Vladimir Cauchemar

vladimir-cauchemar-skull

I think we can all agree that when it comes to cool instruments, the recorder is pretty low on the list. Not to say the little flute-like rascals aren’t delightful, especially when played by small children or wandering minstrels. But no one ever piped out an old folk tune on a recorder and thought to themselves, “This is totally gonna get me laid.”

Maybe that’s why, when French electronic music label Ed Banger Records released a video last December from a mysterious artist named Vladimir Cauchemar that featured a middle-aged man in a red turtleneck rocking a recorder to a sneakily infectious house beat, it got shared more widely than a Netflix password. As of this writing, the video for “Aulos” is closing in on 4 million views, which might be 3.9 million more times than anyone has watched anyone do anything with a recorder — unless “recorder porn” is a thing and no, we are definitely not Googling the words “recorder porn” to find out.

No one really knew anything about the identity of the artist behind “Aulos” when it first came out, and seven months later, that’s still pretty much true. The bio on his Ed Banger page simply reads, “Vladimir Cauchemar is an enigma to all of us.” The images on his Facebook page show a man DJing and posing in various industrial spaces wearing a skull mask. The only interview he’s given so far is in Japanese. Thanks to Google translator, we were able to decipher some of that interview, which appears to reveal that the man in the “Aulos” video is Vladimir’s music teacher (a guy named Eric) and that he himself is a self-described producer of “medieval house music” (the medieval part, presumably, is the recorder) based in France. And that’s about as much as we were able to glean. If he wishes to remain an enigma, he’s definitely succeeding.

Since the release of “Aulos,” Vladimir has put out a couple remixes, both featuring more of his trademark recorder. We’ll leave you with “Basik Yellow,” his rework of Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow.” Actually, you know what? I was wrong about the recorder. After this track came out, I bet Vladimir Cauchemar got laid a lot.

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Let’s spend Memorial Day weekend in Sir Ivan’s “La La Land”

Sir Ivan

We got an update a few days ago that our favorite batshit billionaire Sir Ivan had released another of his flower power dance remixes on Spotify. We were all set to blog about how his “chillout club mix” of The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” was the feelgood insult to George Harrison’s memory of the summer, but it turns out you can only hear it on Spotify, so instead we’ll help you start your three-day weekend* with this amazing video for Sir Ivan’s 2012 smash hit (no, seriously, it cracked the Billboard Top 40) “La La Land,” which we overlooked until now because, as regular readers know, we are bad at our jobs. Happy Memorial Day, everyone!

*For our non-U.S. readers: This coming Monday is Memorial Day, a holiday on which we ostensibly honor our troops and military veterans. But mostly we just grill things and/or get stuck in horrible traffic jams on the way to the beach.

Weirdify Playlist 4: Techno Fucking Way

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Sometimes here at TWBITW, we like to get on down with our bad selves. And by “bad,” we mean, “in no fit state to be getting on down with anything, unless it’s a couch or a mattress with good lumbar support.” Still, we do try to give the old carcasses a little wiggle every once in awhile. And there’s nothing more fun to wiggle to (or easier, especially for us white folks) than a some good old-fashioned boot-in-a-dryer music. We’re talking techno*, people!

This time around, I’ve decided to annotate the playlist a bit. So read on to learn more about the 14 artists and tracks represented in this mix—and while you’re reading, fire up the ol’ Spotify and see if you’re capable of dancing and reading at the same time. I bet you can do it.

*And related genres of EDM. Don’t get all purist on us, k?

1. The Soft Pink Truth, “Soft Pink Missy.” SPT is Drew Daniel, one-half of the experimental electronic duo Matmos. His stuff is often filed under “microhouse,” all of which sounds pretty weird—but Daniel is especially adept at constructing dance tracks built out of tiny edits from all sorts of sampled material. I figured this was a nice, gentle way to ease y’all into some of the harder stuff coming.

2. The Vegetable Orchestra, “Pumpkin Jam” (Märtini Brös remix). A not-so-weird track, until you realize that most of it was created using instruments made out of vegetables. Märtini Brös, the German duo who did the remix, have created some pretty weird dance tracks of their own, including this one.

3. Greenskeepers, “Man in the House” (GK 911 remix). This Chicago house/electro-pop group makes many songs with a twisted sense of humor, most famously “Lotion,” a bouncy New Wave jam narrated by Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs. This one isn’t quite that weird, but it’s got a fun beat.

4. Justin Martin and Sammy D, “The Southern Draw.” This one takes awhile to get going, but stay with it, and it gets wacky, trust me. It’s from the Dirtybird label, which releases a lot of terrific, offbeat techno—but nothing more offbeat than this.

