Saturday, April 26, 2008

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #74]

Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella)
Uncut, autumn 2005

by Simon Reynolds

Last year, Kanye West cut through rap’s standard-issue one-dimensional personae with some refreshing complexity. Neither “conscious” nor a bad-boy chasing bling and bitches, he was a little of both: a hungry soul (“Jesus Walks”) trapped in a body prey to venality (“All Falls Down”). Kanye can pull off the occasional highminded lyric without risking sanctimony, because he’s clearly the sort of preacher who gets caught with call-girls.

Late Registration’s core of mixed emotion clusters around four songs that deal with themes of worldly wealth versus gold-of-the-spirit. “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” starts where College Dropout finished (“Last Call”). It’s another paean to Roc-A-Fella, the label that signed West where other A&Rs scoffed at his deceptively sloppy flow. The giddy ascending chorus “forever ever ever EVER ever” pledges fealty to Jay-Z’s dynasty, which rescued him from the parlous times when “I couldn’t afford/A Ford Escort.” But when West chants “throw your diamonds in the air,” he’s not really showing off his new status symbols so much as his aesthetic riches, the genius-visionary’s “power to make a diamond with his bare hands.” The song lives up to this boast and then some. Nobody deploys vocal samples better than West, and here it’s Shirley Bassey’s “Diamonds Are Forever” that gets shook down for hidden hooks and latent meanings. The glittering production, laced with harpsichords and strings, matches the lines about “Vegas on acid/Seen through Yves St Laurent glasses”. But what about the title’s reference to “Sierra Leone”? That just got tacked on after the fact, to fit the video, an expose of child-slavery in African diamond mines, and has absolutely nowt to do with the lyrics!

It would have been cool if “Gold Digger” sampled “Goldfinger”. Instead, a Ray Charles loop powers this gritty groove, while (cute touch) Jamie Foxx kicks it off with a faux-blues whinge about a “triflin’ bitch” who sucks up his money and weed. West wryly observes “I ain’t saying she’s a gold digger/But she aint’ messin’ with no broke niggas!” “Addicted” offers a far fresher angle on exploitative heterosex. “Why everything that’s supposed to be bad/Make me feel so good?” ponders West, before launching into a rueful account of a mutually degrading affair that interwines sex and drugs. The admission “and I keep coming over” is shivered with a hiccup of pained ecstasy, hinting at the double meaning of “come”. The song’s exquisite arrangement lends poignancy to this tale of male weakness and shame: a glisten of Amnesiac guitar, filtered hi-hats, a sampled chanteuse crooning “you make me smile with my heart” (a line from “My Funny Valentine”). “Crack Music” disconcertingly equates the analgesic powers of drugs and music, with Kanye and The Game chanting the chorus--“That’s that crack music, nigga/That real black music, nigga”--over an impossibly crisp military beat. If Black Americans traffic in the best pain-killers around, the song implies, it’s because Black America has the most pain to kill.

It could be that Kanye West’s “honest confusion” anti-stance will become its own kind of shtick eventually. But judging by the mostly-brilliant Late Registration that won’t be happening for a while yet. He might even make it unscathed to the end of the quintology of conceptually-linked albums of which this album is merely instalment #2.
[Bring the Noise deleted scene #72]

Home Sweet Home
Uncut, late summer 2005

by Simon Reynolds

Grime has reached a crossroads. Everyone agrees that this is the year it’s going to blow, but nobody knows for sure how to make that happen. One strategy is for grime to simply be its in-yer-face self. Another involves toning it down just a tad. This is what Kano, one of the scene’s top MCs, does on his long-awaited debut: downplay’s grime’s adrenalin-jolting, abrasively avant-garde aspects in favour of midtempo grooves and listener-friendly gloss. In Kano’s case, though, this shift suits the exquisite poise and panache of his delivery. Unlike the aggy bluster of most grime MCs, it’s easy to imagine him winning over Jay-Z fans with the slick sinuousness of lines like “I’m trying to perfect my flow/So my dough grows loads/Like Pinocchio’s nose.”

