Thursday, October 14, 2010

One Fourth of the World

Quadron: One Fourth of the World

Here’s the million dollar question. How did good ol’ American Soul music get to Denmark? If the answer to this were really worth a million dollars, most would play it safe and cite the international name recognition of artists like Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson.


But what about those who say screw the money and go for creativity? They might make up something ambitious and helplessly romantic. Maybe something that involved an African-American World War II soldier from Detroit, Michigan, a Danish beauty, and a grand child who inherited blood that flowed with Rhythm & Blues. Their story may not account for all of that niche audience of Copenhagen natives who can’t live without Motown, but it does tell the story of Robin Hannibal and his grandfather.

“My grandmother was pregnant and he moved back and forth in his childhood, but later migrated to Denmark,” says the music producer in the backstage of the Liv Nightclub in Washington, DC. By earnest calculations, this would make the R&B soundsman and his music partner, Coco (who has an African grandfather) each one-fourth African-American. Thus the name Quadron.

In a Scandinavian part of the world where rock and electronica hold dominion, the Danish perceive classic R&B differently from most. When they hear R&B, they think of beloved jingles and not necessarily relevant music. The youth have not really embrace it. To them, an R&B song is like a Christmas carol, cherished but more likely to play in the background of a romantic comedy than on top 40 radio.

Quadron has defied this sentiment with their global success. Originally members of the Boom Clap Bachelors, an indie collective of Copenhagen soul/electronica artists, Robin and Coco met six years old ago through a mutual friend. Coco was a sixteen year old vocalist who sang at local venues over DJ instrumentals and Robin was an innovative producer in need of a front man--or woman--for his daring compositions.

“She was really instrumental because she had a much bigger voice and sound than the guys singing on the records,” Robin says. “Here was a performer, like a real natural performer. She made it a whole new dimension.”

Coco’s voice booms. She does not just grace a stage, she commands it, magnetizing any given set with her crystal clear pitch and comfortable confidence. She’s not some lead singer for a High School reunion cover band. Robin and Coco are contributors, not imitators.

Take the duo’s hit song “Pressure,” for example. Its jingly piano and soul clap percussion sound like they escaped from a Best of The Supremes 12 inch, but the urgent lyrics and Coco’s cerulean-sky voice, are original. To call Quadron a group that performs Black music would be disrespectful. They’re not trying to howl like Otis Redding or preach like Aretha Franklin. They’re simply revamping an old aesthetic with a modern touch.

“The use of reverb and space is a little 60’s and there’s that whole electronic element,” Robin says of group’s blended styles. “We both listen to a lot of old music and new music. I don’t think anything’s interesting if it’s only old or only new. It’s interesting when you mix it.”

The industry has responded positively to that formula. After a local DJ starting spinning their demo on the radio, Robin and Coco were pleasantly shocked to find that Andrew Hill, A&R at Plug Research was not only tuning in as well, but also ready to ink Quadron to an album deal. Hill flew them on a few occasions to Plug Research’s Headquarters in Manhattan, courting the duo to sign with the alternative indie label. Robin and Coco pined over the decision, but ultimately sharing label space with highly creative artists like Sa-Ra, Bilal, Exile, Daedelus, and Flying Lotus nudged them in the right direction.

With the release of Quadron’s self-titled album earlier this spring, Robin is sitting pretty. When the duo is not touring the world, he teaches music at the Red Bull Music Academy, which changes location around the world each year. He stays busy, but not busy enough to forget his good fortune.

“It’s been a fairy tale, us coming from little Denmark, five million citizens, half the size of LA,” Robin says. “Now we’re coming here and people think we’re a breath of fresh air.”

No comments:

Post a Comment