Music

Flevans: 27 Devils

Brighton DJ Flevans kiboshes cut-and-paste sampling for real instruments.


Flevans

27 Devils

US release: 2009-06-02
UK release: 2009-05-18
Label: Tru Thoughts
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Whether by design or happy accident, certain studio recordings succeed in bringing out the evanescent immediacy in a live performance of the music. Its performers, whether vocalists or instrumentalists, succeed in an ineffable "popping out" from the recording, a characteristic that derives not only from the performers' abilities but also from the song’s genre, composition and the (non-Spector) recording techniques used.

You are more likely to catch a whiff of this quality from soul recordings a la James Brown or organic jazz and folk tracks than from drowned-in-sound shoegaze inventions that veil their creators in a cloud of withdrawn anonymity. The want for anonymity in, say, the Herbaliser’s "Clap Your Hands" is such that even if we can’t put faces on its various performers, we can still mentally summon up a very live experience through simply listening to the record. The interaction and chemistry between the players can be sensed if not heard, and the stage presence of its soloists detected. And so it is with much of Flevans’ 27 Devils.

The Brighton musician’s debut Make New Friends, on Brighton label Tru Thoughts, was a sample-heavy bricolage that by nature rendered Flevans a faceless sonic magician. By contrast, his sophomore release on the label (after his debut, he signed briefly with London’s Jack to Phono, through which he released another LP and several 12-inches) is his coming-out party as a skilled wielder of real instruments (guitar, bass and piano, among others).

Flevans' lurch away from programmed beats and bootleg artistry was buoyed somewhat by his recent experience assuming the bass player mantle for Brighton band Backini, an experience that reached its pinnacle when the group performed at 2008’s Glastonbury Festival. On 27 Devils, Flevans further shatters his hyper-programmed schtick by lending his own vocals to several tracks.

It’s no surprise then that 27 Devils is a live album by design. The fact that it largely contains the showmanship of one man, with the exception of a couple tracks featuring singers Sarah Scott and Shona Foster, is never betrayed by its palpable immediacy and intimacy. Kinetic opener “Hold On”, for instance, beckons imaginings of Scott commanding the mic with plenty of affected sass and bodily reinforcement, and the "various" instrumental players interacting like its own ecosystem. Even within the confines of my headphones, the experience of hearing "Hold On" is one of extroverted, sweaty underground jazz haunt. Similarly, "Pretty From a Distance" furnishes the listener with a live "group dynamic" between the beeping brass, tinkling piano, runaway bass and guitar, and syncopated percussion.

While 27 Devils doesn’t break the scaffolding of dance music architecture, it is a solid effort that scales the spectrum of grooves that can be convincingly produced in an organic fashion. Most importantly, it signposts Flevans’ hitherto unknown musical agility. To wit: the musician throws a couple of dyed-in-the-wool blues and vaguely ambiguous tracks into the album’s generally jovial lineup.

Certain tracks are memorable for their familiarity. The titular track is marked by high-kicking drum acrobatics, Maroon Five-like piano-chord jams and angular funk basslines. "Pretty From a Distance" registers with its oft-worked Latin jazz arrangement. (Even so, it’s still really cool.)

The decidedly nightclubby "Endless Things" is as synthetic as the album gets. It’s Basement Jaxx (circa Crazy Itchy Radio) in bed with Jamiroquai, with Flevans' multitracked chorus and inscrutable screeching audio adornments salting the straightforward house tempo. In a nod to the times we're in, auto-tune gets four seconds of airtime.

The frivolity of the dance tracks inevitably melts in the presence of the blues numbers, on which Flevans’ songwriting skills shine through. The soporific minor-chord waltzing "More on the Way" is lathered with the shrill vocals of Foster, as she grapples with her inner demons: “The rules that breaks the tears on my pillow / they’ve waged a war with more on the way”. Scott meanwhile soulfully croons about the pitiful wall of low self-esteem barring her from love, in the Norah Jones-meets-Alicia Keys-like "On and Out".

Between the ebullient high lands and bluesy low lands lie several introspective, electronically informed, enigmatic pieces. As it happens, the more studio-embellished nature of these effectively dissolves the live quality of the album. "All to Play For" has Flevans recovering his vaguely eccentric side, as evidenced in Unfabulous, an LP released on Jack to Phono. Bearing a Bjork/Goldfrapp mien, the track has Foster breaking into distressed vocals and banshee wails over a jitterish high hat-and-snare combo, sullen guitar strums and a crooked bassline.

Album concluder "Neckbone" makes an ostensible foray up cinematic alley. In what could accompany a silent passage in a Tim Burton film, seesawing piano sustains a haunting/creepy running piano sequence via shuffling marching band drums. After its crescendo with the de rigueur addition of swaying strings, the orchestration is stripped away, leaving a slow-burning guitar rock interlude over which Flevans elucidates somewhat the track’s title. “I’m stuck in the sand tonight / but it’s warm beneath my toes / bury me up to my neck / but leave my head exposed,” he chimes in ghostly multitrack.

"Neckbone" may be a lyrically and stylistically ambiguous denouement to 27 Devils, yet its meandering, slightly off-kilter manner means it can’t be anything else. Perhaps Flevans is dangling a teaser of what may come from a musician knee- (not yet neck-) deep in self-exploration. It wouldn’t surprise if he joined others of his ilk in soundtracking television and movies. But with a newly minted triple-album deal with Tru Thoughts, it may be a while yet. Watch this space.

6

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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