Monday, August 21, 2006

Two-three-BREAK!

A History of UK Breakbeat. A catalogue of the most exciting twists away from the Amen Break/Funky Drummer/etc template, aligned to the boldest sonic strokes elsewhere in the instrumentation. No such compilation exists, but it’s an exciting prospect for any bold record label.

Any narrative would need liner note clarification. Generically, it would take in the earliest signs that a simple break could be more than just an endless James Brown loop – ie, late 80s hip-hop when it used to be urgent, the sound of Hijack or Silver Bullet, say, as well as the first signs of the influence on rave of NYC men like Todd Terry, Tommy Musto, Frankie Bones and early Masters at Work/Nervous. Then it’s into the fantasy world of hardcore, the strange mutation into jungle and the freeform hyperdub of d&b. As that went too techy from ’96 onwards, strapping itself to the dirge of the grid again, only the most standout cuts would count – different time signatures such as Zinc’s 138 or the dementia of drill ‘n bass – as our narrative would concentrate on the first wave of (speed) garage, which despite its housey stomp, was syncopated enough to work as breakbeat music, ie to make the dancer flex against the beat rather than simply bounce to it (touched on with more erudition here). Thereafter, garage’s successors, early Tempa, Ghost, El-B, would figure, before the final tunes looked at movements on the outer limits; the likes of Zed Bias and some broken beat connections could make the cut, for example.

The mongy ‘breakbeat’ beloved of Rennie Pilgrem and co, where minimal syncopation makes it end up like reprogrammed house, isn’t really part of this history. Neither are the ‘breaks’ (these terms are interchangeable for both scenes) of the backpacker boys. The spirit here is not home counties jazzy freestyle, more urban blues jam. Yet there may be space for signature tunes in any of these related areas, in turn creating space for one or two of the more inventive trip hop tunes, in turn allowing the Bristol trinity a look-in, as well as the older Smith & Mighty/More Rockers sound.

Such a comp would showcase a combination of the science of the seminal underground hit with well-known classics. The ragga vibes of Shut Up and Dance might sit shoulder to shoulder with later Rebel MC, Zero B next to Four Hero and 2 Bad Mice, Prodge’s Charley next to Goldie’s Terminator, Omni Trio to Original Nutta.

It could join the canon of great compilations. Idiot’s Guide recently posted on the joys of compilations, and a Dalston man has been delighting the virtual crowds with his diggin in charity shop crates. I can only agree that comps have been a major part of my musical life, and a good overview, usually released as a scene is in its major creative development, can be a precious artifact, and one, for all technoheads looking for the latest frequencies, that makes much more sense than whatever is in the top 100 best albums of all-time this week…

Then there’s the issue of territory – this could be essentially a London thing given the predominance of the area’s contribution, but that would ignore the role of Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Bristol and the more esoteric contributions from the placeless techno scene. It would also ignore the role of suburban bassheads, and maybe those early Nu Yorican vibes are too important to ignore?

Then who would get the task of compiling? Who would be able to combine a deep knowledge of 15 years of rave-based culture, divest enough pride and prejudice not to draw heavily on their own belle époque? Maybe the bloggers can do the work.

There are other stumbling blocks. The major one is that the loops and fills of breakbeat never completely vanquished the ravey techno/house sound of drum machines. The second wave of garage and then grime, with its usage of cheap computer game technology, saw a return to a defunked, desampled digital rhythm of electroid claps and hissing snares, though that’s not to say the more inventive could not programme beguiling breakbeatesque patterns.

Today the breakbeat is in a fallow period: European techno is again calling the shots – apart from the Belgians’ early experiments this means a re-emphasis of the pure output of the machine; low-end dubsteppers, if they are to use a break at all, use it only as a sped-down part of a much wider meshwork of quasi-industrial timbres, going against the dance-now imperative of its precedents. But having widened the possibility of rhythm, revitalised rock drumming and contributed to the continued explosion of dance music culture, now might be a good time for a retrospective of its most creative exponents.

The tune below ended up arguably being too much like the bad breakbeat I mention, and that screech isn’t a guitar. But I like the momentum. Compare and contrast with other Djekyll output on the sidebar….
Psychotic%20Candy.mp3
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Friday, August 11, 2006

Himalayan laddishness

Like pop, the NME is no stranger to eating itself and has pleasured itself on its own coverage of the pop phenomenon of Oasis’ Knebworth gigs, now 10 years old. Typically for the mainstream press – the event was seen as unquestionably brilliant, so in turn I thought I would add some context through my own diary review of the Sunday event…

“11 August The biggest ever gig in the world ever, of all time, ever
The planned early start for Oasis @ Knebworth was thrown into doubt by another late-night visit to the art student party house, for more chavved smokes until morning. I can’t think of anyone in particular who would want to make me feel welcome, but I suppose they recognised me from the previous few weeks, so they did. We scribble our tags, which, in a display of delayed adolescence, I have been writing on trains and in pubs for some time now. Listen to LTJ Bukem tapes. Kip there, run back, get ready in a rush and off to Sainsbury’s early doors for beers and a fry-up. My own feelings were one of blasé anticipation, as I’m not a great fan of the big rock gig experience, though the two days broke attendance records, a bit like City in 1934. No matter. For that reason, the gig would resonate far longer in the abstract past of “I was there” rather than specific moments of enjoyment.

