As the music industry has moved into its newest era and embraced the digital revolution, a number of new styles have emerged as a result of classic genres incorporating electronica influences. Some such fusions have become fairly popular over time, such as industrial rock, space rock, and indie electronic (“indietronica”), but there’s a wealth of richly developed styles that have remained relatively unheard of. Electro swing, for example. Electro swing had been lurking just under the surface of discovery for many years, until Parov Stelar, generally credited as the founder of the genre, began releasing music on his newly created label, Etage Noir Recordings in 2004. After his breakthrough, a community of electro swing musicians quickly began to form and gain momentum, with groups like Caravan Palace building further popularity for the style. Today, I present you with a musical duo that presents a slightly different side of electro swing. Together, vocalist Nathalie Schäfer and producer Gyso Hilger form Nekta.
In 2009, Nekta released their second full-length album, Storybook. With this record, the duo presents a unique blend of old-time swing and deep house elements. Their music is generally more laid-back than that of other, more well-known electro swing groups, which helps to distinguish them from their contemporaries. In the words of Nekta themselves, “…it is hard to say whether the twelve new titles [off of Storybook] are retro, still modern, or already classically timeless. The successful attempt to put Jazz and Pop, acoustic and electronic sound generators, and a danceable club appeal on one hand with the qualities of songwriting on the other under one common denominator.” This sums up the main goal behind this kind of music rather concisely. When combining two very different styles of music into one, the final result (if done correctly) is getting the best of both worlds, and that is exactly what Nekta has done.
Schäfer’s voice is perpetual in its ability to lift you up and set you down in the dark corner of a small, aromatic café on a European street. Now take that voice and blend it with the coquettish beats of Gyso Hilger, and suddenly that secluded café turns into a sultry, modernistic night club. If you like to dance, but you can’t quite get into the rigid structure of current electronic dance music, then this just might be the album for you. Storybook is a record that is perfect for both grooving and simply listening.
As I mentioned before, there is a very distinct deep house vibe to much of Nekta’s music. The album starts out in a chill mood with “No Need to Rumble,” followed by “Better Be You.” Both of these songs utilize very smooth, dulcet synth pads to layer chords, a technique reminiscent of the early stages of techno. “Who’s Sorry Now” continues along in a similar vibe, bringing the tempo down and seducing the listener with Schäfer’s crooning. The music also begins to take on a bit of a trip hop style at this point, bringing in harp arpeggios and mallet percussion.
“I Know a Girl” is the point when this musical duo begins to pick up the pace, with the drums getting kicked up to breakbeat status and deep sub bass lines coming in. It’s not every day that you hear turntable scratches and horn sections featured in the same composition, either. I can’t stress enough how diverse Nekta is with their musical characteristics. As they move through upbeat grooves, soft Latin-inspired ballads (“All There”), and French-style pieces featuring the accordion (“Sommelier”), the antique swing stylings are always maintained as the foundation for their music. For any and all fans of electro swing, Storybook will fit right in amongst your collection, just as it will for jazz aficionados and EDM ravers.
This eclectic collection of instruments is not all sample-based, either. Nekta brought in real musicians to record many of these parts, including Marco Bruckdorfer on drums, Cordula Hamacher on flute and saxophone, Wolfgang Ritter on accordion and bass, and Florian Wehse on trumpet. I’ve been unable to find any information on the group performing live, but it would definitely be a phenomenal experience to see this music performed electroacoustically, featuring a live ensemble combined with electronics and DJing. Regardless, I would easily place this music on the upper echelons of the pool of music being created today, and I would highly recommend it to anyone. Keep jiving, my friends!