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January 11, 2002

++ Online Gold Mines For Sonic Drugstore Cowboys

++ Every so often, someone will ask me, "Where do you find out about all this music?" Frankly, the question stumps me every time, only because the constant search for new music is so ingrained in my everyday life that I hardly think about it any more. Of course, one of the perks of writing about music is that you do get a fair amount of it sent to you, but that's certainly not enough to tide me over — I could probably lease a pretty nice car for the amount I spend on records every month. (Instead, it's just me, the MUNI and my MiniDisc player.) Maybe I'm just a grass-is-greenerist: no matter how good, how unexpected the music that gets sent to me, it seems like the music I'm really into at any given time is the stuff I have to painstakingly hunt down and mail-order from afar.

When I was in middle school and high school, I'd spend my last available dollar on records, returning home from 2nd Avenue Records, Portland's punk-rock emporium, with an armload of vinyl, and skulking upstairs to stash the loot before my mom could see how extravagant I'd been. "Where'd your money go?" she'd ask. Um, I bought a record? "If I didn't know better, I'd think you were spending it on drugs!" Um, OK, I bought two records?

It didn't get any better when I moved out. After college, when my girlfriend and I were living on a budget, saving money so we could travel abroad for three months, I'd continually backslide, finding myself slinking in the front door with the familiar armload of records, ripping off the shrinkwrapping in secret and stashing it at the bottom of the garbage can, just to hide my intemperance. Meanwhile, the record shelves were growing steadily, even at a time of supposed austerity. (More uncomfortably still, this was all at the time when I was transitioning from punk to electronic music, and I was often hard pressed to explain how the house had suddenly become so full of bleeps and bloops, whereas only a few months prior there'd been nothing but bar chords coming out of the stereo.) Truly, it was an addiction.

Every addict has his enablers; mine have always been various forms of independent media. When I was younger, Maximum Rock and Roll was my bible. These days, I religiously read stacks of music magazines — The Wire, XLR8R,, URB,, Spin, Grooves, Jockey Slut (a great magazine to read in public, if only for the odd looks the title elicits from passersby) — and a goodly handful of "lifestyle" rags like Sleaze Nation, Black Book, *Surface, Dutch and the like. (One polemical note regarding the latter category: in their drive to maintain their hipness quotient while pleasing publicists, many of the lifestyle mags' content is becoming dangerously samey. If Groove Armada have a new record out, you can bet that you'll read about them in half a dozen magazines, most likely along with two or three other flavors of the month. Moreover, given the streamlined shape of the music publicity industry these days, chances are you'll read cookie-cutter profiles that differ only in the jimmies-to-icing ratio by which the artists are glossed over. But that particular bugaboo — the anemic state of music journalism today — can wait for another column.)

But before the Internet was a graveyard for failed business models, it offered a revolution in independent publishing, and it remains an obscurantist's treasure chest. You know this; after all, you found your way here, didn't you? The following list, then, is a short answer to the question of where I track down these odds and ends that fill up the musical rag-and-bone shop of my head.

++ Vital, a publication of the Dutch experimental music label and shop Staalplaat, originated in printed form in 1987, copyright free and bearing the inscription, "Reprint now." Today it exists as a weekly newsletter, written and edited by Staalplaat's Frans de Waard and a handful of contributors. Essentially just a collection of reviews and announcements, Vital's focus is the experimental music that has given Staalplaat its reputation; in any given issue I may recognize only one or two artists listed. Still, you're bound to learn something with every edition, and for a fan of minimalism, microsound, field recordings, or electronics-based improv, it's an indispensable document. The current issue features Si-Cut.Db, Sandoz Lab Technicians and Leif Elggren, and then a whole host of names that are completely unfamiliar to me. Best of all, perhaps, is the writing style, which offers a succinct description of every release, followed by a no-nonsense appraisal. No overblown metaphors, no publicist-pleasing fluff; Vital's style is as minimal as the music it covers. A searchable archive of Vital reviews is under construction at Aesova.

++ Forcefield might be the Dutch home of all things Detroit; Motor City techno has always held a profound influence over Dutch electronic music, and Forcefield is one of the most committed boosters of the sound (just consider Detroit Fives, Forcefield's ongoing tally of readers' favorite Detroit artists, labels and tracks). Going beyond the 313 area code, however, they cover a carefully curated collection of minimal techno, deep house and broken beat; their reviews, dating back to 1996, regularly feature top-shelf producers like Moodymann and Blaze next to up-and-comers like Nu Era and Ibex, with the best of the best featured in mix sets archived under the aptly titled heading "Forcefield Paradise." Five years of interviews constitute a who's who of electronica, including Herbert, Autechre, Spacetime Continuum, Fennesz, Two Lone Swordsmen, As One, Pole, and more.

