"Soul rebel searching for a genius" - that was the pickup line used in a Melody Maker ad placed by German born Billie Ray Martin in hopes of attracting like-minded musical souls to her side. What she got were four technocrats from Birmingham (Joe Stevens, Les Fleming, Rob Cimarosti and Brian Nordhoff). Named for a Soviet refrigerator (irony intended), Electribe 101 was born. Their debut single "Talking with Myself" became one of the all-time turning points in House Music.
"Talking..." and it's follow-up "Tell Me When the Fever Ended" appeared from left-field as the eighties were coming to a close. This was as the techno-dawn was emerging in the Acid haze of England's evolving obsession with the Chicago-born genre. Though house music can easily be reduced to a hipper-sounding catch-all label for under-produced Disco, the English critics were quick, as always, to splinter the emerging genre. This labeling helped it survive and flourish amidst record-company bandwagon-jumping and the not-so-few attendant ludicracies that were marketed as "House Music" to naive white urbanites with more money than sense ("House Arrest" by Krush comes to mind...). Electribe's brand of House was an odd melding of four eager studio-geeks with an Uber-White Hamburg diva who had fallen in love with vintage Stax and Motown without leaving her cutting-edge tastes behind (Throbbing Gristle was/is one of her most-cited influences). The resulting tracks immediately created yet another subgenre on the British scene - "Techno-Soul". A full seven years before Madonna set out to prove that "Techno music could be emotional", Electribe had already crystallized the molecular structure that Madonna would re-invent starting with "Ray of Light". Electribe themselves owed a tremendous creative debt to Yazoo, though Billie's vocalizations were more of a studied homage to American Divas versus Alison Moyet's wholly original, seemingly accidental, and entirely unmistakable pipes. To say Billie's approach was studied is not to say it was uneffective or lacking, quite the contrary. Due to her often-vulnerable deliveries and the above -average intellect evident in her material, it's easy to overlook the fact that she posseses one the most powerful and moving soul voices to emerge in World music - ever!
Electribe's debut album (1990's "Electribal Memories") would prove to be their only long-playing release. Due to an all-around confusion about the band's direction and fallings-out with their management, they broke during sessions for the never-released follow-up album. Billie immediately steered into a solo career that began hotly with 1995's "Your Loving Arms". A worldwide club smash sensation by even the most discerning of standards, the track was heard everywhere that buildings exceed three stories. Electribe's work often pops up in DJ sets ranging from Ben Watt's notable "Essential Mix" for Radio One in 2005 ("Inside Out') to the Cafe Del Mar series and it's many clones (Usually it's a variation of "Talking with Myself" that gets used). In fact "Talking With Myself" is close behind Yazoo's "Situation" as one of the most hard-to-kill club classics, with well-over a dozen legitimate and "white label" mixes having emerged. I guess there's something classic about a good soul rebel mixed with a generous helping of genius.
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