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.

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
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


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

"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

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."
[Bring the Noise deleted scene #31]

The Guardian, August 29th 1991

by Simon Reynolds

Lollapalooza means a bizarre happening. Lollapalooza is a mobile rock festival currently traversing the US, a package of seven alternative bands (including Siouxsie and the Banshees, Living Colour, and Butthole Surfers) headlined by Jane’s Addiction, the Los Angeles-based art metal group who dreamed the whole thing up. Recession has led to the collapose of many of this summer’s US tours; Lollapalooza is one of the few that’s selling out, even adding shows in some of the 21 cities on its itinerary.

The more sanguine US commentators have dubbed it as “Woodstock for the Lost Generation”. That sounds fanciful, but although none of the shows pull more than twenty thousand kids, if you factor in the 26 performances being played you get a combined audience of nearly a half a million -- close to the number who attended Woodstock. The difference is that for Woodstock, Sixties youth traveled huge distances for the sake of an ideal; with Lollapalooza, the festival comes to the kids.

The festival was the brainchild of Jane’s Addiction’s charismatic singer Perry Farrell and drummer Stephen Perkins. The idea was conceived when the band attended the UK’s Reading Festival, a three day “alternative” rock jamboree, and, impressed, began to wonder why there was nothing like it in America. Farrell immediately saw an opportunity to create an event that was more than just a budget-price opportunity for kids to check out a load of bands. So each Lollapalooza performance comes with a sideshow of booths and displays operated by political, ecological and human rights organizations: Handgun Control Inc, Refuse and Resist, national Abortion Rights Action League, Rock the Vote (an MTV sponsored group that encourage young people to register to vote) and more. There’s also an “art tent” featuring work by local artists selected by Farrell (himself a Renaissance man, who sculpts, paints and has a full-length movie under his belt).

Lollapalooza is a riposte to the “twentysomething” debate that raged through the US media earlier this year. A number of critics and commentators characterized Eighties post-punk youth as a lost and defeated generation, impotent, directionless, and scared of political and emotional commitment. Overall, it was argued that the “twentysomethings” have failed to come up with a distinctive culture of their own to rival the baby boomer generation’s contributions (the counter culture and punk rock).

Lollapalooza is an attempt to rally the twentysomethings, to restore a sense of rock as a counter-culture rather than an over-the-counter leisure industry. “I predict a very strong youth movement will grown out of Lollapalooza,” Farrell told me in May. “I want there to be a sense of confrontation. But I’m not declaring myself left or right wing. I want to bring both sides into it.”

So how did it pan out in reality? I went to the New York area’s date (a couple of hours drive out to Waterloo Village in the wilds of New Jersey) with high hopes. But problems, or at least realities, intruded. One of the reasons the twentysomething generation seems to lack an identity is that it has too many cultural options, so that you either become a partisan of one subculture or you succumb to a schizoid eclecticism.

Lollapalooza’s bill reflects the fragmented nature of modern left-field music, ranging from Nine Inch Nails’ overblown electro-theatre to Butthole Surfers’ acid rock buffoonery to Sioxuse’s Goth and Ice T’s gangsta rap. Most of these groups attempt to reconcile or transcend genres, in order to achieve “crossover”. Living Colour blend metal, funk, jazz, soul et al into a polite, ungainly fusion with impecceable left-liberal credentials but little sense of danger. Ice T (now a superstar thanks to his role in the movie New Jack City) tried a more interesting gambit--not fusion, but fission, a split persona. For the first half of his set, he was “black”, a baleful rap hoodlum; for the second half, he tore off his cap, let loose flowing locks and rocked out as a “white” headbanger in his very own metal combo Body Count.

The counter cultural element of the festival was a shambles. The art was tediously “taboo-breaking” stuff (computer warped images, art made of detritus and found material), while the political aspect was more piously right-on than Perry Farrell had hoped. Overall, the event was marred by disorganization. Bringing your own food or water was forbidden, but they didn’t provided enough food concessions to cope with the demand.

What actually unites the youth of today was never really articulated. Most performers swore a lot, which went down well with the crowd, and there were various platitudinous expressions of opposition to censorship. But the most pronounced unifying aspect of the twentysomethings is a kind of voyeurism. This is typified by one of the groups participating in the cultural sideshow element of Lollapalooza--Amok, a publisher and distributor of “extremist information”; magazines and books by or about serial killers, conspiracy theorists, crackpots, and weird cults, plus video compliations of atrocities and autopsies.

Jane’s Addiction themselves are a great band languishing for the lack of a cultural context that would make them a world-historical force. (Hence Lollapalooza). After two brilliant major label albums--Nothing’s Shocking and 1990’s Ritual De Lo Habitual--they’ve built up a huge cult following, through reinvoking a sense of rock as an underground--a dark haven of deviant and transgressive behaviour. Jane’s Addiction are like an intellectual cousin to Guns “n’Roses.

Even performing below their transcendent best, Jane’s Addictoin fuse idioms (heavy rock, funk, ethnic music, psychedelia, Goth) in a far more volatile and incendiary fashion than Living Colour or anybody else in the “funk’n’roll” genre. Clearly, Farrell desperately wants his audience to live out their fantasies, rather than live through Jane’s Addiction vicariously. For Farrell, the only sins are self-denial, boredom and nostalgia. As the encore “Classic Girl” goes: “they may say, ‘those were the days’, but you know, for us, these are the days.” I was left feeling that the twentysomething generation, listless and impassive, doesn’t deserve Jane’s Addiction.
[Bring the Noise deleted scene #29]

DE LA SOUL, interview
Melody Maker, May 25th 1991

by Simon Reynolds

De La Soul may not be dead, but positivity smells kinda funny.

When 3 Feet High & Rising came out in 1989, De La Soul were in perfect sync with the favourable signs of the time. They revolutionised rap, replacing its stock emotions of rage, paranoia and hypertension with a new spirit of affirmation and togetherness. Along with Soul II Soul, they popularised the creed of positivity; Deee-Lite were their cartoon lovechild.

But suddenly, in the middle of 1990, Soul II Soul's new decade turned out to be a false new dawn for humankind. Even as Deee-Lite were putting the finishing touches to World Clique, the outlook for peacedelic unity abruptly deteriorated. The Eastern European revolutions merely opened a fresh can of worms (ethnic tensions, the spectre of neo-fascism); Gorby put the brakes on glasnost and the recession kicked in, putting intolerable stress on an already frayed social fabric. To cap it all, there was even a war, the biggest since World War II, with an increasingly grim aftermath of Kurdish agony and ecological woe.

