Writing by Neil Kulkarni

Friday, 27 April 2012

Wu-Tang Clan: Martial Law (Melody Maker, 1997)

"THE NEXT Wu-Tang Clan album will be in the year 2000, and we'll follow it up with a comet. A comet. Then an earthquake. Then Pestilence. We're gonna set off the New World", The RZA, 1997 

(First published in Melody Maker, 24 May 1997) 
Public Enemy's fall from grace left hip hop without a heroic focus. Enter WU-TANG CLAN, a crew from Staten Island whose ever-changing line-up has produced more solo albums than you can poke a stick at and rewritten rap's rule book

STRETCH LIMO. Ice white. In the front, a chauffeur – looking pissed off, chewing a toothpick for courage, dreaming of Sinatra. In the back, looking backwards, an MTV anchor woman – clutching a mic for grim life, dreaming of easier jobs, scanning with increasing anxiety the unknown New York streets the limo is now winding its way through. Facing her, a rap star – white suit, gold jewellery, the works. Cooing babe on each arm, kids playing at his feet, a bottle of Moet perpetually jammed in his slurring mouth, talking drunken nonsense, he leans forward and orders the driver to pull up outside an innocuous, low-slung building. Disentangling himself from the limo, he gets out of the car and enters. Minutes pass. The MTV VJ looks ever more desperate, wondering if he'll ever come back. Suddenly, the door opens and he's back in, champagne and wheels ordered to keep flowing. "What did you go in there for?" asks the VJ, timidly. "To pick up these," says the rap star, waving two welfare cheques at the camera. Eyes racing wildly off in different directions, as he jams the bottle back in his giggling mouth. He can do that. He's Ol' Dirty Bastard.

LIKE RAKIM said, "it's not where you're from, it's where you're at", but there's not doubt, the Wu-Tang Clan's history starts in and is defined by Staten Island. Out of the five New York boroughs, Staten – or Shaolin, as the Wu call it – remained fairly silent throughout hip hop's Nuyorcan birth and development. Whereas Queens, Manhattan, and especially Brooklyn and The Bronx had their own lost history of rap culture and local talent, little was heard from the Island until late '92, when a self-financed 12-inch called 'Protect Ya Neck' found it's way from the back of vans to the underground network of shops, clubs and radio stations that keep New York hip hop the most constantly changing and fascinating musical scene on the planet.

This was the first transmission from the Wu-Tang Clan, and even now it sounds as stunning as ever. It sounded as if the imposed isolation of living fenced out from the rest of the city and never even getting shout-outs on most hip hop records had twisted the minds of the music's creators, forcing them to build their own vision of hip hop straight from scratch to mic. Reducing the beat to a shuffling stumble, killing the soundscape with two huge, gothic bass-slabs, filling in what space was left with shards of Bernard Hermann soundtracks, it was the eeriest thing you'd heard in years because it was so impossible to predict. 'Protect Ya Neck' wasn't a refusal, or an affirmation of a hip hop world that had ignored them, it was a NEW hip hop world they had made for themselves. And nobody knew where the f*** it had come from.

What were these strange beats, these sudden bolts of noise mid-line, these vocal tics breaking out all over Method Man's monologue, the bizarre lyrics about "troops in Pakistan", "psycho flashback in the dark", "flowing like Christ"! As they started taking NYC by storm, people began to find out about The Clan: that they were nine, had known each other since childhood. That they comprised producer The RZA, DJ 4th Disciple, rappers Method Man, Ol' Dirty Bastard, U God, REbel Ins, Raekwon, Ghost Face Killer and Genius "The GZA". That they were all martial arts experts and were named after the most elegant of all martial arts sword-styles. That they recorded their madness in their own studio in Staten. That The Genius and RZA had released solo records in the early Nineties for Tommy Boy and Cold Chillin' that had sunk without a trace.

Fresh on the underground success of 'Protect Ya Neck', the Clan signed to BMG with a clause ensuring complete solo freedom enshrined in the contract. And then came the debut LP that changed the face of hip hop. Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers (the title referring to the 36 critical points of the body in Shaolin theology) is the most important rap LP of the Nineties – one of those LPs that changed the parameters of the future by obliterating the past, making you wonder where you were wasting your time before it came along.

Its arrival held three explosive changes for hip hop. Lyrically, it kick started the "reality" phenomenon – rap's bragadoccio and polemic ripped apart by a relativism and millennial anxiety that placed no limits on the rapper other than the life he leads, the fantasy and egotism of gangsta shot down and dragged through streets of doubt, fear and claustrophobia. Stylistically, it was the most complete concept since Public Enemy – a union of look, language and intent fused in ancient martial arts ideas (discipline, brotherhood, technique) and put in the Shaolin Staten present, the Clan appearing as faceless assassins on the sleeve, that perfect sublime logo everywhere and imprinted in your mind forever. Musically, and most importantly, 36 Chambers was like nothing you'd ever heard.

Like all shifts in hip hop (the only music form to progress less through revolutions than alien invasions), this was beyond fusing familiar sounds to create a new whole. The Wu bought completely new sounds to the mixing desk, and then mashed them together in an order, shape and mood you couldn't reproduce with an infinite number of monkeys, unlimited turntables and an eternity to play with. From the brutal murk of 'Bring Da Ruckus', the smoky funk of 'Shame On A Nigga', through the lush insanity of 'Clan In Da Front', 'C.R.E.A.M.' and 'Tearz', to the staggering distorto-groove of '7th Chamber', Enter The Wu-Tang shocked hip hop back to life when it was in danger of falling off the bench. It changed the lexicon of word and sound that the form could investigate, and crucially, was the first LP in too long that you learned by heart, that you let infect your everyday walk and talk. Setting the scene alight, it hit gold status almost immediately. The Wu had arrived; now we had catching up to do on those big blocks of lyrics we still couldn't fathom. But we didn't have time. The Wu never give you time. They keep going. You'll never catch up. That's the first lesson.

