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Senor Coconut and his Orchestra - Yellow Fever!

Senor Coconut Yellow Fever
best of 2006Señor Coconut and his Orchestra (feat. Argenis Brito) - Yellow Fever!
(CD) RephlexAYCD11, 2006-06-09

Tracklisting :
01. My Name Is Coco
02. YELLOW MAGIC (Tong Poo) feat. Ryuichi Sakamoto & Jorge Gonzalez
03. Coco Agogo feat. Akufen & Jorge Gonzalez
04. LIMBO feat. Yukihiro Takahashi
05. What Is Coconut?
07. El Coco Rallado
09. Mambo Numerique feat. Towa Tei & Marina
10. SIMOON feat. Mouse on Mars
11. Coconut AM
12. THE MADMEN feat. Haruomi Hosono
13. What Is Coconut? feat. Constanze Martinez
15. Breaking Music feat. Dandy Jack & Schneider TM
17. El Coco Roco Roto
19. What Is Coconut? feat. Towa Tei
20. FIRECRACKER feat. Lisa Carbon

Notes : Tracks in capitals are Yellow Magic Orchestra covers

Press Release :
Nice up the dance: Señor Coconut meets Yellow Magic Orchestra

Essay Recordings is proud to introduce the latest instalment in the vaunted legacy of Señor Coconut, the world's only German/Chilean "electrolatino" interpreter of pop standards. This time out, Coconut—famous for his laptop-salsa and acid-merengue covers of Kraftwerk, Sade, and Michael Jackson—is back with a proper Latin big band, fronted by the inimitable Venezuelan singer Argenis Brito, to pay homage to Kraftwerk's Eastern counterparts in the annals of techno-pop pioneers, Yellow Magic Orchestra. Making the orchestra that much more magical, all three of YMO's members—Haruomi Hosono, Yukihiro Takahashi, and Oscar- and Grammy-winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto—make guest appearances on the album. And rounding out the barmy, mixed-up social club, the album features a host of distinguished collaborators from all corners of the electronic-music world—including Towa Tei, Mouse on Mars, Akufen, Schneider TM and Nouvelle Vague's Marina—in a series of playful, cryptic interludes that aim to crack open, once and for all, the mystery of Señor Coconut.

Do you want to know more about Senor Coconut and this project?

Everyone has heard of "desert island discs"—those collections of treasured albums that one would absolutely have to have in his possession if stranded on a desert island deep in the South Pacific. Imagine, for a moment, that this album is a variation on that theme: the mysterious Señor Coconut (more on him in a moment), finding himself shipwrecked on a desolate rock in the middle of the deep blue, hauls out his iPod, filled to the last gigabyte with recordings of Japan's Yellow Magic Orchestra (again, hold your horses, we'll get to them). The problem with the desert island disc scenario, of course, is logistical: what to do when the batteries run out? Fortunately Coconut has a backup plan: his fellow passengers just happening to be the members of an immensely talented Latin big band, he quickly has them learn the parts to 10 of his favourite YMO songs, and voilá: a yellow magic overload to last until the rescue ships come. The only catch, of course: this time the synth-pop classics are rendered as mambo, merengue, bolero and cha-cha-cha. Of course, none of this is true—although from the sound of the record, you could be forgiven for believing otherwise. The real story is a bit more prosaic (but only a bit, when you think about it). Señor Coconut is probably the best-known project of the man born as Uwe Schmidt. A core participant in Frankfurt, Germany's electronic-music scene in the early '90s and the proprietor of the Rather Interesting label, he has long been revered by a relatively (let's face it) miniscule audience of techno fans, industrial heads, and experimental-music obsessives for hundreds of records released under a dizzying array of aliases and collaborations: Atom Heart, AtomTM, Lisa Carbon Trio, Dots, Flextone, Midisport, Lassigue Bendthaus, DOS Tracks, Flanger, Datacide, Ongaku, Geeez 'N' Gosh, Masters of Psychedelic Ambiance… the list goes on, and on, and on.

