Writing by Neil Kulkarni

Thursday, 25 February 2016


11:30 Posted by neil kulkarni , , , , 1 comment

Exquisitely dead-eyed bass music, blank, robotic, Grace Jones/B-more-crunk clearly heavy influences. What the track postulates is that impossible party life where you simply keep going, pharma-fuelled from round about Friday afternoon through until Sunday night, only stopping now and then to smear more make-up on, give yourself those kick-ups and comedowns you need to stop yourself shaking. At no point does the facade (and that's what this record is, one massive facade) crack or crumble. It just keeps going like a machine. The NaughtyNorth/SexySouth of 2015 could be a big hit with this official release. I do hope so.  Loving the electro-jazz Jammer rerub too which really accentuates the eyeball-scratching spaciness inherent in the lyrics. Young age pensioners will hate it cos it's not 'proper music'. Fuck em, this is essential.


Remind yourself of the arrest report why don't ya. I guess if R.Kelly can make a comeback we shouldn't be surprised that r'n'b/black pop is willing to let Grammy-winning woman beater Chris Brown back. Shame on Keith Sweat and shame on anyone who works with this infantile, mysogynistic, spoiled, monstrously arrogant, disabled-parking-space-taking, homophobic fucking cunt. Listening back to Sweat's 'Nobody' from 96, that this rejig is based on, you see what's happened to r'n'b since. The sex has been removed in preference of pornography - you could not imagine a more sexless, less-sexy piece of music than this new single, despite its flagrant panty-peeling ambitions. Also the pleading, the vulnerability of the male voice has all gone to be replaced by a nerdish autotuned correctness, a total lack of real emotion hidden in a welter of studio-flash. Brown's not just a cunt, he's an artist peddling nothing but shit, a malformed half-man/half-boy fuckstump who can't actually deal with or even apprehend his own titanic selfishness and irredeemable artistic worthlessness. Fingers x'd that his ego will eventually prove his utter ruin. Fuck him.

Friday, 19 February 2016



Adelewhoisworth£50million with ÜbersturmCuntFuhrer Nick 'Harvester Of Sorrow' Grimshaw.

Thank god for the Britschool eh? Easy to forget that Adelewhoisworth£50million was in the same year-group as Jessie J and Leona Lewis. We should always count our lucky stars that there wasn't a Columbine-style mass-shooting at the Britschool that year or the consequences for British pop might have been devastating. Of course, like you, my favourite Adelewhoisworth£50million song is the one that goes 'I'm mortified to have to pay 50 percent/ I use the NHS, I can't use the public transport any more/Trains are always late, most state schools are s*** and I've gotta give you, like, four million quid - are you having a laugh?/When I got my tax bill in from 19, I was ready to go and buy a gun and randomly open fire.' In the  video for this new song from her multi-platinum latest album we see Adelewhoisworth£50million setting up with her musicians and backing singers, all tastefully clad in neat and good-quality dark garments from the better high-street chains, in Church studios. All the musicians play with sensitivity and gentleness and in good-quality dark garments from the better high-street chains and Adelewhoisworth£50million puts alot of herself into the performance of the song, which appears to be about lost youth, impending mortality, the kind of vague and interminable self-pity which has made her such a star for the Great Shittish Public, those fucking dimwitted paramecium for whom the fact she doesn't mime is some kind of cause for celebration. At the end Adelewhoisworth£50million has a giggle with the band, proving what a down-to-earth person she still is and the whole thing is so deeply fucking boring you're almost forced to start idly dreaming of the doors to the studio suddenly locking and a slow accidental seepage of toxic gas rendering everyone inside initially paralysed, eventually choking to a grim asphyxiated death - crucially not able to ever again inflict their fuckawful musical politesse on anyone ever again. Daydream believer . . . heartbreaking when you snap back innit. Music without a single iota of grit, grace or guile about it as you'd possibly expect from Adelewhoisworth£50million and her band wearing good-quality dark garments from the better high-street chains. Truly, this is Adelewhoisworth£50million's and band who wear good-quality dark-garments from the better high-street chains' TIME. We're all just spectators.


(Fueled By Ramen) 

See, you don't wanna pop that lead singer in his stupid fucking face at all do you?

Fucking hell, if this is the state of 'rawk' in 2016 I'm so glad I've been out of the loop ever since all the metal mags fired me. We don't really have heavy rock anymore do we? Alternative kids seem to go crazy for boybands with dark hair, boybands with a bit of slap/a few extra tatts, boybands who sound like a horribly over-compressed din of euro-dance detail played on guitars.   Acts associated with 3DD include Nickelback and Puddle Of Mudd which tells you just how fucking horrible 'The Broken' is, the Killers-style electronic textures unable to hide just what a dull, underwritten song they're pinching off here. Those same textures find their way into Against The Current's sub-Paramore mediocrity. Utter utter shit from everyone concerned.
    Asking Alexandria at least seem to be dimly aware of how to pretend to be heavy, but despite the drummer knowing how to do that double-kick thang (that thang that always reminds me, ever since I watched it from the rear, of those times when the Muppets or Sooty had to 'run') and the guitarists knowing how to have long hair and look a bit grubby it's all entirely fucked up by this horrible helium-afflicted chorus, where as per fucking usual, the lead singer starts sounding like he's ready to be operated on by Guetta/Aviici and shit has to get fucking 'anthemic'. ALL rock now has to be both permanently fixatedly 'anthemic', suddenly take on the hands-in-the-air dynamics of the worst EDM you could imagine AND make you want to kill yourself to get yourself off this lousy stinking rock where this kind of deoderised shitfest is what passes for 'alternative'. What the fuck's happened to rock kids? I remember when it was the townies that hugged, and whined, and needed constant touchy-feely reassurance from each other and their music. Now it's more likely to be fucking rock fans who trade in such sickening fucking sappiness. Thank fuck those metal mags fired me when they did. Voxpopping these Christian-rock fucks would've been a fucking nightmare. By the by, I once REEEAALLLY pissed off Puddle Of Mudd (and I blame cunts like that and Staind and Papa fucking Roach for getting us stuck down this self-piteous, grotesquely airbrushed hole) during an interview in their tour van in Chicago by stubbing my fag out in their stash. Man, were they NOT happy. I cling to these warm memories in these my dying days. Mainstream 'alt' rock music is fucked and dead and fucked. Beyond necrophilia. More like necro-coprophagia. Extremely grim pickings.

Friday, 12 February 2016

ERIC B & RAKIM Reissue Review, Melody Maker, 1998


Melody Maker, 31 October 1998

IN THE LATE EIGHTIES, Eric B & Rakim were, simply, the coolest sonic and lyrical innovators hip hop had ever seen: street-level poets and musical visionaries burning past the rest of rap to find a chilled, ferociously avant-garde sound still unsurpassed a decade on, still being reinterpreted in kind by the cutting edge of the nu skool.

Eric B & Rakim were an object lesson in the uncompromising pursuit of your own soul, and as such influenced a whole generation of b-boys, fly girls and pop dissidents. What's immediately obvious, listening to this, their 1986 debut, again is just how much there's still to learn here.

The trick was the beats: manipulated is the word — torn away from the blood and sweat of their sources and put through the grinder ('I Ain't No Joke'), emerging as an ice-cold torture chamber of funk ('Eric B Is On The Cut'), a totally new mix of roboticised 808 harshness ('My Melody') and brutal souped-up grooves ('I Know You Got Soul').

The trick was the voice: Rakim's is one of the great maverick throats in pop, like Kristin Hersh or Tim Buckley, there's a unique timbre, a blunted yet furious incision to his grain, enabling him to slip from sidewalk to solar system to inner space in a syllable ('As The Rhyme Goes On').

The trick was the always astonishing remixes: collected here on a second disc, including that Coldcut remix of 'Paid In Full' which turned TOTP into a renegade art-terrorist workshop for five mad minutes; the brilliant Wild Bunch take on 'Move The Crowd' and the incredible dub mixes that still sound like hip hop done by My Bloody Valentine.

If you want lame pop-historical testimony then sure, Eric B & Rakim changed the face of pop, were making big beat records a decade ahead of their time, are a crucial part of anyone's collection who cares about where we've come from and where we're going in this pop lark. But I'd rather say: get this, get Follow The Leader, Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em and Don't Sweat The Technique and go on your own journey, find your own way through. You'll be absorbed for a lifetime.

A flare-up of genius still undimmed. Beyond essential.

© Neil Kulkarni, 1998

Thursday, 11 February 2016

CLINIC Interview, Melody Maker, 2000

Melody Maker, 25 October 2000


"WE HAD TO think about it."

Yeah, I bet. Ade Blackburn, singer with Liverpudlian avant-pop meisters Clinic, is recalling the band's first reaction when offered the chance to have their new single, 'The Second Line', featured on a new Levi's ad. You know the one — pretty young things getting wound up on a Tube train — and you've doubtless wondered where the supremely cool soundtrack comes from. Well, now you know. And it's from the even-better album Internal Wrangler (no jeans pun intended), already in line as the best UK album of the year. But critical acclaim doesn't buy you your first fag of the morning. How long did you have to "think about it"?