5. Oli Chang, “Chicken Techno.” I’m pretty sure this one needs no explanation.

6. Die Antwoord, “I Fink U Freeky.” The raviest rave anthem from South Africa’s awesomely twisted “zef rap-rave” crew. I still can’t quite believe that they played this on Letterman.

7. Von Südenfed, “Flooded.” A collaboration between the German experimental electronic duo Mouse on Mars and Mark E. Smith from The Fall—who turns out to be a surprisingly excellent dance music vocalist, at least in small doses. No, this isn’t strictly speaking techno, but it fucking rocks. And no, it’s not dubstep, either. Can we all please agree that not everything with a dark, twisted bassline is dubstep? Thank you.

8. Anklepants, “Deadline 4734 vs. Inside Your Face” (Imposex mix). We just featured this guy as our Weird Band of the Week. At first I was mostly just fascinated with his creepily lifelike monster mask, but the more I listen to his music, the more I’m digging it. He’s not really techno either, and I’m not even sure you can dance to this stuff, but it’s amazing.

9. Laibach, “Wirtschaft” (Richie Hawtin Hardcore Noise Mix). One of the greatest techno producers of all time, Richie Hawtin (aka Plastikman), turns one of the weirdest industrial bands of all time into a jam for the ladies. That is, if those ladies like slam-dancing in steel-toed boots.

10. Underworld, “Moaner.” Underworld are one of those bands that became so popular, it’s easy now to forget how totally fucking wackadoodle even many of their best-known tracks are. This isn’t even their wackiest, but I think it’s one of their most underrated, with an insanely building synth line and Karl Hyde declaiming his surrealist raver poetry like a man possessed. God, they were so good back in the day.

11. Matthew Herbert, “February.” A British producer known for building his tracks out of field recordings of everything from bodily functions to household objects, Herbert released his weirdest and most controversial work last year: One Pig, an album of abstract musique concrete built from the sounds of the life cycle of a commercially raised pig, from birth to slaughter to dining table. On this track, from late in the album, you can hear butcher’s saws and the sounds of percussion instruments made out of the pig’s bones. It’s sort of the opposite of Vegetable Orchestra—and while I admit it’s pretty disturbing stuff, it kinda makes you crave bacon, doesn’t it?

12. Gangpol & Mit, “Balatchi Basketcha.” This track is about as close as the French kitschtronica duo G&M ever come to techno—and still, it’s less clubby, more Saturday-morning-cartoony, if Shag ever did Saturday morning cartoons. How awesome would that be?

13. Twink, “Slush Bunny.” Toy piano techno. You’re welcome, humanity!

14. Sir Ivan, “San Francisco” (John Kano radio mix). Yes, is the second playlist we’ve ended with Sir Ivan, but you know what? Fuck it. There’s something about his cheesy house/techno remakes of classic hippie songs that just seems like a fitting grand finale to an hour’s worth of weirdness. Such a strange vibration!

Hope you enjoy the playlist. If you do, tell a friend.

The KLF

(Photo originally appeared in Details magazine, 1991; article available here)

Today’s band was suggested by a reader from Belgium (worldwide, baby!) named Steve V., and it may surprise some of our American readers. Here in the States, The KLF are mainly remembered (if they’re remembered at all), as just another of that pack of seemingly indistinguishable bands who cashed in on that weird moment around 1990 or so when house music was actually getting played on the radio. But trust us, these guys were not in the same league as MARRS and C+C Music Factory. They may as well not even have come from the same planet.

The KLF originally started as a British hip-hop group called the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, then morphed briefly into a deliberately lame proto-house group called The Timelords, whose one and only single, “Doctorin’ the Tardis,” was a piss-take of pop hits that, perhaps inevitably, itself became a massive pop hit. A mash-up of the Doctor Who theme with Sweet’s “Blockbuster!” and Gary Glitter’s “Rock & Roll Part Two,” “Doctorin’ the Tardis” went to No. 1 in the UK in 1988 and reportedly sold over one million copies. Its success inspired the Timelords/KLF duo, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, to write a book called The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way), which dispensed such we’re-kidding-but-not-really advice as “if in a band, quit” and “watch Top of the Pops religiously.” (The book is out of print but you can read most of it online here—or shell out $89 $170 to a greedy Amazon reseller here.)

Drummond and Cauty probably could’ve scored a spot here on TWBITW as The Timelords solely on the basis of “Doctorin’ the Tardis” (and its video, which is one of the most hilariously amateurish artifacts of ’80s pop music), but they didn’t stop there. Instead, they reinvented themselves yet again as The KLF, an acid house group that specialized in what Drummond (aka King Boy D) called “pure dance music, without any reference points.” The KLF went on to become one of the most successful dance acts of the era, releasing a string of increasingly bizarre Top 10 hits in 1990 and 1991 that combined elements of acid house, rock, pop, hip-hop, gospel, ambient electronica and even country. (Their last single, “Justified and Ancient (Stand by the JAMs),” featured guest vocals by Tammy Wynette.) They called it, a bit cheekily, “stadium house”—and they were indeed successful enough with it to fill their fair share of stadiums.

