Writing by Neil Kulkarni

Thursday, 27 September 2012

"On the one and infinite, again" - PUBLIC ENEMY, ALBUM REVIEW, 1994, MELODY MAKER


PUBLIC ENEMY 

MUSE SICK N HOUR MESS AGE 

[Def Jam/Island]




IF growing up black is a process of losing hope then in the past few years a lot of us have grown up real fast. It’s not even about alienation from white culture, it’s alienation from culture full stop. And the moment you realise you aren’t welcome today is when you realise you never were welcome, that you bought the lie of unity, of doors opening, not slamming shut. White pop has never been more in retreat from its black heart, the racist steal inherent to its 40 year history never more active. Your idols fear being “swamped” and conjure up little-England pre-immigration fantasies of (Park)life. To the rest of us the door into discourse is firmly shut until we give up our intellect. If your IQ ain’t down you’re not getting in. By DE-INTELLECTUALISING US, you can sit back, do nothing while the super-structure takes care of itself. It ain’t that I want in, but why do you want us out? Redress is due and it’s coming. This LP isn’t just a stunning return to form for Public Enemy, it’s perhaps the most powerful horrified answer to what you are doing to black culture yet, and along with Fugees, Souls Of Mischief, and all the various English miscegenators (Portishead, Fun-Da-Mental, Moody Boyz) it shatters the bloated hoax of white critical discourse beyond your powers to revive it, beyond its ability to sell itself as anything other than a cruel joke, a construct of oppression.


   We needed this LP more than ever and PE have given us more than we could have hoped for. In purely musical terms this is a staggering album, a flowing cinematic wash of sound for your speakers to cream over. PE have given their chaos a certain warmth, honed it down, lent it a richer, liver feel: bass and drums, choicest breaks and loops tearing through your butt unhindered. Some of this is the most gorgeous music I’ve heard in hip-hop; the soulswish of “Give It Up”, the beautiful piano flutter of “White Heaven/Black Hell”, the Fugee skip of “Thin Line Between Law And Rape”. “Bedlam” turns Flav’s atonal bark into its own instrument over a revving, hyperkinetic beat; “Race Against Time” is simply huge, the titanic beat sucking in screams and chants in its wake as it blisters by. “I Stand Accused” is swingbeat as paranoia, G-funk with its back against the wall. Above all, it’s the variety of styles that’s astounding, every track here (I can’t find a duffer) as its own universe, woven into an hour-long funky symphony.


   Two tracks here transcend everything PE have ever done and raise the ante for the rest of the rap world. “Live And Undrugged” is fevered but controlled, the whole thing seemingly orchestrated to put you in a cold sweat, the needling keys and loping bass coming close to mid-Seventies Miles hair-trigger funk, Chuck’s voice growing more and more hysterical until fear breaks over you like a rash. “So Watcha Gonna Do Now?” is the last word on gangsta; toward the end the beat absconds, samples are faded in aof found voices, film dialogue and television noise, radio interviews, cut up to create a debate, find their own truth, react to each other. It’s a minute of pure studio magic, a piece of pop wizardry that’s rare and righteous and all the more affecting for it.
   PE changed my life for ever and every PE album is my album of the year. This one doesn’t get it merely by default though. On the one and infinite, again, an unmissable and essential purchase. 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Monday, 24 September 2012

DISCO INFERNO - A New Nineties Director's Cut Edition

(Both me, and Ian Crause rabbit on a bit. Quietus sensibly cut some stuff, so this too-long-didn't-read screed is precisely what blogs are for) 





A NEW NINETIES. PART 2 (DIRECTORS UNCUT EDITION) 

NEW CLOTHES FOR A NEW WORLD  DISCO INFERNO & THE FIVE EPS.


1995. BrrrrBrrrr. BrrrrBrrrr. A phone rings in a hallway. I stop building’n’burning and pick up.
“Hey Neil, is it ok to speak, it’s Ian Crause here.”
“Yeah, Ian, blimey, how the fuck are you?”
“Fine. Disco Inferno is over. I’m starting a new band called Floorshow and I need a front man. I think you’d be brilliant”

Later, in fact for years later, I see it as the biggest missed opportunity of my life, lash myself at my craven chickenshitness, wonder what might have been. In 96 things are simpler. I’m in tears.
Disco Inferno is over?
Inconsolable.
Still, 16 summers later, absolutely inconsolable.
That band weren’t just a possibility, a chance, a favourite. They were the only fucking soul band we had, the only fucking pop band we had, when they were on they were the only band that mattered, the only real show in a British pop world being taken over by craven pantomime, the only sound that sounded like it had walked the inner chambers of your heart and head taking notes, the only songs that suggested meaning could mean something again, that sound and thought and vision and intent could retrieve their lost connections or at least make something from all that had been irretrievably lost. The only fucking band that mattered. The only band. 
“ No sorry Ian, I’m too shy, I just couldn’t do it man, I can’t sing, and . . . . I just couldn’t do it.”
“Fair enough man. See y’soon.”



We don’t speak again for 16 years. Until last week in fact. Disco Inferno’s unique, unmatched music is getting the reissue treatment it’s so long needed.  “5 EPs” collates the pentacle of 12”s Disco Inferno put out between 1992 and 1995. Hardly any of this music found its way onto DI’s equally astounding ‘DI Go Pop’ & ‘Technicolor’ albums. DI started releasing music in 91 with a few stunning singles for Che Records that were all faltering early steps, beautiful Durutti/JoyDiv-inspired post-punk as collected on the sublime ‘In Debt’ compilation. In 1992 something changed that made DI go beyond being just a great band, that charged and transformed them into a way of life, a new way of hearing and seeing. Fired by innovations in sampling technology DI started making music absolutely incomparable to anyone else, a startling maelstrom of found sounds and broken rhythms, puckered by Crause’s liquid guitar & obscure, hugely suggestive lyrics. Music literally TOO accurate for it’s times, for 3 years to my mind they were simply the greatest, most important British band I’d ever heard. 16 summers on, we pick up where we left off, because for all of us, the hope can’t simply be batted away, still burns, esp. as pop’s doubtless gonna soon celebrate 20 years since Britpop with the same old red white and blue blinkers stitched into its sockets. 16  years on, still absolutely inconsolable, I speak, separately, to the estranged-heart of DI, front man/guitarist Ian Crause & bassist Paul Wilmott but before we even get started I’m curious. Why the fuck did you ask me to do that Ian?
“You are imagining this. I suggest you seek some kind of help.”
Shit, really? I wouldn’t put it past myself to have daydreamed it. But no, I remember, clear as day, I remember putting the phone down trembling . . . .
“No. I’m joking. What a cunt I am. I did it because I wanted to be in a band with someone I liked, who made me laugh, who I could relate to as a mate and who had an aptitude with words as I had decided to just be a musician again and not sing. You should have done it. It might have made all the difference, seriously.”








