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Songs We Love: Låpsley, 'Operator (DJ Koze's Extended Disco Version)'

Courtesy of the artist

Long before it reached DJ Koze's studio for an additional loop-de-loop through an audiophile's time machine, "Operator (He Doesn't Call Me)" was already deeply devoted to pop history. As originally produced by Holly Lapsley Fletcher and Rodaidh McDonald, the track — among the standouts on Låpsley's debut album, Long Way Home — is a warm swirl of throwback maneuvers. There's the part-barbershop, part-gospel-styled voices that open the song and float throughout; the sweeping strings and double-time tambourine that power it; Låpsley's smoothed-out garage-soul voice; and even the narrative it delivers (girl dials up lover, operator's not helpful in getting through — a pop trope since before Mary Wells). Each element triggers memories of fine yesteryears, not to mention the era of a single-carrier telephone monopoly.

In other words, it's perfectly teed-up for Koze (Stefan Kozalla), the masterful German DJ/producer (and Recommended Dose favorite) who's never found a pop expression he did not want to prank, and whose skills at creating dance-floor shenanigans both funny and funky are legendary. The only thing missing here was the flavor of the punch line: What sort of sonically recontextualizing practical joke would Koze play on material as straightforward as "Operator"?

The answer is none! Like prior masters — from David Mancuso and Larry Levan to Madonna and Daft Punk — Koze recognizes that the transition of great pop vehicles into club bombs is one of simple tweaking, not full-scale reinvention. This explains why his unabashedly disco remix of "Operator" is the finest mainstream presentation of the form since "Get Lucky." Everything already at play in the original is key to the new version too. The strings move front and center; the cowbell flourishes and additional handclaps now help to accentuate the tambourine, adding to the increasingly percolating feel; the background voices, shorn of their barbershop tendencies, are now jazzier, more soulful; and the relationship of Låpsley's voice to the beat is no longer that of a pack-leader, but of a commanding diva (albeit a minor-key one). When Koze drops the music out entirely — leaving Låpsley to front a ringing receiver tone, a kick-drum and multiple percussion layers, sadly intoning "don't put me on hold, please" in a high register — all the historical spaces fall away, and we're left with the dance-floor's eternal calling-out-of-time notion. It's a breathtaking moment, made more so by the gargantuan disco strings crashing back through a filter, a wave that washes the timeless hesitation away. If only for an instant.

Operator (DJ Koze's 12 Inch Extended Disco Versions) is out now on XL. Lapsley's Long Way Home is out now on XL.

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