Monday, July 24, 2023

Paul Oldfield - the house / techno writing - Melody Maker, 1987-1990

Although the two of us once operated a not-very-successful deejay "company" back when we were students, I don't think Paul Oldfield ever spent much time in clubs. I'm pretty certain he never got  anywhere near a rave. Still, for someone who never got "right on one, matey," it seems to me that Paul got deeper into the essence of acid house, techno, etc, than anyone else covering that beat at that time in the music papers, style press, and what then passed for dance magazines. 

Below you will find near enough his complete Melody Maker works on house, techno, acieeed, New Beat, chill-out etc in approximately chronological sequence. I just wish he had stuck around at the Melody Maker long enough for the ardkore / darkcore / jungle years. 

"All David Stubbs's metaphors" - Paul probably riffing off this recent review by Stubbsy

Back to the PO-verdose


Paul Oldfield, Royal House, Melody Maker, autumn 1988


Melody Maker, 1990

by Paul Oldfield

Put A Guy Called Gerald beside the beatmasters, radical rap and survivalist electrodub that make up the rest of tonight's acts, and you'll see that he's somewhere else. Their urgency and agency, their in-your-face imperatives are replaced by his new narcosis and lotus-eating, becalmed passivity. It's all embodied in Gerald himself. There's none of the "front" or danger of the crews that precede him, just a familiar, somnolent Mancunian accent and patient behind-the-scenes programming. If it weren't for his singer up front, and the crowd downstairs setting up an incongruous terrace chant for ''Voo-doo Ray", it'd be more ambience than act.

That's appropriate. Gerald and his northern satellites launched New Age", aka "ambient" house, the phenomenon that emphasises the trance in trance dance, and should reconcile House music with "head" rock. Both musics can offer the same fix, or rather un-fixing of consciousness. Both can free you from the co-ordinates of the here and now, and let you attain oneness with the world and peace.

Gerald translates House music from urban night-life to paradisial, pacific (often literally Pacific, with a capital P) scenes. Tonight there's "Eyes Of Sorrow", with its rainforest percussion and pipes; or 'Voodoo Ray", with its slow-scanning ritual limbo from the tropics; or, as an encore, Gerald's own reading of the halcyon surf of "Pacific State". While rock, rap, dub have kept faith in Africa's heartland, the place of origins and history, House has escaped to the southern hemisphere's soporific, out-of-time innocence and unworldly primitivism.

That shows in the minimalist fluctuations and meander of "Subtopia", a serenity you can lose yourself in. Gerald's visual effects confirm this mesmerising tranquility at the heart of House too. They look as if they're influenced by the new model for the natural sciences, chaos theory (very much a buzz concept in club culture): instead of predictable forces and counter-forces (the grammar of "techno" music), there's indeterminacy and turbulence, back-projections of vapour, clouds, shoals of fish, self-ordering but unpredictable organic forms that fascinate.

But Gerald doesn't celebrate just nature or an Edenic past (none of rock's third-world heritage industry here). He's an unrepentant futurist. Just hear "Automanic", his preview of the forthcoming album: all print-out chatter, split-second samples and arc—light strobes on stage. Or "FX", an ascent through a Lloyds-building ziggurat of glass and steel. Think Tokyo, think Ridley Scott. It doesn't contradict his Pacific states, though. He's found tomorrow's paradise, where hi-tech achieves voodoo's instantaneity of communication, and where cities dematerialise into flows of light and information (think Kraftwerk), a mosaic of signals as mesmerising as the time-lapse record of city life in the film "Kooanisquatsi", but without that film's technophobic undertones.

Gerald's performance is "plastic", as his music's often been called. Plastic in the original sense, of course: adapting to all kinds of shapes, a hypnotic, becalming changeability. Go with the flow.


Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Tony Marcus - Big Beat (Spin, April 1998)

Here's a terrific reported piece by the great dance music writer Tony Marcus that I assigned him when I worked at Spin as a senior editor in 1998. 

The printed version - published as "Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy" - is slightly different as it went through the typical magazine process of many people poking noses in, last minute excisions for space, etc.  