Fkn guilt trips, how many things a moment of doubt can derail – ok old fella keep that lip unwobbled and ask where were you in 92? Were you in love? Did you have someone on your arm? Did you have places to go? Clubs you loved? People you loved? I’m ever so pleased for you. Had none of that myself. Just plastic to live by. Ver kids, my peers, my contemporaries, generation-Britpop and me in 92 were never gonna truly get along because we wanted different things. They, cool, sexy, young in head and heart and body, wanted music that sounds like life, that filters it, that makes it fit and funny and whole and dealable with. Sleeper. Bluetones. Shed fkn 7. Blur. Oasis. I, prick, gobshite, lonely, 19-yr old pensioner, can unfortunately only exist on music that is life, that refuses to filter or ‘satirise’ its times, that is only in hock to it’s sources in what pioneering spirit it can attempt to emulate, not what kit it can copy or poses it can half-inch or looks it can accumulate. Didn’t wanna be in the gang. Teenage boy Garbo vants to be alone. S’why I scowl at you for much of 92 and ever since, why you always got plenty and a good tan and good memories of the 90s and I got RSI & frown lines and a deep wellspring of bile, cos I had my hopes raised by the late 80s and then kept there hopelessly adrift as the denominators sunk into the abyss, my confusion affirmed and deepened, where you got your cynicism & clarity endlessly proven. I clocked you skipping to the dancefloor when ‘Popscene’ started getting rotation. You had Britpop, you believed in the classicism it perpetuated, the chauvinism it bred, the comfort & security its old-fashioned style and sound gave in otherwise troubling times, the magic of clicking your Baracuta heels together and teleporting yr skinny ass back to simpler separatist eras in British history. A FERVORED IMAGE OF ANOTHER WORLD IS NOTHING IN PARTICULAR NOW. If you had Britpop you had the steady creation of a Morrissey dream world – a place where black pop had the decency to have stopped in 1977. AND IMITATION COMES NATURALLY BUT I NEVER REALLY STOP TO THINK HOW AND EVERYONE IS A CLEVER CLONE. If you had Britpop you had the past to play pretend with, the present to boss, the future to forestall forever. SO IN THE ABSENCE OF A WAY OF LIFE JUST REPEAT THIS AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN. I was a twat yeah, still am. And I hated each and every one of you.



But I had another record in 1992 made by Disco Inferno, a 4-piece from Essex who suddenly that summer started traumatising their stunning post-punk psychedelic gloom-pop with the sampling technology that had so excited them in Public Enemy & The Young Gods to start creating an entirely new kind of British pop music. “The gulls are coming in off the coast/The smell of corpses passed them in”. Crause didn’t sing with much volume, or humour. They loved the same bands as Blur but didn’t want to spend their lives in the dead-end of pastiche & dilution, the insanity of thinking you can reheat style and taste it again without reducing the source to a mere box of hot-air , a dry microwaved mouthful of music-that-once-mattered. “Mass graves uncovered, must be abroad - it can't be here/ I can sense your violence, but I still don't understand”. I had Disco Inferno in my ear, on trains, on the street, in my room, everywhere, and so Britpop just sounded like pure pusillanimity with what making British pop music could be, the occasionally brilliant more-often dull-as-fuck execution of a learning confined by fear & orthodoxy. “How when the past seems dead and you've got the future/ In the palm of your hand”. Disco Inferno came out with a single in the summer of 92 that I heard on no dancefloors, true glorious, fearless British pop that I wasn’t able to subject you to as you subjected me to Britpop, couldn’t take from my walkman or record deck and press into your soft head. “Foreigners get hushed-up trials/ And you're waiting for a knock at the door/Which would tell if you spent the next few years/ Free from life attacked by petrol bombs/ The price of bread went up five pence today/ And an immigrant was kicked to death again” These were words not projected from a pretty-boy from drama-school behind a fringe and jazz-hands,  but mumbled, hunched, choked out,  from an ungainly genius called Ian Crause who with his friends Paul, Daniel Gish (keyboards) & Rob Whatley (drums),  spoke more clearly of the a-z of fear I was inhabiting than anything the popular-kids and popular beat-combos were making or listening to in 92. This was music that entertained no delusions about us all belonging again, that knew how dangerous a sense of belonging could be. “And I'm scared for my life for the first time in it/And we've known all along that a home can put your life at risk/ So I guess we'll just disperse again“ The real battle in 90s UK pop was never Blur Vs Oasis. That was just a quote-generating cooked-up PR confrontation between different versions of the same hiding, the same retreat. The real battle was between a shaky, scary, thrilling, possible future and a definite, drab, permanent past. The real battle was Disco Inferno vs. The World. Crause might be older, wiser, but he’s still bitter about his band’s defeat.


 

 Ian C: “It's a very thin line between doing what Blur did and what we did, especially before the sampling. Similar influences to a degree though, 60s music, post-punk – but I think the fundamental difference between us and most of them was that we were excited by music, not music culture. There was a lot of received wisdom at that point about there being apparently nothing new under the Sun and as there was no such thing as a genuine artist, and because the audience were all so clever that they chose not to be musicians but to earn money in proper jobs, the bands who came from this milieu seemed to be able to see being in a band innately as a cultural and career activity, making it by using the crudest cultural building blocks. That, of course, lent itself more than anything to irony and distance, which they had in spades, that we couldn’t do in music. We were too angry for that. I mean, if you don't believe in anything, what is there to write about? That’s what Britpop was like. One or two of those Britpop types have surfaced recently in pseudo-artistic culture vulture roles and it's interesting to see how some of them are spiritually as young and exciting now as they were back then. Read that how you want.”
   Paul W: “We were doing something that was out of kilter to what was happening around us. I'm not sure we realised at the time how difficult it might be to get people interested in what we were doing. What we were trying was not that radical. Essentially housing new technology and means of expression within a 'pop' format. 15 years seems a long time for something so simple. Especially as Ian was always worried that other bands would be doing it and reaping the rewards ahead of us (in the bands lifetime). I think that if Ian’s voice had been more traditional, the music would have been palatable to a wider market. It's only now, with the huge proliferation of music both past & present via the internet that people are more willing to accept the awkwardness of the overall sound and delivery. If the rumoured Coldplay cover of "A Night On The Tiles" happens, then I fully expect the arena dates to follow next year.”
   Do you think DI were always gonna be out-of-the-loop of mainstream UK pop in the 90s just by dint of where you came from? The wrong bit of Essex.
   Ian C: “Essex is the heart of where the white working class who took Thatcher's shilling and began the process of destroying English society settled. White flight the BNP calls it: the whites from inner London decided to get clear of the blacks and Asians and move out. They are really the white working class heartlands of the south east. You will hear the cockney accents that have disappeared from inner London there now. There's definitely something in the demographics but Blur come from what I'd call High Essex, out in Colchester. There's a lot of the posh middle classes out that way, even if they do put on cock-a-knee accents like Jamie Oliver to try to fit in.”
So Britpop was middle-class?
   Ian C: “The ascendancy of the newly dominant middle class seeped through everything. So the Britpop thing coincided with this, certainly at the start of it. A lot of these bands were most definitely upper middle class and privately educated, from what I saw of them. Albarn is obviously a very clever bloke who like a lot of middle class people sees the working class as a bag of mythical others to be encountered and observed. You've got the performing monkey for them to laugh at, like they do with Shaun Ryder, where they can listen to him yet feel superior at the same time through the smirks; you've got the hard man archetype that they're so scared of after closing time on the buses and streets of Big City, which was why the 90s were full of Lads Mags and fake football bullshit as they felt they had to hold their own on in a hostile environment. I think the whole Cool Brittania thing in the light of Blair's neoliberal legacy is a beautifully bitter and apposite soundtrack. Pulp are the obvious exception due to their lyrics. I remember Geoff played us an advanced cut of Common People in his office shortly after he got the tape back to see if we were interested in working with the producer, Chris Thomas, but all you thought as you heard it, even that first time, was "This is gonna be a classic song". It was that obvious. The Britpop thing in hindsight makes a decent soundtrack to the push over the top as neoliberalism had a last good crack at destroying British society by creating massive class difference within it, whilst pushing pseudo-liberal propaganda to paper it over.”
That’s in retrospect though Ian – at the time what did you think of your contemporaries & ‘peers’?
   Ian C: “Well our generation has to have been one of the most conservative in Britain since the second world war. That’s why they felt the need to dress up in beads and go on about how stoned they were, pretending to 'dig' Hendrix and the Doors. I found it disgusting at the time, to be honest. I'm actually surprised that little chap from Kula Shaker never got an Ivor Novello. His drivel embodied our generation's play acting at rebellion as much as anyone. When you hear his social views he could have sat in Franco's cabinet so it kind of embodies the whole picture for me. He's not any kind of an exception – he was the epitome.”




