I've been loving The Roots. I was wrong about them. From "Do You Want More?!!!??!" through to "Phrenology" that's an amazing four album run.
And I got to thinking about my prejudices towards the concept of Hip-hop with instruments. I've always thought it had to be 2 turntables and a microphone, or an MPC. Some deconstructive virtual shit.
And then I thought a bit deeper - back to the Sugarhill Gang and then further deep into the pre-history of Rap, and naturally of Reggae too. There's always been rapping with instruments. In fact pretty soon the "classic" version of Hip-Hop we know from sampling will seem a small island in time.
I've built this mix - which is a pretty dope history lesson - in reverse chronological order for a change. To lead your ears out from the present.
Jay Z - Jigga
NERD - Lapdance
Timbaland and Magoo - Up Jumps The Boogie
The Roots - Double Trouble
Stetsasonic - Pen and Paper
Trouble Funk - Drop The Bomb
Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel - Step Off
Rammelzee and K Rob - Beat Bop
The Younger Generation - We Rap More Mellow
Soul Sonic Force - Zulu Nation Throwdown
Funky 4 + 1 - That’s the Joint
The Treacherous Three - The Body Rock
Xanadu and Sweet Lady - Rockers Choice
Derek Laro and Trinity - Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough
Welton Irie - Shake Your Body Down To The Ground
Fatback and King Tim III - Personality Jock
Gil Scott-Heron - The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
The Last Poets - Related To What Chant/Related To What/Mean Machine Chant
Big Youth - Jim Squashy
Hustlers Convention - Sport
James Brown - Black President
U.Roy and Eric Donaldson - Festival Time
Pigmeat Markham - Here comes The Judge
Bo Diddley - Bo Diddley
I got a copy of "I, Robot" on eBay and when it arrived I thought, hm, Panther. I'm sure I've got other Panther Books. I was really surprised how many. What an incredibly cool imprint it was! The wiki is surprisingly scant and actually (with an admittedly cursory look) there doesn't seem to be anything about them online.
To my mind Pulp were merely "OK". They were a bit like a vaudeville act - that's to say how their music, lyrics and visuals were poised in relation to one another. I have always preferred music strictly on its own terms, stripped of everything but artwork - as sound as opposed to theatre. One could place Pulp and Jarvis Cocker firmly in the theatric tradition of Anthony Newley, Scott Walker and David Bowie. Although perhaps Bowie and Walker kept firmer faith in recorded music? Pulp's medium was the live performance and the pop video. That certainly doesn't make them uninteresting but simply not my cup of tea.
In the suffocating left-wing critical consensus that has grown up around pop music in the past decade Pulp's "Common People" has again and again been touted as some kind of urtext. Critic after critic swoon over its supposedly indelible encoding of internecine class hatred and the alleged bright light the song shines on inequality. What do I say? Hang on half a darned second... You only need to reflect honestly for a moment to know that this is nonsense.
I don't especially endorse them, but there are reasons why Global Capitalism is ripe for criticism. Chief amongst these is the way its mechanisms ravage life at its peripheries. I've come across no better example of this than the story of Michael Birch and the Devon village of Woolsery. Tycoon Birch visited the Devon village he knew as a child and was shocked to find its hotel, pub and chippy shut down. He set about to rectify the situation.
The strength and poignancy of the fable being that it foregrounds the condition of capitalism and is not some paranoid, bilious theory about a shadowy "establishment". Birch is, like most people, a decent and reasonable individual. In stumbling into the ravages of this town from his childhood he had the, I don't know if it could be called, "good luck" to witness in an entirely objective way the worst current in society. Imagine how differently he, or anyone for that matter, would have reacted if an organised committee of Woolsery residents picketed his home in San Francisco? Perhaps he'd have the stoicism to see them right - but most likely he'd call the cops. Because, after all, it's not exactly his fault is it?
Not only is there reason to be be disgusted the extremes of capitalism, there are also good ways of going about expressing this. What Birch did, quietly took action and gave his time and money at a grassroots level, is exemplary. That's praxis. And there are bad ways. Pop music is a particularly bad way. From the outset, and I'm surprised the left needs this pointed out, Pop music is about making money. If you're preaching financial equality in a Pop song you're a hypocrite. More and more, with disgusting stunts like Corbyn's act of pretending a Virgin train is full and sitting on the floor, I think Politics is a bad way of expressing it too.
If you actually examine "Common People" and not take it as read, it's considerably more nuanced. To my mind these nuances actually add to Cocker's humanity - rather than detract from them.
She came from Greece she had a thirst for knowledgeIn the first instance, what heterosexual man in the world, rich or poor, black or white would object to a beautiful, rich, young woman hitting on them? It's hilarious that this even needs to be pointed out. It's not tanks on the lawn; it's a dream situation! And make no mistake, this is supposed to be a gorgeous girl. In the video played by the delightful Sadie Frost. And Cocker is in control the situation and, it seems, her. She buys him the drink he wants which isn't a bad start. He's not pleading! He's loving every second of it.
