Psychotic Reactions: Give Peace A Dance Volume 3
Melody Maker, May 9 1992
by Simon Reynolds
A couple of weeks back, an erudite, enigmatic Backlash correspondent called TT put forth the proposition that Techno is no better than country music ; it merely reflects its audience’s worldview, offers no intimation of the possibility of change. Certainly the way hardcore is used suggests that it’s squarely in the working class tradition of letting loose at the weekend, after slogging your guts out all week working for the Man. If you wanted to take the extreme pessimistic view, you could see Techno as the dehumanized leisure counterpart of dehumanizing work, robot music for robot people (the word robot comes from ‘robotnik’, or “worker”).
But I reckon there’s potential in hardcore to become more than just a safety valve for wage slaves to let off steam with. Hardcore fans talk appreciatively of “mad sounds”. But “mad” also means angry, as in “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore”. Techno literally rages, in the same way that a storm or the sea or The Young Gods rages.
There’s an abstract anger in techno (the dancing’s more like shadow boxing than getting on the good foot) that reminds me of the apolitical aggression of rap before Public Enemy articulated it and channeled it towards fighting the power. At the moment, Techno’s all about “getting it all out of your system”. But what if it changed to getting it all into and against the System?
This CND-sponsored double LP of hardcore trax is a tentative step towards the politicization of techno. The sleevenotes play around deftly with the concept of “oblivion”, contrasting everyone’s right to find their own way of losing themselves with the involuntary oblivion of nuclear annihilation. But the writer is fully aware that techno is not the most promising medium for the dissemination of agit-prop. Titles like Apollo 440’s “Blackout” illustrate that hardcore is more about amnesia and groovy braindeath than awareness and enlightenment. 1992’s version of rave is a reaction to different, grimmer drugs and a different, grimmer reality than 1988 rave. The blissful entrancement of acid house has given way to hardcore’s concussion and autism (desirable states to be are “cabbaged”, “monged”, “sledgied”). PSYCHO SLAPHEAD’s eponymous track comes in an “asylum mix”, and that word’s meanings nicely bring out hardcore’s paradoxes: asylum is a place of escape, but it’s also somewhere lunatics are confined and allowed to rage harmlessly. And the track’s an absolute bedlam of sonic gibberish and rhythmic mayhem.
Psychotic Reactions is dominated by manic trax and loony tunes. THE HYPNOTIST’s “Ride” is a pure speed-rush, synths that sound like a brain fizzing and bass like a heart trying to leap out of its cage. Tracks like APOLLO 440 and DOC SCOTT’s “Surgery” make Electronic Body Music funky like a mutha by replacing the genre’s stiff, Teutonic stomp with hyped-up hip hop breakbeats that sound like the funky drummer playing at thrash-metal speed. SET UP SYSTEM’s “Fairy Dust” is an eerie swarm of bleep particles and a squeaky, rubbery synth-vamp that sounds like a brain eraser.
It’s not all mentasm madness. There’s a spiritual side to some techno, where futurist vistas evoke a utopian tomorrow. PIED PIPER’s “Kinetic” is a beatific Nu Day Rising of swirl-round synth and Andean pipes. ORBITAL’s “Open Mind” is even more minimal but not as hymnal as “Chime”. Like LFO, Orbital’s music casts a spell not so much melodically as texturally: their sound is a polyphony of tactile surfaces, you feel like a blind man in a fabric shop.
UBIK’s “The Truth Vibration” is sacra-mental, a digital dervish-dance. Best of all is HOLY GHOST INC’s “Jihad”, a whoosh like a brain inundated with serotonin, a bassline as agitated as a shrew on the brink of a coronary, French gibberish, tons more weirdness. The mystic title chimes in with the pagan theme in rave that runs from A Guy Called Gerald’s “Voodoo Ray” and 808 State’s “State Ritual” through Ubik’s “Pagan” to Aphex Twin’s “Didgeridoo”. It suggests another parameter for techno: the Dionysian freak-out, the rave as a carnivalesque holiday from reality before the resumption of ordinary, orderly life.
But whether it’s the future sound of “Apoplexy in the UK” or just the latest twist on proletarian youth’s “culture of consolation”, it doesn’t really matter. Hardcore Techno is an exhilarating furore that makes perfect sense to anyone who’s ever raged along to the Stooges or the Pistols, Black Sabbath or Black Flag. And this compilation is a regular (cata)tonic.
