Melding the muscular world of rock with the transcendent world of electronics, Death in Vegas' newest platter, Scorpio Rising, helps close the ever-shrinking gap between the organic and artificial worlds of music.
Just tasting a few seconds of the throbbing opener, "Leather," with its brawny drum beat and minimalist krautrock guitar melody, one would never imagine these sounds are the work of two U.K. DJs. Since 1997, Richard Fearless and Tim Holmes have been dexterously navigating the choppy waters of experimental techno while throwing in elements of rock, punk, dub and even visceral guitar bursts and drones a la My Bloody Valentine.
Named after a 1964 movie by avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger, Scorpio Rising continues the course, but this time vacillating between soft-focus ethereality and rowdy, psychedelic dance rock. Much like the Beatles' famous spiritual trip to meet the Maharishi in 1967, Scorpio Rising's moods and textures are greatly indebted to a voyage to India.
There, Fearless and Holmes met their own spiritual guru, Dr. L. Subramaniam, an acclaimed Indian violinist who helped Vegas achieve their sonic ambitions and who has also helped arrange strings for George Harrison and Herbie Hancock.
Not only was working with Subramaniam in India creatively rousing, but it set the tone for the productive aspirations to come. "He was very open to our ideas, and [the experience] was quite inspirational," Holmes said. "In your head, you know what it's going to sound like when you've got 200 violins on your album, but it's nothing compared to what it really sounds like. It's totally amazing and overpowering."
Proof of Death in Vegas' solid rock cred lies in the album's guest stars, a veritable who's who of British musical elite, including Paul Weller, Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval, Dot Allison and Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher. It's the album's centerpiece and first single, "Scorpio Rising," featuring Gallagher, that exemplifies Death in Vegas' seamless lacing of rock and roll anthems to shimmering electronics.
After spending a few months trying to track Gallagher down, Death in Vegas discovered the mercurial frontman wasn't the notorious bad-ass they'd envisioned. "He was on his best behavior and he was incredibly professional. And what a voice — it's probably the loudest voice I've ever recorded in my life," Holmes said. "I wouldn't want to get into an argument with him, that's for sure. But [he was] a lovely guy. Really funny, really witty and really sweet."
Unfortunately, the younger Gallagher couldn't celebrate the tracks' completion with the genre-defying duo. "He can't go out [in public]. It's mental being that well known. He can't walk down the street. I would love to sit in the pub with him and shoot the breeze for a few hours, but poor man, he can't even go out for a pint."
Perhaps taking a cue from their notorious Brit-rock collaborator, Death in Vegas stirred up their very own rock controversy when the menacing techno track "Hands Around My Throat" was banned from video channels in France after a spate of auto-asphyxiation cases among Parisian teens hit a little too close to home.
"It's actually about a woman going out and looking for sexual gratification by picking up young men," Holmes said. Featuring Nicola Kuperus of Detroit electro-tech duo Adult., it's easy to see why the sinister track driven by a throbbing snakelike bassline could be misinterpreted as something malicious.
Marquee-name collaborators might raise Death in Vegas' profile, but the duo insist it's all about their love of music and not some elaborate plan to drive sales. In fact, none of Scorpio Rising's songs was written with a collaborator in mind.
"I think if we did it the other way around it would all go belly up," Holmes said. We can't do anything to a formula, we'd just fail every time."
Their stance is something rock's elder statesmen appear to respect.
"Iggy Pop said, 'One of the reasons I decided to work with you was your approach to me was really honest,' " said Holmes. "And [what we sent him] was just a handwritten letter and a cassette, which I think he was quite touched by. Because he [doesn't] work with just anyone, obviously."
And to bring it full circle, Death in Vegas are becoming sought-after collaborators in their own right. Seminal mod figure and Jam frontman Weller was the one who approached the twosome about working together.
"We were at Abbey Road studios, [at a] charity event," recalled Holmes. "And [Weller] came up to us, actually, and said, 'You know, I really liked your last album, and if you ever fancy doing something in the future, give us a shout.' So we did, and he was brilliant."