The Wire

In Writing

Showing posts about Uncategorized

Real North

Nathan Budzinski

Recently I listened back to Glenn Gould's influential 1967 radio documentary The Idea Of North, part of his Solitude Trilogy. It features the voices of people who have had a 'direct confrontation' with the remote northern region of Canada's vast wilderness, describing the practical ins and outs of living there.

Gould was known as one of the greatest interpreters of Bach's Goldberg Variations. But he famously retired from live performance and instead spent long hours locked away in a studio, discovering ever more minute scales of perfectionism while cutting together choice recordings of his playing in an effort to create the most honed versions of the Variations.

He made the Solitude docs using what he called a 'contrapuntal' editing technique which mixed together multiple voices. It can sound noisy with the voices cancelling each other out in a kind of disorientating babble. But sometimes certain words and phrases leap out in quick succession, "endless", "ice", "nothing", "year after year" etc, creating a montage of verbal images.

At first it sounds odd that these intimate and warm voices are talking about such an expansively inhuman and cold place. Further into the recording a voice says: "You can't talk about the North until you've got out of it." And here's where the listener's journey enters into a more fictional space, the idea of The Idea Of North. Not only is the doc about hearing first-hand accounts of what the 'real' North is, it's about remembering it, re-imagining it and re-telling it from a distance.

Throughout the hour long broadcast the sound of a train rumbling along leads the listener towards this idea of North. There aren't any noises of nature like biting wind, wolves howling or footsteps crunching in the snow. Just the muffled sound of the Muskeg Express chugging its way further north along the tracks. The voices could have been recorded anywhere, but Gould places them inside the sonic and psychological space of a train. It's a space loaded with symbolism about fate, destiny, migration and nationhood (much like radio is too in the latter case). This mental space is also akin to that of Gould's perfect Goldberg Variations: it's a close, intimate and even claustrophobic space where one can focus intensely to the point of an epiphany (or hallucination). And though the people in the Idea Of North go to lengths to debunk myths about the north and of a macho 'northmanship' seducing travellers further and further north, the doc still creates a fantastical space, or at least a space where most anything could happen. For Gould, the north, is "a convenient area to dream about, spin tall tales about, and in the end, avoid."

In his book The Spiritual History Of Ice: Romanticism, Science, And The Imagination, Eric G Wilson writes about this blurred borderline between real and imagined spaces: "Fantastical worlds can become real in two ways – in the systems of the tyrant or the visions of the liberator. Likewise real spaces can become fantastical in a twofold fashion. On the one hand, a tyrant might fictionalise a physical space so that he can exploit it [...] On the other hand, a liberator might transform a humanised region into the sublime laws sustaining the cosmos. A poet might release chthonic energies underlying city grids."

[caption id="attachment_1348" align="aligncenter" width="407" caption="Mercator's Septentrionalium Terrarum descriptio, map of the Arctic, 1595 (click to enlarge)"][/caption]

The Idea Of North documents first hand experiences with the real north, but it also documents Gould's journey towards a productive north, mapping a place of serenity and contemplation over vast and empty tundra. Surrounded by frozen calm, Gould's single-track journey is drawn towards an imagined centre point where the constraining delineations of reality cease and imagination can take over. It's at the centre of the world where the mind can focus on smaller and smaller points of attention, tapping into the creative chthonic energies emanating from the magnetic zero degree. But for Gould it's a place best visited rarely as an obsessive mind is easily subsumed by this vast fantasy, no matter how far away the body is.

Tags: | | | | | | | | |

Drowned City

Derek Walmsley

It's not surprising that there's relatively few films made about pirate radio, when being collared with illegal broadcasting equipment or running a station can land you in jail, with an unlimited fine, or, in the infamous case of DJ Slimzee, receiving an ASBO banning you from the upper floors of buildings in London. Drowned City, a documentary by UK filmmaker Faith Millin that's been gestating over the past year or so, is an attempt to rectify that situation. From the title I was expecting some apocalyptic, Ballardian essay film – the name, it turns out, comes from a track by Dark Sky – but viewing a selection of rough cuts suggests the opposite. It's a personal, intimate film dealing with those who risk their livelihoods (and lives) keeping the pirates on air. Some of the stories are familiar from urban myth or recycled anecdotes – driving around for places to put aerials, shinning up pylons – but this is one of the first times the pirates speak for themselves, albeit often with hooded faces and under the cover of darkness.

