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.
Once, on my lone vacation to the Caribbean, a song from Portuguese producers Mendes & Alçada called “Coaster” was put on a beach mix for me, and for months after, it evoked those halcyon, sun-kissed days whenever it cropped up randomly on my iTunes. Laidback and airy, it was a curious type of Balearic house track: there was a slowly strummed yet highly evocative guitar melody, a patina of piano that shimmered like a setting sun on waves, and cavernous woodblock clops, all of it floating along at around 90 BPMs. Rather than dance to it, it was idyllic for hammock swinging and sipping booze out of a coconut shell. The single also featured longtime British dancefloor pranksters/producers the Idjut Boys (Dan Tyler and Conrad McDonnell) providing two sumptuous dubs that teased even more space and other melodic elements out of the song to sublime effect.
It was quite the introduction to London’s low-key yet high-quality Claremont 56 imprint, curated by graphic designer, DJ and music producer Paul ‘Mudd’ Murphy. Earlier this summer, Claremont 56 celebrated its five-year anniversary by releasing a huge three-CD set that cherry-picks from the label’s broad output, featuring two CDs of singles and another CD wherein the Idjut Boys are recruited to mix it all together into a swirling, psychedelic journey. Originally an outlet for Mudd’s own productions (the label name itself references Murphy’s childhood home and is redolent with such wistful remembrance), C56 soon branched out into include other emergent acts like Almunia and Torn Sail, and also reissued Sal Principato’s post-Liquid Liquid band, Fist of Facts.
Claremont 56’s most invigorating ongoing project though has been in reissuing choice solo work of iconic Can bassist Holger Czukay. While Can’s back catalog continues to stay in print and get re-packaged, Czukay’s distinctive ‘80s work was stuck in major label limbo, which C56 has corrected, remixing quirky highlights like “Cool in the Pool” and “Persian Love” for new listeners. They’ve also provided an outlet for Czukay’s new productions with partner U-She, such as “La Premiere” and “Music is a Miracle,” both of which make an appearance here.
Highlights include the Idjuts’ remix of the Popes, Mudd’s collaboration with Libyan pop musician Ahmed Fakroun and the dreamy gurgle of Four Hands’ “Hizou.” It also speaks to the label’s consistent quality that some of my favorite moments from their back catalog failed to make the cut: “Coaster” (which Murphy once told me it’s one of the label’s slowest sellers), the Recloose remix of early single “24/7” and the Idjuts take on “Vegetable Square” — a short track Mudd made with friend Benjamin James Smith — stretching it out into 22 minutes of mind-massaging, “Blue Room”-like ambient magnificence. Perhaps they’ll be reappear for the label’s 10 year commemoration?
The Claremont 56 compilation also caps a busy time for the Idjut Boys themselves, as after two decades on the UK dance scene, the duo have finally released their first “proper” studio album, Cellar Door on the Smalltown Supersound label. Sure, they’ve been active on the UK house scene since the ‘90s, but apparently they couldn’t be arsed to make a real album until this year. One of the most progressive and peculiar house producer duos, both with their own singles and the labels they ran like U-Star and Noid, the Idjuts have released plenty of mix CDs, as well as a bevy of cheeky disco edits under the moniker of Phantom Slasher over the years, influencing everyone from Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas to James Murphy. Back in 2009, they teamed with Norwegian producer Rune Linbaek for a project called Meanderthals. The resultant album Desire Lines remains a favorite, mixing Balearic tropes with a trace of dub and darkness that swells beneath it all. Yet what always stands out in the Idjuts’ work is their sense of humor. Some productions are accredited to the Head Arse Fusion Band, others to Pastrami Man and Mad Imbecile. An early mix had the title: Life the Shoeing You Deserve with track titles like “Copulating Drum” and “Frogs Arrrse.”
But Cellar Door seems scrubbed of such wit and is all the poorer for such seriousness. It starts off with the same sort of nylon string strum that underpinned both “Coaster” and the opening chords of Desire Lines, but rather than serve as take-off, it’s merely a pretty two-minute interlude. Often the album sags, with the noir-ish guitar lines getting all sorts of processing on them, only to still sound disinterested. And limp lyrics that promise over and over again “I won’t let you down” or to just “let it shine” quickly grow tiresome.
Which is a pity, as the album’s highlights represent a culmination of the Idjuts’ musical obsessions to great effect. The opening guitar of “Love Hunter” seems like it might not achieve lift-off, but it’s soon infused with their patented dark psychedelic sound. And “One for Kenny” evokes their Meanderthals project. It’ll sound sweet the next time you find yourself on the beach.