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Friday, May 18 2007 | 17:54

James Spectrum is one of music’s mad professors. Not much interested in money, fashion, hedonism or ego, his band Pepe Deluxe have always stood for the purest sonic adventuring. Like his father before him Spectrum is an inventor and his latest album, “Spare Time Machine” is the group’s most ambitious and energetic yet.

The story of Pepe Deluxe is as simple as the music is multifaceted. Kicked into existence in the mid-‘90s by Finnish turntablist DJ Slow and his associate JA-Jazz (AKA Tomi Paajaanen), their early underground hip hop adventures achieved a unique individuality when Spectrum joined. Signing to Catskills in 1998, their debut album, “Super Sound”, was so notoriously sample-laden that three versions were eventually created, each ‘cleaner’ than the last as it grew in stature and was licensed to Sony. The culmination of this era was the use of their song ‘Woman In Blue’ on the Levi’s Jeans “Twisted” commercial (“Levi’s was sort of a second prize,” reveals Spectrum, “We missed Wonderbra because we were on a vacation.”). Paul Heaton of The Beautiful South has since claimed “Super Sound” as a particular favourite, a secret weapon he brings out for post-pub dancing round his living room.

In 2003 the group’s next album, “Beatitude” appeared and Pepe Deluxe, minus DJ Slow who’d left, showcased less reliance on samples without losing a jot of the upbeat party spirit that infuses their sound. Now “Spare Time Machine” has arrived, taking things up yet another level. It has all the funk of their best material but doused in the spirit of uproarious ‘60s psychedelic and ‘70s prog-rock. What’s more it’s entirely sample-free.

Happily, both studio experimentation and lyrical flights of fancy are tethered to red-blooded funk-rock from a future-past dimension where King Crimson are led by Clyde Stubblefield and get down with prime-time Lee Hazelwood. Spectrum’s mind is a constant flurry of ideas boding the question of where his manic creativity hails from. “I think the main driving force with Pepe Deluxe is the playful underground hip hop DJ attitude that’s been there since day one,” explains Spectrum, “I’ve always been fascinated by the challenge of getting people to listen to music they’d normally ignore or even dislike – something Beck did with country. Naturally we try very hard to sound like no other group in the known universe, to create something that didn’t exist before.”

With “Spare Time Machine” they come close to achieving this nigh-on-impossible goal but that still doesn’t explain where the album’s bizarre title came from. “It’s started as “Spare Time Bottling Machine”,” laughs James Spectrum, “but got shortened. I had the original idea when I realized the only thing that I don’t really have is spare time. I figured what we need is a machine that brews spare time for you to enjoy when you need it the most. Then, during a recent trip to New York I suddenly realized we actually do already have that elixir of spare time – good music that takes you to other times and places.”

A heady cocktail indeed but music lovers of 2007 would be wise to drink deeply of Pepe Deluxe’s latest recipe.

The album Pepe DeluxeSpare Time Machine” (Catskills) is going to be released June 16, 2007.

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