Friday, September 29, 2006

Ultra Vivien Scene

While we're on about posh post-punk birds slumming it(see below), Vivien Goldman deserves an honourable mention. Her recent book on the making of Bob Marley's Exodus has assured her position as the toast of New York, but those of you with long memories (or a subscription to Rock's Back Pages in my case) will be aware of her many years at the coalface on the NME, interviewing the cream of the post-punk demi-monde.

Her mention in Irk The Purists, however, is entirely due to her sole attempt at a musical career, the single Launderette/Private Armies. Like Maximum Joy, below, this was recorded in that fertile period when punk had exhausted its possibilities and was starting to look elsewhere for inspiration; though unlike Maximum Joy, who incorporated elements of the nascent rap scene, Ms. Goldman and her cohorts looked slightly less further afield. To West London to be precise: Ladbroke Grove. The A side, Launderette, was recorded under the auspices of PiL, using down-time from their recording of Flowers of Romance at The Manor in Oxford; John Lydon receives an executive producer's credit, though his participation was apparently zero. Instead the donkey work fell to PiL guitarist Keith Levene, who marshalled the combined forces of George Oban of Aswad (bass), Vicky Aspinall of The Raincoats (violin) and Robert Wyatt (!) on percussion. Private Armies, meanwhile, was produced by Adrian "On-U" Sherwood and features Oban, Levene and Aspinall along with Steve Beresford (a dub mix of Private Armies appears on the New Age Steppers 1st LP). Released on a small indie label (Window) here in the UK, it caught the attention of Ed Bahlman in NYC, who released it on his 99 Records imprint Stateside; see Maximum Joy, below, again.

And this turned out to be Vivien's sole foray into the recording studio. A shame, as I think her voice is pretty unique, and the songs themselves are especially strong, showcasing Vivien's twin obesessions of punk and reggae. Of course, others were mixing punk and reggae at around the same time, notably Don Letts with the aforementioned Levene and Jah Wobble, in Steel Leg vs. Electric Dread. The latter, though, never sounds quite as good as it should considering the talent involved. Launderette delivers on all fronts though. Vivien is perfectly placed, given her connections with Jamaica and West London, and the song sounds exactly as good as it should, Oban's dubby bass anchoring the whole thing while Vicky Aspinall's violin and Robert Wyatt's percussion seem like they were beamed it from another planet. Best of all, though are Vivien's vocals, a mixture of resignation, affection and admonishment ("You always were untidy..." she reflects wistfully, almost fondly), and Levene's production which leaves exactly enough space to appreciate the song's different elements. The B-side is every bit as good as you'd expect from early period Adrian Sherwood, especially the parts where he double-tracks her voice. The best bit, though, is when she says "If the heavy metal boys or the boys in blue..."; at a time when so many singers were hiding their upbringing (trying to pretend they were"street"...cough..Strummer..cough) and would have introduced a glottal stop into "metal", Ms. Goldman shows off her posh Golders Green background. Truly, "keeping it real" in the very best sense.

Download Launderette

Download Private Armies (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Clever Trevor

I'm in shock. No, not Zandra Rhodes' appearance on The Archers. The sad news that reached me today: Output Recordings is throwing in the towel. Why do my favourite record labels keep crapping out on me? Just as Mike D did with Grand Royal at the end of the 20th century, its owner (Trevor "Action" Jackson) has pulled the plug on Output after many years of setting the musical agenda, and when it was seemingly on the brink of attaining mainstream success. What will happen to artists like Colder, Five Mic Cluster and Mu remains to be seen.

Though it was loved by Hoxton fashionistas, and seemingly soundtracked every style bar in EC2 and N1, Output's appeal was international in scope, taking in artists such as the aforementioned Colder (from France), Dead Combo (Finland), and Von Spar (Germany). It was equally adept at digging out forgotten artists (Yello, Pankow) and re-releasing their more obscure recordings as it was at foregrounding new talent like Circlesquare and Tall Blonde.

The reasons for its demise aren't totally clear, though Trevor hints at squabbles with artists, money problems and disillusionment with the industry in a statement released to Pitchfork. One silver lining to this particular cloud is that Jackson will release the final tracks recorded for Output as free MP3s at the label's webpage for one month from Oct 1st.

Like Factory (whom Trevor acknowledged many times), Crepuscule, and Blue Note, the packaging of Output's, ahem, output usually matched the quality of the music it contained. In fact, graphic design was Jackson's bread and butter; he reportedly never made a penny from Output, relying instead on money made from design work for BMW, Mambo and sundry record labels, as well as from his DJing and production work (check out Trevor's personal page below, and click on the "portfolio" link).

So what of the music, then? While mainly trading in whip-smart electro and dirty funk, Jackson had an eclectic enough ear not to simply sign up dance music's usual supects. The Playgroup album that Output released is a good example of this. Though few eyebrows will be raised at the inclusion of Peaches as one of the album's special guests, purists might well baulk at the appearance of Roddy Frame, Edwyn Collins, Happy Mondays' Rowetta, Blurt's Ted Milton, Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna, Shinehead, Davy DMX, Dennis Bovell and KC Flightt, all of whom contributed to the disc, though sadly not all on the same track. The album's samples, too, came from unusual sources, including Paul Haig, possibly a first for Paul.

