Propellerheads


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At a Glance

Formed: 1996 (18 years ago)


Biography

So how did an electronic duo from Bath, England, end up with a name that's California slang for computer nerds? Explains Alex Gifford, who with Will White makes up Propellerheads: "A mate of ours, a Canadian, used it in conversation once and it just went clang! He told us what it meant, but that didn't really matter. The meaning may apply to us, but it was the sound of it we liked."

Actually, despite Propellerheads' mastery of electronic music-making machinery, there's nothing nerdy about them. Media tastemakers in the U.K. and U.S. have, in fact, anointed Alex and Will the hippest thing ... Read more

So how did an electronic duo from Bath, England, end up with a name that's California slang for computer nerds? Explains Alex Gifford, who with Will White makes up Propellerheads: "A mate of ours, a Canadian, used it in conversation once and it just went clang! He told us what it meant, but that didn't really matter. The meaning may apply to us, but it was the sound of it we liked."

Actually, despite Propellerheads' mastery of electronic music-making machinery, there's nothing nerdy about them. Media tastemakers in the U.K. and U.S. have, in fact, anointed Alex and Will the hippest thing going. With typical modesty, the Props responded to this notion with "History Repeating," the sly first radio track from their full-length U.S. debut, DECKSANDRUMSANDROCKANDROLL (DreamWorks Records). This slinky number - vocals courtesy of the inimitable Shirley Bassey - mocks the much-hyped assumption that dance music is The Next Big Thing. As Miss Bassey intones with signature bravado, "I've seen it before ... and I'll see it again."

For Alex and Will, it's much more about hip-hop than hip. Old skool beats and funked-up grooves have long been cornerstones of their sound, but with DECKSANDRUMSANDROCKANDROLL (released March 24, 1998), they went directly to the source: The disc features brand-new collaborations with none other than the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul.

"Groups like De La and the JBs, who've been around almost from the beginning, have always had this outward- looking attitude," says Alex. "What they do isn't confrontational. It's a much broader expression, more lyrical, more human, and more humorous." Will adds: "Their attitude has always been to experiment, to not be closed-minded about trying new styles. I think that's why they wanted to work with us. Even though what we do isn't hip-hop, they could hear we had the funk and they knew they could rhyme with it."

Recording with these rap pioneers was a dream come true for Alex and Will. "There we were at hip-hop central, Greene Street Studios in New York, where so many of the classic albums in our record collections were recorded [LPs by Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC, Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest]. It was pretty freaky," Alex recalls. "We did 'You Want It Back,' the JBs song, in one day. And when De La Soul came into the studio and heard that, Pos phoned up Afrika [of the Jungle Brothers] and said, 'I just heard this shit you did with Propellerheads - that shit's dope, man!'

"Working with them just blew us away - they were so keen and enthusiastic and open. We were hoping the JBs would go for this fast track because they'd done up-tempo stuff before. When I played it for Afrika, his eyes really lit up. Then we had this chorus idea: 'When you had it, you didn't want it/ Now ya ain't got it, so you want it back.' And he came up with a rhyme about a guy trying to make out to his mates that he's dumped this girl, but it's really obvious that she dumped him. It was a bit mad - here are these English honkies delivering lyric ideas to Afrika from the Jungle Brothers!

But he was right into it."

"The tracks are phat," Will says of the result. "The whole experience was wild. Thinking back to when I bought [the Jungle Brothers' 1988 album] Straight Out the Jungle, and then having these guys on our record. They shaped my musical childhood!"

Elaborating on those early years, he remembers: "I heard a lot of jazz and funk because that's what my mum and dad were listening to. But then I got into the first electro compilations, the Street Sound stuff - Captain Rock, UTFO, Roxanne. Around that time I also started getting into the JBs, KRS-One, Tuff Crew. It was a bit mad, because when I started buying hip-hop, it was like, 'I know these breaks, I've heard this before.' When I began going back to see where the stuff was coming from, I found it was Herbie Hancock and a lot of things I'd heard as a kid." Just a little bit of history repeating.

Alex's musical history was steeped in "the Atlantic soul stuff, Stax records, Booker T. and the MGs, the Meters, James Brown, Parliament." His immersion in rap was highlighted by A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders and the quirky, playful vibe of bands like Digital Underground.

