... your heart out
“We’re 1990’s pop,” sang The Prats on their signature tune Disco Pope. I think, at the time, they were distancing themselves from everything else that was going in 1980, and aligning the group with the future. But, I wonder what The Prats imagined 1990’s pop would be like? And that apostrophe does suggest that very specifically they were referring to 1990. Who could have predicted that the guy behind one of that year’s defining moments, Adamski, would be like The Prats a former child star of the Fast Product Earcom series? So what was 1990’s pop like? I have been thinking a lot about the pop music of 1990 recently. Mainly I have been thinking about 1990’s pop because of a cassette tape I found in what I had assumed for 20-odd years to be a case of Northern Soul compilations which friends had taped or put together for me once upon a time. Looking through the tapes, out of curiosity, having recently bought a cassette recorder for £5 in a charity shop, I was surprised to find one cassette that was actually a collection of tracks I’d taped, pretty randomly, off the radio sometime around October 1990. I had no idea I still had anything like this tape. I have no real affection for the cassette format, but this was a pretty exciting discovery. The cassette itself is a BASF Chrome Extra II 90 stored inside a case with a TDK D90 (IEC/TYPE I NORMAL POSITION) inlay card with the track titles written down by me, I suspect using a blue Berol rollerball. I never really got on with those pens, being left-handed, and tended to smudge the ink but this looks unusually neat. At that time I was in the habit of taping tracks off the radio that interested me. If I changed my mind, I would simply rewind and tape another track over the top. That goes some way towards explaining why the sound quality is so poor, and why the tape itself seems so vulnerable, on the verge of destruction. It also explains why occasionally there are merely snippets of songs and unidentified bursts of music. KISS FM had that September just started broadcasting legally in London, and the station was initially an exciting alternative. For a short while it successfully struck a precarious balance between the revolutionary spirit of the pirate stations and the commercial pressures of the pop stations. There was also a certain convenience in listening to KISS rather than the pirates as the reception was strong in my part of south east London, so there was no need to mess about with aerials, and the DJs tended to actually give out some information about the tracks they played. There were certain shows I listened to on a regular basis in the early days of the legalised KISS, and the music on this rediscovered cassette reflects the mixture of house, techno and hip-hop in various guises that was broadcast. What’s missing from this cassette is the reggae. KISS had great shows by Manasseh,
Joey Jay’s Word, Sound and Power and David Rodigan, and I had a different set of tapes for the reggae tracks that caught my fancy. Martin Campbell’s Wicked Rule is one track that sticks in my mind as a big tune from the early days of KISS, and names that come back to me include Aba Shanti, Dub Judah, Alpha and Omega, and particularly The Disciples. Some people seem to have great collections of entire radio shows, but I just taped bits and bobs for a short while in late 1990, in much the same way as I had with John Peel and the earlier evening shows on Radio One a decade earlier. This one surviving tape from late 1990 nevertheless tells a story, but as with any snapshot of a moment it can be misleading. Musically, my interests at the time were three-fold. Primarily, I would spend my (very little) money and (a lot of) time searching charity shops, boot fairs, the basements of Record and Tape Exchange, etc. for abandoned vinyl. This was the golden age when you could pick up all sorts of treasure for next-to-nothing as people made the switch to CDs or more simply grew up and had no time or space for their old vinyl. I was particularly searching for old soul and reggae stuff, disco too, but also punk (and beyond) singles which I couldn’t afford or find as a kid. Secondly, I was emotionally involved with stubbornly inventive underground pop groups at the time, putting out records, putting on live events in a variety of curiously quaint central London pub function rooms These things meant a lot to a small number of people. And then there were the new sounds. I didn’t go to clubs. I hated crowds. I couldn’t stand smoke, dry ice, flashing lights. The idea of dancing in a field was hateful. But a lot of the music associated with club culture appealed enormously. And as things moved so quickly it was relatively easy to pick up cheap copies of many great singles at that time. 1990 was a particularly good year for pop music, and this rediscovered cassette is a great way to demonstrate that. I’m tempted to quote one of my favourite songs of the time, A Man Called Adam’s Barefoot in the Head, and the Rod McKuen sample: “I put a seashell to my ear and it all comes back to me”. But it’s really more pleasantly complicated than that. It might be more appropriate to come over all Max Bygraves/Prince Far I and refer to that song, Deck of Cards. There’s something about this cassette, looking at it, listening to it, that reveals so much. Andrew Weatherall (one of 1990’s heroes) once said in an interview that he spent £500 on a rare rockabilly 45 by a singer he knew nothing about, and that he was determined not to do any research for fear that it might ruin the romance of the whole thing. I know what he means, and I admire his resolve. But my curiosity would never let me leave things alone in that way. And, actually, I find research rarely shatters the mystery, and instead adds layers of links and creates cobwebs of connections. I have a passion to learn. Much of the music on this cassette lies outside my own special interests, but it did once grab my attention. So ... This is 1990’s pop ...
SIDE 1 MARINA VAN-ROOY – SLY ONE Although this is listed as the first song on the inlay card, the song itself doesn’t seem to be on the tape, except perhaps in a spectral sense. This slinky slice of pop perfection was everywhere at the time, so perhaps there was no need to leave it on the cassette. And it’s haunted me ever since. Indeed the first ever issue of YHO ended on this note:
MR MONDAY – PUSHING I didn’t know the song title at the time, and I don’t recall hearing the track in more recent times. It is a home-grown, high-spirited rave pop take on deep house, with the full-on gospel vocals of Eusebe providing the positivity. I suspect I wouldn’t choose to tape the tune on spec now. At the time, though, I remember being very taken with the idea of deep house, and loved the soulful take on things. Interestingly this track seems to have been on the Elevation Inc. label which was I believe run by Roy the Roach and Judge Jules. Judge Jules himself was one of the DJs on KISS when it went legit, if I remember rightly. He was involved with an earlier Mr Monday 12” too, Appreciate, which featured vocals by Debbion Currie who was in the early line-up of Colourbox. Mr Monday was a great name for the time: certainly suggesting a link to Mr Fingers. Mr Monday himself was Simon Monday, a name I associate with Mark Stewart’s 1996 LP, Control Data, where he is credited as Simon Mundey and co-wrote and ‘directed’ pretty much all the tracks. Biographical notes stress that Simon’s roots were in the early ‘80s post-punk sounds of DAF, PiL, Cabaret Voltaire, etc. so there is something very appropriate about him working with one of the great heroes of that era. Control Data is such a strange LP. Adrian Sherwood is still at the
controls, and Doug Wimbish and Skip McDonald are present. But the music does seem to have an incongruous rave pop element at times. And Mark is at his split-personality best. The opening track, the anti-consumerist lament Dream Kitchen, is perhaps the most moving track Mark has produced, with brilliant backing vocals from Bim Sherman, Jennie Matthias of the Belle Stars and Valerie Skeete of Akabu. Elsewhere, though, Mark aligns himself with the likes of Underground Resistance and the Digital Hardcore community when he just might have been excused for exploring Bristol blues and roots. The most overtly reggae-influenced track, interestingly one Simon Monday wasn’t involved with, is Scorpio, which is the identity used by Roni Size and DJ Die. NIGHTMARES ON WAX – AFTERMATH Now this is instantly familiar, and it’s a track I’ve played a lot over the past 20odd years. I am a big fan of the ‘bleep’ generation, and really thought the Yorkshire take on things circa 1990 was one of those pockets of pop activity blessed by special forces, like The Sound of Young Scotland in 1980-ish. I don’t think I really was thinking in terms of Warp Records in October 1990, but it was striking that two of the best hit records of the year were on this new label, that is LFO and Aftermath. Oddly, I never warmed to the Tricky Disco tracks on Warp as much. I think from media coverage, though, I was aware of connections, certainly geographically, to Unique 3 who I thought were just about the best in pop music at the time. Aftermath still sounds so incredibly thrilling. The ‘bleep’ sound in general is something I still adore, and rightly or wrongly I tend to associate it with the Network label and acts like Rhythmatic and Nexus 21 just as much as I do with Warp, and loved the fact that a leading figure from the Northern Soul scene was involved with that record company. At the time I was really taken by the jazzy crispness of the sound, the renegade snares, the ping-pong bass deep down, the simplistic synth melodies and bleeps suggestive of Stylophones, electronic games and arcade cacophony. It was a step forward from 4/4 hard beat tyranny. And I was obsessed by the idea of active background noise, as advocated by the Fire Engines, and stripping things down, functional sounds which with their broken beats could be used as a spur and accompanying clatter for when words came in spurts and I would be bashing away at the keys of a battered typewriter. In retrospect the great thing about Nightmares on Wax and Unique 3 in particular was the way their music incorporated all the things they loved. Their LPs of that era are incredibly important. In simplistic terms, the music they were making had elements of soul, funk, jazz, electro, hip-hop, dub, dancehall, house and techno in certain ratios. That mix sounds common-or-garden now, but it was a radical agenda at the time. It was as if they had absorbed all the dancefloor developments of the ‘80s and used these to create a new underground pop sound. This was the B-boys’ revenge. The credits and dedications on the records are revealing. Unique 3’s Jus’ Unique mentions contemporaries such as A Guy Caled Gerald, Demon Boyz, Fresh 4, Smith and Mighty, Soul II Soul, and Loose Ends. Nightmares on Wax, on the other hand, mention influences and inspirations such as James Brown, Derrick May, George Clinton, Nitro Deluxe, Scientist, Kevin Saunderson, Marley Marl, Quincy Jones, Afrika Bambaata, Kool and the Gang, and The 45 King.