"We had a lot of discussion about it cos we all find the use of music in advertising dodgy, and it can also totally ruin songs you like. Look at Moby. But the music in the advert isn't exactly screaming out that it's hip and you should therefore buy the product, it's more kind of used for the visuals. And beyond all that, if you make the kind of music we make, you'd be an idiot to run away, when there's at last a chance of getting something back."

Anything you wouldn't advertise?

"We didn't advertise a thing. We made a noise that fitted somewhere."

He's right. I'm looking for trouble.

SKULKING IN their surgical masks and gowns in woodland just near the M25, Clinic look seriously unhinged, like mass murderers with a grudge against society. But Ade insists Clinic's career has been informed by love as well as hostility.

"It was our mutual love for rock'n'roll that brought us all together," he opines. "Excitement is really important and it's like it's been written out of music at the moment. People think it can be replicated with volume or craft, but you can't artificially create it, it just has to happen. So at the same time we felt totally divorced from what was going on at the time, the whole Oasis/Blur thing."

Clinic's first three singles, 'IPC Sub Editors Dictate Our Youth', 'Monkey On Your Back' and 'Cement Mixer', were nigh-on perfect transmissions from a lone voice against contemporary blandness. They're a good introduction to Clinic's natty mix of agit-pop sentiment and phantasmagorical sonics. But it's new album Internal Wrangler that'll really spin your propeller.

"We just kind of travelled the world, and made use of whatever we could," explains Ade. "The album's really varied, but I suppose our grand unifying theory is that you've got to keep things concise, don't let ideas get stale. So many bands now just seem so pleased with the one idea they have, they just flog it to death and it gives them a good excuse to be totally indulgent musicians. We always try and keep things moving. There's no fanny. And if there is it's good fanny."

It's an approach that's winning them fans at a pace you'd not associate with music this f***ing good. If the Levi's ad is introducing them to a new audience, their current Europe-wide support-slot with Radiohead is bringing sick twists to the Clinic for treatment at a dizzying pitch.

"It's weird, nobody's booed, nobody's told us to f*** off, and we've had all that in way smaller places supporting way smaller bands," laughs Ade. "The thing is, Radiohead are so down to earth when you meet them, you kind of forget during every day that you're playing to such a big crowd. Then you realise you're stood in front of God knows how many people who've never heard a note you've played before. It's good not knowing who your audience is. I have no idea what kind of people are into Clinic at all."

WITH THE four surgical-masked men of Clinic destined to leave a large stain on the national consciousness, you can already feel the underground hackles rising. If Clinic really do attain the level of success people are predicting for them, it won't just be one of those moments when good weird music gets popular, it'll presumably leave Clinic's current fans in an elitist fit they'll never recover from. Good.

"We make sure that when we're in England we're up in Liverpool," Ade insists. "There's always a mate there to tell you if you're becoming a wanker. The jury's still out as to whether we were all c***s in the first place, I grant you, but we're not gonna let anything go to our heads. We've met most people in the music business and we know exactly what kind of people they are. So long as we keep that hatred there, I don't think we'll ever go too far up our own arse."

Get a dose of Internal Wrangler down your neck now. Depression at the rest of pop might follow.

© Neil Kulkarni, 2000

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

JANET JACKSON Velvet Rope Tour Live Review, Melody Maker, 1998

Melody Maker, 25 April 1998

IT'S WHEN THE camera catches the screen and doubles her back to infinity. It's when she's frozen silent by the spotlight, in the teeth of a crowd howl so frenzied and so insatiable the ground gives way.

It's when that mass of noise — perhaps the definitive sound of the 20th century — surges over into delirium and she juts the chin and drops the shoulder and you just know she is only intact now. And stardom is reprieved from Hollywood and given back to pop to play with, and you fall to the floor and gurgle. Gig of the century. Listen.

It's part spectacle, part musical and part plain unearthly. From the black, a giant velvet rope unfurls, a huge screen is opened out, you're hurtled through hyperspace at warp speed, the stage explodes in pyrotechnics and there she is. Janet Jackson. Twenty thousand people yearning with every cell of their being to fuse with her metabolism. 'Velvet Rope', 'If' and 'You' are the greatest ten public minutes of my life so far. She tells us she loves us. We utterly believe her, because she has no reason to lie. She sings 'Wait A While' and 'Again', and we each analyse our own tawdry relationships and lifesize passions and have to conclude they're not true. Then, ohmygod, a Control medley of such spine-cracking brutality, white people pass out, 'Nasty' kicking off a dance-troupe, all-action orgy of Eighties bodyrock. On 'Throb' and 'Ropeburn' (where a wretch is plucked from the audience, tied to a chair and pole-danced until he's a Kangol full of puree), the scorn we adore explodes from her performance, our base bodies struck dumb in wonder at the first human being to evolve to the point where she can actually f*** herself. Completely. Obscenely.

That's what she's doing. Self-possession in excelsis. We're not needed, and yet we're in love. The stage empties, the curtain draws, we scream at it in hesitant agony; suddenly a huge moon, a giant technicolour clock, a slide, — everyone's dressed as flowers, she's wearing a hat bigger than herself and we're not in Kansas any more. Never having seen anything as eye-popping in our lives, we squeal as 'Runaway' and 'Whoops' make us Disney-designed kids drunk on joy; then, in a wink, a Rhythm Nation section of brute futuristic brilliance and a 'Special' so moving we pretend to cry, unembarrassed, fearless. 'That's The Way Love Goes' and 'Got' stem the flood with funk so deep it damn near kills us, before 'Together' sends us coasting into the night drained, devastated, on fire. She blows me a kiss. Me. You wouldn't understand. You aren't really here.

Just try to understand, because our world is different now. Whether you believe in the concept of stardom doesn't matter, because stardom isn't a concept. It's an effect, a transmission, the last state of grace and divinity left on this godless rock, a happening that's irrefutable because there isn't time. And Janet Jackson is the most engulfing and engrossing star I think I'll ever see in my lifetime. We are changed. Go see. And start your life.

© Neil Kulkarni, 1998

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

REDMAN, METHOD MAN Album Reviews, Melody Maker 1995

(both Def Jam)
Melody Maker, 14 January 1995

REDMAN'S Whut? Thee Album came out around the first Cypress Hill's and for those that investigated it was even more blunted to the bone, streaked with blood and choking on its own dread.

This follow-up is just as cinematically lurid, the cover a kinda Nineties Maggot Brain, the music within a fiendish labyrinth of booming beats, croaked obscenity and paranoia. 'Bobyahed2dis' is so funky it has to be steam-peeled off the Buttholes. 'We Run N.Y.' is particularly slamming — voices stretched, hyped, slowed to a slimy crawl, jitter about the head like gabbering gibbering maniacs. Standout track has to be the incredible 'Green Island'; a staggering mesh of fat jeep beats, Hawaiian surf geetar and drunken doggerel that'll have your coked gills flapping in the depths. First essential hip hop LP of the year? Yeah, and here's the second.

Method Man you should know from Wu Tang. What was so amazing about the Clan wasn't really the violence and tuffness, it was the plain f***ing strangeness of their sound. Here (the other) MM takes it even further out. Seriously, I don't know how in hell to describe this record: weird oriental pluckings, Depthcharge beats, mad reedy violins, martial arts screams and synth caverns. And that's just the first minute. On 'Bring The Pain', producer Prince Rakeem (WuTang, Gravediggaz) unearths a sarcophagus of funk, the studio sounding like an immense, claustrophobic space with Rakeem wandering around playing on whatever fresh hell he can find. It's a genuinely terrifying album, full of impossible sounds, ghostly loops, bleak downered soundscapes. 'Mr Sandman' has a heavenly choirboy singing over a buzz of feasting swarm of flies. It's all highly gothic (just check the cover) but with a sense of purpose and truth to its environment. You can chart a line back from this through Nas and Jeru, and this album is at least as good as those two; you can also let this LP work as the darkest, most profoundly troubled piece of trip hop you'll hear this year outside the Tricky album. Only 'Release Yo Self' offers any kind of respite. Grim, bleak, remorseless, and utterly compelling, Tical is the horrorcore LP after Niggamortis that you absolutely must own. Another year, another coupla hip hop releases, another five years for pop to catch up. To catch up with either of these LPs, tie your head to the nearest bong and point it towards hell.

Far out.

© Neil Kulkarni, 1995

REDMAN and MOBB DEEP Live Reviews, Melody Maker, 1995

Melody Maker, 30 September 1995

TWO GIGS separated by a fortnight, linked by a common grievance. As illustrations of the two ways a hip hop gig can go, they're pretty much perfect; as peachy-keen adverts for the ongoing sterling work of Mr Jam Promotah they're as revealing as hell.

Truly, hip hop fans are the most shat-on in the music world, and yet somehow we remain the gentlest and meekest. We just sit back (well, stand like cattle) and take it, partly outta shock, partly outta the fact that if one person admits that what they just shelled out the better part of a tenner for wasn't worth wiping on the working part of an asshole, it brings EVERYONE'S evening down with the horrible truth. If this were a goddamn indie gig we'd be tearing backstage and lynching the f***ers responsible. As it is, we're hip hop fans so we stand around and smoke and do f*** all. But we do it menacingly. Whoopee.

