Aristofreeks Taking The Next Step

Posted on June 26, 2015

Words: Lena Kochetkova
Images: Edison Graff & Bryden

Once upon a time there was a disco band called CHIC… Well, there is no need to remind Ibiza who CHIC are. After Nile Rodgers stole the show at the IMS sharing his priceless experience, and then CHIC gave a milestone concert in Ibiza Rocks hotel in 2013, the island seriously caught disco fever, just as in the good old days. The great news now is that three former Chic vocalists – Norma Jean Wright, Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin – teamed up for a new project, called Next Step, relaunching the classical vocal sound that catapulted them to world stardom. The three ladies are the walking hall of fame for disco: their style and sophistication drove CHIC albums to gold and platinum status, they sang on Grammy-nominated song ‘We Are Family’ by Sister Sledge and Diana Ross’ album ‘diana’, collaborated with Aretha Franklin, Mick Jagger, Madonna, Bryan Ferry and Bryan Adams, were mentioned in Rolling Stone ‘500 Greatest Song of All Time’ list due to their ‘Good Times’ song. Most recently they teamed up with the renowned Ibiza duo The Aristofreeks (Max Martire and Shanti Matkin): their inaugurate collaboration EP saw light in 2014, and their debut performance together took place in the infamous Light club in Mandala Bay, bringing the Good Times of Ibiza to Vegas. The show, choreographed by Emmy-nominated director Laurieann ‘Harlee’ Gibson, was truly reminiscent of the golden days of Studio 54. Impressed by the performance where disco met house and Balearic met the American Dream, we had a chance to talk to the gorgeous Next Step ladies about the spirit and philosophy of disco, the similarities and differences between Ibiza and Vegas and the state of modern dance music.

Bryden 2

What do you think, why is the blend of house & disco in huge demand now?
Norma Jean Wright: The blend of house and disco might be in demand for several reasons. For one, the phenomenal success of Get Lucky by Daft Punk, Pharrell and Nile enabled disco music to return to mainstream with a bang! The song proved that the genre still has mass appeal. Also the expanding EDM community currently embraces disco and house music in a big way. It’s heard at festivals, in the clubs, at concerts and other outlets, famed DJs and recording artists such as Jennifer Hudson, Chris Brown, Pitbull, Sam Smith and others are all tapping into it. Some are merging house with disco, and with all of this activity younger audiences are being exposed, and they are embracing it.

Alfa Anderson: Dance music celebrates the joy of life. The blend of house and disco is in such huge demand right now because it provides a double dose of happiness.

Luci Martin: People need a release. Some find it in hobbies like gardening or video games, others find it in dance. Getting together with others, having fun, dancing and socialising helps to put aside the drudgery of everyday life and be free for a night.The mix of style gives them more options and variety.

How do you perceive the spirit and philosophy of disco compared to other musical genres?
Norma: Compared to other musical genres, I’ve always considered disco to be a hybrid genre of sorts – from my early days recording with Chic and listening to bands such as Kool and The Gang, Brass Construction, and others. They pushed the boundaries and their music included a unique mix of r&b, pop, soul, funk and jazz. The spirit was light-hearted, and often the intent was to motivate listeners to get up and release their cares out on the dancefloor.

Alfa: The spirit and philosophy of disco music is filled with joie de vivre, the exuberant enjoyment of life. It was created to cater to the nightclub audience, so there is a consistent beat to keep people moving on the dancefloor.

Luci: I think the only difference of the spirit of disco is that it is simple. No hidden meanings, no heavy message, just dance and have fun.

How did it happen that you teamed up with The Aristofreeks?
Alfa: Jerry Greenberg, former president of Atlantic Records during the CHIC era and current executive at Pacific Electronic Music, thought it was a good idea to pair us with The Aristofreeks.

Luci: We met working on a different project with some other “sisters of dance”.

