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.
And just in case you thought this was going to be about everything except the music, here's your very own space disco primer:
Lindstrøm: "I Feel Space" [Feedelity; 2005]
Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas: "Foreløpig Bit" [Eskimo; 2005]
Lindbæk & Lindstrøm: "Alien in My Pocket" [Modal; 2004]
Hans-Peter Lindstrøm broke out last year, though you could argue he'd been on the verge of massive exposure for a while, having released a string of great singles since 2003's "Music (In My Mind)". If his name is on a track, you can almost always be sure of refinery: the chord progressions, the beats, the glossy, nostalgic veneer of years spent listening to old disco records. "I Feel Space" captured the best of his abilities, though his work with Prins Thomas is nothing to frown upon. In fact, "Foreløpig Bit", the lead track on the duo's self-titled debut record, is arguably the quintessential space disco track, touching on all its precedents-- Italo, prog, funky retro 70s stuff. The synth solos are icing on the cake, though in Lindstrøm's collaboration with fellow Norwegian Rune Lindbæk on "Alien in My Pocket", the synth jumps out from baroque embellishment to full-blown lead character. This is a song that uses all the best tricks from "I Feel Space", but throws understatement to the wind, falling headfirst into lusty, cosmic abandon. Plus, that bass player is the shit.
Prins Thomas: "Goettsching" [Full Pupp; 2005]
Sternklang: "Satmara (Prins Thomas Disco Mix)" [Romklang; 2004]
Nemesi: "Cosmica (Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas Remix)" [Relish/Four; 2005]
If Lindstrøm is the European poster-boy for space disco, frequent collaborator Prins Thomas is the dark horse. Like Lindstrøm, he's been at the cosmic house game a while, though his productions usually opt for less flash, with more extended foreplay. "Goettsching", named after Ash Ra Tempel's visionary leader (and a true cosmic music saint), is trippy to be sure, but subtle. The bass line, rather than the synth line, drives the track, and the delayed guitar asides (a clear homage to the song's namesake) say volumes where kitschy sound effects might have overwhelmed. Sternklang (another Norwegian, Rune Brøndbo) gets the same treatment on Thomas' remix of his "Satmara", as the bass provides more than enough kinetic movement to get your science rocks off. The Nemesi remix, though credited to Lindstrøm and Thomas, is a shade more restrained-- and more indicative of the pair's obvious affinity for smooth, 70s jazz-funk.
Freak Electrique: "Symphony Electrique" [Viewlexx; 2005]
Uhu: Constellation Mixes [Gigolo; 2005]
When melodies become themes, electro becomes hyper-electro, producers push synths to their breaking point, and "a little silly" becomes the macabre, you're entering the far-gone realm of Holland's Freak Electrique and the mysterious Uhu. The former is one Erik MŸller whose resume includes the notable accomplishment of placing four singles on the Italo-loving, internet radio Cybernetic Broadcasting System top 100, including space disco's one true epic, "Symphony Electrique". The long version of this song clocks in at over 16 minutes, and is truly a masterpiece of locomotive basslines and intricately arranged synth-harmonies and chord progressions. Its cousin would be the Constellation Mixes EP from Uhu (an alias of a reputedly "well known Eastern European DJ"), featuring cuts that don't aspire to overwhelm by their sheer, massive length, but by sparkling melodies and kinetic movement. Its "Jupiter Family" may actually be the single most gloriously over the top moment in this whole scene.
Todd Terje: "Eurodans"/"Italian Stallion" [Full Pupp; 2005]
Padded Cell: "Signal Failure" [D.C. Recordings; 2005]
The Revolving Eyes: "Riding Back at Sunset" [Moderne; 2005]
Italo informs a lot of this music, but some artists are clearly more reverent than others. Todd Terje, British duo Padded Cell and veteran Belgium producers Dubrais Olivier & Malory Heyndrickx (The Revolving Eyes) know their shit when it comes to the electro-fied sounds of cosmic disco, circa mid-80s Italy. Terje, heretofore known primarily for his expert re-edits of 70s funk and soul tunes, concocts an almost flawless mixture of snappy synth'n'bells over a hard disco pounce, featuring the requisite cow bell and bongos; it's a bright tune with a brighter future for enterprising DJs looking for a climax. Padded Cell ups the robotic ante on the ace "Signal Failure" by stealing the bassline from one-hit disco wonders Muff's "Do the Hand Jive", but use their own stuttering synth melody to shoot the song into inner space. The Revolving Eyes merely lay down a perfect, wispy synth melody and let their big 80s drum machine do the rest. The work of craftsmen and purists these songs may be, but what fine work it is.
