Sunday, December 16, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #44]

BRITPOP AND THE BRITPRESS
Request, May 1996

by Simon Reynolds


Right now, the British weekly music press--New Musical Express (NME) and Melody Maker (MM)--is going through one of its periodic phases of feeling self-important. The reason, of course, is Britpop. The weeklies didn't create the movement, but they did name it, and for two years now they've given Britpop their unconditional support. The official line is that 'we've never had it so good' (an echo of a famous political slogan from the '60s); that Britpop is a golden age for UK music, and that if you want to keep tabs on this fast-moving scene, you've got to buy the weeklies.

Grunge wasn't a bad time for the UK music press (in fact Melody Maker
was way ahead of American publications in picking up on what was happening in
Seattle). But the Brit-press is happiest when it can cover stuff happening
on its own doorstep, on a week-by-week basis. If a band is local, it's so much easier to kickstart the hype-cycle that so appals Americans: the group's discovery at a live gig by a cub reporter ('I have seen the future'), its endorsement by a more established writer, the granting of 'Single of the Week' honors, the pricking of major label A&R interest, the full-page debut album rave, the front cover, and so
forth. So accelerated is the hype-cycle these days that stages are often
skipped; buzz bands sometimes make the front cover before they've even released a
record.

Being so USA-based, grunge interfered with this process. NME
and MM rely on record companies to pay for trips outside the UK,
which means that most American bands are already signed by the time the press write about it. Grunge also goaded the Britpress' patriotic pride, triggering
its reflex-resentment towards America's domination of pop culture.
After an initial anti-grunge backlash in '93 (Suede's defiantly Anglophile blend of glam Bowie and glum Morrissey),Britpop really got rollin' in '94. There was the neo-Merseybeat swagger of Oasis, Blur's unexpected self-resurrection out of the 'has been/never-was' dumpster, and Pulp's strange and wonderful ascent to cult popularity, after 15 years in the wilderness. In '95, Britpop went into overdrive: Elastica, Supergrass, Bluetones, Cast, Gene, Shed Seven, Menswear, ad infinitum, ad
nauseam.

The Britpress will seize on any excuse for a fit of
chest-swelling, tub-thumping jingoism. Britpop was ideal, since its aesthetic base--the mid-60's, filtered through its late '70s echo, New Wave--had hitherto been strictly an indie style, and thus the province of the weeklies. At the same time, Britpop bands are overtly anti-experimental and pre-psychedelic; they combine a playsafe 1966-meets-1978, three minute pop aesthetic with a doctrine of
stardom-at-all-costs, making them highly desirable to record companies and
extremely radio-friendly. Because the bands it deals with now hit the charts,
the prestige and morale of the Britpress has been boosted; for the first time in
15 years, people turn to them as tipsheets on future stars. For instance, this
January a grubby little gang of sub-Oasis oiks called Northern Uproar
appeared on MM's cover one week, and on Top Of the Pops the next (TOTP being the UK's premiere pop TV show, based around that week's new chart entries). Furthermore, Britpoppers behave like pop stars; they make strenuous efforts to give good face and good quote, all of which makes
the music papers' job much easier.

That job is basically to convince the readers that stuff is happening.
Now, you might think that ain't so hard, given the plethora of scenes and sounds
generated by the merry postmodern tumult of the 1990's. But the Britpress readership is deeply conservative, and its idea of what's relevant
is decidedly narrow. Look at the NME and MM annual readers polls in the last 15years and you'll invariably find the Best Band position occupied
by a white, all-male, British guitar band: the Jam, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Smiths, the Stone Roses, Suede, Blur, Oasis. The Top 10 Band, Album and Single categories usually feature no women, no blacks, no dance music, and rarely any Yanks (although REM and Nirvana did briefly challenge the Anglocentric bias).

The Britpress has to give its readers what they want, i.e as many pieces
as possible on the 10 or so Big Brits (pegged around the single, the album, the
tour, any excuse whatsoever basically), plus features on Brit-pop 'contenders'--younger bands waiting in the wings for fame and fortune to take its toll on the established Brit biggies. That still leaves a fair number of pages which have to be be filled by token coverage of 'minority' interests like techno, hip hop, weird guitar experimentalism, American rock, and other stuff which market research shows the readers are simply not interested in.

The big problem for the weekly music papers right now is that the
very commercial success that's vindicated their Britpop boosterism is also making
their own role redundant. A few years ago, NME started its Brat Awards
as a sort of parody-cum-riposte to the Brit Awards (the UK record industry's official, Grammy-like honors). In the beginning, NME could
justifiably argue that the truly vibrant pop of the day was being ignored
by the Brits, in favor of MOR artistes like Elton John and Phil Collins,
whose awards were basically rewards for their contribution, via international sales, towards rectifying Britain's trade deficit. These days, both Brits and Brats are alarmingly similar in their fixation on the triumvirate of Blur/Oasis/Pulp; yesterday's alternative has become today's mainstream.

Because of this, everybody is writing about Britpop--from the newspapers
and tabloids to glossy teenybop mags like Smash Hits. With their traditional turf usurped by other mags and by TV, the weeklies don't know
where to go next, how to reclaim their unique role. Do they carry on
scrabbling to find the next Blur or Oasis ahead of the slower-moving monthly magazines, a strategy which is already dredging up lame xeroxes and runts-of-the-litter like Northern Uproar? Or do they dare to drift left-field, and discover/dream up a new alternative?

Another reason why the weekly papers have been obliged to narrow their
focus is the vast range of music media now available in the U.K., from specialist
publications (dance mags like Mixmag and Muzik, metal mags
like Kerrang, cutting edge eclectics like The Wire) to the 'general interest' music monthlies like Select, Q
and Mojo. The last three are owned by the publishing group EMAP, and are designed to take the reader from cradle to grave: Select is
targetted at indie-loving teens and colledge kids, Q is for late twenty-to early thirtysomethings who buy maybe ten CD's a year, while Mojo is
a largely retro-oriented magazine aimed at the 30-plus market
who've given up on 'modern music' but are still passionately interested in the graying rock'n'rollers who soundtracked their youth.

NME and Melody Maker are deadly rivals,
which is odd because they're owned by the same media conglomerate, IPC,
and are situated just one floor apart inside IPC's King's Reach Tower.
Once upon a time, this emnity was based on ideological differences. Today,
the rivalry is sustained out of habit more than anything; Britpop unites
all in its engulfing mediocrity. In truth, the papers have a
complementary relationship. Since the late '80s, MM has
been ensconced in the role of discovering new bands first; the bigger-selling NME bides its time and usually reaps the benefits of timing its coverage closer to the point at which bands break into the mainstream.

Writing for a weekly music paper offers writers cachet and power,
but little financial reward or career prospects. There's a constant influx of firebrands who arrive, make their mark (usually by crusading on behalf of a particular scene or genre) and then burn out. There's a definite type that's attracted to the weekly music press: almost always male, almost always middle class,
over-educated, a bit emotionally retarded. (I speak as someone who's written
for Melody Maker for ten years, and certainly don't exempt myself from this
description!). The Fall's Mark E. Smith tagged this breed with his phrase
'hip priest'. Throbbing with will-to-belief and gifted in the arts of messianic
rhetoric, these angsty young men gravitate towards the music press, where in
previous generations they might have chosen revolutionary politics,
poetry or evangelism.

See, thriving (as opposed to eking out a living) in the Britpress
requires a weird sort of doublethink: the knack of participating in the conscious
construction of a 'happening scene', while simultaneously believing in the reality and righteousness of the figment you've created. A good example of this syndrome is Romo, the pipe-dream of two of Melody Maker's brightest journos,
Simon Price and Taylor Parkes. Short for 'Romantic Modernism', Romo is not,
the duo stress, merely a revival of early '80s New Romantic
synth-and-eyeliner pop, but "a renaissance" of the quintessentially English aptitude for artifice and androgny. No matter that the one Romo band I've seen so far, Viva, were quite dreadful, a cut-price Roxy Music; Price & Taylor's manifesto-mongering and sheer will to hallucinate into being an alternative to the increasingly prosaic Britpop are admirable. It's what the English music press does best, and doesn't do often enough these days.

British music hacks engage in this kind of scene-making partly
for glory, partly out of dissatisfaction with pop's stasis quo, and partly in a purely generous attempt to make things seem more exciting than they actually are. Ideas are thrown down, as a challenge and a reproach,
and in the hope that someone will pick up the baton. There's no profit
to be had from these crusades; only the bands who get signed by majors thanks
to the hacks's efforts, and the A&R scouts who do the signing, make any money out of the hype-cycle.

The weekly nature of the Britpress, the sheer number of pages
that require filling, and the swarm of young egos hungry to make their mark--all this contributes to the infamous "hothouse atmosphere" of the UK music scene: the
rapid turnover of scenes and styles, the histrionics and overheated prose.
The readers don't particularly like these qualities, but they kinda expect them;
they're locked in a peculiar love/hate relationship with the weeklies, and tend
both to overestimate and underestimate their power. NME and MM can't break bands on their own, without radio play, nor can they significantly damage successful bands. But the papers do have a huge influence on the record companies' A&R policy (several Romo combos have already been signed!),
and a more subliminal effect on British music culture itself. By creating a critical climate in which certain ideas and attributes become highly charged, sexy, de rigeur, the music papers shape the aesthetic universe in which a young band develops; by the time they're getting written about, the bands are spouting the buzzwords, dropping the references, reciting the litany. Dreampop, the post-My Bloody Valentine wave of Lush, Slowdive, Ride, etc, is a good example of this syndrome.

In the end, the Britpress's virtues are the same as its vices.
It is volatile, venomous, fickle, pretentious, lacking in perspective, frothy with premature exaltations and disproportionate fervour, absurdly polarised in its judgements, prey to the most pernicious kinds of boosterism, and an utter stranger to fact-checking. Wholly un-American, in other words.
[Bring the Noise deleted scene #43]

BRITPOP
Frieze, December 1995

By Simon Reynolds


'Britpop'--just in case you've been in a coma for the
last year--is the music papers' buzzterm for an alleged
rejuvenation of the charts, with the likes of Oasis, Blur,
Elastica, Pulp and Supergrass displacing American
grunge/faceless rave/super-annuated AOR in the higher reaches
of the Hit Parade. 'Britpop' has become a rallying cry, an
excuse for chests to swell with patriotic pride. It's even
made the tabloids and the News At Ten. Back in August a
cabbie told me he'd only ever bought four records in his
entire life, then--unprompted--brought up Blur and Oasis.
Even he'd heard about their big battle over whose single
would enter the charts at Number One.

