I wrote about two of my favourite anti racist songs (Colour Code by Gunshot and Fite Dem Back by Linton Kwesi Kohnson) for this excellent but depressingly topical Quietus feature.
I wrote about two of my favourite anti racist songs (Colour Code by Gunshot and Fite Dem Back by Linton Kwesi Kohnson) for this excellent but depressingly topical Quietus feature.
I have contributed a few words and images to the excellent What We Wore street-style blog about my days working at Reckless Records in SoHo, London.
Recently had the honour of writing about one of my favourite bands from times past – Thule for The Quietus Writers Top 40 Noise Rock Tracks list
A 10 year old interview I did with Kano for One Week to Live Magazine (click on image)
New article I wrote for Red Bull Music Academy on two of my foremost musical influences.
2004 interview with Grime boss Wiley on the eve of the release of his debut LP Treddin on Thin Ice. Written for a special edition of the fanzine Hardcore is More than Music which appeared as a supplement in The Guardian newspaper during the summer of ’04.
My bass-quake sounds much better than yours, Wot Do U Call It? Disco-rap was made socially conscious by Grandmaster Flash’s The Message and paved the way for grittier hip hop; reggae ‘versions’ were distorted into weird psychedelic shapes by Lee Perry, King Tubby and Prince Jammy to become dub, and disco and house were rewired through Detroit’s switchboard by May, Saunderson & Atkins to become techno. So it is that Wiley’s East London sound Eski-Beat and Jon E Cash’s West London derived Sub-Low have divorced themselves from their progenitor UK Garage to become the true UK hip hop. Spoken in real London accents with crazy futurist-beats that are innovative enough to give Timbaland and Pharrell nightmares.
‘There’s already a UK hip hop,’ says Wiley, ‘Blak Twang, Rodney P, guys who have already been doing it for 10, 15 years. I don’t want to tread on their toes, so i just leave them to get on with it. I know that this has got more power, more lift-off, it’s more than UK hip hop. But they don’t necessarily think we’re all that good anyway.’
This worry shouldn’t keep him awake at night. At 25 Wiley is already the pioneer of his own UK movement, namely Eski and the head of Roll Deep Entourage – a crew of MCs, DJs and producers of which Dizzee Rascal was famously once a member. In addition, he is promoter of his own Eski-Dance raves and has an album Treddin on Thin Ice about to be released on XL Recordings, home to White Stripes, Basement Jaxx and Badly Drawn Boy. Treddin was preceded by the single Wot Do U Call It? a vocalised version of his twisted drum-less instrumental Igloo. Rather than being the tale of grimey life ‘on road’ that was perhaps expected, it is instead an upbeat swipe at the media’s obsession with genre specification and the garage scene’s reluctance to accept Wiley’s wayward experimentation.
I like house & garage, all those songs where the women sing, I like them. So it wasn’t that I hated (Garage) and set out to change the music. But I just realised that to emcee it’s better for the music to be clear, to have a simple beat with a simple bassline. Then when you emcee to it, you’re heard loud and clear. I listen to a lot of hip hop which is just sampled beats with rapping over it. A lot of my ideas come from that.’
Is what you do still part of the garage scene?
‘No, that’s what (Wot Do U Call it?) is for – separating the two scenes. The house & garage scene really didn’t like what I was doing, so I had to. Not everyone involved in house & garage is open-minded. Some of them are and will listen. A proper house & garage DJ might think it’s just noise but just because he doesn’t like it that doesn’t mean that it isn’t something. Another ten thousand people over there DO like it. As long as there’s a following and I’m happy with what I’m doing, it’s something.’
You might describe Wiley’s Eski sound as garage heated under a Bunsen flame until reduced to its skeletal bass core. But it goes much further than this. Like so many great musical movements, be they rap, punk or Jungle, Eski is influenced largely by Jamaican reggae and dub.
‘I listen to a lot of reggae: Sly & Robbie, Johnny Osbourne, loads of Studio 1 but most of it from 1983 onwards. I used to sing along to all the songs from then, I knew what all the songs were. I used to play drums and try and copy whatever they were doing. What I’m doing now is a fusion of reggae, soul and everything, even country & western. Some tunes I listen to and just laugh but that’s still an influence, I’m still taking note of whatever I’m listening to.’