Was the lack of political bite partly what annoyed you about Britpop?
   Ian C: “Well it annoyed me about my generation. In about 1990 a lot of the people who rioted and demo-ed would have been those opposing Thatcher through the 80s, I think - older people. Our generation was the one that told itself and anyone else who'd listen not that they had come up with any answers to anything but that all the answers had already been found or were not worth knowing. I used to read the letters in Melody Maker through this period all of them trying to educate the likes of you and me to the illusory concept of originality and how it could never be achieved. Which really meant: 'My name is Joshua. I am taking a degree in critical theory at Leicester Polytechnic. I would have liked to have been an artist of some sort but I tried and it was difficult so I have decided to let you know for your own benefit that it can't be done and oh, here is the empirical proof in a book I heard about on my course. I'm off to Thailand now where I will pretend to help some brown people but really just laze around and take drugs and drink lots. When I come back from my round the world doss - sorry, cultural odyssey - I've got an internship lined up at BAE/Credit Suisse/Deutsche Bank so I'll have won anyway and you'll all still be poor". And indeed they did, and indeed I was, and still am.”
    I remember David Stubbs telling me about bumping into you the week after he gave you single of the week (the Maker and Lime Lizard were pretty much the only boosters DI ever got) and you telling him you were skint & working in Tescos.
Ian C: “Yeah, well, it was the generation where the class war against the poor really embedded itself in the culture and art of the time like second nature. That’s what Britpop was to me, a bohemian fantasy they were indulging in, which is one of the knock on effects of living in a destabilised society, you can dress up like the poor and mimic them but when the whistle blows it's rags off and home to mater, pater and finance capital. I hope that complacency and arrogance were very much of our generation and I'm glad we've had our time, to be honest, cos the kids coming through can now start clearing up the mess our lot left - and what a fucking mess it is, eh? Their immigrant underclass shadow gave them a taste of working class reality a few months back and they didn't like it, did they? All their organic coffee shops got smashed up and the latte went everywhere. Out they came with their fucking brooms and rosy cheeks, sweeping the 'scum' away. Did you see the photo of them holding their brooms up in The Guardian? They need to invent a Red-Cheek filter to go with the redeye one. As one of the illiterate 'scum' in their eyes I found that part of it funny, to be honest. Welcome to Paaaaahhhk Life!  I look at that whole Britpop period as part of a necessary fantasy where the newly ascendant middle classes came in from the shires and camouflaged themselves in working class garb before they really took over and financially raped the whole place into buggery, which is where it now is.”
Nice to see we’ve all moved on. From anger you found it difficult to live with, to analysis that leaves you resigned but still resistant. S’called growing up. Disco Inferno made the most grown-up kids music I’d ever heard.


“I may need dreams from time to time,
But dreams aren't keeping me alive.
My dreams have torn my life in two--
Now I just need a rock to cling to”

What became clear on the ‘Summers Last Sound’ EP and the astonishing other EPs that followed, as well as ‘DI Go Pop’ (the 2nd greatest British LP of the 90s that forced both DI’s pop sense and sonic-speculation to dazzling new heights) was that what was revelatory about DI wasn’t that they were ahead of their time. They were (more fatally for their success) entirely of their time, honest about that time, in an era where everyone else was too scared to do anything except look back & pretend. For me isolated from the mainstream by dint of race and radginess, DI spoke deeply cos it sounded like they too were stranded without friends, following ideas in isolation, unfashionable yet on fire artistically & mentally from music that usually had nothing to do with the band-conventions Britpop would cling to. Futurism not as concept or theory or attitude but as the only way to stay alive, respond to the shittiness and wonder of the present.
   Ian C: “It's related to the definition of the word prophetic, I think. The word is often taken to mean being able to see into the future yet it really means to see to the heart of things, thus rendering time irrelevant. Ted Hughes' translation of Agamemnon has the most electrifying description of this if you can get hold of a copy, all about how the eye that opens into the grave sees to the heart of all things. The application to any of the arts of this split interpretation is obvious: technical innovation was increasingly seen through the high arts in the 20thC as being prophetic in itself, as it shows the truth by showing process. So whilst we've sometimes been read as having made a very cold, elitist kind of arthouse music, I think it's a misreading. Our sound was bent to human words and emotions: song, for all its shortcomings. From 92 I had become hell-bent on innovating cos things like Public Enemy and Young Gods blew my mind, but it's when it's allied to a human perspective that technical innovation holds its artistic power otherwise it's just a technical exercise. That's what a lot of that Post Rock is, as I understand it. So while I tried consciously to innovate, as I'd absorbed the influence of doing so partly from the likes of you and your old colleagues like David Stubbs, my instincts led me to value the other side of things and that's the essence of the band's appeal, I think. We had both sides. I like the fact there seems to be no consensus about what our best recordings are. Some people like DI Go Pop most, some the EPs and some Technicolor. All will say they have proof of why X is the best as opposed to the others. I like that and I have no favourite.”