So everybody--industry, media, 'the kids'--is frothing
with excitement about Britpop. Why? The music biz, which
was having trouble building long-selling careers off the back
of dance music and had lost ground to the post-rave indie
labels, is thrilled because the Britpopsters are guitar-based
bands who willingly constrain themselves within the 3-minute
pop single format and radio-friendly, trebley production.
The music press is buzzing 'cos Britpop's aesthetic base--
the mid-Sixties, filtered through its late '70s echo, New
Wave--had hitherto been strictly an indie style, and thus the
inkies' province. At the same time, the bands are overtly
anti-experimental and pre-psychedelic; they combine playsafe
1966-meets-1978 aesthetics with an almost doctrinal ethos of
ambition and stardom-at-all-costs. Because the bands it
discovers now hit the charts, the music press' prestige and morale
has been boosted; for the first time in years, people turn to the inkies as
tipsheets! Moreover, Britpopsters behave like stars, make
an effort to give good face and good copy, and this makes the
journos' job easier. And 'the kids'? Even the youngest
surely sense, on some subliminal level, that the sound of
Britpop harks back to the days when Britannia ruled the pop
waves, while the attitude evokes an era when being young was
a real cool time. The glory-lust of Oasis' "Champagne Supernova",
the insouciance of Supergrass' "Alright", seem mighty
appealing, even as they fly flagrantly in the face of the
socio-economic facts.

As it happens, I think Britain IS the place to be, pop-
wise; it's just that this state-of-affairs has NOTHING to do
with Britpop. Relatively unheralded by the media, another
generation of Britons are waiving the rules. There's the
post-rock experimentalism of Laika, Pram, Techno-Animal etc;
the trip hop of Tricky, Wagon Christ and the Mo'Wax label;
the 'artcore' jungle of 4 Hero, Dillinja, Droppin' Science,
the Moving Shadow label; the art-tekno weirdness of Aphex
Twin, Bedouin Ascent, et al. All these strands of UK
activity are either offshoots of, or deeply influenced by, club
music and sound-system culture; sonically, they're informed
by the rhythm-science and studio-magick of dub reggae, hip
hop and techno. And all speak eloquently if non-verbally of
the emergence of a new hyrid British identity, a mongrel,
mutational mix of black and white.

Britpop is an evasion of the multiracial, technology-
mediated nature of UK pop culture in the '90s. If it started
a few years ago as a revolt against American grunge (Suede's
fey fusion of glam Bowie and glum Morrissey), now it's
extended itself into the symbolic erasure of Black Britain,
as manifested in jungle and trip hop. For Britpopsters, the
Sixties figure as a 'lost golden age' in a way that's
alarmingly analogous to the mythic stature of the Empire vis-a-vis
football hooligans and the BNP. Even more than the insularity of
Britpop's quintessentially English canon (Kinks, Jam, Small
Faces, Buzzcocks, Beatles, Smiths, Madness), it's the sheer
WHITENESS of its sound that is staggering. Take Elastica,
whose singer Justine Frischmann confessed that she could only
think of one form of black music she liked: ska (the
jerkiest, most New Wavey form of black pop ever!). And take
Blur, whose homage to the U.K's music-hall pop tradition
manages to sever The Kinks from R&B, Madness from ska, and
Ian Dury from the Blockheads' fluency in funk and disco.

Damon Albarn's pseudo-yob accent testifies to a
nostalgia for a lost white ethnicity, one that's fast eroding
under the triple attrition of America, Europe and this
nation's indigenous non-white population. Like his hero
Martin Amis, Albarn fetishises London's vestigial remnants of
authentic white trash as "the last truly English people you
will ever know" (to borrow a lyric from Morrissey, another
feller with a dubious penchant for skinheads and villains).
Mozzer is right, this is a dying breed, already displaced by
a new generation of London youth who speak an alloy of
Cockney/Jamaican patois/B-boy slang, watch American sci-fi
movies, grapple with Japanese computer games, and listen to
sampler-based music like jungle.

It's these kids--the kind you'll find at drum & bass
hang-outs like Speed and AWOL--who are today's mods, not the
sorry-ass mod revivalists at Camden's Blow Up club. Mod
originally meant 'modernist', meant having utterly
contemporary tastes in music, clothes, everything. Today's
junglists, trip-hoppers and techno-heads share their '60s
ancestors obsession with records (the obscurest track, the
freshest import) as opposed to bands; the same orientation
towards Black America and Jamaica; the same anticipation for
the future. Camden is supposed to have brought back the idea
of Swinging London, but for five years now pirate radio has
been making a clandestine cartography of the metropolis,
bringing the scent of enchantment to forsaken places like
Peckham and Dalston, as MC's chant out the listeners' paged-
in "big shouts" and "'nuff respects".

Perhaps even more than race, it's covert class struggle
that underpins the Britpop phenom: the fetishising by mostly
middle class bands and fans of a British working class
culture that's already largely disappeared, is really a means
of evading the real nature of modern prole leisure, which
remains overwhelmingly shaped by rave. Blow Up's avowed
anti-Ecstasy stance symbolises this perfectly. Not only did E
usher in a new and still unfolding era of psychedelic music
based around the drugs/technology interface, but the drug
also permanently altered the mentality of vast tranches of
da youth, blasting away reserve, inhibition, emotional
constipation, everything in the English character that holds
us back. E and rave transformed the UK into one funky
nation, but you wouldn't be able to tell that from Britpop.
From Blur's rickety arrangements to the raunch-less
turgidity of Oasis, Britpop is rhythmically retarded, to say the least.
Partly, it's the result of cultural inbreeding, of a white pop tradition
that's long since distanced itself from the R&B roots that
made the Beatles and Stones dance bands; partly, it's a
deliberate avoidance of anything that smacks of lumpen rave.

Thanks to rave, the most vital sectors of '90's UK
subculture are all about mixing it up: socially, racially,
and musically (DJ cut'n'mix, remixology's deconstructive
assault on the song). Returning to the 3 minute pop tune
that the milkman can whistle, reinvoking a parochial England
with no black people, Britpop has turned its back defiantly
to the future. Here's hoping the future will respond in
kind, and remember Britpop only as an aberrant, anachronistic
fad--like trad jazz, the early '60s student craze that
resurrected the Dixieland sound of 30 years earlier. Perhaps
Oasis will one day seem as inexplicable as Humphrey
Lyttleton!

Where Blur's The Great Escape and Oasis' What's The
Story) Morning Glory
bask in the setting sun of England's
bygone pop glory, Tricky's Maxinquaye and Goldie's
Timeless gaze into the future. Both Tricky and Goldie are
black British B-boys mindwarped by the drugs/technology
interface; both share a strikingly similar set of
miscegenated influences ranging from art-rock (David Sylvian,
Kate Busy) to ambient (Eno) to the black avant-garde (Public
Enemy, Miles Davis); both made the Top 5 of the Album Chart.
Reflecting what is really going on in Britain in 1995,
Maxinquaye and Timeless offer two versions of a modern
inner city blues. Dark, discomfiting, devoid of the callow
cheer of yer Blurs and yer Supergrasses, yet it's these
records (and, believe me, a horde of other trip hop, jungle
and post-rock releases) that are the real reasons to be
cheerful about British popular music in 1995.

Friday, December 07, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #42]

JON SAVAGE INTERVIEW / TECHNO-PUNK AND D-GENERATION
contributions to "New Wave of New Wave" issue, Melody Maker March 26th 1994

by Simon Reynolds


SAVAGE VERDICT: Jon Savage interviewed * on the New Wave of New Wave

Jon Savage's England's Dreaming, the first proper history of punk, is
often cited in interviews and overviews of the New Wave of New Wave. It seems
to have made the Sex Pistols adventure available to a whole new generation, just at
the point at which the saga was fading from folk memory. So does Savage, a
veteran of the original era as both participant and commentator, take any
credit for the current resurrection?

"Well, S.M.A.S.H. were very excited about England's Dreaming, and that
was very flattering. I mean, if you're a writer, that's the ultimate--to be
told that you've inspired someone else. I always intended England's Dreaming to be a kind of primer, presenting the data and saying 'this is how it's done'. The idea was not to push myself to the foreground, but to provide all the sources, the books and records that inspired the original punks. I don't know
if the book influenced the other bands, just that S.M.A.S.H. say they were
influenced. Thank God they're really good! Hahhahaha! I like S.M.A.S.H. a
lot. They've got good songs, cheekbones, short hair--a classic suburban English
mod band. Very exciting live--after I saw them live I stayed awake til 3-AM
just buzzing on adrenaline, and that's pretty late for me. And they have a
song called 'Shame', and that's a very English thing to write about."

Why are we still so obsessed with punk? Ever since 1978, most Brit-rock
activity has been conceived, and judged, as either a return to, or swerve away
from, punk--as either a resurrection or a 'betrayal'. Punk revivals have almost
been annual occurrences. Why are we still hung up on happenings 16 years time
ago--it's equivalent to the Pistols being obsessed with pre-Beatles pop, Billy
Fury and Adam Faith! Why is it that British rock culture can't bury punk, break
free of its ancient agenda?

Savage's explanation is that "the years 1976/77 are a bit like 1966/67--years of fantastic compression, too much happening too quickly. It takes years to unravel all that. And so those moments of breakthrough and upheaval always cast a long shadow. With punk, it took about 10 years to work through all that stuff. Beyond that, punk is simply a classic English archetype--with precursors in Dickens, in Graham Greene's Brighton Rock, in the Angry Young Men, in The Stones and The Who. And that archetype is so potent. The punk movement was very powerful, very ambitious, so it's no wonder that pop keeps coming back to it. Punk was all to do with sex, which is still a very charged phenomenon in England; it was about bondage and going into the nation's subconsiocus to bring out all the violence and filth. There's a huge gulf between the reality people live and the media edifice that's constructed over that reality. The simple fact is that all the things that were talked about during punk are still there and still need to be talked about. Nothing's changed.

