THE LABELS ON HIS RECORDS SAID that these songs had been “Recorded In Heaven,” though after listening you never needed to be told.
Tragically, the man that made those celestial tracks – American Trip Hop and Ambient pioneer Michael Kandel, best known for the musical project Tranquility Bass and the innovative Exist Dance label – passed away this week, friends told 5 Magazine.
An obituary for Michael Adam Kandel was published in today’s Chicago Tribune. Michael was a “special friend to many all over the world,” it reads, “a free spirit and always did things ‘his way.’ ‘Let the Freak Flag Fly!'”
Friends today remembered Kandel’s eclectic spirit and records that represented the best of forward-thinking electronic music from America in the 1990s. Kandel’s music stubbornly kicked at the walls between genres that observers even then were keen to fortify. He was, in Peter Margasak’s words, one of the “unheralded forefathers of Trip Hop.” And you could add West Coast breaks, Goa and a few other genres to that list as well.
Though he played a prominent role in establishing the “West Coast Sound” in electronic music, Michael Kandel was born in Chicago and attended the Chicago Academy for the Arts before leaving for CalArts in Los Angeles in the early 1990s. Michael and Tom Chasteen formed Exist Dance, the label which released early rave anthems from Freaky Chakra (his debut record: the Halucifuge 12″) and others, but will be best remembered as the outlet for the first records from a collaboration between Chasteen and Kandel called “Tranquility Bass.”
Tranquility Bass’ “They Came In Peace” hit the early American electronic music scene like a meteor strike – a record that seemed to wrap all of the incoherent psychedelic, scientific, and eco-cybernetic sentiments that were in the air into one big, gorgeous, sloppy opus. “They Came In Peace” captured a zeitgeist few then were able to articulate, much less describe.
But there were more. Exist Dance’s Broadcast Standard series in a sense charted Tranquility Bass’ growth in technique, songwriting and depth. “Cantamilla” was one of the most notable releases. It’s as if for all of the California dreaminess, for all of the inner- and outer-space adventures, there was a film of Chicago grime that Kandel just couldn’t wash off. It rooted these records with firm moorings to the ground, even as so many similar records of the era just sort up and floated away.
After Chasteen’s departure from Exist Dance, Kandel released the seminal Let The Freak Flag Fly, an album whose origins are almost as well-known as the music Kandel forged in intense isolation and ardor.
He spent the better part of a year in a rented house on an island off the coast of Washington state, alone with his computers, synthesizers, tape decks, mixing board and guitar. There he had staredowns with the deer through the picture window, communed unsuccessfully with stray hippies and sucked down cowboy coffee (boil water in tin pan, add ground beans, drink and you’re up for several days).
Yet just few years after Let The Freak Flag Fly, Kandel walked away from the music industry, friends told 5 Magazine, though in the last few years he’d resurfaced, back in Chicago and with a new inspiration. Of particular note was his album Heartbreaks and Hallelujahs, which probed a depth and breadth of emotions rarely shown in dance music. His bandcamp site was a recent discovery of mine, though, oddly, I hadn’t connected the name with the older tracks yet. This one, Sometimes I Lose My Soul, is one of a treasure trove of brilliant, under-appreciated tracks by Bandcamp artists I had planned to feature.
Services for Michael will be held Monday at noon at The Chapel (195 N. Buffalo Grove Rd in Buffalo Grove, Illinois). The family has asked that donations be sent in lieu of flowers to 262 Danny Thomas Place, Memphis, TN 38105 or 55 E. Monroe, #3420, Chicago, IL 60603.