Faithless have always been musical movers and shakers. When this British collective first emerged in the mid-1990s, the idea that a dance music act could produce rich full-length albums rather than one-off tracks, pack out live concerts, and bring together all kinds of genres and music fans, seemed quite revolutionary. Fourteen years, several albums and numerous global tours, festivals and hits later, those Faithless qualities have become benchmarks of the 21st-century music scene. Now their sixth studio album The Dance reunites the central trio of Buddhist MC/poet Maxi Jazz, indomitably cool club doyenne Sister Bliss and visionary producer Rollo, and extends that Faithless energy even further – always passionate, always progressive.
From their 1996 debut Reverence, Faithless albums have stood out for their vibrantly varied fusion of styles and viewpoints, and so it is with The Dance, which flows from the gorgeous romantic sentiments of numbers like Sun To Me to the quirky political commentary of Crazy Bal’heads. More than ever, though, club culture is the elemental force here – and part of the inspiration stemmed from the live crowds that Faithless were encountering on tour, as Rollo explains: ‘On the tour for our last album, To All New Arrivals (2006), there was a whole new generation of kids who were there for the big dancey beats like Insomnia and God Is A DJ. We wanted to really celebrate that side of our music, and go for the jugular with The Dance.’
‘We definitely put an effort into returning to our dancefloor roots on this album,’ agrees Bliss. ‘To All New Arrivals, was a beautiful record, but its mood was more quiet and reflective. This record was a big thank you to our fans as well as a mark of the eclecticism of our band. It’s a reconnection with where we’ve come from – we definitely wanted to feel that housey, anthemic energy again – but it’s also about renewal. Dance music has experienced such a resurgence, we’re still a little leftfield, and we’ve still got something to say.’
On The Dance, Faithless express themselves with inimitable style, with Maxi’s evocative wordplay coursing through the rhythms. The beats keep moving, but Maxi points out that his lyrical message has remained constant: ‘Essentially, I’ve always been trying to say the same thing: that all human beings have greatness inside of themselves,’ he says. ‘People tend to think that the spiritual and the material world are two separate things – I don’t see it like that. Life is for living, and I’m trying to express something that’s relevant to someone who works five days and parties hard at the weekend. Being in Faithless, I’ve seldom seen more loyal, loving, dedicated and sweet fans – they keep me devoted, and they’re all over the world.’
There’s a distinctly revitalised feel to tracks like Not Going Home and Feel Me, as well as a perfectly tuned blend of whole-hearted spirituality and cheekiness on Tweak Your Nipple: a feel-good groove in every way. ‘Well, every now and then, you have to say something completely directly,’ laughs Maxi. ‘Like the lyric “I see genius in everybody…”’
The name of the new album also derives from this memorable line: ‘The dance is long, but the night is young.’ ‘The Dance is a very simple title, yet it’s everything; there are so many different dimensions to it, ‘ says Bliss. ‘Maxi’s perspective is unique, he’s capable of the most internal state of what it is to be human, and the music’s message is still about living by promoting peace and spreading compassion – even if you’re bouncing around to the grooves!’
Bliss’s savvy international experience as a DJ – most recently, firing up dancefloors with the Faithless Sound System – really brings out the physicality of The Dance, from the euphoric rush of the production, to the musical build-ups and breakdowns that make your heartbeat race and shivers run down your spine. ‘I do still get that spine-tingling feeling when we’re playing out our tracks,’ says Bliss. ‘The best thing I can go by is people’s instinctive, dynamic response to our music; that communal moment is extremely special, and I think we’ve become more aware of that. The new material has a lovely warmth to it, and I’ve seen people in clubs really wanting to sing the words, but they don’t know them yet!’
‘The challenge was to sound quintessentially Faithless yet up-to-date, but I’m still propelled by the DIY spirit of the early house scene,’ she adds. ‘Even though we’ve been getting our hands on lots of new technology and we’ve modernised our sound, we’re still living in an analogue world. And it’s exciting to be in control of our destiny.’
‘It’s almost come full circle – this is very much how we started out making dance music,’ muses Rollo. ‘You used to make tracks, put them out, and see the reaction. The joy of this album is that it’s about making people feel excited and emotional at the same time. You hear these tracks in a club, and your whole body responds.’
The Dance is the first Faithless album recorded and mixed outside London, as they relocated to Rollo’s studio in the Norfolk countryside. While their previous records have embraced an array of guest vocalists such as Cat Power, Robert Smith and Boy George, this time the Faithless extended family includes the soaring tones of The Temper Trap’s frontman Dougy Mandagi on Comin Around (‘He has such an exquisite voice,’ enthuses Bliss); Neil Arthur from 1980s new wave renegades Blancmange lends his commanding boom to Feel Me; Rollo’s sister and long-time Faithless collaborator Dido returns on Feelin Good and North Star; and Jonny ‘Itch’ Fox from young British ska/punk/rap rabble-rousers The King Blues takes greedy bankers and politicians to task on Crazy Bal’heads. ‘There’s a kind of musical lineage between Faithless and The King Blues,’ says Rollo. ‘I really like the fact that they passionately believe in what they’re singing about.’
Along with the collaborative spirit, there’s a celebration of the ongoing vibrant dynamic between Faithless’s founding individuals. Bliss and Rollo first met Maxi when he was enlisted to record vocals on the 1996 track Salva Mea; they were immediately intrigued by his world view, and they’ve been making beautiful dance music together ever since. ‘We’ve still got a bit of yin and yang going on – which always makes for an interesting recording and touring experience!’ quips Bliss.
And the mutual respect is still resounding, as Rollo remarks: ‘Maxi has this fantastic persona, and he’s preaching positivity and jaw-dropping cultural truth. And so many millions of people have been taken to a different place by Blissy’s chords and riffs. What’s the essential key to the Faithless relationship? Well, Maxi’s the spiritual core, Blissy’s the musical core… and I mess around with it all!’ he laughs.
So the night is still young, and it pulses with brand new possibilities. And Maxi, as ever, puts that potential beautifully: ‘As you grow up, your personal perspective and your world mellows. As an album title, The Dance really expresses the dance of life. It might not always be pleasant, but the experience is always illuminating, and ultimately, it can be fulfilling. It all depends on how good a dancer you think you are.’