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philip sherburne

++ Needle Drops is now an occasional music column that a number of Neumu writers take turns writing. All columns prior to March 2004 were written by Philip Sherburne.

++ Recently ++

Tuesday, November 29, 2005 = The Stooges Unearthed (Again)

Tuesday, November 8, 2005 = Documenting Beulah And DCFC

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 = Out-Of-Control Rock 'N' Roll Is Alive And Well

Tuesday, October 25, 2005 = Just In Time For Halloween

Monday, October 3, 2005 = The Dandyesque Raunch Of Louis XI

Monday, August 15, 2005 = The Empire Blues

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 = David Howie's Sónar Diary

Monday, July 25, 2005 = Hot Sounds For Summertime

Monday, June 27, 2005 = Overcoming Writer's Block At Sónar 2005

Monday, June 4, 2005 = Cool New Sounds To Download Or Stream

++ Needle Drops Archives ++

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Monday, May 23, 2005

++ Michael Mayer In Glasgow

By David Howie

++ Glasgow, Scotland — What a world! I had been waiting for Michael Mayer to come to Glasgow for such a long while that it took me actually leaving for him to call. (A lie, really — he had come a couple of years ago and I was so much a punk I didn't go.) For those of you who don't know, Michael is the super-cute, super-nice impresario behind Cologne's Kompakt label, which has recently celebrated its 100th release. Kompakt has attained a peculiar cultural cachet and popularity far beyond that of other similarly stocked labels. This is a fact that can perhaps be put down in no small way to its nurturing of some of the strongest personalities and most mythological musicians (stand up Superpitcher!)

The night (at The Arches on April 21) began with Justus Köhncke live, singing, in unmissable German, his love songs to dancing, all arms and legs, guitar and Vocoder. I was very tired at this point, having foolishly decided it a great idea to start drinking at 4 p.m. after a three-hour bus ride from Aberdeen. I didn't do the set justice then, dancing awkwardly (my jeans were so tight!), more out of veneration and obedience than inclusion or absorption. I had just returned from the toilet and everyone was now dancing to the main event, Michael Mayer.

Mayer is a very pretty man with a smile on his face at this point, but he will later be, variously: the Clown, the Prince, the DJ, a human, an arch-supervillain (kinda), so goddam happy, two beats from detonation, one of the four stations of the cross, proof as to the existence of higher powers and the aerial orders.

I love to dance, you know, and so Michael and I were destined to get on very well. His set starts with so many tunes I've never heard and lots I can't remember. I'm ticking to my own beat, somewhere between lost and entranced, love coming in waves. I really am a hopeless trainspotter (even when sober) but the first huge swoon of the night comes with DJ Koze's potboiling remix of Frei / Köhncke's campy "Hot Love." Funny story: my friend Ronan spots it immediately and, when he's trying to tell me, I think he's saying "I hope he plays 'Hot Love'." (So I'm a bit dumb and deaf.) The track starts with this long pulsing build, nothing turning inside-out outside-in, a beautiful colored synth rattle hums to the tune of itself. I obviously love it. By now I am beginning to think, via some queer cryptomnesia, "God, wouldn't it be great to hear those words, Ronan is so right, this is perfect for well he is my boy of gold…" and then, there it is and it fills the whole room and I feel like I am racing a train. It really is such a great feeling to dance and sing with someone you have known for ages but have never actually met, and "Hot Love" proves the perfect bond. At this point, Ronan is a saint and I tell him so.

I am kinda caught in a flush of love with these tracks that start so hair-thin and repetitive, then break and burst, leaking dance-charged atoms all round the room. So when Mayer plays some wild remix of Ada's "Maps," I blush with emotion. Starting with the three-note bell-twinkle flutter from the middle of the original, gradually the synth intro, elegiac and sleepy, starts to wind in, everything passes unto air, and such light happiness descends from a song so bittersweet.

I don't properly understand the mechanics of DJing, really, nor do I properly appreciate the artistry in Mayer's build-release poetic, but the body has a natural, in-built chronographic sense of these things (pressure, timing, choreography, etc.) It understands by unconscious craft Mayer's particular genius: his ability to switch from dancing-on-glass airiness to depth-charge plunged-deep slow-build constancy and his perfect micro-management of that ebb and tide.

The set isn't exactly the over-pop we have come to expect from Kompakt (I'm sure he played some straight-up techno) but there are moments in its delivery of pure pop pandering: Mayer's slowdown to stop to full accelerating rewind that builds to a huge, full-fat action REPLAY; his end-of-night raised index finger, signaling "OK, one more tune"; his poses for the camera phones; etc. Michael must have been doing this for a while now; would that I find a calling that makes me so abundantly happy. Mayer plays out these moments of pure theatre amongst the work, and his enthusiasm plus my friends' joy is so infectious. Another example: at one point he starts to raise the volume on some really heavy track and POP the speakers stop playing music. The 300 saddest, most disappointed people in the world soon become the happiest in Glasgow when Michael hits a switch and swoosh… well, yeah, cheers, whoops, coughing fits, and a palpable feeling of the existential tingle in that pressing second. Mayer essays a slapstick lever-pull motion and I nearly throw my back smiling.

He plays us our one more tune and when it ends we all chant for more. Pleading with the staff for the crowd, Mayer looks like he has really enjoyed himself tonight but alas! no joy and no more tunes. He takes a coy bow and like light trapped in a glass he shimmies into the night and he's gone. Later that night, I walk home with my friend Ally and I realize that, yes, sometimes, I love this life.

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