That 1991 Nightmares on Wax LP, A Word of Science: The 1st and Final Chapter, is particularly significant too for the easy listening elegance of the opener, Nights Interlude, a reflective, downbeat melodic number with just the right mix of wooziness and bite. It woud prove to be a massive factor in shaping what would become the Mo’Wax aesthetic. It was also a bold opening statement at a time when tempos were being accelerated alarmingly. FORTRAN 5 – LOVE BABY I had completely forgotten about Fortran 5, but I can see why this single appealed so much. It’s an electro ballad almost as slinky and seductive as Marina’s Sly One. It’s got a real Moroder meets Lipps Inc. feel to it, which is very much in its favour. And talking of favours, the executive producer of Love Baby was Colin Faver whose show on KISS FM in its early legit days was one of the highlights of the week. I seem to remember him playing the harder, more experimental techno tracks. It was rivetting listening for a while. At the time I had no idea about his story: how he’d worked at the Small Wonder shop in Walthamstow, got involved in running the Final Solution agency with Kevin Millins promoting so many of the pivotal London live events during the postpunk era , became resident DJ at Camden Palace and later played Rage at Heaven. There seems no earthly reason why Colin Faver shouldn’t have made that particular journey from Small Wonder punk to top techno DJ. The scene featured numerous other characters who had migrated from the postpunk/electronic music world. The guys behind Fortran 5, Simon Leonard and D a v e B a r k e r ,
had been Mute outfit I Start Counting. Peter Coyle once of the Lotus Eaters was part of the Eight Productions team in Liverpool, and among the people they recorded with was Jayne Casey once of Pink Military/Industry who would go on to be a major player in the city’s club culture. 808 State’s Graham Massey had been in the Factory group Biting Tongues. More Factory characters Simon Topping and Mike Pickering were in T-Coy. Richard H. Kirk was everywhere at once, recording frantically for Warp, Network and others as part of Sweet Exorcist, XON, and so on. The Shamen were, well, The Shamen. If? featured Sean McLusky, Rob Marche and Dave Collard from Subway Sect/Jo Boxers. Former editor of Zigzag Kris Needs started Secret Knowledge. The Grid’s Dave Ball was in Soft Cell. Jeremy Healy had been in Haysi Fantazee, Ultramarine had been A Primary Industry. The Raincoats’ Vicky Aspinal went on to run the very successful Fresh label. Guerilla Records was run by Dick O’Dell who’d managed The Pop Group and was behind the great Y Records. His partner in Guerilla was William Orbit who seems to have had links to the Centro Iberico Spanish anarchist/squat collective. The idiots from Underworld had been in Freur. The Orb/KLF axis had Bill Drummond and Youth who once could have been bandmates in Killing Joke. Jah Wobble popped up here and there. Gudrun Gut of Malaria! And Mania D would later run the excellent Monika Enterprises label. Palais Schaumberg was a springboard for Thomas Fehlman, Moritz von Oswald and Holger Hiller. See? The Fortran 5 song Love Baby features on their Mute LP, Blues. Holger Hiller gets a production credit, as do Colin Faver, Thrash from The Orb and Russell Haswell. There are some very likeable tracks on there, but I suspect it is best remembered for its Sid James cover to fit in with the Bike (Sid Sings Syd) conceit. This was essentially snippets of Sid James dialogue painstakingly cutup (or, rather, carved-up!) to recreate Syd Barrett’s Bike. It’s amusing, it’s impressive, but the concept is incredibly irritating after a while, and seems to have been a precursor of those very arch, very knowing but endlessly pointless modern art conceptual works people like Jeremy Deller get ridiculously praised for. THE SCIENTIST – THE EXORCIST “Our religion teaches us to be intelligent. Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.” Message to the Grass Roots Malcolm X, Detroit, November 10, 1963 I always think of this as the ‘Cemetery’ song, and it’s indelibly linked in my mind with 4hero’s Mr Kirk’s Nightmare. They were played a lot on KISS FM at the time, and both became minor hits on new, small independents. And both tracks, with their sinister samples, have a real sense of menace and exuberance. They still sound electrifying and frightening, reminding me then and now of the way some songs would burst from the radio like anonymous surges of energy and invention in the punk era: The Wasps’ Teenage Treats, The Models’ Man of the Year, The Users’ Kicks in Style, etc. Who was playing tracks like this on KISS in 1990? Colin Faver, probably, but also Colin Dale if I remember rightly. Colin Dale’s show was another programme I tried to catch in the early days of KISS. He went on to compile some LPs for Kickin, the label that put out The Scientist single, so that makes sense. And
while these records were mixed in with all sorts of other electronic music, there was definitely a new sound emerging: breakneck breakbeat techno, accelerated hip-hop, rough house with reggae sauce. And as with the punk explosion the new noise was at its best when the activity was DIY, made by future primitives in their bedrooms or ricketty low-budget studios. When did these rushes and rumbles become codified as hardcore, and why? Together had a big hit with Hardcore Uproar in the summer of 1990, and that was a brilliant title for a pop single. There was a subsidiary of Streetsounds in the late ‘80s called Hardcore. But generally I hate the term hardcore, and I hate labels. Hardcore has horrible fundamentalist connotations. Certainly in a punk context the harder/faster brigade roared off up a blind alley with no interesting views. But if the term is to be accepted for its convenience then it should be in a building context: the rubble or debris from demolished buildings that provides foundations. That makes more sense. The Scientist was Phil Sebastiane who recorded with DJ Hype. Phil, it seems, came from a background where as a kid he was interested in the Depeche Mode/Mute into industrial beat sounds. Hype had connections to the Shut Up and Dance camp, with more of a Two Tone, reggae soundsystem, hip-hop background. After The Exorcist, another single by The Scientist appeared almost immediately on Kickin: this was The Bee, which again got played to death on KISS and made the lower parts of the singles charts. Again, this beein-the-bassbin track still sounds phenomenal. The Scientist and Hype also recorded as Kicksquad on Kickin, scoring another minor hit in late 1990 with the more reggae-influenced Sound Clash (Champion Sound).
