Space disco!…or cosmic house, or the way out, eclectic sounds of DJs who don’t mind throwing in the odd Can track or jazz-funk remix in the middle of their set. This is dance music informed not only by 30 years of disco records, but by every other record out there as well: There is no agenda to fit them all in, but at the same time, there is no rule that says you can only play one kind of music.
Electro, fusion, prog, krautrock: Somehow, all of this exists in the same continuum of space music. In fact, all of it does share a love of electronics, so perhaps the DJs and producers making new, galactic tracks are homing in on something electronic. Certainly, synthesizers are huge here, playing not only melodies and perpetually motive bass lines, but shimmering arpeggios and layers of silky, ambient noise. In one sense, it’s very retro, but in another, it’s perfectly contemporary, like listening to the record collection of your favorite hipster, the one who isn’t afraid to show she loves old Mike Oldfield records just as much as Giorgio Moroder or Neu!.
Of course, eclecticism was one of the founding principles of disco: DJs like Francis Grasso and Larry Levan didn’t just play one kind of music, but created wildly diverse sets that took club patrons on more fantastic trips than any single record could. It’s no surprise that space disco producers like Norway’s Todd Terje or UK duo Idjut Boys are concocting “re-edits” of some of the same disco staples the original DJs played way back when. Idjut’s Press Play mix is in fact comprised entirely of re-edits (of both old tunes and new ones), suggesting that their goal isn’t necessarily to define a new genre of music, but rather celebrate the greatness of one that never went away.
This too is an aspect of dance music with deep roots, via the live tweaking that the original disco DJs did to their records, through full-fledged 12-inch remixes and the “Baeleric” style forged in Ibiza in the mid-80s, using a varied mix of early house, rare grooves, Latin funk, hip-hop, and other underground dance music.
Still, there are some clear musical touchstones for space disco. Listening to songs like Lindstrøm’s “I Feel Space” or anything by Dutch electro artist Freak Electrique, it’s hard to deny a similarity to early and mid-1980s Italo Disco. Italo was an Italian take (naturally) on electro and synth-pop, using many of the same electronic sounds and drum machine patterns, but usually a lot more over the top.
That is, where Kraftwerk and Moroder were sleek, Italo was bursting, often featuring wailing, vocoderized harmony vocals (see Mr. Flagio’s “Take a Chance“) and futuristic synth melodies (Kano’s “Cosmic Voyager”) that might have been as at home in a B-sci-fi flick as in a dance club, and has been popularized this decade in DJ mixes by Morgan Geist (Unclassics) and Dutch producer I-F (Mixed Up in the Hague, Vol. 1).
Conversely, Italy’s concurrent Cosmic scene involved a group of DJs (most notably Daniele Baldelli, famed DJ at the club Cosmic in Northern Italy) who, while not supportive of Italo-disco, were making waves playing hyper-varied sets of electro, funk, Brazilian music and jazz fusion– again demonstrating a remarkable tendency to play anything so long as it moved the floor. Similarly, today’s space disco practitioners (particularly producers like Chicken Lips‘ Andy Meecham and Prins Thomas, who even named one of his tracks after Ash Ra Tempel’s leader Manual Göttsching) have mined krautrock, psychedelia, and prog for breaks and sound banks.
Most of the new music being classified as space disco comes out of Europe, though the Brooklyn-based label Whatever We Want Records (Quiet Village Project, Map Of Africa, Bobby Marie) produces stuff that fits into the cosmic rubric– and has a very fitting name! Even DFA Records arguably fits the bill, taking into account singles by Black Dice and Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom, though is hardly known for releasing stuff as spacey as the best Euro labels: Lindstrøm’s Feedelity, Belgian nu-electro/Italo label Eskimo (home of the excellent Rub’N’Tug Present Campfire mix), Bear Entertainment/Bear Funk, Prins Thomas’ Full Pupp and UK labels Tirk and D.C. Recordings.
In a market full of Late Night Tales, Back to Mine’s, DJ-Kicks, etc., it’s becoming more and more tiresome to listen to DJ mix compilations. Sure, people are probably interested in hearing their favorite artists spin an eclectic mélange of records, but these things are starting to feel more like dick-measuring contests and less like, you know, artistic statements. Cue inebriated, sweaty kid shouting, “Wow! Was that just Cam’Ron? Rapping over “I Want You Back”? THAT’S CUH-RAZY!”
Sure, I’m likely also guilty of saying it a million times, but that’s also why the thrills of a Hollertronix mix or an As Heard on Radio Soulwax have diminished. But hey, if you’re cutting up coke with your dad’s credit card in the men’s room, I’m sure ten seconds per song of one thousand different records sounds pretty awesome; it probably even makes you feel sexy. But watch out kiddos! That’s no aphrodisiac, it’s a vodka cranberry with a dash of Rohypnol, and that bloodstain on the stall just spurted out of your forehead as you crashed against it.
Prins Thomas hates roofies. He loves the chase too much. Drugs are for cheaters, so dude’s gotta do it au naturale, and Thomas, tired of playing wingman to the crafty Hans-Peter Lindstrøm, he of last year’s majestic It’s a Feedelity Affair, is ready for his chance to try his hand at seduction. Which is precisely what Cosmo Galactic Prism Mix does: it lures you in with strange, oozing come-ons, coaxes you into trying things that might normally make you squeamish, and then works on you slowly until you suddenly find yourself spent, bleary-eyed, confused, and then you realize you’ve just been fucked by Prins Thomas.
You want to know when it happens? It’s somewhere in the middle of disc two, beginning with the Isolée remix of Recloose’s “Cardiology,” a slinky mid-tempo microhouse number with muffled snares, ebbing synths, distant wails, and some soulful cats pleading with you to “keep on movin.’”
