Housed in a sleeve that suggests free movement, fluidity and motion; the gentle, undulating swirls, the band name written on two contrasting axes, Liquid Liquid‘s Optimo EP is a product of New York’s imperial post-punk phase, a fertile, ‘anything goes’ period that encouraged – demanded, even – individualism and originality. For extra homework, you might want to check out ESG, The Contortions or Bush Tetras. For now though, find your feet with Liquid Liquid.
With its pots ‘n pans poly tempo, the lead track Optimo borrows the feel of its window-rattling rhythm from Booker T’s Soul Limbo, before firing off in brave new directions; jittery, staccato lead vocals, bass-as-lead-instument, the piston pattern of steaming hi-hats, the sum of its mish-mash of musical styles old and yet to come making something that’s altogether inherently brand new. It’s no coincidence that the multi-genre embracing ’90s club night at Glasgow’s Sub Club was named after the track.
Liquid Liquid – Optimo
The EP is most interesting and celebrated, perhaps, for the track Cavern. It’s the bass line, obviously, that pricks the ears. It leaps, flying off the record to skelp you round the chops with a ‘wherehaveyouheardmebefore,eh?‘ smack of familiarity. A chrome-covered aerodynamic pulse, its cave-like sound, moving-ever forward and flowing was, for all I know, an influence on both the band’s name and their best-known track. It was certainly an influence on hip-hop, that bassline, although more of that later.
Liquid Liquid – Cavern *
The drums, shuffling, sparse and fat-free, showed that the most powerful music doesn’t always need an earthquake of percussion to propel it forwards. There’s some lovely shaker action all the way through, keeping it less rock and just on the right side of funky. I’d imagine Reni of the Stone Roses would enjoy playing along to this. The vocals, sparse and infrequent, almost an afterthought to the groove, throw up little melodic phrases and half-lines that, funny this!, were also an influence on the hip-hop community. Indeed, if you can’t hear the recognisable melodies and key words (and musical interludes and tempo and general vibe) that form the vocal for Grandmaster Flash‘s White Lines, where have you been all this time?
Yes, not content with copying – not sampling – the bassline, Flash took a liberal dose of the vocal’s style and phrasing and – ooh-whu-ite – created a version of Crystal that was far more reaching than anyone could ever have anticipated.
Initially, Liquid Liquid were flattered. Hearing White Lines adopt their bassline (and vocal inflections…and melodic interludes…) and have it boom from the subway-shocking soundsytems in Manhattan’s clubs – higher baby! – hearing their vocals aped and added to – higher baby!! – hearing their track get an epoch-defining makeover, replete with a boxfresh rap and more hooks than an Ali 15-rounder – higher baby!!! – was quite the thrill, until – don’t ever come down! – the thorny issue of copyright and plagiarism reared its dollar-happy head. Slip in and out of phenomena, indeed.
Grandmaster Flash – White Lines
There’s only ever one winner in this type of fight, and it tends not to be the creators who benefit, Both Liquid Liquid and Sugarhill Records, the label who’d issued White Lines, were ordered to pay legal costs that ultimately led to both parties winding down, citing lack of funds as the reason.
Full Time from the City of New York:
Finance 2 – 0 Culture
* there are two versions of Cavern on this one sound file. I’ve no idea how I did this or how to fix it. So enjoy Cavern Cavern by Liquid Liquid Liquid Liquid.