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Mixed Emotions

For perhaps a decade, the weedy galaxy of sound called DJ music has fascinated pop musicians. This seemingly wide-open stronghold of freedom and innovation is the club-driven aural utopia that has made Björk jump, Garbage draft and redraft, U2 temporarily ditch rock conventions, Oasis ring up the Chemical Brothers—not to mention leaving Everything but the Girl relevant, Madonna jealous, and Fatboy Slim platinum. Its continuing allure is why, a few years ago, even some hip-hoppers returned to scratching on sturdy Technics tables.

Always an inspiration and now a full-blown offshoot of the overseas techno franchises the U.S. record business marketed as electronica, DJ music offers new composition or remixes, but sometimes just relies on the canny selection and sequencing of pre-existing dance tracks. The field, like the countless styles it dreams up and presents, seems a fairly contented mishmash of sonic procedures. Even for followers of pop music, long familiar with all manner of plugged-in rattle, from rhythm-mad disco to structurally impolite hip-hop to 20 years of remixing itself, DJ music can still come as a shock; you’d never really guess it to have evolved quite so intricately. It’s almost as if you looked up and found a thriving universe of guitar-tech music. On David Alvarado (DMC/Razor & Tie), the eponymous L.A. spinner stirs up a sweetly toned set of steaming r&b-ish house tracks; his album is already Volume 15 of the United DJs of America series.




“What galls me is when reviewers say it’s a deep-house bassline when really it’s ambient. I’d far rather that they just write ‘funky bassline.’ ”


By this point, DJ functions as a fully intact international sensibility. Strobey, complicated, unerring, easy, hushed, loud, DJ of course loves beats, but it’s as different from the disco method of repowering obvious tunes with synthetic rhythms as Formula One racing is from NASCAR. Extroverted, furtive, glistening, rough, soulful, mechanical, DJ doesn’t flatter genre; however it’s often downright batty about classifications. (“What galls me,” Everything but the Girl’s Ben Watt complained one otherwise pleasant afternoon, gazing out over the landscaped grounds of the Ohio statehouse, “is when reviewers say it’s a deep-house bassline when really it’s ambient. I’d far rather that they just write ‘funky bassline.’ “) And as for the ’80s tradition of remixing as sonic redecoration—of Arthur Baker making a Bruce Springsteen track, uh, danceable—well, DJ now is more like Puffy, who decided that remixes were the main game, not just exotic accessories.

Fatboy Slim, the Chemical Brothers, Prodigy, and others have all issued charismatic albums on which they renovate old records, weaving them into uninterrupted dance suites. And as star electronica denizens, they have profited indeed from DJ music’s sexy chance factor of conjuring sensation with the unexpected choice, the brilliantly timed drop of a stylus. But what, you may ask, of actual honest-to-goodness DJs? Of the people who jet around to play prestigious sets in metropolitan clubs throughout the world, editing and showcasing mountains of dizzyingly obscure dance tracks? The answer is that, after years of remaining on the velvet ropes of buzz, they’re now coming into view. A West Virginia girl I know has stuck it out DJ’ing in London for several years, as dedicated to her career objective as any trembling Mariah Carey aspirant stateside.

For her, the goal might be the status of a Nick Warren or John Digweed, both of whom have new albums in Global Underground’s Boxed series. Like ex-Underworlder Darren Emerson’s recent Uruguay, which eventually edges into outright funk but always with a stern-minded obliqueness, Warren’s and Digweed’s favorite mode is trance, not exactly a fun-and-games proposition. Happy with nervous successions of elongated moments, these trance studs think nothing of giving the lead voice on a track to, say, a countermelody buried within a counterrhythm. They aren’t looking for regular kicks; they’re trying to design extraterrestrial ones.

My own introduction to these odd U.K. releases came a couple of years ago, when I happened across Warren’s Brazil. Here was a glossy two-CD set of records spun by the DJ who’d once worked with Massive Attack; photographed in darkest rock-star shades for the package, Warren could scarcely have received more colorfully authoritative and iconic star treatment if he’d been Eric Clapton. “Nick Warren is the kind of DJ whose record box you’d like to own,” the back of the package assured me, a quote from the dance music publication Mixmag. Progressing from bassy, hardcore-ish stuff to jizzier, fizzier tracks, the first CD sought to enact “a true reflection of Nick Warren’s recent sets in Brazil”; on the second CD, subtitled “Nick Warren’s Travelogue,” Warren seamlessly and without mercy strung together one spectral and darting record after another as he international-DJ’d around Russia and Florida, Scotland and South Africa.

