Monthly Archives: May 2019

Vinyl Junkie: ‘Assimilation’ by Cool Breeze

Released in 1995 when the ‘jazz not jazz’ ethos allowed labels such as Dorado, Mo’ Wax and Kevin Beadle‘s Clean Up records to unite music makers of simpatico scenes – and in doing so showcasing how London would later give rise to the ‘broken beat’ movement – ‘Assimilation’ was more deceptive, much deeper in its construction and objectives than might have been originally thought. As much Bronx as Bristol with an emphasis on guitars and soul together with echo chambers and programmed beats.

For six days-a-week, seven days too long, at my record shop workplace in Notting Hill, this debut album by Charlie Lexton played on a tin-pot hi-fi at work. With often darkly-defined skies outside and many unpredictable customers inside, be they a well-known Antipodean ex-smackhead or a wild man regularly relieving himself in a corner of the shop’s basement, this LP soothed and excited me in equal measure.

 

FullSizeRender

 

Nicely pressed on two twelves, its sleeve-notes detail a list of ‘assimilated’ influences which encompass muppets Bert and Ernie and a pipe-toting Mexican Zapatista leader. In total, they represent a map of sorts to the actual sounds on this long-player: a knitted sprawl containing a spool of this and a clip of that with a pattern of its own making.

Pre-internet, ‘Assimilation’ was an aural signpost to the still-tantalising MTA-riding, shrink-wrapped and block-blaring New York hip hop, whose recorded achievements seemed Olympian and mythical in allure. But this is a (then) modern English album, borne out of an introspective time, sharing some of its composite parts shared with others. A CB on a common wavelength in other words.

A twinning of aching melancholia and musicality here – similar to that of Original Rockers and the early, rootsy Massive Attack – ensured enough warmth and heart to qualify this as quasi-soul and not simply a weak variation on digi dub or, much worse, trip hop. The album’s moody and mystical minor keys could have graced a release on drum and bass labels Creative Source or Good Looking whilst a sweet and straight cover of ‘Charlie Don’t Surf’ nods to another Vietnam-themed Nineties release, The Aloof‘s ‘Never Get Out of the Boat’ in its fluid and lush sonics (Lexton’s re-work steers the song into the waters of The Clash‘s later dubbier releases and, in doing so, inadvertently celebrates the intrinsic oddness of the ‘Sandinista’ album track, showing how far the punk group travelled, musically); lastly, deftly twisted ribbons of drums on occasional display echo the intricate nimbleness of two other studio boffins Plug aka Luke Vibert and Squarepusher, who were also making waves at this mid-Nineties mark.

 

R-217955-1187258795.jpeg

 

Whilst those two gentlemen speeding into a future of their own making, intent on following Aphex Twin‘s lead in making machinery serve its master, Lexton seemed more Reds Leb and Stripe, content to poke around and find his thing in the sounds and influences of his predecessors. The result is a multi-textured and lovingly layered sound which can appear as if an experiment in testing what someone with a heartfelt understanding of black sounds could achieve. By that reckoning, it deserves to be placed next to the recorded work of David Toop and not ‘Duck Rock’ by Malcolm McLaren.

Perhaps the album closest in kindred spirit is ‘My Life In the Bush of Ghosts’ but there’s a more judicious, paring selection of ingredients; more of a focus on grooving rather than the sometimes edgy, overloaded confrontation within David Byrne and Brian Eno‘s 1981 album (though ‘Regiment’ could appear on either album).

Given the recent tweets by @JohnCleese, and the UK’s continuing debates over national identity and immigration, an easily assimilated fusion was and still is an important strength of this album. Along with DJ Shadow, DJ Premier and all other sampling dons, Lexton had a dense blueprint of what worldly music could sound like when unfiltered by a radio or TV broadcast from elsewhere on the planet but instead direct from a globally united studio, blues party or metropolitan street.

https://www.discogs.com/Cool-Breeze-Assimilation/master/143231

 

Comedy meets fascism: the struggle of Jamali Maddix and Vice in exposing extremism

Keeping it real‘ is an embedded mantra within hip hop culture. It’s always been an arresting check to avoid moving too far away from your community, their struggles, ‘sufferation’ and shared aspirations. Thus the ‘real’ is both a means of self-identification for an individual keen to link with their background and also short-hand of sorts, an avenue of expression for those with a mike, keyboard, megaphone or lectern.