"IT'S NOT samples. I hate samples. We use one note and change it to anything we want. It's all noise, my beats are noise, noises put together over heavy drums, but to a formula only I and the other producers understand. And we're the best producers in the world, the best lyricists in the world. No question. We've got the ultimate powers to impregnate people with ideas through sound. That's all I want to do; not show my face, give any set pictures, just infect people with pure sound they can put their own pictures to": The RZA, 1997

FIRST TO exercise his contractual freedom and step out the ranks was The RZA, who along with ex-Stetsasonic psychonauts Prince Paul and Fruitkwan, plus Grym Reaper from Too Poetic, formed The Gravediggaz and dropped the stunning Niggamortis LP in 1994. Simultaneously creating and perfecting horror-core, it is the only supergroup LP in history that really matters.

Next to break was Method Man's Tical solo set, a nasty, short, brutish half-hour of advanced hebephrenia that was less interesting for Meths' warped vocal style than for the mind blowing out-ness of the RZA's production. The success of 36 Chambers now afforded him unprecedented freedom to create whatever fresh hell he wanted, fearlessly taking that remit to extremes some say the Wu have never surpassed. Crushing choirboys against the sound of rotting corpses, opera against sexmuzik grind, free jazz atonality with electro-precision – it was a dauntingly bleak, dark mini-masterpiece that Tricky spent a whole year listening to and which sent the rest of us either running scared or running out of superlatives.

The Wu were fast turning into stars, name-checked everywhere, cropping up on hip hop's most forward-looking moments (Mobb Deep, Show and AG), consolidating power, gaining gradual pre-eminence with entrepreneurial foresight and exercising ruthless control. Playing live for the first time in London and Birmingham in 1994, they were hailed as underground heroes; kids turned out in masks in worship of Ol' Dirty Bastard's newly-moneyed leeriness as displayed on his solo LP The Dirty Version. Here you saw 20-year-old B-boys swapping their Guinness for bottles of Möet in cheap ice buckets, Ian Wright showing out and joining in the pit's ruckus.

Meanwhile, back in the States, 36 Chambers went platinum, the first few Wu copyists chanced their arm and ODB cut an increasingly wayward figure, gate-crashing other people's stages, evidently too far gone too often to come back again. Method Man got in mainstream faces with a gorgeous Mary J Blige duet, 'You're All I Need', ODB palled up with Mariah Carey and then, almost to reaffirm their underground intent, if not to reiterate the RZA's visionary control of the Wu-world, the best LP any of the Wu have been responsible for was released – Raekwon's Only Built For Cuban Linx. Recasting the Clan as an assortment of coked-out Goodfellas (Meth became Johnny Blaze, Ghostface became Tony Starks, the RZA was Bobby Steele, Master Killa was Noodles and even Nas got a cameo as Nas Escobar) and introducing the incredible new members of the Wu-Tang family (Sunz Of Man And Cappadonna) it was an immense record most of us haven't yet managed to fully grasp. Segued together with an impenetrable flow of John Woo samples and turgid streams of street dialogue, the whole album recreated the urban heat and cruel waste it so perfectly described lyrically. As a seamless continuum of beat and rhyme, it was the Wu's most flawless production yet; as one gigantic challenge to the rap world (and indeed, the entire pop universe) it still remains unanswered.

There are moments here when you're left frozen and stranded wondering what the hell is going on. It easing you in on the relatively straight-ahead 'Knuckleheadz' and 'Criminology', but by track five you were in unchartered territory and accelerating alarmingly; by track seven you were hitting the repeat in stunned confusion; come the insane acid rock and diseased psychedelia of 'Glaciers Of Ice' and 'Verbal Intercourse', you gave up the ghost and submitted.

With its immaculate rhyming, impossible richness of imagery and density of content, Cuban Linx was something you couldn't leave alone, couldn't stop exploring, something that still confers a pall of inferiority on much of the rest of pop every time you hear it. It was the album of '95; for the B-boy it's the greatest LP of the Nineties, full stop; vitally, its massive success gave the Wu and The RZA the vindication for their supremely untrammelled status as bona fide artists in the face of an ever more-interested and intrusive industry. To make the most innovative LP of a generation was one thing, to buck the old innovation/populism dichotomy so spectacularly was to set up the Wu as gods of their own art, give them a power and potential unheard of in rap history.

YOU COULD feel that freedom when the GZA released Liquid Swords late in '95. Here the RZA's psychedelic reach was given full scope; it ran wild on wide-open spaces and was possibly his most eclectic and eye-popping production yet.

Once again recasting the Clan (U God became Lucky Hands, Inspectah Deck became Roily Fingers) and introducing phenomenal new talents from the Wu stable (Life, Dreddy Kruger and the scarifyingly good Killah Priest) it immediately established itself as the most accessibly funky Wu album. GZA pulls some astonishing vocal tricks (the Maker unforgettably – and unforgivably – called it G-funk), with the hip hop world now falling at the feet of anything with a Wu-Tang logo anywhere near it. Even the notoriously slack style press admitted the RZA as musical genius of the Nineties and Ghostface Killer's Ironman LP simply forced it home, winning over what little resistance still lingered. What was so amazing, and so encouraging about the solo LPs was the unity and individuality they balanced so well, the feeling that there is so much more of this stuff to come, the fact that as yet the Clan have never repeated themselves and have potential in their protegees that will sustain them into the next century. As ever with the Wu, their future, what happens next, is the most inspirational and inconceivable possibility in pop. What does happen next? This does.

"MY destination was to seek life/I mean stars were so low they appeared as streetlights/I was shown the crucifixion/my true addiction/I mean war in heaven/I saw Christ with a Mac-11/so I joined his army/prepared for Armageddon/slowly taking me into the mental orgasm/ejaculating stimulating relating to life incubating/rotating around light-beams/from a light-beam I was formed in a white cream/and then redeemed like powder outta my maker/into nature/returned as vapor/Killah Priest/was born in the pillar of yeast/lost in the miscarried": Killah Priest 'Greyhound Remix'

TO CALL THE new Wu-Tang LP, Forever, highly anticipated isn't just an understatement, it also betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Wu really mean to their fans. You can't simply find a space for Wu-Tang in your schedule, make a lifestyle choice, file them away in a corner of your world. They're too total, their demands on you too huge to negotiate without obsession.

They seep into your body, affect the mind, burrow into your soul, colour your whole experience.