Warren is not cuddly. “Narrow-eyed nastiness scowling over rib-shaking levels of Jamaican bass . . . Muscle-clad grooves slam into their targets with the kind of surgical accuracy NATO can only dream of”: Those descriptions fill the back cover of Warren’s new Amsterdam collection. Basically a trance set, in which pop niceties get swept aside in favor of ongoing pulses of militantly subtle sonic differentiation, Amsterdam makes for a less severe set than Brazil did. By the time Warren cues up Soul Driver’s “States of Mind”—and then, on Disk 2, plays jangly, jungly stuff like DJ Good’s “Ajuna” and Nick Hook’s nervous and conversational “Enhanced”—he practically succumbs to funkiness. Still, in Warren’s sets the ravishment of individual records seems less important than their cumulative effect. Listening, you don’t so much take the pieces to heart as look at them as elements of a larger plan and construction. Of course it’s about the build. But it’s also about the building.

Digweed, a native of Hastings, England, who has spun at New York’s Twilo for two and a half years now, is as determined as Warren, but more playful. Along with the Northern Exposure collections he has released with his sometime collaborator DJ Sasha, he is best known for the track his label/club/collective Bedrock did with KYO, “For What You Dream Of,” which appeared on the ’96 Trainspotting soundtrack, the DJ Saturday Night Fever. That strange piece of music, a midtempo beat fantasia in which melody falls in and out of harmonic keyboard scaffolding and repeated bass thumps as though it is neither irrelevant nor central to anything, still provides a good blueprint of Digweed’s unbothered manner. The same lithe perfection informs “Heaven Scent,” the track that leads Foundations (Pioneer), a collection of Digweed’s Bedrock singles. This is dance music that wants you to feel its emotional construction, not memorize or hum it. The effect’s like getting lost but feeling inexplicably at home, somehow, spiritually, in a particular lobby or landing.

Los Angeles finds Digweed spinning last October at the Mayan Theater. He begins with a somewhat leisurely record by Pole Finder & CP entitled “Apollo Vibes” in which the tranquil voice of a space station control worker announces things like “We’re predicting third-stage shutdown at 11 minutes, 42 seconds” while the piece’s effortlessly elastic beat keeps slowly rubber-banding around. Before it can end, though, Digweed segues into Satoshi Tomie’s “Love in Traffic,” wherein slightly ominous, submerged female soul voices hold forth on vehicular passion, as a heartbeat pumps. Of course this pairing of futurism and automobiles is apropos for L.A., and from there Digweed spins endless variations on sound and silence, compression and release, space and sculpture. As on 1999’s Bedrock, where he unhesitatingly pulled out C12 featuring Jole’s spectacularly hooky “Judy,” a tale of a young drug abuser that seemed almost old-fashioned with its winning lack of abstraction, on Los Angeles he brings on Medway’s “My Release,” in which voices never explain the nature of their release, but the totally fast and involving beats tell the story.

These DJ excursions are useful—especially good for long drives and runs in the country. Yet I wonder where they’ll go beyond the austere realm of trance. It’s not as if DJ—a form, after all, whose deepest roots are in partying—can’t be a barrel of monkeys. From Holland recently comes a curious item called Mixed Up in the Hague Vol. 1: Special Sequence Mixed for Dancing (Panama), by I-f, who a couple of years ago released a genius single entitled “Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass,” which was like electro unbound by slightly rotten techno-tubbies. I-f on Hague returns to that language but with more force and less fizz, weaving together candy choruses, brazen Moroder lines, snappy little Bee Gee samples, and anything else tough and kicky. Lots of times he’ll let a keyboard synth sing like it’s a pop tenor or Kenny G’s sax. But the flow never stops, always taking your ears along for the ride. I’d book him in Cairo.

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Spin Age Blasters

We’ve heard all about DJs being the new pop stars, but aside from Fatboy Slim and the occasional housed-up ballad, DJ-created grooves have for years been kept far away from American pop radio, relegated to the late-night mix-show ghetto. So it’s a bit of a shock that two genuine club records now simultaneously adorn Top 40 airwaves.