Bryden 4

Can you describe your creative process when working together with The Aristofreeks?
Norma: Aristofreeks send us their music tracks. We then work on lyric ideas with them. Later we demo up ruff vocals of the song, for review. Once it’s fine-tuned, the last stage is recording our final vocals, at the studio with Aristofreeks. After that, the songs are mixed by the Aristofreeks and later mastered.

Alfa: We usually provide lyrics to the tracks that The Aristofreeks have created. When I get a track, I ask myself how does this track support the genre of dance music? What story can I tell that celebrates a zest for life? What vocal pattern and catch phrases reinforce that feeling?

Why did you choose Light club for you gig with The Aristofreeks, and what vibes does this venue have?
Norma: Jerry Greenberg and CFO of PEM, Joe Vasconsellos, decided on Club Light. It’s known for its high-end hospitality and its extraordinary visual atmosphere, which includes a collaboration with dancers from the Cirque Du Soleil Company. The club is also noted for hiring the biggest and best DJs within the EDM market.

Alfa: I’m sure PEM’s executives chose it because it has a very similar vibe to Studio 54. Both venues feature funky, rhythmic dance music that makes you want to dance all night long.

Luci: The audience there was warm and welcoming and seemed to appreciate what we had to offer.

To your mind, how similar are Ibiza and Vegas?
Norma: Although Ibiza is known for its dance clubs and nightlife, it’s seasonal, and Vegas is party central all year round. Another perk with Ibiza is that it has maintained and kept much of its countryside intact, allowing one to get away and appreciate nature at it best, and there are amazingly beautiful beaches.

Alfa: It’s this love of life and music that makes Ibiza and Las Vegas kindred spirits. When I looked out at the young people dancing and enjoying themselves in Vegas, I could imagine people doing the same in Ibiza. I am looking forward to the opportunity to test this theory the next time I am in Ibiza.

Luci: Honestly, I don’t find them similar, personally. I think in Vegas people always seem to be searching for the place to go. In Ibiza they know where they are going and why. The club scene in Europe to me is more advanced or dedicated, I should say, than America. Europeans have a much more sophisticated appreciation of music new and old.

Bryden 3

When you perform your old hits on stage, does the audience respond better to their original arrangements or updated versions?
Luci: We’ve done both, I think it is the same.

Norma: Thus far the updated versions have garnered great response, especially Le Freak and Sorceror.

Alfa: The audience really responds to the updated version of our earlier classics. The foundation and the bass line is just as solid and funky. Synthesizers add just the right amount of rhythm to build the groove.

What plans do you have for the next few months in terms of gigs and releases?
Norma: By the fall we hope to have our show on the road.

Alfa: We are looking forward to touring with Aristofreeks in the future. Dates will be posted on our website

Edison Graff 2

Which young disco artists, labels and events could you recommend us to listen?
Norma: He’s not a disco artist but Gregory Porter, he is awesome. Another group to watch is dance music supergroup Company Freak headed by Jason King.

Alfa: Are there nu disco artists? I think today’s artists are discovering and tweaking a style that was developed earlier.

Luci: Is there such a thing as new disco artists, ha-ha? Other than CHIC, of course.

In your professional opinion, what is the main difference between modern disco and the songs from the golden era of the genre?
Norma: Back then the majority of music was recorded by live musicians with instruments, and today the music is created electronically with computers and digital software.

Luci: I feel the only difference would be in the arrangements. Disco dance was very much over-produced, today things are done simply and with more advanced tools. The only negative aspect of this is the loss of human feel sometimes: it becomes so perfect and tuned that the humanity and spirit gets lost. Back in the days before EDM, vocalists and musicians played together until it became one. What you felt was what you heard: fun and joy blended, unity came through. This is how you develop a sound, otherwise anybody can record! The other possible way is just to sing a line and fly it in the spots you want it, after auto tuning it and adding effects. I appreciate doing it both ways on a song, combining the human with the machine.

Check out Next Step Here…

Edison Graff 1