Will and Alex, both veteran musicians, met in Bath, where they were DJ'ing at local clubs. Says Will: "The music scene in Bath is pretty small; people just tend to know each other. When I met Alex, he gave me a tape of the stuff he'd been working on. I put it on in my car, and as soon as I heard it, it was like, 'Fuck - this is the bollocks!' It just sounded really fresh."

Remarks Alex of his desire to work with Will: "It's hard to find a drummer who can play along to a breakbeat and make it sound funkier. Normally, a live drummer makes the whole thing drag. Will's drumming is all about grooves because the drums he listened to while he was learning to play were actually loops - his playing sounds like loops. He'll just sit on the groove, and then he'll play the beat backwards. It's like you've got two copies of the groove, and he'll just stick one a half beat out, like you would it you were DJ'ing hip-hop style. It's wicked."

The two started out in Will's basement with his kit, a P.A. and some turntables. This was augmented by Alex's Hammond organ and Leslie speaker cabinet. Their collaboration went smoothly from the beginning. Will reflects: "We were lucky to hit on it the way we did. It was just sort of natural. We were both working toward this music from different angles. Before we met, we'd been DJ'ing and playing some live stuff, but neither of us was really satisfied with doing one or the other - we wanted to do both at the same time. When we got together and started doing that, it felt comfortable straight away."

It wasn't long before the local music scenesters started bugging them to play out. Will recalls how the spotlight was thrust upon them: "This friend who ran a club had been hassling us to put a live show together. We kept saying, 'Yeah, no worries, we'll sort it out at some point.' And then he just set up this gig and put our name on the flyer. So we really had no choice but to play."

"Live, it's just the two of us," Alex illustrates, "with four decks (turntables), drums, Hammond and bass - and lots of running from one thing to the other desperately trying to keep it all together. Will does a bit of beatbox, and what we play varies from show to show. It's really crazy, because we never know what's going to go wrong.

"It's developed this way because we felt there was no point in taking a bunch of studio equipment on the road. It's boring and it's not particularly visual. We figured if we put all the studio sounds on acetates, and called them up whenever we needed them, we could treat the show like a DJ set and make it more interactive. We cut acetates of our tracks minus the parts we want to play live - some of the drums, the Hammond, the bass - and then we fill in the gaps onstage. That way we can remix our tunes by playing over the backing tracks. There's plenty of room for improvisation. For us, the distinction between DJ'ing and playing live has been completely blurred."

This performance aesthetic has served the band well through two U.K. tours and headliner outings in Europe and Australia. Their U.S. debut came in Miami at the 1998 Winter Music Conference, perhaps dance music's premiere American showcase. Says Will of that outing: "We were a bit apprehensive at first because the gig was kind of like breaking the ice in a way. But once we starting playing, everyone piled down the front and started having a right old knees-up, everyone leaping around and shouting. Just the way we like it."

In 1996 Propellerheads released their recording debut, an EP/12-inch called Dive!, the title cut of which was later picked up for an Adidas ad campaign. Back in the day, one of Run-DMC's songs was also honored this way. Says Alex, "We're quite happy to follow in this particular tradition."

1996 also saw the release of Take California (named Single of the Week by New Musical Express and the English dance journal Mixmag). This was followed in 1997 by yet another EP/12-inch, Spybreak! (the title cut of which was a Top 40 hit in the U.K.), and remixes for Luscious Jackson, Soul Coughing and 808 State.

But it was "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," from the album Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold 007 Project, that earned Propellerheads widespread attention. The track, a collaboration with composer Arnold (who scored the recent 007 opus "Tomorrow Never Dies"), revisits the theme from the Bond film of that title. This cocktail of whip-smart

breakbeats and orchestral flourishes - a Top 5 song at Radio One and a brisk seller at record stores - appears on DECKSANDRUMSANDROCKANDROLL in its epic, action-packed, nine-minute form. Propellerheads also contributed music to the score of "Tomorrow Never Dies": One of the band's compositions plays out during a pivotal chase sequence in the film.

All this 007 activity comes as no surprise once some of the Props' more esoteric influences are revealed. Alex confirms that he's been swayed by the work of film composers like Lalo Schifrin, Bernard Hermann, John Barry, Henry Mancini and Michel Legrand. "The title sequences, in particular, from some of those films have really moved me," he confides. "Like in a French film from the '60s that opens with a helicopter shot of a couple walking on a beach. I love the sort of music that would accompany that scene."