Below, I have corrected one of my own howlers that made it all to the magazine stands. Tony came up with a lovely bit of wordplay -  Grand Theft Audio. Unfamiliar with the term Grand Theft Auto at that time (not watched enough crime films I guess) I changed it to, wince, Grand Audio Theft. Doh!

The photos by Jake Curtis were great too - fun to caption - and I wrote up a sidebar of top Big Beat  tunes and Big Beat ancestors. All together, one of the highlights of my brief time at Spin (others would be getting Peter Shapiro to explain what a dubplate was to the readership, in a profile of Grooverider, and a wonderfully designed and collectively written celebration of Kraftwerk on the eve of their North American tour. This feature prompted a letter to the magazine that really pleased me, given that the publication was going through a period of excessive snark: "Finally, a piece in Spin written by people who appear to love music". )


Spin, April 1998

 by Tony Marcus


You can tell as much about a dance  scene from the atmosphere  in the club's toilets as on its dancefloors. To walk into the men's room of the Big Beat Boutique  in Brighton, England, is to enter  a house of lunacy. For a start, there are just as many  girls here  as guys, all waiting to get  into the sole cubicle. Every time someone  leaves, there's a spontaneous  cheer from the massive line, as if  we're all attending some kind of sporting event. There's also a camera crew--who all appear to be completely  blasted on Ecstasy, red-faced and sweating--filming  a boy who's breakdancing in front of the sink.

       "All you fucking men should get out of here and leave the loo to the ladies," snarls  an attractive but definitely   trashed-out-of-her-box girl. "That's great  love," grins the cameraman, "Can you do that again so we can film you?"  Meanwhile, the boy next to me at the urinal has got problems:  both his hands  are occupied holding a cigarette and a bottle of lager. The girl beside  him helps out by unzipping his  fly.  "That's it, darling," he purrs. "Now if you can just roll back my foreskin." He starts to urinate. She giggles. "Thanks," he sighs, "that's lovely."

         The  Boutique's dancefloor  is pretty  unzipped too -a typically unclassifiable Brighton crowd of art-students, S&M devotees, ravers, mods and queers, all buzzing  on diverse cocktails  of drink and drugs. The crowd ring  DJ Norman Cook in a halo  of wasted human energy. Cook--better known as Fatboy Slim-- is also "off his tits", having knocked back a naughty pill of Ecstasy just before going onstage. Stopping a record to scratch a single beat in and out of a rising sonic storm,  Cook doles  out  euphoria with just a flick of his slender  fingers. The noise is incredible, something akin to AC/DC at their most tumultous, but freeze-framed --the DJ cutting and retriggering the powerchord to end  all worlds. To a chorus  of teen-screams , Cook gives his audience  the rave'n'roll rush they crave. He cuts the big beat  in and out, in and out, then releases  it to rampage  through the speakers. And everyone  goes absolutely bonkers.


DJ/producer Norman Cook--a/k/a Fatboy Slim-- is currently  the  cool  ruler of Big Beat. Pioneered  by The Chemical Brothers, Big Beat's mix'n'blend of hip hop breakbeats, rock riffs and techno  noise is blaring out of the radio and gnawing its way into the charts. In its homeland, Big Beat is being  hyped by the English music  press and record  industry  as the Next Big Thing after Britpop, while in America, it's already  made  its way onto MTV, both as buzzbin videos and as irresistibly  peppy  background  music. Chemicals-soundalikes The Propellerheads  have just been signed by Dreamworks for a reportedly Prodigy-size  figure.             

Where's Britpop foundations  are whiter-than-white  Sixties pop, Big Beat's roots are a confused tangle  of techno, jungle,  punk, funk and heavy  metal. Unlike  electronica's   deliberately   faceless  underground producers, though,  Big Beat  artists have embraced Britpop's doctrine  of stardom-at-all-costs; they  like  to play  live and love to talk about their drink-and-druggy  exploits to the music press.   And "the kids" lap it up. Big Beat  appeals  to ravers, because  it's compatible with taking illegal stimulants  and dancing  like a maniac. But it also appeals  to rockers:  they can scour  the  music  press for tales of hell-raising mayhem,  a la Oasis, and unlike  rival new forms of post-rave music like techstep jungle  or speed garage, Big Beat  doesn't sound avant-garde  or alienating  or "too black". In fact, it's as familiar as your most dog-eared albums: a pirate-raid  on pop history, a  Grand  Theft Audio that  ransacks  the most  tried-and-tested licks  from Lee Perry, Grandmaster Flash, Led Zeppelin and Edwin Starr.

