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Apr 10

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

FT + Popular122 comments • 7,872 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.

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Comments

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  1. 61
    Tom on 7 Apr 2010 #

    #60 I still plan to do a “Popular Special Edition” at some point covering these off. But then I plan to do a lot of things and they don’t actually get done.

  2. 62
    wichita lineman on 7 Apr 2010 #

    Well, I’m intrigued to know your thoughts on Ebony Eyes, but I’m happier to read your thoughts on AR Kane : )

  3. 63
    punctum on 7 Apr 2010 #

    Vinyl Nerd (Chelsea Division) Replies:

    “Reason To Believe” technically speaking listed as A-side for first two weeks of chart run only then flipped since all DJs were playing the other side. See also “I Talk To The Trees” by Clint Eastwood, listed as a double-A for the first fortnight of “Wand’r’n’ Star”‘s run.

  4. 64
    MikeMCSG on 7 Apr 2010 #

    # 56 Good article, thanks. I think the loosening of R1’s grip on the nation’s music consumption habits probably is a key factor.

  5. 65
    Erithian on 7 Apr 2010 #

    Something is happening here but you don’t know what it is, do you Mr Jones?

    Well, melody and meaning meant a lot to me and still do – which is why the main things I recall with fondness from 1987 were “The Joshua Tree” (unapologetically), the Christians album and “Wonderful Life”. And, as mentioned before, I was 25 at the time and several of the people mentioned by Punctum in his survey of the 1987 musical landscape might as well have been on another planet. But you know what? – I do have a lot of time for this record.

    Perhaps it’s the relentlessness of the riff that grounds everything – speaking to Rosie in another place I likened it to the marching synths in “Are Friends Electric?”. Maybe it’s the sheer inventiveness of the samples being worked into the mix (where in many other cases samples just seemed a lazy way of using other people’s music instead of making your own). And possibly it was that almost accidentally fantastic video: just as those Old Grey Whistle Test archive films coloured your perception of the tracks they were used to provide illustration for, the NASA archive footage as a signifier for space-age and up-to-the-minute (even if they were 20 or more years old even then) helped the viewer to accept that this was something new and exciting, even if the makers of the record hadn’t had those images in mind.

    Maybe melody and meaning are to an extent analogous with representative painting in the 20th century – granted, they weren’t being made obsolete by some new-technology equivalent of cameras, but increasingly there were alternatives coming down the road. If you buy the analogy, “Pump up the Volume” and the like were audio Jackson Pollock, or sound collages – not to everyone’s taste but there was room for it if you were in a broad-minded or receptive mood. Not that I liked a huge amount of what it spawned though. Before long a few seconds of Funky Drummer or that bloke going “I know you’re gonna dig this” would have me wincing and switching stations. For now, though, I could live with this one.

  6. 66
    wichita lineman on 7 Apr 2010 #

    I knew I could rely on you to spot another! I Talk To The Trees possibly received as little airplay as Anitina. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it.

    Did no one else think PUTV sounded a little dated re samples (Wild Style, Pump Me Up) in 1987? Curious to know if I’m on my own here

  7. 67
    MikeMCSG on 7 Apr 2010 #

    #65 The Tubeway Army analogy is interesting because at 14 I did feel AFE heralded something new and exciting much in the same way younger people responded to this. Perhaps I was just too grumpy – I was starting my accountancy course which I really didn’t want to do at this point – to accept that what I still thought was exciting didn’t turn “the kids” on anymore. Strangely enough “Freak Like Me” is just about the only record where the sample doesn’t automatically make me want to put the source record on.

  8. 68
    thefatgit on 7 Apr 2010 #

    #66 I think it was PUTV that got me hunting the bargain shelves for Time Zone, which somehow passed me the first time round. In the same way, that “Paid In Full” 12″ encouraged me to seek out Ofra Haza. It didn’t matter if it sounded “dated”. The rules were being ripped up and re-written. How many DJ’s looked at their Rare Groove collections and thought about what would sound good over a generic “Funky Drummer” or “When The Levee Breaks” break?

    Once a cherrypicker, always a cherrypicker.