You wait. You go for a piss and all the lads in the bogs suddenly stop talking as you enter like you've just stumbled into the only saloon in town, minced up to the bar, ordered a creme de menthe and said, "Eeeh, you haven't flicked a duster 'round here in ages, have you?" The fumes from the Mind-Bending Drug Hashish Cannabis Resin outweigh oxygen six to one. You wait some more. And then three hours later with your arse sore and your lungs worse, Redman comes on. And, granted, he's storming. 'Time 4 Some Aktion', 'How 2 Roll A Blunt', and 'Can't Wait' in particular coming over as this huge heat-hazed ruckus; a hell-red plume of misty noise suddenly shot through with the thunking grimy beats that if anything play on and amplify the f***ed-up nature of the gig even further. Pretty soon the crowd in the pit are rocking like woozy sailors, slamming, slipping, tumbling, just a mess of blunted heads bobbing and grooving. ALMOST worth waiting for.

But what we get at Mobb Deep a fortnight later is unforgivable. Havoc is critically ill with sickle cell anaemia. That's half the band. So, instead of cancelling the gig or at least informing the punters, they make us wait for FOUR long hours, then let Prodigy announce Havoc's absence from the stage before (understandably) giving us a lacklustre set, replete with bad PA, taking the tracks from the staggering Infamous LP and merely letting them plod tepidly over our headz. No innovation, no mixing, no feel of constant live possibility that the studio-spun LP actually gives you, no point, no F***ING EXCUSES. F*** that. Next time this happens people, see the Mercedes, see the suitcase fulla YOUR readys, see the backsliding lying bastard responsible and speak with your hands. Round their bullshitting scaley wretched f***ing necks. Sort it now, Mister Man. Or die.

© Neil Kulkarni, 1995

Monday, 8 February 2016

THE ROOTS Album Review, Melody Maker, 1997

Melody Maker, 1 February 1997

HIP HOP RULE NUMBER 4080: "live" instrumentation and hip hop don't mix. Hip hop rule Number 4081: except for The Roots. The exception, the exceptional, THE first bomb LP of '97.

The Roots are a six-strong, Philly-based hip hop band with one disappointing LP to their name ('94's so-so Do You Want More), which had critics back-flipping over the "authentic" instrumentation and the hip hop public staying away in droves. Since then, in the epic struggle to record this second LP (hilariously documented in the wicked and engrossing sleeve-notes). The Roots have realised that by blending their unmistakably live touch with the more psychedelic, further-flung robot-funk arrangements of modern hip hop production, they can maintain the old skool Sugarhill-style band feel that made them so lyrically incisive, while finding the jeep'n'street support their undoubted skills deserve.

Illadelph Halflife is a hip hop masterpiece, a gorgeously rich textual riot; the viciously accurate 'Clones' asking all the right questions about hip hop culture; "Illiotic" vocal percussion, simulated horns and human freakbeat-boxes popping all over 'No Great Pretender'; Black Thought and Malik B expanding rap's emotional palette a few light years on the heart-breaking 'The Hypnotic' with D'Angelo; Cassandra Wilson and Steve Coleman jazzing it up something sumptuous on 'One Shine'; hardcore New York style ice-beats and neck-snapping loops coming through strong on the ear-razing 'Concerto Of The Desperado'; Curtis Mayfield soul-pop never more exquisite than on 'What They Do'; the mind-spinning political intelligence and poetic reach of 'Adventures In Wonderland' pretty much upping the ante of anyone who's gonna step to a mix this year.

There's enough wit, style and innovation crammed into each track here to sustain a dozen lesser outfits for a full career. Get diggin'.

© Neil Kulkarni, 1997

Friday, 5 February 2016

EASTERN SPRING. Chapter 3 - The A-Z Of Fear

Well, even Richard Pryor can be wrong. The aggravation that had been building since a young age, combined with an intense shyness, and an equally intense sense of language as perfor­mance & defence meant I had to be a some kind of scribe, hell, it’s what my name means. As I was to discover late on in the 80s writers, the best writers, didn’t just tell you what you could be listening to, they came to occupy a deeply intimate place in your life. To the point where you felt them overseeing your choices, to the point where they open the world up to you. See, you can be eight and sobbing down by the VG supermarket after an unkind word and a smack in the face from a passing peer and realise that England is a bitch. It takes you a little longer to realise how that bitch can fuck you over, problematize you forever. White skin so pure. Black skin so pure. You? Denied cool. Always the wannabe.

The way Indians get portrayed by the English in my still-unfolding formative years is always somehow needy, wanting in, fatally and laughably unable to be cool. Basic point about 70s & 80s Britain – if you were part of an ethnic minority your life wasn’t just unrepresented anywhere else, it was a life almost led in subterfuge to the mainstream, a mystery to school friends, street-friends, teachers, everyone bar you and your fam. Its mundaneity wouldn’t surprise anyone, but if you were Asian it felt like black and white hated you, and when you’re not surrounded by Asians who hate back with any kind of intelli­gence you’re left feeling kinda soft, unarmed. That ‘Mind Your Language’ quiet acquiescence in our own ridicule was all we saw of ourselves in British culture and even those scant glimpses of shame were only when we weren’t simply invisible, out of the press (apart from the usual ‘issues’/’problems’), off the telly, never ever on the radio. It’s taken fucking ages for that to change, for Asians to present anything other than a wheedling subservience to a white culture they want in on.

Curry N Chips. God bless Spike, eh. 

I’d say that only in the past 5 or 6 years have Asians genuinely become another part of the furniture on TV, have been able to simply be without being attached to some exotica or issue (arranged marriage/cruel marriage/violent-marriage, still to this day Asian culture has a handy displacement function for a white culture that needs it’s ‘subtler’ misogyny diffused – ‘Asian Paedophilia Gangs’ are the latest deodorant of choice I believe). Even now, it’s rare for an Asian to be represented without the comforting attachments of food and Bollywood to swiftly attach themselves – in the entire sub-genre of Anglo-Asian reminiscence I still find far too much self-deprecation, too much jollity in juxtaposition, far too little anger. Asian anger and refusal of Britain’s head-patting conde­scension, as I found later, has a history that stretches back to the 30s in the UK. A history that wends close to my home too – one of the first Indian Workers Associations to be created in Britain was created in Coventry in 1938, Coventry the ever politically-agitated city that gave birth to 19th & 20th century political figures as diverse as Mo Mowlam, Tomas Mann & leading neo-Nazi Colin Jordan. More concerned with worldwide socialist revolution and Indian Independence than the trade-unions that barred Asian membership, the fledgling Coventry IWA meetings were attended by Udham Singh, a member and frequent speaker, a firebrand who went back to India to complete the successful assassination of General Dwyer in 1940, revenge for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

Udham Singh
To this day in Cov, the kabbadi tournament that takes over the rugby-ground every year is named the Udham Singh tournament, in honour of this Marxist-Leninist agitator who called Cov a home and would end his days in Brixton & Pentonville nicks, hanged under the name Ram Mohammad Singh Azad (a taken name he adopted to demon­strate his transcendence of race, caste, creed, and religion). Nehru said Singh had ‘kissed the noose so that we [the Indian people] could be free’, Gandhi refused to honour him– what was bizarre to me was that this was a guy who lived and worked & rabble-roused in the same areas I grew up in, down the road from the Courtaulds factory my dad worked in. As a teenager craving this knowledge, I had to dig deep for it in the footnotes and forgotten byways of books no-one reads any more, it was a history of Asian resistance to discrimination that was revelatory and inspirational to me, accompanied with the angry realisation that I’d had to find out about it for myself, that no-one was teaching me or telling me this stuff. I can’t stress how formative that lack of presence in the culture was, how what I was learning was clashing so much with our cultural representation, how much it meant for black and brown in the UK when you heard LKJ or the Specials or Lenny Henry on the telly or radio, those rare special moments where the whitewash lifted. The whitewash hip-hop was to truly and finally lift from my vision.

Starved of a culture I could truly call my own but at least dimly aware of a history I wasn’t being taught, by the time I turned 11 I was primed for hip-hop to come stomping into my life and offer revelation and revolution. It did, via ‘The Message’ played on Mercia Sound’s morning show as I sat in the back of a blue Hillman Imp (next to the engine). I remember it as the moment my teenage years started, ordering my mum to turn the radio up at the top of a snowy Gulson Road, waiting for the lights to change and hoping the handbrake held. Every moment since leads back to it. Rap was never purely the vicarious thrill as writ about in the music press to this day, hip-hop was a bolt from the blue that seemed to me, still does, to be the only music to accurately map something approaching my consciousness, splat­tered and splayed by a dizzying array of sources, leaving me seething with questions as to how that revolutionary everything­is-usable mindset could help me. Even with rap though, it was still engagement with a culture you never saw on the screen, only heard sporadically. Prince was more visible and he became my next obsession. Asians could imagine looking like him. But actual real Asian folks you never saw ANYWHERE except where the piss was being taken. The stereotypes that 70s/80s telly threw out about Asians were living lessons that if you’re told to be a good sport it tends to be for your humiliation, if you’re told it’s ‘harmless fun’ it’s guaranteed to touch-down at playground-level with no fun, and plenty of harm. It introduced you to the twin concept that not only can they take the piss out of you as much as they want, if you dare to raise a single voice against it, you’ll be lambasted for over-reacting, spoiling the fun, ‘thinking’ about it all too much.

