[17 July 2007]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Some DJ mixes aim to take you on a journey. They build steadily from the beginning, hoping to establish a state of mind or reach a peak energy, and then bring you back down to earth. Most DJs take pride in this ability to “transport” listeners and clubgoers with their selection and mixing skills (after all, the original DJ was the Jamaican “selector”). At least judging by his entry in the vast Fabriclive collection inspired by London’s Fabric club, Krafty Kuts is not one of those DJs.
Subtlety—what’s that? Nuance—forget it. The Brighton-based DJ has no time for them. You don’t get a chance to sink into Fabriclive 34—you’re hit with it full on. And you know what? That’s all for the better. Krafty Kuts deals in the electronic dance genre of breakbeat, closely associated with the once-ubiquitous but now-defunct big beat, where Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers, and Fatboy Slim all made their names. Breakbeat is not known for its subtlety. While the steady pulse of house or trance can be more atmospheric, breakbeat is all about the breaks—those cuts and syncopations in the 4/4 rhythm—and the raw energy they create. And for raw, nerve-pounding energy, Fabriclive 34 is tough to beat.
One of breakbeat’s biggest assets is its embrace of vintage rare groove and hip-hop sounds. Krafty Kuts spreads the net farther, taking in everything from old-school rap to new wave to salsa. He makes a place for everyone from Lords of the Underground to Joe Jackson to Primal Scream, fitting them in among (and sometimes mixing them with) recent cuts from traditional breakbeat acts, as well as several of his own.
Krafty Kuts’ mash-ups are the highlights of the set. He opens with the Lords’ 1994 track “What I’m After” and its catchy-as-hell refrain, “Hip hop and props / That’s what I’m after”, laid over A. Skillz’s electro-funk “Jelly”, setting a high standard for himself. Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s classic “The Message” has been heard so many times it risks becoming a liability. But Krafty Kuts sets the immortal lyrics and chorus against Milke’s suitably tense, driving “She Says”, and the song is reborn as a fresh modern rock track.
Perhaps aware of the potential for these mash-ups to turn into novelties, Krafty Kuts lays off of them until the end of the mix. There, he delivers his coup de grâce, laying Deekline & Ed Solo featuring DJ Assault’s booty-centric “One in the Front” atop the jolly, dorky chords of Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”. Krafty Kuts knows how to use hip-hop to up the fun quotient and draw you a little bit closer to what he’s doing.
In between, the mostly-instrumental tracks twist and turn and funk you up relentlessly. The commanding, heavy funk of Malente’s “Move Your Body” makes you wanna do just that—and with cowbell! The handful of Krafty Kuts’s own tracks are likewise heavy on the funk. Strongest among them are “Thru the Door”, a collaboration with DJ Icey featuring one of the meanest analog synth tones you’ll hear, and the almost straight-funk “Freakshow”, complete with vocodered vocals. It sounds like Zapp with ADD. Also noteworthy are the old school rave of Friendly’s “The Weekend Breaks” and the Miami bass bounce of Aquasky featuring Acafool’s “Have a Good Time”. Plopped in the middle of all this is 1960s boogaloo man Ralph Robles’ percussion-heavy “Takin’ Over”—and it works!
As these song titles suggest, this music isn’t exactly cerebral. It’s not the kind of dance music you can put on while you’re chilling out on the couch. It’s visceral, due in no small part to the booming, shuffling rhythms. A couple of tracks, such as Plump DJ’s “Listen to the Baddest”, verge on the annoying under the best of circumstances; if you’re not in the mood, Fabriclive 34 might leave you with a headache.
But Krafty Kuts is betting you are in the mood. And he’ll keep you moving for a solid 70 minutes.