[ No. 69 ]

Madison Avenue downunder

by Cyclone Wehner

Over time Frankston's underground dance label, Vicious Vinyl, has developed into one of the most exciting of its kind, not just in Australia but also internationally. The Bayside stable is currently primed for new opportunities as its vocal house duo Madison Avenue (Andy Van and Cheyne Coates) blow up in the dance charts with their irresistible neo-disco single, "Don't Call Me Baby".

Arguably it has been a phenomenal year for quality crossover house hits. Armand Van Helden, Basement Jaxx, Moloko, Shanks and Bigfoot, and Groove Armada have all delivered memorable releases. And now we can add Madison Avenue to this elite list. An Aussie Crystal Waters, singer Cheyne exudes a sultry sensuality on the proto-feminist "Don't Call Me Baby". The groovy house track is loosely based on a sample of Pino D'Angio's obscure Italian hit, "Ma Quele Idea".

When visiting American house DJs (and Freakazoid nightclub guests) E-Smoove and Tony Wilson recently heard "Don't Call Me Baby" in Melbourne, they simply couldn't believe their ears. Indeed, here was a record from (of all places) Australia that seemed to encapsulate the spirit of traditional vocal house while sounding very contemporary. Chicago's E-Smoove couldn't stop raving about it. Van recalls: 'He rang me up on the way to the airport, or the day before going to the airport. He said, "I'm going, but I had to ring to tell you how good the track is and we should talk." He wants to come here and maybe do some work for us. These are great doors that have been opened, and that's part of the great thing about making a song that people like and that becomes successful, because it opens people's eyes and ears to what we're about. A lot of people in Australia know what Vicious Vinyl are doing, but not on a worldwide scale.'

Of course, Andy Van is already a familiar name to most within the Melbourne dance circuit. Together with John Course, he co-founded the ARIA-winning Vicious Vinyl label, setting up shop in Frankston where the rent is low. Van has also enjoyed a prolific career as a producer and remixer. Prior to launching Madison Avenue his most successful studio project was "Blackout".

Andy became acquainted with Cheyne, a professional dancer, around eight years ago in a Melbourne club where he was DJing. They formed a friendship, which led to them collaborating in the studio. 'About a year-and-a-half ago we decided to do a house-based act. There's really only two types of house at the moment. You can do that fucked-up French one based on little bits of samples and quirky sounds, or you can do classic vocal house, and I wanted to do vocal house. Cheyne can write vocals and I can't, so that basically meant that we collaborated from there on.'

Madison's first single, "Don't Call Me Baby", has been celebrated internationally by the likes of Radio One powerbroker Pete Tong. He has played it on his influential Essential Mix program. Vicious Vinyl has been inundated with requests from house DJs who wish to licence the song for various mix-CDs. Van modestly credits a remix by New York's Dronez (aka Eric Morillo, Harry "Choo Choo" Romero and Jose Nunez) for giving Madison 'enormous credibility overseas'. Yet the truth is the record probably would have been a hit anyway.

So far Madison Avenue have cut impressive international distribution deals with Sony (Europe) and Virgin (UK). In the meantime, Vicious Vinyl has newly aligned itself with the Virgin in Australia, because, Van explains, 'we want some more exposure for our artists.' Up until now Virgin Australia hasn't exactly been renowned for its dance roster -- the odd French house outfit (Daft Punk and Air) aside. Whereas others would be sceptical, Van sees this state of affairs in a positive light. 'We didn't want to go with a label that already had dance product, because then we would be one of the many. We are Virgin's dance label, basically, so we are their focus.'

The well-spoken Van has long been justifiably critical about the lack of mainstream recognition afforded to domestic dance artists -- especially those who have proven themselves overseas. In fact, he can empathise with the unhappiness of those Chicago house icons who are barely known in their home cities. However, Van nowadays looks more favourably on the Australian music industry, which he feels is slowly awaking to the growth of the dance scene. Even radio stalwart Ugly Phil, who openly admits to not liking dance, has been forced to acknowledge that it is a movement that can no longer be ignored. 'I really see dance music as the new rock 'n' roll,' posits Andy.

The Millennium New Year's Eve will no doubt further bring home just how big the dance movement is in the Antipodes as Australians (and international tourists) turn out to catch the global scene's finest DJs and live acts, all of whom have chosen to play in these parts for this significant calendar date. That said, Van is not sure whether he or Cheyne will even be in the country: 'We're talking to some overseas people at the moment because the track is blowing up so big in the UK.' Certainly Madison Avenue will be touring abroad to capitalise on the impact of the single. The two would ideally like to create a mini show complete with dancers.

So where would the duo ultimately like to take Madison Avenue? Van is quick to respond. 'We would like to take it into the same areas as artists like Ultra Nate and Julia Roberts and those artists who have done house tunes that don't have, "I'm a Barbie Girl in a Barbie World"-type vocals. They are catchy but they're not cheesy. Ultra Nate's "Free" is a perfect example of a song that is very catchy but is a good quality song. And that's what we want to do. We want to do good quality house tracks. We're working on an album at the moment for release early next year.'

As for Vicious Vinyl itself, the label intends to continue disseminating a cross-section of dance music by world-class Australian acts. 'We've got Ivan Gough's new tracks, "My World" and "Accelerator" -- it's a double A-side under the name of Quest. And we've got a new thing from Chris Fresh in Canberra called "Dub Rock", and that's a sort of funky French thing, and we've got a new Australian act called Trigger, and that's a little bit a la Chemical Brothers groove. So we've got quite a few things coming up.'

"Don't Call Me Baby" is out through Virgin.


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