Let’s Turn This Thing Electric

Chem Bros InsertThe Chemical Brothers are known the world over for their elaborate, Big Beat landscapes. This isn’t news. Something a little less talked about however, but just as obvious and synonymous with their crunchy, heart-stopping grooves, is their visual persona. I’m not talking about their mind-melting stage shows. Instead, I’m talking about their nostalgically futuristic cover art and album design.

Presented here is not even the tip of the iceberg. The Chem Bros have been penetrating ear holes for over 20 years, and have released seven proper albums, one soundtrack, six EPs, five comp albums, one live album, 15 promo singles and 26 singles… with an eye catching design, layout and scheme unique to each release. This amazing print was offered as an insert in their 2008 double LP comp album, Brotherhood.

I’ve got a bunch of Chem Bros releases, so keep your eyes peeled, and your ears lubed because the Groove is about to go Big Beat berserk.

1996: Spinal Scratch

Spinal ScratchMade famous by the labors of his day job, as exactly ½ of Daft Punk, Thomas Bangalter’s solo work finds the artist taking a minimalist approach to the Funk-rich Electronic (House music) sound. In no way does that mean Spinal Scratch, and its B-Side, Spinal Beats, are “less than.” These two tracks hit hard, and when combined, offer over 11 minutes of sweaty dance-friendly beats.

Released a year before Daft Punk’s eponymous debut, Homework, Spinal Scratch finds Mr. Bangalter cutting his teeth on a pair of monster beats that almost scream the letters, S-E-X in a rhythmic and soothing loop, but you know, in that classy French way. It’s almost as though because this is French music, there is a certain amount of leniency attached to it. Not that this, or anything Bangalter or Daft Punk do require any sort of leniency, but French House music, with its repetitive yet weighted bass can become something of a nuisance if done improperly. Good thing for all involved that Mr. Bangalter’s work is pure gold. The fact that he is French is just the icing on the delicious French pastry.

LabelSpinal Scratch, or Roulé 302, is the second solo offering by Bangalter, following 1995’s Trax on Da Rocks. (I purchased Trax on Da Rocks from eBay a few years back, but it was lost in transit. I was refunded my money, but have been looking for a copy ever since.) Both DJ 12” records were released on Bangalter’s own Roulé Records. Roulé is French for, “rolled,” so you get the target demographic he was going for with this label.

You can find Spinal Scratch on the Irréversible soundtrack, which is mainly comprised of the back catalogue of Bangalter’s solo work. It’s nice to have everything together, but there is a certain amount of intimacy owning these tracks individually. If you haven’t already, seek out Bangalter’s solo work. Your sex-crazed dance partner will thank you.

1994: Fourteenth Century Sky E.P. (The Dust Brothers aka The Chemical Brothers)

Dust Bros CoverSo, here’s a fun little nugget of Electronic music history (fans of either band have known this for years)… The Chemical Brothers used to be called the Dust Brothers, and the Dust Brothers used to be called, wait for it… well, they were always just the Dust Brothers, so yeah, gotcha there.

Dust Brothers 101:

First came the Dust Brothers. The ACTUAL Dust Brothers. The LA-based cut-and-paste moguls famous for their early work with Delicious Vinyl. The same guys who happened to produce the groundbreaking, never-before-has-there-been-music-like-this Beastie Boys album, Paul’s Boutique. Then, over in Manchester, a couple of Dust Brothers fans starting making some badass music of their own, (out of homage or straight, blatant, rip-off) and also starting calling themselves the Dust Brothers. So, there was a time when the world saw two sets of dusted siblings. That was, until the ACTUAL Dust Brothers threatened the Manchester Dust Brothers with legal action. Having released two EPs and one single as the Dust Brothers, the Manchester boys decided on a new name. Based off the critically acclaimed track, Chemical Beats (found on this EP), the Manchester duo adopted the moniker, Chemical Brothers, and the rest is Electronic music history.

Dust Bros Label BThere was no bad blood between the two insanely talented groups. The original Dust Brothers supplied a remix to the 1997 hit single Elektrobank, No harm no foul, I suppose.

Fourteenth Century Sky is the Chemical Brothers’ second release (when they were still calling themselves the Dust Brothers. We JUST went over this!). They would release one more EP (My Mercury Mouth) before pulling the Big-Beat-trigger and forever changing their name to the Chemical Brothers.  This concludes the Prudent Groove inspired Cliffs Notes for Dust Brothers 101. Now, get outside. It’s a beautiful day.

1975: Pictures at an Exhibition

TomitaCapitalizing on the early 70’s popularity of reinvented “Electronic” adaptations of Classical classics, Isao Tomita focuses on the 1874 suite by Russian composer, Modest Mussorgsky, titled, Pictures at an Exhibition. Isao Tamita creates a very dark and dreary wall of impending, electronic-doom-music… AND IT’S AWESOME!

70’s Electro was made famous in large part by Walter/Wendy Carlos’ invigorating take on the works of Ludwig van Beethoven in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Although the back sleeve accurately indicates that (up to that time) electronic instruments had only been around for nearly 50 years (with the ethereal launch of Leon Theremin’s well, Theremin in 1927), there were only a small handful of “Electronic” albums obtainable by the social conscious. Four that I can think of are 1) the groundbreaking Soundtrack to Forbidden Planet in 1956, 2) George Harrison’s first studio album (yes, THAT George Harrison), 1969’s Electronic Sound, 3) Walter Carlos’ 1968 debut, Switched-On Bach, and 4) the 1966 release of The In Sound from Way Out! by Perrey and Kingsley.

Tomita BackCreating electrified modernizations of decades-old classics must have been difficult for some to digest in the mid 1970’s… boy were those narrow-minded purists in for a treat when Disco hit just a few short years later.

The late 60’s/early 70’s electronic movement is definitely something to explore. To say it is little more than a Classical suite or symphony with an electronic filter would completely sell this infant-like genre depressingly short. The guitar, invented in the 13th Century, didn’t get electrified until the 1930’s. Electronic music has yet to hit its centennial mark… imagine its overwhelming future. Isao Tomita did, and it’s evident by his work on Pictures at an Exhibition.