Now you realize what the deal is—that champagne isn’t there as a present—so you get up to leave, but then Prins gets serious, sensitive. He drops the lush, melancholy IDM of Closer Musik’s “Maria,” telling you, baby, he’s never felt this way. You realize you’ve never felt this way, and then you hear Zombi’s “Sapphire” on the hi-fi—a dramatic, eight-minute progressive synth-pop number that builds and layers, peaking at about the six-minute mark when a web of emblazoned, powerful keyboards dance with each other, imitating coitus so flawlessly you laugh—and then it’s over.
Jokes aside, and I ain’t kidding, those keyboards on “Sapphire” are more than just a dynamic ploy, they serve a purpose that is sorely lacking from most contemporary DJ mixes: a payoff. Cosmo Galactic Prism Mix is somewhat of a trudge, taking up all one hundred-sixty minutes of its two discs, but that’s also why it works. Thomas knows how to build a mood by steadily increasing and decreasing the pace, seamlessly mixing tracks into one another yet giving each its due respect by allowing them to play out to their full length.
In Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton’s Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, there’s a passage where Vince Aletti, writing for the Village Voice, is describing the experience of hearing David Mancuso play records, saying, “Dancing at the Loft was like riding waves of music, being carried along as one song after another built relentlessly to a brilliant crest and broke, bringing almost involuntary shouts of approval from the crowd, then smoothed out, softened, and slowly began welling up to another peak.”
This begs the question: why aren’t more DJs doing this? What happened to the idea of a DJ being the helmsman of a ship, taking its passengers on a journey?
Which is why the “cosmos,” the “galactic” theme of Cosmo Galactic Prism Mix is so apropos. It carries you along, letting you either play it in the background or listen to it closely, entrancing you in its hypnotic rhythms, allowing you to join in whenever you choose. The democracy of space, its freedom, translates directly to the mix itself.
Then there’s the music, wherein the notion of “space” isn’t towards the educatory stance of textbooks and planetariums, even though it is youthful. It’s “Star Trek,” “The Jetsons,” fuzzy aliens and strange B-movie soundtracks, where the Muppet-funk of Holger Czukay (“Cool in the Pool”), the only danceable Boards of Canada track ever (“Nlogax”), classic disco (The Paper Dolls’ “Get Down Boy”), and even pseudo-Jock Jams (Axer’s “123”) can be bookended by Joe Meek and Parliament without sounding pretentious.
How? Thomas makes each song on Cosmo Galactic Prism Mix serve a specific, expertly devised purpose, nodding to the past, looking towards the future, and standing firmly on the ground even as he reaches for the stars.
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The bugbear lurking in the basement of dance music is timeliness. Aficionados can pin a year on a track by its bassline, annoying film sample, or siren noise. Tech-heads will go further and tell you what preset number is being used on the DX-7, or parse a particular analog swoop as MiniMoog or Polyfusion. But the same scene-puppies will be quick to justify such a litmus test—because the best dance / techno / disco / what-you-wanna-call-it records are precisely the opposite of constrained by date—they’re time-less.
So while many will be quick to whip out referents from the past thirty years of synthesizer-based dance music history to cage and taser this collection of 12″ A-sides and B-sides, the point will be as missed as the halcyon days of your first roll. (Yeah, that was great wasn’t it?) The game being played here isn’t nostalgia, it’s—wait, who said this was a game?
Certainly not me, and certainly not Hans-Peter Lindstrøm. This is a deadly serious, highly contagious, completely required, and rambunctiously guilt-free pleasure from the frozen northland. And despite the fact that some of these tracks date back eons ago to 2004 or 2003 (techno-years are like dog-years) and were originally spread across a multitude of vinyl sides, they sound both up-to-the-minute and astonishingly like a planned-out album.
While the colors dipped into for the length and breadth of the album are of a shared palette, there are certain moods that fit more distinctly around pairs or triplets of songs. Openers “Fast and Delirious” and “Limitations” are car-starting anthems, based around similarly irresistible hand-clapping snares (though at very different tempos) and fluid, languid basslines. At the other end of both spectrum and album, this spring’s “Another Station” and last winter’s “I Feel Space” are kissing cousins and easy highlights—twin nubiles eating ice cream in Giorgio Moroder’s lap. ”
Arp She Said” and “Further Into the Future” work as Lindstrøm’s ethnic experiments—his “La Isla Bonita” and “La Dolce Vita,” respectively. The former tickles the feet with Spanish guitar action before drifting into a dreamscape of analog warmth that manages to be more pop-ambient than ambient-pop—the latter simply begs to be performed on Italian TV circa 1983. Standing center and alone is the monumental conceit of “There Is a Drink in My Bedroom,” eleven minutes of ridiculously beautiful synth programming that would make even the most hard-hearted realist want to board that rocketship to Venus.
If we kept going, we’d find something to say about each of the eleven tracks herein—for each has its merits and displays yet another side of the Lindstrøm oeuvre—sensuality, humor, dreaminess, wit, physicality… like I said, if we kept going… But we won’t. Instead we’ll leave you with the following thought: if dance music is meant to be, at its best, absolutely timeless, then this album is a veritable time capsule—one that could be unearthed and enjoyed at any point along the three decade-plus timeline since “going out dancing” meant something apart from jukeboxes and big bands.
Barring the growth of extraneous limbs or the sudden unearthing of a hitherto unknown dimension of audible sound, I imagine It’s a Feedelity Affair will sound just as good three decades-plus from now. Which is to say, transcendentally moving and without contemporary peer. Forget about all that “hippie-house” and “space-disco” nonsense—this is nothing more or less than the musical equivalent of magical realism. Keep one eye on your booty and one on the stars.
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