Kano understands that uncut grime can get wearing over the length of an album. So he and his handlers’ solution is to pull together a well-sequenced smorgasbord of faintly calculated versatility, ranging from turgid metal (“Typical Me”) to the deliciously frivolous “Remember Me”, a samba novelty similar to Roll Deep’s hilarious “Shake A Leg”. Ripping the monster riff and drum rolls from Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and adding scratching and cowbell, “I Don’t Know Why” comes off as an awesome Def Jam tribute, right down to the nasal, Beasties-like tang to Kano’s vocal. “Signs in Life,” meanwhile, offers stirring orchestration and semi-conscious lyrics about maintaining a steady course despite the slings and arrows.

Unsurprisingly, the most exciting cuts on the record are the grimiest. The fogeyish (for a 19 year old!) whinge “Nobody Don’t Dance No More” cuts from sexy, swingin’
2step to bombastic, ungroovy grime to illustrate how kids today nod their heads to the MC’s words rather than shake booty to the DJ’s beats. Equally scene-reflexive, “Reload It” in contrast celebrates the MC’s ascent to supremacy, noting how crowds today demand that DJs rewind a track to hear favorite rhymes, as opposed to the tune's breakdown or intro. Pivoting around a phased riff and live-sounding drums that recall the Experience’s Mitch Mitchell as much as peak-era jungle, “Reload It” is a pure rush of energy and euphoria.

Yet the best track on Home turns out to be the most subdued one. “Sometimes” compellingly captures a moment of precariousness and self-doubt in the young MC’s upward arc. “I know I’ve got far/Is it too far to turn back?” he muses over a sad-eyed glide of synth-and-violin. Poised in limbo between the fickle streets and a potentially unswayed mainstream, Kano’s reverie serves as a poignant allegory for grime’s own crossover dilemma.


The grime cliché is the ravenously hungry MC for whom music is the only escape route from ghetto life. But it seems like you were spoiled for choice, with career opportunities ranging from university to professional football. In “9 to 5” you rap about not letting “my laziness ruin” your MC prospects like it did with soccer.

“I used to play for Norwich, the schoolboys team. But it was far away and I was quite young, to be doing all that travel. I wasn’t feeling it. So that faded out. It wasn’t a conscious choice between football and music, though, it was like different stages of my life.”

Exemplifed by the classic early single “Boys Love Girls,” a bonus track on the album, your songs have a rather cold-hearted attitude to romance. Even on the rhythm-and-grime track “Brown Eyes,” you’re besotted, but the chorus still insists “I don’t want to fall in love”.

“I ain’t really a romantic person. I’ve had experience with girls, but not that much experience with relationships. My view on them is that I don’t really want to get involved. ”
[Bring the Noise deleted scene #71]

Against All Oddz
Observer Music Monthly, July 17, 2005

by Simon Reynolds

Lethal Bizzle has the distinction of scoring grime’s two biggest hits. Last Christmas, his solo debut “Pow” peaked just outside the Top 10, but two years earlier Bizzle and his group More Fire did even better with the number eight smash “Oi!”. In between these highs, though, came an ego-crushing career crash: More Fire’s album totally flopped. Bizzle’s response was impressive: he gradually clawed his way back, rebuilding his street rep with implacable determination and hard graft.

Hardly surprising, then, that keynotes of defiance and vindication are sounded repeatedly on this album, over adrenalin-pumping carousel-like grooves modeled on “Pow”, such as the mad-catchy “Uh Oh (I’m Back)!”. You can forgive Bizzle for gloating just a bit, as he does on “Hitman” and “The Truth,” the latter jousting with rival crew Roll Deep, pointing to the poor sales of Wiley’s own solo album and advising Riko that “there’s plenty of nine-to-fives out there”. But by far the best thing here stems from the Bizzle’s long dark night of the soul after More Fire were dropped by their label. Closer to spoken word than rap, the title track has the MC describing feeling like he was “finished, no one” over a haunting mid-tempo synth-strumental (originally titled “Funeral Vibez” and built by guest producer Plasticman).

What’s unsettling about “Against All Oddz” is how Bizzle seems just as
headfucked by his career resurrection, by the phone that won’t stop ringing and the “Beyonce look-alikes” looking to bed him. “When you’re hype everyone cares,” he intones mournfully. “But leave me alone… This world is so strange.”

