Diving Deep Into Dance Bliss With Scuba
Who the hell is this guy?
He’s been Silkworm, the DJ for early ‘90s flash-in-the-pan rappers Digable Planets. Remember Digable Planets? They were jazz-obsessed hipsters who all had insect names. They had one backpackin’ pop hit, one coffee-table album, and then they fell off the table. But he was there, manning the wheels.
He’s been the only real member of Sylk 130, a dance-pop affair. (Silkworm, Sylk-get it?) Sylk 130’s first record came from his love of soundtracks; he made up a fake ‘70s movie just so he could create a funky blaxploitation score for it, and called it When the Funk Hits the Fan, and it was good. People started to pay attention to Sylk 130, and wondered who this “King Britt” character was who “presented” Sylk 130.
Sylk 130 was deceptive, though; his/its next move was an ‘80s tribute called Re-Members Only. This one went back to one of the best years in music history, 1984, when everything and anything was possible and it all ended up on the radio. He created a fake radio station where electropop and soul music and soft jazz and rap were all equal and all cool; he got ABC’s Martin Fry and Yaz’ Alison Moyet and De La Soul to lend their vocal talents . . . and Grover Washington was on sax. Smooth as a baby’s ass and twice as funky, was this Sylk 130.
As King Britt, he co-founded Ovum Records with Josh Wink and did remixes for tons and tons of people. He and Wink also collaborated as E-Culture. It’s almost as if he doesn’t really have a central persona . . . and doesn’t care to have one, either. I mean, why is that really all so important anyway?
But now he’s being mostly Scuba, a remix expert who is arsed every once in a while to release an original record on his own steam. These Scuba remixes have floated around the dance world in MP3 or white-label formats for a few years, coveted and rumored and traded but never collected—until San Francisco’s Om Records got him to sign whatever his real name is on the dotted line. This is the first in the line of two albums collecting all these rare Scuba remixes. So: who is Scuba?
Scuba, it turns out, is an original technofunk artist of great skill and love. His remixes are things of warm beauty. Hidden Treasures starts with “Tress Cun Deo La,” a propulsive slab of gorgeosity by Ski. I’m not really familiar with the original, so I can’t speak with any kind of authority about what Scuba has changed here, but I don’t really care. What I know is that this is soul music with a computer beat, wonderful slow-acting funk that touches on South America and England; Valerie Etienne’s understated vocal is the star, but the phasing pizzicato of the beat steals the show. We also get introduced to what is a fairly common Scuba trait, the floating ambient keyboard continuo drone tone.
The big get served: 4 Hero’s “9X9” is probably the highest-profile track here, and Scuba gives it a yearning thump full of passion and squiggles and that floating keyboard thing. It’s almost too ethereal to dance to—but not quite. The take on “Todos Os Desejos” by Japan’s techno hero Fantastic Plastic Machine is also lovely, a bossa nova karaoke that manages to accurately capture both the saudade of Brazil and the perfect-electronic-pop yearnings of Brian Eno, together with a Barry White string section; it’s not even a dance record, unless we’re talking about slow-dancing on the beach in Rio at midnight, and why shouldn’t we be?
The cult heroes get served: “Adore,” by I:Cube, is like Depeche Mode would have been if they were black, and good; the bassline on this track is Hall of Fame all the way. Sure, it’s a bit too abstract to really boogie down to, but give it a shot anyway. Britt’s old Six Degrees labelmate, Tweaker, gets a mix of “Linoleum”—this disco-friendly bump’n'grind is voiced by David Sylvain, whom old dudes like me know from his work in the group Japan, and he sounds all sexy and baritonish just like he did in 1981. But the real attraction here is the soft subtle percussion that Scuba layers in one bit at a time. It’s amazing, man.
And the unheard of are served too: maybe I’m supposed to know who Michelle Shaprow is already, but after hearing Scuba’s synthed-out version of her “If I Lost You,” with its poppy “I’m crazy ‘bout you baby / Can’t you see it in my eyes” lyrics and its infectious loveliness, I’m curious. Similarly, now I want to learn more about Maximum Styles after jamming heavily to “Wake Up”.
But the most interesting tracks are Scuba’s own. “Swell” uses intentionally corny breakbeats and hippied-out sexx lyrics to underpin a transcendently slow discofied number with wah-wah guitar punctuation. I never thought I’d actually fall for a song that featured the lyric “69,000 leagues under the sea”—but there you have it. “Heavenly,” on the other hand, is thumpy house music done the old-fashioned way: painstakingly pieced-together section by section. It is pretty without being yucky, weird without being bizarre, and utilitarian without being boring; it also has the hottest Spanish-language spoken section I’ve ever heard in a piece of music. I hope one of these Om records is just devoted to Scuba’s original pieces, because they are sorely needed in today’s dance landscape.
So, however, are his remixes. Rock on, Scuba, or whatever your name is—give us more of everything.
// Notes from the Road
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