Saturday, 28 December 2019

The Comedy of Errors: VOOV - Smoke Machine (12 June 1992)

Despite sound effects that deepen the suspicion that popular music finds it impossible to use the word “gas” within a track without fetishising the Holocaust, I couldn’t help but fall under the spell of this monolithically driving piece of trance techno, taken from a 12-inch suite of dance music called It’s Anything You Want It to Be and It’s a Gas.

VOOV - short for Violations of Ordinary Values is the brainchild of  Christian Graupner, a German dance producer who by the late-90s had moved into audio-visual art through his Humatic label.  Some 27 years after the Smoke Machine track from It’s Anything You Want It to Be and It’s a Gas was played on the John Peel Show, Graupner has returned to the gas theme in a new track which takes the building of the second Nord Stream gas pipeline as its target.

Videos courtesy of UNKNOWNXPERIMENT and Christian Graupner.

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Chumbawamba - Nothing That’s New (12 June 1992)

NOTE - The video for this track has been mistimed, the song is only 3:06 long.

Chumbawhamba, as Peel pronounced them, released an album in 1992 called Shhh.   The route to market was a bumpy one.  In its original form, the album - originally titled Jesus H. Christ - was packed with samples, while other tracks saw the group directly quote lines and musical passages from songs by the likes of FreeABBAFleetwood Mac, The BeatlesPet Shop Boys and many more.
Permission was not granted for all of them meaning that material had to be re-worked, re-titled and in some instances rejected such as their version of the 30s standard, Don’t Fence Me In.

The over-use of samples and liberal musical quotation which peppered the album have been attributed to its theme attacking censorship (as in the album’s best known track, Behave) and advocating the sharing of musical ideas.  What’s the point of getting uptight about plagiarism when, as Lou Watts sings at the top of Nothing That’s New, ALL musicians whether they be megastars or still stuck in their bedrooms are limited to the same seven notes and by 1992 that formula had been pretty much wrung out.  Set to a country and western waltz, Nothing That’s New is a concise summation of Shhh’s central thesis - musically, it’s all been done.  All that’s left is to stir up the existing pot, pick out what you like and create anew.  The dance and hip-hop genres had been unabashed about this for years, but rock music tried to maintain some kind of superfluous integrity about originality which led to much beating of breasts whenever plagiarism cases went to court.  Not for the first time, Chumbawamba were putting out a message which needed a more media-friendly figure to articulate before plagiarism became something to loosen up about.

The subtext of Nothing That’s New passed Peel by or at least he made no reference to it in the studio.  Instead he was more tickled by the cough at 1:38. “Nice to hear coughing creeping back into pop music. Oliver Mtukudzi* did it better than anyone else.”  The band were due to record a session which would be one of the most infamous in the programme’s history.

*Mtukudzi died on 23 January 2019, the same day that I heard Nothing That’s New for the first time in this programme.

Merry Christmas.

Video courtesy of 123beefy123

Friday, 20 December 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Maarten van der Vleuten - Spanish Fly (12 June 1992)

As I write this, it’s nearly 7:20am, a Conservative government has been sitting in power for a week and I’ve just been driven from my bedroom by the fact that the ceiling is leaking onto the foot of my bed . But 2019 hasn’t been entirely sucky; if nothing else it meant that I heard Spanish Fly by Maarten van der Vleuten and furthermore, I heard it in the perfect era to discover it.  I love Spanish Fly, it may be one of my favourite dance tracks.  But had I fell in love with it at first listening on 12/6/92, I would have been in for that cruellest of Peel-related shocks.
There were two phrases in John Peel’s vocabulary guaranteed to raise the ire of  his listeners:
1) “Incredibly difficult to get hold of” (subtext - “But I’ve got one, so suck on that, losers!”)
2) “What can I tell you about that?...Nothing at the moment, I’m afraid.” (Audience thinks, “Surely, you must have something?! Didn’t you keep the address you received it from?  You’re just winding us up, John, aren’t you?!!!”)
It was the second of these that Peel uttered after playing Spanish Fly.  He may well have made up for it with plays in subsequent programmes, but you couldn’t be sure which tracks were definitely going to be re-broadcast - which was shrewd in terms of encouraging repeat listenership, but the assumption was that white labels or records which just turned up on Peel’s show as if created in some kind of Virgin birth state would likely get passed over in favour of tunes where you knew which small label would be benefitting from your hard earned cash.  Thankfully, the John Peel wiki’s show page reveals that Spanish Fly could be found on a 3 track EP called TZ 7 released on the TZ label, a short-lived offshoot of R & S Records. The reason why it was short-lived may have been down to the fact that all its releases contained no artist information, only artwork.  So in this instance, Peel’s inability to tell his audience anything was down to art trumping commerce rather than him mislaying a piece of paper.  Had I been listening at the time, I would have wanted to grab the Belgians behind TZ and yell, “Will, no one think of the punters!”

