Like Kraftwerk and a scant few others, Prince is an artist you’re likely to hear in any dance DJ’s set anywhere in the world at any time.
He’s been an immovable object from dance floors from day one: Between 1981 and 1991 he put seven records at number one on the Billboard dance chart as an artist and four more as a producer (Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl,” Sheila E.’s “The Glamorous Life” and “A Love Bizarre,” and Sheena Easton’s “Sugar Walls”), not to mention Chaka Khan’s cover of “I Feel for You,” also number one in 1984. And his restless work ethic, inventive drum machines, far-sighted synthesizers, and artistic singularity continue to make him one of the lodestones of electronic dance music.
All-Prince DJ sets were legion well before even Purple Rain -- Kevin Cole of Seattle’s KEXP-FM, a former First Avenue DJ, has said that when he would spin for Prince’s private parties, the host would insist on hearing plenty of his own music (and lots of Parliament). These mixes became especially prevalent following Prince’s death last year, but as with the vast majority of DJ sets of very familiar material, I’m leery of them on principle -- it’s hard for most DJs to do a lot new with that evergreen material that the artist himself didn’t do better the first time.
Todd Edwards isn’t most DJs. Unlike a lot of dance producers he didn’t begin as a DJ, but as a producer, putting together increasingly intricate patterns of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it samples. (One early alias was the Sample Orchestra.) His music is incredibly rich, and tracks he made 20 to 25 years ago can still startle with how alive and full of depth they are. He was a key inspiration for the 2-step garage style that has more recently been dubbed plain old “garage,” the stuff Disclosure took to the bank on their first album. And for the last decade and a half, he’s worked steadily with Daft Punk, appearing on Discovery and Random Access Memories as co-producer and singer.
Edwards’ style has shifted in recent years; the success of Random Access Memories, in particular, around which time he left his native New Jersey for L.A. (where the robots also live), has moved him in a poppier and more relaxed direction. But much as samples make his music sparkle, Edwards’ records get over on floors for their grooves. What on earth would he do with Prince?
Daft Punk gave him a chance to find out: From February 11-19, the duo held a week-long exhibit of its own history, announced on Facebook and Instagram, at West Hollywood’s Maxfield Gallery, and commissioned Edwards to contribute, as he writes on the set’s Mixcloud page, “special DJ sets different than our normal style.” He went for a Prince showcase as deft and diverting as the eighties R&B showcase Plastician Presents All the Right Moves (2015) and Chrissy’s self-explanatory My Year of Mixtapes Week 33: Post-Disco, Pre House (2010).
Edwards’ set is largely faithful to Prince’s own grooves, but the key to the mix’s pleasure is that Prince is only about 85 percent of it -- most of the rest is Daft Punk. Often, the two are brought together in mouthwatering combinations, as with Edwards’ ridiculously on blends of “Teachers” (from Homework) and “Nasty Girl,” or “1999” and “One More Time.” He gets lots of good mileage of Prince-on-Prince, too, with “U Got the Look” going through “Kiss” like a straw through the ice. The Prince-Daft Punk blends largely come toward the end, creating narrative cohesion: this led to that, the mix tells us, and here are some ways how.
Each week, Michaelangelo Matos will spotlight a different DJ set—often but not always new, sometimes tied to a local show but not necessarily—and discuss its place in the overall sphere of dance music and pop.