As one of the founders of Night Slugs, James Connolly — formerly known as L-Vis 1990 — helped usher in the post-dubstep era of deconstructed club music. There was always a four-four element to his sound however, whether it was the domestic flex of UK funky or the gritty Chicago jack of his Dance System alias; slowly phased in from 2014, and initially pitched somewhere between Relief Records and Dance Mania.
It’s this newer moniker that’s taken over and its influences, seemingly going back to Connolly’s earliest roots in dance music, have steadily been widening. The 2020 mixtape ‘Where’s The Party At?’ incorporated swinging filter disco and hip-house, including a collaboration with DJ Deon titled ‘The Originator’. Its cover, meanwhile, felt like a futuristic tribute to venerated US producer Felix Da Housecat’s debut album, ‘Metropolis Present Day? “Thee Album”’, the cat flipped to a dog.
If that release sounded like a love letter to early-to mid-’90s Chicago, then its follow-up, ‘In Your System’, seems to filter that further, every pun intended, through the visor of Daft Punk — who, following their split, Connolly recorded an era-spanning tribute mix to on BBC Radio 1 last year.
The first track is called ‘Filter Funk’: its fat break heavy on the one to provide a backbone for a chopped and filtered disco sample, the sound of Daft Punk’s legendary 1997 Essential Mix hanging heavy in the air. ‘The Answer’ is pure pumping side-chained Roule, while the 303-filled ‘What You Want’ adds modulated Phuture-style vocals, its narrative a knowing psychedelic riposte to 1987’s cautionary ‘Your Only Friend Cocaine’.
The gnarly stomp and analogue squeaks of ‘Wet n Wild’ recalls the harder moments of ‘Homework’, themselves a tribute to Chicago producers such as Armando and Mike Dearborn, both of whom released on Dutch label Djax-Up-Beats. The Dutch connection doesn’t feel far from ‘Bring The Noise’ either, its ’90s sounding hip-hop vocals bringing to mind Klubbheads and Patrick Prins, two producers featured in recent Dance System mixes.
The title track samples a disco classic, G.Q.’s ‘Disco Nights’ — check 1998’s ‘Just Do What U Feel’ by Stacy Kidd, Paul Johnson’s cousin, for another take, fully French frying it. ‘Cybernetic’ is tough-as-nails acid house, recalling outliers The Micronauts, and ‘Découper’, with its acute accent, another deftly filtered cut in the vein of Buffalo Bunch or Le Knight Club.
The album closes with another pair of tougher tracks connecting Chicago’s South Side with Boulevard Poissonnière. ‘Dreams 2 Luv’ slaps, its minimal elements centred around a dominating bass which keeps shifting in intensity and rhythm, a loop vocal adding an organic touch to the machine-funk. Closer ‘4 Play’ is all coiled energy; a stuttering, soul-loaded vocal riding a tightly looped bassline, the full phrasing occasionally unfurling to release the tension. Loaded with garage swing, it’s also a reminder of the subtle UK sensibilities brought from Connolly’s history.
Arriving on the 25th anniversary of Daft Punk’s ‘Homework’, ‘In Your System’ is the pacemaker for what seems an inevitable refocusing on French touch and the US pioneers it was built upon. Having re-edited Thomas Bangalter’s ‘Spinal Scratch’ a decade ago, it feels a passionately heartfelt project. And while the Chicago-Paris axis stands out as what is most celebrated, it encapsulates the spirit of various other contemporaneous scenes, from New York’s house and techno scene to what Robbie Rivera was doing in Miami.