What Alex finds most distinctive about this music is its tendency to blur the edges. "These scores were written during a period of real crossover among musical genres," he illuminates. "There were people who wrote movie scores in the traditional way with an orchestra; they wrote great themes and developed them to the film. But there were also these funky rhythm sections springing up, and the composers would incorporate that sound into their scores. It was this incredible synthesis, something irreverent but at the same time really skillful. The composers knew exactly what they were doing in combining these elements. It was actually kind of similar to what's happening now with sampling."

He says of the Props' own creative process: "We always start with a visual image. Because it's mostly instrumental music, it can be easy to lose the thread. You can end up doing this interesting sonic thing, but it doesn't have any direction. We usually have a fictitious film in our heads, and we'll constantly refer to it as we construct the track. We're essentially trying to do soundtracks without the films."

In 1997 Propellerheads signed to DreamWorks Records (they were recruited by A&R exec Chris Douridas) for dissemination of their music in North and South America (the English label Wall of Sound will continue to handle their material elsewhere). They made their U.S. debut in December with a self-titled CD5. The disc, which boasted two tracks recorded live in Reykjavik, Iceland, caused an immediate stir on dance floors and radio mix shows.

This buzz intensified in 1998 with the release of "History Repeating," a swinging hip-shaker that recalls American television themes of the 1960s (another of Alex's avowed influences) and features a horn sample from a Russ Meyer film. A clever, black-and-white video for the song starring Miss Shirley Bassey also spread the Propellerheads gospel. Bassey is perhaps best known internationally for her commanding rendition of the theme to the Bond film "Goldfinger." In the U.K., however, the Welsh chanteuse has enjoyed popular success for several decades. Alex attests: "She's been singing and recording for 44 years. She tours regularly and sells out 15,000-seat venues. She is an institution in Britain, the original diva. We still can't believe she agreed to do the song."

That the song was written especially for Bassey may have had something to do with her participation. "We started doing the tune as an instrumental, but as soon as we got into it, we realized it sounded like a Shirley Bassey song," Alex recounts. "I wrote the lyric and we demoed it with me singing; we used a harmonizer to get my vocal into her range and just sent it off to her management. It really surprised us when she said she was interested." It's a good thing, too, because Alex insists, "It's almost impossible to sing it any other way than Shirley Bassey-style."

The juxtaposition of Bassey's "History Repeating" with De La Soul's "360' (Oh Yeah?)" is indicative of Propellerheads' larger mission to let their creativity take them where it wants to go - stylistic "rules" be damned. "This record is a collection of tunes," Alex says of DECKSANDRUMSANDROCKANDROLL. "We purposely tried to make it into as much of a rollercoaster as possible. We're just throwing a lot of ideas about." Indeed, the album careens through a heady mix of "afros-meet-old-skool-trainers" funk, booming pop, symphonic exploration, and off-the-cuff humor (heard most pointedly on the song "Velvet Pants" but also evident in the turntable scratches and other impish effects used to create what Alex calls "a personification of sound"). What makes it all work is Alex and Will's casual confidence in the power of experimentation.

"We want to get the imagination going," Alex declares. "There shouldn't be any limits on that. That's why we respect De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers so much. They originated a certain style, and they were able to do that because they weren't afraid to go beyond what hip-hop was supposed to be. They're still doing that - working with us is the same thing. You have to be able to step out of the way of the fashion police who would have musicians stick only to their particular area of music. We always want to say, 'Well, let's just see what happens."'

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

So how did an electronic duo from Bath, England, end up with a name that's California slang for computer nerds? Explains Alex Gifford, who with Will White makes up Propellerheads: "A mate of ours, a Canadian, used it in conversation once and it just went clang! He told us what it meant, but that didn't really matter. The meaning may apply to us, but it was the sound of it we liked."

Actually, despite Propellerheads' mastery of electronic music-making machinery, there's nothing nerdy about them. Media tastemakers in the U.K. and U.S. have, in fact, anointed Alex and Will the hippest thing going. With typical modesty, the Props responded to this notion with "History Repeating," the sly first radio track from their full-length U.S. debut, DECKSANDRUMSANDROCKANDROLL (DreamWorks Records). This slinky number - vocals courtesy of the inimitable Shirley Bassey - mocks the much-hyped assumption that dance music is The Next Big Thing. As Miss Bassey intones with signature bravado, "I've seen it before ... and I'll see it again."