"It's like with the fashion side of the current interest in punk--in a
sense, people are 'trying on the clothes' to see if they fit, and finding that
they do. The 'clothes' are all about anger, confrontation, hostility, and they
fit because there is a mood today similar to '76. The punks, and the
hippies in their own way too, posed certain questions that haven't been
answered. All great pop movements pose those questions, in slightly different
ways. Even rave culture is born of frustration, a desire to break out.
England is still a very claustrophobic, class-ridden, static society. And I'd
hate to be 18 now."

Arguably, it's much worse today than in '76. Not just economically but in
the sense that in the past 16 years all the little spaces of freedom have
contracted--what with the assault on dole culture, the impoverishment of
students, and of course, the forthcoming Criminal Justice Bill with its virtual
outlawing of squatting and its draconian clampdown on raves and warehouse
parties. The government seems determined to extinguish all the bases of an
oppositional popular culture. Today it's not even a question of 'No Future',
but closer to Hendrix' lament: "ain't no life nowhere".

"If I was 18 today, I'd be incredibly conscious of the hegemony of the
babyboomer generation. Because so much of the commentary on pop is by people
from that generation, and most of them wouldn't give a band like S.M.A.S.H. a
chance, 'cos the attitude is 'we've seen it all before'. And of course that's
totally irrelevant since, as any fule kno, when you're 20 you haven't seen it
all before."

Are there any parallels between 1976 and 1994, in that there's an
apocalyptic vibe--a feeling that something appalling is lurking on the horizon,
the spectre of social collapse, and its corollary, the resurgence of fascism?

"I don't know if that's actually happening, but it is a very teenage thing
to think that. Also--it's like, 'hello, it's 1994, the Millenium is coming'.
Punk was a millenarian movement, absolutely."

One of the interesting things about the New Wave of New Wave is the way
it's resurrected punk's ethics of drug use, ie. speed = good (cos it increases
IQ, self-confidence, aggression), dope and E = bad ('cos they make you mellow,
quiescent and full of love). Amphetamine is the perfect drug for messianic
fervour and tunnel-visonary crusading zeal, but its downside is paranoia (which
adds to the Millenarian, Doomsday vibe) and, at the extreme, psychotic
reactions.

"Well, amphetamines are very bad news. I only took it four times during
punk and it made me feel so peculiar. Whenever a pop movement gets overtly
based around one drug, it gets stupid. Speed is a dangerous drug. Several
friends of mine from the punk era ended up either psychotic or dead, because of
speed and heroin. Then again, if These Animal Men want to talk of burning for
two years then crashing, that's their prerogative. There's a grand tradition
there, a classic rock'n'roll trajectory,--Sid Vicious is the obvious example."

My reservation with these bands is that they're a too literal recreation
of punk. Really, they're like the pub rock bands that paved the way for punk:
back to basics, except that in this case "basics" means Situtationist slogans
and McLaren-like masterplans. But any real successor to punk would have to go
as far beyond 'nouveau punk' as the Pistols went beyond the white R&B
fundamentalism of Dr Feelgood et al. Another thing: the NWONW is
Nth-generation whiter-than-white rock, mod filtered through punk filtered
through the Manics. It completely ignores anything that's happened musically
since 1978: black or white, rap or rave.

"From an outside perspective, maybe that whiter-than-white rock can seem a
thin option compared to the wealth of stuff around, whether it's black-derived
or not. But why not make white-boy music? It doesn't make you racist, in
itself."

It's interesting the way that ambient techno has provided these bands with
a readymade enemy, the '90s subcultural equivalent of the mid-70s hippies. As a
punk vet whose current favourite music includes Aphex Twin, Richard Kirk,
Seefeel and Biosphere, what does Savage make of the nouveau punk critique of
ambient: that it's just aural sedatives for a defeated, spineless generation?

"I can understand their arguments against ambient. But I'm not at an age
where I need to define myself by the music I like. I've grown out of that
partisanship, cos I've been lucky enough to have lived within it. But the NWONW
is music that demands that kind of partishanship, and I can easily imagine that
if I was a kid who'd gone to see S.M.A.S.H. I might be inspired to want to
change my life..."

And throw the ambient LP's and Rizlas in the bin?

"Well, what the punk critique of ambient misses--and it's a fault shared by
all politically-engaged rock--is that there's a politics of sound that's just as important as explicit politics in lyrics. And the best ambient is streets ahead in terms of sound, the way the music makes you feel, the moods and images
it conjures. When rock gets too puritanically concerned with stripping
down to just the message, you end up with the Tom Robinson Band, who I
always had problems with--great politics, shit music. But anyway, at my age
I don't have to choose between ambient and punk. Ideally, the best of both
worlds would be great--ambient punk!"

TECHNOPHOBIA! The New Wave of New Wave versus d-generation

The great failing of the nouveau punk bands is their willful denial of the music of the last six years. The Sex Pistols had a relationship with both their era’s chartpop (glam’n’glitter like the Sweet) and its underground rock (The Stooges). Any band hoping to have the same impact today would have to take on board the innovations of sampler-based music, from rap and rave to ambient and avant-rock. A Nineties Pistols would be something like a cross between The Prodigy (this era’s Sweet), The Young Gods (this era’s Stooges) and Public Enemy (the black Clash).

Another big failing is that the NWONW’s refried Who riffs lack any kind of relationship with contemporary black music. Although the influence of roots reggae and dub really came through musically in 1979, punk had a spiritual kinship with reggae: both punk and Rasta were about exile and alienation. A Nineties punk should also have an awareness of, if not alliance of, today’s black British subcultures. And that means ragga and jungle techno, music of pre-political rage and urban paranoia. If These Animal Men are really into speedfreak music, they should be making 160 bpm ardkore jungle, which is driven by a rage-to-live that’s pure punk. THIS is the sound of youth today, whereas These Animal Men’s “This is the Sound of Youth” is the sound of youth yesterday: 1966, or worse, that year’s dismal replay in 1979, with neo-mod bands like Secret Affair and Squire.

We need real modernism, not mod revivals. So let me introduce: d-generation. As the name suggests, their music is informed by, but also a swerve away from, the music of the E Generation: “the corrupt modernism” of dark techno, jungle, ambient and ragga.

“We would have been punks in ‘77”, admit d-generation, “but today we can’t see why anyone would ignore modern music.”

They call their sound “psychedelic futurism, techno haunted by the ghost of punk”. It sounds like Ultramarine gone noir: ambient drones, lonesome dub-reggae melodica, stealthy junglist breakbeats. Like Ultramarine, d-generation deploy imagery of “Englishness”, but instead of pastoral quirkiness, the vibe is urban wasteland, influenced by “the dark, expressionist, deviant tradition” of Wyndam Lewis, The Fall and Michael Moorcock.

On their yet-to-be-released EP Entropy in the UK, ghostly allusions to punk are omnipresent. “73/93” turns around the sampled phrases “eroding structure, generating entropy… no future”. “The Condition of Muzak” (the title is from a Michael Moorcock novel) goes even further, using Johnny Rotten as a stick to beat the rave generation. A sample from the Pistols’ last performance at Winterlands is turned into a techno riff: Rotten’s famous “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated” and mirthless cackle “ha ha ha”. Perfect: if this was played at a rave, it would start a virus of disaffection that would undermine the whole subculture. So many ravers have a cheated look on their faces, sometimes cos they’ve been sold dodgy E, mostly cos they’re burned out and can never get as high as they used to.

Rave is full of submerged utopian longings (“living the dream” etc). But because they aren’t articulated, the culture ultimately functions as a safety valve, releasing frustration at the weekend then returning you to workaday drudgery.

It’s not a culture of refusal, but an anti-culture that defuses. d-generation suggest one way that a true successor to punk (rather than a mere replay) could operate: as spies in the house of the loved-up, sowing seeds of discontent, making a grim dance of our national decay.



* Owing to a major cock-up by the copy editors, a massive chunk in the middle of the Savage interview was left out of the version as published, so this is actually the first time the piece in its entirety has appeared.

Friday, November 30, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #41]
HIP HIP HOP BOOK REVIEWS
Melody Maker, early 1994

by Simon Reynolds


A decade ago, and a decade after the event, punk was the hot topic in pop academia. Today, hip hop is Number One in the cultural studies chart, although there are signs that rave will soon overtake it. Tricia Rose's Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (Wesleyan University Press) is by far the best treatise on hip hop yet. Being of a left-wing, black nationalist bent, Rose is keen to validate rap culture as a proto-revolutionary force, but happily, she's not blinkered by her beliefs. Instead she has a nicely paradoxical sense of rap's contradictions. In her analysis, hip hop simulataneously celebrates black community yet reflects the internicine warfare that sets brother against brother; it's fiercely capitalistic (rappers' obsession with getting 'paid in full') yet contains a critique of capitalism's dehumanising effects. Musically, rap pays homage to black music tradition (R&B, soul, jazz, P-funk) yet wreaks iconoclastic damage to that tradition (via sampling).Capturing rap's contradictions, Rose deftly defends hip hop against the attacks of both the white Right and the black bourgeois establishment (who see gangsta rap as a disgrace to the race, with its promotion of 'negative stereotypes' of the young black male).

There's some fascinating historical/urban geographical stuff about rap's origins in the South Bronx. Rose sees it as a cultural response to the economic policies that literally ghettoised the area. Rap's resistance is embodied in the three formal characteristics--flow, layering and rupture-- that Rose identifies running through hip hop culture from graffiti and breakdancing to scratching/sampling and rapping. Hip hop simulates the urban warzone, yet simultaneously incarnates a survivalist response to its constant threats. Hip hop is full of ruptures--scratches, ambushes of samples, breaks--but incorporates them into the flow.

My only problem with Rose's approach is that she's so keen to validate hip hop that she glosses the extent to which a big part of its appeal is that it's nasty. A lot of rap is just black heavy metal, powertrippin' fantasies for testosterone-crazed adolescents. Snoop Doggy Dogg is Sid Vicious (always a more important part of the Pistols' and punk's appeal than cult-studs academics like to believe); both appealed because they're evil muthafuckers.

Brian Cross' excellent It's Not About A Salary: Rap, Race and Resistance in Los Angeles (Verso) offers a corrective to Rose's East Coast-centric history of rap. As well as interviewing a host of names obscure and obvious, Cross provides an urban geography of LA rap, and traces its history back through blacksploitation movies, the Watts Prophets (LA's Last Poets), to street-poetry forms like toastin', boastin', signifyin' and the dozens. Some of the flava of this oral culture can be gleaned from Juba To Jive: A Dictionary of African-American Slang, edited Clarence Major (Penguin). From the 1880's verb 'knock a joe' (a convict's term for mutilating oneself to avoid chain-gang labour), through 1940's slang like 'crumbcrusher' (a baby) and 'swobble' (eat food in a hurry), through to post-rap words like 'body bag' (condom), this is a treasury of linguistic flair. My only criticism: the book should have extended its coverage to Afro-Caribbean patois.

