After gaining prominence circa 2011 in the remix circuit through low-frill cuts of ’80s-tinged, lipstick-smeared remixes, Classixx headed to the studio in 2013 to pen their debut Hanging Gardens, undoubtedly one of the most overlooked LP’s of 2013- which is surprising because despite the lackluster response, 2013 was easily the best year for the California outfit.
But before Classixx churned out club-ready remixes, Michael David and Tyler Blake first helmed themselves as Young Americans – an expected homage to David Bowie‘s outstanding LP. “Before Young Americans, Michael and I met through our mutual love towards the synth,” said Tyler. “That’s part of how we came together, because we listened to a lot of the same stuff our parent’s listened to.” It’s no wonder why Classixx is such a fitting name for the intrinsically nostalgic duo.
Under the moniker Classixx, David and Blake began to release an extensive catalogue of remixes ranging from Yacht, Phoenix, and LCD Soundsystem that filter ’70s disco-washed tunes, edited in a cookie-cutter formula. “We would usually remix any song that we could get our hands on and we would always embellish upon the best parts of the song” said Blake. Already on the topic of DJing David added, “By DJing nearly five years from chic clubs to rundown bars, we’ve learned that DJing is pretty easy: what works [and] what doesn’t work for certain crowds, and not to mention how to survive on low sleep and a poor diet.”
But what is probably the most nostalgic output from the duo is their debut album, Hanging Gardens, essentially a subtle homage to the music they grew up on as the title track plays with the glistening melody to Fleetwood Mac’s “Seven Wonders” as their LP sleeve pays homage to Tangerine Dream’s Optical Race running man.
But don’t label them as a pastiche act that caters to ’80s purists. In their debut effort, Classixx has aligned themselves with a number of artists – SBTRKT, Holy Ghost!, and Disclosure to name a few – who have recontextualized a number of dance’s sub-genres (disco, house, dub, etc.) into chart-topping, three-to-four minute hits. “We would like to think it’s pretty accessible,” said Blake on Hanging Gardens, including “we aim to reach a sort of broad audience.” “Pop music thrives on a hooky melody with some nice chords,” added David, “and I think that’s what we’re after.”
Hanging Gardens could definitely be considered a pop album as it filters glossy synths and glassy-eyed club gestures into three-to-five minute lip-serviced, pop-structured songs. While their extensive remix catalog boasts their producer credibilities, Hanging Gardens proves that David and Blake can also flex their songwriting muscle. From the palm-muted billet duex “Borderline” and the dizzying bass weapon “I’ll Get You,” to the sleek and tongue-in-cheek “All You’re Waiting For,” Hanging Gardens boasts a number of collaborations that just work. But producers at heart, David and Blake provide several blissful moments sans lyrics to get lost in, which makes sense as there are barely any collaborations. “We tried to keep the collaborations at a minimum,” said David, with Blake adding, “when you make a record represented by the collaborations, you get lost in your sound; so we were very conscious about that.”
In those wordless moments, Hanging Gardens sounds warm and breezy; so comparisons from surfing on the beach, corvette joy-rides along Hollywood Boulevard, to sun-kissed skin aren’t surprising. And it would make sense since the album was recorded in Venice Beach and the duo have called the southern beaches of California their home. “I think the perception of California is sunny, beauty, beaches and of that norm,” said Blake. “And I guess I could see how we personify that sound and we identify with that.”
“We definitely don’t mind it,” added David. “People always ask ‘Where are those guys from?’ and I really dig Los Angeles and representing super hard for the city. So I do love the idea of kids being like, ‘Oh they’re from LA.’” And while the dance duo is reminiscent of American staples from disco to funk, they also take cues and pilfer sounds from French pioneers of dance music from Fred Falke to Daft Punk. “French dance music artists modernized music genres like boogie funk and italo disco and churned repetitive synth beats into danceable pop-structured songs,” said David. “Those are some of the first guys we really connected with,” added Blake. It shows- “Holding On” channels the 4/4 Saturday Night Fever thump with kiss-stained synths reminiscent of Fred Falke’s funky “808 PM at the Beach,” while “All You’re Waiting For” refines their yacht house leanings with 909 bouncy synths in tow, making a nod to Discovery-era Daft Punk. If their French culture fascination isn’t anymore evident, take a look at their music video for “Holding On”: a homage to the French film Rendezvous. “The comparison to the film Rendezvous isn’t far-fetched at all,” said Blake. “The idea of the video was to pay tribute to the film and put our own spin on it and cruise around Los Angeles.”
But Michael and David also understand the kitschiness of dance music, disco specifically. “It got to a point where it was definitely cheesy and kitschy,” said David on the history of disco. “I’ve heard that kid’s parents went to classes just to learn disco dancing; it just became too commodified in mainstream culture, and too popular.” Throughout their emixes, Classixx have modernized disco but have been able to escape the kitschy loopholes and associations by churning the genre into pop songs filled with champagne-sizzled synths. But Classixx rely on the push-and-pull of kitschiness and tasteful – take “Do You Like Bass,” for example. The phrase “do you like bass” is absurdly repeated to kitschy excess, but coupled with gilded bass thumps, and sunny warbles, the song works.
That doesn’t mean the group undermines disco’s importance. “I think it’s around forever and should definitely be respected as one of America’s greatest gifts to modern culture,” said David. “Not only that but disco boasts some of the best musicianship that has ever reached mainstream.”
And musicianship never comes short in their live shows. Despite a relatively small setup, David and Blake are able to wrap ’70s and ’80s FM radio-reminiscent hits that would detonate sleek-dance aficionados into frenzy in ’77 as it did in 2013. With Blake behind a small cluster of filters and knobs and David switching between an electric piano and a banged-up Fender Mustang, the duo played a short 40-minute set dispersed with their catalogue of songs from Hanging Gardens. That doesn’t stop them from improvising though; they know the repetitive pain of playing the same nine-song set in an expansive tour. “We try not to stick too precious to the album or we would end up chasing our tail a bit,” lamented Blake. “We’ll add some piano staccatos in ‘Holding On’ and do some soloing in ‘Hanging Gardens,’ because it’s more fun to improvise than keep it strictly to the studio version.”
But to never let go of their pop sensibilities, the duo did a bedroom-eyed rendition of Drake‘s “Hold On We’re Going Home.” It’s sort of weird to think David and Blake are fans of Drake, but once I tell them Blood Orange even covered it, it begins to make sense. “We thought Hynes (AKA Blood Orange) made it,” exclaimed David and added “It definitely sounds like something that could have been made in the ’80s. “When we first heard that song, I was like, ‘We should have made that song,’” said Blake. “The instrumentation and the chord changes highlight everything what me and Michael like about music.”