The Riff - August 2007

Daft Punk Live: C'est la Lumiere

| Mon Aug. 6, 2007 12:22 AM EDT

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There's a lot to love about French duo Daft Punk's live show, which landed at the Greek Theater in Berkeley on Friday, July 27th. The remixed and mashed-up versions of their well-known classics make the performance endlessly entertaining; the question of whether they're actually "performing" at all (or if, in fact, the two guys in robot masks are even Daft Punk) could give post-modern theorists a field day. But what makes the show utterly riveting, and unlike anything seen before, is the light show.

The Daft Punk stage setup comprises five distinct lighting elements, each of which would, on its own, be worth the price of admission. First, a giant low-res LED curtain screen covers the back wall (1, above); a triangular grid of LED strips with opaque covers hangs in front of that (2); directional spotlights shine out from various points on stage (3); lighting strips outline the top and bottom of the stage (4) and form a large triangular outline for the "mothership:" a pyramid (5) covered in a high-resolution LED screen, in which the duo stands and performs. All the lighting elements are perfectly synchronized to the music: they fade to black when the music winds down, and explode in color when the songs reach peak intensity.

With such a formidable canvas, it would be tempting to run things at full-bore all the time; however, what's most admirable about the lighting design is the way elements are held back for dramatic effect. Some elements stay dark for the first part of the show, and when they light up for the first time, it's typically in flat white, giving the impression that the lights are simpler than they really are. Then, when more complex patterns are introduced, it's all the more surprising. The pyramid itself, the centerpiece of the show, doesn't even switch on until halfway through the show: when it first glows white, the crowd applauds; when it flashes red, blue and green, the crowd cheers; when graphic patterns suddenly race across it in a vertigo-inducing display, the crowd goes insane. That's right; at this show, people cheer for the lights. They should--the setup cost four million dollars.

Lighting director Martin Phillips and UK producers XL Video originally put together the rig as a one-off for Daft Punk's highly-anticipated set at Coachella in 2006, and have adapted it for this tour. According to XL Video's web site, the pyramid is constructed from "over 1600 Barco O-Lite blocks, which have been custom pixel mapped to create a 3-dimensional video screen surface." The video and lighting content is all run from a digital server running five layers of programming (one for each distinct element); a backup system runs concurrently, just in case. Observant viewers will see the two systems' monitors off to the left side of the stage, displaying smaller versions of the pyramid's video content. XL's site says the lighting server actually receives live signals from the band, which apparently trigger the elements, allowing for improvisation. So it turns out something is actually being done live by the robot-masked men.

Musically, Daft Punk treat their songs like digital "memes," dropping recognizable snippets into the mix like DJs, and the lighting system follows along, with each song given its own visual theme. For instance, early in the show, the duo teases the audience with a brief vocal clip from "Around the World," and a glowing rainbow effect flickers on and off. Later, when the full song emerges, the rainbow effect takes over the entire setup. For a finale, all the lights fade to black, except for a glowing red stripe, which crawls from the stage, up and over the triangular grid, down onto the pyramid, and up to the bobbing robot masks, which suddenly themselves switch on in bright red outlines, like characters from "Tron." As the music crashes to an end, the duo turn away from the audience, and glowing electrically on their backs is the Daft Punk logo. The audience, needless to say, loses their minds.

Thus, the success of the Daft Punk tour doesn't necessarily speak to a sudden popularity of "electronica" or an appreciation for things French: it's a one-off spectacular that anyone who's interested in where technology can take live performance should see. Catch the last two dates Tuesday 8/7 in Montreal and Thursday 8/9 in New York.

Videos after the jump.

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Bob Loblaw's Blog Blog

| Fri Aug. 3, 2007 8:20 PM EDT

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Blogs are so hot right now.

  • This Recording takes on the "inane" David Denby New Yorker piece about the recent shift in gender relationships in romantic comedies.

