Jarre Beyond The Clouds

Jean-Michel Jarre Live @ Spreckels Theatre

Jean-Michel Jarre live at Spreckels Theater (4/21/2018).

Saturday night, Snakes and I caught Jean-Michel Jarre at the Spreckels Theatre. Being the kind-hearted mensch that he is, Snakes hooked a brother up with a ticket to the show. We and Jarre go way back. It all started back in our school daze, when I was deep in the studio laying down what would become the b-side to Galaxies, Red Planet. On hearing the song, my wise uncle James remarked that it reminded him of Jarre's music. I had never heard of the man, and so he explained that he was one of the original electronic artists to make a big splash back in the day.

Fast-forward a few months to the following Christmas. On opening a gift from this very same uncle (with the tell-tale 5"x5½" dimensions), I was confronted with the Images compilation of Jarre's work. And thus opened up a whole new world of seventies electronica to my ears. As was often the case, Snakes and I would vibe out to the disc in the studio or cruising around town. Ultimately, word spread and eventually a tiny, informal Jean-Michel Jarre appreciation society seemed to spring up nearly overnight in the greater Allied Gardens/Grantville area. Ok, so it was just a handful of mates, but still...

Fast-forward twenty years spent with the man's music - the both of us acquiring various records like Oxygene and Equinoxe on multiple formats, spinning them out from time to time, plus descending further into the world of early electronic music with every passing year - and we're walking into the Spreckels Theatre to see Jean-Michel Jarre live and in person. It quickly became apparent that there was a sizeable presence of French ex-pats in attendance, while the age range of the crowd was pretty diverse. I'd guess we were somewhere in the middle.

Marco Grenier Works The Machines

Marco Grenier works the machines.

With little fanfare, the opening DJ strode out to set the stage with a sprawling set of cinematic electronica. Picture a hybrid of both Blade Runner OSTs, and that'll give you a decent idea of how it all began, with downtempo industrial beats entering the picture after the sweeping overture slowly gained steam. There was one track that reminded us of Daft Punk's score for Tron: Legacy before the set ultimately eased into a grinding midtempo stomp (think Fluke's Zion from the second Matrix film). There was even one song that sounded like a dead ringer for The Dream-era Kevin Saunderson.

Once the set had concluded, the lights came on for about twenty minutes. It was a stunning set, but no announcement was made of his name until Jarre called it out at the end of the evening (but we didn't catch it at the time!). Thankfully, Snakes did a bit of digging and discovered that the DJ in question was Marco Grenier. Mystery solved! Definitely worth investigating further. We were still reeling from it all when, after a brief wait, the lights dimmed again and show was ready to begin...

The Show Begins

The show begins...

With a wild slab of synth noise cutting through the theatre from behind a translucent screen, the first portentous chords of the evening set the clockwork wheels in motion. Suddenly, the screen opened like a doorway to reveal vector door after vector door, revealing Jarre atop a platform center stage, ensconced within his machines. As Jarre conjured massive sounds from his vast array of synthesizers, he was matched by equally dazzling visuals in an remarkable multimedia spectacle. Accordingly, since we were seated for most of the show with no one sitting behind us, I snapped far more pictures than I usually would.

Lost In The Hall Of Mirrors

Lost in the hall of mirrors.

For the entirety of the show, Jarre was flanked by a drummer on his left and another synthesist on his right (actually, they both were manning myriad instruments at various points), bolstering the sound into more muscular groove than one might expect (shades of François Kevorkian drumming against Walter Gibbons' marathon DJ sets at Galaxy 21).

Jarre: Synthesizer King

Jarre: Synthesizer King

It dawned on me about fifteen minutes in - and I can't believe it hadn't earlier - that Jarre's music exists not only in the continuum of seventies space music (with Oxygene a quintessential head elpee), but also served as a perfect complement to some of the more propulsive dancefloor moves of contemporary electronic denizens like Patrick Cowley and Giorgio Moroder in much the same way The Orb and The Future Sound Of London would have with the likes of Orbital and Joey Beltram. With Kraftwerk fitting into this equation roughly the same way Detroit does (but of course!).

