I’m totally cheating again.
OK, not really. Where last week I plumped for a documentary about someone with real if somewhat removed dance-music credit (Joe Stone helped get 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready for This” into sports arenas, you know), this week I’m turning my eye to . . . well, a new Soulwax album.
No, not that new Soulwax album -- not the one that they released on March 24, From Deewee, which sounds like a transliteration for us non-Belgians of this Ghent brother team’s shared surname, Dewaele. I’m referring to the hour of new work that David and Stephen aired on BBC Radio 1 two months after From Deewee dropped.
Soulwax’s episode of the Essential Mix (May 20) is split in half: The second half is a DJ mix, per usual, given half-credit to their turntable aliases, 2 Many DJ’s. But the first half is the real gambit: As a robotoid voice representing the duo explains, “We actually spent the last two weeks in our studio making one hour of completely new music.” As host Pete Tong puts it in his intro: “In the entire history of this show, we haven’t had this happen before from a group of this stature.”
Maybe not on Essential Mix, the venerable BBC Radio 1 DJ showcase (it first aired in October 1993), but it’s hardly uncommon. Many DJs play out using only their own productions, remixes, and edits, and five volumes of the London club Fabric’s mix series consist entirely of new material from the DJs (Pure Science, Ricardo Villalobos, Guy Gerber, Omar-S, and Shackleton).
Of course, none of them went the cheeky extra step of focusing all the vocals of their “mix” opuses around the word “fabric” -- unlike Soulwax, who took it upon themselves to sprinkle the word “essential” all around their brand-new hour of bouncy tuneage. It really is bouncy, too, which is to be expected: Soulwax/2 Many DJ’s were at the forefront of the early-2000s electro wave that would, after a time, push dance music into pop’s forefront, both sonically and on the live stage.
“Electro” became a much more pliable term at that point, though. It no longer simply denoted 8-bit chip-tune simplicity but rather denoted a broader sort of deliberately inorganic sound, as rubbery as it is bleepy. That kind of electro is the lodestone of both the new music of the Essential Mix’s first hour and the refried tracks, 36 in all, that make up the second.
About that first hour—yes, I suspect they just grabbed as many leftover ideas as they could find and finessed them into 14 segments (so say the tracklist sites) ready-made for joining together on the beat. I also suspect that doing so freed them to just mess around, and that sense of play is audible and infectious. The chug-a-chug live bass groove and dime-store organ that takes hold around minute 18, hooked on a woman singing a chorus that finishes “Essential to find out how,” is as loose, but still on it, as I wish the new LCD Soundsystem songs were. About 36:15, a nasty sine-wave bass and lots of heavily filtered percussion join in a wormy little riff you immediately want to know the title of -- but won’t find out till the Dewaeles do something other than offer it as a late-night album-promo freebie.
At first, the 2 Many DJ’s set almost feels anticlimactic, but like the hour preceding it, it keeps opening up. If the last time you thought about the name 2 Many DJ’s it was for the wildly eclectic mash-ups on their 2002 mix CD As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2, well, they’ve moved on too. Here, the sound is as prone to head-nod groovefulness as grab-your-collar hooks, but the latter pop up plenty: on Sammy Burdson’s “Disco Cola,” a joyously rasping white Euro rap (at 64:35), or later when the Funky 4 + 1’s “Rapping and Rocking the House” peeks out. It’s completely of a piece with the preceding hour – and that's no small thing.
Each Thursday, 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.