Just because modern digital technology allows you to pull off astonishing feats of aural smoke and mirrors, it doesn’t mean you should. Some of the most interesting music springing forth from the electronic music scene — be it dance-oriented or otherwise — flagrantly flaunts its retro-bent attitudes. From the house reinvention of the Basement Jaxx to the swinging Moogadelica of French outfit Air to indie-pop crossover artists Stereolab and the High Llamas, artists playing the electro-pop field are indulging in massive fits of analog beats and melodic fun.
But while many of these folks use such circa-1975 cutting-edge tools of the trade as synthesizers, vocoders and drum machines as novelty nods to our collective musical memory, British producer-DJ-singer-composer Andrea Parker’s digging deeper to conjure the sounds running around in her head. She’s filling both the dance floor and critical column inches in the process.
"I prefer to use old analog Arps, Moogs and drum machines rather than samplers. Too many people are just using samplers to rerecord a track someone’s already made, adding a little vocoder to it and releasing it. And it sells!" laughs Parker.
"I’m a fan of Aux 88, Drexciya and Detroit electro, the Model 500 stuff. They didn’t use samplers. Like, even if Carl Craig uses a sample, he works with it until it’s something completely new," she says.
"What’s missing from too many electronic tracks these days is a sense of arrangement," offers Parker.
She should know. Kiss My Arp (on Mo’ Wax records), Parker’s first album-length effort, is a dark, nearly Gothic soundworld (in both the art period and the candles-and-lace, ethereal nocturne, pop culture sense). But in the album’s dark, often-funky, nearly retro-electro recesses sits the author, merrily messing about with sounds, beats, noises, blurts, 40-piece orchestras and complex, electronic-based melodies, happy as a lark to have her fingers in the sonic grease.
"Everybody thinks I’m this dark, scary person," giggles Parker, dismissing those suspicions with a burst of her infectious laughter.
"I’m actually quite mad about sounds. I’m recording all the time, everything, all the mad sounds that are on the record," says Parker of the wild array of sound tidbits that she’s stretched, compressed, modified and tweaked to suit her songwriting needs.
"I’m the one who’s always recording the underside of the car because the wheels are hitting the pavement in 4/4 time."
It’s undeniable, though, that at least Kiss My Arp’s first two tracks, on which Parker sings, conjure some of the most piercing, hip-hop and techno-inflected melancholia you’re likely to find on record. For an artist who staked her spot on the musical map with bass-heavy instrumental tracks geared toward the dance floor, such as the eerie funk of "Melodious Thunk" and the booming bass of "Ballbreaker," this was a sort of return to her roots.
"I’ve been a vocalist for 10 years, but I just couldn’t sing over anyone else’s stuff. So I went off to college to learn programming. I still think even my stuff is really hard to sing over," says Parker.
If you think Parker sounds diverse enough already, you should know that she’s also made a lot of noise on the DJ circuit with her recent Detroit techno-heavy installment of the DJ Kicks mix CD series ("I’m a huge fan of most of the Detroit stuff, the Miami bass records DJ Assault makes, Underground Resistance ..."). But Parker’s also a recording artist in whom the pop meets the avant-garde. She’s done remix work for minimalist modern composer Steve Reich and the eclectic Ryuichi Sakamoto, and she recently added turntable accompaniment to a performance and composition by Philip Glass. All of which is perfectly in keeping with the genesis of Parker’s DJ skills: "When I first started DJing, I would use three turntables with sound effects and other odd sound records and mix those."
"It’s really just been about following my interests. Artists get caught up doing the same thing, and that might be fine for them, but I trust my instincts," she says.
In a musical landscape often bereft of innovation, Andrea Parker’s thankfully not afraid to be an anomaly by digging beyond technology’s toys to mine her art. Chris Handyside is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Handyside writes about music for the Metro