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King Britt has never been an easy talent to pin down. The main common thread throughout the career of the easygoing Philadelphia artist is one of experimentation. He's been far out in every genre he's tackled. That's been true from his beginning as the DJ for jazz/hip-hop act Digable Planets, through his robust house career, and to his latest forays into live electronic improvisation.
House heads most fiercely embraced him at first, and King has given them plenty to get warm and fuzzy about. His signature sound is soulful and funky, chock full of collaborations with new and exciting vocalists, but it never devolves into hippie-ish crunchiness. There's always enough of a techy bite to send you straight to the dance floor rather than the spa.
But recent years have seen another side of King, with experiments such as 2006's The Nova Dream Sequence, an outer-space techno adventure that ran through any number of cutting-edge gadgets, including a hacked Gameboy Advance.
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It's the side you'll hear more of from King these days, who, along with his fiancée, vocalist Rucyl Mills, is lately all about Saturn Never Sleeps. It's a monthly live improvisation night he throws in Philadelphia, fusing avant-garde electronic music with jazz and visual art. It's also a label, a blog, and generally an umbrella brand for any number of next-level projects.
But before he floats completely into orbit, King has a last hurrah with straight-up dance music. Enter Intricate Beauty, his new artist album for Nervous Records, which he'll celebrate Friday at Electric Pickle. It's his final traditional dance album — although he'll never stop DJing it, he says — and it's a sexy, classy epilogue. You can listen to the lead single, "Now," to get a feel. It's a sunny track, featuring vocals from Astrid Suryanto, that bubbles slowly into a melting puddle of soul.
New Times caught up with him recently to chat about Saturn Never Sleeps, Intricate Beauty, and the wonders of Ableton Live.
New Times: While you're still doing all of this experimental stuff, are you DJing house as much?
King Britt: I still DJ every weekend, so I still love and always buy dance music, and I'll always DJ it. But as far as producing dance music and that sort of thing, I'm still going to do it, but in a different way. It'll just be more experimental. I'm really starting to get into more left-field dance music, not so much four on the floor. So the album that's out now, it's kind of my last hurrah as far as traditional dance music. If you're familiar with The Nova Dream Sequence and the more techno stuff, that's where I'm going, and of course Saturn Never Sleeps is going to be the home for that.
So you just did an album for Nervous Records, and you've said it's your last traditional dance music album. Did you know it was going to be your last while you were making it?
I just kind of decided that after it was done. It's not that I didn't have a great time making it. It was fantastic. But I do all types of different music. I just produced two songs for King Sunny Ade, and I'm working with Bedouin Soundclash and producing their new album. I'm always looking for the next kind of boundary-pushing challenge for myself, and I just don't feel challenged anymore with the way dance music that I'm known for has been going. I just decided, OK, I'm just really going to go head on into an experimental world.
When and why did you write this material?
I was working on a project with my good friend, and we had some demos that I was shopping around. I sent some to Mike, the owner of Nervous, and Mike was like, "We should do a King Britt dance mix CD." And I was like, "Well, you know what? If we're gonna do that, I'd rather do an original album and then mix it, which is more challenging for me." I've always used Ableton Live, but I really, really took it full-on last year. I just wanted to have a project where I could really, really learn what Ableton Live's capabilities were.
Have you had any backlash from the house heads, or do you find that your fans are embracing your changes?
It's funny, because I've been so diverse since I started, from doing my hip-hop stuff to doing my acid jazz stuff and whatever — people who are into a King Britt project, whatever it is, they seem to embrace it. Those who don't want to, they don't have to, you know? If they like one of my other albums but don't like my new one, then maybe they'll like the next one.