All the music the rest of this paper tells you about every week, every nuance, every emotion, every quality, every truth, is already there in the Wu's music, and brought to a more perfect exposition and elaboration. The deepest psychedelia, the richest soundscapes, the starkest minimalism, the furthest reaches of post rock, the maddest dub on earth. Hip hop. And if every Wu transmission thus far has cast a shadow over the rest of pop, Forever will dominate 1997's agenda like nothing else. Now that the rest of pop are finally dimly realising what the Wu have done, Forever will place a bomb in pop that the entire music scene will spend another era trying to get their heads around.

It's enormous, it's pure devastation, the skills developed over the last five years coming to full fruition, the energy, aura and potential of each solo artist fulfilled at even higher levels, RZA's protegees – Mathematics, True Master and 4th Disciple – weighing in with some truly jaw-dropping production. The struck-dumb truth that's so hard to imagine is that it's even better than the debut, even harder than anything that's come before; the impossible burden we as fans have to deal with is that perhaps we really will never catch up, perhaps the Wu are too luminescently blessed to be held down. Maybe the point is that with the next Clan LP set for the year 2000, and solo LPs forthcoming from Cappadonna, Killah Priest, Master Killer, 12 O'clock, Sunz Of Man and a new Gravediggaz LP, this awesome shit will not stop fascinating, engaging, changing and challenging us for a long time yet. Keep it com in'.

Introducing the nu Wu...

SUNZ Of MAN: With two stunning 12-inches last year and a forthcoming LP that should be all-conquering, 62nd Assassin's crew should tear up '97 a storm.

KILLAH PRIEST: Already heard on Liquid Swords and that incredible Jon Spencer remix (Spencer hated it, which shows how much he knows), the Wu's most complex talent drops his LP soon and the tracks we've heard signal a masterpiece.

12 O'CLOCK: Nasty Immigrant on the Nutty Professor soundtrack points towards great things for these Raekwon protegees.

KGB: 'Bless Your Life' was the great lost cine-funk classic of last year; RZA-produced, they can't go wrong.

CAPADONNA: As heard live at the recent shows and on that phenomenal split 12-inch with Real Live; Capa should blow up soon to become the latest addition to the Wu arsenal.

WU-WEAR: Not a band, but the Wu's own clothing brand. Ummm, can we have some please? Size? Fat.

© Neil Kulkarni, 1997, reprinted with thanks from Rocks Back Pages

Friday, 20 April 2012

"You'll never be this uncool again."


Back in FKN AGES AGO the greatest editor IPC were too damn stupid to hire, Everett True, told me he was starting a new music magazine called Careless Talk Costs Lives and that he wanted me to write a column about Metal. In a similar state of dazed penury I agreed and they became increasingly unrelated to metal and a bit whiney. Still, people seemed to dig 'em so I'll be putting them up here now and then, in order. This is the first one, from issue 11 (CTCL counted down from ish 12 to ish 1).

"This is why I now have automatic limbs"


So I got in the Darpacoptor and hummed up to his eyeline. Eye as big as Enceladus. Step down, gingerly traverse his metal sockets hopping mile-high rivets in my jet boots , always the immortal strength of mortal weakness singing through the retinal lakes I swim through, flaws so deep in the iridium irises they shoot back supersized light beams concave. This is hard: when you interview a real superhero, for that is what Kashmere is, you’re aware of something buzzing under the words, some elemental filament of resistance you can’t get to,  glowing like kryptonite inside, the secret identity he can’t reveal. That planet-wide steel-trap swings open and an abyssal rumble issues forth: “I’m in my own world. I have unique views and approaches to making music and its hard to find common ground with people. Even though hip-hop is my heart,  I still don’t feel like I'm 'part' of it. I see myself as an observer. And that’s real.”

OK, to even be privy to this transmission you must mainline manganese light and heat straight to your synapses through the wonder that is Galaktus, Kashmere’s simply staggering latest LP on the awesome Boot Records (seek the catalogue, buy and hoard), let it trephinate freshly deformed Schwarzschild radii in yr skull, pull you into it’s universe just as Kash godself was forged in such light-year-wide, light speed derangement.

“BOOOOOOOM. I’d seriously get lost in albums. I was totally lost in the first tribe Called Quest lp and the first De La Soul lp. I was definitely drawn into their worlds deeply. It was wondrous. All the different types of sounds, the skits, the way they laid down vocals. It was almost like they were rapping in riddles! Shit was really dope from there it was on!! Too many groups to mention, LONS, EPMD (as a group and separately), London Posse  there's too much to mention. Rap radio like Kiss 100's Maz LX and Dave VJ, Choice FM's DJ 279 and of course Capital Radio & Westwood had a profound effect on me growing up I tell ya. Incredible times. So coming from there I have to get in a zone when making music. I cant do it any other way and I really want people to get in a zone when listening. That’s what its all about. Working with Boot, with Jazz T & Zygote  for Galactic I guess was just natural as we were working together anyway. Working with them is cool apart from the armoured sentinel in the lab. It basically lasers your brain (with safety parameters off!)  if you aint laying shit down properly. I was fucking up alot as I was nervous. This is why I now have automatic limbs.”

    Crucial tie between comic books & hip-hop:  both are art forms ideal for people who consider themselves outsiders, homes for people with too many thoughts to just join the 9-5. If either comic books or hip-hop were looking for twin art forms that  can host ideas & stories & people that wouldn’t fit anywhere else they should look no further than each other. What say you oh strider of the 28 Xiu?
  “Well all you have to do is look at Galactus to see where the allure is hahaha.. I mean, he’s omnipotent and he’s fucking massive!!!! His power is actually off the scale! So basically the Galaktus lp isn’t really a recreation as such,  I used the Galactus imagery to convey power. We wanted to do a sci-fi based project that wasn’t masturbation but at the same time was powerful sonically. I purposely didn’t fill it up to the brim with comic book jargon as I was experimenting,  using the Galaktus thing as a semi-loose theme floating around. I wanted to suggest things more than exactly describe scenes out of a comic book. This is an alternate Galactus thats more concerned with getting’ busy than anything else.”

"One thing that doesn’t switch off for me is thinking about music. I’m in a constant day dream thinking about beats, vibes, sometimes lyrics, sounds, rhythms. just dreaming about it while awake."