In 1997—around the same time, incidentally, that he moved from Frankfurt to Santiago, Chile—Schmidt debuted the Señor Coconut project with El Gran Baile, a hyperkinetic collection of tracks sourced from Schmidt's collection of classic Latin records, cut up and rearranged into songs whose genres—Nova Raro, Jive Eclectico, Samba Virtual—existed only in Schmidt's expansive imagination. The results sounded like a fusion of Perez Prado and Raymond Scott, tinged with triple-time breaks and tingly as a funny bone. But it was with 2000's El Baile Alemán that Señor Coconut y su conjunto—as he now called himself, his "conjunto" (backing band) consisting only of his samplers—that Coconut's creative vehicle rolled out of the side-roads of novelty records and sped onto the Autobahn of the popular imagination. On El Baile Alemán (The German Dance) Schmidt did the only logical thing for a German electronic musician fascinated with Latin rhythms and instrumentation: he covered the iconic German group Kraftwerk's greatest hits—"Showroom Dummies," "Trans Europe Express," "Autobahn" and others—in tropical styles ranging from cumbia to merengue, with Mambotour's Argenis Brito and Chilean political rockers Los Prisioneros' Jorge Gonzalez on vocals.

No mere gimmick, El Baile Alemán was like a dissertation on pop music's global contradictions, subtly tweaking the conventional wisdom on authenticity, identity and tradition, while—hardly the least of its successes—demonstrating that Kraftwerk were not just technological whizzes and masters of iconography, but also pretty formidable tunesmiths. (At the same time, the album challenged the very definition of "electronic music," reminding listeners that contemporary salsa and merengue are often as programming-intensive as the most glitch-added Teutonic techno.)

Schmidt's own backstory made the project more complicated than it might seem. On the one hand, here was a German living in Chile, reworking his native country's greatest pop stars in a distinctively "regional" musical language. Some critics cried exploitation, while lazy reviewers chalked it all up to essentialism, seeing Schmidt's new musical direction (which had been planned long before his move to Chile) as a "natural" extension of his emigration. What the former missed was the keen-eyed sense of humor marking Schmidt's avowed distance from both traditions; the latter slept on the fact that Chile, despite the odd palm tree, is a far different beast from the Caribbean cultures that gave birth to tropical music like cumbia and merengue. Señor Coconut, far from some biographical inevitability, was more like a meditation on exile, outsiderism, and the fascinating happenstance of cultural exchange. (It didn't hurt, of course, that you could dance to it.)

Schmidt's subsequent projects under the Coconut moniker might be thought of as detours of a sort. After a successful tour translated the Kraftwerk material from Schmidt's hard drive into frenetic big-band arrangements, Schmidt launched Señor Coconut and His Orchestra, recording northern pop standards—Sade's "Smooth Operator," the Doors' "Riders on the Storm"—in his now-familiar "electrolatino" style for 2003's Fiesta Songs. And for 2005's Señor Coconut Presents Coconut FM: Legendary Latin Club Tunes, Coconut's first record for Frankfurt's Essay Recordings label, Schmidt put on his curator's hat, presenting a selection of reggaeton, funk carioca and cumbia that obliterated the lines between "underground" and "mainstream" just as surely as it blurred the very concept of "electronic" music. (Once again, dancing is virtually required, especially when Schmidt adopts his Don Atom persona to introduce the world's first example of acid reggaeton, or "aciton.")

Which brings us to Yellow Fever, Coconut's latest endeavour, which offers up 10 Latin-inspired takes on Yellow Magic Orchestra's greatest hits and coolest obscurities alike. In many ways, the choice of Japanese techno-pop heroes Yellow Magic Orchestra for a new, single-artist-focused Coconut project seems logical to the point of inevitability. Active from 1978 to 1983, the trio of Ryuichi Sakamoto, Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi was, in many ways, Japan's answer to Kraftwerk, exploring the ways that pop songcraft could be rewired for a new era of circuitry. What distinguished them in their early years from their button-pushing, synthpop contemporaries around the globe was their intense, questing musicality: unlike the Top of the Pops bands armed with second-hand keyboards and one-note melodies, YMO shrunk entire musical worlds to fit their motherboards. Depending on the selection, in YMO you can hear disco, jazz, funk, balladry, show tunes… you get the idea.

In fact, in retrospect, little of YMO's output sounds much like we now think of, reductively, as "synth-pop." "Yellow Magic" features a piano solo ripped straight from the Afro-Cuban tradition; "Pure Jam" sounds like a breakdancer's remake of Magical Mystery Tour-era Beatles. (That shouldn't be too surprising: YMO went so far as to cover the Beatles' rock'n'rollier "Day Tripper.") It probably goes without saying that the same "globalizing" questions Schmidt explored in his Kraftwerk versions were in many ways already answered in YMO's own recordings, which combined Japanese technological advances with Japanese worldly curiosity, filtered through that country's geographical and cultural distance from the West. Is it any surprise, then, that in listening to Señor Coconut's mambofied versions, and then going back to the originals, it turns out that there was a sultry Latin streak running through YMO's chips all along?