It seemed The KLF could do no wrong. Until Drummond and Cauty got bored with their success and, in one spectacular public gesture, chucked it all.

In February of 1992, The KLF were scheduled to perform at the BRIT Awards, England’s answer to the Grammys. Instead of their usual rap/rave stage show, Drummond and Cauty brought in a punk/grindcore band called Extreme Noise Terror to play a thrashed-out version of the KLF hit “3 a.m. Eternal,” which climaxed with Drummond, grinning and supporting himself on a crutch, breaking out a machine gun and firing blanks over the heads of the stunned audience. As the band left the stage, an announcer declared, “The KLF have left the music business.” Later that night, The KLF left a dead sheep at a BRIT Awards after-party with a sign hung around its neck reading, “I died for you—bon appetit.”

Not content to stop there, Drummond and Cauty took the almost unheard-of step of deleting their entire back catalog. All albums and singles by The KLF, The Timelords and the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu remain out of print in the U.K.—although last we checked, The KLF’s final album, The White Room, is still available in the U.S., presumably because the duo’s contract with their American label, Arista, didn’t allow for catalog deletion. (But Arista’s parent company, Sony, just folded Arista into RCA Records, so it will be interesting to see if White Room stays in print.)

But wait! Drummond and Cauty took it a step further still. Still flush with cash from their days as pop hitmakers, they decided to take one million pounds in cash, nail it to a picture frame, then shop it around to various art galleries under the title Nailed to the Wall. Then, when no gallery would agree to show the work, they took their million quid to a remote Scottish island and burned it—all of it, in £50 notes—in a fireplace, filming the whole thing. The film they made about the whole project—including the creation of the K Foundation, a satirical arts foundation that also awarded £40,000 to the “worst artist of the year”—is called Watch The K Foundation Burn a Million Quid and can be viewed in its entirety on Google Video. It’s a pretty fascinating document. (The burning starts at around the 13:45 mark.)

We could go on about these guys: How they came out of retirement in 1997 in old-man makeup and motorized wheelchairs, giving a single performance of a remixed version of one of their old songs titled “Fuck the Millennium.” How they invited a bunch of journalists out to the island of Jura (the same island where they later burned their million quid) and made them all dress in ceremonial robes so they could film an elaborate ritual centered around a burning wicker man and called the whole thing The Rites of Mu. How they once traveled to Sweden hoping to persuade ABBA to let them keep an uncleared sample on their debut album, 1987 (What the Fuck Is Going On?). (ABBA refused to meet with them and insisted that the album be withdrawn from sale—Drummond and Cauty, ever the pyros, burned a bunch of copies of that record, too.)

But really, we think nothing sums up how completely mental these guys were than this video for “America: What Time Is Love?” It’s got everything: Vikings! Rappers! Stadium house beats! Shredding guitars! The lead singer from Deep Purple! Yes, there really was a time in pop music history when this song could go Top 10 in eight countries.

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*Note: The Library of Mu domain name expired the day we published this. It’s a conspiracy! Which would sort of make sense, because The KLF loved conspiracies. They were big fans of The Illuminatus Trilogy.

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Edward Barton

Today’s TWBITW entry was suggested by a reader named John Collingswood (thanks, John!). Normally we’re not big fans of solo practitioners of so-called “outsider art”—any mildly schizophrenic creative type can hole himself up with an acoustic guitar and some art supplies and crank out all sorts of bizarre stuff that will inevitably find a small but cultish following and eventually score him a documentary and/or tribute album featuring at least one member of Radiohead. But something about Edward Barton and his convoluted backstory really appealed to us. He’s sort of Manchester, England’s answer to Daniel Johnston, complete with random connections to 808 State and the early U.K. rave scene. We had to find out more.

Barton got his start in the ’80s, recording minimalist, almost nursery-rhyme-like songs with his girlfriend at the time, Jane Lancaster. One of these songs, from an LP called Jane and Barton, was an a cappella track called “It’s a Fine Day” that became a minor hit in 1983 (according to Barton’s bio, it has the distinction of being the “highest ever chart placing of an unaccompanied poem” in U.K. history). The success garnered Barton, now a solo artist, a pair of appearances on a popular TV music show called The Tube, as well as opening slots for a number of touring bands from Manchester, although Barton has since said his popularity as an opening act was only because “I made bands look adventurous and/or compassionate for choosing me” and “I was willing to sleep outside the bands hotel in their van with an amplifier on my head.”

