Finger on the pulse

Mar 21, 2001 at 12:00 am

Think that the most important independent labels in the United States are still Touch and Go, Matador and Sub Pop? Silly you! While those dinosaurs struggle to infuse themselves with new talent, upstart labels such as Tiger Style, Jetset and Astralwerks have quickly positioned themselves as the possessors of the new cutting edge.

So why is the independent’s shelf life so short? Not only do you always have to have your finger on the pulse; you also have to look forward constantly. In the case of Astralwerks, the label’s vision is to snag the very best in post-electronic/dance music from the U.K. and beyond. Its taste is impeccable, as witnessed by the success of big-name artists Fatboy Slim and Chemical Brothers, and the perfect “post-rock” troika of Doves, Beta Band and Primal Scream.

Compilation CDs can sometimes be scary, incoherent undertakings. Rarewerks, however, succeeds on two levels: It collects some impossible-to-find tracks by beloved and respected Astralwerks artists on one CD and it is a beautiful introduction to this shining label. Each track is a standout: the dance-music-for-the-masses-that-still-has-soul of “How Can You Hear Us?” by Fatboy Slim, an Ibiza-infused Armada remix of Orlando, Fla.’s, Q-Burns Abstract Message “Feng Shui” and the ultrarare and ultrahip 1994 track by Future Sounds of London, “Live in New York.” Plus, throw in a darkly brilliant remix of Primal Scream’s “Exterminator” by Massive Attack, the recent, future-looking single “To You Alone” by the Beta Band, and a swinging Brendan Lynch remix of an early Air single. All told, this is truly genre-melding, innovative music.

The intersection between dance music and underground rock is the most important trend in music right now. It all started with the Stone Roses more than 10 years ago, but ground zero in 2001 is Astralwerks. This stuff is for real.

Aaron Warshaw is the MT listings editor. E-mail him at [email protected].