Thursday, 16 June 2011

A one, two, a one, two

I find it hard to say I like hip hop these days – as people misunderstand and talk about this artist representing and that artist rockin da club. And all that is shit to me. Now I am not claiming that I was there when Grandmaster Flash played the bloc and Bambaataa brought peace to the streets and the clubs as gangs got down to the sounds of the [future] underground but there is a part of me that has witnessed the rise and rise [might touch the sky] of hip hop and all its associated parts.

I guess like any one of my age – our introduction to the art of sampling and scratching was formed as we watched Malcolm McClaren cutting back and forth, cutting back and forth on The Tube – claiming he’d stumbled across the Zulu Nation whilst riding the C train down to the Bronx. Or Herbie Hancock rockin it with robots and rhythm. Paul and I immediatedly set about cutting records back and forth, back and forth – creating squeals and scratches in upstairs rooms.

Licensed to Ill was duly purchased in the storm of media hype as the beastie boys brought their bad boy bonhomie to British shores. We all owned a copy - as Rick Rubin rocked the spot and the brats of Brooklyn [okay I know one of them is from Manhattan – but let it go for now] unleashed their call to arms as we all partied for the right to fight [or was that the other ones?]

And then somehow the trail went cold – well not cold but lukewarm. Even though Slow and Low was the tempo we wanted to go and Run DMC had been recorded on the Whistle Test – coz they were illin’ something kind of got in the way. All anoraks and fuzz guitars – instead of break beats and rhymes and bars. And the nascent hip hop scene was left to evolve with all its potential without me listening in. And what a scene it was. Each day these microphone fiends would be tearing out new joints and rocking da spot with the best of them - whilst we strummed Byrdsian odes to girls two years older than us. I should have been sporting a cap and gold chain – firming up my b –boy stance and not thinking about industrial romance with the girl from Common Lane.

But these things happen.

So odd purchases happened – a Public Enemy record here or a DMC track there - but the years from 1986 kind of drifted away – in tight canvas and Cuban heels.

And then a reawakening.

Before I left for London the sounds of computers and samples had begun to break into our independent haze. The beats were getting harder all through late 88. Not quite embraced yet but the radar was on. And then Lewisham - all pirate radio, hardcore refrains and well you know the score. De la Soul released an album that crossed over and over and over. I returned to Scunthorpe with a penchant for American Football team hats – Green Bay Packers if you ask and puffa jackets and Nike Trainers and the emerging hardcore techno scene had hit the Scunthorpe Baths Hall as Nik and Danny and Chris dropped breaks that ached. Danny passed on a tape – a hardcore delight of a mix. Three fingered bass lines and breaks.

I listened to that side. But Paul would turn it over.

On the b-side of the cassette was Paul’s Boutique. Freshly recorded from its release on vinyl – no track list just refreshing hip hop. Loaded up on the funk and the funny. MCA. Mike D and Ad-Rock had made a masterpiece and Paul wouldn’t let it go – he’d make you listen to it. High Plains Drifter or the Sound of Science – because things had changed – the beasties had come of age. There is a whole heap of writing about the recording of Paul’s Boutique – of the LA excursion and the basket ball courts and swimming pools – but this was the beasties taking control and mapping out what hip hop was – and is.

And from that moment you know - you don’t stop – you keep on till the break a day.

And then release after release refined the rhymes and the rhythm – there was a hip hop explosion in our house and it hasn’t stopped. It is sometimes hard to say you like hip hop these days but there’s some wonderful shit out there – Odd Futures anyone? But that tape and Paul’s insistence on playing the b-side and not letting it go that the Beasties had made an all time classic means that the rows and rows of records in my cupboard are peppered with beats and rhymes rather than just guitars and howls.

Hearing Paul’s Boutique was good.

And that’s why I like hip hop.

I should be listening to the beastie boys.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

There’s a howling coming from that there room

In adolescent times you could kick over the statutes by turning up the volume and raging at the world from the comfort of your bedroom – safe in the knowledge that you were in your room and no one was going to know whether you were playing The Birthday Party or Showaddywaddy. What now sounds like a confessional session but merely is thinking is that those rooms saved our lives many a time.

If I think what went on in my bedroom – it was the carving out of this.

There is a sense of unbridled energy lurking in the walls of teenage rooms. I was watching the classic albums programme about Screamadelica and there in those photographs of McGee, Innes and Gillespie was that energy – that building of confidence through shared understandings and mis-timed joking. Of microphone posing and record jockeying.

