Known to denizens of the dance floor as Popof, French DJ/producer Alexandre Paounov has evolved in many ways since his days in the free-party scene. While his gallant remix of Marc Houle’s “Late For Work” released in the spring epitomizes the current blueprint of his elegant, effortless fusion of house and techno, Love Somebody, his full-length album for Jamie Jones and Lee Foss’ Hot Creations imprint, speaks to the totality of his musical evolution in 11 captivating chapters.
Only the fourth full-length to be released on the label, Paounov crafts his beats and housey grooves with aplomb and finesse. French singer/songwriter/actor Arno Joey is the featured vocalist on three cuts. A gifted singer, he’s the perfect voice to lyrically express the essence of Paounov’s artistry.
With its heady bass wobble, meandering melody and pitched down vocals, “Going Back” oozes with soul and humanity. It’s a song you’ll want to wrap your arms around and embrace. “It’s Been A While” is equally euphoric yet manages to steer clear of sounding like EDM fromage. “Always In My Mind” featuring Miss Kittin takes a rawer tone, eschewing clinical pop perfection for a rough-around-the-edges song designed to make you move your body.
Paounov closes the album with “Outro,” a slow jam clocking in at a scant 1:17. Is this truncated downtempo offering a hint of things to come? Only a master of reinvention like Paounov knows the answer.
DJs/producers Magda and Nyma’s Define the Relationship series has taken an idiosyncratic approach to the realm of the remix, and the latest installment is no exception. On May 26, 2015, the pair will unveil a radical reinterpretation of Joy Division’s post-punk classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart” as realized in collaboration with French electroclash veteran Miss Kittin.
While the previous tunes tackled as part of Define the Relationship found Magda and Nyma working their magic on the original versions of the tunes — LL Cool J’s “I’m That Type of Guy,” Jody Watley’s “Looking for a New Love,” Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You” — this time around they brought in a guest to redo the song from scratch, and judging from the results, Miss Kittin seems to have relished the responsibility.
In place of Joy Division’s angular, urgent guitars, drums, and keyboards, Magda and Nyma have concocted a micro-universe of minimalist electronics. And in tribute to the band’s tragically short-lived frontman, Ian Curtis, Miss Kittin crafts a different persona for the tune entirely — one that’s full of intensity but also possessed of an intriguing archness only she could bring to the track.
There are four different versions of the tune to be found on the EP, each one with its own distinct personality, so don’t trail off after the first track assuming you’ve heard it all.
It was front-page news in 2011 when Marc Houle, Magda and Troy Pierce announced they were collectively leaving Richie Hawtin’s Minus label to develop their Items & Things imprint, originally a sub-label under Minus’ auspices. The trio of serial collaborators’ reason for departing Hawtin’s camp was rooted in their wish to build their own musical future together. Almost three years later the threesome and Items & Things have been slowly realizing their dreams on their own terms, quietly redefining minimal techno one blip at a time. Houle has kept particularly busy, taking part in a series of collaborations in 2013 with Miss Kittin (Where is Kittin? EP), Click Box (Razzamatazz EP) and an album with synth-pop act La Folie.
“I love making music with other people because it’s such a great feeling when they add stuff that you wouldn’t think of,” offers the Berlin-based Houle. “I’m not sure if it’s had an impact on me but it’s a nice change and anything new in the studio is a good thing.”
This month Houle presents his first solo release since 2012, the Fusion Pop EP. The release features two original minimal cuts and remixes from Magda and I&T artist NYMA. His latest effort arrives during a period of extensive touring, which finds him crisscrossing the world nearly every weekend.
“Traveling around a lot gives you lots of time to think about things, so I’m always making notes to reference when I get home and start working again,” he explains. “Also when you’re away from the studio for awhile you just can’t wait to get back in and make lots of music. So I’m doing this interview right after three crazy shows in Argentina. I’m pretty exhausted from all that partying but it was a really great time playing for people who love music a bit weirder than normal. It’s such a crazy country!”
Houle’s one-man live show continues to evolve in tandem with his forward-thinking and often unconventional production style. His performances leverage the diversity of his DJ sets by utilizing an array of hardware to create a unique experience. “It’s been a very slow change over the years,” Houle says. “[The live show] became more energetic over time and definitely more eclectic. I’ve learned to play different feels and styles depending on the people dancing in front of me. Over the years I’ve brought different pieces of gear with me — synths, drum machines and now microphones — to enhance things and give me more options. I think these days you need to be flexible. In the future, I think I need to concentrate more on the visual aspect of things. It’s almost becoming as important as the music.”
“A summer spellbinder to warm you until winter” was Menace 2012’s stunner Electric Horizon — now in Jack Frost’s icy grip, Features follows up with 12 vocal collaborations. Whereas his first act showed a subtlety of touch when tenderising basic raw materials and rhythms close to the 80s, here he shows he can play percentages and tow the line rather more.
Early indications are that KM has picked up where he left off with Unai’s “Lone Runner”. The vocal performances are tailor-made rather than out-and-out breathtaking — this is an album featuring Miss Kittin (the Italo-styled “Hide”), Robert Owens and Romanthony, so it’s not short on firepower, but the neat vocal house pairings carry little to startle ears. The synth-pop references take tracks onto the edge of ad executive heaven, verging on EDM responsibility that’s a bit too ‘nice.’ The slo-mo crystallisation of “Golden Ratio” featuring Simon Lord and “Eye Opener” with Xavier Naidoo offer ways out, while still pretty conformist, shimmery yet pre-meditated. If “Love is Everywhere” was left instrumental, it would probably fit into the previous set perfectly. A gothic/psychopathic subtext to “Voodoo Dilate” shows its icicles, and a little bit of grit returns with Owens’ higher power dominance of “Trusting Me.”
Whereas Menace repeatedly let Electric Horizon beguile by itself, the vocals forcing the issue take the mystery out of the situation, and, only by a thin margin, make Features less charming.
File under: Love on Laserdisc, Lifelike, Keenhouse