Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Friday, March 27, 2015


Well, I like to think we're all mates at The Wire.  As it happens, some actual real-world mates are in this volume of the magazine's long-running Epiphanies column, alongside sundry fellow Wire writers and a host of musicians, musickers, authors and theorists: Little Annie, Jerry Dammers, Geeta Dayal, Paul Gilroy, Michael Gira, Kenneth Goldsmith, Jonny Greenwood, David Grubbs, Adam Harper, Stewart Lee, Lydia Lunch, Momus, Ian Penman, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Nina Power, Sukhdev Sandhu, Robert Wyatt, and another thirty-plus contributors. Plus yours truly, with a column on Scritti Politti that was one of the pieces that propelled me on the path to Rip It Up. Great  cover too, eh?

Compiled by Wire Editor-in-Chief / Publisher Tony Herrington, Epiphanies: Life Changing Encounters With Music is out now on Strange Attractor.

More information here.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

mouth music (space whisperer)

Via this excellent FACT tribute / beginner's guide to the late Daevid Allen, a/k/a Gilli Smyth's partner in Gong and in life.

Mikey IQ Jones writes:

Produced by Allen and featuring a number of Smyth’s former Gong bandmates as well as a number of Allen’s new Spanish compatriots, 1978’s Mother was Smyth’s first solo album, and her first major post-Gong project. It’s a heady, uncompromising manifesto on the simultaneous powers and struggles of matriarchy, with Smyth cooing, murmuring, and storytelling throughout as a siren of psychedelia. She contrasts charming psych-pop throwbacks to Gong’s Radio Gnome sound with a number of disorienting tape collage pieces over which her space whispers vibrate and shimmer, while unflinching spoken monologues make clear that there’s a darker undercurrent to the peace-and-love hippy operandi.
Amidst the quiet atmospheres in which its songs are cloaked, Mother stands as one of the first and most uncompromising feminist dispatches from the progressive rock universe (a realm overpopulated by regressive and rather misogynistic views toward women) and while some of the content is very much of its era, the album’s explorations of gender roles, cosmic consciousness, and domesticity remain vital and rewarding.
Some more Gilli groovy:

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday, March 06, 2015


Two mates, two books with Stranglers-evoking titles, out at the same time.

One is about the Stranglers. The other is not about the Stranglers at all.

Both published by Zero.

Only met Phil Knight the once in real life but he's a good upstanding blog neighbour, whose bracing opinions always make me stop and think. This is my blurb for Strangled:

In Strangled, one of the most brilliantly unusual brains to emerge from the blogosphere lovingly dissects one of the most brilliantly unorthodox bands to emerge from punk.  Using their savagely under-celebrated songs as a dark prism for the decline of the West, Phil Knight constructs a gripping entertainment for the mind that will convince even anti-fans that The Stranglers were the crucial band of their era” 

More info about the book here.

Carl Neville is a very good mate both in real life and in and around this blog parish. In addition to No More Heroes? he also has a novel - Resolution Way -  forthcoming on Repeater, which is the publishing successor to Zero.

This is Owen Hatherley's No More Heroes? blurb:

  • "Austrian strongmen have often had a malign influence on 20th century history. Holding out for a Hero makes a bold claim - that the true, rippling-muscled embodiment of the 'Austrian school' neoliberal economists was the Styrian bodybuilder and rightwing activist Arnold Schwarzenegger. It follows his influence through a landscape populated by monster trucks, closing car factories, apocalyptic visions and heartland dreams. A bizarre, exhilarating and mordant secret history of the 1980s"

A No More Heroes? taster 

(That's one their "Atmosphere", isn't it? )

Thursday, March 05, 2015

garage rap # 25

And for the final post of this series....  the most successful MC (as long term artist, seller of albums, scorer of hit singles) in all of garage rap....   and very nearly(but  not quite) the first white artist in this series, which may well have something to do with that long-term success...

Yet Mike Skinner is probably the least respected by your G-rap/grime cognoscenti.... barely considered part of it.

It's hard to reconstruct how exciting and different and fresh "Has It Come To This?" by The Streets felt when it came out...

Really the track - and Original Pirate Material as a whole - is meta-garage, a commentary on a culture rather than a product of it. So in that sense the grime cognoscenti are right.

Also they're right in the sense that delivery-wise, Mike Skinner could not "stand up in a war" with any of the heavweight G-rap/proto-grime MCs....

But the musical variety of the settings and the lyrical dexterity, the wit and warmth of  Original Pirate Material won over the sort of critics looking for that sort of thing...  which is sometimes me as well.  The New Wave / 2-Tone echoes won Skinner a broader audience whose reference points were Parklife and New Boots and Panties as opposed to Pay As U Go and Rinse FM. Punters, in fact, who rarely, if ever, tuned into a pirate radio signal.

