Truman, Chris Healings and Lee Mullins are Hybrid, a Swansea-based
collective with designs on the future of music. Their debut album,
Wide Angle, will surprise anyone who thinks that dance
music can't be clever, challenging and musically astute. Here's
the shocking news: You might want to listen to it for longer than
a few weeks. You don't have to be standing up to listen to it.
Truman, Healings and Mullins met while clubbing in Swansea seven
years ago. They bonded over Truman's house remix of Pink Floyd's
Another Brick in the Wall, and they've been doing DJ
sets and mixing their own music ever since. They have become sought-after
remixers, putting their production skills to use on tracks for artists
as varied as Jazzy Jeff, Carl Cox and Alanis Morissette. Now they
are ready to make their album debut.
Wide Angle - which has been over a year in the making - was born
of Hybrid's frustration with the narrow horizons of British dance
music; its structural predicabitity; its slavish concentration upon
beat to the exclusion of everything else; its disinclination to
seek inspiration from the broader musical corpus. They wanted to
make the dance form more melodic, more imaginative, bigger and deeper
than it had ever been before. So they went from Swansea to London,
Moscow and New York, gathering material for a set of startlingly
want to make music that will last," says Mullins. "Something
that isn't disposable, something that people will want to listen
to over and over again." Something, perhaps, that dance music's
natural constituency might get more out of than a rushing sensation
in the skull and a spontaneous nosebleed and that those beyond that
natural constituency might also find inspirational. "We just
push the music to see how far it will go," says Healings.
Too much club music, Truman argues, is wholly predicable: "You
know where the samples have come from, you know where the beats
have come from, you've heard all these riffs over and over again.
What's the point in listening to it? You might as well turn it off.
We want to make music that will be surprising, something that will
spark the imagination and that is enriching to listen to, rather
than just supplying the same old product." Dance music whose
movements are less predictable than the usual breakbeat repertoire.
To this end, they recruited singer-songwriter Julee Cruise, best
known for her work with cult film-maker David Lynch. It was her
fragile, Naiad voice that gave Twin Peaks its otherworldly quality,
and more recently, she has been performing with the B52s, Moby and
on the soundtrack of Kevin Williamson's hit horror movie, Scream.
"Most techno and dance is so cold and boring," asserts
Cruise. "Try and hum it. You can't. Hybrid have melody. They
have intelligent, ironic lyrics. They have a nice, neat, clean,
tasteful voice. It's a sophisticated sound."
They also recruited Sacha Puttnam, a composer and musicologist
who trained at the Moscow Conservatory - where he rented a tiny
flat from a fellow academic that contained just a bed and a grand
piano. Since graduating, he's moved back to his native London and
into film and TV work.
He scored The Confessional for Canadian theatrical genius Robert
LePage, and recently composed the music for a BBC adaptation of
Puttnam brought a strong element of orchestral discipline to Hybrid's
electronic experimentalism. He found the experience educative. "When
I'm composing, there's always this little academic on my shoulder,
telling me to keep things changing constantly, and to keep within
certain strictures. But Mike's taught me to forget all that."
Bringing slamming dance rhythms into contact with classical orchestration
forced Puttnam to discard the rule book. But he also found precedent
for this kind of experimentation: "It's exactly what Debussy
did," he contends. "In his day you weren't allowed parallel
fifths. So he comes along, starts using parallel fifths and suddenl
Ôy that's his own sound. So when Mike's not worrying about
academic restrictions, suddenly you get these wonderful harmonies
that you're not supposed to have. And they work." Last August,
they went to Moscow to prove the point. In the bowels of Mosfilm,
the old Soviet film complex where Eisenstein and Tarkovsky once
clocked on for work, they recorded the tracks for Wide Angle
with the 90-piece Russian Federal Orchestra.
Working the DJ circuit has allowed the Hybrid boys to immerse themselves
in a broad range of musical styles. "You draw all these influences
in, and use them to create new sounds," explains Truman. Wide
Angle betrays the influences of John Barry, Stevie Wonder, Eartha
Kitt, Berlin techno, Peter Gabriel and Claude Debussy. "Everything
that we've listened to over the years has been absorbed and used
in some way," he reflects.
"A lot of people just concentrate on the engine of the music,
and forget about melody, and the other bits that make it interesting,"
argues Mullins. Wide Angle offers brassy, grandiose soundscapes
which summon up images of Sean Connery parachuting from an exploding
helicopter; dark, hypnotic swathes of sci-fi noise; lush string
arrangements supplied by 90 classically-trained Russians; belting
club beats tempered with sly, sophisticated touches; sweet, sassy
crooning and Marilyn Monroe vibrato from Julee Cruise; ball-breaking
rap from SoonE MC. It's music for grown-ups. But it doesn't, thankfully,
have that highfalutin pomposity that has felled past attempts to
expand pop's musical horizons. Jeff Wayne it ain't.
"I played it to my family in Iowa," says Cruise. "My
brother's into jazz, my mother's in a nursing home, my sister's
a regular housewife and my other brother is a hippy from Berkeley.
And they all sat there in the living room and they really liked
it. They all got it, in their own way. This music doesn't exclude
anybody. It doesn't tell you that you don't belong. You don't have
to be as bland as Celine Dion to have appeal as wide as that."
Maybe she's getting a little carried away here, but Julee sees Hybrid
fitting snugly into a tradition that includes Gershwin and Copland.
"It's proper music," she enthuses.
Hybrid's multi-album deal with Distinct'ive Records has allowed
them the security to formulate long-term plans. They are developing
their live act, and have already gone down a storm in venues as
far apart as Miami and Liverpool. They've just be signed for a gig
on top of Mount Fuji. With Wide Angle laid down, the band are now
doing the groundwork for their next album.
And with tastes and skills as eclectic as Hybrid's, there's plenty
of scope for the wildest kind of experimentation. They're making
noises about an unplugged breakbeat album, and suite of music in
which the melodic instruments play the beat, and the percussion
instruments play the melody. Whatever their next move, expect to