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Moby

+ {Voodoo Child}

Bridging the gap between dance/techno pop and ambient post-rock, the indefatigable MOBY was the only electronic act of his kind to swim from the shores of America, so to speak, into the burgeoning Euro-centric market. Indeed, while the Brits excogitated all the best trance tunes from 808 STATE, The SHAMEN, The ORB, ORBITAL, The PRODIGY et al, the man MOBY was still working out how many pounding bpm’s he could get to the dollar. But once “Go” was given the green light by movers and shakers within the nocturnal post-rave community, there was no turning back for the aspiring and inventive producer artiste.
Born Richard Melville Hall, September 11, 1965, Harlem, Manhattan, New York City, NY, the nickname of “Moby” was given to him (by his father) only three days into his life; it was claimed that he’s the great-great-great nephew of Moby-Dick author, Herman Melville. After being raised by his poor mother in Darien, Connecticut (relying on food stamps and welfare), Richard sometimes left the squalor of squat-life to reside with his grandparents in a more affluent area of the county. He graduated from Darien High School and went on to study philosophy at university, and photography thereafter.
His interest in the arts, particularly dance and electronic music, grew from his work as campus DJ at WHUS radio station. Short spells with 80s hardcore/experimental post-punk acts, VATICAN COMMANDOS (for one EP), AWOL, Shopwell, and FLIPPER (the latter for only two days!), bode well when MOBY switched gears to morph under the guise of Brainstorm, Barracuda, Voodoo Child and UHF, among other aliases. By the turn of the 90s, he subsequently became a mixer for PET SHOP BOYS, ERASURE and MICHAEL JACKSON, before and during his return to solo work.
Having already breached the lower reaches of the UK charts, MOBY’s solo-credited `Go’ gate-crashed the same lists at No.10 in the autumn of ’91. The compelling rave fave not only sampled ANGELO BADALAMENTI’s Twin Peaks theme, but a melding of TONES ON TAIL’s track with soul singer Jocelyn Brown’s `Love’s Gonna Get You’. Instinct Records had given the mixer an outlet to pursue his dance music interests, but with the bare minimum of earnings from his activities he wanted to break free. The label refused to free him from his contract, so MOBY refused to record anything fresh, resulting a mish-mash of unreleased demos hitting the market as MOBY (1992) {*6}; re-directed in the UK a year later as “The Story So Far” when released in competition with minor hit `Feel It’, and sign-off record, AMBIENT (1993) {*6}.
Thankfully for MOBY, Elektra (Mute Records in the UK) were waiting in the wings to unfetter his hot-off-the-press `Move (You Make Me Feel So Good)’; a near UK Top 20 breaker in September ’93. Patience would be a virtue when it came to timing for the reluctant artist, but the man was willing to swim the sea-changes of the singles market for now from his studio apartment in Manhattan. `Hymn’, `Feeling So Real’ and `Everytime You Touch Me’ all received rave reviews, so to speak, whilst hitting the Top 40 in Britain. And all three – alongside further chart entry, `Into The Blue’ ft. HUGO LARGO’s Mimi Goese – starred within the all-encompassing elixir-of-life set, EVERYTHING IS WRONG (1995) {*9}. The album had critics lavishing praise on the man for his unique combination of acid-dance, electronica and ambient. The penultimate track, `God Moving Over The Face Of The Water’, was consequently utilised for the Rover 400 TV ad; Toyota had earlier sampled his version of `Go’.
1996’s ANIMAL RIGHTS {*5} added another dimension, or string to MOBY’s CV. Abandoning any alliance with ambient and returning to his heavy industrial punk-metal roots, the set gave him a new found Kerrang! audience, even if that was never his attention. The premise of the UK Top 40 record was to shock listeners into submission, and with his NINE INCH NAILS-meets-SMASHING PUMPKINS motif on the likes of his minor hit cover of MISSION OF BURMA’s `That’s When I Reach For My Revolver’, the whole thing reeked of self-indulgence and musical hypocrisy.
Around the same period, a minimalist MOBY slowed things down a sarcastic tad by dispatching a pseudonymous techno effort, THE END OF EVERYTHING (1996; US 1997) {*5} under the heavily-disguised VOODOO CHILD. Made up of seven sound sculptures, there was space in one’s mind to take in a remixed re-tread of `Dog Heaven’.
