While watching the 2015 BET Music Awards recently, it became apparent to me how much electronic dance music has infiltrated R&B. Along with rap, dance music has shaped almost every aspect of what was once the traditional R&B sound (whatever that was). It makes sense that barriers to traditional soul music and it’s reliance on strong vocal skills would be fading in this new world of easy home production and internet distribution. Electronic music allows even those with no singing ability be become stars. Unfortunately, it like rap has become a quick path to profits (or the record companies hope so) by giving record companies the hope that they will find the next Justin Timberlake.
For every great soul artist today there are 20 mediocre studio bunnies created by media conglomerates. Its this climate of cookie cutter production that favors individual tracks vs. solid song collections was once a R&B thing, but now rules the music industry. It’s so bad that old world stars like Janet Jackson struggle to regain their former chart glory. With few exceptions, that seems to be the case for R&B music in general.
While this trend has become disheartening in its current stage, there have been some interesting developments where soul and R&B is effecting electronic artists. This new generation of singer-performer-programmer has had access to popular culture from everywhere all at once via the internet and might have grown up with warm fuzzy memories of ’80s and ’90s R&B. Their first instruments were more likely to be iMacs than guitars. Now they can come from anywhere.
One of these global thinking local doing artist is Brisbane Australia’s Danny Harley. Brisbane was known for being the home bands as diverse as The Go Betweens and the Bee Gees. The diversity of the city’s music scene no doubt helped shaped its lively DJ/dance music culture today. It was in this environment that Harley would make remixes of pop hits and eventually began working on his own material.
After releasing a string of singles, collaborations and remixes, Harley toured extensively and made eventually made appearances in the US at SxSW and later the Coachella Festival in 2013. Despite the heavy touring schedule Harley found time to write, sing and produce the material on his debut album Vessel. Going under the name The Kite String Tangle, his EP contained six tracks of intricately styled dance music with soulful vocals from Harley and the occasional guest like Tiana Khas.
Many of the songs like “Given the Chance” and “Stone Cold” might sound familiar because they had been floating around as singles before landing on Vessel. The album’s opener “Arcadia” is perhaps the best example of the hybrid sound that seems to have evolved into its own popular sub genre.
Somewhere between alternative soul and electronica, Danny Harley’s The Kite String Tangle, like Chet Faker represent a wave of artist from Australia who are slowly getting the exposure in the US. It still might seem like an uphill battle as more established U.S. artists like Tom Krell (How to Dress Well) are the fringes of the charts. The internet makes it easier to dig a bit deeper for those willing to do it, but there’s more from where that came.
Vessel has been out for nearly a year and is slowly gaining new fans. Harley’s extensive DJ and remixing experience puts him in an ideal position in time where hip hop, electronic and soul are converging in sometimes interesting ways. With today’s fractured paths to fame and exposure, I can only hope that The Kite String Tangle will get the more mainstream audience it deserves in the States.