Monday, March 30, 2015
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
THE MOVER: MARC ACARDIPANE AND PCP / COLD RUSH / DANCE ECSTASY 2001
The Wire, 1998
by SIMON REYNOLDS
Queens, New York, a Saturday night in April: Lenny Dee, hardcore techno warlord and boss of Brooklyn's Industrial Strength label, is celebrating "30 years breathing, 15 years deejaying" at Club Voodoo in the sedate suburb of Bayside. For his birthday bash he's flown in a bunch of gabba allies from across the Atlantic--stormcore DJ Manu Le Malin, English hardtrance outfit Nebula 2 (whose '92-era breakbeat techno for Reinforced reputedly blew Goldie's mind at Rage), plus this mysterious figure from Germany called The Mover who's making his US debut.
Since 1990, using over twenty different pseudonyms, The Mover has released literally hundreds of tracks via the cluster of labels affiliated to Frankfurt-based PCP; tracks whose catalogue numbers are recited in awestruck tones by hardcore cognoscenti. But when the Mover takes over the decks a little after 1-AM, it seems like few of the teenravers on the dancefloor realise that the nondescript-looking fellow in the DJ booth is a living legend. They sho' 'nuff know his tunes, though, roaring their approval and moshing violently to the bonehead bounce of gabbanthems like Turbulence's "Six Millions Ways To Die", with its Sid Vicious "My Way" intro and murderous ragga sample.
The Mover also touches on the more "musical" side of the output of PCP and its sister-labels Dance Ecstasy 2001 and Cold Rush, a style people on the scene have dubbed "phuture techno". Renegade Legion's "Torsion" is midtempo and multitextured by gabba standards, its death-ray riffs strobing your flesh and subsuming the dancefloor in a phosphorescent frenzy. "Apocalypse Never", recorded by Mover and released under his Pilldriver alter-ego, is even more intense, seething around your limbs like a marauding miasma of sentient nerve gas. As with a lot of PCP/Mover music, the track's dark exultation is poised on the brink between the Dionysian
and the frankly fascist--between mob and army, desiring machine and war-machine. Its ear-harassing synth-stabs and ungodly tintinnabulations get your goosepimples doing the goosestep.
An hour after The Mover vacates the DJ-booth, the "Deeday" rave comes to an abrupt end, with Bayside's fire marshals shutting down the party for being overcrowded (the official limit is 300, around 800 turned up). Lenny Dee throws a fit, but the kids disperse in good humor, despite the fact they've driven miles into the wilderness of New York's outer boroughs and paid $15 for a bare three hours of entertainment. All buzzed up and nowhere to go, I'm disappointed too. But at least I can tell my grandchildren I once saw The Mover.
"We want to carve our initials into the body that is history. So that in 20 years people go 'Hardcore techno -- that was PCP!', like punk was the Sex Pistols and rock was the Rolling Stones" ---The Mover, 1993.
Despite the fact that he has created--especially in his more experimental-leaning identities Alien Christ, Pilldriver, Tilt! and Mescalinum United--a body of work as consummate as Jeff Mills's, the Mover is the forgotten man of techno. Yet once upon a time, PCP were briefly "hip". In 1992, Aphex Twin remixed Mescalinum United's classic "We Have Arrived"--a storm-trooper stampede with a blaring bass-riff which blueprinted gabba--for R&S. The Belgian label also released an EP of Mover breakbeat tracks called "Hellrazor" under the moniker Spiritual Combat. In May 1993, the PCP crew even played at Knowledge, the London "pure techno" club founded by Djs Colin Faver and Colin Dale and run on strict anti-breakbeat, anti-hardcore policies.
But this was at the tail-end of rave's golden era, a happier time when Djs as various as Richie Hawtin, Sven Vath, Lenny Dee and Grooverider could play on the same bill, and an individual DJ set might encompass Belgian hardcore, acid-tweakin' proto-trance, breakbeat 'ardkore, even house. By 1993, the rave scene was stratifying, with some following the trance route, some going into jungle, and some abandoning the dancefloor altogether for ambient and experimental techno. Another option--at least in Northern Europe--was gabba.
