Feel the power
Hailed as saviours of house, Azari & III are conquering dancefloors with their old-school sound and banging beats but keeping their feet firmly on the ground, they tell Ailbhe Malone
You may not have heard of them yet, but you've definitely heard them. This Canadian quartet are responsible for two of the biggest club bangers of 2011 -- two tracks, which between them soundtracked countless parties, raves and dancefloors.
We are talking about, of course, the impeccable Reckless With Your Love and the pulsing, brooding Hungry for the Power. And with Reckless... finally getting an official release next month, with their debut album following closely on its heels, Azari & III are in a reflective mood as they chat to us from their Toronto studio.
"We're in Toronto for another couple of weeks before we go back to Europe and then on to tour again. Last year, we played easily a hundred shows," explains Christian Farley (aka Azari). Backing him up is co-producer Alphonse Lanza (aka Alixander III). The full group comprises dual producers Farley and Lanza, as well as vocalists Gasaida (aka Starving Yet Full) and Fritz Helder. Live, all four are present, although the way they perform very much depends on the venue, according to Lanza.
"We have quite a liquid set-up. So sometimes we'll have different incarnations in different venues. We make it conducive to the environment as well. It depends, if we're at a late, late-night small, sweaty dancehall, there's not a massive stage for our production, so we tend to cater to that. You'll see a few variations and scenarios. They all have their charm. Playing live is the way to go for us."
It's been a big year for the group -- what began as an underground project suddenly began to pop up on end of year 'best-of' lists, and they went from cult to headliners in record time.
Regardless of media attention, their old-school house sound, hooky and hypnotic, was made for after-parties and after-hours. I mention that the first time I heard Reckless... outside of iTunes, played by a DJ in a nightclub, the song took on an entirely different life.
Farley agrees enthusiastically: "I've noticed that the songs change when they're played in a different scenario. I suppose we were so consumed with it when we were making it, watching it grow as a baby, but when you hear it in a live environment, and someone else is playing it, it's a different experience. It's interesting, it's nice to hear."
Lanza is less forthcoming, mulling: "I think it always depends on your emotional state at the time, not just on the physical setting. I guess the latter's more important, probably. I couldn't tell you the last time that happened to me though -- I tend not to remember much. The details get lost."
Lanza has good reason to be reserved about making statements about 'the power of dance music' or similar. Over the past year, the group have been hailed as saviours of house, and held up as a totem for those who believe that any problems can be solved by the freedom of four to the floor. Lanza's having none of it, though.
"I find the idea of 'house music as an escape' is bullshit. You've got to escape from the dancefloor these days. People have no life, they're either in front of their computer, isolated. Or they're in a club, trying to socialise in an awkward, stoned, inebriated way. Neither of those things are appealing. Rather than use the dancefloor as an escape, you've got to face the facts and address your life. You can't escape on to the internet. People feel uncomfortable with quiet -- the idea of being faced with their own thoughts makes them uncomfortable."
Aha, but what about the idea of catharsis? Of a club track being darker than it appears on the outside? From Faithless's Insomnia to Azari & III's own Manic, surely the best bangers are ones that touch on neuroses and obsession, that beneath the layers point out something the listener would rather not acknowledge?
Lanza concedes, but still has doubts. "If you use the dancefloor for catharsis, then that's different to escapism. There's a place for that, for sure. But why have a dance beat at the point? If you're trying to get a point across, then make it more... It doesn't have to have a high BPM. I don't think dance music is special in any way in that regard. It detracts from that. Dance music is supposed to help you forget. I mean, maybe original African dance music, that's probably songs for old tribe members and trials and tribulations. There's probably some heavy shit in there."
The two men are so comfortable together that their words mesh over each other and, at times, it's hard to distinguish who's saying what, as they drift into their own sub-conversations.
They can't remember exactly how they met, but Lanza maintains that it was when "we were DJing at a party with Holy Ghost. We were DJing separately, but, funnily enough, I've got some pictures of us recently from that party. It was before we ever met, but we're playing together at the same time, which is the style that we normally play in -- a four-table, two-mixer set-up."
Relaxing, Farley posits that: "I think part of the reason that our music has an infectious quality to it, is that it was great to meet someone to express it with finally. We have all the same references. You know all these indie bands that get a drummer from here, a bassist from there, and a hodgepodge of styles. We all grew up on the same things -- which means we can create a more acute project. It has more depth as well."
The inbuilt cross-referencing seems to have worked -- they're an incredibly tight unit. They've produced all their music to date, and have done three of their videos themselves (two for Hungry for the Power after the original was NSFW, and one for Reckless...). "We've got a pretty good formula going," says Lanza. "If we feel like trying a few new things -- recording in a different country for example, we can do that. We did a Shake remix for Little Boots in London recently."
As far as the video content goes, Lanza is adamant that: "It's not about control, it's quality control. Sometimes if someone has no idea what's going on, and you leave them to it, you get left with middle-of-the-road stuff. So, why not do it ourselves?"
Day & Night