Finally, Microphone Fiends: Youth Music & Youth Culture, ed. Andrew Ross and Tricia Rose (Routledge). Despite its Erik B & Rakim title, this isn't a hip hop book, but an essential anthology of up-to-the-minute essays by all the big names in cult.studs.. The best are Susan McLary's brilliant piece on the history of moral panics about music, from Christian thinkers like John of Salisbury and Calvin (who feared that church music was getting too sensual and 'feminine'), through Adorno (who described jazz as 'eunuch-like') to the hysteria about rock'n'roll's jungle rhythms. And Lawrence Grossberg's treatise on the recurrent rhetoric of 'rock's death', in which he concludes that something has changed. Rock is no longer the centre of youth culture. Apparently kids spend twice as much time listening to music as they did in the '70s but it's way down the list of things that matter to them; music is something they use, rather than invest in. As Grossberg puts it: "rather than dancing to the music you like, you like the music you can dance to".

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene # 40]

JUNGLE EMERGES: A Flashback to 1993
director's cut of a piece written six years later, Spin, 1999

by Simon Reynolds


Years before Roni Size and LTJ Bukem became international hipster favorites, jungle was banished from the media limelight. To identify yourself as a "junglist" in 1993 meant you belonged to an outcast tribe, a scene feared by most London clubbers as a sinister underworld populated by speed-freaks and baby-gangstas. Born out of rave's Ecstasy-fuelled fervor, the music had mutated, under the influence of bad drugs and the desperation of the recession-wracked early Nineties, until it was too hard, too dark, and too black for most people to handle.

The emergence of jungle has everything to do with drugs. Its frantic breakbeat rhythms evolved because ravers buzzing on too many E pills and amphetamine wraps craved beats as hectic and hyper as their own overdriven metabolisms. The music's bad-trippy aura and disorientating FX simultaneously reflected and exacerbated the paranoia induced by long-term stimulant abuse. 1993 was the year of "darkside", a crucial transitional phase between hardcore rave's hands-in-the-air euphoria and jungle's guns-in-the-air menace.

"The production played tricks on your mind, " enthuses Two Fingers, author of the pulp novel Junglist, talking about twilight-zone jungle classics like Boogie Time Tribe's "Dark Stranger" and Origin Unknown's "Valley of the Shadows". "Darkside freaked out a lot of people, especially those still in the Ecstasy haze--because on E there's no distance between you and the music. Darkside was just evil, evil music--and that was good. Cos it got rid of the lightweights, to be honest".

One of the first all-jungle-DJs raves, Jungle Fever, went out of its way to scare off fans of happy rave and fluffy house, theming the venue with tombstones, coffins, and Gothic statuary. But the classic darkside moment in jungle mythology is an infamous inccident at a rave called Telepathy, where DJ Rap unwittingly played 4 Hero's "Mr. Kirk's Nightmare"---a song in which a father is informed about his son's fatal overdose--just seconds after a boy was knifed on the dancefloor.

Stabbings and muggings, friction and tension.... Many blamed the shift from rave's smiley-face glee to jungle's skrewface scowl on another drug: crack. After all, who else but rock-smoking fiends could possibly enjoy such insanely frenetic beats? Joe Wieczorek, owner of the hardcore rave club Labrynth, claims "the early dark jungle, you might as well call it crack music. There's nothing worse for a raver than being somewhere he doesn't feel safe, and if there's fifty rock-heads in the club, it's going to frighten the life out of you." But although there was a spate of anti-crack tunes like DJ Ron's "Crackman On the Line" in 1993, others reject the linking of jungle and crack as a crypto-racist slur based on the fact that the dancefloor was anywhere from 50 to 80 percent black.

If any substance has a claim to be the true junglist's drug, it's marijuana-- especially the hydroponically-grown ultra-strong weed known as skunk. An archetypal tableau in any jungle club is a group of boys stood in a huddle "building and burning." One youth clasps his hands together, fingers interlocked, and upturns the palms to form a flat surface for his friend to build a massive spliff on; in a crowded, jostling club, it's the only way to roll. Another friend leans close to block off the sight-lines of any security guard in the vicinity. "Burning"... well, that's self-explanatory. Marijuana is the reason jungle basslines started to run at reggae tempo, exactly half the speed of the accelerated breakbeats, thereby allowing dancers to skank rather than rave. And marijuana is why the nudge-nudge wink-wink references to E in tracks were gradually replaced by roots reggae samples exalting ganja, sensimilla and herb.

Jungle wouldn't exist without two black musics that also worship sub-bass and the chronic that intensifies the low-end boom: hip hop and reggae. The life arc of DJ Hype, founder of the labels Ganja and True Playaz, is typical. A white working class boy from the desolate East London borough of Hackney, Hype spent the Eighties playing on a reggae sound-system and competing in hip hop cut'n'mix contests. By 1990, he was spinning house on pirate station Fantasy FM and recording brutal Euro-techno anthems as The Scientist. Jungle is the only-in-London amalgam of all these different imported sounds, and crucially it was a collective invention. " I always say, we are the foundation, because there's no one record, no single DJ, no specific club, where jungle started," Hype declares.

If you wanted to pinpoint the emergence of jungle, though, one contender is the moment at the end of 1992 when tracks like Bodysnatch's "Just 4 U London" and Code 071's "London Sumting" hit the pirate radio airwaves. "That it's-a-London-thing stance, I always took as this-is-a-black-thing, y'know," says Two Fingers. "London has the biggest black population in Britain". It was black fashion that shaped jungle's style spectrum, which ranged from hip hop-influenced "ruffneck soldier" minimalism (puffy MA1 and MA2 flight-jackets, namebrand sneakers, baggy pants) to dancehall-reggae derived ghetto fabulous flashiness. At the ragga-dominated raves like Sunday Roast and Desert Storm, the 80 percent black British crowd "larged it" VIP style--the men flaunting Versace and Moschino, gold sovereign rings and bottles of champagne; the women flexin' their abdomens and winin' their waists in their skin-tight "batty rider" shorts, micro-skirts, bustiers, and thigh-high boots.

As well as changing the way people moved on the dancefloor, the ragga influence was decisive in another area that sealed jungle's break with house and techno: the crucial role of the MC. "Girls sticking their asses in the air and a MC really working the crowd, getting them to hold their lighters up and blow their horns to get the DJ to rewind the track." is how Lee Billingham, aka DJ Bo!ne, recalls his first encounter with jungle at the South London club Lazerdrome. "I loved the whole 'selector! wheel-and-come-again!' , rewind thing," says Two Fingers, another Lazerdrome regular. The democratic way in which the audience controlled the DJ via the MC, he argues, is part of jungle's renegade blackness--its participatory, call-and-response ethos. "As the jungle MCs like GQ, Det, 5-0 and Moose took on the Jamaican patois thing, they became more than crowd motivators, they were vocalizing what the massive was feeling, connecting you with the music more intensely, and adding a lyrical element to this largely instrumental music. There's an ephemeral, magical quality to the MC chants--especially on the pirate radio stations, they'd just go off on one, creating stuff on the fly."

It's the pirate radio stations that are the real heroes of jungle's story--they kept the vibe alive in the scene's early, pre-breakthrough phase. London has dozens of these illegal radio collectives, gangstas of the airwaves who broadcast from the top of towering apartment blocks and engage in a constant, quasi-military struggle to survive not just governmental suppression but the skullduggery of rival stations who'll gladly steal their pirate brethren's transmitters. Legend has it that one outfit, Rush FM, turned the derelict upper floors of an East London block into a fortress so impregnable that the DJ's had to rappel up the side of the building to reach the studio. They sealed the stairwell entrance with concrete, hollow metal tubes pumped with ammonia gas, and a wire connected to the electrical supply. When local government officials attempted to drill through the barricade, they hit the live wire and an electric spark ignited the gas, exploding the concrete and showering the workmen with shrapnel.

Yet for all its militancy and moodiness, jungle seethed with "a fierce, fierce joy", as convert Bjork put it. The speed of the music was crucial, as if you could somehow ride its future-rush, achieve escape velocity, and smash through to a brighter tomorrow.

"The breakbeats were so fast and chopped up, your body wanted to be pulled in twenty different directions at once," recalls DJ Bo!ne of his baptismal experience at Lazerdome. "Me and my mates just looked at each other, jaws dropped, and were, like, 'This is mental!!!!"."

Says Two Fingers: "Anyone can be a junglist, but for me, it's part of having a black spirit. Jungle is about getting sweaty and having a religious experience on the dancefloor. It can feel like the Holy Spirit is moving through you."

BONUS BEATS: A FLASHBACK TO 93!
A London Sometin' Dis
A Jungle Documentary filmed in 1993
Segment 1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jd2Lr7C0nc&feature=related
Segment 2
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCXt62rfm18&feature=related
Segment 3
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSsBcdD0Wsg&feature=related
and
another one, this from 1996
Lost In Music
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRLfCYFntVg&feature=related

Monday, November 12, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #39]

REVOLT INTO STYLE: POLITICS AND POP, mini-thinkpiece
Melody Maker, August 28th 1993

by Simon Reynolds


For a bliss-rocker like myself, the resurrection of agit-pop is a right turn up for the books. And it isn’t actually that easy to explain. Sure, socio-economically, we’re heading further up shit creek every day. But deterioration, immiseration and crisis have been the way of things since… since I was a nipper, actually. And for the last six years, pop culture’s response has been largely escapist (rave, slackerdelia, dreampop). So why--now--the return of agit-pop?

Perhaps people have simply been pushed too far, to the end of their tether. I don’t believe the current wave of agit-rockers has evaded the inherent problems of politics and pop any more successfully than, say, Gang of Four or The Redskins did. But even if they are just “preaching to the converted”, even if their audience are merely consumers of radical meanings, the very fact that consumer demand for “edutainment” has resurged is significant. Feelings of disconnection and impotence are so pervasive that people want to feel less isolated and find it cathartic (in an almost therapeutic way) to see anger and frustration acted out on stage or on record. There’s also a sense in which the apolitical rock that’s ruled the rock for so long has driven itself into a dead; rock culture needs to renew itself, and re-engaging with “reality” is one way to do that.