Kickin is a fascinating label. Early releases seem to have utilised the technical expertise of Ralph Ruppert, an experienced engineer/producer who had worked with people such as Terence Trent D’Arby and Wet Wet Wet before this run of Kickin tracks. The label itself was set up by Peter Harris, who came from a reggae background: he may have played guitar with Brimstone, for example but don’t quote me on that. As things developed, the label flourished, releasing all sorts of mad records by the likes of Shut Up and Dance, Zero Zero, Messiah and Xenophobia. The label became an umbrella organisation, diversifying and thriving, with subsidiaries such as Slip ‘n’ Slide (De’Lacy’s Hideaway!) and Hardleaders (Decoder’s Dissection!). Peter tragically died from cancer in January 2008. Perhaps the most significant Kickin release is the compilation: The Lovers Rock Story. This came out in 2004, and focused on the releases on the actual Lovers Rock label, and the classic recordings made in the Brockley basement studio
by label owner Dennis Harris, with Dennis Bovell and John Kpiaye, such as Brown Sugar’s I’m In Love With A Dreadlocks and Cassandra’s If You’re Not Back In Love By Monday. From the sleevenotes it emerged Dennis Harris was Peter’s father, which prompts a fascinating question: has there been any other father and son combination which has been so integrally involved with such important aspects of British pop culture? Dennis ran an incredible network or succession of small UK reggae labels in the 1970s, a mish-mash of imports and homegrown (often lovers rock before it was known as lovers rock) recordings, including DIP International, Lucky, Rama, Serious Business, Eve, Concrete Jungle and Lovers Rock. He was instrumental in the success of Susan Cadogan’s Hurt So Bad in 1975, initially leasing it for DIP then in turn leasing it to Pete Waterman at Magnet, home of Alvin Stardust and Silver Convention, where it became a hit in the real world. And Rama was where Dennis Bovell released his legendary 4th Street Orchestra recordings. I would dearly love to read the intertwined stories of Dennis and Peter Harris in far more detail. SOUND OF SHOOM – I HATE HATE “There's so much hate going on today. On the right and on the left. You see, we hate our brothers. Yes, we do, and we hate our own self”. Ah. Danny Rampling at the controls. Another slice of uplifting, soulful house, with Eusebe on the vocals again. Danny Rampling is, I confess, someone I have absolutely no interest in, as a person, promoter, producer or DJ. And I hate all that rubbish about ‘four guys go to Ibiza and the world’s never the same again’. There are, however, two interesting things about this track. One is the choice of song itself. It wasn’t until I got the first of the Country Got Soul LPs on Ross Allen’s Casual label in 2003-ish that I heard the original by Razzy (Bailey) in all its glory. That was an incredibly important collection that first Country Got Soul set, tracing the interface between the southern country and rhythm ‘n’ blues traditions. Robert Gordon had covered some of this ground in his magnificent, imagination-fuelling It Came From Memphis. There’d been Barney Hoskyns too, with his Say It One Time For The Brokenhearted: Country Soul In The American South, but I hate his anti-romantic writing, and find his dullness so incredibly wearing. But this compilation was a real joy, and an invaluable aid in fitting certain jigsaw pieces together. For example, one of the tracks featured, George Soulé’s Get Involved was a track that was played a lot on the rare groove scene in London in the late ‘80s. The person who kicked off the whole Country Got Soul thing was Jeb Loy Nichols, and I think he will have been behind introducing faces on the London club scene to some of these sounds. I like the cut of Jeb’s jib. You can trace his name back to the 1981 On-U Sound (Cherry Red) collection, Wild Paarty Sounds, and the Things That Made U.S. collaboration with his old squatmate Adrian Sherwood as Jeb Loy and the Oil Wells. I have to confess I’ve never heard any of Jeb’s LPs, but have noted his name over the years, contributing distinctive artwork for the (On-U affiliated) Pressure Sounds and Maximum Pressure labels, and more recently contributing to the Caught By The River site with selections of and stories about old country soul 45s.
The other interesting thing about the Sound of Shoom single is that it was put out by Creation Records. There has been plenty of rubbish written about the Creation coven and Damascene conversions during the Acid House era, but one practical by-product of this was the label putting out some records vaguely related to what was going on in the clubs. And it has to be said releases like Cascades by Sheer Taft, Philly by Fluke, and Hypnotone’s output, were infinitely more interesting than the more standard fare like Ride, Telescopes, Swervedriver and Slowdive. DREAM WARRIORS – MY DEFINITION OF A BOOMBASTIC JAZZ STYLE The Dream Warriors were everywhere at the time of this tape. And I adored the two hits they had in 1990: this one and the earlier Wash Your Face In My Sink. There was a Gang Starr collaboration, too, which was brilliant: I Lost My Ignorance. I have to admit I haven’t listened to the Canadian hip-hop duo much if at all in the past 20 years, but hearing My Definition again reminds me how much fun the Dream Warriors seemed when they burst on the scene. Jazz rap was quite the thing at the time: Stetsasonic’s Talkin' All That Jazz and Gang Starr’s It’s A Jazz Thing fanned the flames, De La Soul, the D.A.I.S.Y. age and Native Tongues collective added a splash of colour. And the jazz-dance tradition in the UK was booming. Indeed, the Dream Warriors apparently were at one of the Sunday Afternoon at Dingwalls sessions when Gilles Peterson played Quincy Jones’ Soul Bossa Nova, which My Definition would be built around. In fact, the duo’s approach on this track was almost akin to the vocalese tradition where singers would add their own lyrics to well-known jazz tunes, like Annie Ross with Twisted and Mark Murphy with Stolen Moments.
Gilles Peterson and Patrick Forge in the early legit days of KISS FM were very much behind the Dream Warriors. I’m not sure if in 1990 Gilles’ show was called the Vibrazone, and Patrick’s the Cosmic Jam, but that’s what the programmes came to be known as. Gilles was in 1990 a recent big signing to the station, conveniently having been sacked a little earlier by Jazz FM for playing ‘peace’ themed songs in the run-up to the Gulf War. Both Gilles’ and Patrick’s shows could be essential listening in the early ‘90s. They’d pretty much play whatever they fancied, joining the dots between the old and the new, music with a very loose jazz connection. And they could provoke very strong feelings with their approach, but I owe them a lot. Naturally, they played some rubbish, but some of the things they played, some of the sounds they introduced me to, were life-changing.
And one thing I do remember about the Dream Warriors is a Top of the Pops performance for My Definition, with live vocals, where the two guys are dressed in parkas or duffel-type coats and stalk the stage with their gold canes (“but no gold chains”) with considerable aplomb and presence. DEFINITION OF SOUND – NOW IS TOMORROW Immediate impressions linger: I can vividly recall hearing Jay Strongman play this on KISS. It seemed to tear out of the radio like a cyclone. And it still sounds like a ball of energy: the languid MCs, the diverting diva, the martial beat, the pounding bass drum, the swirls of ‘60s psychedelia. It didn’t seem to take off in 1990, but by the following spring the Wear Your Love Like Heaven single tore up the singles chart, with Kevwon and The Don bouncing around like hyperactive day-glo cartoon figures, the missing link between De La Soul and Deee-Lite. As with the Dream Warriors, the appeal waned, the novelty paled, but those two Definition of Sound singles capture a moment in time. Accelerated hip-hop beats, semi-detached house rhythms, a dash of dancehall, a pinch of Prince, an unashamedly ultra-pop sensibility, MCs exuding positive vibes: there was a lot of it around in 1990. A lifetime’s guarantee to irk the purists, but nevertheless we had big fun from Definition of Sound, Betty Boo, Rebel MC, Monie Love, Bomb The Bass, She Rockers, Cookie Crew, Wee Papa Girl Rappers. Sure, there will have been commercial pressures at work, and the records will not aways have been the artists’ choice, but this was an artform in itself: the beat, the rhyme, the noise. Oh, and yes, there were plenty of other attempts at marrying hip-hop and house, from the Beatmasters and Coldcut to Tyree, Todd Terry etc. Pure pop for now people, perhaps, but in all cases it is striking how good the MCs are. It was a boom period for British hip-hop, in all its different forms: Demon Boyz, Silver Bullet, Shut Up and Dance, Ruthless Rap Assassins, MC Mell ‘O’, Caveman, Overlord X, MC Buzz B, Hijack, Outlaw Posse, London Boys, and so on. What happened? It’s like the explosion of talent on the British reggae scene in the 1980s, with the fast-style chatting MCs, which after the boom seemed to disappear back underground or dwindle away. It’s very odd the way creative energy ebbs and flows. I lost track of Definition of Sound after Wear Your Love Like Heaven and a reissued Now Is Tomorrow were hits in 1991, and it wasn’t until some years later I picked up a cheap CD copy of their Love and Life: A Journey with the Chameleons full-length set. Beyond the singles it is a fascinating collection, with plenty of material that’s more interesting: often more downbeat, dubby, bluesy, with a mixture of whimsical mysticism and social realism in the lyrics. It came out only a matter of weeks after Blue Lines, so serves as a reminder that Massive Attack were not operating in isolation as some narratives suggest. Bomb The Bass’ majestic Winter in July is another reminder from that time. In terms of the music and production two key figures on that Definition of Sound LP were Rex Brough (the Red King) and John Coxon who would later be half of Springheel Jack and play with Spiritualized. Both Rex and John also worked with the wonderful Betty Boo. And I suspect their presence as part of the DofS set-up explains the bite the sound had. There is available on YouTube a great clip of the group doing a live version of Wear Your Love Like Heaven on The Word with a real punky snarl to the sound and the audience dancing
manically. It’s the sort of sound you might think The Grid had achieved with World of Twist if you’d read about the record rather than heard it.