Paul W: “We had recorded the Science EP [last EP for Che in 1991], got some slightly better press, but were still playing to the bar staff most nights in any venue that would let us play. We were frustrated, ambitious and wanted to make an impression. Bands that we liked were using samplers and there seemed to be no reason apart from the financial that we shouldn't look to use them. We were listening to Blue Lines, Loveless, Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld; open to possibilities. We were conscious of the clone Indie Kid and wanted to be anything but tribal. We had been together just over 3 years and collectively were getting nowhere; it became a shit or bust moment. At least we would die trying. I always thought that the thing that made DI distinctive post-In Debt was the complete lack of pretence in our approach. We were more naive than a lot of our contemporaries. It took us a few years before we were aware of Can, Beefheart, Neu. There was no college/University education - we took what we knew straight from school via the MM and met people in a difficult, rudimentary way via the pay-to-play circuit. Rehearsing next to mainly pub bands. We were straight from the A12, close to London but definitely not apart of it - on the outside looking in. Rob and I drank in a pub next to the Gants Hill roundabout which was our main social haunt. Our vehicle of choice (actually Robs as he was the only one with a licence) was a beaten up Ford Capri. A lot of the people that we met had the confidence of education. I often felt much safer at a football match, than trying to have a conversation with somebody after a gig.”
DI were always a pop band in my mind – is post-rock is a term you’d reject?
   Paul W. “We certainly never called ourselves that. Well before such a term had been devised, Ian and I started off rehearsing in his bedroom in Redbridge, Essex, bass and guitar, via a double jack adapter going into the mic socket on his hi-fi. Rob and I were very much from working class backgrounds, both living at home with a lot of encouragement from our Fathers. Ian from a more middle class background with a greater need for rebellion, culminating in a regular freak out of bacon & avocado sandwiches in a kosher kitchen - it was wild. I worked in a record shop for quite a while which gave us huge access to CD's to sample later on, later on my family had a few problems and I ended up crashing on the shop floor at the record shop for a while and later on at Nick & Vinita's at Cheri started off by getting into The Smiths around the time they split. One of the first real gigs that I went to was the Morrissey solo show at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall. When Ian and I were getting together we started off going to the New Order/ Happy Mondays/ACR show at the GMex and staying in Manchester. From then on The House Of Love, MBV, The Pixies. MBV were the first band that really blew me away live. I remember seeing them at ULU during the Isn't Anything tour and being totally blown away - that started to open things up, trying to explore and find more interesting music. The Young Gods made a huge impression - totally unique and unlike anything that I could associate with. The snarl of Franz Treichler against the alien juggernaut of looped rock riffs and classical swells. Live they were incredible. A late night watching them at Subterrania being a particular highlight. Rob usually had Kiss FM on in his car . .  .”


   Ian C: “Most of these other what are now called 'post rock' groups, I think they regarded us as a kind of tinker-toy group cos of the pop songs and the sampling so there was little chance of them deciding to follow us in the sampling - no critical consensus had been built for them to aspire to it - we kind of got ours from Public Enemy, who were too black and the Young Gods, who sang in French, for fuck's sake! - And it wasn't seen as 'serious' enough, perhaps meaning it wasn't seen as commercially viable enough....who knows. Anyway, I did it cos I had the ideas. Remember ideas? Good, weren't they? I wanted to be like Public Enemy and The Young Gods so I bought a Roland S-750 sampler with my savings and sat in my bedroom for 6 months (when I didn't have to go to work) and started programming stuff. I think a lot of them post-rockers (like the Britpoppers) had had musical training so they aspired to classical musical ideas as something beyond the pop song. By contrast most of our stuff was 3-4 minute pop. Also, most groups dressed up to take the stage whether they did leftfield art house stuff or went on TOTP pretending to be working class. Paul and I were naturally two of the scruffiest cunts you could find so that was never gonna happen, added to the fact that once we had the sampler thing going we became able to either silence, repel or provoke violence in an audience just by playing our songs so it didn't seem necessary to dress up. If an audience can't hear something they have never heard before, and which they had been told was impossible to do, and not feel the need for the artists in question to black up, twirl canes and prostrate themselves, then fuck them. Also I think us being a bit fat made it look like we weren't bright enough to do what we were doing and that it must have been some sort of accident. Some of the more middle class people around the band often mistook me for some kind of idiot savant despite comparatively few other people of any age or background being able to do what I had done to the most populous art form in the western world before I turned 18. I did not like that and I started to get more bugged by it as the years went by. Nascent class consciousness, you could call it.”


Live DI were just astonishing, entirely unique in their use of technology and more-importantly their attempt in music to reflect their consciousness with utter accuracy. A 93 gig at Sheffield Leadmill is possibly my favourite gig of that entire decade. Most British pop at the time used old techniques to make people feel secure & on steady ground. In contrast DI sounded like a simultaneous rollercoaster, flood & earthquake – they were the sound of where your young head was at, a sound that refused to bow that head in deference to the past or any sense of cowed inferiority. DI didn’t have influences. They had chaos.
   Ian: “I had a kind of pantheon of greats who were my touchstones: Joy Divison and New Order, Gang of Four, The Only Ones, Wire, REM, Public Enemy, My Bloody Valentine, the Young Gods, Velvet Underground, Talking Heads - so many, to be honest, too many when I started listening to classical music as well to even think about being ‘influenced’ by them. They were just part of the sound in our heads.”
Heads also affected by everything else.
   Ian C: “All our family lives were a mess, to be honest. It's not for me to talk about anyone else but I regarded my own family life as having been the most stably middle class of the 3 of us, which in hindsight was pure naïveté because it's only as you get into your 30s and you look back at your childhood and youth that you attain the perspective to be able to think 'Jesus Christ. I can't believe I put up with that'. I was bullied all the way through school for being a fatso and a weirdo - basically I was intelligent and ended up with a lot of thickos or inadequates and mediocrities (the most dangerous sort of people) - and when I look back at some of the interviews I was quite clearly disturbed by having gone through this and needed help. In my late 20s I eventually began the process of psychoanalysing myself by thinking long and hard about how things got to where they were but this was long before then. So I was genuinely miserable, as I think a lot of people are. I had been told by pretty much everyone I was talentless and would fail, including my own family, so the amount of guilt I felt about being in the band was huge and as it became apparent we were failing it started to affect me. My advice to anyone being bullied is to knock their bully's head off now. Otherwise you will be bullied all your life. I realised after a while I wrote in what I now recognise as quatrains and couplets - the most basic, doggerel verse - and held on to it like a guide rope in a storm, especially as the sound around the words took off into crazier places. Thematically I tried to place myself in my world and make sense of it. With no framework behind it. Just intuition.”