But, as I say, the contradictions of political rock, of protest in an entertainment context, remain unresolved. What do slogans actually achieve, apart from degrading language, and providing the warm, glowing feeling that comes from having one’s own convictions confirmed? For me, there’s a crucial difference between “political” (all music is political--even Slowdive--in that it involves choices and values) and the overtly “politicized”.

In terms of thought-provocation, I find more “politics” in the turmoil of contradictions of a PJ Harvey or the incoherence of Nirvana than in the plain-speaking, tell-it-like-it-is of Blaggers ITA, Rage Against the Machine, et al. And the utterly non-PC gangsta rap of Cypress Hill or Onyx--rage that offers no solutions or redemptive vision--tells you more about the state of Black America than the didacto-rap of KRS-1 or Hiphoprisy.

Consolidated trailblazed the revival of agit-pop: they grappled with its contradictions with a hyper-aware ferocity that puts the current wave to shame. But, to my mind, they foundered on those contradictions. Their first LP, The Myth of Rock, was totally invigorating, simply because its militancy was so virulently opposed to the dozy, hazy apathy of rock in 1991. The sequel, Friendly Fascism, was a precarious affair, with some blasting tracks but others that were just lectures over a beat. The last album was unlistenable and self-parodic.

The trouble with politicized rock is that the proselytizing impulse almost invariably goes hand-in-hand with a contempt for the aesthetic: music is only a means to an end. Look at Manic Street Preachers, who also trailblazed the resurrection of combat rock. Their desperation to get those supposedly crucial lyrics (actually a turgid, anti-poetic mish-mash of slogans from which I glean nothing--no illumination, no emotional response) into mass consciousness has led them to ape Bon Jovi’s quaint, lite-metal anthems.

As a movement, Riot Grrl has massive resonance and ramifications, but musically it’s had the effect of subordinating the music to the message: hence the staid, tomboy quality of Bikini Kill’s sound. The UK chapter, Huggy Nation, is more ambitious, and at least likes the idea of pushing the sonic envelope, but its doctrinaire rejection of virtuosity cripples that impulse.

So the perennial paradox endures: the most aesthetically adventurous music being made today is just--purely aesthetic, art for art’s, headfuck for headfuck’s sake. Ambient techno, the UK post-MBV fringe (shoegazing’s smarter sister), the US lo-fi bands--all are music that sounds great but “says” nothing. The US post-Pavement bands are a new kind of prog rock or jazz-rock (fission rather than fusion). Truman’s Water may be lo-fi, but their unusual time signatures, schizo-eclectic song structures and gibberish lyrics are pure prog. Most of the interesting music being made today is heading towards the state of the instrumental, all texture and no text.

Ambient dub-techno has already reached that point of pure muso-dom. It’s music as drug (or as adjunct to drug-taking), and its ascendancy shows that many people’s response to a strife-torn intolerable world is to seek asylum. Ambient is psychedelia, warped by Nineties retreatism, a desire to exile oneself from History. Whereas the agit-pop bands want to reconnect rock and history.

There are bands who combine radical form and radical content (although usually they’re more about personal politics), bands like Pram and Moonshake, who have revived the spirit of ’79 (PiL, the Raincoats, Gang of Four). But this avant-rock sector is probably too abstruse to win a mass audience; it doesn’t offer the satisfyingly simplistic, crude catharsis of your Rages. So, for the moment, aesthetic revolution and political radicalism remain uneasy bedfellows.

Perhaps agit-poppers devote so much time to rhetoric that they have none left for raising the aesthetic stakes? And yet agit-pop doesn’t need to sound trad to be populist (remember Public Enemy?). For now, though, we’re still waiting for that dream fusion of challenging form and confrontational content.
[Bring the Noise deleted scene #38]

CYPRESS HILL, Black Sunday
Melody Maker, July 31st 1993


by Simon Reynolds

The first words you hear are "I wanna get high", and the rest of
Black Sunday is riddled with references to blunts and bongs.
Outspoken advocates for the legalization of hemp, Cypress Hill's
'blunted' sound defines hardcore hip hop today. The first time I
heard the term, I assumed 'blunted' had something to with dope taking
the edge off aggression, mellowing macho tensions into stoned, woozy
cameraderie. Actually, it comes from the Phillies Blunt, a cigar
which B-boys hollow out to make enormous joints. But my original
misapprehension actually fits Cypress Hill's fuzzy, muggy sound
perfectly: their laidback songs simmer with a violence just barely
held in check.

It's so right that this LP's release coincides with a record US
heatwave. Cypress Hill capture that humid, heat-hazy unreal feel
where walking the streets is like being inside a bad dream. Cypress'
music blurs the borderlines between psychedelic and psychotic. The
songs sound deceptively jaunty (the samples are all upful slices of
Sixties soul, Meters-style proto-funk, jump-blues, doo-wop), but the
lowest-of-the-low-end bass exudes a baleful, viscous menace. Rappers
B-Real and Sen Dog's nonchalant nursery rhyme delivery only increases
the marrow-chilling quality of the lyrics, a non-stop namedrop of
weapon slang (gats, glocks, AK's, sawn-offs, et al). The cartoon
violence ("coming out blasting like Yosemite Sam") and the jeering
"nya nya nya" playground chorus of "Hand On the Glock" add to the
impression that gangsta-ville is populated with overgrown schoolboys.

Talk about arrested development: Cypress Hill's world is so
retarded it's almost prepubescent. If there's no misogyny here, it's
only cos it's a boy's own world. The only tender line on the album
is "I love you, Mary Jane"--and it's not about a girl. Cypress aren't
as deeply into male-bonding as those other current hardcore rulers,
Onyx (slam-dancing slapheads whose chant is 'let the boys be boys!').
But their world is chastely fixated on two things: stupefaction
("Legalise It", "Hits From The Bong") and paranoia ("Insane In the
Brain", the creepy "Cock The Hammer", where samples shimmer like
spectres in the far corner of your vision).

Cypress Hill's soundscaper DJ Muggs is inspired, but he's a
fundamentalist. Shunning the arty advances of the post-De La Soul
bohemians, he takes rap back to the old school days when "get a
little stupid and pump that bass" was the rallying cry. Despite
their Cuban/Italian-American/Mexican composition, Cypress refer to
themselves as "niggas", in solidarity with the black lumpen-
proletariat. "Real-ness" is gangsta rap's watchword these days.
Ironically, the quest to be harder and realer than the rest has
spiralled out of control, resulting in a grotesque cartoon of ghetto
reality. Cypress' shrill loops of horn or soul-screams (the "kettle's
boiling!" effect invented by the Bomb Squad) make me think of a
'Beano' angry bloke with steam coming out his ears, blowing his lid.

Black Sunday is samey, thematically (it's all about getting
wasted or wasting the other guy) and musically (there are no
departures like the debut's sultry "Latin Lingo"). It's a
consolidation of DJ Muggs' influential sound, not an evolution. The
feeling of continuity is increased by quotes from earlier songs,
while "Hand On The Glock" is a (brilliant) remake of the debut's
"Hand On the Pump". But it's a magnificent, malevolent monotony.
Black Sunday is a chiller-thriller that'll have your blood running
cold even as the thermometer tops 99.

Friday, November 02, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #37]

LETTER FROM NYC: BUM RAP, column
Melody Maker, January 30th 1993

By Simon Reynolds


Alternative rockers from the Chili Peppers to Sonic
Youth rallied eagerly to MTV's "Rock The Vote" crusade:
underneath the urgency with which they exhorted kids to
register, you could clearly read the message "VOTE CLINTON".
But rappers were conspicuous by their abstention. Ice T
couldn't be bothered to express a preference between the
candidates, while post-election, an underwhelmed Ice Cube
declared that now he was looking forward to getting "Clinton
out of the White House."

You could hardly blame the hip hop community for feeling
uninvolved. Clinton went out of his way to placate white
fears, with his strategic masterstroke of dissing Sister
Souljah, his cold shouldering of black leaders like Jesse
Jackson, and his often-aired plan to put 100,000 more cops on
the streets. Of course, you could hardly blame Clinton for
doing what he had to do to lure the Reagan Democrats (the
white, worried middle class) back into the fold. This was
politics as usual, and a lot of Black Americans gritted their
teeth and accepted it.

What was truly unnerving and despicable was the deafening
silence maintained by all the candidates concerning the LA
riots. In the Middle Ages, popular revolt functioned as a
form of petition. Rioters knew that the uprising would be
quelled, but they also knew the King would pay attention and
make an effort to alleviate their woes. But the LA riots
failed to elicit such a response from the political classes,
bar some woffle about creating 'enterprise zones' to
encourage business to move into the destitute inner cities.

So what do you do if you're black, from the ghetto, and
the most virulent and visible explosion of your pain and fury
has been swept under the carpet? The rap equivalent of
rioting is songs like Ice T's "Cop Killer" and Paris' "Bush
Killa": unconstructive, if perfectly justifiable, expressions
of rage, symbolic and ultimately sterile. These songs remind
me of Morrissey's petulant fantasy "Margaret On The
Guillotine", written at Thatcherism's zenith, when it seemed
the "good folk" were outnumbered by the loadsamoney majority.
The problem with the "killa" songs is that rage is vented
in the instantly gratifying fantasy of revenge, rather than
channelled into politics (which takes a lot longer to get
results).

In the pilot issue of Vibe, a new rap culture
mag, Greg Tate agonises over whether hardcore rap is just a
"momentary containment of [black anger] or worse, an
entertaining displacement?" For Tate, rap's problem is that
it's "agenda-less. It reacts better than it proposes."
Despite hip hop's astonishing cultural victory (its
permeation of US society from advertising to fashion), it's
yet to prove itself as "a harbinger of the black revolution".