The credits for inspiration on that DofS LP are worth noting: Run DMC, Bob Marley, James Brown, Al Green, King Tubby, Grandmaster Flash, George Clinton, Gussie Clark, Prince, Doors, YMO, Mandrill, Jazzie B, Cold Crush, and Fine Young Cannibals. Interestingly, Andy Cox and David Steele of FYC were involved in all sorts of things at the time, and are generally under-appreciated for what they have done in pop. They shared production duties on Monie Love’s Down to Earth with the Jungle Brothers. And moonlighted as Two Men and a Drum Machine (and a Trumpet) making pop-house, with among others the wonderful Wee Papa Girl Rappers. It’s funny how it sticks in my mind about Jay Strongman getting right behind Now is Tomorrow. He didn’t last that long in the new world of KISS FM with its harsh commercial realities and strict musical policies. Jay played what he wanted: I can remember him playing Jonathan Richman’s Roadrunner, declaring it was dance music just like anything else played on the station. He almost belongs to a very specific tradition: one that goes from Trojan sounds to Bowie to the Lacy Lady to Sex to Kensington Market to The Face to Steve Lewis and the Beat Route to The Dirt Box in Earl’s Court to the warehouse parties and pirate radio with an evolving soundtrack of electro, hip-hop and house all mixed together. Jay was also involved with the Rhythm King label when it was an off-shoot of Mute and probably the most important record company in the UK. In the Hiss & Shake: Legg’s Eleven edition of YHO it says: “Follow in the footsteps of Phil Legg and at some stage you’ll end up at Rhythm King. Any label that released Hey DJ/ I Can’t Dance (To That Music You’re Playing) by the Beatmasters and Betty Boo would have a special place in pop culture. But Rhythm King got off to a flying start with a selection of smartly chosen tracks they licensed (Taffy, Viola Wills, Denise Motto) and some pioneering UK productions like Renegade Soundwave’s Kray Twins, Pablo Gad’s Who Are The Terrorists?, argumentative hip hop from Three Wise Men, and the early North East house work of Hotline. “Then came Rhythm King’s pop assemblage explosion, riding the wave of hip hop and acid house, which resulted in a string of hits for the Beatmasters, Bomb The Bass, S’Express and Baby Ford. Rule books were gleefully ripped up,
as all involved used new technology, DIY techniques and punk irreverence to transform the pop scene. The Rhythm King brand of rave pop thrived on creating havoc, and its acts were responsible for a number of exuberantly anarchic and memorably madcap performances on Top of the Pops. More to the point though, its chart successes still seem like a blast of fresh air, even stripped of their context.” LL COOL J – ILLEGAL SEARCH I was genuinely surprised to find this on the tape. I have never really been a fan of LL Cool J. I don’t have anything against him; I just am not familiar with his work. I don’t think I have ever heard an LL Cool J LP all the way through. I’ve never heard a Blur or a Nirvana or a Led Zep LP all the way through, come to that. We all have blind spots. I have never been able to get interested in Pulp, the Pixies, Cocteau Twins, Ice Cube, Kate Bush, Neil Young, Prefab Sprout, Chemical Bros, Heaven 17, Run DMC, ZZ Top, My Bloody Valentine, Stone Roses, Bikini Kill, Lil’ Kim, PJ Harvey, Pavement, Pet Shop Boys, Eminem, Radiohead, Underworld, Redskins, Devo, King Crimson, Super Furry Animals,Billy Bragg, Bruce Springsteen, Beastie Boys, NWA, Jeff Buckley, Husker Du, ABC, Teenage Fanclub, The Pogues, KLF or Steely Dan. But I can understand why I taped and kept this track. It’s frighteningly efficient, very impressive and supremely professional. LL brilliantly tells a story about police harrassment, institutional racism, casual stereotyping about successful young black men, with impeccably economical rhymes, which put together with Marley Marl’s production makes me wonder what I may have been missing out on. INCOGNITO – CAN YOU FEEL ME This again is functional and efficient. It’s pleasant enough, but now sounds like an unremarkable jazzy/house excursion. I think the appeal at the time would have been that it was one of the very earliest of releases on Talkin’ Loud. The following summer Incognito with Jocelyn Brown would have a massive hit with a cover of Ronnie Laws’ jazz funk classic Always There. Omar’s There’s Nothing Like This was a big hit for the label around the same time. And it was good to see the British soul/jazz funk fraternity getting some deserved success. Incognito had, after all, been around since the start of the ‘80s when Light of the World splintered. Back in the autumn of 1990 the Talkin’ Loud label seemed a genuinely thrilling prospect. Gilles Peterson and Norman Jay had backing from Phonogram. The label from the word go had a strong visual identity, courtesy of Swifty’s design and typography work. And, ultimately, a label whose catalogue features Young Disciples, Krust, Roni Size, Nicolette, and Innerzone Orchestra can claim to have been a force for good. Somehow the early days of Talkin’ Loud, as represented by this Incognito track, make me think of one of the big social events of that time: Paul Weller’s first post-Style Council live appearance, a secret gig at Dingwalls, at the start of November 1990. It was a really strange occasion. It was odd being able to see Paul and his new ensemble play in such intimate surroundings. It was touching to see him distinctly nervous. It was great to see him stretching out, not giving a damn, playing some very loose numbers, with a very definite jazzy, psychedelic feel to proceedings. That night is a fond memory.
And it was something about the clothes at the time. I was in the habit of wearing Pringle, Gabicci and Roberto Carlo tops, really nice quality cast-offs which you could get for next-to-nothing in charity shops at the time, probably passed on by the golfers. These were the sort of cardigans and jumpers you might also see in old photos of Vic Godard or roots reggae musicians circa 1978. But, ironically, variations on the theme were being made by the Duffer of St. George, and rapidly became high fashion, which was really amusing, and a little disorientating. I was never sure if the impressive array of knitwear worn by the Young Disciples was brand-new or secondhand. The Duffer thing at the time was big news, and as an extension of the company’s activity Barrie K. Sharpe with the very wonderful Diana Brown were putting together some very nice funky singles, like Masterplan and Sun Worshippers. One aspect of Paul Weller’s musical activity that gets overlooked is actually from exactly this period, and that’s the Free Your Feelings LP by Slam Slam featuring Dee C. Lee. I strongly believe Paul’s work with the Style Council will be re-evaluated in the same way that the Beach Boys’ post-Pet Sounds recordings have been. And that’s when this Slam Slam LP will be of particular interest, as he wrote or co-wrote seven of the ten songs on the LP, including Round & Round which was one of the songs he performed in the early stages of his solo career. Dr Robert from the Blow Monkeys was involved with production on the LP, and the Young Disciples worked with Dee on the title track. The single from the LP, Something Ain’t Right, is ostensibly an uptempo deep house variation (and this was only a year or so on from the Style Council’s own house-work) but the lyrics add some gravitas with a theme of alcohol abuse. Elsewhere the best songs on the LP are the ballads, which fit perfectly along side other ballads of the time, like Teena Marie’s divine Since Day One.
