British DJs Paul Oakenfold and Sasha have been as responsible as anyone behind the decks for the DJ revolution that has overtaken the U.S. Both have helped popularize and publicize a movement that can now draw tens of thousands of fans on any given weekend. At the Coachella Festival three weeks ago, Oakenfold and Sasha (with his DJ partner John Digweed) drew legions of rabid dance fans to their sets, even though they went head to head with rock/pop stars the Strokes and Bjork, respectively.
With the memory of those stellar performances still fresh, each artist is preparing to release his first album of original material.
Oakenfold's "Bunkka," due in stores June 25 from Maverick Records, hits first, and it features a diverse roster of guest vocalists, including Nelly Furtado, and Tricky, Ice Cube, Perry Farrell and even gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. But Oakenfold's large, keyboard-heavy trance hooks remain the driving force of his music.
"To me, it's a modern dance record," Oakenfold says. "It features all aspects of contemporary dance, but I wanted the record to be song-based because I grew up on songs."
Sasha (who plays the Mayan Theatre on Wednesday with Digweed) will release his long-awaited "Air Drawn Dagger" Aug. 6 on Kinetic Records. Recorded in Amsterdam over an eight-month period, the 12-track instrumental collection finds the DJ following a new and largely solo path.
Although these are their first collections of new material, both Sasha and Oakenfold have gathered huge international fan bases through their mix collections, remix work and live DJ performances, and expectations will be high for both works.
"I never set out to make a club record," cautions Oakenfold. "I hope people judge the record on its own and not pre-expect anything."
ALBUMS ADD: Although the Sasha and Oakenfold releases top the list of anticipated electronic records in the coming months, they are not alone. Also certain to attract a lot of interest are DJ Shadow's "The Private Press" (out June 4), his first album since 1998's "Preemptive Strike"; a new Underworld collection (due in September); the third album of original material from influential British DJ Carl Cox (set for a late summer release); and the soundtrack to the film "Stark Raving Mad," which finds another great British DJ, John Digweed, making his first foray into film composing.
The indie side of the electronic music scene is also well represented this summer. Two albums that stand out are "MG4R," the latest effort from Mondo Grosso, the brainchild of Japanese producer-composer Shinici Osawa, and the Cinematic Orchestra's gorgeous "Everyday." Both records are bolstered by a heavy love for jazz.
Osawa relies more on up-tempo, piano-based riffs, a bit of scat singing and some groovy acid jazz. The centerpiece of "MG4R" (out Tuesday) is the swinging "Samba Do Gato," a 10-minute-plus party that joyfully combines acid jazz, Brazilian beats and some nifty scat singing. "Every Day" (May 28) is also highlighted by an epic--the nearly seven-minute opener, "All That You Give." The tune, which features '60s soul singer Fontella Bass, sets the tone for the rest of the collection. If the rest of the CD doesn't always live up to that high standard, the album's sweeping, ambient soundscapes provide plenty of incentive to check out "Every Day."
ON THE LIVE TIP: L.A. will again see a healthy number of summer dance-music events, but the most memorable figures to be Moby's Area2 tour. While Moby has had an occasionally tempestuous relationship with the electronic community he came from, he is doing his part for the scene.
When his 12-date Area2 tour kicks off in July (the package reaches Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine on Aug. 13), it will feature a stellar lineup of DJs and dance acts that could benefit greatly from the exposure to larger audiences drawn by Moby, David Bowie and Busta Rhymes. It's likely that Carl Cox, a superb technician and showman behind the decks, will win over a number of converts during the tour. An international superstar, he'll be reaching his biggest U.S. audiences in many of the cities.
To a degree, the same could be said for the rest of the international crew--Holland's DJ Tiesto, L.A.'s DJ Dan, Digweed and Australian band the Avalanches.
"Obviously touring with somebody like Moby is huge," Digweed says. "You're introducing fans to what you do, which is good for everybody."
Steve Baltin is a regular contributor to Calendar.