25
Nov 11

2 UNLIMITED – “No Limit”

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#685, 13th February 1993

Delicious pop memory: Tony Parsons casting this song as an outrider of apocalypse on some late night culture or news show. He read out the lyrics slowly, in a tone of profound regret – how far had we fallen when this.. this thing could stand in for pop?

At University by now, I was watching with friends, sprawled in chairs round a communal TV. Whatever our opinion of the song, there was a general feeling that Parsons was being a chump: if you draw a line between then and now, you’d better be pretty sure you really know what the “now” side means. And he didn’t. Yes, as Spitting Image said, “There’s no lyrics!” – clever wording there, good one, but who exactly was coming to this looking for those?

Of course it wasn’t just the newly-old who detested this. Ray Slijngaard’s “techno techno techno techno” – cut and looped from a longer rap – set him up as the chart’s most effective troll, infuriating a lot of people who’d set value on their ability to parse dance music’s genrescape. Anything “No Limit” did or didn’t owe to techno had been pounded into irrelevance by the time it reached the public. What’s left – and this is what Parsons should have spotted more easily – is riff-driven, lizard-brain jump-around pop, closer in goonish spirit to “Sugar Sugar” or “Rock’n’Roll Part 2” or “My Sharona” than anything Derrick May ever touched.

Though like the best trolls, Ray’s got enough material here to argue the point with: those echoey hi-hat hits and the union of steam-hammer bass and rubber-ball synths carry the industrial, piston-powered aggression of Belgian rave. There’s even a cowbell somewhere at the back. But it’s the aggression of Gladiators on Saturday Night TV, of piledriver jumps off bouncy castle walls – a thin cover for boundless, romping joy.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    Kat but logged out innit on 25 Nov 2011 #

    TEN TEN TEN

  2. 2
    punctum on 25 Nov 2011 #

    His name is Ray Slijngaard, and he contributes ten words in the space of fourteen seconds, eight of which are the same word. In the knowledge that the right or wrong fourteen seconds can often solidify the difference between a great record and a mediocre one, his has to be counted as one of the great cameo appearances in pop – one of the most minimalist, yet one of the most intense.

    And also one of the most gloriously stupid. 2 Unlimited were a Dutch dance duo, and though Slijngaard and singer Anita Doth may have considered themselves lucky to appear on their own records, their total “misunderstanding” of pop – thongs, piercings and boots all in the wrong places, solemn glares which radiate hilarity – actually led to a deeper understanding of its magic. “No Limit” was the most extreme and most successful of their run of happier-than-hardcore post-rave hits, but its opening clarion call – synths as guitars blowing raspberries – is as rousing a reveille in pop as Link Wray’s rumbles on “Rumble” or Meek flushing his toilet backwards at the beginning of “Telstar.” Its few lyrics are standard striving hogwash (“No valley too deep, no mountain too high/No, no limits, won’t give up the fight/We do what we want and we do it with pride” etc.) which Doth sings in her enterprisingly straining voice. 2 Unlimited could well have been a Jekyll to Atari Teenage Riot’s Hyde, except that, for a record which by my count says “no” 72 times, it is of course saying a definitive “yes” to now and tomorrow.

    But it is those fourteen seconds which make “No Limit” transcend itself. A speeded-up, sampled “no,” tweaked to sound like “ow,” is punctuated twice by Slijngaard, firstly with the war cry “TECHNO TECHNO TECHNO TECHNO!” and secondly by the augmented exhortation “COME ONNNNN TECHNO TECHNO TECHNO TECHNO!” It was the deadliest of hooks, all the more effective by being used only twice and in the voice of a newly-arrived tourist haphazardly banging his head against the ceiling of Ministry Of Sound; and that triumph of instinct over knowingness signifies a crucial, if to some uncomfortable, truth about pop, namely that it is often more effective to have a performer with the ability to move rhythmically and dynamically through a record than one who presents with a thorough and comprehensive understanding of pop. In other words, when faced with the wall built up by writers and producers Phil Wilde and Jean-Paul de Coster, Slijngaard reacts intuitively by what he believes is the spirit of “TECHNO,” however misguided that belief may appear – and it is the wonderful wrongness of “TECHNO TECHNO TECHNO TECHNO” which lends “No Limit” its greatness; the mistake which accidentally leads to something new and may even exceed the “correct” answer – and that is the kind of approach which a million kids can grasp instantly and which twists pop into the sort of shapes and apparitions which are worth loving. By laughing at and shrugging off received history, those fourteen seconds of “No Limit” themselves made history.