The G-word is why PCP are never mentioned in "discerning" techno circles. The Mover's music languishes amidst gabba's moronic inferno of headbanger beats, kamikaze bpm's, and testosterone-drenched sadomasochismo. While PCP are heroes in Holland, the home of gabba, its ever-expanding family of sub-labels--Dance Ecstasy 2001, Cold Rush, Powerplant, Futureworld, White Breaks, Kotzaak, Super Special Corps, No Mercy, Pretty Asshole--is an empire in internal exile as regards Germany. PCP's antagonistic attitude has won them few friends. Leathernecks's "At War"--a
Mover production--was a giant and literal fuck-you to Low Spirit, the label/promoters who rule the Deutsch-rave mainstream and are responsible for Berlin's annual Love Parade. The Mover's determined anonymity (apart from a few fanzine interviews, he shuns the press, while PCP has stonewalled my own attempts to interview them for over a year) has also contributed to the label's low profile.
Yet there are signs that the Mover is sick of subterranean existence, hungry for respect. On his Marshall Masters track "I Like It Loud", his hitherto concealed real name--Marc Acardipane--is emblazoned on the front cover, alongside a photograph. He's just released a double-CD anthology, Marc Acardipane--Best of 1989-1997, whose cover also prominently features his German citizen's photo ID card. On the recording front, there's been a flurry of Mover activity, with his Pilldriver/Tilt!
12 inch "Apocalypse Never" /" Hell-E-Copter" on Cold Rush and the launch of an
Acardipane-run experimental label called Adrenacrome. Maybe the Mover's days in the shadows are over. Maybe....
"Mover is dark because it's set in the phuture of mankind.
I can't possibly justify seeing a happy end to this stupid human drama. Darkness is not mystical, it's your everyday reality"--The Mover, speaking to Alien
In some ways, the label that PCP most resembles is Reinforced--albeit a Reinforced stranded in a perpetual 1993, a limbo of making worldshattering music that was barely heard, let alone respected, by people outside the hardcore rave ghetto. By late 1992, PCP--like Reinforced--were on a "journey from the light" that took them into the darkside of drug culture. The two labels share an interest in futurology and millenial doom; compare 4 Hero's Nostradamus-inspired 1993 track "Students of the Future" with Marc Acardipane's apocalyptic phuture-mythos of 2017. And like Reinforced, PCP track titles and cover imagery often evoke ideas of heroic quests or
paramilitary resistance; 4 Hero's first single was "Combat Dancin', while R&S released a various artists PCP EP entitled "Warriors".
Above all, Reinforced and PCP have a similarly ambivalent relationship with the hardcore rave scenes with which they're linked, jungle and gabba. Early on, both labels released hugely popular anthems; yet both rapidly became too "advanced" for their respective scenes. They were shot by both sides: too "musical" and experimental for the rave massive's drug-determined requirements or the crowdpleasing DJ's funktionalist approach, yet --as far as the outside world was
concerned--irretrievably tarred with hardcore's brush. As PCP artist Stickhead (aka Reign, aka Miro) complained to Fallout zine, "The problem is the normal techno scene doesn't want PCP and with the extreme hardcore scene, PCP is too soft somehow". Although it regularly scores with gabba anthems, most of PCP's output is too atmospheric, too well-produced, and, at around 180 b.p.m, too slow for the gabba and terrorcore markets.
Another parallel between Reinforced and PCP is their ambivalent attitude to drug culture. 4 Hero are all straight edge, more or less; whatever their previous exploits may or may not have been, PCP assumed an anti-E stance in early 1993. On the back of the first Dance Ecstasy 2001 compilation, there's a tiny pictogram of a man dropping an MDMA tablet in a wastebasket, plus the legend "E...? Nee!". Talking to the NME in 1993, one of the PCP squad declared: "We've seen so many people get fucked up on E. We go to the clubs and the people are like zombies. Perhaps they started two years ago with half an E.... But in Frankfurt, now they go out and take five or eight Es and you see some people they never come down. Some
people assumed that we take a lot of drugs because of the names we use, like PCP, Mescalinum United... but when we say 'E? No!' perhaps people see that you don't need E to make music, or to enjoy yourselves".
And yet PCP has continued to pander to the E-monster mentality. It's not just the band names (Pilldriver, Freez-E-Style, Trip Commando) and track titles ("E-Loco", "XTC Express", "Hell-E-Copter"). Sonically, this is drug music, no two ways about it. In his populist gabba incarnations--Rave Creator, Leathernecks, Nasty Django, T-Bone Castro, Smash?, Turbulence---Marc Acardipane has come up with a thousand variations on the E-rush activating "mentasm" sound, as invented by Joey Beltram & Mundo Muzique, and then turned into a demonic dirge-drone on Human Resource's "Dominator". He's caned a thousand shades of monstrous monotony out of the
distorted four-to-the-floor kickdrum that is gabba's low-com-denom pulse. (And why shouldn't he exploit the reduced horizons of the Dutch market, when he helped sire gabba in the first place with "We Have Arrived"?).