       "Today's forward-looking music  is about  plunder," declares Chemical Brother  Ed Simons. The Chemicals' entire  career  has been a massive extravaganza  of  piracy, whose booty includes  hip hop's block-party breakbeats, jungle's  complex rhythm-programming and acid house's hypnotic  bass-riffs. Even their first name, The Dust Brothers, was stolen outright  from the American production duo behind the Beastie Boys's early records  and Beck's Odelay.  The Chems' spirit of shameless  thievery informs everything about Big Beat, even though Simons and partner  Tom Rowlands now distance  themselves  from their bastard child, preferring  to consider  themselves  "mature"  album  artists closer  in spirit to psychedelic  rock. 

"My problem with the Big Beat  records  is that everything's done for the DJ," complains  Simons. "It's all huge drops and builds, whereas  a good record should groove a bit more."

            Simons has unwittingly  put  his finger on one of the  best  things about  Big Beat: the way its crescendo-crammed tracks   are  designed  as tools for the DJ, as raw material  that the turntabilist  can plug into the mania  of the drug-dancefloor  interface. These are the reasons why Norman Cook is making Big Beat and why--unlike the Chemical Brothers--he enthusiastically embraces the term.

            Cook is a perfect  icon  for a sound based around  a Frankenstein-like  patchworking  of dismembered  bits  of other musics. Back in the mid-Eighties, he was the drummer  in indie-janglepop  hitmakers The Housemartins. Swerving in a seemingly  unlikely  dancefloor direction with his next group Beats International, Cook scored a UK Number One  with a dubbed-up remake  of SOS Band's "Just Be Good To Me," before retreating underground, where  he crafted a series of  clubland smashes  in a plethora of styles and using a number of aliases: Freakpower, Pizzaman, Mighty Dub Katz, and now Fatboy Slim.

            "I  try to make underground music, but it always comes  out as pop," he says. These involuntary  crowd-pleasing  instincts stem, he says, from his desire to connect with the female side of his audience.  "I make music for girls," he admits. Where techno purist boys, he complains, get really  hung up on a specific kick-drum  or synth sound, "girls just  like a good tune. Until recently I lived with three women. When I was working in my studio, if they'd didn't come  in and say 'what's this?", I'd always scrap the tune. That's the difference  between  pop and underground music."

Norman Cook's home--nicknamed House of Love, and decorated with a collection of Smiley-face  memorabilia  from the  early  days of UK rave --is in Brighton, the seaside town about  an hour's drive from London that  has its own counterculture of artists, musicians, writers, actors and weirdos. If anywhere  is Big Beat's party  capital, it's Brighton. Not only does it boast the  Boutique  club, it's also the base for Skint Records, whose roster includes Fatboy Slim, Lo-Fidelity All Stars, Bentley Rhythm Ace, and Hardknox.

            The Skint sound is a hyper-eclectic  mash-up  of hip hop boombastics  and stadium-rock dynamics.  "When I DJ, I'll play anything --hip hop, disco, house, drum and bass, " explains Damian Harris, Skint's boss and producer  under  the name Midfield General. "Big Beat DJ-ing  is more like listening to a jukebox, rather than a steady  flow of mixing. I used to work in a record store for years, where I learned that  there's probably  25%  of any genre that's any good. So I play the  good bits from everything. The only  common  denominator  is that they've got to have a really  big beat."

            It sounds open-minded, but some would accuse Big Beat  of parasitism--creaming off the the crowd-pleaser  elements  from different sounds  and scenes, but without ever innovating  anything  for itself. Genres like jungle, house and techno  evolve through tunnel-vision focus and needlepoint    intricacy. "I have a helluva lot of respect  for musical purists," concedes Harris. "It's true that you need that focus for the music to progress. But on the other hand, it's frustrating that anyone involved in that process seems to get blinkered  towards  other forms of music. "  

Blinker-free, Big Beat uses Technics turntables and sampling technology  to steal anything that isn't nailed down. In the digital age, where any recorded source  can be converted to zeros and ones, this means that everything  is fair game. A true Big Beat brigand loots across the spectrum of  rap and rave sub-genres, ignoring the class and race boundaries  that separate  different scenes.