Ice T once declared “don’t hate the player, hate the game.” On “Against All Oddz” Bizzle almost sees right through the game, apprehending the hollowness of triumph within a system (hip hop, a/k/a capitalism) where winners take all, but most will be losers.
[Bring the Noise deleted scene #69]

Risky Roadz: Volume 1--Tha Roadz Are Real
Run the Road
director's cut Village Voice, April 12th, 2005

By Simon Reynolds

I’ll cut to the chase: if you can’t find anything to like on Run the Road, you might as well give up on grime. Listen to the five best tracks--Terror Danjah’s “Cock Back,” Riko & Target’s “Chosen One,” Jammer’s “Destruction,” Lady Sovereign’s “Cha Ching,” Shystie’s “One Wish”--and if you still feel a bit shruggy, well, strike the genre off your list, ‘cos that’s as good as grime gets.

I’d be perplexed and disappointed if you did, admittedly. Surely there’s something for everybody here? You want to feel the same dark rush that “Bodies” by the Sex Pistols gave you? Just listen to the six opening bars of D Double E’s “performance” on “Destruction”--vomitous, a self-exorcism, he sounds barely human. Conversely, if you’re jonesing for nursery rhyme tunefulness, there’s pasty-faced Lady Sovereign’s delicious faux-patois. Grime can do quasi-orchestral grandeur (swoon to Target’s “Chosen One” and Terror Danjah’s “One Wish” remix) as superbly as Anglo-gangsta (check Bruza’s astonishing 27 seconds on “Cock Back,” equal parts Jadakiss and Bob Hoskyns in The Long Good Friday). But what pushes Run into the first-class compilation zone is the second-tier tracks: Durrty Goodz’s double-time and ravenous “Gimmie Dat,” EARS’ plaintive elegy for lost innocence “Happy Days”… Indeed there’s only a couple of outright duds.

Grime sometimes gets treated as merely “the latest fad” from the trendhoppy U.K. But the grander movement of which it’s an extension/mutation--London pirate radio culture--has been going on since circa 1991, if not earlier. From hardcore rave to jungle to garage to grime, underlying every phase-shift there’s an abiding infrastructure based around pirate radio stations, dubplates, and white labels sold direct to specialist stores. The core sonic principles are also enduring: beat-science seeking the intersection between “fucked up” and “groovy,” dark bass-pressure, MCs chatting fast, samples and arrangement ideas inspired by pulp soundtracks. The b.p.m. have oscillated wildly, the emphasis on particular elements goes through changes, but in a deep, real sense this is the same music. You could even see it as a conservative culture, except that the underlying article of faith is “keep moving forward.”

One of the few recent innovatons in the scene’s means of production & distribution has been the vogue for DVDS (which Americans can mail order from companies like Independance. This syndrome seems symptomatic of grime’s impatience for fame. Tired of waiting for the TV crews to arrive, they decided to do-it-themselves. Typically consisting of promos, live footage, interviews and quasi-documentary material, the production values lean toward cruddy. Nonetheless, these DVDs are fascinating capsules of subculture-in-the-raw. For American grime fans just seeing where their heroes actually live--projects a/k/a council estates in low-rent areas like Peckham and Wood Green--ought to be revelatory. Some of the videos in Risky Roadz are shot on the concrete pedestrian bridges connecting different blocks of flats. Compared to American rap promos, the grime efforts, with their ultra-amateurish camerawork and "choreography", look positively third-world.

In Risky Roadz, Dizzee Rascal is interviewed on an actual road--Roman Road, to be precise, a crucial thoroughfare in grime’s topography, home to legendary record store Rhythm Division. Dizzee offers sage advice to aspiring MCs: “Do you. Do you well.” Another interview is with Riko--a future star, everyone agrees, so long as he can stay out of jail. “I want to get my zeros,” says Riko hungrily, talking of his immediate plans (to get signed). When the subject of mic’ battles and MC feuds comes up, he fires off the usual threats to anyone stepping forward to test, then checks himself: “I don’t mean ‘shot’, I mean lyrically shot.” Looking at Riko standing there, you might well think: “here’s someone with the charisma-glow, the sheer physical beauty, and--‘cos these things count, for better or worse--the bad boy back-story, to be, ooh, as big as DMX.” It’s quite likely that’ll he’ll remain just a local legend. The excitement of this moment in grime’s rise is that the latter, lesser outcome doesn’t feel inevitable.
[Bring the Noise deleted scene #68]

Run the Road
director's cut, Observer Music Monthly, November 14, 2004

by Simon Reynolds

Grime is our hip hop, the final coming of a Britrap that’s not merely a pale reflection of the original. Instead it’s a wonky, hall-of-mirrors reflection. To American ears reared on “the real thing”, grime sounds disconcertingly not-right--the halting, blurting MC cadences don’t flow, the gap-toothed, asymmetric grooves seem half-finished and defective.