For Alex and Will, it's much more about hip-hop than hip. Old skool beats and funked-up grooves have long been cornerstones of their sound, but with DECKSANDRUMSANDROCKANDROLL (released March 24, 1998), they went directly to the source: The disc features brand-new collaborations with none other than the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul.

"Groups like De La and the JBs, who've been around almost from the beginning, have always had this outward- looking attitude," says Alex. "What they do isn't confrontational. It's a much broader expression, more lyrical, more human, and more humorous." Will adds: "Their attitude has always been to experiment, to not be closed-minded about trying new styles. I think that's why they wanted to work with us. Even though what we do isn't hip-hop, they could hear we had the funk and they knew they could rhyme with it."

Recording with these rap pioneers was a dream come true for Alex and Will. "There we were at hip-hop central, Greene Street Studios in New York, where so many of the classic albums in our record collections were recorded [LPs by Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC, Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest]. It was pretty freaky," Alex recalls. "We did 'You Want It Back,' the JBs song, in one day. And when De La Soul came into the studio and heard that, Pos phoned up Afrika [of the Jungle Brothers] and said, 'I just heard this shit you did with Propellerheads - that shit's dope, man!'

"Working with them just blew us away - they were so keen and enthusiastic and open. We were hoping the JBs would go for this fast track because they'd done up-tempo stuff before. When I played it for Afrika, his eyes really lit up. Then we had this chorus idea: 'When you had it, you didn't want it/ Now ya ain't got it, so you want it back.' And he came up with a rhyme about a guy trying to make out to his mates that he's dumped this girl, but it's really obvious that she dumped him. It was a bit mad - here are these English honkies delivering lyric ideas to Afrika from the Jungle Brothers!

But he was right into it."

"The tracks are phat," Will says of the result. "The whole experience was wild. Thinking back to when I bought [the Jungle Brothers' 1988 album] Straight Out the Jungle, and then having these guys on our record. They shaped my musical childhood!"

Elaborating on those early years, he remembers: "I heard a lot of jazz and funk because that's what my mum and dad were listening to. But then I got into the first electro compilations, the Street Sound stuff - Captain Rock, UTFO, Roxanne. Around that time I also started getting into the JBs, KRS-One, Tuff Crew. It was a bit mad, because when I started buying hip-hop, it was like, 'I know these breaks, I've heard this before.' When I began going back to see where the stuff was coming from, I found it was Herbie Hancock and a lot of things I'd heard as a kid." Just a little bit of history repeating.

Alex's musical history was steeped in "the Atlantic soul stuff, Stax records, Booker T. and the MGs, the Meters, James Brown, Parliament." His immersion in rap was highlighted by A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders and the quirky, playful vibe of bands like Digital Underground.

Will and Alex, both veteran musicians, met in Bath, where they were DJ'ing at local clubs. Says Will: "The music scene in Bath is pretty small; people just tend to know each other. When I met Alex, he gave me a tape of the stuff he'd been working on. I put it on in my car, and as soon as I heard it, it was like, 'Fuck - this is the bollocks!' It just sounded really fresh."

Remarks Alex of his desire to work with Will: "It's hard to find a drummer who can play along to a breakbeat and make it sound funkier. Normally, a live drummer makes the whole thing drag. Will's drumming is all about grooves because the drums he listened to while he was learning to play were actually loops - his playing sounds like loops. He'll just sit on the groove, and then he'll play the beat backwards. It's like you've got two copies of the groove, and he'll just stick one a half beat out, like you would it you were DJ'ing hip-hop style. It's wicked."

The two started out in Will's basement with his kit, a P.A. and some turntables. This was augmented by Alex's Hammond organ and Leslie speaker cabinet. Their collaboration went smoothly from the beginning. Will reflects: "We were lucky to hit on it the way we did. It was just sort of natural. We were both working toward this music from different angles. Before we met, we'd been DJ'ing and playing some live stuff, but neither of us was really satisfied with doing one or the other - we wanted to do both at the same time. When we got together and started doing that, it felt comfortable straight away."

It wasn't long before the local music scenesters started bugging them to play out. Will recalls how the spotlight was thrust upon them: "This friend who ran a club had been hassling us to put a live show together. We kept saying, 'Yeah, no worries, we'll sort it out at some point.' And then he just set up this gig and put our name on the flyer. So we really had no choice but to play."

"Live, it's just the two of us," Alex illustrates, "with four decks (turntables), drums, Hammond and bass - and lots of running from one thing to the other desperately trying to keep it all together. Will does a bit of beatbox, and what we play varies from show to show. It's really crazy, because we never know what's going to go wrong.