Sonique once sang for S’Express, one of England’s first home-baked house acts to go pop in the isle of Ecstasy and flop in the U.S. of Bud. When she and DJ-turned-pop-star Mark Moore went separate ways, this pop star turned DJ: She actually learned to spin and sing at the same time, and made a name for herself in London by spicing up other folks’ records with her own live vocals. Sonique’s diva-ish ad-libs over house dubs and trance tracks on her double-CD mix set Serious Sound of SoniqueIn the Mix & on the Mic point the way to a new hybrid entertainer who can remix a track via the stamp of her voice.

But on SSS, as well as on her all-too-conventional debut long-player, Hear My Cry, it’s the hit that counts. Shifting and layering Miami bass beats, jungle booms ‘n’ bleeps, Sonique’s growling-then-sweet soul vocal, and classical-minded synth-string stabs suggesting Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice,” “It Feels So Good” is the rare dance record whose diverse influences have been so thoroughly integrated that new pleasures emerge each time it jumps out of the radio.

“Better Off Alone,” from the Dutch DJ collective known as Alice Deejay, is far less sophisticated, yet equally addictive. With its peak-and-valley dynamics, fragmented girlie vocal, and melancholic melody repeated until it becomes oddly uplifting, this tasty cheeseball condenses trance’s sprawling tactics into user-friendly pop that absorbs any daydream of desire you project onto it. Although the initially faceless Alice Deejay concept is now fronted by a Judy who apparently once played a record or two, the single’s Zen-like beauty is its own enigma. “Do you think you’re better off alone?” asks the chorus. “Talk to me,” pleads the verse. And that’s it.

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Hit Me Big Beat One More Time

Since 1996, when he horrified the international dance music elite with his frisky Better Living Through Chemistry debut, billed with scant regard to technological elegance as Fatboy Slim, 37-year-old English DJ Norman Cook has become nationally popular. Which is rare: Although 70,000 different kinds of electronica show up on American shores each year, the genre comprises mostly artists who never leave the creatively rich, reasonably well-supported subculture of dance music. Cook’s exploits, on the other hand, fill up recent CDs like Fatboy Slim’s Greatest Remixes (Brooklyn Music Limited) and The Fatboy Slim/Norman Cook Collection (Hip-O), anthologies that find him working his wack magic and gigantic hooks on everyone from James Brown and A Tribe Called Quest to Underworld and danceworld esoterics.

As demonstrated again by On the Floor at the Boutique, an action-packed DJ suite, obscurity doesn’t fit Fatboy Slim. In ’98, Cook, once a mere bassist for Hull band the Housemartins, jammed that point home, releasing “The Rockafeller Skank,” a song from You’ve Come a Long Way Baby, the second Fatboy Slim album. With its many repetitions—Cook loves repetitions the way Jay Leno loves cars—of “Check it out now, the funk-soul brother” and suavely retro Shindig! vibe, Fatboy Slim managed his career-making smash. Even the U.S. pop music press, always so relieved when electronica isn’t strictly speaking electronica, applauded.

On the Floor at the Boutique is the Fatboy Slim mix album originally released outside America in 1998 that Cook’s success now makes possible for his thirsty domestic audience. In remixing and sequencing 18 records he likes—loosely funky yet always targeted stuff like Fred Wesley & the Horny Horns’ “Discoitdown” and Mr. Natural’s “That Green Jesus,” as well as two Fatboy Slim tracks—Cook isn’t pushing cultishly revered past dance styles as eternal and groovy, as the Chemical Brothers did on their remix albums. And, in marked contrast to relatively obscure remix dudes like Austria’s Kruder & Dorfmeister, Cook hardly obsesses on roving sonic architecture or slow soul ecstasies. He just wants to have big fun at a rapid rate. He’s keen on the kind of fast-rapped dazzle that most real hip-hoppers these days are too high-minded to pursue.

Whatever his standing as an electronica artist, though, Cook with Fatboy Slim has definitively established himself as a player in a line of 20th-century British pop inventors that stretches from The Goon Show to the films of Michael Caine to early-’90s techno musicians such as Orbital. Like them, he mates deep reserves of cleverness with extreme common sense. As Fatboy Slim, Cook plays the role of stone funk fan, lost in cool old records. His genius is to know that, although he may never get on the one like Parliament, he might just figure out some snazzy facsimiles thereof. Or, as the beginning of On the Floor at the Boutique puts it with charming sloth, “I never worked a day in my life. I just laid back and let the big beat lead me.” Just don’t let Fatboy Slim kid you.

