SWAYZAK with MATTHEW DEAR at the Mod Club Theatre (722 College), Friday (December 3), 9 pm. $20. 416-588-4663. Rating: NNNNN
Swayzak (aka David Brown and James Taylor, along with newest member Kenny Paterson) are outsiders on the techno scene, but their past few albums have revitalized that scene from the outside with an increasingly song-based take on the techno formula.
Their newest album, Loops From The Bergerie, features a bunch of guest vocalists, lots of real instruments and proper songs. Their approach to this record, recorded in rural France, was much closer to that of a classic rock album than to a typical collection of dance singles.
"It's always been a personal dream of mine to get away from the city and do an album like this," explains Brown from his London home. "Where we were there was no television, no telephone, no Internet, not even any mobile phone signal. Our only connection to the outside world was the car. We often had power cuts, and we'd be sitting in the dark with candles, working on the laptop running off batteries."
Not a very techno image, but that's the Swayzak way. Brown and Taylor met while working for Island Records and soon got together to make music based on the downtempo and triphop sounds popular at the time. Their move toward techno was somewhat unexpected, since neither had gone through the acid house or rave scene in the UK, and initially they weren't terribly interested in dance music.
"We never felt part of anything, and I've never been part of that DJ culture thing. I would go into a record store and hear techno or house music that I really didn't like, and I was put off by the people in the store who would look down their nose at you if you didn't know what you were talking about. Eventually, I found a store I liked where the people were really cool, and they introduced me to a lot of music - things like Model 500, Larry Heard, Basic Channel. It all started to make sense. It was cool music that wasn't that far away from our own sound."
Saving their pennies, the two financed the release of some of the tech-house tracks they'd been working on at home. As luck would have it, they got it into the right stores, selling as many as 300 copies at some locations. That gave them the confidence to send out promos to some of the bigger techno DJs, although at the time neither had any idea just how important early supporters like Richie Hawtin and Laurent Garnier were.
After establishing themselves as solid tech-house producers, they started moving toward more song-based composition, first with a few vocal songs on their second disc, Himawari, then expanding that side with their follow-up, Dirty Dancing. (Yes, their name is a Patrick Swayze joke.) Loops From The Bergerie has taken that concept so far it's almost a pop album.
"I think it's more of a challenge to write a three-minute pop song but still work in our style. We wanted to get to a new audience, too. We had been kind of pigeonholed as tech-house, and I hate being stuck in these zones. This is more of a classic rock album in many ways - there's guitar, bass, singing, drums. We want a challenge; we don't want to just repeat the last album because it did well. That's boring for us."