The Greatest Electronic Album Ever Made: Homework – Daft Punk Part 2 of 4

Here’s Part 2 of our 4-part review of Daft Punk’s Homework.  If you haven’t checked out Part 1 you can do so here.

SIDE B:

6.  Fresh – If you didn’t know this one had a video, you’re not alone.  Originally included as part of DP’s D.A.F.T.:  A Story About Dogs, Androids, Firemen and Tomatoes  DVD, this vid has gained popularity on Youtube and the like and serves to wrap up the story begun about Charles, our favourite canine/human from “Da Funk”.  Not to mention, it was Daft Punk themselves who directed this single-shot clip.  The tune itself has the French-touch filters swirling throughout and serves as a sunny, surf-y, beach-like tune; chilled out enough to lounge to, but funky enough to get your groove on as well.  As far as composition, rumours abound (the way rumours abound about damn near every track they make) that it is based on a sample from “Just the Way You Are” – Billy Joel.  Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.  It’s a very cool, laidback track nonetheless, possibly done in tribute to Brian Wilson, a quote from whom adorns the liner notes of the LP/CD.  Great for a chill-out set or a nice transition tune.

7.  Around the World Before delving into the meat of this masterpiece, I would like to clear something up once and for all:  I don’t care what people on Internet forums, Youtube or the idiots who put together that stupid piece of crap compilation “Discovered”, which allegedly contains all of the original tracks Daft Punk have sampled over the years (it doesn’t, BTW) have to say:

THERE ARE NO SAMPLES IN THIS TRACK AND THERE NEVER HAS BEEN.  NOTHING.  NO “REC ROOM” – JERRY GOLDSMITH SAMPLES, NO SAMPLES OF THE BASSLINE FROM CHIC’S “GOOD TIMES”,  NOT A THING.  STOP WASTING YOUR LIVES TRYING TO FIGURE IT OUT, JUST ENJOY THE TUNE AND REMEMBER, DAFT PUNK MAY SAMPLE FROM TIME TO TIME, BUT THEY ARE PERFECTLY CAPABLE OF PLAYING INSTRUMENTS AND RECORDING ORIGINAL SOUNDS.

Thank you for letting me put that out there, now down to business.  This has to be my favourite Daft Punk tune to play out live; it works to this day and sounds funkier and fresher than half the stuff sitting in your local music store’s electronic section.  Funky as anything you’ve ever heard and clearly influenced by the classic bassline from “Good Times”, this track sums up the best of what the boys can do and remains a centrepiece of the album.  Throw in a vocoded hook and everything in this tune is in absolute perfect sync.  The video, also my favourite from the boys, takes this concept one step further by having the robots, skeletons, mummies and dancers not only perform in sync, but each of the characters dance to the unique rhythm of the beat, bassline, keyboard riffs and vocals respectively.  Probably one of the best instances of choreography I can name, the video is a pure classic, just like the tune it is made for.  The track’s funky, futuristic disco sound can bring a smile to anyone’s face (I’ve heard dancers yell out “classic!” and “here we go..!” many, many times) and really gets the feet moving.  A masterpiece contained within a masterpiece if you will, this one never disappoints and there’s rarely a gig I play where this doesn’t get some air time.

7.  Rollin’ & Scratchin’ Originally released as the B-side of “Da Funk” on Soma Quality Recordings, this is a love it or hate it tune for a lot of fans.  It’s long, repetitive, hard, harsh-sounding techno and sounds like an intentional attempt to fuse all of the sounds that made up a “typical” sounding techno track at the time.  Nevertheless, I absolutely love mixing this in my harder sets and then taking the EQs and filters on my mixer and going completely nuts with them.  Peaking and dropping three times during its 7-plus minutes, it demonstrates that you really don’t need to layer a whole lot of sounds on top of one another to make a great track.  Bass, hi-hats, kick, and some synth stabs and you’re there.  In fact, this fell out of favour with a lot of ravers at the time because everyone was playing it.  Now, having had a chance to cool down a little, it’s a classic piece of hard-house/techno that I truly enjoy digging out.  Whether layered with an acapella over top or just played out by itself, this kicks the energy in a party way up and lets the crowd know the DJ has some balls.  It’s also been a big part of their lives shows, check out the video clip above to see what I mean.