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Sodalite

There’s something disgustingly appealing about electronic house and dance music. Some might accuse it of being the new disco. And why not? Dance music gets your booty moving. The best electronic artists avoid too much repetition. They break beats and shift melodies without losing that ass-shaking momentum. Emerging personalities are creating a new breed of electronic artist, and while Moby and Fatboy Slim might be brand names, electronica goes far deeper.

Westbury’s Sodalite (performance name of Josh Conlon) is an ass-mover. “Jumping About” has the obligatory house bass and drums with hi-hat tinkles, adding arpeggiated keyboard bloops and beats. A sample of what sounds like a renegade Spice Girl provides the vocal hook (“I’m not finished jumping about yet…”). There’s a happy sort of feeling to the song not always present in electronica. Clocking in at just over six minutes long, “Jumping About” has a lot of movement and flavor. “Max Rebo” starts a bit like Van Halen’s keyboard intro to “1984.” Claps and various forms of percussion toss the beat around until, you guessed it, that bobbing bass drum beat assumes its proper place. Sodalite avoids the tendency of many electronic artists to overstuff a song, and on this track, goes minimal. Simple, ready for the ecstasy-taking crowd, “Max Rebo” doesn’t surprise so much as it throbs.

Sodalite says on the website that preview song “LehtzGoh” is one of his “old-school” songs, and he’s probably referring to the now-overused techno technique of sampling movie dialogue. In this case, it’s Bluto’s motivational speech from Animal House. And while the track has some Nine Inch Nails synth hits and bits that kinda cheese it up , it still rocks. And hey! There’s that bass drum again.

Ever notice that the harder-edged electronic artists seem to be the most underground? With the constant mutation of the entity known as electronica, an artist like Sodalite may have a chance at a bigger audience—as long as a higher profile label gives him a push. I’m sure Bluto would be proud.

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Infectious Disease

Howard Stern’s guest a few weeks back was Candy Apples, who recently tried to break the world gang-bang record (footage available at gangbang.com). During a commercial break, Candy was pumping her online treat, and playing subtly in the background was Prozzäk: “Sucks to be you/I know, I know….” Hilarious, especially since Prozzäk’s Hot Show, in fact the very existence of this “band,” is centered around a sweetheart named Simon (a cartoon character with a bad British accent, no nose, no neck, and big, blue, listless eyes), his buff buddy Milo, and an endless quest to find love in a cruel world. Sure there’s a “Wild Thing” that makes his heart sing, but where Fatboy Slim fucks in heaven, Milo admits he likes to “watch your hot box.”

It’s totally SNL‘s Hans and Franz meet A Night at the Roxbury. Yeah, Simon’s got a “Strange Disease,” but hardly from 30 seconds of Candy Apples’s sweetness! Even if his libido has gone berserk, he’s just a worldwide sap—for his Spanish flame in the Abba-esque “Europa,” his “Mediterranean Lady,” his “lover from the heart of Africa,” and his Tokyo woman, Ya Tsunami. Simon’s world of infectious Eurodiscopop heartache, master minded by philosopher-kings-turned-court-jesters Jason Levine and James McCullum, is a tour joke gone horribly right. MTV2 plays “Sucks to Be You” at least once a day, maybe because of a direct hyperlink from the Prozzäk Web site to MTV mail encouraging fans to vote. Look out, Carson, next stop’s Total Request Live.

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Electric Dinner Party

Electronica used to shake people up in the early ’90s, when every body called it techno. English publications covered electronic dance music as if it were an exciting new field, teeming with records as wonderful and relevant as punk. But Americans mostly muttered about audio wallpaper, and told horror stories of entire Paris streets whose nightclubs played nothing except techno records so numbing and repetitive that, God, if they ever overtook radio stations you’d have a cultural catastrophe of science fiction proportions right here, in the land of Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones, on your hands. And in the birthplace of Donna Summer, too: By the mid ’90s, clerks in exclusive dance shops, bound by law to stock the latest trends, just barely tolerated techno when people inquired about it, sniffing how they still chose house divas. “Good Lord,” Billy Corgan said one evening in Atlanta, in town making an enormous guitar album, “techno is the world we live in. Why should the music be found so out of the question?”