++ I've made previous mention of Hyperdub in a column devoted to broken beat; the London-based site is one of the few sites out there with an exclusive focus on broken beat, two-step and other bottom-heavy genres sprung from the rave roots of breakbeat hardcore. The Kolony gathers soundfiles from allied labels like Tempa and Shelf Life, while Speedometer presents DJ sets from the likes of Doc Scott, Oron, T-Power, and Soul Roots sound, each set slotted according to its relative BPM, from the nodding thump of the dub and hip-hop sets to the storming tempo of the drum 'n' bass blazes. The Softwar section comprises the heart of the site, with interviews with artists like Landslide, Wookie, Ms. Dynamite, Nubian Mindz and Recloose. Even such disparate figures as Jan Jelinek and N*E*R*D make appearances. Hyperdub distinguishes itself by taking a theoretical approach to a genre that's too often left to the fanboys; Simon Reynolds, Kodwo Eshun and founder Steve Goodman all bring literate, nuanced perspectives to their subjects. There's even a glossary explaining the meanings behind key coinages like "hyperdub" (UK breakbeat hardcore, filtered through the aesthetic diaspora of the Black Atlantic), "speed tribes" (the self-organizing social hierarchies clustered around tempos) and "earworms" (I'll let you figure that one out yourself). Making the most of the medium, Hyperdub.tv offers video interviews with UK garage producers, a live set from underground two-step producer El-B, and panel discussions recorded at the bfm (Black Film Maker) Film Festival.

Across the top of the page, a set of synchronized clocks tells the time in L.A., Detroit, Kingston, São Paulo, London, Berlin, and Tokyo — charting the global spread of "the hyperdub virus" like the last scene of 12 Monkeys, but with a much happier ending.

++ The French site W-Sound is a deep music lover's dream. The interviews and reviews, available in French and English, for artists like Herbert, Alex Attias and Christian Vogel, would be enough to make the site worthwhile, but the real gems here are the mixes. 4-Hero's Dego, King Britt, Maas (not trance icon Timo Maas, but deep house producer — and author — Ewan Pearson), Jazzanova, Tom Middleton, Gilb-R, Herbert, Josh Wink, Rainer Trüby all contribute head-swimmingly deep sets, every one a trainspotter's delight. Even David Mancuso, the impresario of legendary disco The Loft, is caught in action at the Parisian club Respect — and the site also has links to sets from the Paradise Garage's Larry Levan dating back to 1982. Throw in Funkstörung, I:Cube, Manitoba, Modaji, Zero 7 and more, and you may never have to listen to the hum of your hard drive again.

++ No list of net resources would be complete without mention of at least a few mailing lists. I used to be a regular mailing list junkie, but I've gradually managed to wean myself off many of them (given that I do most of my perusing during work hours, it's probably just in time, given the way pink slips are flying these days). Still, if you're looking to dig frighteningly deep into a given genre, there's no better place than the following.

I might never have gotten so deeply into electronic music, had it not been for the infamous IDM list. Founded in 1993 as a discussion board for fans of Aphex Twin, the list is still known as the home of Autechre fanboydom, but over the years discussions have ranged from the influence of dub on electronic music to the politics of Muslimgauze. The noise to signal ratio can run frustratingly high, but there are enough wise heads in the place to keep things on-topic — and enough wiseacres to keep it amusing. Topics to avoid include the proper pronunciation of "Autechre," the genius of Aphex Twin and the age-old debate: which is better, vinyl or CD?

The .microsound list was founded by critic Sean Cooper and composer Kim Cascone as a forum for the discussion of "the styles of digital and post-digital music promulgated by the proliferation and widespread adoption of digital signal processing (dsp) tools." Every few months, the inevitable question is posed, "Just what is microsound?" — inevitable because microsound is what I like to call a "virtual genre," without clearly defined stylistic characteristics — but the home page makes clear that list is designed to accommodate equally the hiss of Steve Roden, the buzz of Iannis Xenakis, the whine of Ryoji Ikeda and the post-onomatopoeic kkrchhwstchtchtchkzzzzzzzzz!!! of the Mego artists. The abundance of producers on the list leads to a high proportion of discussions about MAX patches and sound cards. It's not a gear-specific list, though, and periodic returns to theory bring the forum back to its origins.

The 313 list, like IDM and .microsound, is hosted by Hyperreal, the volunteer-run rave resource on music, gear and psychotropic drugs that's been around for nearly a decade now. Named for the area code for Detroit, 313 has built an international community around the beat of Motor City techno since 1994. The Detroit Electronic Music Festival's (DEMF) 2000 launch gave the list a revived sense of purpose, while Carl Craig's controversial ouster from the board of the 2001 festival provided an underdog's cause for list members to rally around. If there's a downside to the list, it's the amount of infighting and contentiousness; newbies are warned to hold their tongue about Richie Hawtin or Jeff Mills until they've gotten a feel for the prevailing sentiments.

A few other lists of note: the Tech-House list is a no-nonsense forum for discussion of "all forms of deep house, minimal house, tech-house, and housey techno," from Circulation and Eukahouse to Perlon and Force Tracks, and many points (Paper, Nuphonic, Svek, Soma) in between, with possibly the highest signal to noise ratio of any list I've read. The Acid Jazz list, despite its dated name, serves as an excellent resource for downtempo, trip-hop, instrumental hip hop, soul, and nu-jazz. The Wire list, while not affiliated with the magazine of the same name, is close to entering its fourth year as a forum for discussion of all forms of music covered by the UK experimental-music bible. But my favorite list, on purely conceptual grounds, might be the minimalism list. Founded in 1999 to discuss all forms of minimalist electronica and neo-classical music, the list never really took off; these days, I receive a digest once a week or so, unvaryingly empty except for a single playlist CC'd to a number of electronic-music newsgroups. The discussions may have died, but the list, it appears, found its true purpose after all.


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