  • Kids Pushing Kids explores the Elastica-M.I.A. connection, and the Elastica-and-bands-they-ripped-off connection.
  • The Guardian's Music Blog wonders what it would have been like if the Beatles had been women; makes up unfortunate alternate-universe name of (shudder) "The Sheatles."
  • WFMU rounds up a whole mess of songs about beer, offers some mp3s of these songs about beer, and a picture of guys drinking beer, but no actual beer.
  • The Smoking Section reminisces about Gang Starr's "comeback" album, Moment of Truth back in 1998, calling it a "weird year for rap," partially because of the "shiny suits."
  • Reno's Makin' Mix Tapes

    | Fri Aug. 3, 2007 5:16 PM EDT

    When Song of America, a three-CD, 50-track journey through centuries worth of American music hits record stores in September, it comes with a stamp of approval—and an executive producer credit—from former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

    No, seriously. Reno, along with producer (and nephew-in-law) Ed Pettersen and Grammy-winning co-producer David Macias put together a bona fide, red-white-and-blue mix tape. Reno, a big fan of Johnny Cash, Tex Ritter, Mahalia Jackson, and Verdi, told Mother Jones that she stayed as far away as possible from the recording studio on this project. "I belong in the music studio even less than on the dance floor," Reno joked via email. "But [these songs] can take your mind off of work or school and help you relax after a long day."

    Be warned. This CD does not rock. It saunters. There are songs in here that I haven't heard since elementary school. Or Sunday School. Or ever. The box set includes contemporary versions of songs like "Yankee Doodle," "Trail of Tears," "Battle Hymn of the Republic," "Home on the Range," and the World War II anthem "Over There" performed by the likes of Janis Ian, Marah, Martha Wainwright, Blind Boys of Alabama, Bettye LaVette, and Old Crow Medicine Show. Don't worry, I've never heard of most of these performers either.

    Reno wraps things up with some juicier tracks like "What's Going On," "I am Woman" and "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud," and concludes the disc with John Cougar Mellancamp's rendition of "This Land is Your Land." This predominantly country-folk compilation would seriously buzzkill any legitimate house party, but I wouldn't be surprised if this thing is booming from speakers at the RNC and the DNC in 2008.

    Cute Knut Under Pressure to Shed Lbs.

    | Fri Aug. 3, 2007 5:07 PM EDT

    fatty_knut.jpgHey, remember Knut? He was the high-profile, environmental poster-bear who made an appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair with Leonardo diCaprio during "Knut-mania," a time when Europeans flocked by the millions to see him in his Berlin zoo. He was so hot that a neighboring animal died and no one noticed.

    The appeal of "Cute Knut" was in his miniature size; he was a cute little white fuzzball who romped around with his keeper. But, times are changing. The paparazzi attention has subsided and the chubby cub has been asked to slim down. It's all summed up in a Der Spiegel headline: "Fatty Knut Put on Strict Diet."

    Knut's caretakers claim he weighs 132 lbs, but they're not sure because their scale only goes up to 110 lbs. Apparently, they're keeping a vigilant watch on him to ensure Knut doesn't steal scraps from the kitchen table while his meals are being prepared.

    Critiques of his appearance, tales of bad behavior—Lindsay Lohan could have told him such is the life of a media darling.

    Friday a Fine Day for Music News

    | Fri Aug. 3, 2007 3:29 PM EDT

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  • The cop from the Village People says he left the group because his bandmates were "too gay," and that "Y.M.C.A." is about "straight fun." (After Elton)

  • The newly reunited Spice Girls ask their fans to vote on where they should play a concert; fans answer, "Baghdad." (NME)
  • Actress Scarlett Johansson is recording an album with help from TV On the Radio's Dave Sitek as well as members of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Baltimore up-and-comers Celebration. (Yahoo! Music)
  • Lollapalooza kicks off in Chicago today with Pearl Jam, Daft Punk, and a billion more bands. (Pitchfork)
  • Madonna spends two hours at Bill Clinton's offices in Harlem, fueling rumors she's, um, being considered as Hillary's VP? (The always-reputable TMZ.com)
  • Moby Offers Royalty-Free Music For Films

    | Thu Aug. 2, 2007 6:15 PM EDT

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    One-upping Brian Eno, diminutive New York electronic musician Moby has created a web site that offers royalty-free music for films. The project, called "Moby Gratis," features 70 unreleased compositions that independent filmmakers can use to accompany their movies. Moby told Billboard magazine that he wanted to "help out the independent film community" since licensing music can be "the hardest part" of low-budget filmmaking. If Moby's past output is any indication, half the songs will be hypnotic, melancholy tracks that sample obscure blues musicians, and the other half will be irritating, pseudo-mystical synthy treacle that makes you want to scrub your ears out with Fugazi. Choose carefully, young directors!