"It's developed this way because we felt there was no point in taking a bunch of studio equipment on the road. It's boring and it's not particularly visual. We figured if we put all the studio sounds on acetates, and called them up whenever we needed them, we could treat the show like a DJ set and make it more interactive. We cut acetates of our tracks minus the parts we want to play live - some of the drums, the Hammond, the bass - and then we fill in the gaps onstage. That way we can remix our tunes by playing over the backing tracks. There's plenty of room for improvisation. For us, the distinction between DJ'ing and playing live has been completely blurred."

This performance aesthetic has served the band well through two U.K. tours and headliner outings in Europe and Australia. Their U.S. debut came in Miami at the 1998 Winter Music Conference, perhaps dance music's premiere American showcase. Says Will of that outing: "We were a bit apprehensive at first because the gig was kind of like breaking the ice in a way. But once we starting playing, everyone piled down the front and started having a right old knees-up, everyone leaping around and shouting. Just the way we like it."

In 1996 Propellerheads released their recording debut, an EP/12-inch called Dive!, the title cut of which was later picked up for an Adidas ad campaign. Back in the day, one of Run-DMC's songs was also honored this way. Says Alex, "We're quite happy to follow in this particular tradition."

1996 also saw the release of Take California (named Single of the Week by New Musical Express and the English dance journal Mixmag). This was followed in 1997 by yet another EP/12-inch, Spybreak! (the title cut of which was a Top 40 hit in the U.K.), and remixes for Luscious Jackson, Soul Coughing and 808 State.

But it was "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," from the album Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold 007 Project, that earned Propellerheads widespread attention. The track, a collaboration with composer Arnold (who scored the recent 007 opus "Tomorrow Never Dies"), revisits the theme from the Bond film of that title. This cocktail of whip-smart

breakbeats and orchestral flourishes - a Top 5 song at Radio One and a brisk seller at record stores - appears on DECKSANDRUMSANDROCKANDROLL in its epic, action-packed, nine-minute form. Propellerheads also contributed music to the score of "Tomorrow Never Dies": One of the band's compositions plays out during a pivotal chase sequence in the film.

All this 007 activity comes as no surprise once some of the Props' more esoteric influences are revealed. Alex confirms that he's been swayed by the work of film composers like Lalo Schifrin, Bernard Hermann, John Barry, Henry Mancini and Michel Legrand. "The title sequences, in particular, from some of those films have really moved me," he confides. "Like in a French film from the '60s that opens with a helicopter shot of a couple walking on a beach. I love the sort of music that would accompany that scene."

What Alex finds most distinctive about this music is its tendency to blur the edges. "These scores were written during a period of real crossover among musical genres," he illuminates. "There were people who wrote movie scores in the traditional way with an orchestra; they wrote great themes and developed them to the film. But there were also these funky rhythm sections springing up, and the composers would incorporate that sound into their scores. It was this incredible synthesis, something irreverent but at the same time really skillful. The composers knew exactly what they were doing in combining these elements. It was actually kind of similar to what's happening now with sampling."

He says of the Props' own creative process: "We always start with a visual image. Because it's mostly instrumental music, it can be easy to lose the thread. You can end up doing this interesting sonic thing, but it doesn't have any direction. We usually have a fictitious film in our heads, and we'll constantly refer to it as we construct the track. We're essentially trying to do soundtracks without the films."

In 1997 Propellerheads signed to DreamWorks Records (they were recruited by A&R exec Chris Douridas) for dissemination of their music in North and South America (the English label Wall of Sound will continue to handle their material elsewhere). They made their U.S. debut in December with a self-titled CD5. The disc, which boasted two tracks recorded live in Reykjavik, Iceland, caused an immediate stir on dance floors and radio mix shows.

This buzz intensified in 1998 with the release of "History Repeating," a swinging hip-shaker that recalls American television themes of the 1960s (another of Alex's avowed influences) and features a horn sample from a Russ Meyer film. A clever, black-and-white video for the song starring Miss Shirley Bassey also spread the Propellerheads gospel. Bassey is perhaps best known internationally for her commanding rendition of the theme to the Bond film "Goldfinger." In the U.K., however, the Welsh chanteuse has enjoyed popular success for several decades. Alex attests: "She's been singing and recording for 44 years. She tours regularly and sells out 15,000-seat venues. She is an institution in Britain, the original diva. We still can't believe she agreed to do the song."

