Friday, 24 June 2011

Hidden gem: Voyager (A jouney into discoid funk) - Brian Bennett

Cliff Richard has arguably contributed much to the world of modern music but few recognise his role in the evolution of cosmic disco...

The Balearic disco sound has gained many followers in the last few decades, its fusion of dubby bass and electronic effects providing a natural progression from the chillout sound. Starting in the clubs of Northern Italy in the 1980's this sound has broken with the club community worldwide with Scandinavian producers in particular (Prins Thomas, Lindstrom etc) even providing new recordings to take the sound forward.

Quite what constitutes cosmic disco is open to interpretation. Some would argue that it needs to have an African or Latin dimension while others would argue that it has a rock element, most would argue it features both in some form. Whatever it is, it has provided the soundtrack for some of the world's cooler clubs and bars in recent years. The genre's revival has led to a picking over of songs that might previously have been dismissed as indulgent or electronic folly. The key records are generally regarded to have come from Italy and the southern Mediterranean but surprisingly a small number of British  library records are similar in feel.

One such record is Brian Bennett's Voyage (A journey into discoid funk). Bennett had started his career as a drummer, notably with Cliff in the Shadows, before moving into TV theme and soundtrack work. Voyage was recorded in 1977, the year of Star Wars when sci-fi was all the rage.Notable in its sound are the synthesizers which were played by Francis Monkman (Previously of the band Sky). The record manages to combine rock, funk, disco, prog and library sounds to create an out worldly adventure that manages to sound as if it was created thirty years later.

Voyage doesn't feature any vocals. Instead it uses the key analogue synthesizers of the day (such as the Prophet 5)  to lead the listener into outer space.  Opening interlude Voyage gives way to Solstice, one of the key tracks (famously sampled by Nas on Find your wealth). The start of the track builds suspense akin to something from the soundtracks of Close Encounters or Star Wars before huge drum rolls bring in an irresistible disco groove. Things slow down considerably for Chain Reaction. This is the sort of late night disco sleaze that sounds great post-club five am - think Twighlight by Maze if you know that track.... it really wouldn't surprise you if this had been made in the last five years. Phenomenal Handclap Band are just one act of recent years who sound a lot like this.

Pendulum Force (even the names of the tracks are ace) is another 7 minute voyage and by now you are realising that we aren't going to get much of a departure from spaced analogue synth and huge rolling drums but the fact is its such a great sound...the drums provide a virtual template for the 4/4 house beats that would become so omnipresent a decade later and the synths provide the funky feel of disco. Air Quake has a lighter touch but again the drums push it through to what is essentially an early downtempo dance track. Final track Ocean Glide takes longer to get going - essentially starting with a drum solo (this was the 1970's after all) before dirty discoid funk is well and truly delivered.

Voyage does one thing but does it exceptionally well - delivering a disco album with the dynamics of house music - little wonder its been picked up by many collectors in the know. Its not a particularly expensive record so if you see it you know what to do.

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