Their debut album, Wide Angle, will surprise anyone who thinks that dance music canít be clever, challenging and musically astute. Hereís the shocking news: You might want to listen to it for longer them a few weeks. You donít have to be standing up to listen to it.
Truman, Heelings and Mullins met while clubbing in Swansea, seven years ago. They bonded over Trumanís house remix of Pink Floydís Another Brick In the Wall, and theyíve been doing DJ sets and mixing their own music ever since. They have become sought after remixers, putting their production skills to use on tracks for artists as varied as Jazzy Jeff, Carl Cox and Alanis Morissette. Now they are ready to make their debut album.
Wide Angle which has been over a year in the making was born of Hybridís frustrations with the narrow horizons of British dance music; its structural predictability; its elevish concentration upon beat to the exclusion of everything else; its disinclination to seek inspiration from the broader music corpus. They wanted to make the dance form more melodic, more imaginative, bigger and deeper than it had ever been before. So they went from Swansea to London, Moscow and New York, gathering material for a set of startlingly innovative new tracks.
We want to make music that will last, says Mullins. Something that isnít disposable, something that people will want to listen to over and over again. Something, perhaps, that dance musicís natural constituency might get more out of than a rushing sensation to the skull and a spontaneous nosebleed and that those beyond the natural constituency might also find inspirational. We just push the music to see how far it will go, says Heelings.
Too much club music, Truman argues, is wholly predictable: You know where the samples have come from, you know where the beats have come from, youíve heard all these riffs over and over again. Whatís the point in listening to it? You might as well turn it off. We want to make music that will be surprising, something that will spark the imagination and that is enriching to listen to, rather than just supplying the same old product. Dance music whose movements are less predictable than the usual breakbeat repertoire.
To this end, they recruited singer-songwriter Julee Cruise, best known for her work with cult filmmaker David Lynch. It was her fragile, Nalad voice that gave Twin Peaks its otherworldly quality, and more recently, she has been performing with the B52ís, Moby and on the soundtrack of Kevin Williamsonís hit horror movie, Scream. Most of the techno and dance music is so cold and boring, asserts Cruise. Try to hum it. You canít. Hybrid have melody. They have intelligent, ironic lyrics. They have a nice, neat, clean, tasteful voice. Itís a sophisticated sound.
They have also recruited Sacha Puttnam, a composer and musicologist who trained at the Moscow Conservatory where he rented a tiny apartment from a fellow academic that contained just a bed and a grand piano. Since graduating, heís moved back to London and into film and TV work. He scored the Confessional for Canadian genius Robert LePage and recently composed the music for a BBC adaptation of Bleak House.
Puttnam brought a strong element of orchestral discipline to Hybridís electronic experimentalism. He found the experience educative. "When Iím composing, there is always this little academic on my shoulder, telling me to keep things changing, and to keep within a certain structure. But Mike taught me to forget all that. Bringing slamming dance rhythms into contest with classical orchestration forced Puttnam to discard the rulebook. But he also found precedent for this kind of experimentation: Itís exactly what Debussy did, he contends. In his day you werenít allowed parallel fifths. So he comes along, starts using parallel fifths and suddenly its his own sound. So when Mikeís not worrying about academic restrictions, suddenly you get these wonderful harmonies that you are not supposed to have. And they work. Last August, they went to Moscow to prove the point. In the bowels of Mosfilm, the old Soviet film complex where Einstein and Tarkovsky once clocked on for work, they recorded the tracks for Wide Angle with the 50 piece Russian Federal Orchestra.
Working the DJ circuit has allowed the Hybrid boys to immerse themselves in a broad range of musical styles. You draw all these influences in, and use them to create new sounds, explains Truman. Wide Angle betrays the influence of John Barry, Stevie Wonder, Eartha Kitt, Berlin techno, Peter Gabriel and Claude Debussy. Everything that we have listened to over the years has been absorbed and used in some way, he reflects.
A lot of people just concentrate on the engine of the music, and forget about melody, and the other bits that make it interesting, argues Mullins. Wide Angle offers brassy, grandiose soundscapes which summon up images of Sean Connery parachuting from an exploding helicopter; dark, hypnotic swatches of sci-fi noise; lush string arrangements supplied by 80 classically trained Russians; balting club beats tempered with sly sophisticated touches; sweet, sassy crooning and Marilyn Monroe vibrating from Julee Cruise; ball-breaking rep from SoonE MC. Itís music for grown-ups. But it doesnít, thankfully, have that pomposity that has failed past attempts to expand popís musical horizons. Jeff Wayne it ainít.
I played it to my family in Iowa, says Cruise. My brotherís into jazz, my motherís in a nursing home, my sisterís a regular housewife and my other brother is a hippy from Berkley. And they all sat there in the living room and they really liked it. They all got it, in their own way. This music doesnít exclude anybody. It doesnít tell you that you donít belong. You donít have to be as bland as Celine Dion to have appeal as wide as that. Maybe sheís getting a little carried away here, but Jules sees Hybrid fitting snugly into a tradition that includes Gershwin and Copeland. Itís proper music, she enthuses.