You use a lot of string sounds in your work, where does this influence come from?
‘I love orchestras, live instruments. In the end I want to make music which I can perform live and I’m thinking live when I’m making it. So if I travel with a band or an orchestra I can say to them, “Play this” and it won’t be too hard for them because it’s already along those lines. I always try to do that.’
Won’t you be diluting the Eski sound though by using real instrumentation?
‘I don’t see myself as purely Eski. I want to make music altogether, not just Eski. Eski represents a particular time but I’ve got more influences in me than (just) that.’
Wiley is a man who refuses to be restrained by what is expected of him because of his particular social demographic. New hip hop visionaries like Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes and Outkast’s Andre 3000 have similarly channelled skills learned from hip hop cut n’ paste production to create any thing they wish from any genre of their chosing . Outkast’s Hey Ya! for example, is the best psychedelic rock record in eons. The video where multiple versions of Andre perform on an Ed Sullivan/Ready Steady Go type TV show, rewrites pop history as if Parliament’s over-looked acidrock classic Osmium had outsold Exile on Main Street. Wiley instrumentals like Eskimo, Thai Weed (with Danny Weed), Ground Zero and his contemporaries like Wonder, Jon E Cash and Geeneus (Wizzbit) are the sonic counterpart to Frank Gehry’s architecture – glistening, futuristic and alien but built for function. Yet certain quarters are already labelling this movement, rather negatively as Grime. Despite Wiley and Dizzee’s high aspirations, they and their peers are still viewed as council estate music made specifically for council estate kids.
‘I don’t call it Grime but other people do. I don’t really want to call it anything. I (just) want people to like it and then one day it will get named. We don’t really have the power to name it. It’s the people that accept it, the radio stations, MTV and all that, who’ll say “Right, it’s this”. They’re the ones who’ll name it, we just have to wait.’
Up until now Wiley’s solo reputation has largely been gained from his productions, providing water-tight beats for legions of MCs to spit fire over. Treddin on Thin Ice introduces Wiley as a dexterous lyricist with his own unique flow. At times serious at others serendipitously reminiscent of The Kinks and Small Faces cockney witticism on Who Ate All the Pies and I’m Goin’ Mad.
‘I like producing more but I understand that I can emcee. I try to work at making them both as high a level as they can get. During the Dizzee phase (of Roll Deep) my production was higher so then I had to work on my emceeing. Then I went back to producing . You have to try and make them rise at the same time.’
Which MC and producers do you look to for inspiration?
‘I like Erick Sermon (of rap legends EPMD and producer for Redman amongst others). People don’t really give him that much respect but he’s heavy, his levels are quite even. And Timbaland as well but his beats are higher (than his rapping) and Pharrell because he will try anything. It always works because he’s not scared.’
What about (Wu-Tang Clan’s) RZA?
‘Not really. Everyone compares me to him but I don’t know why.’
Probably because you both use Eastern strings a lot.
‘I understand that but I don’t really know so much about him.’
Mystery and controversy still surround Dizzee Rascal’s stabbing in Aya Napia and subsequent departure from Roll Deep. One thing that’s certain is that it was one of the darkest chapters of Wiley’s life but equally something he seems happy to leave behind. With his choice of cold track titles (Eskimo, Igloo, Ice Rink) though, you might be mistaken for perceiving Wiley as the new century’s Peter Murphy.
‘I’m just happy to pass over that period completely. The two scenes (garage and Eski) are separate now and from here it’s alright because there are loads of people coming up behind me. Dizzee’s already up there, so it’s alright. It will work out.’
How do you see Eski (or grime) developing?
‘It’s going to go far. First it will spread around the country. Right now everyone in England knows something about it but it needs to be promoted until it’s absolutely massive. It’s already in Amsterdam a little bit and it’ll slip into Europe. Wherever Dizzee goes that will open doors. Wherever he is, is where everyone else is going. It’s just that he is the first. Roll Deep will have an album out this year.’
‘Maybe there, maybe somewhere else but it’s going to be big.’
Despite his new found positivity drama still seems to follow Wiley, noticeably at Eski-Dance events which often see tensions erupt.