YMO's relentless sonic inquisitiveness—which led all three members on to distinguished solo careers and powerhouse collaborations in pop, neo-classical, experimental music and soundtracks (like Sakamoto's Grammy-, Oscar- and Golden Globe-winning scores to The Last Emperor and The Sheltering Sky)—provides ample material for Schmidt and his collaborators. Once again, Coconut has convened a talented ensemble of Latin jazz players on vibraphone, marimba, double bass, horns and percussion, and Argenis Brito is back on the mic, crooning as only he can. But this time out, Señor Coconut y su Orchestra Mágica features a host of new friends and old troublemakers as well: Towa Tei, Schneider TM, Dandy Jack, Akufen, Mouse on Mars, and Nouvelle Vague's Marina all take part in crafting the loopy interludes between the cuts—interludes inspired, by the way, by YMO's many skits and sketches. And lending an added layer of historical import to the project, YMO members Sakamoto, Hosono and Takahashi themselves make guest appearances on vocals and piano—making the whole project pretty damned magical indeed.

Atom™ on his latest album:

As early as the eighties, the Yellow Magic Orchestra was merging the eclectic Exotica attitude of Martin Denny with an ultimate update of Japanese music. "Martin Denny and his line-up created an imaginary musical landscape of luscious tropical delights: damp, foreboding jungles, vibrantly plumed birds in full flight, grimly silent Tiki gods in clearings overgrown by creepers, sleepy fishing villages on bamboo stilts, volcanoes erupting with molten orange lava, alluringly smiling little brown nymphs in grass skirts – the land of lotus blossoms – in a word: Exotica. If rock'n'roll is the musical equivalent of a good hard fuck, Exotica brings us the multi-orgasmic joys of tantric sex in endlessly flowing combinations of mystic union. Or, in the words of Lex Baxter: 'Ports of Pleasure'" (Stuart Sweezy). Today I am trying to go one step further by transferring the Yellow Magic Orchestra 'back to the future': a digital, fully artificial simulation and cut and paste style recreation of Latin Exotica sound. We may call it 'hypereclectic'. I have left both the historical timeline and ethnical space and move back and forth between musical periods and styles of Latin music. YMO covered Martin Denny's originally Exotica style "Firecracker" in a futuristic yet folkloric manner. Now I am covering the cover and transforming it back into a simulation of a Martin Denny sound.

In "Yellow Fever!" I combine the production techniques of the last three Coconut albums "El Gran Baile" (1997), "El Baile Aleman" (2000) and "Fiesta Songs" (2003): "El Gran Baile", was not based on song structures. It was abstract cut and paste. It became the prototype of the Electrolatino genre. Latino samples fused with the track logic of European electronic music. "El Baile Aleman" put the focus on Kraftwerk covers that were meant to sound as though they had been played by a Latino line-up. But this simulation was created by sampler, without 'real' musicians. The fusion of Latino and Electro that was set in motion in "El Gran Baile" is given a new slant – partly because of the production method, but also by processing prototypical songs (Kraftwerk). "Fiesta Songs" abandons the obvious reference to my electronic roots to concentrate on simulating an acoustic retro-Latin sound, covering Anglo-American pop hits. In places, the simulation is revealed by digital artefacts. Again, I wanted to try taking a new direction in my production approach: instead of total programming, I recorded musicians for the first time, merging the material and original Latino samples to create something completely new.

"Yellow Fever!" combines these three working methods and approaches: abstract cut and paste emerges in the interludes between the tracks, and a digital/electronic sound in the "El Gran Baile" style reappears. It contrasts with the acoustic passages, reveals the simulation and is a musical style in its own right. As in "El Baile Aleman" programming and covering feature strongly here, merging with yet another milestone in the history of electronic music. The Yellow Magic Orchestra tracks undergo the same kind of distortion that was applied to the Kraftwerk songs: bringing Electronica back to the future! The third step involves working with session musicians, as to some extent on "Fiesta Songs". The acoustic aspect of the music is perfected by the detailed structuring of complex arrangements, but at the same time it is contrasted more strongly by the inclusion of digital elements. The album as a whole is an extremely complex patchwork of thousands of parts. Within a single song the musical course of things changes dozens of times. You could see "Yellow Fever!" as my first experiment on the way towards hypereclectic music. I experiment with breaking down all musical boundaries – but this time "only" within the Latino genre. Another important point is the cinematic principle: every moment of "Yellow Fever!" is meant to provoke images. In this respect, there is a very close correlation with the concept of Exotica. I'm not just interested in recreating styles. Above all, I want to trigger emotions, images, déjà-vus, and so on.


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