These were my two favorites on the album-as-released:

Although this next would have stayed the fave if it hadn't been pulled off at the last minute for some reason (it was still on the promo I got) in favour of "Don't Mug Yourself," which I never cared for, and yet they made a single. "Runnings" later resurfaced as a B-side.

With the second album A Grand Don't Come For Free, the backing tracks came to seem really like backing tracks - thin, demo-ish, like they'd not been coloured in properly.

I could care less about the concept / story-line, but still some great tunes:

This one - straight in at Number One - just pushed Skinner completely over the top into mass acceptance, and over the edge in terms of all the head-bother that comes with being a public figure. The male Lily Allen, although she  came later and indeed arguably stepped into a space that Skinner opened up.

I don't remember anything about the not-coping-very-well-with-fame third album The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living.

I'm not sure I even listened to the fourth and fifth LPs.


Here's what I said about "Let's Push Things Forward / All Got Our Runnins", which made 15 in the Blissblog Fave Singles of 2002.

THE STREETS – “Let’s Push Things Forward/All Got Our Runnins” (Locked On) 

An album artist, obviously, but if you’re going to record an Aesthetic Manifesto/Call-to-Arms you might as well release it as a single. But I’m mentioning this mainly for the B-Side “All Got Our Runnin’s”, one of my favorite tracks on the pre-release version of Original Pirate Material, but at the last minute inexplicably pulled and replaced by “Don’t Mug Yourself”. As well as being very funny and touching in a Madness-in-dejected--but-still-jaunty-vein sort of way, this song is totally 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" and struggling to make it ‘til next pay day. 

Here's my review of Original Pirate Material from April 2002.

And finally here's a piece I wrote about garage rap for The New York Times, focused on The Streets, Ms Dynamite and So Solid Crew, with quotes from Mike Skinner and various US industry types on why British rappers don't fare well in the USA.

garage rap # 24

Contradicting the MC focus of these posts, this one is organised around a central producer - the great Sticky.

Don't know a whole heap about Stush - the rest of her career seems to be more or less dancehall. Or maybe bashment is the right term - never quite got a fix on what that covered.

But then how would classify this?

But I've strayed from the Sticky....

Ms Dynamite ought to get a post of her own, but "Booo" is really the only one of hers that gives me even half-a-tingle. Her later career direction has a curious effect of reverse de-thrillification - as though the virtuousness of the albums (Mercury Prize, her transformation into a Lauryn Hill-style role model) seeps back through time to contaminate what objectively is still reasonably rude.

Okay this one was fire too. Not Sticky on production though....

Two Sticky tracks featuring Tubby T. The groove for "Ganjaman" is particularly sick, and - after a hiatus -  will reappear here coated with freestyle nastiness from a particularly acrid  gutter-garage crew.

Simon Sez listen to garage rap, obviously.

That is one comically inaccurate graphic. Especially love the fact that UK hip hop starts in 1980, before it's barely got going in America.

I missed the fact that Sticky also made the backing track from "Dem Lott's Ere Now" in the previous post....

This is by no means an exhaustive inventory of the productions of Sticky.

(I have left out Simon Sez's "Golly Gosh" because its just too ugly lyrically)

garage rap # 23

Rounding up the G-rap stragglers....

Dem Lott, "Dem Lott's Here Now"  -  edge-of-ludicrous portentousness of the vocals here recall dancehall's comedic bombastitude

Known variously as Purple Haze, Purple Haze Crew, and Purple Haze Kru -  this lott have just one major label release to their name ("Messy") and one not-on-label. Like Dem Lott, pungent dancehall flavours here (best bit is the girl chorus "dem man dem are rooooooood" ).  "Messy" as transvaluated praise-word must be inverse of "criss". 

Young Offendaz featuring MC CKP "Flava" - Discogs just has this one release for the production duo  of Lee Fagan and Martin Nairn, here making a slick-but-tuff vehicle in the mold of Groove Chronicles's breaks-ier releases, for CKP to ride. One of the major UKG emcees,  CKP appears on several other tracks, though.

"Maxwell D you're sounding phat" - like CKP, Maxwell is name-checked on God's Gift's tribute to 32 MCs.   Member of Pay As U Go Kartel, key figure in transition from garage rap to grime... yet I can't summon other tunes by him to memory.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

garage rap # 22

Included because Craig David slips back 'n' forth between R&B ooze-croon and mellifluously epicene MCing for short stretches on these tunes,, classic of what might be called the softcore continuum.

