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This page is in the process of being revised.

(This is a brief overview of the kinds of music I play. For more detailed information on these genres and how I became interested in them, see the History page. For a brief overview of my career as a club DJ, see my DJ bio.)

"Variety Is the Spice of Life," the name of my radio show, gives me carte blanche to play just about anything--in keeping with that spirit, my September 2001 mix CD is actually titled Carte Blanche. However, there are a few sounds to which I'm especially partial: downtempo, funky breakbeat, and Happy Charm Fool Dance Music (HCFDM).

More and more often I group everything I play under the name "downtempo," using it as a generous umbrella categorization that encompasses pretty much anything under about 120 beats per minute.



      Some people define "downtempo" as any electronic music that's not house, trance, techno, or drum'n'bass, in which case it subsumes funky breakbeat and HCFDM, but I think of downtempo (at least in the original sense of the word) as being more chilled-out than the other two.

      Mellow, relaxed, and sometimes hypnotic in feeling, downtempo frequently samples from the same sorts of jazz records as hip-hop. Indeed, the name "trip-hop," by which the genre first became known, described its trippy approach to hip-hop beats. (A June 1994 feature story on trip-hop in the British dance music culture magazine Mixmag provides an interesting look at the emergence of the movement.) In the early and mid-'90s artists like MC Solaar and Massive Attack blurred the lines between trip-hop and hip-hop.

      Today the "trip-hop" designation has fallen out of favor, with "downtempo" (and sometimes "downbeat") replacing it. Downtempo is a larger category, including not only sounds derived from hip-hop, but also those drawing from world music (especially Brazilian and Middle Eastern music), funk, soul, reggae, and dub. Among the U.S.'s better-known downtempo acts is Washington, D.C.'s Thievery Corporation, whose music tends to be faster in tempo and more upbeat in feeling than the moodier, more reflective music of European downtempo artists France's Kid Loco and Austria's Kruder and Dorfmeister.


     Funky breakbeat, sometimes called "breaks," is characterized by its syncopated or "broken" beats (in contrast to the steady, easily discernible "1, 2, 3, 4" beat of house, trance, and techno) and its use of funky samples.

     Much of the breakbeat music that has caught on in the U.S. is aggressive and synthetic in feeling. I tend to prefer the gentler, funkier, more organic-sounding breaks.

Happy Charm Fool Dance Music (HCFDM) /
   Shibuya-kei / Japanese pop

      The Japanese pop that as received the most airplay on "Variety Is the Spice of Life" fits into the Shibuya-kei category. Referring to Tokyo's hip Shibuya district, this description (which means "Shibuya-style") came into being around 1993-94. As the home of HMV's first Japanese branch, and with a presence of numerous record stores that bought their stock from the U.S. and the U.K., Shibuya became a magnet for people interested in the early '90s U.K. club music that influenced the scene. Not only has Shibuya-kei continued as a viable form of Japanese alternative music, it has also influenced the commercial Japanese scene.

      Two representative Shibuya-kei artists are Pizzicato Five and Fantastic Plastic Machine. Both have had a neo-lounge sound at times and a Happy Charm Fool Dance Music sound at others. Coined by Yasuharu Konishi of Pizzicato Five (in a burst of inspiration--usually his English is better), "Happy Charm Fool Dance Music" might be more accurately expressed in English as "happy charming foolish dance music." The "happy" element is self-explanatory, the "charm" element includes things that endear the song to the listener, and "fool" element encompasses conscious silliness. Light and playful in tone, HCFDM songs tend to be fast in tempo and often involve keyboards. While most HCFDM comes out of Japan and Germany, home to the HCFDM-oriented Escalator and Bungalow record labels respectively, some of the work of New York-based Ursula 1000, Germany's Low-Fi Generator, and the Amsterdam-based duo Arling and Cameron falls into the HCFDM category. Low-Fi Generator, whose songs appear on the Bungalow compilations RO 3003 and Spielkreis 03, has released two albums on Germany's Normal Records. The latter one, Pop-Up Cola, is quintessential HCFDM.

      These days I find myself playing less straight-out Happy Charm Fool Dance Music and more music (often funky breaks) with Happy Charm Fool elements. This includes work by artists such as Ursula 1000, Mr. Scruff, Akakage, and the Dutch Rhythm Combo.

This page created October 1999 - Last modified November 1, 2004

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