Posts from 14th July 2005

Jul 05

Can You Hear The Sun Scream?

FT + New York London Paris Munich1 comment • 731 views

Someone, somewhere (mixmaster extraordinaire Steve M, an e-mail) mentioned Sunscreem earlier to me. I glibly shot back an e-mail saying that they were great and you should dis them at your peril.

And then I remember. Sunscreem were great. Not great in a “they are actually any good” sort of way. But rather in the way that they illustrated the realities of the great indie/dance wars of the early nineties. One the one side we had Faceless Dance Music (FDM) made by spotty teenagers in their bedroom. On the other we had Real Proper Bands (RPB) who made indie music, gigged and were – generally rubbish. One set made great, vital pop music (FDM), the others looked a little bit better on Top Of The Pops and played toilet venues near us.

Someone, somewhere (Sony Music, Soho Square), wondered if there was a way to fuse these two seeming irreconcilable musics. And we were not talking the Happy Mondays or even the Stereo MC’s here, whose hopalong grooves you could dance to but not in a eee-d up way. If only there was a band who sounded like the FDM but actually were an RPB. Thus uniting both factions.

Sunscreem was an answer. It was not THE answer, and they lasted one album with three hits. That album, 03 (like ozone) is synth heavy, treated guitars and the female voice up in the mix much like a lot of the FDM of the time. Proper songs (see all this terminology was unable to cope) we interspersed with acid-beatfest. And for the eight kids in Britain who really thought this was the perfect Frankenstein of pop, the RPBFDM heaven, it was the best thing ever. I was, as ever, one of those stupid kids.

Of course the actual answer to the war was the KLF, The Prodigy and, lest we forget, the Utah Saints: with Orbital mopping up people who hate anything that might be a novelty record. Basically Faceless Dance Musics who had killer tunes and learnt how to do it live*. Maybe sticking little lights on your glasses is not quite rock and roll, but strapping it to a decent sound system is. In wars between pop genres, the genre straddler is rarely the winner.

I still have a very soft spot for that Sunscreem record though. And I love the way that whenever it comes up on my MP3 player, it is only ever one of the two minute linking dance bits which sounded endearingly rubbish then, and sound endearingly rubbish now.

*The KLF did not do it live. But the records sounded like they were, which was a bigger stepping stone than you’d imagine.


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The first volume of this great-12″s-of-the-80s was a surprise hit – this second has confessed dynastic ambitions (see inner sleeve). Some staggering pop moments here of course – the widescreen bliss of New Gold Dream, the Annihilation mix of Two Tribes with its extended Reagan impersonators and “air attack warning” spiel. And the occasional surprise (erm, Hue and Cry?) because of course when your eyes glance over the listing in the shop, compilation magic takes hold and the stinkers turn invisible. Solidly enjoyable comfort food on the whole, with electric moments. But if I have a worry it’s the way the series is narrowing in scope – looking at the tracklisting you’d think 12″ culture was an idea that had sprung fully formed from the head of rock one night in 1983 while it waited for its raincoat to dry.

Whalesong Nein Danke

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After the two minutes silence I wasn’t feeling too bad, until I came in and the radio – 6 Music – was playing Sigur Ros, followed by Bright Eyes. It’s a rotten thing to have to do as a DJ, follow up a silence – you can’t play upbeat music, but the music that self-defines as sad feels absolutely inadequate. Sigur Ros’ one-size-fits-all emotionalism seemed unbearably naff, such a safe, enfeebled pick. So self-consciously ‘appropriate’. Of course what I really wanted was – well, I don’t know what I really wanted, like I said it’s a bad job to have, picking this stuff. But I certainly didn’t want the well-meaning emotional debrief of Sigur Ros. It made my mood worse. And then Bright Eyes – well. Concealed like a seven-foot bear in a hide-and-seek game in my Stylus comments is an anger that indie music, specifically this indie music, is so precious about its emotional verity and yet so bad at addressing the guilty awkward business of actually being sad.


The Brown WedgePost a comment • 246 views

There is a bad habit, one which unfortunately I share, of considering things which have only the most tenuous of links as plays on words or puns. Call them parapuns if you will (I will), as they are half-baked and rubbish. An example: well an example from my own writing leaps out at me for the pointless amount of work it made me do. Writing a thriller at the moment, there is a scene where a character comes across and ansamachine with 40 unheard messages. This number was plucked randomly to suggest “a lot”. Then via a comic pratfall one is accidentally erased, leaving 39 messages.

Suddenly the idea of “The 39 Messages” seemed hilarious to me. So much so that I then wrote an entire chapter with the messages in. Needless (though it spun out a few interesting ideas) and more importantly, there is barely a link between the 39 Messages and The 39 Steps. There is nothing there.

But of course mine is not in print and will be excised before it gets to that point. Pity be the publisher who though his stock of Noam Chomsky books were getting a bit high and he though of bundling four of them together. As “The Chomsky Quartet”. Play or words with the Brodsky Quartet, coincidence or just rubbish. Parapun at best.