Monday, 24 October 2011

Freq Nasty feat. Pheobe One - 'Boomin' Back Atcha'

Bask in the day, I used to be really into vinyl hunting. Partly it was crate-digging - listening to loads of old records in the hope of finding a forgotten gem - but it was also the belief that, as a DJ, that was part of my job. I wanted to go out and dig out funky, groovy records that would make everyone shake their asses to a tune that they'd never heard before.

I don't know why I bothered.

But this is typical of the records that I bought in that spirit. It's a great big slab of bass-heavy hip-hop breakbeat, great production, great vocal, and in a just world, it would be the perfect transition from warming up the crowd to people actually shaking it. But I played this to blind indifference, and after half a dozen tries gave up on.

But when I put this on the other day, not only did it still sound fly and fresh, but my three year old son started dancing and having a stab at the vocals, which demonstrates to me that if only we could find our inner child a bit more, we'd not only have more fun, but I'd also look like a great DJ.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Spiky Records - 'Pi EP'

There was once a time when I was quite the dude. I managed, in February 1998 (I think it was) to snag a single of the week in the Vibes section of the NME. Notorious hyperbolist Steven Wells said something like 'this record will make you piss blood and blaspheme in Spainish. Like me, it is strong and clean and perfect'. I'm certainly not going to refuse that praise (if praise it be), but I am aware that Swells may not have been in his right mind when he wrote that.

On the back of that, my bandmate/partner in crime Aidan and I went down to London to be interviewed by Ben Wilmott, a journo on the paper. Spiky Records was his label, not that there was anything even vaguely nepotistic or narcissistic about a music journalist having a record label. Actually, I thought Ben was a very sound guy - he liked my band Speakerfreaks - no, not the ones who released 'POS 51', we were the ORIGINAL Speakerfreaks.

Anyway, the Pi EP sits somewhere between early era Art of Noise, and late period Kraftwerk. It's OK, but it doesn't particularly grab me now, which makes me think it diddn't particularly grab me then.

Flipping it over, I note that Osymyso's name is on the label. He was quite cool for a bit, wasn't he?

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Collapsed Lung - 'DIS MX'

After the warm reception my previous post received (mostly, it has to be said, from former members of the band), I was a little worried about how this would sound. And it's perfectly of it's period, in that the opening track is that elusive beast, the extended dance remix.

After a couple of minutes of looping drumbeats that pay more than a passing nod to the works of Depth Charge, the funky trumpets start up, and I swear you can hear the actual fertilisation of the egg that went on to gestate and become Collapsed Lung's world conquering anthemn 'Eat My Goal'.

Overall, it's a pretty standard romp, with some nice lyrical action, and fairly dirty production. The standout bit for me is the couplet 'Liberate the decks, liberate the decks, give 'em to the people who would least expect access'. Wise words indeed.

What does it remind me of? Oddly, nothing much. I remember playing this quite a bit, but it doesn't have that flashbulb eidetic moment for me.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Collapsed Lung - 'Down With The Plaid Fad'

It's funny that this should turn up on the weekend when Channel 4 is showing it's 'How Hip Hop Changed the World' weekend, because this is a particular slice of British hip hop that is very dear to me.

One of the central tenets of hip hop culture is 'keeping it real'. Exactly what that means is open to debate. KRS-1 would have you believe that REAL is an acronym for 'Rhymes Equals Actual Life'. Modern commentators seem to agree that hip hop hasn't been in a good place for some time now. You don't have to wait very long on Kanye & Jay-z's new album to hear Kanye brag about how has two big-faced Rolexes. Nice one Kanye - I'll loot Argos and steal an armful of Swatches in ironic homage. As Dan Le Sac and Scroobius Pip point out, 'guns, bitches and bling have never been part of the four elements, and never will be'. The four elements of hip hop are breaking, MCing, DJing and grafitti, as any fule kno.

The four elements conspicuously don't include sloppy, culturally accurate grunge-hop, but if you want an an example of a band keeping it REAL, look no further than mid-90s Collapsed Lung. I saw them in Manchester in 1995, and they were hilarious, and in a good way. A bunch of guys, playing tight, funky rocky grooves, two rappers trading rhymes over the top. It was like having the whole of global musical culture condensed into 3 minute snippets, lyrically tight and culturally smart, thrown back in your face with a cocksure swagger that said 'yeah, we know, it's all a bit mad, but you know what - we're kicking ass, and you're loving it'. It's the very antithesis of where hip hop is today, either a global sell-out or a ghettoised artistic statement.

Fresh stoopid rhymes, sloppy loud guitars, distorted vocals, hell yeah, I still love it today like I loved it then.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Earthling - '1st Transmission'

Wow, this is almost Proustian in it's ability to vividly transport me to a particular place and time.

