Take heed to the robotically tweaked words that open the latest installment by the godfather of funky breaks, DJ Icey: "This should be played at high volume!" The Ice-man's brand-new beat bonanza "Essential Elements -- DJ Icey Presents the Breaks Element (Essential Elements)" is part of a new crop of releases by Orlando-area electronic artists that deserves to be jacked up. The four discs profiled here offer different spins on electronica, while adequately showcasing the talent still rising from the state's musical swamps.
Indeed, Icey soundly busts back onto the scene with "The Breaks Element," his follow-up to "Mixed," which was immensely popular due in part to the radio-friendly and sometimes overplayed song "The One." But this is not your momma's DJ Icey CD. Though the trademark funky breaks drop like bombs on an Af-ghanistan cave, and the laser sounds and continuous bass samples are ever-present, one can quickly sense that something is not quite the same. Most notably, absent are the usual soulful-diva vocals on every track, though Paz and Pooba's "Hold Me Tight" and Sandy B's "Ain't No Need to Hide" hold memory to classic Icey. Instead, elements of drum & bass pervade 60 percent of this disc -- not rapid-fire beats, but effects and atmospheres.
An Orbital track or even a Rennie Pilgrem cut would not be standard fare for Icey, yet "The Breaks Element" has both, which usher in a Nu Skool feel that surprises. Don't fear complete Nu Skool conformation, though; devil breaks by Jackal and Hyde, Funklab, R-Fresh and Infiniti ensure that this outing has enough speaker-shaking to satisfy any breaks fan.
If Icey is the godfather, then Florida-based homebound electronic wonder and remixer Infiniti is already a made man. From the moment "Running Away" kicks in with its live-drum feel, you know you're in for something special on "Looking for Something (Subculture Records)". Infiniti incorporates a rock-band sound with his club breaks, which is a tough thing to do successfully. Others may claim to be "rock star" DJs, but Infiniti proves he is one -- not in look but in pop sensibility. Case in point: the nouveau club classic "Children of the 80's," with its smart Human League sample. While other artists opt to sample a main chorus line, Infiniti takes a minor yet familiar enough segment and turns it into the main focus. One minute listeners can be rolling along on a progressive keyboard loop, only to have their heads snapped back by a drop that would make any basshead come up for air. His synth sound is so large that it gives his cuts a trademark footprint.
There are a lot of familiar tracks here, due to Infiniti's club spins, vinyl singles and inclusion on compilation CDs. But "Looking for Something," his first official CD release, firmly represents his work to date. Whatever he hasn't created himself, he has given the Infiniti touch, stylizing the work of his fellow breaks partners in crime. Clubgoers should be familiar with tracks like "Pepper Spray," "Red Pill" and "Without You," but Infiniti's remixes breathe a new life into these cuts, which is, after all, the whole purpose of the remix.
Although Infiniti incorporates a bit of a live feel with some of his beats and rock synths, Orlando's best live dance act, Prophecy Collective, takes it to the next level. Twangy guitars announce the sultry vocals of techno babe Shannon Denise as she echoes in a slightly more sinister and sleazier side. "A Darker Side of Heaven (Essence Records/ Prophecy Collective Inc.)," the band's second release, is just that: darker. Although the album goes for a moodier feel, the result is pure club pop.
In fact, the album has almost a pop/ Goth essence to it, as heard on tracks "Just a Seed" and "Heaven." One of the brightest tracks is actually an instrumental called "F+A=CE," which lets the testosterone break through for a few minutes. On "Moodswing," Shannon morphs from pop-Goth princess to club supervixen. (In general, Prophecy exudes the sexiness of techno counterparts Lords Of Acid, without the obvious triple-X nature.) Radio hits "Sonic Psyche" and a live version of the Airplane cover "Somebody to Love" resurface on this project, in case you never picked up Prophecy's debut, "Visions from Childhood." Those power tracks combine sugary walls of sound with beats that Britney is still looking for. The most pleasant surprise is a live acoustic version of "Just a Seed," which showcases the band stripped-down.
The Prophecy Collective is not just another electronic studio act, it is the future of pop.
Not as flamboyant as Prophecy but just as live are the ambient warriors of Red Shift Mantra, who caress the senses with soundtracky, beat-driven performances. "Deep Field Image (Manteis Recordings)," the group's first offering, is set adrift with textures, tribal beats, string arrangements and otherworldly vocals. Opening cut "Obsidian" sounds like the love child of Dead Can Dance and Spacetime Continuum. On "Rain," dark angelic vocals, reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins, whisp over a Gothic violin, while a straight beat drives the aurally intoxicating mixture. And the soundscape of "Kobayashi Maru" is like a movie score for a film that never was.
For sing-along pop, head in the direction of Prophecy Collective. But for a mind trip down Chill Avenue, give Red Shift Mantra a spin. The music conjures pure, dark serenity that's as intimidating as it is inviting. A lot has been said about the aphrodisiac qualities of a good Sade album, but Red Shift Mantra offers a challenging brand of ambient pulsing. "Deep Field Image" is easily one of the year's best releases, on both the local and national fronts.