Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Ben Lovett - The Grooveyard (September)

Ben Lovett's Grooveyard
Ben Lovett's Grooveyard Karizma Mathias Kaden Basement Jaxx Body Soul MuzArt Till Von Sein Kevin Saunderson

Karizma by name but not quite by nature – that was the case at the end of last year when the DJ-producer, real name Kris Klayton, seriously questioned his worth and considered quitting the music business. A new album, Wall Of Sound, changed his mind.


Klayton confined himself to the studio between this January and March, producing over 40 new tracks based on everything from swinging house and edgy soul-tech to deep dub-groove, snappin’ hip-hop and smart downbeat.  39 licks were subsequently confirmed for release, spread between Wall Of Sound’s expansive vinyl, CD and download formats. It was a hugely creative spike for Klayton after so much doubt and indecision.

“It [Wall Of Sound] got me back to the music,” he opens. “Before I started it I was wondering what I should do.  I’m getting older now, and that made me question my relevance.  I seriously questioned what my future might look like and whether this career was really worth it anymore.  The answer, thankfully, was ‘yeah Kris, it is worth it; what else can you do with your particular skills... how else can you live?

“I’d definitely have left music without this album. It’s the album every artist has to have at some point in their career...the ‘selfish’ album.  Every single track came from deep down inside; exactly the tracks that I wanted to make.  There was no compromise.  Wall Of Sound is a very personal album.  The wider problem today is that so much music has nothing behind it.  It’s cool, it’s hot, but there’s no feeling or substance.  That really scares me, but after questioning my own place in music I realised I had to take a stand.  So that’s what I’m doing.”

Klayton’s place has been thoughtfully established over the past two decades or so. He premiered on Baltimore’s colourful club scene as a young teen, playing parties around the city with a fusion of hip-hop grind and house bounce. He progressed to playing hip-hop on local college radio, running with Baltimore club crew Unruly and then hooking up with Baltimore house dons DJ Pope, Oji and, in 1995, Basement Boys associate DJ Spen.

The Basement Boys pushed Spen and Karizma closer together. The pair remixed Mary J Blige’s Beautiful in 1999 and never looked back, advancing to bouncin’ soul-house re-rubs of Louie Vega, Shaun Escoffery and Kim English. The partnership has continued near enough to the present day, whilst original productions have landed on the Basement Boys’ own eponymous label and Spen’s influential Code Red.

But then there’s Klayton’s considerable solo output as Karizma, as well as Kaytronik; output for influential house imprints including Black Vinyl, Defected, Frankie Feliciano’s Ricanstruction, Dennis Ferrer’s Objektivity and London-based R2 – home to Wall Of Sound, as well as its predecessors A Mind Of Its Own (2007) and A Mind Of Its Own – The Upgrade (2009). There have also been slick remixes of Marvin Gaye and Blaze, and relentless gigs all over the world.

Those gigs, in part, explain the long four year gap between Wall Of Sound and Karizma’s last long player. “There’s been a lot of touring and I’m not someone who likes to juggle DJing with production.  I can’t sit in-between, I need to be able to focus my energies on one discipline or the other,” he declares.  “Working this way has given me time to breathe with the music.  I don’t worry about trying to do everything, or feel pressured to rush out records or appearances every week just to keep my name out there.  I’m quality over quantity.”

Despite recent career ‘wavering’ can Spen recognise his many past achievements? “I still find a lot of things surreal, like doing this interview, or speaking to a fan in a club who can talk passionately about something I’ve done.  And when I think about Wall Of Sound being my third album... all of it... I’m like ‘wow, I actually did that’!” he explains. “But I’m never totally content. I’m always thinking I can do better.  This is a journey for me and I don’t want to get caught up in any one place.  I don’t think I’m the best DJ-producer, there is always work to be done – as a musician, a DJ, a person….”

This cautious, considered approach wholeheartedly drives the new album. “It’s really good; as I say it’s helped me turn things around and put things in focus but I’m still not 100% about it” he confesses. “That said, I don’t think any artist is truly 100% happy with their work. If they say they are, then they’re lying."

Karizma is perhaps more self-analytical than most. On a non-stop, party-hearty scene now led by younger digital protagonists making shallow, often reactive music decisions based on publicity fads, short-term trends and other such two-dimensional minutiae, Karizma’s thoughtfulness and constant self-analysis is refreshing. Plans and productions are created “off the cuff” but there is considerable thinking and calculation behind them – Karizma-tic reason. “I won’t produce just for sales or a trend” he asserts.  “I need emotional content whether I’m playing out or producing; everything needs a genuine reason behind it, even a re-edit.  I draw a lot of feeling from what I’m experiencing at that time; I’ll be like ‘I’m feeling good today about such and such a thing, so this is how I’m gonna roll….’”

