In Conversation: Faze Action

Dennis Kane talks to brothers Simon and Robin Lee about songcraft and the joy of DJing.
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Faze Action 3

Dennis Kane is one half of the Siren duo (with Metro Area's Darshan Jesrani) and the man behind the Disques Sinthomme and Ghost Town labels. He's back to chew the fat with dance music's movers and shakers, with Robin and Simon Lee—better known as London's Faze Action—serving as this month's subjects.

Brothers Simon and Robin Lee, who first burst on the scene in 1995 with the Original Disco Motion EP, grew up in the London suburbs and became enamored of music listening to shows like Gilles Peterson’s and Norman Jay's Kiss FM pirate broadcasts. Simon began collecting records and immersing himself in nightlife, and Robin devoted himself to studying music and composition. Hovering in the worlds of both acid house and acid jazz, they entered into the environ of production just as Robin was moving to Japan to teach. In the pre-Internet era, this created some serious obstacles, but by using his ability to transcribe music—and by using his school's fax machine—Robin could get his ideas from Osaka to his brother. Simon would mail tracks back to Japan (via actual magnetic tape in an envelope, kids) for Robin to review. Original Disco Motion was a fresh and exciting sound, one that reflected their love for Johnny Hammond and the Mizell Brothers. It gained support from numerous DJ’s, most notably François K, and it became a seminal release for what would become the Nuphonic label.

1996 saw the release of the epic "In the Trees," which features a stunning string arrangement that contributes to the song's deep melancholic tone. That EP, along with many of their original productions, have an orchestral richness which enfolds gracefully with dancefloor time signatures and funky percussion. To date, Faze Action has released five albums—most recently last year's Body of Oneas well as numerous EPs and singles, and has an amassed an impressive list of remixes for everyone from Serge Gainsbourg to Banda Black Rio to Azymuth. The brothers have established themselves as heavyweight producers, as an impressive live act, and as DJs of note—and they stand out as iconoclasts of the nu-disco, nu-house scene. On a mutual studio breaks, we got together recently on Skype to discuss all things Faze Action.

Dennis Kane: Hey, fellas what goes on?
Robin Lee: We have been back in the studio working with Zeke [Manyika]—he worked with us on Body of One, and we love his singing. He’s a great drummer as well. We are getting some new material together.
Simon Lee: We also have been DJing. I was in Bulgaria, and Robin was at a festival, and then we are off to Serbia. Incognito are going to play live and we are going to DJ.
RL: We have a remix for some act called Siren out as well. [laughs]

DK: I like the series of remixes you have put out in conjunction with Body of One.
SL: Thanks. Yes, the album was well received and we thought we would do the remixes as a strictly-vinyl project, but the demand was such we did downloads. We did one, and Phil Mison, Dicky Trisco, and Chuggy; all did some great work, we think. We are happy with how it turned out.

DK: You guys are also doing live shows?
SL: Yes, we have been doing some one-offs with the full band, and it has been going great. The night we did at the Red Gallery was excellent; we had Phil DJing as well.

"A song has to feel necessary, and it needs quality writing to drive it."

DK: Has playing live made you want to record with the full band? Have you done that?
RL: No, we haven’t actually done that. We have worked with all the individual players, or one or two together, but never as a full unit.
SL: Actually, that’s something we should probably try. We are lucky the people in that we play with; we have known most of them for 20 years, and live playing has always been such a strong component of our sound.
RL; There is a good familiarity when we step on stage. I like the idea of perhaps recording with the full group—the only issue is scheduling everyone at the same time.

DK: Having that extended relationship with the players, do you find yourselves writing parts with them in mind?
SL: Oh, definitely. The track we are working on with Zeke has a heavy African sound, and it was written with him in mind. He definitely brings so much to it.
RL: I might differ here—I’m not really sure it’s had much impact on the writing, but I am intrigued by that possibility.

Faze Action 5.