Then, by ’96 or ’97, the industry interceded in America, which annoyed people further. Christened “electronica” by marketing zealots, techno was shoved out there to eradicate goopy pop, guitar rock, and everything else. So by ’98, when nothing like that had even remotely taken shape, electronica began to be discussed as a failure—even with Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim all platinum. A parallel universe of electronic pop stretching from Rob Zombie to Air to D.J. Shadow had sprung up, obliviously establishing fleeting and lasting allegiances to guitar conceptualism or orchestral grandiosity or “‘ techno itself. These days, the field lopes along, hardly in any sort of panic or failing aesthetic health, proving that older artists who embraced it—people like U2 and David Bowie and Garbage and Björk—were not, for once, merely jumping on the hoopla bandwagon, but rather trying to patch into the thing that techno-haters always missed: reality.

Techno nowadays isn’t devising anyone’s new rocket ships, exactly, or foreign-attack missiles. It’s doing something better: offering a mind-
bogglingly rich variety of recording pleasures that are crusty, experimental, cheesy, suave. Some of them, you might even hear on the radio. At the beginning of “Style,” a track that ends The Middle of Nowhere, the ravishing new album from England’s veteran brother duo Orbital, one of those nerdy old voices long familiar to house and techno fans turns up. “Let’s listen to some of the effects you can produce with a stylophone,” the guy offers in an official tone equally suitable for some 1956 How To Train Your Dog LP. “Just by flicking a switch, you can get a vibrato or tremolo effect,” he continues, lightly amazed by the scientific-technological possibility of his hot new musical gadget. Orbital then pounce out of their antique spoken-word prelude into one of their contemporary glosses
on ’90s techno—softened in places, per the current vogue, with clarified statements of those shiftingly cinematic rhythms trip-hop bestowed on the game. Bagpipes (of course) parade around. Orbital end the piece with a hushed female voice confessing how she’s “aching for you”— a haunting reference, in this context, to traditional pop records from the Beatles to Backstreet.

Memory of pre-microchip kicks shows up, too, in Todd Terry’s “Let It Ride,” the high point on the veteran New York dancemaker and remix honcho’s Resolutions. The discernible sonic body of a really fizzy pop song is twisted, as if made of aluminum foil, and encouraged to dominate the middle of a slamming house track. Like in so much dance music conceptually born of hip-hop, contrast rules: The pop tune, which seems to have swung to Earth from Pluto, is sweetly harmonic and precocious, while the house track it vies with is bass-toned and thudding, even thick. The effect is like seriously organized Osmonds bent on commandeering a jeep.

The vibe on “Red Alert,” the single from Remedy, the debut of Brixton duo Basement Jaxx, is post-cool happiness—the careful kind of swing-like delirium that has replaced grunge and hip-hop misery on the radio. Like Soul II Soul without the gravity, almost. The track, wherein an all-purpose diva advises against panic and hypes music that “keeps on playin’ on and on,” is the brand of house that, though technologically astute, aims to come off like pre-techno funk played in real time with traditional instruments. Nonetheless, Basement Jaxx rely on their favored ploy of slipping noises or loose sound effects above their rhythms, up where
the listener might expect riffs or more developed hooks.

In contrast, the vibe on Gus Gus’s “Polyesterday,” one of the standout remixes on Abductions and Reconstructions, a collection by D.C. partnership Thievery Corporation, isn’t vibe at all; it’s mood. Dub-crazy, quietly insinuating, fond of isolating only a few lyrics and then trancing out over them as the repetitions gather force and mysteriousness, the track is dance music Sade would understand. As the Gus Gus singer keeps disappearing into and reappearing out of a reverb cloud of his own voicing, the reconfigured music subtly beeps and vamps and spins around, creating a seductive world of junk reimagined as luxury, secondhand rayon behaving like finest silk.

Electronica is too frisky and alive always to settle down into properly functioning albums, although Orbital manage the trick. The duo have been vital and influential for years, but The Middle of Nowhere is a curious masterwork of odd poise. As sung descants and tripping minimalist pulses shade their obsession with neon repetition, Orbital refer to places, emotions, and eras outside themselves—to country air and city streets, to the ’90s and the ’60s, to seasons that allow their crudely advanced sonic contraptions to seem artificial and organic at once. Todd Terry’s Resolutions, like some futuristic r&b album, boasts stupidly great highs amid filler; Basement Jaxx’s Remedy is best enjoyed in full-force single shots. And Thievery Corporations remixes, well, that collection works in classic electronica style: You throw it on. You fasten onto this passage or that track or sonic re-think. You zone out on others. Some days its in different places.

