“I Can’t Do This Anymore, I’m Leaving You!” Dance Music’s Break-Ups And Make-Ups

Words by: Peter Adkins
Posted: 27/8/14 12:03
“I Can’t Do This Anymore, I’m Leaving You!” Dance Music’s Break-Ups And Make-Ups

Perhaps the old saying that a joy shared is a joy doubled and a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved goes some way towards explaining the preference for partnerships in dance-music. When you’re part of a duo or trio, whether in the DJ booth or the studio, you’ve got someone to celebrate when you’re riding a high, someone to mop up your tears when things turn sour and, perhaps most importantly, someone to take over the decks when you’re busting for a pee. Yet, that’s only half the story. As anyone who has been in a partnership, musical or otherwise, will attest to, spending your working hours with someone else can be the most testing of experiences. Whether it’s hissy fits about working conditions, sudden creative divergences or simply virulent personality clashes musical pairings can implode with a cruel and surprising velocity. What’s more, under the unblinking eye of social media, the disintegration of musical relationships has turned into something of a spectator sport in recent years.

But, for every bitter notice of dissolution that appears on Facebook or Twitter, there is an announcement of a formerly estranged pair coming back together. In fact, the over-hyped reunion show and the usually underwhelming return to the studio seems as much part of the cycle as the break-up itself.  With 2014 already turning out to be something of a rich year for dance-music reunions – with both Deep Dish and Layo & Bushwhacka getting back together for special shows in Ibiza and elsewhere – I Voice dips into the archives to take a look at the break-ups and make-ups of some of dance-music’s iconic teams.

Layo & Buschwhacka Is a break-up still a break-up if, once you’ve told everyone that you're splitting up and publicise a series of “last ever” gigs, you then get back together less than a year later? In an interview in November 2012, Matthew Benjamin explained that  “there will be a handful of gigs together in 2013 only and that will be it for us... [we have] come to a natural conclusion.” The time was ripe, so it seemed, for the pair to focus on their solo careers, with Benjamin focusing on putting out music under the alias of 'Just Be' and Layo declaring that he was going to stop Djing completey and open a restaurant in London instead.There was a lot of hype surrounding a string of “last ever” gigs, culminating in their “last everOlmeto in London in December 2013.

Then at the beginning of the Ibiza series, a little more than six-months later, comes the first “reunion” gig with a one-hour L&B set at Space's 25th Anniversary bonanza. At this rate, the duo are on their way to becoming The Rolling Stones of house music, going from 'Retirement' tour to 'Reunion' gigs in the blink of an eye.

Formed: 1988 - Broke-Up: 2013 - Reformed: 2014

Orbital Festivals are great for dozens and dozens of reasons, but one thing they're particularly ace at doing is bringing bands back together. Brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll complained that they had been “sat in the same room for too long” when they split up in 2004 after a few years of increasingly tepid studio albums (including, lest we forget, that god awful cover of the Doctor Who theme). Flash forward five-years and when the Big Chill festival got in touch with the brothers to take to the stage for one more time, they meet up with each other, agreed enough time had passed to go back to their roots as band and “put some fun back into it”.

The Big Chill headline slot was a success, and was subsequently followed by a huge Glastonbury show, and after that a critically acclaimed new album Wonky and a revitalised live show that reached its zenith with a blinding performance at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. And whilst 2014 has been a quiet year for the brothers so far, it is hard not to feel that we haven’t heard the last of them yet.

Formed: 1989 - Broke-Up: 2004 - Reformed: 2009

Aeroplane Aeroplane's break-up is a classic example of what happens when you start to buy into your own hype. It doesn't seem so long ago since Aeroplane were the hottest thing in dance-music, their remix of Friendly Fires’s Paris seemingly blaring out of every party soundsystem and the duo steadily building a rock solid back-catalogue of disco 12”s that would make even Giorgio Moroder green with envy. Then came the debut album.