Just as Reinforced's dark-core delirium of convulsive breakbeats and ectoplasmic textures plugged into the paranoid sensorium of the tripped-out raver in 1992-93, similarly PCP make Ecstasy music bent to the sinister. When MDMA is taken in large amounts over a long period of time, its lovey-dovey, empathy-inducing effects (associated with the neurochemical serotonin) wear off, leaving just the jittery,
amphetamine-like buzz (caused by the neurotransmitter dopamine). Rave's hypergasmic euphoria mutates into a forcefield of "weird energy" (as DJ Hype titled an early track). Ecstasy's warm glow is replaced by an affectless intensity, a cold rush.
Cold Rush is the name of the PCP sister-label through which the Mover has released some of his most inspired music. Beginning in 1993, Acardipane and his comrades started making "music for huge space arenas", tracks whose cavernous reverb transforms even the most cramped club into a giant industrial hangar. At home, on headphones, you feel like you're inside a vast cathedral space carved out beneath the frozen methane crust of Pluto. Like dub and psychedelia, Cold Rush style "gloomcore" plugs into the history of sacred echo, from Gothic churches deliberately designed to swathe the listener in non-localisible mid-and-low frequency reverberance, all the way back to the prehistoric audio-technics of pagan rites conducted in caves and grottoes.
Cold Rush's ten releases to date are steeped in Numanoid melancholy, with piteous, lugubrious melodies that seem to wilt and waver in the air. Although the kickdrum is still pretty fast, around 170-180 bpm, the dirge-like droop of shimmery atmospherics makes gloomcore feel slower than it actually is. Rave Creator's "Astral Demons" and "Thru Eternal Fog" hinge around sickly synth-drones that evoke the hideously voluptuous descent of the Ecstasy comedown. Cypher's "Marchin' Into Madness" (from the gloriously titled EP "Doomed Bunkerloops") kicks off with the vocoderized
query "is anybody out there?". The answer is "no", communicated not by silence but a nauseous vulvo-cosmic churn of sound; underneath, a trudging, parade-ground beat marches you into the center of this demonic mandala-swirl of void-matter. The mentasmic maelstrom sounds like "crank-bugs" (the amphetamine-freak delusion that insects are crawling under your flesh) which have burst the skin and swarmed into a
locust-horde. "The Fog Track" by 8-AM (a pseudonym chosen in honour of those diehards still standing at the rave's bitter end) starts with the histrionic injunction "empy your minds" and fulfils its own command with a frigid inferno of wraith-vapor, simulating the sensory eclipse of the "head rush" (the white-out caused by taking one E too many).
Highlights of the Cold Rush series, all these tracks were produced by Marc Acardipane, and all bear the legend "created somewhere in the lost zones". (One exception is Cold Rush #7, "created in Pressure Zones -- so better take care, Doom Supporter"!). Mover, Reign, and a third mysterious character who records as Renegade Legion and Dr. Macabre have pursued a similar gloomcore direction on Dance Ecstasy 2001 (which more often puts out rave-friendly hardtrance similar to German labels like Noom). Tracks like Reign's "Light and Dark" and "Skeletons March" are all snaky slitherings and clammy, mucoid textures that cling to your skin-surface in a sort of abject inversion of MDMA's sensuous synaesthesia. Co-produced by Acardipane, Inferno Bros's "Slaves To The Rave" is a savagely sarcastic anthem of entrapment and zombiehood, which has nonetheless been embraced sans irony by the Dutch gabba scene.
"Well you know I'm a machine, I'm wired up... I'm roaming the earth
and it's nice and doomy here. The sound of MOVER should speak for itself."
-- Marc Acardipane, talking to Alien Underground.
Not much is known about Acardipane. In the Alien Underground interview, he cites his formative influences as hip hop, acid and the darker side of Detroit--specifically, X-101 (an Underground Resistance alter-ego back when Mad Mike and Mills had more in common with Nordic hardcore than you might imagine) and Suburban Knight's 1990 classic "The Art of Stalking" (whose twitchy trepidation inspired the Mover trilogy "Frontal Sickness", "Frontal Sickness Part 2" and Final Sickness). Other, less reknowned sources for Acardipane's doomier-than-thou sound-and-vision include Belgian proto-gabba outfits like 80 Aum and forgotten rave unit The Mackenzie.