            In the early Nineties, British house and techno were shaped to heighten the  rush and buzz of Ecstasy. DJ's favoured long, fluidly mixed sets that enhanced the sensurround, cocooning sensations caused by  MDMA. Big Beat's jagged eclectism reflects a post-E dance  culture. Kids are fuelling their fun with polydrug cocktails  that may include  any  or all of the following --E, amphetamine, cocaine, ketamine, 2CB, pot, booze,acid, psylocibin mushrooms,  downers like Temazepam,  and so on. Big Beat music  similarly jumbles up sounds that were originally  associated with specific drugs:  marijuana/jungle, MDMA/house, cocaine/garage, amphetamine/hardcore, alcohol/rock. 

"I  do think England's love affair with Ecstasy  is probably  on the wane," says Harris. "A lot of people have got bored with E, and they can't handle  the  comedowns. I'd say Big Beat's drugs of choice  are lager and amyl nitrate."

            The amyl connection goes back to the birthplace of Big Beat--a now-legendary club called  the Heavenly  Social, where the Chemical Brothers  were resident DJ's. Back in the club's 1994-95 heyday,  nobody used the term Big Beat, though. Instead, people talked  about "amyl house", a reference to the club's most popular  high: the inhalant  'amyl nitrate', whose fumes offer an instant  peak  akin to Ecstasy  but much  briefer.  

A small Sunday  night  club  in the basement  of  a Central London pub , the Social was the  brainchild of Heavenly, a record  label /artist  management and PR company  famous for its hedonistic  punk-meets-rave  attitude."We started the Social in August '94," recalls  Heavenly's Robin Turner, "because the Chemicals  were  DJ-ing  all these back-rooms  in glitzy house  clubs. Ed and Tom would be spinning  in the back  to about  30 of their friends --people  who looked like freaks and  who wanted to go out and get  fucked-up  on pills, then wake up the  next  morning  covered in bruises and think  'Oh God, how did I get that?  Must've jumped off the speaker stacks!'". Turner  decided that somebody  had to take  The Chemical Brothers  backroom scene and turn it into the main event. 

            Even though the  200-capacity Heavenly Social  was tiny  compared with other London  clubs, it rapidly  acquired a high profile. On a typical night -- or so the media mythology  runs --you'd find Tricky and Paul Weller  propping up the bar with Manchester  indie-dance band The Charlatans,  and various members  of Primal Scream, Oasis and the Stones Roses sharing a drink or three. Alongside  these Britpop luminaries  were many  of Big Beat's future prime movers: Mark Jones and Sarah Francis respectively  founders of the currently  hot  labels Wall of Sound and Bolshi), while Richard Fearless (now in Death In Vegas), Jon Carter (a/k/a Monkey  Mafia) and Norman Cook shared the DJ booth with the Chemicals. 

Big Beat's   ethos of mixing up the styles and listening  without prejudice  is admirable.  But when it comes to mixing up different races and classes,  Big Beat  looks less impressive than it sounds. Slip inside Sonic Mook  Experiment,  a new club promoted by longtime  London scenester Sean McClusky. The DJ, Barry Ashworth is sliding dancehall ragga into hard-nosed hip hop. In the basement , a crap band think they're the Beastie Boys, a skinny white boy who can't sing trying to chat  and flow over tightly  programmed  breakbeats  and sprawling guitar feedback.. Sonic Mook's crowd is wearing the  Big Beat uniform: top of the range Nikes, camouflage  trousers, pencil skirts, spanking new Levi's, fur-collared parka  coats, and  fleeces.  They  dance  to hip hop, jungle and dancehall reggae. But the weird, unnerving thing is that the crowd is almost entirely white.  

