It was a hot, humid Pride Sunday in Toronto which marked the Canadian debut of UK Remix Kings, Freemasons. After having e-mailed back-and-forth for the past couple months to figure out the logistics of our meeting today, I could not mask my excitement of partaking in the Freemasons experience finally.
The duo which hails from Brighton, are responsible for some major Dance Floor successes for acts like Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Kylie Minogue, Whitney Houston and many, many more; diverse and chameleon-like. But Freemasons are not simply just Remixers. They produce their own brand of Electro/Disco House in their own original material also. They are comprised of Russell Small (of Phats & Small) and James Wiltshire, good friends who named themselves after a favourite Pub in their hometown.
Unfortunately, due to a hectic Pride Week Touring schedule which has seen them travel to four different cities around the world this past week, Wiltshire opted out of this visit, instead focusing on moving his studio today. Small though, was able to deliver a stellar experience from a Binder of CDs, entertaining a good turn-out of wet, Swimsuit-clad boys and girls at Dundas Square as part of Epic Weekend's Splash Bash. Its Promoters have opted to introduce this party as an alternative to existing Pride Toronto festivities. View photos I took from the event here.
Giving a friendly wave to Small and manager Martin Southon (seen left) upon my arrival, they both waved back at me, giving me a Thumbs-Up, gesturing to see them after the show. Despite, the sweltering heat and incessantly being sprayed with water against my will (I suppose this is what happens at a Water Party!), the two and a half hour set flew by quickly as I became enraptured in the Music.
Small came right out after his set and gave me a big hug, thanking me for my support. Famished, the topic of where to eat had surfaced. He and Southon inquired about my opinion on a Thai restaurant they noticed near their Hotel, to which I gave them my stamp of approval. We laughed about Girlicious, who also appeared at Splash Bash, and their incessant Hotel Room Door-knocking - likely an attempt to score a collaboration after seeing the success Freemasons have brought now-disbanded Girl Group members before them? Unfortunately, they have a 6 AM flight back home tomorrow and must call it an early night.
Taking some time to chat with Mr. Will-W.:Pop Maven readers, Small answers some questions, we've been itching to know about them. (W denotes Mr. Will-W., F denotes Freemasons)
W: Thank you so much Russell for taking time out of your hectic schedule for us. I'm beyond delighted to chat with you, being an avid follower of your catalogue. Tell us, what influences and sounds are shaping the new sound of Freemasons?
F: We are always influenced by all forms of dance music - over and underground but our biggest consideration whilst working is the song and we always try to bring that bubbling to surface with every record or mix we do. We've always tried to base our tracks on solid rhythmical foundations as then the song will always shine on top of a great groove . We will always be more musical than a lot of other Dance Producers, that comes from our backgrounds and our love of that moment when a vocal note rises over a chord change and the hair on your arms stand up- those moments influence us more than any particular artists.
W: Yes, that's very apparent on some of your tracks like Kelly Rowland’s Work. It is safe to say you completely reinvented the track into a lavish Production. It was not just a Remix. On the other hand though, on remixes like Kylie’s The One or Shakira's Gypsy you were more subtle with the enhancements. What guidelines do you follow when remixing/reinventing when you're in the studio?
F: The difference is that we already have the song to work with when Remixing, so we are working to Melody and Rhythm ideas that are set in stone. When we create our own material, the starting point can differ from Chordal ideas, Riffs, Melodies, etc. The two starting points are very different but once we’rein to it things pretty much take the same course. One thing we really pride ourselves on is treating each remix as if it were our own.
W: One thing that I've always wondered about with Freemasons is the leaking of your mixes. Heartbreak Make Me a Dancer (Sophie Ellis-Bextor) had leaked onto the Internet well in advance of its release. Ditto for her latest single Bittersweet. Finally, upon release of Heartbreak, we got a much more polished edit of the track with a grand dramatic string section which we loved. Do you leak drafts of your tracks to get feedback? Another thing - what is the release plan for the new Sophie Ellis-Bextor track?
F: We don't actually leak tracks, but have seen that it can be a benefit. Uninvited was leaked in its original form and we really think this helped promote the track worldwide, as it was mainly picked up by DJs. We are not sure on the release of Bittersweet, as we know Sophie was putting the finishing touches to an album. Not sure if it's finished though.
W: Which artists can we look forward to collaborations with in the near future? Shakedown 2 was a Masterpiece of the most Ace calibre and we can’t wait for more.
F: Well, we've got a few tracks and collaborations on-the-go at the moment, including one that will hopefully be a new single from us featuring the beautiful vocals of NYC singer Wynter Gordon. It's been a while coming as we wanted to make our next move a very special one. We have also just been commissioned to remix a fascinating new UK Band called Hurts. Think Depeche Mode round at the Pet Shop Boys’ apartment with a thoroughly modern twist with dark but very uplifting songwriting. One of us went to see them live the other week and almost had an epiphany whilst in the crowd – incredible stage presence. The single we’ve been asked to remix is our favorite from them, Wonderful Life – check out their Demo Video on YouTube – this got them signed. We’re very excited.
F: We actually find it easier this way, since our musical tastes and attitude tend to lean that way, which is why we enjoy these (Gay-centric) gigs so much. When we are making music it's always about the musicality, which we know our Gay fans appreciate and understand.
W: (Raises hands). Thank you, Russell. We are so thrilled to have you in our city and hope you'll be back again soon enough.
Off the record, Russell and Southon did confirm that Freemasons in approximately three weeks' time will be working with a very prolific Male Artist (who shall remain unnamed) celebrating an anniversary of his iconic release. Yes, you are the first to hear about it. And I am sworn to secrecy regarding who!
Being the wonderful guys they are, Freemasons are giving away a few personalized copies of Shakedown 2 to Mr. Will-W.:Pop Maven readers exclusively! To qualify, leave a comment who you think this mystery "Prolific Male Artist" is before midnight Sunday, July 18, 2010. Winners will be contacted, so please leave a way for me to reach you back! Good luck!
(Photo credit: Mr. Will-W.)