New York Noise Volume 4

It must have been 2008 when I decided that I really wanted a stab at the compilation market. I liked the Soul Jazz New York Noise series and because my pal Stuart Argabright had just compiled the third volume I thought I should give that a crack.

As a result I compiled this selection of very special music, personal faves, records from my collection which they had omitted to include in any of the previous three volumes. I took a lot of care over it. Needless to say, despite dropping the CD by the shop and eliciting a vague promise that the particular person in question would get it, I heard nothing from them.

Combing through my gigantic box of CD-Rs, the best stuff of which I'm drip-feeding into mixcloud, and I came across the CD. I didn't even have a track-listing for it. I was pleasantly surprised how great it is so I've cobbled together a cheeky cover and here below is a more extensive breakout with covers and release information.


Intense Remastered

Great reissue of vintage Jungle by Will at Sublogic records. This follows on the heels of "ardchaeology" last year by Basement Records and their Truper collection and Sublogic's own stunning Skanna reissue. This is the second reissue of this set but if you have an ounce of sense you'd buy it immediately or regret it at your leisure. As I write this there will probably only be single digits left. The market for this material is so overheated that these records themselves have all already become collectors items.

The music here is absolutely gorgeous. If I had to describe the collective aesthetic it is one of a militant exactitude. Like the best Hardcore Jungle there are plenty of notes here, but not a single superfluous one. The crew also had an uncanny knack for emotive pads that convey a yearning without recourse to cloying sentimentality. Heads-down, eyes-shut and bruk out.

Tracks range from the Intense crew's aliases as Babylon Timewarp (they were behind the seminal hymn to dub reggae "Durban Poison" which is blessfully compiled here) and The White House Crew (a savage EP on their legendary Subliminal imprint) through to their proto Ambient Jungle releases on Rugged Vinyl. Time-wise most of the tracks swirl round 1993 but "Motions" dates from 1996.

I'm looking forward to more of this kind of stuff. It's great that smaller labels have the courage to reissue it when it's often, by very dint of the outlaw codes of the day, in a grey area with regards to copyright. Not that I'm implying that the Intense set is anything but 100% endorsed by the artists themselves. I'd love to see material by other cult Hardcore outfits like The Anthill Mob made more widely available. And of course, perhaps eventually, the Juice Box twelves might see the light of day.


Baaba Maal at The Royal Festival Hall

On Wednesday I went to see Baaba Maal at the Royal Festival Hall. I had no idea until just now but he’s much older than I thought. When I interviewed him in a hotel in Shepherd's Bush in 1993 for my film “Echo” I thought he was probably, ooh, 29. Nah, much older. I hadn't really clapped eyes on him in the intervening years and at 62 he looks the slightly portly senior statesman.

In 1992 Island had been hoping to break Baaba into the international dance market with "Yela". It was the company's ongoing dream that a convincing third-world superstar could be found to succeed Bob Marley. But given that they hadn't managed to reach escape velocity with King Sunny Ade's "Juju Music" it's surprising they kept faith in the strategy. "Yela" is nice! But: chirpy, literal, didactic and francophile it never stood a snowflake's chance in hell.

The sensible approach, indeed what I would have done, was like Martin Meissonnier for Sunny Ade, keep it linguistically opaque, downbeat and add lashings of delay. With his acoustic material Baaba would have made a more durable impact, albeit one at the outer fringes of nineties electronica and Post-Rock. A contradiction perhaps. Something like his epochal "Tono" Senegalese-only cassette release which we rinsed when touring the country was closer to the tastes of the UK underground.

At the time it was Simon Booth who had been entrusted with Baaba's career. I spoke to him just before we'd left on our mission when I was at a height of anxiety about the whole trip and remember him saying, in fact in a generous and basically reassuring way, that he had played The Orb's Adventures beyond The Ultraworld to musicians in Senegal and they hadn't blinked. They'd liked it. I do remember my 22-year old self, like, scoffing quietly: "Tsk, The Orb". But really it was a fair-enough and well-intended observation.

As it turns out Baaba has carved himself an international niche regardless of near-hits like the 1994 "Firin' in Fouta" LP. These days in music it's all about concerts, not recordings, anyway. I notice last year's "The Traveller" is only preceded by a 2009 release and before that it's 2001. Big. Gaps. He has styled himself as a pan-African icon which is very sensible given the fact that Western audiences can't grasp the differences between north, south, east and west african sounds. At the Royal Festival Hall, where he has apparently acquired a bureaucratic status fitting his talent, he was supported by Blick Bassy from the Cameroon.

