As the Faithless Sound System play the Arches, Henry Northmore asks where they fit into the pantheon of clubbing in this day and age?
Faithless have played the main stage at Glastonbury and T in the Park, sold out the SECC and headlined Creamfields, Global Gathering, Live at Loch Lomond and countless other festivals around the world. All five of their studio albums have gone gold in the UK (their Greatest Hits went triple platinum), and they’ve even hit the top of the US dance charts on three occasions. They are as at home playing to raved up crowds or soundtracking a dinner party with their blissed out mix of classic house, ambient grooves and mellifluous rap from MC Maxi Jazz. In short they are a world conquering dance act, so it’s a bit of a surprise to see them playing as intimate a venue as the Arches.
Is this a sign that their market value is slipping or a rare chance for fans to get up close and personal? The collective are promising a stripped down set billed as ‘The Faithless Sound System’ with Sister Bliss manning the decks, electronics and samplers while Maxi Jazz takes on vocals duties.
‘What is Faithless has always been a bit confusing,’ explains Bliss. ‘Rollo is based in the studio, he’s not a musician anyway, he’s more of a musical director. We have three members, one of whom isn’t in the live band. Me and Maxi get on brilliantly so it’s no problem at all, and it allows Rollo to get on with the important things.’
Their huge hits, ‘Insomnia’ and ‘God is a DJ’ in particular, captured a moment when club culture was at its peek and started to crossover from the underground into the mainstream. Faithless brought clubland euphoria into the living room in easily digestible chunks of synths, lush electronics and instantly recognisable choruses. ‘Maxi on record is very distinctive,’ adds Bliss. ‘I don’t know why all the ingredients of Faithless work so well but I do think they stand out and part of that is due to the lyrical integrity – we do try and say something.’
Their global consciousness lyrics may seem trite at times, but you can’t deny their juddering all encompassing anthems. This short tour is a prelude to a new album, due out in early 2010, to test the waters with new material (including ‘Sun to Me’, which they describe as ‘an introduction to the album, not a single’) and check the pulse of the nation’s dancefloors. ‘Inspired by the Californian sunshine and the wide open spaces along the Pacific highway, “Sun To Me” hopefully shines a little light in these dark times,’ says Bliss. ‘We exist slightly outside most scenes; luckily our fanbase has given us the space to do our thing, which is really important because it’s very limiting if they are always baying for more of the same.’
The clubbing landscape has moved on since their 1996 debut, but with acts like Orbital coming out of retirement and The Prodigy back in peak condition, it seems enough time has passed and even dance acts are now fulfilling fans’ nostalgic needs. And there’s nothing wrong with that. ‘I don’t think people should write off dance music just yet,’ says Bliss, ‘because there are some wonderful records out there and people love dancing and they always will.’
Faithless Sound System (with special guests Felix da Housecat and Steve Aoki), the Arches, Glasgow, Fri 13 Nov.