By Ché Salgado
If it hasn’t come to your attention already, Houston will host the world’s best festival since ATP 2.0 back in April. Day for Night has been around since last year and, just like this year, boasted a fantastic lineup with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, New Order, Flylo, Battles, the Philip Glass Ensemble and so many more. No doubt that Day for Night put on a great festival in 2015, but this year, they’ve absolutely knocked it out of the park. With world class acts like Aphex Twin, Björk (Digital), The Jesus and Mary Chain, Oneohtrix Point Never and Run the Jewels absolutely stacking the lineup, there’s no better place for a music lover to be than Houston, TX on Dec. 17 and 18. However, we here at KTSW recognize that some of these names might be a little alien to the average KTSW listener since many of these artists can’t be found on any radio station, even ours as they aren’t in our format. But seeing as Day for Night is clearly by and for music lovers, which we at KTSW happen to be, we saw fit to get you up to speed on some of the biggest names at Day For Night 2016.
Aphex Twin: Cornwall, UK
Richard D. James, better known as Aphex Twin, has been making music for over 30 years now (that is, if you believe him) and has risen to become one of the biggest names in electronic music. In many peoples’ minds, Aphex Twin is the epitome of IDM, or “intelligent dance music”, a form of electronic music that employs all the same tools that acid producers or house producers use, but twists and morphs the parameters of the machines to find new sounds, new timbres. It doesn’t exactly move dance floors. Nevertheless, if you’re looking to get into IDM, there’s no better place to start than with Aphex Twin. Still recently back from a 13 year hiatus, which he broke with 2014’s Syro, the performance Aphex Twin gives in Houston will be his first U.S. show in eight years. You won’t want to miss it.
Essential release: 1996’s The Richard D. James Album propelled Aphex Twin to heights previously unimaginable for an IDM artist. After the release of this record, his music could be found in movie soundtracks, popular compilations, in mixes made by popular DJs, and all sorts of commercials. With tracks like “4”, “Fingerbib”, and “Yellow Calx”, even a newcomer won’t feel too alienated by Aphex Twin’s glitchy timbres and acid synths.
Björk (digital): Reykjavik, IS
This is tricky, as it’s still unclear what Björk is going to be doing exactly at this years Day for Night. But rest assured, if she’s in the building, it’s going to be good. Her set is described on the website as being “an immersive exhibition of digital and video works, resulting from Björk’s collaborations with some of the finest visual artists and programmers in the world.” Essentially, it’s classic Björk, defying our expectations to produce something totally unexpected. She’s been doing this for over 20 years now, whether it was making acclaimed music with the Sugarcubes, jumping out at us with the electronic-heavy albums Post and Homogenic, or, most recently, releasing her acclaimed “comeback” record, Vulnicura. Björk always has something up her sleeve so don’t worry if she won’t be doing something as straightforward as playing songs from her records, we are getting a Björk performance. If it’s anything like her records, it will be fantastic.
Essential release: Though she might not perform anything from it live, it’s probably in your best interest to become acquainted with 1997’s Homogenic, which established Björk as a premiere genre-bending artist. Making extensive use of string arrangements and mixing them with electronic timbres that you’d find on an Autechre record, the results are stunning. Songs such as “Joga” and “The Bachelorette” are conventionally compelling while the execution is unlike anything you’d think to hear on a pop record.
The Jesus and Mary Chain: East Killbride, UK
Shoegaze precursors, noise appropriators, Shangri-Las with distortion, whatever label you wish to throw upon The Jesus and Mary Chain, that’s fine, just don’t downplay their contributions to pop music. Leading the way for the fusion of sweet melodies with harsh, screaming guitars, The J&MC began as early signees to Creation Records, the same label that brought you Loveless, Souvlaki, Bandwagonesque, Nowhere and Screamadelica. Oh, and Oasis. Pioneers of noise-pop there’s no telling how many bands The Jesus and Mary Chain have influenced, from the likes of My Bloody Valentine to my friend, Nick, in Nebraska.
The last time the band was in Texas, they were at Austin Psych Fest, 2015 on a tour commemorating the 30th anniversary of their seminal noise-pop record, Psychocandy. And although the listening homework won’t be so easy this time around, it’s no problem because the Mary Chain really don’t have a bad record in their entire discography.
Essential release: 1985’s Psychocandy was, upon it’s release, unlike most anything pop had ever thrown upon us, the unsuspecting public. Their shows supporting the record frequently dissolved into riots, and I’ve heard at least one case of children at the time being forbidden to listen to the record. It might seem tame now, but in 1985, putting sounds like this in pop music just wasn’t common. Psychocandy broke that barrier in pop’s eternal quest to prove to the world that it really can be anything. Just listen to “Just Like Honey” or “The Hardest Walk” and tell me you don’t think that’s a pop song.
