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Introducing Lionrock (Or Justin Robertson's Big Mistake)

For Lionrock mastermind Justin Robertson it all happened by accident.

"I had some studio time booked to remix a single for somebody," said

Robertson explaining about the formation of the group, currently

enjoying their first taste of U.S. success with the single

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Lionrock/mono-excerpt-Fire_Up_The_Shoesaw-28.ram">"Fire

Up The Shoesaw" (RealAudio excerpt). "And they didn't turn up,

so I thought I'd just use the time for my own music, because I waste a

lot of my good ideas on other people's work, you know?"

That was in 1993, by which time Robertson was already a well-respected

DJ who'd remixed work by Bjork, New Order and the Manic Street

Preachers.

Despite it's accidental beginnings, the music on Lionrock's full-length

U.S. debut, An Instinct for Detection, is anything but a mistake.

A brooding mix of studio manipulation, jazzy samples, ancient

synthesizer burbles, proper English rapping, electronica and trip-hop

mellowness, the album is a meticulously-constructed chill-out room

staple that sounds more like a various artists compilation than the work

of one musician.

Robertson got his start as a DJ in 1990 at the underground Manchester,

UK gathering "Spice Night," soon moving on to a regular engagement at

"The Rebellious Jukebox," where Robertson first began mixing rock, soul

and electronica for what would eventually become Lionrock's signature

hybrid sound.

"I'm from the butchery school of remixing," said Robertson, as quiet and

reserved over the phone as his music is edgy and booming. "First it was

Mad Jacks from Manchester, then the Inspiral Carpets and Erasure. I take

the tracks apart and make my own, usually just leaving the vocals in.

Otherwise, I just hit 'em with the meat cleaver."

With a number of impressive remixes under his belt, Robertson set out to

launch Lionrock as a band, which is when the second accident happened.

"Buzz just sort of wandered in and we started working together," said

Robertson about his first collaboration with vocalist MC Buzz B on the

song "Packet of Peace" in 1993. From there Robertson built the group

from a one-man band to a live rock experience that now incorporates

keyboard player Mandy Wigby and bassist Paddy Steer.

Robertson, whose musical taste runs from the Yardbirds to the Stooges

and John Coltrane, said he tries to avoid using samples in his music,

looking instead for influences you can spot, but not quite put your

finger on. "Rather than stealing wholesale, I like to mix in bits of

jazz, bits of '60s pop or the Who alongside contemporary electronic

influences. I like what Beck does, where there are many inferences you

can hear that, hopefully, fit together quite naturally."

Songs such as "Don't Die Foolish" from Detection are perfect

examples of Robertson's mix-and-match style, combining tribal rhythms,

trippy sound effects and heavy beats for a style Robertson said he

thinks defies description as simply "dance music."

"I like '60s-style rock, with the attitudes and suits, but I think rock

is redundant now. The marriage of rock and electronic is OK, but a

four-piece band with their foot on the monitor is boring. It's meant to

be dance music in a broader sense, but that's almost an irrelevant

phrase. Techno, garage, hip-hop, studio-derived electronic manipulated

music, doesn't really mean anything does it?"

So, Robertson has labeled his music "urban electronic funk."

"I don't know if this music is the new rock," Robertson said. "But it

seems to be where music is now, it's the cutting edge. But what I think

is more interesting is that music is healthier than it's been in years.

In the UK, you have a situation where people are buying the Chemicals'

[Chemical Brothers] CDs, abstract ambient music compilations, Oasis and

everything else and it's all thriving. It used to be the big youth trend

was to be into one particular thing, not it seems people are more

open-minded about music, and as a result more interesting music is being

made."

As if further proof was needed, the Chemicals themselves turn up for a

remix of "Packet of Peace," found on the bonus CD of remixes from

Detection. Over a throbbing beat and wailing Middle-Eastern

backing vocals, a robot bleats the words "sound system" over and over as

Buzz B repeats the mantra "I left a note signed with haste/ give me a

packet of peace to taste."

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