Layo & Bushwacka! have been responsible for some of dance music’s most ground-breaking and unique moments and they herald 2006 with the release of ‘Feels Closer’, their third and finest album to date. Fans of their sound will be more than satiated but also excited with the fresh approach they’ve taken, adding live musicians to their palette which unites such disparate worlds as techno, jazz, pop and even opera. It’s a compelling proposition.
Layo Paskin and Matthew ‘Bushwacka!’ Benjamin concluded 2003 with their ‘Night Works’ album having sold over 100,000 copies, propelled by top ten single ‘Love Story’. Their live show had wowed crowds from Sonar to Homelands. They launched their residency at The End where they play ‘All Night Long’ every month showcasing eight hours of cutting edge sounds from an arsenal of electronic music.
For the recording of ‘Feels Closer’ they decided to re-charge their batteries by leaving London for Brooklyn, New York. It was a city they had found inspiring and they hoped to harness its energy and creative buzz. “Rather than just the two of us going back into a small room, we felt the end result would be a lot better, a more coherent piece of work,” reckons Layo. It’s a city famed for makingthings happen. They found a studio, Good and Evil, steeped in atmosphere and lined with old guitars. It boasted a live room that had been tailored over many years to capture magic moments. A world of talented musicians have passed through their doors to play or hang out. Layo and Matthew just wouldn’t know about, or have access to, this sort of talent in their small West London studio. Instead in NYC they found a pizza delivery boy with a talent for the sax and even managed to utilise the talent of Mino Cinelu, one of the world’s most legendary percussionists, whom they found passing the studio on the street when they popped out for a fateful sandwich!
‘Feels Closer’ is not only their best work, it’s also their most catholic while maintaining a coherency perhaps lacking from their last album. Despite the often pick and mix culture of dance music ‘Feels Closer’ should be enjoyed as a full body of work. Their unique sound has been fleshed out and encompasses as many styles as you may expect from this well travelled pair. The album title came easily says Matt, “It feels closer to the best end of what we can do and what we want to be. We also feel closer to where we want to be in our lives.”
The album will be released in March 2006 on their own label Olmeto. “We will only be releasing our own music on Olmeto which means there is no pressure to tamper with the music and we can approach whoever we want to do the remixes.” ‘Feels Closer’ hits the ground running with kooky electro-techno track ‘Life2Live’ featuring the unmistakeable vocals of Green Velvet a.k.a Chicago producer Cajmere. It’s a testament to the rapport they have with their peers that Cajmere, who is reticent to collaborate with other artists, should agree to work with Layo and Matthew.
“He’s a real hero of mine,” says Layo, “he’s been so versatile and is always doing something new.” The second single mooted for release on Olmeto is the title track which boasts an insidious bass-line and a histrionic percussive display from jazz-funk legend Mino Cinelu. They met Mino, of fusionists Weather Report, on the streets of Brooklyn while they were out getting some lunch. Cementing the dynamic opening triumvirate is ‘Ride The Train’ so called as Matthew recalls hearing Joe Jackson’s 80s hit ‘Steppin’ Out’ – which inspires it – at a train station nearly a decade ago. He didn’t know who authored the track until he heard it again in his local pub last year. The resultant track was completed after a happy accident. They had recorded a heavy metal guitar solo back in Brazil which left the studio’s speakers literally smoking after the session. It was this piece of axe wizardry Layo suggested they use across ‘Ride The Train’ and it spookily fitted perfectly; same bpm, same key.
‘Smith St’, named after the address of the Good and Evil studio, is the best summation of their time working with musicians at the studio; free flowing jazz recorded live with Layo & Bushwacka! conducting the vibe. It also features Groove Armada’s Tim Hutton on trombone who also sings vocals over ‘Me and You’ which utilises a Rhodes piano to ape a salacious 70s porn soundtrack. They have always enjoyed a love affair with Brazil (‘Love Story’ was named after an after hours club there) and they pay tribute on ‘Sunshine In Ipanema’ which features Rogerio Flausino of Brazilian’s biggest group Jota Quest. It proves Layo and Matthew are equally adept when they leave the dancefloor to write more downtempo music. “Half the album is downtempo and laidback,” says Layo. “It’s probably our warmest work to date. Our recording in New York and Brazil was a major influence and is reflected in the variety of music on the album.”
‘Isn’t This A Lovely Day’ is arguably the album’s most inventive track fusing the vocals of Ella Fitzgerald with Louis Armstrong and some killer live instrumentation. ‘We’ve Been Here Before’ is aptly named as it’s redolent of their formative ‘Low Life’ period and ‘Dr Teeth’ has a Metro Area flavour mixing the organic with the synthetic, it’s beautifully skewed. ‘Hang Tough’ shifts in mood with a psychedelic keyboard motif and electro-bassline that may take the listener by surprise. “I love it when tracks do that,” says Layo “You think that you’ve got it sussed and then something happens half way through and you’re taken somewhere else.” The album concludes when the fat lady sings; operatic and totally original. Whether soundtracking the dancefloor or poolside you’ll find a new favourite each time you listen to ‘Feels Closer’ depending on your mood and surroundings.
As a West London schoolboy Matthew played percussion in the London School Symphony touring Europe and playing the Barbican and Royal Festival Hall. His musical vocation took a sharp turn left when, in 1988, he went to a Rat Pack warehouse party. Hooked on the burgeoning rave scene Matthew joined the Rat Pack as a dj. Keen to study engineering and production Matthew went on to work at Mr C’s new studio. It was here he met Layo Paskin
Layo grew up within a liberal North London household, the son of an architect and a writer. He also immersed himself in acid house and, alongside Mr C, threw a warehouse party in a Central London site which would later become The End. Designed by Layo’s father the club has recently entered its tenth year. It continues to innovate and boasts residencies from Laurent Garnier and Erol Alkan.
The duo began recording together in the mid 90s and released their first long player in 1998. ‘Low Life’ was much acclaimed, mining their many years of underground culture with electro, house and breakbeat fusing with delta blues, dub and downtempo. Following its release Layo and Matthew began djing together more often, their distinct personalities coming through with Layo’s mixing more fastidious and considered and Matthew’s style more hectic as he bobs about seemingly trying to outdo the bpms.
The ‘Night Works’ album, featuring the already huge club anthem ‘Love Story’, was released in July 2002. It took their blueprint onto a bigger and broader canvas. ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ and ‘Shining Through’ also enjoyed chart success and they took their live show on the road to much acclaim. The duo now enjoyed residencies at some of the world’s most celebrated clubs from Space in Ibiza to Sirena in Brazil. At The End their monthly ‘All Night Long’ session is a continued success. It’s an odyssey of techno, house, minimal, electro and breaks that gets deeper as the night goes on. It was captured on a double mix cd of the same name in 2003; the sound of two sonic connoisseurs at work..
It is out at these club nights that they have been road-testing the tracks from ‘Feels Closer’ and the response has been ecstatic. The album is being released into a fertile dance scene, one that continues to excite the duo. “It’s a delight to go record shopping at the moment,” Matthew beams. “The music hasn’t been this exciting for years. People are keen to push the envelope. By culling the more commercial end of dance music the reaction to that has been more positive than when the scene was at its height.”