Back in 1979 when a crowd of nearly 50,000 people incited a riot at Chicago’s Comiskey Park by condemning disco to hell, no one really knew that what was actually happening was a baptism by fire of sorts. Because in actuality, disco was impossible to demolish. After all, the influence of disco on dance music was already set in stone, resulting in a lineage of Black and queer pioneered forms that would come to shape electronic music as we know it today. It’s almost essential to rehash this history when discussing disco. This turning point drove what was at that point the definitive sound of popular music back to its birthplace on the underground. And it was there on Black and queer dance floors where disco would eventually mutate into the four on the floor of house music that endures today. This complex history is something that Tino Piontek has adopted under his moniker Purple Disco Machine, a name that has become synonymous with an infectious blend of nu disco, house, funk and soul whose influence on the sound of pop and dance music has been undeniable. Since launching in 2009, Purple Disco Machine has been essential in resurrecting the soul and pulse of Studio54 from the depths of hell for the modern dancefloor, inciting a sort of disco resurgence like never before. One need only look toward the ever growing lexicon of Purple Disco Machine remixes for everyone from New Order to Lady Gaga to see the impact Piontek has had by vehemently embracing disco as his modus operandi. A remarkable remixer, Purple Disco Machine is arguably at his most influential when reinterpreting current hits by way of his formula. His original music has at times sounded like approximations of his remixes, yet his approach is distinct enough to hold up on its own. Tracks like Devil In Me or Body Funk largely informed the direction of pop, resulting in the recent onslaught of albums that have adapted his formula, from Róisín Murphy and Jessie Ware to the current MPG (main pop girl) Dua Lipa. Exotica, his sophomore solo album out now on Positiva Records, was always going to have to live up to the standards set not only by his remixes but more so his excellent debut Soulmatic, on which the Purple Disco Machine formula was seemingly perfected. And it almost achieves this.
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Immediately apparent on Exotica is its deeper embrace of retro sounds and structures; more disco and 80’s synthpop, less contemporary house. This results in tracks that at times sound referential to familiar Purple Disco Machine signatures. At The Disko, for instance, almost lifts its riff from In My Arms while Don’t Stop is saved from its near direct interpolation of Body Funk by an excellently astute Yarbrough and Peoples sample. Exotica is significantly stronger in its latter half. I Remember with Elderbrook uses it’s near seven minute run time to swell from a soulful folk ballad accented with distant chords and tambourine chimes to triumphant dance catharsis, recalling golden age Daft Punk once it’s percussion drops in from outer space. Loneliness with Francesca Lombard serves lashings of Goldfrapp with Lombard’s louche and oozy vocals and some of Piontek’s most interesting synth work to date. There’s a distinct 80’s influence in certain motifs and aesthetic choices on Exotica; the keyboards, 808’s and somewhat analog sounding passages in tracks all echo the sounds of a vintage discotheque. This is most apparent on the album’s title track, which gallops along on a baseline pulled from the French house playbook and a shimmery electronic keyboard riff before the outro slows its pace and a throbbing modular synth takes over. This use of atmosphere and moments of slowness, particularly as bookends to songs, is a recurring exploration on Exotica. The sound of the ocean and then a lo-fi, decaying bar or two of Wanna Feel Like A Lover opens the track as if being played on cassette in an old Corvette parked off on Venice Beach at sunrise. In the excellent Money, Money’s final moments, the beat recedes slightly and allows for the sort of deliciously funky vocal and string ad-libs that conjure the spirit of George Michael. Opposite of Crazy featuring Bloom Twins is a slow burning, synth driven ballad with Prince style guitar riffs and electronic finger snaps that add a smooth sexiness to a song about love as a reprieve from chaos. Followed by Hypnotized with Sophie and the Giants, which sounds as nostalgic and desperately romantic as ever, the two tracks are arguably the album’s strongest moment and hint toward Piontek’s affinity for crafting evocative mid-tempo synthpop (a direction that should definitely be further explored).
With Exotica, Purple Disco Machine continues the mission to resurrect disco to dancefloor dominance. The album gestures toward an evolution of his sound that will be inevitable at some point, and it’s exciting to consider what Piontek might be capable of creating by breaking his own boundaries. Exotica is particularly collaboration heavy and if lacking anything, perhaps it’s an opportunity to work with the pioneers of his adopted style. Who wouldn’t salivate at the thought of Nile Rodgers on guitar duty, or Diana Ross reminding us all that this is her house amidst one of Piontek’s glittering, mirrorball lit utopias.
See the music video for Money, Money with Pink Flamingo Rhythm Revue from Exotica below.
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