Tightening his grip on his own name and genre towards the tail-end of ‘97, the shaven-headed Christian vegan released the Monty Norman-scribed theme to the James Bond flick, `Tomorrow Never Dies’. Although it rocketed into the Top 10, the accompanying soundtrack compilation, “I Like To Score”, failed to gain the same chart momentum.
Eager to once more turn up his amps to number 11, MOBY suitably took elements of southern gospel-blues (courtesy of Bessie Jones’ `Sometimes’) and threw it into his ambient/big-beat melting pot for his next Top 40 entry, `Honey’. Although it deserved a better chart placing, the track did pave the way for a series of diverse challenges kicking off with CANNED HEAT-esque `Run On’ (aka “Run On For A Long Time” by Bill Landford); a taster from his fourth album, the chart-topper PLAY (1999) {*9}. Second track in the sequence, `Find My Baby’ took a similar trek back in time (via a sample of the Boy Blue’s “Joe Lee’s Rock”), whilst further classic hit fodder, `Bodyrock’, `Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?’, `South Side’ (without GWEN STEFANI in the mix), `Natural Blues’ and `Porcelain’ (soon-to-be used on “The Beach” movie), transcended the dancefloors respectively in a way field-recording legend Alan Lomax would never of thought possible.
Following up the unprecedented success of “Play” was always going to prove a difficult if not impossible task for MOBY, especially in light of his often radical musical departures. In the event, 18 (2002) {*7} was as warm and self-assured as its predecessor, while pointedly not attempting to repeat that record’s singular fusion, but for the fact an array of guests such as SINEAD O’CONNOR, MC LYTE and ANGIE STONE rolled along the conveyor belt. The spiritual residue of “Play” did remain, however, imbuing 18’s more conventional electronica with an earthy worldliness lacking in his earlier work; best examples vied from UK hits, `We Are All Made Of Stars’, `Extreme Ways’ and the soaring `In This World’.
To counteract the household name of number one artist MOBY just about reaching stratospheric proportions, up popped his alter-ego acid-house creation VOODOO CHILD on a handful of singles and a Chicago-meets-Glasgow inspired album, BABY MONKEY (2004) {*5}. Subsidized by his main solo project, there was little relevance to the day’s breaking sounds.
Written and recorded without his famous beatbox and samples, HOTEL (2005) {*5} was never going to sound like the final third of a triptych. Instead, it found MOBY strapping on his guitar and stepping up to the mic for what played out (no pun intended) as a regular, live-in-the-studio alt-rock record, interspersed with dancefloor excursions and graced with the soft-focus tones of the relatively unknown Laura Dawn (who shone on a slo-mo cover of NEW ORDER’s `Temptation’). Those with a penchant for MOBY’s ambient work could find more joy in the bonus disc, yet the album itself only made the Top 30 back home. As usual, the man was more successful in the UK, where it reached the Top 10, whilst the singles `Lift Me Up’ (a political broadside adding to what was becoming a litany of protest against the Bush administration) and `Spiders’, cracked the British charts.
The pop-friendly LAST NIGHT (2008) {*6} proved MOBY had lost touch with the current dance scene; preferring instead the hi-NRG beats of the NY club culture of yesteryear, a movement that went out with the electro-80s. As a result, the ambient/techno kingpin struggled to maintain a solid Top 30 place across the board. There were exceptions to the rule; rules that MOBY randomly broke from time, and whilst `Everyday It’s 1989’, `Disco Lies’, `I Love To Move In Here’ (showcasing Grandmaster Cuz) and `Ooh Yeah’, all failed miserably to connect to a chart spot, his filmic “Bourne Ultimatum”-addled `Extreme Ways’ lavished him a now rare Top 50 indent.
On an entirely different note, MOBY reunited, in part, with his morose ambient side on 2009’s Top 30, WAIT FOR ME {*7}. Though soulstress Leela James commanded attention on one of the vocal diversions, `Walk With Me’, there were other songs peppered alongside instrumentals, including Hilary Gardner (on `Hope Is Gone’), Amelia Zirin-Brown (on `Pale Horses’) and Kelli Starr (on the title track). Interestingly enough, top film director David Lynch turned in the video for the album’s first single, `Shot In The Back Of The Head’. And as with MOBY’s previous set, companion “Ambient” or “Remixes” exploits complemented each album; ditto his next enterprise, and so on.
