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Friday, Jul 06 2007 | 12:31 Buy this now at GoodToGo (B2B)

“Pepe Deluxe without an acute accent at the end”, states James Spectrum, (aka shaven-headed 35 year old Finnish scholar of sonics, Jari Salo), “is like a gentleman without a hat – a contradiction in terms.”

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 had 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.

The recording process fascinates Spectrum, not in a plodding computer geek way, but in the creatively crazed tradition of Joe Meek, Phil Spector and the Aphex Twin. He buzzes with the excitement of adapting technology to any eccentric whim via wire, pliers, gaffer tape and limitless imagination. He describes the years since “Beatitude” as spent “on a sort of musical archaeology, tracking down obscure studio gear and Russian electronic components, working on various inventions”. His perspective is, perhaps best captured by the monthly technical column he writes for www.beatmag.net, which has taken in everything from secret Nazi tape experiments to the use of baby monitors in rock’n’roll.

“I’ve been busy with acoustic flangers”, reveals Spectrum, “large cans partially filled with water and speakers connected to them that are mechanically rotated.”

Such offbeat sonic research is now accompanied by lyric-writing of equal strangeness and wonder. The new album’s sitar-led psychedelic “Ms Wilhelmina And Her Hat”, for instance, is based on a short story by New York artist Daria Tessler, while the groovy “Forgotten Knights” celebrates those warriors of times past who avoided dragons in favour of being remembered only by ladies for capabilities in the bedroom. Other subjects touched upon include lust for long-legged ladies on Mars, gypsy magic and Beatnik meditations on the colour blue. The Streets, this ain’t.

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.

His father runs a small farm but is an inventor in his own right while his mother, a retired nurse, once spent a few years working in the Finnish National Art Gallery simply because she loved paintings so much. When he was small Spectrum used to work summers as a cowboy on his grandparents’ farm and attributes his musical education to his older brother who told him, “Iron Maiden suck, Led Zeppelin rock” (“Though later on I realized he wasn’t always right on the conceptual level”). Doing a spell of national service in the Finnish Army only taught him how to “to shave, shower, dress and make my bed before waking up, and to instinctively salute anyone with glittering objects on their shoulders.”

JA-Jazz, on the other hand, is an ex-sailplane pilot, keen cyclist (just like Ralf and Florian of Kraftwerk) and owner of a massive record collection with which he DJs around the world. He recently married a Swedish-Finnish soprano singer.

Spectrum and JA-Jazz are the core of Pepe Deluxe, but they describe the current incarnation as “more like a small scale art movement than a traditional band”. This unit, comprising McGyver (bass, harmonica, guitar) and Vulunki 3000 (keyboards, cover art) was supplemented by various friends on “Spare Time Machine”, including Marko Nyberg and Reeta-Leena Korhola of Husky Rescue. Fresh vocal talents are also showcased.

Chris Cote, once a member of eccentric Boston fop-rockers, the Upper Crust, sings much of the album and reckons “Finland is truly a place where you can get some weird shit done”. He currently also works alongside another Finn, Jaane Haavisto, in the groups Farang and Solo Adultos.

Australian tour manager Boi Crompton, who has worked with everyone from Tom Jones to the Rolling Stones, ended up singing three numbers. No stranger to the mic, Boi honed his musical abilities while serving on warships all over the world, including four months of active service in the Gulf. He has since achieved some Australian success with his band Skinpop longside partner Eskae.

“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 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. (written by Thomas H. Green)

The album Pepe DeluxeSpare Time Machine” (Catskills) has been released June 15, 2007.

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