She studied sculpture at Saint Martin's College
That's where I
Caught her eye
She told me that her Dad was loaded
I said "In that case I'll have a rum and coca-cola"
She said "Fine"
And then she says something truly stupid and obnoxious:
And in thirty seconds time she saidShe's slumming it. Yeah, it's kinda offensive. But she's a bit naive and wanting to open herself up to more experiences - and frankly thank god. I wish to goodness there was more of that. I doubt Bernie Ecclestone's daughters have ever slummed it. They will spend their whole lives in a gilded cage. The Queen slummed it for one night only and I'm sure it did her a lot of good. More social mobility has happened as a result of people slumming it that was ever created by grammar schools. So what does Jarvis do? Is he so outraged by this that he slams his drink on the bar. The song literally stops right there. The video director shouts: "It's a wrap!" No. He fucks her. Well what else could he do?
I want to live like common people
I want to do whatever common people do
I want to sleep with common people
I want to sleep with common people
Well what else could I doIs he really the commodity he is depicted in the video? Being pushed around in her shopping market trolley? Poor, feeble Jarvis the victim? I don't buy it at all. Again, it sounds like he is control.
I said "I'll see what I can do"
I took her to a supermarket
I don't know why
But I had to start it somewhere
So it started there
I said pretend you've got no money
She just laughed and said
"Oh you're so funny"
I said "Yeah?
Well I can't see anyone else smiling in here
But she didn't understandCertainly he is cynical of her motives, contemptuous of her background just as he finds it fascinating and alluring - but this is a sexual relationship, a transaction. Is he tossed aside by her like, ah, a cheap plaything? The song doesn't say that. It doesn't really imply it either. He might have got fed up with her and found a new shag which, knowing men, is the more likely situation.
She just smiled and held my hand
Rent a flat above a shop
Cut your hair and get a job
Smoke some fags and play some pool
Pretend you never went to school
But still you'll never get it right
'Cause when you're laid in bed at night
Watching roaches climb the wall
If you called your Dad he could stop it all
For me the key to understanding the song is the wider biographical context. Make no mistake, the protagonist is Jarvis Cocker. Jarvis Cocker global celebrity, rock star, erstwhile Radio One DJ, video director, all-round international man of glamour and intrigue - not an invented character. Twice I've encountered Cocker in the wild - once on a bike, him with Chloe Sevigny on an empty Lisson Street at the foot of the Euston Road - and once more recently at the sadly defunkt On The Beat record store on Hanway Street. He seems at once groovy, charming and humble. I don't think it's irrelevant to point out that he's not a social worker in Sheffield.
And who is the woman? Well actually now we know. She's Danae Stratou and to quote from Wikipedia:
"...her father is Phaidron Stratos from the family Stratos who founded the Peiraiki-Patraiki textile industry in the Peloponnese, Greece’s largest textile industry in the past."The Independent elaborates:
Danae Stratou studied at St. Martins College of Art and Design between 1983 and 1988, the same year Cocker enrolled in a film studies course there during a break from the band. He told NME in 2013 that he met the Greek girl in the song during ‘Crossover Fortnight’, when St Martins students switched into another discipline for two weeks.
In a later interview Cocker remembered a conversation with the Greek woman who "wanted to move to Hackney and live like 'the common people'". He used this as the basis for the song. But the identity of the woman has never been discovered, despite a search launched by BBC3.The quite hilarious punchline, and frankly a thousand million monkeys couldn't make it up, I couldn't find a more apposite way of puncturing the nonsense of contemporary socialism and its craven quest for victimhood, is that now she's married to Yanis Varoufakis the poster-boy of the radical left.
You know that line dear reader! I kept wandering into situations recently where people were playing The Beatles "Helter Skelter", it must have been at least thrice, and it always sounds as alien and terrifying.
Here's a really nice mix of this grungey, mutated R'n'B-derived sound which has caught my ear. Partly inspired by the new SchoolBoy Q "Blank Face" disc - by rediscovering the bruised sonix of Alex Chilton's lost years - by finally catching up with Tricky's "Pre-Milennial Tension" - by discovering the fucked-up Proto-Rock-Rap coming out of Sun Studios.
The mix starts focused and then descends into a maelstrom of re-imagined Afro-primitivism before riding the brittle linndrums of RSW into the recently discovered (by me) Robert Gordon mix of World Dom's LL Cool J homage.
I hope you can get with this dear readers.