  3. 3
    lex on 25 Nov 2011 #

    TEN TEN TEN

  4. 4
    Lena on 25 Nov 2011 #

    I am still mulling over the previous song, but TEN is the only number possible here, if only because I can’t say ELEVEN

  5. 6
    lex on 25 Nov 2011 #

    2 Unlimited were my first ever favourite band, which I’d gradually realised over the course of their first album’s campaign (still think those four singles were their best – “Get Ready For This”, “Twilight Zone”, “Workaholic” [WORK YOUR BODY BABY WORK YOUR SOUL], “Magic Friend”) and, by now following the charts pretty obsessively, “No Limit” was the very first time I got to experience the joy of your favourite band going to No 1 for the first time. I remember dancing very happily to this at a primary school end-of-term disco!

    It’s awesome obviously. The sounds they used = awesome (oft-overlooked, the weird quacking sound that comes in), the massive fucking riffs = awesome, Anita as frontwoman = awesome (her massive hair! And she was gorgeous).

    I remember being very surprised when I discovered years later that Ray’s raps had been almost completely removed from every 2 Unlimited song for UK release. This was definitely a good decision because they were very much not awesome (though “COR TECHNO TECHNO TECHNO TECHNO” very much is).

  6. 7
    Tom on 25 Nov 2011 #

    #2 terrific point about the so-wrong-they’re-right fashions/glares. Now 90s nostalgia is kicking in bigstyle and Tumblr etc seem full of 90s clothes blogs (mostly with a hardy-har attitude) I’ve come to really enjoy how carefree, mix-n-match, and colourful the period was. At the time obv I was too busy moping around in a lumberjack shirt.

  7. 8
    swanstep on 25 Nov 2011 #

    Painfully generic compilation filler:
    3

  8. 9
    Matt DC on 25 Nov 2011 #

    This is an appropriate start to a pretty riotous year and I am very much looking forward to some of the upcoming entries.

    Probably a 9, if only because it isn’t Get Ready For This.

  9. 10
    Matt DC on 25 Nov 2011 #

    Also Global Hypercolour innit.

  10. 11
    Izzy on 25 Nov 2011 #

    I hated this at the time, I love it now.

    It’s the sound more than anything, it conveys all the energy missing from the limp indie I’d’ve been lionising at the time. What a way to spend one’s youth. It’s just a fabulous production; it has all the punch of dynamic compression without (mostly) that trick’s tiring relentlessness. The sense of space is a real surprise. And the percussion’s amazing, I can imagine a giant mechanised octopus bashing it out behind an actual kit, like some japanese anime fantasy – only the foregrounded hihat and (eventually) the main riff get a little too much. 9.

  11. 12
    lex on 25 Nov 2011 #

    God I’d forgotten the mental hoover noises on “Workaholic”. Proto-Vitalic y’all!

  12. 13
    Andrew F on 25 Nov 2011 #

    TEN TEN TEN

  13. 14
    23 Daves on 25 Nov 2011 #

    I bloody loved this at the time and I still do. The mention of The Archies “Sugar Sugar” seems particularly relevant to me, because the hippies at the time dismissed that record as bubblegum, either choosing to ignore – or be offended by – the fact that some of its gleeful sound had been skimmed from the less complicated bits of sunshine psychedelic pop (The B-side “Melody Hill” really pushes this point home – under any other group name, it would be compiled on many of those ‘psychedelic pop obscurity’ albums). Similarly, 2 Unlimited had taken techno’s primal pulse and commercialised it to their own ends, pissing off both the serious Techno lovers and the “Keep Music Live” brigade at the same time. I found this absolutely hilarious.

    It’s far too enjoyable a track to hate.

  14. 15
    Billy Smart on 25 Nov 2011 #

    I’m more of the ecstatic TENdancy when it comes to marking this.

    Parsons’ documentary was a ‘pop is dead’ jeremiad on Channel 4’s ‘Without Walls’ arts strand. He unconvincingly argued that computer games were the new rock ‘n’ roll.

    More persuasively, Stuart Maconie wrote in Select at the time that most records in other genres could be improved by adopting the 2U modus operandi; Garth Brookes breaking his song to chant “Country! Country! Country! Country!”, Kingmaker declaiming “Indie! Indie! Indie! Indie!”, etc.

  15. 16
    Billy Smart on 25 Nov 2011 #

    TOTPWatch: 2 Unlimited performed ‘No Limits’ on Top of the Pops on four occasions.

    Details of the Christmas edition shall be provided anon;

    28 January 1993. Also in the studio that week were; West End featuring Sybil, Dina Carroll and Lulu. Tony Dortie was the host.

    11 February 1993. Also in the studio that week were; Saint Etienne, East 17, Thunder, Rolf Harris and Charles & Eddie. Tony Dortie was the host.

    25 February 1993. Also in the studio that week were; Bizarre Inc featuring Angie Brown, Dina Carroll, Shaggy, Tamsin Archer and Bryan Ferry. Tony Dortie was the host.

  16. 17
    Tom on 25 Nov 2011 #

    #14 and #15 Someone on the X-Factor should shout “DUBSTEP DUBSTEP DUBSTEP DUBSTEP” in mid-performance for a comparable rile-em-up moment.

  17. 18
    jim5et on 25 Nov 2011 #

    TEN TEN TEN TEN!

