Posts from 8th April 2000

8
Apr 00

The sort-of-debate between me and Robin…

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The sort-of-debate between me and Robin that’s characterised today’s nylpm springs in part from Simon Reynolds’ Fave Records of 1999.

MOS DEF – “Ms. Fat Booty”

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MOS DEF – “Ms. Fat Booty” (MP3)
CHRIS MORRIS – “Motherbanger” (Flexidisc, given away with Select June 1992)
KOOL KEITH – “Intro” (from the album Black Elvis/Lost In Space)

Mos Def is kind of like Sysqo, i.e. he likes big bottoms, but he’s a lot more artistic about it, being as he’s one of those clever underground rappers that my most excellent blogging colleague Mr.Carmody says we should be listening to. You can tell that “Ms Fat Booty” is real tasteful because Mos Def plays out his seduction scene to Gregory Isaacs and Sade, and because he samples a gospel singer, just like that nice Moby man who made techno human and emotional. This all makes his record sound like Blackstreet’s “No Diggity”, only without the paranoia or nobility or polyvocal power or visionary grooviness. In other words, it’s solid stuff and it goes with a swing, but ultimately it’s just not nearly exciting or touching enough to do the job for me. (Unlike, I have to say, last year’s Scritti Politti album, so that’s my headz credz right out the window.)

I always thought Fur Q was one of the worse jokes from an alt.fan who’d no doubt have said all rap “sounded the same” anyway. Chris Morris was always better tackling the stuff he knew: his Kurt-Cobain-doing-a-sanpro-ad sketch from the same Day Today programme was much sharper than “Uzi Lover”, and his Pixies tribute “Motherbanger” is too. This is mostly because “Motherbanger” and the tampon song actually sound like the Pixies and Nirvana, whereas Fur Q sounded like an indie band ‘doing rap’, which dulled the parodic edge somewhat. “Motherbanger” gets the band, circa Surfer Rosa, exactly right: enthusiastic psycho-smut lyrics, token Spanish bit, artfully primitive garage-retro beat. It’s really funny, and almost uniquely for Morris it’s really warm too.

Who should we look to for some proper pop critique of the hip-hop scene, then? Who else but Kool Keith: “Intro” buzzes with frustration, Keith a fly trapped under smoked glass and keen to bite. Black Elvis? No – try Black Mark E. Smith, doing “Music Scene” or “Idiot Joy Showland” or any of his bilious editorials on the pitiable state of music. For the first half of “Intro” Keith hypnotises just like Smith does, spitting out imagist dream-disses of hip-hoppers with fish-eye lenses and rented Benzes and off-the-rack attitude, punctuating his questions with the unanswerable jabbing refrain “Why? WHY?”. It’s the question alternative music, be it alt.rock or underground rap or experimental dance, exists to put. The reason Keith (and Mark E. and V/VM for that matter) are necessary is that they don’t give a damn about what’s cool, or what’s authentic, or what’s sold-out: all they care about is that things be less stupidly predictable than they presently are, and they know that ‘educated’ rhymes or ‘intelligent’ lyrics or obscure samples are part of the problem, too.

As for ‘Street Rap’, a lot of the problem boils down to whether you think the nice production touches are just that, or whether you think they’re the point of the whole scary cavalcade. Lo-fi disdain for production is in my book precisely what keeps underground rap from achieving very much, what keeps chunks of it lost in its old skool world of block parties and turntables and digging in crates (which is an even more romantic vision of ‘street roots’ than seeing the street as a killing ground). Of course I’d like it if the lyrics to some of these tracks – and it is only some of them – weren’t so stereotyped and dreadful, but focussing on the words and refusing to hear the beats puts us back forty years in critical terms.

DOUBLE BARREL – Black Box Recorder

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Black Box Recorder – Live

The irony was laid on pretty heavy from the start: the band came on stage to Elton’s Goodbye English Rose. They were wearing complementary stage outfits – Sarah in a red satin shift, showing off her new BBR tattoo, and the guys in white suits, with John, all Robert Foster suave, in red shirt and black tie, and Luke in a black shirt and red tie. (Maybe it was the other way round, but I like the idea of Luke being a blackshirt.) The Japanese flag was draped over the back of the stage; or perhaps it was the ‘record’ symbol of their new logo (http://www.blackboxrecorder.co.uk).

