House music has had a home in Burlington at least since the godfather, Craig Mitchell, arrived in Vermont to attend Saint Michael's College. Innovative electronic sounds have been bubbling somewhere on Church Street for two decades now, and the genre has grown hugely popular. In the past decade, the event promotion team at Nexus Artist Management has been instrumental in that success, breaking local acts globally as well as bringing great talents from around the world to Burlington.
The latest rising name on their roster is Harder They Come, consisting of Chris Pattison and Mike Incalcaterra, both capable DJs and producers in their own right. (Pattison is also one of the founders of Nexus.) They've had a meteoric run in 2015, working the touring circuit and gaining a reputation for transcendent live sets. As DJs, they make their name from mixes: stitching new, classic and obscure tracks into seamless, continuous playlists.
The Freak EP, however, showcases their own production work and, without question, these gentlemen deliver the goods with style to spare. In a genre that frequently mashes the levels of every track past Spinal Tap's mythical 11, The Freak EP was mixed with dynamics and clarity in mind. Body-rocking grooves aside, this is dance music that rewards careful listening under good headphones. (Considering the sheer power of the sound systems at your average EDM show, it's a wonder more artists don't take this approach.)
The Freak EP is a strong release, but, with only three tracks, it had better be. That format works in HTC's favor, though, because each track is a very different animal. As producers, the two have a real gift for arrangements, deftly weaving unexpected elements and sounds that perfectly balance each other. The breaks and drops are all diamond cut, thanks to precise editing that turns on a dime without missing a beat.
Opening track "Freak" is a mammoth banger, channeling the polished propulsion of vintage Fatboy Slim or Basement Jaxx. From the intricately chopped vocal samples to the pummeling bass, this is a five-minute master class in carefully controlled chaos. It takes a special touch to spin so many dance-floor clichés into something this compelling.
The other two songs demonstrate how tonally diverse house music can be without ever abandoning the steady 4/4 pulse that universally defines the scene. "Beating on the Drum" is a lushly orchestrated and melodic journey, a moving jigsaw puzzle of synth lines and percussion samples built around another catchy vocal hook. The final track, "Everything (I Ever Wanted)," sounds more like a conscious throwback to early-'90s "acid house" work such as that of Adamski, who later became famous for his collaborations with R&B singer Seal.
As a teaser, The Freak EP is effective stuff, because the sweaty faithful will surely be left wanting more. Harder They Come are master craftsmen, and it is impossible to finish this short presentation without wondering what kind of full-length album they could cook up. Here's hoping we won't have to wait too long to find out.