The narrative of Drowned City is the familiar one of people doing it for the love of the music, but it's no less emotionally engaging for that. One pirate recalls picking up secondhand broadcast equipment and messing around with it with mates in the back garden, culling what he needed to know from YouTube and the net. There's footage of pirates shinning up electricity pylons overlooking London and the surrounding counties and accessing power for transmitters by breaking into electricity substations (surely cast iron proof that they're not doing it for self-interest).

Of more direct political import are accounts of pirates getting placed on lengthy periods of bail after arrest, and having their partners questioned for supposedly supporting their activities. From these anecdotes, the behaviour of Ofcom, the quango that regulates radio and telecommunications in the UK, seems odd – they expend serious money and police resources to keep small pirates off the air, with relatively little in the way of explanation. "They disrupt the vital communications of the safety of life services, particularly air traffic control," runs one rather shaky-sounding argument on the Ofcom website – surely air traffic control doesn't rely on the FM band?

The film is apparently still evolving as more figures from the pirate underworld are drawn into the film; as yet all that exists in the public domain are some relatively brief teasers, essentially just standard trailers for the forthcoming film. But judging by the work in progress, Drowned City could turn out to be an important document. The intimate conversations with the pirates show you some of the toil, the dirt under the fingernails, and the scars of those who struggle to keep pirates on the air. "They take from, rather than contribute to, the communities they claim to serve," states the Ofcom website. Drowned City looks like it could offer a positive counter to that argument.

Drowned City teasers:

Tags: | | | | |

Funky Accordions

Derek Walmsley

"Accordions are banned from the office," comes the judgement as yet another lame East/West dance fusion disc gets abruptly slung out of the CD player. Like any rules, there's exceptions of course, and I'm sure we'll be giving this new Pauline Oliveros album a spin at some point. But It did get me thinking about funky accordions, and in the mid-2000s it seemed you could hardly move for sick beats busting a squeeze box.

Roll Deep "When I'm 'Ere", produced by Danny Weed. This sent the Roll Deep producer spinning like a dervish through a million takes on this style.

Cut-up accordion action!

But not as amazing as this remix, beatless in parts, that surfaced around the same time, just an accordion riff ran backwards and forwards (Eliane Radigue eat your heart out) over a minimal beat. On pirates around this time they would mix two copies of the records so they could just stretch out the beatless intro for minutes at a time (and the MCs could take a breather after a heavy set of bars).

A couple of years after "When I'm 'Ere" first appeared Danny Weed returned to the theme with the amazing "Heat Up". What struck me about these accordion tracks was that a couple of years earlier violins had been all the rage. Somehow the more incongruous the instrument on a grime track the better - synthetic string quartets, fake hoe-downs. Like the use of Eastern melodies on Grime tracks, producers were teleporting themselves out of the ghetto with sampled exotica. A year or two later Wiley was sticking bluegrass fiddle on his tracks.

Of course, around this time, Madlib was rocking an accordion too, and Doom even manages to make a rhyming couplet out of it.

The push-pull nature of the accordion makes it a clumsy beast to play or to sample, and it's hard to make it sing. But like a jazz violinist, when you find player or producers who have the knack, they're rare gems indeed.

Tags: | | | | | |

Feeling Listless

Derek Walmsley

The last thing we need is more record lists, right? Well, maybe. No doubt we suffer from a glut of rock-lists. Glossy consumer mags use lists of all types as selling points ("you need these in your life"). When it comes to UK music monthlies, it usually means the same old rock albums, reinforcing the canon with each iteration. Books and websites are now adding to list-fatigue: sites divide lengthy lists-of-the-best-ever into several pages, thus increasing their click thrus but making for fractured reading (the very opposite of what a list should do); meanwhile, those godawful 1010 Records To Hear Before You Expire books conflate musical experience with the dying of the light.

