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  • Tony Harris

MONKEY MAGIC


With each new year inevitably comes a deluge of nostalgia. The toll of the midnight bell seems to offer a fixed point for us to compare our relative positions in time and to reflect where we were and how far we've come.


And it's not just from one year to the next but from decade to decade as we then celebrate anniversary upon anniversary. During my time in the Philippines, organisations would happily acknowledge any anniversary - a 31st, a 19th... any excuse for a celebration of course. However, it is always the round numbers (the 10th, the 50th) that tend to draw the most impact and to be fair, they are a gift for a humble blogger, such as myself, looking for a subject tondiscuss with fellow meanderers down memory lane.


Hence, as we pass into another new year, I decided to look at albums that will be celebrating their 20th anniversary in 2021 and whilst I am sure you will all have your own preferences and choices but I actually found this more difficult than I would imagine.


Twenty years ago also provides the anniversary of my first ever assault on the gym. To those who know my more sedentary tendencies, this will come as a surprise - as it did to others in 2001 - though I hope friends across the decades will be delighted that I had already taken the decision to mark the anniversary by having another concerted effort. And this is no "new year resolution" one week wonder as I actually started several months ago.


However, the reason for raising this is that my recollection from two decades ago is of listening to myriads of dance music as it provided the necessary tempo to get my wretched knees pumping on the stairmaster. It's all different nowadays as I'm happy enough watching highlights of World Cup Italia 90 or documentaries on Lloyd George.


When I go back and revisit some of my minidiscs (that's right MINIDISCS) of the time, I had put together compilations of artists such as DB Boulevard, Tim Deluxe and Milky and I'll be honest they don't get much of a look in these days. I do still once in a while go back to some of the superstar DJs such as Fatboy Slim, the Propellerheads or the All Seeing I but it is only occasionally.


I do however, still enjoy Basement Jaxx who always struck me as quite good fun and were constantly experimenting with different styles (particularly Latin grooves) and released some enduring singles that are guaranteed to induce a quick bout of disco bottom.


This year will mark the twentieth anniversary of their second album "Rooty", named not after the gorilla on the cover but a Brixton club night hosted by the auteurs of the band Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe from the mid 90s onward. The gorilla is the world's only known albino and is called "Snowflake" but you can tell him that...


However, it's not really the "Rooty" album I want to share with you but, courtesy of another YouTube rabbit hole, a terrific re-imagining of the band's work in collaboration with the Metropole Orkest from Eindhoven in the Netherlands from 2010, which I had never seen until fairly recently.


Take a look at this version of "Do Your Thing" which has all the attention to detail of a film soundtrack with a beautifully complementary intro before the familiar trumpet sting hits in like the very best Las Vegas pit band.



Founded in 1945, the Metropole Orkest is the world's largest standing orchestra (60 members) and has a double rhythm section - one for pop/rock and the other for jazz - which obviously helps their power. They sure can swing.


The orchestra is a regular contributor to the world renowned North Sea Jazz Festival and over time, has worked with many jazz greats such as Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald. However, under the conductor here, Jules Buckley (and his predecessor , Vince Mendoza), they looked to branch out into different areas and worked with an array of different types of performer including the regularly experimental Elvis Costello, Tori Amos and Todd Rundgren; such is their stellar reputation.


What is fascinating on this occasion is the ability to adapt records that followed a very clear sampling technique full of jazz riffs and brass stings and then recast it for a full big band performance.


They take their rearrangement of the album's first single "Romeo" and give it a Burt Bacharach style lounge intro before then picking up the bhangra shuffle of the original. And full marks to the singers - Vula Malinga, Sharlene Hector, Brendan Reilly and Lisa Kekaula - who handle this very different performance style so deftly and change mood so quickly into the New York Soul breakdown.



Whilst I like the originals very much, there is something about the addition of the orchestra that makes the songs feel more complete. Felix Buxton's arrangements have ironed out all the natural jerkiness of the originals, blending the samples seamlessly into the whole performance. Unsurprisingly, it took 18 months to bring this whole process to fruition.


If you know the album you'll know the other big hit was the sinister dance-rock "Where's Your Head At" which had a slightly terrifying video to promote it. It is the most synth-heavy of all the tracks on the album - which is unsurprising as it borrows from not one but two Gary Numan samples, which is always going to push you down a darker route.


So of course, you would not be expecting a delicate baroque keyboard intro with flute floating across the top before the massed horns pile in with the riff. And then, to create the full grand opera effect, there's a massed chorus with tympani accompaniment for maximum impact.It's an astonishing (if quite surreal) achievement that owes everything to the consideration given to its arrangement.



Of course, there are lots of classical reinventions of popular music - often with now deceased stars - and whilst they are clever and well-intentioned, my view of them is that they always fall a little flat. What I love about this particular concert is its sheer audacity. "Rooty" (or indeed any of their work - it's part of a Greatest Hits set) feels like the last record on earth you would think to repurpose in this way but because of its blistering craft and panoramic vision, something very brave and very different is imagined.


Others such as Pete Tong and The Ministry Of Sound have tried to recreate a similar experience, as did New York DJ Armand Van Helden but lacked the showmanship necessary for the auditorium environment and detailing of Basement Jaxx, who had embarked on this venture several years earlier.


Where the others feel much more like a money-making gimmick, this is fiery, fierce, full of surprises and far truer to the concept of 'a journey into sound'.


They have gone on to try this experiment again with the Metropolitan Orchestra of Sydney in 2019 and once more were praised for the dynamic fusion of their dance beats with classical overtones.


If ever, there's a need for an advertisement attesting to the power of live music then you could do a lot worse.

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