MALIK PITTMAN with ADAM KHAN and DARRYL CAMPBELL at B-sweet (1279 Queen West), Saturday (August 28). $15. firstname.lastname@example.org Rating: NNNNN
I'm shocked that Detroit super-group the 3 Chairs, one of the most notoriously press-shy quartets, has agreed to do an interview. Chair Moodymann (aka Kenny Dixon Jr.) likes to wear masks when he DJs to thwart photographers, and interviews with Theo Parrish or Rick Wilhite are extremely rare.
But Malik (aka Marcellus) Pittman sounds cheerful and relaxed on the phone from Motor City. Who knew that Pittman would be willing to open up about the process that led up to the 3 Chairs self-titled debut full-length album, the highly anticipated statement from the leaders of Detroit's third wave of electronic producers?
"Before we'd do individual tracks, but now it's more of a collaborative effort," Pittman explains. "My role is mostly the ambient sounds, as well as the keyboards, and the drum programming."
Each member adds a distinct flavour to the slow-motion Detroit house sound. Calling it house is a bit of a misnomer - the tempo is too low to mix with most contemporary club tracks, while the arrangements are often more abstract and eccentric than the strangest experimental techno.
Then again, the neo-soul contributions of guests Amp Fiddler and Norma Jean Bell keep it rooted in the funk, and percussionist Andres also has connections to hiphop, through collaborations with Slum Village as DJ Dez.
Pittman actually got his start producing hiphop in 1996 with a Detroit group called Home Grown. That influence may be what sets the Detroit camp apart from the left-field electronic artists in the rest of the world: for them, techno and house are connected to club music in general, including hiphop, soul and disco.
"I grew up listening to techno and house with my cousins - that was around the time that Jeff Mills was doing the Wizard thing on the radio. He used to play a lot of hiphop with techno and house, and that was a big influence on me around 86. I ventured off into hiphop for a while and didn't really get back into house until 93. I still do hiphop - I'm universal when it comes to music. I'm not about one particular genre of music; I like to do it all."
That open-ended approach will soon have its own outlet when Pittman launches his own label, Unirhythm, planning its first release in September. With the close-knit scene around him garnering considerable critical praise, this may be his chance to emerge from the long shadows of Moodymann and Theo Parrish.
As a DJ, Pittman promises an intense, eclectic set. The reviews of this year's Detroit Electronic Music Festival pointed to the 3 Chairs party as one of the main highlights, and the photos recorded the unlikely sight of crowd-surfing, unheard of in the world of house music.
Toronto audiences probably won't get quite that excited, but you never know.