SHAFT – “Roobarb And Custard” (7″ Single)
Roobarb And Custard was a British cartoon about a greenish dog and a pinkish cat and some cackling birds. Equal parts Ivor Cutler, Tom And Jerry, and Krazy Kat, the five-minute shorts took place, like most classic cartoons do, in a self-contained world which obeyed some insane internal logic: the viewer was left to puzzle it all out (if they could be bothered). Plots were outlandish and the voiceovers deliciously hammy, but what really attracted kids’ attention was the wobbling. Everything in Roobarb and Custard vibrated constantly – the characters, the trees, the houses, everything in a constant riot of motion. When the children left sitting in front of this hyperkinetic show grew up (a bit), what kind of music do you think they made?

Toytown techno, one of the most maligned forms of dance music ever, wound itself from three strands. First of all, the desire to make a quick buck from the singles-oriented rave audience (Shaft were the blokes from Global Communication, essentially ‘slumming it’). Secondly, a desire to tap into the ever-growing nostalgia market. And thirdly, a real desire to marry the bizarre energy of old television with the fast-evolving narcotic energy of rave.

It’s easy to overplay the nostalgia aspect – a lot of the people dancing to “Roobarb And Custard”, with its cannily-placed samples and monstrous nagging tune, would have been too young to even remember the show, and the kitschville student repackage-market had in ’91 neither reached fruition or made its peace with dance music. The main reason for using the kiddy stuff was that it made people laugh, and it was a good source of hooks to bring on the E rush. It’s instructive to compare the jollity of toytown techno to something like recent No.1 “Bound 4 Da Reload (Casualty)”, which samples from a current, adult TV programme and so entirely loses the sense of wonder and play which characterised toytown rave, even at its most musically basic. The contrast between the dancefloor as a secret garden of recovered innocence, and the dancefloor as just a continuation of an evening’s processed entertainment, is pretty damn stark.