The present participle of -ing means an onus on the involved party to strive to uphold the old and keep striving forward for a particular cause, issue or opinion. As hip hop has broken out of the imposed ghetto to be embraced globally, this three-word adage has been taken up by a wide and disparate collection of people as an endlessly effective tool when deployed in music, politics, art… and now internet-based reality viewing.

Jamali

Essex native Jamali Maddix keeps it real in his own way. He is a comedian of mixed-race heritage who mines the absurd arguments of various extremist groups through interaction and relatively gentle but persistent conversation. He’s a large, affable guy with a bushy beard and a tat on show.

Posted Insta pics show a lager in one hand, a vaping device in the other. Both his ‘Hate Your Neighbour’ series for Vice and his stand-up sets are garnering him fame throughout the UK, Europe and the States. A recent episode from his Vice series, We are the EDL [sadly not the English Disco Lovers], was recently posted to YouTube as the series becomes freely available on terrestrial television channel All 4.

Man is going places and all the better that he’s engaging with those who are problematic, to say the least, when many of us can only fill – alone – with rage and shame. Just as Chris Morris’ Brass Eye and The Day Today lampooned political pomp and celebrities near-blinded by their own fame, and Louis Theroux‘s documentaries subtly enabled his interviewees to either show their humanity and/or step into a trap of their own making, Maddix tries his hand at simultaneously befriending people and pricking their egos; all the while he either silently mugs at the camera in reaction to a point made and/or uses this as material for a reactive on-stage feature filmed later.

maddixx.png

Whilst Muslims the world over currently observe Ramadan, an altogether different activity is taking place here in the North-west of the UK. High on his own supply to say the least, working class wannabe Stephen Yaxley-Lennon aka Tommy Robinson is trying for election to the European Parliament on an tissue-thin agenda which is essentially anti-Islam. Where Theresa May and George Osbourne‘s austerity programme succeeded in building on Margaret Thatcher‘s decade-long depreciation of the North, Lennon/Robinson seeks to capitalise on poverty, general bollocks about Brexit and localised worries by constantly using emotive language and half-baked terms, such as ‘grooming gangs’, in order to scapegoat brown – and therefore foreign – faces.

He and the EDL are being milk-shaked and shown to be no different to the other thin-skinned numbskulls previously seen marching under National Front or British National Party flags on British streets. The parties may fade from view; the cloaks of respectability change, but there is still the continuing existence and increased popularity of right-wing nativist arguments amongst folk who yearn for an unrealistic and unfair ideal.

Keeping it real, in other words. ‘Real’ in this context however means whatever you want it to mean à la Orwell and Trump. Essentially: fuck facts. Repeat the same lies to get enough people on board and we’ll win [Brexit being a similar instance].

The good-natured persona of Maddixthe ‘anchor’ of his ‘Hate Your Neighbour’ series, is thus to be applauded. People’s grievances need to be heard however nasty, absurd or economical with the truth they might be. Division and hatred becomes entrenched and truly worrying for society as a whole otherwise.

The series shows how easy it is to break down a couple of simple but solid barriers preventing understanding between estranged groups, for example: the plainly silly notion of accusing someone of being Muslim on the basis of a beard. Brother man has a backwards cap on, but the EDL members don’t call him out on being a skateboarder.

The notions surrounding superficial or exterior appearances – and what convoluted thoughts can spin off from sudden and/or instantaneous meetings – is a part of Maddix‘s work for Vice. There’s most definitely a sense of both ‘sides’ sizing each other up and allowing time on-screen, but there is a dangerous issue at play here.

Essentially, one guy wants fame; a company wants click pounds; a far-right group laps up the exposure whilst fairly easily deflecting the softly-soaped questioning. Whilst there’s a sense of ‘fair play’ extended to all participants,  the abundance of sloganeering is accepted and not questioned in depth. Additionally, the EDL rallies shown are an almost exclusively male environment, an oddly archaic gathering at a time when the global populace is more determined than ever before to hear the voices of women. The one female heard amongst the few seen at an EDL rally is allowed a muffled few seconds on camera.

What the fuck does ‘Englishness’ mean if only one homogeneous group within that broad definition and identity can readily spout the same trite slogans over and over?

