Monday, June 16, 2008

A.R. KANE, mini-feature
Melody Maker, early 1987

by Simon Reynolds

A.R. KANE, live
Melody Maker, early 1987

by Simon Reynolds

A.R. KANE, interview
Melody Maker, July 25 1987

by Simon Reynolds

Each week we hurl a batch of New Names at you. Perhaps it’s not surprising that you wilt under this constant attrition, cease to believe we can really mean it. Easier to shelter from this endless barrage of hosannas and extravagant claims, to shrink back into the rut of skepticism, and stick with what You know--the tired and trusted post-punk dinosaurs.

I’m going to tax your credulity again, today, by suggesting that rock--at this late hour--has, unaccountably, entered a New Golden Age. At the forefront of this scattered maverick tendency, right up there with Throwing Muses and Young Gods, is a virtually unknown group called A.R. Kane. And I’m going to ask you, beseech you: do yourself a favour. Shake off this faithless despondency. Move forward. My estimation of this group is not the result of considered assessment. I listenened and was stricken. I fell for them. I believe you will fall too.

The initial impression was of a black Jesus and Mary Chain. It dind’t take me long to realise how lazy, how small, a tag this was. Rock noise is a GREY affair, generally: the sound of concrete, pig iron, swarf, silt. Maybe this is a malingering hangover from the industrial aesthetic, maybe it’s just the ineradicable taint of New Wave. Even the Mary Chain at their best could only produce a kind of mildly trippy smog. Coming from a different place, fired by other, jazzier ambitions, A.R. Kane have a more vivid spectrum--an iridescence that makes me think of Hendrix. A.R. Kane themselves were amazed at being compared with the shambling bands. “We’d never heard of any of these bands until we released our first single, and people started to play us the records. There’s something very trimmed about that sound, we’re not impressed by it.”

“When You’re Sad”, released in January on One Little Indian, streams over the ears, a dazzling cataract: not so much a wall of noise as a hanging garden. “Haunted”, the B-side, was more spell-binding still, shimmering like the sparks beneath half-closed eyelashes on a summer’s day. Now A.R. Kane are on 4AD, and their new Lollita EP spells out their difference even more clearly. “Lollita” is a gorgeous haze that slowly enfolds the body body, turning your nerves to frost.
a lullaby split apart at the seams by a column of noise, a crystal spire veering up into the heavens. "Sadomasochism Is A Must" opens like a sandstorm on Venus, then turns into a jagged, poisoned ballad, each chord lash showering you with shards of amethyst. "Butterfly Collector" is an icy thrash, culminating in total white-out, a saturated overload of splintered signals.

And there’s more. For all the fevered fleshiness of pop today, how many songs are there about falling in love? AR Kane are one of the few groups that convey the vertigo of rapture rather than the solid earthiness of need. The bastardized soul that is the sound of Planet Pop is all breath, exertion, the burden of passion; AR Kane are about the breathlessness, the numb suspension of enchantment. Pop desire is brazen, brassy, a Wide Awake Club; with AR Kane, love is narcotic, a drift into reverie, oblivion. Alex’s voice is gut-less, fey even, roaming listlessly in some indeterminate region between languour and languishing. It’s the voice of someone vanquished, about to give up the ghost, a ghost of a former self. Steve Sutherland reckons he can hear the ghost of Arthur Lee.

A good notion, because, with AR Kane as with Love, sweetness and sickness, fragility and violence, adoration and loathing, are alternate sides of the same coin. The Lollita EP follows the course by which desire undoes itself, pursues the phantasm of possession to the point of madness, Mutually Assured Destruction. “Lollita” is the idyll--“love to go on down and kiss your curl”, “when I touch your skin/something spins within”, “when I kiss your lips/oooh my head/slides and slips”. But already there’s the incongruous appearance of the word “bitch”, a hint of what is to come. By “Sadomasochism Is A Must” , the desire for total absorption of or by the Other has degenerated into perversion. And with “Butterfly Collector”, the dread of losing the loved one (to the outside world, to Time) has blossomed into psychosis: “I’m gonna pin you down/I’m gonna keep you/I’m gonna kill you”.

Alex expains, “We didn’t intend there to be a narrative when we recorded the songs, but afterwards we realized it was about the development of a relationship, from adoration through sadomasochism to complete possession and destruction. All the songs, even “Butterfly Collector” are love songs. I suppose I’m quite cynical about love. I don’t think there’s a pure love anymore. All love is tainted. “Butterfly Collector” is about when you love someone too much. You put her on a pedestal, you don’t want her to go out in case someone else gets interested, you end up tying down and destroying the thing you love. I think there’s an inherent violence in everything, even the sweet things.”

Maybe that violence at the heart of love is the very process of idealization itself, the living flux of being-in-process is frozen into a series of static, consecrated images. When the flawed, fickle, changing reality of the loved one starts to play truant from the image--that’s our first taste of grief, our first intimation of loss, of death.

Rudi: “But it’s not just as male/female thing, it informs people’s relations to objects too. The guy with the motorbike he never rides but just keeps in the garage, cleaning over and over. People who buy paintings and keep them in private vaults, for their eyes only.”

Alex: “The subject’s huge… people are bound to call me misogynist, but the subject’s bigger than that. But if you’re narrowminded you won’t see that.”


WHAT made them pick up guitars for the first time, only a year ago?

Rudi: “No one was making the kind of music we wanted to listen to.”

Alex: “We listen to a lot of jazz, stuff like Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way and early Weather Report. We don’t aspire to that, but we wanted to produce something with that kind of feeling--spontaneity, freshness, creativity…”

Rudi: “Something more abstract than the verse/chorus/verse/chorus formula. Our songs emerge out of total chaos, which we then strip back in order to bring out a melody. We want to use melodies to suck people into the chaos.”

Can you pinpoint the feeling in Bitches Brew and Weather Report that you like?

Rudi: “It’s too big, you can’t pinpoint it… which is what’s good about it, that it’s abstract. it gives you the chance to let your imagination loose, whereas with modern indie music all you hear is a conventional structure. You listen to your preconceptions, you don’t really experience the music.”

