Sunday, March 30, 2008

Head On (Skint)
Spin, 2000

by Simon Reynolds

Head On is a twisted, tripped-out brother to Les Rhythmes Digitales Eighties-
influenced Darkdancer. But where Jacques LeCont's fond exhumations of Shannon and Nik Kershaw are typical French retro-kitsch, Super_Collider treat Eighties electro-funk as a prematurely curtailed modernism. This English duo (producer Cristian Vogel and singer Jamie Lidell) pick up where Zapp's "More Bounce To The Ounce", George Clinton's "Atomic Dog," and Janet Jackson/Jam & Lewis's "Nasty" left off. This era of dance music just before sampling totally took over fascinates because of its crush collision between trad musicianship and futurism: you can hear the players struggling to extract funk from unwieldly and unyielding drum machines, sequencers and synths. Hence the apparent paradox whereby the best Eighties dancepop still sounds amazingly modern while much
contemporary dance music sounds retro--because today's producers get their funk by
proxy, through sampling Seventies sources like vintage disco loops or jazz-funk licks.

Head On gets me flashing on the boogie wonderland of the post-disco, pre-house interregnum--the bulbous synth-bass and juicy-fruit keyboard licks of Gap Band, Steve Arrington, Man Parrish, D-Train, SOS Band. But as you'd expect from someone who records solo for avant-techno labels Mille Plateaux and Tresor, Vogel's version of bodymusic is decidedly mangled and alienated-sounding, while Lidell croons a kind of cyborg hypersoul--grotesquely mannered, FX-warped, yet queerly compelling. Head On's highlight "Darn (Cold Way O' Lovin')" has a groove that bucks and writhes like a rutting hippotamus. "Take Me Home" is robo-Cameo, featuring a digitized equivalent of slap-bass and Lidell's most blackface warbling (imagine a bionic Steve Winwood). And "Alchemical Confession" is the kind of black rock I always hoped Tackhead or Material would deliver, all acrid guitar squalls and Lidell flailing like Jamiroquai in a meat grinder (now that's something I'd pay to see).

A few years ago, Vogel released an EP called "We Equate Machines With Funkiness". Funk has always existed in the biomechanical zone between James Brown aspiring to be a sex-machine and Kraftwerk finding the libidinous pulse within the strict-time rhythms of automobiles and trains. When a band's playing has too much fluency and human feel, you don't get the tensile friction that defines da funk (which is why an excess of jazz influence sounds the death-knell for any dance genre's ass-grind appeal). Super_Collider,though, have a perfect grasp on funk's uncanny merger of supple and stiff, loose and tight.

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