September 5, 2008

‘The Eighties Revival is Still Banging Its Syndrum’



Run by an anonymous music fan and copyright vigilante who calls himself Philo T Farnsworth, US label Illegal Art currently has two new albums on its release schedule which thumb their noses at Western governments' attempts to tighten up what many already view as overly restrictive copyright laws. The first, and best, is What Does It All Mean? 1983-2006 Retrospective - a collection of virtuoso cut-ups by Steve Stein, aka Steinski, the New York ad man and amateur DJ who in the autumn of 1983 won a remix competition held by rap label Tommy Boy at his first attempt.

Created with friend Doug DeFranco - aka studio engineer Double Dee - "The Payoff Mix" was a bravura collage of uncleared hip-hop, pop and film samples, which included lifts from Culture Club's single "I'll Tumble 4 Ya". Stein now calls the mix, which was never officially released, "a series of left turns" - turns he continued to take at irregular intervals for 25 years, most recently with his eerie 9/11 tribute "Number Three On Flight Eleven".

As to the legality of his craft, Stein, who has been cited as a direct influence by Prince Paul, Coldcut and DJ Shadow, is unapologetic. "No matter whether it's legal or not legal..." he says today. "You can't stop this anymore." Yet while Stein and DeFranco created their mixes using snippets recorded direct onto tape - a laborious process which in the case of "Lesson 3 (History Of Hip Hop)" took some six months to complete - digital-age newcomer Greg Gillis uses a laptop, plundering as many as 34 samples for a four- minute track.

A Pittsburgh computer geek and one-man party machine, under the alias Girl Talk, Gillis blends pop and rock, hip-hop and R&B the way a liquidiser blends a fruit smoothie. He even lists his ingredients on Wikipedia. But as new album Feed The Animals (Illegal Art) shows, he's not really an innovator like Steinski. For one, his juxtapositions are often startlingly juvenile - the album's opening track mixing Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares To U" into Southern rapper Shawnna's "Gettin' Some Head". But they're also undeniably infectious, as demonstrated by the raucous screams and whoops which accompany footage of his live shows on YouTube.

There's a similar spirit, if more lateral approach, behind London newcomer Dan Black's white label "HYPNTZ", an indie-boy cover of Notorious BIG's rap classic "Hypnotize", with Black's almost tender reading of Biggie's street hustle set to the break from Rhianna's "Umbrella". Dreamlike and oddly affecting, it's the antithesis of "Bangers & Cash" (Downtown), a brash, crass take on Miami rap outfit 2 Live Crew's booty-bouncing electro by Baltimore rapper Spank Rock and New York producer Benny Blanco.

Aimed more at the higher mind than the lower body is Canadian producer Koushik Ghosh's debut, Out My Window (Stones Throw), which glows like some lost artefact of funk psychedelia, part David Axelrod, part The Beta Band. Even though it turns out to be the work of Ghosh alone - plus his trusty Roland sampler.

No longer a one-man band, Tim Simenon, an NME cover star in 1987 following the success of sample-heavy acid house anthem "Beat Dis", has more or less ditched his sampler altogther. On new album Future Chaos (!K7) his brooding techno dub is more evocative of late- period Depeche Mode except with a variety of guest vocalists where Dave Gahan should be, including grunge bluesman Mark Lanegan, who adds his lugubrious croak to the aptly titled Black River.

Elsewhere the Eighties revival continues to bang its Syndrum. On Lies (LEX) Anglo-Argentinian duo Heartbreak dance to the pulsating beat of early-Eighties Italian disco, the sound of bad hair, worse clothes and Roman-themed nightclubs overlooking the Adriatic. Ali Renault and Sebastian Muravchix deftly capture the sense of urgency and bacchanalian abandon which drove the era's best music, whether on the fevered synth riff driving single "We're Back" or yearning vocal of "Robots Got The Feeling".

Metronomy, the electro-dance project of Devon-born Joseph Mount isn't nearly such an obvious homage. It's actually more reminiscent of current synthpop acts such as Neon Neon and Black Affair, except that he's crammed so much into the songs on debut album Nights Out (Because Music) they're practically bursting open with quirky new sounds and melodies, from the bendy riff in "The End Of You Too" to the strange jazz coda which winds up "Back On The Motorway". All that, and not a sample to be heard.

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