Known Johnson

August 3, 2006

Overlooked Alternatives: King Crimson (DGM and DGMLive)

Filed under: Music,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 9:29 pm

It’s the dreaded “dog days of summer,” I guess – it’s one of those rare weeks when there’s really not much on the new release list to talk about. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to talk about. When lacking things to buy in-store there’s the burgeoning option of online purchases, and I’m not talking about Amazon.com and their ilk. I’ll use these opportunities to talk about these options.

The first that I’m aware of, and possibly most important, is King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp’s brainchild, Discipline Global Mobile (DGM) and its new offshoot, DGMLive.com. DGM was formed in the 90s when Fripp, frustrated with the increasingly hostile situation with regular record labels, decided that he needed his own outlet for music. As the decade wore on, he divorced himself more and more from standard label procedures until he was able to produce music the way he wished to, then farm it out to the labels for distribution, if necessary (as in the case of King Crimson’s bigger releases,) or release them himself.

Much of the label’s output, however, has been in the form of live archival releases of King Crimson material under the King Crimson Collector’s Club moniker. At first this club functioned as a subscription-only deal: the subscribers each paid a chunk of money up front and for about a year would receive a number of exclusive live releases by the band, with the ability to opt out of any particular release if it didn’t appeal to their interests. What the subscribers received in their mailbox was a top-quality product that had been slaved over to ensure the sound quality was of the highest order possible, even when the original source material was marginal at best (the majority, however, are official band recordings and not bootleg audience recordings.) The liner notes were extensive and included relevant photographs when possible. They are true collector’s items, not just in their somewhat limited availability, but in their loving presentation.

After awhile, however, the subscription scheme was shelved in lieu of simply ordering the discs online, and continues in this fashion to this day, albeit at a slower pace due to DGM’s latest project: DGMLive.com.

In an effort to slake the appetite of fans, the DGM team moved late in 2005 to a whole new model of offering the fans the live material, showing that they’d been listening all along. Afterall, what listeners really want is the music, right? DGM addressed this by making available, at a much faster pace than the Club would allow, exclusive live material via downloads of FLAC and mp3 files for fair prices, and included artwork in PDF form as well. What’s even more interesting is that DGM has jumped on the Bit Torrent bandwagon, which can allow for some blazingly fast download speeds.

Since DGMLive.com’s inception last year, new material has been added every few weeks – a pace I haven’t even attempted to keep up with, but which gives me a rich catalog of material to dig into when bored and in the mood for King Crimson-related material. And that’s what makes this special – “related.” Here you can find not just King Crimson but even Robert Fripp’s recent solo soundscape shows and a small, but growing number of other oddities like a show by Fripp’s weirdo-disco outfit, The League of Gentleman.

What’s more, this doesn’t replace the King Crimson Collector’s Club but simply supplement it – for now, I would assume. At some point in the future, it would seem the Club would become unwieldy in comparison to the streamlined DGMLive approach, where other the label can branch out a bit to offer “family tree” projects rather than strictly King Crimson music.

For the fan, there is an embarassment of riches to be discovered in DGMLive. For other bands, it’s a lesson to be learned – listen to what the fans want, and give it to them at a reasonable price, and they will respond.

Suggested Collector’s Club offerings from the Discipline Global Mobile shop:

CLUB15 – Live in Mainz, 1974: Truly one of the most powerful representations of the 72-74 lineup, this has become one of my favorite King Crimson releases in general.

CLUB5-6 – On Broadway – Live in NYC 1995: The mid-90s return to action of King Crimson in the form of the double-trio is where I fell in with the band, and this is my period. This set, culled from a multi-night stay in New York, is simply smoldering hot throughout its entire length. So good it is that it should have seen official wide-release.

CLUB27 – ProjeKct Three Live in Austin, TX , March 25, 1999: If you thought you knew ProjeKct Three from the disc provided in the ProjeKcts box, this live disc will surprise you with the monster that P3 was. And if you aren’t familiar with the ProjeKcts . . . get familiar – King Crimson splintered into smaller instrumental subunits in the late 90s to explore new territories before reconvening for new studio work, and the results were some of the most adventurous material the band had done in 25 years – and maybe ever.

This group featured Fripp, drummer Pat Mastelotto, and Warr Guitarist Trey Gunn making some of the most eerie and adventurous material in modern rock – live and improvised.

CLUB26 – Live in Philadelphia, PA , July 30, 1982: A great show and incredibly well-recorded set from a period from which it seems to be hard to find both qualities in a live offering. Also of interest is the presence here of “The Howler,” which just didn’t seem to get out much in the concert setting for some reason.

CLUB31 – Live at the Wiltern, July 1, 1995: If I was to tell you, the King Crimson fan, that you have to buy one Double Trio live recording, it would be this one. Everything about it is perfect, and it should be: it started out life with the intention to be an official release, then got shelved when Fripp got wind of bootleggers selling the hell out of copies of illicit recordings of their 1994 opening nights in Brazil after a nearly 10 year break. He released B’Boom instead, which is a good live album, but it pales in comparison to the power and intensity presented on this much more seasoned and road-tested band. The interest in B’Boom is hearing how the band is just learning how to read and play off of each other. Here you reap the results of countless hours of incredible musicians having learned each other’s nuances and tendencies, the gift to the listener being a much tighter, but more playful experience.