With the global trend toward misery exposing the triteness of positivity's platitudes, there was no way De La Soul could return with a simple reiteration of 3 Feet High, hence De La Soul Is Dead.

Superficially, the new album sounds like no huge departure; there's the same slaphappy-go-lucky beats, goofy rhymes and lazy haze of samples, the same rather wearisome preponderance of skits and spoofs, running jokes and comedic interludes. But something has changed, the cover image (a knocked over flower pot and an uprooted, dead daisy) and the videos (black and white, as opposed to the dayglo Sesame Street hues of yore) symbolically underline a crucial shift in tone. Probe a little deeper beneath the sublime scat-doggerel lyrics and the disarmingly easy-going pace, and you'll find murkier, nastier undercurrents.

‘Please Porridge’ is based around a deceptively jaunty sample of Twenties tap dance music, but its lyric takes pains to point out that just because De La Soul are laid-back doesn't mean they'll let any one walk over them. Posdnuos and Dove warn that if you bug 'em, you'll get sprayed with Black Flag (a pesticide). ‘Bitties In The BK Lounge’ is a sour diatribe against the two-faced attitudes of the starstruck, loosely based on a real-life incident in a burger joint in which a waitress treated De La Soul with disdain, then drooled over them when she realised they were famous.
‘Ring Ring’ is a weary whinge about being pestered by aspiring rappers with demo tapes. The gorgeously r(h)apsodic ‘Pass The Plugs’ turns out, on closer inspection, to be a veritable litany of gripes (about radio, their record company, "pimp promoters", talk show host Arsenio Hall, De La copyists etc ad nauseam). Even the record sleeve's list of acknowledgements include various pointed "Fuck you's" to De La Soul's foes.

Clearly De La Soul have no truck with the idea that fame carries with it an obligation to be gracious about its many aggravations; they resent being public property. Then there's the socially aware songs; the anti-drug parable of ‘My Brother Is A Basehead’, a withering portrait of Posdnuos' sibling who became the "lowest of elements" after getting into "nasal sports"; and the stand-out track ‘Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa’, another true-to-life tale of child abuse set to a breeding backdrop of agonized blues guitar.

On repeated listens, De La Soul Is Dead emerges as a subdued, sprawling, ‘bleaker’ but altogether more ambitious record than the sunny 3 Feet High. Revealing a hitherto unsuspected capacity for cynicism and petty malice, the new album shatters the group's image as amiable rap clowns and replaces it with something far more complicated and interesting.


Naturally, De La Soul themselves see continuity rather than a drastic break with their past.

"With us, positivity was never about going around with a stupid grin saying, 'Hi, peace y'all, let's all be happy'," says Posdnuos through heavily-congested sinuses. "On the first album we had songs that dealt with social issues. We dealt with drug use on 'Say No Go', but it wasn't that personal, whereas 'My Brother Is A Basehead' deals with drugs from personal experience. The overall vibe of the new LP is not happy go lucky. But it is like 3 Feet High & Rising, in that there's positive elements and there's songs that deal with a negative situation, but trying to strive for a positive solution to it."

Did you find the positivity fad rapidly degenerated into inane platitudes?

Dove: "No, but it did get a little worn down, cos everybody was doing it. A lot of people lost sight of the fact that being positive means being aware of negativity, and trying to resolve it."

Posdnuos: "But there’s not one cut on 3 Feet High where we straight out said 'peace'. The 'hippy hop' thing was always something that the critics invented. ‘Me Myself & I’ was about not being like everybody else, 'Say No Go' was anti-drugs, 'Buddy’ was about being with the one you want to be with. What happened was the critics saw the overall vibe and look of the album and said we was about peace."

‘Please Porridge’ seems to be your rejoinder to the people who mistook your rejection of rap aggression for being weak or soft.

Dove: "That song's just saying that if people want to test us, we're not gonna stand for it. Just cos we spoke about being peaceful and positive, it doesn't mean we're gonna let ourselves be trampled on. We will do whatever it takes to defend ourselves. There have been situations where people tried to test us, and we defended ourselves, and whether it was worse for us or for them, it doesn't really matter."

Were these people gangsta rappers who thought the peacedelic attitude was wimpy?

"It wasn't even rappers, it was just kids of different ages that we met in clubs. They'd come to see our show, so it wasn't to do with music, it was just them wanting to test us as so-called peaceful people."

Then there was the strife on the LL Cool J tour, climaxing in De La being kicked off the tour for perpetrating violence!

"It wasn't trouble for us, it was trouble for them. We aren't people who have feelings and hold them inside. The people on the LL tour just didn't realise we were as open and forthright as we are. They treated us rotten. It was a learning process. You learn, especially if you're the last group on the bill, beneath Slick Rick and LL. We saw the bad side, and we got kicked off, because we stood for what we felt was right."


Various songs on the new album suggest that you feel a certain bitterness about the costs of fame.

Posdnuos: "All we're doing is writing about how we feel at one point. When you function everyday, you think of millions of thoughts each day you exist. But we can't put millions of thoughts and feelings on each piece of wax, because that’s just a record of where you are that day 'Ring Ring' is about how a certain kind of person had been bothering us, at a time when we really couldn't deal with being bothered. People don't realise that we're one group that really tries to be involved in all our business, every aspect of being a group.

"Often we're on our way somewhere to do something real important and people see it as their only opportunity to get to us. Half the time these kids are talking to us and they're so misguided you really need a couple of hours to straighten them out about how to work in the music business. 'Ring Ring' is about being bounded by these people and not having the time."

Dove: "The first album was the mood of us just getting into the business, and this one is about us being in the business. I'm not saying it's the worst thing that we ever experienced in our lives, but…"

What are the positive rewards of fame and success?

Dove: "You get a better life."

Posdnuos: "There are a lot of obligations, but you get a chance to do something positive. You have the options and the tools to do it. We can express what we feel, and people will buy what we're expressing. And the fact that we have influenced other artists is cool."

How closely does ‘My Brother Is A Basehead’ cleave to the truth?

