Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Melody Maker, 1995

by Simon Reynolds

DJ SS, in-house producer of Leicester's Formation label, is one of jungle's most undersung figures. 1995 was a banner year for both SS and Formation. They dominated the drum & bass dancefloor with a series of killa trax -- MA2's "Hearing Is Believing Remix", Sounds of The Future's "The Lighter", SS's "Rollidge" and In Between The Lines' "95 Rampage" -- all SS-produced, and all revisited/revamped on Highly Recommended.

"Lighter" starts daftly with the rinky-dinky melancholia of top classical piano tune "Fur Elise" (better known as "Theme From 'Love Story'"), then drops into a ragga-tastic swagger and pummel; the VIP remix injects a feverish stutter and stammer into the rude-boy "lighter!!" chant. The LP mix of "Hearing Is Believing" adds a squelchy bass-drone that mimics or maybe even samples "Public
Enemy Number One" from PE's debut album. The original's portentous
hunting-horn fanfares are timestretched so they wilt and waver like Salvador Dali's melting clocks, while the irresistibly surging bass-flow has been displaced by a metallic, sproinggg-ing B-line, like a bouncing, giant-sized ball-bearing.

The revamp of "Rollidge" is astonishing; the breakbeats ripple and undulate like they've been liquidified, and the original's reversed-diva is slowed and processed 'til it's like a baritone drowning in the bath. 

Even more startling are the voice treatments on "95 Rampage", where the diva-vocal is extruded into a long thin streak of laser-intense light, then a single syllable is isolated and
oscillated into a spasming percussive tattoo.  Less familiar tunes are also given a vicious going-over.  Black's awesome VIP Mix of "Black" features some ear-confounding dub-FX--a snatch of MC chatter is shattered into syllables, each of which is scattered through a sonic hall-of-mirrors.

While 'intelligent' drum & bass (Goldie, Photek et al) seduced the ears of non-junglists and music press readers, "Highly Recommended" is an essential(ist)document of where the real action was in jungle '95, i.e. the purist strain of drum & bass known as 'hardstep'.  This compilation's title says it all.

Melody Maker, 1995

by Simon Reynolds

1995 was a banner year for DJ SS. 25 year old Leroy Small dropped a bomb-load of  monster tunes-- "Hearing Is Believing", "The Lighter", "Smoker's Rhythm", "The Rollidge", "95 Rampage"-- that tore up the hardstep dancefloor.

Then again, there's never really been a slow year for SS. He's been at the frontline of  hardcore since 1991, both as co-founder of Leicester-based hardcore label Formation and as a prolific tunesmith operating under myriad aliases (Sounds of The Future, International Rude Boys, Rhythm For Reasons, MA1 and MA2, etc). As Formation's in-house producer, he's had a hand in all but 5 out of the 65 releases to date.

SS started DJ-ing at the age of 13, working his way up through school discos, soul, hip hop, early house, in a "natural progression" that took him to hardcore rave. "In the rave scene I saw so many hooligans I knew that were happy and dancing". This rave-revelation co-incided with SS's alienation from hip hop: the British rap crews weren't really happening, while "Public Enemy and NWA were preaching the wrong things, harking on about past crimes against black people, captivating the audience in the wrong way. Recently I've got back into the more groovy stuff in rap, like Wu Tang Clan, and I've always had hip hop flavour in my music, with the breakbeats. But I don't like the gangsta element, that's too like the ragga gunshot thing".

Ragga-jungle is something that Formation have consciously distanced themselves from. "In '94, the ragga thing was big but I wasn't  into it. I took the basslines and a stab of ragga vocal but I refused to do a full-on ragga chat over my tracks". SS doesn't like the vibe ragga creates. "Jungle just got too dark, too intimidating. There's been a lot of trouble in the Midlands, shootings. People don't want to worry about treading on someone's toes or giving someone a funny look. It's the promoters' fault, they should bar them kind of people from coming to their clubs, but they're just interested in money. DJ's and producers are to blame too, for putting gunshots in tracks."

