Review: Vince Clarke & Paul Hartnoll – 2Square
You’d think that dance music was a young man’s game. It requires very late nights, a lot of high energy, working knowledge of cutting-edge audio technology and the ability to stare into the smooth-skinned, bug-eyed faces of merrymaking young people without curling up into a ball and screaming, “Oh God, where did the best years of my life go? How long do have I left? Why must you be so cruel, Father Time?”
After a lifetime at the decks, your hearing starts to suffer from relentless exposure to deafening beats and piercing wob-wobs. A career spent leaning awkwardly over laptops and keyboards is worse for your spine than the back-deforming perma-seated position of office work. Naturally, your body and soul begin to crave bingo over techno, brown cords over synth chords and Horlicks over glowsticks.
Even so, many of today’s top names in electronic music are middle-aged or even older. David Guetta’s beard now has more grey in it than an EL James heroine. Daft Punk’s robot outfits may oncehave been a tool for keeping their identity a secret but nowadays those helmets are more treasured for their concealment of the duo’s unsightly wrinkles. The world’s highest-earning disc jockey, Calvin Harris, may appear to be a ripped and fresh-faced Adonis but every image of him has been meticulously photoshopped by his management company. He’s actually 55.
That’s the same age as Vince Clarke of Erasure fame. Orbital’s Paul Hartnoll is only slightly younger at 48. Now these two disco seniors have joined forces to embrace the ageing process by introducing a new subgenre called “Home House”: music to which you can bust out your dad-dance moves in the privacy of your own home.
To be fair, there’s little reason why many of these tracks wouldn’t work in the club environment.Even if its repeated vocal refrain of “better have a drink to think” suggests more contemplative if not entirely sober engagements, the album’s opening track is full of the kind of thumping, up-tempo beats, neatly-timed breaks and euphoric synth patterns that have long succeeded in filling dancefloors.
With its cut-up vocal samples, 2Square generally has more in common with Orbital’s festival-friendly rave music than the Andy Bell-fronted Erasure, although there a times when Vince Clarke’s pop sensibilities are brought to the fore, not least on the album’s poppiest cut ‘All Out’, the only number with complete verse-chorus vocals.
Elsewhere, ‘The Echoes’ is an shrewd mixture of playfully soothing polyrhythms, sci-fi keyboard notes recalling latter-day Kraftwerk and shades of deep-chorded Moby-ish ambience. Given the sheer number of house parties that Moby’s CDs soundtracked back in the day (over the number of times any club DJ would actually spin one of his tunes), and given his music’s suitability for accompanying every single television commercial that was ever beamed into your living room, it makes you wonder if Moby has been playing Home House all along without even realising it. Centred around the sound of a very jazzy trumpet, meanwhile, Clarke & Hartnoll’s ‘Do-A- Bong’ would have made the perfect accompaniment to a barbeque during a scorching 90s summer, resembling as it does the likes of Bentley Rhythm Ace and Fat Boy Slim at their most carefree. Were they Home House pioneers as well?
If Clarke and Hartnoll’s dance-music- for-dads contains any hints of the drudgery and sadness of growing older then they are few and far between. Having said that, ‘Single Function’ does have a darker, industrial undertone and there is detectable melancholy in the tropically-tinged closing number ‘Underwater’; the latter’s vibe feels very much like finally retiring to live by the beach only with the gnawing knowledge in the back of your mind that that’s exactly where you’re going to die (I imagine).
Still, the overall mood is upbeat, optimistic and infectious. With a relatively, benevolently short running time of 38 minutes, you won’t wear yourself out too badly if 2Square does inspire you to heave your aching frame out of the comfort of the armchair to boogie around with the curtains closed. Be warned, however. You must take good care when bopping along to Clarke & Hartnoll in your slippers on the kitchen floor. I nearly had a fall.
Pre-order 2Square via iTunes.
Written by JR Moores