ABOVE: AZARI & III
Riding the current wave of ’90s and noughties house-music revisionism, Toronto’s production/DJ team Azari & III have managed to spark up ADD dance floors all over again with soul-flecked tunes, infused with samba beats, steel drums and electro elements. They’ve collaborated with UK indie band Friendly Fires, built a buzz with live shows and four-to-the-floor remixes for dance contemporaries Robyn, Cut Copy, Uffie and Creep (Romy of The xx), and may have just been called on by the Material Girl herself to open on her next tour. The quartet’s slick, self-titled debut album, which includes hit singles “Reckless,” “Hungry for the Power,” and “Manic,” is now being re-released with recent signing to major label Island Records. Co-creator Alixander III gave Interview the details on how Azari’s sleazy-synth style finds a happy ending.
PAISLEY DALTON: Congrats on signing with Island, and the Madonna gig! Are the rumors true?
ALIXANDER III: We have been given the offer, but are working it out still . . . could go either way!
DALTON: You’re taking a little break before the re-release.
ALIXANDER III: We just decided since we have three weeks off, instead of sitting around watching TV, let’s just make another record! I watch a lot of The Food Network. I can’t get enough of Chopped marathons.
DALTON: I just had a DJ set last night and played both “Reckless” and “Manic” back-to-back in a Nu-Disco set. It was epic! Is this a proper classification for your sound?
ALIXANDER III: We could say it’s pop music or experimental, but I think it’s electronic music umbrella-ed. We had some shit to get out of our closets, to get out of our system on this record. People can say you’re “house,” or “Chicago house,” even “retro house,” and we can’t dissociate ourselves from the product we’ve made, but I sure as hell don’t want to be labeled retro house for much longer. We’d much rather alienate the few people that actually give a shit about retro house music than making another record that explores passion of a new kind of thing we like.
DALTON: But you are clearly referencing ’90s house. Does that affect how you approach the structure and arrangement of producing songs?
ALIXANDER III: It’s really about how the sentiment comes across. The lyrics are one thing and the melodies another. It’s a nuance sliver that hopefully hasn’t been water treaded too many times or redundancy in art, a new little path that goes off in its own direction. We’re making shit that’s like My Bloody Valentine, techno and ambient weird loops with tons of vocal layers. It’s really beautiful! The vibe comes across. It’s not about necessarily making a big track for the dance floor or radio hits.
DALTON: I guess that means you’re responsible for the precisionist beats?
ALIXANDER III: Mostly Dinamo Azari and myself make the music. Fritz Helder and Starving Yet Full vocalize ideas and we interpret them with the instruments. We have a pretty democratic process, leaving room for what comes natural.
DALTON: Tracks like “Infiniti,” “Tunnel Vision,” and “Change of Heart” have a similar mapping to your solo experimental Schlamm EP. Do you prefer an instrumental soundscape or vocals?
ALIXANDER III: One part of you says, “I wanna do this really cool art, and I don’t care about making a really good song out of it, or it having any success.” I have these used brushes, used tools, and I want to paint my kind of unique picture. But then the other half is I have to make a living, got to have vocals, choruses and hooks. For an electronic artist, it’s cool that you can have five or six vocal tracks [on an album], and maybe five or six instrumentals. As long as there is some kind of narrative, it all blends together.
DALTON: So that’s how vocalists Helder and Starving came about?
ALIXANDER III: We originally made the tracks “Reckless” and “Hungry For The Power” as instrumentals and thought, “Somebody’s got to sing on this.” We had these beats and thought that something was missing. We knew Helder and Starving for a long time. We’re boys about town!
DALTON: You were voguing right along with them in the clubs?
ALIXANDER III: Yeah, there were bits of that. My style is a little more interpretive dancing, more of a Kate Bush kind of thing. I’m from that small-town school. When raves came in the early ’90s, you’d go there, you’d do acid; you’d try to figure out how to dance. Now people are afraid to let loose. In Europe, dance music, dance festivals, dance artists are more mainstream. It’s from that socialist thing. They like that grassroots kind of stuff, guys who make art and don’t care about commerce.
DALTON: Is it hard to find your steps musically in North America when everybody’s now clamoring for David Guetta-style pop/dance?
ALIXANDER III: It’s a fun challenge for us to be able to work people into a frenzy. You can take them to really strange places. Back in the ’90s, it was harder to get yourself out there. Now we have a niche that people want. How much of this Guetta shit can you take? Eventually there’s going to be some underground culture that wants its dirty rock stuff.
DALTON: You’re no longer underground. Will your next album see an aural template change in the Azari sentiment, now that you have surfaced on Island?
ALIXANDER III: Not really! As far as I know, we still have 100% creative control. It’s not an interest for them to form us into something we’re not. Our next album will be much more confident and relaxed. We don’t have too many boundaries. We don’t feel any of that second album consternation. It’ll be a bit more rushed, but we’re happy about that. We want to do things militant-style and not second-guess ourselves.
AZARI & III’S 12″ AND DIGITAL EP RECKLESS (WITH YOUR LOVE) INCLUDES REMIXES BY TIGA AND RIVA STARR AND IS OUT FEBRUARY 13. FOR MORE ON AZARI AND III, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.