It is now clear that nostalgia is less of a passing feeling than a chronic condition. We detect this in the waves of retroism that have rippled through contemporary culture for decades: The ’50s came back in the ’70s, the ’60s in the ’80s, the ’70s in the ’90s, etc. It’s exponential at this point when ’70s retroism nostalgia through the ’90s filter is itself revived in disco-inflected contemporary dance music. There’s a great example of one of these little time accordions that fold several eras into one song on Club Future Nostalgia, the new DJ mix by the Blessed Madonna that uses Dua Lipa’s beloved album Future Nostalgia as a springboard into the underground. “Break My Heart” is reoutfitted with a sample from Dimitri From Paris’s 2019 dub of Jamiroquai’s 1996 single “Cosmic Girl,” which was itself an overt salute to the heavily orchestrated disco of the ’70s. Decades are spanned in just three minutes’ time.
“One of the most nostalgic things about music is the history of women in dance pop,” the Blessed Madonna (given name Marea Stamper) told Jezebel from her home in London via Zoom earlier this week. “Songs about women, even. The songs that we all love, whether it’s Crystal Waters or Barbara Mason or whatever, those are those moments of true dance nostalgia, and it’s almost always women. I saw Dua in that lineage—always evolving but always referencing backwards.”
Stamper is something of a dance-pop whisperer. Through her remixes, she’s given deep makeovers to the danceable-but-not-quite-pounding tracks by the likes of Robyn, Georgia, and Lipa (whose 2018 collaboration with Silk City, “Electricity,” Stamper remixed). Her referential “home base” are early-’90s acts that broke big in a brief flurry of crossing over from the club to top 40: C&C Music Factory, Black Box, Snap!, and Deee-Lite. Stamper’s DJ mixes tend to be eclectic (she’s as comfortable spinning Italo disco as she is jungle), and her remixes tend to go long, frequently landing around the 10-minute mark. Despite her past remix for Lipa and having hung out with the pop star before, Stamper said she was surprised when, early in quarantine, she received the offer to mix (and effectively A&R) an album based on Future Nostalgia, which dropped in March.
“I was like, ‘Are you sure you have the right number? I feel like you should be calling someone who wears a mouse hat or something,’” recalled Stamper. But they did have the right number and the right reference points, already having enlisted remixers like Yaeji and Chicago house titan Larry Heard (aka Mr. Fingers). The project was proposed as functioning like an old school mixtape and allowed Stamper the freedom to ring up remixers she admired (and in some cases, knew personally), like Horse Meat Disco, to contribute.
“I kinda shot for the highest peak in my mind, regardless of what I thought people would want—I didn’t think a lot about that,” she recalled. “For me, the most famous person in the world is Moodymann.” The legendary Detroit DJ-producer’s offering, a spacey “Break My Heart,” closes out the mix.
Stamper said she compiled a Google doc of desired/potential remixers and samples that was constantly updated by Lipa’s team. About 95 percent of what she wanted, she got. The samples, in particular, come from megaclassic sources like Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance” and Art of Noise’s quiet storm mainstay “Moments in Love.” Using Girl Talk as an inspiration, Stamper engages in more exponential retrosim via the record’s mash-ups, wherein Barbra Mason’s halfway-house/halfway-freestyle “Another Man” provides the backing track for Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl.”
“Don’t Stop Now” momentarily flips into Fingers Inc.’s “Bring Down the Walls.” Both of these moments echo the original contributions Stefani and Heard made to the album (vocals on “Physical” and a remix of “Hallucinate,” respectively), like nostalgia materializing within moments.
The mix took nearly three months to assemble. “It’s nice to have an enormous puzzle to solve,” said Stamper of her quarantine activity. “Otherwise, my brain probably would have just gone to oatmeal.” She produced a total of 16 versions of the mix—not counting minor tweaks—sending them to Lipa, who “was utterly enthusiastic the whole time. There was never a moment where I felt like she was putting on the breaks or anything like that and she’s very much involved and in control and sent back thorough notes about what she wanted and what she didn’t. At the same time, she let me do my thing.”
Part of that thing included her own remixes. Stamper handled the remix of the first single, “Levitating,” in which she aimed to channel New York disco aesthetes Metro Area and West Coast electro boogie of the ’80s. She also turned a previously unreleased track, “Love Is Religion,” into pop confection, a very Hell’s Kitchen singalong that marks the album’s energy peak. Stamper said she was going for an Immaculate Collection-type vibe there, referencing the sparkling remix work that Shep Pettibone performed on Madonna classics for her first greatest hits compilation.
“There is something really special about loving something so different from where you come from,” said the Kentucky-raised Stamper, who expects her own album (featuring contributions from proto-house pioneer Jamie Principle, Hercules & Love Affair’s Shaun J. Wright, and Shellac’s Bob Weston) to be released next year. “And then when you do try to make that music, you make it in a way that’s different than anyone else. You’re kind of falling into your own territory, which is definitely what I did.” This individual process is nonetheless very much in line with how Chicago house evolved. Many of its progenitors were attempting to mimic the disco that they loved, but given the constraints of technology, fell short of a facsimile and into the gorgeously alien territory of house’s foundation.
Speaking of Madonna, the icon lends vocals to the “Levitating” remix and sounds more alive in those four minutes than she does on her recent full-length output. I wondered the Blessed Madonna ever heard from Madonna-Madonna directly, specifically about their partially shared name. She did not. “I’m sure she would not stoop to acknowledge my existence,” said Stamper with a laugh. “And I’m totally cool with it. The thrill of my life would be being shaded by Madonna in any way, shape, or form. She could just step on me with a big shoe, whatever. It’s fine.” During our conversation, Stamper recalled seeing the documentary about Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour, 1991's Truth or Dare, everyday it played at the dollar theater in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
It is only recently that Stamper started calling herself the Blessed Madonna. Previously, she went by the Black Madonna, a reference to a particular style of Virginia Mary portraiture and a tribute to Stamper’s Catholic faith. The moniker caused confusion and change.org petition calling on her to change her name. Despite the majority of people around her urging her not to do so, she did in July. She called the move a no-brainer.
“Just acknowledging the dignity of Black life through language, that is a simple step we’re asking people to take,” she explained. “I have as much white fragility as anybody else. Nobody wants to be yelled at. Nobody wants to be misunderstood. I think at the same time, one of the great barriers between now and change is every white person’s fear of being yelled at. You have to pass through that. You have to know that there is some version that you have to own. Even if you didn’t do something intentionally wrong.”
Her ultimate rationale was, “Fuck it, it’s just a few letters.”