Filthy Dukes are achingly hip – and they know it. Promoter, producer, remixer, DJ and PR man Olly Dixon and Tim Lawton’s Kill ‘Em All club night has promoted everybody from Bloc Party to Crystal Castles, first at the Barfly, before growing into a new home at �berclub Fabric. Their remixes include reimaginings of songs by The Rakes and The Maccabees.
Now Dixon and Lawton have teamed up with producer Mark Ralph and set up a live act that does that DFA thing of bringing indie aesthetics and the energy of dance music together. On this debut album, replete with its packshot featuring a masonic eye (a nod to a fraternity of like minds?), they’ve mined the past to point the way to the future.
To underline their hipster credentials, they’d like you to know that they recorded this debut album on the customised sound desk used by Kraftwerk producer Conny Plank. But as well as teutonic electro, their music finds space to reference Giorgio Moroder‘s Italodisco, Justice‘s huge scrunchy synth bass – and child chorus – and of course the DFA’s club-length track finishings.
The inevitable problem they have is cramming all these ideas and energy into one album. At times the resulting work feels like a checklist of homages paid. Yet those influences, worn proudly on their sleeves, mean that while nothing here hasn’t been done before, it’s still a romp of an album. Thetitle gives their intentions away – they’re serious about their music and about having fun with it.
To such ends they’ve collected together some great and some other indie boys to sing. Ben Garrett, aka frYars, pops up on Poison The Ivy; Don’t Fall Softly features Secret Machines‘ Brandon Curtis, and, most successfully, The Maccabees‘ Orlando Weeks dominates the title track with an epic performance that makes this, at over six minutes the longest track on the album, a beautifully sustained highlight.
They’ve plenty more where that came from. Opener This Rhythm is nearly two years old but still sounds fresh. What Happens Next heads off toward Justice territory, while Messages, one of the weaker tracks that features Tommy Sparks, still bounces along in a pop direction. Tupac Robot Club’s bombastic opening, presumably in tribute to the world inhabited by Tupac, is a bizarre melding of Daft Punk production, Plastic Little‘s guest rap and Muse chord structures.
Light Skips Cross Heart is hook-laden filth of the first order, with lyrical tangents to go with it – “looking for the calm in the hurricane of your eye” fits perfectly with the rollicking, squelching synths.
Less successful is Cul-de-Sac, a musical dead end of Jarre-like analogue and You Better Stop, one of two instrumental numbers, might have made contextual sense with a vocal line in keeping with the rest of the record.
It’s not all upbeat anthemia; like the best DJ sets, downtempo numbers unwind the end of the record. Closer Somewhere At Sea winds down most of all, closing in a decidedly chilled, rather than euphoric, place and leaving the suggestion that these guys know what they’re doing as well as what they’re about.
Filthy Dukes have made a record bristling with ideas and with a knowing nod to their influences. It’s definitely not nonsense, in the dark or the cold light of day, and what they lack in focus they more than make up for with their ambition.