Soft Pink Sleuth

Matmos' Drew Daniel uncovers the darkness -- and the silliness -- of house music

By many accounts, 2002 was the year of the bootleg, or "mash-up." These recombinant pop songs -- which fit, say, Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle" to the Strokes' "Hard to Explain" -- flourished in the viral environment of the Web. (In at least one case -- Girls on Top's "R Freaks Electric?," which combined Gary Numan's "Are 'Friends' Electric?" and Adina Howard's "Freak Like Me" -- the illicit remix went over so well that major-label executives commissioned an official version, the Sugababes' "Freak Like Me.")

Bay Area artists, however, were already ahead of the curve. Kid606 had been lacing the likes of NWA, the Buggles, and the Bangles with pummeling techno beats for ages. Wobbly began working on a project called Wild Why years ago, melting hours of urban-radio broadcasts into one aural miasma (a version was finally released this year on Kid606's Tigerbeat6 imprint). And Matmos' Drew Daniel initiated two solo endeavors that pushed at the boundaries of the form: Dry Hustle, which turned Missy Elliott's oft-bootlegged "Get Ur Freak On" into a spastic workout of drum 'n' bass beats, and Soft Pink Truth, his complex take on house music and culture. On the latter project's debut CD, Do You Party? (set to be released in January on Matthew Herbert's Soundslike label), Daniel smashes together his own ideas of punk and disco, playing with notions of experimentalism and dance-floor release. Avoiding the mash-up's obvious money shot, he splices and dices commercial house, R&B, and other degraded pop forms into a tempting, teasing, maddeningly funky workout.

House music has always been nothing if not participatory: After all, one of the genre's classics is titled "Can U Feel It?" Designed for maximum dance functionality, the music serves as a conduit to communion, with every beat and chord tailored to total immersion. But Soft Pink Truth is different: Not to be too un-funky about it, but Do You Party?is a kind of thesis on that inclusionary nature, touching on issues of gender and sexuality along the way. (Just check out the cover art, which grafts macho male heads onto caricatures of svelte women in furs.)

Philip Sherburne


With Kid606, Kit Clayton, Kamau Patton, George Chen, and Star Eyes at 9 p.m.

Saturday, Dec. 28

Tickets are $5


"Trouble 8.0" at Amnesia, 853 Valencia (at 20th Street), S.F.

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The album's second track, the appropriately titled "Gender Studies," typifies Soft Pink Truth's strategy, as Daniel draws dirty funk from such oft-sourced elements as a Chicago house rhythm, a distressed bass line, and sour-tuned R&B singers crooning "girl" over and over. The song's joke works on a number of levels, as Daniel is well aware. "Obviously the word 'girl' is how gay men talk to each other, so it has that one meaning," he says, sitting in the kitchen of the Potrero Hill apartment he shares with his Matmos partner, Martin Schmidt. "But in the case of most of those vocalists, it's hip hop MCs trying to impress the ladies or beg them to put out." The strategy has weird, decidedly un-macho undertones once Daniel has his way with the song: At the close of "Gender Studies," a low-voiced Lothario sings, "I want to be a lady," in a gender-bending punch line.

"When I think about the point of the Soft Pink Truth, the name helps me figure out what I'm trying to do," Daniel says. "It's named after this friend of mine who was a house music DJ in gay bars. But he also dealt drugs on the side, and he was notorious for always being on speed, to the point that he could never get a hard-on. The doorman of the club that I would go-go dance at was always teasing him and calling him "Soft Pink Missy,' because, you know, you might go home with him, but you weren't going to get it on."

Daniel says the name of his other side project, Dry Hustle, plays with a similar idea. "Basically, [a dry hustle] is when you lead someone on like you're going to have sex with them, and you take their money and ditch them. So it's a false sexual encounter that doesn't really happen. In a weird way it's similar to Soft Pink Truth: Both names are about misfires."

According to Daniel, Soft Pink Truth tracks offer "the ideal of pleasure and the fantasy of pleasure that dance-floor culture promulgates, pushed a little too far, to the point of failure and impotence, rather than release. I think I'm taking these emotions and making them a little bit impotent. They don't get to say their piece; everybody gets cut off." That bears out in listening to the record: Song after song raises a lattice of chirps, blips, squawks, hiccups, and burps. Working with admittedly "bad" source material -- histrionic house divas, gushing R&B singers, weird disco records rescued from thrift stores -- Daniel has cut expression down to minuscule proportions.

"The big cliché of house music is some woman moaning in ecstasy, becoming excessively emotional: "I'm gonna take you hiiiiigher!'" he says, parodying the characteristic modulation. "What I do is the audio equivalent of a flirtation, where you just dartingly embrace something but you don't really express it. I take the long wail and turn it into just a little 'uh' -- just whimpers and sobs and little tiny pecks on the cheek, rather than the full oomph. It's all very contained and clipped.

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