Klayton’s newfound momentum is perfectly timed. Today’s loudly publicised revival of Nineties-style vocal house and garage sits perfectly with his far-reaching soulful dance agenda; it has already returned many of his ‘veteran’ contemporaries to the limelight.

“It’s real cool” he agrees. “It’s given me the chance to come back and share my sounds. But whilst the current house thing is good for the old cats, we need to see the kids absorbing it and taking it forward to create the future. I have massive respect for people like Ben Westbeech and Disclosure. What Disclosure have done is dope, they’ve worked a major label set-up well without damaging the quality of their music. I mean I’d play their records.”

What is Klayton’s take on EDM – mainstream America’s recently discovered love of (big, brash, pop-lite) club music? “Honestly? It’s a joke. It’s like warming up old soup. I think it’s bad that the so-called godfathers of the EDM scene aren’t really godfathers at all. There are always new people coming through, which means there’s a lack of respect for artists and that carries through to the music. There’s no substance, no real godfathers; the turnover of artists and records is incredible. Where are those truly respected artists who can pass some genuine wisdom...some genuine ideas... to their audiences?”

Even on the underground, Klayton has picked up on a significant shift in audience attitude and vibe. “DJing has changed drastically” he sighs.  “The audiences are so different today. It used to be about grabbing a girl, a drink and then embracing the music. It’s more of a social event now. People go to a club because they know a certain star DJ is playing and think they should be there. It’s no longer about the actual artist and the journey they’re trying to take you on. It’s about making a social point, even to the point of sharing that by a phone or whatever else on the dancefloor.”

Klayton, who prefers to play on three CDJs (but really doesn’t mind what the set-up is so long as good music gets played), is prepared to fight for control of our modern dancefloor. There is a new steely determination to protect his position, and elevate its time-honoured values. “The current situation can’t be helped so I’m committed to doing what I can” he stresses. “People don’t wanna take a ride now they wanna drive the bus. There are always gigs like that so you’re thinking to yourself ‘I might have to go to that particular place and get them to trust me’; you do that hopefully by making the right record choices, reading the crowd well and playing with feeling. You have to filter down to the right things.”

Far from degrading that process, Klayton believes technology can actually help accentuate it. “Technology is all good” he comments. “I have an issue with DJs using the sync button because that takes the fun out of playing. But otherwise, technology is good. It’s potentially a platform for DJs to show off their skill and creativity in a way that hasn’t been done before...create that unique journey.”

Karizma, safe to say, is wholly back on his. And we’re all along for the ride....

Karizma’s new album Wall Of Sound is out now on R2 Records.


Francois K, Joaquin ‘Joe’ Claussell and Danny Krivit are bringing their inimitable Body & Soul night back to London for the first time since April 2012.

The one-off Sunday party is scheduled for October 20, 4pm to Midnight, at the Electric Brixton. Once again, revellers can expect a no-holds-barred fusion of everything from soulful house and techno to drum & bass and breakbeat via jazz, Latin, hip-hop, soul and cosmic dub. The dream team trio of K, Claussell and Krivit are set to play back-to-back for all eight hours but will welcome along special guest vocalist Jocelyn Brown to contribute her legendary diva-powered soul and clubland tonsils.

Body & Soul, originally based in New York, has been running for nearly 17 years now; one of dance music’s most soulful and impactful weekend rituals. This autumn’s London party is promoted by Need 2 Soul; ticket details at Last year’s event at London’s Oval Space sold-out in next to no time so I’d look lively here if you can....

Onto reviews…


Basement Jaxx – What A Difference Your Love Makes EP (UK 37 Adventures)

This spruce new two-tracker follows single Back 2 The Wild, which was released earlier this year and marked the Jaxx’s first original material for two years. The title track, premiered back in July, is a fun ‘n’ funky slice of house rambunctiousness co-authored by Chi-Town hero DJ Sneak and featuring the polished vocals of soul-folk singer-songwriter Sam Brookes, as well as some vintage piano riffs. Bonus banger Mermaid of Salinas evokes memories of classic Jaxx hustle Samba Magic, colliding Latin horns, guitars and percussion with highly addictive carnival intensity. Several remixes are also due for inclusion. No word on those at the time of going to press but this release is already top dollar.

Kevin Saunderson Presents Inner City – Good Life 2013 Remixes: Phase 1 (US KMS)

One of dance music’s true era-defining moments returns again, yet another generation of house ‘n’ tech talent keen to offer its own remix tribute. Inner City’s 25-year-old original still reigns supreme, as perhaps was to be expected, but that’s not to discredit the artists involved here. Carl Cox favourite Matt Smallwood delivers the mellowest 2013 tweaks, his sparkling revamp keeping many of those classic Good Life elements and stretching them out with considerable skill. Elsewhere, Dantiez Saunderson (son of Inner City main man Kevin Saunderson) and partner White Chocolate provide alluring subterranean haze, Ian O’Donovan soars on epic, uplifting chords and Markus Lauc and Soma’s Pig & Dan offer tougher, no less credible techno takes. Solid reboot, Smallwood a particularly inspired inclusion....

