Today we celebrate 10 years of music from Hamilton’s Afternoons In Stereo with the recently released ‘best of’ album that includes two new songs. “Retrospective” is a hell of a musical adventure.
The man behind the retro designs and funky songs is Greg Vickers. Greg’s deep knowledge of music and his impeccable taste is what’s behind his long running radio show, Urban Modernist (listen on CFMU). Greg is also a really talented graphic designer and is responsible for all of the design work associated with Afternoons In Stereo as well as having worked for several other musicians. Every element is perfectly curated and designed and it all leads into the cool world where Afternoons In Stereo music lives; a world that exists simultaneously somewhere in 60’s and the far off future.
Afternoons in Stereo is technically electronic music – as in, it is created with digital tools, samples, modern techniques, etc. While the way the music is created is rooted in Electronica techniques, it is far from an accurate descriptor of what the music actually sounds like. Greg has been able to inject so much soul and mood into his music elevating it from ‘electronic DJ music’ to something that has a life on its own. Effortlessly blending different types of jazz, soul, disco, and funk to create something wonderful. The tracks are ambient at times, sexy at other times, and they always paint a vivid picture. The level of detail that Afternoons In Stereo presents is astounding and Greg’s knowledge of music and film history is impressive.
We have a track by track breakdown of the songs as written by Greg Vickers himself. Make yourself a stiff Old Fashioned and sit back and take a musical journey through time and space.
Galaxina – I knew I had this collection coming together, and I was pleased to be collecting some of the more cluboriented, dance-floor friendly tracks. (I am the first to admit I sometimes get a bit deep into the moodier, jazzier stuff!). So, I thought I’d try and do something deliberately upbeat. I’d worked the disco angle before, but never with such a smile on my face. It came together quite quickly, and my usual keyboard man James Orr dropped a delightfully groovy solo in the middle that tied it all together nicely. The video is, I hope, a sweet compliment to the track – fun, free-spirited, and colourful. ’
Party at Dick & Mimi’s – This is actually a remix of a track I did called ‘Party At Mimi & Dick’s’ which was a more organic, realinstruments sort of take on the song. I was going for this kind of Los Angeles party vibe, the kind of music that might be playing at some party up in the hills circa 1975. It still manages to sound a lot like me, with the sax and flute and keys. Fans will know that the version on this collection was actually tinkered with a bit from the previous release, and features a new keyboard solo.
Dawn in Manihi – When I first started getting heavily into electronic music and considering making it myself, there were all these terrific music compilations – Hed Kandi, Café del Mar, the Buddha Bar and Hotel Costes series, etc. – that collected a lot of lounge and deep house. This stuff was all part of the huge Ibiza craze in the late 90’s, and was trumpeted by Mixmag and other magazines I was reading. So, this was an attempt to take a stab at something with that sort of sound – Balaeric, I guess you could call it; house music for when the sun is coming up over the ocean and you’ve just had one of the best nights of your life.
Shadows – This celebrates two loves – one, keyboard legend Lonnie Liston Smith who wrote the original of which this is simply a cover version and two, the UK’s Good Looking record label that LTJ Bukem and his associates ran in the late 90’s. I was, and remain, a huge fan of the Bukem sound that was filled with all that lush reverb and loads of jazzy space in the production. And Lonnie, well, he needs no justification! Sax was laid down courtesy of local legend Sal Rosselli, and the keyboard solo is again courtesy of James Orr.
How Does It Feel? – I’m giving it away when I say that I knicked that little vocal bit from an old Esquivel album, and it was really that wee audio bit that gave birth to the track: I wanted to build a song around the answer to the question … marvelous! I knew I wanted big drums, which I think I managed, and I knew the trick to counter-balancing that squiggly keyboard sound was a pounding riff that would get your head bobbing. I think we got that in the simple repetition of the horn line. The final ingredient was the guitar solo, courtesy of my old friend Oliver Schraa, who took his new Mutron pedal for a workout to a truly mind-blowing effect.
El Puma – This is actually a reworking of an earlier tune I did called ‘The Puma’. It has much more of a latin b-boy feel to it so I rechristened it ‘El Puma’. I always imagine El Puma as some sort of hero of the Barrio, right out of an old exploitation flick, dressed to the nines and cruising around in his Cadillac – keeping the streets clean of crime and drugs and safe for the kids! So, this is his theme-song. It’s probably one of the funkiest things I ever wrote. It still makes me wanna get up and dance!
