Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Sampled

MCR NYC

If it’s scratchy, scuffed at the knees post-punk with a groove yer after, all roads lead to the twin metropoli of Manchester and New York.

A Certain Ratio are something of an enigma. They’ve been around long enough to have witnessed every important youth movement since punk and have steadfastly ploughed their own furrow, grooving somewhere between the hands-in-pockets introspection of Joy Division and the hands-in-the air exhibitionism of the Hacienda and the rave culture it gave birth to, while sometimes dressed like wonky extras in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. They’ve seen off grunge, grime and good old Britpop as well as the entire careers of The Smiths, New Order (the real New Order that is) and just about every influential band these isles have produced.

Revered by all manner of bands whose funk DNA pops up in the least likely of places, from Talking Heads and Happy Mondays to Red Hot Chili Peppers, ACR have the dubious fortune of being incredibly influential yet incredibly unheard of. It’s just the way they like it. They have the freedom to bypass trends, to surf across the wave of whatever zeitgeist is hip that week and get on with the job of making records for themselves.

Du The Du from 1979’s The Graveyard And The Ballroom album is the perfect jumping off/jumping in point.

ACRDu The Du

 

 

It fairly rattles along on a barbed wire bed of steam-powered, clattering industrial funk, with powerhouse drummer Donald Johnson somehow making his kit the lead instrument. Lo-fi guitars that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Josef K record do their chicken-scratch thang, an Asda-priced Nile Rodgers played by cosmopolitan Mancunians. The vocals, all pent-up anxiety could be Ian Curtis on Lemsip. There’s even an elastic band bassline midway through which threatens, but never quite gets to Level 42 on the muso-meter. I defy you not to wiggle at least a finger to it.

Du The Du also happens to be the track by which LCD Soundsytem’s James Murphy measures (measured?) his own funkiness. If the New York band’s latest track seems weak by comparison, it’s binned forever until something more in keeping with ACR’s wonky, jerky funk turns up. Du the right thing indeed.

Talking of New York…

Such a melting pot of cultures and styles is always going to be responsible for inspiring exciting new trends and movements. ESG was formed by the three Scroggins sisters from the Bronx. Given a variety of instruments by a mum keen to keep them on the right side of wrong, the group took equal inspiration from their Motown favourites and the nascent New York hip hop scene. The result, in a way, was neither. As with ACR, much of their stuff is sparse, cold and music for the feet rather than the head.

A show in Manhattan’s Hurrah club brought ESG to the attention of Factory’s Tony Wilson, himself no stranger to an ACR record (he’d go on to release 5 of their albums on Factory). Wilson brought ESG to Manchester where they recorded with Martin Hannett, fresh, believe it or not, from manning the desk as ACR recorded Du The Du. There’s serendipity right there for you. Or plain old musical incest. 

ESG wouldn’t go on to sell all that many records, but in the intervening years they’ve been a clear influence on bands such as Luscious Jackson and Warpaint. They’ve also found themselves heavily sampled by acts looking for something beyond the usual James Brown riff; Beastie Boys, Tricky, even TLC have found gold within their basslines and rippling drums, leading to a late-era ESG releasing the telling Sample Credits Don’t Pay Our Bills EP.

1982’s Dance To The Beat Of Moody from their EP of the same name is where you should start though:

ESGDance To The Beat Of Moody

 

 

As fresh as a hot pretzel on Avenue Of The Americas, it’s great, innit? You wouldn’t be in the least surprised if it were to pop up on BBC 6 Music next week, rotated heavily on the a-list as the hottest new thing. It’s only 36 years young. Original vinyl is almost impossible to track down though and, even of you’re lucky enough to uncover a 1983 press of Come Away With ESG, you’ll need a small bank loan to pay for it. Thankfully, the wonderful Soul Jazz do a good run in re-presses.

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

Rapped. Rapt.

A fuggy haze hangs low over the East River between Manhattan’s Financial District and the brownstones of Brooklyn. Clattering like one of those wooden toy snakes across the Williamsburg Bridge weaves a long, low train, lazily rolling its way along the J line. Sprayed in a dulling array of  pinks, greens and primary colours, tagged to within an inch of illegibility to those over 35, its contents sit in silence, oblivious to the multi-coloured carnage in which they are cocooned. Inside is not much different. It looks violent. It feels violent. Doors, windows, seat coverings; every available surface space is thick with the same chunkily inked shout-outs to whoever is reading. Every passenger finds a point in front of themselves and focuses, daring not to lift their head and avert their gaze lest they happen to catch the eye of someone close by. Women clutch their bags and count the stops until they can get off. Men, the good ones, the ones who’d like to think of themselves as the have-a-go hero when something bad kicks off in here, try to look both non-threatening  yet tough. The bad ones just look threatening. And tough.

