Miami Horror continues criss-crossing the Atlantic in support of Illumination
By PJ Nutting
Ben Plant is cloistered into a hotel room in France and a grueling tour schedule is starting to catch up with him. The glow of his computer connected to Skype is the most lively thing in the all-white room with the windows shut. Miami Horror made its first appearance in Europe as a live band this year, and Plant is audibly blunted from flying laps over the Atlantic throughout the last ten months in support of their well received full-length debut, Illumination.
“Europe’s been pretty relaxed as opposed to America, which was a little bit more intense,” Plant told The Marquee in the early, early dawn Skype interview. “Purely because you’re driving through towns to get to other towns and it just gets a bit repetitive — y’know — with Denny’s being the only restaurant you can find. That happened quite a few times on the American tour, whereas now in Europe every city is something new.”
Plant lamented the language barrier in France is as difficult as anywhere, but France is also the home of the disco revivalism that drew him to produce music in the first place.
Miami Horror has made plenty of waves as a combination of aesthetics, the disinterested glam of the ’80s mixed with ’70s dance sensibilities that find new life in the live guitars, keyboards and drums which now drive the band. The result is sexy, carefree music that’s equally fun whether the sun or the moon is in the sky.
The Miami Horror name launched when Plant produced a string of high-profile remixes for acts such as Datarock, PNAU, and The Presets during Plant’s teeth-cutting production years of 2007-2008. “It got to this point where I guess I was using hooks and ideas on other people’s songs, not really getting paid much, and being quite limited in where I could go,” Plant said. “I couldn’t do a remix because if I came up with anything good, I’d want to use it for myself, so I’d never get the remix done.”
Illumination itself became a two-year project, beginning with an almost anti-guitar sentiment that ended in a full-on collaboration with new bandmates Josh Moriarty, Aaron Shanahan and Daniel Whitechurch. With no original intent to use real instruments, Plant shifted his production style completely to make sure the new material worked as a band instead of a studio sound that would only lead to a weak karaoke in a live setting. “We play as many live parts as we can, and I think in the end, the interpretation of the album live is a step or two further than the album,” Plant said. The result is five tracks with slide guitar and an album that has taken the dance community by surprise.
“I guess it’s a bit confusing for people who knew that I’ve done most of the work over the last few years in terms of writing the music, and they’re wondering why I’m just standing off to the side playing bass guitar,” Plant said. “But I think it’s becoming more common now for people just to understand that’s how it works.”
It’s not uncommon to see groove-based dance music being played live, when only a few years back there was a stark border between DJ’ing and bands. But few other acts are able to stay in both worlds quite like Miami Horror, and virtually no one has done so with the same success in the nu-disco arena. “I think it’s well above DJ’ing in terms of entertainment level,” Plant said, and when the time comes for the second disco backlash (inevitable, but no reason for concern), the group is now versatile enough to move in a proper new direction.
Funk-driven rhythm guitar at a relaxed dance tempo, samples and keys on a disco beat: it’s pretty close to what disco bands were doing back in the ’70s. But few of those artists at the time realized the music’s vulnerability as a saccharine-sweet, non-confrontational music that American audiences were quick to disengage from and dismiss back in the ’80s. “Even with some new music nowadays that I guess is the modern version of disco, the idea was not to have anything too meaningful,” Plant said. “It was about the style and the sound of it. Even if you look at things like Daft Punk, the lyrics never meant any more than any disco lyrics did. Often they are very personalized or just generalized lyrics, but for me it was the music and the sounds and the ideas that were so much more important,” Plant said, citing Illumination’s main influences as the strongly synth-driven music of Pink Floyd, Supertramp, and Air. Except for the sunny “Holidays” and the club-oriented “I Look To You,” the album excels as an edgeless interpretation of the dance grooves of ’70s pop that moves into dark and psychedelic territories.
“I’ve never been that much into lyrics, anyway,” Plant said, “so to me that music meant more to me than someone who was writing deep love songs.”
:: Miami Horror ::
:: Bluebird Theater :: June 11 ::
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