That mix of high-concept cosmology and street-level ruggedness runs throughout the sound and verbiage of ‘Galaktus’, Kash as likely to lace Tribe Called Quest lines in with the sci-fi imagery, just  as Zygote & Jazz T mix dungeonesque noise & mayhem in with Show & AG-style avant-funk and straight up fuzzy stompbeats. It’s fearsome music but always a pure rubbery phat pleasure to submit to.
 “I didn’t want complicated rhyme styles either” affirms Kash, and this he relates through the medium of a binary shockwave that takes me by surprise, I skitter downwards, bearing-jointed knuckles scratching ineffectively at his visage as I plummet into the yonder. “I wanted the music to be the main thing because a) I think that’s missing and b) the beats Boot crafted where immense. Thinking that if I ever revisit this I will go more hard on the god adventures! Strictly for the heads! This time around I just wanted to make some hard hittin’ shit with these ideas floating around, you know what I mean? Hip-hop and the comic book world lend well to each other. Both highly creative platforms and both at their best highly inspirational. Also there’s a nerd quality to both, you know? Diggers will know what I mean - the collecting aspect y’know? Like comics, hip-hop can be a place for people that think differently can chill and discover themselves reflected. It’s got dope written all over it! Plus its so versatile!”

Still plunging through the dust plumes, past the torso, escape impossible, hope absconding as quickly as I freefall, barely conscious enough to register that for Kash hip-hop starts the moment he wakes and doesn’t necessarily end when he sleeps either.
“I’m definitely in my own world. I couldn’t imagine not absorbing the world through a musical filter. Life to me sounds like a soundtrack in itself so much interesting sounds textures and rhythms. With Galaktus I sat with the beats for a while, came into the lab in the morning, chill for a while, chat breeze, smoke trees, watch TV and listening to tunes. Then I'd hear a nice break and be like 'ahh that one'. he'd then start flippin the beat and id write while they flips. Kinda like I’m a critic and he’s a pancake maker. The creative process is not 100% controllable for me though. it fires of at random a lot. I know a lot of people are very deliberate with their music they know what they want and they go in and do that whereas I  more vibe it out.”
Five seconds of life left oh quasar-devouring monstro-MC Kash are you worried about the future of rap or confident that innovative hip-hop will always cycle back and return?
“For me I try not to involve my mind in anything other than music and the city. London city looks dope to me man. So it's like all the brainwashing from the corporate music industry doesn’t effect me. at times I've been caught up in what they’re up to but really... fuck that shit... its poison. its different now because interesting music doesn’t seem to cross over like it used to but I guess we were in  analogue times. now were fully in the digital realm it cant be the same again! only different! which to me is exciting cos we don’t know what’s going to happen.” [here I die. Onwards transmission recorded by automatic spectrotranscriber] “I’m enjoying artists like Dim Lite, Dorian Concept, S.Marharba - I think that movement is really exciting. I just wish I was hearing these guys collab with cool rappers, not posing idiots. I think some cool music can come from that."

My coptor, my jetboots, my suit, all atomised, my flesh dispersed beyond Chandrasekar  oh Galaktus oh Galaktus . .

Alot has happened in hip-hop and its never gonna be the same. I think if we have another golden era its going to be on some different shit. "
"Its then going to be all about who sees and appreciates it, I’ve noticed a trend with a lot of people that are into hip-hop. The trend is to worship ignorance. Like ignorance is cool somehow. Dumbing down. That’s why the afrocentric/concious era was dope cos it was about learning, experimenting AND  having fun on different levels. In those times U wanted to know stuff and hip-hop encouraged that.  Hip-hop seemingly encourages something else now but we must remember... that aint hip-hop bringing this madness its the corporations that have sold people this crap over and over till they actually believe its the only way to go.  people don’t even realise they are being brainwashed!  they (corporations) want people on an ignorant tip so they can continue to peddle their dodgy goods. ”
Only one thing to report. Galaktus IS GOD. Man down. End transmission.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Neil Kulkarni guide to being a record-reviewer

16:48 Posted by neil kulkarni , , , 2 comments
(15:35 July 13th, 2009, Drowned In Sound as commissioned by Everett True, lashed down in a moody morning)

Ten bits of advice from someone without a clue – the Neil Kulkarni guide to being a record-reviewer...

Words: Neil Kulkarni

1. Love language. To the point where you wonder where it stops and you begin.

2. Realise where you stand. Not in relation to the record but in relation to the record business. You’re something less than the shit crapped out by the maggot that feasts on the shit crapped out by the rabid dog that is the music biz – if at any point you start thinking that what you are doing ‘matters’ in a bizness sense you’re fucked, if at any point you reckon you’re anything more than a piddling-peon in place to rubber-stamp or reject product, then think again. The biz will use you if you say what they want, if you don’t they won’t – be mentally clear about your own utter irrelevance before you even start or be ready for a steady diet of disappointment your whole working life. Might seem such pre-emptive knee-chopping action on your ambition might wither the writing down to meekness – quite the reverse: only by first accepting your inability to change pop, your lonely impotence amid the cogs and gears, do you realise that your words shouldn’t be measured, considered, or anything approaching reasonable. The self-abasing degrading shame of being a critic doesn’t paralyse, it frees you up to write what the fuck you want rather than what you feel the ‘job’ demands, disconnects you from anything approaching favours, but keeps your overarching pomposity (for if you don’t have this what the fuck are you doing being a writer anyhoo?) in check. You have no favours to grant, no friends to keep, no partner to find, absolutely nothing to lose except your own idea of yourself, your own relationship with your style, taste and ego. This has nothing to do with whatever PR has sent you the record, whatever ‘readership’ your publisher is aiming for or any ‘help’ you can give to a band or artist you deem worthy of your reverse-Midas messing. This is between you and the plastic and the mirror you have to look at yourself in and nothing else. There is no career ladder. Only a downward spiral from the first thrill of seeing your name in print.