A nuumological scholar's delight -  a deeptech refix of "Fill Me In"

stop press: jack jambie points out there is also a jackin refix of "fill me in"

garage rap # 21

On the Babyshack Recordings label, this one - M-Dubs featuring Emperor Richie Dan, "Over Here" - is a real memory-rush tingler.  A minimal 2-step roller in the Dem 2/"Destiny" mold--crisp snare-kick groove, groove, simple synth-vamp, great organ licks and dub-wise flickers in back of the mix -  over which saunters a fabulous drawling 'n' nasal ragga-ish  vocal from the Emperor Richie Dan (he'd drop the "The Emperor" bit on later tunes). More singjay than MC, Dan plays a ladies-man languidly tendering his services - "if you wanna take a chance/I'm right over 'ere" -  while a female backing vocalist appears to be singing "Iron Mike" for some reason. 

M-Dubs other classic - "Bump 'N' Grind" - rampantly vocal-ed by dancehall queen Lady Saw.

garage rap # 20

File Under Important But Kinda Wack:

This record cover - 70 or so of the top players on the UK Garage scene - is far and away the best thing about "Good Rhymes" by Da Click.

"Click" was a US hip hop buzzword at the time (remember Queen Pen's "we beez the baddest click up on this planet"? I thought not) and Da Click was inspired in a major way by Puff Daddy and the whole Bad Boy era of rap clans and collective swagger. One of the instigators of the project, Unknown MC, used to be in Hijack, a Brit-rap group signed to Ice T's Rhyme Syndicate label.  For a 2step piece I was doing for Vibe in 2000, Unknown told me "in London right now, there's a thing happening where true MCing is coming back to the floor. You have these clubs with two thousand people where the MC really is interfaced between the DJ and the crowd. And he's whipping the crowds up into mad frenzies, getting them involved in the party. Which I imagine is what it must have been like in the Bronx in the '70s, you know what I'm saying?”

That's the sonic conceit behind "Good Rhymes"  - it's a reworking of "Good Times" designed to echo Sugarhill Gang's  Chic-riding "Rapper's Delight" and thereby capture an equivalent moment in the rise of UK MCs. Unfortunately the rabbit-punch strength-level contributions from the roll-call of top UKG MCs (Creed, et al) sit rather unhappily on top of the stilted groove.  By the time the track gets to the interminable "you got the vibe!" shout-outs to various scene luminaries (Dreem Teem, Tuff Jam, Rhythm Division, Bubblin' Cru, Spreadlove Crew, Deja Vu, ad tedium) the net result is cringeworthy.  

It made the Top 20 and is therefore historically notable as an early sortie in the garage rap invasion of the UK pop charts.

"Do You Really Like It" by DJ Pied Piper and The MC's. That's Unknown MC again - alongside DT, Melody, and Sharky P - bouncing their flows over the groovecraft of  Piper. This got to Number One in 2001. Listening to  "Do You Really Like It" again for the first time since the time, it didn't seem nearly as bad as I remembered it. But it does have that sort of foreign-language hip hop, Euro-rap type vibe about it, and falls a good ways short of the charm of, say, K2 Family or Genius Cru.

I was going to say that all these naff garage rap records have collectivity in common, but then the same applies to the great G-rap tunes by Pay As U Go, K2, et al....   So Solid Crew's "21 Seconds" takes the mic-sharing to the limit, though: the concept is that each MC -- Megaman, Asher D, Mc, Kaish, G-Man, Harvey, Romeo, Lisa Maffia, Face and Skatt D (that's the album version sequence; the single is jigged around a tiny bit) --  has approximately 21 seconds / 12 bars in which to say their piece.  This constraint is interesting as a track-structural device and on the socio-political-allegory level (less than half a minute  = very narrow aperture through which each would-be star can attempt to "blow" his or her way to hood-transcending fame). But the overall effect is to make each performance feel, well, rushed and the rapid-fire procession of MCs emphasises the cookie-cutter vibe of the flows, which become hard to distinguish from each other.

Still, it got to Number One in August 2001 and represented a Moment - almost like  the premature coming of grime-before-grime.

So Solid Crew did some much better stuff than "21 Seconds", their biggest hit.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

garage rap # 19

Master Stepz's "Melody" is borderline in this context. Barely counts as "garage rap" - it's 2step, with a MC lick, courtesy of one Splash.

But who cares? Another love-it-to-the-bone tune from a time of overflowing bounty

Flipside is nice too - draped with a nuum-beloved diva vocal (source unknown to me) that's been used on earlier hardcore and jungle tracks a few times, and here makes for a nice constrast of sweet gooey warmth against those trademark Master Stepz dry grid-like beats.

I checked out this  one just for the title - "Bubblette", love it to the boooooooone, the MARROW - and guess, what, it features an uncredited lady MC! Proper garage rap, and a tuff little unit, production-wise, to boot. A right little lost gem and no mistake, one whose existence I'd never known until a minute ago.