Well, we’ve covered the first two sides of Homework, now we move on to the last two.  Keep checking back for our next installment of our review of this house masterpiece!

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The Greatest Electronic Album Ever Made: Homework – Daft Punk Part 1 of 4

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a self-professed NERD when it comes to my favourite musical group:  DAFT PUNK.  IMHO, they are it.  What members Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo have done, and are continuing to do for not just the house and electronic genres but for media in general, is nothing short of astonishing.  Over the course of their careers, these two unassuming guys from Paris, France have hidden their faces with masks, became robots because their sampler blew up, and finally re-introduced themselves and their music in one of the most entertaining live tours in the past decade.  Their videos are some of the most ground-breaking and entertaining pieces ever aired.  They broke into the movie business, starting first with their own full-length film DAFT PUNK’S ELECTROMA, followed by composing the musical score for 2010’s Tron: Legacy, which was then recorded by an 85-piece symphony orchestra.

All the while, the pair have kept their faces hidden from the world of celebrity and stardom, yet through their music, visuals and the meticulous detail put into every project the duo are involved with, they have created an image not solely based on what the group’s members looked like, but rather on letting their music, videos and live performances alone form the basis of that image.

Homework, the first full-length album from Daft Punk, was the result of great music, slick marketing, a radically different approach to how the group appeared in  photos and interviews, and the fact that the record gave “dance music” the healthy kick in the butt it sorely needed at the time.  “Da Funk” was already a huge underground and commercial hit, with its video receiving heavy rotation on MTV and other shows around the globe.  The B-side of the U.K. 12″, “Rollin’ & Scratchin'” was being hammered at European raves to the point of being overplayed.  The duo had already earned the respect of the industry and their releases through Scottish label Soma Records had been met with great acclaim.  A bidding war to sign them began, with Virgin winning out only because they agreed to the duo’s strict demands:  Daft Punk would hold exclusive rights to all master recordings, licensing the tracks on a deal-by-deal basis to Virgin, and no photographs of the group where their faces were exposed.  Initially put in the contract due the band’s shyness, it ultimately created a mystique about the group and added to the mounting buzz about seeing a full-length LP release from the French duo.

Although Homework is a concept record and also clearly an homage to Chicago acid-house, disco, breakbeat, funk and techno genres, the balance of the tracks, going from blistering, squealing synths to a laid-back, chill-out vibe, make for a listening experience that was at least 10 years ahead of its time and can still hold its own against today’s new-wave of electronic production styles.  To me, they simply got house music right with their debut effort and this is truly an album that inspired a million beginning house producers to get down to it and made house veterans to step up their game in terms of quality and consistently.

I fully expect people to criticize and disagree with my choice of greatest electronic album ever made, and that’s fine.  I’m simply offering my opinion on what I consider the best electronic album I’ve ever heard.  The album will be reviewed over four posts, one for each side of the 2×12″ release (my most revered record in my collection).  So let’s take a track-by track look at a record that came out in 1996 and still sounds as fresh and relevant as ever 16 years later:

SIDE A:

1.  Daftendirekt – “What the hell am I hearing?” is a question that I asked myself shortly after popping the CD into my player.  A very bass-heavy, filtered voice repeating “Da funk back to da punk, come on.”  In came the breakbeats giving the listener a preview of the recognizable drums used in “Da Funk”.  The beats are nice, fat and juicy and this serves as a very concise teaser of what’s to follow throughout the rest of the album.  It’s a great intro, just enough of everything before transitioning directly into…..

