6
Apr 10

M/A/R/R/S – “Pump Up The Volume”/”Anitina (The First Time I See She Dance)”

FT + Popular122 comments • 6,949 views

#598, 3rd October 1987, video

“Kept the hooks flying so fast that it sounded like a pop radio hit”

This entry is constructed around ‘samples’ of other people’s blog posts or writings mentioning “Pump Up The Volume”. Even saying that feels absurd and a little pompous – they’re just links, right? In the way that samples now are just… samples. If you listen to 21st century pop you experience them as content, not as process, with the occasional exception – Girl Talk for instance. But “Pump Up The Volume” got at least some of its power from the sample-as-process, the surprise and delight of cut ups, that videogame sense of micro-events coming at you in random attack formations.

“Colourbox was the band with the drum machines and samples while A R Kane were the shoegazers, but the more I listened to [A R Kane]’s records… it makes me wonder what Colourbox contributed!

Actually “Pump Up The Volume”‘s pace isn’t particularly fast – the track feels roomy, a sandbox of possibilities bounded by that loping bassline. It’s nice to imagine that this is down to AR Kane’s interest in dub, though the participants have suggested the ‘collaboration’ was fractious and the dreampop band’s contribution to the hit side of this double-A came down to little more than guitar overdubs. Whatever the inspiration, it means “Pump Up The Volume” has aged more gracefully than some of the spatchcocked sampladelia that followed it – though I love almost all its imitator records too.

Also, those slices of echoing guitar are the ingredient that gives this single its enduring strangeness – alien noises cutting across the hip-hop and funk sources “Pump” mostly draws on: as a proportion of the record they’re minor, but they’re also what makes it special.

“some people were yearning for acid house before it was invented, almost willing it into being”

Like “Jack Your Body”, “Pump Up The Volume” was another step towards club culture’s takeover of UK pop. But while “JYB” was an unexpected shot of purism in the compromised land of the top 10, “Volume” is a wild hybrid, made by intrigued outsiders. Which makes its success even odder – imagine the Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness Is The Move” getting to #1, maybe? The record is as much hip-hop as house – it owes more to Grandmaster Flash and Steinski than to Chicago musicians, and I’d guess hit bigger as a pop event than a club one.

“Ofra Haza turned out be to the Yeminite equivalent of Barbara Streisand or Celine Dion, didn’t she?”

The DJ house strain of club music “Pump Up The Volume” helped birth burned itself out fairly quickly because it was incestuous in terms of sample sources and easy to parody, and because unpredictable juxtaposition isn’t a consistently useful strategy on the dancefloor. But “Pump” itself chose its samples well and set them well too: the bassline working as a tour guide, and that sly top-end ripple on the drum track giving the record an intimacy where most sample workouts simply used novelty and brashness. We peep through a hidden door into a different record, hear Dunya Yunis sing, then shut it again and stroll on.

“bewilderment gave way to enthusiasm and we had a hit on our hands”.

Whatever its place in the wider story of dance music, for me “Pump Up The Volume” was a moment of pop crisis. I’d overlooked or ignored “Jack Your Body” but M/A/R/R/S was more strange and striking – and I despised it. Its rejection of structure, of tune, of identification points seemed close to nihilist: this simply wasn’t music as I could recognise it. This state of mind is hard to recover now – dance music and hip-hop have rewired how I hear music to the extent that it’s ended up being rock I’ve had to re-learn how to listen to. What seemed like a destruction of everything I associated with music now seems like a blueprint for so much I enjoy about it: an equal and opposite exaggeration, perhaps, but this record is still a milestone for me.

10

Comments

1 3 4 5 All
  1. 101
    lonepilgrim on 8 Apr 2010 #

    I think what makes PUTV stand out is the underlying sparseness of the propelling bassline, smeary, dischordant guitars and clattery drums – it’s like a poppier version of Metal Box. The various combinations of samples add a sprinkling of fairy dust over the whole thing.

  2. 102
    rosie on 8 Apr 2010 #

    This might be a good place to mention that there were rumblings at around this time of something that would eventually have a much bigger impact on popular culture than house music ever could.

    Home computers had been around for a decade. Producers of house music were no doubt making good use of them, and lonely teenagers already spent their spare time on their BBC micros and Commodore Amigas talking a curious technical lingo on bulletin board systems, using the parental phone receiver stuffed into an acoustic coupler running at 300 baud. The Internet had academics and the US military in contact with each other but very few others unless they had the resources to put in a fixed line.

