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Issue 1084

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Feature

Murk: Miami Spice

Murk @bluesandsoul.com
Murk @bluesandsoul.com

The return of Murk is impeccably timed. For Miamiâs bittersweet house duo have re-entered the club just as it finds its feet with the kind of smart, dark dancefloor music with which they first made their name over 20 years ago.

That contemporary collectives such as Crosstown Rebels, Visionquest and Wolf + Lamb are suddenly standing out because of a penchant for skewed grooves based upon bummed out vocals and sleazy basslines, is actually nothing new. Oscar Gaetan and Ralph Falcon founded Murk in 1991 with the burning desire to twist US garageâs then popular convention of using elative gospel vocals over jazzy, soul-sweet production. They wanted bite. And they duly provided it via a string of dark, rambunctious underground hits not just as Murk but aliases including Liberty City, Funky Green Dogs and Intruder.

Today, G and Falcon are back with new Intruder cut Amame, a spunky house-techno hybrid delivering sass and smack in equal, infectious measure. Itâs classic Murkiness being lustily lapped up by clublandâs great and good; everyone from Kerri Chandler and Dennis Ferrer to Ricardo Villalobos and, surprise, surprise, Visionquestâs Seth Troxler. The forerunners have still got it.

âWe donât see ourselves as returning to the foldâ Oscar G qualifies. âWe might have been working on solo projects over the past few years but weâve always been around; and, I mean, Ralph and I continue to DJ together⦠thatâs not really changed.

âBut we get that Amame is a big deal for people; that it is, for all intents and purposes, Murk back in the groove. It just felt right working together in the studio again. I canât tell you the specific reasons why people are making dark vocal records again, and loving this type of record; Iâm not sure theyâre totally connected to us. Then again, musical styles do have cycles of popularity; as artists we always try and inspire, and if the younger generations are seeing something in our work then thatâs fantastic. It really is.â

Of that there is no doubt. Troxler was devoted to Amame as soon as the first prized promos slipped out this summer, and in terms of older back catalogue beats, Hot Natured man of the moment Jamie Jones recently grabbed (and re-edited) Karen Pollackâs 1992 âMurkedâ "You Canât Touch Me" for his well received Fabric 59 compilation mix. Crosstown Rebel Maceo Plex, meanwhile, has been rinsing Liberty City in sets all over the world for some time nowâ¦.

âFor a long time, weâve heard people talking about the âMurk soundâ and wanting to emulate itâ G explains. âBut, to be honest, weâre not sure what it is. We work to capture a mood in our music and that mood tends to be dark but itâs not always consciously done; we donât set out to make a Murk record, we simply go with what weâre feeling. Often weâre not even recording, just hanging out doing anything but record, and then suddenlyâ¦.â

The influence of home city Miami canât be denied in that creative process. âYou have to look past the stereotypes of South Beach, of the bikinis, neon and champagne lifestyleâ he urges. âMiami is actually a city with strong artistic and cultural connections. There wasnât much of a dance scene, admittedly, when we were starting out but you had this small community of serious artists wanting to push the boundaries and do something heavy. Following on from that, Miami today has amazing musical diversity. It doesnât conform, which helps us all to promote open-minded agendas.â

The Murk agenda will be fondly summarised and packaged in January for Defected Recordsâ next House Masters release. That House Masters, as a compilation series, focuses only on those scenesters with genuine discographic pedigree (achieved over a considerable length of time) and timeless status (previous participants include Louie Vega, Kenny Dope, Blaze, Osunlade and Dennis Ferrer) says much about Falcon and Gâs journey to date.

Fans can expect to hear full-length, DJ friendly versions of the pairâs all-time most favourite productions and remixes, and, of course, Amame. Childhood, music-obsessed friends, Ralph and Oscar were seemingly made to work with one another. Channelling affection for Kraftwerk, 2 Live Crew and Ten City into early releases as Liberty City (Some Lovinâ) and Interceptor (Together) â on their own Murk label â generated significant interest from then superstars Junior Vasquez and Danny Tenaglia, providing the perfect springboard for subsequent Nineties forays as The Fog (Been A Long Time), Funky Green Dogs (Reach For Me, Fired Up!), Intruder (U Got Me) and, of course, Murk (Bugged Out). The boysâ Funky Green Dogs alias, which would eventually evolve into a song-driven trio including vocalist Tamara Wallace, allowed for international crossover success and patronage from major labels. Drummed-up, impressively honest remixes of Madonna, Donna Summer and even The Spice Girls are well remembered.

Collaborative material continued to appear during the Noughties (cuts such as Believe and Time, taken from Murkâs eponymous 2003 album) but there was, undeniably, greater focus on solo activities. And yet this perhaps has been the key to Murkâs longevity.

âWe never went awayâ G laughingly repeats. âWe are deeply influenced by one anotherâs solo projects, so a connection between us is always there⦠has always been there. The strength of those projects too â we are more than capable of running our own releases from start to finish â is such that we have been able to keep moving forwards and developing ourselves. When we feel like working together again, itâs a fluid process, and we have lots of new ideas to test ourselves with.â

Amame is perfect proof of point. Falcon had been working on it with local singer Jei but wasnât entirely sold on their progress. Gaetan offered to drop by, subsequently adding new arrangements and a final mixdown in his own studio â what was solo had now, very organically, become collaboration.

âThe track was put together about 12 months agoâ G details. âWe both feel that itâs a really strong effort, straddling a few different influences without losing itself. It was fun to work on.â
But surely there have been times when the partnership doesnât click?: âNot really. I think thereâs a pretty unique energy and balance when we work together. Part of that is musical, part of it the fact weâre long-time friends. We can always be brutally honest with each other in the studio, knowing there wonât be any fallout. We have high standards, which is good for the music we eventually put out together.â

The spirit of togetherness should extend well into 2012. G and Falcon are already slaving away on new Murk âprojectsâ for release âin a few months or so.â They are also preparing for the re-release of the entire Murk discography on vinyl, with new remixes by friends and favourite artists (first up is Intruderâs 1992 excursion U Got Me, remixed by Radio Slave), and preparing a series of special 20th anniversary parties.

G, with his own new solo album set to drop next year, is cautiously optimistic about the future: âRalph and I often talk about how much this business has changed over the past couple of decades. The electronic scene has real stars now, real faces. A lot of kids are coming in for celebrity and instant fame, but that only gets you so far. The quality of your music⦠of your songs⦠is what really counts towards a long career. On that score, I think we both have more to give.

âWhen we started out as DJs, man we were putting everything together ourselves. Weâd set up the equipment, the speakers, sort out the guests, cart boxes of records around everywhere; weâd be exhausted before weâd even teed up the first tune. But we were prepared to work, because we loved the music, and that mentality has held us in good stead ever since. We deeply appreciate our lives. Itâs amazing to have gotten this far but we donât ever get complacent. People have a lot more to judge us on yet; next year, we think, should represent a good start.â

Intruder (A Murk Production) feat. Jeiâs Amame is out now on Defected Records.

"House Masters: Murk" will be released on Feb 7 and if you want to catch Murk in action, they will be making a rare appearance in the UK at Londonâs Ministry of Sound on Feb 11
Words BEN LOVETT

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