One of the good guys

If this was the start of a movie, it’d be soundtracked by this, Shambala from The Beastie BoysIll Communication LP. Purveyors of the finest gravel-throated shouty hip hop since 1981, Beastie Boys also did a mean line in often-overlooked instrumentals. Shambala is spacey, droney and built upon a bed of Buddhist chants and brooding wah-wah. Kinda vegetarian funk, I suppose. There’s a nice drop out where the hi-hat does its best Theme From Shaft impersonation before the clipped wah-wah brings us back to the incidental music in a 1976 episode of Starsky And Hutch. That wee scratchy noise you can hear in the background isn’t authentic vinyl hiss – it’s the sound of the Stone Roses taking notes in preparation for their next set of ker-ching! comeback dates.

Also on Ill Communication is Bobo On The Corner, another fantastic slice of Beastie funk. More clipped wah-wah and droney bass, this time the sampled Stubblefield-aping shuffle beat comes from, presumably, one of those New York street musicians who can make 3 oil drums and an empty can of vegetable oil from Chinatown sound like a particularly funky octopus playing Give It Up, Turn It Loose. A bit like this guy…(maybe he’s the real Bobo on the corner. Or maybe not)….

“Gimmefidollahs!”

If you prefer yer Ad Rocks ‘n MCAs ‘n Mike Ds rrrrrrappin ‘n rrrrrrhymin’, ch-check this out- Ch-Check It Out from 1997’s Hello Nasty, devoid of loops, samples and other assorted musical flim-flam. Just the 3 voices a-riffin’ and a-goofin’ off one another, like Benny and the Top Cat gang recast as super-bratty teenagers. And, bringing us back to where we came from, a vocal-only Stop That Train. Hot cuppa cwawfee and the do’nuts are dunkin’, Friday night and Jamica Queen’s funkin’. Essential!

Ach. Y’know you’re gettin on a bit when Beastie Boys start dying round about you. Rap on, MCA!

Hard-to-find, Live!

What the fuckdiddlyuck has happened to Colonel Gaddafi’s face?

It looks like melted plastic, like someone sat Mickey Rourke too close to the barbecue. It’s the sort of look Michael Jackson might once’ve been proud of. Anyway my highly valued and respected readers, I need your help. In just over 2 weeks time I shall be making my first ever visit to New York City. I am super stoked, as you Americans are fond of saying, and I’m looking for advice.

apple

I know many many Americans visit Plain Or Pan regularly. Some of you are probably native New Yorkers. Many more of you will no doubt have spent time in the city. So. What should I do, where should I go? I plan to visit the Empire State Building, Central Park, Staten Island, Ground Zero etc etc , blah blah blah, all the usual stuff. I’ll do the hop on/hop off bus thing. I’ve applied for tickets to both the Letterman Show and the Daily Show, found out that the diner on the cover of Tom Waits Asylum Years album is an art deco masterpiece called the Empire Diner and is a ‘must visit’ and I plan on sneaking in a wee visit to Bleeker Bob’s Record Shop in Greenwich Village. I also want to see some of the less-well known sites. Off the beaten track New York, you might say. Although I don’t fancy actually being off the beaten track. Nor do I fancy being beaten off the track by some crack-ravaged mugger. Anywhere in safe central Manhattan is fine by me. I am there for 3 nights/4 days. I don’t have tons of money, but I don’t plan on scrimping when I get there either. I’d like three decent meals in reasonably priced eateries (Italian, Chinese, whatever) and I’d like to drink in a bar that’s not too trendy (ie expensive), but I don’t want to end up perched on a stool next to Charles Bukowski in Barfly either.

Over to you my American friends (and any others who’ve visited). Where should I go? Use the comments section under the date on the right hand side to enlighten me. Apparently the tramps, sorry, bums, are fat. Is that right? If so, there’s another couple of fat bums joining them very soon…

ryan adams

Here’s some, like, major tuneage from that talented little fucker (copyright Elton John) Mr Ryan Adams. He really is little – look at the size of him compared to that amp.

New York New York Jam Version (9 min + – fantastic!)

New York New York with The Cardinals

New York New York Enmore Theatre, January this year

All tracks very different and recorded live straight from the soundboard. Top quality ‘n that.