PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


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.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.