[13 December 2006]
As has been copiously documented here and elsewhere, dance music is perhaps the most fashion-conscious field in the whole of music. New sounds emerge, are discovered, become popular and then subsequently fade from the spotlight in about the time it took for me to write this paragraph. Or, at least, this has been the rule for much of the music’s history. The past few years, while they have certainly seen their share of faddish artists and “movements”, have also seen a rather uncharacteristic entrenching of a handful of established styles and motifs in the dance music firmament. Certainly, the reemergence of techno as a popular and creative force with which to be reckoned was both welcome and overdue—and the idea of techno as the leading light of cerebral electronic music shows no signs of abating anytime soon. Likewise, just as techno has reasserted its racial dominance in the electronic music hierarchy, so to has the very notion of generic distinctions—at least of the type that used to so rigorously stratify the dance music world—faded from its place in the public imagination.
We are here presented with an artifact that offers a twofold emphasis on this new, considered era in dance history. The Fabric brand has proven to be perhaps the most durable mix series of the current era: whereas previous stalwarts such as K7’s DJ Kicks and the redoubtable Global Underground have gradually faded into the background, Fabric has consistently scored in the new millennium, establishing a brand built merely on the unifying concept of quality across as many disparate genres as the electronic music world presents. The power of the brand is such that it can feasibly present mixes by both hot young talent and established artists, bridging genres ranging from hardcore drum & bass and independent hip-hop on through progressive house and techno. At this point, the series has amassed enough positive connotations that a new artist can effectively announce themselves through a spectacular mix for the Fabric or Fabriclive series.
Such is the case, at least in my admittedly limited experience, with Cut Copy. The sound is distinctively classic, a seamless mixture of a number of long-established genres into something pleasingly rounded. This, too, is a welcome development: Cut Copy seem like the kind of DJs who are happy merely to play good records, not merely to play whatever the latest hot sounds of their particular scene may happen to be. And what is this sound, anyway? The retro cool of the Gomma label, represented here by Munk and Who Made Who, two prominent standard-bearers of the modern disco revival? Or perhaps the new-school electro-funk represented by MSTRKRFT? Or the French school of Justice (represented her by the Erol Aiken remix of their smash “Waters of Nazareth”) and, of course, Daft Punk (who appear with their uncharacteristically low-key “Face to Face”)? Electro demimonde Tiga shows up with his remix of Soulwax’s “E Talking”, and even the DFA show up, with their mix of Goldfrapp’s “Slide In”.
There is no unifying factor to the multitude of different styles on display here, save for one: they all have a strong driving beat that carries smoothly from track to track, producing the kind of seamlessly eclectic (if occasionally retro) mix that has never really gone out of fashion, even if sterling examples have sometimes been thin on the ground. Tellingly, the mix contains a full 25 tracks, with some tracks almost five minutes long and some as brief as a minute. There is little patience for long, meditative passages—something like the thirteen-minute-long DFA remix of “Slide” is cut down to a scanty three, focusing solely on a spacy, slightly psychedelic passage while foregoing those parts of the track deemed superfluous. Old school heads may tsk in disapproval, but this is how mixes sound in the modern era: every bit a product of the short-attention-span world of iPods on constant shuffle. The moment a track ceases to be interesting, it ceases to be valuable, and it’s on to the next without so much as a blink.
Electronic music has always been strongly associated with the concept of the future, but right now Cut Copy seem firmly ensconced in the present. There are few barriers between disparate styles of music that can’t be breached by open minds—funky electro, retro disco, classic house and deadpan new wave can coexist in perfect harmony with surprisingly heady contributions from rock music forebears Roxy Music (“Angel Eyes”) and even Sonic Youth (in their Ciccone Youth guise, with “Into the Groovey”). Perhaps this is the new fashion: to be totally indifferent to the idea of fashion, playing only the music you like regardless of whether or not it’s already been out for five or twenty-five years. All things considered, it sounds pretty hot.