The international house scene has seen a major paradigm shift in recent years. Stark and soulless minimal techno gave way to deep melodic soul and slow-mo grooves, with the influences of disco, rare groove, and even hip-hop seeping into the four-on-the-floor mold and breaking it.
The start of this sonic renaissance coincided with Wolf + Lamb landing on the scene around 2009. Bringing like-minded artists such as Soul Clap, No Regular Play, and Nicolas Jaar into the fold, the label specializes in dance music that inhabits the cracks between deep house and street beats.
Another genre-blurring act on the label is Voices of Black, the production duo of New Jersey natives Jules Born and Baba Ali.
Neither Born or Ali were older than 21 when they released auspicious 2011 debut, Plastic Dolls. But the album's kaleidoscopic and sampledelic sound grabbed critics' attention and earned them plenty of fans across the Atlantic.
Crossfade caught up with the V.O.B. boys ahead of their headlining show at the Electric Pickle on Friday to talk about their musical roots, partying with models and writing an album about it, not to mention SpaceGhostPurrp's Raider Klan.
Crossfade: How did growing up in New Jersey shape you as artists? Were there specific homegrown sounds, artists or music scenes that influenced you?
Baba: Well, there was definitely the Fugees, but their peak was already past my time. I still listened to them though. Hip-hop was really at its peak when I was growing up, and the biggest scene that influenced me was the Diplomats and the whole Dipset crew. They really got a big following in northern New Jersey, especially in our county because, you know, Harlem is literally right across the George Washington Bridge.
The production was what really hit me the most: sped-up soul samples, dramatic cymbal crashes and violins. The first thing that draws me in to certain rappers was the beats as well as the timbre and pitch of their voice. I never really listened to rap in the same way others did, in terms of focusing in on the lyrics.
The whole Dipset Harlem world movement had it really tight. The Diplomatic Immunity album is a hip-hop classic. It featured this production crew called the Heatmakerz, and also featured some work from a producer called Just Blaze, who was running shit heavy at that time. That album, for me, really painted a vivid picture of that whole Harlem world movement. It was a beautiful thing, which is weird to say because it was also violent. But you know, you could also say the same for films like Scarface or The Godfather.
There were also dances that made it to New Jersey from Harlem, like the "Harlem shake" which had fools battling each other all the time. It always somehow got out of hand and a fight would break out, but I guess that was the fun of it. Being young and foolish was fun back then. There's also the Neptunes and the Clipse, but I think I already said too much. Next question.
Jules: Growing up in New Jersey, music scenes were very micro. Literally, my music scene as a kid was my group of friends from the neighborhood. We were definitely influenced by a lot of things going on in New York City, the whole mixtape scene in hip-hop. Electronic music didn't really come into play until my early high school years, but I was always listening to more alternative groups, growing up, as well as pop music.
Growing up in Teaneck, NJ definitely helped shape and promote my musical taste because where I am from is a very ethnically diverse place. New Jersey is the most dense state in America, so I can only really speak on the influences from my immediate surroundings.
How did you first hook up with the Wolf + Lamb collective and what drew you to the label?
Baba: Umm, my memory is kinda fuzzy on this, but we basically found ourselves in their studio one day in the summer, and played them some songs we made. Some of that ended up becoming Plastic Dolls.
We met Zev [Eisenberg] and Gadi [Mizrahi] through Nicolas Jaar. We were supposed to meet up with a group of girls that day, actually, but Nico called Baba, inviting us to stop by the Marcy. We ended up ditching the girls and going to Brooklyn and met everybody. We put some of our music on and the rest was history from there I guess.
Plastic Dolls has been described as a concept album about fashion models. Could you elaborate on that concept and the themes you envisioned for the album?
Baba: Well, I'm personally just fascinated by that whole world. It's pretty crazy what models go through to just walk for 30 seconds down a catwalk. I had also just turned 21 when that album was in the works, so I was partying in New York for the first time, and had some encounters with girls who modeled and they told me all these weird crazy stories. Some were funny, others were disturbing, and others were pretty mundane. Shout-out to Chantel DeBerry.
Jules: Plastic Dolls was an experimental beat tape. It happened to be a bit more uptempo for most of the CD. I don't think we consider it an album because it's all instrumental (you can debate that if you want). It was really our exercising of chopping samples and making beats as raw as possible. At the time, I was going to school in New York City and every girl I was meeting would say they modeled. I found it a bit humorous and we gave that nickname to girls that "model". Yarch to the masses. Shout-out to Reuben Dowdy.
In your productions, the lines are blurred between styles like hip-hop and deep house. What's the creative process like in the studio typically? How do you approach the writing process, and what do each of you bring to the table?
Baba: The creative process is pretty sketchy and sloppy. First, you throw all the ideas out there, and then you go back over and refine it until you have something that you like as the final work.
Jules: It's funny because we haven't been sampling much since Plastic Dolls and Her Flower EP. I guess you could say that our creative process is completely random. Sometimes it's file-sharing. Other times it's a studio session, and we both make a full song in three hours or so. It really depends, and it's more about capturing the moment than planning.
You guys have been played your fair share of international dates already this year. What have been some of the highlights so far? Any memorable parties or locations?
Baba: Paris and Bucharest were my two favorites, for sure. The gig in Paris had a really diverse crowd in terms of age and ethnicity, you don't usually get that in most parties on this scene. The energy was also amazing -- it's been a while since I've seen people who were so excited to party and have a good time. Bucharest was amazing because the people also had that energy and excitement.
Jules: I'd have to say that the Paris gig in June and Bucharest Romania did it for me as well. Mint Club in Leeds, UK was also a favorite. We get a lot of love in the UK, and are looking forward to DJing and performing live in the UK in the near future.
What do you have in store for fans next? Any forthcoming projects or releases?
Jules: This fall and winter we will be releasing more material. We are also releasing a web series called Yarch Diaries which gives our fans and random people the chance to see what the creative process is like, as well as our whole crew (7:30 Birdies). It's going to be a very good year sonically and visually for V.O.B.
Baba: Yes, there's definitely things in the works, but it's still in the works, so I'd rather let it come together more behind the scenes for now, before we say anything definite. What I can say is that we're beginning to rehearse our live performance.
So what can Miami expect from you at the Electric Pickle this Friday? What will your live M.O. be?
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Jules: We will probably do something a bit different from a typical DJ set this Friday. I think our sets are starting to tell more of a story than blend in with the typical club DJ set. Shout-out to Raider Klan and SpaceGhostPurrp. Lots of innovative things coming out of Miami right now. 7:30 Birdie Alliance Yarch To The Masses!
Baba: Expect the unexpected.
Voices of Black. Friday, August 17. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 10 p.m. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.