An exercise in untempo disco
As you will know, a bear is a kind of animal. But a ‘bear’, of course, is a slang term for a certain breed of portly, bearded homosexual gentleman given to dancing under railway arches in Vauxhall, south London. To complicate matters further, [a]The 2 Bears[/a] are the dancefloor side project of Joe Goddard from [a]Hot Chip[/a] and his collaborator Raf Rundell from Greco Roman Soundsystem.
Neither Joe nor Raf are gay, but this isn’t some tATu-style pose. You can tell that from the lugubrious Ian Dury funk of ‘Time In Mind’, wherein Raf boo-hoos about his carousing around unfortunate women and the self-loathing it brings on like he’s undergoing some kind of serial-sexual comedown. Rather, it’s both physical in-joke (both being somewhat portly and, yes, with beards), and a celebration of the kind of house music popular in gay clubland.
Together, they spin a poppers-fuelled fantasy where it’s always 3am underneath a railway arch and everyone’s invited; an exercise in uptempo disco, downtempo electro and lush vocal harmonies. For these reasons, ‘Be Strong’ is one of the smartest and funniest dance records you’ve heard in a long while. As an orchestral house intro morphs into a woozy rendition of ‘Teddy Bears’ Picnic’, it’s clear the kind of tongue-in-cheek territory we’re heading into. Yet the very next sample, a guy gurning, exasperated (“[i]I went from dancing to Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Hamburger Lady’ to dancing to ‘Josephine’ by Chris Rea. So that just shows how dangerous that chemical can be[/i]”) provides an even bigger clue to what’s going on here: two serious musos having a gleeful chemical off-day – but also, simultaneously, a dancefloor fusion in the grand tradition of ‘Screamadelica’.
‘Work’ is hands-in-the-air euphoria celebrating love as effort, shot through with classic female backing vocals. The dubby ‘Bear Hug’ sails closest to Joe’s Hot Chip day job, Raf’s growly vocals lending a sinister undercurrent. ‘Ghosts & Zombies’ could come from a classic Haçienda mixtape, while the organ-flecked ‘Church’ sees the Bears sail off into the night with romantic glee. But there’s another reason why the ‘bears’ thing comes into play. ‘Be Strong’ is the nostalgic sound of a rave party populated by people in their late thirties who should know better. In a world where strains of (very gay) house music is being revived by Hercules And Love Affair and Azari & III, that isn’t really a problem.
It’s probably not going to cause much of a headache for Example and yet, as a house record for indie kids, it’s vintage in the best possible sense. Because of that, neither will it provide any comfort to Klaxons, sitting there in their Dalston spaceship wailing about how glowsticks aren’t as glowy as they used to be.