Posts from September 2002

22
Sep 02

It couldn’t happen here

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It couldn’t happen here: Germany has launched its official state web portal – and the moderator is Blixa Bargeld!

21
Sep 02

Carter USM

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Carter USM: yeah, I said it: Carter USM. I confront my past and somewhere else on Freaky Trigger Dr. C confronts a past and Pete confronts some giant spiders.

19
Sep 02

POP-EYE GUEST STAR SPECIAL

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POP-EYE GUEST STAR SPECIAL

ilxor.com programming master Graham P takes the Pop-Eye baton for this weeks trek to the summit of Mt.Pop (thanks Graham!):

“”The Tide Is High (Get The Feeling)” is still at number one for a third week. Well obviously. Who’s gonna argue with me now? Loads of new entries this week, and none can beat My Kittens. Proof I’m right. And the Get The Feeling bit is especially fabulous, thank you Natasha. But on to her casualties:

Liberty X are at number two. A pointless boring pleasant cover version with a rubbish stuck on bassline, everything that “The Tide Is High” is meant to be rubbish for (but isn’t, obv, unlike this). If “Got To Have Your Love” is the best the chart lizards can do than tt’s an insult to the kitten and despite having surely been in the same room as Noel from Hear’say, all involved should be killed.

Kelly Kelly Kelly. In at number three with “DO YOU SEE??!?!”, probably missing out on a higher position because The Osbournes hasn’t started on Channel 4 yet. She has a dandy go at making Madonna sound like Daisy Chainsaw, and for that I can only praise her. And CB radio vocals are very, very much the way forward, (cf. Puretone). Well done.

Number four, Bombfunk MC’s ft. Orville the Duck. Or Scooter as you might know them. It has a shouty Euro-cockney, and what he shouts rhymes. And it’s sweet and lonely and heartbreaking too. And somewhere in here there’s a KLF cover too. “I am a junglist soldier!” It’s a mess, a total mess. But fantastic. (Alright, it’s not all that good, but Christ are they trying).

I think the Ronan Keating record has a vocoder on it. In fact when I switched the radio on I remember wondering if it was a real record at all. But I’m sure it appeals to the elderly somehow, and I have no right to hate him for that.

Then Sarah Whatmore is at number six with a Kylie-style dance-pop record with a lovely hummy bassline, and an intro taken from Anastacia’s “I’m Outta Love”. She has a great name. Plus the song reminds me of Summer, everyone’s favourite precocious granddaughter from Neighbours (It does!!). And wasn’t Sarah on P-P-Pop Idol? Right? So wouldn’t she have been in THE SAME ROOM as G-G-Gareth and W-W-Will? Record of the week.

I haven’t heard the Milk Inc. record and know nothing about it. But it’s got to be something to do with the Milky record that’s also in the charts? And that’s good, so (6/10). Oh no, I heard someone apologising for its existence (8/10).”

Tom’s Top Ten!

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Tom’s Top Ten!
SINEAD O’CONNOR – “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”
MISSY ELLIOTT – “Work It”
ABASS ABASS – “Urgence”
BHUNDU BOYS – “Jit Jive”
DR.DRE – “The Day The Niggaz Took Over”
CARTER USM – “Lean On Me I Won’t Fall Over”
KATE BUSH – “Hammer Horror”
WIRE – “99.9”
AMERIE – “Why Don’t We Fall In Love?”
ABS – “What You Got”

GENE FARRIS – “This Is My Religion”

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GENE FARRIS – “This Is My Religion”

I ended up disliking this one. Appreciating it, yes, but disliking it. Farris has the tension/no-release thing just so, and “This Is My Religion” is the most delightful case of chemical-spiritual blue balls you’re ever likely to get – but the la-la-la loop he’s chosen sounds like it’s sampling Nu Yorican Soul (or source material thereof), which was only really satisfying when it did drop its guard and burst into song. This, on the other hand, is like being fluffed by Gilles Peterson.

17
Sep 02

DAKAR’S DELIGHT – Africa Raps

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Pacotille is slang for “rubbish” and Pacotille wanted to make a hip-hop tape but he couldn’t even afford his own beats so he did it the hard way, splicing beats and intros from copied American records. He had it on sale in Dakar’s cassette shops in a couple of weeks, the cover showed a cheap plastic sandal. This is the bottom end of the spectrum that starts with John Oswald and runs through Richard X, of course – plagiarhythm as economic neccessity. We don’t get to actually hear it – the compilers of Trikont’s Africa Raps set us straight on that: the lyrics are impressive but “unfortunately, the music itself is not powerful enough to be interesting for anyone outside of Senegal”. Except hip-hop lawyers, I’m guessing.

Mostly when it comes to American rap the Dakar producers take the talent route, not the genius one. The beats they like best are slow, simple, head-nodding rather than funky, and rich with little melodic and musical touches. This might be a preference of the Trikont office, not the Dakar street, of course, and there’s enough cops from Dre or No Limit productions to suggest that the thoughtful styles given prominence on this album aren’t the full story. But you’d expect diversity – Senegal (which gives us most of the tracks on Africa Raps) is hip-hop’s second nation in terms of rappers per capita.