"I can't fucking stand it here," offers a boy  in the toilets, in between  dabs  from a sachet of pink speed, "Everyone's wearing black fashion and moving to black beats but the only black people  in the club are the three Ecstasy dealers. It just doesn't feel right."

            It's tempting to take Sonic Mook as a symbol  of what's wrong with Big Beat --a mainly  white, self- consciously  cool, media/music industry set turning  onto old skool hip hop (Schoolly D, Eric B) ten years after the fact. Racial tourism is a long running syndrome in British pop, going back to the Mods with their passion for black American R&B. But there's another  twist to this story: Big Beat is in many  ways a replay of another British sound from six years ago -- the  multiracial, working class style of rave music  known as "hardcore". Like Big Beat, 1991-92 hardcore was made from fast breakbeats, dub bass and zany samples, a hybrid that eventually evolved into jungle. Which makes Big Beat something  like jungle's unsophisticated cousin--sharing  the latter's hectic breakbeats  and heavy bass, but favouring much more simplistic rhythm programming.

  "Jungle producers  come up with some great  production tricks, but as music I just can't get into it," says Norman Cook. "It's all very intelligent. I don't really do intelligent  music, I'm more into mindless boogie." 

"Mindless boogie"  just  about  sums up Big Beat's  undeniable appeal--disco's glitterball  cheese  fused with Seventies greaseball rock-riffage. As such it recalls  an earlier  phase  of British rave'n'roll:  Manchester  bands  like  Happy Monday  and Stones Roses, tracks like Primal Scream's "Loaded" and EMF's  "Unbelievable".    Like the early Nineties  indie-dance  crossover bands, Big Beat's star DJs and groups--Jon Carter/Monkey Mafia, Derek Dahlarge,  Dub Pistols, Death In Vegas-- fill  column inches  with drug talk and outrageous  anecdotes.

Often it seems like Big Beat DJ's and artists are more  out-of-it than  the kids on the  dancefloor.  It's chemical  excess  as a spectator  sport, and the opposite of club and rave culture, where DJs know how to tantalise  the drugged  bodies  of their audiences  but  are  usually   sober themselves while on the job.

 "With Big Beat, it's the other  way round, " confirms Norman Cook . "It's the old rock'n'roll thing--you want the stars to be larger than life and more  fucked up than you are."

            Like rock'n'roll stars, Big Beat DJs get groupies  too. Take the Girls Brigade, a gang of female London media-types  who frequent the scene. Their exploits--which  include  sharing LSD with The Headrillaz,  attending debauched  post-Boutique sessions  at Norman Cook's Brighton apartment, and vomiting at the feet of the Chemical Brothers during a Heavenly  Social boat party--make  the  girl-hooligan's  behavior  in the Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up" video look relatively  tame. 

"From a groupie's point  of view, Big Beat  is wicked," says Miranda, one Brigade  member. "The Big Beat  lot are people  you can get pissed with, 'cos they like to get really  pissed. It's not hard to end up back at a DJ's flat after a club. I've met loads of people  who've shagged  Jon Carter."

            Although its boorish antics seem to cross gender  divides, Big Beat has become synonomous with the British phenomenon known  as  New Lad. Behaviorally  equivalent  to the fratboy,  the lad is  working class rather than a college  student.  A backlash  against the Eighties notion of the sensitive, feminized New Man, the New Lad has spawned an entire industry of masculine-and-proud-of-it   products  and media in the UK. Perhaps the most successful is the huge-selling magazine Loaded-- named after  the Primal Scream rave''n'roll anthem "Loaded" and its Roger Corman biker-movie sample "we wanna get loaded and have a good time".

            New Lad is also  a form of class tourism: middle  class English males  envying  the coarse vitality of their working class counterparts, aping their pleasures  in a cartoonish flurry of  soccer, porn, lager and kebabs  puked up on the pavement  in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Happy Mondays's Shaun Ryder and Bez were proto-New Lads; Noel and Liam Gallagher are Superlads. When Noel collaborated with The Chemical Brothers  on "Setting Sun", it was the cultural  coup  of the decade --Britpop's delinquency fused with rave's 'aving it hedonism.

