Well they’ve been together for 10 years now, but Back in the Doghouse is actually the first studio album from the famous West London supergroup of producers and remixers who’ve been pretty hard to ignore if you’ve got even a remote interest in the broken beat scene. They’ve produced countless well-known remixes of tracks by the likes of 4Hero, Zero 7, Nitin Sawhney and countless others. Thankfully, presuming that you’ve not just been sitting there waiting for the Bugz to produce an album for the last decade and twiddling your thumbs, it’s been worth waiting for them to feel ready.
With so many creatives pushing and shaping the album over the course of nearly a year (Orin ‘Afronaught’ Walters, Paul ‘Seiji’ Dolby, Kaidi Tatham, Daz-I-Kue, Alex Phountzi, Cliff Scott, Mark Force and Matt Lord represent the core group), the Bugz have acknowledged that the recording process was difficult at times. Not that you’d know it from the result, because Back in the Doghouse is positively the most intense, funky, soulful and engagingly intelligent dance album that we’ve heard in a considerably long time.
After a short (and probably unnecessary) introduction, Move Aside jolts everything into motion, and it’s easy to see why it’s also been the first single. A relatively light, but agile hip-hop beat bounds into earshot, punctuated by deft bass stabs. Bembe Segue is at the vocal helm, and her direct, but unforced delivery ensures the track will soon be considered a contemporary classic. Whilst few of the tracks, if any, are quite as exceptional as this one, you’ll certainly find that the same focused spirit and energy is to be found throughout.
Michelle Escoffery brings a slightly different vocal weight to the slashed up and fuzzy backing track of No More, and it’s clear that this album is going to be broad in range, even if it’s all about making the listener want to move their feet. Indeed, the choice of vocalist/s for each respective track is so well judged, it’s clear that the core group really know what talent they need to enhance their sound at each particular moment. There’s the lighter, soulful quality that the aforementioned Bembe Segue brings to tracks like Once Twice, and then she instantly pushes out a sharper sound to punctuate the excellent Red Handed; “I caught ya- you stupid mother@#*&er; – But you can’t keep running away, running away, running away…” she scolds, and if you listen hard enough you can just about hear her wagging her finger reproachfully.
Other moments are positively 1980s, but we really do mean that in a good way. Knocks me off my Feet is one such track, with the synths set to stun from the beginning. Consequences is another, but what’s important with these, and indeed each track on the album really, is that even if there’s a very deliberate sense of homage, it’s delivered with a genuine passion that makes it of the moment. More than anything, Back in the Doghouse is a celebration of the wealth of music that the collective have loved (and often remixed) over the last decade and earlier. It might be brand new, but it’s about their roots, and ironically this is somehow what makes it sound so fresh.
Talking of which, Don’t Stop the Music is a reworking of the Yarbrough & Peoples’ original from 1981. Also notable is the nod to that other dance producer supergroup, Nuyorican Soul and their classic album of the same name from the 1990s, particularly in the uplifting vocal chorus of Inna Row.
Worla Hurt is the only track that really takes a step back, and is what can only be called a ‘conscious’ track. And a very beautifully arranged one it is too, but unfortunately the lyrics let it down a little at times. “The world’s a jungle, but it’s all we got” might be well meaning, and a perfectly valid statement for these times, but for whatever reason, the spell is just broken somehow. Thankfully the iridescent string section ensures that the magic is soon restored.
Finally, the marvellous Booty La La, voiced so memorably by Mpho Skeef, which actually first appeared as a new track to complement their remix anthology from 2004, Got the Bug, plays out the album. And there really is no way not to love that sassy track every time you hear it. In fact, that’s mostly how we feel about the whole album. It’s hard not to fall in love with its cheeky, funky, soulful and impetuously energetic charms. This is a celebration of dance music, in many of its contemporary forms, and as such it’s an absolute triumph.
Bugz in the Attic
Back in the Doghouse (2006)
Genre: Broken Beat/Soul/Hip-Hop/Dance
Record Label: Nurture/V2