RAGGA TWINS – SPLIFFHEAD
Curiously this track is not listed on the inlay sleeve, but there’s no doubt it’s actually on the tape. Was this just carelessness, or is it possible I really didn’t know what the track was at the time? Nevertheless, now, it is instantly recognisable, with the familiar rallying cry of: “Ragga Twins deh bout”. This, again, was a minor hit in November 1990, and it certainly got played quite a bit on KISS. And I have listened to the Ragga Twins’ debut LP Reggae Owes Me Money, so many times since it came out, so Spliffhead seems so familiar. It is, incidentally, interesting to note the Ragga Twins’ LP made the Top 30 when it came out in June 1991. Illegal Gunshot/Spliffhead, Wipe The Needle/Juggling, and Hooligan 69. That initial triumvirate of Ragga Twins singles/hits is right up there with Dexys’ opening holy trinity and, from that particular era, the three Silver Bullet blasts of energy and rage: Bring Forth The Guillotine, 20 Seconds to Comply and Undercover Anarchist. Hooligan 69, in particular, I consider to be just about perfect pop: the intimations of the skinhead reggae era, the impudent Prince sample, the clatter of the beats, the rough house rumbustiousness of the bass, the bleeps, the Twins’ dancehall exhortations, all gel together exquisitely. I am, I confess, a soft touch for this sort of sound. I neither know nor care who did what with whom first. I know about KRS-One and BDP. I am aware of Simon Harris’ experiments with raggamuffin hip-hop, Daddy Freddy and Asher D. etc. I realise there was later a raft of ragga meets jungle tracks, But it’s that whirl of activity in between that fascinates me: the turbo-charged breakbeats, the raving madness, the snaffled Steely and Clevie digitalis toxicity, the casual kleptomania. I can’t resist it. I love it when Rebel MC toughened up, his Tribal Bass label’s output (Kicks Like A Mule, Tenor Fly, Demon Boyz!), and I still get an illogical, involuntary thrill when SL2’s On A Ragga Tip comes on unexpectedly. But it’s the whole Shut Up and Dance thing that fascinates me. I think on certain days that Shut Up and Dance are just about the best thing that happened to pop music, full stop. I am an unabashed SUAD’head. PJ and Smiley’s productions are peerless. And I love the way their name is totally at odds with their approach. They were funny, cheeky, revolutionary and as serious as hell. If you want to know how life was in London in the early part of the 1990s then just listen to the Ragga Twins’ Reggae Owes Me Money, Nicolette’s Now Is Early and SUAD’s Death Is Not The End. And the wonderful thing is that for a group of people that put out such incendiary records they looked so normal.
TOTAL SCIENCE – SOMEBODY TO LOVE Back to the deep house, or in this case is it garage? I clearly didn’t catch the title of this track at the time, but thanks to YouTube/Discogs it’s easy enough to find out what it was called. Interestingly the song itself seems to have been a 12” from 1988, so by KISS standards in late 1990 it was a bit of a golden oldie, a house classic revisited I guess. There is a Total Science drum ‘n’ bass partnership, but this Total Science seems to have been a New York production team, with a fairly fluid membership, putting out a series of singles under different names, on different labels. This particular 12”, credited on the label to Total Sience, was on the Catch-AGroove label, as was an earlier 12”, The Dream. The suggestion is then that Total Science were already active when house was still an underground sound in New York. Another Total Science 12”, Just A Little Bit, got a UK release on Jumpin’ and Pumpin’ (and seems to have been the first release on the label). In 1989 Total Science had a couple of singles out on the revered Nu Groove label. Now I would never ever claim to be a New York House(’N) Authority, but that label does seem to be rightly revered from what I’ve heard, here and there, on compilations and so on. One of the Total Science Nu Groove singles was the excellent Get Up, under the name Underground Kids. The other was the superb Freedom using the Total Science brand, with a great rap by Freedom Williams, who would go on to record with C&C Music Factory, including the immortal pop classic Things That Make You Go Hmmmm. Both these singles feature thanks for Gang Starr, which is a nice reminder that things were more mixed-up than people like to tell us. And if this rings a bell, then, yes, Premier’s credits on Gang Starr’s No More Mr Nice Guy feature thanks for Total Science, and for specifically Skeete, Mag, Shaka, Sammy and Dwayne. Freedom, the Total Science 12”, was mixed and edited at Blank Studios by Bob Blank, which made me sit up and pay even more attention. There is a tendency, to which I have succumbed, to think of the Bob Blank works of genius being over by the late ‘80s, having sold Blank Studios and so on. But then again, the Lola (Blank) track I Need More is 1988 isn’t it? Work It is 1989. He has a hand in Simphonia’s Can’t Get Over Your Love from 1989. And looking around, Bob seems to have done some work in the late ‘80s for the New York independent Lower Level, and recordings by its acts like The Last Generation, The Dark Side, Under The Covers, and S.J. Press seem to have varying degrees of Bob, Lola and Kenny Blank involvement. I would dearly love to hear a compilation of Bob Blank’s house work. BASSIX – CLOSE ENCOUNTERS Amusingly I wrote this as Base 6 on the cassette inlay card. Back to the hardcore uproar with this one, and very close to the Ragga Twins’ Spliffhead sound. The musical melody is borrowed from the Close Encounters score. Tsk, these hardcore kids and their revivalism eh? It all got a bit Toy Dolls and Nellie the Elephant didn’t it? But before that, wahey. And this is a brilliant example of why people still get so protective about this music. Bassix was a vehicle for Andre Jacobs, a folk hero to some, who ran the DZone label, which is one of the most respected record companies from that strangely attractive period between the acid house and jungle moral panics. The label has links to Suburban Base (Andre made his first record, Dance Tones
by Hypersonic, with Danny Donnelly of Sub Base). Andre also recorded as Tekno Too, getting a minor hit with Jet Star (presumably a tribute to the reggae organisation) in the summer of 1991. In reality it probably sold enough copies to put it in the Top 20, but there was a cock-up on the barcode front. Apparently Geri Halliwell was a dancer with Tekno Too for a while. The incredible thing is the way these labels, run initially by kids in their bedrooms with no real experience of the music business, gatecrashed the charts with the support initially of a strictly unofficial network of shops, studios, clubs, distributors, pirate radio stations, and so on. These are the stories that should be collected, not the hoary stories of Rough Trade, Factory, etc. Again, being purely selfish, I would love to see a sprawling catalogue or compendium of labels that were active in this sector in the very early ‘90s. I realise there are a cluster of sites religiously dedicated to stories from the ‘old skool’ but I fancy something smarter than that. PROJECT 122 – KISS ME BABY And to finish side one of the tape a rare early Chicago house track from 1986. It’s interesting that in 1990 there should already be an interest in heritage house sounds, but at the time there were certainly no objections from me about hearing such great sounds. This is the work of Hudson "Hot Mix" Beauduy and his Roland 909, and it came out on Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk’s House label, who also mixed the b-side.
SIDE TWO THE UNDERGROUND SOLUTION - LUV DANCIN’ Side two of the tape starts with a DJ (Judge Jules, perhaps, when he was a little more natural) introducing some “deep house from New York”. This track was a massive favourite of mine at the time, and it still sounds irresistible. Now I realise it was an early Strictly Rhythm release and that it was the work of Roger Sanchez before he became a ‘superstar DJ’. But the attraction at the time, undoubtedly, had a lot to do with the sample of the immortal “you’ve caught me love dancing” line from Loose Joints’ Is It All Over My Face? West End disco masterpiece. That, and the fact that it was a glorious work of art in itself. And the other two tracks on the 12” (Afterthought and Deep In My Mind) are better still, more abstract, sounding far closer to the ‘bleep’ Warp singles of the time than what we might immediately associate with the Strictly Rhythm style. I understand the Loose Joints sample was added to the track to make it more commercially acceptable. And knowing what we know now it was an irresisitible opportunity for Sanchez to pay tribute to Arthur Russell, whose visionary approach to disco composition and production had helped shape his own outlook and approach in the house era. In this he wasn’t alone: Todd Terry had used elements of Dinosaur L’s Go Bang a year or two earlier. Sanchez’s action here is very similar to the way Orange Juice referenced Boredom by the Buzzcocks and their Postcard record company boss Alan Horne took the idea of picture labels on their 7”s from Vic Godard’s Split Up The Money single.