It Ain't Half Hot Mum. Were these all real Asian people? We never knew.
As for pop, bar Freddie Mercury, who as with so much, never exposed himself, we were nowhere, absolutely nowhere. How could we be? Black musicians, though frequently marginalised, were at least part of English pop culture, increasingly were taking that step from peripheral figures to front men and women. Asian musicians were seemingly nowhere to be seen. According to pop, no matter what our moves in real life, we were still to be drawn into the first faltering steps of ‘integration’, that dance with the other wherein the other gets rendered palatable. And this lingered long after black musicians could feel confident as figureheads – deep into the 80s Asians were still persona non-grata in Western pop. Bereft of anyone from my background answering my turmoil, hip-hop like Public Enemy & Ice Cube & Ice T from the States, and Gunshot, and Ruthless Rap Assassins & Black Radical Mk II from the UK filled in the gaps in my knowledge, pointed me towards a wealth of reading and listening that finally started answering some of the questions I was having about racism, the white power structure, the history of hate that I felt we were still always living through, even as mainstream culture was pretending those wars were over. It was still however, mainly black culture, whether reggae, dancehall, dub or hip-hop, that seemed to at least be addressing this. The Asian pop music I got to hear that wasn’t decades old, looked & sounded identical to the West’s 80s aspirational models, seemed to have no impetus bar a desperation to sit alongside western pop.

The first time I saw myself or my kind of radginess repli­cated anywhere was in 94 when Fun-Da-Mental happened, even later in the 90s when Cov-born Punjabi MC bought bhangra to the charts it had that feel of novelty-single, like Whitetown, like a brief foray into the mainstream before the usual retreat back to our own undergrounds (and so it proved). The fact that Asian music is now reduced down to catch-all titles like ‘desi’ and predominantly ignored by the pop mainstream bar the odd stolen loop/vocal re-emphasises just how little Asians are repre­sented in pop, just how ‘foreign’ this music still is. The abiding assumption being that we’re timid, would rather stick to our own – only in UK hip-hop, a music massively marginalised, do I see equal participation of Asians – really reflective of how the Bollywood pop that is many Asians primary pop experience doesn’t NEED mainstream acceptance in the UK to survive, it has a population of a billion in India to cater to. That ability for many Asians to now feel confident enough to simply pursue their native tastes in the land they’ve migrated to means that Asian culture is to a large extent still invisible in the UK, keeps itself to itself. But that comfort & ease in inconspicuousness was not the way my parents raised me, and not a tactic that was possible for me growing up: that retreat into a ‘native’ narrative was impos­sible when Marathi song was itself on the retreat in the Indian 70s (bulldozed out of Bollywood in favour of Hindi films that could appeal to the whole nation), when I was being so gleefully saturated in a Western culture I saw no reason I shouldn’t belong to, a culture that in pockets and peripheries of the past and present ,offered me the rebel strain and political bite I found so lacking in mainstream pop whether white or Asian. My parents, and my sister were crucial: they were cool, they stepped off, let me read, pushed Sivanandan and Ellison and Malcolm X and Marx my way, let me a little loose from the strict career-minded strictures that made so many of the other Asian kids me and my sister met seem so weirdly part of some pre-program, armed with futures that simply didn’t interest us. For me and my sister, an older Western culture of art and rebellion spoke more clearly to our dreams than present-day Asian culture’s emphasis on (teenage snort of derision) ‘entertainment’ and conformity. We turned to our own kind and they were from a different planet. They were eager to please.

The image A.Sivanandan chose as the cover to
'A Different Hunger: Writings On Black Resistance'
a book that majorly changed my mind & life.
All our teenage lives we were introduced to kids who osten­sibly should’ve been like us. Like them, we’d grown up with Marathi parents, like them, those Marathi parents tried to keep their roots intact. Unlike us however, their parents seemed concerned only with one kind of fitting in – the ability to reach a point where you could make money, become a ‘professional’, economically earn your place. In order to maximise their kids ‘competitiveness’ their parents controlled pretty much every facet of these kids lives, from the books they read to the telly they watched to the music they listened to. Their parents were always worried about their kids growing up ‘too English’, kept their offspring’s cultural inputs as withered and limited as their own, set their parenting ambition as churning out clones of themselves, kids who’d end up as nervously ambitious and greedy (and usually deeply and offensively Hindu-nationalist in their politics) as them. My parents watched as me and my sister became gobby little lefty freaks and pretty much gave up on any notions of us fitting in by the time we were in our teens. From then, we were free. They allowed me the breathing space to learn that you can either get angry and sad, or angry and proud, and you’ll often get both, allowed me the dawning discovery that that crinkle-cut chip on my shoulder and this pain in my heart are touchstone, launch pad and cul de sac inescapable. In startling contrast, the kids we were introduced to were sensible, never gave their dimwit parents the credit of being able to cope with disobedience, barely listened to Western pop, slavishly stuck to the Marathi music that was all the music their parents supplied, if they supplied music at all. Art was not a lucrative enough aspect of life to waste time on when there were qualifica­tions to earn, studies to commit to, doctors and lawyers and businesspeople to become. Painfully straight-laced people I felt even less solidarity with than most of the white folk I knew.

My old school badge. I fucking hated that place. 

But then, I’m getting angrier as the 80s roll on. I almost entirely blame my school. I’m put in a grammar school as a toddler then asked later if I want to continue to another fee-paying grammar. Scared of anything new, I forego the oppor­tunity to drop out and swim with the kids I know down the street & continue to be privately educated at monetary cost to my parents, and lasting social cost to myself. A fatal, yet apolitical, misjudgement on my part and perhaps my parents also, that only really starts biting when I realise that the ‘tolerance’ of the middle-classes is the worse possible nurturing ground for anything other than a constant debilitating hatred of whitey I’m yet to fully shake.

I develop this hatred because I went to King Henry VIII school in Coventry for 11 years of my life. Take a stroll up Warwick Road from the Station and you’ll see it. Fucking ridiculous building with a facia that looks like a medieval castle, augmented with modernist blocks, reflecting its old-boys­network pretensions and it’s nasty streak of Thatcherite drive. Rich kids & posh kids & just about making-it kids went here, parents suckered by its pretence at being a public-school in the Rugby mould, kids dazed at the Victorian parochialism that went on behind that façade. Jerry Dammers and Philip Larkin were the only alumni I ever cared about. We had houses, house-ties, delusions of jolly-hockey-sticks grandeur, a teaching staff composed nearly-entirely of paedophiles, child-beaters, funda­mentalist Christians, classical scholars and right-wingers. My sister, 3 years older than me, was part of only the 2nd female intake. By the time I was in & already developing the scruffiness, terror-of-PE & avoidance of work that would blight my school-life forever we were 2 of about 4 Asian kids in a junior school of about 400. When we passed the 11 plus and made it into the senior school we were 2 of about a dozen Asian kids in a school of nigh-on 800. Racism was, as with most schools at the time and to this day, a daily occurrence, something you went home and cried about until those tears could harden into a response. My response was always verbal, never thrown a punch in my life, and (enough times to not get down about it) it was a response better than theirs & faster. Be nastier back.

On my first day in the junior school aged 6 I called another kid a ‘fucking bastard’ and was dragged in front of my one-armed Jewish-homosexual head teacher (there were nice guys there in amidst the Nazis, like I say, a strangely populated place), bollocked, and told to write a 2 page essay on the word ‘bastard’, it’s meanings, it’s uses, and why I shouldn’t have said it. I plagiarised it from an obscure safely irretrievable source (ahhh Readers Digest Books, how much I owe you), a trick I’ve used ever since. Through those 11 years at that institution I was lazy, but finding ways to survive. The bored & bullied becomes the bully, lashes downwards & draws tears from those who won’t fight back. Steady consistent theft and defacement at the library, on report and in detention elsewhere, later on drinking in lunch-hour, I got through. I recall sitting on my last day there dreaming the whole panorama of gym and playing fields and chemistry lab aflame, teachers corpses riddling the walkways, fellow students running screaming, a revenge too good not to keep in the imagination. Violent thoughts, never actual violence cos I’m too much of a coward and too smart to want a beating.Two of my teachers ended up with their paedophilia outed, one committed suicide, one wrote Christian tracts about how the bible insists that children “must be sexualised” and taught my sister that “the IQ of black Americans was lower than that of black Africans because they were the stupid ones who had got caught for the slave trade”. Another teacher forbade any involvement in relief for Africa because Ethiopia was a ‘communist country’. Another threw objects at you, sent you to first-aid if he drew blood. Another smacked you in the face, another took secret photos in the showers, another popped pills, another sexually-initiated male & female pupils he took a fancy to - you learned these eccentricities, mind boggling at the auld-England that created them, the ‘best days of your life’ (don’t worry kids, they ain’t) a fucking nuts cartoon populated by ancients of the ancient schools, incidents of cruelty and stupidity & vindictiveness too numerous to mention, far too many teachers hankering for the brutal days of yore, the teaching that had battered them into the weird shapes they were in.