Building out of a hypnotically looped Spanish guitar riff, van der Vleuten creates a mini-masterpiece by layering it with perfectly syncopated beats and entrancing backward synths.  Once the descending guitar scales come in around 1:15, we manage to be simultaneously sweating it out with the throng in Ibiza and engaged in a passionate head-to-head flamenco in a candlelit corner of Madrid.  This track should be more widely known and celebrated.  It has one foot in the Balearics, where club culture was dominating the local scenery and yet matches it with traditional, sensual Latin music to mesmerising effect.  Whether you jump to your feet and dance or sit back and let it elate your headspace, Spanish Fly is up there with Buttsteak as a John Peel discovery that you want to serve up to someone you love - preferably unveiled on a silver tray with a rose between your teeth, a flourish of fine linen and an “Ole!” delivered from the depths of your heart.

Video courtesy of Maarten van der Vleuten

Monday, 16 December 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Poison Chang - Gone Clear (12 June 1992)

I used to have a boss whose foreign holiday destination of choice either took him to Cuba or Barbados.  He was always very conscientious about bringing back presents for staff, usually stuff in which the thought counted above all: gonks, keyrings, local sweetmeats etc.  I wasn’t complaining given that I have always been shockingly poor at doing this sort of thing.  I once had a colleague who came back from a long weekend in The Yorkshire Dales who had brought back biscuits for people to help themselves to in the kitchen.  Given that she had been away and back in the time it took me to blink, I was both touched and annoyed at this thoughtfulness, because it showed up to me a failing in myself.  I simply couldn’t fathom going away and remembering to buy something for colleagues; family members, sure, but not work colleagues.  I finally remembered to bring something back for colleagues from my honeymoon in Portugal a few years back, but given that I now work in a remote role, I have a nasty feeling self-absorption will claim me again.
Anyway, in 2007/08, my former boss, Andy, came back from a Caribbean holiday with a present specifically for me.  It was a CD which he excitedly told me had seen 15 different reggae/dancehall artists brought together to offer their various interpretations over the same backing track.  I gratefully thanked him and put the CD on expecting to be bowled over by the different depths and idiosyncrasies which each artist would bring.  I can’t remember who any of them were or the name of the track they were all toasting over, but the flaws in the idea soon made themselves apparent. By the seventh take on the same tune, my attention had flagged and by the end of the CD, I had completely tuned out. Still, as usual, it was the thought that counted.  Nevertheless, in reggae culture the idea of recycling riddims or producing whole albums with the same piece of music backing a different artist in each cut is not considered particularly unremarkable.
In 1992, John Peel played Anthony Red Rose’s updated version of Tempo, which utilised something called the Fever Pitch Riddim and it stuck with him so deeply that he included it in the 1992 selections of The Peelenium.  However, there could have been any other number of contenders for a place on the list given that Tempo was lifted from an album on Montana Records  called The Pitch - Boglemania in which there were 11 different takes on the Fever Pitch Riddim.  Some increased things to a faster pitch, others took things a little slower. I don’t think I heard Peel play Priceless Body by Daddy Woody or Ram Dance Daddy by Nardo Ranks.  I’m sure if you listen to the riddim long enough, then we can all have a crack at toasting something over it.

Poison Chang used the riddim to bemoan the problems with having a girl in every port and the effect on his wallet with trying to keep them all in clothes regardless of whether they wear linen, sequins or booty shorts (batty rider).  In patois, ‘Gone Clear’ refers to any situation which has gone catastrophically wrong and it sounds here as though Poison Chang is having problems keeping his different women happy emotionally, sexually and materially.  Given the wide variety of locations where these women are dotted about the whole thing comes off as almost a ragga-like take on the
Marc Camelotti farce Boeing-Boeing in which the lead character has to balance relationships with American, German and Italian air-hostesses  Maybe Poison Chang should have taken advice on how to pull off this kind of juggling act from Kid Creole?  He might lack The Kid’s effortless self-confidence, but he does a brilliant job of making sure that this recycled riddim never risks becoming reheated leftovers.

Video courtesy of Jarrett Mc

Friday, 13 December 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Vonga Aye - Probleme Eleki (12 June 1992)

Thank God, I have soukous to help me get over the election...

It’s interesting isn’t it?  You wait five years for a female led soukous track to grab your attention, and then Peel played another one just a week later.  Like M’Pongo Love, Vonga Aye was a protege of Empopo Loway who provides lead saxophone on this track.  Unlike Love though, Vonga didn’t leave much of a legacy behind - just a pair of albums from around 1983/84.  Probleme Eleki is taken from a  three way collaborative album between Vonga, Loway and guitarist Nico Kasanda.  I love the way the brass and the guitar-lines play off each other together with the “problembe problembe” refrain.  I don’t think Vonga is much of a singer, maybe she or Loway didn’t think so either, hence the sudden end to her discography.  But several of her tracks are on YouTube and are as irresistibly infectious examples of danceable soukous as can be found.  Her own gift doesn’t sound exceptional, but she could inspire magic all around her.

