Motown does not allow just anybody to muck about with Marvin Gaye but Parov Stelar isn’t just anybody. The new single ‘Keep On Dancing’, a pulsing, stylish, funk-house remake of Marvin Gaye’s 1977 disco classic ‘Got To Give It Up’, features the great soul singer’s original vocals. It’s a tune that sits comfortably alongside classy house revivalists such as Disclosure and Duke Dumont, yet also has the listening depth of Lindstrom or Aeroplane, aided along the way by a remix from rising Parisian melodic techno don Joris Delacroix.
Who, or what, is Parov Stelar? For those mining the electronic vanguard for pearls, these two words crop up again and again, but who or what do they mean?
Is it a DJ whose sets in clubs across the globe, from Paris, France, to Texas, USA, run the gamut from stylish vocal house to swirling techno? A producer responsible for five studio albums of inventive, jazz-tinted electronica that have been cherry-picked repeatedly for hundreds of mix CDs and TV ads? A trio kicking up a storm with the most modernist electro-swing? The remixer responsible for this year’s sultry, rare-as-hens’-teeth reworking of Lana del Rey’s ‘Dark Paradise’? A band that sold out the London Forum two nights running, fronted by a wild, high-kicking flapper girl, and who drove Womad’s Siam Tent into a frenzy? Or is it simply Austria’s most successful contemporary music artist?
The truth is that Parov Stelar is all the above and more, a leader in Mitteleuropean chart-smashing art-pop with a serious worldwide underground dance following. And word of mouth is spreading…
“Parov Stelar?” asks Marcus Füreder – who, in fact, is Parov Stelar, “My grandmother was Russian, she hunted bears for a living and gave me that name out in the forests of the Western Caucasus one bitter winter’s evening…” He stops. Then he laughs. “No, no, no,” he says, “I tell so many tales about who Parov Stelar is. It’s a fantasy, it’s my ‘70s spy movie name.”
Born and raised in Linz, Austria, Motown was one of Marcus’s earliest teen passions. His mother was an artist – a painter – and his father an IT manager but from an early age the latter had him in training to be a professional tennis player. At 14, however, Marcus “realised there was something else than tennis… called ‘girls’”. He also fell in love with Mod culture, the music and the scooters – he still has an old Vespa – and before long he was attending Northern Soul all-nighters. Over time, he became a graphic artist and the all-nighters became raves, the local Danube Rave, to be precise, and Marcus caught the bug, started to DJ, to produce. His first records as Plasma were clunky, an initial attempt, but then as Parov Stelar, walking in the trip hop feet of Ninja Tune, he started to find his way. By the time of his third album – the varied feast that is 2007’s ‘Shine’ – he was cutting a unique furrow. The album was imaginative and original, a treat for home listening but, at the same time he had also been breaking new ground on the dancefloor.
The 2004 singles ‘Kiss Kiss’ and ‘Wanna Get’ cleverly mingled old Dixieland and big band sounds from ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s with the thrum of modern dancefloor BPMs. Inadvertently, Marcus had invented a new genre, electro-swing, a term he coined accidentally when chatting with a French magazine (the first electro-swing-titled compilation appeared out of Paris a couple of months later). It was a style he embraced – it sends crowds wild, after all – and just recently his ‘The Invisible Girl’ album with the Parov Stelar Trio (Marcus and longterm sparring partners saxophonist Markus Ecklmayer and trumpeter Gerd Rahstorfer) set a new standard for imitators to match.
“There are so many rubbish electro-swing tracks out there which just take an old song and add a basic four-to-the-floor beat,” he says with mild exasperation, before adding protectively. “I hope the quality will increase – electro-swing always stays a little bit underground which I hope can protect such a young genre.”
His own band, fronted by the manic, quiff-n’cropped Cleo Panther, usually brandishing a foot long cigarette holder, are the most reliable way to have the best electro-swing night out, but they also embrace a multitude of other styles, from bouncing house to a smooth, sexy take on tribalistic trance. An album, ‘The Art of Sampling’, will appear in the autumn, combining Parov Stelar’s peak moments so far with new tunes such as the mighty ‘Josephine’ (featuring LA singer Anduze). The groundwork has been laid and it seems Parov Stelar might… go stellar.
“I try not to live in the past,” says Marcus, “I will always love the swing thing but celebrating the old days is not my way. I came from minimal techno and I love the French Daft Punk style. I want to sample and mix it up – soul, pop, hip hop, even rock, mix everything together, it doesn’t matter which time period the sample is at. This is our purpose.”