In truth, hip hop is going through a bit of a
slack, directionless phase, and its problems are aesthetic as
much as political. Public Enemy's music has gotten mighty
tired: maybe Chuck D's recent pilgrimage to Africa will
rejuvenate, although the black Clash might end up recording a
Sandinista style turkey. The only sonic innovators around
are Cypress Hill, with their Hispanic-flavored, 'blunted'
vibe (a blunt is a special kind of joint), and Arrested
Development, who were last year's De La Soul, i.e.
bourgeois-turned-bohemian art-rap. And the only really
magnetic characters are Treach from Naughty by Nature and Ice
Cube, whose charisma and intelligence sustains their solid
but unimaginative music. The rest of rap is awful samey,
from butt-fixated crossovers like Mixalot's "Baby's Got Back"
and WrecksN'Effect's "Rump Shaker", to the underground's
unremarkable variations on the same old gangsta/B-boy themes.

Apart from the braggart bitch-dissing, hardcore rap's
main message is it's own refusal to cross over. This
fretting over "authenticity", which is partly an anxiety to
keep whites (as consumers and performers) out, has had a
inhibiting effect on the music. The retreat to old school
purism means every record revolves around the same formula: a
mid-pace funky beat, "phat" bassline, and looped samples
(usually jazzy horn-squawks or Hammond ripples). The
"authenticity" school of thought is articulated by the rap
magazine The Source (its name connotes roots, heritage). If
only the highbrow detachment of Vibe* could be combined with
the fanzine-like street-level patriotism of The Source, then
hip hop would have a magazine that could set challenges for
the music rather than follow in its wake. Rap sorely needs
such an injection of impetus.



* no really that's what Vibe was like in those days! Greg Tate was a regular contributor and not that out of step with/further out than the rest of the contents.
[Bring the Noise deleted scene #36]

LETTER FROM NYC: SING YOUR NON-LIFE, column
Melody Maker, September 19th 1992

By Simon Reynolds


Morrissey's recent flirtation with jingoism really shouldn't have been that surprising. Insularity has always been his thing, from his nostalgic resentment of foreign/futuristic influences on English culture, to his denial of the truth that "no man is an island". For me, even more revealing than the "black and white will never mix" bit in the Q interview, was Morrissey's admission that he'd taken Ecstasy, twice, and each time by himself. The first time was, apparently, the most amazing moment in his life: he looked in the mirror and saw "someone who was extremely attractive".

Now, along with freaky-dancing, E promotes empathy, tactile affection and intimacy. The idea of Mozzer using the "interesting drug" to bond more closely with himself is so tragi-comical, so perfectly attuned to his image and his pathology, it's not true. In fact, I've begun to wonder if it really isn't true, but rather a tale spun by Moz as part of a strategic policy of disinformation. Because Morrissey knows that his aesthetic, his career, his financial future, depend on the idea that he is unloveable and unloved. He has to keep on insisting that he's charmless and untouched by human hand, in order to sustain his appeal to his mostly heterosexual, love-lorn following.

These feelings were amplified when I read the US Morri-zine Sing Your Life. In North America, the Mozzer cult is bigger than ever (amazingly, these kids were hooked by the lame solo stuff rather than The Smiths), and Sing is just one of a dozen, including one computer 'zine. By far the most interesting thing about Morrissey now is the devout ardour of his fans. S.Y.L. makes it clear that their main concern is strategies for getting onstage in order to kiss and hug their idol. So there are letters from readers thanking S.Y.L. for showing that Morrissey "is not untouchable", that "with unrelenting determination, our dream will one day be realised". There are innumerable testimonials of what The Moment was like. "The most emotional scenes I have ever seen... I just wanted to stay there forever", "I saw God coming down", "a lord up there, his music savagely attacked me", "Morrissey is my life; Morrissey is my death", "the utmost feeling of ecstasy", "Morrissey makes reality seem unreal".

I could never dismiss these people as sad individuals, but their stories make me sad. I can remember living that adolescent intensity, where the love you owe yourself or other flesh-and-blood humans seems like it can only be expressed through an idol or an Ideology. For these fans, touching Morrissey is an electrifying sacrament in which all their repression and passion is orgasmically released. Reading S.Y.L., it's also clear that it's crucial for the fans to believe that Morrissey is as shy, awkward, and starved of touch as they are. What's unique about Moz is the way he's codified the themes of loneliness and fan projection in his work, and exposed the circularity and ultimate sterility of the syndrome. He must know that his teen belief that he was engaged in "an absolute tangible love affair" with his idols, leads nowhere (unless they're all supposed to become idols, with fans/phantom lovers of their own - the argument of the song "Sing Your Life"?). A Pied Piper of teen angst, he's knowingly led his fans into the cul-de-sac of loving only the pristine images of distant (or dead) icons, rather than risking the messy compromises of real-life close encounters. What makes Morrissey such an increasingly grotesque phenomeon is the age gap between idol and fans; his audience hasn't grown with him because his art hasn't grown up. Instead his flock is endlessly re-stocked with each year's harvest of sensitive souls.

You can't live 'here', and the brighter writers on Sing Your Life know it. Hagop Janoyan observes how all Moz's US fans are in their late teens, how the Smiths-era fans have moved on, and worries that he too will out-grow his ardour and become a member of "the Ordinary World". Mark Sirard writes in "The Morrissey Equation" that "it is our desire to bridge this distance that keeps us in a state of eternal attraction". Fandom is an ultra-intense state of suspension and deferral that allows the fan to live in the ideal, unrequited but thus never dis-illusioned. But to give up illusions needn't mean a come-down to banality, it can mean affirming limits and finding an object worthy of your passion. Perhaps Hagop should start a spinter zine called Start Your Life.


BONUS QUOTES FROM THE MORRISSEY INTERVIEW IN Q

On racism and multiculturalism.

"I don't want to sound horrible or pessimistic but I don't really think, for instance, black people and white people will ever really get on or like each other. I don't really think they ever will. The French will never like the English. The English will never like the French. That tunnel will collapse."

On the death of Englishness

"It's a part of my overall psyche. It's not unique to [Your Arsenal]. I supposed a few years ago I would have spoken more morosely about this great, dying tradition. Well, now it has died. This is the debris, now.... I don't want to be European. I want England to remain an island. I think part of the greatness of the past has been the fact that England has been an island. I don't want the tunnel. I don't want sterling to disappear. I don't want British newscasters to talk in American accents. I don't want continental television.

On Ecstasy

"I've taken it a couple of times. The first time I took it was the most astonishing moment of my life. Because - and I don't want to sound truly pathetic - I looked in the mirror and saw somebody very, very attractive. Now, of course, this was the delusion of the drug, and it wears off. But it was astonishing for that hour, or for however long it was, to look into the mirror and really, really like what came back at me. Now even though I had that wonderful experience, and it was a solitary experience - there was nobody else present - I'm not actually interested in drugs of any kind."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #35]

LETTER FROM NYC: SLACKED OFF, column
Melody Maker, May 30 1992

by Simon Reynolds


Last year, the cult movie in America was Slacker: a low-budget snapshot of the drifting, shiftless, decentred life of the twentysomething hangers-on and burn-outs who inhabit the bohemian fringes of the University of Austin, Texas. The film's 28 year old writer/director, Richard Linklater first became aware of the slacker phenomenon when bumming around college towns in the US. Laterally mobile, slackers have rejected careerism and devoted themselves to "daydreaming as productive activity". Drifting through Austin's summer streets, Linklater's camera bumps into a hundred of these ne'er-do-wells, eavesdropping on their bizarre monologues and debates (usually concerning conspiracy theory, crackpot mysticism, or elaborate validations of their own apathy), and observing their peculiar rites.

Slackers are beatniks without the whooping, joyous get-up-and-go, hippies without the hope, punks without the will-to-power. But "beat" is probably the best parallel, since Kerouac's term meant both exhausted and beatifically blissed-out. Travel was a quest for satori, the sublime moment. But slackers are shagged out before they even step out the door: they experience satori by wandering listlessly through their own neighbourhood, flitting through TV channels in search of absurdity, or trawling the kitschy detritus of dead pop culture.

As well as the movie, there's an amusing book about the poignant plight of twentysomethings who never got on the career ladder (Generation X by Doug Coupland, Abacus), and even an art movement (installations that mostly consist of
random accretions of refuse, kitschy flotsam and personal souvenirs). American slackerdom is very similar to our own (post-Thatcher, somewhat beleagured) "dole culture", not least in that it's where all interesting bands spawn from. One scene in the film takes place in an Austin club, where a band engage in slovenly performance art in front of an audience of six pals. And there's a cameo performance from Theresa ex-Butthole, as a unhinged deadbeat trying to score drug money by flogging what she claims is Madonna's cervical smear specimen (complete with a pubic hair). And of course, the whole slacker sensibility was prefigured years ago in indie rock. Dinosaur Jr, Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth, all trailblazed the slacker mix of kitsch and mysticism, the fascination with extremists and psychos; Daydream Nation was almost the last word about the lifestyle, unmoored drifting taken to the brink of schizophrenia.

In fact, it was just the beginning. Nirvana are slackerhood gone mainstream (Cobain's narcolepsy is THE slacker disease). Mercury Rev's Yerself Is Steam and Pavement's Slanted and Enchanted are masterpiece crystallisations of the sensibility, reality as viewed thru the off-kilter kaleidoscope eyes of folk who've slipped outside the schedules of productive life. Rev and Pavement both share an uncanny affinity with the Krautrock of Faust, Amon DuuL II and Can: drivelling streams of semi-consciousness, found sounds, haphazard hotch-potched stylistic jump-cuts, deadpan wit confounded by kosmic noise, blissful bafflement. And there's more of this stuff coming thru: look out for Unrest, whose Imperial f.f.r.r. combines oblique, translucent dream-pop with a bizarre gamut of pop kultur obsessions. As American bands cotton onto the "when
you're awake you're still in a dream" vibe of post-Valentine noise (MBV are real hip here, and starting to influence a whole new breed of US bands), slacker rock is going to get even weirder and wired-er.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #34]

GREG TATE, Flyboy In The Buttermilk: Essays On Contemporary America
The Wire, spring 1992

By Simon Reynolds


One of the most intriguing phenomena in recent years has been the rise of the postmodern black. From hardcore punk rastas Bad Brains, through the Kraftwerk influenced Afrika Bambatta and Derrick May, to rap's strange infatuation with heavy metal (Motley Crue-fan Ice T's Body Count) it's become apparent that racial tourism is no longer just a one-way traffic, with whites spoiling the black scene(ry). As a staff writer for Village Voice, Greg Tate has spent the last decade formulating a critical language to deal with this anything's-up-for-grabs state of play. (He's also been a co-founder of the Black Rock Coalition, which really got the crosstown traffic goin' on).