Quiet Village Project: "Pillow Talk" [Whatever We Want; 2005]
Lordy: "The Watchtower (Steve Kotey Kosmik Dub)" [Bear Funk; 2005]
Fujiya & Miyagi: "Collarbone" [Tirk; 2005]
Ah, the smooth sides of space disco. Despite (or maybe because of) their love of the cosmic analog sounds of the 70s, a lot of the artists making the stuff have a marked penchant for all things "lite": lite funk, soft rock, fuzak-- you name it, they're chilling to it. Quiet Village Project, the alias of DJs Matt Edwards and Joel Martin, stormed out on hip up-and-comer Whatever We Want Records with "Pillow Talk", a dreamy slice of downtempo sex-on-the-beach music that would make Deodato proud. Likewise, Lordy (Steve Kotey and Andy Meecham) keeps things on the very low down with Kotey's "kosmik dub" of "The Watchtower", a song that sounds like a drunk Gang of Four sound-checking "Beast of Burden"-- all with the requisite layers of reverb expected for any truly cosmic recording. British outfit Fujiya & Miyagi also take the heroin disco route on "Collarbone", though their obvious affinity for krautrock makes this track sound like Damo Suzuki fronting... a drunk Gang of Four sound-checking "Beast of Burden".
Oorutaichi: "Misen Gymnastics (Idjut Full Version)" [Bear Funk; 2005]
Syclops: "The Fly" [Tirk; 2005]
Lest you think that all cosmic house is for scruffily bearded dance scenesters, let's bring out the left of the left. Since "eclecticism" (a loaded word: can you ever really trust anyone who bills themselves as eclectic?) is part of the M.O. for space disco practitioners, no better examples of the disparate sounds you're likely to hear in a set than Japanese bedroom producer Oorutaichi or Syclops-- aka off-the-wall house producer Maurice Fulton, a.k.a. the dude who makes the tracks for Mu. His "The Fly" is a powerhouse combination of hard funk, progressive rock (check the synth solo!) and some indescribable genre of music where metal drums are used as props for synthesizers with minds of their own. Equally bizarre (and totally awesome) is Idjut Boys' druggy take on Oorutaichi's "Misen Gymnastics", with delayed vox over the original quasi-Eastern trance-funk + electro. Can might have made this had they navigated the late 70s a bit better.
The Emperor Machine: "Tropical Waste"/"Roller Daddy" [D.C. Recordings; 2005]
Spirit Catcher: "Key Generator" [Moodmusic; 2005]
Never let it be said that there is no rock in the cosmic disco. Andy Meecham's The Emperor Machine project not only brings the noise, but the P-R-O-G on "Tropical Waste" and "Roller Daddy". The former stacks a massive, three-note bass riff over an up-tempo rock beat and brings in an orchestra of Moogs to send it into orbit. "Roller Daddy" even has a mid-section breakdown in 6, just in case you want to insert a solo break in the middle of your set. Spirit Catcher isn't quite so gaudy (read: adventurous): they stick to a hard, ultra-80s gated drum sound and synthesized psychedelia that is one step removed from Dead Or Alive, one step removed from an arena rock take on Vision Creation Newsun. Both of these tracks throw caution to the wind, reveling in excess, and straddling the blurry line between kitsch and sheer balls.
Force of Nature: "Unstoppable" [Headinghome; 2005]
Japanese duo Force of Nature (DJ Kent, KZA) mine a similar field of dubby disco as Lindstrøm, Idjut Boys or even LCD Soundsystem in James Murphy's druggier moments (think "Yr City's a Sucker"). Little touches like marimba and the distant cry of a disco diva in "Unstoppable" establish ties to the Balearic DJs, though this track has got a lot more going for it than history. The production is ace, with insane attention to detail (an echoed laugh here, a sax line there, a vocoder countdown, the airtight disco bassline, etc.). The remixes on the 12-inch (Idjuts, Hawkeye & Hotlips) get even further out, and if hedonistic pleasure is your thing, try taking a pill to this.
Ilya Santana: "Histories & Fantasies" [Airtight; 2005]
Canary Island DJ, and veteran of a grand total of two 12-inch releases, may have learned a thing or two about space music from some of the other people in this list (and in fact has already been remixed by Lindstrøm), but his style is a sight more electro, less disco. The synth melody in "Histories & Fantasies" is right out of "Dr. Who", and though the bass is funked out, it's definitely got robotic sheen. Still, this is a hot track. Even if you didn't want to dance to it, you could drive around Vice City all night, chilling out, watching the stars reflect in the digital ocean. I'm thinking Santana still has his best stuff to come, but this track nails a laid back, weightless vibe that's an essential part of the spacey legacy.
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