Jarre Don't Play

Jarre don't play!

Suddenly, mid-show there was an unexpected shift into almost Wax Trax!-style industrial/EBM music. One tune made me flash on Front Line Assembly's The Blade (it took everything in me not to start repeating stick 'em up muthafucka, this is a hold up!). There was even a collaboration with Edward Snowden titled Exit (apparently from the recent Electronica 2 album), a pounding paranoid thriller of a track that tackled the subject of privacy (and the fight for the right to keep it).

Snowden himself even appeared onscreen to give a brief speech mid-song before being sampled to bits during the track's x-ray denouement. It was all very much of the spirit of Cabaret Voltaire's intense interrogations of surveillance and control. Thanks to Snakes for providing the above photo... I was so mesmerized by this sequence that I forgot to snap a picture!

Jarre: Guitar Hero?!?

Jarre... Guitar Hero?!?

The big surprise came at the end of the extended sequence, when Jarre himself strapped on a guitar to add some rugged crunch to the track's climax. Yeah, that was pretty cool.

Oxygene

Oxygene!?! More like Toxygene!

Of course various portions of Jarre's flagship piece, Oxygene were peppered throughout the marathon performance. The first to feature was the stratospheric drift of Oxygene 2, which coming face to face with in a live context drove home the fact that it's very much of a piece with someone like Daniele Baldelli's cosmic visions. I've always loved the way his loping rhythms aren't remotely like anyone else's (and the remain an obvious precursor to ambient house).

Oxygene 4 - perhaps the man's most widely known moment - featured as well, during which people were dancing in the aisles (one woman was doing some very spaced-out dancing - not unlike Keith Flint's car surfing during The Prodigy's Out Of Space music video. The Oxygene 8 (from the 90s-era Oxygene 7-13 record, a sequel of sorts) which I remember fit quite well with some of the more pastoral corners of trance that were happening at the time). I was reminded of Dr. Alex Paterson's remix of the track, which after thorough rejection from Jarre himself, he wound up releasing as The Orb's Toxygene. That was pretty funny.

Jarre Plays The Lights

Jarre plays the lasers.

At one point, Jarre - ever the showman - played a series of lasers fanning out toward the ceiling. Every time his hand would break the stream of the laser, a bass note would ring through the theatre. Depending on which stream he touched, a different note would sound off. Inevitably, the sequence grew increasingly complex until the man was doling out notes in rapid succession. If I'm not mistaken, this has been a hallmark of his stage show for some time.

Jarre vs. Pet Shop Boys

Neil Tennant derezzed!

Another surprise (in an evening full of them) was a track that Jarre had recently recorded with the Pet Shop Boys, featuring twenty foot tall digital recreations of Neil Tennant singing to the rafters. A melancholy synth pop epic, it was without a doubt one of the evening's highlights. The visual effect was pretty trippy too.

Feel The Mood

Feel the mood.

One thing that quickly became evident was how comfortable Jarre had become with the pulsing grooves of dance music, indeed much of the night's music was taken from his recent two Electronica albums. I must admit that I hadn't kept up with the man's more recent music, but after hearing a considerable selection of what he's been up to in the ensuing years, it's painfully apparent that further investigation is essential (along with the Pet Shop Boys and Snowden, Electronica 2 also features collaborations with Jeff Mills, Primal Scream, The Orb, Sébastien Tellier, Yello and Cyndi Lauper!).

Dancers In Motion

Dancers In Motion

There was one sequence involving stylized dancers that was particularily memorable. Segments that I missed documenting included spooky performances of Equinoxe 4 and Equinoxe 7, featuring rows of parallaxing binocular people from the album's sleeve. At one point, I could swear a giant alien grey appeared in the middle of the screen, and there was also a return of the figures holding up their cellphone cameras in lieu of eyeglasses!