Gomez - Get Miles
The Cramps - Human Fly
Howling Wolf - Moanin’ at Midnight
Tricky - Christiansands
Black Sheep - Similak Child
Captain Beefheart - Moody Liz
Joe Hill Louis - Gotta Let You Go
Alex Chilton - Bangkok
Jimi Hendrix - Stone Free
Miles Davis - Red China Blues
Schoolboy Q - That Part
Siouxsie and The Banshees - Tattoo
Sam Prekop - Practice Twice
Hype Williams - Untitled
Steel An’ Skin - Afro Punk Reggae Dub
Masikulu Rhythm - Mark Ernestus vs. Konono Nº1
Renegade Soundwave - The Phantom (It’s In There)
World Domination Enterprises - I Can’t Live Without My Radio (Robert Gordon Total Mix)
one comes across some pretty strange stuff online. the strangest, i find, are the seemingly private after-trails of misery and insanity. here are three powerful specimens i came across quite by accident whilst looking for other stuff.
do NOT ask me how i came across this. i have no idea. it reveals one man's battle against the toxic administration of wikipedia. completely bonkers. excepted here is details of an edit war over a siouxsie and the banshees article. but there's much, much more besides. you read it here
why i ended up on jaime's discogs page i don't know. but there i was. therein he details his incredibly shocking treatment at the hands of one "joe lewis" from chicago - who steals all his music and releases it as his own. internet gold.
this is really heartbreaking. pete's story is tragic enough but at the bottom there is a single, very sweet comment from susan cadogan herself. the anxiety is almost unbearable. did pete ever read this comment?
This was surprisingly easy to do in only ten CDs. In fact, I challenge YOU to do it better. And, ferchrissakes, I have the records and any more would be excessive duplication. For me it's definitely these ten. No room for snobbery and chaff. "Nah... 11" - Wire's "154" could probably be in there in too - but two entries from one band seemed excessive.
Second Edition great subs. P.I.L, Slits, Wire, Feelies, Associates and Blue Orchids all recently remastered from original analogue tapes and sounding great. The others sounded pretty fine too. And cheap. All under a fiver except Blue Orchids and The Associates which were surprisingly dear but great bonus material with both, seriously.
In spite of its emotive strap line Stephen Witt's book is actually an analogue to Nicholas Negroponte's now twenty one year-old milestone "Being Digital". It's about the ramifications of what happens when you digitise audio.
I was never particularly preoccupied by the issue but sometimes, thinking back to "Being Digital" , I wonder how I was so slow to see how the media landscape would evolve. Because once one grasps the fundamentals about data packet sizes and the ramifications of networked computers it's completely obvious. Certainly it was obvious to the very earliest innovators at Frauenhofer:
"That same year , Seitzer applied for a patent for a digital jukebox. Under this more elegant model of distribution, consumers could dial into a centralized computer server, then use the keypad to request music over the new digital telephone lines that Germany was just beginning to install."
Seitzer had immediately grasped the concept of streaming and the necessity of smaller file sizes to deal with network bandwidth. Spotify uses Ogg Vorbis, not mp3, and computers rather than telephones, but apart from that there's today's conceptual model right there. Funny to think though that Edison too imagined people would listen to music over phone lines!
It's a great book, is thoroughly readable and comes highly recommended but there were for me a few snag points. Firstly there's Witt's, basically amusing, but at once irritating prose style. The whole thing, all 265 pages, are written in the form of a bar yarn: "A guy walks into a room. He's six-foot, informally-dressed in black jeans." Witt also leaves one with the feeling that in his blatant mythologising of a very small handful of people: Brandenburg at Frauenhofer, Morris at Universal and Glover at the RNS Pirate clique that a bigger, more nuanced (even if perhaps less amusing) story is there for the telling. There's sometimes something silly about this Marvel/DC vision of masked men and caped crusaders. Finally, I believe there's something of a fudge in his description of Huffman coding which made me wonder about other things. Still, it's a lot of fun.
From 1996 (when mp3s first started appearing - I remember my friend Hugo's prehistoric mp3 player) till 2016 (with Spotify's pre-eminence, TIDAL and the birth of Apple Music) we've been on a journey. With this extraordinary shift from CDs to streaming there is a sense that we are now at the destination. What's next?
One of the interesting things which has affected my business is that the speed of the web has made compression less and less important. Around 2000 there was a real drive in animation to be able to master vector packages like Flash - because vector animation produced much smaller file sizes and lower data transfer rates. In 2006 when I made Woebot.TV I didn't host it at YouTube because you couldn't upload films longer than (and thus files as big as) 10 minutes. In 2016 file sizes are almost not an issue at all and data rates with broadband are extremely quick. Consequently the emphasis has shifted to improving image quality and providing less compressed files.
With music it does seem harder to make people care about sound quality. Neil Young has been widely mocked for his PONO initiative in audiophile digital. However, trust me, there is a difference between good quality and poor quality digital audio. In hardware terms a good DAC really is an amazing thing - as are, in software terms uncompressed audio bitrates. The industry has till now poo-poohed this as something not worth worrying about (largely, I believe, because it has been impossible for them to market it). However with TIDAL's heavy emphasis on high quality audio the signs are there. I would imagine that eventually we will see things like Apple buying Apogee Digital, and probably even companies like B&W and a new marketing emphasis on high quality audio. Then everyone will regret selling their CDs.