They’re a creepy bunch: John just that touch too louche, and Luke sneering like a spiteful child, delighting in the naughty words he gets Sarah to perfectly enunciate. I like Black Box Recorder, but a live setting is perhaps not the best way to experience them – the crowd forced to keep silent and straining to hear Sarah whispering. However, seeing Luke cooing the harmonies of current teenage sex single Facts Of Life made me feel I’d witnessed something perverted.

With the exception of Facts Of Life, they’ve moved on from the alienated child of the first album, and have turned their ruthless gaze on bored British adults. Having dull sex, endlessly driving on motorways, visiting Ideal Home exhibitions. They play almost the whole of the new album. The Art of Driving is a driving-as-sex-metaphor song, with Sarah urging her partner to take it slow. French Rock’n’Roll is a cruel, accurate parody of Gallic music: all whispered entreaties and la-la-la-la chorus. The English Motorway System is like Autobahn, with its motorik keyboards and chorus of “the English motorway system, beautiful and strange”

They encored with England Made Me, and a brilliantly dispassionate version of one of Bowie’s more histrionic moments: Rock’n’Roll Suicide

David Sim (boy scribbling in the wreckage)

Killing Music – Home Taping, THE ICA

Home Taping is a great idea for a club night even if it was thought of by the Sneaker Pimps. The idea is you get celebrities to make mixtapes and then you get people to pay to hear them. It’s as much of a rip-off as it sounds, though more fun, because the ICA bar is open until late and staffed by beautifully obnoxious/obnoxiously beautiful young art things. It’s best to avoid going on those evenings when the Pimps themselves turn up to plough through some ghastly live set, because the ICA is twice as full as normal, and the extra people are twice as annoying (generally you get a lot of down-at-heel music fans and art kids, on Pimps night you get a lot of fashionable young things whose self-consciousness is as infectious as their company isn’t).

The tapes vary widely in quality, but unlike every other club I can think of you genuinely have no idea what you’re going to hear (as opposed to just not recognising who did it). The best ones tend to be by young soap actresses who don’t know what cool music is, or so I anti-intellectually surmise on two visits’ evidence. The worst one yet was by smug investigative journo Donal “Football hooligans are violent shocker” MacIntyre, who seemed on this occasion to have taken his cunningly-concealed tape recorders to a bad Soho bar. You don’t find out who’s doing tapes before you get in, which is a good thing as it meant we were all pleasantly surprised when Black Box Recorder’s mix came on.

I truly wish that I could tell you what they played or even whether it was good or not – early European art-techno as I remember, and the excellent “Moon River” – but I was much more interested in the actual presence of the band (minus Luke Haines, but I’ve seen him anyway) a mere one table away. When I mentioned this to my friends I was met with befuddlement, though as it turned out this was because my “It’s Black Box Recorder” was taken to refer to the monster picture of them which had been up for 5 minutes to announce their tape starting, and they were wondering why I was being so thick.

My observations of Black Box Recorder in a social context: Sarah Nixey is absolutely gorgeous. John Moore looks like Nicky Campbell and is not. If you’re in a fashionable subversion-pop outfit you don’t need to buy your own drinks.

The ICA, being down with the wired generation, had a computer hooked up in the lower bar area for The Kids to surf on. Needless to say we used it to surf straight to Freaky Trigger, and then left it on our favourite of Al’s cartoons in the hope that a pop star/Funny Folk interface would occur. (“Oh my goodness, who is this brilliant cartoonist? I must marry him immediately. Or his brother.”) No such luck, though we did attract a bespectacled, short, serious young man who surfed for two hours. Had he been reading Freaky Trigger all that time? No he had not, as a quick check of the history file revealed. (Swap two letters in this link to see what he’d found so interesting.)

