Dance

The Blessed Madonna on the 'Extraordinary Experience' of 'Club Future Nostalgia' & What Missy Said About Her 'Levitating' Remix

The Blessed Madonna
Stephanie Sian Smith

The Blessed Madonna

Imagine a nightclub populated by some of the most legendary pop artists of all time. Madonna is there. Gwen Stefani is there. Missy Elliott is there. Blackpink is there. Stevie freaking Nicks is there. The Blessed Madonna is the resident DJ and Dua Lipa is the owner. Mark Ronson comes through. Moodymann takes the decks after Paul Woolford, Jayda G, Jacques Lu Contu and Yaeji. Jamiroquai drops in. It's madness. It's genius. It's Club Future Nostalgia.

Out today (August 28), the project reimagines and reassembles Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia for clubland, with each track getting an edit by a member of the dance world elite, and some of the biggest pop stars on the planet stepping up for features. Presented as a continuous megamix and crossing genres from disco to house to drum & bass and more, the project was presided over by Marea Stamper, the longstanding DJ and producer known as The Blessed Madonna.

After being approached by Lipa to do the project, Stamper spent two months working in secrecy, often putting in ten-hour days and telling only her husband, her parents and her collaborators about what she was up to.

"There was a never a moment where there was any pushback or any sense of, ‘Is this going to be too underground?’ or 'This person isn’t well known enough,'" Stamper tells Billboard. "Never did any of that happen. It was just a complete dive in the deep end. Dua and I were very, very, very much on the same page."

Shimmering, celebratory, slick, smart and thrillingly fun, Club Future Nostalgia would be a knockout no matter when it dropped. But having the project, presented as a 50-minute continuous DJ mix, drop in the midst of what Stamper calls a moment "which in our lifetimes we have no reference point for" in ways actually elevates the project. While none of us will be going going to a real nightclub for a long awhile, the fact remains that amidst singularly challenging circumstances, many of us could mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually benefit from an hour long dance around the living room. While lot of quarantine livestreams have attempted to induce that experience, Club Future Nostalgia actually gets you out of your chair.

Calling from her home in London, The Blessed Madonna spoke to Billboard about the "extraordinary experience" of assembling the LP, dealing with stan culture, and what Missy Elliott told her about the "Levitating" remix.

You have such an incredible collection of artists here, from the biggest pop stars on the planet to some of the most respected names in club music. Was that mix of pop and underground a guiding intention?

My point of view as a DJ is that, where I come from, those are always the same thing. I think there’s a real devaluation of particularly women in pop -- not just in dance music, but in general. I think that a lot of times women, and particularly young women, in pop are not afforded the credibility they deserve and the depth of the work that happens in records that get filed under dance and pop is just not fair.

I’ve always felt that those records were not shallow, and that they were important and that young women have always been talking about really heavy, amazing stuff and just doing it as women always have to do, which is to frame the heaviness in lightness. You think back to groups like The Ronettes, or that [Crystals] record “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss).” Since forever, with women in pop, there’s always this second story happening that women listeners hear, but that gets kind of ignored.

So I wanted to tell the story of women in pop as it pertains to dance music, and I think that Dua is the perfect example of what that means today. She is, in this moment, the apex of that -- but many women live in that continuum.

Like who?

Madonna is one of them. Neneh Cherry is one of them. Missy Elliott is one of them. To me, that’s a story that lives really naturally in my own mind, but maybe it doesn’t so much for other people. I hold “Like a Prayer” to be among the most perfect records ever made. So for me, there’s a kind of impulse to defend not just women in pop music, but the place of women in pop and dance.

In that sense of darkness cloaked in lightness, what themes did you find on Dua’s album?

I mean, "Boys Will Be Boys" starts off with having your keys in your knuckles when boys are around. It’s like, right there. It’s got this -- da da da da da da -- sort of light melody, and it sounds so playful and then she’s talking about being prepared to defend yourself, and she says “but there’s nothing funny now." That’s just incredibly heavy.

There were lots of moments of depth. On the title track "Future Nostalgia" she’s talking about "you want a timeless tune, and you want to know this and that, but you can't figure me out, and I'm going to show you what the future looks like." It's this song that’s really about defying expectations and having agency and not going into that box. And it’s so fierce and so fresh. There are songs like “Good In Bed,” which is so bold and very much in control of her own sexual life, but at the same time also dealing with the idea with that a really gratifying sexual relationship might not be very good emotionally.

There’s just a lot there. Every song has some little twist like that in it for me, every single one of them.

Did doing the project in this moment, when everything is kind of rough, give it any special importance to you?  