Some suggestions to download from DGMLive.com:

Montreal – August 4, 1982: Recorded less than a week after the Club 26 disc above, this is an entirely different beast. Songs stretch out a bit more (“Waiting Man,” which opens the show here, clocks in at nearly 12 minutes compared to its frugal 4 minutes studio version) and the band seems a bit more contemplative, rather than furious and full of energy as on the Philadelphia show. Sound quality here is excellent, nearly as good as Club 26, but not quite as spectacular.

I also have an interesting personal tie to this show. It was one of my very first (ahem) bootlegs that I picked up many years ago. The sound quality was terrible, and I lamented many times that if it were available in better sound quality, it would be a favorite of mine. Instead, for years, I would hunker down and listen through the warbling, old-cassette sound quality, over the chatting audience and general din of a boomy concert venue to the magic happening on stage – and hoped that one day maybe something special would happen. And then it did.

I must not have been the only one to feel this way about this show, or else why would a professionally recorded and mixed version of it have shown up on DGMLive? The kicker with the download is that the first track is actually the first track off of the bootleg that I own – 27 minutes of sound check in the same terrible quality that I bought years ago, included as a bonus for the fans because it’s just an unusual rarity. When it ends, “Waiting Man” begins as I expect it to, but emerging not out of murky claps, whistles, and talking, but out of silence with Bill Bruford’s delicate slit-drum intro – almost perfectly crystal clear, but distinctly live. It’s moments like these make me thrilled to be a fan.

London – July 1, 1996 Another Double-Trio show – I told you I was a sucker for this era, didn’t I? What makes this one different from the show I mentioned above, Club 31 from exactly one year before? A completely different setlist, including some more unusual material for this band (“Neurotica,” “Waiting Man,” and the resurrection of “21st Century Schizoid Man,”) but also a topsy-turvy approach to the typical concert – the show starts with a barrage of drums in the form of “Conundrum,” and is bookended in the encore with another drums-only piece, “Prism,” which frames the band in a very different light than previous recordings.

In between, it’s another hot show for the group. No two appearances from Crimson are the same as the band has always been known for throwing in new loops to keep things fresh – which is why live material is a must for the fans.

ProjeKct One – Jazz Café, London: December 4, 1997: When King Crimson splintered in the late 90s to experiment with new sounds, it quickly became apparent where the majority of the band was headed: electronic. There was one real holdout to going all-electronic, drummer Bill Bruford, and that’s ironic given his stature as one of the leading proponents of electronic drumming in the 80s. But in the 90s, he’d found something calling him back to his first love, jazz, and he wanted to get back to stripped down acoustic jazz drumming – and he just wasn’t interested in pulling out the drum pads again, even for King Crimson.

And so ProjeKct One, with Bruford behind his acoustic kit and Fripp, Gunn, and Levin manning their instruments, convened in London for a four-night stay to bash out new material. It’s heavy, it’s harsh, it’s dissonant and it clangs and clashes . . . it’s beautifully noisy. It’s also drastically different from the other three ProjeKcts, who found their sounds drifting into gritty electronic noise and whisps of otherwise impossible sound. Here, the sound is derived from the same mostly MIDI-driven guitars of Fripp and Gunn, but the earthy pounding of Bruford’s acoustic kit keeps everything grounded – and, I supposed in Fripp’s eyes, tied to the past, as one can’t but help hearing echoes of the future of the Double Trio that was never to be in this material.

And that’s what makes this so exciting! Here is where you can hear what would never become of that unwieldy six-piece band, only downsized by two members. Regardless of size, the material pulls from the experience of the Double Trio, and it’s only because of this DGMLive release that I can see why Fripp chose not to carry on with it, and why a partnership with Bruford is no more. As tantalizing as it is to glimpse “what could have been,” if Fripp truly is only interested in moving forward, then this was not the format of band with which to do it. Strangely, when the full band did get back into the studio, what they produced was nowhere near as interesting or daring as what the ProjeKcts had promised. And that’s why ProjeKct One’s disc in the ProjeKcts box has been a favorite for years – and why it hasn’t been enough until now (and I still want the other three ProjeKct One shows released – I won’t be satisfied until all four are available.)

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1 Comment »

  1. I’ll second the Mainz and Broadway recommendations! Mainz is my favourite early recording — I come back to that one a lot. On Broadway and B’Boom are neck and neck for me — I like the latter, even with it’s somewhat rougher versions of some of the songs, but the Conundrum that opens Broadway is great (as is the rest). I’ll have to check out the Philly and Montreal ’82 shows you recommend. Thanks!

    Comment by MH — June 23, 2009 @ 12:38 pm | Reply


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