The Balearic Revival

Oh, in case you didn’t know: the international music scene is in the midst of a full-blown Balearic Revival! I’m hardly at the vanguard here (there’s been scattered media coverage and countless Balearic blog posts), and I’m far from an expert, but I feel glad to have gotten a taste of a genuine cultural phenomenon before the whole thing implodes with (a) the emergence of some flamboyant mascot who comes to embody the movement and makes you question your devotion to it (cf. Devendra Banhart), (b) a glut of inferior, obsequious bands who start aping the style, polluting the scene with their crass music and fans (cf. Franz Ferdinand vs. The Kaiser Chiefs), or (c) an out-of-the-blue spread in the Sunday Times that effectively renders the whole thing, well, over (cf. Steampunk or, even better, the McKibbin lofts; I wonder how many poet-filmmaker-kickball players rolled out from behind their cardboard walls that morning and were like, ‘Shit. Packs your bags, dude.’).

What does Balearic sound like? No one has really ventured to define it yet. It has a Satchmo-esque, ‘if you have to ask what jazz is…’ intuition to it, but any music masquerading as Balearic should lend itself to dancing. The name comes from a sound brought back from clubs in Ibiza (one of the Balearic islands off the coast of Spain) in the late ’80s. It’s rather slow (110 Beats Per Minute has been offered as a typical tempo) and often has an atmospheric, tropical groove. It’s truly easy listening, and many of the first-generation tracks have an almost adult contemporary feel. Whatever Balearic isn’t, it undeniably is everything you hear in Tullio de Piscopo’s ‘Primavera (Stop Bajon),’ which is exemplary of both the movement’s characteristics and its potential greatness, in the same way that Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love‘ is the most efficient and edifying way to demonstrate Disco.

There are really two aspects of the movement: the revival bands in Sweden and elsewhere that are updating and adding to the Balearic sound, and the DJs who, having developed a taste for the Balearic aesthetic, are reviewing their crates, thinking, ‘You know, Herb Alpert was kind of a proto-Balearic, wasn’t he? And that scene in Risky Business where Tom Cruise and Rebecca de Mornay make love on a real train? If I mix in some funky piano rolls behind it…’ DJs are foremost entertainers, but the Balearic Revival has validated the DJ’s obscure secondary role as a curator, juxtaposing disparate tracks to reveal inconspicuous familiarities. Foucault might not approve (‘Leave Kate Bush out of this! Balearic is a social construct!’) but having hurled myself down the Revival’s rabbit hole, I’ve been introduced to some of the most exciting music I’ve heard in years, much of which I would have sniffed at a month ago. Sebastian Tellier? From Eurovision? (Although, if I had seen this when it aired, I would have known better. This guy is one of the musical luminaries of our era. Listen.) And this Art of Noise track? That’s one of the most divine jams I’ve ever heard!

Retro cherry picking is always welcome–I don’t want to be the guy sorting through Mandy Smith‘s back catalogue–but the most fruitful facets of the Balearic Revival are groups like Studio. My unabashed love for Air France is well-documented (Boat Club and The Bridal Shop have potential; The Tough Alliance still seem like major dicks), but Studio, with much-circulated DJ sets and an upcoming album and Kylie Minogue remix, are the most ubiquitous of the Swedish contingent, and epic tracks like ‘Out There’ and ‘West Side’ are the pinnacle of the genre’s second generation. There’s little information available about Studio and even less about the other groups, but I wonder about the validity of our designation of their music as Balearic. They surely know the term and the style of music, but how present is the Balearic aesthetic of yore when Studio’s in the studio? Do they see themselves as deliberate revivalists, or is the Balearic label just the result of our compulsion to classify sound in relation to the past? (N.B. If things work out, I’ll be interviewing them for a new American magazine in a few weeks when I’m in Gothenburg.)

I tried to provide some links to give you a taste for the Balearic Revival. Don’t worry if you don’t like it or you don’t know what I’m talking about. You can read a better explanation in the Times. Just give it a few weeks.

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~ by ohkrapp on June 9, 2008.

2 Responses to “The Balearic Revival”

  1. but don’t think it’s just Sweden! Lindstrom (Norway) is part of the scene, and so are Mountain of One (another Studio remix) and Quiet Village (thanks, Ian!), both from England. there’s also a japanese guy named kuniyuki takahashi who brings the balearic. check out his 2007 All These Things LP.

    here’s a funked out Lindstrom track from his collaboration with Prins Thomas: ‘turkish delight

  2. “in a few weeks when I’m in Gothenburg”!!

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