Pitchfork electro-pop: Picks from across the pond

Neneh Cherry takes the stage on the first night of the festival, July 18.
Neneh Cherry takes the stage on the first night of the festival, July 18.

Giorgio Moroder singlehandedly invented the electro-rockin’ sound of eurodisco, and since the late-1970s, European artists have continued to expand the possibilities of dance music. This year’s Pitchfork Music Festival features some of the most cutting-edge dance artists from across the pond.

Neneh Cherry

July 18, 4:35 p.m.

Neneh Cherry first rose to prominence in 1989 with her worldwide hit single “Buffalo Stance,” though she had been a working musician for a decade, playing in various incarnations of The Slits, Rip Rig + Panic and New Age Steppers (dabbling in punk, post-punk funk and dub reggae psychedelia in the process). Her stepfather was jazz legend Don Cherry—who helped raise her in Stockholm, Sweden—and at the age of 16, Cherry moved to England at the tail end of the punk explosion.

Cherry’s debut solo album, Raw Like Sushi, was a groundbreaking mix of American  R&B, hip-hop, Jamaican sound systems and European club music that was co-written by Cameron McVey (they eventually married and have continued their musical collaborations on each of her sporadic releases, including this year’s superb Blank Project).

Cherry played an important behind-the-scenes role in shifting the landscape of 1990s electronic pop music, ushering in the spliffed-out “trip hop” era. Future members of Massive Attack played on her 1989 debut album, and she wrote arrangements for that group’s debut album, Blue Lines. Portishead’s Geoff Barrow also contributed to 1992’s Homebrew, a sophomore album whose aural influence was much greater than its success in the marketplace.

The Field

July 19, 6:45 p.m.

Also hailing from Sweden is Axel Willner, better known as The Field. Willner specializes in long, hypnotic tracks that contain echoes of Steve Reich’s minimalist compositions, the pulsating Krautrock rhythms of Can and, of course, Giorgio Moroder. The Field’s appearance at the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival turned this jaded 40-something into a dancing fool when yours truly stumbled on his set.

Willner evolved from creating his music primarily on a laptop to, on 2013’s Cupid’s Head, using no computer at all—”except to record on,” he notes. (For all you gearheads out there, he tells me that the latest album was recorded with an “Elektron Octatrack, Elektron Machinedrum, Elektron Analog Four, Roland SH-101, Roland JX-3P and bass.”)

Lately, Willner’s live performances have come full circle. “It has changed, as I went back to where I began, playing live shows solo,” he says. “I started solo at the club and then got a bit weary of it, so I invited friends to play with me, which was great for a long time. But now, since the release of the last album, I decided to give solo a chance again and I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Things always change.”