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Revisit:

Deee-Lite

World Clique

1990

Revisit is a series of reviews highlighting past releases that now deserve a second look.

We’re going to dance/ We’re going to dance/ We’re going to dance/ And have some fun…” Truer words have never been spoken, at least in reference to Deee-Lite’s dance-able, trance-able, hot-pants-able 1990 debut, World Clique. Flanked by DJs Super DJ Dmitry and Jungle DJ Towa Tei, vocalist and fashion icon Lady Miss Kier (born Kierin Kirby) introduced the brighter, huggier side of NYC club culture to an intra- and international MTV audience share. And while today “Groove Is in the Heart” may be relegated to the stuff of wedding DJ playlists (its inclusion a point of demarcation between the fun receptions and the snoozy ones), at the time, it was a single of surprising and transformative cultural significance.

A Fashion Institute of Technology dropout, Kier’s club kid aesthetic and proficiency in textile design fated Deee-Lite to be very much a visual act, with costuming perhaps as integral to their popularity as the music itself. Indeed, any album that features the band’s “theme song” as a first track bespeaks a commitment to performative panache. Fluevog platforms, Pucci-print catsuits, oversized cocktail rings and hair in a flip under an Alice band, Kier’s mod-’60s/disco-’70s go-go look was fashion-forward-retro at a time when nostalgia grabs weren’t in vogue. Kier also designed for the men; Dmitry’s color-piped bellbottoms could do nothing but stylistically complement his big-ass mutton chops. Thanks largely to the early success of Deee-Lite (and the concurrent trends of runway designers such as Anna Sui, Kier herself a Sui show attendee), this playful neo-vintage revivalism went mainstream to the extent that Steve Madden platforms became a widely available and (somewhat) affordable staple of many a chic alterna-girl’s wardrobe.

Deee-Lite’s music on World Clique, too, was both absolutely now and absolutely throwback. Featuring P-Funk’s Horny Horns duo Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker as well as the immeasurable talents of one Bootsy Collins on bass (not so fast though, that OHMYGOD bassline in “Groove” is actually a sample of Herbie Hancock’s “Bring Down the Birds”), Deee-Lite extracted the hookiness of funk and the flourishes of soul (also: Q-Tip!), transfusing it with house beats and clubby elation. In other words, they took the happiest parts of contrasting genres and made one super-mega-happy record.

Lady Miss Kier, long rumored to be collecting material for a solo record, is not shy about showing off her range in World Clique – whether she is trilling airily, scatting (the Zoo-wah/ Zoo-wah-da-da refrain in “Good Beat”), diving deep into a soulful register, chirping sticker-book style exclamations (“Wow!/ Cool!/ Real!/ Mmmm mm mm mm mmmm/ New York City!“), or babbling French-sounding onomatopoeia (as if tickling a baby kitten’s belly), she goes out and gets it. “Try Me On… I’m Very You” is a highlight of the record, her sultry a capella introduction followed by the collective funk blare of high-pitched horns, an effect that’s always reminded me of something you might’ve heard the Fat Albert band play. Kier’s vocals are at times stacked atop one another, separated by octaves. And yet wherever she is on the scale, she never sounds like she’s reaching; high or low she can belt it out when the lyric calls for it; here, when she cries, “A message to madness/ Feel music that’s realness!

For Deee-Lite, “realness” is of real concern; the recommendations World Clique impart are uncomplicated ones of love, inclusion and, above all else, a good beat. Even paranoia sounds fun in this de-lovely space; the mysterious intruder in the clicky, wah-wah happy “Who Was That” eats peanut butter, bathes in Mr. Bubble and plays solitaire. Chill-out groover “Smile On” would be schmaltzy if not for the earnestness of Kier’s vocals and the instrumental funk grounding the sax and horn lines provide in a call and repeat. A chromatic scale on bells ascends and descends lazily; by this time your head’s in a space where you imagine the glockenspiel is being struck with crystalline lollipops. Deee-Lite’s trippy effects continue to permeate the mind in “Deep Ending,” a song that takes off with the sound of a firework’s climb into the night sky and, as Kier scolds, “You stop messin’ around/ Stop messin’,” a toy-like chugging that mimics the choo-choo of an anthropomorphized cartoon train. Though Lady Miss Kier was certainly a diva-caliber personality, Dmitry and Towa Tei (along with their illustrious guests) “dip to the dive” with adroitness, generating not only cutesy effects but also a solid beat and flow for Kier’s serotonin-laced melodies.

Deee-Lite wasn’t around for the long haul; things got admirable but weird with 1992’s Infinity Within, a politically charged record containing the clunkily titled “”I Had a Dream I Was Falling Through a Hole in the Ozone Layer.” Their final non-remix release Dewdrops in the Garden (1994), while better received, was an album clearly dosed with rave culture; by then, Lady Miss Kier had traded in her flip for bobble-fastened pigtails. And yet, as the title suggests, World Clique, in all of its glorious kitsch, transcends. And who knew all it would take is – cheek-pop!, snap snap, 1-2-3, garble-garble!

by Stacey Pavlick

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