ADMIN INVITES US TO “STEP INTO LIGHT”

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Admin: Step Into Light (white label, 2021)

I moved up to the Bay Area in the early ’90s when the acid jazz scene was popping off there but alas, I never took advantage to go to the central parties at Nickie’s BBQ in the Upper Haight and other venues where folks like DJ Greyboy or Mark Farina would spin when they were in town. That said, the sound of acid jazz was there in the background when I was learning to become a DJ and even if I didn’t spin a ton of it, I was more than aware of its influence in the worlds of hip-hop and dance music.

Maybe that’s why when I heard “Step Into Light” as an Instagram post from Friends of Sound founder David Haffner I was all “gimme that beat, fool” about it. I had never heard of Bristol’s Admin before that but no matter, I was instantly into the whole sound/feel of his latest single.

“Step Into Light” is clearly influenced by Admin’s long history working with jazz, deep house, and similar dance styles. I’m a sucker for songs that begin with a good piano loop so this caught my ear from jump. But I like how it patiently builds over the course of the opening 16 bars, not bringing in the heavy drums until you’ve had some quality time, soaking in that slow burn intro. I’m also not normally a fan of sax but the way it’s used in this dreamy (vs. saxy-sax) way is fine by me. Like I said, the whole vibe takes me back to the era of Farina’s Mushroom Jazz mixes.

Admin was generous enough to share some of the making-of details behind the song. For one, he started working on it at the beginning of the CV19 pandemic:

it was pretty bleak in the UK during a winter lockdown and I think a lot of people including myself were finding solace in listening and producing music. The names of the tracks are reminders to keep on moving forward and to take time on yourself [b-side is entitled “Reflect + Heal”].

Musically, Admin explained that he was drawing on some of his favorite influences: jazz, house and hip-hop and while he wasn’t giving up his sources, his samples on here reflected his usual production process:

I’ll usually just pick something out of my collection, just on a hunch, and play through listening for anything that can be used for a track. I remember both tracks just fell into place, which is always a good sign when making beats.

Lastly, I wanted to know why he decided to release this as a white label vs. a more formal release and it had everything to do with the context in which the songs were created:

I needed to keep myself busy and was at a stage where I had put out a few edit whitelabels previously, so it all just clicked really. I wanted this release to be personal.

That partly explains why he opted to release this as a white label:

The project came about quite organically at the start of the COVID pandemic. I needed to keep myself busy and was at a stage where I had put out a few edit whitel abels previously, so it all just clicked really. I wanted this release to be personal.

My thanks to Admin for his time and Dave Haffner for putting me up on this glorious slice of hopefulness. “Step Into Light” b/w “Reflect + Heal” are available for digital purchase via his Bandcamp account.. The 500 units of the physical copies sold out quickly and though they still pop up, you’ll have to hunt them down.

SMART PEOPLE DISSECT THE HARLEM SHAKE

The nice thing about knowing a grip of smart people is that I can enlist them to provide serious commentary on silly things. Case in point: The “Harlem Shake” meme. I unabashedly admit that I’m fascinated by it; at this point, I’ve probably watched a few dozen versions and while there are some flat ones in there, by and large, I keep deriving immense pleasure in watching them. (My favorite, thus far, is the one at the 2:30 mark (aka v3). Any time someone is featured punching a blow-up giraffe, it’s a good thing.

Anyways, I wanted to get some folks to break down why they think this particular meme “works” – either sonically and/or visually. I reached out to folks informally; this wasn’t meant to be some kind of deep academic breakdown, more like “hey, so what do you think?” Nonetheless, being who they are, they still came with some A game material.

The first to holler back was Dr. Joseph Schloss, author of two seminal books on hip-hop culture, Making Beats and Foundation. Here’s what he had to say:

Two things stand out to me, aside from the standard tension and release thing created by having the beat drop out entirely for a few seconds before the 808 kicks in (which I think is important, just not unique).

One is the kind of weird additive rhythmic structure, which starts out sounding like it’s going to be a typical, dancehall/ Carribean/ragtime 3+3+2 feel, but turns out to be (if I’m not mistaken) 3+4+4+5, which I have never heard before. So, to me, that’s familiar enough to be familiar, but weird enough to be interesting.

