FAZE ACTION, with DEEJAY NAV, opening for GROOVE ARMADA, at the Guvernment (132 Queen's Quay East), tonight (Thursday, June 15). $15. 870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
If there were a template for electronic artists leaving the studio for the stage, it would be Faze Action. The group, piloted by brothers Simon and Robin Lee, make disturbingly lifelike house beats. Still, it is a tad unsettling how utterly, ah, unfazed they seem by the often treacherous transition.
On Faze Action's excellent Moving Cities disc, it's hard to tell where the live playing ends and the programmed beats begin. Bass, guitar, horns and strings weave in and out of the mix seamlessly, at times making Moving Cities more of a jazz or soul record than a club set.
No surprise, then, that when it came time to hit the road, Faze Action ditched the standard DJ tour and live-to-DAT karaoke sets and evolved into a seven-piece live band, where programmed beats play the most minimal of roles.
"The whole thing is that my brother's a DJ and I'm a musician," Robin Lee explains from a tour bus on the road to Las Vegas. "That relationship determines everything.
Mission possible "All inspiration comes from the music in my brother's record box. Simon's records give us a mission statement and set a goal, and then it's my responsibility as the musician to find a way to go from those records to something original. It's the same onstage.
"What we do is at least 80 per cent live. All the beats are played out, and then Simon spins in some effects from the decks. We spoke with a lot of technical people about how to do this properly, because we wanted to keep the feel of the music without becoming some kind of fusion band jamming away onstage. The worst thing you could do in a situation like this is become a jam band."
That approach is crucial to Faze Action's avoiding the majority of house cliches and helps bring a sharp focus to the gigantic influence of West African music on the Lee brothers.
Moving Cities is a very African-sounding dance album, fitting in closely with the afro-electro experiments of producers like Frederic Galliano and IG Culture, but also going well beyond the typical sampled percussion breaks.
African challenge "I wouldn't exactly classify what we do as African music, for obvious reasons," Simon Lee offers. "Still, it's derived from that source, and we inject what we can into the mix. There are direct West African rhythms there, and our vocalist, Zeke Manyika, is singing African lyrics. It's as real as we can get.
"We try to keep it as original and authentic as we can, rather than just sampling records. We're trying to create something new ourselves. It's a challenge. You want to be authentic, but you still want that contemporary edge so it can be played in a club. What's great is that more and more people are also on that wavelength."
One group plugged into that vibe is orchestral jazz/dance crew Cinematic Orchestra, whose epic, Coltranesque remix of the title track from Moving Cities takes Faze Action's live club mandate even further out. How much of Faze Action is actually in the new cut, however, is up for debate.
"It's a wicked mix," Simon laughs, "but it raises the question of what is a remix in the first place. They didn't use any of our original track. Fair enough, because the result is brilliant. They've obviously listened to the original and threw their own vibe onto it.
"I don't mind how they did it, though. I've done it myself. I remixed Saint Etienne and didn't use anything of theirs. If the finished thing works, who cares?"