“Since the mid-90s/early aughts, we’ve seen the resurgence of a more heartfelt and raw form of soul music,” says Magic In Threes multi-instrumentalist Dave Singleton. “Driven in part by a desire to re-embrace a less-processed analog recording aesthetic once thought obsolete in the digital age. What started with a handful of small labels scattered across the globe, has grown into a musical movement that has seen its influence reach the pinnacles of success in terms of musical milestones.”
How he talks about the “third or fourth wave of the resurgence" soul music is currently seeing, shows how essential the golden age of soul in the 60s and 70s is for popular music today. Even for artists such as Zilo, who doesn’t consider herself to be a ‘soul artist’ per se: “I really like 70s style and fashion, though. There was quite a lot of gender-bending,” explains the Play Nice affiliated songstress. “The way people expressed themselves seemed pretty colorful and free which was likely reflected in the music and art at that time, too. I’d say newer soul being sampled would likely bring a more eclectic, genre-bending feel to what soul once was. Actually, perhaps that’s why some of my music is considered ‘soul’ now?”
As with every genre, the golden era still plays a vital role in shaping the sound of today. Interestingly enough, whereas the artists in our feature Giant Steps: A New Wave of Jazz (And Beyond) seemed to focus a lot on progression and free-spirited ideas, this time it’s the blueprint of soul that still seems to be mapped out in the sound of today. “In a way, I’m very much chasing after an unattainable dream sound of the past,” says UK multi-instrumentalist Rob Jones, better known under his one-man-alias The Gene Dudley Group. “The fact that I feel that I’ll never actually reach that sound, makes it all the more exciting. So in the quest of doing that, you possibly sacrifice innovation. I have other areas of music work where I can get that out. But, when I’m in soul mode—I am trying to make something that feels like it could've got lost in the archives.”
On the other hand, Nicole Bus emphasizes that there still is a lot of diversity these days. “Sometimes the creativity makes me look a bit side-eye-ish. Because I feel this era is doing too much with copying each other,” she acknowledges. “But we are slowly stepping out of that. Thank God. I feel like we’re in the best era so far when it comes to the possibilities. Soul music is in a great space and place, and so diverse.”
Those aforementioned analog recording aesthetics artists are after, tie in neatly with the textures and sounds producers are after for sampling. That trickles through in the new wave of soul music. “I think now that we have the perspective of post-hip hop soul, we can make production decisions that are different than what would have been made in the 70s,” says Magic In Threes drummer and G.E.D. Soul Records founder Nick DeVan. “We might choose to boost the low-end more than they would have in the 70s. Or we might choose to drop instruments in and out and add obvious effects to the mix—we can thank Jamaican music for that. Or we can record 60s-sounding drums playing a late 70s-styled groove…”
As both a soul singer and producer herself, Nicole Bus (who signed to Jay-Z's Roc Nation back in 2019) also sees that like no other: “Take a song like ‘Because I Love You’ by Lenny Williams; real devotion of how the artist delivered the message. Now take that, flip that piece of rich emotion and place it upon a hip-hop beat. The first initial reaction would be—this is so good! But it’s not the beat, nor the breakbeat, or the 808s. The drums are just guidance and cadence. It’s the soul sample that compels you. It’s the nostalgia that wraps you up like a warm blanket. That’s what I personally find in soul music that I rarely find somewhere else.”
“Soul is a big term. It definitely pops up across all genres,” Rob Jones adds. “On records you didn’t expect to find it; by artists who you didn’t expect it from. When you need soul—it's there for you. It's so vast, you can stay for as long as you like.” Whether that’s on a quest like his own and that of Magic In Threes for an “unattainable dream sound of the past,” or a wave of modern-day artists like Zilo and Nicole Bus who carve out their own sound of now—with a deep love for what soul once was.
“We are inspired by breaks. In that, we try to imagine some really grooving section of a song that doesn’t exist yet. Like you get to that point of the song where your head is involuntarily nodding—we take that feeling and try to build an entire song around it. A good example of this would be something like ‘Ringworld’ from the IV album or the ‘Intermission’ track from Return Of…. These are the type of musical moments I look for when I’m flipping through record bins and what inspires us as we create music together. And you can find stems to just about every track, so even if you just need the drums or a piano part, it’s all there.”
“In terms of sampling The Gene Dudley Group: I'm a tone-chaser. My studio is full of old tone chasing gear, so I guess that would be the reason. Sampling is audio trainspotting. When one track diverts you to another track, it's a special thing. When you find out 'Digital Love' is sparked from two bars of a George Duke track... When you hear The Clash's song that is the foundation of 'Paper Planes.' Your mind is blown, and you need to know more."
"This track was me dreaming about the golden era of KPM library records like Alan Hawkshaw things."
“Add some dreams of 70s Jamaica in that mix.”
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