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DIRTY VEGAS: Technotronic

Dance music masters Dirty Vegas revisit how they broke barriers in music and took electronica steps forward.

Words & Interview: Kristie Bertucci
Images: Travis Jenson

One day a fairly obscure band from South London created a hypnotizing electronic house track called “Days Go By,” which piqued the interest of Mitsubishi Motors. Hoping to capture the attention of a hip audience, Mitsubishi used the unforgettable track as the soundtrack for a series of Eclipse commercials. Who knew that the move would also help launch and propel the new band to unprecedented success?

From there and for the same song, Dirty Vegas went on to create one of the simplest, yet memorable music videos of the past decade. Depicting an older man waiting outside a food stand, with sign in hand as he awaits his lost love, when the beat finally drops, said gentlemen starts going in on a series of breaking moves over cardboard. In 2003, Dirty Vegas would still see more success for their breakout hit, winning a Grammy award for “Best Dance Recording.”

Initially, Steve Smith, Ben and Paul Harris didn’t think their music would ever make it to mainstream American radio, let alone be recognized by the dance world, but a 30-second spot changed their lives and careers forever.

“We were told by reliable sources that there was never a dance track on an American commercial playlist up until ‘Days Go By,’” explains Smith. “We did get a lot of stick at the time from the British music press for doing it, like selling out, going to America; it was ridiculous. But literally, within months after the success of that Mitsubishi campaign many other bands started doing the same thing.”

Modest about being called trendsetters, Smith does admit it that it was a benchmark case that has practically become an industry standard since, citing Apple iTunes commercials as perfect examples.

But that wasn’t the only pioneering move Dirty Vegas created. Their unique blend of electronic music was a bit before its time, but nonetheless, helped many discover the vast world of dance music. “I think what happened with ‘Days Go By,’ especially in the States. It was the first time that a percentage of people heard music that we were making,” he comments.

“We’ve met so many DJs and people in clubs and concerts that have told us how we turned them on to electronic music, which is a huge compliment for sure. But we were just one of the many electronic artists of the time that got lucky. I like to think our success wasn’t only because of the Mitsubishi connection, but because we provided people with something fresh to listen to. There was so much pop and hip-hop that it was getting boring and over-saturated; people needed something new.”

Although extremely proud of “Days Go By,” Dirty Vegas didn’t let it define them. They recognized its success, and felt the pressure to provide an even better follow up about a year later, having moved on musically. Mentioning how easy it would have been to do the whole “nostalgia thing” with the song after being bombarded for remixes and re-releases, the trio decided that living off of its success wouldn’t do anything for their career or the advancement of the genre.

“Most people who want to live off the success of one [single] aren’t just fooling themselves, but they’re fooling their listeners [too] because they’re not putting their heart and soul into the music anymore,” Smith says. “We’re thrilled that it opened doors for us but that’s it. It’s still always in rotation in our DJ and live sets because we love to see how much fans connect to it, but we’ve moved on, grown up, matured and come back with an entirely new album with a bunch of songs that we believe are just as good as ‘Days Go By.’”

Taking about a 7-year hiatus between their second and latest effort—Electric Love, Dirty Vegas has definitely felt the effects of the dance scene’s evolution and are basking in its overall growth in popularity, to become a genre that is finally embraced and accepted worldwide. Smith likes to think the Internet played a major part of expanding the dance music platform by opening a variety of doors for new listeners to engage with the music.

“It’s funny because we look back [to] when we first started and people didn’t know what to call our music, but now you turn on the radio and you hear it on every station. People’s musical tastes are changing and they want more. What’s great about dance music is that there are so many sub-types, that being a fan of one can lead to the exploration of entirely new artists you would have never been introduced to before.”

Older and wiser, Dirty Vegas are content with their music. Locking themselves in a studio until they’re happy with the results, they aren’t beating themselves up creating mediocre tracks. They’ve stopped second-guessing themselves. They’re now letting the creative process organically flow and are going to put out new tracks when they feel they have substantial material.

Which is probably why Electric Love is receiving the acclaim that it has. Old fans love the that the album is deeply rooted in electronic music and features similar beats to the ones that initially made them fall in love; while newcomers are digging the indie-inspired musical treats Dirty Vegas started experimenting with for this go around.

“When we recorded the first album, we were into Basement Jaxx, Chemical Brothers, and after we came back from our split, we noticed how bands like The Killers, Mike and Phoenix were adding electro vibes to their music. We used to do that stuff before and people didn’t get it back then, but now since they’re more open-minded with their musical tastes, we were inspired to incorporate some of the same elements into our new music. It’s good to always change things up a bit. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you’re wrong, but it happens. You just have to take chances, which is what we want to be known for doing.”

Smith admits that while Dirty Vegas isn’t getting any younger, the band isn’t putting limits on themselves in terms of how many more musical years they have in them. “Look at Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam and lots of others that still rock out,” he says. “If there is still a demand for your stuff, then why stop? No one should stop what they love…unless a doctor tells them to, and that’s exactly what we plan on doing.”

Images by Travis Jenson.

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