2.  WDPK 83.7 – A the time of the album’s release, it was not only “Da Funk” that was getting hammered, but the B-side of the U.S. 12″ single “Musique” got quite a bit of club play as well.  Taking a slightly pitched down sample of the vocal, this quick clip lets us know that this disc is ready for take off.  As if you needed a bigger clue that we’re ready to go, Thomas proudly announces with some heavy distortion, “WDPK 83.7, the sound of tomorrow, the music of today, brings to you exclusively Daft Punk’s Homework!!!”

I often wonder if the boys had any inclination about how prophetic that statement was.

3.  Revolution 909 – Hope you weren’t expecting some electronic ode to the Beatles here.  This track is not only a big “F*** you” to the French authorities who were cracking down on illegal raves throughout the country at the time, but also to any jerk who starts doing that incredibly annoying “Boom-chick, boom-chick, boom-chick…..” imitation of a “typical” house beat when you mention you like house music.  The intro replicates what you might hear if you were in a cop car about to bust an underground party.  The crowd scatters when told “Stop the music and go home.  I repeat, stop the music and go home!”

Let the revolution begin.  Some of the toughest and tightest beats ever coaxed out of a Roland-909 drum machine anchor this tune right to the floor and with an incessant groove that showcases what Daft Punk do best:  they get behind the machines and make tunes that drive the party.  The drums take the forefront here, hence the title and the layers of the groove come in and out throughout the track creating nice breakdowns and in-your-face sequences to keep things interesting.  Still great to play out to this day.

4.  Da Funk – If you were around in the late 90s, you definitely have heard this one.  But what exactly was it?  Hip-hop?  Funk?  Rock?  Techno?  This tune, considered Daft Punk’s breakthrough release, incorporates all of those styles and delivers them in a booming, funky, squelching, vocal-less masterpiece that appealed to rockers, hip-hoppers, house-heads and more.

Not only was this a hugely popular track in the clubs, but the video featured above added a whole new level of interest to not just the tune, but Daft Punk as a whole.  Conceived by acclaimed director Spike Jonze and the duo, the video functions as a mini-movie involving a human/dog named Charles who bumps into an old neighbour/past crush while walking through the streets with his leg in a cast and carrying a boombox playing “Da Funk” at high volume.  Huh?

It may not make sense on paper, but it certainly got people talking about Daft Punk, whom many were convinced was just one guy who wears a dog mask.  It was a unique approach to a debut video, but the impact spoke for itself.  “Da Funk” would go on to sell more copies than Homework itself and was the major reason that “Musique” was not included on the album, as Daft Punk reasoned that through the sales of the single, most fans already had the track anyway.  I still pull this one out all the time and this was the only track in the Alive 2007 set list that was given a standalone segment (albeit with Daftendirekt layered over top).  Even with dubstep focusing on similar tempos and sounds these days, I’ve never heard a tune that sounds quite like this.  If a band is going to introduce themselves to the world, this is one hell of a way to do it.  Check out the video if you’ve never seen it before or simply want to revisit a classic; you won’t be sorry.

5.  Phoenix – This was the track that convinced me to finally pick this album up.  I was music hunting in downtown Toronto when I heard this one and immediately asked the clerk who it was.  “Daft Punk”, she responded.  I rang up my purchase about 30 seconds later.

At that point I was already playing out “Around the World” and “Da Funk” and I was amazed to discover Daft Punk had a sound like this.  It opens with progressive layers of 909 drums, hi-hats and percussion and the introduction of a very gospel sounding vocal sample.  Throw in a very cool rolling bassline and you end up with a very slick, four-to-the-floor house track which has been a staple of my deeper house sets for years.  The arrangement makes mixing in and out very easy and demonstrates that you can pick almost any track from this album and drop it almost anywhere.  One word of advice:  avoid the Basement Jaxx remix found on “Daft Club” like the plague; it simply does not do the original any justice.

Well, that’s Side A done.  Stay tuned as we continue our track-by-track review with Part 2 coming to you very soon!  Be sure to check out the rest of the posts on thekeytothehouse, and let us know what you think!

