[13 January 2010]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Is it time for Fabric to slow down the pace of its Fabric and Fabriclive releases? In the eight years since Craig Richards and James Lavelle ushered in the series, nearly 100 mixes have been released. Many established veterans, big names, and up-and-coming talents have been represented. These days, though, it seems like every other Fabric or Fabriclive comes across as merely an all-you-can-fit run through the featured artist’s record collection and/or label. The other half genuinely seem to aspire to coherent, cohesive works of art that have a great reason outside the Fabric tag for existing.
Fabriclive 48, selected and mixed by the London dance/rock trio Filthy Dukes, falls into the former category. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad to listen to, however. Filthy Dukes are certainly no strangers to the art of spinning records, having hosted the Kill ‘Em All club night for half a decade. They were among the first proponents of the Electroclash movement, a trend that mixed vintage New Wave and New Romantic sounds and ideas with modern dance music and indie rock. Electroclash peaked years ago, and, alas, you won’t find any Fischerspooner or Ladytron on Fabriclive 48. Still, the sound’s spectre hangs heavily over the first half of the mix. It also informs Filthy Dukes’ exceptional 2009 debut artist album, Nonsense in the Dark. In fact, the three Nonsense in the Dark tracks featured on Fabriclive 48, two in remixed form, provide the latter album’s highlights. In other words, Fabriclive 48 functions best as a primer on Filthy Dukes’ music and influences.
Filthy Dukes’ tracks are distributed evenly throughout the album. The set opens with a remix of “This Rhythm”, also the first track on Nonsense in the Dark. Tumbling drums give way to a Giorgio Moroder disco pulse, and guest vocalist Samuel Dust provides the hipster, semi-wasted attitude that lends the whole track the feel of INXS at their sassy 1980s peak. Midway in come the interlocking synth pulses and steely Krautrock texture of instrumental “Twenty Six Hundred”, while the set closes with a mix of “Messages”, relatively straight-up, but no less effective, emotional synth pop.
The other 20 tracks, unfortunately, come across as scattershot by comparison. As if intent on living up to their reputation, Filthy Dukes go heavy on retro/Electroclash sounds on the first half of the mix. The jagged guitar, moody chords, and smooth vocals of WhoMadeWho’s “The Plot” make it another winner. On the downside, you have to weed through shrill synth stabs, dated Vocoder effects, and earsplitting synth-guitar riffing on the likes of Sebastien Tellier’s “Kilometer” and 80kids’ “Miss Mars”. Any subtlety about what Filthy Dukes are on about is smashed with the appearance of Sparks’ pulsating, Moroder-produced \“Beat the Clock\” from 1979. It fits perfectly, but that doesn\‘t make its repeated chorus any less annoying.
Having reached a logical summation point, the mix then turns to house, electro, and techno sounds. The mean, handclap-heavy, Chicago house groove of Audio Soul Project’s “Reality Check” is a good start, and the creepy, ping-ponging synths of Mujava’s “Township Funk” suggest things are really getting interesting. The mix never follows through on that promise, though, largely because Filthy Dukes can’t find a flow or atmosphere. You get the flatulent-chicken synth of Noob & Brodinski’s “Peanuts Club”, piano house on Joakim’s “Watermelon Bubblicious”, and Zombie Nation’s overly blippy “Worth It Part 1”. Then comes Fabriclive 48‘s most inexplicable, erroneous segue. What the unsettling vocal manipulations of Aphex Twin’s “Windowlicker” have to do with the pneumatic drill synth of Tiga’s “What You Need” is beyond explanation. Hey, eclecticism and variety are good traits, but they need a steady context guiding the way, and Filthy Dukes provide none here. Daft Punk’s staccato guitar hits and Mr. Oizo’s Hoover-techno don’t make things any clearer, and the mixing throughout is perfunctory.
Finally, the minor-key synths of Lifelike’s “Sequencer” bring the retro-‘80s back, reminding you what Filthy Dukes do best. Taken individually, Fabriclive 48 has some great tracks, but they\‘re smothered by the overall lack of focus or vibe. Yes, Filthy Dukes have a pretty good album and a great record collection, but you hope the Fabric series would ultimately strive for something more.