Calling his music "futuristic soul," Vikter Duplaix produces deep, R&B-flavored sounds with dense beat arrangements that are similar in structure to the nascent West London broken-beat music scene. That, on top of his highly polished productions, slick wardrobe, and enduring street cred, may make him the perfect candidate to bridge the gap between the mainstream and the underground dance elite. In the last few years, Duplaix has been dividing his time between production work, helping to run Axis Music Group -- whose clients include rapper Common, Lauryn Hill, The Roots, and D'Angelo -- and his DJ career. His smart, sun-kissed debut solo single "Messages" caught the attention of the underground in 1999, particularly in Great Britain.
The 29-year-old, who usually sports a suave fur coat (uh-oh, PETA won't like that), wraparound sunglasses, a closely cropped beard (think Backstreet Boy AJ -- the one who looks like he paints his facial hair on with eyeliner) and a silk headwrap -- fell in with the broken-beat scene by accident. "I wasn't really aware of the sound or style," he says. "I was just making things I liked. I think that's why they embraced me so much, because I came into it with so many twists."
Schooled by the legendary Kenneth Gamble (of the popular '70s Philly soul production team Gamble and Huff) and hip-hop producer DJ Jazzy Jeff, Duplaix has long been a driving force in the Philadelphia R&B scene, working predominantly under the radar as a DJ and studio producer (for Erykah Badu, Eric Benet, and other hometown artists). His music is rich and fluid -- a stir-fry of R&B, soul, funk, and hip-hop combined with elegant and smooth vocals.
Talking to the soft-spoken yet self-assured Duplaix, it's easy to tell his burgeoning solo career is at the forefront of his mind. "One of the frustrating things about being a producer is that people tend to put you in a category," he says. "The more success and money you make, the less parameters you have. As you become more valuable, artists tend to identify you with what you did for someone else."
The release of Duplaix's new mix CD, part of the popular "DJ-Kicks" series, showcases his DJ skills and is a perfect example of his dedication to rhythm, jazz, and soul. Ranging from the broken-beat stylings of 4 Hero to the jazzy microhouse of Matthew Herbert, to the nu-jazz house of P'taah, perky hip-hop from De La Soul, or hometown heroes Bahamadia and Erykah Badu, the disc will definitely improve his visibility. Sure, most of the beats don't match up, but that's the point. It's not necessarily about technique -- it's about feeling. "I have a wide taste in music and also a short attention span," says Duplaix. "So it's hard for me to listen to one tempo for very long -- I've got to change from song to song because I think humans change their mood every few minutes."
Three tracks on the album were written by Duplaix -- two under the Critical Point moniker (lofty album opener "The Beginning" and "Transition") and the deep sumptuous soul of "Sensuality" under his own name. "Sensuality" breezes along, dipping into elements of R&B and mildly frenetic broken beats while his smooth, supple vocals serve as the guiding force.
Though he acknowledges the DJ-Kicks mix is a good turn for his career, Duplaix says he's more anxious to finish his solo album, which he hopes to be in stores by September, and views the mix as a way to give greater exposure to the artists included. "I really tried to expose independent music that's worthy of getting on the front racks in stores," he says. "The initial exposure for me is great, but it's even greater for the artists to get their names out there."
For now, Duplaix remains an artist's advocate, pushing the boundaries of music in an attempt to reach beyond the norm and potentially teach people that mainstream music doesn't have to be all style with no substance. "It's a myth that the mainstream is totally defined by people under 19," he says, annoyed. "The reality is the major buyer of music in America is 25 and over, and that means people in that age group have the capacity to digest a lot more than what the music industry gives them credit for -- and they have a fatter wallet to buy. We've got to get away from making music just for kids. I don't think Songs in the Key of Life was for kids, but people bought it. Prince was definitely not making music for kids. I really want to be an artist that makes something that's great, that finds its own life."
In pursuit of this creative ideal, he has turned down several offers that many artists "would die for" to ensure he found the right offer. He apparently found what he wanted with Universal Records' subsidiary Hollywood last year. "Right now it's all about getting my ideas out the way they should be presented," he says. "It's taken some time to get used to it, because it's from a totally different perspective. Now I'm the person wearing the target on my chest. It's up to me. It's a challenge."
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