Something of grime’s skewiff quality is captured in the title of this compilation. “Road” is grime-speak for “street”. On “Destruction VIP,” one of the killer tracks here, Kano proclaims “from lamp post to lamp post/We run the road”.The intent is gangsta menace, an assertion of territorial might, but perhaps even to English ears, the quaint phrasing makes the boast fall a little short. American rap fans would most likely crack up on hearing the line. No wonder Grime’s modest fanbase in the United States consists almost entirely of white Anglophile hipsters.

If Grime doesn’t have a hope in hell with American’s hip hop heartland, it can console itself with the knowledge that right now it’s got the edge over “the real thing”. The records sound cheap’n’nasty next to US rap’s glossy production values, but Grime’s way with rhythm and sound is far more jaggedly futuristic. More crucially, Grime has a feeling of desperation that American hip hop has largely lost. Individual rappers may still follow rags-to-riches trajectories, but as a collective enterprise, hip hop has won. It dominates pop culture globally. The music oozes a sense of entitlement, something you can also see in that lordly look of blasé disdain that’s de rigeur in rap videos nowadays. In America, rising MCs rhyme about the luxury goods and opulent lifestyle they don’t yet have because it’s also so much more plausible, within reach. The path is well-trodden--not just selling millions of records, but diversifying into movies, starting their own clothing lines, bringing their neighbourhood crew up with them once they’ve made it.

As a sound, Grime is still very much an underdog, and so its fantasies of triumph and living large are much more precarious, and affecting. There’s a definite ceiling to how much money can be made on the underground scene. Selling 500 singles is a good result, shifting a thousand is a wild success, and even hawking your white labels direct to London’s specialist stores with a huge mark-up won’t generate that much cash. At the same time, nobody in Grime, not even Dizzee, has really mapped out a crossover career path yet. Indeed, making that transition from pirate radio to Top of the Pops is risky. Take So Solid Crew, who got to #1 with “21 Seconds” a few years back. Their second album flopped and their rep on the street (or should I say "road"?) is now non-existent.

You can hear all this in the music, in those pinched, scrawny voices--the sound of energy squeezing itself through the tiniest aperture of opportunity and grabbing for a chance that most likely will prove to be a mirage. All of the guys (plus occasional gal) on Run The Road already feel like legends in their own minds. Standout track “Chosen One” by Riko & Target distils that sense of destiny and destination. Over sampled movie-soundtrack strings that evoke a kind of stunted majesty, Riko imagines himself as a star on satellite TV, then offers counsel that applies equally to other aspiring MCs and to everyday street soldiers dealing with adversity: “Stay calm/Don’t switch/Use composure, blood/Use your head to battle through, ca’ you are the chosen one.”

American rappers, once they’ve made it, can sound like bullies and tyrants when they reel out the same old lyrical scenarios: humiliating haters, discarding women like used condoms. From Grime MCs, the endless threats and boasts, the big-pimpin' postures, somehow seem more forgivable. When Grime MCs batter rivals real and imaginary, they’re really battening down their own self-doubt, chasing away the spectre of failure and anonymity with each verbal blow. Sure, the misogyny and gun talk can be hard to stomach. “Cock Back,” one of 2004’s biggest grime anthems, is a Terror Danjah riddim constructed from the click and crunch of small arms being cocked. Over this bloodcurdling beat, D Double E spits couplets like “Think you’re a big boy ‘cos you go gym?/Bullets will cave your whole face in.” Outnumbered twenty to one, the female MCs give as good as their gender usually gets. No Lay, on “Unorthodox Daughter”, promises to “put you in BUPA” and warns “soundboy I can have your guts for garters/turn this place into a lyrical slaughter”.