Of course, the idea of a record list is inherently problematic. It immediately raises questions: records of what type, and limited in what way? What and whose criteria are we judging by? The very existence of a historic list presupposes a musical 'record' of some kind, which rules out the vast majority of music experienced by homo sapiens since time began.

Yet lists are worth celebrating, especially now. Lists are rarely about completism. Only a tiny minority of those who read a record list attempt to collect ’em all. Instead, a list provides a rough-and-ready survey of how the land might lay, and what waypoints on the map might be significant at the present time. Like an old style maps with sketchy outlines of countries and continents and uncharted waters beyond, they are open to correction by the user. And like the notion of music genre, the flaws and exceptions of a list are as important, notable and (crucially) useful as the inclusions. The very idea of a list of records is an acknowledgment that we're in a state of constant change.

A select few lists have been crucial in The Wire's world, and several others have been crucial in setting the agenda since the internet expanded the music world. The Nurse With Wound list is still a thing of wonder with over 200 way-out records (Airway, Brainstorm, Come…) that, contrary to rumour, do all genuinely exist. Thurston Moore's Free Jazz list for Grand Royale magazine contained such obscurities – private press releases, European releases by US exiles, loft sessions – that at the time I thought it could be some kind of jazz head’s wet daydream. "Seeing as there’s no “beginning” or “end” to this shit I have to list as many items as possible," Moore wrote, suggesting that free jazz, far from dead, was still resonating in global after shocks. Alan Licht's minimalist top 10 ("I like minimalism because it ROCKS.") was crucial because it posited minimalism as the hidden wiring of whole swathes of underground music. His original list mentions Niblock and Palestine, but in a third instalment for Volcanic Tongue (which goes all the way up to eleven) he knitted in Harry Pussy and Earth to the minimalist pantheon.

Two record lists stood out in the early internet era, and became, if not bibles, then certainly user's guide to the hidden depths of record collecting. Kirk DeGiorgio's Hall Of Fame (which has more or less disappeared from the internet, but can still be just about browsed here) was a list of primarily soul, funk, jazz and disco, but its forensic ear for producers, engineers, session men, arrangers, songwriters and other unsung heroes meant it elevated David Axelrod, Arthur Russell and George Duke to visionary status in their knitting together of black music, white music and everything in between in the 1970s.

Woebot's 100 Greatest Records Ever, is wonderfully playful despite (or because of?) its pompous title. His list makes a mockery of the idea that the album is king, with white label 12"s from Ruff Sqwad, and places Joni Mitchell and Pere Ubu next to Acen and David Lewiston as the true geniuses of modern music. Woebot's list is rough and opinionated, making you alternately snort with derision and wonder where the hell he found such riches.

Consumer guide record lists can weigh you down, but a good list should open things up. The lists above are about sharing the riches. One of my best musical experiences ever was a week-by-week record swapping session with a close friend, working the way through our respective top 50 albums. This is what the best lists do – facilitate an intimate engagement with someone's world. Despite the proliferation of lists, we need good ones more than ever.

Tags: | | | | | |

Erotic Neurotic: (not so) slight return

Tony Herrington

After that last post I got into an extensive email correspondence with Amanda Brown during which she made some clarifications regarding her 'sex and sexiness' comment and which it seems to me are worth noting here, if only to fill in the picture a little more.

In one mail Amanda states: "I guess when I told Simon I wanted to be sexy and invest in sexiness, I said it because I feel like women are so afraid of that now in the underground. It's like, don't look at me like I'm sexy, look at me like I'm a man. Which we aren't, obviously..." In another mail she writes: "I think it is time for women who don't dress sexy or don't sing about sex or project themselves as sexy to reclaim sexiness, as soulfulness and sensualness."

The message here seems pretty clear: attitudes towards female sexuality that prevail in the underground are as oppressive and distorted (which is a point I made in my previous post) as those that dominate in corporate pop (which I didn't mention at all, as the fact of its industrialised and fascistic porno-projections of what constitutes a desirable female sexual identity should be obvious to anyone who has ever seen a Pussycat Dolls vid), and both need replacing by less uptight, more inclusive attitudes and representations, and that this is the real nature of Amanda's 'investment'. So for her it is political, a consistent polemic that runs underneath all the donning and discarding of stylistic masks and poses that define the shifts in the NNF/100% Silk aesthetic, and I'm talking visually here as much as sonically, from Noise to drones to psych to dub to synth pop to disco to House and so on.