Not that Senegal has its own P.Diddy or Jay-Z – almost all hip-hop is sold on cassettes, and a big hit gets tens of thousands of sales. Plenty more might be listening of course but the money doesn’t feed back to the artists – one track on the CD is a broadside against music pirates. The relative poverty of the Senegalese scene means that whatever the street followings of the artists there’s no underground-mainstream divide to worry about. Which isn’t to say issues of ‘realness’ don’t dog African hip-hop, as the strange case of Gokh-Bi System shows.

Gokh-Bi System got a big break – an American tour, as part of a cultural exchange program, and a chance to release an album there, which they called The Real Africa, blending traditional African music and hip-hop. How real were they? On their US tour they’d wear boubous, traditional Senegalese dress. Back in Dakar, though, off came the boubous and on came the Nikes. Even so their profile in their hometown was zero – the Dakar crowd didn’t want conservative music and conservative clothes. Gokh-Bi’s track on Africa Raps lambasts women who bleach their skin – “Sister sister, stay the way you are”. It barely sounds like hip-hop at all.

American hip-hop goes through Afrocentric phases but it doesn’t want to know about its African imitators, or that’s the impression you get reading the interviews in these liner notes. The Senegalese rap that sells abroad is the stuff with ‘exotic’ elements. Sometimes this makes for striking music – Bibson and Xuman’s “Kav Jel Ma” samples Youssou N’Dour, blending Mbalax and beats to sinewy effect, and Mali’s Les Escrocs sprinkle “Pirates” with delightfully birdlike kora runs. But other great tracks on this compilation don’t sell themselves as anything other than hip-hop: my favourite, Abass Abass’ “Urgence” weaves through melancholy piano loops and phased horn tracks and stands as one of the best Francophone rap tracks I’ve heard.

To be honest, the French-language rapping is part of why I like the CD so much. I don’t get to hear the lyrics, which is a shame – the sleeve notes paint an exciting picture, of a city where cheap cassette production and distribution means that hip-hop can stay right up to date, and of a society where 80% of people are under 30. Corruption is rife and the street answers back – some of these songs breaking their flow to quote chunks of one politico or other’s speeches. I can’t tell, though, whether they’re being satirical or supportive, and I can’t catch the political-religious tensions either, in a music where the key production company is called Fight In The Name Of Allah. But I love hearing French rapped – all those elisions and sibilants are a dreamy alternative to hard-consonant English spitting. And when this copmpilation does dip into English-language rapping the flows are frankly muddy, so my lack of comprehension is maybe a blessing. Even if it does position me as just another background-music consumer, a European seeker after the exotic.

The other thing I notice when the English-language crews (mostly from the Gambia) turn up is that in fact the lyrics are mostly brags and disses. Nothing wrong with that of course and I take on trust the idea that the French rappers are more politicised but it shows up some of the tensions that emerge as hip-hop becomes more and more globalised. On the one hand it’s the biggest-selling music in the world and at the same time it’s a uniquely cheap and flexible way of making records that are absolutely local in outlook, which is where Pacotille comes in. But in order for those records to have legitimacy they have to keep a sonic connection with the global style, which has long since outgrown its strictly local roots. Hip-hop’s sample-based beat-building throws another element in the mix, as local crews can tap an older legitimacy by sampling previous home-grown local musics, but then they risk their status as avatars of the here-and-now.

To many an American listener, happy in the home of hip-hop, there’s no problem here: American rap is the real thing and anything else is a charming or laughable imitation. To a listener in Dakar – or Paris or London, for that matter – enjoying hip-hop means negotiating however reluctantly between these clashing reals, listening to the local crews who steal ideas from the Americans and use them to talk about blocks of flats or marabouts or Special Brew or Dakar ambulance drivers stopping to buy cigs instead of taking you to the hospital. And of course hip-hop is a global music because of this tension, because (America) is the secret parenthesised presence in everything that happens nowadays, culture’s background noise. Hip-hop is so big, so everywhere now because it’s about life on every street, and at the moment life on every street is a life lived in America’s shadow.

16
Sep 02

The Minor Fall, The Major Lift

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The Minor Fall, The Major Lift: Another one I haven’t linked because I wasn’t sure if I’d linked to it before. Sarkier-than-usual music blog, good I think.

Christgau on International Rap

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Christgau on International Rap: wish I’d read this before writing my piece along similar lines.

Freaky Trigger is BACK!

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Freaky Trigger is BACK! After (almost) two months off, what better to lead off than Ronan’s Underworld live review (and Ronan’s life review). Also featured: Sterlingon Sleater-Kinney and me on African hip-hop. And that’s for starters – coming next weekend is another C90Go, an article on the Honeycombs, Lift To Experience and more.