It Shall Be(Original Mix) – Shawn Austin

Well folks, things are going beautifully here at thekeytothehouse with well over 300 page views and nearly 60 page views of our Eric Prydz presents:  Pryda review alone!  I appreciate all the support and remain grateful and humbled by it.  In that regard, I hope you all will enjoy the new track I finished up this past weekend called “It Shall Be”.  It’s a funky, techy, at times minimal tune, and I hope fans and DJs alike will give it a spin and, please, let me know how you feel about it!!!

It is available for free download and so far, has been getting a great response.  Big thanks to my Twitter superfan Frank Sinop for his compliments and for consistently supporting the blog.  Please leave your comments below on on Soundcloud and you can check out all my tunes at www.soundcloud.com/shawnaustinmusic.

Again, many thanks to all of you for the love and support.  You are always welcome in this house!

Great post here about Record Store Day from theelectrichoneypot.com!

The Electric Honeypot.

Over the last five years an independent record shop has closed in the UK every three days.


Flashback ten years or so and the friendly (for the most part) independent record store was a staple fixture in most towns across the UK and further afield. Now, with this alarming statistic ringing in our ears, the depleting independent stores are, if at all, limited to survival in the major cities, in the UK at least.

How did this happen? Well, there are a couple of key factors that led to this situation – you probably know what they are and have most likely contributed to them, consciously or not.

During that same space of ten years we’ve seen music move from on the shelves to online with Amazon, Play, and the launch of the undeniably revolutionary iTunes music store, all taking a huge piece of the music sales pie. Factor in…

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Classic House Series, Episode #3: Break 4 Love – Raze

It is my firm belief that one of the nicest things any good house DJ can do for their crowd is play “Break 4 Love” by Raze.

On paper, it really shouldn’t have worked.  For one thing, the track bucks the standard 4/4 house beat that defined the “house” sound at the time of its 1988 release and instead incorporates a relatively simple “break”-beat that serves as the foundation of the groove.  BPM-wise, it was a bit slower than other tracks of the era and a few basic piano chords, synths and subtle bassline rounded out the rest of the arrangement.

The key to this classic is that it’s not simply a house track; it’s a song,  and that is where the real magic lies.  Raze was a project of Vaughn Mason, who had previously enjoyed success with oft-sampled “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll” in 1979.  Teaming up with vocalist Keith Thompson, Raze had a number of charting releases including “Jack the Groove” and “Let The Music Move U” but it was “Break 4 Love” that brought them the most success, reaching #1 on the US Hot Dance Club Play Chart in 1988.

The track is quite simply a classic piece of house music with a classic love song laid over-top of it.  By using simple lyrics backed with a solid groove, Raze crafted an instantly recognizable piece of music with a sing-along quality that hadn’t really been heard before in club music.  We’re definitely not talking about a big room anthem that had the entire club screaming at the top of their lungs, but instead something far more intimate.

For me, this was a late-night record, in many cases my last tune of the night.  Not only is it the perfect track to bring the energy back down to earth, but time after time I’ve seen guys grab their significant other and pull them back on to the dancefloor for one last dance and spend the entire song looking into their partner’s eyes and mouthing the lyrics. The overall vibe of the track is just so pure and honest, but with a certain amount of sexiness to it as well.  It cools things off and heats things up all at once.

The production and the song work together so well here, that this can’t help but be considered both a great house and a great pop record at the same time.  Still one of my favourite tunes to play out to this day, it is truly amazing to think how well this one has aged over its 24 years.  Timeless.

Classic House Series, Episode #2: Superstylin’ – Groove Armada

For me the best part of this tune is like the best part of a good roller coaster:  THE DROP!!!

If you want to know what it sounds like to be hit by a sonic boom, stand very close to the speaker the next time you hear this one in a club (it’ll happen).  This sun-drenched piece of funk combines the huge basslines of the speed-garage movement that was very popular at the time, with live percussion and a ragga-laced vocal to create my favourite tune of 2001 and one that never leaves my crate.