BUTTERFLY CHILD – Drunk on Beauty

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BUTTERFLY CHILD – Drunk on Beauty (MP3)
This is the very essence of luxuriant. I vaguely remember Joe Cassidy being hailed (especially by David Hemingway, one of the great lost Melody Maker writers) as one of those epic, expansive lush pop genii back when he was ensconsced in Belfast, as a man who could seduce us into a relaxed, celebratory pop heaven based around unaggressive, girlish values, back when Britpop’s aggressively male, laddish Rockism was at its most dominant. The idea attracted me, but the music passed me by, for the most part. Sean O’Hagan’s High Llamas (an easy comparison point) always seemed more attractive. They had concepts, visions, evocations, lyrics that placed ideas of sunshine and relaxation, and what happens when they fall, in my head, rather than simply vaguely describing a few concepts.

So now we meet again, and “Drunk on Beauty” is luxuriance-by-numbers, really. I still find the title appealing and the concept something I want to immerse myself in, but there’s something missing with this song. Somehow, it’s almost too luxurious and too MOR, almost redolent of an Oasis stadium-slower. Maybe Joe Cassidy’s relocation to Chicago has blunted his sense of romance and intoxication. Or maybe it’s just that he no longer has Northern Uproar to oppose.

SUPER HUMAN POWERS – Intellectual Extra Terrestrials

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SUPER HUMAN POWERS – Intellectual Extra Terrestrials (MP3)
I know I’ve talked at length about their “West Evil Rhymes” (and rightly so, a mutation of Geography and Time even Momus might have dismissed as absurd, incongrous and unworkable) but I think this might be even better. It isn’t so much the emceeing, skilled and harsh though it is, or the ever-rising threat of a new form of humanity of superior mind and mental prowess, it’s the sample. One particular 60s / 70s AOR / MOR hit, infuriatingly familiar, used by Chris Morris in BBC Radio 4’s On The Hour over his mutation of the Vietnam war (“the Vietcong, who then started dropping ‘Look behind you’ leaflets on the GIs”), irritatingly unplaceable, which just works perfectly.

I increasingly feel under pressure in my gentle campaign for so-called “undie” rap, as my former heroes and inspirations write long euologies for those obsessed with The Streets (pop’s falsest and most illusory concept), seemingly unapologetic paeans to the ideology of the Thug, the Hot Boy and other concepts which actually appeal to, strengthen and reinforce the UK right-wing press’s reductive vision of all black American people, and try to excuse themselves off the back of a few production traits which make them, admittedly, the strangest-sounding records to enter the Billboard chart at Number 1. Not that that excuses them, really. Simon Reynolds can draw analogies between the Cash Money stable and the theories of Walter Pater and Georges Bataille, but they’ll always be Fur Qs to me.

If you skim over the market boosterism at the end, this old article from

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If you skim over the market boosterism at the end, this old article from Reason magazine is pretty much required reading for anyone interested in pop, irony, elitism, fake-fakeness, etc., themes not entirely absent from Freaky Trigger recently.

YOROKU SAKI – Tech-Scientific (Alpha Version) / Goodtimes (Demo Version)

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YOROKU SAKI – Tech-Scientific (Alpha Version) / Goodtimes (Demo Version) (MP3s)
Maybe it was the reference to the predictions in George Orwell’s 1984, and their historical presience, that attracted me first (but then it almost inevitably would). Maybe it was Eighth Wonder’s flow, incredibly aspirational, endlessly pushing towards new heights of learning (shame on you Reynolds for that voyeuristic celebration of “street” rap, at least as far as the lyrical content goes). But then there was Yoroku Saki’s production, cold, middle-European, almost Arctic, based around a glockenspiel. It might fit almost too easily into the developing cliches of “articulate” rap, but it’s still had me addicted for the last few days.

Forgive me for veering into Momus fetish territory here, but Yoroku seems almost too Japanese, in that this music can make me (dishevelled, shambolic) feel impossibly cool and self-confident. “Goodtimes” is a reinvention of 60s bubblegum – essentially the Fifth Dimension or the Lovin’ Spoonful as a garage band – and that particular dichotomy recalls a certain genius compatriot of Yuriko. While nothing here reaches Fantasmagorical heights, there’s enough to have you lurking for a while with this ever-changing pop aesthetic. Keep up.