Posdnuos: "Well, my brother is now in rehab, but it's basically a true story. Basehead is slang for someone who freebases or smokes crack. When he was basin', I had strong feelings about it. Some people might have thought it was too personal for them to write about, but I really didn’t care. It helped get it off my chest, plus I thought a lot of people could identify with it and it could help people.
Word by word, it's not following what actually happened, but it's close. It relates how we grew up together and how his downfall began."

Is he not somewhat miffed that you used his tale of woe as material?

"I really don't know – I don't speak to him. I really don't f*** with him too much. Even though he's trying to do better now, he's f***ed up so much in life that I really can't deal with him. He knows I've written the song, but obviously he can't do shit about it."

And what's the story behind ‘Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa’?

"That's also about a friend of mine who unfortunately was being molested by her father. It turned out that all of us knew a person who was going through that. But this was something so close to me that I wanted to express it on wax. In reality, it didn't go as for as her pulling a pistol on her father. The story is fictional, but the emotions are real."


Overall, it seems like De La Soul’s colours were yellow and orange, but now your palette is all greys and blues and blacks.

Dove: "The new album is much harder in sound and heavier in concept. It's good to do something different. If we had done something exactly the same as 3 Feet High & Rising, we would have watered the whole scene down. Cos a lot of people have been doing the same thing, the same colours, the same style."

Do you worry that people will find the album a bit of a downer?

Posdnuos: "From what I've heard, everyone loves it -- industry people, critics, friends. People who are straight up De La Soul fans will love it, I think, because it's really a much stronger album than the first one. But those people who were just into De La Soul cos 3 Feet High & Rising reminded them of their Woodstock days, might not like it. Those people should listen closely because then they'll realise that it goes a lot further than a lot of rap albums will ever go."


What do you think of the state of rap? It strikes me as scattered and stagnant.

"It's in a real wack state," says Dove. "It's in a stand still. There's nothing new. Like before it was all from the heart, now it's less heart, more business. It’s like, if Salt 'N' Pepa did well, companies look to get another Salt 'N' Pepa. It’s all about dollars now."

My impression is that the rap community is divided into factions (the gangsta/ghetto boys, the righteous prophet-rappers, your peacedelic buddies in the Native Tongue movement, the old school survivors and revivalists) who all see themselves as the way forward.

"We don't see ourselves as a movement," Dove continues. "Native Tongue is just a name for us, The Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest and some others, but there's no set style. De La Soul do songs where we're preaching, songs where we're changing our characters, songs that a hoodlum or gangsta could relate to, songs that are just about fun. We don't stay in one style. At the moment we like groups like Brand Nubian, Leaders Of The New School, Son of Bazerk, but we don't downfall any rappers. We don't even downfall people like MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice. Everyone’s part of the same rap community."

Doesn't it feel like everyone’s waiting for the next great leap forward?

"Even De La Soul is waiting," Posdnuos says. "We all wonder what the next step is. It could lie in working with live bands. We were involved in this ‘MTV Unplugged' show where LL Cool J and us played with a live band. That was real cool. And we played some instruments on the new album, and we got people in to play some stuff. I think sampling's been taken as far as it can be taken. We're watching and we're waiting, and when the new thing happens we'll see if we can be down with that too."


Like 3 Feet High & Rising, the new album displays what US critic Greg Tate described as De La Soul's "Fear Of No Music" attitude. As well as the usual archive of obscure disco, R & B and jazz-funk records, on De La Soul Is Dead, the group sample from such un-rap sources as Serge Gainsbourg, Frankie Valli, Wayne Fontana, Chicago and The Doors.

Dove: "Our sampling goes to any category of music you can name. There is every kind of music in our house. And it goes beyond music, to sound effects, instruments, toys, sounds that we make with objects."

This time around, you seem to prefer less recognisable samples.

Posdnuos: "That's not to do with the litigation problems that we had, it's more like a reaction against the fad of sampling something that was famous. With rap now, coming up with a real familiar loop isn't important any more. We feel relying on a famous sample overshadows what we do in terms of arrangement."

It sounds like you're using fantastically obscure records (the only one I recognised was the vamp from ‘Touch Me’ by The Doors).

"That delayed the album because a lot of what we sample was so old that it was hard to track down who owned the track, or whether they was even alive! A couple of the people we dealt with were sort of at the senile stage. They didn't even know what rap was!"

Saturday, October 13, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #28]

CONSOLIDATED, The Myth of Rock
Melody Maker, January 5th 1991

by Simon Reynolds

Since the “death of agit-pop” it’s generally taken for granted that “the truth” is the last thing you go looking for from rock’n’roll. An account of the perplexities and pleasures of a life without truths, absolutes, bearings--now that’s legitimate. Dazed and confused drifting, daydreams, blurred and bleary bliss-out--all well and good. But “total vision”, the Truth--gimme a break! Trouble is, this consensus has become dangerously complacent. Personally, I’m sick to my back teeth of bands coming up with platitudes about ambiguity, leaving their lyrics “open” to interpretation.

Which is where Consolidated come in: as a bracingly single-minded alternative to the woolly-minded aestheticism of the day. Neo-Marxists, they believe they have scientifically located the motor of history. More to the point, they’ve come to tell us that our little world of “rock for rock’s sake” is a regressive cul-de-sac, a mythical realm of pseudo-transgression/transcendence wherein no real liberation exists, just another decoy of capitalism. Their verdict: “Man, that shit is weak.” I don’t believe that for a minute, but it’s real refreshing to be challenged, forced to defend your own corner. For once.

Consolidated, in fact, are something like a white Public Enemy. That’s to say, their importance lies not in their truths, but the vigour/rigour with which they demolish untruth. The lie of “America Number One”; the lie of democracy in a capitalist society; the lie of consumerism’s false needs and fabricated anxieties; the lie of rock’n’roll rebellion. Being the white Public Enemy is a contradiction in terms, of course, and Consolidated are fully aware of it; on “White American Male”, they flagellate themselves for their privileged status over women, blacks, et al over a storming samplescape of laser-riffs and snatches of a KKK rally song. And they’re fully, even tragically conscious of the contradictions of purveying revolution via the pop marketplace: on the damn funky “Josephine the Singer” they seem to conclude that even their brand of ultimate rock rebellion can’t escape being just another form of whoring for capital.