As electronica has so impressively gone its diverse ways in the ’90s, the music itself less frequently throws people; records still exist that cause some to wonder about the auditory health of their fans, like Belgian hardcore used to in the early ’90s. More often, though, people find Underworld or Massive Attack or remix magicians like Kruder Dorfmeister fun to hear. No, what makes electronica albums still somewhat stressful is their unaccountability, maybe even the puritan cardinal sin of irresponsibility. While there are Americans who stroll up to water coolers and say things like, “Did you hear what that guy did with the Strauss last night?” more often—instead of discussing treatment or manner—it’s “What about that Meatloaf tune?” But in a climate where tracks either “rock” or don’t, where hip-hop loops are either “dope” or not, listeners would seem easily capable of responding to approaches like Todd Terry’s or audio designs like Orbital’s, or to cushy mood music like Thievery Corporation’s. They just don’t always know how to talk about them. This creates the odd situation where, because such recordings can’t be talked about, perhaps they shouldn’t be. Something seems wrong, even when it doesn’t sound that way.

In fact, nothing is. Electronic pop, stylistically established as it is in our world just now, functions as pure romanticism. Flowing or busted-up, it dramatizes the dream that your computer will never stop working, that it will always function flawlessly, like one of Orbital’s thrilling cascades of minimalism. At its cleverest, as in the case of Basement Jaxx or Fatboy Slim, it doesn’t presuppose a day when machines stop highway construction, but only a time when technology can be as witty as the right dinner party. And at its most parasitic, as with Thievery Corporation’s remixes, it doesn’t pillage its sources but instead crafts alluring alternative versions of them, occasionally having the effect of rendering the host track more, not less, unshakable. And so far, there have been no reports anywhere in the world that guitars can no longer be plugged into amps.

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Prodigy Present the Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One

I’d bet the keys to my Lincoln Navigator that if I gave any schmo off the street a crate of records, a mixer, and two turntables, he could come up with a funky feast for the senses. Which is what I love about mix tapes, hip-hop or otherwise, in the first place. They have a truly DIY Joie de Punque quality that you get when people are excited or show-offy enough to share their latest finds and fave raves. The mark of a good hip-hop tape is its dedication to rockin’ blocks, not how many rap luminaries a DJ has on speed dial. The DJ as God (yet another thing to blame whitey for—from Alan Freed, Murray the K, and Rootboy-I-mean-Fatboy Slim on down, none of whom ever got smoke inhalation from barbecue fumes or had a Colt 45 spilled all over their James Brown LPs) has no place when it comes to movin’ bodies.

Liam Howlett of U.K. rave faves Prodigy will never be mistaken for a hip-hop DJ. Instead, he’s a punk rock DJ who uses hip-hop beats like a punk rock drummer would—knockin’ you upside the head with ’em, cuz he’s still pissed about getting picked on in high school. Which is all good, if you ask me. Since he’s not really a hip-hop DJ, he doesn’t feel the need to dust off Mase or Method Man for yet another cameo, opting instead for ancient and dusted Kool Keith vocals and justified and ancient KLF tracks. His mix of umpteen old-school rap, techno, rock, and funk tunes is sloppy and exciting like good punk should be. The only thing nonpunk about it is his spirit of inclusiveness — everything from Jimmy Castor and Herbie Hancock to Jane’s Addiction and Primal Scream. To some in this country, mixing the Sex Pistols with Babe Ruth’s spaghetti-funk classic “The Mexican” might seem either wack or corny. Which is too bad. Because those are the same folks who think that sampling tired old Bruce Hornsby songs is a novel idea.

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Stormin’ Norman

Start with a chunky funky beat. Layer in a mind-bendingly catchy sample that screams, “This is fun! This is fun! This is fun! This is fun!” Add a few rap’n’diva bits to increase memorability. A recipe for Puff pop pastry? Nah, it’s the basic formula for big beat. There is no song on a typical big beat record, little melody, less harmony, only hooks, rhythms, and tartly tangy ear candy that can be slurped up via the crappiest club sound system or car radio. The bastard child of hip-hop production techniques and house music serotonin levels, big beat is easy to do, yet tough to do well, and no one does it better or bigger or beatier than Norman Cook, a/k/a Fatboy Slim.