Jarre was a gracious host, descending a staircase to interact with the audience fairly often, which was a pleasant surprise. Towards the end of the performance, he even gave shout outs to his backing musicians along with the opening act. It was rather fitting for a man who's always made electronic music with an unmistakably human core. Seeing him in person was in something I never thought I'd get to experience, and it exceeded my expectations in every way. As the crowd poured out of the theater and into the streets, Snakes and I headed down to catch a ride home, discussing the night's music like we had a thousand times before. And suddenly, it was as if we were teenagers again...

Haim Right Now

Haim live at The North Park Observatory

Haim live at The North Park Observatory (4/19/2018).

The Haim sisters rocked The North Park Observatory last night (and I do mean rocked). Their glittering sound had a harder guitar attack in the flesh, thanks largely to Danielle Haim's six-string pyrotechnics and the band's BIG beats in full effect. In fact, the ladies commenced the show by pounding out a martial rhythm in unison on a trio of crystal clear drum kits. The effect recalled The Secret Machines on their Now Here Is Nowhere Tour, that same sense of aircraft-hangar-sized sonic vastness. In the end, it suited their sound just fine.

The band roamed the mirrored stage freely, Danielle striking rock star poses as she unfurled arcing guitar solos, Alana Haim working the crowd like a stand up comedian and Este Haim doling out some mean bass stage left. At one point, they even strolled down for a synchronized dance (as I'm sure all sisters can relate)! The one constant throughout the show was that they seemed to be enjoying themselves thoroughly, and the feeling in the audience was mutual, in thrall as they were to the spectacle (at the show's climax, cannons shot confetti over the crowd).

During one of her soliloquies, Alana confessed that the inspiration for her to start playing music was seeing Joe Walsh perform Life's Been Good at an Eagles concert when she was a kid, which makes perfect sense. The Haim sound seems to connect with the sound of eighties L.A. (Fleetwood Mac, Don Henley, Stevie Nicks, etc.) that we grew up steeped in, in a similar manner to how SA-RA sourced their sound in that same decade's machine soul, all while carving out their own genuinely unique sonic world to inhabit with great relish.

The end result came out sounding like nothing else around, possibly even transcending their inspirations in the process, standing as a wholly unique phenomenon in the body pop. Originality certainly has its advantages, as the sisters Haim showcase brilliantly, setting them apart from much of the moment's landfill chart music. That, of course, and the ability to pen a truly great tune. Which we will all no doubt still be humming in ten years time...

Jungle Life

Haim live at The North Park Observatory

Haim live at The North Park Observatory (4/19/2018).

The Haim sisters rocked The North Park Observatory last night (and I do mean rocked). Their glittering sound had a harder guitar attack in the flesh, thanks largely to Danielle Haim's six-string pyrotechnics and the band's BIG beats in full effect. In fact, the ladies commenced the show by pounding out a martial rhythm in unison on a trio of crystal clear drum kits. The effect recalled The Secret Machines on their Now Here Is Nowhere Tour, that same sense of aircraft-hangar-sized sonic vastness. In the end, it suited their sound just fine.

The band roamed the mirrored stage freely, Danielle striking rock star poses as she unfurled arcing guitar solos, Alana Haim working the crowd like a stand up comedian and Este Haim doling out some mean bass stage left. At one point, they even strolled down for a synchronized dance (as I'm sure all sisters can relate)! The one constant throughout the show was that they seemed to be enjoying themselves thoroughly, and the feeling in the audience was mutual, in thrall as they were to the spectacle (at the show's climax, cannons shot confetti over the crowd).

During one of her soliloquies, Alana confessed that the inspiration for her to start playing music was seeing Joe Walsh perform Life's Been Good at an Eagles concert when she was a kid, which makes perfect sense. The Haim sound seems to connect with the sound of eighties L.A. (Fleetwood Mac, Don Henley, Stevie Nicks, etc.) that we grew up steeped in, in a similar manner to how SA-RA sourced their sound in that same decade's machine soul, all while carving out their own genuinely unique sonic world to inhabit with great relish.