Over the past decade the Arthur Russell cult has grown enormously, with a series of CD releases, a book, a film, and a lot of namedropping. I would love to be able to say I was on the case with Loose Joints’ Is It All Over My Face? at the start of the ‘80s. But I don’t think it really registered with me until it turned up on a Street Sounds compilation in 1988 called This Is Disco! This was a double album which featured 13 full-length mixes from the West End archives. The tracks included Karen Young’s Hot Shot, the Peech Boys’ Don’t Make Me Wait, Taana Gardner’s Heartbeat, Time by Stone, Everybody Get Dancin’ by Bombers and that Loose Joints track. I don’t think I really made the Arthur Russell connection then, either, as the emphasis was more on the remixers like Larry Levan and Walter Gibbons. Morgan Khan’s Street Sounds, the more you stop and think about it, really is one of the most important record companies or media empires in the history of British pop music. Its electro and hip-hop collections have as significant a place in youth/pop culture as the Tighten Up series of reggae compilations released by Lee Gopthal’s Trojan organisation. And towards the end of the ‘80s Khan was busy in the house market, sourcing all sorts of compilations from DJ International, Trax etc. His organisation also put out a selection of themed series reflecting other niche interests, like Rare Grooves, Slow Jams, Anthems, Love Ballads, and Jazz Juice which was overseen by Gilles Peterson. DEEPCUT – DEVOTION/FOR THE LOVE OF MONEY Now this is a curiosity. I have it on the cassette inlay card as Deep Cuts Vol. 2 – Disco Dub Band/Ten City – Devotion. It is, literally, the vocals from Ten City’s 1989 hit Devotion mixed over the Disco Dub Band’s 1976 radical reinvention of the O’Jays’ For the Love of Money. And it works wonderfully. What’s unusual about it is that it seems to be a blending of the two recordings, which shows considerable restraint in the heyday of cut ‘n’ paste sounds. There would be a flurry of ‘mashups’ in later years, but I have never heard this particular recording again. I still have no idea who was behind it. And the only reference I can find to it is a Discogs entry as Deepcuts No. 1 with a brief description of it as a “Rare bootleg. ‘Deepcut No. 1’ hand-stamped in blue ink on white label. Sleeve has ‘Whatever’ stamped on the edge in blue ink. A-side mixing Ten City's Devotion acaapella vocals over Disco Dub Band's For The
Love Of Money. B-side mixes the same vocals again over an unknown big band jazz track.” I think I felt a bit smug at the time because that Disco Dub Band 7” on the Movers label was one I had picked up for 10p in the basement of the Notting Hill branch of Record & Tape Exchange in the late ‘80s. For many years I clung to the credit for Davitt Sigerson on the label and the Ze connection, but in recent years I have begun to find out about the involvement of Mike Dorane, the Californian-born Sioux Indian who was behind the Rockers and Movers labels, as Island subsidiaries, and it seems was effectively the driving/creative force behind the Disco Dub Band. I really think that single is pivotal, and almost invents what would happen during Chris Blackwell’s Nassau adventures. Have a listen, too, to Mike’s production on Fitzroy Henry’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off You from around the same time. There is quite a bit about Mike Dorane in the Skimming Stones edition of YHO, and interestingly there is quite a bit of overlap with Dennis Harris’ label activity.
And whoever came up with the idea of blending the vocals of Ten City with Mike Dorane’s Disco Dub Band sound is a genius. I was a massive fan of Ten City at this point: their 1990 singles Superficial People and Whatever Makes You Happy and indeed the whole State of Mind LP were wonderful. The combination of the group’s gorgeous vocals (especially the lead ones by Byron Stingily – what a great Dickinsian name!) and Marshall Jefferson’s production worked perfectly. While there were consciously explicit links back to Salsoul disco sounds and Philly soul the Ten City records worked so well because of the quality of the songs which transcended the format, as this bootleg production demonstrates so well. BREAK THE LIMITS – DRUMS OF FREEDOM I had this down as Dreams of Freedom on the inlay card, but Drums of Freedom is the perfect title isn’t it for this sound: incredible careering, clattering beats, belligerent bass, and sweet synth melody. And Break The Limits is the ideal name: the b-boys’ vengeance, east London lads mad at the world, straining at the leash, wanting to tear it all down, smash it all up. And it just so happens these upstarts could create a glorious, inventive noise which was positively revolutionary. Break The Limits were Matt Edwards and Mel Tamur, and in 1990 and 1991 they released a series of wonderfully anonymous 12” very extended plays in rapid succession. There were three volumes of the Break The Limits EPs, which
feature slashed-seat grafitti titles such as Fire Away, Ride the Rogue, Ready 2 Rumble, Brace Yourself, Energy Flow, Runnin’ Scared, which are reminiscent of earlier cockney rejects. Detached from their historical context these EPs, 20 odd years on, still sound incredibly invigorating, and they capture a very specific magical moment in pop culture, like the collections of punk blasts from Raw Records did in the late ‘70s. Another 1991 EP was entitled Dole Dodgers! XL in its early days signed the duo up, as Nu-Matic, but by the time Spring In My Step was a minor hit in the summer of 1992 Mal seems to have scarpered back underground, re-emerging as Bay-B-Kane and over the next few years-or-so he put out a rush of tough recordings under different names, on a variety of labels, as artist or producer. Within the hardcore/jungle communities Bay-BKane is regarded with exactly the kind of reverence that Vic Godard or Mark Perry are in the punk world. I would be a lousy liar to even suggest I have any real familiarity with Bay-B-Kane’s oeuvre, but using a YouTube travelcard it’s easy enough to explore his work and then find that certain tracks he’s been involved with are familiar, from the pirate stations and mixes etc., such as Hyd and Seek, Hello Darkness, the symphonic sweep of Thunder under the name of The Rood Project (which could have taken off like Timeless) and his production of On The Edge by Vice Squad. Almost inevitably, Bay-B-Kane returned to making music a couple of years ago after a 15-year hiatus. He’s been busy making tracks for digital release, and out of curiosity I bought his Jungle Love LP, partly because I adored the audacity of the title. The whole LP is what the title implies: a tribute to all the forms of jungle music that touched so many people’s lives, from the mad, confrontational, ragga stuff to the more atmospheric, contemplative sounds. It’s incredibly effective as a project but it’s a real niche sound, unfortunately, despite being infinitely preferable to whatever’s reviewed by some Oxbridge bore in The Guardian any given week. “He ain’t too keen on practising, he likes it rough and raw. Too rough for most to listen to even with computer stuff. Live gigs or rehearsals – he makes it hard to tell. But still he takes a different route every time when he goes down to the well.” – Vic Godard, The Writers Slumped DJ MIKE - EROTICA No. 2 Ah. Now this has me completely stumped. I can find no trace of it. It’s highly likely that I took the name of the artist or the title down wrong. The title sorts of fits, though, as there is a fair bit of heavy breathing and ecstatic moaning. Is this an old Chicago house classic? A strictly modern New York track? Some obscure white label from the UK? A steamy French number? It does feature someone, I think, urging us to “dancez sur le rythme”. Someone will know. Oh, and another clue, it features a sampled line: “Let’s make love on Mars”. The trouble is DJ Mike and Erotica No. 2 are not the most helpful things in the world to stick in your search engine. So I can’t appear to be in any way informative. And who is DJ Mike? There is DJ Magic Mike, the Miami bass guy, who was active at this time. But it doesn’t really sound right for him, though I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. Any suggestions?