  9. 69
    Tom on 7 Apr 2010 #

    #66 obviously at the time I had no idea about that stuff! Now? Well, I take your point, but what makes PUTV work is the frame around the samples as much as the chosen snippets themselves*. Adventures Of G Flash is more eclectic (and would also have been a good shot for a 10 in the amazing parallel world in which it qualifies) but also a lot more lurch-y: I’m not sure there’d been a ‘sampladelic’ record as smooth as PUTV before this.

    *and “dated” is a relative term here too, we’re not in “Uno dos tres QUATRO” territory yet.

  10. 70
    swanstep on 7 Apr 2010 #

    @Tom 69. It’s not *exactly* the same thing, but Eno/Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was pretty sample-tastic, and it absolutely programmatically pushed found sound and timbre and rhythm as an alternative musical focus to melody + unified meaning/singer. The original vids for Jezebel Spirit and America is Waiting, which aren’t available any more it seems, were pretty similar to PUTV’s nifty vid IIRC. At any rate it was Byrne singing the praises of Public Enemy that first put them on my and lots of other people’s radar late in 1987.

    One way to look at things: Eno was everywhere – behind U2, behind the ambient/chill-out side of club music, which was also starting to get big in its own right (it was on sunday nights on triplej in Sydney), and with byrne behind the sample-arama/rhythmic globalizers.

  11. 71
    Tom on 7 Apr 2010 #

    I love MLITBOG to bits, and it’s definitely another ancestor, but the smoothness there is a bit easier because they’re building each track around an individual sample source, no? All the stuff in “America is Waiting” (say) comes from the same broadcast right?

  12. 72
    Lex on 7 Apr 2010 #

    A lot of the comments here are sort of weird in all directions to me!

    Personally I like it but don’t love it; my opinion’s fairly close to Kat @8 and Kogan @15. I obviously wasn’t aware of it at the time, and only heard it for the first time at some point in university. I guess at the time it’d have the thrill of the new but it’s not a particularly exciting dance track to me (and there’s a ton of dance from this era, and before, that I do find as thrilling as though no one had ever made sounds like that before, so it’s not just that). It’s more like a hip-hop instrumental (which makes me want to hear the full MC vocal) with a few cut-and-pasted samples. I’d file it under “nice to hear at a house party” but if I was the DJ I wouldn’t play it. Then again, I was never into the Avalanches either, who are pretty obvious descendants of this aesthetic.

    AndyPandy @29 provides some useful context which pretty much explains why I’m not totally into it! Really not surprised that it didn’t gain significant traction with the actual clubbing community – I’ve long had an antipathy to music made by “intrigued outsiders” trying to replicate someone else’s scene.

    But all these comments about how this track marked “the death of the charts” or that it’s too far from “traditional structure” (wtf does everything have to be a three-minute verse-chorus-verse pop song now?) or that insinuate that dance and hip-hop music are responsible for the abandonment of “melody and meaning” are even weirder! W/r/t “melody” – that bassline is definitely a melody to my ears, and in any case it has rhythm. “Meaning” – I don’t know what this even refers to, tbh, I don’t know what it means that a song “means” something.

    @52 it depends on the track – when I listen to dance music at home, sometimes it’s to recreate the club experience, sometimes because you hear the track in a different way in a home-listening context.

  13. 73
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 7 Apr 2010 #

    @70: yes, the great lost* project in respect of the MM canon that punctum is repping for — not wrongly — is the harmolodic collision funk that laswell** and ronald shannon jackson were exploring on the back of the no wave thing in nyc 79-85: material — feat.whitney! — prefigures and creates the context for eno/byrne

    *by “lost” i mean that MM — having shed its jazz coverage — was allergic to the point of bigotry*** about this entire zone: i was soon off wire-wards to work on MY version of the meaning of 1987; i am probably sourer than punctum is abt the MM achievement bcz for me, then (at wire) it wasn’t a reliable ally, it was part of the problem (but i should also note that — as a very busy editor — i was picking up information second or third and at best; when you’re putting a monthly together with a tiny team, you just don’t have TIME to keep up with where everyone else is at…)

    **played in new york gong = as ever the centre!

    ***this is a strong word and of course doesn’t apply to everyone at MM, but i did write for MM very briefly, and i know whereof i speak

  14. 74
    swanstep on 7 Apr 2010 #

    @Tom 71. I think you are right that most of the found sound on any one track tends as you say to come from single sources (there was lots of diverse sampling for rhythmic elements). But let’s face it, the effect is ominous with Eno/Byrnee rather than playful the way M/A/R/R/S have it. And as I recall, when Byrne was talking up PE as literally the future of music he was referring to songs like ‘night of the living base heads’ where there are 20 or so recognizable samples – and other tracks that combined slayer and jamees brown. Byrne defintiely thought this stuff was a useful step beyond what he and eno had done.

