In 1999 Armand Van Helden went ballistic. After years of remixes and underground DJ tunes, suddenly he was the micro-bearded wonder behind the mutant disco anthems ‘You Don’t Know Me’ (UK No.1) and ‘Flowerz’ (UK Top 20). The New York homeboy responsible for the Ibiza-quaking anthem ‘The Boogie Monster’. His critically hailed album ‘2Future4U’ was swiftly followed by his boxing ring soundclashes (as the Manhattan Mauler) with Brighton’s own Fatboy Slim.
Before then he’d been a hero to househeads the world over. After that, everybody knew who Armand Van Helden was. When he played Ibiza’s coolest club Space, it was sold out with Armand worshipping clubbers, shouting for his hits. It was the respect the Bostonian B-boy had waited for all his life.
Armand’s name comes from a Dutch-Indonesian father and a French-Lebanese mother. A US Air Force baby, Armand grew up on bases around the world. Moving back to Boston in 1988, this hip hop and house-obsessed teenager quickly fell into a bad boy lifestyle, hustling to pay for a studio engineers course and generally making a nuisance of himself.
Moving to New York, he learnt a different kind of hustle: hanging out in full on rave clubs by night, looking for DJ gigs and record deals by day. Just one of a thousand young hopeful studio bucks. This all changed with ‘The Witch Doktor’, his 1994 single on cult US label Strictly Rhythm. Unlike most regular house records coming out of New York, ‘The Witch Doktor’ was evil: a voodoo brew of punishing techno drums and rave sirens. It was massive with discerning DJs on both sides of the Atlantic. Rent-paying remixes followed for a succession of cheesy pop acts: everyone from Jimmy Somerville to The Real McCoy and Ace Of Base was put through the Van Helden mangle. Of course, the results were always the same: a heady, hardcore mix of techno noise and house hedonism. And all the time he was putting out a stream of sample hardcore hip hop and house under a dozen aliases: Pirates Of the Caribbean, Funky Shelltoes, Hardheads. Some of these deeply underground break-beat assaults even found their way into the influential Heavenly Social-bound record boxes of the Chemical Brothers, making Armand an unwitting midwife at the birth of big beat.
In 1996, his unforgettable mix of Tori Amos’ ‘Professional Widow’ went to Number One in the UK and his net worth went through the roof. His influential sub-bass heavy mixes of CJ Bolland’s ‘Sugar Is Sweeter’ and The Sneaker Pimps ‘Spin Spin Sugar’ put him at the genesis of UK garage. Never one to play by the rules, his debut artist album for FFrr was a hip hop heavy mash up of rap, funk and ragga samples.
Now with a third, shockingly brilliant new album, it’s time for house music’s pretenders to take cover and to face the future. ‘Killing Puritans’ is the house album of the new millennium. Every year house music throws up one classic LP, one record that spins the world on its head, sets new standards and makes the competition shake their heads in disbelief. It’s set to be everything Basement Jaxx’s ‘Remedy’ was for 1999, and Daft Punk’s ‘Homework’ was for 1997. Quite simply, the bomb.
The album’s theme is in the title: Armand is tooling up to kill off puritans, both musical and political. Fighting back not only against the straitjackets of corporate house music but also the straitlaced killjoy policies of New York’s Mayor Guilliani. The hooks and melodies that made last year’s ‘2Future4U’ so special are still there, but so is a volatile new anger. An utter disregard of fear and convention that borders on the punk.
If last year belonged to disco samples, then this year Armand has dug even deeper in the crates, unearthing early house, hip hop, 80s synth pop and yes, even heavy metal for his source material. Applying hip hop’s rapping and scratching to house music, he has come up with his own radical new hybrids. ‘Little Black Spiders’ has Armand mashing Euro head-bangers The Scorpions into the most danceable heavy metal record ever. ‘Full Moon’ subpoenas white hot NY rapper Common to lay down some rhymes over a classy boogie groove that harks back to early Jungle Brothers. ‘Flyaway Love’ is the track for the DJs: pumping dark house, made with Space in mind and perfect for those Ibiza sunrises. ‘Hybridz’ even finds Armand picking up the mic himself to trade rhymes with his Mongoloids mate Junior Sanchez over a rhythm that’s pure New York Sound Factory 1988. Best of all is the first single ‘Koochy’. Perfect pop and headfuck house rolled into one, this is the essence at the heart of the album. Armand rapping over clicking electro, scratching and an eardrum hammering sample lifted from Gary Numan’s electro pop classic ‘Cars’. Every track as distinctive as the next.
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