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Pop Music

Hitting Their Groove

A team of British DJs and producers scores the club anthem of the year in a spirited, experimental track

August 11, 2002|STEVE BALTIN

Layo & Bushwacka's quick two days of press in L.A. to promote their upcoming album, "Night Works," have suddenly turned into a high-volume whirlwind of activity. The British DJs and producers Matthew "Bushwacka" Benjamin and Layo Paskin find themselves DJing the exclusive Sunday-afternoon pool party at the downtown Standard hotel, and then the Monday Night Social at the Las Palmas restaurant.

In between, they appear on Jason Bentley's "Metropolis" show on KCRW-FM (89.9), and receive guest-of-honor treatment at an L.A. dance-scene power dinner with Bentley and other movers and shakers. Sandwiched in between is a series of interviews and photo shoots, including one on Venice Beach where they are buried in gravel up to their necks.

So much for a quick in and out of town. But the demands on their time don't come as a surprise. After a decade as part of the U.K. dance world, both on records and behind the scenes at the End, the influential London nightspot where Fatboy Slim and Roni Size got early breaks, Layo & Bushwacka have scored the club anthem of the year in "Love Story."

In the wake of fellow dance-music group Dirty Vegas' recent debut in the Top 10 of the U.S. album chart, and with DJ Paul Oakenfold hitting KROQ with "Ready, Set, Go," the time may finally be right for a true dance record--one that captures the spirit of community and experimentation that marks the scene--to break through into the mainstream.

"Love Story" could very well be that record.

"Every so often, a song comes along that no matter where you go, in Europe, the States, wherever, that is just the song," Bentley says. "This year, it's 'Love Story.' "

L.A. clubgoers have been dancing to the track's sweet, jazzy riffs and progressive keyboards for more than a year now--DJs Oakenfold, BT and Sasha have all made "Love Story" part of their sets during recent local appearances.

"It's just a good groove," Layo says. "Anyone can play it, so whether you're a techno DJ, a house DJ, a progressive DJ, a trance DJ, a down-tempo DJ, everyone seems to latch on to it and people like it. And that you don't know. You just make music and it happens organically."

Layo and Bushwacka both hail from London, but beyond that they appear to have little in common.

Layo is a genial sort who smiles a lot and looks like a taller, leaner version of Rowan Atkinson, the comic actor who portrays Mr. Bean.

The shorter, stockier Bushwacka sits in the patio of a Thai restaurant in Venice with his arms crossed for much of the interview, exhibiting rock 'n' roll attitude on occasion in the form of sullen looks and short answers.

Their bond is their deep love for music and great respect for the process of creating it. They have found a common language that runs through their new album, "Night Works," which comes out Sept. 10 on the XL/Beggars Group label.

"We both like minor chords," Layo says. "Whereas we both like uplifting moments, we like to get there, often, in minor chord fashion. And dynamics are important to both of us. We like things that are dynamic, energetic, that have a real life within the track."

Those minor-chord progressions often result in the style of electronic music known as down-tempo, a less beat-dependent, more sophisticated form that stems from jazz. It's a prominent part of "Night Works," which includes "Love Story."

Bushwacka, who plays keyboards, took up piano at age 3 and has been heavily influenced by jazz as well as the seminal dance collective Massive Attack. Layo, who handles most of the samples, especially the blues-based ones, comes from a hippie background and counts the Beatles as heroes.

Accordingly, "Night Works" follows an eclectic musical trajectory that moves seamlessly up and down, incorporating jazz, techno, progressive and acid house.

Although "Love Story" has become what DJs call a "turning point record"--one that you count on to lift the mood of the crowd if things are not going well, or to take it even higher when the dancers are into the set--the rest of the music doesn't always follow that lead. Bushwacka wonders how fans will respond to the album beyond the single.

"I'm not even sure that many people at home are going to get it," he says. "'Cause it's underground. Apart from 'Love Story,' it's not commercial at all, and it's quite deep and very instrumental."

In spite of his concerns, the record has received great advance reviews at home, and "Love Story" was named single of the week in virtually every major U.K. music publication that names one, dance-oriented or not.

That doesn't impress Bushwacka. "I'm not going to believe any amount of magazines until the public has had it long enough to give their opinion."

But the public is giving its opinion every time the record is cued up. As working DJs who travel frequently, the two have watched that phenomenon time and again.

"There have been many places throughout the world where either one of us played it and they've gone bananas. It's a great feeling," Bushwacka says. "I was in Ibiza last weekend, drunk, sitting at the bar on the beach, everyone was dancing and the second to last record was 'Love Story.' Everyone just went crazy. My mates came over to me, and I was just sitting there thinking, 'This is the life.' "

*

Steve Baltin is a regular contributor to Calendar.

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