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King Britt's past, future and his dreams

Two things make King Britt different. First, there are his looks, from a pair of spectacles to a blown-out Afro. Then there is his music, which spans a wide spectrum of contemporary music.

"I don't want to be pigeonholed ... I like to do everything," says King Britt, who just spent a few days wandering amidst the pagans and dust storms at Burning Man in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. Tonight, he'll spin records for the ravers at Nocturnal Wonderland, a massive party in San Bernardino, Calif., before returning to his native Philadelphia. "I like a record that tells a story but doesn't bore you either," he says, citing Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow and De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising as some of his favorite concept albums. "So I kinda got in the habit of doing these concept albums."

Now comes the Nova Dream Sequence, a mysterious pseudonym signaling a disc's worth of industrial-strength techno emotionalism. The tracks are split into 15 "Dreams," or musical sequences that Britt composed with the Reason software program to document the dreams he had in his sleep. "It's definitely homage to Detroit," he says, evoking the birthplace of techno legends like Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Carl Craig.

King Britt himself is not an imaginary concept. His grandmother actually named him after the King James Bible. But his career is stocked with nicknames and musical styles that he changes like costumes. It ranges from E-Culture, a group he formed with tech-house producer Josh Wink in the early '90s; to Oba Funke, an alias he adopted for a series of broken-beat 12-inches. It includes King Britt presents Sister Gertrude Morgan, an album that mixes his instrumental hip-hop beats with a cappella recordings by the late Sister Gertrude Morgan, a New Orleans folk musician and artist. There isn't enough space to mention all of Britt's adventures in contemporary dance music.

Under his best-known alias, Sylk 130, Britt brought When the Funk Hits the Fan. Released in 1998 on Sony, it arrived just as acid jazz and '70s-styled soul music evolved into neo-soul. "[Columbia] had a problem with Sylk 130 because it wasn't R&B enough, or it's not alternative enough. They didn't know what to do with it," he says, adding that the album eventually sold 300,000 copies around the world.

His next Sylk 130 project, Re-members Only, took on '80s-inspired pop and collaborated with Alison Moyet (formerly of Yaz), Martin Fry (from ABC) and De La Soul. Though playfully nostalgic, the 2001 album was unjustly ignored by the same listeners who would soon perpetrate the electroclash fad. "Now, '80s is big. If we were to put it out now, it would do much better than it did back then," he says. "That's always been my problem, I always do these records, and people discover them five years later."

"If I gave them a record with eight different styles on it, they definitely wouldn't know how to market it. Unfortunately, I have to wear a business hat as well as a creative hat," he continues, explaining why each album is seemingly dedicated to a particular genre. He adds, in a longing voice, "It's very hard in the business. I change so much. I do all types of music."

This year alone, Britt contributed material to the Miami Vice film soundtrack, and he runs his label, FiveSix Recordings. He's also working on a third Sylk 130 album for next year. "The new album is definitely futuristic. What will we listen to 20, 30 years from now? I think it's gonna be a more world music-based sound. You see it going on now, especially in hip-hop: the combination of Indian and hip-hop, Latin and hip-hop and reggaeton," Britt says. "That's where my head's at."


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