Run the Jewels: New York City, NY
Taking rapper, producer and New York native El-P and sticking him with Atlanta rap luminary Killer Mike, you get Run the Jewels, one of the most abrasive, aggressive and brightest burning hip-hop acts that this decade has given us.
First brought together by a Cartoon Network executive, the two became fast friends, collaborating with each other, producing for and featuring on each others records and touring together. Then in 2013, we got their debut off of Fool’s Gold as a free download. Three years and a record later (parody records not allowed), the two are just about at every major festival you could think of. They were in Texas just last month for Sound on Sound and at both of the fall Austin festivals in 2014, Austin City Limits and Fun Fun Fun Fest. Now they’re in Houston acting as the best consolation prize ever for those who thought Kendrick Lamar was actually performing at this years iteration of Day for Night as well. Woke hip-hop act count: still stabilized.
Essential release: 2014’s Run the Jewels 2 won high praise and topped several year end lists, including Pitchfork, Complex and Stereogum. Although the real right answer is D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, it’s not hard to see why this record won. Employing their trademark aggressiveness, hard El-P produced beats and the first time I’d heard Zack de la Rocha on a record since the last time I listened to Rage Against the Machine in middle school, RTJ made for us a modern hip-hop classic that warrants spin after spin after spin.
Oneohtrix Point Never: Boston, MA
Despite moving to Brooklyn, Daniel Lopatin, better known as Oneohtrix Point Never, can never really escape his suburban, eastern-Massachusetts background. Whether it’s the way his music is informed by a distaste for the puritanical undercurrent that runs through that part of the country or the fact that his name is a reference to Boston radio station 106.7, it stays with him, influencing him to do things like uh, I don’t know, make acclaimed records out of samples from ’80s and ’90s commercials from his childhood, or essentially create and then (harshly) disavow Vaporwave, a genre that drinks from the same pool. At any rate, with the creativity and inventive spirit that you can find in Daniel Lopatin, it’s safe to say he’d be making acclaimed records regardless of origin.
Originally scheduled to play at this year’s cancelled Levitation Fest, OPN is back in Texas, and for many people, his performance is a must-see. Just be warned, there probably won’t be any setlist. It will probably be Dan sitting at a table with some machines and a laptop expounding the experimental music he makes for an hour. Treat it like something long-form. Listen to his records, sure, but just know when you go to see him, you might only get snippets of songs rather than full performances of them. But that of course doesn’t mean there won’t be a performance, there will be, and it might be confusing at times, but at other points, it’s sure to be fantastic or enlightening. I’m sure that’s all Lopatin really wants.
Essential release: Like I said before, there’s little listening homework to be done because it’s genuinely in doubt if he’ll even play a single song of his in full. But when you listen to 2013’s R Plus Seven, you might end up asking yourself what it even means to play songs like these in full, what could quantify that? Rather, the best way you’re probably going to enjoy an OPN show is being open. Like Primal Scream advise the listener: don’t fight it, feel it and that might make it all the more rewarding when you hear a snippet from “Chrome Country”, “Replica” or “Boring Angel”.
Kamasi Washington: Inglewood, CA
In this no doubt electronic-heavy lineup, there is the reprieve for those who have misguided moments of panic about the state of music. Though I’m fairly certain Kamasi Washington has no hang ups like that (it might even be an insult to begin a paragraph about him by immediately mentioning those sorts of people, and if so, I apologize,) there’s no doubt that somewhere, at this moment, is a misguided elitist who is cold on electronic music, probably cold on this festival. This one’s for you.
One of the premiere young jazz artists of today, despite only releasing his first solo album last year on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder Records, Kamasi Washington has so much to his name. First off, he’s been active for over twelve years, first releasing music with the Young Jazz Giants, a jazz quartet which also featured Stephen Bruner, who you probably know as Thundercat. In recent years you could have caught him in one of the several studios that Kendrick Lamar used to record his landmark 2015 record, To Pimp a Butterfly. You could have caught him working with Flying Lotus on his 2014 record, You’re Dead! Or maybe at Kingsize Soundlabs sometime in either of those years where he was recording his three-hour solo debut, The Epic. Much like Oneohtrix Point Never, Kamasi’s Day for Night show is likely going to be steeped in longform jazz, so if that’s your thing, great. If it’s not, give The Epic a spin, it’s well worth it.
Essential release: Well, he only has one release, but it’s a big one. The Epic, released in May 2015, is a three hour odyssey in which Kamasi makes up fast for the fact that in 16 years of performing, he had no solo record (not that big of a deal, but hey). From odes to Malcolm X to modern takes on Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”, The Epic has something for everybody, even those who have trouble wrapping their heads around the idea of no lyrics. If that’s you, check out “Cherokee”.
That’s it for KTSW’s Day for Night primer. Stay tuned for The official KTSW Day for Night playlist, coming soon!
Featured image by Katie Haughland via Flickr.