‘The reason why there’s drama (at Eski-Dances) is because there’s energy. There’s bad energy and good energy and it makes people get excited. So when there are two people clashing on stage, the energy travels. It gets to the crowd and kids jump around, they go mad. That’s just what happens, and it’s going to happen with or without me in there so I don’t really see it as our fault.’
What if in a few years from now, people say that UKG was all happy times, bling and champagne until Eski and Sub-Low came along and turned everything grimy and moody. What would you say to that?
‘That’s just wrong, it’s not turned moody. I went to a house & garage night not so long ago called Before and it was heavy! It went haywire for a little bit but in a few years people will say garage is this and what I’m doing is something else. The two scenes are separate now.’
A storm is coming. Prepare for the big Freeze.
Recently did a J.R Hartley and purchased an old issue of Lime Lizard magazine, which features an interview I did with Slowdive, just prior to the release of Souvlaki. Full text below.
PART ONE: RETURN OF THE SONIC SURREALISTS
‘Surrealism is the systemisation of confusion. Surrealism appears to create an order but the purpose of this is to render the idea of the system suspect by association. Surrealism is destructive but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.’ Salvador Dali
Innovative music has always had parallels with artistic movements. Brian Eno and Cabaret Voltaire created early ambient electronica in an attempt to emulate the ideology of Dada into sound. Dada was an anti-art movement beginning in Zurich 1915 repudiating artistic convention and was a revolt against the mindlessness of World War I. Punk (and later the KLF) borrowed heavily from the international Situationist movement. Slowdive though have come closest to replicating Surrealism, transforming chaos and opposing elements into sheer beauty. Their new E.P Outside Your Room and soon to follow album Souvlaki (which features collaborations with the aforementioned Brian Eno) should see them finally diminish lazy comparisons to their label mates and elders My Bloody Valentine. “I think the Valentines are great but I think there was a point after our first E.P that we stopped sounding like them,” reckons vocalist/guitarist Neil Halstead, “I don’t think there’s anything on this album you could say sounds like the Valentines”. “The Valentines were always a lot more raw than us anyway,” chimes in bassist Nick Chaplin, “they were a lot noisier.”
Slowdive are quite deservedly proud of their new LP although even they’re not sure just who it’ll appear to now. “When we did Slowdive and Avalyn we never imagined that they would come out on record,” says Nick, “our kind of attitude has always been that we’ll just make a record we really like and it’s the same with this one. I’ve thought about it, I’ve thought who’s gonna come to our gigs, if anyone. Some of our original fan base I imagine will still be there and I imagine we’ll probably pick up some new ones. I mean, I’ll take my younger brother as an example: at the time we did Just For a Day he wasn’t remotely interested in music, whereas now he is 17, buys the music papers and is really into Belly, Sugar and stuff. Now he’s someone who wouldn’t have been interested two years ago, so perhaps we’ll pick up some of those.”
Drummer Simon Scott hopes Slowdive have now surpassed being generic ‘Indie-kid’ fodder: “indie is for your 16 year old boy who hasn’t got a girlfriend or girl who hasn’t got a boyfriend. I went to see Radiohead when they supported Kingmaker and basically everyone there looked 15 or 16 and all had on their army jackets and uniform haircuts. I’m not slagging them off, it’s just that we’re all 22 now.”
“It’s different now from when we released our the first album,” says Neil, “because good music isn’t just coming from one particular point. You don’t get that any more, you get good bands coming from other areas as well like dance music.”
Speaking of which, wouldn’t it have been easier on yourselves to have gone into say, Ambient Dub like The Orb? “We sort of discovered that when we were doing mixes of Souvlaki Space Station,” answers Nick. “I remember Neil was saying this is easy, let’s do a whole LP like this, tongue in cheek of course and yeah, I suppose it would be easier, but then it wouldn’t be true to us really.”
“I think the first album was a lot more ambient,” Neil adds. “Personally I think it’s fairly easy to do but I think that people like The Orb do it really well. To do it well is quite difficult.”