Probably the best grime collection yet, Run The Road is also touted as the genre’s first major label compilation. Actually, a Warners sub-label released one in 2002, Crews Control. But its contents were more like proto-grime, the beats mostly 2step and UK garage, and the vibe far more playful and genial, courtesy of now almost forgotten crews like Heartless and Genius. Their brand of boisterous bonhomie and quirky humour is in short supply on Run The Road. One exception: Lady Sovereign’s “Cha Ching”, on which the squeaky-voiced “white midget” announces “It’s Ms Sovereign, the titchy t’ing/Me nah have fifty rings/but I’ve got fifty things/To say/In a cheeky kind of way/Okay?”

Bruza sounds comic, injecting the Cockney into “Cock Back” with his lurching, Arthur Mullard-like delivery and lines like “you’ll be left in ruins for your wrong-doings”. But content-wise, he’s “brutal and British”, reeling off the usual list of inventively gory acts of revenge. Run The Road 's brand of laughter is strictly the gloating, vindictive kind. Hence the eerie digital cackle, like an evil, leering cyber-goblin, used by Terror Danjah as a motif on all his productions (on this comp, “Cock Back” and Shystie’s “One Wish”). Compared to even a few years ago, Grime seems like it has less scope for goofing about now. There’s a deadly seriousness in the air, possibly influenced by the sense that there’s more at stake--a real chance of making it, now the majors are cautiously sniffing around and signing up MCs like Kano.

If Grime ever does makes it, collectively--achieving the sort of dominance that American rap enjoys--these last three years of the genre’s emergence will be looked back on as the golden age, the old skool. Make no mistake, the MCs on this compilation-- Kano, D Double E, Riko, Sovereign, Dizzee, Wiley--are our equivalents to Rakim, Chuck D, Ice Cube, Nas, Jay-Z. To twist slightly the words of another rapper from that American pantheon, Notorious BIG: if you (still) don’t know, get to know.
[Bring the Noise deleted scene #67]

Bush Meat
Village Voice, July 6th, 2004

by Simon Reynolds

For years the pathos of Brit-rap as a pale and slightly off reflection of the Real Thing was summed up in the name Derek B. He was pretty good, actually. But in the gladiatorial realpolitik of rap more than anywhere, "pretty good" don't cut it. All through the '90s, at regular intervals, you'd hear the cry go up: "British hip-hop finally comes good with ____." But to be honest, none of the names that've filled the blank ever got further than Derek-level decency. Which is why you never hear your Mike Skinners and Dizzee Rascals name-dropping Gunshot or Ruthless Rap Assassins or the Brotherhood; no, it's always Nas or Raekwon or Ludacris they cite. And that's not inverted patriotism, not really—-that's just genius responding to genius.

In recent years, the most convincing case for British hip-hop (not counting grime, which is really a totally different animal: nowt to do with UKrap, it evolved out of dancehall via rave's shouty MC'ing) has been mounted by London's Big Dada, the sister label to rap-less trip-hop imprint Ninja Tune. The British backpacker scene is even more insufferable and self-stifled-by-cool than its American undie-hop counterpart. But as heard on their excellent 2002 comp Extra Yard, Big Dada's acts (Ty, Gamma, Roots Manuva) injected some real and long-overdue rudeness into the U.K. sound—albeit mostly production-wise, as U.K. MCs on the whole tend to remain low-key. All that changes with Infinite Livez, who dominates his own records in a way few non-grime Brit MCs do.

The first thing that distinguishes Livez is his in-yer-face voice (or voices—he has several comic alter egos, some of them quite Monty Python–esque). He saunters through the tracks of his debut album, Bush Meat, with a sort of loutish elegance. One of his trademarks is extending the last syllable of a line into a great bleary smear midway between yawn and yowl, insolently slackjawed and somehow saucy. This man is larger than life; his imagination's equally outsize. Standout track "The Adventures of the Lactating Man" puts a whole new twist on "flow." After squirting his girlfriend in the eye when she's fondling his nipples, Livez visits his doctor. But when the nurse tries to take a specimen (expertly—"she was twiddling my nipple like my radio dial") the man-milk just won't stop gushing. The population has to stay "afloat in boats" as the entire U.K. gets inundated "with fresh milk well pasteurized" (past your eyes, geddit?). Livez's languid lasciviousness as he raps about girls "making me feel all frisky" by "chewing on my tit like it's made of Wrigley," and his delirious moans of "bit more . . . oooooooh . . . little bit more" as the "white gravy" gloops out introduce a Princely polymorphous perversity I've never heard in hip-hop before, apart from maybe OutKast. (Who might be a reference point, or even influence, although former art student Livez's favorite André is actually Breton).