Combining deconstructionist polemic (a scathingly ironic call-and-response of cut-up quotes) with a constructivist aesthetic, Consolidated are like a cross between Front 242 and Public Enemy: colossal floorquaking beats, loudhailer vox, eerie sequencer pulses, looped drones and squeals in the style of a “Rebel Without A Pause”. Their sampling is often inspired (“It’s about That Time” samples the Miles Davis track of the same name to conjure a pre-revolutionary lull before the storm), and the points they make always acerbic. On “Dysfunctional Relationship” they even reveal a sense of humour. Consciousness-raising agit-pop hasn’t looked this watertight impressive for years.

Their error is the totalitarian nature of their worldview, by which I mean only that they see around them conditions of total oppression, and no way out, short of total revolution. Consolidated miss that crucial ambiguity that The Mekons caught: rock’n’roll is both ‘dream and lie”; rock records and performances are as transformative/transcendent as you are willing to make them; there are degrees of liberation to be found in the interim. It’s not all con. But while I ultimately reject their conclusions, I’m captivated and energized by the force, rigour and wit with which they put their argument across. And on a purely surface level, The Myth of Rock is a convulsive blast of “edutainment”. A stunning piece of work.

Melody Maker, July 13th 1991

by Simon Reynolds

Consolidated are the new militants of American rock. Their debut album, The Myth Of Rock, agitated against rock’s regressive impotence, its spurious rebellion and disengagement from the world, over an incendiary samplescape that combined industrial beats with a Hank Shocklee-style ‘wall of noise’. Their new album, Friendly Fascism, brings them even closer to their dream of being a "white, Marxist Public Enemy".

I asked Adam Sherbourne, Philip Steir and Mark Pistel of Consolidated whey they’ve chosen to be agit-pop militants in an age where white rock never been more apolitical?

"In a sense, we’re a huge anachronism, and a comedy troupe. Being that serious is an enormous folly when you’re involved in such a degraded and diminished arena as rock ‘n’ roll. Just being in a band today requires a sense of humour and a sense of tragedy. We’re stuck in a medium that is trammeled by huge restrictions and limitations. We’ve tried political activism before, but for better or worse, our collective statement is through music. Among other things, our collective statement is that rock’s gestures at transgression or transcendence inevitably end up commodified."

But the same applies to agit-pop, which is arguably even more defunct and contradiction-riddled than all the other sub-genres of rock.

"Well, we’re the last people diving off the dock and missing the last boat. People say it’s been proved that pop and politics don’t mix, that political effectiveness just gets lost in the entertainment context. But politics gets lost and destroyed within ‘politics’ too. What people call politics has nothing to do with political change, it’s all about insider trading, chicanery, wheeler-dealing."

The field they’ve chosen to operate in ("dancecore" or "industrial disco") does not seem the most appropriate arena for a consciousness-raising initiative. Its two extremes seem to be crypto-fascist discipline (Front 242) and outlaw delinquency (Rev Co).

"With Friendly Fascism, we’ve distanced ourselves from that context. We’re fully aware, after a year of touring on that scene, of the crypto-fascist nature of that music. It’s just white aerobic supremacism preying on the twisted fears of male youth. We’ve redefined ourselves as ‘bureaucratic entertainment specialists’. We’ve already made the transition to being lesbian nuns playing coffee shop protest songs on wooden guitars!"

On The Myth Of Rock, you diss everything that you despise with the put-down, "Man, that shit is weak".

"Our idea of strength has no connection with constructivism or the heroic imagery of totalitarian art. In our value system, what’s weak is penis-oriented ego tantrums, the arrested development syndrome that is rock rebellion. Our idea of strength is modeled on matriarchal values — pride, resilience, determination, compassion."

You say capitalism has failed, which is true in the sense that it’s failed to deliver on its promises. Yet it’s a long-running failure!

"Of course, capitalism remains a huge success. What we really wanted to do with that song was make a counter-blow against all the propaganda that the Eastern Bloc revolutions are a proof of capitalism’s righteousness and inevitability. We wanted to make the point that the Eastern Bloc peoples were rejecting state tyranny, not voting for capitalism. Capitalism is definitely the biggest revolution ever, but we don’t see why people should have to tolerate that revolution, put up with homelessness, racial conflict, dehumanised labour, eco-cide and blood for oil."

Does ‘beauty’ fit into the Consolidated world view, or do you see music’s value as purely instrumental (a vehicle for agit-pop)?

"On the contrary, we aim to show that rock is not instrumental in promoting social change. Our argument is that we need to change the social conditions in which music is produced and consumed, before music can change anything. Our project is to abandon the failing tradition of agit-pop and invent our own failing tradition. Our message is simply that people should spend less time listening to music and more time changing the world."
[Bring the Noise deleted scene #27]

Melody Maker, December 1990.

by Simon Reynolds

Brand Nubian are disciples of the Five Percent Nation. This increasingly influential Afro-American Muslim sect believes that the black man is God and the white man is the Devil. Like other Five Percent rappers (Poor Righteous Teachers, King Sun, Lakim Shabazz), Brand Nubian are into “knowledge” and “holy intellect” and have all been “reborn as a god”.

Nubian refers to the idea of Egypt and Mesopotamia as the motherland, the cradle of civilization, where “Asiatic” blacks invented mathematics and cosmology. On the sleeve, they pay tribute to the “Original black mentality which manifestated [sic] all things in existence.”

All this is interesting, controversial and guaranteed to get nervous whitey in a lather. Musically it would seem to promise an insurgent onslaught of righteous wrath. But paradoxically, on a sonic level, Brand Nubian aren’t militant but dormant. The Nubian sound is an ambling, almost ambient blur of smooth rhymes and feel-good samples: warm, purring electric organs, as relaxing as mainling Ovaltine; mid-pace Meters-type beats; mellow-yellow funk guitar licks. “Wake Up” might be intended to incite ire and raise consciousness, but its effect is soporific. “Feels So Good” feels too good; it’s muted and Muzaky, like a locked groove of Beggar & Co or some similar Brit-funk bantamweight.

Brand Nubian’s downfall (for me, at least) is their “positive attitude”. Confident in their status as the elect, the chosen Five Percent of “poor righteous teachers”, Brand Nubian don’t partake of the contagious paranoia of a Public Enemy. The LP isn’t all laidback, soothing, sleepy-time stuff, however. The go-go inflected “Drop the Bomb” simmers nicely and its military counter-rhythms are the closest One For All gets to militancy. And “Grand Puba, Positive and L.G.” samples the bassline of Steve Arrington’s brilliant techno-funk classic “Nobody Can Be You But You”.

