Various Artists - Beyond the Wizards Sleeve: Re-Animations Vol. 1
Wed 29th Apr, 2009 Music Reviewsin
If there is one trend that has dominated electronic dance music in the past decade, it has been the wilful mashing not just of tracks, but also styles and genres. Before that, at the turn of the millennium the boundaries between subgenres and scenes seemed almost impenetrable. If you liked progressive house then funky house was a step too far, if you liked techno then breaks was a no-go zone, and if you liked any EDM then rock and pop were anathema. The entire category of tech house even had to be invented to accommodate the netherworld between its constituent (yet opposed) progenitors. Of course things were never really as rigid as the aficionados of any scene wanted to make out, but the freedom to break from the conventions of your genre as a producer or DJ was limited.
Then came electroclash and the explosion of mash-ups and bootlegs, and suddenly DJs were dropping Nirvana between breaks tracks, or The Eurythmics among house sets, or any number of old synth-pop songs at techno nights. Sure, much of this was more novelty than art, but it did break open a locked cognitive set. And the new sensibility also produced some heroes who were able to master the style-shifts more creatively and search out more varied musical paths along which to find inspiration. UK DJ/producer Erol Alkan rose rapidly in the new scene by putting on nights and constructing sets that brought together modern electro with 80s pop and rock on one side with technoid sounds on the other. His long-running Trash night in London spearheaded an entire ‘clash scene, attracting both music lovers tired of genre-lock and a retinue of glitterati looking for the latest cool-out.
For those like me who doubted the longterm potential of the scene, Alkan stood apart with his ability to make disparate sounds work together so effortlessly, as he demonstrated on classic mixes like his Muzik Magazine cover CD and a variety of downloadable bootlegged sets (sadly I’ve never caught him live, but the Youtubes I’ve caught seem to confirm the rave reviews). Being a genuine talent means that Alkan was able to adapt rapidly as the initial ‘clash’ sounds wore out their welcome. In recent years he’s started a label, Phantasy Sound, moved from just doing re-edits to full-fledged remix work, and grabbed onto the disco revival with his Disco 3000 project.
One of his projects has been as Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve, with Richard Norris (of 90s pop-dance outfit The Grid). Capturing the cosmic end of nu-Balearica, they have remixed a series of major acts by imposing their own musical rules and logic to transform pop into dancefloor-friendly noodlings. The intention, it would seem, is to recapture some of the early Ibizan vibe: dancing (or sitting around) beneath the stars and tripping right out to a heady blend of pop, psychedelica and disco.
Re-Animations Vol. 1 is the first collection of these efforts and brings together mixes of artists as diverse as The Chemical Brothers, Findlay Brown, Tracey Thorn and Goldfrapp. If that seems a broad enough palette from which to draw, Alkan and Norris actually leave such a heavy imprint that if you didn’t know the original artists you might assume they were all hired by the duo for the purposes of this CD.
But even such a forceful style can’t mask that some of the songs they have “re-animated” are better than others, or at least more suited to their creative powers. So there are moments of lyrical delicacy (Thorn’s Raise The Roof ) and melodic euphoria ( Badly Drawn Boy’s Promises ), and others of clever discoid bumpiness ( Franz Ferdinand’s Ulysses ). And anyone who can remix Simian Mobile Disco to sound like vibrant, intelligent punk/funk ( Love ) gets high marks in my book.
On the other hand the Chems get a more routine psychedelic reinterpretation ( Battle Scars ), while Peter, Bjorn & John receive bog-standard indie-pop cheeriness with a few predictable DnB breakbeats scuttling around in the background, and Goldfrapp endure a bland, piano-led nu-disco reinterpretation ( Happiness ). Finally, the use of an indie-inspired sound betrays some of the cosmic potential of the tracks, such as in the very flat sounding Come Hear The Trumpets by Dust Galaxy – I certainly wasn’t getting the spaced out feel I was hoping for.
Despite the patchiness of output, there is much worth listening to among these 12 tracks, and it is great to hear them all in one place so you can get a sense that these guys are more than your average remixers-for-hire. When they are hitting the mark, Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve are bringing out some of the most immediate and textured pop-dance hybrids out there. They have certainly long transcended the genre-blending experimentation that marked both their earlier careers.