Sunday, December 27, 2009

Coldcut - More Beats + Pieces (Original TC Review)

Best Price: $1.97

Ninja Tune: Cat.# ZEN CDS58
Released 1997

Track List:
1. More Beats & Pieces (Daddy Rips It Up Mix) (4:03)
2. More Beats & Pieces (John McEntire Tortoise Mix) (6:05)
3. More Beats & Pieces (Obsessive Behavior) (4:20)
4. More Beats & Pieces (I Miss You Blobula) (3:13)
5. More Beats & Pieces (Meet The Weasels) (6:05)
6. More Beats & Pieces (Beans & Pizzas Strictly Kid Teeba Jam) (7:06)

(2010 Update:
Er, yeah. I'm definitely grinding an ax here. Probably not the best idea to shoehorn an overlong rant into a review of a Coldcut single, but TranceCritic didn't really have a separate outlet for such bloggy editorials, so I went with this. Definitely is dated though -man, remember when the DJMag poll actually seemed relevant?)

IN BRIEF: DJing: proper.

Well, another DJ Mag poll has gone by, with Paul van Dyk fans rejoicing, Tiësto fans lamenting, and Armin fans still outraged with the results. Everyone else in the EDM spectrum couldn't give a rat's ass, especially many DJs. The fans of the Mega Trance Brigade seem to feel the fact their idols are ranked the highest in a DJ poll is a vindication that they do enjoy the best DJs in the world, and that those who say the DJ Mag poll is nothing more than a popularity poll aimed for the club kids are just jealous that their favorites didn't rank higher (or even make the list). However, these naysayers are, in fact, right.

When it comes to, say, movies, which award ceremony has the most prestige? The Academy Awards, of course. Why? Because these are selected by a panel of judges whom have poured over countless movies in their lives: studied film techniques, acting techniques, production techniques, and the whole shebang. We trust their opinions because they are experts in their field. On the other hand, the MTV Movie Awards are voted by the fans: the popular choice. You would think this would garner just as much respect amongst their peers, but you will very rarely, if ever, see a movie claiming MTV's Best Movie Award in its promo spiel (unless its targeting MTV's crowd, of course) or an actress putting “MTV's Best Supporting Actress: 2003” on a list of amazing achievements in their craft. Oh, it may look nice to the producer to see that such an actress is obviously bankable, but it's always the Oscar folks in that profession are proudest of, not the MTV Popcorn.

To throw this analogy into the EDM world, the DJ Mag poll is the equivalent of the MTV Movie Awards: awards voted by the fans. As such, while a number of folks in the DJ communities may say it's nice to see a respected individual make the cut, very rarely will they give much respect to the poll itself for one main reason. It may sound elitist, but fact of the matter is many who vote in these polls are not experts. They have not spent countless hours immersing themselves into the whole spectrum, meticulously studying subtle techniques and tricks of the trade, digesting all there is to possibly know. Most will pick a genre they like (usually trance) and follow the more popular names thanks to the massive amounts of promotion such names get, ignoring everything else the DJing world has to offer. How can one make an expert opinion on DJing with that kind of dedication?

Of course, this isn't completely DJ Mag's fault, as it's merely filling in a niche that seems to be lacking in the EDM community at large. Aside from the DMC Championships (which tends to promote turntablism techniques for the most part), there really isn't any kind of syndicate of EDM followers who are universally considered 'the experts' on DJing (and, no, I'm not saying TranceCritic is that either... yet *evil chuckle*). Granted, many publications have tried (indeed, some still do), but because DJ Mag managed to get its winners and runner-uppers to promote their list as the authentic one, it's the one that seems to get the most publicity -in trance circles, anyways. I doubt the jungle heads, techno heads, hip-hop heads, breaks heads, and ambient heads care one way or the other, as they have their own DJ polls to run.

Yeah, the reason why there is no all-encompassing EDM poll is pretty apparent, isn't it.

So, what does this have to do with Coldcut's More Beats & Pieces? Come on, you can't be that thick, can you?

Coldcut (comprised of Jonathan More and Matt Black) is one of the most respected duos in the world of DJing. Like all masters of the craft, they can take damned near any snippet of a song and manipulate it with others to create fresh new tracks. They make a weary, overplayed track sound brand spankin’ new within the context of a set. They're diggers of rare and obsolete gems, scouring the landscapes for that one last, undiscovered northern soul 7" that everyone else somehow missed. They epitomize everything a true DJ strives to be when he first picks up those two Technics. And they are never voted into the DJ Mag Top 100.