I Know It’s Crazy But I Can’t Stop – The Honeycombs

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I’m in love with Honey Lantree, and anyone who cares about pop should love her too. Look at the cover of The Honeycombs ‘I Can’t Stop’ – she’s above the boys, looking to the left and slightly upwards, red lipstick and dark back-comb. If you could see her body, instead of just her head, you might expect to see her seated at a typewriter, clockwatching the last ten minutes of a working week, looking forward to tonight’s club, tonight’s friends, tonight’s music. She’d be wearing a skirt slightly too short for the typing pool and perhaps a little too much make up – but there’s no time to go home to the suburbs and change before the 100 Club. No time to waste.

Well, it’s not quite as ordinary as that. Although at one time a hairdresser, Honey Lantree was 60’s pop’s greatest drummer – The Honeycombs’ one woman popstomp explosion. For a week or more I’ve been immersed in the four Honeycombs songs on Castle/Sanctuary’s staggering new Joe Meek anthology The Alchemist Of Pop . Not only does Alchemist replace the fairly difficult to get hold of ‘It’s Hard to Believe and the various volumes of The Joe Meek Story as the definitive Meek comp, but it’s also absolutely compulsory listening for any pop fan. Hang on – I don’t want to talk about The Alchemist of Pop here – read Marcello Carlin’s Church of Me article for a brilliant overview of the whole thing – I just want to talk about The Honeycombs. About Honey.

Let’s take them one at a time. First – ‘Have I the Right’ – the BIG one. Where to start? A debut Number One in August 1964 – two minutes and fifty six seconds of hormones-out-of-control pop mayhem. As with all great records, the intro sets everything up perfectly – an urgent, slightly marching-on the spot, backbeat with tambourine topping and Meek’s trademark compressed beyond belief guitar and ice rink organ. Dennis D’ell’s weird growling and gargling delivery is one of the great pop vocals, cranking himself up to a frustrated howl on the chorus (“‘I’ve got some love and I long to share it!”) over Honey’s brutal thump. The slightly off-mike ‘Alright’ after the second chorus sounds as if D’ell has fallen to the floor unable to continue, leaving it to the guitar to carry the tune while he recovers. Here, Honey punctuates with skipping end -of phrase off beats – I told you she was good. The empty-cinema ambience of the production is amazing, Meek ensuring that you have to lean in and listen hard. But still you always feel that something in the mix is still out of reach, as yet unheard.

It’s no surprise that they never equalled ‘Have I The Right’, spending the rest of their short career casting around for another big hit. Follow-up singles either failed to chart or ran aground well short of the top ten, although they did manage a sizeable hit overseas with ‘I Can’t Stop’, which oddly was never released as a single in Britain. To put it bluntly ‘I Can’t Stop’ is fucking mental. An obviously speeded up Dennis D’ell yelps and growls over a stripped down and scratchy R+B/Merseybeat hybrid. The bridge is bonkers – D’ell squeaks a camp ” A-we can’t go on kissing – like THIS” while Honey alternates thundering rolls with a proto-glam thud. Martin Murray’s guitar solo, meanwhile, battles against insane amounts of compression which at times reduces it to a high whistle and only Alan Ward’s Vox Continental escapes the crush as Meek runs riot on the desk. D’ell declares in the second bridge, “You’ve driven/ me wild/ from the start – WOW!” and we go around again until Honey’s cymbal flaying finishes it. Genius!

The third Honeycombs track on ‘Alchemist’ is a 1965 Kinks cover, ‘Something Better Beginning’. While the original is a pretty good, slightly Mersey-cheesy album track from ‘Kinda Kinks’, this version is gigantic – the best Kinks cover I’ve heard. Better even than The Raincoats’ ‘Lola’ or The Nomads ‘ I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ – that good. From the off Meek punctuates another cavernous production with a blend of groaning baritone sax and muted trumpet, gliding in ballroom strings halfway through the first verse. This time Honey’s beat is pure driving pop-Motown, pushing D’ell’s hopeful vocal to a dramatic falsetto conclusion. Massive – but it only struggled to number 39 in the charts.

There was one last hurrah – a summer 1965 number 12 hit with re-recording of the Howard/Blaikley ballad ‘That’s The Way’ from the previous year’s album ‘The Honeycombs’. Here Honey gets the microphone, joining a mixed-down D’ell in a soaring bubblegum duet and she sounds, well – heartbreakingly beautiful. A few more singles stiffed in 1965/66 before the band ground to a halt sometime in 1967. Well, maybe not quite – The Honeycombs have existed in various forms on the clubs and pubs circuit until just about the present day, usually featuring Dennis D’ell as the only original member. Honey Lantree never featured again except for a rumoured 1996 attempt to put the original line-up back together. I read somewhere that her mother had kept Honey’s sixties drum-kit in her basement in Hayes and that she planned to use it again, but somehow it never happened. I just can’t imagine how the heck the kit had survived the beatings she must have given it thirty years before.

So that’s why I love Honey and her Honeycombs. Sometimes everything- the sound, the look, the songs – is so irresistible that you can’t help yourself. You can’t help making them part of a story, part of a dream. And that’s the way you fall in love.

Dr C