Part of New York’s notorious late 80s party scene, DJ Moby’s eclectic dance output made him a popular deck master at some of the cities most infamous clubs. His clean-living lifestyle – a reaction to an exposed upbringing amongst drug-fuelled hippie communes – earned him the nickname ‘techno monk’, and had Moby labeled an oddity from the start.

The music press never took to him. The refusal to conform to techno stereotypes singled Moby out, while – once his solo career started – a wild inconsistency in the style of early albums made him artistically awkward, and difficult to define. The problem was, with a background flirting with thrash metal, hardcore dance and offbeat hippie beats (he’s a self confessed Jefferson Airplane fan), Moby simply didn’t want a single distinct sound, and even adopted several pseudonyms to avoid having to adopt one. Instead of pondering the possibility of Moby producing something brilliant, journalists mocked his straightedge lifestyle and dismissed his mottled – and extremely haphazard – output. 1999’s Play proved them emphatically wrong.

In truth, even Moby’s most successful album was a slow builder. Initially dismissed as an ambient twist on his consistently unpredictable sound, despite strong reviews, Play garnered little early press coverage, and gained a slow-building success through its emergence in copious adverts and films.

Eventually selling over 10 million copies worldwide, and seeing half its tracks launched as singles, Play’s success builds on Moby’s stalwart faith, using gospel samples throughout on what most critics agree was an entirely new twist on electronic music. Porcelain, a chill out tune that became synonymous with East Asian trance culture after it’s appearance in the film The Beach, quickly established itself as the ecstatic stand out, while Natural Blues, a lively remix of a Vera Hall a cappella track that developed into a wild dance classic live became a massive fan favorite. Why Does My Heart Feel So bad, a slow-building, mournful piece of ambient techno with a gospel choir on vocals was an instant backpacker classic, while the lively Honey and Bodyrock showed Moby hadn’t left behind his more dynamic roots altogether.

It’s difficult to imagine a more insightful look into a man’s soul than Play, which oozes sensual spirituality, and many see it as a definitive work in the ambient electronica genre. If you want to know anything about Moby, grab a copy of this album – and the forceful ethical essays that weigh down the accompanying sleeve notes – and enjoy a sound that could only be produced by someone with such a fantastically eclectic background. It’s a moment of sparkling genius, and despite his other successes, Moby has never – and probably will never – reach the emphatic heights of Play again.  Gospel and techno? who’d have thought.

As published in Pith Magazine, Autumn 2009 issue.


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