While the Cat’s away, Chicago’s underground genius revisits his dark alter-ego
The early 90s was a fertile time for house and techno, but often it seemed that too few producers were willing to take the music beyond dancefloor-pointed manifestos, or attempt to inject any character or sense of danger. Except perhaps in Chicago, a city that was always a hotbed for innovative musical bomb squads, whether it was Master C&J’s sublime subterranean missives or DJ Pierre’s trail-blazing acid work.
Felix Stallings first emerged as the latter’s protégé in 1987 with the classic ‘Fantasy Girl’, before Pierre brought him to the Guerilla label for his debut EP, ‘Thee Dawn’, in 1993. Felix Da Housecat had been let out of the bag, swiftly establishing a sexy, mysterious character boosted by his spoken vocals. It wasn’t long before he unleashed his Aphrohead alter-ego to strike further into the realms of psychedelic experimentalism with landmarks such as 1993’s ‘In The Dark We Live (Thee Lite)’, followed by 1994’s ‘Thee Industry Made Me Do It!’ set.
I’ve long believed Felix to be one of the unsung geniuses of American electronic music, capable of infusing anything he touches with his unique dark twist. If a crowd is cavorting in the sun, he’ll drag them into a night-black alley and give them a good kicking, before sending them through the roof. When his success brought him a Kylie remix, he mangled the song beyond recognition into a coruscating warehouse pile-up. Of course, Felix went on to massive success, including the monumental Miss Kittin team-up on ‘Silver Screen, Shower Scene’, and he continues to obliterate dancefloors around the globe, but the studio is the laboratory where his ever-questing spirit is allowed to prowl the darker side.
The good news is that Felix has brought back his Aphrohead persona, which means a licence to push the envelope, working with live analogue beats and coaxing demonic new textures out of his machines. Easy listening it’s not, although ‘Resurrection’ starts innocently enough with the title track’s vocodered melodies and the electro flavours of ‘KlymaXXX’. But Chicago underground music was never about being comfortable and, after a gorgeous Mr Fingers bassline on ‘Come To ME’, Felix eases up the jacking valve on ‘Let’s PRANCE’, harking back to seminal Windy City labels such as Dance Mania. The darkness looms on ‘Elevator (I’ll Take The Stairs)’, a night-stalking sound painting of a Chicago project block with Felix’s vocal declarations slicing through the claustrophobic glitch.
The sinister vibe continues with the kick and relentless fizzing loop of the stark ‘Grown Man Cryy’, over which Felix intones, before the extreme locomotive machine-groove of ‘1KING 1QUEEN’ and filthy acid sound of ‘Medusa’. After ‘Front To Back’ has further piled on the paranoid jackhammer thump and voices-in-the-head disturbance, ‘Sashe Sashe Sashe’ plants a camp vocal loop over the album’s spaciest re-enactment of Master C&J’s icy breath, weaving an intricate death disco web in which it’s almost possible to hear Felix’s fevered brain hatching its next strategically placed buzz or earthworm’s belch.
Deep, original and mischievous, this is the way this music has to go to survive the EDM onslaught. Trust Felix to come up with the cream.