Politikin': The Beat Goes On

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Having transplanted himself from New Zealand to the U.K. some 10 years ago, Mark de Clive-Lowe burned his way on to the West London broken beat scene with his inimitable brand of funk-filled jazz keys, doing session work with Bugz in the Attic and contributing to many of the tracks that brought broken beat worldwide acclaim, including his anthem "Relax, Unwind." His style belies a musical heritage that includes a childhood steeped in jazz and a high school obsession with Native Tongues and '90s soul ("Bell Biv Devoe blew my mind when I was 15," he says).

Bembe Segue is no less of a driving force. Over the last decade she has sung on tracks for 4Hero, Sleepwalker, Two Banks of Four, and of course, Bugz. She's got a bright, sunny demeanor that shines in her vocals and a firecracker-like presence at live shows. On the phone backstage from a gig in London, she describes her sound as having "lots of big lush layers of harmonies, cross-harmonies, and syncopated things going on, [with] voices being used a lot like horns." Citing Cameo, Rod Temperton, and George Clinton as influences, she's carved a niche for herself and her unique style, one that's as at home on a boogie-inflected dance track as it is on an epic '70s fusion jazz record.

The pair recently teamed up on The Politik, a full-length that breaks the ties between hip-hop, broken beats, boogie, and soul; the record is a step towards a more stripped-down and straight-up style. "Everything I do is a culmination of my prior work," explains de Clive-Lowe. "From my side of [The Politik], with the music and the production' consciously wanted to keep it as simple as humanly possible. I had some cats [talk to me about] 'the complexity of the production', and I'm like, 'What complexity man? That's just me chilling! Whereas a record like my album Tides," he says, referring to his 2005 full-length Tides Arising for ABB, "I painstakingly produced that down to the microsecond. With The Politik there's much more of a hip-hop aesthetic–if it's banging, let it loop."

Though Segue's voice can often be the driving force of the track, on this album she goes in a different direction. "[This album] wasn't necessarily about doing diva-esque lead vocals," says Segue. "I wanted the vocals to be an extension of the music as opposed to a bed of music with a lead vocal over the top. It's definitely Bembe and has a lot of things that I do inherently, but it's almost like I invented this little character that finished off the album."

With both partners channeling new parts of their personalities on The Politik' ask de Clive-Lowe if this record was a conscious decision to diverge from broken-beat conventions. "It's never really a conscious decision to make music in a certain style," demurs de Clive-Lowe. "For me, the main differentiation between different styles of music today is tempo, and if you're gonna stick to making music by tempo, that just doesn't really make sense."