Is it a kind of psychedelic, dreamlike feeling you’re after?

Alex: “Dreamlike, yeah. It’s when you remember one of your dreams you can never really explain it to anyone else. It’s really vivid, really haunting, but abstract. An ambition for us would be for people to have dreams in which our music was the soundtrack”.

Rudi: “A lot of the time we’re trying to transform dream imagery into sounds, which is hard to do!”


ALEX and Rudi are from the East End and have known each other since primary school. They refuse to tell me anything more about themselves “because we don’t’ want people to come to the music with preconceptions. What we do or what we’re like as people isn’t really relevant.” They also say they don’t want to slag other bands or other kinds of music--“if people like something it’s valid.” But they soon forget this resolution.

Alex: “People don’t really listen to music anymore, they put it on as a reflex, as a background to a lifestyle. The supreme example of that is the Sixties soul and Levin jeans thing.”

But you’re not entirely innocent of this subordination of pop to consumer lifestyle thing, having been the person who dreamt up the idea of using “Song to the Siren” [This Mortal Coil’s cover of the Tim Buckely song] as the soundtrack to the Thompsons’ Freestyle holiday ad (Alex is a copywriter).

“That was the furthest thing from my mind! ‘Song to the Siren’ fitted the mood of the commercial, it wasn’t linked to a particular lifestyle. The Levi thing was much more of a case of a two-pronged commercial campaign, where the song sells the product, and the product sells the song.”

You could still argue that the song has been tied down, that people’s freedom of imagination has been irreparably interfered with. The irony is that 4AD were seriously pissed off by the ad, but now have the person who thought it up on their label.

Alex continues: “I think music’s really potent, but most people making it don’t know what they’re doing with it. It’s like handing out guns to children. Like sampling--people are using technology that’s potentially really mindblowing, but in a really cretinous, gimmicky way. There’s sampled stuff on our first record, but you can’t tell because it’s been done in an AR Kane way. With most people it’s like sticking different kinds of wallpaper together. What’s that group? Something Mu Mu--they’re like retarded toddlers messing about.”

Rudi: “To me, most pop today is like cabaret. All these indie bands doing impersonations of Fifties and Sixties bands.”

So far from everything being “valid if someone likes it”, you do seem to think it’s a moral issue that some people are wasting other people’s time?

“Oh no, we wouldn’t say that. I mean, far more people like Duran Duran than will ever like us, and if they’re being moved, then you can’t knock that, it’s valid.”

But are they being moved, to new places or in new ways? I mean--who do you actively respect?

“Anyone who’s out there on their own. The Cocteau Twins. Azymuth. I think there’s a better atmosphere in Europe, people are more open. You’ve got labels like ECM over there.”

Alex: “I don’t think people listen to music anymore. I like to lie down and concentrate, tune in. We like to have a lot of things going on in the music, so you can lose yourself in it. The thing about pop is that the Star Vocal, the singular melody is foregrounded, and everything else in the music gets subordinated to that.”

Whereas your records are a blur, there’s a kind of democracy between sounds.

“The amount of trouble we’ve had with that idea! Trying to explain to producers that the voice isn’t important, that we want to submerge it into the mix.”

Rudi: “With “Haunted’ on the first record, we wanted to destroy the vocal, echo it out completely. We wanted to put so much reverb on the drums they’d turn into pure pulses. And the producer said, ‘you don’t do it that way’. I mean, exactly! That’s why we want to do it like that! So when we do our LP we’re gong to have to produce it ourselves.

Alex: “I think the way music will progress is the listening as much as the playing. We want people to look at music in a new way, not just as a blasé thing that’s just there. It should be like when you see a tree and suddenly it’s as though you see it for the first time. You’ve lived with trees for 25 years or whatever and it’s got so you don’t see them, and suddenly you think: ‘Amazing!’ Biggest shock of your life, when that kind of thing happens. I think music can help you see things freshly and can make you want to experience everything like that, as though you’d just been born.”

So there is a kind of innocence to A.R. Kane, in the sense of not being worldweary?

“Well, I think it’s pretty important to have a degree of cynicism, because the world is bad, but yeah, you have to have that naivete, where everything around you seems full of significance.”

A kind of strong innocence, perhaps.


A MONTH after the Lollita EP, 4AD release a one-off collaboration between A.R. Kane and Colourbox, under the rubric M.A.R.R.S. The A.R. Kane composition, “Anitina”, is a dub-noise collision, a lurid fog of echo and distortion, like children running riot with paints and crayons. Are they prolific?

Alex: “The stuff is practically coming out of our ears! We’re probably the kind of people who’d go mad if we couldn’t make music. We’ve been doing soundtracks for fashion students’ short films, things like that. We’ve got an enormous amount of material. Really we’d like to release two or three more singles and an LP this year--but Ivo won't let us.

“We couldn’t have gone to a better label than 4AD, at this stage. There aren’t many labels who give their groups that much freedom and have the capability to support what they do with that freedom. They’ve done far out stuff, they’re not pandering, but they can also sell the stuff.”

So are you aiming to establish yourselves at a kind of Cocteaus level--doing exactly what you want , but making a reasonable living out of it?

“No, the aim is to do exactly what we want, and forget the ‘good living’”

Rudi: “Living schmiving!”

“Any money we get we’ll just plough back into the music, working on the idea that the more freedom we have, the better the music will be. We want our own studio ultimately.”

Rud: “We find the recording process as it stands really stupid---all that technology going to waste. You’ve got to push the studio to its limits. We abuse our amplifiers and equipment to the point where the sounds were create are just new. Then the producers come along and put that iinto a box. We want to smash the box as well. Some of our ideas with what to do with the studio, well, I just can’t talk about them--otherwise we’ll never be allowed in one again!”

Alex: “Like if I was a drummer, the last thing I’d do is buy a drum kit, I’d buy a drum machine and sampler and play them live. We tried to get Martyn in Colourbox to play drum machine live, but he wouldn’t have any of it. That’s the trouble--people get to have too much respect for their machines, they start to worship their tools. You have to abuse them, and take them as far as they’ll go.”