            Apres "Setting Sun", the deluge.  "You've got groups coming up now like  Regular Fries and Campag Veloct," says Heavenly's Robin Turner, "all trying to approximate The Chemicals  or The Prodigy, who themselves were dance bands  trying to approximate   rock bands."  

Lo-Fidelity All Stars--Skint Records  bright hopefuls for 1998-- typify the new breed. Performing at a series of gigs organised around weekly  music paper  New Musical Express's Brat Awards, the All Stars combine rave music's sequenced rhythms  with live musicianship. Or at least  the  appearance   of live playing:  for all the presence of a  drummer  onstage,  most of the audible rhythm comes is programmed. Despite  the fact that the  euphoric highpoints of their show  come  from the machine-beats  and samples  (like the  vocal intro from The Breeders's "Cannonball" that's looped on their single "Disco Machine Gun"), the Lo-Fidelity  All Stars project  themselves as a rock band;  the singer emulates  Liam Gallagher's surly cool. And the All Stars are received as rock by the  audience, who mosh violently  as if attending an Offspring gig.

             "It's great that indie bands have realised you don't have to be rigidly stuck to the guitar/bass/drums/vocals format, that you don't have to sit there and think  it's enough to rewrite the Beatles songbook," says Turner. "If that's what Big Beat  has inspired  then that's fucking brilliant." 

Not  everyone  agrees. Dance  purists think Big Beat  is just rock music tarted up with ideas  ripped off techno and house. They think Big Beat's shift of emphasis from sonic innovation to rockstar  posturing is a regressive move;  Jon Carter's forthcoming  cover version of Creedence  Clearwater   would confirm their worst fears. Trad rock fans, for their part, are not  placated by  these  nods to rock's heritage. They dismiss Big Beat as inane party music without  songcraft or meaningful lyrics, let alone the redemptive power and resonance of your Verves or Radioheads.  And it's true: despite  the critical plaudits,  Big Beat's long-players  lack the widescreen emotional  range and depth you expect from a great  album. Like dance  music, Big Beat  reaches  its  aesthetic peak on the 12 inch single;  even a brilliant  Big Beat LP like Fatboy Slim's Better Living Through Chemistry is more like  a greatest  hits collection than an album.

            Big Beat could so easily  alienate  both sides of the pop divide its music  rampages  across. But at the moment, it seems  all-conquering. It  uses rock'n'roll's hell-for-leather  attitude to show up how so much of today's electronic  dance music is po-faced and purist;  it  deploys  club culture's sonic science  to make trad guitar bands  look terribly dated. 

And that science  is all about  triggering  the rush, the quintessential sensation that  unites  house, techno , hardcore and jungle.  The rush is the peak of the drug-DJ-dancefloor  interface, a synergy  of MDMA, music and sheer adrenalin.  Not all club musics service the rush (trip hop and ambient  interface  better with marijuana's  langor,  for instance.) But Big Beat rushes--faster even than its ancestor-sources,  in fact, its velocity  boosted  by amyl  nitrate's heart-bolting metabolic-acceleration  effect.

            Norman Cook is king of Big Beat because  he knows how to manipulate the rush. His  druggernaut  remixes  of  Cornershop's "Brimful of Asha' and Wildchild's "Renegade Master"--two  records that united rock papers and dance mags in delirious praise-- aren't  deep or meaningful or any of that classic rock crap; nothing exists but strategies  for excitement,  a collection of climaxes  and multiple  orgasms. 

"The  less time I spend on a record,  the better  it seems to work," grins Cook. "It's about capturing the moment. I don't try and make  it too complicated." 

From punk to funk, rockabilly  to rave, simplicity  is what  counts, immediacy  is all. Big Beat, for all its faults, understands this.

            See, the truth is that the greatest  secret  never told about  rave culture was that it was always more  rock'n'roll than rock itself. Instead of the rock star living out your wildest  dreams for, you were your own private Jagger  chemically-hurled  across  an  ocean   of delirious peaks and insatiable  desires. Commandeering  rave's pills and thrills, its rushes and explosions,  but  packaging  those  illicit  energies inside the appearance  of rock  form, Big Beat  is 1998's number  one  bullet.