Definitely no gunshots, then, but boombastic B-lines, eerily warped vocals, portentous hunting-horns and shlocky intros of classical music all figure as hallmarks of SS's style. "Hearing Is Believing Remix" and "Rollers' Convention", in particular,             
brilliantly reconciled avant-garde edge with crowdpleasing groove-power. As such, SS is a prime exponent of 'hardstep', Grooverider's term for the purist drum & bass style that cuts a middle path between rudeboy ragga and 'intelligent'. "Hardstep's got no ragga in it, but people step hard to it," says SS. "See, my only qualms about intelligent is that musically it's wicked but often it's sounds weak on the dancefloor. Formation tracks have got to be rolling." As his hardstep peers, SS gives the nod to Roni Size & Krust,  Dillinja, Hype, Andy C, Pascal, and Ray Keith ("his stuff is so simple, but it works!").

That said, SS is looking for Formation to get more "musical" next year, with real vocals and songs, as with the forthcoming cover version of "Free".  "People buying our stuff know what they're getting, we've got a little predictable and it's time for a change". Okay, but don't get too 'musical', SS, please! Because right now Formation have hit their stride with a perfect blend of complexity and minimalism, which can be heard on  "Highly Recommended", a compilation that revisits and drastically remixes highlights from the label's brilliant '95. 

[big up to Derek Walmsley for his lovely piece on DJ SS's myriad aliases in the recent theme issue of The Wire (June 2015) about alter-egos, pseudonyms etc as artistic strategy]

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Angel Dust
Melody Maker, June 1992 

by Simon Reynolds

NEVER liked them, and still don't "like" them, if you know what I mean. Faith No More's dominant emotion seems to be sarcasm, a sardonic, gloating reveling in the slimy side of life. They're retards, nasty little boys probing a finger in the gooey innards of reality, driven by a sort of gynecological nihilism. Like all adolescent nihilists, they project their feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing outwards, onto the world.

But "Epic" was undeniable - pop Nietzche, the latest take on the "we want the world and we want it now/ don't know what I want but I know how to get it" rock tradition of impossible demands and limitless desire.  The video for "Epic", with its Darwinesque life/death struggle imagery suggested that a corrosive intelligence was at work, as did such twisted, sick-fuck statements as Patton's "Masturbation is a lot easier to do than relating to someone... With sex, no matter how great is is, there's always something missing".

And "Angel Dust" is just immense. Imagine "Never Mind The Bollocks", produced by Brian May, if Steve Jones had grown up on Sabbath and King Crimson rather than The Faces. Pomp rock motored by punk disgust. Symphonic bombast, scrofulous with detail. Visionary venom, misanthropic majesty, grotesque grandeur.

 Aesthetically and philosophically, "Angel Dust" is profoundly, putridly offensive, but I keep coming back to it, like a scab. The outstanding element here is Mike Patton's voices, which I find skin-scrawlingly repellent and endlessly mesmerising, Patton is multi-tracked into a myriad. maggoty throng, or, within songs, flits between schizoid array of idioms: baroque histrionics,"soulful", slimy croon, punk declamation, funk-metal sneer, not to mention his menagerie of hiccups, belches, yodels, mewling and poking.

On "Midlife Crisis", he starts with a snide, sibilant rap, swoons upward in a jazzy, Al Jarreau-ish arc, then slugs it out in a close combat cut and thrust that's pure hardcore. The lyrics lash and lambaste some middle class, lard-ass, play-safe type who's built up a cocoon of security and comfort (key negative concepts in the FNM world view). The line "Your menstruating   heart" - doubtless aimed at "wet liberals" and people who profess to care a lot- is deeply revealing. For FNM, feelings of tenderness,empathy and solidarity are threatening, female and fluid, o loathsome discharge. "R.V." is a waltz-time spoof-monologue by a redneck reactionary whose final words to his kids are "What my daddy fold me 'You ain't never gonna amount to nothin'".

On "Smaller And Smaller", Patton's a funk-metal Billy Mackenzie, surfing a sturm-und-drang that abates briefly for a ghostly interlude of sampled Aboriginal chant, before Patton lets  loose this amazing arc of wordless aria. "Everything's Ruined" is sort of Black Flag meets Aha, objection and uplift; FNM make a melodrama out of a (ecological?) crisis. "Malpractice" again recalls mid-period Black Flag, although Patton's singing is closer to the hardcore seat of Bad Brains' H.R.; an almost Julee Cruise interlude and maddened Balkan strings make this the most outre prog-metal since side two of "Ritual De Lo Habitual". "Kindergarten" has the most unsettling, ghastly / gorgeous chorus; the song seems to imagine the adult world as no real advance on the unbridled State Of Nature that is unsocialised infancy, still populated with bullies, sycophants, geeks and outcasts. Patton wonders " When will I graduate?" (to a higher kind of life-form).