Maybe confusion, or ambiguity, regarding the political dimension of Amanda's artistic project stems partly from the fact she is also heavily invested in this type of conceptual or stylistic mutability, that has fast become the norm in the lo-fi underground of course, and which makes all these musical forms equivalent, invests them all with the same weight, so effectively reducing them to the level of camp or kitsch, ironicizing the fact that once they were not only mutually exclusive but mutually antagonistic, freighted with opposing political, social and cultural meanings and associations (that have now all been screened out). Perhaps it is hard to reconcile a consistent political agenda with an aesthetic that seems so relativistic and post-historical. Or perhaps both myself and Simon (who raises similar caveats in his article) are suffering from a form of generational myopia, two fortysomething critics applying the values of earlier, more ideologically-determined pop epochs, yearning for the old boundaries and binaries around which we used to rally, and which appear to have been so thoroughly dismantled, collapsed by pop culture's own acquiescence to the illusion of neo-liberal 'end of history' propaganda.

In his article Simon invokes the tense conditions that prevailed in American pop culture in the mid-80s, when the Hardcore underground existed in direct and violent opposition to corporate pop, and compares them to the laissez-faire attitudes in effect today, typified by Amanda's comment that she has no issue with the existence of Justin Bieber. (In their interview, and to her great credit, Amanda meets all of Simon's caveats head on, responds to them with extreme good grace, but this comment still feels a bit like Siouxsie Sioux saying she has nothing against Rick Astley. Or Lydia Lunch announcing she is very relaxed about Luke Goss! There's an irony in invoking Lydia here, as she had links to the art world project, and that is definitely the right way to describe it, that I would argue was the moment that US Hardcore went from being a form of active and antagonistic combat rock to being a branch of inert and laissez faire conceptual pop art, ie the release of Ciccone/Sonic Youth's The White(y) Album. It is no coincidence that in Kim Gordon SY included at least one member who had previously worked as both an art world critic and conceptual artist. And as Simon points out, Amanda is typical of the post-SY generation of underground musicians in that she seems to think and act like an ultra-smart but hyper-detached theorist-cum-'audio artist'.)

Here's another, even earlier historical parallel. When the UK's post-punk agitators made the move from DIY messthetix to chart pop aesthetics (a trajectory traced in outline by NNF/100% Silk's recent releases), it was proposed and discussed as a political as much as a stylistic shift, and depending on which side of the divide you were on, was seen as either a retreat from the frontline of the culture wars, or a subversive attempt to plant an entryist cell behind enemy lines. Either way, the argument goes, it had implications beyond the simple question of making aesthetic choices. Now, when a musician like Amanda makes the shift from Noise to dub to disco it feels, as she admits, more like a random stylistic shuffle, a conceptual flick of the wrist, more a consequence of waking up in the morning and thinking, who do l feel like today, Ari Up or Sade? Do I feel like making some animal Noise, or do I want to make some slinky grooves? On one level you could say this is a more liberated, less dogmatic process, a more 'natural' and instinctive way for an artist to go about things. But at the same time you could argue, as Simon does, that it is one that is devoid of any real or wider consequence because it strips music of any meaning or context beyond itself, as it no longer involves the negotiation of any underlying social or cultural tensions, no longer requires any political alignment or engagement, which is maybe why it is easy to miss the political dimension Amanda claims for her project, why that "How Would U Know" vid still feels more like a carelessly provocative 'whatever' moment than a subversive feminist statement.

In another email Amanda refers to the response (or lack of it) to the image of her on the cover of the Psychic Reality/LA Vampires split LP: "When I was topless on the record with Psychic Reality no one said a word - it was the most silence I've experienced - but that shower scene in the video (in which I'm OBVIOUSLY not topless or naked at all) has got a lot of comments, mainly because I'm joking or mocking. On the record cover I'm serious and I think people hate that, or at least don't want to talk about it because it's odd or frightening."