The plus points were many: good vibes in the traffic jam en route to the site; well-chilled afternoon on the green by the pub, steady swigging while supports Kula Shaker and Dreadzone were very much in the background; meeting up with a trio of Stoke lads for a while, themselves similarly drug- and drink-free (the queues to the bar were legendary); scoring, one of our lot asked the shiftiest man he could find working the stalls and blagged some red seal round the back – this after another had bought some poxy “legal high” shit; caning that for the next three hours; listening to good sets from the Charlatans and the Manics, thousands of others similarly getting stoned as a supplement or replacement for alcohol; great mood of anticipation among the 120,000 before Oasis; Oasis – good, but not great, slagging off United and airing a couple of sound new songs; and a good smoke in the car afterwards, one of the few carloads to stay on.

The negative aspects: massive queues for beer, too many people, too big, too distant and therefore too quiet. We were simply so far away from the stage that the sounds and sights of the live experience were negligible, the chat around us sometimes being more invigorating. Also had to go straight to work from Knebworth and got fined at King’s Cross (though I got the money back). But all in all, well worth it. Some two-and-a-quarter years after I was barred from seeing them in their seminal form at a gig in Oxford (‘delegates only’ apparently) and they had since transformed the landscape of popular culture, I had finally seen Oasis.”
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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Sonic fun

TV comedy songs used to be a bad mixture of obligation (a hangover from the mainstream days of Morecambe & Wise) and afterthought – the producers need 30 minutes so let’s knock off a quick number in a ‘will this do’ fashion. But ‘alternative’ comedy bought with it the possibility of much more intertextualisation, though the comic milieu is itself a fiction that doesn’t mean there can’t be further mises en scene. With that, the comedy song was free to gain greater prominence in the programme’s mix.

Shona McGough (and Band) Monday Morning/Bloodbath, on Knowing Me Knowing You. Typically bad programming on Partridge’s magazine programme - Monday Morning starts off like a saccharine St Etienne before McGough and co reveal themselves to be Hole-like angry femrockers, who ‘gun down 20 in Visionhire’, before the song drowns in indie noise. Partridge starts off cheerily smiling and clapping along to the synthy beat but slowly becomes disgusted then horrified as the performance hits phase 2. To make matters worse, the leftwing Scottish troupe hang around with the other guests for further humiliation…

David Brent
Free Love on the Free Love Freeway, The Office. Brent hijacks the training day to acoustically render his tunes ‘from the band days’ to a mostly nonplussed staff. The song is freewheeling, good times drivel but reveals a lot about those in focus – Tim is a failure because he likes this and would therefore like Ocean Colour Scene; Gareth exults in the simplistic message and, ever eager to please his manager, finds meaning where there was none; while Dawn is delighted simply because this is more freetime in which her life can drift.

‘Nirvana’ Panty Smile, The Day Today. News satire satirises 90s MTV, which in turn goes for Smells Like Teen Spirit, Morris doing a great Cobain pouring out the emotion for product placement. “Once a month, you become a slave, to a tidal wave. Body’s little clock, could mess up your frock…” Just shades out the FurQ gangsta pisstake in the same sequence.

Reeves & Mortimer Don't Slip on Loose Muesli, The Smell. Don’t Slip is sublime cock rock pisstake, while the 50s home maker genderbending of We're a Couple of Girls is a bit special too, containing the tremendous line: "And the Dutch have no concept of rust"… and as they go into character…
Mulligan and O'Hare, despite some of their Celtic musings only being about 30 seconds long and one verse. Favourites are Frustrated by Weeds, Donkey Derby, Hot Dogs for Sale, My Rose has Left Me (Pt 2), Plate Fungus and Rock and Roll. Whiff this link for the lyrics of all the songs from both series.

Hugh Laurie America A Bit of Fry & Laurie. A quick sketch simply done with an emphatic message. Laurie’s Springsteenesque painfully knocks out the chords on his piano forte, while harping on about ‘America’ and ‘the States’ in a moving elegy for the superpower. After 24 bars, in walks Fry, offers a ‘what can you can do’ pose to the audience and punches Springsteen in the stomach. See also the Bishop and the Warlord, as well as Stephen Fry ‘playing’ Michael Jackson, except that he is dressed in his usual Oxbridge garb and is simply trying to dance funky, chamoan!

Nathan Barley Believe the Cleverlution, Nathan Barley. The protagonist’s live tour de force, as Barley, a self-confessed ‘self-facilitating node’, turns his hand to live rapping at his website party, telling it like it is to the hangers-on: “Fuck Enron, it’s fucking wrong”; “Trashbat is like two people leaping out of the WTC towers… fucking on the way down; and the general ‘mondo blando’. In a segueway, Dan Ashcroft, his own worst nightmare, can’t stop himself going on stage to do the preacherman cameo. A brilliant picture of Hoxtonesque in-crowd indulgence. Don’t turn opportunity down, whatever your scruples.

So the comedy song is in a good state at the moment, with shows like The Mighty Boosh harnessing the format with their post-rave confused take on the cosmos to good effect. Check out the scary electrogoth in Nanageddon and the pain of Isolation for Howard on a desert island, while Vince gets off with 'girls' (coconut puppets). As ever, this is far from exhaustive, basically covering the highlights of my UK-centric DVD and videos, so alert us to more…
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