Azari & III - Don't call them house revivalists
Toronto-based act favour Roland drum machines, crisp piano loops and emotional lyrics
House music has been threatening an all-out revival for the past few years now. Jonny Ensall asks Azari & III whether house really needs to make a comeback?
Is it too soon for a house music revival? That’s the question The List is mulling over ahead of speaking to self-proclaimed ‘house music aficionados’ Azari & III. The Toronto-based act, comprising vocalists Fritz Helder and Cedric Gasaida and producers Dinamo Azari and Alixander III (not their real names), has followed in the footsteps of feel-good hipsters Hercules and Love Affair by putting a live spin on some of the classic elements of Chicago house. A typical Azari & III track will feature the bounce of a cheap Roland drum machine, a crisp piano loop or two and a fair whack of meaningless emotional crooning in the ‘you got me feeling so high / I need your touch’ vein – all the calling cards of the 80s and 90s house sound. Yet the band’s self-titled debut album, released in August this year, feels incredibly fresh.
This raises the question, why now? Is culture really recycling itself this quickly? Simon Reynolds put it best in his book Retromania: 'An endless Eighties revival, which reached the mainstream through artists like Lady Gaga, Black Eyed Peas and La Roux, lasted the entirety of the decade, and has yet to subside even as hipsters are talking up the Nineties as the next big nostalgia wave.'
Azari & III are quick to downplay suggestions of a full-blown house revival, or even that they are a ‘house’ act. The band (who prefer to speak as one rather camp voice rather than individuals) splutter as soon as the ‘h’ word is mentioned.
‘We’re influenced by everything from rock’n’roll, to shoegaze, to soul to funk,’ they say on the phone from Tokyo, where they’re touring their live show. Any attempt to come to a definition of ‘house’ is pointless, they suggest. ‘House music’s so wide. It’s more just a freedom of expression. Even Frankie Knuckles who DJ-ed at [Chicago club] The Warehouse, where house music comes from … even he answers that question saying, “I don’t know what house music is!” It’s all just underground dance music.’
It is possible to pick out some things common to the house sound. The four-to-the-floor beat, most obviously – that now ubiquitous stomping rhythm that kicks you in the chest on beats one and three of every bar, with snare and hi-hat on the offbeats. Then there are the aforementioned Roland drum loops, and the soaring vocals and melodies, all conceived, in the first instance, to take mid-80s Chicagoan disco-lovers to uptempo new highs.
House has come a long way since then. ‘The influence of house music in the 80s moved from Chicago, to New York, to Toronto to Detroit,’ Azari & III explain. Before long it hit Britain, something Optimo’s JD Twitch remembered in a recent Guardian article. ‘You had the tail end of Italo, and European electronic music, and industrial, and all of it was quite maximal, and rigid … these records from Chicago had more of a groove and swing to them. This stripped-downness was just so new at the time.’
House music now is far from new. It’s a constant chart presence thanks to the likes of David Guetta and Jason Derulo, who have kicked about through house's best samples like they were so many discarded glowsticks. Azari & III are not impressed. ‘When you hear Jason Derulo sample Robin S, ‘Show You Love’ [for his track ‘Don’t Wanna Go Home’], it just makes your skin crawl. OK, on the one hand he’s bringing this track to a new generation of kids. But on the other hand you’re like, “Well that’s the worst way to do it. Thanks a lot Jason Derulo.”’
Thankfully the life of house music doesn’t depend on bloggers, or trends or even chart success. Azari & III argue it has roots in modern music that have kept it alive from the 80s and now, and will keep it rife for many decades to come. Like, er … hair products. ‘Look at shampoo bottles. Shampoo bottles haven’t changed since the 80s. They still come packaged in those tacky colours. Some things never leave their decade.’
Azari & III play The Arches, Glasgow, supported by L-Vis 1990, Visions of Trees and Josh Jones, Sat 12 Nov.