A TRIBE CALLED QUEST – IF THE PAPES COME
And so we get to what seems very much to be a Gilles Peterson/Patrick Forge sequence of seven songs on the tape. I think by this time the Tribe LP, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, was out and I’d invested, despite a lack of money. Certainly Bonita Applebum had been released as a single and reached the lower parts of the charts. So the appeal of this track would have been as an exuberant non-LP b-side of Can I Kick It, which became a big hit in the very early part of 1991. Gilles and Patrick were right behind the Tribe, as their sound fitted so perfectly with a certain progressive mutant jazz agenda, so this was a perfect fit for their shows. I realise A Tribe Called Quest went on to make better, harder, wiser records than this debut, but there remains something so gloriously appealing about this form of ‘youthful expression’. It still provokes that feeling the Lovin’ Spoonful sang about on Do You Believe In Magic? I mentally, predictably, associate this LP with the way Postcard Records changed my life in 1980. This is a line I’ve been sticking to for some time. I was thinking about the Tribe, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, and the Native Tongues family recently, and wanted to check some little fact so looked up the Wiki entry. I was amazed to see one of the external links was for something I’d written years ago, burbling on about similarities between De La Soul and Orange Juice. I thought that was hilarious, and I came away hoping that some serious hip-hop kids would follow the link and start to wonder: “And that’s been part of the problem for Posdnous and the boys. The first De La set had such an impact, and retains a lasting impression, that the group’s never really shaken it off. Given the slightest encouragement, we’re all back in the Daisy (Da Inner Sound Y’All) Age, in our brightly coloured gear and beads, with Prince Paul creating those magnificent sound collages, while the guys up the front take it in turns to deliver their tongue-twisting positive poetry that sets the mind a whirling, and yeah we can’t help breaking into these great big grins like the Lovin’ Spoonful singing 'Do You Believe In Magic?' After Three Feet High And Rising De La Soul released a whole series of much more serious and stripped-down records, that were far darker in content, and ultimately far more satisfying than that debut which nevertheless does still remain an important defiant gesture in the development of hip hop, and a key part of one of pop’s golden ages. The early De La Soul sound was part of
a deliberate reaction to a prevailing mood within the hip hop community. Here suddenly was music that was not explicitly about coming from the ghetto, it was not theatrically thuggish and crassly crude, and it dared to show its intelligence on its colourful sleeve. And there was fun to be had in all that thoughtfulness. It’s possible to see the similarities with Postcard Records and Orange Juice in particular. The early OJs very purposefully reacted against the macho rock stereotype, with Edwyn Collins skipping around the stage like a defiant dandy, camping it up gloriously to provoke. Later groups that unsuccessfully appropriated the look and sound of the early OJs had nothing to revolt against, and lacked the guts to goad, and the wit to woo to boot. And Edwyn Collins and Orange Juice spent their next few albums trying to shake off some absurd stereotyped image, though conversely this as with De La Soul was the spur to create some considerably more spartan and significant sounds. What price 'The Bridge' as Orange Juice’s Buhloone Mindstate?” CFM BAND – JAZZ IT UP Now this I had totally forgotten about as well, but I recall it was all over the place when this tape was put together. A very simple concept: a jazz-sampling jazzy house track, with some nice scat vocals courtesy of Richie Weeks, years ahead of St Germain and what became a ubiquitous upmarket coffee shop background noise. It sounds great hearing this after so long. CFM stood for the Crazy Frenchman, who was Reynald Deschamps, and this single came out initially on the New York house label Underworld. I hadn’t realised until very recently that Reynald also put out a couple of LPs of DJ Breaks Classics on the label around the same time as this single. Or did I know that once upon a time? DREAM WARRIORS – MY DEFINITION OF A BOOMBASTIC JAZZ STYLE (YOUNG DISCIPLES REMIX) “Remixed, remodelled, redefined” as Gilles Peterson puts it on this tape. This is the Next Generation mix, one of three reworkings the Young Disciples (and Demus) made of the Dream Warriors’ hit. On this version the YDs strip out the infectious Soul Bossa Nova melody, and oddly this de-Quincy mix brings out the Dream Warriors’ vocal dexterity very nicely. And there are plenty of touches, like the beats and the jazzy flute, which are identifiable as very YD-ish. What else did the Young Disciples work their magic on? The Slam Slam Free Your Feelings track we’ve mentioned. There was a remix of the Tammy Payne Take Me Now single on Talkin’ Loud. And they produced the gorgeous Sun of ’79 for Des’ree. I think they did some Tribe Called Quest mixes too, but I don’t have them. But for such an influential outfit their body of work is slim. I rather like that, actually. At least they left us wanting more. And this tape, assuming it was put together in October 1990, captures a moment where we were three to four months away from the Young Disciples’ Apparently Nothin’ and Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy. From that point on, pop music would never be the same again.
PRINCE B – ODE TO A FORGETFUL MIND
It all comes back to me: the beads, the granny specs, the paisley pyjamas ... But that wasn’t really until the summer of 1991. Nope, this was a 12” that had been around for a good long while, and I didn’t ever seem to quite catch who it was by. I just remember that it was an ultra-catchy hip-hop track, one that got played every now and then, with a line about black people liking to wear gold chains but how come the part of the planet where most gold comes from is where apartheid reigns. So I would have been delighted to get this down on tape. I remember being surprised or confused about this being credited to Prince B on a US single but somehow the same track was also floating around in the UK on a Gee Street 12” by an outfit called PM Dawn. Well, later it emerged PM Dawn were brothers, Prince Be the frontman and DJ Minute Mix, and by the end of the summer of 1991 they were big stars with the Spandau Ballet sampling Set Adrift On Memory Bliss. I suppose, rather like Definition of Sound’s Wear Your Love Like Heaven and the Dream Warriors’ Boombastic Jazz thing, the seemingly enforced familiarity did make it contemptible. But hearing Ode To A Forgetful Mind again, unexpectedly, was a powerful reminder of the Dawn’s golden charms. It’s the chorus: so beautifully infectious, with the Prince switching effortlessly on the track between talking and singing. That mix of rapping and singing by one artist, with the prominent, soaring chorus is so engrained in the pop process now isn’t it, but Prince B(e) was a pioneer in doing this. I got so carried away listening to Ode To A Forgetful Mind that it sent me searching for their debut LP, Of The Heart, Of The Soul And Of The Cross: The Utopian Experience. I have really fallen in love with that, too. I guess the brothers were more in love with something like The Bangles or Donovan than they were with the hip-hop peers of the day, and ultimately that’s their strength. The way the words flow and the way the hooks catch you reflects the artistry of these doobie-do-be-doobie-dum-did-day brothers. I’d forgotten the LP was pretty much recorded in London, but it makes perfect sense in a pitch for the post De La Soul/Deee-Lite market (like Definition of Sound) way. And to be fair a couple of the singles plucked from the LP, A Watcher’s Point of View and Reality Used To Be a Friend of Mine, are pretty strange: musically they may have more in common with Prince than NWA but there is still plenty to get your teeth into. And the Todd Terry-produced big
bounce of Shake sounds frighteningly, bizarrely, as if it could be a current chart smash hit that would leave so many DJs, producers and rappers dazed. GANG STARR – WHO’S GONNA TAKE THE WEIGHT?
Wow, this is so instantly familiar but still so incredibly powerful. I am just trying to place this in context. The single, Jazz Thing, would have been out around this time, from Spike Lee’s Mo' Better Blues. But this I guess would have been played as a taster for the Step in the Arena LP which I think came out right at the start of 1991. The track itself also turned up on the flip of Take A Rest shortly after that (and as such gets a mention in Garry Mulholland’s This is Uncool). Again, Gilles Peterson and Patrick Forge were right behind Gang Starr’s Step in the Arena. And, I guess it was the perfect balance to the A Tribe Called Quest LP: the yin and yang of it. Or to continue a theme, Gang Starr were Josef K to the Tribe’s Orange Juice. Ultimately, I was always a Josef K kinda guy, and I would choose Gang Starr over the Tribe any day. But, thankfully, this is not, and never has been, an either/or situation. Step in the Arena was where DJ Premier started coming into his own, and he is a studio wizard undoubtedly. But, it’s the Guru that has fascinated me, there’s something special about him: “And that something special was the way Guru delivered his rhymes. His precise and portentous tones seemed removed from the crowd trying to move the crowd. His deceptively laid back lyrical flow seemed a perfect excuse to trot out phrases like laconic and lugubrious. Essentially when others were shouting so loud, Guru could come across as the wise one, thoughtful and still as tough as anyone else? Guru was a romantic rebel in the tradition of my own heroes, like genial Joe Strummer, Kevin Rowland and Mark Stewart, maybe playing a part, full of contradictions, but totally immersed in that role. Take 'Check The Technique', where Guru soars over the California Soul montage, and then slips into 'Lovesick'. Now I’m shamelessly happy to admit my own guilty pleasure for many a year was to put Gang Starr’s joyous 'Lovesick' on any compilation tape next to Orange Juice’s 'Lovesick', when such things mattered more than the sun. Nothing could be more certain of putting a smile on my face or a spring in my step than those two songs back-
to-back. I love Guru talking his way through 'Lovesick'. There’s something wonderful about the tough guys showing their tender side, like The Fall suddenly coming up with 'That Man' when you least expect it ” I know it wasn’t to everyone’s liking when Guru did his extra-curricular Jazzmatazz project, with old school jazz musicians and new/now voices. But the 1993 single, No Time To Play, with Dee C. Lee was particularly gorgeous. And it set the tone for Dee’s own single, New Reality Vibes, the following year on Mo’Wax, which was a collaboration with Mike McEvoy who has all sorts of interesting connections, from working with Adam Kidron on some of his legendary productions (e.g. Scritti, OJs, Delta 5, Raincoats) to his involvement with Soul II Soul, Ashley & Jackson’s Solid Gold LP, and Teena Marie’s Since Day One.