Best years of your life? Don't worry kids, this is a big fucking lie. 

You got through despite it, and the English teachers were alright, mainly hippies (the women) and old queens (the men). Started to discover in English, that I wasn’t bad at writing, could occasionally be moved enough, (like my Uncle Abba especially blown away by Shakespeare) to come up with unique responses. Music teaching, with the advent of GCSEs is moving from the historical (which I excelled at with my at-home/library spod-u­like development of knowledge about classical music) to the practical (which I’m shit at) but music, by 85, is becoming the only thing alongside literature that I care about. I hit the Marathi stuff hard in the mid-80s partly because of the sheer grain of it – it’s scratchy and atmospheric in an era in which I find it hard to like the sounds bands are making. In the Live Aid years (which is a sound doubtless being rehabilitated as I speak, some earnest defender of big ‘orrible echoey drums and a whole mess of fretless fuckwittery tweeting ‘It Bites’ videos long into the night) I go backwards in all music. Un-hiply, I listen to nigh-on purely 60s and 70s music for two years instead of Nik Kershaw & Climie Fisher (sozboz), and what current Indian pop I hear in the 80s is just as shite as the western pop it’s ripping from. I’m engaging in nostalgia for an India that perhaps never existed, the scratching search for roots when your DNA is forged 5000 miles away from your birthplace – crucially I’m in free-fall at the realisation that, hold on, I ain’t gonna fit in ANYWHERE.

A growing realisation that I don’t even feel at home being an Asian, because Asians I know beyond my own family have a sense of community, meet up, large groups, places and spaces and surety. In contrast, we’re seemingly a community of four, eight at a stretch if you include blood-tied folk from London. The language my parents speak, Marathi, is spoken between them and them only. When we go to Foleshill, Cov’s main Asian area, hearing my mum twist her mouth into the consonants of Hindi and Urdu even I, remorselessly and lazily uni-lingual, can tell the difference. In India I’d be living in a state of 100 million people, the second most populous in the country. In England, Maharashtrians number nearly-none in the 70s and 80s. We weren’t part of that wider influx of Gujaratis from Uganda that had Enoch frothing at the gob, although the hatred he touched on has shadowed me always, and always will. At school, I’m realising that the middle-classes have just as venal hatreds in their hearts, but have the power to construct glass ceilings of sociability underneath them, out of them, closed circles you look foolish even trying to enter – I hid away, with a couple of close friends who ended up leaving me. By the 6th form I was on my tod, and folk steered clear, and that was fine by me.

Ustad Bismillah Khan

That sense of being an alien, that self-aggrandizement inevitable to the slightly pompous teen, was exaggerated for me everywhere I went, even if I sought a community to belong to. In the 80s I don’t walk down the streets of ghettos like Hillfields or Foleshill or Longford feeling at home. Sure I feel safer, I feel like I can disappear/show myself easier, I don’t feel folk crossing the road to avoid me like I do everywhere else, but I know I don’t belong there either, know I don’t see my family’s curious features mirrored anywhere. The A to Z of fear that is created deep inside your brain if you’re black or brown is getting fully mapped out for me, the streets you can’t go down, the places you can’t walk in, the unofficial lines of segregated geography that are laid down young and stay forever. Sure, maybe paranoia but racial paranoia is at least, safety. I can walk into the Standard Music Centre, the Asian-record shop down Foleshill road and feel as alienated as I do in HMV or Our Price but I can feel unnoticed, I can sit in the barbers getting my chrome dome shaved drinking heavy sweet cardamom tea and listen to the conversation and not understand a single word but for once not feel under observation. Race, when you’re one of only about five Asian kids in your entire school, is important, creates and moulds your consciousness and the cut of your jib in a vintage disappearing way. Gives you a conflicted sense of wanting to vanish and wanting to make as big a noise as possible, hide out and try and figure out who the fuck you are but also stamp your greenhorn incongruity on the cosmos. There’s a small rack of Ustad Bismillah Kahn & other raga maestros in the music shop. That’s where I go. The medallion-man clichés of the Bollywood sound-tracks that cover the walls leave me absolutely cold, as they still do, because that shit could be from anywhere, made by anyone, piped into any shop in any city on earth. Even by the midst of the 80s I can hear that its aspirations are becoming almost entirely westernised, entirely globalized to the point where the specific and local is subsumed in the welter of Western expectation,

I can hear it losing the universality and strangeness of old Marathi cinema-song, losing its unique prehistoric suggestions and unmediated wonder. So just as I’d rather listen to the Velvets and the Stones and Motown comps while the 80s rolls its Burtons sleeves up and back-combs itself into grisly big shapes, by 1985/86, in contrast to the clear commercial space that Bollywood pop is ravenous for, I opt to lose myself in those old tapes, that old classical vinyl that even then is becoming a relic of an India gone. Snobbishly distasteful of the new Indian pop, this old stuff keeps yielding a sub-cellular glow I can’t explain which you could call ‘belonging’, a racial memory that cuts beyond language. Something to do with the beats, with the fact that Marathi movies of the golden age so often fantasised a rural Maharashtrian idyll that my parents, like so many of their gener­ation, had abandoned for a city life in Mumbai or even further afield. Songs that make you wonder about what could’ve been, what you’d be if your folks had stayed in the village, how out-of­synch you are with your destiny as is anyone who escapes the world they were born to, to step and stumble out into another. Out of synch as is anyone who’s walked on those black beaches barefoot and finds themselves grown up and trudging through a substance called snow that they’d only read about before. In such a torment of shattered identity, Amitabh Bachan breakdancing wasn’t gonna cut it as glue to repair me, as anything I could get behind or get together with. Hip-hop stepped in and gave me a way my broken-ness couldn’t just be lived with, but lived FROM, could become the ground I could grow up above. I can trace an awful lot back to ‘Yo Bum Rush The Show’ and Public Enemy because they introduced me to thinking about race without fear, to realising that a head seething with questions doesn’t have to find answers or hide out and pretend it’s OK. By the time, through PE, I’d got into the music press and a whole lot of other stuff through that conduit; I’ve been bent out of shape severely. Got put forward for Oxford & Cambridge. Fucked up the exam cos people like Chris Roberts & Simon Reynolds & David Stubbs & The Stud Brothers have brilliantly fucked up my life as later Simon Price & Taylor Parkes would, end up ranting about situa­tionism in response to a rather anodyne question about the Duchess Of Malfi, unrepentant when my appalled English teachers lambast me for my foolishness


Learning by now, is something I take from everywhere except school, something I do everywhere except the classroom. I cannot emphasise enough just how much the magazine Melody Maker meant, and still means to me. Every Wednesday morning, it was my education, my inspiration, my launch pad into the world. It seems strange now, the idea that something as transitory & supposedly ephemeral as a magazine could exert such a collosal hold over someone, no matter how ripe for takeover I was back then. But even though the paper it was printed on could’ve wrapped up yesterday’s chips, the words and images that were printed were titanic, huge, and life-changing, as etched in my memory now as they ever were. It wasn’t something you could say about all music magazines, only the Maker. It was special, a unique collection of individuals working at peak power. Not only was the music that the Maker introduced me to a revelation, it also picked out the sources I should be studying, the films and books that surrounded the culture, the writers and theorists I had to follow, every piece threw down hints to a thousand other things you could explore.

In contrast to today’s endless music-crit efforts to be down with the kids, the Melody Maker never ever felt like it was talking down to you, only across, only with both the humility and conviction strong enough to allow you as a reader to catch up, to try and understand, pursue your own avenues. The people who wrote for the mag, and the photogra­phers who snapped for it became obsessions for me as deep as the music they sent me towards and shot: Simon Reynolds’ mindblowing conflation of modern theory and noise, David Stubbs’ scabrous humour and deep intuitive use of the English language’s vulgarian power, Chris Roberts’ enormously stylish mix of poetry, suggestion and romance – these people, and many others, ended up, even though they seemed to be living enviably connected lives in the big smoke, massive shadowy presences in the life of this little fuck-up from Cov, overseeing my life and it‘s choices, yaying or naying every decision whether sartorial or aesthetic, popping off a myriad directions your head could be splattered to. Your heart would rush of a Wednesday, knowing that at some point you’d be picking up the newest copy, my room was a place where the photos of Tommy Sheehan, Steve Gullick and Joe Dilworth would end up on my wall, the writings of the Stud Bros and Carol Clerk and Paul Oldfield and Jonh Wilde & Paul Mathur & Jon Selzer & Simon Price scoured, re-read, re­absorbed.

