DETROIT STARRZZ shine with an unprecedented confidence. It’s a remarkable glow that will indefinitely prevent them from having to spend so much as a moment too long in the shade. Understandable, given Steve Strange is a featured artist on their debut album.
A collective of artists, producers and re-mixers, DETROIT STARRZZ feature, alongside vocalist STEVE STRANGE, renowned keyboard wizard Patrick Ruane from the chart-topping dance duo THE NIGHTSTYLERS, and the hugely talented and charismatic DJ Little Andy (TOTP Star Bar). While Steve flaunts a textured vocal with lashings of attitude, he’s perfectly complemented by the exquisite backing vocals of Lauren Du Valle.
Last year, they were tipped to be one of the most promising new acts of the genre in 2012, and not surprisingly, their material has already being acknowledged within the ranks of Microsoft; their song ‘Halo’ is to be featured at all Microsoft Halo conferences worldwide, while the single ‘Aiming For Gold’ is going to PlayStation for a game called ‘Olympian’. It’s a bleak day somewhere not too far from Kensal Green, London, UK, and TEC are invited by no other than Steve Strange himself, to experience a day in the life of the DETROIT STARRZZ as their notable debut nears completion.
Upon arrival, both Steve and Lauren are engrossed – working on a vocal for the track ‘Wasteland’. Such a title may well conjure a bleak outlook; a barren area that lacks any real hopes or prospects, a sentiment that we’ve perhaps become all too familiar with in this day and age. However, such is not the case. DETROIT STARRZZ pride themselves with their positive approach when it comes to song crafting. “Even our melancholy songs have got a positive sound to them. They’re quite happy – the track ‘Wasteland’ is quite an up track – it’s a positive track and I think our tracks are really visual, so when you hear the lyrics, you can actually visualise what’s going on and that’s quite important,” explains Andy. It’s certainly not hard to understand where he’s coming from. Their unique brand of breaks and beats-inspired synthpop delivers an upbeat sound that’s fresher than anything else around. “In our tracks and particularly with ‘Wasteland’, you’ve always got to find a positive in a negative and that is really why we started writing songs, we always wanted people to think about a positive outcome,” says Andy.
Both Andy and Pat are energetic innovators, choosing to draw upon many influences and presenting the results in countless contrasting ways, ranging from dirty dubstep remixes to the more chilled and blissful meanderings. Eager to talk, they reveal their deeper, more peripheral vision for the project. “We’ve got an array of stuff that sounds like it’s come from the 80s. The actual album is like a journey, because it starts fairly quite 80s and it evolves up to the sound of now you know? Which is how we wanted to go with it anyway, and the cool thing is, we like to go in loads of different directions. We’re like a dodecahedron” says Pat.
Their music will definitely have wide appeal, not only for Steve Strange fans of course, but also for the youth culture in search of feel good dance anthems containing those addictive melodies that are impossible to forget. You can’t not hum one of their tunes, the hooks stick like super glue, and that’s largely down to some clever manipulation on the production side. “Harmony is really important to us. I know it sounds quite weak but if you have a good harmony, if you imagine all the times and places that you’ve ever been, you are always going to think of the song that will remind you of that time or that place and they’ve probably got a strong harmony in there. That’s it, you remember it… a hook,” Andy explains.
Their music covers a lot of ground. It exhibits those incredibly warm sounding synth swirls; a retro blend that expands beyond its own rich foundations. A clever combination of creative magic, a courageous step towards unknown territories and hyped up beats set against an adrenalin fuelled, addictive sense of positive spirit. There’s an ongoing pursuit to produce something that will reach out with explicit elements of surprise. Take Rachel Ellektra’s guitar breaks. It may take some imagination to hear an emotionally charged blues-tinged guitar coming into play on an electro dance driven record, but that’s exactly what happens on ‘Phone Sex’ and when it does, it catches the listener off guard and hits them between the eyes. It’s that kind of deal, one that really works when it’s done with masses of sophistication. “Rachel is amazing.” says Pat of their former guitarist/executive producer. “On ‘Loving The Alien’, I like the way she jumps in and then jumps out again and her fingers literally smoke when she plays which is brilliant,” explains Pat. ‘Loving The Alien’ is a STEVE STRANGE/DETROIT STARRZZ homage to DAVID BOWIE, having been given the thumbs up by the man himself, and it appears on the debut album.
