Mike Truman, Chris Healings and Lee Mullins are Hybrid, a Swansea-based collective with designs on the future of music. Their debut album, 'Wide Angle', will surprise anyone who thinks that dance music can't be clever, challenging and musically astute. Here's the shocking news: You might want to listen to it for longer than a few weeks. You don't have to be standing up to listen to it.
Truman, Healings and Mullins met while clubbing in Swansea seven years ago. They bonded over Truman's house remix of Pink Floyd's 'Another Brick in the Wall', and they've been doing DJ sets and mixing their own music ever since. They have become sought-after remixers, putting their production skills to use on tracks for artists as varied as Jazzy Jeff, Carl Cox and Alanis Morissette. Now they are ready to make their album debut.
Wide Angle - which has been over a year in the making - was born of Hybrid's frustration with the narrow horizons of British dance music; its structural predicability; its slavish concentration upon beat to the exclusion of everything else; its disinclination to seek inspiration from the broader musical corpus. They wanted to make the dance form more melodic, more imaginative, bigger and deeper than it had ever been before. So they went from Swansea to London, Moscow and New York, gathering material for a set of startlingly innovative tracks.
'We want to make music that will last,' says Mullins. 'Something that isn't disposable, something that people will want to listen to over and over again.' Something, perhaps, that dance music's natural constituency might get more out of than a rushing sensation in the skull and a spontaneous nosebleed and that those beyond that natural constituency might also find inspirational. 'We just push the music to see how far it will go,' says Healings.
Too much club music, Truman argues, is wholly predicable: 'You know where the samples have come from, you know where the beats have come from, you've heard all these riffs over and over again. What's the point in listening to it? You might as well turn it off. We want to make music that will be surprising, something that will spark the imagination and that is enriching to listen to, rather than just supplying the same old product.' Dance music whose movements are less predictable than the usual breakbeat repertoire.
To this end, they recruited singer-songwriter Julee Cruise, best known for her work with cult film-maker David Lynch. It was her fragile, Naiad voice that gave Twin Peaks its otherworldly quality, and more recently, she has been performing with the B52s, Moby and on the soundtrack of Kevin Williamson's hit horror movie, Scream. 'Most techno and dance is so cold and boring,' asserts Cruise. 'Try and hum it. You can't. Hybrid have melody. They have intelligent, ironic lyrics. They have a nice, neat, clean, tasteful voice. It's a sophisticated sound.'
They also recruited Sacha Puttnam, a composer and musicologist who trained at the Moscow Conservatory - where he rented a tiny flat from a fellow academic that contained just a bed and a grand piano. Since graduating, he's moved back to his native London and into film and TV work. He scored The Confessional for Canadian theatrical genius Robert LePage, and recently composed the music for a BBC adaptation of Bleak House.
Puttnam brought a strong element of orchestral discipline to Hybrid's electronic experimentalism. He found the experience educative. 'When I'm composing, there's always this little academic on my shoulder, telling me to keep things changing constantly, and to keep within certain strictures. But Mike's taught me to forget all that.' Bringing slamming dance rhythms into contact with classical orchestration forced Puttnam to discard the rule book. But he also found precedent for this kind of experimentation: 'It's exactly what Debussy did,' he contends. 'In his day you weren't allowed parallel fifths. So he comes along, starts using parallel fifths and suddenly that's his own sound. So when Mike's not worrying about academic restrictions, suddenly you get these wonderful harmonies that you're not supposed to have. And they work.' Last August, they went to Moscow to prove the point. In the bowels of Mosfilm, the old Soviet film complex where Eisenstein and Tarkovsky once clocked on for work, they recorded the tracks for 'Wide Angle' with the 90-piece Russian Federal Orchestra.
Working the DJ circuit has allowed the Hybrid boys to immerse themselves in a broad range of musical styles. 'You draw all these influences in, and use them to create new sounds,' explains Truman. Wide Angle betrays the influences of John Barry, Stevie Wonder, Eartha Kitt, Berlin techno, Peter Gabriel and Claude Debussy. 'Everything that we've listened to over the years has been absorbed and used in some way,' he reflects.
'A lot of people just concentrate on the engine of the music, and forget about melody, and the other bits that make it interesting,' argues Mullins. Wide Angle offers brassy, grandiose soundscapes which summon up images of Sean Connery parachuting from an exploding helicopter; dark, hypnotic swathes of sci-fi noise; lush string arrangements supplied by 90 classically-trained Russians; belting club beats tempered with sly, sophisticated touches; sweet, sassy crooning and Marilyn Monroe vibrato from Julee Cruise; ball-breaking rap from SoonE MC. It's music for grown-ups. But it doesn't, thankfully, have that highfalutin pomposity that has felled past attempts to expand pop's musical horizons. Jeff Wayne it ain't.
'I played it to my family in Iowa,' says Cruise. 'My brother's into jazz, my mother's in a nursing home, my sister's a regular housewife and my other brother is a hippy from Berkeley. And they all sat there in the living room and they really liked it. They all got it, in their own way. This music doesn't exclude anybody. It doesn't tell you that you don't belong. You don't have to be as bland as Celine Dion to have appeal as wide as that.' Maybe she's getting a little carried away here, but Julee sees Hybrid fitting snugly into a tradition that includes Gershwin and Copland. 'It's proper music,' she enthuses.
Hybrid's multi-album deal with Distinct'ive Records has allowed them the security to formulate long-term plans. They are developing their live act, and have already gone down a storm in venues as far apart as Miami and Liverpool. They've just be signed for a gig on top of Mount Fuji. With Wide Angle laid down, the band are now doing the groundwork for their next album.
And with tastes and skills as eclectic as Hybrid's, there's plenty of scope for the wildest kind of experimentation. They're making noises about an unplugged breakbeat album, and suite of music in which the melodic instruments play the beat, and the percussion instruments play the melody. Whatever their next move, expect to be surprised.