All the joy in my life had rotted away,
I saw a vision in blue and my blues flew away.
And just for a second I truly believed,
Though I don't know what in.
We tried to talk to each other,
But the words that came out of our mouths
Were carried away on the wind,
Which turned them inside out.
In desperation I tried
To communicate with my eyes--
When all you've seen is people's pain,
It's hard to feign surprise.”


And we just smile. The beauty Disco Inferno bought into the world carries a bitter, brackish aftertaste for me. It was the first moment as a pop writer where I fully apprehended my own powerlessness, and how the delusion that you can affect pop music in some way can never battle the wider cultural forces at work in the era you’re working in. I started reading the music press because one day I was walking through WH Smiths & spotted Public Enemy on the cover of Melody Maker. A decade later,  and a couple of years into the time I ended up writing for Melody Maker black music had been pretty much banned from the cover, and the pioneering fearless spirit of 88 that would’ve had DI on the cover like a shot was being slowly replaced by a cowardly ABC-fixated terror-of-the-new that gave us 3 page features on fucking Zoe Ball, page upon page of shit rag-mag bollocks & theme-park visits & stickers & sex-issues and desperation. One of the first things I ever wrote was a Single Of The Week review of the astonishing ‘Second Language’ single. I wasn’t dumb enough to think DI’d be on TOTP the next week, but at the same time the sparse tiny-numbered disconnection of DI’s audience, the rarity of finding anyone else who understood just how great they were, became disheartening, for me, and I’m sure, for David Stubbs, Taylor Parkes, Lucy Cage, Jon Selzer, Simon Price & other fans who’d written about them. Sorry about the reviews lads. Reverse Midas.
   Ian C: “Unfortunately, you bastard, I was certainly lulled into a false sense of achievement. I remember our manager once telling us we had enough good reviews to wallpaper our houses with but we needed to pay our bills. It did start to become apparent in the last year or so that the reviews, especially in MM, counted for absolutely nothing in sales terms, which I belatedly came to realise were the be all and end all of being in a band if we needed to survive. I had just thought if we made amazing sounding music and lived record to record on our merits then we'd survive but there are no rules about who gets to do that, are there? Otherwise Glen Madeiros would still be playing Wembley. I was burnt out, to be honest, and the thing with Paul really finished it all for me. Reading became a sanctuary for me and a way to keep expanding and working into the future, so by about 2000 I had completely closed down as far as modern music went. I kind of felt that when someone caught up with what we'd done then wake me up, you know, and I'll have a look? Otherwise leave me in peace. I just had my head in books for a few years. That's another one of the best things I ever did and know I won't regret on my deathbed.”
   Paul W: We slogged our guts out for 6 years trying to develop, evolve, create with very little reward. Ian was exhausted creatively and ran out of steam. We needed to take time to take stock and to spend the next 12 months working up new material. Ian couldn't bear to be in the same room with me and convinced himself that I was the sole reason for most of his woes. He suggested that he write and record the next album his on own and Rob and I should write the album afterwards in readiness. An idea that I thought was bizarre and unworkable and created a way out for him. We had become totally disenchanted with the music press, which was extremely limited then. The NME completely ignored us throughout. We had some great pieces in the MM, but were never actually able to nail a full feature and could never gain any momentum. Radio completely ignored us with the exception of a few loyal local radio DJ's. We tried on several occasions to get on tours as a support, but weren't able - until finally Steve Severin asked us to support the Banshees. What is more frustrating is that we were finally getting some recognition as we split. The last gig that we had played was our biggest, headlining at The Purcell Room which was also featured as a Mixing It session on Radio 3. I recently tried to get in touch with Ian through a third party recently to discuss the release. I was told that he has no interest in speaking to me. Rob seems to exist in the ether. I guess the reunion is some way off. I best keep that million-dollar Coachella offer to myself. Oh shit.”
   Stranger things have happened. Weirdly for such an elementally British band, DI have long been of almost mythical status in the US. M’auld Maker/MetalHammer mucker Jon Selzer recalls wearing a rare orange DI shirt to Washington DC and being stopped every 5 minutes by someone insistent on telling him how much DI meant to them. In recent years bands like Deerhunter, Animal Collective & MGMT have acknowledged DI as a big influence, MGMT’s Ben Goldwasser rhapsodizing that they ‘still sound like the future’.  But what’s galling is how unrepeatable DI’s music still sounds, how the precise mix of people, environment and technology that created it will never come together again. As a fan I can only thank DI for ever existing, particularly at the time they did, because they offered a faint hope of a party I’d be proud to attend, an art I’d be proud to follow, a community, no matter how displaced and splayed out, that provided a genuinely and specifically English dissident pop alternative to the Cool Britannia bullshit patriot-games being played everywhere else.     C’mon lads. Why not ride that reunion train to the land of gravy?
   Ian C: “I have no desire to do it again. Who can speak for the future but I think not everything has to be recycled to extract every single drop of life and mystery out of it. It's done. I'm more interested in the music I've spent the last few years working towards which still taxes me every bit as much as all the Disco stuff ever did - and God knows it's taken me long enough to get to the point it is finally starting to work - and it's a great feeling to still feel I'm at the start of something big. Never having had a record come out that was taken seriously has the added benefit of making people's reactions a near irrelevance.”


What does it feel like now, listening to the ‘5 Eps’?
   Paul W: “It's strange listening to the music now, time has created a detachment. It's difficult to be objective about it having been so close. I've got no idea if it's good/bad/ok. There are certain tracks where the purity of the idea is realised more than others, with something like "Summers Last Sound". I'm a little uncomfortable with the looseness of most of it, although I understand that if the recordings were perfectly quantized the product would create a different impression. I also think that there was a lot of unrealised potential. The pressure to keep moving at too swift a rate is something that although benefitted our evolution in the short term, caused Ian problems in particular. He put the band under enormous pressure and personally felt the strain in song writing. I think that if we had taken a longer view and allowed ourselves more freedom to create over a period of time, we could have achieved a better balance. Virtually everything that we wrote was released. The time between writing and recording was usually very short and didn't leave much time to fully evolve each cycle. The writing & recording of "DI Go Pop" was the longest time that we had spent out of a studio concentrating on a spread of songs. I find it difficult when I hear about Ian's issues throughout this period, as they are usually horribly remembered and pay little or no attention to his own behaviour which can at best be described as erratic. I do become embittered when I listen to the music as it brings back enormous feelings of resentment. We could have continued to exist had Ian not been entirely impossible. We never truly discussed the issues that he was perpetually angry about as he had communication issues. I didn't fall out with Ian - he fell out with me and didn't want to discuss it.”
Ian C: “I actually find it less painful to listen to now than when we were making it, to be honest. Back then I was close to it and young and as the lyrics had lots of personal stuff embedded in them, and I think were sometimes badly written, it is often pretty embarrassing to hear your own stuff in these circumstances. Now I'm almost 40 so when I do have a little listen to it it's as though I'm listening through a strong set of memories. I think if I hadn't been in the band and I had stumbled across us recently I'd be quite surprised by what I was hearing, given that it seems to have become commonplace to talk about how dull and conformist most rock music is. I would have been surprised by it at the very least, for sure. So I feel, to quote Peter Cook, nothing but pride. Empty, stupefying, vainglorious pride. My regrets are that I wasn't able to make it as a musician and have had to spend most of my adult life working in low paid jobs being treated as, at best, a performing cockney monkey who can read and at worst a savage. Class is alive and well in the City of London, I can tell you. So, whatever I think of the recordings, having made them is one of the few worthwhile things I'll be able to look back on. Obviously my family life and kids is another. Strangely enough I don't recall any of the documents I've photocopied for lawyers in the last 15 years with anything like the same pride. I'm nothing but glad I did it.”
Same here. 16 summers since. Inconsolable.

