Azari & III
Azari & III
, August 12th, 2011 11:20
In a modernised paean to nascent 80s house, Azari & III channel Toronto's nightly bacchanal into a platter of powerhouse cuts, as skyward and colossal as the 100-storey steel cock, er skyscraper, gracing the album's cover. You could have an eye out with the Canadians' street-tough debut; a glittering rendition of an era where promiscuity was political and on the right set of male buttocks even a pair of sequinned hot-pants was a Caligulan act of rebellion. So illicit-sounding is Azari & III that to even listen is to be an accessory to the crime.
With the classy duo of Alphonse Lanza and Christian Farley manning the boards, it's refreshing to encounter an outsiders' dance act with a little ambition. There's a logical counterpoint in cold wave, with its willfully raw, shit-caked finish, in diametric opposition to Azari & III which is plush, svelte, executive-class, high-rolling. Whereas cold wave equates subversion with bitterness and detachment, with twice the edge Azari treat the world like a toothpick. Not to say they're stiffly superior in the palatial surroundings they've dreamt up, sitting in their chromed mirrorball mansions like bored kings. Right across the board they're mischievous as hell. But without a doubt they're the type of boys who appreciate a nice vintage with their amphetamines. And not to stereotype, but the day that four metropolitan men of undefined sexuality turn out a dance album that's anything less than sartorially fabulous, will probably be the same day John Waters goes into politics. Azari's music is alive with a heartfelt devotion to that idea that the dance floor you can be whoever you want to be, for as long as the record is turning. While electroclash was largely shallow and emotionally hollow, for all the poseur and flash it's Azari's sincere belief in the egalitarian power of house music to make the weak into heroes which animates the retroism here; when so often historical pastiche can be a deadening experience.
Their talisman is undoubtedly soul diva Cédric Gasaida, who is guided through a long night of debauchery by second vocalist and very twisted sister - Fritz Helder. A growling disco sprite, Helder is both dance-floor Zeus and leering constant to Cédric's mellifluous abandon. In actual fact, the impression given is that it's Cédric who is the object of said leer. It's as if rather than for the purposes of hyping the dance floor, his raspy howls are for the benefit of his co-vocalist, undressing the singer from a shadowy vantage point left-of-stage. Whoever it is that menacing gaze is trained on, the interaction between the two is instrumental to their charisma; lending the music momentum, tension, a dynamic sexuality and most crucially, meaning. For example, on the electro-inspired 'Hungry For The Power' Fritz's booming voices embodies the 80s in all its ruthless glory. However, add Cédric's sexualised interjections and you get the decade's symbolic melding of power and nookie – ridiculous Michael Douglas-style nookie. Like Helder at one point proposes - as with everything Reaganite, be it business, class, dance music or indeed sex, it's all about domination.
What's certain is that for these Canadians, reviving the era doesn't stop with Roland effects, realistic props, and mannerisms. A throwback to the days when tunes like 'Disco Inferno' addressed 1966's LA riots and Sylvester's lyrics were as multilayered as Russian crime novels, 'Reckless (With Your Love)' deals with AIDS, which was killing around 10,000 Americans per-year during house's infancy. "Frozen, always in disguise, there's nothing left of you" sings Cedric, followed by the chilling "I can see it in your eyes". A driving tale of death and decadence, as he pursues his quarry Cédric is only too aware of how dangerous the game is he plays, yet nonetheless one that is every bit as irresistible as his producers' lustrous sonics. With the listener transported to the original mid-decade context, courtesy of some utterly uncanny period recreation, the pleasure/sin dichotomy becomes all the more poignant. However, with its big piano stabs and pelvic motions, 'Reckless' also flaunts this sinfulness. So much that, depending on how you listen, the cautionary tone doubles as one of steely protest. Besides the infection paranoia, the image created is also of the boys of paradise at play, defiantly and fabulously, while all around them rages AIDS hysteria, which only fuelled the public's demonised perception of gay men and their hellbound ways. While there was danger hiding under every satin bedcover, it was important that the community re-affirm their lifestyle. In this way the track is also a celebration. At any rate, on 'Reckless' so effective is the conflict between form and content, fear and excess, the show and the tell, you wish every sinister metaphor came smuggled in anthemic house. As AIDS subtexts go, compared to Jeff Goldblum's metaphorically rotted schlong, it's also a lot more pleasurable.
Otherwise, for the majority of the album Azari & III ditch social commentary and get about the business of letting loose, both in a spirit of self-determination and foxtrotting their way through gluttonous thrills. Opener 'Into The Night' tracks the revellers as they approach the clubs, the low-end tense with intrigue and the synths effervescent with tingling expectation. "I can't stop / I'm burning up inside" narrates Cédric. By the time 'Reckless' makes it entrance they're in full swing, and the game is on. 'Tunnel Vision' is tense with intent, like a pair of fuck-me eyes glaring from across a crowded dance-floor. Equally as ominous, 'Indigo' dices Cédric's voice into flashes of writhing ecstasy, while ascending synths pop up sporadically to turn the screws and a seedy bassline radiates malign sexuality. The set at full stretch, 'Lost in Time' powers through a strobe-flickering maelstrom, followed by deep-house trip 'Infiniti' where everything gets a bit druggy. On 'Change of Heart' the producer's reduce Cédric to a disembodied memory, like he's lost in the music, after which the track retreats inwards into a state of dreamless sleep. Likewise, the somnambulant 'Manhooker' depicts a kind of disco out-of-body experience. The dance of the night-crawlers below continues apace while the listener levitates gracefully overhead, hoisted by ghostly female vocals. The tracks fades out as if floating off altogether into the mists of MDNA euphoria. Then it's back to earth with a bump on 'Undecided' – a bustling sensory barrage with the boys struggling to keep high amidst the 5am exodus.
Azari & III transports you to a time when notions of homosexuality were still to be assimilated into the mainstream. It revels in alien, licentious libertarianism and in the process manages to reassert the idea that the gay life was the last bastion of unsubsidised counterculture. From a purely musical perspective, however, it executes that very most rare form of retroism - the type that makes the tired, forgotten and domesticated once again radical.