As Kodwo Eshun points out in his book More Brilliant Than The Sun, techno's avoidance of tradpop iconography and its lack of lyrics mean that "peripheral" elements--alter-ego names, track titles, cover imagery, logos, slogans printed on the label or etched into the run-out vinyl--become crucial. PCP releases are as rich in esoterrorist clues and audio-visual triggers as Underground Resistance's ongoing self-mythology. PCP have some of the best artist names and song titles around:
Terrorists's "Prayers of Our Clan," The Mover's "Comet's Swarm Rising" and "Nightflight (nonstop to kaos)", Reign's "The Zombie-Leader Is Approachin'"
EP, Turbulence's "Bass Gladiators", Dr. Macabre's "Dimension of the Doomed", Alien Christ's "The Art of Shredding". The name Renegade Legion makes you think of Kurtz's battalion gone AWOL in the Vietnamese jungle, pursuing unorthdox methods to the mortification of the US military establishment. The Mover alter-ego Mescalinum United manages to simultaneously evoke psychedelic delirium and barmy armies of soccer-thug berserkers. On the visual tip, the logo for Dance Ecstasy 2001 is an
ectoplasmic energy-shape that could be an alien lifeform which insinuates itself into your nervous system and gradually takes control, or the brain-virus incarnation of the "mentasm" sound itself.
"Imagine surveying earth after nuclear destruction and enjoying what you see, that's how it feels when you listen to it."
Marc Acardipane, talking to Alien Underground.
In his Mescalinum United guise, Acardipane has recorded some of his most experimental work. The Mescalinum trilogy of "Symphonies of Steel" EPs escalate from the Die Krupps/Neubauten clangour of "Part One" to the Merzbow-like gabba concrete cacophony of "Part 3". In between came "Jupiter Pulse", the B-Side of "Symphonies of Steel: The Second Level"--a foray into what Acardipane has called "sick ambient," a beat-less deathscape of noxious fumes and aftermath atmospherics. If most PCP music
has a militaristic feel, a blitzkrieg surge towards wargasmic release, "Jupiter Pulse" is the sound of post-coital/post-catastrophic tristesse. Perhaps frustrated by the lack of recognition garnered by his detours into isolationist abstraction (which certainly bear comparison with, say, Porter Ricks or the superb new Plastikman album Consumed), Acardipane's new label Adrenacrome is devoted to experimental electronica. The metallic, glossily reflective sleeves break with gabba's traditional iconography of horror-movie grotesquerie and are more suggestive of a trendy minimalist techno imprint. Ironically, and despite the promising name ("adrenachrome" is a mythical adrenalin-based drug mentioned in Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas that reputedly feels like being plugged into a million-volt socket), Acardipane's first 8 track EP via the label is far less interesting than his gabba-affiliated output.
Yearnings for credibility aside, Acardipane knows which side his bread is buttered. I doubt that he'll ever renounce the populist pull of the hardcore market. His latest Marshall Masters release "I Like It Loud" is a joyfully cretinized stomp of gabba volksmusik with a melody-riff that sounds like the Oompah-Loompahs's song in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And in the sleevenotes to Marc Acardipane--Best 1989-97, he bigs up the Rotterdam massive with a matey "to all you dutch gabbers, nuff respect and stay hard-core for the year 2017."
Despite occasional stabs at electro-style jittery rhythm-programming (Mescalinum United's "Vs Evil") and breakbeat science (from 1992's Spiritual Combat EP to his jokey jungle-meets-classical novelty record released as Beethoven), Acardipane has mostly stuck with the monolithic four-to-the-floor kick drum. Gabba's "funklessness" may be the ultimate barrier to Acardipane's rehabilitation and recognition by the techno cognoscenti. Gabba's piledriver pummel is unrelenting and monotonous, but it doesn't have to be braindead. PCP's punisher-beats are
cunningly inflected, alternating between saturated intensity and stripped-down severity. Above all, creativity comes into play with the timbral density of the kick itself: how thick, how wide, how voluptuously concussive each cranium-denting impact can be. When gabba fans groan the chant "need a bass!", they're not actually talking about bass in the conventional sense, but rather the trampoline-like boinggg of the smearily distorted kickdrum. Mover and his PCP comrades have created symphonies in four-to-the-floor like Tilt!'s "Pitch-Hiker" and Miro's "Bass Drum Elevation", multi-tiered architectures constructed out of just kicks, claps and hi-hats, plus the halo of reverb and the gated crispness of attack. What this music offers is a different kind of rhythmic compulsion to funk's syncopated grooves: a white-line fervour of tunnel-vision fixation. Jonathan "Roadrunner" Richman and Neu! would understand.