“Five Eps” is out now on One Little Indian

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

"a bubble-film of holy shit popping and winking on the asshole of Mother Earth" - two reviews of GOD on wax and in the flesh, 1994, Melody Maker

(Note - Kevin Martin's always made music that's fascinated me one way or the other. "Anatomy Of Addiction" is, if I recall rightly, an album he's not happy with but I think it's ace. The live show was amazing, if I recall rightly they were supported by (or were supporting) Bark Psychosis in one of their last ever shows (or was it Boymerang? Or was it Spring Heel Jack? Who the fuck knows - I just remember being stood next to the entirely marvellous Jonathan Selzer for the duration and both of us being utterly stunned.


GOD 
THE ANATOMY OF ADDICTION 
BIG CAT

THE problem with white appropriation of black music is that all too often the bands choose the least interesting, most conventional aspects of black pop to explore: partly to reaffirm their cultures’ outmoded “natchel riddim” ideas of black authenticity, or to shore up white critical discourse that seeks to claim all true innovation as its own. What’s so fascinating about the British post-rock fringe is that the bands take precisely those facets of black music which are most unpalatable and conform least to racist notions of black musicality, and cast them in their own environment, giving them a renewed potency and significance.
   What’s crucial is that they don’t just borrow the sound (listen, learn and weep Primal Scream) rather they try and remain true to the spirit of transgression and subversion inherent in this music and bring that spirit to play on their own experience. So sure, I hear Public Enemy, Miles, Trane & Far-I on this LP but I also hear a totally distinct voice, a filthy beast of its own, a divine stuck pig of a band spewing out a colossal agglomeration of rock and jazz’s most incendiary moments.
   God are three horn players, two guitarists, two drummers and three bassists. And an electric viola. And a sampler. That’s over 479 million musical possibilities and they’re all dealt with here, I counted. The opener, “On All Fours”, judders on a slamming hip-hop chassis, building and building till it buckles, sax squealing around impossible gradients, until every available bit of speaker space is crammed with noise. “Lazarus” rises out of a swamp of Ayler sax-drone to become delirious metallic funk: listening you get so hypnotised and drawn in it seems that all you have left is the beat – they you snap back and the filled out grotesqueness of the soundscape just about steals your breath. I got that fever and a cold sweat.
   “White Pimp Cut Up” is one of the most brutal deranged retchings of bile I’ve had the pleasure of submitting to this year, a sound that riddles your guts and bursts through your chest, turns into Seventies porno-jazz before pulling an eelskin-handled flick-knife and committing gross GBH on yer head. Marvellous. And finally, the closer “Detox” runs the voodoo down for 18-minutes that have Walkman-ed me round this city with my head on fire for the past fortnight.
   I’d put “Anatomy Of Addiction” up there with “DI Go Pop” and “Motion Pool” as one of the precious few British LPs this year brave enough to open its eyes to the present rather than look back to a dead past (Blur? Ha ha, it is to laugh). Hallowed company that this astonishing album richly deserves.
NEIL KULKARNI



GOD 
THE GARAGE
 LONDON

CONNECTIONS are being made, dues are being paid after years of historical debt. Mo’Wax and trip-hoppers like Tricky and Depthcharge are welding phat beats to avant backdrops; the post-rock axis fuses live and lo-fi with the multi-track swirl of dance: Underworld are fixing pop’s centre in the clubs and decks where it belongs. All over Britain, the most intresting music is being made not by the scenesters and paper sellers, but by the dissidents, those brave enough to pursue their vision remorselessly and chase their imaginings. It’s called genius. Kevin Martin is one such figure and Gig Of The Year doesn’t even come into it. This was the last live show on earth by the last live band on earth. This was a live, aural sex show and I’ve been f***ed and finished off, my trembling hands barely able to light my post-coital fag. Tonight, the earth slam-danced.
   God are about the friction between different musics, the sparks that fly when a dozen people each bring da noise. With pop becoming more and more disembodied, God are perhaps the last gasp of the physical. The wracked body pissing, shitting and f***ing out great gouts of noise. One giant orga(ni)sm of sound feeding on its own components and puking them up, then swallowing them down again and crapping them out, their excretory mix kicking up the stink of heaven. Violins are sucked into Tauhid horns, weighted down by guitar and finally pulled under the propulsive bass nd drums. The noise rolls on, ignoring verse-chorus narrative in favour of pulling out the intensities, stacking up the climaxes and then looping them into a terminal crescendo that rips you apart.
   Although I could never see Ice or Techno-Animal storming the mainstream, what’s so scintillating about God is that they are so utterly danceable. “Lazarus” is wickedly funky, coiled bass unfurling round your butt and whipping you into the groove. “Drive The Demons Out” is spun out into a long, jam roar that has the indie-kids skanking gape-mouthed, while the addition of a trio of African drummers tonight only adds to God’s rhythmic weight.
   This is crucial. Don’t view them as weird or “out there” or any of those things you need long words and black wardrobes to dig: God are for music lovers, plain and simple. If you’ve ever liked PJ, Miles, the music from “Dirty Harry”, PiL – music delivered like a bomb that strains at the impossible every second – then get into God NOW.
   Gigs over the next few months are gonna be pretty empty experiences after this. This was inarguable, incredible, unspeakable, essential. I CANNOT SHAKE IT. Yeah, I saw God and s/he was funky, a bubble-film of holy shit popping and winking on the asshole of Mother Earth. You got that?
   God f***ed me and I want to sleep in the wet patch. Dope.
NEIL KULKARNI

Thursday, 13 September 2012

"like a Chippendale's freak older brother" - Rollins Band live review, Melody Maker 1994

(first time in a hotel. jumping on the bed with my shower cap on dizzy with the unreality of it all. first time i ever met another writer - Dele Fadele, or a smudge Stephen Sweet - a lifetime ago. Original headline 'SPUNKS NOT DEAD. Thanks to Mary Peat and Maria for the scans') 

"Walk into the darkness." - Jeru The Damaja LP Review, 1994, Melody Maker.

