Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.
If one is beholden to specific genres in electronic music, the 2011 calendar year was a mixed blessing. For dubstep fans, that internal organ-quivering tones of that electronic musical form enjoyed both critical and popular successes, ranging from Skrillex making the cover of Spin to critics falling over one another to praise James Blake. Yet the latter also upended the dubstep paradigm: Rather than drop a full-length album that served as the full summation of his previous dubstep EPs, Blake ran far from the template he helped establish with his CMYK and Air & Lack Thereof EPs into that of the introspective piano balladeer. He was not alone. When Zomby dropped Dedication, his highly-anticipated follow-up to Where Were U in ’92, fans were subjected to a brief album that was darker, less frenetic, and downright ghostly. Another dubstep star, Joker, aimed his album at ringtones rather than underground London soundsystems.
In the realm of nu-disco and cosmic disco, there was a similar shift taking place. Artists who up until this point had built their reputations by crafting disco edits (taking old songs and toying with their components so that they became something new under the sun) grew tired of the form and instead began making their own original productions. DJ Harvey, the long-haired UK DJ legendary for his series of Black Cock edits, released his first full-length album — full of sleek minimal techno and sleazy rock maneuvers — as Locussolus. French producer Pilooski retired his series of ‘dirty’ edits (which had sullied everyone from Frankie Valli and the Pointer Sisters to Elvis Presley himself) to focus on his Discodeine project instead. Same goes for the British DJ collective Soft Rocks, who had been releasing obscure dance edits since 2003 before realizing their excellent first album last month.
“The steady approach is very much what I’m into. And not just as a track; it’s how I envision my career.”
“The edits gave me the structure and the confidence to make my own music and for DJs, edits definitely still have their place. But everyone is doing them now. I had to draw a line under the edits so as to do my own stuff,” says British house music producer Mark E as we’re seated at his hotel bar in downtown Los Angeles. Later on, Mark E will be headlining an underground dance party. But right now, he nurses a pint, slowly recovering from jet lag. Born Mark Evetts, it’s under the name of Mark E that he’s gained worldwide acclaim. He dropped his first single back in 2005, a methodical yet beguiling track based on R&B couple Womack & Womack’s 1983 hit (and Paradise Garage staple) “Baby I’m Scared of You” (BBC Radio’s Giles Peterson was an early fan). He soon followed it up with “R&B Drunkie,” a DJ Pierre-style house track that wrapped a ribbon of Janet Jackson’s “R&B Junkie” to devastating effect.
Rather than get ratcheted up to the upper 120 BPMs echelon standard in modern dance music, Mark E’s tracks screw down their tempos, with most hovering between 98-106 BPMs. Imagine, if you will, downshifting to second gear on the highway. Such slowness was a by-product of his listening habits of the time. “I was dead into neo-soul, Slum Village, Platinum Pied Pipers, and that led me into Detroit house music producer, Theo Parrish,” he says. “And Theo’s tracks never quite go where you thought they would go. To me that was the point of them. You think it’s going to do something amazing and offer up release, yet it never does. But that’s the beauty of them.” He emulated that slow and steady ethos not just in his own music-making and DJ sets, but beyond: “The steady approach is very much what I’m into. And not just as a track; it’s how I envision my career.” Hence his moniker of “Slo-Mo Edit King.”
“People kept billing me like that and it got to the point where I was like: ‘For fuck’s sake!’” he exclaims. “So when I would go out and DJ a 120 BPM set, people were suddenly disappointed that I wasn’t playing dead slow.” So when it came time to release Stone Breaker, his full-length debut on Ghostly International, Mark E dropped not just the edits, but also the syrupy pacing of his sound. Stone Breaker, runs slightly faster than its title suggests. From the menacing vocoder on the kinetic “Belvide Beat” to Detroit techno tone of “Oranges,” Mark E craftsmanship is still evident, even at unexpected speeds.
Mark E plays 12-On-13 Mister Saturday Night on December 10 in New York.Listen to his Stone Wall Mix for Ghostly International below. Mark E’s debut album, Stone Breaker, is out now via Ghostly International. DJ Harvey will do a special holiday edition of All Night Rong at Good Units tonight, December 9, in New York.