There was no doubting that MOBY was slipping from commercial and critical credence in recent times, and when continental success for DESTROYED (2011) {*6} overshadowed the lowly US #69 and UK #35 high/low spots, he just might’ve worried a little. Recorded during insomniac sessions in various hotel rooms, once again there was a tendency to concentrate on the electronic aspect of his nuance. And once again there were the flighty female vocal exceptions to the rule, mainly from the likes of Emily Zuzik, Inyang Bassey and Anna Maria Friman; co-scribe Joy Malcolm was on set highlight, `Lie Down In Darkness’ (duly sampled for a Hugo Boss TV ad).
Roping in a stellar cast of vocal components such as MARK LANEGAN (on single, `The Lonely Night’), DAMIEN JURADO, SKYLAR GREY, COLD SPECKS and The FLAMING LIPS’ Wayne Coyne, INNOCENTS (2013) {*8} at least stretched MOBY’s musical boundaries; he’d also relocated from New York to L.A. Uplifting as a POLYPHONIC SPREE set in its soaring choral swathes (`The Perfect Life’), but akin, in part, to something very close to MASSIVE ATTACK’s “Unfinished Sympathy” (a la `Saints’), long-term fans of the man would be encouraged by synthetic showcases from `Everything Rises’ to the 9-minute anchor, `The Dogs’.
To celebrate MOBY’s return to form, the obligatory double-CD/DVD package, ALMOST HOME: LIVE AT THE FONDA, LA {*7} came up for grabs the following March. Surprisingly augmented by the aforesaid “Innocents” singers; though LANEGAN was deputised by fellow post-grunge-era singer Greg Dulli (of AFGHAN WHIGS) on `The Lonely Night’, all the fan favourites from afar more or less made up Disc 2.
As freebie downloads go, LONG AMBIENTS 1: CALM. SLEEP (2016) {*6} was considered okay to peruse for MOBY fans. But at over four hours, and beyond the limits of TANGERINE DREAM or ENO proportions (each of the 11 ambient pieces clocked in at around the 20-minute mark), there was indeed method to his madness on giving his work away.
Rewinding back to the fall of 2015, MOBY & THE VOID PACIFIC CHOIR entered the fray with an inaugural download post-punk single, `The Light Is Clear In My Eyes’; followed almost immediately by `Almost Loved’. And while some slower readers were probably still flicking through the pages of the detached man’s “Porcelain: A Memoir” autobiography, intrigue unfolded on the whys and wherefores of October 2016 singles, `Trump Is On Your Side’ and `Little Failure’, two exclusive pieces not available on the abrasive THESE SYSTEMS ARE FALLING {*6}.
If MOBY’s ambient fans had shied away for what they might’ve seen as a one-off, 2017 unveiled its AGNOSTIC FRONT-meets-MISSION OF BURMA-ish follow-up, MORE FAST SONGS ABOUT THE APOCALYPSE (2017) {*6}. The MOBY man and “Choir” had certainly turned the clock back to his early-80s zone, but its rather schizoid approach went unnoticed as he speed-freaked his way through `A Softer War’, `Trust’, `It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye’ and so on.
Thankfully these mid-life crisis episodes were behind him via the electro-soulful soundscape of UK Top 30 entry, EVERYTHING WAS BEAUTIFUL, AND NOTHING HURT (2018) {*8}. Reviewers had long admired the ageing MOBY man catering for all aspects of his inner being, however most acolytes were hypnotised by his introspective trip-hop grooves. Drenched by a depressed downside to Donald J. Trump’s takeover bid of hate, anger and uber-power manifesto(s), MOBY pressed “Play” on the awesome beauty of the deflective and spiritual `Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child’ (showcasing Raquel Rodriguez). Other highlights included the narrative `Falling Rain And Light’, the slightly upbeat `The Sorrow Tree’ and the forlorn, `The Middle Is Gone’.
And right on cue, an exhaustive sequel to his 2016 effort, LONG AMBIENTS 2 (2019) {*5}, caught up with “LA” parts a la 12-17, that ironically coincided with World Sleep Day… zzz…
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-2006/GRD/BG // rev-up MCS Sep2019

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