Also, after two cycles, the pitch of the 808 drops by a full step from B flat to A flat (unless my guitar is out of tune). What’s interesting about that to me is that usually producers will either play an actual bassline on the 808 or just keep it at the same pitch and focus on the rhythm. This example kind of splits the difference between melody and rhythm by just shifting between two notes, each of which is used for an entire section of the song.

Then Dr. Loren Kajikawa, who teaches music up at the University of Oregon, added:

To me the most important thing about this meme seems to be the way music and imagery work together. Even if the rhythm is somewhat novel as Joe suggests, this formula–-instrumental buildup without drums leading to a climactic beat drop-–is a familiar convention in Electronic Dance Music (EDM). Mark Butler opens his book _Unlocking the Groove_ with a similar example of a DJ silencing the bass in his mix and the audience expectantly waiting for it to return. When the DJ drops the bass back in, he creates a climactic moment on the dance floor. Likewise, the Harlem Shake videos are playing on the increase in musical energy that occurs after the dramatic pause in the musical track. When the 808 drops, everyone goes bananas. In other words, these videos are giving us a visual representation of an EDM musical convention. This is why the meme is so immediately funny (to some) and so instantly copyable. Like a DJ dramatically adding and subtracting layers from the mix, producers of these video parodies can craft a million different scenarios that all foster a similar effect.

Last, but not least, Dr. Kyra Gaunt, author of The Games Black Girls Play brought this perspective:

This actually reminds me of the meme of dancing to Santigold at a outdoor concert in Sasquatch to “Unstoppable”. One guy starts an evolution of dancing. Seth Godin blogged about Guy #3 in 2009. He writes: “it’s guy #3 who made it a movement.” I think he’s actually riffing off the sociological work of Georg Simmel (1950) who argued that the number of people in a group helps form the social relations which take place in that group. In these Harlem Shake meme viral videos, the actual movement serves a similar transformation in the group dynamic that is triggers when the beat drops.

Now, I ain’t gonna lie. I pulled my black card out (but I can do this cuz I have a Ph.D. in musical blackness) and asked myself why the Harlem Shake was invoked around such random and, as you called it, “tempered” shaking that shifts to “full on crazy dance”? Is there some unintentional meaning that could be read into it? These videos are not intentional or unintentionally racial. in fact that seem like a global party that even T Pain joins in. But it ain’t exactly a tribute the evolution of black social dances. Makes me think of your mention, in a recent post, of not being able to listen to Cantaloop anymore because of US3. After the first two versions on the link you shared, I didn’t even want to see another one of the Harlem Shake memes. However, the father and son one and the the Star Wars version had me crackin’ up.

But back to appropriating the name of the dance without the body of musical blackness to which it once belonged. Does the masking, the carnivalesque atmosphere when the beat drops, and the pelvic thrusts often of some non-black male body (and in one case a white female) significant to anyone but me? Just sayin. Or can we just eliminate the racial sediment that looms subtly behind this viral meme? I’d at least suggest there is a element of erasure at work since there are often parodies of other black dances that were once erased of their integrity through appropriation by the masses. In several of the memes I noticed whitened-up versions of the running man and that old stir the pot behavior that was supposed to emulate the cabbage patch.
Yet and still the meme works and it makes me return to my opening thought. I am more inclined to see a connection to the 6 million hits associated with the Santigold video but people remember the guy who started the dancing in her video rather than the musical artist who led to the moment. The crazy dancing wins again. And rapper Santigold goes the way of the original Harlem Shake in this case. #fadetoblack

PUMP THIS PARTY!


Bizarre Inc: I’m Gonna Get You (Original Flavour Mix)
From 12″ (BMG, 1992)

Lauren Flax feat. Sia: You’ve Changed
From digital single (DANR, 2009)

Apart from the fact that I’m procrastinating (hey, it’s hard to get into summer work mode!), I’m not embellishing when I say I really do dig this particular sound. I was never a house-head by any means and these songs, in particular, were really pop crossovers rather than deep house classics. But man, give me a good synthesizer chord progression and some four-on-the-floor and I can get with it. I was going to post “Gypsy Woman” by Crystal Waters but at this point, I actually might prefer the ways in which others have used it more than the original. But that Bizarre Inc.? Still sounds great to me. And clearly, the style hasn’t gone out of style as evinced by Lauren Flax’s hot hit from last year. Have no idea why I’m into bumping this right now (latent nostalgia for the good ‘ol early ’90s?) but like I said, it still sounds good to me.