MANTRONIX, Music Madness (10 Records)
Melody Maker, December 6th 1986.
by Simon Reynolds
Mantronix don’t quite fit. Hip hop is getting to
be more and more of an assault, more and more hyper-compressed
and minimal in its search for harder and higher hits. But
Mantronix are loosening up their music, bringing in a suppleness
and textural luxury. Hip hop daily exceeds new levels of
megalomaniac viciousness. But Mantronix are gradually squeezing
the SELF out of their music, letting the music stand on
its own madness.
Compare what Mantronix are doing with a track that
represents some kind of zenith in current hip hop
trends--“The Manipulator” by Mixmaster Gee and The Turntable Orchestra
(off Electro 14). Here skill on the turntables becomes a
twisted, bloated metaphor for omnipotence. The voice shoves
itself RIGHT IN YOUR FACE--you can practically feel the spittle,
smell the breath. It’s a voice intoxicated with power, quaking with
rage. MC Tee from Mantronix, in comparison, has a refreshingly
adolescent voice, almost sweet--words are slurred, there’s the
tiniest suggestion of a lisp.
“Manipulator” style hip hop is given its impetus by being focused
on the tyrannical charisma of the rapper, but with Mantronix the
raps seem almost superfluous. There are several instrumentals. With most
hip hop the very sound of the music is a MASSIVE COCK waving about
in your face. Mantronix erase every trace of the pelvis, every last ditch of humanism in hip hop. Their music isn’t weighted down by the
heaviness of masculinity, but glides, skips, even frisks at times, rather
than thuggishly stomping us weaklings underfoot. Mantronix sound
disembodied, dislocated, out-of-it.
They are far out, a long way from firm ground. Mantronik marshals
a host of uprooted fragments and abducted ghosts into a dance. He
thieves indiscriminately, without prejudice, enlisting anything
from Benny Goodman to The Old Grey Whistle Test theme tune.
On “We Control the Dice” they even indulge in self-kleptomania (or perhaps
simple thrift is at work), re-using the bass motif from “Bassline”.
Their greatest influence, though, is European electropop--the
scrubbed, spruce, pristine textures and metronomic precision
of Kraftwerk and Martin Rushent’s Human League. While the brainy British
bands of the day dedicate themselves to noisy guitars, it’s up to Mantronix
(and House music) to uphold the spirit of 1981, to cherish the bass sound
and the electronic percussion of “Sound of the Crowd” as a lost future of pop.
They have moments close to wildness-“Big Band B-Boy” commandeers
a jungle of percussion--but I prefer it when Mantronix sound stealthy.
“Scream,” with its curiously muted delivery of a party-up lyric
(the word “scream” is almost whispered) is as eerie as Suicide lullabies
like “I Remember” or “Cheree”. The title track has a roaming, furtive
sense of space, the phrase “music madness” sampled, stretched and
melted into a series of beautiful belches. Best of all is the closing
“Megamix”, in which everything you’ve been listening to for the last
half-hour is regurgitated inside out and upside down, flashing before
your ears like a drowned, garbled life. Sublime pandemonium.
Music Madness is the kind of music you’d hoped The
Art of Noise would go on to make after “Close (to the Edit)”.
Fleshless, soulless, faceless and fantastic.