Tate's writing is produced out of interesting tensions: between his academic/radical background and his yen to be down with street culture, between his gung-ho fervour for African-American art and his fondness for some white artefacts (his fave LP's of last year included My Bloody Valentine, Nirvana, and bizarrely, Van Halen). The most crucial, productive tension comes from his desire to build a bridge between black cultural nationalism and post-structuralism; Tate wants his criticism to be proud-and-loud, but not to succumb to any fixed notions about what constitutes "authentic" black culture. This is probably why Miles Davis is such a totem for him, Miles being the example par excellence of the black artist who could incorporate white arthouse ideas and riffs (Stockhausen, Buckmaster) into his groove thang, and make them baaaad to the bone. Miles is the paradigm of the black innovator (see also: Hendrix, Sly Stone, George Clinton, the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat) who fused the superbad Stagolee tradition with an intellectual sophistication that white high culture couldn't deny. Their threat lies in being 'neither one thing nor the other': they're neither naively, instinctively passionate (the trad, racist ideas about black creativity) nor do they conform to the arid, restrained proprieties of white highbrow culture. Tate sees "signifyin'" -the ability to disguise meaning, to appropriate and remotivate elements from hegemonic culture - as a survival skill intrinsic to the black American tradition.

Tate inscribes this "neither/nor" factor in a style that mixes in-your-face blackness with po-mo riffs. Sometimes the onslaught of 'muhfukhuh's and 'doohickeys' can be a little alienating (possibly the point). The idea is probably similar to the old Lester Bangs/Richard Meltzer notion of rock'n'roll writing that throbs like the music. Tate wants to write with the swank of a Bootsy bassline, and more often than not succeeds. Some of his neologisms are inspired: I particularly like "furthermucker", an inversion which manages to combine the swaggering Stagolee persona and the far-out cosmonaut of inner/outer space tradition, thus becoming the perfect term for Miles, P-Funk, et al.

A hefty portion of "Flyboy In The Buttermilk" consists of stimulating essays on black culture--theorists like Henry Louis Gates, writers and artists like Samuel Delany and Basquiat. There's even some pieces on the occasional, honorary Caucasian, like novelist Don de Dillo, who's acclaimed for documenting the paranoiac death throes of white American culture. But for Wire-readers, the most interesting essays are about music. In some of his earlier pieces, Tate has yet to shed reified notions about musical "blackness". In the 1982 piece on Clinton's Computer Games, he's flummoxed (as an unabashed Santana fan well might be) by the phenomenon of black kids turning onto electro's "Monochrome Drone Brainwash Syndrome beat". At this point, he seems to share Chuck D's view of disco as soul-less, "anti-black" shit. This notion of black music as hot, sweat, funky and frictional, is uncomfortably close to the white stereotype, and it's a fix that black youth have being evading throughout the Eighties. I wonder what Tate thinks of acid house or Detroit techno?

Elsewhere, though, Tate acknowledges that Bad Brains were most authentic and innovative when playing ultra-Caucasian hardcore thrash, but totally jive when they tried to play roots reggae. And in his piece on the Black British but not "black" sounding A.R. Kane, he acclaims their radically polymorphous swoon-rock for opening up the possibility for a black avant-pop that isn't "in the pocket" but out-of-body. The Kane boys acknowledged only one influence, Miles Davis, who coincintally is the subject of Tate's best two essays, "The Electric Miles", and the elegy "Silence, Exile and Cunning". The former is the best piece on Miles' most feverishly creative, least understood phase I've yet encountered, with Tate anticipating the now emergent critical doxa that the late Sixties to mid-Seventies albums constitute the alpha and omega of furthermucker music, pre-empting Can, Eno/Byrne/Hassell, Metal Box, even dub and late Eighties freak-rock. Miles and his floating pool of players explored "a zone of musical creation as topsy-turvy as the world of subatomic physics". Tate's metaphors are vivid and precise: "He Loves Him Madly" is an "aural sarcophagus", Dark Magus sees Miles "scribbling blurbs of feline, funky sound which under scrutiny take on graphic shapes as wild and willed as New York subway graffiti". To say that he's only mapped the surface of Miles' planet, not probed the demonic, unclassifiable emotions that seethe at its core, is no diss to Tate, only a tribute to the inexhaustible nature of the music, of how far we still have to go (there will alway be "further" when it comes to Miles).

An excellent book.
[Bring the Noise deleted scene #33]

LETTER FROM NYC: RAP PAYBACK, column
Melody Maker, February 15th 1992

by Simon Reynolds


When Apocalypse ‘91 came out, it felt like Public Enemy were in a rut. Sure, they still gave good interview, but the music was breaking no new ground and even the rap/metal link-up with Anthrax seemed old hat. But, over here, Public Enemy have managed to put themselves back on the cutting edge. Releasing their new single, “By the Time I Get to Arizona” (by far the best track on the LP, with its superbad-ass stink-funk riff) in time for Martin Luther King Day on January 20, PE have ignited a national furore.

See, Arizona is the only state that doesn’t recognize King’s birthday. And PE’s video is a “revenge fantasy” in which Security of The First World paramilitaries assassinate a local senator with a poisoned candygram and detonate a bomb under the state governor’s car. These inflammatory scenes are juxtaposed with re-enactments of King’s assassination and the civil rights struggles of the Sixties (blacks being splattered with food for sitting in whites-only diners or being expelled from apartheid buses). The ensuing controversy has put PE on the TV news and the front covers of America’s most mainstream papers.

On one hand, you sympathise with the outrage that prompted Chuck D to dub Arizona a “devil’s haven”--in 1990, the Arizona electorate rejected two proposals to re-establish a paid King holiday. Can you blame Chuck D for interpreting this to mean that most Arizonans would like to roll back the civil rights gains of the Sixties and return to Fifties-style segregation? At the same time, the video jars with Martin Luther King’s creed on non-violent protest and has been duly censured by civil rights activists and King’s family as a disgrace to his memory. Public Enemy’s riposte to that is, “while Dr King may have stood for non-violence, we wonder what he would have stood for after that bullet ripped violently through his neck. Being assassinated will often change your political viewpoint." Ho hum.

So is the video a valid symbolic expression of black rage, a publicity stunt for a group suffering the mid-career stagnation blues or a naked incitement to political violence? In a call-in poll, over 60% of MTV viewers supported the promo as legitimate protest and rejected the notion that it could encourage violence. But Public Enemy themselves have never said the video should not be taken literally; Chuck D’s declared belief in “a tooth for a tooth, a head for a head” suggests the opposite.

Where do us white liberals stand? Probably, like me, all over the place. On one hand, you empathise with the rage, especially considering the backdrop of escalating bias attacks (two black children just got sprayed with white paint) or the bid by the “former” neo-Nazi David Duke for the governership of Louisiana. At the same time, you feel perturbed by reports of paranoia in the PE camp: Chuck D (who’s been described as a man who’s never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like) apparently believes that AIDS, Muhammed Ali’s speech problem and Richard Pryor’s multiple sclerosis are all part of a government anti-Black plot, while Sister Souljah’s new record imagines a President David Duke reinstating slavery--in 1995!

But wherever you stand or falter, there’s one thing you have to admit with more than a trace of awe. Four albums in, Public Enemy still do what no rock band today can seemingly pull off: not just comment on, but connect with, real issues, real stakes in the outside world; aggravate the contradictions, make the wounds rawer and harder to ignore. Compared with that, the petty debates and dissensions of “alternative music” seem awful puny....

Thursday, October 18, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #32]
CHUCK D, interview
Melody Maker, October 12th 1991

by Simon Reynolds



"The first album, Yo, Bum Rush The Show was, like, if
you can't get what you deserve, kick that motherfucking door
down by any means. It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Stop Us
was about how there's millions of motherfuckers stopping us
from getting what we need to get. And, from the black
nationalist point of view, there's millions of us holding
ourselves back. Fear Of Black Planet talked about the
paranoia of what race is - white people's problems with
themselves, their misconceptions about race.

"The new album, Apocalypse '91 - The Enemy Strikes
Black
is about how we, the black race, have double agents in
our ranks who are contributing to the genocide. In order for
us to get our shit in order, we've gotta get those
motherfuckers. They'll just be outright destroyed, either by
the positive hardcore, or by themselves."

Chuck D looks me over, through hooded eyes, then continues. "From Day One,
I've said that there's no place for people who sell drugs in
the Public Enemy programme. Selling drugs to a seven year
old kid, that's just as lethal as coming by with an axe and
chopping his head off. You wouldn't allow him to do that, so
you shouldn't allow him to sell drugs."

Do you really see pushers as agents of white supremacy?

"Of course. They're victims too, but they're conscious.
They know what they're doing. And when they're doing the
wrong thing, they've got to suffer severe penalties. No more
time for the psychoanalytical approach. We can't feel sorry,
we can't even get emotional. It's damn near prophesised that
the motherfuckers will be slain outright, by the doers of
good over the doers of evil. What's going to happen is the
same thing that developed in South Africa, where the only way
to develop unity and organisation is to eliminate the agents.
In South Africa, they put 'rubber neckties' on them. Here in
America, you're soon gonna see brothers who want to get paid
saying to themselves: 'why bother to sell drugs, why don't I
just stick up and kill drug dealers?' You already got groups
coming up who say 'we love to rob the dope man'. We're gonna
see an apocalyptic situation with the rise of black
vigilanteeism."

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

It's said that African-American problems have a lot to
do with damaged family structures, with absent or derelict
fathers. I reckon Chuck D wants to be the 'Good Father',
hard but fair, meting out just punishment and putting his
people back on the straight and narrow. That's why he's so
tired this evening, worn-out by his duties. He's been awake
for 24 hours out of the last 28 hours, dealing with the
manifold aspects of Public Enemy, and he has to jet off early
the next morning to give a talk in the Mid-West.

The big conflict in rap right now is between aspiring to
be a "good father" (prophet, teacher, leader) or a "bad boy"
(hoodlum, gangsta). For some, rap's gotten too earnest,
righteous and didactic (you've even got groups appearing with
blackboards and lecterns in their videos). These people wish
rap would go back to the days when it was irresponsible, when
the slogan was "let's get stupid" not "holy intellect". But
others think its time rap grew up, shed its delinquent image.
and ceased reinforcing negative stereotypes of black male
youth. For these people, the inchoate rage of gangsta rappers
and ghetto youth needs to be channelled away from petty crime
and macho tantrums, into an orderly revolutionary programme.

