Not Not Fun

Umberto’s ‘Confrontations’ explored.

19 February 2013

One of the most worn-out clichés used to describe certain strains of instrumental music is calling it ‘a soundtrack to a non-existent movie’. In the case Confrontations by Umberto (aka Matt Hill) the description is  justified, as his work is directly grounded in film scores. To be more specific, in film music of a particular genre and era: think late 70s/early 80s European giallo and American slasher movies. Their appeal is clearly understandable – nothing captures the magnetism of cinematic artifice better than these illogical and absurdly violent productions, born somewhere between commerce and the sheer love of film. A recent critical success, Berberian Sound Studio (scored by Broadcast), explored the potential for fascination that genre films provide. Those made by Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and other masters of horror embody the artificial on a musical level too: their films boast rich, synthesizer-based compositions, adding another layer of inorganic stylistic artifice to proceedings.


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Maria Minerva’s ‘Will Happiness Find Me?’ reviewed.

10 September 2012

The word ‘complexity’ goes some way in explaining the contradictory personality and output of stateless musical conceptualist Maria Minerva (aka Maria Jurr). As a subject and a producer of the seriously cerebral kind, it’s a wonder her music is one so attached to matters of the heart. If it isn’t the unfilled void of the title, for her second album on LA label Not Not Fun, Will Happiness Find Me?, it’s the sample of The Chordettes ‘Mister Sandman’ looped to infinity for album opener ‘The Star’ that points to the work of a hapless romantic. Yet, look closer and there is no end to the playful cultural references seen from the meta-perspective of Jurr; as a cripplingly self-conscious critic that creates music in conversation with herself, while being confoundedly a slave to her emotions.

Maria Minerva. Photo by Sarah Faraday.
Maria Minerva. Photo by Sarah Faraday.

Within the repetitive twinkling loop of ‘Mad Girls Love Song’, rolling out into a whirlpool of chopped samples and dub-influenced beats, (“you drive me mad with every breath I take”) or the sparse and clumsy soundtrack to unstable and off tune vocals of ‘Heart Like A Microphone’ (“my heart is like a microphone, just walk in”) it’s as if Jurr is trying to sort out her senses through the incongruent balm of reason. Even the emotional album title is a reference to a book by Swiss art duo Fischli/Weiss, while the album track listing as a whole is littered with lyrical and musical puns that reveal the kind of defensive irony and musical satire driving Will Happiness Find Me?.

Jurr places herself within the pop cultural context that she –as a hopelessly eminent avant-gardist with a penchant for pop yet an inability to harness its powers of homogenous mindlessness –so desperately wants to be apart of. A house and dance enthusiast producing for the fringe electronic fusion that is Not Not Fun, it’s only in self-aware emulation that she can come close to a Snoop Dogg cameo (a la Katy Perry’s ‘California Gurls’) in lead single ‘Fire’, featuring Baltimore rapper Chase Royal. But where virtual laughing stock and internet meme Rebecca Black included a rap insert for ‘Friday’ in all earnestness, Jurr is as alert to the pop blueprint she’s following as she is to the sardonic disc jockey declaration of “this goes out to all the lovers of deep house” within the kraut-tweaked ambience of ‘Perpetual Motion Machine’.

It’s a Jekyll and Hyde-like self-awareness that drives Maria Minerva, and that sense of confliction is no more evident in the beat-driven forward-motion of ‘I Don’t Want to Be Discovered (Will Happiness Find Me?)’. Lyrics like “If you don’t know by now, the world is a cruel place, baby. You’ve got to sell yourself to survive. I don’t want to be discovered, I just want to lay low,” says it all. That track alone reveals the inherent anxiety that comes with the potential for success, in parallel with the lofty philosophical fear of happiness in general. And it’s at the centre of that struggle that Will Happiness Find Me? reveals a necessary state of transition as Maria Minerva deliberates on where she goes from here. I for one can’t wait to find out.

Maria Minerva’s album Will Happiness Find Me? was out on Not Not Fun September 3, 2012.

Header image: Photo by Marek Chorzepa.

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Positive Double Negatives

20 October 2011

As we grapple with technological invention and rapid-fire, unrelenting change Poland’s annual Unsound Festival looks back at the prophetic Alvin Toffler book, Future Shock, for a this year’s theme. Today, as the festival draws to a close cultural capital Krakow plays host to a day that explores a non-linear history of music and its evolving relationship with technology –starting with the synthesiser. But before electronic fore bearers Chris & Cosey and John Foxx & the Maths can present their pioneering work into collaboration between man and machine later that evening, California’s avant garde electro-art label Not Not Fun presents four of its finest artists on their roster. In the same way Toffler’s 1970s sci-fi masterwork grapples with the “shattering stress and disorientation” of his perceived future, Unsound takes a back-to-front glance at the future of the synthesisers in the retrogressive reappropriation of the current crop.

Up first is the brilliantly-titled Sex Worker (aka Daniel Martin-McCormick). Also known as Ital for his largely instrumental project he just radiates positive energy, while the massive PAs flanking the stage shift along with the centre’s bouncing floorboards. The lights are focused on the cool-as-anything one-man band, taking visibility into crowd with it. One tries to avoid tripping on precariously seated crowd members as his muffled vocals drawls over an energy trough before coming back with a new wave techno number he prefaces with, “This is an instrumental one, it’s more fun-zone.” Continue reading Positive Double Negatives

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