Richard Fearless, the 25-year-old instigator behind the electronica band
Death In Vegas, is undergoing a massive case of musical jetlag. Although
his group's guitar-heavy dance track "Dirt" from their recent release
Dead Elvis (Time Bomb/BMG) is just now beginning to generate
excitement with American ears, the song was originally released in the U.K.
a year and a half back, while Fearless and thirtysomething partner Steve
Hellier actually created the cut a year before that.
"I think at the time it sounded a lot fresher than it does now," said the
self-critical Fearless by phone from Colorado. "When we first did
it there wasn't anything else sounding like that. Now it's not quite as
unique, so it's hard for me to get excited about it. Most of the stuff we
do, when we do it, is cutting edge. That one was at the time."
While Fearless may have moved on, "Dirt" is nonetheless arresting for those
just hearing it for the first time. Musically, the song paints a picture
both inviting and cautionary by pairing broad swaths of guitar sound and a
punchy beat with menacing atmospherics. Against that backdrop, the band
juxtaposes point-counterpoint samples that turn the tables on listeners'
expectations. Stage announcements from Woodstock about loving one's
brother melt into slightly eerie soundbites of mob mentality, while a
child's threat to "let you get a fucking gun butt to your gut" is both
frightening and at the same time the most catchy element in the mix.
"Death in Vegas makes music that's kind of dark," deadpanned the dour artist.
Although Fearless first began working with Hellier three years ago, his
dance experience stretches back twice that far. He's been spinning tracks
as a DJ for six years, and along with the Chemical Brothers is one of the
resident DJs at London's Heavenly Social club. Calling on his additional
training as a graphic designer, Fearless created a cover for Death In
Vegas' Dead Elvis album that featured a stencil of the King.
Presley's estate, however, threatened legal action, and Fearless was forced
to generate a new cover for the album's recent American release. In addition to "Dirt," the album includes "All That Glitters" (RealAudio excerpt).
Fearless said that he and Hellier also had hoped to have a hand in creating
"Dirt"'s video, but time constraints necessitated that they bring in
outside help. Thus the band enlisted first time filmmaker Andrea Gincobbe,
an Italian artist with a background in architecture, who created a work
that carries the song's sonic vacillation between the cuddly and the spooky
to even farther extremes. Amid scenes of a bombed-out Europe, Gincobbe
pairs the announcements from Woodstock with Nazi footage. Meanwhile a
young child with a lamb on her arm looks more like a front line ambassador
for the devil himself, as half-humans/half-beasts gallivant about.
"We left him to do what he wanted to do really," said Fearless. "It's
pretty dark. We didn't
want it to be a stylized video with stylized-image young kids bouncing
around. We wanted it to be something that was shocking, really, not young,
trendy kids, skate kids. The characters look like something of a David
Lynch set. That's the kind of thing we're into."
Fearless said he recognizes the appropriateness of American listeners, long
loathe to embrace electronic music, just now catching up with a song that's
two-and-a-half years old, but he stops well short of characterizing the
country as behind the times. Actually, Fearless said, the United States
has turned out some of dance music's greatest visionaries, though they've
sadly been ignored by many of their fellow citizens.
"Dance music in England isn't just the Prodigy," he explained. "What we
call techno is underground musicians, like Jeff Mills and stuff like that.
And lot of our influences, especially my influences, are American artists.
Not all of them, but on the dance music scene, the black music coming out
of Detroit: Jeff Young, Claude Mills, Carl Craig. And all these bands in
the American hip-hop scene, New York hip-hop. Something that's actually
been on your doorstep, but it's taken a white English music to make you
"It's like Elvis listening to black music," he added. "It's what the Beatles did.
It's nothing new, really." [Mon., Sept. 22, 1997, 9 a.m. PST]