But unlike the shower scene in the "How Would U Know" vid, which flirts, in a very conceptual pop art kind of a way, with a typical and titillating contemporary soft porn scenario, that cover feels more like an atavistic throwback, an anthropological relic, that is undoubtedly powerful and self-determining (rather than odd or frightening - unless those qualities amount to the same thing when it comes to women taking ownership of their own images) but only limns female sexuality on its way to implying another kind of archaic experience (which is something it shares in common with the cover of The Slits' Cut, which is one obvious precedent). As Iggy Pop put it in The Wire 189, talking about what he learned from studying anthropology at the University of Michigan in the 1960s: "In Stone Age or primitive societies when people get out there or get musical they also get naked." Which is the other reason I didn't mention it, because it already feels more like an archived historical artefact than a part of Amanda's present reality, ie a visualisation of the raw, primal, red in tooth and claw vibe of Pocahaunted and the early LA Vampires sides, and so not an image that would sit too well with the music on a record like So Unreal, which as Simon suggests feels lush and groovy, more mid-80s Compass Point than late 70s Cold Storage, and whose cover, appropriately enough, features Amanda dressed up like Madonna circa Desperately Seeking Susan.

Maybe if she had switched those two covers, so Amanda-as-Madonna was wrapping the feral distorto Goth-dub of her side of that split LP, and Amanda-as-Ari Up was wrapping the seductive 'n' sensual metropolitan synth pop of So Unreal, then that would have set up more of a dialectical dynamic, ruptured the conceptual consistency to allow us old timers to glimpse, if only for a moment, the political agenda beneath the vertigo-inducing aesthetic shifts.

Tags: | | | | |

Queered Pitch

Derek Walmsley

"Sound itself is queer." I was struck by this quote from Drew Daniel of Matmos while flicking through a video of a Q&A I did with them at Mutek last year (the Mutek people have kindly just put it online, a series of four interviews from the 2010 edition that they're putting up in the run up to this year's event). Queerness is what exceeds values and structures, he explained. So if sound qua sound exists outside language and and the usual hierarchies of taste, then is sound queer?

While Drew Daniel was riffing on this idea (22 minutes into the interview) I was in the presenter's chair with one half of my brain pre-occupied with thinking of the next question to throw back at him. But nearly a year on it resonated with ideas that have been rattling around my head in the meantime. Right now I happen, oddly enough, to be listening to disco genius Patrick Cowley's "Menergy". Disco was able to evoke desire precisely because it could be so direct and, hey, crude. From pop to metal to rave to noise, music can be so complex, chaotic and endlessly fascinating because in formal terms it is so cognitively simple and sensorially direct compared to other artforms. I'm not well-placed to comment on the idea of queerness in sound – check the clip for Drew's more eloquent thoughts – but this kind of thinking, exploring how way sound escapes objective analysis and exists outside most conceptual frameworks, at least gets us a little closer to why music has such power.

Tags: | | | | |

Smiley Culture 1963-2011/Lyricmaker Mix

Derek Walmsley

I'm saddened and shocked to hear of the sudden death of original UK mic-man David Emmanuel, aka Smiley Culture, after a police raid at his house. I'm not going to add much to the other tributes elsewhere, but I'll gently point you in the direction of an excellent mix exploring the fast-chat era of the UK reggae deejays, of which Smiley was a crucial part. The Lyric Maker mix by John Eden (of the Uncarved blog) and Paul Meme (Grievous Angel) is a great introduction and, most importantly, a crucial selection of Cockney and JA chatters.

Tags: | | | | | |

Britcore

Derek Walmsley

I came a little late to Rephlex's recent compilation of late 1980s/early 90s recordings by UK crew The Criminal Minds, but over the last couple of weeks it's completely blown me away. The comp spans their early hiphop recordings through to the vital Eureka! moment of the breakbeat and a little way beyond. There's so much to take in: the density of the music, the abrasive grain, like tarmac grazing your flesh, the cheap thrills of messing around with samplers, and a gawky sense of yoof-telling-the-truth about tough times in the UK (which actually seems more resonant in these recessionary times than, say, five years ago). The friction comes as hiphop meets the brutal torque of hardcore and early rave, with just about enough lyrical flow to stop the whole machine from overheating. The energy, physically and mentally, is amazing, several notches up from much of what emerges from the UK underground these days.

