[22 August 2006]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
As someone who reads them regularly, you always wonder how much thought goes into the press releases that labels and marketers use to promote their new releases. And you have to imagine that the “one-sheet” for Buzzin’ Fly Volume III was put together carefully. Ben Watt, the ex-Everything But the Girl maestro and Buzzin’ Fly founder/boss, is known for his attention to detail. Therefore, a close look at that press release reveals more than you might think about the label’s—and the electronic dance music community in general’s—philosophy of the milieu in which it deals.
One reason why electronica never took off with the masses like it was supposed to in the mid-‘90s is that it was, often willfully, subdivided into more genres, categories, sub-genres, and mini-movements than most casual listeners cared to keep up with. Even now, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the scene is a school of nomenclatural minutiae that produces music just so it will have something to describe.
Back to that press release: It’s no coincidence that “deep house”—Buzzin’ Fly’s stock-in-trade—is capitalized as a proper noun, while terms like “electro” and “abrasive minimalist” are rendered lower case. This becomes even more intriguing when you see the latter two subgenres described as a “...challenge to [Buzzin Fly’s] natural deep melodic roots”. Challenge? Huh? At what point does being true to your school become a self-defeating exercise in insularity?
Apparently, Buzzin’ Fly has met that challenge honorably, because this Watt-helmed mix does indeed incorporate some electro and abrasive minimalism, whatever that is. Ironically, those tracks, namely Jussi Pekka’s edgy “Stereo Interleaved” and Dark Mountain Group’s blippy “Lose Control”, are among the strongest of the set. They inject some immediacy into Watt’s immaculately-produced, carefully-controlled house music. But Watt dispatches them early in the set, almost as if to get them out of the way. Most everything else is successful to varying degrees—always tasteful, occasionally affecting, and sometimes annoying.
Watt and most of the labelmates he’s collected seem to be very fond of relaxed arrangements whose primary feature is moody synthesizers wafting over the fairly tame 4/4 beats. You can hear how this could be intoxicating at peak volume on a crowded dancefloor. At home, however, it all can come across as so careful as to be cold, a more uptempo soundtrack to an existential Hal Hartley film. Is there really a human being behind those decks? In an attempt to render a definite “Yes!” Watt strings snippets of his trademark spoken-word narrative throughout the mix. The gambit works on Watt’s own “Attack Attack Attack”, the nervous bassline and gentle piano creating just the right mood for reminiscences about “the night rides to the suburbs” and such. The Latin percussion and vocalizing of Rodamaal featuring Cláudia Franco’s “Insomnia” even try to pep things up a bit.
Again with some irony, Buzzin Fly Volume III feels warmest when the beats are absent altogether. Watt’s “Old Soul” and Kayot’s “One Week On Cuba” bookend the mix beautifully, especially the latter’s dreamy seashore melancholy. Buzzin’ Fly Volume 2 featured a similarly affecting comedown. Maybe Watt should try an entire mix in this vein—if that wouldn’t be too big a challenge to Buzzin’ Fly’s roots.