Also a visual artist, Barton directed the video for “Sit Down,” a 1989 single from James (the band that would later have that massive hit “Laid,” you know, the one with the yodeling chorus and the line, “She only comes when she’s on top”). He was also arrested for displaying an art installation called “Stolen,” which consisted of things he had shoplifted. In the early ’90s, he ran an exhibition space in Manchester called the Oblong Gallery, which was also eventually shut down—again, by the police, according to Barton’s bio, although it doesn’t go into specifics.

Barton had sort of an odd second career when he got involved in the nascent “Madchester” rave scene in the late ’80s/early ’90s. He co-wrote a very weird acid house track “Born in the North” with A Guy Called Gerald in 1988, and he hosted a popular Manchester club night called Hip Replacement which, according to Graham Massey of 808 State, featured such esoteric entertainments as “Ukrainian folk groups, life drawing classes [and] first aid demos,” as well as a “wardrobe orchestra” in which all the musicians performed inside different wardrobes (i.e. big pieces of furniture roughly the size and shape of a small closet). We’re not quite sure how that last one worked and no one seems to have provided a detailed account of it—so we’re guessing the concept never quite caught on.

His big claim to fame from this era came in 1992 when the house/techno band Opus III remade “It’s a Fine Day” as an uplifting club anthem, complete with a video that’s now so fantastically dated, it seems like a parody of early ’90s house music—but no, early ’90s house music was really just that ridiculous. The Ecstasy must’ve been really, really good back then.

After the success of Opus III’s “It’s a Fine Day” remake, Barton recorded a series of albums under the name Hush that consisted entirely of a cappella songs meant to be sampled by dance music producers. Hush samples did appear on half a dozen hit songs over the next several years, including “Happiness,” an early Norman Cook track released under the name Pizzaman, but none ever repeated the success of “It’s a Fine Day” or did much to boost Barton’s profile.

After the release of the last Hush album in 1995, Barton seems to have dropped off the radar a bit. Supposedly he worked on a project with Mark Day of the Happy Mondays called O.K. Cola, but we couldn’t verify this. He also released a record in 2000 under the name Pudding called “A Little Christmas Thieving,” which is still available on his website. But for the most part, he appears to have kept fairly quiet…until last year, when he finally resurfaced with a brand-new album called And a Panda. Based on the tracks available on his MySpace page, plus this YouTube video for a track called “Ginger Funk,” it’s by far the mostly elaborately arranged and accessible stuff Barton’s ever recorded–but it’s still pretty out there.

Despite his many accomplishments, Barton is probably still best-known in England for his first appearance on The Tube in the early ’80s. There, young fans who were perhaps expecting to see the lady with the pretty voice who sang “It’s a Fine Day” instead got treated to a spastic performance by a solo Barton, playing a battered acoustic guitar with a wooden spoon and declaiming a (for lack of a better term) song called “I’ve Got No Chicken But I’ve Got Five Wooden Chairs.” Here’s a clip of that immortal performance.

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Sir Ivan

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File this guy under “so completely ridiculous, he’s actually kind of awesome.” Seriously, we’re really hoping this post gets us invited to one of the parties at his 15,000 sq ft. castle in the Hamptons. Yeah, we’re whores.

“Sir Ivan” Wilzig is the son of a billionaire banker (and Auschwitz survivor) who quit the family business in 2000 to chase his dreams—which, in his case, apparently consisted of dressing up like a superhero and making really bad techno versions of classic ’60s protest songs. (Here’s a wild guess: Shortly before quitting his banking job, Ivan had a really mind-blowing night of ecstasy-fueled debauchery at some New York nightclub and possibly a candy-raver afterparty.)

The punchline to Sir Ivan’s story, of course, is that his cheesy Eurodisco versions of “Imagine” and “San Francisco” were very successful. There’s really no end to the market for bad dance music—even when it’s delivered by a middle-aged dude in a superhero cape. Actually, these days, every electronic act from the Bloody Beetroots to Deadmau5 dresses up in weird costumes, so maybe Ivan was really ahead of the curve.

Anyway, after laying low for a few years (apart from being a contestant on a reality TV show called Who Wants To Be A Superhero? and making this amazing appearance on VH1’s The Fabulous Life), Sir Ivan is back and promising to release a full-length album called I Am Peaceman later this year. The album features 15 tracks done in his inimiatable style, which he calls rocktronica, which is actually a pretty major improvement over “Technippy”, which is what he used to call his stuff (cause it’s techno + hippie music…get it? yeah, nevermind).

The first single from I Am Peaceman is a techno version of—I shit you not—”Kumbaya.” The video for it is below. It’s pretty painful stuff, but tough it out til the 1:38 mark, when there’s a batshit-crazy closeup of Ivan that’s well worth the price of admission. He’s like the Jewish Tom Jones—if the Welsh tiger had gobbled some shrooms at Burning Man and stumbled into one of the dance tents.

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