All Mixed Up
From a musical perspective, Vienna, Austria, remains best known as the birthplace of the waltz, a dance that is as beloved today as it was during the nineteenth century, when Viennese composer Johann Strauss Jr. was first recognized as "the waltz king." But for aficionados of the international club scene, the city's proudest contributions come by way of more contemporary royalty: Peter Kruder and Richard Dorfmeister, a pair of down-tempo mixologists whose potent amalgamation of dub, bossa nova, ambient and old-school rock is among the most intriguing aspects of Nineties electronica.
Like Air, a Seventies-influenced Parisian duo, Kruder & Dorfmeister seamlessly mingle retro vibes with the latest sounds emanating from the electronic nether regions. According to Dorfmeister, speaking from his Vienna base of operations, this collision of genres is a key element in The K&D Sessions, the cohorts' excellent new disc, and the remix work they do for popular acts such as Depeche Mode and Madonna. "We listen to quite a lot of different music," he says in a suave, lightly accented voice. "Of course, we have old funk and soul records; those are styles of music we really like, because it's such brilliant stuff. And we also love hip-hop." He adds, "I don't think you can put it down to one specific style, because we like it all. We take the best out of everything and give it our own signature."
Pigeonholing their approach isn't easy, Dorfmeister notes. "When we think about our tracks sometimes, it's hard for us to find the right words to describe our sound to a record company, for example," he admits. "All of our music has a very dubby feel, but it's not really dub. So what do you call it? Is it Latin?"
Hardly--but neither is it particularly Austrian: There's precious little correlation between the mannered classicism associated with Strauss and his successors and the wild experimentation that makes Sessions so thrilling. "There has always been an interesting cultural scene in every century of Vienna's history, but it hasn't really been an influence on our work," Dorfmeister says. "It's nice to live in Vienna and have that atmosphere around you, to be inspired by the city--but it is not reflected in our work."
Indeed, Kruder & Dorfmeister seemingly have had a greater impact on Vienna than their hometown has had on them. Their renown has helped incite others to follow in their footsteps, and Dorfmeister talks fondly about the music that has resulted: "Vienna has a very interesting and healthy scene, with a lot of different artists, and we have a lot of colleagues we greatly respect, like Rainer Truby and the boys behind the Mego label and the Uptight label." This admiration is returned in spades, even by representatives of the Austrian government. Last October, when world delegates gathered to celebrate the establishment of Vienna as the seat of the European Union for 1999, Kruder & Dorfmeister were near the top of the bill during the attendant festivities.
Obviously, the two have come a long way since 1993, when their partnership was established. Back then, Kruder was involved in a project called Moreaus, while Dorfmeister was part of Sin, an act that still holds a warm place in his heart; a Sin track, "Where Shall I Turn," appears on The K&D Sessions. But these allegiances changed after a chance meeting at a Vienna record store. Following a conversation about Antonio Carlos Jobim, Dorfmeister says, "we went to a club and soon realized we really liked the same music. So we hooked up and started doing music together in the studio."
Shortly thereafter, the new pals completed G-Stoned, a sensational EP on Quango, a subsidiary of Island, that remains their only studio recording to date. The four songs on the disc sport fleshy bass lines, jazzy smarts and flute-tastic grooves that nod to the Sixties, a decade that's also recalled by the CD's wonderful black-and-white cover art, which parodies a shot on an early Simon and Garfunkel long-player. The image isn't meant as a tribute to Paul and Art, Dorfmeister says. "We like a few of their tracks, but I wouldn't say we were fans. But we really liked the idea. It came from the photograph that we worked with. It just seemed to look like their cover."