Rudi: “It’s the same problem with anyone that’s trained. There’s a lot to be said for the argument that it’s only peole who aren’t formally tutored in music who can break through to new ways of seeing and feeling. We want our music to be a rush of things coming at you through the speakers, so many that the mind doesn’t have time to assimilate them and manage them. It should be like a baby being confronted with a rattle for the first time, seeing it as it is, without preconceptions.

“There’s one song we do live whchi completely takes us over, swamps us. You get sucked in, you lose control and you think you’ll never come out. That kind of thing affects you very physically, brings on a new awareness, something you feel in your guts, a new motivation, a letting loose.”

Alex: “It’s very liberating when you lose yourself, start to operate on a purely subconscious level. And when you’re coming back and you’re losing it, it’s like coming back from a brilliant dream which you know you’re never gonna be able to get back to.

“Our music’s like sculpture--there’s this chaos that we chip away at until there’s this beautiful shape. We love chaos, you can lose yourself in it. That’s why so many people hate chaos and won’t let it in. It’s too vast, you can’t tie it down. Which is why everyone tries to tame it, make a system over it.”

Putting a grid over a flux--we’re back with “Butterfly Collector” again.

“Oh yeah, everything correlates, everything we talk about comes back and joins up. It’s like a vicious circle. A gentle circle.”


There's two impulses in rock today. One is to make systems; the other is to dissolve them. One is to bolster the self and its mastery over the world; the other is to dissipate "I", blur the borders between the self and the
world. On one side, clenched-arse agit-pop didacticism; "punkies" like Age of Chance and Win, with their lippy attitude, their triumph of rhetoric over both form
and content; hip hop's tyrannical amplification of the self. Everybody eager to Tell It Like It Is (and noneof that “gurly cack”*).

On the other side, groups like A.R. Kane, Meat Puppets, Husker Du, R.E.M., suspicious of words, reluctant to spell it out, eager to be spellbound, to succumb to oceanic feelings, to go with the flow.

Two different universes: one logocentric, a world of rigid definitions; the other, a world of ambiguity, nuances, contradictions. Two different politics of sound: one starkly produced (lots of definition) with "in your face" vocals and a premium
on clear diction; the other an illegible blur, with the voice smudged and submerged in the mix.

Maybe it's all crystallised in that line that goes: "oooh my head/slides and slips". Maybe that is the thrill, that moment of teetering on the brink of oblivion is complete immersion in the Other.

* sample from Steven Wells

A.R. KANE / Single Review
Up Home! EP(Rough Trade)

Melody Maker, April 23 1988

by Simon Reynolds


A.R. Kane return, with an impossibly total vindication of one’s hopes: not so much living up to the rhetoric as burning it up, leaving it exhausted and impoverished. “Baby Milk Snatcher” returns to the deep, deep dub-sway and heavy reverb reaches of “Anitina”, the hideously under-exposed B-side of the M.A.R.R.S. smash/scourge. But the other three tracks on this EP are the real deal.

I don’t know how Alex and Rudi get these sounds: they seem to be playing not guitars but stalagmites and stalactites. “WOGS” is a vortex of refractions, an overload of colours canceling each other to produce a dazzling white-out. You think of Arthur Russell, subaqua reef worlds or the dreamscapes uncovered by explorers of the underworld: the kind of grottos we haven’t encountered since Garlands, maybe even Bitches Brew.

Alex’s voice is the human heartbeat at the core of this miasma, listeless and withdrawn, carrying the melody as though nearly borne under by its heavy burden of wonder, then dissipating into whispers and cries through all the secret, silent spaces in this sound. “One Way Mirror” is almost dancey but for the near unbearable magnesium radiance of the sound. “Up” has an intolerably lovely melody that slowly, slowly paces an endless spiral “stairway to heaven”, while all around the ice cathedral resonates like a giant bell.

Up Home! is the slow supernova of rock: not its burn-up in velocity, rather the supercession of riffs and even chords by a shapeless radiance of sound seemingly without origin (certainly not in the human touch), conceivably without end.

This is rock’s Ice Age, its Antarctica, its final petrifying spell. The chiming of a million icicles.

Melody Maker, June 18th, 1988

by Simon Reynolds

And yes, I did get the name of the album wrong! Excuse: I reviewed it while on holiday in the U.S. off an advance cassette. Plus, not a soul at MM caught the error either!

A.R. KANE, interview
Melody Maker, October 7th1989

by Simon Reynolds


Rudi: "It's our own fault, really, for being so obscure. It's fun really... I don't know if you've ever played that game where somebody draws a squiggle and you've got to make a picture out of it in thirty seconds. It's quite funny to see what people make out of our stuff."

A.R. Kane's music is the Rorsasch Blot, and this is writing is just my psyche splayed out on the page, just one of myriad interpretations....


If The Young Gods' "L'Eau Rouge" is the greatest album of '89, then A.R. Kane's "I" is the loveliest. Originally titled "Supercallafragilisticexpealodocious", until Disney threatened to sue, "I" is four sides of sprawling invention (and at one point, they wanted to release a double double!)which sees A.R. Kane's exploratory verve oozing out every-which-way and anyhow.

The first side is dance inflected: "Love From Outer Space" has a Sun Ra-ish menagerie of synth chatter Housed within a contemporary beat, "Crack Up" has the dub-quake pulse of the M.A.R.R.S. record, while "What's All This Then" returns to the galactic acid dub of "Anatina" (the neglected B-Side of "Pump Up The Volume").
Side Two is lush, tropical, songs like "Conundrum" or "And" rearing up like Aztec or Mayan temples in the jungle, with Alex' voice like a little pink cloud floating in between the colonnades.

The second record flits between the Sixties ("Pop" is like Stax heard from Eight Miles High) to ROCK (the tingling, tremulous dawn-scapes of "Spook" and "Down" are
almost stadium fist-waving stuff, like U2 if they'd turned out mystics rather than demagogues), before closing with the gorgeous "Catch My Drift", cosmic skank with a sample of Pavarotti swan-songing across from a distant, dejected asteroid. The cascades of halcyon guitar chaos are still there, anxious fans worry not, but are now more intermittent, peeping through chinks and cracks in the song structures...
structures that are like ziggurats or haciendas next to the Barratt homes of your bog-standard chart song. But if anything the moonwalking wooziness, the helium-for-blood languor and lassitude, is more intoxicating and enfolding than ever.