    But it was only towards the end of 1987 that a BBS in New Malden stated getting ideas above its station. It became CIX Communications, and started to attract non-geeks, mainly London-based journalists. It also started offering a read-only link to Usenet. A chap called Cliff Stanford, who used the name demon on CIX and who was a serious geek who ran an electronics shop in Hendon called Demon Computers (I bought my first modem from him) and had shelled out a considerable sum for his own Internet link, started to offer a service whereby he would pass on to Usenet messages sent to his CIX account for that purpose.

    The rest is history. A few years later, Cliff Stanford offered read/write Internet access for “a tenner a month” and Demon Computing became Demon Internet. And that is how we come to find ourselves here.

  3. 103
    Steve Mannion on 8 Apr 2010 #

    Actual computer-based music still seemed a strange vision at this point. I can only remember the Pet Shop Boys using one (as a prop obv) on TOTP…maybe Erasure too…and being ugly, hefty and brutally honest devices they never became popular performance tools until the laptop era. Miming was miming but there was still some illusion to maintain. All rather daft, The Orb had the right idea…

  4. 104
    AndyPandy on 9 Apr 2010 #

    And of course the whole Kraftwerk “Computer World” album from as early as 1982!Didn’t they appear to play computers on one of the videos I haven’t seen it for 28 years so I might be wrong.
    And I also remember someone like Trans-X (Living on Video) or Alphaville (Big In Japan) seeming/pretending to play computers on their video.

  5. 105
    Mark G on 13 Apr 2010 #

    ARKane famously left 4AD, but where did Colorbox go?

    Also, from #Way-back

    Pete Waterman injuncted this over the sample of “Roadblock” specifically to stop it becoming number one in preferance to one of his. He admitted as much later on.

    Which is why, presumably, Colorbox still get the moneys from this.

  6. 106
    lonepilgrim on 20 May 2010 #

    I feel compelled to mention – this was Number 1 when the Great Storm of 1987 hit the UK.

  7. 107
    Hofmeister Bear on 20 May 2010 #

    In terms of home computers being used as a musical aid the Atari ST was the benchmark because of it’s MIDI ports and software. It was a mainstay in recording studios long after it had ceased to be used for anything else and would occasionally show up on a TOTP performance.

  8. 108
    fallingfast on 20 May 2010 #

    Re #105 – 4AD tried to get Martyn Young back into the studio c1990 (maybe as Colourbox, maybe not) but nothing came of it, and since then (tumbleweed)…

  9. 109
    Chris Gilmour on 3 Jun 2010 #

    I was getting quite used to the sounds of house by now, but there was something quite different about PUTV, it seemed grimier, tougher, deeper, and seemed at odds with everything else at this time which was so bright and polished. ‘Jack Your Body’ just sounded a little unusual and it did still seem like a novelty. This really did seem to come from somewhere new and even felt a little unsettling at first. I think this the first record I heard that used samples to create the actual foundations of something completely new, as opposed the using snatches of vocal or lifting a bass line to provide the hook. (I hadn’t heard Adventures on the Wheels of Steel then!) I also think the samples really worked to give it a much fuller, more organic sound than the house hits that came before it. (I’m actually loathe to call this house, but that’s what we called it then)

    There’s so much to love about this record, the ‘greatest record of the year’ sample is still thrilling (and yeah, it was kind of true) and the use of Eric B & Rakim to punctuate the whole thing is just incredibly clever. Oh, and that amazing, energizing bass line, rolling relentlessly over everything, is impossible to tire of.

    The whole ‘Roadblock’ farrago was fairly ridiculous, as PWL had just remixed ‘My Love Is Guaranteed’ by Sybil using a thin appropriation of the PUTV groove and the same Eric B sample (it’s the ‘Red Ink’ mix if you’re interested) and SAW, as great as they often were, were often um, ‘inspired’ by the club hits of the day. ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ used the same bass line as Colonel Abrams ‘Trapped’, a far more obvious lift that the tiny snatch of ‘Roadblock’ used for PUTV.

    Was talking to my dad about this record not long ago, and was surprised to hear that this was the tipping point for him where he got off the bus, as the very same record represented a beginning for me. I’d just got my ticket and sat down on the top deck!
    It’s a 10, unsurprisingly.

  10. 110
    seekenee on 7 Sep 2012 #

    Nearly 17 and I was so disengaged with what was happening in the charts at this point and there was still no consensus within the weekly music press about WHICH WAY to go so at the time I just filed this as more chart rubbish and I somehow missed the hip hop element, I mean I didn’t link it to The Message or Buffalo Gals, say.