Which leave just one million-dollar question:  Are you gonna bite?



            measured by Simon Reynolds



"Punk To Funk", from Better Living Through Chemistry (Skint/Astralwerks)

            Of all the Fatboy's classics--"Going Out of My Head", "Everybody Needs A 303", "Song For Lindy", the remix of Wildchild's "Renegade Master"--"Punk To Funk" is Norman Cook's finest moment, by a whisker. For a small eternity, it's just chunky breaks and phat-verging-on-obese bass that  wobbles  like  love handles  at a Weight-Watchers disco, then a cheesadelic  EZ-listening  horn section fades up, huffing and puffing and blowing the roof off the sucker.



"Loops of Fury", from the Loops of Fury EP (Junior Boy's Own/Astralwerks)

            The Chems at their most crudely  rabble-rousing--a black-and-white riot of stuttering beats, convulsive  fuzzguitar-riffage and floorquaking electro sub-bass, plus sampled crowd uproar designed to trigger  a feedback loop in the audience. Cheesy and proud of it, the Chemical Brothers have yet to meet an old skool rap or classic rave cliche  they haven't wanted to steal. But when their collage of potent  cliches sounds so electrifying, who cares?  Extra back-in-the-day  points for the title's twist on Rakim's "Lyrics of Fury".



"The Brain", from the Space Kadet EP (City of Angels)

            The best producer  working in "funky breaks"--America's  equivalent to Big Beat--California's  Uberzone  distinguishes  himself from rivals like The Crystal Method and DJ Icey by bringing  a thrillingly  chilly early Eighties  electro  feel to the party. As with all the best  rave fodder, every hook  in "The Brain" works as both melody  and rhythm: chiming   tablas, brain-eraser scratching, itchy-and-squelchy acid-house squiggles, icy plinks redolent  ofl early Nineties English bleep-and-bass acts like Unique 3, and pressure-drop  basslines   that rival jungle's low-end seismology.



"Afro (Blowing in the Wind)" from the Mass Hysteria EP (Bolshi)

            Old skool rap sliced  and diced into locked-groove  glossolalia, 78 r.p.m. squeaky voices, scratchadelic  mayhem, farty basslines  and jittery beats--Rasmus   is shaping up as the most boisterous Big Beat  provider after Fatboy Slim.



"Return of the Hardcore  Jumble  Carbootechnodisco Roadshow", from Bentley

Rhythm Ace (Skint/Astralwerks)

            BRA may be a bunch of jackanapes, but  they've sho'nuff got skillz. This is simply one of the best dancefloor  productions of the late Nineties, a jamboree of  pilfered elements  each of which is there  purely to put a grin on your face and a wiggle  in your hips. As with Fatboy's "Going Out Of My Head", the killer hook  is a frenetic powerchord-riff that  draws the dots between 1966 mod's amphetamine-frenzy  freakbeats and 1998 Big Beat's pills-and-Pils fueled pandemonium.


MONKEY MAFIA--"Lion In The Hall" (Deconstruction)

            Madcap drum-rolls, stereophonic  tomfoolery, dancehall  reggae chants "timestretched" jungle-style so that  the sample seems to crack apart, more percussion than you can shake a stick at--DJ/producer Jon Carter stoops to all manner  of audio-stunts  and cheap tricks in order to conquer the dancefloor.




JEAN-JACQES PERREY -- "E.V.A" (Vanguard, 1970)

PIERRE HENRY & MICHEL COLOMBIER---"Psyche Rock", from Messe Pour Le Temps

Present (Philips, 1968)

            These two tracks--one  by EZ-listening Moog-maniac  Jean Jacques Perrey, the other by musique  concrete  composer  Pierre  Henry--sound like the music playing in the discotheque  scene in every swingin' Sixties movie you ever heard: Booker T & the MG's hopped up on acid-spiked punch, fatback funky shuffle grooves daubed  with woogly synth-gurgles  and electro-acoustic blips. Non-coincidentally, "E.V.A" and "Psyche Rock" were both remixed by Fatboy Slim last year.