Bedrooms are the catalyst to action.

Once Paul and I recorded a feedback fuelled tribute to the death of Shep in minutes of Noake’s announcement that his trusty dog had left his side or hit record on the Amstrad Studio 100 as we attempted to out do the Butthole Surfers with a one stringed kazoo version of Hurdy Gurdy Man – that simply revolved around the speakers on playback all muffled and sat on.

Or forming a hip hop group as we sampled and scratched our ways through the beastie madness .And the list goes on, the T-Rex salute to She Sells Sanctuary or the pulsating drones of the Juno 6 as I tried to recreate Pink Allen’s Rising High ambient ‘sounds’. The tribute acts to Mud and the hyponotic tremors of Spiritualised meets David Essex – all happened in rooms with beds in.

Time and imagination fuels production.

When I had moved out and then returned it was with a different set of records in my bag – but it was still about getting your tunes played – as tapes were placed in decks and records spun in an attempt to get to the root of  it all. I guess I should have been taking more time to actually learn things – find out stuff that mattered but playing Ill Communication followed by The Beach Boys, Denim an old funk 45 and the Dust Brothers Chemical Beats [purchased from Danny in Record Village that morning] was shaping the sounds and ideas in our heads. Ideas of escape for the most part.

I remember up in a loft in Brockley – sat with Richard as we listened, tipsy and smoke ridden, to demos of his band on portable tape recorders – all these moments of beauty locked into tiny spaces or staring out the top windows of grand houses on Granville Park as The Pixies or Teenage Fanclub provided a soundtrack to new living. Or cramped in Lee’s room as he played the solo from I am the resurrection by the Roses and we all sat in awe. Or seeing how far our Alba systems could go with young continentals and hard jazz sounds. In those rooms – you took risks and you were always looking to nudge that volume up – just that little bit more.

As I get older – and spaces become mine – not borrowed from others. Not that I resented my parents having a front room. A record player of their own. But now I am that adult – that responsible being with a record player in my front room – the bedroom is just that now – a bedroom. I don’t think I make the same racket as I used to – I know I don’t - the volume is louder in the car than in my front room – well only room. Open plan – maaaaan.

I think the responsibility of age is a good thing – it’s not endless late nights and german acid tracks making the walls bounce or atonal post punk rock that communicates with cats – it’s different now. At times I will seek to enlighten the family with an obscure gem pulled from the racks. But my selector days are quieter now. Currently the Jonny album is in the CD tray, it replaced Beethoven who slid in after the Aphex Twin Ambient Works Vol.1. The Minus records album is in the car, alongside Justin Robertson’s Art of Acid or Weatherall’s Fabric Mix [Number 19 if you want to buy it]

Still the thrill of hitting start and letting the music course through speakers whether tiny or woofing never really leaves you. Before we moved to this house – we had a place in Lewisham all Victorian stories and that and I put the record player up in the top loft rooms alongside the vinyl haul – and in part it felt like those early days in rooms with others letting sounds ring out and making us all scream and shout and talk about that production and this bass line and that snare and this sample. I have always been fun to live with. I listened to Smile for the first time – when Wilson had deigned to redo it – up there – up in that room – in my room. Blew my mind.

This weekend I will play a record in my front room.

Not loud. But just let it play in salute of all the bedroom revolutions taking place. And I am racking my brains and trying to tap into memories to decide on what it should be – so many times I stepped up to the record player and pulled a tune from a sleeve and waited with anticipation for it to begin. From the sha la la flexis to records that arrived through the post or were discovered in charity shops and caught my eye or cadged of friends to take home and tape. There are simply too many of them to choose from.

Perhaps it should be the first single I ever bought – XTC Sergeant Rock – a staccato psychedelic exploration of ‘manning up’ as John Terry would say – a Top of the Pops glimspse, a 7inch from Boots and descent into music autism for the rest of my life. Thanks Andy Partridge – thanks. Although now I’m not certain whether that was the first 45 I bought – it may have been Motorhead and Girlschool ‘Please don’t Touch’ that garage chug with a glint in its eye. No, I’m sticking with Sgt Rock – and so will you.

There isn’t a great deal to say about XTC – I was never really a fan. And then Paul got hold of the Dukes of Stratosphere albums and clearly there is a great deal to XTC.

Born out bedrooms see – it’s where it all begins.