Oh yeah, totally. At a time when there’s this kind of giant question mark hovering over what happens next, for me as a DJ, there’s really kind of only one place to do that, and it’s the last places that reopens. And I’m not going to be one of these people that charges into the plague rave and hopes for the best. That’s just not me.

Being presented with this opportunity, which demanded that I rise to a completely different level of skill -- not just as an executive producer, but as an engineer handling all these little details myself and having no backup -- had to happen at home in secrecy. I could only really talk to my parents about it, my husband, a few people who were connected because they did remixes.

Tell me about the work flow. It must have been a lot. 

It wasn’t just choosing who the remixers would be, but taking the parts of those remixes and breaking them down into sections. I made new versions of stuff. I made two new pieces myself. Then there was going back and forth with all of the engineers waiting on the features, not knowing what was going to come in. To go from working on my own stuff and doing remixes, which I felt very good about -- it’s a big leap to go to working with, like, Madonna’s engineer.

There was really something gratifying, because in this time where there is a question mark, what happened is -- I really used [the time], because I was given this gift of this project. It added a completely new skill set for me. One that was there, but which had not been exercised to its full potential. I had just never really been put in the position to do the things that I was allowed to do [with this], and being able to do them completely changed my life in terms of what I can do and what I want to do and what I’m able to do.

Was there someone you got on board and were like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe we got that person.”

Moodymann. For sure. Missy. Missy was like, the real fantasy for me, and I said it and I did not for a second think that she would do it.

Did it take convincing, or did she just say yes?

Immediate yes.

Wow.

And on my record too, which is like, "This is crazy." And Madonna. It was like, "You guys are really going to let me do this?" And not only that, but the way that they let me do it, to make it more like an underground electro kind of thing -- I was really shocked by the lack of boundaries I was given. It was really a once in a lifetime project in that respect. You think that working with a major label and a pop star it would be like, “ahhhh, yeah, we don’t know.” And it was just the opposite.

It was like, so totally bonkers. To be honest, all of this has been the most improbably set of events, that now seems totally normal. But in retrospect there was a lot of my husband and I looking at each other like, “Wow, this is actually happening.”

 Is it fair to say that this project has opened up new opportunities for you?

Oh yeah. It’s a new day over here. And it also recalibrated my intentions. I love to DJ, and I’m one of the busiest DJs in the world, and I have this job that is incredible. But if something like a pandemic happens, or you get sick or any of those things, anything can sort of stop the ball. If you need some time at home, it means you can’t work.

The thing that I have loved about this is that it opened up a completely larger theater for creativity for me, and in me.  Every dream I have ever had as a DJ has come through 35 times, and it is always wonderful, but you can’t ever just leave the goalpost where it is in art. You have to dream a bigger dream. And this instance, in this moment in time which in our lifetimes we have no reference point for, I had time to dream a bigger dream, and that happened with this.

Where do you go after a project like this?

The opportunities that I’ve been given already as a result of this are so special. I’m working on something else with someone I hold in the greatest admiration, and my album is nearly done now and I got to bring a whole new toolbox to that. It definitely opened up a completely new vision for me in terms of what was possible and what was worth dreaming about.

The response to your "Levitating" remix that came out last week was across the board. People loved it and people hated it. What was that response like for you?

It’s so crazy, because when you do something in pop you’re kind of dealing with stan culture, and the warring stan factions in pop music -- that was just something I was not familiar with. So that was an experience. But the louder that stuff gets, the better you know that things are doing. The louder the Internet gets, the positive or negative part doesn’t even really have any meaning. It’s noise. There were people that loved it, and there were teenagers that hated it and dance music people that hated to love it and dance music people who absolutely loved it.

What about within your own circle?

There were people that I respect so immensely that wrote me messages to say how special they thought that the record was. To get that kind of recognition even privately was such a huge deal for me. To have people who I really respect say, “I can tell this has gone to a completely different place.”

Like who?

I was talking to Pete Tong and he was like, “This is really just a completely different thing for you. This is different from your other remixes. Those are so maximal, and this is so minimal and sharp and airy." To have that kind of feedback from people who really matter to me -- Pete knows more about dance music than just about any other person on the earth -- it’s just an incredible amount of information that he has, and he really understands things in a way that a lot of people don’t.

That's so cool. Who else?

Even from Missy. To have Missy Elliott say, “And by the way, you snapped on this.” Of whom shall I be afraid?

How do think the complete project will be received?

I can tell you right now, there are going to be people who have never been to a club, who don’t like club music who will hate this. There are going to be people who wanted exactly the same record, but with new features on it. That’s not what we did. That was never the homework. We are going to a different place...You just can’t make record for the comments section. I don’t live in that world.