Alex clears up a misconception: "'Pop' wasn't a manifesto about pop, or a statement of intent. It's the sound when the bubble bursts. The song is about the end of a

A lot of your songs seem to be about relationships running aground... Is your experience of love as something generally disastrous and doomed?

Rudi: "I've not yet experienced love..."

Alex: "They're not that personal... but it's just this general idea... that if love is that fragile, like a bubble, so fickle that it can burst at any moment, then is that worthy of being called love?"

Rudi: "It's usually just sexual attraction followed by... habit, and 'I'm comfortable with this person'. 'Love' hasn't got much to do with what happens between people who've only known each other for a few years. Love takes a

Alex: "You can say that the Sun loves, and that the sun's love isn't the kind of love that's going to burst. It feeds us, doesn't it? All life in the solar system comes from the sun. That love is just... real. That's what I call love. So what I'm saying in that song is that the love we experience as couples, on that level, is just a little bubble that can burst at any minute ...

For A.R. Kane, "the sweetest girl" is a mirage, luring you to your doom, ego-death by "drowning in her shifting sands". Like Scritti's Green, their game is pop
deconstruction: seducing you into Love's labyrinth of illogic, then stranding you there, in its inner void. "I" oscillates between the bewilderment of the "Love-Sick" EP ("this ain't love this is just an evil mindgame/ my mind is confused like I just sucked in some bad blow" ) and the virulent misogyny of "Butterfly Collector": there's the rage of "Supervixons" ("killing her was the best thing I ever
done", the nausea of "Insect Love"... Women really seem to bear the brunt in your songs...

Rudi: "Well, that's cos we're men. If we were women, I daresay we'd be saying that stuff about men. Or if we were gay. We're children of the Eighties, man. We grew up
listening to pop songs."

Do you think pop creates unrealistic expectations of love..

"I think life in general is geared towards giving people strange expectations. And people believe that they should get all this from a relationship. Simulataneous orgasms. Happy ever after. Anyway, what's all this about oral sex? We're
not obsessed with oral sex! We were reading that Miles Davis review before you came round, to check out what you'd be writing..."

Come on, chaps - the first album was called "69", you've got a new track called "Honeysuckle Swallow" , "Baby Milk Snatcher" had a line about "suck my seed", there was 'Sperm Travels Like Juggernaut' - there's a theme here, boys...

Alex: "The theme is your dirty mind, hahhaha!"

Rudi: "You old pervy".

And '69' had those weird sea creatures in suggestive positions on the front...

Rudi: "Crustacean people from the planet Zarg... But they weren't having sex... They didn't have sex organs, for a start."

So am I on totally the wrong tack?

Alex: "You can take it at that level, certainly... It's an angle. To be honest, most of the song titles we don't think about. The title seems to connect at the time, and it's not until later that we think: 'oh dear, we mentioned sperm
again'. And then it's too late, it's printed on the record.... But I like the idea of people inputting stuff into the music. I mean, there's only so many things that can happen, right, and if you leave enough room, then they all happen.

Rudi: "It's like the ECM philosophy, "the most beautiful sound next to silence', that's something that has total potential. And the opposite is something that is totally rigorously dead and straight, a noise which does not leave any room for any imagination. And we try to occupy a middle ground between the two. And that's the hardest area to work in. We want a pop music that has at least enough space for
the listener to go somewhere with it... "


"Voice: inexhaustible milk. She has been found again. The lost mother. Eternity: it is the voice mixed with milk." - Helene Cixous.

This honeysuckling intimacy, this carnal cradle of sound, this langorous lullaby lilt... where does it all come from? And then this bitterness, this poisoned love? Here's my diagnosis. Every wound of love is a re-enactment of our first
loss, our exile from the maternal h(e)aven. The beloved is a glimpse of heaven-on-earth, a paradise that's always already lost. Which is the pre-Oedipal phase, before we have any idea of a gap - between ourselves and the world, between desire
and fulfilment. Just limitless plenitude and proximity, in which nourishment, nurture and eroticism are indivisible at the nipple.

This ache, left by the memory of "the deepest, most ancient and adorable of visitations", is what we call the heart. The beloved fills the wound that is the heart, but never fills it completely. Love is fetishism: a part stands in for the whole (for the lost possibility of being whole). And that ache of incompleteness is what we call poignancy.

So forget oral sex, here's another theme. The first song, originally titled "You Push A Knife Into My Womb". "Baby Milk Snatchers". "The Madonna Is With Child". The
statue of the Madonna in the video for 'Pop'... Aren't we looking at your classic Madonna/Whore dichotomy, your typical male split in attitude to Woman....

Alex: "The reason that we used that image... it's an image of love. The whole song's about the love that we could have, rather than the bubble. The Madonna personified that in my mind. And yeah, we've got a song or two where I sing about a mother ... but you can't take things out of their context. It's very easy to do that, and produce some theory... If I was to look at A.R. Kane objectively then, yeah, there's definitely a sexual, female ambiguity/ambivalence thing there ... which we're not going be to responsible for! If it's part of our subconscious, then it's just come out."

If it all comes from the subconscious, is music a kind of therapy for you?

"It's more like elimination, waste products being expelled."

The reason I used the word "therapy" was that most art isn't about venting what happened to you that week: it's dealing with things that happened to you in childhood, longlasting stuff, that has to be continually exorcised.

"It's not therapy unless it's conscious and clinically undergone. Otherwise, it's just sublimation. Which is just as valid."


Rudi: "I think anybody whose mind turns that way, they tend to cover all the ground, from drugs to mysticism to all kinds of weirdness...

Are you interested in mystical ideas?

"I'm interested in practical ideas, actually. Practicality... the key word for the Eighties."


"Oh yeah. You hit the nail right on the head there. Make your own drugs... But what are you into Simon? You're so enigmatic!"

That's a bit rich, coming from you two! The most cryptic pair I've ever come across.