Anyway, as a musical attribute, "funk" is just the tiniest bit over-rated, don't you think? Whenever a dance genre starts pining for a return to "da funk", it's a sure sign of encroaching debility. Detroit-pietist UK techno started to become irrevelant round about the time producers began prattling about "phunk", while drum & bass's current two-step-and-acridly-convoluted-bassline stagnation is accompanied by
similar funkster rhetoric. You can hear the same kind of talk from 1998's most ludicrous micro-genre--"nu skool breaks" aka "subfunk"--which is basically "intelligent big beat", big beat with all the fun taken out of it.
All these scenes began as anti-cheese manoeuvres by hipsters hoping to alienate the rave audience. What I love about PCP and the Mover's work is that they're not scared to risk being corny: along with the exquisitely nuanced textures, there's always a big fat hook for the ravefloor massive. Jungle lost its common touch last year, its last gasp of cheesy-quaver-ness being Doc Scott's "Shadow Boxing", with its almost comically doomladen riff (a sort of cosmic scowl). Here's hoping that Marc Acardipane never loses his flair for the all-conquering, avant-lumpen cliche.
Marc Acardipane classics
The Mover -- Frontal Sickness
--Frontal Sickness Pt 2
Mescalinum United --We Have Arrived
--Symphonies of Steel, Pt 1
--Symphonies of Steel: The Second Level
--Symphonies of steel, Part 3
Alien Christ --Of Suns and Moons (Phase II)
Inferno Bros. --Slaves To the Rave (First Rave Age Mix)
Pilldriver/Tilt! --Apocalypse Never/Hell-E-Copter
The Mover & Rave Creator --Atmos-Fear
Marshall Masters --Stereo Murder
Trip Commando --Energy Tanks
--3rd Trip Phase (from Temple Tunes Volume 1)
Cypher -- Doomed Bunkerloops EP
PCP/Dance Ecstasy 2001/Cold Rush/Powerplant classics
Project AE --Whales Alive
Renegade Legion --Torsion/Dark Forces
Reign --Chapter II: the Zombie-Leader Is Approachin'
Miro --Blue Sun/Bass Drum Elevation
Dr Macabre --Voodoo Nightmare from Ghost Stories:
Hypnotizer/Oliver Chesler --Superpower (Things To Come Records)
Bigger, Bolder, Better (CNR)
Marc Acardipane--Best of 1989-98
Frankfurt Trax, Vol 1 -- 5 (PCP)
vintage 1995 interview with the Mover from Alien Underground zine
from May 1993 issue of iD (the Europe issue)
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
The World of Arthur Russell
Uncut, February 2004
by Simon Reynolds
It's an unlikely story: avant-garde cellist sees the light in a disco glitterball at New York gay club The Gallery and decides disco is the ultimate modern format for exploring minimalist composition.
In the mid-'70s, Russell — conservatory-trained, a scholar of Eastern music forms, steeped in the ideas of Steve Reich and Terry Riley — was blown away by the engulfing quality of music transmitted over a massive club sound system and literally entranced by disco's use of repetition. Over the next decade, collaborating with New York's leading DJ/remixers and recording engineer Bob Blank, Russell produced a series of captivatingly quirky 12-inches under a variety of aliases — Dinosaur L, Indian Ocean, Loose Joints — in the process establishing an enduring cult reputation.
Russell's most famous tunes, the dub-sluiced Dada-disco of 'Go Bang' and the relatively conventional-sounding 'Is It All Over My Face' (not the plaint of someone eating spaghetti bolognese but a club goer who can't hide his attraction to another dancer), pop up regularly on compilations. But most of Russell's oeuvre is near impossible to find, with obscurities like 'In The Light Of The Miracle' fetching huge sums on eBay. Now Soul Jazz have punctured that little market and done us all a favour by compiling some of Russell's best moments (including 'Miracle'). And 2004 will see a long-overdue Russell reissue programme kick into overdrive, with re-releases and compilations from Rough Trade and the Audika label.