The best most incisive, subversive and deepest comedy – George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Dick GregoryRichard Pryor, Bill Hicks, Stewart Lee – trades verbal blows toe-to-toe. It brandishes facts instead of socially-accepted platitudes; it strips away layers to expose… and this is where ‘Hate Thy Neighbour’ falls short.

It would have been useful to see more sparingly edited shows in order to facilitate longer and more in-depth discussion. Call people out where needed, firmly and fairly, but also give them the chance to put their genuine fears on record in order to sort the truth from hackneyed, false bullshit.

The right-wing have already claimed the life of Jo Cox, our society’s Blair Peach, so the well-meaning but too-obliging side of Jamali and the Vice cameras leaves an meagre after-taste from their brief, unsatisfactory rendezvous.

When reflecting on his EDL encounters, Maddix is at pains on stage to try to identify with the people he met, to laugh with and not at them. Similarly, he is up-front about dismissing Islam in favour of science whilst simultaneously talking of individual lives rather than generalised assumptions. He isn’t a politician – who would be nowadays? – and he’s braver than many for getting up close and personal with the far right. But the most telling contribution is a sober one from a bystander who confronts a leafleting EDL member.

maddix bystander

Tommy, the main EDL representative is, at times, likeable and reasonably well-spoken. In his clumsy and blatant attempts to connect with his visitor and camera crew, there is a sense of a somewhat lonely, misunderstood person who – perhaps – might deserve a calmer, longer hearing. Perhaps (he still talks of ‘pakis’ and ‘n…ers’)…

His drink-fuelled argument with Maddix at the close of the episode therefore seems like an inevitable ending which fulfils the usually light, carnival-esque feel to proceedings. Whilst Maddix and Vice‘s intentions aim to be a step above the one-dimensional, bear-baiting depictions of folk on Jeremy Kyle and in some tabloid newspapers, their approach here rarely gets beyond the airing of ‘bruv’ and the exchanging of fist bumps.

‘Keeping it real’ morphs into ‘keeping your distance’. And that doesn’t help to bring us together. For that, we must look to the likes of Building Bridges Pendle, to name one group getting on with direct dialogue in order to create good neighbours rather than those who are without any connection whatsoever.

Guy Goes Gay. Yay for Andy Brennan and the A-League!

It’s not the English Premier League nor is Australia a renowned football aka soccer stronghold, but striker Andy Brennan‘s decision to come out shows the courage, preparation and resolve needed when it comes to the Venn diagram that is being a gay male + playing sport professionally.

He and his team, Green Gully, deserve major props for handling this so well.

One guy’s happiness and inner peace (and that of all concerned global citizens working towards a better world) 1

Bigots, neanderthals and ignoramuses 0.

www.theguardian.com/football/2019/may/15/its-taken-me-years-to-get-comfortable-saying-this-im-a-gay-footballer

Introduction to Caveman

Long Island, Compton, High Wycombe in the Chiltern Hills. That last place doesn’t have quite the same resonance when it comes to backing up a rap group’s credibility, especially during the Nineties when fans in the UK struggled to appreciate the beats and rhymes of our own, but the emergence of Caveman on Profile records was a sign that British rap was coming of age after too many years of cross-Atlantic sycophantic emulation.

GET51271CD-2-1As with the London PosseGunshot and the other British crews around at the tail end of the Eighties-start of the 90s, Caveman used their own accents and steered clear of boasting about their Tims or pretending they were from the Five Boroughs. Before grime and dubstep stars StormzySo SolidMan Dem Crew et al spat about the ends – and long before Roots Manuva talked ofeating his cheese on toast’ on Witness  Caveman had ‘rhymes so crisp like Golden Wonder’ over a sped-up version of D-Nice’s All About Me. This was decent rhyming over a solid production that held its own alongside the tunes now deemed classics.

The trio weren’t the first British artist to be signed to NY heavyweight record label Profile; that honour was Paul Hardcastle when his electro-boogie track ‘Rainforest’ was released in 1984. Neither were they the first rap act to be taken across the Atlantic and asked to impress the Americans; that somewhat difficult task befell lightweight rapper Derek B followed then by speed ragga duo Asher D and Daddy Freddie.

 

But in 1990 it was Caveman, and their debut Fry You Like Fish, which stood shoulder to shoulder with Poor Righteous Teachers’ Rock Dis Funky Joint and original hoodz Onyx with their debut twelve Ah, And We Do It Like This.

