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CD Feature/ DJ Sprinkles: "Midtown 120 Blues"

img  Tobias

Any responsible artist will be extremely careful with the use of nostalgia. One of the most misunderstood and abused of emotions, it portrays the past as an ambrosial place of refuge and deceivingly distorts the fluent and continuous line between the „here“ and „then“. In nostalgia, we see historical events not so much from a temporal perspective but as glorified states which in their auburn shimmer seem unattainably remote. And yet, glorified memories are still the foundation many acts have built their entire artistic careers on – perhaps, because they are so remarkably seductive in real life as well. Just like them, Therre Thaemlitz has also taken the journey back in time on „Midtown 120 Blues“. The album returns to New York of the early 80s, when „Deep House started out as minimal mid-tempo instrumentals“ and Thaemlitz was a „nobody“, spinning records in „nowhere clubs, unheard and non-paid“. And yet, the record is neither a posthumous tribute to those days, nor an effort of recreating what was lost in the digital reality of the studio.

Nor is it, contradictory to what the angry opening sequence might suggest, a merciless reckoning with the regretful demise of something beautiful. Rather, „Midtown 120 Blues“ can be considered a personal view on musical history and on the importance of seemingly unimportant things like genre definitions and stylistic tags. „House is not universal, it is hyper-specific“ Thaemlitz says on the introductory reflection and thereby counterpoints the currently ubiqitous notion of the „house nation“ as a unified movement which rose like a pink bubble from a lava-like underground to general awareness. He remembers how he sought to establish „Madonna-free Zones“ as a protest against the „Queen of Pop's“ tendency to dilute substantial differences into a rainbowcoloured, decontextualised cocktail which no longer smacked of anything in particular. His gaze is turned inside: „House isn't so much a sound as a situation“ is probably the pivotal statement of the album and far from substituting one cliche with another, it hints at an explanation which is beyond both scientific formulas and verbose definitions.

Which may go a long way in explaining Thaemlitz' dislike of the various kinds of vocal variations of an essentially „strictly rhythm“-oriented genre. While major labels and big distributors sought for assimilation, adaption and approximation, the fragmented and hyper-specific micro-communities rightly cherished House for its individuality, intimacy and incomparability. The aforementioned „House nation“ formed itself each and every night on the dancefloor, consisting of minor crowds with highly differentiated aesthetics and philosophies. Vocal House ignored the seminal distinctions between these groups, focusing on a compressed set of acknowledged, yet essentially soul-less banalities.

As so often, words got in the way and distracted attention from the simple truth: House is not the pumping propulsion of a four to the floor, it is the gentle flow of a man walking at a comfortable speed. It is not a clockwork-like machinery of high-pitched moans, Bassdrums, Claps and Hihats, it is all time, texture and timbre. You can sense these fundamentals in every second of the record. The title track or pieces like „Ball'r“ and „Brenda's $20 Dilemma“ don't „do“ anything, they don't „move“ or „develop“. Instead, they open like prismatic flowers, budding and coming to fruition within the slender timeline of six to ten minutes on the strength of a nutritious manure of stereo-panned flips, resonant Bass pulses, phased Piano chords, dreamy Flute palpatations and gentle percussive brushes. The Kickdrum very often all but disappears underneath the warm shelter of these elements and arrangements are translucent, open and permeable, waiting for bodies and minds to fill them.

As the album progresses, this tendency gradually makes way for a more incisive sound and a notably more physical groove. More and more, Thaemlitz takes on the traits of his Sprinkles alter ego, building the record like a DJ would a set and going from seemingly directionless beginnings to an increasingly hypnotic unfolding. The tone gets darker too, growing more erotic and sensual. The almost eleven-minute long „Sisters I don't know what this world is coming to“ and the brooding, sultry and blackbloodedly pulsating promise of twelve-minute journey „Grand Central“ are the obvious climaxes of „Midtown 120 Blues“, before it assumes its warm, embracive tone again and slowly exhales into silence with a content smile. For all of its club-set-qualities, the album firmly focuses on immersive aspects. Slowly but quite inavoidably, it draws its audience in until the present dissolves into pure sound, straight to the emotional bull's eye Thaemlitz was aiming for.

Of course, a work like this can not avoid sounding nostalgic at times. With every beat, you feel closer to this mysterious glow, this „situation“, where your pain and suffering were not ignored but understood. But what it does not do is pretend as though these sensations are stuffed away in some distant past. The wonders of „Midtown 120 Blues“ are very real and tangible and they make you want to go out and do something about what's amiss instead of bemoaning the fact that you weren't there when „it was going down“. Responsibility may not have been one of the typical mantras of the House nation, but then again, that was part of the point of this project.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: DJ Sprinkles / Terre Thaemlitz
Homepage: Mule Music

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