[Love the righteously combative Ed's note near the end of this. That's Simon Price. Best reviews editor I ever worked for. Later on, roundabout "Wrath Of The Math" I interviewed Jeru. One of the nastiest racist pricks I ever spoke to.] 



JERU THE DAMAJA
THE SUN RISES IN THE EAST 
ffrr
(Melody Maker, 6th June 1994) 
As the Guru once said, take a taste of the bass, put your perspective in place.
   I’d say the black “renegade” tradition that ran through Miles, freejazz , funk and dub had it’s last exponent with AR Kane. Laswell’s seam aside, in rock, black-avant is alive and well in the likes of God, Pram, Moonshake and 16/17 (none of whom are black), who reappropriate the lineage for their own far-out and fascinating ends. Hip hop and jungle are the terrains on which black (made) pop now maps out new noise. Listening to this and the Nas LP, I dry my eyes after Eric B & Rakim’s split and realise that hip-hop can still make most rock exploration sound tame and chickenshit by comparison. History needs to be rewritten.
   Jeru, fresh from guesting on the last two Gang Starr bibles, emerges on his own here, produced by Gan Starr, mixed by DJ Premier – and that should be all you need to know. The music is truly matchless, going beyond Cypress or Wu-Tang’s minimalism into something approaching the futher reaches of dub or Schooly D’s murderous stomp. Repetition like water torture makes tracks like “Mental Stamina” and “MY Mind Spray” into bodiless neon funk, hypnotic and chilling as a blues party on Pluto, till the cumulative effect detonates the brain. “Ain’t The Devil Happy?” has a string-flourish break as lush as Massive, but the cine-drone undertow and passages of Aphex-like windtunnel noise turn it into a raw, intimidating warning against gangsta mindlessness. It ends with a Satanic laugh faded into a black hole that scares me silly. “Come Clean” is my track of the year, no contest. Its clammy voodoo feel (the actual backing track is some looped African drum echoed over a fat slamming beat, AND THAT’S ALL) and impenetrable mystic lyrics are as far out as music could ever get: it recalls to me nobody more than Pram (“Watertoy”, maybe); I’d love to hear Rosie sing over this. On “Statik”, a simple old skool beat dispenses with samples and allows the static scratch of the vinyl to become the loop; natural distortion being woven in with the beat until every part of the needle-fluff and vinyl-scar becomes lodged in the mind. And the album ends.
   This album (13 tracks, a million ideas) is a reminder that pierced dicks and post-structural ponderings aren’t the only signifiers of unblinking experimentalism: B-Boys are still way ahead of most avant-popsters and noise-makers on the planet. Another step forward for hip-hop, a giant leap into the beyond for you lot (Excuse me, but who might “you lot” be? – Ed).
   Walk into the darkness.
NEIL KULKARNI 

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

"Because FREEDOM NOW will always be a better pop moment than We Shall Overcome, Someday" - Two Fun-Da-Mental reviews, 1994, Melody Maker.

(A brief note: they utterly blew my mind, Fun-Da-Mental, and these two rather breathless epistles from 94 are what leaked out as a result. These reviews in combination with a rather nasty Credit To The Nation slag-off proved to me that I could write this stuff and my editors wouldn't knock it back, were willing to let me explore potentially controversial issues. I was very young and very convinced but what's odd reading these again is just how much of what I've writ prefigures the kind of stuff I wrote in Eastern Spring)

FUN-DA-MENTAL 
MOSELEY DANCE CENTRE
BIRMINGHAM 
21 May 1994 (Melody Maker) 

In this green unpleasant land, political choice is between you and your remote control Life just isn’t that dramatic is it? It just surges on. So, when you heard that BNP phone message on the new Fun-Da-Mental single, how did you feel? Listen to it again; the passionate timbre of his voice, the chilling conviction. This man means what he says, and he will try to enact it. You realise that this is war.
   Black people are realising that fascism is not a foreign virus to be expelled from Britain's healthy body, it’s a national disease encoded in the very fabric of society at all levels. It is ingrained in what it is to be British. The BNP are Britain’s hidden self made flesh, and that’s why the phone message shocks, because the little scab is under the country’s skin and to fight the fascists means to wage war on our national identity.
   Fun-Da-Mental understand this implicitly – that any band addressing racism without being revolutionary are just more grist to the mill. They know that to revolutionise a culture you need to make a radical assessment of it and that that assessment, by virtue of their historical situation , is provided by black people. What’s great about tonight is the obvious links Fun-Damental are forging between the Afro-Caribbean and Asian communities, playing this gig in an area most bands would avoid because they know that for both ethnic groups in Britain, Black Power is the politics of survival, and unified militant action has to replace the begging-bowl syndrome of the Black Liberal era.
     Perhaps the most moving moments tonight are when they create the end of prejudice in the very stuff of their sound, forging a sonic world where the binary oppositions of racial conflict abscond, storming hip-hop beats melt into Asian film strings and burst into a flurry of techno mayhem before it all melts in a mix that’s thrilling in a way I never thought possible. Fun-Da-Mental realise that to truly see an end to prejudice we have to remove the concepts of race, gender and sexuality from our vocabulary, remove the power dialectic from our discourse on all these relationships. And in their music they dramatise that better world.
   Lyrically, in the brilliant ‘Frontline’ and the monstrous ‘Dog-Tribe, they emphasise that the meantime is a mean time. In the bar I see a group of indie-kids grabbing their crotches, doing their nigga-skank shuffle, giggling and shouting “Shut up you stroppy c**s!”. But I can’t be angry tonight. Fun-Da-Mental are so ball-bustingly exhiliarating, with Blacka-D streaming white light in our faces and Propa-Ghandi leaping around like a f***ing maniac, in one of the most inspiring nights I’ve had since Public Enemy first crashed into my bedroom all those years ago.
    New Asian Kool? When pigmentation becomes a fashion accessory I head for the door. Fun-Da-Mental are above such Select silliness, their fusion of radical politics with equally radical music is my idea of heaven and tonight they barnstorm the brain. Life-changing. 
NEIL KULKARNI 



