Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Movement Called Kraftwerk

I keep an ear out for what young people are listening to, since new music is always the most exciting frontier. Among serious listeners of today, the more popular genres are EDM, trance, techno, and of course, hip-hop. I admit to not totally grasping the beauty of all of these genres, in spite of the adventures of Robert Moog and the early explorations of synthesized sound being highlights of our teen years. Jean Michel Jarre, Stockhausen and Brian Eno were high art. My friends and I frothed at the mouth as we built ring modulators and drum machines from circuits published in EFY magazine. When Casio released the monophonic VL-Tone, we went berserk with its programmable attack, delay, sustain, release option. As we got older, and taste and technology evolved, we let go of it as youthful obsessions that were of no lasting value.

One of the bands from that era that was quite unlike anything else was Kraftwerk. It was not rock. It was not dance music. It did not showcase keyboard or melodic skills of any great merit. It had no pretense of social relevance beyond the industrial/robotic angle. It was a focused, unapologetic celebration of synthesized sound. It stood at such a distance from any other form of music that it was a genre by itself. Before Kraftwerk hit Indian shores with their more successful releases, their bland, almost anti-emotional appeal earned them a good amount of disdain from the critics community; but the kids loved it. Their campus years film footage shows the kind of following they had even before they got their fingers on the pulse of the mass audience. The timing of this music with the increased interest in altered consciousness made things easier. Interestingly, their work laid the foundations for techno, synthpop, and EDM as we know them today.

The Man Machine - The Kraftwerk album that I first heard

By the time the 80s came around, the sound was accepted, their compositions and albums got better packaged for mass consumption, and their German avant-garde clinical image became an essential component of their appeal. But the music was still the same. Clever use of synthesizers and sequencers around simple composition with elementary lyrics if any. Not the kind of stuff to stand the test of time, one might have thought then.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Music's Biggest Night 2017

There are few things in life more pleasurable than complaining. For stuffy music lovers like me, the best time to do it is on Grammy night. I have been lamenting the death of serious music live and online on that day for the past several years, here and on Twitter, only to be proven wrong every single time.

Look at the irony of the times. 2016 hijacked the epithet of the year that music died with relentless additions to the list of musicians who made the great crossing. 2017 saw even the relevance of the phrase be defiled by tagging it to the Trump inauguration. Next you know, it will be applied to the recall of a mobile phone battery. 

Being a good gambler, here are my bets for the awards in the few categories that interest me any longer. Updated now with the winners as they roll in.

Best Contemporary Instrumental Album - Culcha Vulcha (also strong contention from Steve Gadd's Way Back Home) (Went to Snarky Puppy)
Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album - Tossup between Fallen Angels and Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin (This one was out before I woke up for the main event and went to Willie Nelson)
Best Pop Duo/Group Performance - Cheap Thrills (Sia) (Went to Stressed Out by Twenty One Pilots, a great track too)
Album of the Year - Tossup between Lemonade and 25
Record of the Year - Tossup between Hello and Formation and 7 years
Best Alternative Music Album - Blackstar (Not just this, it picked up Best Rock Performance, Best Rock Song, Best Recording Package, and Best Engineering as well. Kind of every category it was nominated in.)
Best World Music Album - Land of Gold Anoushka Shankar (Went to Yo-Yo Ma for Sing Me Home)





Monday, January 09, 2017

Peter Sarstedt (1941-2017): Where Do You Go To, My Lovely

Like all good missionary schooled, brown tagged boys in the 70s, Tata and I spent much time and energy teaching ourselves how to hold chords on what everyone called a "Spanish guitar." Two of the very first songs we learned to play and sing were Papa by Paul Anka and Where Do You Go To My Lovely by Peter Sarstedt. This morning, the news came through that Sarstedt had died.


The last year saw some of the greatest minds in the field of contemporary music die. Some people called 2016 the year the music died, an allusion to a great song about a great tragedy. It also saw the second time in the history of the award that a singer-songwriter got the Nobel Prize for Literature. Yet through it all, this blog remained un-updated. This morning, as I read the news, a million associations from childhood came flooding back, and now, at the end of the day, I decided to separate the wheat from the chaff and write why I will always think highly of this song and singer.

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