3. Be honest about your own dishonesty. Don’t lie, or at least make damn sure your lies are real. Delusions of grandeur aren’t gonna fly unless they’re not delusions, unless you can make the words vibrate with enough energy to create yourself the illusion of godliness. Tricky thang to create – conviction, the feeling reading that no matter how purple the prose it is still ineluctably connected with the life and soul of the writer. But record reviews are not really places to ‘affect’ anything – make sure your affectations are life-sized and real before you start unpacking them across the page. If you’re going to be a primping self-obsessed prima donna in print then make damn sure that self-image is intact and whole and the drama you’re throwing out and around yourself is rock solid, is firmly based in the time and space you find yourself right fkn now. If you’re going to shame yourself do it shamelessly. If you don’t regret what you’ve written after you’ve written it, or find in revisiting past work an occasional INTENSE embarassment (and equally intense pride) you’re probably not doing your job properly. But if ALL you feel is a faint embarrassment (and equally faint pride) then you’ve been writing needily, you’ve been writing to get friends you’re never going to meet, and you’re the next editor of the NME. Congratulations.

4. Teenagers. Read. By which I mean devour. Listen. By which I mean hollow yourself out until you only exist in the spaces between the pop you love. Then, try and find yourself again, or at least create something tangible in the gaps. Find the unique thing you have to say, the unique way you have of saying it, and hone the fucker until you can hear yourself talking on the page, until you can recognise yourself a line in. Your voice is easier found with a chip on your shoulder and a pain in your heart. Think about those writers who you feel weren’t just writing for you but who come to live in your life, a constant over-the-shoulder presence yaying or naying the choices you make. If you don’t want to be that important to your readers get out the game.

5. Getting song titles and lyrics right can be less important than nailing your feelings, your real feelings that occur before your mind has a chance to process them, the feelings a record puts in your brain and body before you feel the need to justify or back-up those instant instincts. If you can’t think of anything to say about a record you’re in the wrong place. Ditch this bitch of a non-job and get yourself a plumbing degree, s’where the money and the happiness is.

6. Stop dithering. You should be able to lash down a 600 word record review in an hour. Read it, change it, read it again, change it again – keep going until it’s inarguable. Be the most brutal editor you know – knocking shit down from EVERYTHING YOU THINK to a HINT of what you think will give you only the choicest shit, the toughest sense, the most committed nonsense. When writing always think Ed Gein – cut out the fanny.

7. Listen only to those colleagues whose writing you respect. Ignore pips on shoulders or being overawed by another’s ‘position’. Be willing to write anything for anyone but always try and pleas(ur)e yourself. In this day and age you have less and less to lose.

8. Be poetic be prosaic but if you’re gonna crack wise, be funny – remember what Fitzgerald said about exclamation marks being ‘like laughing at your own joke’ – if you’re gonna wank-off be concise. Get to the heart of your dreams and delusions quickly and convincingly – don’t waste time apologising or stage-setting. And if at any point you look on a paragraph and think ‘Mark Beaumont could’ve written this’ stab yourself in the eyes cut off your hands and drown yourself in the bath for the sake of Our Lord Jesu Christus himself. For the children dammit.

9. A difficult one this but NEVER Google yourself. Ignore compliments, avoid slaps on the back. Suck up criticism, it’s probably half-right. Be unfailingly polite and well-mannered in all your communications with PRs and labels (nothing’s quite so repulsive as a rude-cunt hack), watch what bridges you’re burning and keep on keeping on.

10. Accept that everything you say will be forgotten and ignored but write as if you and your words are immortal. Don’t just describe but justify – make sure the reader knows WHY the record exists whether the reasons are righteous or rascally. And always remember you’re not here to give consumer advice or help with people’s filing. You’re here to set people’s heads on fire.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Don't Know Why I Can't Play: Mixnotes 4

1. FLEETWOOD MAC - Save Me A Place 

I'm a Mcvei skipper. Straight to Stevie & Lindsay's songs. Of which this is one of his best.

2. PAVEMENT - Zurich Is Stained

Only go back to the first 3 Pavement albums ever. You think it's easy but you're wrong. I am not one half of the problem. 

3. SUPER FURRY ANIMALS - Citizens Band 

Normally hate hidden tracks cos they're nearly always poop and I dislike the smugness of their hidden nature. Was a genuine delight though to accidentally wind back BEFORE the beginning of 'Guerilla' to hear this. A band that can tuck a song this good away somewhere where most people won't find it is a band with an almost frightening confidence. Up there with 'Sex War & Robots' as one of SFA's sweetest serenades.

4. BREEDERS - Doe 

"Pod" is the one. What a drum sound. It still breaks my heart that Kim Deal never fell in love with me when I was 15.  But I guess staying in my room getting angry was never gonna be the best ploy to find a goddess. 

5. DEUS - Fell Off The Floor Man 

Back when I had a radio show (I got fired for avoiding a staff-meeting by a fearsome woman who had a massive bad oil-painting of John Wayne behind her desk) used to always be rockin' something offa Deus' fantastic 'In A Bar Under The Sea' album, of which this is the opener. Love those beats. 

6. MINUTEMEN - Theater Is The Life Of You 

Senses loose in knots... my logic is my style.
Can't avoid it, must make a stand

7. YO LA TENGO - Stockholm Syndrome 

"I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One" is thee best Yo La Tengo album and one of the greatest American albums of the 90s. This is the best track on it.

8. SLINT - Good Morning Captain 

Ignore the curatorship of Slint's 'legacy': this track is as startling now as it was nigh-on 20 years ago. 

9. CAN - Dizzy Dizzy 

I know I don't smoke with the angels I know, don't throw ashtrays at me. The most ARKane-ish lyrics this side of uhhhh. . . . A.R Kane I guess. 

10. THE YARDBIRDS - Lost Woman 

"Roger The Engineer" from Cov Central Library blew my 12 year old mind. This is the track that followed the mindfuck madness of 'Happenings Ten Years Time Ago'. For a while back there I thought Jeff Beck was amazing. Then I heard some Jeff Beck Group and stopped thinking so. But still - Beck & Page and some amazing feedbacky drone in the bridge. Sizzling. 

11. DINOSAUR JNR - They Always Come 

So, fans will carp but 'Bug's the one. One of the great guitar-tutor LPs of all time alongside Daydream Nation and The Fat Skier. 


