Deep inside the recesses of a sprawling, 19th century warehouse complex in Toronto’s gritty-but-rapidly-gentrifying Parkdale neighbourhood, an urgently driving bass line echoes through a maze of hallways. If you know which unmarked door to open and which dark staircase to climb, you’ll hear the relentless pounding getting louder and the eerie melodies coming clearer into focus.
Inside their clandestine studio you’ll find Azari & III buried in a throbbing groove, seemingly oblivious to a visitor. (Alphonse) Alixander (Lanza) III wheels his chair back and forth between the mixing console to the racks of outboard gear behind him, minutely and obsessively tweaking the Neve EQ of a beat coming from an old 12bit drum sampler, one he bought earlier that day. Behind him, Dinamo Azari is playing a menacing yet oddly beautiful melody on one of the many synths scattered around the cluttered dimly lit room, completely lost in the moment. Slouched on a couch, thin Nubian front man Starving Yet Full hums the beginnings of a hook quietly to himself in a soft falsetto. Feeling more sure of his idea, he lets loose with a soulful riff on a few words that immediately shifts the mood of the emerging skeleton track. With a paranoid screech the piano booth door opens and Fritz Helder dances his way back into the room, notebook in hand, immediately launching into an impromptu call-and-response routine with SYF.
Unfortunately, this kind of session is all too rare for them these days, as the huge buzz that’s been generated by their early singles Hungry For The Power and Reckless (With Your Love) has kept them in constant demand in clubs and festivals worldwide. Transcending genres and scenes, their high profile fans range from Annie Mac to Grizzly Bear, Boys Noize to Broken Social Scene. They’ve collaborated with UK blowups Friendly Fires, as well as done wisely chosen remix work for Robyn, Cut Copy, Booka Shade, Creep (Romy of the XX) and LA’s noise darlings Health. There are actually too many remixes to mention, covering ground from wistful, sad ambient-scapes to punkish, chugging techno frenzies. This is not an act that seems to be locked into any restrictive scene, but rather bridge builders between the dance and rock worlds, under and overground sensibilities.
Though to some outside of Kanada this might seem like an overnight success, Azari & III as individuals have paid their dues slogging it out under various aliases in the clubs and studios since the mid-nineties. Between the four of them they’ve experimented with everything from house to garage rock, shoegazer to mutant disco. But something new clicked in 2008 when they first joined forces in that secret musical lair. A sound came out that was somehow timeless without being retro. Given the equipment and methods, these songs could have been recorded in the late 80s, but they sound completely modern and at home on the current playlist or dancefloor. When the two vocalists enter the mix, they finesse a formula that’s seen them charting all over the world - currently #1 on German Club Charts (ed.01/06/11) - and being written about furiously in both the mainstream and underground music press.
While discussing why their first video for Hungry For The Power was banned from YouTube, they rile up and snicker, “What’s wrong with the world where sex is banned and violence is accepted?”, though their bacchanal attitude seems to support on open format rather than restriction of either.
Their response was the HFTP PT II video, a very PG, black and white desert affair filmed during their Club Rhonda appearance at Coachella this year. It cheekily showcases the boys in their natural, goofier personas, and is appearing now in rotation on MTV in the EU and UK.
It’s been a long wait for some and will be an unexpected surprise to many, so thankfully their highly anticipated debut album will be hitting the streets this August 1. As well as collecting their biggest singles from the past couple years, the album also expands their identity further into a kaleidoscope of tripped-out textures, sometimes challenging but inevitably irresistible pop melodies.
- Benjamin Boles, Music Editor, NOW Magazine.