 "Be Aggressive" could be a cartoon anthem for Nietzsche's will-to-power, complete with a chorus chanted by cheerleaders, but it's hard to tell: throughout the album, diction is not one of Patton's priorities, and the vocals are buried in the garish murk of FNM's sound. "Crack Hitler" jump-cuts from torrid funk to a Gary Glitter stomp- "Jizz-Lobber" is a grueling Sabbath grind, Patton's apoplectic fit of vocal fed through a fuzz unit and sounding more like a guitar than a larynx. Finally, one moment of unalloyed; sentimentality, a straight and rather stiff reading of John Barry's sublimely melancholic "Midnight Cowboy". But maybe this is a sick joke too.

If 1992 is the year that punk finally happened in the US, if Nirvana are the Pistols, L7 are the Ramones and Hole are The Slits, then Faith No More are.. . The Stranglers, a bunch of fundamentally unsound,  misogynist, misanthropic, crypto-muso interlopers who have profited from the perennial male teenage consumer demand for nastiness and menace. A gust of sour breath that feels strangely fragrant to me.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Flying Saucer Attack

celebrating the return of Flying Saucer Attack   - a review and an interview from twenty years ago

Melody Maker, 1995

by Simon Reynolds

Some things you should know about Flying Saucer Attack. They're the Bristol
based duo of David Pearce and Rachel Brook, and their records are released in the
USA by Drag City and over here by the latter's English affiliate Domino.
Stereolab cite FSA as a current fave alongside LaBradford, US visionaries
operating in a similar lo-fi-meets-ambient zone. FSA always feature lovely
photographs of pastoral idylls on their sleeves. Their last CD, the singles
compilation Distance, bore the legend "CDs destroy music". FSA are the only band I've ever heard of who claim to be influenced by Popol Vuh, obscure
Krautrock band. And on their self-titled debut, FSA built a wall-of-noise around
Suede's "The Drowners".

All this makes Flying Saucer Attack very 'cool' indeed. But we're not
interested in 'cool', folks, are we? Our sole criterion for a guitar-brandishing
combo in 1995 is that they unloose enough memory-dissolving beauty to flood all
of Rock History's multiple precedents out of our overstuffed heads, right? So
that we're drenched, drowned, in the Here-and-Now. It's no piece of cake, given
the sheer amount of guitar-malarkey extant in the world. But FSA do it, in

That said, there is one reference point I shall dredge up, if only because
FSA have themselves cited it. Pearce & Brooks are possibly the best
effects-pedallers since prime A.R. Kane. At times, their music's drifting
tendrils of halycon haze are uncannily redolent of early A.R. Kane bliss-bowers
like "Haunting". Even though they use a 6 track studio, shun hi-tech such as
samplers, and detest digital sound, FSA belong with the post-rock posse, because
(like Alex & Rudi) they avoid riffs and powerchords and instead pulverise rock
into billowing parabolas of harmonic motes. On Further, their third
long-player but second Album, they've even lost the backbeat, thereby shedding
their last vestiges of r'n'r earthiness.

The result is a sort of kosmiche folk. FSA's formula is to situate voice &
acoustic guitar up close, against a bliss-scape of delayed, distorted,
open-tuned, fuzz-haemorrhaged guitarstuff. The effect, on songs like "In The
Light Of Time", is like sitting at the feet of a folk-minstrel (say, Nick Drake)
who's strumming and murmuring at the top of a hill, silhouetted against the
blazing glory of a West Country sunset. At times, the delicate songcraft is
utterly overwhelmed by the chromatic chaos. "For Silence" starts idyllic, a
forlorn melody swathed in guitar that trails a slipstream of reverbed
after-images, then the stream turns to weir-of-noise, a foaming torrent in which
you hallucinate a myriad fleeting melody-shapes. The white-noise slopes of "Here
Am I" induce snowblindness of the ear; if I have one criticism of FSA it's that
sometimes their sound is too overloaded, and that now and then they could afford
to make a little more room for emptiness.