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    Neato Viddys on the Intertubes

    | Thu Aug. 2, 2007 4:36 PM EDT

    In this edition: Outer space! Sufi trances! Bling! And, er, an animatronic bear!

    Charlotte Hatherley – "Behave"
    In which the former Ash guitarist's quirky guitar rock is elevated by a mesmerizing animated video directed by the brother of "Shaun of the Dead" director Edgar Wright

    The Good, The Bad and The Queen – "The Good, The Bad and The Queen"
    In which Sufi men whirl about in a traditional ceremony, reflecting the song's ecstatically accelerating tempo

    (Via Pitchfork)

    Swizz Beatz – "Money in the Bank"
    In which the cliché theme of the gold-digging woman is given new life with hypnotic and amusing visuals to match the entrancing beat and silly sped-up vocals

    (Via The Fader)

    Patrick Watson – "Luscious Life"
    In which the Canadian singer-songwriters Jeff Buckley-meets-Coldplay tune is given the Monty Python-style collage-animation treatment

    (Via Stereogum)

    Animatronic Bear - "Hey There Delilah"
    In which a robot bear from like a Chuck E. Cheese or somewhere is reprogrammed to sing the inescapable Plain White T's hit, making the song seem far more melancholy and meaningful than it did before

    (Via Copy, Right)

    Princeton Prof Raps, 'Edutainment to the Fullest'

    | Thu Aug. 2, 2007 3:16 PM EDT

    Outspoken Princeton professor, decorated scholar, and bestselling author Cornel West recently released a political hip-hop album that features songs about topics like September 11th, racial profiling, the "N" word, and the Bush administration. It's no wonder that Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations has been slugged "Edutainment to the fullest."

    With a spoken word delivery backed by hip-hop beats, West reminds me of Gil Scott-Heron, a political spoken word artist from the 60s and 70s. Similar to Scott-Heron and also the 70s spoken word group the Last Poets, West's CD skewers our nation's political and ethical choices through music. But with guests like Prince, Andre 3000, Black Thought, Talib Kweli, and KRS-One, this album has a more current sound.

    In an NPR interview about the CD, West explained that "A paradigm shift is taking place in hip hop. It's going back to the best of the tradition, by connecting with young folk…In the end it's about dignity and respect." And I think 2007 is ripe for it.

    Kanye West Collaborating with Takashi Murakami

    | Wed Aug. 1, 2007 10:26 PM EDT

    mojo-photo-murakami.JPG First we hear Kanye is off to Sweden to perform with Peter Bjorn & John; now we get news that the hip-hop superstar is working with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami on the visual aspects of his upcoming album Graduation, out September 11th. Murakami has already designed two covers for the first two singles from Graduation, "Stronger" and "Can't Tell Me Nothin'" (see below). West met the "Japanese Warhol" on a recent trip to Japan, where he visited Murakami's Kaikai Kiki studios; photos from the visit are here on the Kaikai Kiki website (including a possibly NSFW glimpse of Hiropon, the girly anime sculpture). Apparently Murakami has also created an animated video to one of the tracks from the album. Artnet points out the rapper and the artist have something in common: a fascination with Louis Vuitton.

    Cover artwork after the jump.

    Ozomatli: Diplomacy You Can Dance To

    | Wed Aug. 1, 2007 8:33 PM EDT

    Ozomatli, the Los Angeles-based Latin-rock-funk band, is touring the world on the government's dime.

    U.S. officials, who I'm sure are eager to present an image of an America different from the footage of soldiers fighting insurgents in Iraq, recently sent the Grammy-winning band to Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia on a U.S. State Department grant. Their trip included visits to orphanages, schools, and community centers. They also hosted master classes and music workshops.

    A government-sponsored trip of diplomacy really does suit this funk band, which was founded 12 years ago—at a labor workers' protest—to promote issues of social justice and community involvement.