Aiming to make the epic disco album of the decade, the duo called in the assistance of producer Betrand Burgalat, a full backing band and a choir. The result, We Can’t Fly, was a cloying, over-indulged, sugar-coated mess; the musical equivalent of gorging yourself on a whole tub of Neapolitan ice-cream. What’s more, the recording process of the record decimated the duo’s ability to work together, with Vito De Luca powering ahead with this new pop aesthetic and Stephano Fasano seemingly shrinking in horror. A few weeks before the album hit the shops, Fasano announced that he had left Aeroplane and that, from herein out, De Luca would be flying solo.

Formed: 2007 - Broke-Up: 2010 - Reformed: Not yet.

Virgo Four The story of Eric Lewis and Merwyn Sanders, aka Virgo Four, is possibly the strangest on the list. The ‘80s saw the duo sign to TRAX and establish themselves as important if relatively unknown figures in the Chicago house scene. Then in 2010, almost two-decades after the pair had faded into obscurity, Rush Hour started to reissue and remix their back-catalogue, with Caribou’s edit of ‘It’s A Crime’ becoming something of an anthem. So far, perhaps a little unusual but not that extraordinary. It gets stranger.

On the back of the reissues and remixes, Virgo Four began touring again, playing at festivals and clubs across the world. Then, last year, with Virgo Four still touring, it was revealed that the band that people were seeing and hearing wasn’t the duo that had originally made the records. Founding member Merwyn Sanders had left the band in 2011 having expressed his feeling that Virgo Four was done with. But, instead of disbanding Virgo Four, the other founding member Eric Lewis had instead gone and replaced Sanders with his cousin Terry Ivy.

The switch happened, seemingly, without anyone noticing. Even more bizarrely, the band continued to use Merwyn’s picture on posters for events. It wasn’t until Sanders went public that anyone knew that not only was he not a member of Virgo Four, but that he hadn’t been for more than two years. And whilst Lewis responded by saying that Sanders had not said anything about Lewis not using the name – and indeed, the new duo are still touring and producing music – stacks of fans continue to be unaware that Virgo Four should now really be known as Virgo Two.

Formed: 1984 - Split-Up: 1992 - Reformed: 2010

Deep Dish There was a point, probably around 2010, when the idea of a Deep Dish reunion was inconceivable. Ali ‘Dubfire’ Shirazinia was going about spinning minimal tech-house, wearing leather jackets and hanging out with Richie Hawtin, whilst his former partner in crime Sharam Tayebi was tottering about plying sugar-coated vocal house to mainstream audiences. The days of Deep Dish, so it seemed, had been committed the echelons of history.

Cut to 2014 and the improbable has happened. A track called 'Quincy' surfaces online, a hybrid of Dubfire's techy-leanings and Sharam's disposition for melody. Alongside it appears a string of dates across Europe. Whilst there is not word as to whether this summer’s tour is set to be a short lived burst of reactivity or the beginnings of Deep Dish 2.0, with the huge EDM market poised for the sort of super-hits that Deep Dish used to write in their sleep, it would be surprising if they didn't stick around for at least a little longer.

Formed: 1992 - Broke-Up: 2006 - Reformed: 2014

UR Underground Resistance was first-wave Detroit techno at its most political, radical and ideologically forthright. The collective emerged in 1989, originally as a partnership between Mike Banks and the then very- young Jeff Mills. They were soon joined by a similarly fresh faced Robert Hood. Together, they established a brand of hard-nosed techno that snarled with contempt at the conservative hard-right in the United States that had left Detroit to rot from the inside out. Mills and Hood both left UR in the early ‘90s, and the terms surrounding their separate departures are still unclear.

Mills in an interview on I Voice once described Hood’s behaviour as “peculiar” and explained that they didn’t remain in contact. Why Mills left the group, he didn’t say. However, UR did not fizzle out with the departure of two of its prodigies. Instead, the project remained vibrant under the auspices of Banks and a rotating roster of lesser-known Detroit based producers. Perhaps no longer demanding the attention they once did, UR are still going strong, sporadically releasing new records and performing at festivals and clubs across the world.