XTC Sgt Rock – purchased one month before Motorhead [I googled it]

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

and like they invented disco and grunge and new wave and that

I found a copy of one of my fanzines – tucked in a file and stuffed in a cupboard. All courier new and cut up – pritt stick and photographs sitting behind words that meant something once. I laboured over those fanzines, those words – in between school then college and setting up market stalls and serving old folks in Kwik Save. Because I guess that it mattered. Like it does now I suppose.

Nowadays words come ready selected from Oxbridge journalists mining pop culture in broadsheet pages. Everybody’s clever nowadays. I say this because we take The Guardian in our house – all delivered and that – rolled up and half stuffed in the letterbox. When I was paperboy – I was told to push them all the way through – stopped them getting wet and all that.

Anyway lately I have found myself more reluctant to read the thoughts of these people. So I know how people might feel about all of this self indulgent scribing. But what seems to have offended me was the ‘free guides to music’ that appeared this week for Pop, Hip Hop, Rock and all the rest. I mean I was already having my gander put up and out by the fact that the Friday Film & Music supplement has a blurb that reads voted the UKs best Music Newspaper – I mean what other fucking newspaper exists – and it isn’t a music newspaper – it has seven reviews, an article by Bob Stanley and someone ripping off my blog and calling it Hail Hail Rock n Roll [that actually was meant without irony].

Now, don’t get me wrong I wasn’t hoping for an in depth discussion of the micro-politics of the death metal scene in Norway but I was looking for something more than the ‘clip culture’ we have come  to view as the norm. Sort of a Blue Peter for the rave age – a sound bite – a record mentioned and a touch of glo-stick – you know what I mean. Before I left this morning to get to work I managed a paragraph – well actually the journalist had only managed a paragraph – it was on Blondie – it said that Blondie was like a punk icon and that she released like an album and that it had some songs on it – and she named a few – because she could google ‘Parallel Lines’ and then it ended by explaining that she did like disco and new wave and rap.

And that was it.

And I was all huffing and puffing and thinking I was sweating blood over the words I wrote about The Impossibles, pale saints, Spaceman 3 and The Field Mice all those years ago and stuck down on card to be taken to a printers and manufactured for the masses. Which demonstrates how you don’t get a career in music journalism – although I read an interview with Danny Baker recently [okay it was in The Guardian] and he said he never gave a shit what the public thought rather he wanted to make his mates laugh in the office. Yeah cheers Dan – I think I bought The Chesterfields ‘Ask Johnny Dee’ because you made it SOTW.

This is a lie.

But part of me felt that yeah – if you’re getting a reaction somewhere from your writing then at least to see that happen where you work – well it helps. And the thing about these guides these listless lists for nothingness is the fact they reinforce the utter banality of popular culture. And whilst I fill up my head with the superficial sounds of Blondie or The Stones or the Pistols and Autechre I still want people to give it credence and write with some feeling about it – not simply serve it up as the commodity it is. Before I turned thirty I read countless biographies and auto biographies of bands and weighty tomes on the rise of bass culture and rebellion. I will be forty this week and here I am looking for some more answers in pop music.

In music.

It’s not like I’m after a great deal is it?

And sometimes the answers stare you in the face and tell you that with them everything will be alright. I used to get that feeling listening to The Impossibles. The Impossibles were Leeds’ answer to Simon and Garfunkel in mini-skirts and pea coats – they sang with harmony and finesse but could pack a punch. I fell in love with it all – and so did Kevin Shields who produced their first single – simple songs and simple strumming. All falling through the music hedge – through the forties and fifities, the sixties and seventies, even the eighties and finding parts sticking together at the end – but somehow sounding alive in the 1990s as rave raved and we looked to softer sounds in our comedown times.

Lucy and Mags were funny, unpretentious and joyful.

None of it was studied and The Impossibles have not made it into The Guardian’s Guide to the greatest pop moments in History – but being in The Duchess as the exploded into song or seeing them nervously take the stage supporting The Primitives at their all day event at Tufnell Park - you know that these are our secret histories – our own Top 50 events. It is hard to explain all of this in a few paragraphs and perhaps I should find my teenage ramblings – delve back into those feelings untainted by age.

I know there will be no paragraphs, epitaphs or half full baths to The Impossibles. They did not bring us new wave, punk, disco nor rap – but they did bring a great deal of joy. I Think they may well have been No.51 in The Guardian list and couldn’t be fitted in.

The Impossibles How Do You Do It?