It sent me back to what I knew of UK hiphop in the rave and immediately pre-rave era. UK hiphoppers couldn't win: put on a US accent and you sound like a fake, rap in a UK accent and it sounded ridiculous. George Mahood, ex of Big Daddy Magazine, pointed me in the direction of the Aroe & The Soundmakers' two comps of UK hiphop, the Crown Jewels Volume 1 & 2. Mindboggling as these comps are, with incredible rarities and one-offs from some seriously obscure crews, it's frustrating that they're essentially mixtapes. Surely this era is ripe for rediscovery now? Estuary English even has a real nice flow to it, for me at least (do excuse the pun). It's high time a UK record label stepped up to the plate and properly compiled and documented the music of this era.

Sub-bass! Gunshot’s album Patriot Games pictured them sitting intently facing each other in a circle, holding mics, as if they're about to become blood brothers, or head off on some kind of a suicide mission. Nuclear war is referenced everywhere, in titles and samples from the movie War Games – perhaps surprising, as by 1993 and with the Berlin Wall a fast-fading memory, the UK wasn't in imminent danger of apocalypse (check out Gunshot's "World War Three", where the "Three" sample is from De La Soul. You can almost see the daisies wilting in the radioactive fallout). But that threat of apocalypse is echoed elsewhere, in The Criminal Minds' 2000 AD-style artwork and titles like "A Taste Of Armageddon" (whose samples are ripped from the darkside of the charts: Duran Duran's doomy, fatalistic bad-romance ballad "Save A Prayer" and Adamski's "Killer").

It's not reportage but a form of gothic – I can't find a single reference to the Gulf War (still fresh in the memory) anywhere in Patriot Games, but instead the album seems stuck in some kind of extended Cold War shellshock. You get a sense of lingering militarism everywhere – of US military bases in mainland Europe, of political subservience and impotence, of Chernobyl blowing up and blowing the bad dust in. Both groups reference a "reign of terror" (Gunshot sampling that line from TCM’s original track), but it's never clear who is doing the reigning.

Another theme which TCM and Gunshot share is the Old Bill. The police versus the people was another hidden war in the UK, with the silent majority happy with the boys in blue, who it later turned out were involved with low-level torture (in Northern Ireland), miscarriages of justice (the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four) and corruption. Blacks accounted for only around 5% of the population in the 1980s, so if you were white you were probably relatively sheltered from the stop-and-search and regular harassment which led to riots in Brixton and Tottenham in the early 80s.

The police references in Gunshot and TCM are to "Illegal Procedure", "Rough Justice", "Interception Squad" and Flying Squad – forces within forces, a police state which still maintains a semblance of normality. Gunshot kick against this by bigging up pirate radio and, in a skit which begins the album, tuning into the police frequencies. There's an echo here of Bomb The Bass's "Beat Dis", Tim Simenon's chart-topping sample/scratch fest which gave a kick start to both hiphop and house in the UK, with its barked introduction/call to arms "keep this frequency clear".

In Gunshot's great scheme of things, the effect of police harassment and living in fear is anomie – not the kind of psychology you usually associate with hiphop. MC Mercury's first line in "25 Gun Salute" could be straight outta Gravediggaz: "from the brink of madness comes one...". He trumps this in ”Social Psychotics“: "it's like I've got 12 voices singing in my head". Another Mercury line, "psychotherapy is needed for Bexleyheath" (the latter a Kent suburb of London), sounds faintly absurd, but accurately illustrates a particular kind of British small-town mentality where it's quietness and conservatism and your mum and dad who eventually fuck you up.

Gunshot described what they did as hardcore rap, which resonated nicely with what was gestating in rave at the time, and they painted themselves at outsiders – "some try to ban us/for cavorting round the hardcore banner". Whether they really were outsiders or not is a moot point, considering that they were widely discussed as the next big thing in UK hiphop for many years in the early 90s. But that's not necessarily important: anomie and outsider status becomes a fuel for the UK hardcore hiphopper. UK hiphop couldn't borrow funk and soul, and it had no real coherent community, so it had to take the sense of dislocation and find merit in that. The idea of UK hiphop being reviled had some truth in it, but it also becomes a convenient foundational myth which helps sustains the intensity of the music. This is where Gunshot, for instance, join forces with Napalm Death. Like grindcore, the shock value is a way to try and jolt UK society out of complacency.