A 12 minute instrumental, "To The Shore" is FSA's zenith to date--their "Bel
Air" or "Sun Falls Into The Sea". Imagine Krautrock-in-dub, or a less
inhospitable Main (isolationism, but you can bring a friend). It starts slow
and eerie with gong-like metallic percussion, breaks into a canter with
percussion so reverbed it seems to trip on its own tail and a vapour-trail of
cymbal spray, then escalates into an almighty on-rush and out-gush of timbral
mayhem, like a levee breaking inside your head and flooding the plain of
mundanity with wonder. Finally, the track subsides into a twinkling, dew-stippled
dawn-scape, like the world seen afresh through cleansed, newborn senses.

Further is the best pure-guitar LP since Royal Trux's Cats and Dogs.

Melody Maker, 1995

By Simon Reynolds

The setting is spot on-- a pretty Putney park near the Thames, on a gorgeously sunny day in almost-September. White clouds scud across oceans of azure, but there's a crisp chill in the air, a poignant premonition of autumn. Perfect Flying Saucer Attack weather, in fact, matching the way their music fuses the idyllic (wondergush guitar-chaos) and the melancholic (forlorn folkadelic melody).

We're sitting crosslegged, in a triangle, and Rachel Brook and David Pearce
are telling me how the early singles of A.R. Kane are a founding moment for the
Flying Saucer Attack aesthetic.

"When Up Home came out," says Dave, referring to the Kane boys' first Rough
Trade EP, arguably their finest fifteen minutes. "I thought, 'Yes, this signals
the start of something new'. It's the way that the guitars had these free, random
elements running against the structure. It was liberating to listen to, and yet
there was such beauty of sound. I felt, 'wow, there is still work to be done with
the electric guitar". A few years later, I felt the same about the first two
Main EP's--probably the best things Robert Hampson ever did, in Loop or later."

Bliss-rock revelations notwithstanding, Pearce's musical history starts
somewhat earlier. Now in his late twenties (Rachel's 22), he must be surely one
of the very last musicians coming through who were thunderstruck by the Sex
Pistols as they actually happened.

"In early 1977, it really seemed like society was going to fall to bits. I was
about 10 or 11. Then bands like Magazine and Wire came through..."

Which brings us neatly to FSA's new single, a cover of Wire's classic
"Outdoor Miner". Pearce was actually one of the select few who bought the single
at the time, propelling it to Number 52 in the charts. So is there an element
here of giving the finger to Menswear and Elastica, both being, shall we say,
re-interpreters of the Wire legacy?

"Oh yeah! What would have been nice, though, would have been if our version
had been any good."

Come now, it's pretty fine. The only real flaw is that the original's most
sublime moment is missing: the counterpoint melody-line that Graham Lewis
supplies towards the end, those Byrds-like backing harmonies that crush the
breath out of you.

"That's cos we only had a four-track to work on," confesses Rachel. "We just
didn't have enough tracks for double-tracking the voice."

It's nice the way you bury the solo in a fog of cotton-woolly guitarhaze,
though, so that the ear can barely pick it out.

"Yeah, it has that 'Interstellar Overdrive' quality," says Dave. "I remember
reading somewhere that 'Outdoor Miner' was Wire's Syd Barrett side coming

Elastica and Menswear and that lot have only picked up on Wire's New
Wavey-ness: the stop-start herky-jerky rhythms, Colin Newman's Mockney
pseudo-prole accent. Whereas you're working from Wire's under-acknowledged
psychedelic side.

"On the Chairs Missing LP they were using sounds that maybe you'd never
heard before, which is possibly the link with psychedelia."

Then there's "Outdoor Miner"'s aura of blessed serenity, and the lyric "in
fact it's the Earth/which he's known since birth"--which chimes in sweetly with
Flying Saucer's pastoral yearnings.

"The pastoralism comes down to the fact that as a child I used to live in the countryside, in the Cotswolds. And being a shy, quiet person, I prefer the country, 'cos you can wander off on your own. In the city you get aggro and hassle all the time."