That the song was written especially for Bassey may have had something to do with her participation. "We started doing the tune as an instrumental, but as soon as we got into it, we realized it sounded like a Shirley Bassey song," Alex recounts. "I wrote the lyric and we demoed it with me singing; we used a harmonizer to get my vocal into her range and just sent it off to her management. It really surprised us when she said she was interested." It's a good thing, too, because Alex insists, "It's almost impossible to sing it any other way than Shirley Bassey-style."

The juxtaposition of Bassey's "History Repeating" with De La Soul's "360' (Oh Yeah?)" is indicative of Propellerheads' larger mission to let their creativity take them where it wants to go - stylistic "rules" be damned. "This record is a collection of tunes," Alex says of DECKSANDRUMSANDROCKANDROLL. "We purposely tried to make it into as much of a rollercoaster as possible. We're just throwing a lot of ideas about." Indeed, the album careens through a heady mix of "afros-meet-old-skool-trainers" funk, booming pop, symphonic exploration, and off-the-cuff humor (heard most pointedly on the song "Velvet Pants" but also evident in the turntable scratches and other impish effects used to create what Alex calls "a personification of sound"). What makes it all work is Alex and Will's casual confidence in the power of experimentation.

"We want to get the imagination going," Alex declares. "There shouldn't be any limits on that. That's why we respect De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers so much. They originated a certain style, and they were able to do that because they weren't afraid to go beyond what hip-hop was supposed to be. They're still doing that - working with us is the same thing. You have to be able to step out of the way of the fashion police who would have musicians stick only to their particular area of music. We always want to say, 'Well, let's just see what happens."'

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

So how did an electronic duo from Bath, England, end up with a name that's California slang for computer nerds? Explains Alex Gifford, who with Will White makes up Propellerheads: "A mate of ours, a Canadian, used it in conversation once and it just went clang! He told us what it meant, but that didn't really matter. The meaning may apply to us, but it was the sound of it we liked."

Actually, despite Propellerheads' mastery of electronic music-making machinery, there's nothing nerdy about them. Media tastemakers in the U.K. and U.S. have, in fact, anointed Alex and Will the hippest thing going. With typical modesty, the Props responded to this notion with "History Repeating," the sly first radio track from their full-length U.S. debut, DECKSANDRUMSANDROCKANDROLL (DreamWorks Records). This slinky number - vocals courtesy of the inimitable Shirley Bassey - mocks the much-hyped assumption that dance music is The Next Big Thing. As Miss Bassey intones with signature bravado, "I've seen it before ... and I'll see it again."

For Alex and Will, it's much more about hip-hop than hip. Old skool beats and funked-up grooves have long been cornerstones of their sound, but with DECKSANDRUMSANDROCKANDROLL (released March 24, 1998), they went directly to the source: The disc features brand-new collaborations with none other than the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul.

"Groups like De La and the JBs, who've been around almost from the beginning, have always had this outward- looking attitude," says Alex. "What they do isn't confrontational. It's a much broader expression, more lyrical, more human, and more humorous." Will adds: "Their attitude has always been to experiment, to not be closed-minded about trying new styles. I think that's why they wanted to work with us. Even though what we do isn't hip-hop, they could hear we had the funk and they knew they could rhyme with it."

Recording with these rap pioneers was a dream come true for Alex and Will. "There we were at hip-hop central, Greene Street Studios in New York, where so many of the classic albums in our record collections were recorded [LPs by Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC, Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest]. It was pretty freaky," Alex recalls. "We did 'You Want It Back,' the JBs song, in one day. And when De La Soul came into the studio and heard that, Pos phoned up Afrika [of the Jungle Brothers] and said, 'I just heard this shit you did with Propellerheads - that shit's dope, man!'

"Working with them just blew us away - they were so keen and enthusiastic and open. We were hoping the JBs would go for this fast track because they'd done up-tempo stuff before. When I played it for Afrika, his eyes really lit up. Then we had this chorus idea: 'When you had it, you didn't want it/ Now ya ain't got it, so you want it back.' And he came up with a rhyme about a guy trying to make out to his mates that he's dumped this girl, but it's really obvious that she dumped him. It was a bit mad - here are these English honkies delivering lyric ideas to Afrika from the Jungle Brothers!

But he was right into it."