DK: Nowadays, when so much production is laptop-based—which isn’t inherently a bad thing— there is a heavy cut-and-paste-and loop–based aspect to so much production right now It often can become homogeneous. I think working with great musicians is a terrific challenge.
RL: Yeah, every one thinks producing is so glamorous or exciting. But it is a lot of really hard work—and it can’t just be habit or craft. You need that thing at the center; a song has to feel necessary, and it needs quality writing to drive it.
I think about the '70s, the pre-digital era, with all this great songwriting, all this phenomenal musicianship, these great recording techniques.... I want that.
SL: I agree with Robin. And I love the idea of an LP, with eight or nine superbly crafted songs—this finished, resolved thing that has a long life. I also like the thought of the song and the musicianship developing together.

DK: Given the sheer volume of stuff out there, I think there can be room for some well crafted and played work—music,, that even if its dance-driven, can have a songwriter's insight and nuance as well.
SL: I totally agree, and I think we are going to see more sophisticated forms emerge, even within this context.
RL: Yeah, man, you need that belief—otherwise you couldn’t go on! I think that’s also true of DJing; it has to have a diaristic quality; you have to have insight, and bring something specific to the table.

"At the end of the day, DJing about bringing people together, and that transcendence that can happen for everybody."

DK: Do you guys still enjoy DJing?
SL: Oh, definitely—it is so amazing to see how things impact a crowd, and the reaction is so immediate.
RL: Yeah, I love it. I get so excited to relate to the crowd, and it is a nice complement to the solitude of the studio practice.
SL: Seeing the records delivered to the crowd, having the chance to do that…its sort of a culmination of all the digging and composing and producing, etc. You get to drop songs you love to people who want to, hopefully, dance.
RL: At the end of the day, DJing about bringing people together, and that transcendence that can happen for everybody.
SL: Yes—and if that happens with our songs or our playing, that’s a win.

DK: So what’s on the horizon?
RL: We are off to Brazil in October, and we are bringing some singers with us.
SL: Teh Faze Action label has a bunch of releases coming up; we have a Rudy’s Midnight Machine coming on vinyl.
RL: And some new Faze Action music featuring Zeke in the spring, and a bunch of remixes in the pipeline. I have a solo project that I am working on.
SL: There are a bunch of DJ gigs lined up, too—so we are happily busy.

After twenty-plus years of composing, producing, performing and DJng, Faze Action
have amassed a tremendous body of work; their sound and approach has depth,
grace and real urgency. Try to catch them live, or see them spin—or delve into their
rich discography.

Dennis Kane picks five from Faze Action.

Faze Action "Full Motion" (Nuphonic)
A sophisticated bomb of a tune—subtle, with a haunting bassline and clean, stunning synths, it soars and dives. One of my all time favorite dance records. It reminds me of walking into the Loft when David had the room really going, joyful as all get out.

Faze Action "Spark" (Dub Mix) (Faze Action)
Stunning synth work on this down-and-dirty disco machine. The song grinds and has some really nice changes; it moves on a theme, dissolves, brings in another phrase—there's an easy fluidity, with some great percussion helping to chase it down.

Yellow Sox "Flim Flam" (Faze Action Live Guitar Dub) (Nuphonic)
The "Flim Flam" OG gets some amazing guitar work in this buzzing and nicely jazzed-out remix. FA keep it dirty, and avoid the pratfalls of so many jazz-infused house jams. The guitar work shimmers, while the rhythm and bass keep locked in a tightly wound groove—get your sweat on here.

Serge Gainsbourg "Là Bas C'Est Naturel" (Faze Action Remix) (Mercury)
In the jungle ,baby, it’s natural there—let’s go to Kenya and get humid. Jungle sounds and some nice electric piano with a light touch move this simple, witty lyric, and Faze arranges it so Serge shines on his own terms. A highlight of the I ♥ Serge comp.

Faze Action "Floating World" (Chuggy’s Dub) (Faze Action)
From the first remix 12” series of their Body of One LP, Stuart Leath aka Chuggy
maintains the bitter sweet Metheny-esque quality of the OG adding a lush synth
cloud cover that enhances the songs mood.