Impossible to resist. Love Fairport and they never sounded as joyous as this again. Sad to discover recently that Sandy Denny's solo stuff isn't as good but the title track of 'The North Star Grassman And The Ravens' most emphatically IS. 

13. DAVID BOWIE - Joe The Lion 

Bowie is perfect getting ready to go out music. This has accompanied many a Saturday night primp and preen and drinking til your hand's steady enough to do your mascara. 

god it's Monday
Slither down the greasy pipe
So far so good no one saw you
Hobble over any freeway
You will be like your dreams tonight

14. BUZZCOCKS - I Don't Mind 

All the copyists miss the point. It's not the sound. It's the people involved. 

15. THE CONGOS - Open Up The Gate 

Listening to Gladiators, Culture, Congos you realise the next place that harmonies went after the West Coast and Laurel Canyon was Kingston. A lesson in finding your place and exalting it. 

16. JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE - Wait Until Tomorrow 

Jimi & Mitch. Noel kept busy and unintrusive. Axis be the best when you want your Jimi flab-free. 

17. THE ROLLING STONES - Stray Cat Blues 

Good god the heat. Charlie - you can SEE him in the grooves. Remember reading Mick Jagger saying the intro was inspired by the Velvet's 'Heroin'. Always play this fuck-off loud, awesome played out. 

18. SONIC YOUTH - Purr 

A band who made enough albums for what I needed and who I consequently stopped listening to. Is that lazy? Probably, but it is frugal. From the massively unheralded-as-perhaps-their-true-pop-masterpiece 'Dirty'. 

19. O.C. - Time's Up

Always drops like a cold planet of punishment on your day. From the fantastic 'Word/Life' LP. 

20. JESSAMINE - Or What You Mean 

Between 1994 and 1998 Jessamine made records for the wonderful Kranky label that were entirely unique. I strongly suggest you seek them out and listen to them, perhaps with a beverage. 

21. JESSE JAMES - Love Is Alright 

DEEPLY SUSPISH about Northern Soul (as a culture, not the music) but don't get me started. Love this. Another great one to drop 'out'. 

Friday, 6 April 2012

“Hello? Could you call back in ten minutes please? I just need to get my shit together”

08:29 Posted by neil kulkarni , , , No comments


Chapter & Verse 1. In the beginning there was Asbestosdeath. Power-trio from San Jose California, couple of singles coughed out before splitting. The rhythm section, Al Cisneros & Chris Haikus, went on to form Sleep with likemind Matt Pike. Stoner overlords, creator of the mighty 'Vol 1' & 'Holy Mountain' albums in the early 90s, Sleep are a legend in sludge, perhaps the ultimate distillation of the stoner spirit. Broken by label idiocy, Pike formed High On Fire, Haikus & Cisneros became Om. 05's 'Variations' and 06's 'Conference Of The Birds' suggested that the duo had finally found the real freedom Sleep couldn't satisfy, the music some mindmelting invocation of forces Tibetan, medieval, metal and monstrous. Yesterday, some clown gave me Cisneros' landline. Today, I lift up the speaking device, punch a long list of sacred numbers into it and hold my breath, trembling with anticipation as I wait for the voice of God, or at least one of his closest confidantes, to answer and deliver his gospel’n’testament unto my puckered ear. The earspeaker crackles into life.
   “Hello? Could you call back in ten minutes please? I just need to get my shit together”

   Can’t quite communicate how perfect a beginning to my chat with Al Cisneros this is – something to do with the fact that it’s 7am his-time, something to do with the almost too-perfect SoCal hippy wonderment in his fragile, high voice, a lot to do with the fact that ‘Pilgrimage’, his band’s latest opus has been eating away at my desire to speak to it’s creators every time I crank it. I mean, fuck, are you hearing this shit? “Pilgrimage” is rock unmoored from the groin, head or heart and allowed to roll on solar-winds all the way back to the birth of the cosmos: it’s guitar music freed from the harassle of  focus and allowed to hum along with the dark matter of the universe, the slow-grind of tectonic movement, the distant hiss of ancient star-static. It’s ten-billion years old already and it’s gonna go on forever and I sure as fuck don’t wanna know what amp-settings they used. I mean, I don’t wanna speak to you man!
   “Neither do I!” chuckles Al, when I ring back. “At the level we’re at it’d be dumb and arrogant to refuse to speak to anyone about the music but I hope to hell that no-one listening to Om reads my words as they listen. That would be terrible. I don’t mind talking about the band, I don’t even mind talking about the music but all of it is kind of after the event, looking at something from outside it. You’re stopped in your tracks and asked to make ‘sense’ of something who’s very nature makes it something IMPOSSIBLE to step outside of and see objectively. I find it easy to do a ‘rock’n’roll’ interview about the usual band bad habits. But to talk about the music, well, hardly anyone wants to talk about that cos it might imply some thought, or some idea.”

Wednesday, 4 April 2012



GENUINELY gonna keep this quick, and brief. Before Spring happens just need to wrap up the last two months. Hip-hop, perhaps more than any other genre of music, reflects the seasons in a direct and clear way.  Roundabout now, you’ll start finding rap tracks beginning to feel sunlit again, emerge from the darkness and cold of the last few months and start drowsily hinting at summer, the freshly hibernated wide-eyedness of what you’ll hear giving way to a sun struck delirium come June. Before that starts happening let’s grab these last few moments of ice and dread 2012 will give us. As usual, this list is entirely unfashionable and for the first time in my life I’m gonna use age as an excuse. I’m an old man and it shows in the simplicity of my needs. All I care about is bass, something fat and rubbery and warm to snuggle up to.  Which I’ve mainly been getting from the USA in 2012.

Firstly though, one last thing from 2011– a late-breaking contender for verse (Edan) & production (Madlib) of last year, a fantastic track that veers tween smoky drone-funk and radiophonic wibble, now and then grinding to shattering halts populated purely by the sheer hippytripped heat of Edan's rampaging rhymes. Superstoopid fresh for 2012, even if it is three months old. HEAR THIS NOW.

 And dig this similarly Edan-blessed highlight from the spankin' new Format album too.