It's a Saturday afternoon in Leeds, 1994, and I'm round at Rob's old house on Brudenell Road. I lived in Manchester at that point, but moved to Leeds a year later. Ali was there too. We'd been record shopping at Jumbo Records, and I'd picked this up.

It's basically 4 mixes of the same song, but the first version is so strong, such a fat, trip-hop, of-the-moment production that it just sucks you in. The rudeboy sound-system swagger contrast with Earthling's naive, almost childish vocals in a way that found totally captivating at the time. So much so that I listened to all of the mixes one after another, much to the obvious annoyance of Rob and Ali. I think I might have been going back to flip the record over and repeat the A side when someone mentioned that, perhaps, that might be enough of that for now. I was a bit bemused by that then, as I am now.

This track combined everything that I loved about music and lyrics - fat production, someone with their own flow, lyrics that sort of told a story and sort of hinted at someone immersed in their own world. It totally inspired me to start writing lyrics and rapping, and I remember one night waking up and having to find a pad and a Bic biro, the rhymes tumbling out in an unstoppable torrent. Well, maybe not an unstoppable torrent, but a couple of sides of A4 written down as fast as I could manage.

Damn, I'm really happy to hear this again! To me, it's the sound of possibility, of performance without fear of pretension, of music production marrying with an emotion behind a set of lyrics, or vice versa. Happy days.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Schizoid Man - 'Karate Juice EP'

What's amazing, looking back, is that this record was distinctive and different enough for me to pick it up in a record shop (Jumbo in Leeds, the price tag says), listen to it, and think 'cor, another slab of funky, beat-driven sampler music, I'll have some of that'.

It's a decent enough tune, the sort of thing you play early in the night just before you want to get people omto the dancefloor. It signifies a move from taxi-ing trip-hop to ass-shaking hip-hop. I remember doing just that one night at Leeds' Elbow Room, playing head-to-head with Moose (aka Paul Curtis, founder of a lot of things, but is his latest thing).

To paraphrase Dr. Johnson, worth hearing, but not worth going to hear

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Phrack R - 'Catch 22 EP'

God bless John Peel. Right up until the point he died, he was still playing utterly bonkers music, and being totally, passionately, sincerely committed to it.

I bought this after hearing it on his show. In fact, this is the first record that the label Fused and Bruised released, and I've got it packed away in a sleeve with the second one that FaB did, the 'Bus, Dinner, Jam' EP by Futurecore. The more alert amongst you will have noticed that 'Bus, Dinner, Jam' sounds the same as 'Bustin' a jam', something I only realised when I went and asked for it by name in a record shop in Leeds. I forget what it was called, but I'm sure it was behind what is now House of Fraser. Was that Crash Records - surely not?

Of this EP, it's the track 'The Beatfreak' that I loved, a really minimal, over-compressed slab of electronic instrumental hip-hop. I used it for ages as a track to build rhymes around. I think I played it out a few times too, mostly when I did anything as an artist on the now defunct Soundclash label - 'The Beatfreak' is just such a dirty, swaggering slab of sonic 'shut-the-fuck-up-and-listen-to-me' that I think I used it as an opener to a DJ set a few times, and I'm pretty sure that one time I even rapped over it, plugging my headphones into the mic socket of the mixer and really cutting loose for a couple of minutes. I remember nobody took a blind bit of notice, but for those 2 minutes, DJing and rapping through headphones, I felt like a the bastard offspring of Grandmaster Flash and KRS-1. Happy days.

Papoose - 'Thug Connection'

Notable perhaps for starting with a punchy synth cover version of the A-Team theme, this actually kicks some serious arse, due in no small part to a guest appearance by Kool G Rap, who turns up, curses like a drunken uncle on Christmas day, and then leaves.

Another New York purchase, and bizarrely I think that I forsook the kickass A-side for the alphabetically arranged B-side, which is a great example of why trying to be clever isn't always a good thing. Sure, each verse/stanza is built around rhymes that start with the next letter of the alphabet, but it's actually rubbish. Tiring to listen to, impossible to dance to - so what's the point?

Give me a dumbass track featuring Kool G cursing over the A-team theme anytime.

Primal Scream - 'Kowalski'

Primal Scream are such an enigma that I can't actually tell if they're arch zeitgeist-surfers, producing of-the-moment highbrow pop music that is meant to be discarded like used tissues (as Freddy Mercury memorably described Queen's output), or are just tedious bandwagon jumpers of the highest order.