MuzArt – The Party After EP: The Remixes (UK Expansion Records)

MuzArt, the South African production team of young artists driven by ‘sound and instruments’, and inspired by everyone from Louie Vega to Fela Kuti via Sergio Mendes, drops a remix EP based on tracks from its popular (eponymous) debut album released this spring. Track The Party After, a loose, Kool & The Gang-edged swirl of jazz-disco lite grabs most of the remixes; all from Reel People, who build various reprises and instrumentals around their stunning soul-boogie main mix – a heavenly fusion of sweet bass guitar, spine-tingling chords, jazzed-out synth solos and those smooth MuzArt vocals.

Spiritchaser, meanwhile, take on the jazzed gospel of The Great I Am with tailored suit-sharp 4-4 beats, ripe b-lines and a gradual build of those fabulously interplayed MuzArt voices. Seriously good....

Various Artists – Watergate 14: Mathias Kaden (Ger Watergate)

Kaden, an intuitive, hugely well-supported Deutsch house DJ and producer, delivers the 14th instalment of Berlin superclub Watergate’s revered mix compilation series in fine style. Watergate 14 is able to capture the full range of Kaden’s 4-4 interests and meld them into a convincing, flowing album package. We start with dreamy electronics from DJ Koze and Merveille & Crosson before shifting gears into sassy old-school from Ron Trent (the classic 10-minute jazz-house grind Kids At Play), Ricardo Villalobos(Hansup), and Alejandro Paz, who provides the perfectly timed jack-happy crescendo of El House. There are keen rhythmic exclusives from Rodriguez Jr and Kaden himself (Nausicaa and Troija respectively) before classy variations of mood via Motor City Drum Ensemble and Moodymann, and then the album’s deeply atmospheric final third – Roman Flugel’s classic kick-drum assault More & More & More jumpin’ next to Todd Terry & Simone Vitullo’s eerie, in-funk-tious Let Yourself Go and, at the near-death, Kaden’s second apt exclusive Fin. Watergate 14 never loses its focus or, crucially, dancefloor appeal, testament to Kaden’s mastery of his house craft.  This is one of Watergate’s finest collections so far....

Various Artists - Till Von Sein: Suol Mates (Ger Suol)

Berlin’s Till Von Sein follows Suol kingpin Fritz Kalkbrenner in releasing a Suol Matescompilation for the label, and more than maintains his lofty standards. This is an exhilarating journey at the very edges of house and techno, contributing moments of impactful 4-4 but within a wider framework of electronic (and acoustic) intrigue, surprise and lusciousness.

Noyce’s charming field recording-led Lucy opens, mellow instrumental backing and all, before giving way to the deeply soulful downbeat of Different Marks (AKA Catz ‘N Dogz and Martin Dawson), featuring Ben Westbeech on vocals; the crisp drum & bass  of Ayala; the shimmering after-party groove of Ripperton (with Christina Wheeler); the magical cosmic Latin-shuffle of Ackin’ (re-edited by Prins Thomas). Von Sein’s impressive vista continues to unfold via contributions from Toro y Moi (melodic, soulful lo-fi electro-groove), Blood Orange (echoey-piano pop) and Sebastian Tellier (rich meandering between analogue Moogs and trademark strings), thereby ensuring that Suol Mates’ story remains well-told, emotive, unique. Not, at all, your average mix...

Pal Joey – Pal Joey Presents Hot Music (UK BBE)

At last, a retrospective dedication to house pioneer Joseph ‘Pal Joey’ Longo, who widely opened the doors for sample-biased, jazz and soul-cut house during his Nineties heyday but, to date, remains a largely anonymous figure beloved only by electronic collectors and aficionados. Pal Joey Presents Hot Music corals 23 tracks from the artist’s extensive discography, including 1989 breakthrough number Hot Music and more recent (Noughties) forays on his own Loop-D-Loop imprint. Several other Longo aliases are involved (Soho, Earth People, Dreamhouse) and other labels like Kool Groove and Liquid Music, but the trademark rhythmic stutters ‘n’ swings remain consistent, so too the choice cut-up and looped sampling. Earth People’s Dance (Pal Joey’s biggest hit) is pure raw disco-house aggression, enhanced in its ‘Beats Mix’ format here. Partytime and Raw Love fizz with their swinging drums and those gorgeous snippets from Brooklyn Express and MFSB (respectively) whilst, at the tougher, deeper end of the scale, Just The Way You Are and Do What You Want To deliver real hypnotic intensity. At a time when Nineties house is firmly back in vogue, it can only be hoped that Longo’s mercurial talent will finally now be allowed to shine brightly alongside established luminaries such as Kerri Chandler, Todd Edwards and the Masters At Work. For Longo is, without doubt, another master at work....

Still working the late shift...

Ben Lovett

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