These were writers who seemed to know everything about music, but crucially they were writers who clashed, disagreed, and had something to say about how pop should and could be, and that opened up a vital space whereby you could start thinking for yourself. They were cool, often cooler than the musicians they wrote about. In stark contrast to the needy, party-crashing tactics of today’s press, these were writers stylistically bold enough to exist in their own space and drop their own atmospheres onto you & into your life whenever you started reading them. After a while you could spot them a line in, their voice, their hold on your heart and head. Even when I leave school (and after a summer in which my mum burns all my old copies saying they’re a ‘fire-risk’ – still not forgiven her) and end up studying at York Uni their weekly transmissions transfix me, new people like David Bennun, Cathi Unsworth, Andrew Mueller, and particularly two writers I’d come to call friends, Simon Price & Taylor Parkes, providing me with a weekly dose of rocket-fuel to the skull, always funnier and faster and sharper and more generously honest to their own dreams and delusions than any other kind of writing I’d ever read. Writers, you felt, who had read, who had also been separated a little from their peers thanks to the big over-heated brains they were lugging around their whole life, the mad amount of listening and learning they’d, like you, wasted their adolescence with. I owe that paper & the saints and angels and devils who wrote for it, everything. Finally free at uni from the middle-classes and able to reconnect with the white working class my schooling separated me from, the white working class who’ve rightfully taken the piss out of my poshness ever since, I find in English lessons that I’m surrounded by stuck-up wankers, realise I ain’t gonna get a fucking job out of this. Decide seminars and lectures with these twats are less important than the pub. Also getting into a frenzy about music and writing, waste my words in love letters, waste my mind with 9-bars and shabby slaggishness, only able to listen to Indian music back at home in Cov when trainfare can be scraped up.

Videos now make it possible for me to watch the films these songs come from but I end up watching with my eyes shut. When I hear the stunning Akheracha Ha Tula Dandavat (sung for the film Maratha Tituka Melvava in 64 by Lata with her sister Usha providing ‘echo’) I’m amazed to discover that Lata also composed the music under the male pseudonym Anand Ghan, but when I look at the screen, all is out-of-synch, mouths open to silence, shut to be given voice. Eventually that starts suiting me fine too cos I feel out of synch, I feel there’s a mismatch between the simple stories & bucolic idealism of the films and the suggestive wonder of the music and sounds. Hearing the wonderful song Jithe Sagara Dharnimilte sung by the exquisite Suman Kalyanpur (a Bengali singer relocated to Mumbai) the out-of-synchness reverberates even stronger, I realise that both Suman & me are born out-of-synch with our place, displaced to somewhere we will always be a visitation in. The composers,as revealed on the credits, start to become an obsession, because unlike my parents, I don’t associate these songs with the experience of watching movies, I associate these songs with closing my eyes and letting the pictures come unbidden. Names like Sudhir Phadke, a great classical & playback singer in his own right and composer of some of my favourite Marathi songs, Shrinivas Kale who’s hits have been part of Marathi film for 60 years now, the genius Hridaynath Mangeshkar who’s Koli Geets (fisherman’s songs) redolent of the Konkan roots of my mum – these were people who’s individual styles were unmistakeable once you knew which songs they’d wrote, but who were almost vanished in terms of their persona and presence unless you lived in India, unless you scoured the sleeve notes of what vinyl you had and hassled your parents for instant translations. People I wanted to find out about but whose lives were shrouded in obscurity and modesty – as a vintage pop fan and a fan of vintage Marathi song there was a powerful mismatch between those western artists who pushed their egos right at you, and these quiet genii who almost seemed to want to disappear, letting other singers and actors take the spotlight armed with their songs. Partly you put it down to that meekness you so wanted to destroy in yourself, later you realised it was more laced in with the entirely different notions of what it was to be a musician that prevailed in the East.

I'm aware in the 80s, that the move I'm making on Indian music is as squalid & fearful & reactionary as that of a rare-groove fan on black music, or a classical-music fan who refuses to listen to anything later than Brahms. I was listening to exclu­sively ‘old’ Indian music, to the denigration of what was actually contemporary Indian pop in the 80s, a retro-fixated snobbery that mirrored my distaste for contemporary western pop. Partly it's pre-emptory resistance to a perceived patronisation -‘Indian’ pop as perceived by the English as I grow up is nigh-on entirely those pale imitations and painful malapropisms of contemporary western pop that reassures and ratifies a white industry’s control of what we hear, their artistic ‘right’ to that control. The camp failure, the Bengalis-in-platform stereotypes: the ephemerali­sation that always accompanies the designation ‘exotic’ means half the planet’s music, of which India is a substantial part, has always only been afforded the hipster dabbling that characterises most people’s ‘foreign’ listening. That mistreatment of non-white music by the white-dominated music industry, that I see in the misrendering of hip-hop in the mainstream media as well as the complete ignorance of Eastern musics across the entire media, has started to really get stuck in my craw by the late 80s. The germs of realising that maybe, at the Maker, in my daydreams, there’d be a place for me and my problems. For me, as primarily a hip-hop fan, the way hip-hop was written about often seemed guided by the same mistaken sense of the music only gaining respect when it told you what you already knew, reified the same old Stagerlee/insurrectionist stereotypes (i.e. had encoded within it the reassuring narrative of black FAILURE). The revolutionary possibilities of hip-hop not just as music or message but as way of thinking about the world seemed to be entirely ignored. By the time Uni coughs me out in 93, I’m fucking seething. Six months in to a dole-life I have no desire to ruin with work I write a letter and another stage starts. The letter that got me in at Melody Maker was about precisely the frustration I felt at white treatment of black music, and after hired I’ve banged on about little else since, because still deep into the new millennium black music simply doesn’t get the same treatment as white, still is hidebound by clichés of instinct that refute intellect.

At Melody Maker I was allowed, finally, to vent, and encouraged by fellow writers (particularly my reviews editor Simon Price and the guy who initially spotted my letter, Taylor Parkes) to follow and feel fearless in that line of attack. I can’t imagine any print editor right now being like that – monomanias, obsessions, ideas of how pop SHOULD be rather than simply reporting on what pop was, were actively encouraged at the Maker, visions competitively perfected, your journey through pop and yourself not only allowed but respected, a uniquely joyous place to work whose sacrifice & destruction by cruel commerce and evil-plans enacted by utter utter cunts would be one of the most traumatic episodes of my life. Ahem, don’t get me started – at least at the start my intent as a critic was always to dis-avail people of the timidity and temerity they had for black music, this idea always that in liking black music you either wanted to be black or are taking a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. For me, in the early 90s, that misery required no holiday-ticket to visit, stepping out my front door or staying in and watching telly you could see that racism was as alive and well on the streets of the UK as it was anywhere else. Hip-hop was the only music coming from a minority or immigrant perspective, the only music suggesting a cannon beyond the usual rock names, and the only music saying anything politically. Its treatment as a fad, hype, or technique rather than art form seemed to me utterly incommensurate with the lessons you could learn from it lyrically, the places cosmic and street-level that it could propel you to in the space of a syllable or a loop. It was musical armour, a new shape to throw back at the cosmos. Any person in a minority looking for music that mirrored their own chaos was listening to rap music in the late 80s & early 90s. For all its avowed aggression & stridency, it was actually the confusion of it, the power it gained from the piling up of that confusion in sound & word, that made it such an essential soundtrack to the blistering tension and rage of being who you were.

Ustad Allah Rakha Kahn

As part of a minority you’ve always got too much on, frequently too much on your mind, an extra level of negotiation with yourself and others that simmers and seethes along with everything you do. It’s exhausting, when a minority within a minority doubly so, when a minority within the minority of a minority well . . . you can imagine – the pride my auntie thought my mum should have in her racial-rarity found it’s inverse in the anger I felt stranded out in Cov a might-as-well-be million miles away from anything I could call my roots. My response as the 80s ended & the 90s began, inspired by the writers who every Wednesday for 75p were blowing my mind, was to examine how things seemed through my prism, make sure I was able to express myself through voracious reading and shameless plagiarism, developed the trick of saying things other people wish they had said. Were I an arrogant cock, which I am, I’d admit that that’s a trick handy for being a critic; it’s also a trick that in the wrong bored juvenile & cowardly hands can turn you into a nasty cunt at times, a verbal bully. Angry little bastard, using Western pop as taught me by Melody Maker & others to assuage or amp that anger, aware that much of my life would be spent as some kind of irritant, yet more unsure of exactly how that inner-volcano could be safely unleashed. University was even more loneliness and aggravation and the beginning of drink and drugs as lasting solution but for real calm, back in Cov, for a sight of another way that nothing else offered, I tried sometimes to imagine how my parents listened to these songs the first time as the old TDK reels rotated again. In the village, surrounded by jungle (ironically when I listen to Ustad Allah Rakha Kahn or V.S Jog in 92/93 I hear jungle-d’n’b prefigured polyrhythmically), travelling cinema set up amidst the trees and snakes and monkeys and these astonishing songs coming singing through the thick forest air. I’ve only been to India twice. Once when I was a month old, of which I recall nothing. Then once again in 1982. I hoped to afford to go again but never did – but as I face-down adulthood at the end of the 80s I could at least say I’ve been to that jungle, seen what I dreamt, heard and felt the hum and energy, been part of an ancient routine, dodged army ants and snakes and lizards in my mum’s village and my dad’s village, noticed I am never stared at yet feel terrified in the roaring Mumbai streets that became both their homes, came home to Cov, my home, shaken and shocked at my own precarious identity. Able to realise that perhaps I should never ever talk race with the white folk, they simply will never ever get it, and convinced they needed schooling, by me if no-one better came along. That last tour of India was valedictory though I didn’t know it at the time: ever since I’ve been hearing only of deaths, my dad and mum’s generation falling to old age and illness, my cousins and contem­poraries falling to pressure, expectations, alcoholism and madness. My own madness as the 80s close out and I ready myself for the outside world is that white people will never understand me, and that’s proven a madness unbroken even now after all this bleeding chipping away through the medium of record reviews. I never ever ever talk race with white folk cos within a minute I want to slap ‘em, within a minute they’re telling me that it's me who’s a racist, within a minute I know even more fervently that I’m right, that most white folk have not a frigging clue about racism and what it means. OK, let me talk to you about that that unshaken opinion. Once you’ve stopped shaking, and once I’ve answered that call.