"Hahahahaha! Also known as bullshit. Anyway, what what are you into? You like books don't you?"

Yeah. I read all these books, by French theoreticians, and filch their ideas and bring them to bear on music like yours... Their ideas verge on the mystical: they're
intellectuals who've thought their way through to the idea that... thinking doesn't really get you anywhere. That the important enlightenments are ones you can't achieve through logical thought...

Alex: "You can go in any one area, and if you go far enough, you'll end up being mystical. Look at science; if you delve into quantum mechanics, chaos theory, you end up with mysticism... But it's got to be practical."

But your ideas about the Sun radiating us with Love are kinda mystical...

Rudi: "No, it's very practical. It's real. Things that are really practical, really common sense, are ignored. And things that should be thought of as mystical and unreal, like love, are regarded as daily and commonplace... And that's the dilemma. Cos the fact is the sun is the provider of all things, but to say that sounds a bit mystical, but it's not, it's practical and bloody obvious. The sun blinks
out, it's the end. That's why I think books on things like mysticism, seem a bit absurd, in a way. My impression is that they think there are all these mystical states that are difficult to attain, and are somewhere over there, outside
the normal realms of life. But the fact is that everything that we need is here, now, within reach."


Do you have a low estimation of human beings?

Rudi: "I've not met a human being. I've met lots and lots of monkeys in clothes. My belief is that every so often you get a few dudes who have some really great ideas, and they progress the rest of so-called humanity. Because we drive cars and watch TV we get to think we were responsible for those things... Cos we're born into, we think it's ours. But it's just a few geniuses, and the rest is on a pretty low
level. These guys pop up every so often, not that often considering the number of people on the planet. And because we can talk about these things and repeat 'em like parrots, we think we're clever. We're not. We're dumb. Dumb animals.
Because if you look at the mass of things we do, all we do is destroy. Look at the practical reality of it. You walk down the street, and it ain't... that... cool. Everything that Man's hand comes into contact with tends to get soiled rather
than made special..."

But there's Art...

Alex: "Well yeah, art is what calms us down and reminds us of our higher possibilites... it's definitely there to remind us of what we could be. If you look at nature, it's quite harmonious, it has its own rhythms, and art aspires to
the same things."

I can see the seeds of religion in all this talk: it sounds like you think Man has fallen, exiled himself from the Garden of Innocence.

"We've exiled ourselves from everything really... everything that could help us. Through our own greed."

Rudi: "You were talking about walking through Brockwell Park, but in Britain right now, that's not the kind of world people are interested in creating."

But to tie things up, your music sounds like heaven, like paradise, but there's always the sense of something evil stirring, hints of the impending Fall...

Rudi: "That's us. We're the shit stain on the white porcelain. We are incapable of creating pure, harmonic music, so if it seems tainted, that's cos we're involved. We
believe that there's a certain fraction of our soul that's pure, but the rest is mush. That's what we mean when we talk about trying to refine it."

Do you find the whole business of everyday life, the striving, the insistence of bodily appetites, is that all part of the mush?

"No, that's all life. We're all animalistic in that sense, we have to eat, wrap up warm. It's not a problem."

Alex: "But the spirit is the nugget, yeah. It applies to everything we do, now. Somewhere between our fingers, our guitars and our minds, there's a nugget, and it's a process of finding it. One way of finding it is letting everything come out..."

Rudi: "We listen to our music and try to understand what it's saying to us, what we're trying to say to ourselves. If we are what we think we are, if we make a piece of music we should know exactly what it's going to be like, there should
be no surprises. But when we listen back, it shocks us sometimes. I think: 'how can I like this so much, I don't like me that much... I don't like him that much... I don't even like Simon Reynolds' write-ups that much.'

It surprises you, cos there's more to you than what you thought."

Would you say the music's the best thing in your lives, then? A glimpse above the squalor of everyday life....

"Nah, I think everyday life - my everyday life - is great. I can feel just as good as washing up, as playing music. I can feel a lot playing music, and I can feel a lot
just watching TV. To put music on a pedestal, to think it can transport you to other dimensions ... Well, it can do, but anything can."

Alex: "Once I would have said music is the most important thing in my life. But to look back at me even contemplating saying that, seems silly."

supercolourfragilelipsticksexyallahdosehush a/k/a "i"
20/20 (?), 1989

by Julie Kristeva a/k/a Simon Reynolds

Americana (Luaka Bop compilation)
Entertainment Weekly, February 7th 1992

by Simon Reynolds

 Feb 07, 1992

Details Genre: Rock

London's A.R. Kane are a black duo who wield guitars rather than sampling machines. But their ethereal version of ''black rock'' has little in common with the funk-metal bombast of Living Colour. Influenced by Miles Davis' late '60s jazz-rock fusion and reggae's echo-laden beat, A.R. Kane combine irridescent guitar haze with haunting melodies and mystical imagery. Americana is their U.S. major label debut, courtesy of art-rocker David Byrne's new record label, Luaka Bop. It's a compilation of tracks from the late-'80s EPs and LPs that in Britain won the group huge critical acclaim and influenced a generation of indie bands. ''Up'' is a dazzling soundscape as vast and forbidding as Antarctica, while ''Spermwhale Trip Over'' (from their debut album, 69) is a blurry, blissful evocation of an underwater Garden of Eden. Elsewhere, A.R. Kane move closer to pop. ''A Love From Outer Space'' drapes exotic synthesizer noises over brisk house-music beats. ''Spook'' is celestial stadium rock, like U2 on LSD. A.R. Kane's ''dreampop'' fills the mind's eye with fantastical images; don't miss this opportunity to feed your head. A+

New Clear Child
Mojo, 1994

by Simon Reynolds

A.R. Kane are a Black British duo, Alex Ayuli and Rudi Tambala, who became cult stars in the late '80s with a sound they called 'dreampop'. Influenced by Miles Davis, Cocteau Twins, Can and dub, they concocted marvellous albums like "69" and "i", in which fragile, haunting melodies drifted through a hallucinatory haze of fluorescent feedback and effects-addled guitar. A huge influence on 'shoegazers' like Slowdive and Lush, A.R. Kane's legacy endures with today's 'post-rock' bands (Bark Psychosis, Disco Inferno, Papa Sprain, et al).