  15. 75
    wichita lineman on 7 Apr 2010 #

    Re 68: My point was that the rule books weren’t being ripped up and re-written, because that had happened years before. Wild Style may have been unknown to you but it had been a huge electro favourite (if not much of a chart hit). It wasn’t crate digging in the way Paid In Full’s use of Ofra Haza was. Not sure what your cherry picking line means.

    Re 69: Yes, PUTV is much smoother structurally isn’t it, and the repeated use of the title is effectively a chorus; bassline aside Wheels Of Steel doesn’t have a major hook. From memory you’re right about MLITBOG. I remember Was Not Was’s Tell Me That I’m Dreaming (with its similar “out of control” space race sample) coming out pretty much simultaneously.

    The big difference of course – and I don’t think I’ve been citing obscure precursors/samples – is that PUTV got to number one! Amazing!

  16. 76
    thefatgit on 7 Apr 2010 #

    Sorry Wichita, the cherry picking line was basically what I was doing all through that decade. Hence I was all over Curtis Mantronik and Afrika Bambaataa and not Time Zone. It might sound as though I was deliberately selective, but really our local Our Price was quite small, until I could afford to get out to the larger chains/specialist shops.

  17. 77
    punctum on 7 Apr 2010 #

    #73: I guess the elephant in the 1987 room was Arthur Russell – World Of Echo came out that year – since he and David Byrne (on Dinosaur L’s “Kiss Me Again,” recorded in parallel with the time when Byrne hooked up with Eno but not directly involving Eno) pretty much set the tone for this whole affair; then Laswell and Shannon Jackson ran with the snarly James Chance thing, married it up with James “Blood” Ulmer’s notion of propulsion and took it underratingly forward. In reality at this time Wingco was the only one at MM with a foot or an interest in this camp; Simon R was and is a jazz/improv agnostic, nods at it when it comes into his neighbourhood but doesn’t dig it (as in plough for it, or scurry under it) the way a Ben Watson would do.

    (My chief memory of this particular 1987: astonishing week of performances by DB’s Company with Lee Konitz, Richard Teitelbaum, Steve Noble a.o. immortalised on the Incus CD Once; opening track sounds like Stan Getz’ Focus fed through AR Kane’s ring-around-the-noses modulators.

    See also “Help Me Mo, I’m Blind,” last track on Noise Of Trouble by Last Exit with guest Herbie Hancock doing his “Maiden Voyage” thing while Brotzmann snorts and hacks out his thing and eventually the dynamic propels Herbie into becoming a free form lovebug!

    And Low Life by Brotz and Laswell, most of which sounds like Albert Ayler covering “Relax” in Dylan Carlson’s attic.

    Oh, and The Inexhaustible Document by AMM, which starts where the first AR Kane album ends.)

  18. 78
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 7 Apr 2010 #

    That Lee Konitz performance is what tipped me from being “all free improv all the time” to “this old time jazz, i should give it a try!”

    That Company Week was the Manchester Free Trade Hall of erm everything ever! I wonder who else was there?

  19. 79
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 7 Apr 2010 #

    John the postman, Vic Godard the postman ect ect

  20. 80
    punctum on 7 Apr 2010 #

    Graham Fellowes COMEDIAN…

    1987 also offered two ace albums by the Pete Waterman of post-no wave free jazz thrashy thingy John Zorn, namely Cobra (the original hatArt box issue) and the rather marvellous Spillane with Albert Collins keeping his countenance.

    Not to mention Scum by Napalm Death BEGINNING OF TIME

  21. 81
    Billy Smart on 7 Apr 2010 #

    In the top 10, 1987 also gave us New Order’s True Faith and This Corrosion by the Sisters of Mercy, two singles that I find as breathtaking now as I did then.

