Tag: Berkeley CA

New Audio: Electronic Music Pioneer Patrick Cowley’s Posthumously Released, Early Experimental and Psychedelic-Tinged Electronica

Born in Buffalo, NY, the highly influential and forward-thinking electronic music producer and artist Patrick Cowley relocated to San Francisco in 1971 to study electronic music at the City College of San Francisco. By the late 70s, Cowley’s synthesizer and production techniques landed him a gig writing and producing songs for legendary, gender-bending disco superstar Sylvester, including the sultry and propulsive, smash hit “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).” 

Around the same time, Cowley managed to create his own brand of party music, known as Hi-NRG, which was also dubbed “The San Francisco Sound” and by 1981, he had released a string of 12″ singles as a solo artist, including “Menergy” and “Megatron Man.” Interestingly, 1981 was an incredibly busy year for the legendary electronic music producer and artist: he co-founded Megatone Records, which released his debut album Megatron Man. 

During that same year, Cowley as hospitalized and diagnosed with an unknown illness. which would later become known as AIDS. Recovering for a brief spell he went on to produce Sylvester’s smash hit “Do You Want to Funk” and Paul Parker’s “Right on Target,” as well as his sophomore album Mind Warp. Tragically. Cowley died two weeks after his 32nd birthday from an AIDS-related illness.  Since his death, Patrick Cowley has become one of electronic music’s most influential and forward-thinking artists and producers.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, his previously released work has seen posthumous re-issues, including a re-issue of Mind Warp a few years ago. 

With growing attention on the late electronic music pioneer’s work, a collection of previously unreleased material written between 1973-1980 was recently discovered. Dubbed Mechanical Fantasy Box, the 13 previous unreleased songs will be released in tandem with Cowley’s homoerotic journal of the same name, and the compilation is a collection of Cowley’s work from the years preceding his meteoric rise as a pioneer of Hi-NRG dance music. Interestingly, these songs were written and recorded  before drum machines and programmable, polyphonic digital synthesis with the material being highly experimental. Sonically, the material flows from funk to kraut to psychedelic, ambient electronics inspired by Tomita and Kraftwerk. 

Some songs were mixed from 4-track stems by Joe Tarantino and all of the compilation’s 13 songs have been remastered by George Horn at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, CA. The vinyl edition comes housed in a black and white gatefold jacket Gwenaël Rattke featuring a photograph by Susan Middleton, liner notes by bandmate Maurice Tani and an 8.5×11 insert with notes. But more important, proceeds from the compilation will be donated to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. The San Francisco AIDS Foundation has been committed to ending the pandemic and human suffering caused by HIV sine 1982. 

Clocking in at just a smidge under 11:30, Mechanical Fantasy Box’s first single “Lumberjacks in Heat” manages to be a trippy synthesis of John Carpenter soundtracks krautrock-inspired prog rock and psychedelia as the composition is centered by layers of shimmering and fluttering bursts of synths and some propulsive and forceful drumming.   Interestingly, much like Kraftwerk’s legendary and influential work, this previously unreleased single manages to simultaneously be of its time and remarkably contemporary — as though it could have been part of the retro-futuristic wave. 

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Sis is a Berkeley, CA-based indie pop project that features singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and Native Cat Recordings founder Jenny Gillespie Mason and Meernaa‘s husband and wife duo Carly Bond and Rob Shelton. The trio’s sophomore album Gas Station Roses will be officially dropping and its latest single “Night From Scratch” is an atmospheric and dreamy track centered around shimmering synths, thumping kick drum, a fluttering flute melody and ethereal vocals. And while evoking rippling and bubbling waters, the track — to my ears, at least —  manages to be deceptively anachronistic: the song manages to nod at breezy 70s AM rock and Sade.

 

 

 

Live Footage: Bay Area-based JOVM Mainstays The Seshen Perform “Right Here” at Berkeley’s The Clock Factory

Now, if you had been frequenting this site over the past 12-18 months or so, you’ve likely come across a handful of posts on one of this site’s newest mainstay acts, the Bay Area-based electro pop/electro R&B/electro soul act The Seshen. Comprised of founding members Lalin St. Juste (vocals) and Akiyoshi Ehara (bass, production) with Kasha Rockland (vocals), Mizra Kopelman (percussion) and Kumar Butler (sampler), the Bay Area-based act have received attention from this site and elsewhere for a sound that draws from a broad and eclectic array of influences including  Erykah Badu, Jai Paul, James Blake, Radiohead, Broadcast, hip-hop, indie rock, electronica — with the result being a sound that managed to be simultaneously contemporary and retro-futuristic.
Over the past year, I wrote about the first three singles off the act’s sophomore full-length effort Flames & Figures — “Distant Heart,” a sleek and sensual, synth-based single that sounded as though it were influenced by 80s synth-based R&B and pop,  “Already Gone,” a sultry and sensual track that subtly nodded at Giorgio Moroder, and “Colors Collide,” which managed to nod at 60s-inspired psych pop and rock rock, complete with a shifting and morphing song structure held together by a hazy vibe. The album’s latest single “Right Here” consisting of retro-futuristic-leaning production featuring cascading layers of synths, xylophone, subtly African percussion, a sinuous yet propulsive bass line and ambient synths within an expansive song structure featuring rapidly shifting key changes and mood and razor sharp hooks — and while there’s a lot going on within the song, there’s enough room for St. Juste’s sultry and coquettish vocals to dart and float about. But perhaps most important, the latest single should remind listeners that the Bay Area-based act specialize in balancing an accessible, pop sensibility with an uncompromisingly challenging songwriting approach and sound. 

Emmit Fenn is Berkeley, CA-based indie electro pop artist, who describes his sound and aesthetic as being at the intersection of Flume and James Blake — and as you’ll hear on his latest single “Woman,” Fenn pairs his tender and aching crooned volcano with a minimalist production consisting of propulsive, boom-bap like drumming and gently swirling electronics and shimmering synths to create a sound that reminds me quite a bit of The Ways We Separate-era Beacon but with a plaintive sensuality at its core.