BABES IN TOYLAND Live Review Melody Maker 1995


I MISS Ligament cos (I was gonna come up with an excuse as contrived as my mate, who was late for school one day cos he was "on his bike and the wind was blowing in his face")… cos I'm a daft bastard. I'm told they were "a tease" by a bloke in a Huey Lewis T-shirt. Go figure. I have bigger fish to fry anyway.
Y'see, there's this syndrome. I listen to my old compilation tapes (the only reason anyone makes compilation tapes is cos they hold the vague hope that someone else will hear them and think "God, what amazingly cool eclectic taste this person has, I must do the nastay with them toot sweet." It never happens, people, sorry) and I'm assailed by a dozen bands who had the press' tongue wedged firmly ass-wards three years ago and are now almost spitefully ignored, even though they're doing their best work. Consolidated, Cop Shoot Cop, Come, L7 and now Babes In Toyland. Well, f*** that.
Nemesisters is a remarkable record; if you were wavering, don't, sink in. And let's cut all dat punk spiel. Americans don't understand punk. Never have. Only Bad Brains ever came close. No, tonight, Babes In Toyland are nothing but the most insanely vicious chundering METAL band the US has catted up in the past few years. And where most would find that reason enuf to poke sticks and giggle, I love metal. Always have. Proudly. Waaauugghh. Anti-rockists can kiss my spandex-clad natchel black ass. But, you bleat, why do they just wanna play silly-boys' games? Why not? Because they should be floating ethereally above us sweaty males like proper girlies do? Because wimmin are too nice, too soft and pliant to get the urge to mosh like a motherf***er to riffs fatter than a whale omelette? Because rock is something that men DO TO women, never vice versa? Oh, pleeeeze. It's all in someway an effort to tell women what they are aesthetically permitted to do, no matter how "apologetic" and "constructive" the rhetoric tries to appear. As soon as you start writing differently depending on the race/gender of the artist, yer f***ed, if you ask me. So the Babes are a blast, a mindbomb, a thaumaturgic bad-assed bullet of a band in Manchester tonight, tearing through most of the new album, 'Right Now', 'Hansel & Gretel' and the still-illin' 'Won't Tell' from the old ones, and, by the time they're coasting through 'We Are Family', have emerged as the most feral, seething, tear-holes-in-the-wall-evil-zigzag-ricochet-at-f***-you-miles-an-hour band I've heard in donkers yonks. I will chill out when the bullshit stops. Until then, I will keep listening to this unique and crucially INSPIRATIONAL band until they make a bad record.
Which they ain't done yet, regardless of Those Who Decide These Things This Year (ie those whose loyalty lasts only as long as Select will allow) say. I have made devil's horns of my right hand, am shaking it in a rapid "wanker" motion and saying "wicked".
It's a righteous thing. Understand.
© Neil Kulkarni, 1995

Thursday, 4 February 2016

SUEDE Live Review Melody Maker 1996

10:59 Posted by neil kulkarni , , , , No comments


Melody Maker, 7th December 1996

STARSPOTTING. Robbie Fowler. Good. Hollyoaks cast. Bad. After the gig, back at the hotel, I get in the lift. Brett Anderson's pressing the button for the fifth floor. God, he's lush, I think. But then I remember the gig. And the thrill has gone.

It's like meeting the best f*** of your life, two years on, and wondering how you even stayed awake. There was a time, of course, when Suede were a sex fantasy and soundtrack rolled into one. An alternative lifestyle. They made me varnish my nails, buy a good suit, kiss and tell, trust romance. Tonight, I feel embarrassed by that. Wondering if I read too much into them (YOU NEVER CAN), if they were worth it. They were, but it clearly means nothing to them now.

Brett once had ideas about Pop Stardom — the responsibility, the limits, the freedom. Now he wants to be in Just Another Band. One of the lads. Liverpool gets a stage show with a script we've seen too many times (that cocked arse gives us nothing but FAMILIARITY), underscored by the most bogstandard performance you never thought them capable of. For a band whose best moments always came in the spaces between nuances, the sumptuous DETAIL of their sound, tonight's gig is a distressingly shabby barrage of blare and treble. All you can hear is Brett's voice, Simon's drums and Oakes' overstated, overwrought guitar. Neil's keyboards might as well be at the bottom of the Mersey, Mat Osman's bass doesn't reveal itself all night. And, God, they're in such a f***in' RUSH.

The songs from Coming Up may simply not measure up to the older stuff, but they're never even given a chance. 'Trash' gets kicked about early, far too fast and sloppy for its gorgeous hooks to get any purchase; 'Filmstar' and 'Lazy' are just too damn ugly to be prettified by anyone; 'Saturday Night', perhaps one of their finest moments, becomes a grisly Quireboys flop tonight, 'Star Crazy' just a mess, Brett's stageplay finding nowhere new to throw itself, becoming the repetitive creaking motions of a performer somehow terrified of spontaneity.

Of the older songs, only 'Animal Nitrate' ignites, its vicious lunges and strange leaps intact and never sharper. 'The Wild Ones' loses its necessary subtlety in a messy sea of fuzz, while 'So Young' sounds so OLD (and already, it seems this song will becomes Suede's 'My Generation', a record that will haunt them forever with an ever-increasing incongruity). It's all quite startlingly ordinary.

They close with 'Beautiful Ones', and you're struck by how much things have changed. How much they HAD to change, you realise. Suede's difference, the alien-ness that made them so vital once, so unique, would never be accepted by the indie consensus in '96, which has never been more conformist, never more narrow-minded.

With the Oasis/Blur war narrowing the goalposts so hugely since Suede last stepped out Brett knew there was no way to return successfully without playing to those blinkered souls, no way to keep going without first jettisoning virtually everything that had set them apart, and then jumping into the pit. Which means that Suede are now just another indie rock band, another beery doss. Shed Seven with better cheekbones, Kula Shaker with a five-years-younger template. Sleeper with smaller hits. A success story, but less a comeback than a RETREAT.

As I leave, before the encore, my eyes are stinging, my throat choked with near fury, I take one last look back and clock the crowd. I see no strangers, no aliens, nobody who needs them; I see beered-up people JUST LIKE ME. They're welcome to it. Suede were all right tonight. And that's not nearly enough.

© Neil Kulkarni, 1996

Wednesday, 3 February 2016



Lvl 11 
Album of the month by a country frickin mile. You might not have been notified. This is because the mainstream music media in the UK is fixated on traditional bands, can't take their myopic gaze beyond NW1, and fundamentally can't really countenance the possibility of British working-class groups who refuse to dilute or compromise their music. The narrative they accept, the moment they choose to engage with music that isn't 'Later'-friendly, is when that music chooses to crossover. Levelz seem gloriously incapable and uninterested in doing this. Consequently, because they're not playlisted, and because the papers aren't even aware of them, Levelz are not the utter fucking stars they should be. Yet. They should be the biggest story in UK music. They're a Mancunian collective of MCs, DJs and producers ranging in ages from teenagers to 40-somethings. There's 14 of them. The main producers are Biome, Bricks, Chimpo (a fucking genius), Dub Phizix and Metrodome. The lyricists and spitters are Black Josh, Chunky, Fox, Skittles, Sparkz, T-Man and Truthos Mufasa, the DJs are Jonny and Rich. Roles aren't fixed, rhymers produce, producers rhyme - crucially this fluidity of roles is something you can hear in their intoxicating, addictive music. With backgrounds in drum & bass, dubstep, grime, garage, dancehall, hip hop, jazz, funk, tempos are not set in Levelz music, every track here provides another dazzling detour from predictability. This latest album cuts from tight-as-fuck grime, to gorgeous g-funk to latinate dancehall to stark almost-dubstep oddity with utter confidence. Throughout the rhyming is a giddy, hysterical treat - like the music,  reflecting Manchester's true diversity, attitude and humour in a way that 10thousand Oasis-clones never ever could. 