But in the main, what we have here aren’t Niggers With Attitude, but Afro-Americans With Lassitude. NWA and the ghetto/gangster rappers have taken white society’s negative stereotypes of black youth and turned them to their own end, as if to say, “Hey, whitey, your worst fears have come true.” Whereas Brand Nubian, instead of defining themselves in terms of the damage down to them by the system, have chosen a positive identity. Unfortunately, because of this, their music just communicates good vibes and self-assurance. They should rename themselves Bland Nubian.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #26]

LL COOL J, Mama Said Knock You Out
Melody Maker, August 1990

I still think rap was most exciting when it was sociopathic and solipsistic, brutalist and beyond the pale. But the fact is that LL Cool J’s brand of rap megalomania has now been thoroughly outflanked and outmoded: by the laidback positivity and communal ethos of De La Soul and the Native Tongue posse of Afro-conscious rap groups; by Public Enemy’s righteous ire and thrust for collective power. Even on LL’s own egomaniacal terrain, he’s been surpassed in nastiness by the LA gangster rappers.

The stance and sound of LL and his Def Jam contemporaries (Run DMC, Beasties) is dated, a relic in a genre where freshness is at a premium, and LL knows this. The album’s title track starts with a shrill outburst: “Don’t call this a comeback/I bin here for years”. Throughout the track LL comports himself like one of those punch-drunk boxers who make global imbeciles of themselves by putting in hopeless bids to win back the Heavyweight Championship of the world. LL has long identified with boxers: previously he’s compared himself with Mike Tyson, here he namechecks Muhammed Ali. His deluded bluster is mesmerizing in its sad sincerity: “I’m the man of the hour/Tower of power… Oooh, listen to the way/I slay… Lyrics that’ll make you call the cops… Damage, destruction, terror and mayhem… I think I’m gonna bomb a town.”

There’s a terrible pathos here, the pathos of a doomed dictator like Ceaucescu or Hussein. And it’s a pathos that takes us to the core of rap psychology. Rap’s always been an assertion in the face of the void; rap intimidates because its motor is a terror of anonymity and death (the fate of all gangsters--where’s Schoolly D now?). Because of this, “Mama Said Knock You Out” is the most gripping moment on the album. Next to this pathos, “Farmers Boulevard” is just pathetic: LL waxing nostalgic for his home turf, and--gracious potentate that he is--allowing his old homeboys some cameo appearances. It’s almost like he’s thinking of the old showbiz adage about being careful about who you step on when you’re on the way up, cos you’ll surely meet them on the way down.

There are two references to Bobby Brown on Mama and it’s tempting to read this as a sign that LL knows that Brown has usurped much of his teen heart throb/bad boy appeal. Bobby Brown galvanized pop soul with a little bit of B-boy attitude: LL tried (and momentarily succeeded with “I Need Love”) to give rap a little pop gloss. In the process, he lost all credibility with the hardcore crowd. Ironically, just about the only enjoyable track here is “Around the Way Girl”, a calculated bid for the Bobby Brown market, candy-coated with deliciously syrupy harmony backing vocals. It’s a tribute to “neighbourhood girls”, with their hair extensions, bamboo earings and sassy bad attitude. Scrumptious, but the impression you’re left with his that the song is like a bag of sweets proferred by some inadequate hanging around the school gates, who should really be seducing someone his own age.

The rest of Mama is mighty dreary. “The Boomin’ System”, a dirge based around an En Vogue bassline, is about cruising around with an in-car stereo that has the sidewalks quaking. “Milky Cereal” is a whimsical exercise, LL composing a narrative based around breakfast brandnames. And so on. The grainy R&B samples, the slick rhymes and fluent delivery (LL is the still the most technically proficient rapper)--all create the impression of an artist trapped in his own style, in his own barren head space. LL Cool J is all used up with nowhere to go.

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #25]

HAPPY MONDAYS, Wembley Arena, London
Melody Maker, April 21st 1990

A gig at Wembley Arena is generally a hollow demonstration that a band has reached a certain statistical stature. But everything about tonight has been set up to proclaim, loudly, that this is an Event, a crucial benchmark indicating that Happy Mondays are a bona fide "phenomenon", in the ascendant. The tickets and ads enthuse that "the rave is on"; the Arena's stagefront seats have been removed, leaving a giant mong-pit swarming with the herds of expectant ravers and fashion casualties; dry ice pumps out of vents and lazers spell out the bands logo; stars of the lustrous calibre of Boy George, Sonic Boom, Bobby Gillespie and Jona Lewie are to be spotted. And a grizzled, paunchy roadie who looks like Peter Hook's elder brother keeps coming on and brandishing a cardboard cut-out Number One figure at us meaningfully. Presumably this is meant to suggest that if we all went out and bought three copies of "Step On" it might top the charts. Quite why this would be such a triumph, in aday and age when being Number One in the Hit Parade means less than ever (the present occupants are a German rap group) is not made clear.

Finally, after much heralding from Gary Clail and the On U Sound System, and a fanfare of fireworks, Happy Mondays shamble on. Shaun Ryder greets the crowd with the cryptic query "where's me pickled herrings?". It's in this kind of lapse into bathos that Happy Mondays' "significance" has come to reside. They've come to be esteemed merely for unprepossessing details: for Shaun's refusal to trim his untamed nose hairs and bum fluff, for Bez's glazed vacancy. Similarly, the Mondays' gatecrashing of the Top Of The Pops party has been celebrated in
terms suspiciously reminiscent to the approbation meted out to The Wedding Present and The Pogues. The Mondays are reprobates soiling pristine pop with their warts-and-all anti-charisma, making a mess on the carpet and vandalising the fittings.

I say: Happy Mondays the indisputably magnificent underground band, make for a piss-poor pop group. No sex appeal, no style, no melodies, bar the one by the dodgy South African, and the chunk of "Ticket To Ride" in the middle of "Lazy-Itis". At the same time, the crystalline proto-funk of Squirrel And G-Man and Bummed has declined into a right dog's dinner of a quasi-pop sound, a garbled and gurned confusion of pop tinsel, Acid house production and rock grunge, with Ryder's scabby gibberish bobbing about queasily amidships.