FUN-DA-MENTAL 
SEIZE THE TIME 
NATION RECORDS
(1st July 1994, Melody Maker)
FORGIVE me, please, put can we just sort this shit out? In a recent Backlash I was told that "racism has always been negligible in Britain", that recent election results spell the end of fascism, and that any prejudice in the UK is the work of a "tiny minority".
   When I hear this reason, history, discourse, all evaporate into wordless, stomach-churning fury; I gasp, I cry, I tense, I wonder why I'm still so surprised at white ignorance and insensitivity to racial issues, and the fear and loathing kicks in again. Because that's the power of hatred. The shout from a passing van window, the night at the bus stop or chippy where abuse and fists fly, the vaginal search your gran tells you of, the eyes on the street, the tight clutch of the handbag as you pass - all those moments are replayed and erase the months of tolerance that intersperse them, becoming a dirtmark on your memory that can never be removed.
   This hatred feeds itself,  because the last thing you feel after that little bit of verbal flak is rational, reasoned, open to argument. And we all know what the refusal to argue is. Midway between wanting to tear your skin off and hurl it starward to show these people the aching heart beneath and affirming the skin as the only valid motivation your life can cling to, you have to make the choice - between fear and love, and it's all too easy to choose the former. Fun-Da-Mental make their choice whenever they play, it's a choice that's made easier the more you listen to them. Which is why I urge you to hear this album.
   It's a huge album. Collosal. In sound, in scope, in ambition. It's a rewriting of history, a two-tonne Occam's Razor into our present and a vision of the future, all served up in a vast, pan-global feast of sound to wander and think and dance in forever. Because Fun-Da-Mental's particular universe of musical diversity is a response to hatred and oppression it naturally plays out a darker, rougher, less fluid eclecticism than say, Trans-Global Underground or Loop Guru. Different soundworlds collide and are forced together by sheer mutual insistence - a seething mass of slogans, lush strings crushed against turbid hip-hop, samples scraping and sparking against each other until they're re-forged in the cross-faded inferno.
   "Mera Mazab" is like driving down Foleshill Road, Coventry, the booming techno from your system mixing with the Bollywood strings and muezzin calls until pedestrians start cutting up the pavement to find the funky beach below. "No More Fear" (for me, the highlight) throbs on a beat like Doomsday, a flurry of samples chasing each other round your head. It's music that inhabits its own world; you get the feeling that should a Utopia ever exist, this album will be its national anthem.
   "Seize The Time" is an awesome achievement that sends you spinning out into the street wired, buzzing, palpably changed and brainstormed. Too, too rare. And this is NEVER just "a black thing". You will understand that Fun-Da-Mental are far more than that: WE ARE ALL IN HERE. For a band to be this righteous and compelling is precious indeed. Because it is a choice between fear and love, between The Power and humanity. Because FREEDOM NOW will always be a better pop moment than We Shall Overcome, Someday. Because a bloody nose, a sprayed window or a stab in the neck can't eclipse the truth.
Damn right it's essential.
NEIL KULKARNI

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

PANTERA reviews, Melody Maker, 1994


PANTERA
FAR BEYOND DRIVEN
eastwest
Be afraid, be very afriad.
   If you've never heard Pantera (unlikely, "Walk" is a club mainstay), they are metal as she should be wrote. Their last LP, "A Vulgar Display Of Power" was damn near perfect; a monumentally heavy hymn to isolation and rage, high on aggression and freaked out on its own adrenalin, it ran with all the lights on red and blew people's heads off. Two years on and they're somehow pulling off the impossible. It scares me shitless but "Far Beyond Driven" actually ups the ante, at times it's like being fist-f***ed by the Incredible Hulk. I can't recommend it highly enough.
   Pantera see the studio as an armaments factory, this is metal designed by Kalashnikov and built by NASA: a huge complex grid of clipped titanic riffs, all breathtakingly precise in execution. Sound is stripped of all fat and frill, honed down to one point of maximum impact, coalescing voice, noise and beat into one almighty butt-f***ing sonic hit - purified, cooked up and mainlined straight into every synapse.
   Like great techno, it's utterly flawless music, free of any error, minimal and animal enough to make a screaming bloody mess of the head. You might wonder if it wasn't deliberately manufactured to physically and mentally bludgeon you into a gibbering wreck, an obedient slave to the rhythm. Play this next to your Tresor compilations, join the dots and, for god's sake, stay off that speed.
   There are some departures; "Good Friends" is avant thrash with guitar pitched somewhere between Eddie Hazel and Main, while "Planet Caravan" is a straight reading of The Mighty Sab's most gorgeous moment but fundamentally, PLAY LOUD AND SURRENDER. Pantera are fast becoming the Ultimate Metal band and the next year should see them collaborating with  Hardfloor and contravening the Geneva Convention. I await with moist lips and my Kanga-Pants on standby but, for now, this is heartstopping.
   Buy it for that rich elderly relative in your life.
NEIL KULKARNI


PANTERA/DOWNSET,
APOLLO, MANCHESTER 
CHRIST, 22 years old and I feel like Godfrey from 'Dad's Army'. Young white teenagers surround me, a mass of black t-shirts with pointy letters on, you can smell the Biactol. Do you think I might be excused Mr. Mainwaring? Never mind people's anxiety at rap gigs, half the concerts I go to I have to crane my neck to see melanin so I can relax and enjoy the show. Pantera's interview had me fearing boneheads but, as it is, I only hear one cry of 'Paki bastard!' all night, which is pretty good going. Yeah, lone nutter, but there's one at every rock gig: one day I'll crack and start crying so bring the Handy-Andys or it could be embarassing.
   Anyway, Downset are superb, the sound of possibilities finally realised. Didn't rap rock seem like a fab idea? And weren't the results so disappointing? Too many bands who thought metal was all widdly-widdly, funk was the bass doing the same thing, and rap was nebulous knobcheese to be yelled across dancefloors by big boys. Comparisons are hideous but if RATM were Alan Parker Urban Warrior fronting Credit To The Nation, then Downset are Chomsky fronting Public Enemy. Their authenticity (and they are 4-real mean streeters) is less important than the fact they're a fluid fusion, not an ugly Frankenstein; a slamming tuff ruckus of all those moments in rap where your head just spins, and all those moments in metal where you have no choice but to stomp around spread-legged and head down like Chiyonofugi preparing to throw some fat Hawaiian into Row Z.
   Whaddaya waiting for? If all you sock-headed muppets don't make Downset massive, you're stupider than I look.
   "Ace Of Spades" comes on in the bar just as Ryan Giggs slides in a long one (ooh I wish), I'm getting into this. Pantera come on with "A New Level" and I'm sold again. If metal history is a series of refinements and purifications, Pantera are this year's ultimate model. Phil's a star, Phil's a dishy dreamboat. For the crowd tonight he's got the whole world in his clenched fist. The bass sounds strung by girders. Dimebag Darrell, spotlit head thrown back, cuts from shredding out great platinum slabs of noise to the yellow brick upper echelons of the fretboard to find the Wonderful Wizard Of Gip. Yeah. You know 'em all. "Walk" kills, "Five Minutes Alone" is funky as ever, Beavises get up and take over vocals, Buttheads chase Darrell around air-guitaring, beers are thrown, hands raised aloft, a thousand teen dreams are sucked off and sated in a way Oasis couldn't hope to compete with. Whatever, Aspirin will be needed tomorrow. I buzz home, phoned by a friend, tell him I've just seen Pantera. "Did they give it some gip?" he asks. "Fuckin' A they did!" I reply.
   These bands rule, proof that in every music lover's heart there is a place that remains forever metal.
   Freeze. Rock. RRRRoll.
NEIL KULKARNI

Monday, 3 September 2012