(And this is what's odd to me. Where's the fucking nose for a story gone? If the press want stories, mayhem, larger-than-life characters and astonishing music it's all here. Levelz are perhaps the greatest rock n roll proposition this country is offering at the moment. Only prejudice and a collosal lack of imagination is stopping them visibly being the stars they most assuredly already are).

Highlights for me are the frabjously squelchy 90s g-funk of 'King Of The Disco' (a track so damn delicious you could jack it next to some WC & Madd Circle), the hilariously on-point 'Drug Dealer', the fizzing licks and stop-start flows on 'Dickhead', the cold mindblowing recesses of 'Slow Down' and 'Ninja' but really this album is best enjoyed in one big phat flood out your car speakers, pushing on every headphoned step, bumping your whole house to the rafters. LVL 11 has the same collective power, individual intrigue and walloping power of prime Roll Deep, Massive Attack, Split Prophets or even So Solid. With an industry fixated on solo artists (easier to market/manipulate) we should all be cocking an ear towards the ill-mannered, devestatingly controlled, fantastically freewheeling music Levelz are shooting out there right now. For the kiddies, the old folks and all us inbetween, 'LV1' should already be an early contender for UK album of the year.


Christ what a racket. Best enjoyed/endured one track at a time. Crowhursts incredible 'Judgment: The Remixes' from 2015 was one of that year's noise highlights - recalling Khost's 'Corrosive Shroud' - and this newie has that ace thing that all great noise records have where at several points you wonder if you're getting totally conned. Halfway through the juddering sonic juggernaut of 'Retinal Hum' you find yourself thinking - WHY the fuck am I putting myself through this? And once you've negotiated the fact that you're listening to this on your own (and you will be, even if you start with others), that you have nothing to prove, and you wonder why you're not doing what a sane human being would do confronted with this wreckage and turning the fucking thing off, you realise that the reason you won't isn't a macho noiseniks fear of being defeated by sound, rather you start to hear things within the deafening shred and surge, threads and lines not of melody but of vision. You start seeing things. You play news-footage inside your eyelids, bulldozers, bodies, skies of black smoke riven with carrion crows and fighter aircraft. Christ what a racket but crucially, what feels like a TIMELY racket. Play it loud. Worry friends and neighbours.


Been up and down with Curren$y over the years, enthralled by his earliest mixtapes, increasingly bored with his recent output but 'The Owners Manual' is a short and sweet recovery of his presence, just in the nick of time for his forthcoming collaboration with Alchemist (slavering already cos just can't get enough of the Alc's increasingly wayward transmissions). Cool and Dre on the mix all lush and nice and it's all over before it gets a chance to overstay its welcome.

Heavy as all fuckout. And free.

Superbly downered doom with a heavy bass undertow that's like Portland's awesome Towers (reviewed their magnificent 'II' opus here) hatched alien offspring from an orifice in the side of their beastly bellies. Because they sound like kids, often the two tracks here (both 15+ minutes long) don't make that extra push into true genre-less oddity that Keeper will undoubtedly uncover the further they go - this is still 'conventional' doom, albeit recorded with a punch, glimmer and grit beyond more established outfits and taking songwriting twists that are gloriously incorrect and untutoredly moving. Superb. 

She keeps dropping bombs does Simz, and this latest of her Age 101 series keeps the standards high. Her voice is still a gloriously self-confident codex of politics, personality, aggravation, langour, humour and despair which reaches an apotheosis on the super-splendid 'Savage (Freestyle)'

It's odd. Though I tend to be doubtful of rapper's motives when they only rap over old-sounding music, I have no such querulous questions of motive when it comes to producers. Totally understand why they'd want to avoid the autotune trap-hell of current mainstream hip-hop production and dig back into loops and smoky beats — more often than not, they sound better. Mr Brown here drops a scintillating, utterly dated yet utterly ace four-track 7" on the inestimable King Underground and every single track is a delight, from the ravishing crepuscular funk of 'Weathered', the bumping heavy bass clarinet-laden 'Now See Me' and the gorgeous coda of 'Tiny Sunset' and 'Bluey', like Gil & Miles ditched Macero and gave Marley Marl a call. Sweet sounds. 

Isaiah Rashad - Smile from Top Dawg Entertainment on Vimeo.

"When I listen to the deacon say it I'm pullin' over/I've been prayin' with the reefer head, yeah/in the valley, meditatin'..." Nice booming jazz sound, heavy-hitting upright bass, a lick of Curtis, a non-stop mind and mouth in motion, a chorus that then brilliantly absconds into a near dream-state of fucked-upness, eyes heavy-lidded looking out of a car window at the rain and neon. TDE can't help themselves (do check out Ali's Throwback TDE Mixes on Soundcloud won't you, they're awesome) which makes the sporadic, sparse nature of their output a refreshing change from the glut being provided elsewhere. Hopefully from that album he promised last year. Unmissable and unmistakeable.

Kanye and Kendrick's first ever collaboration, and more than worth the wait. Madlib is in on production and the result is one of the highlights of the year already. Kendrick's verse is a doozie but in a weird way I prefer Kanye's takeover — paranoid, jumpy, sketchy, malformed, 'turbo thoughts'. Behind all this id-warfare, Madlib drapes a thrumming kaleidoscope of funk, dub fx and soul dazzle that sounds like a devestating alternative to the encroaching retroism of autotune (that's the weird thing with hip-hop — in a few years autotune will doubtless sound utterly out of date). The test being, if you weren't told it was Kanye, would you listen again? Yes, without a doubt. The voice, and the words still hit with a truth. Essential. 

VVV (standing for Vigo, Venkman and Vorhes) is Cappo, Juga-Naut and Vandal Savage and this is an unholy slab of Notts menace, allegedly 'retrieved from a VHS tape found floating in the River Trent, Nottingham'. Love the production, all stalactite '80s synths and moody electro-bass — some lovely moments of John Carpenter-style moog-guignol as well. Heavy 808 beats and drum-machine abuse undercuts the simmering, scary rhymes from all involved. Love the heavy Notts dialects and the general feel that this beams in from both another planet but also somewhere dark, clammy and desperate that you know all too well. Superb, flickering, near-drowned ish from the heart of darkness. 

Triple Darkness' 'Darker Than Black' was one of 2015's greatest UK albums, so it's intensely gratifying to see solo member Tesla's Ghost bringing out his own tracks in 2016. 'They All Know' is produced by SOSS and is some of the most sublimely creepy, DREAD-full music you'll hear all winter. The extoplasmic strings and chimes are slowed to the point of decay, like a particularly doomy moment from Rachel's 'Music For Egon Schiele' stalked by a subterranean bass. You keep waiting, as TG's rhymes get ever-more suggestive and hallucinatory, for a beat to come crashing in and save you from the fear of your own heartbeat, your shortening breath, your growing realisation that if you look behind you, you just might scream. Terrifying music. Utterly stunning. Absolutely essential. 


"Fat like an elephant's knacker". On the quiet I reckon Ocean Wisdom's 'Chaos 93' might just be the most lyrically-engaging and dazzling album that the High Focus stable have given us yet. The man has SKILLS, fast, furious, ferocious, funny-as-fuck skills so natural that HF are going to be pulling tracks out to highlight every damn chance they get. 'One Take', like the rest of the album, features fantastic production from Dirty Dike, here hitching a frabjous flute-guitar jazz whorl to a solid cruising beat and then having the good sense to keep things minimal (gorgeous strings the only addition), so you have space to concentrate on OW's trails of consciousness. Already a contender for debut LP of the year. Get hip. 

I know very little about George Fields other than that he's called George Fields, is a hip-hop producer from Dorset, and he has a new instrumental album called 'Beyond Realm' coming out soon on his own UT imprint. If 'Andromeda' is anything to go by, it should be an absolute masterpiece and I must check his previous albums on its strength, 2012's 'From The Sticks' and 2015's 'Glad To Meet You'. 'Andromeda' does nothing you've not heard before but does it wonderfully, recalling Lapalux, Underdog, DJ Krush, Boards Of Canada, the harder end of Ninja Tune, '90s illbient and '00s hauntology, but always with bone-crushing beats and a real sense of creepy wonder suffused through every second. Superb, and a name to check out as 2016 unfolds. 

Strange strange abrasive wonderful shit from Atlanta. In a year's time you'll be saying you were in from the off. Make that lie the truth immediately. Reminds me of Spark Master Tape, if not sonically then just in WTFness (see also Charles Hamilton's bracingly noisy 'Loud & Wrong' mixtape out now). 

 Just a dope song — simple as, hooky, and should be a big hit. R&b-like hip-hop in the sense that there's a house-influence here, and also this is deep, relationship-based lyrical hip-hop. Great thing is Rockie's cadences, pauses and reflective vibe reminds you heavily of Guru, and it's this authority on the mic that snags you, a kid who sounds confident and smart and isn't ashamed to show it (rather than sounding arrogant and dumb, as so many rappers seem to want to these days). Lovely melodies and a weird disconnect between the electro loops and the beat, a disconnect that gets accentuated every time the beat absconds. A mysterious, magical single that I hope becomes huge. Just a dope song.