On their three albums and innumberable 7 inch singles so far, FSA have
consistently, nay, obsessively, deployed cover images of idyllic Nature: cloud-
castles in the sky, scintillating seascapes at sunset, lakeshore trees reflected
in limpid water, ebbtide beaches at dusk. Then there's the song titles: "Land
Beyond The Sun", "In The Light Of Time", "To The Shore", "Standing Stone",
"November Mist", "Oceans"... Bit of a thematic thread, here: impressive
metereological phenomena, vast remoteness, solitude, the scent of Eternity...

"Anything that isn't to do with anybody else in the human race, basically!",
chuckles Dave. "I'm not deliberately antisocial but I do feel uncomfortable in
the company of people. I don't suffer from depression, but I get waves of feeling
utterly alone. I've had 'em since I was about four years old. When we were doing
Further, I gathered together the 50 percent of the tracks we'd recorded that were any good, put it on a cassette and then listened to it as an album. It was a bit of a shock! I thought: 'am I really that miserable?".

FSA's combination of neo-folk rusticism with misery-guts life-stance and
softly-softly singing echoes two of Dave's personal faves: Nick Drake and Roy
Harper circa Stormcock. Another huge and even more arcane influence is the
kosmiche folk of obscure Krautrock combo Popol Vuh.

"I don't class Popol as part of that Can/Faust/Neu axis, cos they weren't
so rhythmically based," says Dave, "Having finally managed to hear practically
everything they released, some 18 albums, I'm amazed at the sheer breadth of
Popol's music--massive percussion stuff, Moogy electronic proto-ambient, flowery
pastoralism.... In the late '70s they got really dark with lots of ritualistic
chants. Then they did all these records with cavernous-sounding, distorted
electric guitars. But the real key is the incredible 24 minute long track track
with the church organ on In Den Garten Pharaos: if you're a bad moood that
track sounds really evil, but if you're in a good mood it just sounds angelic."


Generalising wildly, you could says there's two camps in post-rock; those
whose orientation is overtly technological (Laika, Techno-Animal, Disco Inferno)
and those based around an overt avoidance of state-of-art hi-tech (Stereolab,
Labradford, the Dead C). It's in this latter zone, lo-fi-verging-on-ambient, that
you'll find Flying Saucer Attack.

"I hated that '80s rock sound, and it's sort of spilled over into an
irrational hatred of digital," says Dave. "I don't even own a CD player. I just
can't relate to CD's. It's not so much the way they sound as the things
themselves, those horrible plastic boxes".

"A piece of vinyl is a physical object, you can see the songs," concurs
Rachel. "With a CD, it's like a satellite's beaming the music into your room."

"I am a very miserable person, right," says Dave, in his peculiar mix of
forthright declamation and self-deprecation. "Records are your friends. You can
look at the song you're hearing, it's physically there in the spirally groove."

For all their four-track recording fetish and ever-so-slightly hypocritical habit of putting slogans like "CD's destroy music" on the CD version of their LP's, FSA are not total Luddites. They like some digital music, in particular Mo' Wax style trip hop. On the B-side of "Outdoor Miner", you'll find "Psychic Driving"--for FSA, an unusually rhythmic outing verging on a guitar-noise/trip-hop amalgam.

"Sometimes we just like to do something a bit silly, throw some ideas in the
air. I started with this sound like a cymbal, but it's actually a snare fed
through a distortion box. It sounded a bit like the Aphex Twin so I thought 'hey,
a dance track, why not?'. Then Rachel salvaged it."

In just over two years, FSA have put out four albums (two studio LP's
plus a pair of compilations of singles/B-sides/oddities); in the process, they've
pretty much honed to perfection their thang, the beatific noisescape. Now they
seem aware that it's probably time to veer sideways out of the potentially
entropic cul de sac of pure ambience, and embark on a new, more rhythm-oriented
direction. When it comes out in November, the fourth LP/second compilation
(provisionally titled Distance 2) will serve to wrap up their work so far,
closing one chapter of FSA and leaving the future wide open.

But back to the present. Any last words for Menswear?

"Colin Newman is onto you."

Monday, June 1, 2015

Yoko Ono

vintage profile of Yoko Ono by Joy Press, a/k/a the missus