What is it about electronic music that attracts such inveterate cheeky bastards? Looking back to the early years of modern dance music, the Pet Shop Boys elevated cheeky insouciance into an art form. Later, the KLF produced some of the funniest tracks ever to rock a dancefloor, filling their sampledelic mini-symphonies with layer upon layer of transgressive humor that somehow managed to deflate the pretensions of the music industry while also producing an effective soundtrack to the early pre-outlaw days of sampling. And, of course, we can’t forget the biggest prankster in electronic music history, Mr. Richard D. James, who happened to record some brilliant music in between acting like a total prick. Who else would have asked Madonna to oink like a pig, or pasted his own creepy face on a bevy of big-breasted supermodels for the “Windowlicker” video, or even released a two-CD set devoted to remixes, when in many cases he admits to not even having heard the original track before producing his mix? (He called the set 26 Mixes for Cash, in case you were wondering—you can accuse Aphex Twin of many things, but not false advertising.)
Richard D. James is also the proprietor of Rephlex records, which is one of the homes of Edward Upton’s DMX Krew project. As you might expect from such a storied pedigree, the DMX Krew isn’t exactly straightforward dancefloor material. Sure, Upton brings the beats and the groove, but even on his most straight-faced tracks, there’s a smirk at the corner of his mouth that belies any pretense of seriousness. This is hardcore electro of the kind you might have heard if you were a breakdancer in early ‘80s New York—full of anxious, hectic 808 rhythm and vintage synthesizer noise. Unless I had the proof in my hands (as I do), I would find it hard to believe that this wasn’t an authentic vintage mid-‘80s artifact recently rediscovered and dusted off for public sale. But once you know that the DMX Krew have only been around since the mid-‘90s, it’s hard not to detect the strong note of camp in their sound. Electronic music is such a forward-thinking endeavor that no one ever dips into the past without putting their own spin on it. That Upton has replicated such a distinctive sound with such unmistakable affection (to say nothing for affectation) makes it almost impossible not to laugh along with him. He’s obviously having a good time, which is more than I can say for a number of regrettably dour knob-twisters.
Wave:CD is a compilation of sorts. The first disc of the two disc set presents a culling of the Krew’s last three Collapse of the Wave Function LPs, while the second disc presents a sampling of “Our Most Requested Records”, spanning back nine years of the group’s career. Both discs present a fairly uniform interpretation of a classic electro sound, with the influence of vintage acid and a tiny bit of modern IDM seeping in through the cracks. On the first disc, for example, a more expansive, slightly psychedelic Orbital-esque track such as “Heisenberg” (which demonstrates Upton’s long running interest in quantum physics) rubs shoulders with the ineffably amusing “William the Conqueror”, a dance track slightly reminiscent of the Normal’s “Warm Leatherette”, concerned with the career of Britain’s founding warlord:
I’m William the Conqueror, Britain’s first Norman king /
I found renown and won my crown at the Battle of Hastings /
In December of 1066 I crossed the sea from France /
The weather had improved somewhat and it seemed I had a chance.
So, yeah, if cheeky electro anthems in the vein of They Might Be Giants’s “James K. Polk” are up your alley, this is a must-purchase for you. Similarly, if Aphex Twin’s recent, slightly retro but highly enjoyable Analord series (recently cherry-picked for the single-disc Chosen Lords compilation) was a frequent flier on your iPod playlist, this should prove similarly endearing. For fans of good old fashioned squelchy, blurpy noodling, it’s hard to imagine a more welcome diversion than “Emerging Technology”, off the second disc, or the blissfully New Wave “Honey”. Even Upton’s occasional attempts at rapping, as on “Bonkers Goes Back to School” (about, heh, going back to school after a particularly eventful summer break), are less grating than merely amusing.
So, ultimately, it’s hard to dislike the DMX Krew, based simply on the fact that Upton is clearly having a good time. Whereas someone like Richard D. James, despite his pedigree, often seems to be having fun at the listener’s expense, the DMX Krew seem genuinely happy simply to be allowed to rock the party. Kind of like Goldie Lookin’ Chain if Goldie Lookin’ Chain grew up listening to vintage Artificial Intelligence compilations instead of NWA—hot stuff, if you’re of a mind to smile while you’re dancing.