wears the trousers magazine

hk119 vs. bit-phalanx: fast & cheap mixes (2010)
February 3, 2010, 10:09 am
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , , ,

HK119 vs. Bit-Phalanx
Fast & Cheap Mixes •••½
One Little Indian

The coherence of a remix album depends on a few important boxes being ticked, boxes that are very demanding to shade in simultaneously. The first hurdle is to preserve the charm of the original song and the elements that made it unique; the second, to contribute something of one’s own, something definitive that’s not only in harmony with the basic motive but also adds a new point of view. Moreover, the effort required to seamlessly juxtapose different genres seems rather Sisyphean. Like everything in art, it’s a tricky challenge. Indeed, retaining the originality, variety and magic of a whole album in alternative dress can be just as demanding as creating a brand new album from scratch.

It’s all the sweeter then when such feats are accomplished, as is largely the case with this remix collage of songs from HK119’s 2008 release Fast, Cheap & Out Of Control. Behind the outlandish extroversion of this barcoded robot/alien character lies Finnish performance artist Heidi Kilpeläinen, an interesting, tractable writer who pens conceptual songs based on absurdism, exaggeration and theatrical satire that don’t subscribe to limitations in the ways in which they express themselves. Both the source material for this project and HK119’s self-titled debut are socio-critical works transferred into musical reality through larger-than-life characters and ambiguous lyrics. Topics like genetic engineering, restriction of personal liberty, global warming and any number of others hyped by mankind are brought with easiness and black (Nordic) humour to make the listener think about the dark side of modern living. And Kilpeläinen’s seemingly limitless range of subject matter is complemented by loose genre boundaries, allowing her to move from lo-fi minimalism, through commercial electro-pop, to the arena of avant-garde experimentalism.

All of this is preserved on Fast & Cheap Mixes, created by an ensemble of electronica artists signed to newly established, London-based netlabel Bit-Phalanx. Their approach to Kilpeläinen’s songs is free and non-uniform, enabling each remixer to display their own talents. Different genres bring various forms of playfulness and originality in similar intensity and quality, starting off well with Martin Phone’s reconstruction of ‘Mind’. A piano motif evolves to form a calm, romantic atmosphere only to shatter it with the introduction of wild drum’n’bass beats, just one of the contrasts that characterise the album without removing the focal point of Kilpeläinen’s voice.

Diversity is the watchword for this collection. In Niggle’s adaptation of ‘Clone’ we are ushered away from the d’n’b to revel in a dense and thrilling acid house concoction that utilises almost satirical manipulation and dehumanisation of the vocals, as if he were a desperately failing genetic engineer. Luckily, he really is an amazing remixer, able to catalyse the primary dance instincts. The same can be said about Tulin-Fée’s jaw-dropping version of the abstract ‘Space Pt.2’. Starting with synthesised strings she creates an exciting and mysterious backdrop with what sounds like a rocketship stuck in a faraway space. And that’s not the only stadium of thrills this clever remix grandstands in: from ambient strings it moves to slow and thoughtful IDM, reaching its vibrant peak with an amped-up tempo and intensity before finally dissolving into its former ambience.

Although no two tracks get the same remixer there are a few moments where these mixes fall into repetitiveness and minor tedium. Same Actor’s ‘Superbug’ remix begins with a promising cinematic mood that later drowns in a simple electronic calm. The same problem transpires with the album’s two most upbeat songs, IJO’s ‘Space Pt.1’ and Mr O’s ‘Night’. The first is perhaps too spacey; here, Kilpeläinen’s vocals are destructed into the androgynous sighs of a broken robot as minimalistic IDM beats melt into repetitive drill’n’bass that doesn’t evolve for the rest of the song. ‘Night’ is similarly too far from the original, making it hard to latch onto. Luckily, inclusions like Portmanteau’s ‘What Am I’, with its ecstatic, funky, ultra-hyped background and shout-out-loud vocals, snap us back to attention and the album reaches its climax in the final track, ‘Divine’. The nostalgic laughter of a child transports us into another world, one that Jilk’s lo-fi folktronica successfully conserves. And the softness continues almost paradoxically into the song’s wilder parts, giving this version a tender dreaminess that surpasses the original.

Fast & Cheap Mixes defies expectations in that it takes its dance-oriented concept further than being just a collection of remixes. Its multifarious but coherent mix of styles and approaches turns up a surprisingly frequent catchiness that, thanks to Kilpeläinen’s remaining voice, melodies and basic ideas, connects the dots nicely with the original. A job well done, it’s fast food for the ears as well as the hips.

Tomáš Slaninka
UK release date: 04/01/10; www.myspace.com/hk119


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