Apr 10

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

FT + Popular122 comments • 7,455 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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  1. 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.

  2. 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.)

  3. 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?

  4. 79
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 7 Apr 2010 #

    John the postman, Vic Godard the postman ect ect

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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.

  10. 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”.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 91
    anto on 7 Apr 2010 #

    This sounds to me like the the first number one we’ve heard which is really impatient for the 1990s to get started in much the way I think of Tubeway Army as having an eighties number one in 1979.

  17. 92
    Paulito on 7 Apr 2010 #

    Anto @91 There’s an even earlier example of what you’re talking about – Donna Summer in 1977.

  18. 93
    Elsa on 8 Apr 2010 #

    A DJ friend of mine likes to play the 45rpm version of this at 33rpm. It actually sounds quite “normal” and more Jamaican.

  19. 94
    Lex on 8 Apr 2010 #

    @91 I’m really impatient for the ’90s to get started, after so long thinking of Popular as something covering prehistory (ie before I was conscious of pop music) it’ll be really weird and exciting to actually remember the songs being at No 1.

  20. 95
    wichita lineman on 8 Apr 2010 #

    Tom, that’s very interesting. For me, with records like Baby Jump, I’m fascinated to know what national mindset could get it to no .1. I know how my ears hear it in 2010, but possibly they’d have heard it differently in 1980 or 1990. Several people have mentioned how their memory of Never Gonna Give You Up was as something close to Luther Vandross or even Barry White. We all hear it as a white boy with a decent voice in 2010, so how did our ears deceive us collectively in 1987? I really don’t know but I really want to find out.

    I heard PUTV In 1987 pretty much as AndyP remembers it, liked it a lot, but it seemed like observers trying to recreate something they loved (granted, with a few added gtr noises). Not groundbreaking. But now, yes, it really anticipates 1994/95.

  21. 96
    Steve Mannion on 8 Apr 2010 #

    #95 That kind of ‘deception’ has occurred with numerous pop stars I think, from Madonna to Eminem to even Duffy. I see it as a good thing that expectations are confounded in this way, with those expectations being fairly harmless if there can be ‘positive stereotyping’ at all.

  22. 97
    Izzy on 8 Apr 2010 #

    I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been deceived, personally – it never occurred to me that black or white people would sound a different way. I’m really surprised that Rick Astley being white was such a thing – again possibly just because NGGYU was part of my musical formative experience, so deep-voiced soul was always just another way for people to sing, regardless.

    The more so because the division along racial lines always seems to me to have been something created after this era, with MTV probably responsible. Watching e.g. the video for ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ where some of Whitney’s suitors are white, stupidly seems a bit shocking now, because you’d never get that these days, at least coming out the US. Some of the best stuff of the era for me is in that kind of ambitious inclusivity (e.g. Prince, or even ‘Pump Up The Volume’ itself), but it was kind of backed away from after around 1991 – a landmark #1 from that year being the last serious attempt at that kind of world title unification.

    All that said, I’ve never heard a mumbling, badly-produced indie guitar band on the radio and even for a moment suspected I’m listening to four sharply-dressed black dudes, so life may yet hold some surprises.

  23. 98
    MichaelH on 8 Apr 2010 #

    re66: I remember at the time thinking I had heard lots of those samples on the hip-hop records Peel was playing, but it didn’t feel dated to me, so much as an attempt to draw together all the disparate threads that were coming over from the US to the UK (in the pre-internet age, of course, it wasn’t a piece of cake to follow those threads for yourself). It felt like a state-of-the-nation address for people who were aware in any way of the dance and hip-hop underground. It must be said, however, that my perspective is that of someone who was only aware of said underground via Peel, not via any real connection at source.

  24. 99
    Steve Mannion on 8 Apr 2010 #

    Well, funnily enough, I can imagine some people thinking AR Kane were white.

  25. 100
    David Belbin on 8 Apr 2010 #

    I bought ‘Baby Jump’ and the next Mungo Jerry single. I think it was something to do with liking the first one so much and wanting to show loyalty (that was my excuse at 12, anyway, dunno about the rest of the country). Oh and, btw, Punctum, ‘Anitina’ is on Spotify so now easily accessible to all.

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