Quantic SOUL ORCHESTRA performing as part of BEATS, BREAKS & CULTURE: TORONTO ELECTRONIC MUSIC FESTIVAL at Harbourfront Centre's mainstage (235 Queens Quay East), Saturday (July 9), 9:30 pm. Free. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
It's no longer enough for club DJ/producers to hire session musicians to play their sample bits. The popular trend now is to form fully functional live bands. And just as every muso with an iPod fancies himself a DJ, every mixing desk jockey with a guitar seems determined to front his own funky jazz combo.
We've recently seen the Herbaliser and Bonobo take it to the stage, and Nicola Conte and Matthew Herbert didn't want to be left off the performing bandwagon. But perhaps the most satisfying transformation from producer to bandleader has been Will Holland's flip from backroom beat scientist Quantic into the writing/arranging and guitar-picking impresario of the magnificent Quantic Soul Orchestra.
"I think the reason more sample-based producers are forming bands is because it's getting harder to find the right records and get samples cleared," offers Holland while making a sandwich in his Brighton pad. "Gone are the days when you could sample anything and get away with it. And working with pre-recorded source material can only take you so far.
"There comes a time when you conceptualize a tune and want to make it completely your own. You're gonna need to incorporate some live elements to make it work. Once you begin directing musicians, you have to start arranging things - orchestrating strings and horns - and that opens up a whole new realm of possibilities. Naturally, you want to be able to perform the music, so forming a band is the next logical progression."
In the process, Holland has been able to build on the breakbeat fusion concept of his Quantic releases to create the sound and feel of a blazing late 60s soul revue band without coming off like a nostalgia trip.
Although the songs of the Quantic Soul Orchestra's Pushin' On (Tru-Thoughts/Ubiquity) disc are obviously rooted in the bumpin' jams of the funk era, they never seem like a corny nu-funk pastiche of James Brown or the Meters. Holland's great success is his ability to turn the raw sound of the thumping funk, reggae, Afrobeat singles he spins into a fresh hybrid that's both soulful and strikingly contemporary in a way that most modern R&B isn't.
"It's hard to talk about contemporary R&B without sounding jaded. So much of it sounds synthetic, where the backing tracks sound completely detached from what the vocalist is doing. Most of it is just too lightweight for me, with the exception of what Richard Anderson did with Beyoncé's Crazy In Love and Amerie's One Thing."
Holland admits that with his last album, Stampede, he was sitting on the fence between the electronic-music-style production of his Quantic releases and live music.
"I wanted to make Pushin' On sound like it was made by a real band," he says. "I was after that rawer, deeper sound of the music we love. The point was to create songs that when pressed onto a single you could play next to vintage funk 45s and they wouldn't sound any different."
It only follows, then, that Holland would want to start up a label of his own to release old-school funk singles. He's doing exactly that with his new Magnetic Fields operation, whose first two singles should drop any week now.
"Lately, I've been getting into older recording techniques, and I noticed I've built up quite a large stockpile of music - funk, jazz, soul, African, some Latin stuff, too - so I started up Magnetic Fields to start putting it out.
"The first single is sort of a reggae thing by the Sophistications, and the second one, by the Karachi Prison Band, has more of a Caribbean funk feel. It'll be interesting to see how they go over."