The end result came out sounding like nothing else around, possibly even transcending their inspirations in the process, standing as a wholly unique phenomenon in the body pop. Originality certainly has its advantages, as the sisters Haim showcase brilliantly, setting them apart from much of the moment's landfill chart music. That, of course, and the ability to pen a truly great tune. Which we will all no doubt still be humming in ten years time...

Terminal Vibes

...and on and on and on. And so we've reached the halfway point in the Terminal Vibration saga, concluding the core eighties segment of the trip. The second half will trace these many pathways into the nineties and beyond, through electronic music, hip hop and finally through the machine soul of Timbaland, The Neptunes and SA-RA right up to the present day. It all leads back to the question I (off-handedly) laid out two years ago: Where does machine funk intersect with post punk? The story of which can start nowhere but the eighties.

Usually when discussing the eighties, one will descend immediately on what might be termed new romantic music: dawn-of-MTV groups in eyeliner, synths front and center, the second British invasion. I remember this all being a punchline all through the grungey nineties - even as I still carried a torch for the music, tee hee (I've no shame!) - it was supposedly anathema to the era. Nevermind that beneath the surface image of the decade lodged in the public imagination there was a whole other eighties, the eighties of My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, Metal Box, Critical Beatdown and Ammnesia, traces of whose DNA ran through the very fabric of nineties music. No! All of that was old music.

Of course now we all know how this ends, with the 21st century, the post punk revival and suddenly the eighties were cool again. And yet I think the caricature that was erected as a result missed large swathes of what the era was all about. Only natural, I suppose. Still, the case could be made that what you had in the eighties with records like My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, Learning To Cope With Cowardice and Dance Hall Style - incidentally some of my favorite records ever - was essentially a dry run for the whole nineties m.o. In short, they play like a hallucination of the future.

I'm talking about the relationship between Tricky and Mark Stewart, Timbaland and Mtume, Goldie and David Sylvian, The Chemical Brothers and The Bomb Squad, Carl Craig and Kraftwerk, The Neptunes and Prince, Andrew Weatherall and The Clash, Terranova and Manuel Göttsching, Daft Punk and Lil' Louis, Bandulu and Creation Rebel, Drexciya and Hashim, Underworld and... Underworld: it was all hovering there, just below the surface, quietly defining the decade.

Terranova's DJ-Kicks and The Prodigy's Dirtchamber Sessions make this point brilliantly. Alternative rock? Everything laid out by December 31st, 1989. Hip Hop? Logical progression from Straight Outta Compton, Strictly Business and Straight Out The Jungle. Techno and house? Well defined eighties roots. Jungle? Well, you might have me there...

None of this is to take away from the nineties own innovations, which were of course considerable, but to bring them into relief within the context of the surrounding era(s). Much of the music from the eighties that fascinates us in this whole Terminal Vibration saga plays like attempts to work out music from the next decade before the groundwork had even been laid (oftentimes laying the groundwork by default in the process).

This experimentation took place in the wide-open terrain left in the wake of disco's dominance, more often than not at the interface between post punk and machine funk, which in roundabout fashion answers my initial question: Where does machine funk intersect with post punk? They intersected on the post-disco dancefloor, that wide-open space where anything was possible, where they linked up and rode the wave right up to the present day. Truth be told, we're all still riding it now.

Starting next week, we'll take a look at how it all happened.

Rockers ’37

Promotional sticker for the New Boots And Panties!! LP release (1977).1

My birthday was last Friday and my wonderful sister-in-law Leah happened to be in town for the festivities. She gave me this excellent anthology of punk-era communiqué from various broadsheet publications, promotional materials, posters and the like. The above image is taken from a two-page spread near the middle of the book, which in a timely bit of synchronicity links up with the other day's post per its coverage of the late great Ian Dury. This reproduction of a 1977 promo sticker spun me around as I was flipping through the book and - since I couldn't find anything about it online - I figured I'd scan it up here (with just a splash of color) for your viewing pleasure.