"The new album's lesson is 'no more fun and games',"
says Chuck D. "There's no room for kids here. The black
situation needs less adolescents aged over eighteen. Fun and
games have got to be tucked to the side; responsibility and
business have got to take precedence. The album deals with
the whole question of what 'hardcore' means. The positive
hardcore is much harder than the negative hardcore. Negative
hardcore" - Chuck means gangsta rap like NWA - "is the easy
way out. Going round shooting brothers, beating them down -
that don't make you hard. Gangsta rap is street, but
political rap is a level above that, because once you
understand the streets then you're political. Gangsta rap has
lots of good stories, but it doesn't understand the structure
behind those stories. If you don't understand the situation,
you're gonna end up victimised by it."

If rap is suffering from a malaise right now, it's
because it's gotten so successful, it's fragmented; its
momentum has dispersed as people disagree about "the way
forward".

"People are saying rap's getting stale. Rap's not getting
stale; there are problems, but you've got to have a mechanic
that knows the motor rather than someone from outside. One
problem is that a lot of people are not controlling what they
create. Rap is selling more than it's ever sold, but the
industry has got this throw-shit-against-the-wall-and-see-
what-sticks mentality. Too many groups are novices in all
other situations apart from making the music. And they are
getting exploited. You can sell a whole load of records and
the record companies will tell you all the money went on
promotion. And that's where the game comes into play, and
whether you know what the game is and how to play it."

You sound personally bitter about your experiences with
the music industry.

"I'm not bitter, I understand it, where a lot of groups
don't understand it. You always get into a fight with
structures. A lot of people don't know the history of black
music, and how the jazz greats and the blues greats were
ripped off. At CBS alone, Aretha Franklin was exploited,
Johny Mathis was exploited, Sly Stone, Earth Wind And Fire
.... Everybody gets screwed over, I get screwed over - but I
know how to fight."

The last time I interviewed Public Enemy, in late 1987,
I claimed that their aggression, noise, militancy, brutalism,
made them far closer to ROCK than contemporary black music.
It was a contentious argument at the time, but since then the
"Bring The Noise" remake with Anthrax has validated it. Then
there's the fact that Chuck D doesn't like disco and doesn't
like R&B ballads, but loves heavy metal. "Metal has attitude
and it has speed, and that's two things that I like." More
than that, he admires metal groups for having their shit
under control.

"I've been to a few metal shows, and they were a
learning experience for me, in that I learned what I was
being shorted on when it comes to live rap shows. Sound
technicians and lighting technicians know how to enhance
metal groups to the max, but they don't know how to get a
good sound for rap. Seeing metal shows, I realised that rap
groups are missing out on a lot. One thing I know about
metal is that the attitude is there, and even though I
personally give out a lot to my audience, I know that other
rap groups can learn from metal when it comes to kicking out
to their audience. Metal records give a lot more in terms of
sleeve information and imagery. That's why metal groups stay
tight with their audiences for so long. A metal group's
career is like this" - his hand draws an undulating but
steadily rising graph curve in the air - "while a rap career
is like this" - he gestures a steep graph line that peaks
quickly then plummets. "In rap, groups are treated like
they're disposable, and so they become disposable. Heavy
metal groups are involved in how their their music is
presented, packaged, marketed. They have control of the
merchandising and their logos, whereas the vast majority of
rap groups have no control at all."

A shame metal groups don't do something more imaginative
with their total control, really. Still Chuck D genuinely
seems to believe rap and metal have a lot of common: Public
Enemy's upcoming tour with Anthrax is an attempt to tap into
the white headbanger market. One thing that Public Enemy's
kind of rap shares with Anthrax and Metallica's kind of metal
is an apocalyptic vibe. In righteous rap, as in doomsday
thrash, the lyrics speak of chaos and imminent devastation,
while the music embodies survivalist discipline in the face
of that threat. After the bewilderment and doubt of Fear Of
A Black Planet
, Apocalypse '91 is a return to resilience,
spiritual stamina, girded loins. Musically, the new album's
not as varied as Fear; it's straight-slamming, rock solid
Public Enemy, the only real musical departure being "By The
Time I Get To Arizona", which pivots on a boogie bassline so
bad-ass it's stinks up your room.

Chuck D runs through some of the more notable issues
addressed on the album.

"The opening track, "Lost At Birth" is about how we as a
people were lost at birth, but now we
have to find ourselves. We do have a common bond. Excuses
are played the fuck out. In a time of war, equip yourself.
Equip yourself with what it takes to survive in the modern
world. The next track "Rebirth" deals with that problem:
how to reinstate your situation, get back the pride that we
had in the motherland.

"Night Train" talks about how, in the
black structure, we all look alike, but some people aren't
black inside like they claim to be. Everybody's riding the
same train, but for the shit to roll right, those people got
to be thrown off the train. They could be sitting right next
to you but you just can't trust 'em; they could be a pimp or
a murderer or a drug pusher. You've got to judge people by
their actions, not just by their black skin. You got devils
that come in all colours, all shapes and sizes. You got
grafta devils - 'grafta' meaning white, because whites are an
an offshoot or graft from the original black race. And you
got devils that look just like you. How you gonna treat
those people? You got to take them outa here." He makes a
sound like a pistol shot.

"'Can't Truss It' is about how the corporate world of
today is just a different kind of slavery. We don't control
what we create. And 'cos of the media, we don't control the
way we think or run our lives. We've got to limit working for
a situation that's other than ours. We have no ownership of
anything. If you don't own businesses, then you don't have
jobs. White people have jobs because they have businesses.
They have institutions that teach them how to live in
America. Black people don't have instititions that teach them
how to deal with shit. The number one institution that
teaches you how to deal is the family, but slavery fucked
that up. So the song is about the ongoing cost of the
holocaust. There was a Jewish holocaust, but there's a black
holocaust that people still choose to ignore."

"'By The Time I Get to Arizona' is about how there's two
states left in America that don't enforce the Martin Luther
King holiday: Arizona and New Hampshire. 'Move!' is about how
there's work to do. If you're over eighteen and you're acting
like a kid, get out of the way. The men are taking over.
Positive hardcore's gonna get the job done.

"'One Million Bottle Bags' is about the malt liquor
problem in Black America. Malt liquor has twice as much
alcohol content and twice as many residues, that's to say,
waste products from regular beer. It's fucked up beer, with
more alcohol. Instead of making people laidback, it makes
them hostile. And it leads to a lot of black on black
violence in America. They have massive campaigns for this
shit that are targeted at the black community. Malt liquors
are made by the major brewers in this country. When they put
their regular beers through the filters, all the excess
bullshit they push to the black community. And it's been
killing motherfuckers for the longest period.

"Lately one particular brand of malt liquor has been
advertised using rappers. And in one commercial [starring Ice
Cube] they sampled my voice. And a lot of people rang me and
asked was I down with it. They thought I'd endorsed it. So
I'm suing that company. I wrote "I Million Bottlebags" five
months prior to any of this legal shit. But when I found out
about the commercial, it was a slap in the face."

In Boyz In The Hood, a brilliant new film about life
in black Los Angeles (which incidentally features Ice Cube as
a malt liquor drinking youth) there's a Good Father character
who argues that it's no coincidence that there's a liquor
store and a gunshop in every black neighbourhood. He claims
it's part of conspiracy whose goal is the genocide of black
America. Do you agree?

"Of course. A liquor store, a gunshop and a drug dealer
on every corner. You go to a place like Louisville and
there's a liquor store every five blocks. And the type of
liquor they sell is stuff that's primarily targeted for black
consumption. Higher alcohol content, less healthy
ingredients, more bullshit. A quicker high, but more
devastation in the long run. I had two uncles in the past
year who died of liver disease. Personally, I 've never seen
the purpose of smoking or drinking. With other people, it's
their prerogative to do what they want. But on this issue,
there's two points. A lot of black on black violence is
caused by this liquor, it's distorted a lot of motherfuckers
mentality - they get into arguments, and if they've got a
gun, then somebody gets shot. The other factor is, I tell the
black community, if you're gonna drink anything, at least
drink what white folks drink.

"'Shut 'Em Down' is about major corporations like Nike
taking profits from the black community, but not giving
anything back, never opening businesses in black areas. And
it's saying that the best way to boycoot a business is to
start your own. 'A Letter To The New York Post' is about
how, whenever the Post covers a story concerning black
people, it's very one sided. They like to make out it's them
niggas fucking up again. They're like The Sun - onesided,
sensationalistic, trying to get readers at any cost. They'll
thrive on a racist situation. We've been misrepresented in
the New York Post a few times.

"'Get The Fuck Outta Dodge' is about apartheid in
America, in the form of noise pollution laws which are
designed so that you can't drive your car through a white
neighbourhood with your system playing loud. And I'm saying
when the shit gets that crazy, you've just got to get the
fuck out of town. I got stopped a while back for playing my
system too loud, cos I was a black guy riding through a white
neighbourhood in a jeep.

"Fear Of Black Planet dabbled in all kind of creative
avenues, the music was very broad. Sometimes I made
statements, sometimes I just presented a range of opinions
for the listener to pick and choose. A lot of the lyrics I
put questions marks at the end of them, to tell the listener,
'you figure it out, I don't know the answer'. This album I'm
hammering home specific points, saying you got to take care
of your own shit. Musically, it's very focussed too.

"With Fear Of A Black Planet, my bewilderment was the
question of who set race up. You have a limited amount of
time in your life, and yet the world is trillions of years
old, there's so much history. How much can any one person
master?"

That's the reason conspiracy theories are so appealing;
they simplify the confusion of history, give it a structure
you can grasp. It's tempting to imagine a plot (in both the
'narrative' and 'conspiracy' senses of the word) simply in
order to made the data overload manageable .

"You have data and you have counter-data. The data that
there is comes because it was written by people with a
certain perspective. I try to deal with things that are fact,
like slavery. One reason the Jewish people's story is so
strong is that it's recent and it's documented. In "Can't
Truss It" I talk about how it's hard to believe that for two
hundred years ships sailed the ocean with a cargo of slaves.
That's a holocaust. Jews are screaming over the 1932-1945
period - that's the headline for their story of persecution
which stretches back to the Middle Ages. The black holocaust
goes back centuries too, but we don't have that headline. We
don't document and we don't shout about it like we should."