Really, that's fine and dandy by them and their peers. While I'm sure they wouldn't be upset at being picked the #1 in such a list (after all, who doesn't like to be the most popular?), it doesn't matter to them one way or the other, as they get into this music for the love of it, completely and utterly. Fame and fortune is not the drive; the essence of musicianship is.

More Beats & Pieces takes the art of DJing as far as Coldcut can take it. Using a bunch of pre-pressed drum loops and samples, the daddies of sonic stupidity throw them down and get wild, keeping everything moving and grooving with funky fusion. I could not even begin to list how many drum breaks, guitar cuts, and sonic samples are used. There's probably more songs mixed in the four minutes this runs than Tiësto plays in an In Concert set. I can ID a few of them, and some sample credits are provided, but More Beats & Pieces really isn't for the trainspotters (however much fun they may have with it).

Of course, this would all sound like crap if Coldcut weren't the sonic geniuses they are. It's one thing to mash random drums and samples together, but to create an irresistible piece of unique, catchy music in the process is a skill it seems very few DJs either use or possess. This is turntable trickery, DJ remixing, and expert track selecting taken to the extreme, and a far, far cry from the perfunctory beatmatching witnessed by your usual Dutch suspects.

Not to be outdone, the Coldcut crew gave the custom vinyls to a few of their peers to do their own live turntable remixes. Kid Koala's Obsessive Behavior version makes more use of the original drum breaks rather than the synthesized ones, speeding and slowing them down throughout as vocal cuts get tortured through meat grinders. At one point during Koala's more indulgent bits, a worrisome cut goes, "I don't think I can dance to this." Yeah, I tend to agree since there's a lot of stop-and-go scratching going on.

Q-Bert's own I Miss You Blobula mix is even more indulgent with the scratching. For sure, it sounds wicked cool (where'd that dialogue come from, a cheesy Fantastic Four reading?), and there's some definite funk to be had, but you aren't going to find any immediate hooks in this. Of course, that's not really the point to these two turntable jams, but considering how irresistible Coldcut's opening version was, Kid Koala's and Q-Bert's own versions seem a little lackluster overall.

Beans + Pizzas is a live turntable jam session done with six turntable and various Ninja Tune jocks, including DJ Food, Kid Koala, and The Herbaliser. A little less manic than the original Coldcut version, there's definitely more flow in here as drum loops, vocal snippets, and melody samples get more playing time while the DJs fiddle with all their various tricks overtop. It may not be as thumping as Daddy Rips It Up, but Beans + Pizzas is still energetic nonetheless.

So, I guess you’re wondering why I've gone out of order with these tracks. Well, I figured I'd get the turntable mix versions out of the way first, as they segue nicely together for the sake of this review. Hey, review writers can be DJs too! *snicker*

Of course, DJing is about the remix just as much as it is the turntable, and Coldcut gave the 12" to a pair of producers to give their own re-rubs on them. The John McEntire Tortoise Mix is a slowed down groover of dubby bass and electro trip hop arrangements. There are a few bits and pieces (hohoho) of More Beats & Pieces scattered about but they bare little similarity to the original source. In contrast, T Power's Meet The Weasels mix makes use of some of the more atmospheric elements of the original to create a dark, moody bit of drum 'n' bass. Both remixes are quite good, and unique enough without distracting from the source material to make them worthwhile additions to this EP.

And, as with many Coldcut releases on CD, there are some additional CD-Rom goodies, including a video and detailed descriptions of the process that went into making these tracks.

I guess you'd think after the general slagging of mainstream DJs I gave and overall respect gushed upon these turntable technicians that I absolutely despise the beatmatchers over the scratchers. Eh, not so, to be honest. To think pure DJing is just about fancy tricks and quick cut-ups is just as bad as thinking DJing is just about laying down anthem after anthem. DJing encompasses a great deal, and, to be fair, for the first many years of DJ culture, all they could do was quick fade transitions; it was the track selections of many that would make or break a DJ.

The thing that irritates me about these DJ polls is only one aspect of what makes a DJ is usually considered when people vote. As Coldcut proves on this single, when you have amazing skills and great track selection, your presentation is taken to a level seldom seen in those who stick to only one aspect. They bring the whole package together whereas your usual popular suspects only cater to a specific niche. And, until these DJing polls quit catering to such niches and start considering names based on every attribute a DJ is capable of, they most likely won't garner much respect from the DJ communities at large.

To draw upon the acting analogy from earlier, it's like comparing Adam Sandler to John Malkovich. One may be far more popular, and even quite adept in his chosen field of expertise, but when bringing all the abilities that make up the profession head to head, Malkovich would bury Sandler in a heartbeat.

Score: 7/10

Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2005 for© All rights reserved.

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