Here is the book in question, Punk Press: Rebel Rock In The Underground Press 1968-1980:

Which is a veritable treasure trove of proto-punk/punk/post-punk text and imagery - vibes for days - featuring figures ranging from The Knickerbockers and William Burroughs to The Clash and Iggy Pop to Suicide and Clock DVA, while publications like In The City, Zigzag, Sniffin' Glue, NME and Metal Hurlant. Like a said, a real treasure trove! Thanks again to Leah who - despite being tempted to keep the book for herself(!) - was kind enough to contribute it to the Parallax Library for posterity. Images from within will no doubt surface here from time to time as we continue this little post punk excursion in the months to come. In the meantime, Hit me with your rhythm stick and groove to some Ian Dury & The Blockheads.2

Right now, this old man's gotta take a breather...


1. Vincent Bernière and Mariel Primois, Punk Press: Rebel Rock In The Underground Press 1968-1980 (Abrams, 2012), 70-71.
2. Check out If I Was With A Woman on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEQLR1iV5qI.

Terminal Vibration: The Playlists

It just occurred to me that it might be worthwhile to include a playlist with each episode in the ongoing Terminal Vibration saga for your listening pleasure. I've been putting the finishing touches on Chapter IV, but in the meantime I've updated the previous two chapters to include a playlist of relevant muzique:

The idea with each playlist is to capture the essence of the chapter in sonic form: an audio companion to the text, if you will. Each one links to a Youtube playlist (there were just too many songs not available on Spotify this time out), so check 'em out while the videos are still available!

Enjoy.

Hello 2018

Well it's a new year (and a new toad). 2017 was spent largely laying the groundwork for the coming year, with the Parallax Stax/BISON project providing the backbone for the whole next phase of Parallax Heights to come. As a result, there was less content posted here as the bulk of the work was clocked in elsewhere. Sure, there was the mega Megatop feature, along with a couple others, but it was a relatively quiet year here at Parallax Moves.

Not so with 2018. There are a whole brace of features coming around the bend, features that were half-finished and delayed over the course of last year, along with brand new material waiting in the wings. The first upcoming feature is The Parallax 200, picking up where the original The Parallax 100 left off with the next 100 records. It's a feature that was originally meant to be unveiled a year ago, but circumstances delayed its arrival. All the better, as it gave me a chance to put on the finishing touches and jostle the contents into a rock hard 100 - mirroring the immutable essence of the original 100 - even if it meant that Woebot beat me to the punch with his excellent 101-200 list1 (which I'd still like to engage with here at some point in greater detail). At any rate, the next 100 will turn up here on the 8th, three years + three days on from the original 100... so you know what to do.

Beyond that, I hope you have a lovely 2018 and choose to spend a small slice of it with us here at Parallax Moves, where rhythm is life and life is rhythm.


1. Woebot. 101-100. Woebot. Sep. 2017. (http://www.woebot.com/2017/09/101-200.html)

Tears In The Rain

I've been meaning to mention Blade Runner 2049, which I'm sure everyone has seen by now. Of particular note is the incredible score by Hans Zimmer, who brilliantly hones in on the Vangelis original and amplifies it with the beauty of decay. There's a real MBV, wall-of-synth attack to the music, mirroring the slate grey of the gothic architecture and torrential rain looming throughout the film. In a sense, it reminds of Zimmer's work with Daft Punk on the Tron: Legacy score from a few years back, but in many ways manages to surpass it.

Of note is another Blade Runner resource over at Fact Magazine, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Beats?, a fascinating short documentary on Vangelis' score and its impact on electronic music in the ensuing years. Electronic artists like Gary Numan (featured quite heavily in fact), Tricky, Ikonika, Stuart Braithwaite (of Mogwai), Abayomi, Hans Berg, Kuedo, Dillinja, Clare Wieck and Vangelis himself all appear. Even Blade Runner 2049's director Denis Villeneuve shows up to give some thoughts.