"The tracks are phat," Will says of the result. "The whole experience was wild. Thinking back to when I bought [the Jungle Brothers' 1988 album] Straight Out the Jungle, and then having these guys on our record. They shaped my musical childhood!"

Elaborating on those early years, he remembers: "I heard a lot of jazz and funk because that's what my mum and dad were listening to. But then I got into the first electro compilations, the Street Sound stuff - Captain Rock, UTFO, Roxanne. Around that time I also started getting into the JBs, KRS-One, Tuff Crew. It was a bit mad, because when I started buying hip-hop, it was like, 'I know these breaks, I've heard this before.' When I began going back to see where the stuff was coming from, I found it was Herbie Hancock and a lot of things I'd heard as a kid." Just a little bit of history repeating.

Alex's musical history was steeped in "the Atlantic soul stuff, Stax records, Booker T. and the MGs, the Meters, James Brown, Parliament." His immersion in rap was highlighted by A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders and the quirky, playful vibe of bands like Digital Underground.

Will and Alex, both veteran musicians, met in Bath, where they were DJ'ing at local clubs. Says Will: "The music scene in Bath is pretty small; people just tend to know each other. When I met Alex, he gave me a tape of the stuff he'd been working on. I put it on in my car, and as soon as I heard it, it was like, 'Fuck - this is the bollocks!' It just sounded really fresh."

Remarks Alex of his desire to work with Will: "It's hard to find a drummer who can play along to a breakbeat and make it sound funkier. Normally, a live drummer makes the whole thing drag. Will's drumming is all about grooves because the drums he listened to while he was learning to play were actually loops - his playing sounds like loops. He'll just sit on the groove, and then he'll play the beat backwards. It's like you've got two copies of the groove, and he'll just stick one a half beat out, like you would it you were DJ'ing hip-hop style. It's wicked."

The two started out in Will's basement with his kit, a P.A. and some turntables. This was augmented by Alex's Hammond organ and Leslie speaker cabinet. Their collaboration went smoothly from the beginning. Will reflects: "We were lucky to hit on it the way we did. It was just sort of natural. We were both working toward this music from different angles. Before we met, we'd been DJ'ing and playing some live stuff, but neither of us was really satisfied with doing one or the other - we wanted to do both at the same time. When we got together and started doing that, it felt comfortable straight away."

It wasn't long before the local music scenesters started bugging them to play out. Will recalls how the spotlight was thrust upon them: "This friend who ran a club had been hassling us to put a live show together. We kept saying, 'Yeah, no worries, we'll sort it out at some point.' And then he just set up this gig and put our name on the flyer. So we really had no choice but to play."

"Live, it's just the two of us," Alex illustrates, "with four decks (turntables), drums, Hammond and bass - and lots of running from one thing to the other desperately trying to keep it all together. Will does a bit of beatbox, and what we play varies from show to show. It's really crazy, because we never know what's going to go wrong.

"It's developed this way because we felt there was no point in taking a bunch of studio equipment on the road. It's boring and it's not particularly visual. We figured if we put all the studio sounds on acetates, and called them up whenever we needed them, we could treat the show like a DJ set and make it more interactive. We cut acetates of our tracks minus the parts we want to play live - some of the drums, the Hammond, the bass - and then we fill in the gaps onstage. That way we can remix our tunes by playing over the backing tracks. There's plenty of room for improvisation. For us, the distinction between DJ'ing and playing live has been completely blurred."

This performance aesthetic has served the band well through two U.K. tours and headliner outings in Europe and Australia. Their U.S. debut came in Miami at the 1998 Winter Music Conference, perhaps dance music's premiere American showcase. Says Will of that outing: "We were a bit apprehensive at first because the gig was kind of like breaking the ice in a way. But once we starting playing, everyone piled down the front and started having a right old knees-up, everyone leaping around and shouting. Just the way we like it."

In 1996 Propellerheads released their recording debut, an EP/12-inch called Dive!, the title cut of which was later picked up for an Adidas ad campaign. Back in the day, one of Run-DMC's songs was also honored this way. Says Alex, "We're quite happy to follow in this particular tradition."

1996 also saw the release of Take California (named Single of the Week by New Musical Express and the English dance journal Mixmag). This was followed in 1997 by yet another EP/12-inch, Spybreak! (the title cut of which was a Top 40 hit in the U.K.), and remixes for Luscious Jackson, Soul Coughing and 808 State.

