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Sorted For Grams & E's
Thoughts on the Grammys, Skrillex's redemption arc, Thomas Bangalter's new album and more.
Hello hello. It’s been a busy few weeks, both for AD and in the Daft-adjacent world.
For starters, Air unveiled a special 25th anniversary edition of Moon Safari, a campaign to which I contributed a retrospective essay at their / Warner’s request. Merci beaucoup.
There were a string of notable birthdays peppered across the second half of January: Frankie, Mehdi, Homework. Our friends Alan Braxe and Smugglers Way also announced the long-awaited, banger-stacked repress of The Upper Cuts. (Although, in last year’s Pitchfork story about Braxe + Falcon’s comeback, I hedged on a drop date of November — swing and a miss.)
Interviews have been coming thick and fast — 13 in the past 25 days! Flat out — so I’ve got some catching up to do with the newsletter, admittedly.
Plus, Thomas Bangalter has a new album coming down the public pike. Exciting.
The full Mythologies is a pretty stirring listen, which tracks with the reports coming from the ballet’s Parisian run last summer. It’s not a million miles off TRON: Legacy, actually, although the halogen buzz and nuanced passages on that OST are mostly expunged in a staccato assault which sounds like Bangalter and the Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine attempting to outmuscle a hurricane.
Genuinely not pulling your leg. Of course, all 89 minutes of the score aren’t THX-level bombast; just don’t anticipate a sedate playthrough. Mythologies is full of sturm und drang right from the jump (“III.” is incredible), mastered loud and generally as bold as I imagine a ballet score gets. Keep an ear out come April.
Okay, onto the highway. All eyes are tilted toward the Grammys this weekend, which is what got my grey cogs clanking into gear.
To be frank, I’d be lying to you if I said I was an avid consumer of the Grammys. Just there, I had to double-check whether it’s spelled Grammy’s, Grammies or Grammys. Apparently the stylistic preference is GRAMMYs, advice I will now choose to ignore.
The whole flap surrounding it honks of America’s irrepressible main character syndrome (bless 'em). It’s fairly easy to ignore if your tastes sit even marginally outside the pop orthodoxy, but however much underground types protest that it doesn’t move their personal needle, a Big Night at the rodeo clearly has some merit.
The 56th Annual Grammy Awards is the edition which has the most lore around it from a Daft POV. Random Access Memories and “Get Lucky” swept, resulting in:
1) A delightful performance featuring Stevie Wonder, the Robots and co. jamming along enthusiastically to “Another Star” — their special guest’s greatest song. (It’s my newsletter, I can say it!)
2) An even more delightful aberration that Daft Punk’s right-hand studio men Peter Franco, Mick Guzauski, Daniel Lerner and Florian Lagatta each went home with more trophies (three) than any of JAY-Z, Dave Grohl, Lorde or Paul McCartney (two).
And yet, the ceremonies either side of 2014 were more luridly interesting from a Dance/Electronic perspective. Take stock of the nominees, drama, peaking maximalism and general horsing around, this seemed to be the explicit phenomena which Random Access Memories was created to counter.
So the narrative went, EDM was the blight and Daft Punk were Le Knight Clubs in shining armour.
Plug Intermission: As my publishers are jabbing me in the ribs and asking when I intend to lay on the HMT Hard Sell, let me quickly remind you that if you’re keen on unheard and highly entertaining tales of shenanigans at the Grammys 2014, direct from the mouths of pretty much everyone who worked on RAM, as well as Pedro, Thomas’ father and scores of others who I can’t reveal yet, I have just the product for you (even in its pre-order and pre-cover infancy).
If you don’t care about any of that but tend to like Dance/Electronic music anyway, then what great luck: I still have just the product for you!
The due care afforded to electronic music at the Grammys has been historically subpar. Annabel Ross landed a stinging exposé this week which details not only how contradictory the Grammys’ screening process appears to be, but how uncertain the ratifying committee are about the basic form and function of club music.
Rebranding relevant genre categories depending on which way the cultural wind blows hasn’t helped. Case in point: one of the gongs RAM picked up in 2014 was for Best Dance/Electronica Album — that trailing ‘a’ does plenty of heaving lifting, implying Pharrell was set to duke it out with Goldfrapp and the Crystal Method.
Then there’s a litany of performances where quote unquote traditional artists gracelessly cannonball into a lasers-and-drop section as a how-do-you-do toward the kids, before scrambling back to dry, safe land.
On occasion, DJs would even be mashed-up with rock bands, à la the Mau5fighters.
There’s the early 2010s in a nutshell for you.
When I was in Detroit this winter, Carl Craig mentioned that he went to bat hard for Jlin’s footwork fantasia Dark Energy to get nominated. It was unsuccessful, but I couldn’t resist chancing my arm there-and-then to exhume a forgotten C2 fact: his satisfaction-devoid evening in 2008 being humbled at the hands of Benny Benassi.
Carl essentially shrugged off the snub as an unavoidable occupational hazard when fringing mainstream recognition. Corporate dudes aren’t going to make the effort to understand, so if you aren’t playing the game by their rules, best of luck.