I saw Happy Mondays' once before, in '87, when Melody Maker was practically alone in heralding them. They were crap. Nothing has changed, except that they have more technology and more volume at their disposal. The Mondays still can't funk to save their lives, but what they can do is set up a lobotomised groove somewhere between a scuffed and shabby House and the deadbeat stomp of The Fall: a rhythm simple enough for white people to shuffle about to. And shuffle they do, sluggishly and earnestly, willing this to be the Event it's cracked up to be.

What's the Mondays have lost is readily apparent. An early song like "Tart Tart" is still an irrestible surge of glacial trance-rock, somewhere between The Velvet Underground and The Fatback Band. But the new tracks are, at best,an endearing shambles, at worst, a bloody, boring mess. "Hallelujah" remains a real sow's ear of a song. On "He's Gonna Step On You Again", the Mondays guitarist can't manage the moderately sublime, fuzz-boogie riff of the original, so emits a feeble, doodled gesture at same, that's completely lost in the turmoil. For "Lazy-Itis", a silver-haired and bewildered Karl Denver is wheeled on, to duet inaudibly with Ryder. Through it all, Bez who looks like Hugh Laurie after three years in a concentration camp) continues the endless, moronic traipse that is his dance, his feet retracing
the same listless steps as though he's crushing grapes.

Somewhere along the line, a distinction has to be made between the radically mindblowing, and the merely mindless. That's what the Mondays have degenerated into: a massive levelling down of consciousness, a bovine pleasure, pop music to masticate, like chewing gum or cud. Only the closing "Wrote For Luck" lives up to the hype: the tumultuous avalanche of cultural garbage that is the Mondays' sound suddenly escalates to 'white light white heat', and what we have is the "Sister Ray" of Acieeed. By the end, it's reached a transcendent plateau of sheer de-evolution, with Bez and the saucily attired backing singer rolling about like protozoan creatures in the primordial soup. But then it all fizzles out like a damp squib, with the Mondays snubbing the audience's calls for a
second encore, and punters exiting disgruntled.

So wherein lies the Happy Mondays' "significance"? They are significant,
but largely because they've been willed into a phenomenon, pushed from the hip by the Hip. There are other factors, of course: the perennial con of Manchester mystique, plus various sociological vectors. The Mondays have been proclaimed as the first, truly working class band to emerge since punk: real kids in possession of the truth that's "only known by guttersnipes". But it's closer to the truth to call them lumpen-proletarian pop. This was Marx's term for the underclass who've
lapsed from dignified labour into a lifestyle of shifty shiftlessness, petty crime, conniving, and other opportunistic means of survival. Not for nothing did Marx regard the lumpen-proletariat as a counter-revolutionary class, a sewer spawning illiberalism and sometimes support for tinpot dictators. Indeed, a crucial element of the Thatcher programme is the systematic debasement of the proletariat (bound together by solidarity and the discipline of labour) into a lumpen proletariat (indigent and faithless, except to kith'n'kin and mates).

Where Mark E. Smith's lyrics are oblique observations of Northern underclass grotesquerie, Shaun Ryder's drivel is more like the Id of the lumpen-proletariat speaking its bloody mind aloud: discredited knowledges, warped notions, bigotries and balderdash. This is fine up to a point, a sign of the times, a new thing in pop (the revenge of the plebeian upon pop's aristocratic pretensions). But when I listen to Happy Mondays now, I don't think otherworldly like I once did, I think: eating at the Golden Egg, acid casuals, terrace anthems, dog-fights and hunting rats with air rifles, Hofmeister, betting shops. Pickled herrings. Reality, for sure, nose hairs and all. But who needs it?


Friday, October 05, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #24]

PUBLIC ENEMY, Fear of A Black Planet
Melody Maker, 1990

by Simon Reynolds

Over the past three years, Public Enemy have made the single most concerted attempt to take rap's inchoate fury and sonic insurgency, and commandeer it for political ends. But there's only so far you can tamper with rap. The hip hop mindset is essentially paranoid: it flits between triumphalism and survivalism, invincibility and siege mentality. Public Enemy have successfully replaced rap's dictatorial "I" with the "we" of political discourse, but in the process they've collectivised rap's intrinsic paranoia. The result, we all know: delusions of grandeur and an
unsightly rash of conspiracy theories.

The first album rubbed our faces in some unpleasant racial truths about America. But by the time of It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, Public Enemy's subject matter seemed to have contracted to the shock waves generated by their impact. At this point, they were reminiscent of nothing so much as Morrissey in his late Smiths phase of paranoiac pseudo-statesmanship. Public Enemy just seemed to be announcing themselves over and over again, reiterating the urgency of their mission without explicating it further.

None of this would have mattered if they'd expanded on the musical avant-gardism of the first album. But the self-righteous self-referentiality seemed to have a deleterious effect on their sound, which ossified around the formula established by the brilliant "Rebel Without A Pause": a siren shriek of shrill, sampled sound, endlessly looped over a hyped-up R&B beat.

For a while, I thought they'd lost the plot completely. Then, the magnificently ominous "Welcome To The Terrordrome" restored faith. And the latest bout of furore over their alleged Anti-Semitism has made them a public phenomenon, worthy of the severest scrutiny.

The best way to understand Public Enemy is to realise that they're chaos theoreticians. Their loopy racial and historical theories may seem risible and offensive, but for Public Enemy they're steel handrails in the hour of chaos, a way of mapping the confusion of the contemporary political landscape and forcing it to make "sense". The plight of Black America demands simple, drastic explanations and simple, drastic solutions. It's this that makes Public Enemy more than a little fascistic (not to mention their partiality for paramilitary style, gestures, etc..)

Textually, Fear Of A Black Planet provides a fair amount of ammunition for the prosection. "Meet The G That Killed Me" sees Chuck D blaming AIDS on the "unnatural practices" of homosexuals. It's strange that for all their Afro-centrism, Public Enemy don't seem to be aware that in North Africa, AIDS is a heterosexual plague. But what's really exposed by lyrics like "man to man/I don't know if they can/From what I know/The parts don't fit" is a pathological fear of being penetrated and passive. This terror of the loss of male bodily integrity, plus the paradoxical combination of homophobia with homo-erotic male bonding, is something that rap shares with the military in general, and Fascism in particular.