You’ll recognize Groove Armada (Tom Findlay and Andy Cato) as the electronic wizards who gave us 1999’s big-beat classic “I See You Baby“(featured in NUMEROUS commercials and films thanks to a big, silly remix from a big, silly remixer, Fatboy Slim).  With their second album, the fantastic “Goodbye Country, Hello Nightclub“, the band sought to move away from the more chilled sounds of their debut LP “Vertigo” to deliver some pumping anthems aimed squarely at the dancefloor.  They succeeded brilliantly, with “Superstylin'” becoming one of the most played club anthems around the world and establishing the lads as a driving force in combining the hottest elements of club music with live musicians and pop sensibility.

This one was nominated, but sadly passed over, for the Grammy for Best Dance Recording in 2003(???), and IMHO definitely deserved to win.  Not only was the production top-notch (including the infamous DROP before the bassline kicks in) but it definitely had a good sing-along vibe thanks to the ragga-influenced vocals from M.C. M.A.D.  The arrangement alternates between some full-on stomp moments and a few breaks to “just recline….” and catch your breath before the drop comes in again.

Like many acts who released tunes during this time period, this track was way ahead of its time and still sounds amazing on a soundsystem today.  I’ve worked it in everywhere from clubs to weddings to private parties and it always goes down in a storm.  I dare anyone to try to NOT shake their booty when the percussion lines come in, it simply ain’t happening.  Always a welcome favourite in my sets, this is definitely one to pull out and play out again, the smile on your crowd’s face will say it all.  Pure class.

The Evolution of Paul van Dyk – Album review and interview

Like a breath of fresh air, epic electronic dance music pioneer Paul van Dyk has released his sixth studio album “Evolution” and once again we have a great disc here with a very fitting title.

Evolution” is very much a collaboration-heavy album, but not in the sense of having a crossover R&B star featured on every track.  The collaborators van Dyk has chosen do include vocalists like Sarah Howells and Michelle Leonard, but it is his work with his peers by way of co-production that really stands out here.  Two collaborations with trance superstar Arty are featured here, including a very cool drum ‘n’ bass vibe on “The Sun After The Heartbreak”.  Ummet Ozcan brings his signature sound to “Dae Yor”, providing one of the record’s best highlights.  (If you haven’t yet heard Ozcan’s brilliant “Miami Sundown” yet, I suggest you track it down immediately.)  Most of the vocal tracks work well, including “Eternity” which features the vocals of the man behind Owl City, Adam Young.

Austin Leeds guests on the album’s fantastic opener “Symmetries” and returns a few tracks later on the lead single,  “Verano” ,which has been getting pounded in clubs throughout the world.  Fans will definitely want to check out PVD’s own Full Fire Remix of this one for a more big-room take on this anthem.  Perhaps the true gem of this disc is “Lost In Berlin” with Michelle Leonard which “evolves” from a techy, electro sound to a pure hands-in-the-air anthem over the course of its six minutes.  Album closer “Heart Stops Beating” doesn’t seem quite a strong a tune as some of the other selections here, but is preceded nicely by a fantastic collaboration with Giuseppe Ottaviani in “A Wonderful Day”.

Paul van Dyk’s sound continues to evolve with each album he releases and while he retains the familiarity of his classic sound and style throughout, he isn’t afraid to explore some more tech-heavy arrangements giving the disc an extremely well-rounded feel.  This is definitely one you’ll want to listen to from start to finish and you shouldn’t find yourself reaching for the skip button anywhere here.  With 15 cuts and bonus tracks available on the iTunes release, this one has something for fans of PVD new and old and feels like a true return to form for the acclaimed German superstar.

****/5

Check out this fantastic interview with Paul van Dyk below as he talks about the album, his Evolution World Tour and what he thinks about the state of electronic music today.