    The only way I heard this song in 1987 was on its Top of the Pops slot and it wasn’t till later when I heard it on my friend’s hi fi that I started to appreciate it. In 1989 he taped Isn’t Anything for me (we’d recently been deafened by MBV in Dingwalls) and put PUTV after it to fill the side and in that context it was a revelation.

    It did take a few years to sink in and it’s the sound that elevates it – the cross screen knife guitars against the groove are extraordinary and the piece is still expanding in my mind as an unstoppable open entity (unlike Heart of Glass or Two Tribes which are like perfect diamonds washed up on the beach, PUTV is still flying out into space)
    I like the fact that your scores are arbitrary and flexible, Tom, but I couldn’t imagine this as ever being less than 10
    Also I was wrongly suspicious of my friend’s motives for owning this 12”. He used to organise his collection into record companies, this section for creation, that section for 4AD and I felt he was just buying this because it was on 4AD. But he obviously was buying it for other reasons and in any case I now realise that it’s not important WHY someone owns/buys a record, what’s important is that they literally put the needle on the record and/or desire the record and what it signifies. Also there is as much meaning in the sleeve design/size/weight of it as there is in the recording.
    (Re U2, in fairness to them they were tuning in to the groove aspect by 88 with, as someone mentioned above, the remix of Desire and also God pt II and its remix (and this is not to lessen the otherness of the Joshua Tree which really doesn’t sound like generic 80s rock) – this predated any such dabbling from e.g. Primal Scream and both bands followed similar trajectories of exploring deep south USA gospel groove but U2 routinely bitterly ridiculed while Primal Scream critical darlings.)

  11. 111
    wichita lineman on 8 Sep 2012 #

    Nice piece, seekenee. I was slightly impervious to PUTV at the time for other reasons – it sounded weirdly late in the day, a smart-arse British indie Adventures On The Wheels Of Steel, but in retrospect it anticipates Bomb The Bass/S’Express DIY UK dance music.

    One other thing – I think Primal Scream lost their critical darling status a few years back, plenty think of Bobby G as a trad rock clown (esp in the US). They got away with murder for a while, but I can’t believe anyone stands up for Give Out But Don’t Give Up these days. I’m intrigued to know how they play with anyone too young to remember Higher Than The Sun first time round. I still love the It Happens/Velocity Girl (Jim Beattie) era, the Screamadelica (Andrew Weatherall) era and, err, that’s it.

  12. 112
    Mark G on 8 Sep 2012 #

    Revisiting the remastered Scdelica, the stonesy tracks sounded better than I remembered.

    Rep for GiveOut..? I guess I’d have to, um, “Revisit” it.

  13. 113
    Cumbrian on 10 Sep 2012 #

    #111. I’m intrigued to know how they play with anyone too young to remember Higher Than The Sun first time round.

    I was 10 when HTTS came out and not quite old enough to be into music of that stripe, so my knowledge of Primal Scream falls into what you’re after. Obviously the following is just one man’s opinion.

    I came at Screamadelica after I’d heard later albums. As a result Vanishing Point and XTRMNTR (plus Screamadelica) are the albums I think of when I think of Primal Scream. It’s telling, for me at least, that two of these are very heavily influenced by non-band members (Kevin Shields was in on the XTRMNTR sessions) and the third, Vanishing Point, seems to get a shot in the arm from Mani’s arrival in the band (whereby the bass is pushed right forward). I like all this stuff well enough – and I also reckon Echo Dek is a pretty decent set of dub remixes of Vanishing Point material – but I can’t say I listen to it every day. Once or twice a year for all these albums is probably sufficient.

    XTRMNTR seems to me to have a few deliberate nods to Screamadelica (the two different versions of Swastika Eyes referencing HTTS, the MBV remix of If They Move Kill Em from VP referencing Loaded being a remix of a track from the then previous Primal Scream album). At the time, I thought (in my youthful ignorance/rebellion) that it was incredible, loud, dangerous, exciting – lyrics referencing the fucked up state of the world, etc. Looking back, I don’t think I could be more wrong, at least from the point of view of the lyrics (I still think XTRMNTR is a great racket though)

    Around this time PS were playing a song called Bomb The Pentagon (swiftly reworked when someone actually did) and it now seems to me that Gillespie was just trying on a set of agitprop slogans for size, particularly given that his default mode seems to be that of a trad rocker (also, he managed to hole his rock n roll credentials with his plea that a local pub not have it’s opening hours extended because it would prevent him sleeping – it seems that anarchy and what not is alright, except when it’s on your doorstep). All in all, I think he’s not a great singer and a pretty terrible lyricist but he does have a knack for finding good people to work with.