That said, looking back on the transcript, it chimes with the exact issues raised about the lack of Academy transparency or even having the right people calling shots.
Obviously, the issue of miscategorization and overall fumbling goes beyond just Dance/Electronic (hello, Macklemore) but untz does have a particularly chequered legacy. Remember when they let some random dude from Liechtenstein with ~1000 Facebook fans sneak through and go toe-to-toe with Avicii?
In an old scoop on that farce for Noisey, I noticed Michelle Lhooq — who, for the aversion of doubt, is a percipient, charismatic and super engrossing in-the-field reporter, so this is not a sneak diss — used the piece to clip Skrillex in the crossfire. Repeatedly. And that wasn’t a tactic by any means exclusive to Vice.
PSA: If you’re under 25, I would now recommend taking a seat. This may come as a shock, but a lot of people hated Skrillex ten years ago. Full-bore, no-concessions, from-the-gut loathing.
Before the b2bs with Four Tet, before VTSS clowned a bunch of casuals into thinking she and Sonny had eloped, before The Skengtrix Reloaded vibe of “Rumble” ended up soundtracking TikTok teasers of England training for the World Cup, Skrillex was anathema to haughty members of the electronic underground and outright public enemy no.1 for original dubstep fans.
Last year, Boys Noize told me at his place about just how intense the rancour became. In 2012, when news leaked online about Dog Blood, his then-semi secret collaboration with Skrillex, a sizeable chunk of the electro giant’s fans cut off association with him on the spot: “It could have probably killed my whole career.”
Heavy stuff. And ridiculous to consider nowadays, right?
I’ll run up another example from personal experience. Toward the end of my 2014-18 tenure at Boiler Room, there was a step change from the dominance of what I’ll politely term as ‘ketty 124bpm house & techno.’ The scene had some way to go before metastasising into its hard dance phase, but still, we’re talking more euphoria and more expression.
One of our first events in China was announced around this time, featuring a debutant on the bill who could convincingly translate that uptick in energy on stream.
The reaction was… look, mixed is an understatement. A prominent ex-Boiler Room staffer posted their snap take upon seeing the flyer, which captured the mood succinctly.
He did drop “Giggle Riddim” in that set, tbf.
Skrillex’s reinvention, redemption arc, daddy era or whatever you want to call it is fascinating. The current clamour in hip circles toward everything people used to deride — leaping on tables, barking into the mic, being an unabashedly earnest booster for a lot of wobbly and admittedly OTT music — could scarcely have seemed further from possibility a decade ago.
It makes me feel like my early-ish shout c.2021 may be coming to pass ahead of schedule: the chasm in relations and understanding between the underground and the EDM sphere is set to narrow considerably.
Skrillex was the figurehead of a hitherto-unimaginable surge in the popularity of a niche regional sound, which meant as a corollary he was treated as the patient zero of its entire mutation. It’s not tricky to see how he ended up as a digital piñata. Now, though, the very same chaotic-good energy is lionised. Funny how things play out.
The shoe, you could say, is on the other deck.
I’ll save more of those theories and artist testimonies for another time. Just to steer back out of the weeds real quick, let’s wrap by considering Mr. Moore’s first trip to the Grammys in 2012.
Skrillex bags 3 of the 5 awards he’s up for, and in a complete reversal of the high-end industry shindig playbook, he rattles off thank-yous laced with a hyper-specific history lesson, which surely left most of the suits in attendance scratching their heads.
It may not have won him immediate purchase with dubstep, D&B and electro fans, but shouting out Dieselboy, Porter Robinson, Caspa’s label Dub Police, Justice’s Cross and Croydon is a tell about the purity of his intentions.
Many pre-EDM club heads are simply never going to gel with Skrillex the producer or Skrillex the performer. Objectively inspired crossover anthems (hello, “Where Are Ü Now”) forestalled further piss-boiling, and resistance seems increasingly futile when the likes of Missy Elliott, Mr. Oizo, PinkPantheress, [redacted], [redacted] and [redacted] will be in his orbit all 2023 long.
Still, swathes of listeners will keep those barriers up in perpetuity, and that’s fine. As he’s taking a summer victory lap through all the European festivals which used to contain punters idly bickering at the bar about the vulgarity of enormous UFO stage shows and Stateside ravers, I’m sure he’s not particularly arsed.
It’s worth asking yourself, though: Was this guy ever really the enemy?
Anyhow. Best of luck at the GRAMMY!!!s this weekend to Honey Dijon, Terry Hunter, Kelman Duran, Mrs. Knowles-Carter and the rest of the Renaissance juggernaut. All discourse aside, it would be a nice glow-up for house music.
Just don’t bet against Jack Harlow somehow waking up on Monday with the trophy for Best Splittercore Engineer in his bed.
Did you enjoy this newsletter? If so, consider passing it along to a friend, or pre-ordering a copy of After Daft — a forthcoming book on the last 30 years of dance, electronic, pop and DJ culture — via Amazon or Waterstones today.
That’s where all the really good stories will go.