So what's Black Affair about then? "Well," says Steve Mason from a studio in New York, "it's sophisticated, with an air of fashion. But ultimately it's pop music - with slightly dark sexual undertones."
Steve Mason's new solo project is stripped down in all senses of the word, then. The man behind King Biscuit Time and The Beta Band locked himself into the studio, wrote songs about obsession and dangerous sex, rediscovered his teenage love for house music and dodgy Manchester nightclubs like Konspiracy, flew to New York to mix the electro-hot results with Warp's Jimmy Edgar - and is about to take the whole Black Affair shebang on tour with New Young Pony Club. "I'm looking forward to going on tour. It'll be good for me to get out of the studio at last and in front of an audience".
Black Affair is Steve Mason, raw and direct. He recorded the record at home, then flew to New York for a fortnight to mix it with Jimmy Edgar, and even got Edgar's girlfriend to sing a little on ‘You and Me'. "I'd heard his Colour Strip Warren record and thought it was incredible. He understood what I was doing." He also hooked up with West London's most imaginative MC Miss Oddkid for ‘Same Same' which will be released later this year. "She's fantastic and we're going to do a couple more." There's also a mix of single ‘Tak! Attack' by Brixton punk fusionist SuicideDogz.
Some artists cut themselves off from the outside world when they're making a record, but Mason did the opposite. He plugged himself directly into a whole world of R&B, electro, hip-hop, house and techno. "We had a big R&B thing in the Beta Band and it's stuff I've always been listening to but I've never delved deeply into. Some of it's cheesy but the melodies and the way they put it together is incredible." This specifically involved digging out old Jodeci, Montell Jordan, ‘80s electro like Kleer, Neneh Cherry's first album, early hip-hop a la The World Class Wrecking Crew and Detroit techno and weaving it all into his heady electronic mix-up.
"I was going to a lot of clubs at that time, from about 1989," says Mason. "Back then people used to give out tapes so I knew the tracks but I didn't know their names." Last year, then, was spent crate digging obscure sites on the internet, going through clips and putting names to lost 12"s heard on the dancefloor. Even before Mason was lured into the bass and bleeps of house and techno, he'd been hit by hip-hop. "Me and my group of friends were into B-Boying and electro. We all knew ‘Egyptian Lover' but going back and listening to it again, it's amazing with it's dark undertones and modal melodies".
It's a very personal record that revolves around a destructive relationship. Some were written during the relationship. The rest were loaded and fired during the bitter, angry aftermath. "Every record I've done has been personal but this is more so. It's a chunk of a diary, really. It's also a dance pop record - the lyrics are something you can take or leave."
The album's an ambitious, powerful, sonic representation of electro-sex and hardcore electronic soul. Take the single, ‘Tak! Attack'. "It's about telling people what you really think of them. I just wanted it to have a Detroit flavour, with ‘80s pop in there too - the melodies and the sounds, and an ‘80s bassline house feel holding it together." Then there's ‘It Goes Like This', Mason's take on a R&B slow jam, underpinned with shadowy, skin-tight melodies and a super-hooky bass line. "I wanted to make an R&B track, but one where you could strip off my vocal and it'd still stand. It's got a strong feeling, that track."
The last year has been all about Black Affair. And about immersing himself in new music like new wave surf fusionist J*Davey, and rediscovering pop music. "I always saw it as something I didn't want to be associated with. But really, most of the music I've ever loved has been pop. I just didn't want to admit it. For too long I've been undone by my own worrying about whether something was cool or not. It's bollocks. It doesn't matter." It's a realisation that's stamped all over Pleasure Pressure Point. It's in the grooves, it's in the sticky, late-night undertones and it's right the way through it.
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