I don’t know where I’ve been lately, but it hasn’t been in an electronic music state of mind. Hearing RVNG Intl‘s reissue of Harald Grosskopf’s obscure 1980 album Synthesist, and its companion disc of remixes, Re-Synthesist, jolted me sharply out of that. RVNG’s website has a concise history of the record, but what you need to know is that Grosskopf was the drummer for Krautrock first-stringers Ash Ra Tempel, and that his solo debut hovers tantalyzingly between the brain-pan-chilling arpeggios of the earliest, frostiest synth-driven pop and the taut, subtle rhythmic engines driving groups like Neu! and, to a lesser extent, Can. Synthesist crystallizes a certain ideal balance of things that neckbeard weirdos look for in old electronic records, and the appeal’s not just theoretical, either; there’s a slippery magic in those little-heard grooves.
I had low expectations of Re-Synthesist. When was the last time something made to accompany a reissue was worth a shit? (I don’t recall the Kanye West remixes of Thriller reaching “Stronger”-like chart heights.) Happily, I was wrong. All of the artists on the disc bring something to the table, whether it’s the blissfully utopian CFCF version of “B. Aldrian” — seriously, this thing could soundtrack a Valhalla scene in the new Thor movie — or JD Twitch of Optimo fame’s slashing, pinging, menacing “Emphasize”. Even the somewhat conventional Pink Skull track is a banger. And the disc’s sequencing is masterful; you wouldn’t think putting two versions of the title track back-to-back would work, but Blondes’ more clubby take on the MiniMooged out original segues perfectly into Snoretex’s quietly ecstatic version. It came out Feb 15, so don’t sleep. For christ’s sake buy it!
Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts’ book Harlem Is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America sounds like the sort of thing I would be interested in regardless of the mix that she and DJ/Rupture cooked up, and in fact when I first heard their collab, I was skeptical. Rhodes-Pitts reads sections of the book throughout the mix, whereas I was hoping to hear something much more found-sound/sample oriented; Rupture mixes all kinds of music in there, from gospel to dubstep, from Billie Holliday to Das Racist, but initially I found the words jarring. That lasted all of :30 seconds; by the time a mercilessly blunt, dark gag about gentrifiers being offered 400 sqaure feet and a Prius (they don’t call it black humour for nothing) chirped up in a deceptively peppy tone about 15 more minutes in, I was hooked. That Rupture and Rhodes-Pitts manage to squeeze so much into an hour — not just musically but emotionally — is a reminder of the kind of power that radio DJs once had, both to convey more than music alone could, and to catch you by surprise.
“Once, a group of tourists were asked what came to mind when they heard the word ï¿½Harlemï¿½: some said ï¿½musicï¿½ and the others said ï¿½riots.ï¿½ The connection between the two is a story for another time. This Harlem mixtape is born of our own free associations: For Rupture, Francophone songs sold by scowling Africans along 116th, or old soul and R&B memories being hawked alongside the now-thing bootlegs across 125th; for Sharifa, church sounds tumbling onto the streets and distorted strains of jazz heard from a boombox carted around by a wandering neighbor.”
Also, FYI: “The project is the second edition of the Cities Mixtape series by Milan-based DOMUS, a magazine focusing on design, architecture and urbanism.” — Rupture