A couple of tasters of the label's musical policy appear below. Gramme's post-punk funk appeared in 1999, pre-dating Simon Reynolds et al by a good four years, Ruede Hagelstein's Sweaty Balls deserves a mention for the title alone, Rekindle's Ice Skating Girl seemingly samples New Order's Temptation, and Playgroup's Too Much is sonic alchemy using two parts Songs To Remember to one part Duck Rock.

Download Gramme Like You

Download Ruede Hagelstein Sweaty Balls

Download Rekindle Ice Skating Girl (Linus Loves mix)

Download Playgroup Too Much

Download Playgroup Number One (Black Strobe mix) (sorry--all deleted Feb 2007!)

Buy Output's remaining stock at half price here

Hugs From The Honeys Output tribute

TAPE's blog on Output

Trevor Jackson personal page

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Knack...And How To Get It

Apparently The Knack are suing Run DMC over their using the breakbeat* of My Sharona for their tune entitled It's Tricky. It's Tricky was on the Run DMC album Raising Hell. Raising Hell was released in 1986. What exactly have The Knack been doing for 20 years? Have they only just noticed? Am I missing something here? Isn't there a statute of limitations on these things? And will Bob James be suing for their use of his Take Me To The Mardi Gras on the same album?

* n.b. not a sample, as most commentators have it. Jam Master Jay didn't need to use a sampler.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Life's a Scream

The lovely Kelis, bless her, has recently been claiming that she was the "first girl to scream on a track." We'll let her off, partly because of her rainbow wig, and partly because, being so young, she clearly thinks musical history began in 1997. But someone really should point her in the direction of The Slits. Or Crass's Eve Libertine, whose righteous anger made Kelis sound like someone upset over stubbing their toe. Or, for that matter, Janine Rainforth of Maximum Joy.

Formed from the ashes of The Pop Group, Maximum Joy caught that moment (circa 1980) when white post-punk was starting to look across the Atlantic for inspiration, and to incorporate funk, reggae and jazz into its sonic vocabulary. Indeed, they were so successful in this regard that they attracted the attention of Ed Bahlman's 99 Records, home of Liquid Liquid, ESG and the Bush Tetras. Always slightly overlooked whenever the story of Bristol is being told, they were as much a link between the Pop Group and Massive Attack as Pigbag and Rip Rig and Panic, but are only now being given their rightful place in history, thanks to a recent round-up of their output on Crippled Dick Hot Wax (those wacky Germans!). Stretch, their first single, available below, formed a sort of template for their output over the next three years, though they'd later incorporate more dub elements and a jazzier sound. Ignore the truly mediocre attempts at rapping on the track (again, we can let them off; it was 1981). Instead enjoy the sound of Thatcher's Britain meeting the streets of NYC, and of a posh bird going mental at the discotheque. Eat your heart out, Kelis.

Download Stretch (Disco Rap Mix) (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Visit The Dug Out

Buy Maximum Joy

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Apparently, the servers are now back up, and all tunes are back online...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Apparently, my file servers are down for maintenance and all MP3s are unavailable to download for a short while. Normal service will be resumed asap! In the meantime, I'm loving YouTube's new video-viewing interface; a big improvement on the previous version. Here are some current favourites.

Howling Bells-Setting Sun

Rakim at the Lyricists Lounge NYC

TV on the Radio--Wolf Like Me

Going Back to Cali - as close as rap videos get to art (as the opening shot acknowledges).

Bill Laswell, Zakir Hussain, DJ Disk and others

Laswell, Buckethead and Brain (from the same PBS show as above I believe)

And is it my imagination, or has YouTube's search engine suddenly been given an overhaul? I was searching for Pharoahe Monch and mis-spelling it, but it still found plenty of hits. I don't think it would have done in the past...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Desert Eagle Discs

It's in the nature of Irk The Purists (see here) that the high-brow should share equal billing with the low-brow, that the supposedly credible artists should rub shoulders with artists that musical snobs might consider beyond the pale. So avant-garde jazz by Matthew Shipp, say, should immediately be followed by something like Agadoo by Black Lace.

Well, I haven't got any Black Lace to share with you (though Having a Gang Bang from the soundtrack of Rita, Sue and Bob Too is probably one of my Desert Island Discs), but I will confess to a fondness for a song by an artist equally reviled by the cognoscenti. It's immediately below. It's Boys of Summer by Don Henley. And no, I'm not trying to be ironic, or post-modern. I'm not a huge fan of the Eagles; I just genuinely love this song, and always get a little thrill if I'm driving along and, say, Ken Bruce introduces it (I get a similar thrill from The Heat Is On by Henley's erstwhile bandmate Glenn Frey, but that's another story). It's astonishing that anyone can wring longing, melancholy and regret from synthesisers and drum machines as Henley does in the verses, but somehow he manages it. The chorus is slightly too Eagles-ish to really love, but it provides a necessary, summery counterpoint to the truly autumnal feel of the rest of the song. In fact, this is the perfect song for this time of year, especially in Britain, as the final dregs of summer give way to the first chill evenings of autumn. So download the choon, put on your IPod, find a deserted beach and mourn your lost youth.

Download Boys of Summer (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Make the Eagles even richer