But as well as "Meet The G", and other dodgy bits like the alledgedly Anti-Semitic lyric in "Terrordrome" concerning Chuck D's media crucifixion ("they got me like Jesus"), there's also a fair amount of acute finger-pointing. "911 Is A Joke" attacks the tardy response of hospitals and police to black emergency calls. "Burn Hollywood Burn" rages against the movie industry's presentation of only injuriously stereotypical images of blacks. And "Revolutionary Generation" is both a tirade against chauvinistic attitudes towards Black Women and a slightly dubious paean to the "sisters" ("it takes a man to make a stand/Understand it takes a/Woman to make a stronger man").

The lyrical bulk of Fear Of A Black Planet, though, consists of a livid, febrile jumble of self-aggrandisement ("Final Count Of The Collision Between Us And The Damned"), rallying cries, and turbid stream of consciousness. Fear Of A Black Planet shows that while Public Enemy on one level theorise as a bulwark against chaos, on another level their real forte is sculpting chaos. On Side A-90 in particular, Chuck D struggles to be heard through the clamour of garbled voices (excerpts from radio interviews with the group, political rhetoric, and random slices of uproar from funk records) and the blare of pulverised horn samples and shredded acid rock licks.

Fear Of A Black Planet is a work of unprecedented density for hip hop, its claustrophobic, backs-against-the- wall feel harking back to Sly Stone's There's A Riot Goin' On or even Miles Davis' On The Corner. For all its street-funk bustle, it's not joyous or liberating to listen to, but it does sustain a terrific pitch of stark, staring dread, something exacerbated by the lack of gaps between tracks.Particularly stunning are the eerie, futuristic "Pollywannacraka", with its backwards cymbals, and the evil-eyed funk of "Anti-Nigger Machine".

Side B-91 is more uptempo: "Who Stole The Soul", "Revolutionary Generation" and "Can't Do Nuthin For Ya Man" are propelled by much the same hyper-tense, hair-trigger beat, almost as fast as House. "War at 33-and-a-third" is another hectic trajectory, interrupted only by a "middle eight" that's a calamitous trough of free jazz bedlam and raised voices. And "Fight The Power" makes for a superb, clenched fist finale.

But overall, what we learn from Fear Of A Black Planet is not how singleminded Public Enemy are, but how fucking confused they are. Public Enemy are important, not because of the thoroughly dubious "answers" they propound in interview, but because of the angry questions that seethe in their music, in the very fabric of their sound; the bewilderment and rage that, in this case, have made for one hell of strong, scary album.
[Bring the Noise deleted scene #23]

Melody Maker, 1990

by Simon Reynolds

These are crazily racially mixed up times in the US of A. While politically and economically the plight of black people is much the same as ever, culturally African-Americans have never been more visible or audible. Oldtimer chatshow host and American icon Johnny Carson has been overtaken in the ratings by his younger, funkier and indelibly black rival Arsenio Hall. Hall has brought rap braggadochio and street slang into the living rooms of ordinary folks across Middle America. And he's not alone: there's ex-rapper the Young Fresh Prince's successful sitcom and the feisty black comedy show "In Living Colour". In pop, the wholesome MC Hammer has taken rap into the heart of teenage shopping mall culture. Then you've got the Caucasian parasites like Vanilla Ice and New Kids On The Block with their castrated version of rap menace.

The rap community is confused by its own overground success. Some applaud the likes of Hammer for representing the positive face of rap all the way to the Grammys; others bemoan the way the new media-friendly rap has distanced itself from street reality and become just another form of Uncle Tom entertainment for the white mainstream. In reaction, there's arisen a blacker-than-thou ethos in hip hop, whether it's the ultra-realism of ganster rappers (NWA, Geto Boys) or the righteous Afro-centrist groups (Brand Nubian, Poor Righteous Teachers).

And now, adding fuel to the flames, here's the provocatively named Young Black Teenagers, whose gimmick is that they're all white. "Black is a not a colour to us," they aver. "Blackness is a state of mind."

YBT are proteges of producer Hank Shocklee (reknowned along with his 'Bomb Squad' cohorts for sculpting Public Enemy's wall of noise). YBT's imminent debut album is also the debut LP for Shocklee's new label SOUL.

"We aint tryna say we're black," says Kamron (one of the group's three rappers) defensively. "Our song 'Proud To Be Black' is all about growing up in a black culture, then coming home and catching hell for being into black style and black slang."

Some would say that it's all very well aligning yourself with black culture, but you have a choice, black people don't. They'd say that there's a history of oppression behind 'black' identity that African-Americans live every minute of their lives, and it's presumptuous to imagine you can simply simply buy into that.

"We're not saying we're black," retorts Tommy Never (another rapper). "It's just that growing up the way we did, you develop a state of mind that's perceived by white people as 'black'. 'Black' relates to different people in different ways. So there's gonna be some clashes. We're not trying to tell anybody we're black, and we're not trying to tell anybody what 'black' means."

"We're members of a new race," continues Kamron. "A race without a colour. There's a lot of Hispanic and white kids growing up whose models and inspirations are from black culture. Rap is a whole culture that relates to the way you talk, the way you dress, the way you think, even the way you eat and hang out."

Those-in-the-know generally agree that you and 3rd Bass have an "authentic" and respectful relationship to rap, whereas Vanilla Ice is dissed as a phoney opportunist.

"There's a difference between capitalising on something, and doing it cos you're part of it. We're part of the rap culture. Vanilla Ice came up through commercial radio, we're coming from a street angle. We ain't nothing but another rap group."

Nonetheless YBT don't quite fit in the current rap scheme: they don't peddle a thug's eye view of ghetto hell, they're not post-daisy age peaceniks, and they're not into consciousness- raising "edutainment" either. Instead they talk of bringing back "the oldschool sound, the roots of rap that we grew up on but a lot of people today don't know about". Their two singles to date typify this oldschool style, with their raw, grainy sound and sleazy, faintly misogynistic subject matter. The debut, "Knowbody Knows Kelli" was inspired by Kelly Bundy, the slutty, air-headed teenager from the brilliant and hugely sucessful US sitcom "Married With Children". YBT's fantasy is that Kelly is a hooker being pimped by Bart Simpson. Their new single, "To My Donna", is a lewd invitation to Ms Ciccone "to come get it/it's heated". Yuk!