This kind of shock value feeds into the brilliantly cartoonish samples of TCM. Why did no-one think before of putting Bernard Hermann’s Cape Fear theme under a fat hiphop beat? (On "Urban Warfare" they stick the "Death March" from the Star Wars soundtrack under an even more stoopidly fun rhythm).

It's just a short step from here to the sampledelic bombast of Acen's rave classic "Trip II The Moon".

Ferreting around on YouTube and checking out Aroe & The Soundmaker's comps yielded loads of great moments, and the dividing line between hardcore and hardcore rap is so thin as to disappear entirely. These tracks are so grimy and abrasive you begin to wonder, fancifully, if it's down to the records they sampled being that much further from the epicentre of funk and soul. You can almost see gaudy record covers emblazoned with James Brown Twenty Golden Hits (Includes Funky Drummer).

But more likely the abrasive, inventive grain of the beats is because it was the sampler talking here. UK hiphop was a music of kids in bedrooms working without the benefit of soundclashes, communal events, any real heritage of funk/hiphop/soul, or even an accepted dialect to rap in. Being outsiders, self-declared or not, sent them back to their bedrooms with even more determination. The sampler is the ultimate translator for hiphop – everyone understands a ridiculous beat – and this is the one thing they could excel out.

Tags: | | | | | | | |

Back With Another One Of Those Poplocking Beats

Derek Walmsley

Still in the electro zone following Dave Tompkins's The Wire salon (see The Mire passim), I find myself slipping through wormholes of sample sources, song theft and shout-out references. Today in the office we're booming Zapp & Roger's "So Ruff, So Tuff":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eksaGYygLsw

Which sends me back to a personal favourite, Ronnie Hudson And The Street People's "West Coast Poplock", which borrows a chunk of Zapp, and adds the iconic lyric "California knows how to party":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmJXjDhpA_s

Documentary evidence of real-life poplocking to Ronnie H can be found here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02HxXrVlr2U

The Hudson lyric was later, of course, borrowed by 2pac's "California Love", which featured Zapp's Roger Troutman:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWOsbGP5Ox4

Which melded it with the sample from Joe Cocker's incredible track "Woman To Woman":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PmRNUToamI

A track which itself had been sampled by the Ultramagnetic MC's late 80s track "Funky":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wq_C01YkmnM

In a neat reversal of the usual magpie sample theft of hiphop, Zapp & Roger did their own version of "California Love" later:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMa62lS0iVI

This much I knew already – funnily enough from the soundtrack to the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas computer game (whoever compiles those soundtracks has got a seriously great record collection). But what I didn't know till now, thanks to a bit of googling, was that "West Coast Poplock" itself borrowed it's main riff from Booker T And The MG's "Boot Leg":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZK2t1YnDPs

And that track has its own hiphop history, having been borrowed by Cypress Hill:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8at2twL6gBI

With this dense web of connections, moving both back and forth along the timeline, "West Coast Poplock" seems something like the keystone of hiphop, a crucial multi-way node in rap history. But perhaps out there is the another track which has even more points of connection – the Higgs boson of hiphop, connecting everything to everything:

Whatever it is, my guess is that DJ Funktual in Fort Lauderdale, Florida has already found it. His long running series of ten-minute shows on YouTube breaking down who-sampled-what are compulsive viewing, and take you as close to the sheer time-shifting delight of finding these connections as anything out there:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfqlG8gSkeA

Tags: | | | | | | | | | | | | |

Off The page competition winners

Tony Herrington

Thanks to everyone who entered our competition to win an Off The Page booklet. The question was: which of the Off The Page speakers selected John Cage's "Goal: New Music, New Dance" (from his book Silence) as their favourite piece of writing on music? The answer was: Matthew Herbert.

The first five names out of the hat with the correct answer were: George Hardy, Richard Moss, Suriano Rafael, Philip Rhoads and Lawrence Roberts.

Your prizes will be winging their way to you any day now.

Tags: | |