'Let's Go Swimming', originally released on Rough Trade in 1986, might just be Russell's finest five minutes. It's impossible dance music. Waves of polyrhythmically perverse percussion jumble your urges, confounding your body with discontinuities of beat and strange cross-rhythms. This is disco for contortionists or an alien race blessed with an odd number of limbs. All thermal updrafts and tidal currents, the mix really does sound aqueous — synthesisers gibber like dolphins and bright sound-clusters dart, swerve, double-back and vanish like shoals of exotic fish. 'Let's Go Swimming' makes me think of a kinetic, animated version of a late-period Matisse, one of his deliberately naive seascapes made of cut-out blocks of blue and green. 'Keeping Up' and 'A Little Lost' are more in the non-dance vein of Russell's other Rough Trade release, 1987's World of Echo. Accompanied by his own effects-treated cello, hand percussion and acoustic guitar, Russell sings meandering, rapturous melodies in a bleary, beatific mumble. Vaguely reminiscent of John Martyn on Solid Air, Russell had a wonderful voice — indistinct around the edges, eerily lacking a stable centre, a gorgeous fuzzy cloud of longing and languor that seems to wrap itself around you in a gaseous embrace.
For precursors, think of Can's cosmic funk, Martyn at his most and dub-flecked ('I'd Rather Be The Devil', 'Big Muff'), Weather Report. For contemporaries, think Czukay's sunkissed Movies, the alien time signatures of Ryuichi Sakamoto's B-2 Unit, the strange new emotions and inbetween mindstates of Thomas Leer's 4 Movements, Remain In Light-era Talking Heads (who Russell almost joined at one point). Successors: the lush digital foliage of A Guy Called Gerald and 808 State, Bjork at her most undulant and jazztronic, the texturological and rhythmatic convolutions of drum'n'bass explorers like 4 Hero. Russell really is the lost visionary that these parallels suggest.
The World Of Arthur Russell is splendid but in truth only scratches the surfaces of Russell's officially released work (plus there's mountains of unreleased material originally deemed too kooky for the '80s post-disco market). In parallel with his "dance" output, Russell made more experimental/instrumental records like Tower Of Meaning, while World Of Echo suggests a third path for him as a sort of kooky singer-songwriter (in moments you can imagine him as a peer to Joni, Rickie Lee or Mary Margaret O'Hara). Sadly, Arthur died in 1992, before truly fulfilling any of these potentials, but along the way left a trail scattered with gems of scatty genius.
"Let's Go Swimming"
Singles Column, Melody Maker, October 11th 1986
by Simon Reynolds
Friday, March 20, 2015
Thursday, March 5, 2015
Original Pirate Material (Locked On)
Uncut, April 2002
by Simon Reynolds
Just when you think pop’s got no more surprises up its sleeve, along comes a record that proves there’s always a new twist around the corner. Original Pirate Material is the first record in a long while I’ve wanted to play again immediately after it’s finished; the sort where you have to ration the number of plays in order to pace your pleasure, to avoid using up all its joy too soon. It’s a little eerie how the album keeps getting better (the first track, though stunning, is the weakest!), how it never flags.
The Streets is Mike Skinner, 22 years old, from
a beat-maker and rhyme-spitter. On this debut album, Skinner’s taken what is
already the only truly exciting development in British dance culture--MCs rapping
over UK garage--and singlehandedly pushed it to the next level. So far UK garage MCs
haven’t gone much beyond their original function in hardcore and jungle: hyping
the crowd, bigging up the DJ, extolling their own skills. By contrast, Skinner
is really saying something, telling stories etched with such a richness of
observation and reference and emotional nuance that So Solid Crew,
tirelessly/tiresomely railing against playa-haters, suddenly look awfully
mono-thematic. If So Solid are 2-step’s NWA, The Streets is something like its
Rakim, De La Soul, Nas.
