Under the alias Leo Zero, Christopher Leo Elstob is primarily known for his remixes and edits – dancefloor overhauls of nominally less danceable fare, from Bryan Ferry and Patrick Wolf to, God help us all, Coldplay – and his DJ sets, where forgotten and/or borderline novelty fare is recontextualised and reborn. One particular out-of-vogue sound you suspect Leo won’t be spinning any time soon is the noodlebrained late-Nineties chart-trance of Chicane, even though he co-wrote their top 20 hit ‘Offshore’ and presumably still cashes royalty cheques every so often. Not that this is his secret shame or anything – I mean, it’s mentioned in the press release for this record – nor would it be at all welcome on Disconnect, which is his first properly released mix CD and, apparently, the first in a series to be commissioned by the admirable Strut label.
The idea behind Disconnect – 'asking some of the world’s leading DJs to explore the darker side of their collections for rarities, secret weapons and unheralded dancefloor winners' – is not dizzyingly original, but in this instance both label and selector carry a certain trademark of quality. Certainly, if you consider any of the 17 tracks employed here obvious or overplayed, it’s safe to say you walk a different beat to, basically, the rest of the world. ‘Halleluwah’ is probably one of the best known Can songs, but it’s also probably the most recognisable track on here, which should suggest that Leo has genuinely attempted to give you some tackle you’ll not have heard. Excellently, the Krautrock dons are flanked in the mix by two slices of OTT disco cheese: George G’s ‘Hot Lovers’, a 1989 Italian disco (not italo, really) track that sounds like it’s from 1977, and Richy B & Melodia’s ’Keep It Moving On’, which came out this year and sounds for all the world like it’s three decades old.
Keeping you guessing the era and/or location of whichever joint you’re listening to seems to be a hobbyhorse of Leo’s, in fact. ‘Kiss You On The Cheek’, by South Africa’s Desmond & The Tutus, is a spindly jumble of indie jangle and kwela shuffle – it’s also from 2010, but until looking it up I figured it was some sort of Smiths-era northern English indie oddity. Maybe you know them, just like you maybe know Brian Eno & John Cale’s Wrong Way Up album, what with them both being pretty famous – this 1990 collab seems to have fell down the sofa of their respective discographies from my perspective, but album track ‘Spinning Away’ is Disconnect’s penultimate selection. Can’t say its blend of rote house and orchestral flourish does much for me, but never mind.
Juxtapositions are judicious throughout this 77-minute mix. As well as the disco/Can/disco segment noted above, we have ‘Ashewo Ara’ – an Afrofunk-meets-rare groove slab from London-based Ghanaians Kabbala, circa 1982 – followed by Brighton ska band The Piranhas, also of early-Eighties vintage, with ‘Vi Gela Gela’. A song essentially about how ace African music is, with a side of 'if only we weren’t gawky British dorks', it could be reasonably considered wacky, but its groove is legitimate. I used the phrase 'borderline novelty' at the start of this review, and it applies here; it’s only honest to use it in regard to Basement 5’s ‘Silicon Chip’ (1980), which is sort of like a British reggae version of Devo, if you can imagine that. That’s novelty as a positive term; novelty as a pejorative would be Wunmi’s cover of The Police’s ‘Message In A Bottle’, which is a bit of a waste of her voice.
The extent to which any given listener might click with Leo Zero’s choices here is hard to predict, but suffice to say that if you vibe with that history of reappropriation that defines Balearic music – both in its late-Eighties form, and the revival of the last few years – this ought to be up your alley. It contains no notable cynicism or obscurity for obscurity’s sake, and springs from the probably reinforced racks of a geezer who knows his onions.
7Noel Gardner's Score