Release Date: Jul 15, 2014
Record label: Hyperdub
Genre(s): Electronic, Techno, Experimental Electronic
King Britt's first releases under his Afrofuturist techno alias, including a tribute to Telefon Tel Aviv's Charlie Cooper, were short-form free downloads. The proper debut from Fhloston Paradigm -- the name a play on the resort in Luc Besson's 1997 sci-fi film The Fifth Element -- arrived in 12" form on Hyperdub in 2012. FP then went inactive, at least in a public sense, as Britt juggled his assortment of other creative concerns.
A few years back, an ambient record inspired by sci-fi cinema was still a novel premise in electronica. Lately, though, after everyone from Portishead’s Geoff Barrow to trap producer Kuedo mounted the bandwagon, the formula has become hackneyed. However, by fusing the usual sci-fi score clichés to elements of techno, instrumental rap and Emeralds-style ‘post-noise’, on ‘The Phoenix’ producer Fhloston Paradigm has managed to breathe new life into the concept.
Decorated with accolades like a Christmas tree covered in medals, King Britt – the legendary Philadelphia producer – has turned his attention over the past few years. From warping the boundaries of dance (he’s often credited with altering the Philly landscape forever), he’s focusing his energies into an indulgent project – a labour of love. Centred around sci-fi, Britt’s Fhloston Paradigm guise (sorta/kinda named after the spaceship in The Fifth Element) provides an outlet for this passion; music’s not the only medium he uses though, and those with access to NYC’s MoMA can see him curate a “daylong session… based on Afrofuturism and black sci-fi.” Britt is hugely visual on The Phoenix, his debut LP as Fhloston Paradigm.
When King Britt's Presents Fhloston Paradigm first appeared on Hyperdub in 2012, it seemed a fairly gritty offering from a producer known mostly for emotive house. But the Philadelphia-born DJ, who got his start touring with Digable Planets, is also something of a shapeshifter: with his “King Britt Presents…” projects, he’s shuffled through a number of styles with seemingly unstoppable energy—he’s mixed classic disco-funk with jazzy chill-out textures under the name Sylk 130; another project consisted entirely of re-mixed vocals from New Orleans gospel singer Sister Gertrude Morgan. One of the threads through this eclectic catalogue is an underlying Afrocentrism; another is Britt’s studied approach to meticulous genre emulation.
On The Phoenix, King Britt attempts to reconcile UR-era techno and sci-fi soundtracks, two musical spheres that have heavily engaged with Afrofuturism, within the album format, harnessing the ability of both genres to envision and fictionalize possible futures within a strongly African (-American) cultural context. It’s soundscaping in the most literal sense: outlining a cinematic narrative but otherwise focusing on generating atmosphere and mood. As a storyteller, Britt falls rather flat; his attempts to exploit the transportative magic of science fiction by choosing a project name after The Fifth Element while also modelling the ambient-leaning interludes after it and other films (Vangelis and John Carpenter are strong influences) come across as little more than respectful tributes to the genre.
King Britt's Fhloston Paradigm first appeared two years ago with a 12-inch for Hyperdub, on which the Philly producer's heady analogue jams seemed intriguing but lacking crucial context—like an extended trailer for a movie we never got to see. Now, with The Phoenix, he finally gives us that feature film, with moments of stage setting, tender introspection and some pretty great action scenes. Inspired heavily by Britt's love of sci-fi (the name comes from The Fifth Element), The Phoenix has all the starry-eyed wonder and hammy melodrama of a genre archetype.
Science fiction and electronic music have long been bedfellows, from Detroit techno deploying its mythological tropes as conduits for themes of racial oppression and civil rights, to more recent works by Kode9, u-Ziq and Kuedo. King Britt’s debut LP as Fhloston Paradigm fits rather elegantly into this model. In interview, he’s described The Phoenix, his debut album under this alias, itself a corruption of The Fifth Element’s Fhloston Paradise, as a “re-scoring” of soundtracks from such sci-fi classics as Blade Runner and The Fifth Element.