This popster-turned­club-careerist is a master of what to include and what to leave out. One cut into You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby, Cook drops one of the few between-song audio skits that provoke smiles after repeated listening, splicing in a tape of a fan calling a radio request line to hear “The Rockafeller Skank.” With little encouragement from the DJ, the kid recites “Right about now, the funk soul brother/Check it out now, the funk soul brother,” sounding as white as snow, even messing up sampled rapper Lord Finesse’s delivery. Cook then cuts in the original sample on beat just as he’d cross-fade from one mix of a record to another during one of his DJ sets.

No other current dance guru has Cook’s cross-genre knowledge. His winning streak began when he was the former bassist of the Housemartins, an ’80s Britpop act that topped the English charts with a football-chant-accessible a cappella rendition of Isley/Jasper/Isley’s “Caravan of Love.” The hits continued with Beats International, Cook’s own downtempo dance collective, which exploded with a dubbed-out reworking of S.O.S. Band’s “Just Be Good to Me” set to the bassline of the Clash’s “Armageddon Times.” Cook’s solo output is rooted in the adventures of those early covers: he sets bits of soul in radically removed contexts, making wholly new compositions. This pack-rat approach has its precedent in not only M/A/R/R/S’s “Pump Up the Volume,” but the entire British Invasion history of revamping pre-crossover American blues riffs with arty adolescent adrenaline and angst.

Although Cook’s underground dance credibility is high for a popster of his proven commerciality, the aesthetic running through his ’90s catalogue of pseudonym-driven dance personae (Mighty Dub Cats, Pizzaman) is as much ragged rock as it is hip-hop and house. His boundary-breaking approach suits the American electronica climate, which reclaims anything British and dancey that manages to move major units as modern rock novelty. With “The Rockafeller Skank” rebounding up the charts, Fatboy Slim stands as the next Brit bloke act to blow up out of the clubs and into the malls, even if Cook doesn’t resemble a rock star. (Well, he does the drugs.) Despite big beat’s quick-fix single mentality, You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby plays like a proper CD, with enough tempo, intensity, volume, and rhythmic variation to sustain interest after the sugar buzz wears off. Don’t expect much intellectual or emotional engagement: there isn’t a sole star vocalist or guest player. But this album is a lifestyle artifact as much as the latest No Limit product or ska/swing/skanky-assed-hippie-jam-band flashback. As his frenzied import mix-CD On the Floor at the Boutique testifies, Fatboy is fed up with credibility-obsessed club elitism and wants nothing more than for you to shake your rump to his trash-heap funk.

That doesn’t mean Cook doesn’t practice his own reverse snobbery. While recent big beat DJ faves sample huge chunks of Guns N’ Roses, the Verve, Blur, and “Tequila,” You’ve Come doesn’t reveal a single sample that’s identifiable to even a disco trainspotter such as yours truly. Cook learned from his burns: after sampling so many high-profile records in Beats International’s “Dub Be Good to Me” that he allegedly lost money, he now covers his tracks. The Fatboy Slim sound is so heavily vari-speeded, re-EQed and Pro Tooled that Cook could be biting Celine Dion for all we know. If naughty Norman wants to get busy with big-name acts, all he has to do is wait for them to hit him up for a remix. After his treatment of Cornershop’s “Brimful of Asha” topped the British pop charts months after the original fizzled, everyone from Madonna to Chumbawamba has requested a Fatboy frappe. The only one to get one is the Beastie Boys, whose upcoming “Body Movin’ ” single is a current Cook DJ set crowd-pleaser.

You’ve Come takes on symphonic Indian drones (“Right Here, Right Now”), guitar-pickin’ funk (“In Heaven”), horny Stax soul (“Gangsta Tripping”), vintage punk rock (“Build It Up, Tear It Down” and “Soul Surfing”), body-poppin’ electro (“Kalifornia”), Madchester groove (“Praise You”), speed garage (“Love Island”), and acid-house drum’n’bass freakout (“Acid 8000”). Despite the stylistic switch-hitting, everything sounds like Fatboy music–across-the-board perky, stupid party music for smart folk. You know “Woolly Bully” and “Louie Louie” would have sounded like this if your father had the technology.