  22. 82
    Alan on 7 Apr 2010 #

    True Faith won Best Video at the Brits which I remember causing a bit of a stir ftb THEY ARE INDIE.

    PUTV and it’s cobbled-together video was a marvel. Someone already mentioned Are Friends Electric, and this had the same “landed from another (amazing) planet” vibe for me. The stuff coming on the heels of this in early 88 was where I truly started to love it though (inc bunny’d tracks and a top favorite that stalled at number 2).

    When PUTV is played at popular it’s noticeable how slow and un-dance-friendly it is, but even at the time I don’t recall ACTUALLY dancing to it. Just going WOW when I heard it. Of course, if I’d been paying attention I wouldn’t have been so amazed – but then THIS GOT TO NUMBER ONE, and retrospectively got me to make sense of a lot of other stuff that had been going on before. I didn’t make the colourbox connection for quite a long time after acquiring THE colourbox album too. College peers were not into it, and I think it was down to an uncle (who was quite the spoddy record collector) to point it out to me.

  23. 83
    Alan on 7 Apr 2010 #

    haha, the wonder of http://www.chartstats.com/ has told me what kept that track at number 2. and NOW I DON’T REALLY MIND

  24. 84
    punctum on 7 Apr 2010 #

    I played “Anitina” once at Club Popular – didn’t provoke much of a reaction one way or the other but Rob B gave me the thumbs up so that was nice.

  25. 85
    Tom on 7 Apr 2010 #

    It’s been played at several Club Populars I think, in that sense it is the true “Baby Jump of the 80s”.

  26. 86
    glue_factory on 7 Apr 2010 #

    Re: 82 and PUTV’s slowness The Dust/Chemical Brothers wheeled it out as an end-of-the-night tune more than once in the days of the Heavenly Social. But then again their own stuff from this era (Chemical Beats, for instance) occupies a similarly slow, arguably un-dance-friendly niche.

  27. 87
    Matthew H on 7 Apr 2010 #

    Ha. Thanks for the link. It reminded me that my 1987 self rated Hue & Cry’s Labour Of Love higher than this. Who’s to say he was wrong?

    I understand the alienation some felt (both now and then), but I was drawn to PUTV’s otherness. Even in early teens, there were plenty of rock purists about who dismissed this as “not real music”; me, I was starting to understand party music and the base pulling power of bringing a groovy mixtape to a house party. This was an early building block.

  28. 88
    AndyPandy on 7 Apr 2010 #

    Wichita @75 etc: I think you’re very right and that this is being celebrated on here because it took the elements to pop No1.

    But it was if not completely dated at least far from boundary-breaking. There’d been broadly similar stuff for 4 or 5 years ever since ‘the Wheels of Steel’, Grandmixer D St ‘Crazy Cuts’ etc and I’d say this wouild only have been looked on as part of a pioneering movement circa 1982-84.And we know how quickly the dance/clunb world moves on.

    And as far as a more more flowing sound goes Dynamix II ‘Just Give The DJ A Break’ which those into hiphop and house had been caning for months earlier in the year outdoes this and is also actually danceable.

    As has been said the lack of hiphop/dance club/station action on this track may be just for the simple reason that as has been said the concept had already been done to death by late 1987 and this only appeared as new to a pop or rock audience.

  29. 89
    Billy Smart on 7 Apr 2010 #

    But M/A/R/R/S bought pop and rock elements to the party that were new! Most notably the skliding guitars…

    Had The Wheels of Steel’ or ‘The Wildstyle’ been number ones it would have been as great a cause of celebration as PUTV, of course – but I listen to each song for different reasons, and find different qualities in each.

  30. 90
    Tom on 7 Apr 2010 #

    I think it’s a bit of a given that the charts are around 6-12 months behind the clubs – as club music becomes a more regular presence here we’ll see a lot of records which were (at the time) old.

    Obviously this makes it harder for their original audiences to get excited about the record going to #1, though if it’s the same record (rather than an example of the sound) I’d assume they still like it. And to a critic at the time it might matter too – you could make a case that crits should be looking to what’s happening in the clubs at the moment rather than what’s crossing over later.

    But as both original and mainstream impact recede into the past it stops mattering, to me at least. It’s interesting! But it doesn’t affect how I hear the record any more.

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