By Rick Shithouse
When it comes to the producers I've been ardently following and patiently waiting for them to release something there are few higher on the list then Nickee B. Much like Fanateek One, who's debut album came out last year this debut from Nickee B has been one I've biding my time for. And like Fanateek One's excellent debut record; Nickee B's debut EP delivers everything I hoped it would.
Ironically, both producers do similarly styled music with a focus on the funk and electrifying it in spectacularly 80s ways. Electro Funk is one denomination hugely underrepresented in the 80s inspired synth scene. For what reasons, I'm not sure. Perhaps it's the level of passion one needs to have for this particular denomination to ensure its authenticity? I've known many producers to do an Electro Funk track, here and there, but a full album or EP experience comes few and far between.
These street-style denominations of 80s synth music really capture a lot of what I love about the 80s and in the early 2000s I went back and educated myself on 80s pioneers of the genres; in no small part to my boombox collecting undertaking. After all, the right music is definitely required for the right machine. The originators of these sounds, like Zapp & Roger, Dazz Band, BB & Q Band, Newcleus, The Gap Band, Jonzun Crew and many others made a smooth blend of the streets and the clubs that continued on from the classic 70s funk sounds. The music is hugely bassline driven and has a suave coolness about it that is instantly identifiable.
Nickee B's homage to 1984 and the crossover between breakdance street culture and club R&B results in 6 original tracks of the slickest Electro Funk you're likely to hear in 2016. Kicking things off is 'Sweet Love' and its decidedly romantic air. The more R&B oriented Electro Funk makes for the perfect vehicle for smooth moves that make all the girls swoon. Nickee B's highly engineered sound space opens up with a wide, airy space that is driven by a tightly undulating bassline. Cymbal accents and percussion are placed in an understated manner along with complimentary synths while the vocals take centre stage. The vocal aspect is one of the most important ingredients in Electro Funk and making these work on the same high level as the music is something Nickee B's prided himself on.
The vocals of Satori In Bed is what makes this whole experience one complete whole and the delivery, tone and attitude is spectacular from track to track. The more laid back and crooning vocals in 'Sweet Love' are then given more energy and vigour in the follow up 'Destiny'. The subtleties are what this record is all about. Smoothly choreographed instruments that offer differing shades of colours and sounds, sexily curved edges with sharp elements honed back to ensure the fit is tight but never uncomfortable. That balance is truly refreshing and when stripped back still finds the Nickee B sound pulsing with energy and vibrancy.
The title track pushes the energy levels even higher and the groove is kicked up a gear as the anthemic vocal refrain celebrates the year enthusiastically and synth star crashes, bass comets and percussive cosmic powers erupt as one into the night sky. The groove gets cut so deep you'll get lost in it and the sonic fireworks over heard enhance the experience even further.
Two instrumental pieces act as complimentary diversions on the EP with the first being 'Midnight Promenade'. In this sonically sumptuous stroll we allow Nickee B to unleash his creativity at the keyboards and illustrate a delectable range of beautiful passages. More organic piano sounds play off against sparkling synths and a golden embrace of wondrous strings make for synthual vista impossible to resist. The vibe is live and feels like an improvised jam session but then weaves an articulate and well defined story. The funk is strong but the mood is light and wistful.
Bringing back some more poppy hooks and those velvet vocals of Satori In Be, 'Cover Girl' makes for a hugely rewarding experience. The bassline hints at Yarbrough and Peoples while the percussion drives at a brisk and deliberate pace. These poppier tracks show Nickee B's true understanding of the Electro Funk genre's accessibility and you'll be hooked deeply by its innate pop magic that becomes deeply infectious.
The second instrumental track opts for darker tones that hit incredibly deeply. The emotional power of the synth melodies in this track are some of the most touching I've heard outside of a Tommy composition and the muted bassline adds an air of mystery that is absolutely entrancing. 'Night Thoughts' may lack the more obvious funk elements but the depth of presentation is an incredibly moving experience.
The EP closes out with a classically edited 80s style Dub Version of 'Sweet Love' that gives it a more dancefloor feel and opens up the elements for more exploration and delectation. A clever way to end the EP as a refrain of the lead track is definitely a worthwhile journey.
Nickee B's 1984 EP is presented by Cadence Records on their Bandcamp page here in the usual array of digitally downloadable formats. Finding funk likes this that is so authentically created with such passion and homage to the original sounds is a rarity and this EP delivers a perfect homage to those sounds with an all encompassing level of high calibre songwriting and performances. 1984 (like the year itself!) comes very, very highly recommended from Synthetix.FM.