LIKE EVERY CORNER of New York City, Hell's Kitchen—the once-sketchy neighborhood that inspired the title of the 1999 debut album by Ming and FS—is steadily undergoing gentrification. "We got our first Starbucks on Ninth Avenue a year and a half ago," laments FS (a.k.a. Fred Sargolini, 27). But for the most part, the West Side streets where the electronic duo live and operate their Madhattan Studios have resisted the invasion, and they prefer it that way. "I will freak out if they open a Baby Gap," adds FS. "I'll throw a freakin' brick through the window."
Ming and FS
Baltic Room, Saturday, January 20
But sometimes change is good. Case in point: The Human Condition, the duo's follow-up to Hell's Kitchen, due this summer on San Francisco's Om Records. "It's a really eclectic album," says Ming (a.k.a. Aaron Albano, who recently turned 29). After their first album—which zigzagged from drum-and-bass to electro to experimental hip-hop, augmented with live instrumentation to create a sound they dubbed "junkyard"—how much more diverse could the music get? Plenty. In addition to incorporating all "the same flavors as the last album," according to Ming, The Human Condition includes forays into jazzier territory as well as the frisky beats of speed garage (also known as two-step or UK garage).
They are quick to explain that they aren't following stylish trends so much as reacting against some slightly better established ones. "I don't know if [speed garage] is necessarily 'exciting,'" says Ming. "For me, what's a little less exciting is drum-and-bass. It's nice to hear some of the influence of drum-and-bass on house via speed garage and two-step." He also applauds the return to more straightforward song structures, complete with melodies and vocal parts, that two-step has promoted. "I hope that rubs off on drum-and-bass," he adds. "Drum-and-bass has been going into a hole for a while."
"It's been like that, man," counters his partner FS, pointing out that their approach to the genre has always been more song-oriented. "God forbid there should be vocals on a drum-and-bass track."
Even when the duo try to write tracks that are more club-oriented, as they did when working on the cuts that eventually formed last year's five-song Applied Pressure EP (on Sound Gizmo), something always goes awry. "Even though we were thinking about the dance floor when we made those songs, it still ended up being pretty quirky," laughs FS.
Yet The Human Condition, the two assert, marks a step forward in their ability to both harness traditional songwriting to their individual approach to music making and embrace different types of vocal contributions without sacrificing their oddball appeal. "There were some choruses on Hell's Kitchen, but this whole record is a lot more hooky," says FS. "These tunes revisit themselves a lot more than tracks on the first record, where ideas would go away and never come back, and the end of the song would be completely different, and nothing from the first part [remained] in it."
"Also, the vocals that we're using are a little bit more soulful," says Ming. Reportedly the new album, currently in the final stages of production, includes just one straightforward drum-and-bass track and only one hip-hop cut with rapping. The two even brought in a male rock singer for a tune, although FS emphasizes, "We had him work within the structure of what we do." The duo aren't bucking to be added to modern rock radio playlists anytime soon.
AS THE PAIR'S STAR continues to rise, the number of stamps in their passports increases too. Last year saw them visit such exotic locales as Japan and Lawrence, Kan., while a trip to Acapulco for the first ACA World Sound Festival (a three-day outdoor dance music gathering featuring Moby, Danny Tenaglia, and Carl Cox) yielded one of their strangest gigs. Apparently, getting to the event site, a stretch of beach in Tres Vidas on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, entailed more than just a quick cab ride from the hotel. "It was like an hour and a half to get to the festival, every night, and an hour and a half back," fumes FS. He mutters something about security guards with machine guns, and tiny back roads illuminated by—"no kidding"—tiki torches.
"It was pretty crazy," confirms Ming. "And if you drank a few beers before you got on the bus, it was like pain that you've never felt. If you have to piss when you get to those dirt roads? Oh, you have no idea—and I have a good bladder."
Change is scary, but it has its upside. When the long arm of Disney erected a sprawling Times Square multiplex within five minutes of Ming and FS' 43rd Street digs, they were initially appalled. But now they've grown to love it. "You'll be working on a track and go, 'I want to catch that flick,' and you go into a brand new theater with big seats," confesses Ming. "It's really convenient, like having your own private screening room."