Formed: 1989 - Broke-Up: It's complicated.
Reformed: It's complicated.

Footprintz Footprintz had a blink-and-you'll miss it career as a synth-pop duo. After managing to get a demo into the hands of Seth Troxler they were signed to the Visionquest label and went on to pen a number of impressive dreamy crossover tracks, such as 'Utopia', 'The Favourite Game' and 'Golden Dreams'.

Then came the task of writing a full-length album and, as with other duos who have had to endure the demand of writing an album together, the pressure tore them apart.

Their debut album 'Escape Yourself' came out in March 2013, and the duo quietly announced their split a few weeks later, with only Weitzmann carrying on under the Footprintz banner and Clarian North departing to do his own thing.

Formed: 2011 - Broke-Up: 2013 - Reformed: Not yet.

Digweed & Sasha Whilst never officially a “duo” as such, Sasha and Digweed were synonymous with each other during the boom years of progressive house. From their epoch-defining Renaissance: The Mix Collection compilation in 1994 which sparked everything off, to their joint residency at Twilo in NYC, to their sought-after Northern Exposure records, Digweed and Sasha were for a short time the prog house equivalent of McCartney and Lennon. Whilst the ‘00s saw the two figures start to go in separate directions musically, they would still get back together in the DJ booth for a handful of gigs each year and recapture that magic that had made them such giants of dance-music.

However, their headline slot at the 2009 SW4 Festival turned out to be something of an unannounced last-ever-gig. In an interview with Mixmag last year, Sasha revealed that the two men were no longer on speaking-terms. What’s more, whilst Sasha didn’t reveal why they had stopped spinning records together, he did reveal that he had been in touch with Digweed about playing together one last time and that “John just turned me down flat”.

Formed: 1993 - Broke-Up: 2009 - Reformed: Not yet.

Azari & III Another hotly-tipped dance-music act that seemingly imploded at the moment they should have exploded into the public consciousness, was the Canadian four-piece Azari & III.  Despite the extraordinary success of their records as ‘Hungry For The Power’ and ‘Reckless (With Your Love), as well as a critically well-received debut album and a Polaris Prize nomination, the band just couldn’t get their shit together.

Describing their final recording session as “an extinguishing of the flame and a bird into the fire of blissful, eternal oblivion”, the band’s leadman Alphonse Alixander Lanza explained the years with the outfit had been both “heaven and hell”.

Yet, with Alphonse’s solo career not commanding an iota of the attention that he previous band did, it remains to be seen how long it will be until the Azari & III Reunion Tour is announced… 

Formed: 2008 - Split-Up: 2013 - Reformed: Not yet.

Sandwell District

For a brief period in the ‘00s, it seemed that Sandwell District – aka techno producers Function and Regis – could do no wrong. The releases on their eponymously-titled label were amongst the best techno being made in the world, their sets together were electrifying and their ability to disregard the hype that comes with that kind of success made them all the more enigmatic. Keeping the PR guff and glossy photoshoots to a minimum, the pair instead embraced a punk aesthetic comprised of unfussy yet striking production values, conceptual approaches to techno and continually toying with audience expectations. Yet, what should have been their crowning moment and moment of maximum exposure, the launch party for their blistering fabric compilation, turned out to signal the beginning of the end. Function didn’t turn up to the gig and James Ruskin was rushed in as a last minute replacement.

This no-show at fabric was followed by the message “Sandwell District Is Dead!” on the duo’s Tumblr page. Was this the duo playing more games with their audience? Or was it an attempt to extinguish the project with the same suddenness with which it arrived? Either way, whilst both Regis and Function continue to enjoy success as solo producers, the Sandwell District moniker has gathered dust ever since.

Formed: 2002 - Broke-Up: 2013 - Reformed: Not yet.


Roberto Capuano
Politics Of Dancing
Ralph Lawson