    February 1993. Huggy Bear and 2Unlimited. Best week of my music-listening life.

  18. 19

    misha b kinda did just that first time out and has suffered the voters wrath ever since

  19. 20
    LondonLee on 25 Nov 2011 #

    While I never would have bought this in a million years or danced to it in a club (unless I was drunk out of my nut) I somehow can’t stop the feeling that 7 is too low for it.

  20. 21
    Tom on 25 Nov 2011 #

    You’re right, I should have gone with 8 – the marking’s always off after an unintentional break, I think.

  21. 22
    admin on 25 Nov 2011 #

    Matt’s score is correct. Year 8 and 9 kids in my class loved it. So did I. I was like a mirror version of that cool teacher character they did on Mary Whitehouse Experience. urgh

  22. 23
    Steve Mannion on 25 Nov 2011 #

    Pre-occupied with the impending fragmentation of the UK rave scene at the time (and breakbeats in general), this did not impress me much. Initially it seemed remarkable only in both its relative power and resilience as a chart topper (I don’t think anyone expected it to stay there for six weeks even if it was still early in the year and IWALY fallout, and it’s one of the hardest fastest #1s yet and for a while…). I could even say No Limit’s success played a part in killing my enthusiasm for hard dance music. For three months.

    But years later all is forgiven and as proof the track opens a 93 Eurodance-heavy mix I made a while back and enjoy on a regular basis. Obviously more arena than warehouse but no shame in it when it sounds as solidly fun and free as this does (and I’ve noticed the relatively high production qualities as cited by Izzy too, to compliment Tom’s perfect description).

    However important and brilliant late 92/early 93’s wave of menacing and/or melancholic Euro techno/trance anthems were (‘Acperience’, ‘Age Of Love’, ‘Acid Eiffel’, ‘Positive Education’ to name but four TENS among maybe a dozen or so more) the earnest enthusiasm and warmth of 2U went the opposite direction but effectively the same distance. Agree with 7.

  23. 24
    anto on 25 Nov 2011 #

    Much preferred Jane Horrocks’ version in AbFab. It was shorter for one thing.

  24. 25
    Tom on 25 Nov 2011 #

    #15 YES – I remember the computer games angle now.

    This is something we’ve not really covered yet – this whole period was the golden age of the “x is the new rock n roll” meme – comedy obviously but there was a lot of concern and talk around videogames (IS SONIC THE NEW ELVIS), the Melody Maker did a whole round table ‘debate’ on it, which was excruciating.

    I guess one harbinger of the new rock and roll is that sense of “we have to cover this stuff but we REALLY don’t know how to” which was very evident in the lifestyle and pop mags’ attitudes to games for years and years. So maybe Parsons was right! Readers will have to wait until 1996 for Popular’s verdict on this debate tho.

  25. 26
    Kat but logged out innit on 25 Nov 2011 #

    My 2p on The Magic Friend and Twilight Zone – both awesome obv, though OUTRAGEOUSLY Magic Friend is not included on Hits Unlimited: The Very Best of 2 Unlimited whereas 2 awful post-94 ballads are! SHOCKING.

  26. 27

    <-- the future!!

  27. 28
    Rory on 25 Nov 2011 #

    I didn’t live through this at the time, so it does sound a bit generic to my ears too; but it’s a genre I no longer find painful, so 6.

  28. 29
    Cumbrian on 25 Nov 2011 #

    To be fair, the idea that “computer games are the new rock and roll” would only have been previous by about 15-20 years – at least in the sense of revenue generation for large multi-nationals.

    I’m yet to see people flooding the high street stores/crashing online stores for music releases in 2011 for instance. Meanwhile Modern Warfare 3 has people camping out to buy it and takes millions worldwide. Granted the development costs are higher than for a music act, so that’s going to eat into your profit margin.

  29. 30
    Billy Hicks on 25 Nov 2011 #

    TEN TEN TEN MILLION. Actually no limit to how much I love this :D

    Welcome to 1993 and you’ll be gradually hearing more from me from now on – this year contains the first few songs (including some bunnyable number 1s) that I can definitely, 100% remember from when they were brand new. For now I’m four years old, having just started nursery school the previous month, and remember this extremely well.

    I rediscovered it about a decade later in my early teens and fell in love with it all over again, amazed that I knew something so well from so long ago, and duly downloaded it on mp3. Still epic almost another decade later and I’m waiting for it to be used on a Cadbury advert or something so it gets the chart re-entry it deserves.

    When music channels play this today, I find more often than not it’s the non-UK rap version where Ray shouts out a load of stuff nowhere near as memorable as “Techno! Techno! Techno! Techno” – indeed it took me ages to find the proper UK version. By the end of ’93 they’d stopped bothering editing out the raps, although by then there were so many 2 Unlimited copycats they’d kinda sank into the crowd a little. Great beginning to a super year of #1s!

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