Artists of the Year

But that's not all. Because, skill and wit aside, what makes Original Pirate Material powerful, rather than merely important, is that Mike Skinner sounds like a good guy. Now, the lack of basic human decency in pop music is hardly a cause for concern: Lust, greed, even murder...these things generally make for better art than a caring sensibility. Always have. Free-floating bitterness has fired up rock and rap and every genre in between quite well over the years, thank you very much, while decency can sidle all too easily over into gentility, serve as a mask for manipulative seduction, or provide a trampoline for a musician to vault up to self-importance.

Still, Skinner, with his laddish taste for weed and PlayStation, couldn't pass for genteel if he tried; his libido is so near dormant that his politeness to the ladies ("We say 'birds' not 'bitches'") seems purely matter-of-fact; and he's aggressively humble. But when he rhymes, he overflows with a profound sense of empathy that few artists can muster.

Keith Harris is the music editor of the Chicago Reader.

Scott Wright


DJ Hell

Munich has always had a tremendous influence on the evolution of electronic music. In the late '70s, Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder, both Munich residents, were experimenting with what has come to be called "electro," creating equipment that would make loops of electronic riffs. When I asked Florian Schneider, one of the founding members of Kraftwerk, how he came upon such revolutionary ideas, he explained, "It was in the air....if I hadn't developed these ideas, they would have inevitably happened anyway." These comments are, of course, uncharacteristically modest, especially with the current growth in all music forms électroniques.

Now we skip forward to the year 2002, when there are so many labels producing electronic music internationally that it is impossible to keep track of it all. The nu-electro revival section of record stores--or "electroclash," as the media oftentimes refer to it--has expanded more this year than that of any other dance genre. With this explosion has come much interest in Munich's International DeeJay Gigolos label, and the man who runs it, DJ Hell. Since 1997, the label has released many of the seminal electro-punk and electro-revival artists, as well as techno-electro hybrids that have invigorated dance music for much of the year. This invasion has gotten attention for bringing lyrics in to replace basslines as the focus of the dance floor. Owing in part to Hell's label, acts such as Fischerspooner, Miss Kittin, Mount Sims, Vitalic, Crossover, David Carretta, Tiga, and many others have brought a banquet of new ideas to DJs internationally. Hell has also generated new interest in artists who were marginalized in the past decade, like Marc Almond from Soft Cell, Tuxedomoon, Dominatrix, and Bobby Konders.

Because of competition among all things electro, the modesty of the genre's pioneers has been replaced by a sneer generally associated with punk and rock 'n' roll. When asked what is next for Gigolo records, Hell once responded, "Mastercontrol will tell you when it's time to change." DJ Hell's punk attitude and characteristic difficultness actually helped define the differences between this emerging "electroclash" scene--a term that Hell only recently embraced--and the overpaid, understimulated DJs of the past. His slim, stylish obstinacy created an image that contrasted with the macho techno and house scene.

Actually, Hell's artists are a brave modern collective whose very existence is political. Women have a very strong voice within the community. It doesn't matter if you are gay or straight. You don't have to be young or beautiful to make a powerful statement. This makes up for any pretentious attitudes that have risen from the DJ Hell/Gigolo camp.

I hadn't spoken to the man for almost two years until recently, when we both were interviewed for a Fischerspooner documentary and "made up." Here's hoping that the American and European community can work together to see that the artists who make this exciting music--Peaches, Chicks on Speed, Detroit Grand Pubas, Ladytron, Swayzak, Felix Da Housecat, WIT, 2 many DJ's, Bis, Martini Brothers, Avenue d, My Robot Friend, Creme de Menthe, Spalding Rockwell, and so many others--can bring new options to the record shops across America.

Larry Tee is the New York-based CEO of Mogul Electro and Electroclash Festivals


Rhett Miller

The writer's life involves a lot of late nights. Alone. Rhett Miller helps to keep me sane. Whether I'm listening to any of my well-worn Old 97's CDs (the more country-inflected the further back you go), or his fantastic new solo album, The Instigator, Rhett manages to be both entertainer and great conversationalist. Pretty melodies, infectious hooks, wit, soul, profundity. Songs about girls. What more could you want?

Literate charmer, storyteller, colossal talent Rhett Miller has written many (many) of my favorite songs in the whole world. (Many of these are about girls. He is simply the unchallenged master of this genre.) His handlers have him all prettied up for this solo album, and I must say I miss the cute boy with floppy hair and glasses and a big smile. But I guess you can't be that boy forever. And if the shaggy haircut gets him more airplay, God bless the shaggy haircut. Because Rhett unexpectedly showing up in my car is one of the sweeter surprises the day might hold.

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