    Can’t get with Velocity Girl and all of that stuff – it just sounds really weedy. Of their fake Stones stuff – love Movin’ On Up (is that more Stephen Stills than Stones?) and Damaged, like Rocks – I think the rest is a bit boring though.

  14. 114
    Mark G on 10 Sep 2012 #

    That “pub” business was Kevin Shields, not Bobby..

  15. 115
    Steve Mannion on 10 Sep 2012 #

    Maybe the music media thought Shields wasn’t famous enough so made it Bobby? http://www.nme.com/news/primal-scream/25896

  16. 116
    Mark G on 11 Sep 2012 #

    or maybe they’re all at it! (diff pub even: http://www.inthemix.com.au/news/intl/25238/My_Bloody_Valentine_producer_makes_noise_complaints )

  17. 117
    seekenee on 21 Mar 2013 #

    P. Scream great imho btw -plenty of unique moments on Vanishing Point/XTRMNtR/evil heat

  18. 118
    anto on 21 Mar 2013 #

    Primal Scream are fine when they pursue their experimental side as they did on Screamadelica/Vanishing Point etc. What’s frustrating are the lapses into trad rock when they pull on their leather trousers and crank up their Les Pauls, quite simply they’re not very good at that style of music. Booby Gillespes vocals are a factor here. He’s a limited singer to say the least but his voice does have a fey tone that’s suited to boyish rapture (like Ian Brown) or druggy despondency (like Jim Reid). When Bobby tries to be Mick Jagger or Rod Stewart however he just looks a bit of a doofus. He has neither the vocal range nor the charisma.

  19. 119
    hectorthebat on 12 Feb 2015 #

    Critic watch (for PUTV only):

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1-1001
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989) 543
    Michaelangelo Matos (USA) – Top 100 Singles of the 1980s (2001) 101
    Pause & Play (USA) – Songs Inducted into a Time Capsule, One Track at Each Week
    Pitchfork (USA) – The Pitchfork 500 (2008)
    Stephin Merritt (Magnetic Fields) – The Best Recordings from 1900 to 1999
    Swellsville, Chuck Eddy (USA) – The 100 Best Singles of the 80s (1990) 75
    BBC (UK) – Pop on Trial, Top 50 Songs from the 1980s (2008)
    Mixmag (UK) – Nominations for the Greatest Dance Track of All Time (2012)
    Mojo (UK) – 80 from the 80s: Our Fave 45s for Each Year, 1980-1989 (2007) 3
    NME (UK) – The 100 Best Songs of the 1980s (2012) 50
    New Musical Express (UK) – 40 Records That Captured the Moment 1952-91 (1992)
    Q (UK) – 100 Songs That Changed the World (2003) 49
    Q (UK) – 50 Years of Great British Music, 10 Tracks per Decade (2008)
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    Q (UK) – The 80 Best Records of the 80s (2006) 29
    Q (UK) – The Ultimate Music Collection (2005)
    Uncut (UK) – The 100 Greatest Singles from the Post-Punk Era (2001) 65
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 9
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Les Inrockuptibles (France) – 1000 Indispensable Songs (2006)
    Rolling Stone (France) – The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years (1988) 90
    Volume (France) – 200 Records that Changed the World, 2008 (38 songs)
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – The Top 100 Songs from 1984-1993 (1993) 17
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Village Voice (USA) – Singles of the Year 5
    Face (UK) – Singles of the Year 4
    Melody Maker (UK) – Singles of the Year 6
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 5
    Spex (Germany) – Singles of the Year 40
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – Songs of the Year 12

  20. 120
    John R on 29 Jul 2016 #

    This tune was,
    and is the bollocks.

  21. 121
    weej on 30 Jul 2016 #

    If we’re talking about Pump Up The Volume, it would be a little remiss not to mark the recent passing of one of its creators – http://pitchfork.com/news/66780-steven-young-of-colourbox-and-marrs-is-dead/

  22. 122
    Stuart Copeland on 30 Jul 2016 #

    That’s a real shame, I rediscovered Colourbox this very week. Given they could have quite a commercial sound at times, I’ve often wondered if a different, less specialist, label than 4AD could have got them into the charts, at least once. It’s easy to imagine tracks like Arena or their World Cup Theme as one-hit-wonder hits.

1 3 4 5 All

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)

Required

Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page