After a four year hiatus, they return with "New Clear Child", and one's initial reaction, as a die-hard devotee, is that they've stripped away all the good stuff--the overloaded, iridescent guitars and uncanny acoustic spaces (what would now get them tagged 'ambient'). But "New Clear Child" is actually your classic 'grower': a handful of plays in, the consternation fades, and you awaken to the exquisite intelligence of their multi-faceted arrangements, the warp-and-weft of the backing harmonies, the subtly insidious melodies. Most of the album is languid, jazz-tinged pop-funk, gently propelled by deliberately quaint drum machine beats. 'Gather", with its programmed percussion and cosmic Santana-ish guitar, is vaguely reminiscent of Prince oddities like "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker", while "Pearl" showers 12-string cascades over a crisp machine-beat that again recalls Prince circa "Sign O' The Times" (this time, "Hot Thing" ).

If there's a flaw with their third album, it's that lyrically A.R. Kane seem to be operating on auto-pilot. Their blissed-out titles --"Tiny Little Drop of Perfumed Time", "Sea Like A Child", "Cool As Moons"--verge on self-parody, and the lyrics occasionally resort to auto-plagiarism ("Grace" quotes the title of "Up Home!", their 1988 EP). When the relentlessly beatific imagery is combined with Ayuli's trite rhyme-schemes--"the ocean is a sea/and it's coming for me"--the result is New Age nursery rhymes. The album's opener, "Deep Blue Breath", starts with children's laughter and surf lapping the shore, immediately reinvoking A.R. Kane's twin obsessions with lost innocence and oceanic mysticism. But where earlier songs like "The Sun Falls Into The Sea" were magical evocations of a subaquatic Eden, and boasted vivid imagery like "I can see your breath/like cirrus", now A.R. Kane's self-consciously naive poesy veers a tad too close to Seal's New Age-isms. Still, in the grand tradition of Symbol, Kravitz, D'Arby and other black mystics, Ayuli offers a rejoinder to the sceptics: "people think I'm crazy... but I don't care".

A.R. Kane have always had space-cadet tendencies (they once told me that sexual love couldn't compare to the self-less, nurturing, endlessly-giving love that the Sun provides the Earth!), but the music effortlessly melts your defences and seduces you into their loopy universe. At its best, "New Clear Child' does just that.

A.R. KANE, discography
Lollita EP (4AD import, 1987) [8]
Up Home! EP (Rough Trade import, 1988) [10]
69 (Rough Trade, 1988) [10]
Love-Sick EP (Rough Trade, 1988) [5]
"i" (Rough Trade, 1989) [9]
rem"i"xes (Rough Trade, 1990) [1]
Americana (Luaka Bop, 1992) [7]
New Clear Child (Luaka Bop, 1994) [6]
as M/A/R/R/S
"Pump Up The Volume/Anitina (Every Time I See She Dance) (4AD, 1987) [9]

Spin Guide to Alternative Rock, 1995

by Simon Reynolds

A.R. Kane describe their music as "dreampop", and once claimed that "a lot of the time we're trying to transform dream imagery into sounds." At their best, these Black British art-rockers confront the listener with a matchless aural equivalent of the Rorschach Blot: a hazy maze of halcyon chaos that coaxes your unconscious to come out and play. You can read anything you like into the mirage-like fantasia of their sound--because A.R. Kane designed it that way.

They were always a highly unlikely band. When they first emerged, Alex Ayuli and Rudi Tambala wielded guitars and distortion pedals but cited only late '60s Miles Davis, Cocteau Twins and the European 'chamber jazz' of the ECM label as touchstones. Closer to a guitar-based experimental sound-laboratory than a live rockin' band, A.R. Kane nonetheless initially bore a faint resemblance to the Jesus and Mary Chain. Except that their sound (on their debut single "When You're Sad/Haunted" single and the "Lollita" EP) was less a wall-of-noise than a hanging garden, all prismatic feedback and crystal-shatter chords. Ayuli's fragile, lovesick vocal recalled Arthur Lee, with similar dark hints of morbid obsession and psychosis.

4AD seemed like A.R. Kane's obvious home but the alliance was shortlived, ended by the acrimony engendered by the success of their collaboration with Colourbox, M/A/R/R/S' "Pump Up the Volume"--a global dance smash thanks to its pioneering sampladelic groove. "Pump" was mostly Colourbox's work, Rudi & Alex adding a few cosmic guitar-trails, but "Anitina", the neglected AA side, was a Kane gem--gorgeous psychedelic dub-disco, anticipating moves made by the likes of Primal Scream, Stone Roses and Saint Etienne several years later.

Alex & Rudi's golden years were with Rough Trade. "Up Home!" is A.R.Kane at their most concentrated and elixir-like, finding their quintessential art's core in the ear-dazzling rush of "One Way Mirror" and the spangled vastness of "Up". The latter namechecks Zep's "Stairway To Heaven" and Marcus Garvey's Black Starliner as it sketches a vision of a lost motherland-in-the-sky. The debut LP "69" was a druggy drift of swoony sensuality, narcotic reverie and polymorphous desire, Alex's frail vocal wandering through labyrinthine sound-grottoes. "Spermwhale Trip Over" and "The Sun Falls Into The Sea" ache with an oceanic mysticism that recalls Robert Wyatt's "Rock Bottom" or Hendrix's "1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be"), while "Baby Milk Snatcher" and "The Madonna Is With Child" mourn the lost pre-Oedipal paradise of maternal succour and suckling. This era of A.R Kane was hugely influential, siring (with extra chromosones from My Bloody Valentine) both the ill-starred 'shoegazing' bands (Lush/Slowdive/Pale Saints etc) and the 'post-rock' experimentalism of Disco Inferno and Bark Psychosis.