Kamron explains. "See, Madonna and Lenny Kravitz took a Public Enemy beat and turned it into 'Justify My Love'. Chuck D and Hank Shocklee were upset about it, and suggested to us that we write a answer record. They felt that it was their beat, and that they shoulda had credit for it. It wasn't a sampled beat, it was something they'd programmed. And all Madonna did was add some moans over the top. There's a difference between taking a small sample and switching it around until it's something original, and what Madonna and Kravitz did, which was just taking the beat outright. So what we're saying to Madonna is 'you want it, come get it, babeee'"
[Bring the Noise deleted scene #22]

METAL BREAKDOWN: The Funk-Metal phenomenon
20/20, 1990.

by Simon Reynolds

When it comes to the USA’s current birth explosion of funk-metal groups, all paternity suits should be filed with the Red Hot Chili Peppers: a “seminal” band in all senses of the word. Five years ago this Los Angeles group’s Freaky Styley LP coined a sound, an attitude and an onstage dementia that has since inspired an entire genre.

First there was Faith No More from Northern California, with their torrid, overwrought fusion of metal, rap and funk, and their morbid fixation on the darker side of life. Faith No More rapidly overtook the Chili Peppers, and last year cracked the MTV mainstream with their Top Ten hit “Epic”, an anthem-like encapsulation of their cartoon Nietzche world-view.

In 1990, the funk-metal floodgates opened. Most of the time, the names tell you everything you need to know: Psychofunkapus, Scatterbrain, Limbomaniacs, Mindfunk, Sprawl, Sweet Lizard Illtet, Moneyspank, Electric Boys, Spin Doctors. All these bands are loosely aligned to the P-funk creed originally formulated by George Clinton and Bootsy Collins (“a creative nuisance… the recognition of stupidity as a positive force”) as reactivated and reinterpreted by the Chili Peppers with their combination of zany antics, horny-like-a-mutha lyrics and elasticated funk-rock.

How is it that a generation of metalheads reared on Black Sabbath, Led Zep and Aerosmith have suddenly become turned on to Funkadelic, James Brown and Sly Stone? One reason for the shift towards funk was a reaction against the sterile impasse that metal had reached by the late Eighties. Heavy metal had undergone a striking regeneration during the Eighties, reforming its worst abuses and trimming off its flabby excesses. It even achieved a degree of raised consciousness with the apocalyptic protest of groups like Metallica and Anthrax.

But the thrash/speedmetal boom rapidly hit a dead end. With its high-velocity blur and self-flagellating S/M aesthetic, thrash was about as sexless and ungroovy as rock music can get. Light years from rock’s R&B roots, thrash was the ultimate Aryan sublimation of metal. It was almost inevitable there would be a call for a reinfusion of ‘blackness’, a return to syncopation. Even mainstream metal groups have been lubricating their sound with a bit of funk fluency (Poison’s “Unskinny Bop”, Extreme’s “Get the Funk out”).

Another factor was the influence of rap: hip hop has set the agenda for US pop in much the same way that house has completely overhauled British chart pop. In particular, it was Def Jam’s rap/metal phase (Run DMC, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J) that opened a lot of headbangers’ ears. Also part of the ‘crosstown traffic’ of the late Eighties was the rise of black rock. Groups like Living Colour, 24-7 Spyz and Fishbone, coming from the opposite direction, have run head-first into the funk-metallers.

This connects with another reason for the rise of funk-metal: musicians’ tendency to get bored easily. Mixing genres allows the muso to show off. Once upon a time, it was the blues solo that provided the pretext for exhibitionist feats of dexterity: with the funk-metallers, it’s slap bass. In both cases, white musicians colonized a style that its black originators had almost unanimously left for dead. Contemporary black dance (house, swingbeat, rap) is technophile, happy to engage with state-of-the-art equipment. Funk-metal generally displays a Luddite techno-fear, following the Chili Peppers’ “organic anti-beatbox” creed, which declares that audience pleasure is in direct ratio to the amount of flailing energy expended by the band.

Body-awareness is at the core of funk-metal. In part this is a reaction against the chaste, fleshless aura of most metal. Death metal, for instance, is carnographic rather than pornographic. Its histrionic crescendos are more nuclear detonations than orgasms. And partly it’s that George Clinton’s lewd and lubricious bad-ass persona somehow seems a more acceptable role model for the male libido than trad metal’s penile dementia.

But funk-metal comprehends a range of contradictory attitudes to the body. On one hand, there’s the West Coast’s health-and-efficiency eethos--muscle-bound athleticism and the hardcore punk philosophy of straight-edge (no drink or drugs). Sweet Lizard Illtet sing of positive energy, rail against “merry-go round thrills” and aspire to the “honest bodily togetherness” of Afro-American culture. Other groups aspire to the debauchery and excess of a different West Coast culture. There’s the apocalyptic aura of decadence entwined around Jane’s Addiction, whose art-rock inflected brand of heavy metal brilliantly melds influences from funk, dub reggae and Eastern music. Or there’s Moneyspank’s pagan/voodoo vibes and sex-and-death lyrics. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ career has included body worshipping (they invariably perform with their shirts off to showcase their muscled physiques) and desecrating their body-temples: guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a drug overdose, while singer Antwan aka Anthony Kiedis cleaned up his act and exchanged over-indulgence for New Age eco-platitudes.

All funk-metal groups agree that one form of self-abuse is still legitimate: moshing, stage-diving and other forms of lemming-like behaviour are de rigeur. Funk-metal gigs seethe with sweaty male bonding. This is the genre’s biggest defect--it’s a boy’s own affair. Not one of the score or more funk-metal bands includes a female musician. Admittedly, examples of outright sexism are surprisingly rare (one exception being Limbomaniacs whose Stinky Grooves LP includes songs like “Butt Funkin’” and “Porno”). But it’s also true that the represensation of sex in funk-metal is totally masculine--thrust-orientated, with no place for languor or tenderness. In many ways, it’s an aggregation of the most phallocratic tendencies in the white rock and black funk traditions: Rick James meets Robert Plant.

Still, funk-metal earns a Brownie point for its anti-racist tendencies. Implicit in the musical miscegenation, these are often explicitly articulated in lyrics and interviews. The Chili Peppers even started a fashion for songs about the plight of the Native American with their “American Ghost Dance”. That said, the pro-integration sentiments don’t seem to have had much effect on the racial composition of the audiences or indeed of the bands themselves, who remain almost exclusively “white dopes on funk”.