Hot Chip: The Warning
They’ll make you dance, but don’t get on the wrong side of them. Consider yourself, er, warned
A quick recap: people who make dance music are nerds, highbrows, emotionless eggheads. All of them irredeemable knob-twiddling white coats, coolly dabbling with the DNA of music itself. End of story. And y’know what? Hot Chip have five of the bleeders.
So if that’s the case, why have two pages of NME been devoted to them? Well, partly because these are scientists at the very top of their game, but mainly because these aren’t any old emotionless white coats – these are five Bruce Banners. And like Bruce Banner, you wouldn’t want to make Hot Chip angry.
What’s brought on this Hulk-like belligerence? The south-west Londoners’ second album is underpinned by a ‘fuck you’ attitude fuelled by past ambivalence towards them. But they can rest easy now, because surely their moment has come.
It’s about time somebody started shouting out loud about Hot Chip. Inhabiting the wild savannah in the rock-dance hinterland, where the likes of DFA (who have signed them to their label Stateside) imperiously roam, they are Prince-adoring, R&B-loving, two-step worshipping electro-funkers with a cheeky attitude who inject you with a special potion. A potion to make you dance, think and have a little chuckle at the same time. They have pulled off the trick of not taking things too seriously, but yet still produce some seriously good music.
First, back to that anger thing. In the beginning, there was ‘The Warning’’s lead-off single – the insanely catchy kitchen-sink club-stomper, ‘Over And Over’. Its lyrics are a thinly-veiled raised middle finger to detractors who considered them “too chilled” – “Laid-back? We’ll give you laid-back”, moans vocalist Alexis Taylor – but ‘The Warning’ has more ire to come.
“Hot Chip will break your legs/snap off your head”, threatens the title track. “Hot Chip will put you down, under the ground”. With its skippity-hoppity beats and minor chords, it’s like being roughed up by The Krays while prancing, minimalist electro plays in the background. And there’s more. Take the first verse of ‘Tchaparian’, which includes the menacing lines, “Watch yourself, I come with a smack/I’ve left a scar”. It’s a good job that the five demure Hot Chips look more likely to be attending Friends Of The Earth meetings than turning all this indignation into proper fisticuffs.
Thankfully, there appears little to make them split their shirts and trousers just yet, because in channelling this anger they’ve produced the finest album of electronic rock since Mylo’s ‘Destroy Rock & Roll’. If they’re not shovelling plaudits from their garden paths like February snow over the next 12 months, then they have every right to dish out some flying Glasgow kisses.
Why? Because there’s not many other bands out there who can fuse rave-era beats, crowd roars, battling 303 drum patterns and swelling synths to make a coherent electrifying whole. But that’s what frantic opener ‘Careful’ does. Current single ‘Boy From School’ is a sweet, melodic mid-tempo dance anthem, and we’re not talking Dave Pearce here. Instead, it takes Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, tweaks the BPMs down a bit and becomes something rather beautiful and fragile. It should be a bit of a leap between the two, but they do it with ease.
Much of that fragility, which rears its head across plenty of the Hot Chip canon, is down to Alexis Taylor’s voice. On ‘Boy From School’ he is joined by the deeper tenor of fellow core member Joe Goddard, Hot Chip’s musical Mr Fixit. But, for the most part, it is Taylor’s voice that dominates. Bordering on the falsetto in places, it’s rich and full of yearning – “I’m everything a girl could need”, he gently intones on the stripped-down synth love song ‘Colours’. Like some contemporary Jimmy Somerville, he cuts an unlikely figure with his diminutive stature and over-sized physics teacher glasses. But boy, can he sing.
Taylor would be the first to suggest – possibly after pinning you against a wall – that you underestimate the rest of Hot Chip at your peril. He shares the chief songwriting duties with Goddard who, like the rest of his bandmates, is a self-confessed lover of everything from R Kelly to UK garage pioneer Wookie, krautrock to Kraftwerk, Prince to avant-garde West Coast hip-hopper, Madlib. And all of those influences are brought to bear on ‘The Warning’, recorded and self-produced at the Hot Chip home in leafy Putney. LA’s South Central or Düsseldorf it ain’t, but such normality of surroundings is obviously working.
It’s far too early to say whether they will reach the same lofty heights, but there’s something of New Order in Hot Chip. There’s the same mix of art school-meets-working man demeanour, an unabashed acknowledgement of the debt popular music owes to clubland and a wry lyrical conceit.
Mind you, if by some cruel injustice people still don’t get Hot Chip, then be careful. It could get a bit nasty.