Highlights include Vangelis in his 1984 studio discussing how he wrings feeling from his machines and Tricky remarking that [Blade Runner] is the reason I did The Fifth Element, I thought Fifth Element was gonna be like that and it didn't end up like that! You get to see some music videos that draw on Blade Runner's dystopian iconography, from Björk's All Is Full Of Love to Run The Jewels' self-titled hit and even The Spice Girls' Light Up Your Life. Vangelis says it best about two-thirds through the film: All the acoustic instruments, I think they are perfect. But if you want to go beyond that, then you use a synthesizer.

Reverb Realm: India and the Ocean of Sound

There's nothing quite like Woebot tearing it up - yet again - with a two hour, twenty minute Indian Classical Mix1 to cool you out in the midst of a long, hot summer. Serious science dropped indeed! The man hits you with some powerful words before taking you on an extended sonic journey:

You may not have enjoyed this music before, you may be prejudiced against it. But cast aside your preconceptions - zone out - think of it as summertime, Ambient Music if you like - but LISTEN to the awe-inspiring breadth of expression these masters b-ring to but single instruments as these sonic worlds unfurl like mandalas.

Indeed, you switch it on and the music just flows over you. Simply incredible. The man's right to focus on the otherworldly, often quite electric quality of this organic music, singling out the tambura as that constant drone which sounds like electrical power-lines. The notion of the mix as ambient music is quite an interesting lense to listen through, as this music should certainly appeal to fans of Brian Eno, The Black Dog or Aphex Twin and their excursions into innerspace music both strange and wonderful. Historically, it has often been a music approached through one doorway or another, be it The Beatles or the Coltranes, Terry Riley or Yehudi Menuhin. Still, it's a memorable moment the first time one encounters something like Shivkumar Sharma's Raga Madhuvanti for the first time - the real deal, straight from the source - a feeling not unlike plugging into the national grid.

In truth, while I'm a huge fan of Indian classical music, be it Hindustani or in the Karnatic tradition, my collection isn't nearly as deep as it should be. In part this is due to various geographical realities, but also - and Woebot touches on this - the fact that there have been scant reissues of the stuff over the past twenty years. I do snap up whatever O.G.'s I manage to stumble across (although I have only the Shivkumar Sharma, Ali Akbar Khan and Panallal Ghosh records of the ones featured in the mix... and I've long been stalking a copy of the Ustad Nathoo Khan), but the fact is that it's getting harder to track many of them down. Coupled with the fact that I got hooked up with the music relatively late in the game in the first place (birthdate-related more than anything, although I do wish that I'd clocked this music way back in junior high), it's an often frustrating situation.

These days, Bollywood-related reissues have an even stronger presence on the racks it seems (see Charanjit Singh's incredible Synthesizing: Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat, which Bombay Connection unearthed a few years back), than Indian classical recorded within the twenty year period stretching from the mid-1950s to the 1970s. Contrast this with the ease with which one can find the storied concerts of the Arturo Toscanini and George Szell eras, lovingly remastered and repackaged (the sterling work of labels like Deutsche Grammophon and RCA Victor springs to mind) since the dawn of the CD era. Surely a comparable reissue program for Indian classical is in order?2

All of which brings us back to the importance of mixes like this one, shining as they do a light on such powerful, all-encompassing music. Woebot's take on Indian classical has always been a unique one, and I've always dug the connection that he continually highlights between the Hindustani tradition and its profound influence on Arthur Russell's well-deep excursions into sound (in parallel with the repetition thing running right through minimalism and electronic music).

Despite the resistance one often finds when the average listener is confronted with extended running times and repetition, it's without a doubt been one of the crucial building blocks of music since time immemorial. From the extended ragas of Ali Akbar Khan and Terry Riley's all night Persian Surgery Dervishes sessions to Manuel Göttsching's electronic opus E2-E4 and Basic Channel's marathon Quadrant Dub to Arthur Russell's sunset hymn In The Light Of The Miracle, it's all about locking onto that central pulse and riding it into the horizon on infinity's wings.

Like Prince once said, there's joy in repetition.


2. The Indian classical back catalog of HMV wouldn't be a bad plae to start.

RE: Room, Parallax (An Update)

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