Like a rapping Rabelais, or Bataille with a beat, Livez's mind's eye is magnetized by that ripe zone where the appetites (erotic, gastronomic) intersect with animalism and scatology. "White Wee Wee" is a moist miasma of sex-as-food and lovers-as-beasts metaphors ("ejaculate honey for you," "my snout in your wet wound") while the skit-ish interlude "Brown Nosh" features Bouncement Queen demanding a rim job as her fee for appearing on the album. "Worcestershire Sauce" redefines flava in terms of U.K. potato chips (or, to put it proper, crisps, which come in exotic flavors like "ready salted," "cheese & onion," et al.). And "Drilla Ape" tells the story of a man cheating on his partner with a primate.

The music, mostly produced by people from Livez's crew, Shadowless, totally fits the lyrics. It's a bit like "Atomic Dog" if produced by Rembrandt Pussy Horse–era Butthole Surfers: bulging and Bootsy-elasticated, hyper-gloss cartoony (Livez did a comic book called Globulicious and used to design Game Boy graphics), wriggly with funkadelic detail. The Afro-future funk of "Claati Bros" (lyrically a droll if slightly opaque spoof on Brit Art, painters daubing canvases with elephant doo-doo, etc.) might be Groove of the Year; like "White Wee Wee," it's slinky yet ruff. And some of the best bits are the interludes—for instance, the Animal Collective–weird romp of "The Forest Spirit Sings the Bush Meat Song."

Only toward the end does Livez's shtick gets a little fatigued—"Pononee Girl," from its punany pun on down, belabors a not hugely amusing sex-as-horse-riding metaphor. But then Bush Meat rallies with the brilliant "Last Nite." Over an apprehensive xylo-bass riff, Livez unfurls a panic-attack panorama of bad stuff, the mindscreen of a man unable to stop contemplating all the sadness and terrible goings-on in the world: stillborn babies, abused wives, teenagers scarred by a face full of shrapnel, murders in forest clearings, a Massai warrior losing all of his cattle. The chorus, nicked from Indeep's hymn to life-saving deejays, goes, "Last night I nearly took my life."

Honestly, I'd be surprised if a better rap album is released this year, from anywhere.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #65]

Blissblog, March 17, 2004

by Simon Reynolds

... On ILM I said rather metaphysically that dance isn’t generating anthems cos a culture in retreat isn’t going to have much call for rallying cries. The real explanation, though, is more prosaic. The kind of music being made now is made by and made for people who have been in this for a while; they’ve grown with the music, they don’t want to hear crass riffs and obvious hooks. Microhouse, especially, strikes me as music for seasoned sensibilities, sophisticates.

But new recruits get pulled in by the most accessible hooky stuff. I just can’t see it as a music that is going to pull in that many new people. It’s not fierce or full-on enough. Some of the riff-patterns in Michael Mayer’s set at Volume last week verged on the imperceptible to be frank, minute fluctuations of texture. Well they don’t call it ‘micro’ for nothing. I think you can see this de-cheesing tendency across the genrescape. And of course that becomes a self-perpetuating cycle, the neophytes arrive in steadily diminishing numbers, leaving the connoisseurs in an ever increasing majority.


A culture in retreat. Well, I promised a fanciful and involved theory last week, so here goes. You know how certain rock bands get “destroyed” by their failure to conquer America--it’s their last chance to really make some money, to pay off their record company debts. A certain Liverpool band had to break America to pay for its cocaine requirements and made a fatally compromised album that lost them their fanbase. Another Liverpool band tried repeatedly to break America and broke up over 1 million pounds in debt, despite selling millions of copies elsewhere in the world over the years. Anyway, pondering the meaning of the word ‘retreat’, it occurred to me that Electronica’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to conquer America was a bit like the Nazi invasion of Soviet Union--a fatal act of hubris. In some weird way I think that was the beginning of the collapse.