80% of the gig, plying a seventies Malian desert-style set and paring back Senegal's strong afro-cuban flavours, was extremely successful, sublime even; giving full rein to Baaba's exquisite, angelic voice. Later on the drum kit (ironically steered by a Cuban) hit a 4/4 rock stride which I understood. I mean, I get it, it's not wrong, but although the crowd loved it, I found it a tad overwhelming.

Baaba Maal. What a beautiful man! Long may he prosper.


The Sounds of Earth

Instead of our usual ritual of my reading books to him at bed time Sam and I have been watching Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" together. I have never seen it it before and it has turned out to be a truly mind-boggling, stupefying and utterly humbling experience. I'm almost ashamed to say that I never knew, or really digested, that Earth is wedged between Venus and Mars; that Venus has an average surface temperature of 440ºC; that Mars' average temperature is -55ºC; that the Soviets were the first to visit Venus successfully.

The Americans, however, seem better able to express the human dimension of the Cosmos: putting a man on the Moon, successfully landing on and and finally providing pictures of Mars, producing iconic photographs like "The Blue Marble" the "Pale Blue Dot" which encapsulate the fragility and wonder of our lonely planet and concocting such luminous gimmicks as Sagan's golden "The Sounds of Earth" LP which is aboard Voyager 1 as it now hurtles out of the solar system.

There has been a queer synchronicity to our watching this against a foreground of Brit Major Tim's spacewalking and David "Blackstarman" Bowie's demise. Bowie's "Space Oddity" was for him a typically capitalist cash-in on the American moon landings. It was a market-targeted novelty record the mould of "The Laughing Gnome" but one aimed at the US market and putting his career into orbit. However, this is not to deny the sincerity of his emotions around space. Bowie was hardly alone in his generation in being spun out by the majesty of the cosmos as revealed by NASA.

Space was once the staple of Rock and Pop, most especially through the seventies and nineties. There are too many to motes mention obviously but: Sun Ra's entire oeuvre, Joe Meek's "Telstar", The Beatles "Across The Universe", The Byrds "Mr Spaceman", Tangerine Dream's "Alpha Centuri", Kraftwerk's "Space Lab", The Police "Walking On The Moon", The Icebreakers meet The Diamond "Planet Mars Dub", Underground Resistance, The Martian and probably a thousand Techno and Electronica tracks. It was a thoroughly healthy obsession in my opinion, but one which is certainly on the wane.

In terrestrial terms the two currents which are most threatening to our global stability - the disgraceful threat to our atmosphere and the detestable worldwide nationalism (the spectre behind both immigration and the meaningless cultural clash between west and east) could be, if not assuaged, at least be tempered by our lifting our eyes to the stars.


Goodbye David

1974. My earliest memory of any culture. Our hair dried with a towel would be fluffed it up till we resembled a poster of David Bowie.

1983. Watching Top of the Pops at school. Amid the Culture Club, Smiths, Madness. “Let’s Dance”. His last great record before this year's “Blackstar”.

1985. 14 and buying records. Let’s Dance. Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust. Changes One and Two. Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs.

1986. Transformer. The Idiot. Raw Power. The Velvet Underground and Nico.

1987. Heroes and Low. Kraftwerk.


I Wanna Go Zip Pow

About three hundred thousand years ago I wrote a big piece on Todd Terry. At the same time I was feverishly rounding up my old Todd vinyl and going on a binge picking up stray bits and pieces that I had omitted to purchase when they came out. At the same time I must have compiled a CD from vinyl rips of my fave rekkids. I say that because going through a massive box of CD-Rs I found said CD. I think I mailed a copy to one or two people and left it at that.

Having rediscovered it - it has been on constant rotation. It's truly an embarrassment of riches. Todd's drum programming is a total revelation. There is a really tactile sense of these grooves actually being played by a fiercely militant drummer. The sounds are all incredibly raw too. The old woodblock drum machines have an alarmingly organic quality. In retrospect one has to wonder what possibly objections the "turn-off-that-fax-machine-oh-it's-your-music" crew could possibly have had to Todd. Interesting always to hear the same integers that made Jungle and their manifestation in New York.

I have misplaced the track listing. (scratches head) I guess I could probably figure it out but it doesn't really matter. Head over to mixcloud to enjoy this very special treat.