Maybe you’ve recently run into Astrocolor, caught yourself cutting a rug and thought, “Where did these guys come from?” You might be surprised to find out about the rich history of the band. Winding the clock back a few years, Victoria-based five-piece funk band, Weird Party, released their debut album Mellow Funk to critical acclaim including a nomination for Best Instrumental Record at the Western Canadian Music Awards. Reading the liner notes on Mellow Funk reveals that the recording was engineered by Neil Cooke-Dallin and Thomas Shields, the duo better known in the festival community as the head-to-head live technosaurus rex, The Righteous Rainbows of Togetherness.
Fast forward to 2015 when Weird Party caught the attention of Canadian indie label supreme, Last Gang Records, who carry heavy weights Chromeo and Death from Above 1979 to name a few. The band was subsequently enlisted to create a unique funk take on Christmas tunes to add a seasonal option to the label’s catalogue. Neil and Thomas would again be called up to add a mish-mash of synths, vocoders and acoustic instruments to the album. The project was dubbed “Astrocolor” and the resulting album Lit Up again received critical acclaim.
Okay, so how is that related to the recent flurry of activity by the union of this funk band and the live techno duo? It turns out the bands reconvened on a whim. Neil had an unbooked weekend at his studio, Burning Rainbow , and invited all six of the other musicians down for an intensive weekend of tracking with no intent in mind other than to produce some fresh tracks from a new angle.
“I keep hearing these cues in new music that remind me of the heyday of late the 90s,” says Cooke-Dallin. “They hearken back to the down tempo and
“I keep hearing these cues in new music that remind me of the heyday of late the 90s,” says Cooke-Dallin. “They hearken back to the down tempo and trip hop sounds, the MPC-heavy Ninja Tunes era. Then you’ve got the Tropical House thing that recalls the Ballearic sound of 90s Ibiza and late 90s house in general. So I had this free weekend at the studio and I thought, well gawdamn, I know that Weird Party and Righteous Rainbows always do great work together… What if I get all seven of us in a room together and record hours of improv jamming – two bands head to head?” Elaborating further, Neil explained that the goal was to create a massive bed of new music from which to pull samples in order to hack up into completely new arrangements, in the DJ mind set
“I wanted to have an extensive library of samples so that I could approach writing new tunes from a sample-based style, but I didn’t want to rely on ripping samples from the same old funk and soul records in order to do it. I explained the concept to the guys and everyone was on board immediately. Everything has just kind of exploded from there.” Neil had basically turned the two bands into a sort of Funk Brothers or Wrecking Crew; a house band that could be the backbone of Astrocolor recordings. What does that mean in plain speak? Imagine the Chemical Brothers having access to the session players from late 60s Motown and what might transpire…
The concept quickly evolved from creating a track or two to a full blown album based on the strength of the material. The first demo was sent to Last Gang Records and was immediately met with excitement and support, earning a thumbs up for a full album release based on the first listen.
“We’re basically marrying a funk project with underground warehouse techno and it’s having this baby that’s at times deep and heavy and at times just a wild funk party. We started feeling that we had something that could be easily played at a dinner party, as a wind up for a club night or as an injection of sunshine in a 4am bliss set. The music is replayable because it’s based on live performances with real instruments, and doesn’t rely on computer plugins and programming. You can hear the microphones catching the pressure in the molecules of air. There’s a depth to the sound that allows a listener to discover more with each spin.” Cooke-Dallin then laughed and said “I’ve been working on these tracks for months and I still have moments where I turn to one of the guys and ask ‘Is that you? What the heck is that sound? I never noticed it before!”
The decision was made to approach the live show in much the way that Bonobo or Tycho might – there is a full-blown live band version or a DJ set for smaller venues. Neil, who has been spinning tunes for nearly two decades, started weaving the new Astrocolor tunes through other tracks that inspire. They debuted the full band experience at two stages at Rifflandia Festival in September and the ball was rolling. The DJ set will be unleashed opening for Canadian legends, The Funk Hunters, for their Funk the Halls tour kicking off December 7th. The full-band Astrocolor experience will rock the Friday night of Song and Surf Festival in February and then Neil is immediately off to Costa Rica to bring the DJ set to Bamboo Bass Festival. They just released a limited edition of 60 white label 12″ vinyls as a teaser for the forth coming album which features two Astrocolor tracks on one side and a Righteous Rainbows of Togetherness live remix on the flip side. The Brazilian sun soaked track, Una Massive Sunshine saw over 5000 spins on Spotify the weekend it was released and rumor has it that a second 12″ teaser will be released before the full album in 2017.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride since that fortuitous weekend when we all came together to record the base material,” Neil mused. “We put a lot of talent in one room and it just keeps coming up spades ever since. There’s something to be said for surrounding yourself with lovely, talented people.”