SPACEK at Surface (12 Brant), Friday (May 23), $15. 416-760-3332.
The UK might be a mecca for intelligent dance music, but R&B has never been one of its strong points.Unique soul-damaged sound systems like Soul II Soul and Massive Attack aside, British attempts at emulating U.S. R&B have come off more as pale imitations than as genuinely interesting experiments. That's beginning to change.
As with the UK hiphop scene, which has finally moved beyond duplication toward originality, British soul crews like Spacek are carving out a unique sound. Spacek's new Vintage Hi-Tech disc is the group's second attempt to create unabashedly commercial R&B from a UK perspective. The group's inspiration still comes from the U.S., but after establishing themselves with 2001's Curvatia, Spacek now feel confident enough to bring a bit of themselves into their music.
"The first record I heard that set the blueprint for me and the kind of music I wanted to make was Mary J. Blige's What's The 411," Spacek's Morgan Zarate explains from London. "That was the first record that had the rawness of hiphop and the clubs but also had actual songs, and that's what we've always tried to do.
"What we love about that mainstream U.S sound, people like the Neptunes and Timbaland, is that they make those raw, JBs-style beats now and are successful with it. It's just important for us to represent ourselves in that as well. We're not from Virginia. Our reference points are different. We're trying to make it more personal."
On Vintage Hi-Tech those reference points include London's throbbing garage and broken beat scenes. The beats are elliptical and airy, more streamlined than anything on this side of the R&B divide, but still packing that crucial thump.
Whether anyone in the closed-minded American R&B world will pay any notice to Spacek's left-field soul is another matter. Zarate admits that U.S. recognition is a priority.
"We've had a lot of support from the beginning, especially from people we consider heroes," continues Zarate. "People like Vikter Duplaix, Mos Def, the Roots, JayDee and Mad Lib have all given us crazy feedback. These people are outrageous but have found something similar in what we're doing.
"It seems like there's a real connection with these scenes now. People are doing this kind of music all over the planet, not just in America and the U.K. Suddenly you don't feel like you're working in this little bubble any more."