Originally posted on Fat Planet.
senor coconut is a hard man to pin down. mainly due to the fact that senor coconut doesn’t exist in the real world, just in the schizophrenic mind of chile-based, german producer uwe schmidt. at the last count, uwe has adopted over seventy different aliases over the last fifteen years, some of the best known being atomTM, atom heart, flanger, geeez & gosh and lassigue bendthaus. atom heart might give us the best clue to his ‘real’ persona, but you’re just as likely to get the true measure of the man from his maraca-weilding coconut incarnation.
senor coconut y su conjunto was the name adopted for the 1997 release ‘el grand baile’ – an album of original material, fusing a love of latin music with his already trademark electronic style. however, it was the 2000 album ‘el baile alem√?n’ that repositioned coconut as an international star – an album of kraftwerk cover versions, performed in the now trademark exotic latin style. contrary to titles and sleeve art, there was no orchestra involved – schmidt played everything, drafting in only vocalists to re-interpret the deutsche roboter.
having gained an absurd amount of attention for the album, schmidt was determined not to repeat himself on the follow up, 2003′s fiesta songs. this time around, he looked to the latin cover albums of the 60s and 70s which adopted a more carefree framework of a wide variety of artist covers, plus original material and interludes. his cover of ‘smoke on the water’ is most notable, although the frenetic judder of coconut vs michael jackson on ‘beat it’ is hard to surpass.
which swings us neatly to 2006 and ‘yellow fever’. at first, a collection of cover versions of yellow magic orchestra might seem unusual. they are a band that’s arguably less familiar than kraftwerk and, in repeating what could be a ‘one trick’ concept, it also might signal a backward step in coconut’s development. fortunately, neither of these statements are true. japan’s yellow magic orchestra were an enormously influential band in he late 70s / early 80s, shortly after kraftwerk’s peak. if the germans wrote the blueprint for electronic pop music, the japanese folded it up and made an origami chicken out of it. shifting over 120 million albums internationally, YMO are arguably the biggest selling electronic band of all time. and their careers didn’t stop with the split in 1983 – haruomi hosono and yukihiro takahashi now record together as the excellentsketch show, whilst ryuichi sakamoto successes as a solo artist and composer are too numerous to mention (not least of which being his academy award for the score to ‘the last emperor’ in 1987).
schmidt’s methodology also differs this time out. albums one and two saw him working with samples from his vinyl collection or constructing tracks from short samples played by his immediate musical community. for ‘yellow fever’, he turned to the vibraphone player from his live band, norberg kramer, to write fully expanded scores for a large band. once those parts were recorded, schmidt weaved his atom magic, cutting and splicing parts from one track to another, constructing the final album piece by painstaking piece. the fact that the album feels like a fully realised live band recording is a huge testament to his production skills. and the fact that all original members of YMO also contributed their talent to the album is a testament to the respect he has for the material. and then there’s the skits and interludes, featuring a proud list of famous faces – towa tei, schneiderTM, dandy jack, akufen, mouse on mars, and marina from nouvelle vague.
of course, the inherent danger here is that by exploiting the humour and latin references implicit in the original YMO material, the joke might be lost on some of us. however, whilst we not be laughing with him, but we’re certainly laughing nearby. the album stands alone as a collection of contemporary exotica – no need for clicks and cuts, with some coco-flair and bongos brimming with talent, schmidt ensures that the traditional instrumentation remains fresh and hilariously alive.
sydneysiders can don their favourite carmen miranda headgear and head to the launch party on saturday 15th july at melt, kellet street, kings x. coconut cocktails, limbo & burlesque dancers will abound, plus djs mr mai tai, james locksmith & man about town. $10 door tax.