If we’re to believe the stories of those who are telling them, the annals of dance music history for the past two decades have more than their share of artists who happened upon the music the same way one might happen upon a smoothie stand while on vacation, or upon two dogs getting amorous while on a leisurely stroll through the park. The founders of dance-pop group Fluke say they were sharing an apartment when they discovered they could make pretty cool sounds that people would dance to, so they started recording songs in their very own living room. Ten years later, they have enough bona fide club hits to put together a greatest hits album called Progressive History X.
I don’t buy it, at least not the whole thing. There’s nothing wrong with the claim that they started making music in their own apartment—that’s almost been a requirement of dance music since the second Summer of Love. But, anyone who changes styles as readily as Fluke has put some thought into what they’re doing—and what Fluke have been doing for more than ten years is jumping on each new dance bandwagon as if they were freight-hopping through the Wild West. First Fluke went with a combination of techno and pop-friendly house that matched offerings coming out of the UK acid house scene. Then they simultaneously turned a bit harder around the time that Underworld started gaining a foothold worldwide and a bit softer to match the trip-hop stylings of Massive Attack and Portishead. Finally, it was a melding of techno callouts similar to The Prodigy and big beat antics done most prominently by Fatboy Slim and the Chemical Brothers. Fluke weren’t sitting in first class with any of these dancefloor juggernauts, but they were definitely on the same plane.
Call them copycats, call them sellouts, call them slaves to the What’s Hot Now. Whatever you call them, make sure you congratulate them for a fine body of work before you’re done.
Perhaps we shouldn’t encourage a band that seems to be following trends much more than setting them, but let’s not get caught up in thinking that every artist should be an innovator. There are a handful of innovators who are able to set the standard by which all others are measured, and Fluke just happen to fall nicely among those being measured. If Fluke were a rock band, they’d be the Stone Temple Pilots, or possibly Lenny Kravitz—people who are capable of making catchy songs, but somehow incapable of sticking with an identity that wasn’t plucked from someone or something else. You might even think of them as the electronica Aerosmith. That band, which started out as a copycat of British blues-rock groups like Led Zeppelin and Cream (themselves copying American blues), tweaked its style just enough to create its own thing, and eventually contented themselves with recreating that thing over and over and over again.
Fluke do the same thing with dance music. The evolutionary cycle you get on Progressive History X is hardly as progressive as the title implies. It’s more of a succession of variations on the same theme, that theme being the perfect beat. There are bleeps and buzzes, there are vocals and shouts, there are noodlings and meanderings, but all of them blend together over a rarely obstructed heartbeat thump.
It’s appropriate, then, that the rave-up should get started with the classic original mix of “Thumper”. Ten years on, the synthetic flute and clamshell claps almost sound quaint, as if dance music in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s was really just a big luau and all those club kids were dressed in grass skirts and waving their hands this way and that. Such lightheartedness is Fluke’s unflagging consistency: over its ten-year history, regardless of stylistic shifts and despite what the group may have us believe, Fluke have not lost their optimism and humor. Even as they’ve experimented with a harder edge by adding an MC, it’s still mostly an uplifting experience listening to a Fluke single, whether it’s part of a mix or just on its own. You get the same drive and personality in the fake flutes of “Thumper” that you get in the raspy wail of “Electric Guitar”, or that you get on the Moroder-esque beat science of “Tosh”, or that you get intermixed with the cinematic undercurrents of “Atom Bomb”, or, finally, that you get throughout the juxtaposition of tropical landscapes and Mark E. Smith-ish vocals of “Squirt”.
In other words, it’s all so similar that it’s creepy to think that nearly ten years have passed between the first and last songs in the collection. If it’s possible for a band to plagiarize itself, Fluke would be too busy defending themselves against themselves in court to make any new music. Fortunately for them, however, static beats are more forgiving than static harmonies. Where groups making other kinds of music might never get past repeating themselves, Fluke manage on Progressive History X to entertainingly document their own history without documenting much history at all.
// Notes from the Road
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