Ah, and here's another nifty Master Stepz tune, featuring Richie Dan whose singjay tones we will be encountering again shortly.

Master Stepz's Ian Thompson also made a track with one MC Kreation, called "New Kreation", but nobody has seen fit to deposit that one on YouTube.

So he was something of a garage rap auteur, Mr Stepz -  a mini-vortex of mic talent.

Bonus clip - Master Stepz clashing Heartless Crew

garage rap # 18

An  important group that nobody talks about these days or listens to.

"They Don't Know" for me is So Solid Crew's one undeniable killer tune.

At least, track with rapping on it. They also made this influential instrumental which played a big role in the shift from garage-based grooves to the electro / jump-up / dancehall hybrids that underpinned grime.

Hang on a minute - seems there was a vocal version of "Dilemma"!

Spelled "Dilema" on the label - deliberately or accidentally, I wonder?

"21 Seconds" is coming up later in a post dedicated to Important But Wack Tunes.

But this is one of the better tunes on the album They Don't Know.

These also pretty good

Monday, March 02, 2015

Podrzyj, wyrzuć, zacznij jeszcze raz

The Polish edition of Rip It Up and Start Again   - Podrzyj, wyrzuć, zacznij jeszcze raz  -  is out now on Krytyka Polityczna

garage rap # 17

In a recent Wire Invisible Jukebox with Butterz boyz Elijah and Skilliam, the 1989 rave classic  "£20 To Get In" by Shut Up And Dance was played.

Elijah exclaimed excitedly that Serious One, their Butterz club MC, was the nephew of one member of SUAD, then elaborated on the thread of 
contiNUUMity that ran from  Eighties (UK sound system culture / fast chat / britrap) through Nineties ( ardkore / jungle / UKG) to the 21st Century (grime ).

"The voice, the English and Jamaican accents, that's intrinsic to grime and to living here, in East London. That's why I know Shut Up And Dance Music, just by DNA.... You don't need the ID".

Skilliam added, "It's music that you've grown up with."

The exchange reminded me of an earlier Invisible Jukebox with Goldie sometime in the mid-Nineties when he was also played a Shut Up And Dance track --  quite possibly the very same tune. Goldie came up with a metaphor of a train. Something like: SUAD were right at its head, the engine or the front carriage; Goldie (and Reinforced, Metalheadz, et al) were in a carriage further down; new carriages would keep getting added in time. 

There can't be many examples of a group who dominated an earlier  nuum-phase but then managed to make themselves righteously relevant again like SUAD did with "Moving Up" in 2001.

I always bracket "Moving Up"  -  manic MC chat, sing-songy singjay upfullness, peppy breakstep, Heartless Crew-like positivity - with this other joyous not-quite-garage-rap tune of roughly the same period: 


Sunday, March 01, 2015

mouth music (the accappella series)

garage rap # 16

The Heartless Crew! 

Whose website address at a glance could be misread as "heartless screw". 

But whose positivity 'n' bonhomie vibe could not be further from the sexual malice of tunes like "Swallow" (which I probably won't revisit once this series mutates from garage rap to what for a while I called  "gutter garage"). 

MCs Bushkin and Mighty Moe + DJ Fonti had one proper hit with "The Heartless Themes aka The Superglue Riddim" (#21 in 2002), then a near-hit with "Why (Looking Back)" (#50 in 2003), then a flop with the same year's "Hearts In the Music". Between 2002-20006 The Heartless Crew also hosted an eclectic and upful radio show on Sunday evenings for BBC 1Xtra.  

"The Heartless Theme" reached #12 in the Blissblog Fave Singles of 2002. Here's what I said about it then: 

HEARTLESS CREW – “The Heartless Theme aka The Superglue Riddim” (Warner) 

More positive G-rap: a wonderfully jaunty groove hooked around an insouciant whistling synth (like the kind of chirpy early-bird milkman who drives you up the wall) while Heartless Crew rap about how their success is all down to years of dedication and honest graft dating back to the early Nineties: “When we go shopping buy the latest design/That that that that that’s mine/Heartless Crew we bought the whole shop/Some people thought that we hit the jackpot/Or if we done a move that was hot/but nah nanana nah we been working hard.” And if you thought their name signified war-of-all-against-all ruthlessness, think again: they’re heartless cos “our hearts are inna the music.” Aaah. 

The follow-up almost-hit:

Cover of "Message To You Rudy" said to be done for an unreleased album:

At the height of their success, The Heartless Crew also put out a major label mix-CD, Crisp Biscuit, Vol. 1,  the entirety of which you can hear here and here.