After the confused, transitional EP "Lovesick", A.R. Kane made a stab at pop with "i", but happily their instincts were too wayward, resulting in a sort of never-never pop, chart music for an alternative universe. Alchemising house, lover's rock, Motown, ska and even U2-style stadium rock, "i" is a treasure trove of weird bliss. The duo then dispersed for a couple of years: Rudi set up the H.ARK! label, home of Kane disciples like Papa Sprain and Butterfly Child, while Alex went off to live on the West Coast. During their 'semi-retirement' phase, Americans were granted their first taste of 'dreampop', thanks to David Byrne's Luaka Bop label, who put out "Americana"--a solid anthology that avoided A.R. Kane's outlandish extremities in favour of dancey ditties like "A Love From Outer Space".

In 1994, A.R. Kane returned with their proper Luaka Bop debut, "New Clear Child". If they'd been at all calculating, they could have exploited their knack for Eno's "fictional psycho-acoustic spaces" and trompe l'oreille soundgardens by making a bid for the post-rave ambient market. Perverse as ever, A.R Kane's came back with a jazz-tinged pop-funk that dismayed diehard devotees with its dearth of iridescent guitarhaze, but pleased Americans because the gauzy stuff had cleared and you could now hear 'good songs'. The New Age nursery rhyme lyrics ("the ocean is a sea/and it's coming for me") had some worrying if Alex had gone seriously Cali. Still and all, A.R. Kane's magick abides, albeit in somewhat muted form.

[grades corrected to what i originally gave them before the rationing of 10 out of
10s exerted downward pressure]

Biography for the One Little Indian anthology The Singles Collection

It is tempting to describe A.R. Kane as the great lost group of the 1980s.

“Great” is spot-on.  And “1980s” is more or less accurate (they did release some stuff in the Nineties but the late Eighties was A.R. Kane’s recording prime).  No, it’s the “lost” bit that is misleading. It gives the impression that this was a group that was neglected, overlooked...   if not utterly unknown, then certainly marginal in the scheme of things. And that is inaccurate. 

Not only were A.R. Kane renowned and revered, but, in certain quarters, they were regarded and written up as one of the central groups of their era.  The singles and albums received rave reviews (and when I say “rave” I mean frothing at the mouth, purple-prose-drooling paeans).  Their faces appeared on the front covers of the British music weekly papers.  But A.R. Kane weren’t just critics’s faves either. Sixty nine, their debut album, topped the independent charts in the summer of 1988. 

But wait, there’s more: bizarrely, A.R. Kane actually made it to Number One in the UK pop charts, via M/A/R/R/S, their short-lived and fraught collaboration with Colourbox.   Okay, it was “Pump Up the Volume”, the mostly-Colourbox side of the double A-sided 12 inch single that got the radio play and the club action. But A.R. Kane could take consolation from the fact that the all-our-own-handiwork flipside “Anitina”--included on this collection-- is by far the more remarkable and enduringly captivating piece of music. (Not that they need consolation, really, what with all the money they earned from M/A/R/R/S).

Still, the “lost” bit of “great lost group of the 1980s” does apply, in so far as A.R. Kane are now the stuff of cult memory.  As often happens, the passing of the years resulted in History shaking out and settling into a shape that doesn’t necessarily reflect how things were seen at the time.  So some late Eighties groups (My Bloody Valentine, Pixies) have maintained a high profile, while others, considered their contemporary equals,  have faded into the background (A.R. Kane, Throwing Muses). Hopefully this long-overdue collection of A.R. Kane’s EPs and singles, which has arrived—funny coincidence—the same year as MBV’s own EPs compilation, will serve to redress this injustice.

Other players came and went but the core of A.R. Kane was always Alex Ayuli and Rudy Tambala. From East London, they had known each other since primary school.  Released on One Little Indian in 1986, their debut single “When You’re Sad” reminded reviewers of The Jesus and Mary Chain: the template of sugarsweet melody juxtaposed with scouring wall-of-noise that in the wake of the J&MC’s early Creation singles was widely adopted across the British indie scene during 1985-87. But in their early interviews, Alex and Rudy adamantly insisted they had nothing to do with indie rock and cited as their true inspirations jazz-fusion figures like Miles Davis and Weather Report, ECM Records outfits such as Azymuth, along with the (genuinely lost) black postpunk group Basement 5. The only vaguely indie-land outfit they expressed admiration for was The Cocteau Twins.

Probably a truer indication of where A.R. Kane’s heads were at was the flipside of “When You’re Sad”, the drifting, gaseously gorgeous mood-piece “Haunted”. It fit the way that Alex and Rudy described their creative process: in early interviews, they spoke of how “our songs emerge out of total chaos” which “we chip away at until there’s this beautiful shape”.  Alex declared that “our ambition is for people to have dreams for which our music is the soundtrack”.

Early in 1987 A.R. Kane signed to 4AD and in July they released the Lollita EP, produced by Cocteau Twins’s guitarist Robin Guthrie.  Lollita starts dreamy, with the lilting, love-sickly title track, but quickly turns to nightmare with "Sadomasochism Is A Must" and “Butterfly Collector”, increasingly psychotic thrashes that seemed to shower the listener with shards of splintered crystal. In their first front cover story (for Melody Maker) Alex and Rudy talked about how the record had turned into a sort of accidental concept EP about the tainted-ness of love.  But the darkness and violence had always lurked malignantly within even their most idyllic-seeming songs: “When You’re Sad” was originally titled “You Push A Knife Into My Womb."

Violence certainly came to the fore during A.R. Kane’s sporadic live shows of this period, squalls of abstraction in which Alex’s fragile vocals were buried deep inside the seething colour-swirl of feedback and FX-wracked texture, a barely-sculpted chaos almost impossible to correlate with the recorded versions of the songs.  Despite their Hendrix-redolent love of electric guitars and effects pedals, A.R. Kane weren’t a rock band in the conventional sense, i.e. a group that gigs regularly and whose recordings offer a polished-up version of the band in performance.  A.R. Kane were more like an experimental guitar pop unit who loved to push the recording studio to its limits.  