(Also in dated-producers-I-cant-stop-loving news - enjoying the new Premo shit massively) 

(and Large Pro still on form here)

And ALSO whilst we’re on a Madlib fest can't hear him getting any less compelling on this either - a track without a drum-beat, or at least a track wherein the bass becomes the beat to a point wherein Freddie Gibbs' typically compelling street-visions seem to be floating in an oceanic vista of low-end bliss. "Feels so good, feels so right" - damn straight. Ease yourself into the last year of planet Earth with this doozie.

With a production credit list that includes Madlib, Alchemist, Oh No and Jake One, Roc C's forthcoming long player 'Stoned Genius' promises to be one of 2012's juiciest Spring blooms: this track has a wickedly oozy febrile feel, DANK as y’like, scratches and vocals seemingly touched by a contact-high smooch from Satan himself. If you can find the Alchemist-produced 'Starchild' track as well, you'll be a happy super-baked bunny.

More bass. Schoolboy Q. Arctic harshness with the music, straight-twisted derangement on the mic, either a genius or a flash in the pan, but either way utterly compelling.

MORE BASS. One of Nottz' most addictive productions ever, emerging from strange waves of ambient synth, propelled on with tight hard, loose-abstract music, piano ringing into yr skull,nagging Oriental guitar, Nefew's lines a beautifully composed look at the mix of anger, ambition and hyper-critical knowledge that being a hip-hop fan is in 2012. Excellent, and the album 'Man Vs Many' should be one to drop a few dimes on.

[I’M REMINDED OF EVEN MORE BASS. Something else I didn’t mention in 2011 - Get as pally as you can with the bass on this — hardly there at all but when it is, right up in your skull-space rattling your fillings. "Strange voices/get the fuck out my head" is about as close to lucidity as Madchild gets here, but his mind-detritus scatters and skitters perfectly over the unholy bedlam of the undertow, needling blues guitar and Arabic vocals only amplifying the derangement. Great to hear that Swollen Members' potential hasn't been entirely squandered - check out 'Shittalker' as well.]

MORE BASS THAN IS STRICTLY NECESSSARY. Fucking LOVE the bass on this. Burrows into your consciousness like a Tremors worm. Addictive as baklava garnished with crack. ESSENTIAL.

And whilst we’re on MORE BASS THAN IS STRICTLY NECESSARY & mainstream things you can’t resist (Ke$ha) this remix is the best Wiz & Wayne have done for ages. Great drag-queen video as well. Nigh-on irresistible

Last gasps, flails, the schmindustry still shooting out sparks: ignore the admittedly dazzling visuals and you've still got a great track, certainly the best thing The Game's given us for a while, good-to-great cameos from Tyler & Lil Wayne, a nicely downered bass-heavy riff ready to roll forth on Lollapalooza circa 1994. Doesn't mean I've opened the gates for these clowns, but credit where credit's due - this be a monster.

"THE INDUSTRY IS DEAD/LONG LIVE THE KING" - Murs on fire here, Skibeats on the mix, so you know you're gonna get tuff-as-fuck beats, pulsating soulful Hammond, righteous backing vox splattered all over the shop. On the flip hear 'SkiBeatz' for the biggest rampaging hip-hop sound since the years of 'Muzik N Hour Mess Age'. No shit.

Gonna have to do some catching up cos never heard this guy before but if this - a massive Scientist-style dubbed-out soundscape riding frenetic jazzed out beats - and the rhymes that seal it (beautifully suggestive poetic imagery about survival on the streets), are anything to go by Ka's a voice to get locked in on for 2012. Trust in me.

Same with these guys, great slow-burning track here, based on the kind of crackly simmering old 50s vocal sample that Portishead used to mash-up so effectively. The crackly vibe lunges into a repetitive, hypnotic aggravation part-aquatic part-liquid-nitrogen. And it ends and the rewind is instant. Fantastic.

"God Save the King" (the album this is from) is just about the only royalist shit I wanna hear this year - great INCORRECT production, sudden detonations of drums & scratches caving out holes in your headspace you never knew could open up, fantastically off-colour verbals from Copywrite. Play this loud and try not to be constantly shocked even once you've figured out what the hell's coming round the corner. Sue Poib.

Dunc & Toine Makin' Dollas are DTMD and their debut album "Makin' Dollas" is now on my must-have list. Sublime folds of reverse-guitar and just exactly the right beats and loops - great cameos from Godly MC & Kev Brown as well. Dispels winter on contact, brings summer ever closer, you NEED this in your life.

The new Raekwon single is so lush it's like wearing silk swimming trunks and drowning in a truffle-lined vat of chocolate champagne: great saving cameo from JD Era, customarily unforgettable rhymes from Rae, the whole track held at a peaking-moment of super-lushness and bristling fatness akin to Camp Lo at their most sumptuous. Suck it up people.

Also on the sumptuous & searing tip comes Blacastan with a sample you know but lines you don't, and a beautiful preview of the could-be-essential "Master Builder Pt.2" album. 2 minutes of mighty magic.

Just too late last year to make the last update.  Do not proceed with your existence on planet earth without being aware of Roc Marciano’s ‘Emeralds’

After the amazing amounts of Brits nominations UK rap music, and indeed UK black music fullstop received this year (Adele & Jessie J & Ed Sheeran speaking strong for diverse UK communities yeah – especially the community of stage-familiar cunts who all went to school together & the community of roadies for equally shit singer-fkn-songwriters) I want only one thing from this winters UK rap music. More noise than requirements dictate The ever-essential Iron Braydz hooks up with Kyza to drop this monster on 2012.

Brilliant groggy production from Apatight frames this beautiful track about the struggle of being a lone musician, and the joys the new lack-of-structure in the music biz can bring. Forward-looking but beautifully elegiac in tone and sound, suffused with a deeply smoky stoned vibe that's damn irresistible. Keep an eye on this Joker.

Woozy, waked-and-baked vocals from Fliptrix, FANTASTIC production from Leaf Dog, armed with a bassline so damn wrong you KNOW it's gonna be one of your major addictions of this spring. Nags at your head, blasts through the speakers like a tap on the skull from a sledgehammer. Marvellous mentalism.

