by Matt Kalkhoff

Music industry executives love labels. It just makes sense for them and the retailers who sell their product to identify a record's key elements and then assign it to a specific category. In most instances, this sort of compartmentalization works well. But when it comes to dance music, things get much trickier.

With so many categories to choose from - house, trance, ambient, drum & bass, to name a few - it becomes extremely difficult to sort artists into the numerous and often overlapping genres. Then the catchy adjectives are added - like progressive, deep, acid, tribal - and the task becomes even more daunting. But is it really necessary to label dance artists and their music so precisely? The English trio Kosheen doesn't think so, and on their full-length debut album, "Resist" (Kinetic), they respectively show us why.

While an increasing number of dance acts are experimenting with a wider range of music, Kosheen is the embodiment of this electronic evolution. The Bristol-based group cleverly combines the haunting vocals of Sian Evans with a plethora of disparate, breakbeat-inspired musical styles to create a mesmerizing masterpiece that defies narrow classification. While the group has already enjoyed success around the world with the singles "Hide U" and "Catch," the album was just released in the U.S. on March 5th and promises to captivate American audiences as well.

Each member of the group, which also includes Darren "Decoder" Beale and Mark(ee) "Substance" Morrison, has worked in the music industry in varying capacities ranging from club promotions to DJing to performing with live bands. Building on their extensive background and respective strengths in electronic music, Decoder and Substance eventually realized it was time to take their innovative ideas to the next level.

"We wanted to do something different, something more musical, more song-based," Decoder recalls of Kosheen's formation. "That's when we met Sian - it was perfect timing, really." And perfect chemistry, too. Collaborating as equal partners, the three musicians have developed a unique sound that Evans describes as "organic technology." "[We use] very conventional methods of writing which often involves us sitting in a room with acoustic guitars," Decoder explains. "Then we take it into the studio where we've got heaps of technology, but there's still an organic side to the music."

While Kosheen's sound is often described as Drum & Bass, Decoder cautions against pigeonholing their music so precisely. "Drum & Bass is just a part of it," he insists. "It inspires me, as does a lot of music, but it's only a little slice of Kosheen. To say that the whole album is Drum & Bass is not correct." In fact, Decoder's creative process knows no boundaries. "When I sit in the studio and write something with Kosheen, it's a clean slate. It doesn't matter what the beats are or what the sound is - as long as I like it, Markee likes it, and Sian likes it - it doesn't matter what it is."

One element that clearly sets Kosheen apart from other electronic acts is its use of vocals. Building on the basic philosophy that "a good song is universal," the group strives to compose sophisticated songs that transcend the traditional electronic studio track.

Kosheen's versatile music also translates well into live stage shows. After an extensive tour of Australia and Europe backed by a full band, Kosheen brings their act to the States this month for a 2-week East Coast tour including two performances during Miami's Winter Music Conference. They'll return to the U.K. at the end of March to support the release of their album's third single, "Hungry." The second leg of their American tour commences in May and will include dates on both coasts.

Please visit Kosheen.com for more information.

© 2002 Matt Kalkhoff
Appeared in Dance Music Authority's (DMA) April 2002 issue.