PART TWO: ULTRASILENCE Vs ULTRAVIOLENCE (SLOWDIVE ENTER THE ULTRAWORLD)
Ambient killed the indie-kid. The new school of ambient electronica generated by post-dance artists, it could be argued, is an distillation of 80s independent music during its creative peak. The likes of Gary Cobain of Future Sound of London and Phil Hartnoll of Orbital will happily tell you that early Factory Records and 4AD are as much a point of reference as late 80s Detroit techno. It’s no surprise to them then that their music seems to appeal to many kids ripped on My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins and Slowdive. “I think that our music perhaps has always had that appeal,” thinks Neil, “but I think press-wise no one picked up on it. The main difference between us and say The Orb is that they’re less to do with pop. I think we’re just basically a pop band with bits of ambient.”
In the two years since Just For a Day, indie’s meaning has become somewhat blurred. Morrisey the appointed figurehead of 80s Indiedom recently took the predominately white stereotypical view of indie to its furthest extreme – Fascism, when he controversially surrounded himself with Nationalist imagery whilst on stage at Finsbury Park. “I was never a fan of his anyway so it all just glossed over me,” says Nick. “If he’s got racist tendencies then he’s an arsehole (but I think) it’s all just slogans. It’s like all that early Joy Division and New Order fiasco. I really like New Order but I wouldn’t like to think that they had those kind of (Nazi) beliefs. I mean they say it’s just sloganeering but I guess they would, they wouldn’t come out and say we’re all racist bastards.”
The flipside of the Morrissey debacle is that Suede with their bisexual suggestiveness and the Riot Grrrl movement seem to have been seized upon by the ‘inkies’ (NME and Melody Maker) in an attempt to be on the right side of political correctness.
“I don’t really know that much about the Riot Grrrl thing although I’ve read bits about it,” admits Rachel Goswell. “It hasn’t really interested me. I just don’t see the point of being part of this massive group of women. I just don’t need it. I’d much rather be an individual on my own.”
PART THREE: DON’T LOOK DOWN (SLOWDIVE Vs THE SCENE)
If music spoke for itself then Slowdive wouldn’t have a problem. Yet even now the decidedly uncool dark cloud that is the term Shoegazer still lures over them. It’s ironic when you consider that it was a journalist who coined the phrase and not one of the now tarnished bands. As a result, bands now seem to have become more calculated in their image at the expense of actual creativity.
“Sometimes when I read the music papers I get the impression that it’s a bit of a competition to see who’s most articulate at writing,” thinks Simon. “I don’t think it used to be like that,” adds Nick. “I remember a few years ago, like before Slowdive, I’d read the music papers and there didn’t seem to be the mass hyping of bands that seems to have gone on in the last year or last couple of years. I don’t remember anything like the Suede hype ever. I mean they are a good band, yeah, but I can’t really understand how they’re getting to be this huge band just through having like 8 hundred front covers in one week. I do really like them you know, but I don’ t think they’re that special. It seems like the music papers nowadays just pick up on something like that and turn it into a huge thing.”
“I think people place too much importance on the whole press thing,” reckons Neil. “I think people should go out and hear the bands rather than just reading about them.”
Do you think part of Slowdive’s apparent image problem is that you’re seen as too serious?
“I think it’s because we’re always asked serious questions in interviews and we’re just not prepared,” says Neil. “People normally ask us questions like why are you so shit?” adds Nick, “and we’re prepared then because we are!” Unfortunately it’s not just the press who view them as a little serious. “Who was it, was it Greg from Drop Nineteens who said that we’re really serious and should cheer up a bit?” asks Nick, “yeah, what a wanker,” answers Rachel, “He looks like Paul Simon!”
Serious image aside Souvlaki is a massive accomplishment by any band’s standards. Pairing Brian Eno’s ambient visions with a quintessential English pop sensibliity that goes far and beyond Just For a Day’s looser dreampop meanderings. However it doesn’t slot neatly into the current glam revival, Souvlaki Space Station in many ways couldn’t sound any more 90s. “I wouldn’t say that we’re retro like some bands that consciously go out and say we’re going to look like this and sound like this,” explains Nick. “I mean look at us – we just look how we look normally. We haven’t got a preconceived image or anything like that. We’re more sort of earthy if you get what I mean.”
The U.F.O(rb) has now left Souvlaki Space Station. Watch the skies….