French turntablist Wax Tailor’s tour in support of his recently released third album, “In The Mood For Life,” made its stop at DC9 on Thursday, Oct. 8. Wax Tailor’s name is very apropos: his unique blend of trip-hop, hip-hop, downtempo, clever movie samples, jazz and soul has garnered him many accolades, with his 1995 album “Tales Of The Forgotten Melodies” becoming one of the best-selling electronic releases of the year.
Wax Tailor’s new album perfectly showcases how natural and symbiotic the blend between hip-hop and downtempo can be. Since the release of DJ Shadow’s seminal album “Endtroducing,” many musicians such as DJ Krush, RJD2 (whom Wax Tailor previously toured with), DJ Vadim and others have shown that turntablism by its very definition is a genre-defying art form.
Wax Tailor has always had a consummate ability to build sonic blends — an ability that comes from having feet firmly planted in both the DJ-centric hip-hop culture and the beat-and-atmospherics world of trip-hop.
Astronautalis opened the show with an interesting shoegazer, rock-talking, blues-punk, hip-hop-Beck-esque hodgepodge. The set-up of electric cello and flutes on the stage signaled Wax Tailor’s natural musical evolution on this tour.
“I would say this album is a lot more organic; I have been working with a lot of orchestral stuff lately,” Wax Tailor explained to the audience.
A constant element throughout the entire performance was Wax Tailor’s live turntablism — he could have very easily relied on laptop wizardry but he worked the wax with the seasoned knowledge of a pro. Yet, he did not take center stage or allow the scratching to overtake the performance. In a subtle way, he used the turntables and vocal samples to work with the other musicians. Songs flowed together seamlessly creating a sonic landscape, and the entire set felt thoroughly uncontrived and flowed together perfectly, incorporating both the free-style format of hip-hop and the improvisational component of live music.
The set list consisted of material mostly from his new album, and with 19 tracks on the new release, there was plenty to mine from. Chanteuse Charlotte Savary’s performance was especially spectacular — in the pantheon of female voices in downtempo music, from Beth Gibbons with Portishead to Martina Topley Bird with Tricky and Emiliana Torrini and Lulu with Thievery Corporation, she more than held her own. Her lilting, beautiful voice lent itself perfectly to the atmospheric instrumentals. Her first song “Dragon Chasers” is sure to be one of the hits from “In The Mood For Life” with its melancholy vocal loop chorus and languid flow.
Rapper Mattic followed with a crowd-stirring performance of “Until Heaven Stops The Rain” and free styled effortlessly with the band and the turntables. Cellist Matthieu Detton and flutist Ludivine Issambourg’s performance was absolutely phenomenal — very unlike a typical set-up where these instruments support and weave in and out; they were an integral component of all the songs.
The flutist improvised and took center stage on many of the tracks, with this call-and-response pattern lending itself perfectly to the improvisation style of both hip-hop and turntablism. On “Fireflies,” when both Charlotte and Mattic took the stage, the seamless way in which all five musicians worked with and off each other showcased the sheer musical breadth and genre blending that is a hallmark of Wax Tailor’s work.
Toward the end of the show, Mattic offered a raucous take on “B Boys On Wax,” a truly appropriate homage to the MCing and turntablism culture that Wax Tailor clearly knows and contributes to. The band then performed two songs off “Tales Of The Forgotten Melodies” — “Que Sera” and the DJ Krush-esque “Out Dance.” The final song was the up-tempo new single “Say Yes.”
Wax Tailor has always shown a consummate ability to craft sonic landscapes, but what makes him unique is that, while he is an excellent turntablist, he never makes his work solely about that. While this new album incorporates more live instrumentation, it also doesn’t do so jarringly or take his style in an entirely new direction. “In The Mood For Life,” as its title suggests, is very much about a natural and subtle integration of the turntables and the instruments, the songs and the atmospherics, the slow and the fast, the melancholy and the upbeat.