But it was "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," from the album Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold 007 Project, that earned Propellerheads widespread attention. The track, a collaboration with composer Arnold (who scored the recent 007 opus "Tomorrow Never Dies"), revisits the theme from the Bond film of that title. This cocktail of whip-smart

breakbeats and orchestral flourishes - a Top 5 song at Radio One and a brisk seller at record stores - appears on DECKSANDRUMSANDROCKANDROLL in its epic, action-packed, nine-minute form. Propellerheads also contributed music to the score of "Tomorrow Never Dies": One of the band's compositions plays out during a pivotal chase sequence in the film.

All this 007 activity comes as no surprise once some of the Props' more esoteric influences are revealed. Alex confirms that he's been swayed by the work of film composers like Lalo Schifrin, Bernard Hermann, John Barry, Henry Mancini and Michel Legrand. "The title sequences, in particular, from some of those films have really moved me," he confides. "Like in a French film from the '60s that opens with a helicopter shot of a couple walking on a beach. I love the sort of music that would accompany that scene."

What Alex finds most distinctive about this music is its tendency to blur the edges. "These scores were written during a period of real crossover among musical genres," he illuminates. "There were people who wrote movie scores in the traditional way with an orchestra; they wrote great themes and developed them to the film. But there were also these funky rhythm sections springing up, and the composers would incorporate that sound into their scores. It was this incredible synthesis, something irreverent but at the same time really skillful. The composers knew exactly what they were doing in combining these elements. It was actually kind of similar to what's happening now with sampling."

He says of the Props' own creative process: "We always start with a visual image. Because it's mostly instrumental music, it can be easy to lose the thread. You can end up doing this interesting sonic thing, but it doesn't have any direction. We usually have a fictitious film in our heads, and we'll constantly refer to it as we construct the track. We're essentially trying to do soundtracks without the films."

In 1997 Propellerheads signed to DreamWorks Records (they were recruited by A&R exec Chris Douridas) for dissemination of their music in North and South America (the English label Wall of Sound will continue to handle their material elsewhere). They made their U.S. debut in December with a self-titled CD5. The disc, which boasted two tracks recorded live in Reykjavik, Iceland, caused an immediate stir on dance floors and radio mix shows.

This buzz intensified in 1998 with the release of "History Repeating," a swinging hip-shaker that recalls American television themes of the 1960s (another of Alex's avowed influences) and features a horn sample from a Russ Meyer film. A clever, black-and-white video for the song starring Miss Shirley Bassey also spread the Propellerheads gospel. Bassey is perhaps best known internationally for her commanding rendition of the theme to the Bond film "Goldfinger." In the U.K., however, the Welsh chanteuse has enjoyed popular success for several decades. Alex attests: "She's been singing and recording for 44 years. She tours regularly and sells out 15,000-seat venues. She is an institution in Britain, the original diva. We still can't believe she agreed to do the song."

That the song was written especially for Bassey may have had something to do with her participation. "We started doing the tune as an instrumental, but as soon as we got into it, we realized it sounded like a Shirley Bassey song," Alex recounts. "I wrote the lyric and we demoed it with me singing; we used a harmonizer to get my vocal into her range and just sent it off to her management. It really surprised us when she said she was interested." It's a good thing, too, because Alex insists, "It's almost impossible to sing it any other way than Shirley Bassey-style."

The juxtaposition of Bassey's "History Repeating" with De La Soul's "360' (Oh Yeah?)" is indicative of Propellerheads' larger mission to let their creativity take them where it wants to go - stylistic "rules" be damned. "This record is a collection of tunes," Alex says of DECKSANDRUMSANDROCKANDROLL. "We purposely tried to make it into as much of a rollercoaster as possible. We're just throwing a lot of ideas about." Indeed, the album careens through a heady mix of "afros-meet-old-skool-trainers" funk, booming pop, symphonic exploration, and off-the-cuff humor (heard most pointedly on the song "Velvet Pants" but also evident in the turntable scratches and other impish effects used to create what Alex calls "a personification of sound"). What makes it all work is Alex and Will's casual confidence in the power of experimentation.

"We want to get the imagination going," Alex declares. "There shouldn't be any limits on that. That's why we respect De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers so much. They originated a certain style, and they were able to do that because they weren't afraid to go beyond what hip-hop was supposed to be. They're still doing that - working with us is the same thing. You have to be able to step out of the way of the fashion police who would have musicians stick only to their particular area of music. We always want to say, 'Well, let's just see what happens."'

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