On Bryan Ferry's Everlasting Allure

[caption id="attachment_24572" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Bryan Ferry performs in Geneva, Switzerland, January 2012. Photo: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images"]Bryan Ferry[/caption]

Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.

In the mid-’90s, when it seemed that electronica was destined to overtake rock music (in the press if not the general populace), indie imprint Matador Records decided to get in on the action, domestically licensing a string of forward-looking electronic records emanating from Edinburgh, London and Berlin. Albums like Boards of Canada’s Music Has the Right to Children, Pole’s first three minimal dub techno releases, and Jega’s Geometry got stocked in stores that were more likely to carry Pavement and Yo La Tengo’s newest efforts, in the process putting these records before the ears of adventurous collegiate listeners. (Matador was not alone, as Trent Reznor’s Nothing imprint --home to the likes of Marilyn Manson -- also reissued thorny albums by Autechre, Squarepusher, and Luke Vibert’s Plug.) It was a short-lived experiment.

"So while Mick Jagger resorts to joining the bizarro supergroup SuperHeavy and Rod Stewart cranks out yet another album of American songbook slop for undiscerning soccer moms, Ferry remains a totemic figure to a new generation of electronic music producers."

One of finest records Matador put out featured a blurry landscape seen from the German highway, credited to Cologne-based producers Jörg Burger and Mike Ink and called Las Vegas. Burger/ Ink, though not always in tandem, would go on to be prime movers of the German techno powerhouse label Kompakt, but at the time of Las Vegas’s domestic issuing, they were scarcely known to American audiences, and the album remains a pinnacle of that decade’s minimal sound.

I was so taken by the album that I dug a bit deeper into what processes might be at work to the productions. Curiously enough, many of the song titles seemed to be lifted directly from Roxy Music titles. “Flesh and Bleed,” “Avalon,” “Do the Strand,” and “Love is the Drug (Paris, Texas).” Even “12 Miles High,” which scanned first as a play on a Byrds song title, until I realized that Roxy covered it for their 1980 album, Flesh and Blood. That the classic English glam outfit seemed to be an unlikely inspiration for moody modern German techno producers was intriguing. And rather than reference the first two Roxy albums (best known for featuring the synth squawks and tape loops of former member Brian Eno), Burger/ Ink instead name-checked the latter era of Roxy, one which was often disregarded for its sleekness. Now such streamlinedness was an attribute. Not that you can hear the by turns silky and windswept pipes of frontman Bryan Ferry echoing through the pulses and clicks, but it hinted at the fact that the man’s work might remain relevant decades beyond the work of his contemporaries. (That Ferry is an evergreen goes well beyond music: he recently married 29-year-old Amanda Sheppard, who at one time dated Ferry’s son.)

So while Mick Jagger resorts to joining the bizarro supergroup SuperHeavy and Rod Stewart cranks out yet another album of American songbook slop for undiscerning soccer moms, Ferry remains a totemic figure to a new generation of electronic music producers. (Fellow Roxy member Eno continues to be an icon in his own right.) So much so that when his last studio album Olympia was released last year, producers queued up for the chance to rework the man’s music. Across a series of 12”s that continue to creep out --as well as a 30-plus compilation of Bryan Ferry remixes available from outlets like Juno-- Ferry proves himself to be a touchstone.


Remixes come from a massive selection of current producers: Padded Cell, Groove Armada, Pilooski, Fred Falke, Leo Zero, and Still Going to name just a few. But my favorite remixes of the set is available on a 12.” Itssleeveart features his album cover star Kate Moss (joining a proud lineage of Roxy Music damsels) once again, contemplative with a cigarette at her lips, the tiny tattoo of a heart and anchor seen on her right hand. The vinyl features two lengthy reworkings from the British duo Quiet Village and Norwegian nu-disco don Todd Terje, taking Ferry to opposite ends of the musical spectrum.

Quiet Village, the duo of Joel Martin and Matt Edwards (who hails from Radio Slave), set Ferry’s “Me Oh My” amid dense jungle foliage. While their collection of edits released a few years ago on K7, Silent Movie, found them in a playful mode, their remix work since then has truly taken on the exotic spirit of their moniker. Like their drastic reconfiguring of Allez Allez’s “African Queen” or Bubble Club’s “The Goddess,” Martin and Edwards strip and slow everything down, past the slink and forced pan-culturalism of most downtempo fare, into something verging on the ritualistic. They take it to tantric lengths of ten minutes or more, fully allowing that slow heart of darkness throb of it all to overtake the space and cast its spell.

A massive hand drum figure thunders unhurriedly. Slowly, other sonic components crawl to life around it. Flutes trill like tropical birds, a crash cymbal sizzles to life, a synthesized drone that stays in the shadows but can still be felt. “Me Oh My” is a study in restraint, and each time it pressurizes to the point that release must surely come, Quiet Village recedes back into the fronds for fifteen transportive minutes. Bryan Ferry’s telltale coo echoes in the distance and then suddenly that seductive whisper is near your ears, not on a distant plateau, saying: “Can’t you hear my beating heart go in and out of time.”

Me Oh My (Quiet Village Remix) by BryanFerry

Todd Terje, on the other hand, drops something decidedly more dancefloor-friendly for his 11-minute remix of “Alphaville.” (And this isn’t the last time that Terje will be at play with Ferry’s pipes, as at the end of January, a Roxy Music remix single featuring Terje’s tightening up Roxy Music’s 1975 hit single “Love is the Drug” will get released with fellow Norwegians Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas remixing Roxy’s farewell single “Avalon” on the flip.) Built on fingersnaps and a skittering drum pattern, metallophones start to sparkle and gush forth. And that’s before the springy piano comes in to leap about Ferry’s line: “You say you won’t, but I know you will.” Terje favors the decadent, slippery and seductive side of Ferry’s timbre, yet he also teases out the jubilant and ecstatic undertones that were always just below that world-weary pose of his. “(Just) another night in Alphaville,” Ferry croons, still sounding as spry as ever.

Alphaville - (Todd Terje Remix) by BryanFerry