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Album Of The Week

Do You Want New Rave? The Soft Pink Truth Hits The Dancefloor
Skye Butchard , August 18th, 2022 07:25

Taken together, the new album and sister EP from Drew Daniel are a joyful hobbyist exploration of dancefloor memories, says Skye Butchard

Drew Daniel photo by Josh Sisk

There are a lot of unspoken rules in the club, both for the punters and the performers. You don't request songs. You don't play harder tracks than the headliner. You're not a proper DJ if it's not on vinyl. You don't play 'bait' tracks. More of these rules pop up in moments like our present, when there's a renewed focus on house and other dance sounds within the mainstream. Some of this gatekeeping comes from an understandable urge to retain the space for the often marginalised queer and Black communities who created them, especially when venues have been under threat for years.

But some of that gatekeeping is down to ego. Drew Daniel has no such time for these rules. Least of all when it's a question of ego. In fact, he's even drawn in by the cardinal clubbing sin of requesting songs. "I get why people make fun of the kind of person that would go to a club and get up into a DJ's face like that, but I also think a song request is kind of a juicy subject," he said recently, speaking to Shawn Reynaldo for First Floor.

"It's a moment of tension and a moment of complaint, and it's somebody who's risking mockery to say, 'this could be better'. That's an emotion that maybe we need a lot more of."

This tension is at the centre of Is It Going to Get Any Deeper Than This? (out in October) and its accompanying EP Was It Ever Real? (out on August 19). In San Fransisco in the early '90s, Daniel attended queer industrial nights at Club Uranus. A woman came up to his friend, Lewis Walden, who was DJing on one such night. She asked: "Is it going to get any deeper than this?" It may sound rude, but the question became a funny mantra for Daniel and his friends. That questioning has inspired a double album based around the expectations of club music, and Daniel's own relationship to it.

Now in his fifties, teaching Shakespeare at Johns Hopkins when he's not touring with Matmos, Daniel feels a lifetime away from caring about the functionality of his dance music. The Soft Pink Truth even began as a cheeky dare which gave him a chance to play with club music without taking himself too seriously. It's ironic, then, that this double album and its accompanying EP might just be the most 'functional' dance music he's ever made.

The Dark Room Mix of 'Is It Going To Get Any Deeper Than This?' from Was It Ever Real? is an eight-minute hypnagogic journey, which recreates memories of maze-like rooms in sex clubs, where Daniel first heard deep house. It is lush, meditative, and totally camp – and works all the better because of it. The rest of the taster EP retains this nocturnal atmosphere, buoyed by live bass and glitchy vocal edits. There's a sexy elegance to these tracks, without losing the central playfulness characteristic of a The Soft Pink Truth release. His freaky cover of Coil's 'The Anal Staircase' carries on his tradition of eccentrically reinterpreting classics from other genres (following a Prince cover on his 2003 debut, followed by an album of old new wave hits in 2004, and 2014's exploration of black metal, Why Do The Heathen Rage?).

While Was It Ever Real? is minimal and deep house-inspired, the double album is organic and expansive. It looks further back to disco, using a huge cast of voices and instruments to help capture more personal reflections of the dance music community and experiences of catharsis. Mark Lightcap's funky electric guitar holds the groove down on 'Deeper', as saxophone, flute and bright string flourishes come in and out of focus. It especially reminds me of 'Eye On The Wall' by Perfume Genius – another recent queer exploration of dance music that morphs from slender and spritely to stretched and formless.

The next few tracks are more tough and physical. Even with its sweet group vocals and grand harpsichord backing, there's a forward momentum to 'I Wanna Know' that instantly sets the album apart from the ambient-adjacent offerings on 2020's Shall We Go On Sinning…? Still, a sense of exploration connects these projects. Each release is based around a question, and Daniel uses these questions to frame the projects with curiosity and critique. 'I Wanna Know' is constantly evolving, unafraid to drop the beat out and let a harp take the lead for a moment, or to spend its last minute in a bed of warbled vocals. It flirts with being a classic club 12-inch while offering something more distinct.

Warm piano grounds us on the loose 'Moodswing' and 'Trocadero', which capture the fizzing excitement of a dancefloor more in tone than in typical sound. Cuban percussion from Ayoze de Alejandro Lopez fills the mix as the songs warm up and cool down. It's an easy, blissful celebration, with a buzz that can't be harshed by that niggling question, is it going to get deeper than this?

Daniel gleefully answers on the album's second half. The thirteen-minute drone piano piece 'Sunwash' soaks up the light jazz and neo-classical elements that have peaked through so far, and pours them out over an alien synth arpeggio. It's restless and comforting, like lying in the hot sun for a whole weekend. 'Deeper Than This?' and 'Toot Sweet' are nimble jams that showcase the patient approach to tension and pay-off that's present in the best club music. Somehow, they do so with viola, acoustic guitar, and lounge jazz call-and-response.

The closer, 'Now It's All Over', is the emotional high you'd hope for, with strings straight out of 1930s Hollywood, and the delightful return of the varied instruments that colour the rest of the project. Suitably, we end with a signature house piano, though one that sounds closer to the piano in your grandma's house than one on a dance record. The homemade hobbyist quality of the album only adds to its charm.

Like that clubber throwing dancefloor etiquette out of the window, The Soft Pink Truth creates thrills in his quest for something deeper.