There are more than a few artists out there who owe the Freemasons a big thank-you: Beyonce, whose more lacklustre solo singles (Ring The Alarm, Green Light) have been turned into dance floor smashes by the duo. Kelly Rowland, whose career was resurrected by their enduring remix of her single Work. Sophie Ellis-Bextor, who just scored her biggest hit in several years with the Freemasons-produced Heartbreak Make Me A Dancer.
Surprisingly, though, the production maestros say they rarely hear from the artists whose songs they reswizzle.
“Not generally, no. Jamiroquai told us he liked the remix we did for him, and we heard that Beyonce liked our remixes, but didn’t hear from her directly,” said Russell Small, one half of the Freemasons along with musical partner James Wiltshire.
You’d think at least a muffin basket or a bunch of flowers would be in order, particularly from Rowland, whose Work started life as a rather tired-sounding funk dirge before the Freemasons waved their magic wands. Did they see hidden potential in the song?
“To be honest, when someone comes to us for a remix, we just ask them to send us the vocal. We don’t want to hear the backing track, because it can throw you — if the backing track is that lousy, it can take away from how good the song is,” Small explained.
I asked Small if he felt the success of Work was instrumental in Rowland’s decision to work with French DJ David Guetta.
“Yeah, she’s gone all 4/4 house music. America’s changing dramatically at the moment. I think in the next year we’re going to see a big change in the way urban music’s made — obviously people have seen the success of Kelly Rowland, but also because of the new Black Eyed Peas album, which is basically 4/4 dance music. I think house music is probably going to be opened up to the masses over there now.”
In recent interviews, the Black Eyed Peas have talked about their desire to bring the ‘new, underground’ sound that is dance music to the masses. Are American artists really that behind the times?
“They’re very behind in that respect. I mean, the new Black Eyed Peas album is the album Daft Punk should’ve made. Will.i.am is a fantastic producer, and that album sounds fantastic, but it’s nothing new for us really — Daft Punk, Justice and all those cool French guys have been using those sounds for ages.”
Still, this late trend towards dance music in America means the Freemasons are now hot property on both sides of the Atlantic.
“The upside is that we now have a lot of big labels in America asking us for tracks, and we know a lot of other European producers are being asked for the same thing. It’s an exciting time for us.”
There have been false starts, though. After the overwhelmingly positive reaction their swag of Beyonce remixes received, there were rumours the diva would work directly with the duo on songs for her latest album, I Am…Sasha Fierce. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
“It was on the table at one stage. We were asked to submit some backing tracks, which we did, and then the finished album ended up being in a totally different direction to what they told us it was,” shrugged Small.
The duo are currently on the promotional rounds for Shakedown 2, a double-disc collection of their best remixes and original songs from the past couple of years. As well as songs by current faves Calvin Harris and Eric Prydz, Small and Wiltshire tackled some older tracks, including ’80s pop classics Blue Monday and Here Comes The Rain Again.
“With Blue Monday, it had to go to Peter Hook, and the Eurythmics track had to get the OK from Dave Stewart. They were both happy to say yes, and even complimented us on the remixes, which is something you don’t get every day.”
Having made their name as remixers, the duo are now making tentative steps into the world of pop production. Their first project was co-writing and producing Kylie Minogue’s shimmering disco sensation The One. Widely considered to be one of the best songs of her career, the song nonetheless performed poorly on release, becoming her first single to miss the UK top 20 in over a decade.
“It got lost,” sighed Small. “It was very frustrating. It was rumoured that Kylie wanted it as the first single from X, but her record company wanted to go in another direction. It ended up being the fifth single off the album, and all the money had gone by then — Kylie actually paid for the video herself. It was frustrating because we thought it was a great song, and we knew people liked it.”
Indeed. This writer knows a half-dozen gay men who have the song as their ringtone — including two in the Southern Star office and one in the Sydney Star Observer office.
“Oh, so you must really love it then, right?” he laughed.
The pair also produced a song on gay crooner (and certified dreamboat) Will Young’s last album Let It Go, the jazzy I Won’t Give Up.
“Will came to my house and recorded the song in my bedroom upstairs. Jolly nice chap; we had a great day with him. I think he wants us to work on some future projects with him.”
While the track is upbeat by Young’s standards, it’s arguably the most un-Freemasonly song the duo have produced so far. Did they have to resist the urge to turn it into a big old balls-out disco anthem?
“Yes, we did. Somebody else had written the track, and we’d heard the other stuff on Will’s album, and we wanted it to fit in there. But it was hard pulling back for us, I can tell you!”
They don’t always have the luxury of bedroom recording sessions with the artists who sing their hits — both Small and Wiltshire have yet to meet Minogue, and didn’t meet Sophie Ellis-Bextor in person until time came to promote Heartbreak. Nevertheless, Small is breathless in his praise for the feline songstress.
“She’s a charismatic, intelligent woman, and very beautiful too — in real life, she just takes your breath away. She’s one of them traffic-stoppers,” he gushed.
“We’ve done another track for her to go on her next album. She’s been working with a lot of dance producers, which I think is a better direction for her than the wishy-washy pop stuff she was doing.”
As the list of dance floor divas the Freemasons work with grows, so too does their gay fan base. It’s something Small is acutely aware of, but he says it wasn’t until they toured Australia earlier this year that he fully realised just how appreciative their gay fans are.
“When we toured Australia, we had a float at Mardi Gras! An actual Freemasons tribute float,” he said, still clearly awed.
“We had 150 dancers from all around the world who had learned dance routines to our songs and marched behind us as we stood on the float. James and I were just speechless. From the moment we got on that float, we didn’t stop smiling all night.”

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