Video courtesy of MKm - Tabaro Music

Saturday, 7 December 2019

The Comedy of Errors: The Ragga Twins featuring Junior Reid - Shine Eye (12 June 1992)

I’ve often felt that one way John Peel could have tempered any frustration he felt over his listeners’ conservative choices on a Festive Fifty would have been for him to give out some unofficial awards as a way of recognising records or artists who hadn’t made the chart.  The likes of the Kold Sweat label and Shut Up and Dance should have been given some form of acknowledgement at the end of the year.  In Shut Up and Dance’s case, they should have been given the Best Collaborations award.  Having seduced listeners with their Peter Bouncer team up, Love is All We Need earlier in ‘92, the label provided another dream match when it put together The Ragga Twins with Junior Reid and in the process invented Kanye West.  The title of the track is patois for a female gold digger.  But many years before West made his name with Gold Digger, Black Uhuru had got there first with their 1979 single, Shine Eye Gal.  Rather than sample it, The Ragga Twins hooked up with Reid, who had been Black Uhuru’s lead vocalist in the mid-80s to sing the opening verse and bestow some sense of authentic link to the original source material, while they worked nascent jungle music magic over it.  It’s a perfect match.  Reid’s strident vocal drawing out the frustrated passion of the lyric amid the frenetic arrangements.  My advice is to create your own collaboration between the two versions by listening to the Ragga Twins/Reid version to psych up with before going out for the evening and then chill with a nightcap and the Black Uhuru original before bedtime.

Videos courtesy of X-Dream USA (Ragga Twins) and markobolwyn (Black Uhuru)

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Sonic Youth - 100% (12 June 1992)

In prepping this post about 100%, the lead single on Sonic Youth’s Dirty LP, I was surprised and chastened to learn a little bit more about why Henry Rollins hates everything.  On December 19 1991, Rollins and his housemate, Joe Cole were held up outside their house in Venice Beach by armed muggers.  They only had 50 dollars between them, so Rollins was ordered into the house at gunpoint to get more money.  He managed to escape through a backdoor and raise the alarm, but Cole was not so lucky and a mugging escalated to a murder.  The perpetrators have never been caught.  Rollins had to contend not just with grief at the murder of his best friend, but also the trauma of briefly being suspected of the crime himself.
Sonic Youth dedicated two songs on Dirty to Joe Cole.  JC is the private grieving song with Kim Gordon chocking out an incantation that’s factual, unsentimental, brutally cognisant of life’s fragility and transience, but just about holding itself in from screaming about how unfair the tragedy is.  The music reflects this though with guitars wailing like the sound of walls being beaten by fists and tears burning out of eyes that are melting with the torrent of emotion from those left behind.  It’s the grieving process that those who stood at the back of the crematorium and offered their genuine sympathies at the funeral but had moved on to other things by the next day, don’t see and would run a mile from in terrified helplessness if they ever witnessed it.  According to The John Peel wiki, Peel played JC on a few occasions over the summer of 1992. Alas, I was not acting in anything over that summer so I haven’t heard those shows and won’t be blogging about them, but I wouldn’t have been up to the challenge of JC, I don’t think. It goes to necessary, real places in typical Sonic Youth fashion, but I end up one of those who runs away from the raw pain on display there.  Instead, I would be clinging to the other tune dedicated to Cole’s memory, 100%, which in Thurston Moore’s hands comes across as both the sermon at the funeral and the communal hymn sung to remember their fallen friend.

It does Moore a dis-service though to think that although 100% may be a more palatable expression of grief and remembrance, it’s by no means soft in terms of its feelings.  In the background, Lee Ranaldo’s guitar sounds like a dozen churning stomachs, sick with grief and sticking a handkerchief in the mouth to try and stop the dam of grief from bursting over in public the way that JC shows that it will in private.  Lyrically, the track balances tributes to Cole (“I can never forget you/The way you rock the girls/They rule the world and love you/A blast in the underworld”) with direct questions about forgiveness (“Can you forgive the boy/Who shot you in the head?/Or should you get a gun
and/Go and get revenge?)  This last week in the UK has seen notions of forgiveness and not meeting violence with more hate given a considerable amount of analysis.  But as far as Sonic Youth are concerned, in so far as the murder of Joe Cole went, they lean more towards a Henry Rollinsesque worldview (“I’ve been around the world a million times/and all you men are slime/A gun to my head/Goodbye, I am dead/Westwood rockers, it’s time for crime”).

Incitement to violence couched in a tribute to a murdered friend but presented in thunderously catchy style means that 100% stands as one of the more genuinely edgy UK Top 30 hit singles of the 1990s.

Video courtesy of Sonic Youth.
All lyrics are copyright to their authors.