Record company Profile went for a moody out-of-focus illustration of a British council estate chain fence behind a capped black youth staring straight into the camera that hinted at the struggles depicted on the wax inside.

caveA squealing sax reminiscent of the opening cut to Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing with Rosie Perez frugging animatedly on screen, was squeezed over JB wails and horns with a tease of wah-wah guitar. Lyrically, Caveman could hold their heads high alongside peers like Jungle Brothers’ Afrika Islam and Prince Be of the similarly open-minded duo PM Dawn with their positive exhortations, mentions of black pride and praise of God on Introduction To A Caveman.

Robi Laskar (aka The Principle) and Mark Layman (aka MCM) are credited as songwriters on both of their first two twelves with the follow-up, 1991’s I’m Ready, with lyrics by MCM and cuts by Diamond J (third member William Graves), that really announced the trio’s arrival.

Run DMC’s What’s It All About had already been released in ’90 and its sampling of the Stone Roses’ Fool’s Gold (which itself had made off with Clyde Stubblefield and John ‘Jabo’ Starks’ Funky Drummer beat) preceded Caveman’s appropriation of Jimi Hendrix’s Crosstown Traffic on I’m Ready.

On the B were two crate-digging classics hidden away: firstly, Back To Cause Mayhem with its gnarly riff, urgently uttered rhymes and percussive cymbal ride. Then, over the pealing notes of an Impressions-like guitar, Pages and Pages detailed how they’d ‘check a Muslim, check a Christian, but all the fightin’ and fussin’, I think we’re missing the point, we all worship the same God’ which now serves to remind of how conscious rap was so prevalent at that time – and was taken for granted.

As with their debut, I’m Ready was a refreshing, cross-pollinated fusion; this time an upbeat walking bass was underpinned by fat phased drums as that familiar kazoo-like guitar riff served the group’s readiness to get paid and ‘make a change’.

There were seven singles and two albums from Caveman between 1990 and 2011 in total – all of which are freely available (and cheap) on Discogs. MCM carried the name forward into 2013 when he released a seven-only release entitled Rhymes Equal Actual Life (R.E.A.L.) for KingUnderground/Headcount Records.

 

deedBut it was Diamond J who arguably had the most success of all three members, going on to showcase his best hamsters on Sexy MF for Prince’s Love Symbol LP.

How to be a playerHe also landed a producing credit alongside Trackmasters, the green-eyed bandit himself Eric Sermon and Havoc on Def Jam’s soundtrack to the 1997 film How to Be A Player.

 

 

Nowadays they’re barely a footnote in any Hip Hop history, but Caveman left us with good memories of a relatively brief yet still refreshing time in music when producers and rappers could look where they liked for inspiration, pushed an Afro-centric yet English viewpoint and were defiant about doing both.

‘The C, that is for the courage, the A, that is for the action, the V that is for the victory, the E is for everlasting, the M, that is for the knowledge in my mind, the A is for youthful accessory, the N is for the slackness that is none, the N, that is for the slackness that’s none…’

Bristol, 1991: Carlton releases Love and Pain. Smith & Mighty on production.

Five years later, a ‘drum and bass mix’ meant something quite different but this qualifies as a roller as much as anything put out by LTJ Bukem on Good Looking.

Ten years previously and the likes of Aswad, Pablo Gad and any number of reggae artists were putting out memorable rockers that swayed and and shook forward just as much as Carlton’s falsetto rides the rhythm here.

His Bristolian spars have scattered o different geographical and musical locations – chief among them Massive Attack – who’ve become the modern-day Pop Group with their contemporary angst and post-punk awkwardness. They’re now a long way from when they were the Wild Bunch and niced up every dance with their street-sourced blend of soul, hip hop technique and attitude and that old school ‘d’n’bass’ framework. It’s white noise and video deejaying instead.

The fact that this single from Carlton’s ‘So Strong’ album advertises the very average R’n’B mixes on its sleeve indicates how major labels struggled on occasion to adapt to new sounds and talents – and to have faith in the original ideas before them.

Carlton McCarthy became a songwriter and Bristol’s musical scene went on to a semi-permanent dip in game and acclaim. As ever, music like this is what counts.

(visuals courtesy of jooksy7).

Listen to the track alone: