[Bring the Noise deleted scene #13]
PUBLIC ENEMY/ERIC B AND RAKIM, Brixton Academy, London
Melody Maker, December 12, 1987
Public Enemy tonight were an undanceable, unintelligible, indecipherable avalanche, as noisome and impenetrable as The Membranes. All sense and internal dynamics was drowned out by the swollen bass registers, an undertow amplified to the point where there was nothing audible but undertow. All other sounds, scratches and samples merge into a faint Mary Chain miasma of treble. Only the twists and barbs of the raps make it possible to identify tracks.
And still London’s dancefloor culture struggle to grapple with this unbearable din, recognize it as a good groove, turn the occasion into a night out. No wonder the fainthearts are retreating to rare groove in droves. Hip hop is too slow’n’heavy to get down to, or, increasingly, too fast (“Bring the Noise”). The only “dance” response possible is Flavor Flav’s clenched, rigor mortis strut, a taut regime of flexed sinews, survivalist bodypopping.
Despite the deafening assault, Public Enemy fail to make much impression. With only three members of Security of the First World onstage, they’re hardly intimidating. These three are short, their drill ain’t tight, and with their young, guileless faces, the machine guns and camouflage just suggests kids playing soliders. Chuck D stops the flow to address the crowd: what he says is platitudinous, barely incendiary, but what matters is the fact of remonstrance and engagement, the aura of weighty utterance, mass rally. He tells us that the gutter press reports of incidents after the Def Jam Hammersmith shows are lies, “and we all know that because those papers lie about everything”: that may be true, but I spent 30 minutes in a tube stalled at Barons Court while people were having their wedding rings snatched in the next carriage. Public Enemy tell the crowd: “none of that Third World shit--and we know black people are the first world”, and I wonder, is it really progress to counter a devalued sense of self-worth (arbitrarily imposed) with an equally arbitrarily assumed pride, jingoism-in-reverse? And when Chuck tells the fly girls to make the peace sign and the homeboys to make the power salute. I think of Ian McEwan's "Imitation Game", where the heroine realises that the reason men like to "protect" women from war is so they can pretend it's women they're fighting for. Women become the custodians for human value (a.k.a. femininity) so the men can steel themselves, become inhuman, tear the femininity out of their hearts. If women involved themselves in carnage, there'd be nothing to fight for. (Like "The Godfather", where men mutilate and maim each other in defence of "the family".)
With Erik B the mix is bright and clear, so at least the scratches cut.
But again, the bass is like molasses to the dancing feet. Eric B and Rakim are too baleful, too chilled to be groovy, they just draw you into the wary, controlled economy of their dance, the dead, still centre of their vigilance. On one track, the intro from Barry White's "I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little Bit More" becomes a perpetual cusp of portent. Rakim isn't brash and pugilistic, like LL, he isn't in your face; his drawl detains you, draws you near in a hideous inversion of seduction. Like a communications theory student who's learnt that if you speak slightly slower than is normal (fact!) you can make it psychologically impossible for people not to listen. Your attention can't wander. Mesmerising, probably literally.