Oh man - RIGHTEOUS TINGS BEING SAID HERE by Dubbledge about the sifting sands of prejudice and hatred in the UK, the battles of identity that fight and struggle against the orthodoxies and categories of modern 'race' talk. Fantastic concept, beautifully executed, and Metabeats creates a wonderfully thoughtful musical backdrop, never overpowering the words, only giving them extra addictive reach and suggestiveness. Fantastic work all round. 

Fkn WEIRD: jazzy '80s synth line, simple phat beat, and then Milestone starts that motormouth of his and all sense drops out of proceedings, lunatic gospel, occassionally brutally sharp, filling in the massive holes of silence and sweet swathes of Casio strings that swim by. Produced by Btilla The Cunt, possibly the best name I've seen all week. Explore. 

A sound from producer Cyber Ninja that's pure '80s/'90s hardcore, like some offcut from Show & AG's 'Goodfellas' retooled for hard Yorkshire streets. Love the sudden hits of bass, the sudden hits of strings, the way the beat won't let up, the doom and horror building under Nayben's verbal terror-tactics. Forthcoming album 'Killer Iller' should be one to let into your home under cover of darkness. 

Just in case you were under the impression that 2011 had given us enough new UK genii to follow fret not and start stalking Max Obnoxshus soon as you can. Taken From " Abnoxshuz From The U.K To The U.S Vol.2 " free to dl from Bandcamp (http://abnoxshuz.bandcamp.com/album/abnoxshuz-from-u-k-to-u-s-vol-2)  and also featuring the mighty Ramson Badbonez - this track's fucken' sweet, tight-assed beats that clamp shut like diamond dentures, nice loops that push the words forward, and great propulsive rhymes from the man Abnoxshuz himself.

Great noisy-assed production on this Rewd Adams/Last Skeptik collabo- reminiscent if anything of some straight up Funkdoobiest/Urban Dance Squad rock/rap chaos but with stupendous bass-tectonics and a rampaging groove that destroys any categories you might be dumb enough to try and throw down around it. Typically great rhymes from Rewd - a Spring essential to put that rocket-fuel in yr step - free dl from Soundcloud (http://soundcloud.com/hntmal), new LP 'How Not To Make A Living' should be one of 2012's finest.

GENESIS ELIJAH, one of 2011's most intriguing & commanding voices builds the already-substantial buzz for his 'I Ain't Even Started Bruv' LP (coming April) with this storming five-track ‘Painkillers & Pilkington’ EP (including the stunning 'Huey' which is worth the price (FREE! http://www.mediafire.com/?74e801r49o4uusq) on its own. Great rhymes you have to rewind to rationalise and great production throughout from the mighty Pastor Dutchie. Set to go stellar this year, be in early.

Love the lurid strings and Bosworth-archive luridness of the music here, like a particularly funky, particularly lush soundtrack to the closing carnage in a particularly gruesome episode of Hammer House Of Horror. Fantastic, off-the-cuff rhymes from Upfront proving that last year's Split Prophets EPs & LPs were no accident, beats and loops equal parts Grantsby & Nottz. Essential.

Fantastically bleak last blast of winter before the heat sets in, Defenders Of Style blew me away last year with 'Fish In A Barrel' - great to hear so much great music coming out of this multi-talented Leeds crew. Highlights here 'Brainchild', 'Foxtrot Oscar' and 'Static Pirate' are funny, frantic, freaky space music for dub fans and Viz readers. FREE. No excuses. Hear this.

SPIDER JAROO’s  'Writing For Commission' EP is available for free dl at the Northern Structure bandcamp page (http://northernstructure.bandcamp.com/ ) and yes I'm getting it right now cos this track's incredibly promising: deeply conscious, brain-jangling rhymes over mournful piano riffs and smoky beats, jazz with the cool sucked out until all that's left is an abstract heat. Sad and shocking that the political bite of this is so rare these days - looks like it's down to UK rap to be the only UK music actually talking about life as we fkn know it. Apart from Ed Cunting Sheeran of course. All hail.

From the corking 'Urban Kaos' UK Runnings mixtape (http://www.sendspace.com/pro/dl/60p5uu) comes this gem from Phoenix Da Icefire & Cyrus Malachi, two of last year's most thrilling names in UK rap music. 'Walking With Angels' treads a divinely subtle line between grit and grace, scratchy beats slathered with all kinds of delicious detail, sweet vocals and fragile soundtrack lushness. Great verbals as you'd expect from these two heavy hitters, looks like last year's explosion of great UK talent is gonna show no signs of letting up in 2012. Hallelujah.

Don’t drift off. You want zombies with your noise don’t you. Here, have some zombies, much zombies. Beat Butcha in control - beautifully weighted dub-heavy bass riding a wide-open blast of slo-mo funk, KRAZY, NOODLEZ & DRILLZ dropping some genuinely sick derangement on your noggins, suffused with a Bristolian belligerence harsh as Mark Stewart. Pals with Split Prophets and by the sounds of this & SP the West will rise again. On the great Sumo Records http://soundcloud.com/sumo-records

POTENT WHISPER http://potentwhisper.com/ has already impressed with his debut EP 'Meta Phor Play' — this new collection combines music of an intriguingly unique feel with carefully considered conscious rhymes. Cystic's production on 'L.I.I.D.I.I' is raw yet lush, almost a mix of drone and folk and funk, if that didn't sound too stitched-up: throughout the EP, there's a weird mix between pristine modernity and haunted vintage loops, great production jobs also from Dirty Stanz & Monster Playground. Free to download and at those prices you'd be daft not to dig in.

More noise. LDZ (London Zoo) spent much of 2011 being awesome and looks like that’s the plan in 2012 too: one of the highlights from the FREE new spankin' London Zoo LP 'Catfood' (http://ldzmusic.bandcamp.com/releases) , a haunted-dancehall vibe in the uber-minimal beat, the percussive detail engrossing but keeping you guessing, wondering what periphery it's gonna pop off in next. Great cameos from Stig & Verbal as well - perfect mental armoury to face 2012 down with. Big things deserved by LDZ this year, hope it happens for 'em.

As ever yr own recommendations welcome in the comments. Especially if they’re one-upman recommendations from harder-core hip-hop fans than me about where I can take my shit, when I should’ve stopped, where I can stick my head. The sun don’t shine. Just the way I like it.