House Party III: Toronto Duo Azari & III Avoids Pigeonholing While Taking Disco and R&B on the Ride of Their Life
- Words: Thomas Rees
- Photo: Shawn Brackbill
On the eve of a North American and European tour to include stops at Detroit's Movement festival, London's infamous Fabric club, Berlin's Panoramabar, and Toronto's Pride festival, Azari & III is ensconced in a remix for upcoming electro producer Sunday Girl in their Toronto studio. They're trying to work the piece into a harder, more four-to-the-floor banger. But making things into four-to-the-floor bangers is hardly their usual approach.
It's no secret that the electronic music world is constantly re-examining and reviving older genres. But given the breadth of sounds that have come out of the pair (whose name is pronounced "ah-ZAR-ee and third") since last year, it makes sense that they're actively trying to "not get pigeonholed" into a specific genre, as many fans and journalists are wont to do. Though early singles such as "Reckless (With Your Love)" and "She's an Illusion" make comparisons to '90s Chicago house and mid-'80s Italo inescapable, Christian Farley (a.k.a. "Dinamo Azari") and Alphonse Lanza (a.k.a. "Alixander III") don't see the need for such distinctions.
"There's so much to draw from, from so many [musical] situations," Lanza notes, that any sort of boxing-in can be viewed as an affront to good taste and, more importantly, musical freedom. "We're happy that Trax Records likes us," Farley adds with a laugh, "but we're not like, 'house house house house, house house house house.' We're trying to not get over-housed here." Lanza adds that the group is trying to do "new, futuristic shit" with the analog orchestra housed in their studio, and that any similarities drawn between Azari & III's sound and those of the past are peripheral to how he and Farley compose. "The two of us have 35 years of DJing experience between us, and we have a lot of house and disco records, but sometimes we get compared to tracks that we haven't consciously thought of for 10 years or more," says Lanza.
These concerns will be illuminated on the group's upcoming debut long-player, which is comprised of 12 songs that run the gamut from techno to house to R&B. Perhaps the only constants are the duo's analog production aesthetic and partnership with vocalists Fritz Helder and Cedric Gasaida, who can both be heard on "Hungry for the Power," the group's breakout single on Cosmo Vitelli's I'm a Cliché imprint. And it's a happy accident that Gasaida seems to channel Jamie Principle, and Helder's voice resembles Robert Owens'. "It's a blessing, really, that [the group sound has] come together," says Farley.
Alongside high-profile remixes for the likes of Booka Shade, HEALTH, Bot'ox, Munk, and Sid Who, the pair is constantly working with other musicians. "We can be a four-piece, or a two-piece, or an eight-piece," Lanza comments, reflecting a hands-on flexibility and eclecticism that is mirrored by the group's productions. Even their DJ sets, revolving around four turntables, are consistent with what Farley calls an anything-goes, "rock 'n' roll attitude, keeping things moving and energetic." And they keep wildly busy outside of Azari & III: Farley is part of Una Aventura, a collaboration with Sal Principato of Liquid Liquid, and Lanza is currently doing production with Isis of Thunderheist and indie-electro trio Young Flux. Lanza enthuses that "a lot of indie-rock guys—like Grizzly Bear, for example—they're amazing songwriters and musicians. We just love listening to amazing songs, and that's what we're trying to do: create powerful, energetic music that moves beyond any sort of genre distinctions."
"Reckless (With Your Love)" is perhaps the most pertinent example of the universality that Azari & III are attempting to achieve. Though the track could be placed alongside a Ralphi Rosario song in a DJ set, Cedric Gasaida's vocals allow listeners to approach the tune from any number of angles. Farley comments that the lyrical content "comes from any number of different factors. It isn't just coming from one direction."
"We've known people who have died of AIDS, and we know people whose relationships have ended because of infidelity," adds Lanza. "The amount of stuff we have to deal with in our society, it just piles up. We're reckless in our attitudes, from our consumption to our daily behaviors." Though Farley says that in the end, those who read the lyrics of "Reckless" as invoking the specter of AIDS are "not far off," the track speaks to any number of irresponsible behaviors that everyone witnesses on a daily basis. "In our era, a lot of bombs are being dropped from left, right, and center," Farley continues.
The group dropped a real bomb with the Lanza-directed, YouTube-censored video for "Hungry for the Power," Azari & III's follow-up single to "Reckless." Featuring a Patrick Bateman-like businessman engaging in heinous acts of nihilistic cruelty, the video concludes with Lanza, Farley, Helder, and Gasaida attacking the suit, disemboweling him, and eating his innards. Sort of like a house group channeling the ultimate punk fantasy, "Hungry for the Power" is a haunting reminder that all actions have consequences, and that even those at 'the top' should be mindful of the privileges their status affords.
Addressing these very real issues head-on can be thought of as yet another example of how Azari & III is grounded, in direct contrast to so many other electronic producers who exist in an ethereal world of techno-hedonism. From an insistence on using tangible, analog equipment in both studio and live settings to a songwriting and remixing aesthetic that eschews the contemporary penchant for creating ridiculous genre labels, the powerhouse production duo is well on its way to becoming one of the most acclaimed, sought-after teams on the electronic scene.
"To have our tracks compared to [Inner City's] 'Good Life' is absolutely incredible," says Lanza breathlessly, but he notes that he and Farley are "just good old Canadian boys, rolling with it and trying not to get big heads." With their humility working for them, Lanza and Farley are surely ready for the spotlights that they're about to step into.
"Reckless With Your Love" is out now on Permanent Vacation.
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