Which is why 4AD supremo Ivo Watts-Russell thought it would be a smart idea to team A.R. Kane up with another bunch of studio boffins on his label, Colourbox. The resulting collaboration M/A/R/R/S (the name is based on the first letters of the first names of all the people involved) proved to be a paradoxical blend of triumph and fiasco. One the one hand, “Pump Up the Volume” reached Number One in the U.K. and dominated dance clubs worldwide all through late 1987. It spearheaded the “DJ record” craze for sample-collage cut-ups (Bomb the Bass, Coldcut, S’Express, et al).  On the other hand, Colourbox and A.R. Kane couldn’t find workable common ground, and as result “Pump Up the Volume”/”Anitina (The First Time I See She Dance”” was more like a split single than a real collaboration.  On “Pump,” all you hear of Rudy and Alex is a single trail of lustrous feedback; Colourbox, for their part, only supplied a basic drum machine undercarriage to the delicious soundclash of lover’s rock reggae and “Third Stone From the Sun”-style kaleidoscope-guitar that is “Anitina”. The latter track anticipated directions later pursued by everyone from Saint Etienne to The Stone Roses.  But in the acrimonious wake of the unexpected mega-success of “Pump Up the Volume”, all the parties involved decided there would be no follow-up single or album.

A.R. Kane then jumped ship from 4AD to another of the era’s mighty independents,  Rough Trade. In April 1988, they released the Up Home!  EP, arguably their most concentrated slab of iridescent awesomeness and a true pinnacle of an era that  abounded with astounding landmarks of guitar-reinvention (Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation, My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything and their two 1988 EPs, releases by Butthole Surfers,  Dinosaur Jnr, Spacemen 3, Loop, The House of Love, and more... ).  The clanking dub-sway of “Baby Milk Snatcher” combined an oblique jab at Margaret Thatcher (in the title) with the languid erotica of lines like “suck my seed”;  “One Way Mirror” induced snowblindness of the ears with its dazzling rush of supersaturated textures; “Up” was A.R. Kane’s most glorious expanse of sound yet,  the winding, slowly ascending melody like a spiral stairway veering up from a plateau of mirrors.

The album that followed, sixty-nine, saw reviewers going verbosely ape-shit.  Perhaps sensing that they’d taken the Niagara-of-noise aesthetic as far as they could, sixty-nine  saw Alex and Rudy attempt some different directions (stripped-down and groove-oriented, ambient and meditational) along with the expected glistening grottos of abstraction.  Continuing this move away from the “classic” A.R. Kane sound, the Love-Sick EP  (October 1988) was a transitional affair, with tracks like “Green Hazed Daze” and “Sperm Travels Like Juggernaut” moving towards a cleaner, sharper-defined sound that faintly recalled the lush ‘n’ lurid Goth-psych of the Banshees circa Kiss in the Dreamhouse.

Then came the remarkable reinvention that was “i”. Originally titled Supercallafragilisticexpealodocious until the Disney Corporation took exception, this 1989 double album was a bold stride in the direction of pop. This shift to clarity and accessibility seemed to be signposted by the first single off the LP, “Pop”, but the band insisted that the word “pop” referred to the bursting of a romantic bubble, the end of a relationship and its attendant illusions. (The “short version” of the song, included here, starts with a sample from Martin Luther King: “I have a dream”).  Once again, A.R. Kane were probing one of their favorite sore-spot zones of inspiration, the dark and twisted side of love.

Some of the best tunes on “i” can be found on this collection, because they popped up on various EPs and singles over the next few years. Rough Trade’s 1989 Pop EP included “What’s All This Then” (an off-kilter skank-house groove trailing a wake of  hallucinatory after-images) and “Snow Joke” (a delightful hybrid of bouncy electro-bop and M.O.R. orchestration  abruptly split apart by samples from ECM artist Norma Winstone and 2001, a Space Odyssey’s computer-gone-crazy HAL).  The following year Virgin France put out “i”  highlight “Crack Up”, a mixture of jittery paranoia and pump-and-pound club energy that seemed to have assimilated some groove-science from the whole M/A/R/R/S misadventure. Then, in 1992, to accompany their A.R. Kane anthology Americana, David Byrne’s label Luaka Bop released “A Love From Outer Space” as an EP with four different mixes of the title track  (“Solar Equinox”, “Lunar Eclipse” and “Venusian Dub” along with the “i”   original) and threw in “Sugarwings”, also from “i”   and one of the group’s most beguiling broken-heart ballads.

In the early Nineties, Alex and Rudy set up their own label H.ark! and released a series of wondrous EPs by outfits like Papa Sprain and Butterfly Child,  groups that had clearly been shaped by A.R. Kane’s  vision.  And you could see the influence of their late Eighties music popping up in all kinds of places by the early Nineties. Along with My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins, Alex and Rudy had  contributed a hefty quotient of DNA to shoegaze’s blurry-guitar sound, particularly with the movement’s more idiosyncratic groups such as Pale Saints, Moose and Slowdive.  They had also been an influence on the UK branch of post-rock, operators like Seefeel and Bark Psychosis and Disco Inferno,  while the brilliant west country neo-psych outfit Flying Saucer Attack explicitly and fervently cited A.R. Kane’s  early singles and EPs as a formative catalyst. 

But when A.R. Kane released their next (and, as it turned out, final) album New Clear Child in 1994, they had abandoned the very aspects of that their sound that had been most inspirational: the halcyon guitar-haze. A confounding move as far as many fans were concerned, but possibly a shrewd one, given the total overload of shoegazey miasma that had blanketed the British music scene in recent years. New Clear Child, represented here by the Sea Like A Child EP and the America-only single “Honey Be (For Stella)”, embraced a jazz-tinged pop-funk that in places recalled positivity-era Prince or the New Age R&B of Seal and PM Dawn. For some fans, this was a step too far towards the mainstream, but really it was A.R. Kane pursuing the same goal as ever:  just a different version of what they called “dreampop”, the merger of song and space, the deep inside and the far out-there.


Ricardo said...

Public service right here, man!

P M X said...

'Baby Milk Snatcher' is just one of those tunes...

AR Kane evoke a certain atmosphere, completely in a sonic galaxy of their own.

Serious goosebumps ~ every time I listen to this song...

Appreciate the time capsule, Mr. Reynolds....

Anonymous said...

Cool, saves me the trouble of gettin' my copies of MM out of the attic.