New year, new you. At least, that’s what they say… but how new do you feel this time around? I have decided 2021 doesn’t truly “begin” until April — or at least, until there is at least some semblance of Society at large re-emerging. But how will you re-emerge from your State-enforced “stay at home” order? I can tell you that I had hoped to step out of my front door an Adonis; a God amongst Men; Michelangelo’s David to Society’s Quasimodo. In reality, however, I emerge bloated, greying and what I would call “gently obese”.
Here at Audio Snobbery, we have tended to focus on our hedonistic tendencies more than our health and yet we grow older with every passing year. I don’t know about you, but I suspect that, odds-on, I am not Keith Richards. I am careering towards marriage, and yet the wedding date itself is apparently heavily correlated to a growing inability to bend over without feeling things fold that did not used to. My understanding is that this is not how it should be; that I should “peacock” at my own wedding and make others feel inadequate when faced with my supreme beauty and physical prowess. I’m not sure I necessarily agree (or could achieve such a feat), but something is becoming clear: I need to exercise.
Exercise and Music go together like two peas in a pod. As a wee sixteen year-old, when I first embarked upon an extensive bout of weight loss in order to begin to impress the opposite sex, it was Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral that became the anthem to my transformation (and an apt and fitting one it was at that). This time around, I am less full of hormonal, teenage RAGE, but I am still in desperate need of a decent b.p.m. to inspire me to get my backside moving. It was in this mindset that I set about crafting a playlist for those humans who do exercise: Dumb Bell.
Dumb Bell is there for you when you’re on the ninth rep of your third set and you feel like you might soil yourself if you go for the tenth. Dumb Bell is there for you when you feel pain in your thighs you did not know was humanly possible, one hour and forty minutes into a marathon. Dumb Bell is there for you and your brain when you think you cannot go any further, but realise that you can. Dumb Bell is there for you when you click “buy” on that Peloton and cannot decide whether or not your younger self would be absolutely fucking disgusted by what you have become but your contemporary self already knows the answer to that question. Dumb Bell is for the gym rats.
This represents the closest I can come to creating a “gym playlist” that I would be happy to hear when walking into an Equinox after having financially castrated myself. If there is one thing I have noticed about gym playlists, in general, it is that “mindless pseudo-house” appears to be the ordre du jour — endless, repetitive beats with vacuous, meaningless lyrics and cringe-inducing, poorly-chosen samples of mutilated nods to past greats. Motivating, it is not. Usually, the first thing I find myself wanting to do upon hearing a gym playlist is to grab my headphones and listen to something else. If you feel the same way, you should have to worry no more.
Opening with Nine Inch Nails to get the elephant in the room out of the way (Copy of A is just fucking brilliant), we then embark upon a dance-laden odyssey that I hope induces an endorphin-filled flow state to help you go further in your quest to self-improve. Sadly, Will Powers did not make the cut, but who knows — we might get a “Dumber Bell” sooner than we think…
Featuring superhouse supremos, Super Flu and Andhim, the magnificent LCD Soundsystem, Nicolas Jaar’s Against All Logic and DARKSIDE, as well as a good smattering of Crazy P, Róisín Murphy and Hot Chip, Dumb Bell is full of Audio Snobbery-approved favourites to help you become the person you dream of being. Dumb Bell is also for all ages, and the oldies are indeed the goodies when it comes to gym music, lest we should ignore The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, Todd Terje, Soulwax, or — to ensure you feel like an absolute behemoth during your cool-down — The Notorious B.I.G.
You see, it’s not really hard to create a workout playlist (gym owners, are you listening?) — all you need is a little bit of taste. And, if this playlist does not work for you, then I suppose you can simply watch your Snobbery-appreciating amigos make serious gains while you continue to eye the pork pies in Gregg’s across the street. However, let us keep things motivational and allow me to tell you that I have battle-tested this playlist during my own workouts and runs (or “waddles”, as my fiancée might say), and I can tell you that Dumb Bell works. Get ready to love yourself, dear reader, because you can and you will (and gyms re-open on the 12th April).
All of the above being said, I get it — the gym is not for everyone. Some people simply prefer to do yoga and embark on diets that come with smiling celebrity endorsements. Well, if that sounds more like you, I’ve got great news: there’s a playlist for you, too, and it’s called kalefucker.
That’s right: juice cleansers who love a good podcast on a bike ride can now enjoy music, too. And what kind of music do you think someone who guzzles vegetable-based smoothies and watches out for the Lululemon spring sale listens to? If you guessed “ambient”, you guessed right!
OK, OK, I’ll chill on the merciless ribbing of a healthy lifestyle. It’s namaste, right?
What is true is that, with greater public awareness and education around health and fitness, I am also acutely conscious of my own desire to ride out the endorphin wave that follows exercise — somewhat like a junkie desperately chasing a high, but this one is encouraged by friends, family and the State. And so, kalefucker. is a painstakingly-put-together collection of some of the most magnificent ambient music ever created to enjoy when living well.
Truth be told, I spent far, far longer compiling kalefucker. than I did Dumb Bell, and I also really thought about it. A lot. However, it is paradoxically much, much harder to write about ambient music in a manner that is engaging and insightful, particularly when it is meant to be enjoyed during the transition from downward-facing dog to whatever the next Kamasutra-inspiring move is that logically follows.
The playlist began by going overboard on Berlin-era Bowie before I realised that I could write an entire Tripping Out series on the aforementioned trilogy, and so I swung broader and accidentally used this opportunity to introduce many of you to the awe-inspiring magnificence of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ soundtracking work (upon which this playlist now heavily over-indexes instead). Taking cuts spanning Reznor’s repertoire, kalefucker. calms the raging sea inside your brain and encourages you to take a breath and remember it is all going to be okay.
It is not all Reznor, though, as some of the newer ambient releases I have enjoyed also snuck in there (yes, believe it or not, I am genuinely quite into ambient music): Julianna Barwick’s Healing Is A Miracle, Daniel Avery and Alessandro Cortini’s Illusion of Time, and The Soft Pink Truth’s Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase? all make an appearance, in a nod to some of 2020’s strongest records in the genre. Just as in Dumb Bell, too, we also get a smattering of “oldies but goodies” including Jon Hopkins and Aphex Twin, alongside some “not ambient but very chill” tracks from Radiohead and Efterklang (for those of you who, like me, need some sung lyrics). Finally, to top things off and close things out on a more cutting note, we close with The Chemical Brothers’ aptly-titled The Pills Won’t Help You Now (because they won’t).
So there you have it, dear readers. Let this month, following Easter’s chocolate-laden indulgence, be the true beginning of “new year, new you”, as our collective societies begin the long, arduous slog of thawing out of the deep freeze, and we, the hitherto immobile ogres of lockdown, re-educate ourselves on the importance of self-discipline and the aesthetic beauty of a fine, human form.
May you dumb bell and kale fuck your way to physical prowess and personal happiness. Namaste.