Kalukuta Republic – Afrobeat has increasing become a larger part of my musical interests, and I spin quite a bit of it on my radio show and when I play out. I had taken a stab at afro in a remix I did for guitarist Teddy Presberg’s ‘Outcries In A Sea Of Red’. It came out pretty well so I decided to do one for my last studio record. My only mandate was that I wanted to do the entire production myself, without any outside musicians. While I think a sax or trumpet solo would have fit comfortably, I don’t think the song is any less for their absence. In the end it wound up being one of my favourite tracks that I’ve ever done. And the video is pretty sexy too!
Metrosexual – It’s hard for me to hear my early material without being very critical of it. I think that while some artists come out the gate busting on their first release, many would agree that the first album is often a reflection of the artist finding their sound. You can hear a lot of ideas going on in this tune, but I look back now and wonder if I knew where they were going! Always loved the vocal on this, tho, and given that this is from the first album ten years ago it still sounds pretty fresh to my ears.
Soul Sugar – 8 million YouTube fans (It’s actually over 9 million now) can’t be wrong! Heh, well, arguably. The genesis of this track came out of me hearing the Beastie Boys’ ‘Make Some Noise’; I wanted to do something with some similar heft and a big drum sound, and a bit of a hip-hop feel as well. James Orr came up with the central organ riff and I worked with sax player Andrew King closely to figure out the horn line and the middle breakdown (literally), which we lovingly christened the “saxophone abortion”. The video for it came together beautifully, and obviously the number of hits on it proves I’m not the only Edwige Fenech fan out there.
Return of the Puma – Now this is The Puma more as he’d have been in the Bronx or Brooklyn, circa 1978. This is a pretty fun tune, and I had a good time working with those Grady Tate vocal bits (I still can’t believe no-one had ever used them, I felt so lucky!). That’s me “talkin’ ‘bout The Puma” (you know what I’m talking about? Black Cat?) The drum breakdown on this still gives me shivers. People have rightly accused me of being stuck in the 70’s and let me tell you, the evidence starts here.
Tinto Brass – Fans of pervy cinema know that Tinto Brass is the renowned director of such classics as Salon Kitty, Caligula, and Trasgredire. His work is actually pretty cool, even if he does let himself get a little too in on the action. I thought he had a pretty cool sounding name and given the horns in this track it seemed appropriate as a title. At any rate, this was a big jazzy breaks track from the second album and I really think you can hear the Afternoons In Stereo sound starting to come together here. The whole track is like a big lumbering elephant come stumbling into the room, demanding your attention. As apt a metaphor as ever there was. I often wonder if Mr Brass knows I wrote a song named after him? I hope so.
Asteroid Field Guide – This is the other new and unreleased track on this collection, and very much reflects the current Afternoons In Stereo sonic palette. It flirts with drum ‘n bass, it has all the requisite elements of my sound – it weaves through lush ambient parts, it descends into jazz, then out again to veer off in another direction altogether. It’s all over the place, rather like an asteroid field! I have been dabbling more in using guitar in my production, and here we build to a dynamic electric guitar solo that pushes the track into fusion territory. Oh no, there’s that dreaded word. I knew it would come up eventually.
Dusk in Andalusia – Written as a bookend piece to ‘Dawn In Manihi’, and another early foray into deep house. This one definitely has a rather catalan influence and was absolutely inspired by the Spanish. Listening to it now, I am surprised how contemporary it sounds given it is almost ten years old. I think it goes somewhat to saying that house music is rather timeless. The vocals on this track lend it a nice sexiness that is complimented by that slow, simmering horn line.
The Art of Dolby – Written expressly as an homage to two musical heroes who made a big impression on me early on: The Art Of Noise and Thomas Dolby. The Art Of Noise were one of the first bands to use sampling, looping, and drum machines to create instrumentals that were way ahead of their time. Moments In Love, which is referenced in this track, remains a favourite. Thomas Dolby was also a man well ahead of his time, and here the subtleties in my composition deliberately echo aspects of his ‘One Of Our Submarines’ which made a huge impression on me as a kid. Hal McMillan contributed the perfect 80’s style sax solo.
Congrats to Afternoons in Stereo on this great collection!