The Nazis did real well at first, drove deep into Russia (this would be Prodigy, the Chemicals, Underworld in '97). But the supply lines got too long, there was a punishing winter, and then Stalingrad--in this schema, the failed campaign for Fatboy Slim’s You’ve Come A Long Way Baby. I would single out Spike Jonz and his fucking terrible video for “Praise You” as the turning point. (Get Joy on this subject and you will hear a rant, she loves that song, and Jonz just made a joke out of what could have been a glorious redemptive anthem, a ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ or ‘Beautiful Day’ if done right). Oh Fatboy did alright what with the songs in movies and on TV commercials, but in the deepest and realest sense he lost: he never became a household name or star, not even on the Moby level. Astralwerks now is like some Wehrmacht division stranded and surrounded in the Ukraine: you can only stave off the inevitable for so long.

The last gasp for Anglo-Euro-tronica, that would be Daft Punk. The Battle of the Bulge, in my schemata. D Day had happened, but the Germans unexpectly pushed back and looked like they might drive the Allies back to Normandy and another Dunkirk. They’d never win the war but they could dream of fighting on, forever. If the WW2 film I dimly recall from boyhood corresponds to historical reality at all, then the Wehrmatcht were so short of fuel their first goal was to capture the Allied gas depots, while all along their advance back into French territory they had to siphon fuel from the tanks of abandoned Allied trucks and armored vehicles. That’s Daft Punk, siphoning from America’s FM rock radio memory-banks in the hopes of infiltrating some house music into the US pop mainstream. Brave try, not a hope in hell. The writing was on the wall.

In WW2, the Soviet Union engaged something like 70 percent of Axis troops and suffered the most casualties, 20 million, something like 30 or 40 times the Allied losses. Okay, then, in my strained and deranged analogy, who’s the Red Army? Black American music. Hip hop and R&B. Between ‘91 and ’97, I really thought us Brits (and some of you EC lot) gave hip hop a good run for its money. We were more sonically advanced, and the whole rave thing mattered almost as much. It was a close as we were going to get to something as important and life-forceful as rap.

But around ’97, just as we started to flag, hip hop and R&B just surged forward again. I'm talking about the commercial mainstream street stuff of course. By and large, since then it has simply been better than electronic dance music
--better on every level -- just as, and probably more, inventive sonically, and it had personality, and an indelible, perennial connection to real-world stuff. How could trance, or nu skool breaks, or whatever you want to come up with, compete? That’s why even if Basement Jaxx could make the most fantastically excitement-crammed records of their genus ever (and they have, several times now, or so some claim), in America they’ll always sell less than, oh I dunno, Juvenile’s fifth, inspiration-sapped album, or Nelly’s nephew. As for poor old Armand Van Helden… he knows the score.

The exceptions? Well 2step and Grime are nothing if not attempts to keep up with and assimilate the innovations of Black America. Plus you could see the London pirate continuum as Britain's own little internal Red Army of a black population--the equivalent of Tito’s partisans, perhaps.

(Jamaica? The People’s Republic of China).

Yeah, the Red Army, that’s what Black America is. You cannot stop them. I vaguely recall Julie Burchill in her Stalin-groupie mode going on about the Russian masses, the unstoppable force of "that deep moral fibre". Moral fibre's not exactly the word that springs to me when you think of rap but this is pop music so the values are inverted: in these terms, thing of whatever the energy is that makes Bling or Crunk. English people had to neck loads of E and other mindbending substances for ten straight years just to have the same kind of life-force that Black Americans generate just through living in America and dealing with all the shit they have to deal with!

Okay, then, who’s Stalin? Timbaland, obviously. I never want to read another word about him (give it a rest Sasha!) but he’s pretty much the One who turned everything around in ’97. Interestingly he did it by being almost as good at being a Nazi (electronica, remember = Axis powers) as the Nazis were. He may even have ripped a few ideas off "us" (still not convinced by the he-got-it-all-from-dancehall argument, just don’t hear it to be honest). Jungle never happened in America. Except it did: that was “Get UR Rinse On”-- sorry, “Get UR Freak On.”