The Quantic Soul Orchestra: Pushin' On

Dan Nishimoto

How do you make that Mr. Scruff joint sound like Johnny Frigo's 'Scorpio?' Call QSO. And you'll get so much more.

The Quantic Soul Orchestra

Pushin' On

Label: Tru Thoughts
US Release Date: 2005-05-10
UK Release Date: 2005-05-09
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Crate digging is so In. Not the diggers themselves (sorry, guys) -- those who drop hundreds of dollars/pounds, exchange prized possessions, make or break dreams all over that dusty yet coveted import alternate take remix with the color cover LP. Rather, it is the archivist vision attached to this distinctly urban sport that has become, in a word, hot. An isolated ritual once practiced solely by the fanatic collector and the savvy producer has become commonplace as music-listeners become increasingly knowledgeable themselves; oh, what havoc Ultimate Breaks and Beats hath wrought! Forget not the rise in home recording technology, allowing more aspiring Premiers to, um, step in the arena. In sum, the result has been: musicians from Bozulich to Breakestra zooming in on details from their musical genealogy; and listeners happily lapping it up (the difference between Tuff City and Soul Jazz? Youth marketing, baby). Thus, digging has become an appropriate metaphor for our meta/process-driven times; art not at the end of history, but more conscious of it than ever.

Within this realm of beats, breaks, and other archaeological reno-/innovations, Will "Quantic" Holland has a well-deserved reputation stemming from his kaleidoscopic aesthetic. At the tender age of 25, he has already exhibited a masterful control over beat-based music by fusing current popular finds in a creative manner -- Afro Beat-sampled hip-hop in French on "En Focus" from his last album -- while contextualizing his identity with conviction -- a live band cover of 4hero, for example. In other words, he knows how to play the game without being played. It certainly does not hurt that Holland has demonstrated a comprehensive understanding (no longer a way to, but a form of innovation) of his field. Through his Quantic identity, he has fused the Small World of breaks into compositions ranging from deep sweat to deep concentration. He has also enlisted the help of acoustic musicians to form the Quantic Soul Orchestra, a live band effort that in fact functions in a similar space of making the past present. The latter project is of special interest, especially given the resurgence of live funk outfits; throwbacks, in the most literal sense. Instead of settling for a revisit of compositional and performance aesthetics of the past, the group updates them by essentially creating 'live' versions of studio productions. In this manner, QSO provides an organic palette for Holland's collage compositions.

QSO follows up its 2003 debut Stampede with the pulsing Pushin' On. As mentioned above, Holland is not content with rehashing staple breaks and beats -- the greatest 'hits', no pun intended, of deep funk -- but draws on each manifestation of beat culture. Pushin' plays like a thoughtful tribute: to J.B. shuffle, Stepney lushness, Wanderley breezes, and a whole lotta S.O.U.L. Like a comprehensive mix, each track tackles a different, but complementary mode. In filtering these ideas, Holland wisely keeps the record lucid and to-the-point, never weighing itself down with density. Pushin' thus plays like a record for the masses: enough drive to fill the floor and plenty of sounds to keep the thinkers nodding. The album thus works well in the now: a fully accessible and reflexive past as a porthole to the present.

Pushin' splits its time between dancefloor-ready instrumentals and swingin' vocals, yet moves from style to style with style from track to track. "Introducing..." and "West Pier Getdown" open the album with gang buster guitar riffing and body rockin' horns, respectively. The tradition-steeped introduction builds to Alice Rusell's power struttin' entrance on "Pushin' On": beats by the pound, stilettos to the dome, and a yeeeeeaaaoooww! that would have Tina running back to Nutbush. Before settling in this proto-funk territory, the record takes an international jaunt. "Feeling Good" nods to Buarque's Brasil with its soft brass lines in unison and gorgeous strings, while "The Conspirator" sounds at home on the Ethiopiques series. While a steady backbeat remains the relative constant in all these cuts, Holland spreads the influences far and wide to give the album a sense of progression.

Pushin' ultimately comes together around Holland's farsighted production. With sounding exceedingly clean, he gives each instrument breathing room so that no sound is in competition with another. On the aforementioned "Feeling Good", fat bass tones lay a soft clay surface for the melodic lines to dance lithely above. Russell sings with a slight breath, careful to never overpower the track. The balance in arrangement and engineering lends the whole recording its depth, making it the ideal soundtrack to a perfect Sunday morning cruise. Holland also allows for give and take between instruments to establish a natural equilibrium, such as the tinny guitar that takes center stage on the intro to "The Conspirator", only to be followed by bleating horns moving like a sumo wrestler. As low end fills out the track, Holland keeps the snares sharp and pointed, as if to keep the song from falling too deep into an extreme. The effort is duly noted; it makes for an intelligent and well-crafted listen.

Pushin' benefits from its brevity, as it achieves what it sets out to accomplish: move some butts, make some smiles. As the title could suggest Holland does not aspire to innovate in a genre defining sense by taking leaps and bounds, but rather in relation to his personal aesthetic; he's just doin' the grind to push himself creatively. With solid and comprehensive attention shown throughout, Holland reaches this modest goal. While Pushin' may not be received by the majority of listeners as an essential, a milestone, Holland is the wiser to recognize when to say when. He chooses to not make a fuss about such a seemingly simple affair. Pushin' is humble in scope, yet complete in its approach. It's a dig both done right and gone right. And for that alone, it's all right to say: hear this.


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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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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