I've no idea when or where I bought this, and I'm pretty sure this is about the third time I've played it. Maybe it's the Automator remix on the b-side that drew me to it. It certainly wasn't the shite-awful cover of '96 Tears', a laughable attempt at garage-punk-electronica fusion, that caught my ear.

Piss poor, tepid, emotionless. Oh well.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Arsonists - 'Blaze'

I remember where and why I bought this - I was in New York in about 1999, and a mate was about to open a new hip-hop night in Leeds. It was called Loophole, and was notable for being the worst paid gig I ever did.

I don't remember how many weeks I played for nothing, but it was more than one or two. I should've known better, but hey, I'd just dropped a shedload of money on fat joints when I was in NYC. That's got to make me cool, right? When James, the promoter, started turning up telling me that he'd said a prayer before he came out, I should've known better, but you'll put up with endless nonsense from you mates, won't you?

I went to all the cool record shops in New York, bought all the hypest joints, and then flew home with them, happy in the knowledge that I was going to tear it up on the ones and twos in Leeds. I went to Fat Beats. I went to Discorama. I was on a mission.

Except actually, this is utter toss. Boring. Not totally without merit, but hip-hop as a slightly over-earnest art form. I'm all for trying to dance about architecture, but I refuse to dance to a record that is in any way trying to maintain some sort of artistic distance from the dancefloor.

Music is meant to move you in a primal way - if I want something thought-provoking, I'll read a book. If I'm listening to hip-hop, I want it to make me feel like I'm about to uprock, throw a windmill, whatever.

The worst bit is that this tune samples the War Of The Worlds theme. I pray to all that is holy that I never thought that was a good idea. And if I did, then count me guilty of overthinking what might make people shakes their asses on a dance floor. Oh well, it was only $4.49....

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Run DMC - 'Down With the King'

Run DMC are total hip-hop heroes of mine. Whenever I hear any of their records, they totally portray to me how the macho swagger of hip-hop can have a transformative power that operates outside of the usual hip-hop cliches. Or to quote Scroobius Pip from his awesome track 'Thou Shalt Always Kill' - 'Thou shalt remember that guns, bitches and bling were never part of the four elements [of hip-hop], and never will be'.

I've no idea when or where I bought this, and I'm sure it was just for the track 'Oooh, watcha gonna do' on this disc. But it never really got any asses shaking on the dance floor. In fact, it just got moved earlier and earlier in any set that I played, and althought people would come up to me and tell me how great they thought this track was, and how I was the only DJ they'd heard play it, nobody would dance to it. It's the musical equivalent on a dish of lambs tongues in a restaurant - even the people who know that it's a brave choice don't want to know.

I played it for a year or so, on and off, and then gave up. The rest of the album is OK, although Run DMC were going through a bit of a pseudo gangsta phase at this point - they look like Onyx on the cover, ferchrissakes.

But still, on the opening track, they sample themselves, from the track 'Down With the King' from the album 'Tougher Than Leather', and it sounds awesome. Hip-hop legends - believe it.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

The Charlatans - 'Some Friendly'

This immediately takes me back to a freezing bedsit in Salisbury, late 80s. I can even remember buying this from the now defunct Our Price chain. I was a fanatical NME-reading music fan, fascinated by the exotic notions offered by the paper. Manchester, that far-off land of baggy, where everything was groovy, and everyone was on one.

It's a OK record, just sort of slightly limp-wristed retro-futurist 60s revivalism. Was it obvious from this record that they would still be around in 20 years? No. Is it a classic first album? No. Will I ever think 'ooh, I must dig out 'Some Friendly' and give it a listen for old times sake'? Sadly, the answer is, again, no.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Beastie Boys - 'Scientists of Sound'

I'm a huge Beastie Boys fan. Well, I mean I was when I was a fan of any music. I remember being interviewed one night while playing at York Universoty, and was asked which band I'd most liked to be in. Without hesitation, I replied 'I'm actually the fourth Beastie Boy. Whenever I see them play, I can see how much they miss me. I'm missing in action, and they are trying to get me back, but it's not easy for them'. I said it with such conviction thst I must have seemed mentally ill. The nice young lady with the microphone took on a certain startled look and starting looking for an escape route.

I think I probably bought this record for the acapellas on it - certainly the remixes are pretty cursory, and I'm not sure I would've got away with doing anything other than using them as background music for that first 45 minutes of a club where no-one wants to dance, but you've got to have loud music playing. You don't want to start burning all your best tunes at 9.15, so you use remixes and album tracks to keep the punters in a holding pattern. And if it all goes off a bit early, hey, you're a great DJ for getting feet onto the dancefloor early.

For the avoidance of doubt, I never got to join the Beastie Boys. They probably still have me listed as missing in action.