KMD – PEACHFUZZ (INSTRUMENTAL) I clearly didn’t know who this was by or what it was. I’d written on the inlay card just K (with a blank space next to it), and the title was down as Beach Fun. This must have been played as an instrumental cut off the import of the Peachfuzz single and I am pretty sure I would not have known who KMD (a positive Kause in a Much Damaged society) were, even if I had heard the name correctly. I believe their debut, Mr Hood, wasn’t out until 1991, but I know I didn’t have a copy until a CD reissue came out around 2006. There were a whole load of golden age/underground hip-hop LPs I didn’t catch up with until later (Souls of Mischief, Main Source, Freestyle Fellowship, Organized Konfusion, Poor Righteous Teachers, lots of Wild Pitch titles, etc.). That’s just the way things were. I have to confess I find huge chunks of the Mr Hood LP as irritating as pop-up ads on YouTube. It’s the same with a number of classic hip-hop LPs which featured running gags/extended skits (The Goats and De La Soul spring to mind). But there are some real classics on the record, like Humrush and in particular the gorgeous Peachfuzz. There’s a video for the single readily available on YouTube which features the group goofing around, riding their bikes, and looking ridiculously young. The two giggling girls in the video steal the show, and it is their mocking ‘peachfuzz’ jibe that survives on the instrumental mix. Without the girls the instrumental could easily fit on Tortoise’s TNT. You can imagine McEntire’s clan in deep concentation, stooped over the vibes. It’s that good. And it’s easy to see why this mix was picked up by
Gilles P. and his circle and how it would be a massive influence on what happened with Mo’Wax etc. slightly later.
THE RAPPIN’ REVEREND – I AIN’T INTO THAT “Pushers and pimps trying to make me stray, serving me death on a silver tray. They get on my nerves, wasting my time, offering me dope, sex and crime. But I hang tough and stand up tall, I look them in the eye and I tell them all: Get out my face you lowdown cat, I’m a different breed, I ain’t into that ...” Now this one I really had forgotten about. It’s the work of The Rappin’ Reverend, also known as Dr C. Dexter Wise, III, who was I believe a baptist pastor in Columbus, Ohio when he made this record. The pastor was into his 30s at the time, and not a fan of hip-hop. But he thought the form would be a good way to spread the word of the Lord, and it just so happens he almost accidently came up with a pop classic. Cooltempo picked it up, and released it as a single in the UK in 1987 and it was pretty successful on the ‘dance’ charts, and over the next few years it got pretty regular airings on a variety of radio shows. I have to confess I have no real idea who was behind Cooltempo. I realise it was a Chrysalis subsidiary, but beyond that I don’t know too much, but its catalogue for the decade or so from 1984 onwards is pretty impressive: Real Roxanne, Doug E Fresh, Nitro Deluxe, Eric B & Rakim, Criminal Elelment Orchestra, Dorothy (ex-Raincoats), Adeva, Monie Love, Innocence, Gang Starr, Sweet T, Bahamadia, Tyrrel Corporation, Earthling, Arrested Development, D’Angelo, and so on. I have no idea if there were other gospel hip-hop recordings before this one, and I’m sure better informed people than me would be able to argue the case for preachers of one church or another being rappers before the term was used. The interesting thing is that now the concept of spreading the gospel through hip-hop and rap is pretty much an everyday thing. A few weeks ago there were some kids from a local church, clearly from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, up our local shopping centre, taking turns on the microphone to bear witness by rapping very impressively. And people weren’t even registering surprise. They weren’t listening either.
HOLY NOISE – FATHER FORGIVE THEM Now that’s pretty neat isn’t it? Following The Rappin’ Reverend with a track called Father Forgive Them by Holy Noise: it almost seems as if I knew what I was doing! This is abruptly different though: a blast of mad-eyed breakbeats of the Lowlands. It’s the sound of Rotterdam, but it could easily be a contemporaneous Shut Up and Dance or Kickin release made in east London. This Holy Noise single was written by Peter Slaghuis, who was also the man behind Hithouse who had a big, ahem, house hit in 1988 with Jack to the Sound of the Underground. After this the guiding force behind Holy Noise seems to have been Paul Elstak, who is credited with having adopted the ‘gabber’ label as the music became harder and faster. I have to confess to not being a fan of the gabber style, and I have to say it reminds me of that period after punk where groups like Discharge, Blitz, G.B.H., Abrasive Wheels, and the English Dogs became popular. The Holy Noise tracks I’ve heard, though, are fantastic. One of their songs, The Noise, featured on the 1991 XL compilation, The Second Chapter - Hardcore European Dance Music. The same compilation featured Anasthasia by T99, a big hit in the UK for XL in the spring of 1991, around the same time (more madeyed breakbeats of the Lowlands by) Quodrophonia hit the charts: a wonderful moment in the history of pop music when it seemed anything could crash into the Top 30. PANIC – VOICES OF ENERGY So to the end of the tape, and another song that may be more of a suggested spectral presence than actually featured on the tape. But this is perfect 1990’s pop: a bit of bleep, some mad speeding breakbeats, shuddering bass, an array of eerily familiar synth effects, some bells, a hint of choral plainsong, and a veil of anonymity. Wonderful stuff! This Panic track was out as a 12” on the Sheffield record company Ozone and on the King Meat label. It was the work of Aubrey or Allen Saei from I think Portsmouth. There was a second volume of Voices of Energy in 1991 on Ozone, and another 12” featuring the tracks Dialated Rhythms and Last Injection for Wax Factory Productions, the label set up by the duo Smooth & Simmonds, who seemed wonderfully in the habit of calling one side of their releases the Warehouse side and the other the Factory side. There appears to have been a steady stream of Aubrey related underground techno/house releases throughout the ‘90s and beyond. And even a brisk rummage on YouTube will be enough to persuade anyone with an interest in electronic sounds that this is music of quality and distinction. But I’m not familiar with it at all, any of it. And that’s an alarming thought. It’s not as though I can immediately pop down to the local shops to rectify this situation. A few things have really struck me, finding this cassette all over anew: one is that surprisingly I must have been pretty fond of deep house sounds at this point in 1990, the second is that the day-glo D.A.I.S.Y. chain gang created enduringly fantastic and incredibly complex pop music which now as then sounds like a lot of fun, but above all it’s the vivid realisation that the unique blasts of energy and inventiveness from the great unknowns like The Scientist, Bassix, Break The Limits and Panic still sound so exhilarating yet seem so strangely elusive. That’s pretty attractive in a way. But simultaneously it’s
incredibly frustrating when there is such a flood of flaccid and fatuous product thrust at us from every media outlet. There really is a need for lovingly put-together collections of the branch of 1990’s pop which married stampeding breakbeats with rough house antics. I don’t mean simply “pile ‘em high, flog ‘em cheap” generic compilations, but very focused artist or label overviews, with the stories behind the music: the Break The Limits EP series, productions by The Scientist/Kicksquad, the work of Andre Jacobs as Bassix/Techno Too etc., the Panic/Aubrey output, the story of Wax Factory Productions, and so on, adding to rather than erasing the mystery. This area of musical activity has its high-profile critical champions, and there is a thriving underground, unofficial network of enthusiasts, so surely the market is there, ready and waiting. These pioneering figures’ deserve to be heard and learned from. There is, after all, a very useful collection of The Prats’ product, released after one of their songs featured in the title sequence of a Hollywood blockbuster remake. Who could have predicted that?
Now is tomorrow ...