Sharps & Flats

Aphrodite's first commercial drum 'n' bass record gets at the difference between music for the DJ and music for your stereo.

Published October 27, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Energetic drum 'n' bass artist Aphrodite, aka Gavin King, has released dozens of tracks on his self-titled label since 1995. If you've ever stomped the night away under camouflage netting in some dark, sweaty jungle club then you've surely felt his hyperactive, funk-drenched breakbeats course through your body.

Although Aphrodite is renowned by the underground, he has never before released a commercial CD. That means that he hasn't had a chance to achieve the almost-mainstream success of someone like Goldie or Roni Size. His music is anchored by the squelching urgency of hardcore drum 'n' bass. Songs like "King of Beats" are full of samples that sound like breaking glass and skidding cars.

The album is lightened by strains of jazz and warm, buoyant funk grooves that betray Aphrodite's background in house music. That might explain his ability to infuse his music with the kind of Size-like exuberance thats often missing from the dour, self-serious drum 'n' bass genre.

Aphrodite avoids monotony with masterful tempo changes. Many of his songs alternate low-rider hip-hop tempos with machine-gun bursts. "Listen to the Rhythm" is built around a rich, androgynous vocal hook, a snatch of blaxploitation melodies and assaultive beats. The macho but exhilarating "Woman That Rolls" uses long stretches of warped hip-hop that culminate in thrilling breakbeat climaxes.

"Music's Hypnotising," combines a mesmerizing percussive build with breathy diva vocals and a hint of strings. And "Summer Breeze" features a gorgeous female vocalist whose softness and soul foils the rough beats below.

Part of what makes "Aphrodite" fascinating is the way that the record demonstrates the world of difference between music that thrills on the dance floor and music that thrills on the stereo. The few drum 'n' bass musicians who have bridged the gulf between nightclub and bedroom have usually done so either by making their music jazzy and atmospheric (Size, LTJ Bukem), or by combining jungle beats with other traditions. Hybrids like drum 'n' bass indie-pop (Everything But the Girl), Indian-flavored breakbeat bhangra (Talvin Singh, Badmarsh and Shri) or old fashioned ragga jungle (Dr. Israel) are as thrilling when you're alone as when you're in an undulating mob.

But the songs on "Aphrodite" were designed for late nights and booming sound systems. Even those that begin with complex layers of hip-hop and soul segue into furious breakbeat explosions. At home, they sound pretty much the same from track to track. A few songs are worth being played over and over again on a Walkman -- especially "Music's Hypnotising" and "Summer Breeze." But just as you'd probably be nonplussed by a light show in your living room, the full intoxicating power of a track like "B.M. Funkster" won't be apparent unless you're in a pulsating room with a few hundred gyrating strangers.

By Michelle Goldberg

Michelle Goldberg is a frequent contributor to Salon and the author of "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism" (WW Norton).

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