Dance-floor roar 

Today's dance culture owes as much to the late-'80s acid-house scene of Manchester, England, as '60s acid-rock and folk does to San Francisco. It was an era of innocence and ecstasy-fueled exploration, of inclusiveness and musical wanderlust.

The diversity and willingness to experiment eventually took a back seat to the more hedonistic climate that carried dance-music through the '90s, but the effects of "Madchester" echo in the work of techno-DJ extraordinaire and Lionrock founder Justin Robertson. Robertson's everything-but-the-kitchen sink approach to recording Lionrock's latest album, "City Delirious," evokes the spirit if not the sound of the heady days of acid house.

"Initially I was just a clubber really," says Robertson. "I got into that as a punter -- and buying records religiously." Robertson had varied tastes in music and a penchant for hip-hop and reggae. By the late '80s Manchester's "summer of love" had taken root, and bands like Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses skyrocketed to the top of the U.K. charts with their mix of live instruments and electronic dance beats.

Robertson got in on the ground floor as DJs became the cultural prime movers of the club scene. After kicking off two successful club nights, he began expanding his world as a touring DJ for the Beastie Boys, Primal Scream and the Chemical Brothers. The latter act provided Robertson with his first foray into remixing, and he subsequently went on to rework tracks for New Order, Erasure and the Sugarcubes.

His own debut single came out in 1992 on the seminal dance label Deconstruction. By the time he recorded his second single, "Packet of Peace," he had hooked up with Manchester "lyrical legend" MC Buzz B, and an enduring partnership was born.

He returned to a live and electronic mix when it came time to record an album. Robertson's schizophrenic tastes drive the musical Babylon of "City Delirious" -- a sprawling work that draws on '60s ska, surf guitar, spacey effects and cool-jazz licks. He welcomes the opportunity to expand his horizons, which a full-length recording allows. "You aren't restrained to thinking about whether it's going to work on the dance floor. You can stretch out a bit and try to make music for different moods. It makes it more interesting for the listener."

More by Matt Kelemen


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