PRINT December 2009

Music: Best of 2009

Gavin Russom


1 Dirty Sound System In February, this six-year-old Parisian label dropped Discodeine’s hard, fun, weird, fresh, and extremely danceable 12" single “Tom Select.” Only three months later, the label released Dirty French Psychedelics, an LP collection of rare trip-out gems. Full of beautiful, haunting songs, it’s from another side of the universe, but the quality of both releases makes it clear that this label is about something deeper than genre.

2 Supermax (Harley Days, Berlin) At this yearly summer gathering of German bikers, sixty-year-old Kurt Hauenstein, aka Supermax, opened his set with a seamless segue from “Don’t Stop the Music” to “African Blood.” Although the makeshift arena was nearly empty at the beginning, his sound was as shimmering as ever, and the rhythms more driving (thanks to updated technology). By halfway through I was in a sea of denim, leather, and hair.

3 Traxx, Faith (Nation) At first, this debut LP from Chicago-based producer Melvin Oliphant III sounds as if someone melted the entire history of house music in a crucible and pounded out what was left using the latest tools available, then took the shards and shaped them into eleven pieces (some smooth, some rough) that fit together perfectly. But that’s just the surface.

4 Caboclo ceremony (Salvador de Bahia, Brazil) The room was filled with smoke from the burning horn of a goat and many cigars. It was the first time I had heard the traditional three-drum atabaque ensemble in person. Fireworks signaled each change; the drummers skillfully lilted and paused within each rhythm, pulling the dancers into a trance.

5 Juanita More (downstairs at Vandam, New York) The entrance was free and the dance floor was sweaty during this summer show. The music maintained constant momentum and tension between glittering disco and blazing electro. By 3 AM, one tranny was trying to hold my hand while another was telling me about her problems via drunken hand movements. I thought, “Wow, maybe New York is back.”

6 Palms (White Rabbit/Galerie der Künste, Berlin) Borrowed equipment, intercontinental travel, and a new bass player all contributed to a slight sense of disorientation during this special night in July. Palms were loose yet intense as they navigated their magic debut album, It’s Midnight in Honolulu. Everyone in the room was hanging on the subtle changes, and by the time the group closed with the unreleased track “Lemon,” they had us in the, well, palm of their hand.

7 Rick Castro and Renata Abbade (Clube Glória, São Paulo) Rick and Renata took the stage in a crash of colors and dropped “Bootylicious”: “Beyoncé, can you handle this?” Renata cut out the track and karaoke-shouted, “I don’t think you can handle this!” She was right. The kids never knew what hit them, but they danced all night anyway to the team’s punishing rave tracks and carioca funk.

8 Kelvin Sholar (Restaurant Anheim, Berlin) Opening with a Jelly Roll Morton rag, this exceptional producer and keyboardist soon transitioned into a body of original solo piano material that evoked Kevin Saunderson as powerfully as it did Cecil Taylor. Time stopped.

9 Farley Jackmaster Funk (Santos Party House, New York) Something went wrong with Farley’s laptop, so he flipped through Eamon Harkin’s record bag and pulled out all the classic house records. What followed was a perfect mix of Chicago anthems, most delivered with live vocals by the man himself.

10 Nd_Baumecker (Panorama Bar, Berlin) Normally Nd plays at peak time, 7–9 AM Sunday morning. This past September, though, I was able to see him warm up and start the night. More than any other DJ I have seen, when Nd plays what comes out is truly beautiful. Slowly the bass got deeper, the bpm got higher, and the bodies started to move, shifting from desperately trying to keep their cool to profoundly not giving a damn.

Gavin Russom released a narrative set of psychedelic-dance-music records in 2009, titled “Black Meteoric Star,” on New York’s DFA label.