Original Pirate Material is a massive gauntlet throwdown to Skinner’s peers. “This ain’t a track, it’s a movement,” he declares on “Let’s Push Things Forward”--a clarion call for aesthetic ambition and real content, with Skinner decrying formula (the nuff-catchy chorus goes “You say that everything sounds the same/Then you go buy them/There’s no excuses my friend”) and mocking the forked-American-tongue of gangsta-wannabes (“Around here we say birds not bitches”). The Englishness comes through not just in his slanguage (all the “geezers” and “dodgy fucks”) but sonically too. All mournful roots-reggae horns and skankin’ B-line, “Let’s Push” echoes The Specials’ “Ghost Town” while the balalaika-laced “Too Much Brandy” sounds like a homage to “Stereotypes” from the muzak-influenced More Specials. A hilariously vivid tale of a bender to end all benders, “Too Much Brandy” is suffused with a wry, bleak humour that recalls Terry Hall. It’s a
London, Skinner points out, UK garage isn’t
a club phenomenon, it’s music for driving or for stay-at-home smokers. “Has It
Come To This,” his unlikely hit single about ”a day in the life of a geezer,” captures this submerged reality of
dance culture: the iceberg bulk of people who dig the music but don’t go out
often, ‘cos they can’t afford the bar prices or the brand-name gear required
for larging-it. Instead, they save their hard-earned cash for drugs and get
wasted at home, locked into the pirate signal, surrounded by PlayStation and
similar pleasure-tech. “All Got Our Runnins,” a song about being broke, is even
more radical in UK garage’s flash-yer-cash context. All spend and no thrift,
the protagonist is paying for last week’s “living
for the moment,” dodging the landlord, eking out “one beer to last all evening,” trying to smuggle brandy into clubs,
and hanging around his mum’s house ‘cos his own larder’s empty.
Skinner’s persona mixes old-head-on-young-shoulders with there-but-for-the grace-of-God-go-I. He’s intimately acquainted with the working-class culture of consolation but, like Irvine Welsh, he’s too smart not to see through it, to the desolation that fuels its desperate forms of release. “Same Old Things” evokes the treadmill grind of prole leisure, a mind-numbing miasma of booze, birds, and bovver. “Geezers Need Excitement” diagnoses ruckus as both a safety valve for boredom and as symptom of the hard-man culture of respect-maintenance. “The Irony of It All” is a comic take on the same idea. Skinner brilliantly acts two characters across alternating verses: lairy lout Terry versus Tim, a student who home-makes bongs and knows all the statistics in favour of legalization. “In the eyes of society I need to be in jail/For the choice of herbs I inhale…We pose no threat on my settee,” reasons Tim, but he’s such an irritatingly smug know-it-all you’re almost glad when his path crosses Terry’s and he gets a battering.
It’s breathtaking the way Skinner takes English idiom and cadence--even soft-spoken Tim’s prissy speech patterns--then works it into a flow that’s pure B-boy. Rarely resorting to black British slang or patois, he creates an authentic poetic spark from the base materials of
UK demotic language. There’s that
same electric sensation you got on first hearing 3D and Tricky Kid rhyming on Blue Lines, when all of a sudden that
stillborn child, BritRap, seemed like it might have life in it yet. Indeed,
tracks like “Turn the Page” and “It’s Too Late” actually recall the
string-swept majesty of “Unfinished Sympathy.”
Elsewhere, you flash on John Cooper-Clarke, or imagine Jarvis Cocker if
he’d grown up on nothing but street beats, emcees and Class A’s.
Speaking of Pulp, “Weak Become Heroes” shoves “Sorted for E’s and Whizz” off its throne as the definitive double-edged evocation of rave’s dream-and-lie. A house classic playing in a café triggers a Proustian flashback to Skinner’s Ecstacy baptism five years earlier. Adrift on memory bliss, scrambled images unfurl in his mind’s eye of that magical night when every stranger became a friend and “all of life’s problems I just shake off.” The chorus mashes together a soul singer crooning, “Weak become heroes/And the stars align,” with Skinner’s all-choked up, “We all smile/We all sing,” over a soft-focus piano-vamp looped for eternity. Outside on the street, “memories smoulder” but the real world’s unchanged (“new beats though”). The promised revolution never came, and Skinner’s life’s “been up and down since I walked from that crowd.”
With its steadfast locked groove and inspirational chorus (“just try staying positive”), the gorgeous “Stay Positive” conjures a mood of martial resilience in the face of all “the dark shit.” Skinner counsels keeping away from pain-killing narcotics and instead proposes true love and follow-your-dreams individualism as sole rays of sunshine in the murk. “I ain’t helping you climb the ladder/I’m busy climbing mine/That’s how it’s been since the dawn of time.” A shortfall of vision, maybe, this rejection of solidarity and political solutions, this buying into the big lie of anyone-can-make-it. But then Skinner “ain’t no preaching fucker and I ain’t no do-goody-goody either,” and he wouldn’t be half the poet if he was. “Stay Positive” ends the album like “Feed Me” did with Maxinquaye, with a necessary mirage of hope. Indeed, Tricky’s debut--a dispatch from the front lines of the chemical degeneration, a street-level survey of
Britain’s stasis quo--is the best
parallel for Original Pirate Material.
It’s that good.