When it came to vocals, both Andy and Pat had their sights set on Steve Strange for a good long while – and yes, we’re talking some months, and as Pat said, some things are all about destiny. It was only when Steve heard a DETROIT STARRZZ track by accident that he immediately picked up on it. “I was actually about to do a show in Henley for Here and Now,” reveals Steve, “and while I was at my friends house, she purposely put on this track by the DETROIT STARRZZ. I said: ‘who is this band?’ I’m normally up on new bands and she went: ‘this is the band that has been trying to get you for the past five months!’ I went: ‘really?’ So I made contact with Patrick Ruane and he went: ‘at long f*cking last! The man himself calls us!’ So, I actually quite liked his bravado and his cockiness.”
In the spirit of contrast, Steve’s vocals sit very nicely alongside young vocalist Lauren Du Valle. They combine with tremendous effect, with Lauren taking the higher registers while Steve drives the lower ones. Lauren colours the tracks with angelic overtones and Steve, on occasions, carries quite a punch with some of his monologue delivery. Both Pat and Andy are sharp when it comes to melodic and harmonic embellishments on the vocal side, and the engineer, John, knows exactly how to relax the performer and draw out the best takes. Artistic interpretation from both Lauren and Steve is quick and on the mark when it comes to working through some of Pat and Andy’s more intricate aspects of enhancing the vocal harmonies today. It’s probably not that easy to achieve, but again, the chemistry works so very well between them and the spark is there for all to see.
Watching Steve at work is enlightening – his voice becomes an instrument of texture, feeling, expression and attitude. He works a few takes on a particular segment of a track – going into a monologue almost chant like quest. The transition from take one to take four is quite remarkable. Taking on board some gentle pointers from the guys, come the fourth short take, he gives the goal his total concentration and then attacks it with a vengeance – his tone becoming stronger and more forceful with an impressive energy that totally knocks everyone sideways – including me. It was obvious they had it in the bag, and the guys in the control room confirm it. It’s an instance that highlights that all-important musical bond we’ve been talking about. Steve’s take on their direction was intuitive and quick, helped along by the song’s existing instrumental presence. It’s what I’d call a fine example of chemistry in action. To sit in the vocal booth with Steve while he did that was quite a special moment.
As the session goes on, what immediately hits home as both Lauren and Steve run through their vocal takes, is that they both have great recording voices; contrasting timbres that lend themselves to some versatile manipulation on the production side. The creative dynamic between the band members and the resulting interaction is all very intelligent and productive. Everyone’s aware of what sounds like a DETROIT STARRZZ track, and what doesn’t. Creatively as a unit, they’re on the same wavelength.
Musically, Pat has repeatedly been labelled a keyboard wizard by some and I was naturally very eager to get his take on the great digital verses analogue debate – it’s refreshing when you meet a musician who has the courage to admit that yes – you can tell the difference! Pat believes they should be taken as two separate entities, and not only that, he agrees most things sound great on vinyl.
With such a wide range of experience in the band, I ask Lauren who was originally doing some backing vocals with VISAGE, what it was like for her, as a young person, working alongside them. “There’s a mix of personalities and everybody is experienced, so there’s five different ways of doing things. You have to come to a compromise and nobody’s going to agree all the time, its how you work out the problem. Yesterday, it was a day of everybody going ‘right okay draw a line start again’ and we’ve gone back in and it’s been a really productive day.” Lauren would make her onstage debut with Steve last year in Venice. “Steve walked out on the stage and just became an amazing showman,” explains Lauren. “I was just meant to be next to him giving it everything and I was in awe to be honest. But I can draw on everyone else’s experiences. They’re all experienced and Steve’s been there and done everything; same with Pat with producing so I’m just absorbing the atmosphere and the way that everyone works. Just to sing with Steve is awesome.”
The day concludes well for everyone and we head to Paddington Station for a coffee. “For me this is like the first day of the year. We’re all in our element, which is great. There are no six balls in the air. We’ve done four tracks today,” explains Patrick. “I’m well happy! So, next week we’ll have the album wrapped and then after that we’ve got to mix it down. That’ll be the fun part!”
DETROIT STARRZZ release their debut album later this year on the Axis/On The Run labels.
Text and photos by Jus Forrest
25th August 2012