Ben Watt: Buzzin' Fly - 5 Golden Years in the Wilderness

Don't let that title fool you. Ben Watt knows exactly what he's doing with his très cool deep house label, as evidenced by this three-disc set.

Ben Watt

Buzzin' Fly - 5 Golden Years in the Wilderness

Subtitle: Unmixed and Selected by Ben Watt
Contributors: Ben Watt
Label: Buzzin' Fly
US Release Date: 2008-07-01
UK Release Date: 2008-06-23

Buzzin' Fly is everything an independent record label should be. It has a classy, immediately-identifiable look, evident in its sleeve designs, posters, and t-shirts. It promotes a tightly-knit, international stable of artists providing a focused, signature sound -- in this case, clean, hip, minimal/deep/tech house. It's credited with long-running, taste-making residencies in London nightclubs. And, in Ben Watt of now-dormant British pop duo Everything But the Girl, a founder and boss who understands artists and knows how the business works. Add it all up, and you have a half-decade of what seems like charmed existence, a virtual eternity for a dance-oriented indie label.

To celebrate, for 2008 Watt has replaced Buzzin' Fly's annual mixed sampler CD with 5 Golden Years in the Wilderness, an ambitious, unmixed three-disc set hand-picked by Watt. Ironically, it's in commemorating the label's consistent success that Watt puts himself at the greatest risk of taking a wrong step. Nothing drives home the notion that you can't please everyone all the time more than the sweeping, multi-disc retrospective. What's more, arranging the discs thematically smacks of New Order's disastrous 2002 Retro set, the textbook example of how to turn musical history into a critical whipping post.

Instead of two decades, Watt has five years and three dozen 12" singles to work with, which makes his task a lot less daunting. The "Up" disc collects ten uptempo "floor" tracks, most of them a-sides, while the "Down" disc contains, you guessed it, ten atmospheric-leaning cuts. Many of these 20 tracks have already been featured on CD compilations, including the Buzzin' Fly annuals, but Watt sweetens the pot by adding a third "Forward" disc of seven new, previously-unreleased tracks. 5 Golden Years in the Wilderness retails for about the cost of a two-disc set. So, while disc three precludes the collection from being a true best-of, it's really more of a bonus anyway, and it ensures there's something here for even the most die-hard Buzzin' Fly junkie.

5 Golden Years in the Wilderness is ultimately about "Up", and you'd be hard-pressed to even quibble with Watt's selections for the disc. Here you have nearly all the label's high-water marks, both artistically and commercially. Buzzin' Fly has uncovered at least one certifiable superstar in San Fransisco's Justin Martin, and he's the only artist save Watt himself to be represented on the disc by more than one track, with good reason. The rippling synth and descending bassline of 2003 breakout track "The Sad Piano" remains enchanting. Four years later, "Nightowl" is more tech-y, but no less hypnotic. As floor-fillers go, Rodamaal featuring Claudia Franco's "Insomnia", with its evocative synth sirens and "Find it / Keep it / Work it / Share it" mantra, is tough to beat.

Watt weighs in with a trio of club hits. "Lone Cat", the first official Buzzin' Fly release, is dated a bit by some ill-advised sax. Terence Trent D'Arby, appearing under his given name, Sananda Maitreya, lends some smoothly soulful vocals to "A Stronger Man", a very pop-leaning track that borders on the superficial. "Pop a Cap in Yo' Ass" remains Watt's best musical contribution to Buzzin' Fly, Estelle's no-nonsense spoken-word vocals providing just the right balance for Watt's bubbly rhythm and breezy synth hook. Most of the tracks on "Up" are club staples, and many are headed for "classic" status. This is the sound that made Buzzin' Fly famous, and it's a great primer for new fans, as well as a timely reminder for old ones.

As Buzzin' Fly is not nearly as well-known for its more downtempo numbers, the decision to dedicate a whole disc to downtempo is a bit of a mystery. Also, the "Down" title is a bit of a misnomer, as at least a few of these tracks would fit easily on "Up". Still, Kayot's ambient, thunderstorm-enhanced "One Week on Cuba" is genuinely melancholy. On "Mon Ange", meanwhile, Mlle. Caro and Frank Garcia offer up gorgeous, minor-chord synth-pop a la Depeche Mode. The cyclical, churning rhythm and calming synth-washes of Barbq's "Barbi in Love", previously available only on one of the mixed annuals, are a further reminder of how, when it's done right, progressive house really can accomplish more with less.

As for "Forward", it's mostly a showcase for artists who are new to the label, a "coming soon" of sorts. If nothing else, it evidences the label's subtle yet unmistakable move toward more minimal and tech house, a shift belied by the non-chronological sequencing of "Up" and "Down". Stimming's "Kleine Nachtmusik"'s steady ebbing and flowing is hypnotic enough, and Gavin Herlihy's "Give Me a Tune" makes clever use of vintage Roland TR-808 snare hits, a near-novelty in the Buzzin' Fly repertoire. Although the label's sound has always been airtight and a bit studious, "Forward" at times comes across as too clinical. The relatively workmanlike vibe of the disc is only highlighted by the presence of a new mix of "Insomnia", which basically trounces everything else.

It will be interesting to see where Watt takes Buzzin' Fly over the next five years. The always-risky offshoot, indie-pop centered Strange Feeling Records, has yet to take off like the mother label did. With electronic music in general fairly stagnant during Buzzin' Fly's existence, will Watt remain content to hone the fine reputation and signature sound, or will he make a bold move? In any case, though with Buzzin' Fly he has hardly reinvented the wheel, he's made that wheel a whole lot sleeker and reliable. Far from the curatory landmine it could have been, 5 Golden Years in the Wilderness provides ample evidence of Buzzin' Fly's considerable contribution to house music.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.