim of “Right Here, Right Now”), or even (more dubiously) its The Crystal Method.

DJ Sounds Good's unassuming party vibe has the paradoxical effect of making the record a grower: it's so relentlessly cheerful that it's easy to underestimate it at first, to smile bemusedly at each tacky hook without becoming deeply involved. But, as is frequently the case with such things, the tacky hooks conceal an often devastating capacity for groove science; or, more precisely, the tacky hooks are the groove science embodied, their zany populism itself a poisonous barb. There are few cheap tricks that don't make their way onto this record: not just big electro riffs, but also ostentatious bongo percussion, melodramatic diva wails, tense breakdowns, trance-like trebly keyboards, and lots of layered breakbeats.

If anything, it's precisely because Moonbootica and their producer friends recognise the physical effect of these hooks that they take on the veneer of tackiness: rather than attempt to create a sense of structural unity (let alone the appearance of actual songfulness), the "best bits" are deployed in often jarring succession, leaving the tracks sounding like the equivalent of trailers for Hollywood comedies (and if that sounds like a put-down, it's worth keeping in mind that such trailers are often far better than the films they advertise). But the precedent closer to home is early nineties dance music, italo-house, nu-beat, etc – at times I’m reminded of Black Box's "Ride On Time", Technotronic's "Pump Up The Jam", Sonz of a Loop Da Loop Era's "Far Out" and K-Klass's "Let Me Show You Love"… and yet this remains incontrovertibly an electro-house mix.

Every track seems to want to revive its own mercenary dance floor killer maneuver: Skai’s “Mir Geht’s Gut” marries a tic-toc breakbeat groove with a diva declaring “This is flirty music!” and bongos that sound like they were ripped from a Safri Duo record. Markus Gardeweg’s “25 Years” is ridiculous gay house, all sleazy electro burbles over which a falsetto male vocalist conflates a relationship with a loveless man with a jail sentence, pleading to be allowed to “go home and spend my life working on the land!” Groove Rebels’ “Loose Yourself” subjects its high-pitched female diva to a “Violently Happy” style cut-up, her “lose your life by my side” strobing over tense breakbeats. Best of all is Timo Di Roy’s “Don’t Stop”, whose spiraling synth riffs are EQ’d in and out with kamikaze-bomber destructive grace, and whose vocal hook (“the deeper your love and the higher emotion, DON’T STOP”) constantly haunts me with its meaningless addictiveness.

Moonbootica's own "Roll The Dice" is exemplary, and indeed takes proceedings to a logical conclusion: stealing liberally from The Flirts' "Passion" (all the bits Felix Da Housecat didn't use in "Silver Screen Shower Scene"), the duo splice the percolating italo-disco groove with a stuttering breakbeat and euro-rap chorus that is both repulsive and the awesomest thing ever (“what the fuck! We do rock!” is the least of its sins), before bringing back that oddly trancey synth break from “Passion” (surely one of the most forward-thinking tunes ever???) for a ridiculously overblown climax. At various points I half-expect to suddenly hear a saxaphone solo and whispered “Nineteen nineties…time for the Guru…” Even without it the result is a bit like the Bomfunk MCs crashing a Get Physical party.

Neither of Moonbootica’s other contributions go quite so far as “Roll The Dice”, but it nonetheless forms a sort of pinnacle to which they relate: “We 1, 2, Rock” (note the meaningless, superfluous-seeming pun in the title) is straightforward but melodramatic “mersh” electro-house, its big string riffs, clattering percussion and declaratory chant vocals reminiscent of The Eternals’ “Wrath of Zeus” (that cataclysmic apotheosis of delirious French house) but different in one crucial sense: “Wrath of Zeus” constituted an intensification of French house’s exceptional qualities, such that, despite the global permeation of the French house sound by the end of the last decade, it was impossible to imagine this track coming from anywhere other than France itself. “We 1, 2 Rock” by contrast could easily belong to that privileged jet-setting community of “mersh” electro-house tracks such as Paris Avenue’s “I Want You”, Midnight Star’s “Midas Touch” or Quesh’s “Candy Girl”: tracks which are neither culturally/geographically blank, nor entirely rooted in a particular sound or scene, but float instead, the supreme radio-play realization of formerly underground ideas and impulses (all of them, too, flaunt their hard-edged, brittle grooves as if they were an irresistible pop weapon; which they sort of are).