G-Stoned was instantly embraced by clubbers, paving the way for a 1996 entry in the long-running DJ Kicks series issued by the Studio K7 imprint. This remix compilation--a precursor to The K&D Sessions --was a bona fide smash, selling over 100,000 copies worldwide at a time when few acts that existed outside the dance mainstream were moving anything close to that number of units. So why did it do so well? Part of the answer lies in Kruder & Dorfmeister's burgeoning reputation for transforming the songs of other performers into unique and passionate opuses. A case in point is "Bug Powder Dust," a nod to William Burroughs that first appeared on the 1994 Bomb the Bass EP Sandcastles. The cut, which layers vocalist Justin Warfield's flawless rapping over a warm, soupy bed of vibes, so impressed Bomb the Bass founder Tim Simenon that he immediately signed the two to remix "Useless," Depeche Mode's then-current salvo. His instincts proved to be excellent: Their work effortlessly surpassed the flawed electro-pop of the Depeche Mode blueprint.
A feeding frenzy ensued in the wake of "Useless," with Kruder & Dorfmeister whipping out mixes for the likes of Roni Size, Alex Reece and hip-hoppers Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. (They turned down opportunities to do the same for U2 and Elvis Costello in an effort to guard their underground cachet.) In the process, they further blurred the lines between remixing and songwriting. Since the only part of the source material that appears in most of their mixes is the vocal, they are able to distribute their dub-happy bliss to record buyers around the globe using their famous friends as messengers.
The K&D Sessions, also on Studio K7, displays the duo's versatility over the course of a generous double CD in which remixes (many of them previously unreleased) appear alongside "Boogie Woogie" and "Lexicon," two intriguing original compositions. "Speechless," a drum-and-bass reworking of a tune by Austria's Count Basic, is typical: It's a percolating melange of echoed vocals, rhythmic bursts and eerie horn undercurrents that resonates with the unsettling ambience that has become their trademark.
This technique is apt to get an even bigger boost from the boys' remix of "Nothing Really Matters," the newly available fourth single from Ray of Light, Madonna's critical and commercial hit from last year. The project was a natural: "Million Town," a highlight of Sessions, began its life as a song by Strange Cargo, a group assembled by Ray of Light producer William Orbit. "William liked our production," Dorfmeister says, "and the people at Maverick [Madonna's label] enjoyed our work as well, so they asked us to do it. We were very pleased to do this, and we think people will be pleased with our remix. It's wonderful doing a remix for Madonna, because we have much respect both for her music and for Madonna herself. We really liked the whole Ray of Light album.
"I can't really see the point of view of some who think she just moved over into dance music, because she has always been there," he goes on. "She's been doing dance music for years. I don't know about in America, but here in Europe, she's done a lot for it over the years. She always works with interesting artists for the remixes of her singles, and she has always had elements of house music on her tracks. She has been in the clubs from the very first day."
The same can be said of Kruder & Dorfmeister --but it's been a while since they were admitted on the basis of songs they conceived independently of anyone else. However, Dorfmeister hints that the long-awaited followup to G-Stoned may arrive in the not-too-distant future. "It's just a matter of time," he insists. "We are working on tracks for a full-length album, probably to be released early next year, even though it is a lot of work to accomplish such a task."
Kruder understands the truth of this comment all too well: Even as he and Dorfmeister were working on the album, he was putting the finishing touches on a disc he plans to put out soon under the P Orchestra moniker. Fanatics shouldn't interpret this as an indication that the turntable jockeys are about to go their separate ways, though. As Dorfmeister tells it, he and Kruder keep their relationship healthy by refusing to allow it to become co-dependent. "We each have our own studios, G-Stone 1 and G-Stone 2," he points out. "We work both separately and together, so I can have my own ideas, which I can then take over to his place." He acknowledges that "we sometimes have disagreements of an artistic nature, but we always rise above that to a common level. Such things can be fruitful for us, and it allows one or the other of us to see a sound in a new light."
Their journeys to America have provided them with fresh perspectives, too. "We did some video shooting when we traveled to Las Vegas, where we discovered some very nice areas in the desert," Dorfmeister says. "We're not sure what form we are going to use the film in or how long it is going to be. Maybe it will be some kind of video clip. We're not sure."
In the meantime, Kruder & Dorfmeister are embarking on their most extensive tour of the States yet--and you can bet that anyone waltzing to their music will be in the minority.
Kruder & Dorfmeister. 9 p.m. Wednesday, March 3, Soma, 1915 Broadway, Boulder, $10 in advance/$15 day of show, 303-938-8600.
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