COLDCUT-- "Beats + Pieces" (Ahead Of Our Time, 1987)

            Although  their current  Ninjatune  output gets filed as "trip hop", back in '87 Coldcut pioneered the British fad for "DJ records". Taking their cues from the cut-ups of Steinski and Mantronix, Coldcut --alongside similar crews like S'Express, Bomb The Bass, M/A/R/R/S and Renegade Soundwave--used  cheap samplers  to make breakbeat-and-wacky-soundbite  collages. As funky as hip hop but fast-paced enough to be played alongside  house's machine  beats, these DJ records were Big Beat  avant  la lettre.


DJ TRAX--"We Rock The Most", from I Man, I DJ EP (Moving Shadow, 1992)

HYPER-ON EXPERIENCE--"Thunder Grip", from Deaf In The Family EP (Moving

Shadow, 1993)

            Hip hop on Ecstasy, UK hardcore rave was sheer Loony Toons mania: breakbeats  swerve and skid like automobiles  in Penelope Pitstop, and every cranny of the mix is infested with hiccupping vocal-fragments  and rap chants sped up to sound like pixies. Somewhere between a cartoon caper and a car crash, these Moving Shadow classics are the Skint sound five years too soon--which  either  makes  hardcore  astonishingly ahead-of-its-time, or Big Beat shamefully backward.


JOSH WINK--"Higher State of Consciousness (Tweekin Acid Funk Mix)"

(Strictly Rhythm, 1995)

            This dreadlocked  Philadelphian  made the prototypical  "funky breaks"  track--simple  looped  breakbeat,  screeching "acid builds" (Roland 303 bass-riffs), vocal timestretched  to fraying point--and sold half-a-million  records  worldwide  in the process.



Friday, July 14, 2023

Jon Wilde - Joy Division / New Order - Melody Maker - September 15 1990

A sacred cow shunted into the abattoir of critical revisionism!  Joy Division get unexpectedly savaged by Jon Wilde (here dropping the earlier "h" from his name - i.e. Jonh Wilde). Yet he esteems New Order greatly (well, from "Blue Monday" onwards)  even though the singer is even less of a conventionally equipped singer than the previous occupant of the job. 

I disagree with it completely (even to the point of thinking New Order get steadily less compelling from "Blue Monday" onwards) But as with the Steve Sutherland "Scott Walker solo is shite, should have stayed in the Walker Brothers"  review, it is refreshing to read such a counter-consensual take(-down)

"The ranks of the unattended legends" - nice phrase, and I guess Joydiv probably were  at their  lowest ebb reputationally in 1990, in terms of being an influence or something cited by other bands. And few things could have been less related to the baggy positivity emanating from the very same city at the time of writing. 

Loop had done a Joydiv-ish single earlier that year ("Arc-Lite", and quite soon Disco Inferno in their early glacial monochrome phase (pre-postrock) would swim into view. There had also been a cool American band with some of that postpunk scouring dourness - Nice Strong Arm.  

But no, in 1990, hardly anyone was referencing or drawing from Joy Division.  

That would change -  but it took another decade-plus...  and a couple of films certainly helped.

Nowadays the cover design of Unknown Pleasures is everywhere, a T-shirt you can buy in malls, in the same league iconically as the Stones tongue-and-lips logo. Their canonic eminence seems permament. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Andrew Ridgeley special


September 15 1990 and David Stubbs here imagines an earlier documentary tribute to the Wham!ster .

This satire inspired by the South Bank Show that was actually shown that month on George Michael (clearly coordinated as another prong of his campaign to be taken as a Serious Artist - a Bragg-voiceover-worthy subject like the Smiths and Talking Heads - alongside the singles "Praying for Time" and "Freedom '90", and the album title Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 --- "please please please take me as more than a hunk in bronzer and tight jeans")

Can't also help thinking that Stubbs must have had in the back of his mind the Stud Bros profile of Ridgeley from some weeks earlier - on the occasion of Randy Andy's debut solo album - in the course of which they exalted him as some kind of hero of getting-away-with-it, the ultimate pop star, excelling at the playboy part of the job without getting his fingers grubby and calloused through the workmanlike side of actually producing work. Perhaps a sort of Bez avant la lettre.

Which immediately provoked this harsh corrective from Chris Roberts