The challenge of enjoying Moonbootica is learning to appreciate their lack of romantic consistency, their cynical commercialism, their appalling lapses in taste, to see all these things as not merely regrettable-but-forgivable, but rather a core component of the peculiar enjoyment their work can provide. The challenge is to understand their multi-stylistic pluralism, which is decidedly not pluralism-in-theory: the properly groundbreaking and impliedly tasteful confluence of sonic techniques whose corollary in politics is multiculturalism-in-theory. The corollary of Moonbootica is globalization: an ignoble, unpredictable mish-mash of the universal and the particular which follows no particular ethic except that of a basic functional effectiveness.

I cannot claim to have fully reach this desired state of appreciation: my favourite Moonbootica moments tend to be their most (relatively) genteel efforts: the throbbing French sparkle of “Bulldog Beats”, the metallic churn of their 2003 remix of Karotte’s “As It Comes”, most of all the Luomo remix. The question then becomes: what do Moonbootica know that I don’t? Is there a masterplan as such behind their increasing trend towards prole enthusiasm – or is “prole enthusiasm” precisely the masterplan in effect?

Perhaps what forms a barrier to embracing Moonbootica wholeheartedly is the fact that their transgressions are conceived and presented as unproblematic, even unremarkable. For the very reason that nothing is forbidden, there is no “transgression” as such in their music, except a host of minor infractions of electro-house codes of tastefulness. This is a strength and weakness in equal measure: Moonbootica may be the exception to several rules, but they never ultimately acquire an ontological consistency as a rule in and of themselves.

This is a dialectical distinction: the only transgression which we recognize as being such is in the foundation of a new rule, one which overturns the previous existing order. An example of this in dance music is with regard to eclecticism: we only recognize an eclectic approach insofar as it achieves some underlying legislative consistency – the positive injunction “play what you like!” needs to be supported by an implicit “(but not that!)” to have any meaning. The eclecticism of the DFA, of 2 Many DJs and so on, is attractive to us only to that extent that it is not really all-embracing – when we enthuse about an artist playing “simply great music with no stylistic barriers” we also impliedly mean “they have pinpointed what should not be played with greater precision than anyone else!”

(Detour: perhaps, when we express disapproval over another’s taste in music, it is not the positive statements of taste but rather the existence of an unreadable bracketed subtext that threatens us. Far from deploring the uncontrolled anarchy of their listening habits, we are propelled by a fear of what underlies this apparent anarchy: a fear that, were we to live in their world, we would be ceaselessly harassed by an undecipherable, radically external (and thus totalitarian) rule of law, whose stern “not that!” would evade our powers of reason)

The curiousness of Moonbootica is that they resist being assigned any particular legislative quality: their lapses in taste never go quite so far as to become a concrete aesthetic we could rely on, which we could identify as marking them out as “important” – perhaps their problem is that they remain too tasteful, too much the Moonbootica of “Bulldog Beats” rather than “Roll the Dice”. There is as of yet no Rule of Law that is discernible in Moonbootica’s work, beyond that which they have inherited from “pure” electro-house, and which they continue to contravene in a host of minor offences.

When people complain about the ultra-restrictive stylistic dictates of electro-house, they are silent about Moonbootica. The boringly prosaic “real” reason for this is that they probably haven’t heard them (not being electro-house fans), but the deeper “truth” at work is that Moonbootica and their friends, for all their breakbeats and bad rapping and French house affectations, are merely the exception which proves the rule (the petty criminals who give shape to the Law as such), rather than the revolutionary founders of a new Law which said complainants might embrace wholeheartedly. Their exceptional status only gives shape to electro-house’s nominal protocol, and as merely unreliable followers they are officially designated as unexceptional. This makes writing about them an oddly difficult task: excessive hyperbole and words like “innovation” just feel wrong. But unless you’re someone who only flirts with lawmakers, this sense of inbetweenness, this misdemeanour-aesthetic, makes for very addictive listening.

10 Comments:

Blogger vahid said...

:-0

2:47 AM  
Blogger vahid said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:47 AM  
Blogger Adam said...

Another excellent read though I feel that you're giving Moonbootica too much of a free ride. Their stuff does work but god am I tired of their organ sounds. Broadening their sample base would do wonders for keeping them interesting.

11:31 AM  
Anonymous cozen said...

class

2:18 PM  
Blogger j. said...

haha thank god...i was about to post something like "i'm on blog vacation, someone update or i'm disowning you all" and tim to the rescue.

5:46 PM  
Anonymous dan visel said...

this is a nice piece! thanks.

8:19 PM  
Blogger Adamrl said...

I can't get into DJ Sounds Good, but I'll give it another try!

(I'm a different adam from the adam above, btw!)

1:41 PM  
Blogger jermaine noble said...

the mb remix of their own "listen" is some gorgeously screwed house!

3:20 AM  
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