Friday, October 17, 2003

ALBUM// TWO LONE SWORDSMEN ‘PEPPERED WITH SPASTIC MAGIC’ (ROTTERS GOLF CLUB) If you believe what you hear, the Two Lone Swordsmen spend hours in a daylight-less fug of genetically hyper-modified skunk smoke - red-eyed, choking and yellow of skin, ratcheting and cranking their behemoth-sized machines in a Frankenstein’s lab-style Cold War bunker a mile below the streets of London’s East End, where lightening conductors power giant analogue funk generators that angrily spit and shower blue sparks as offensive bass frequencies are physically wrenched from their innards with spanners, welders’ masks are donned and ingenious rhythmic frameworks are hewn from crude iron and scrap before being brought to life with devilish belly laughs that rumble and crack the pavements above. Some bring their dead there; Texas, Starsailor, Stereo MCs – their festering carcasses imbued with radiation, mutated via dark, scientific practices whose secrets lie the lock-bound leather tomes of the Chairman’s book case, defibrillators applied as a charge of volts tapped from subterranean power cables is applied, sending a power surge through the city that blows out street lights and neon signs. “It’s a-liiiiiiive!” roars the Radioactive Man, his green-glowing flesh distorted in rictus of wicked satisfaction, before wringing his hands on an oily rag and sparking a post-coital blunt.

With their distinctly Victorian brand of antique futurism, crackly 1920s sci-fi, spoof chivalry and ultra-secret gentlemen’s smoking clubs, the self-mythologising Swordsmen have created an aura of obscurity that’s barely necessary if you let yourself venture into the murky caves of their sonic fantasy world. Without such wickedly tongue-in-cheek yarns you’d spin the same kind of images yourself. Andrew Weatherall; The brickie turned inspirational fusioneer of a generation, the man who remade Primal Scream in the image of ecstasy. Keith Tenniswood; the squat-scene raver turned lab boffin extraordinaire. Two ordinary-but extraordinary blokes whose shared love of proper electro, Krautrock, PiL, twisted disco, dub voodoo, rare herbs and amateur chemistry has not only turned out a string of fascinating, perplexing and perversely funky albums but a constant flow of remixes that have taken the grease-monkey ethic of rip-it-all-out-and-start-again and applied it with the bloody artistry of a surgeon, turning out a bundle of floor-cracking electro club bombs, created scarred beauty out of anodyne pop fodder and demonstrated that, while you can’t polish a turd, you can smear it against a wall and call it art. Peppered with spastic magic, one and all.

St. Etienne’s ‘Heart Failed’ pulses with liquid electricity, the beat a shuffle of sandpaper and metallic parts, an airy vapour of melody coursing slowly through it. Starsailor’s ‘Good Souls’ slopes along on a battle-wounded hip-hop beat, lugging a Jah Wobble-style bassline through the mud with it, the only hint of vocal clattering around dub style like a lunatic in a padded cell – any traces of the soppy indie drivel of the original have been either obliterated or corrupted and corroded with acid. Primal Scream’s ‘Stuka’ is given an old-school electro backbone, albeit one pecked at by vultures, Morse code blips and 808 snares beating out a dry, merciless funk as a bass growls hungrily and Bobby Gillespie voice is put through a grate-y vocoder, whiplashing laser synths making out a strange eastern disco lament before it descends into dry-bones dub, a female vocal coiling mournfully through the reverb.

A ten-minute indulgence on a band with such a close personal connection you could understand, someone like Texas you’d expect to be given a quick once over before taking the money. Not so, the Electric 4 Bird mix goes at it with the same wilful artistry, Charlene Spiteri’s vocal reduced to a slathering groan as sweet melodies whisp around snappy beats and sharply scalpeled edits. Away from the elctro/machine-funk theme, Calexico’s ‘Untitled 3’ is made a desert death crawl, a painfully slow rattlesnake hip-hop beat baked in the sun, a desolate ghost-town haunted by the spectres of dead banditos. On the flipside, Slam’s ‘Visions’ is remodelled into a fizz-popping nugget of prime electro funk, precision-lathed beats and rasping synths cavorting playfully in one of the best dance remixes of the last year and a half. As the hip-cats continue to slavishly drop the DFA’s name into any old article or conversation, it’s apparent that they’re still a tin-pot operation compared to the flashing sabres and tarnished genius of the mighty Swordsmen. Spazz on, you rotters. ///
(This isn’t out till December, but I couldn’t help it…)

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Don't think that I'm proselytising on behalf of broken beat - for some reason I'm still reluctant to do that for fear that it might not live up to the promise. Its shapeshifting vibe is definitely one of the big appeals - not least the lack of a regimented rhythm stated there in the name (the best anyone's come up with), meaning it can be what you want it to be, within reason - but also that it doesn't really know what it is itself. From the get-go it has always set itself up as almost militantly insular, and 'insiders'' network, although perhaps this is a misgiving on my part and that of the wider media (I have still yet to go to Co-Op after 2 or 3 years of mming and ahhing and not finding many takers, though now it's at Plastic People I suspect I will go down and give myself a bit of bodysonic treatment - good for what ails ya). The times i have danced to it are when it was mixed in with other things (namely deep US house; Theo Parrish, Masters at Work) but I liked what I did to me - provoking a kind of loose sexy groove with a central grind; the black, sexual essence, if you'll forgive me - which is there in all good dance music from house to drum & bass. You're not simply flailing like a rubber-limbed loon or 'jazz' dancing or getting all avant garde on the good foot, but it's certainly well, loose. I suppose that's the key word... or perhaps the conflict of loose and tight hat forms the dynamic, hmmm... Anyway, while we're on the subject, I'm kinda choosy with it too - not keen on anything that reeks to much of 'nu-jazz', being a staunch, unreconstructed noodlephobe, as is only healthy, so I'm not altogether keen on the continental, Composty side of things. The afro-futurist angle, too, is a tad suspicious. I don't know what Kodwo Eshun make of the scene, but it would seem that most of that Ladbroke Grove/Dollis Hill contingent (IG Culture, 4 Hero, Kaidi Tatham, Domu, Seiji etc) have probaly read More Brilliant Than The Sun and taken its themes on board - last year's 'Blacktronica' tour by Attica Blues & Co would certainly suggest so, if you read some of the blurb on their website. I kinda like the stuff that's dark and acidy with flecks of Detroit melody and jungle sub-bass and sounds like a new sound inventing itself as it goes along; evolution in motion. The most obvious 'soul' references too - to Rotary Connection, Funkadelic, Sun Ra, etc - kind of tickle me when bled into with this dark liquid flux... the best music being about motion and movenment and soul, it begins to make sense. And as for suggesting it goes down a 2-step path, that's not what I'm suggesting at all, merely that it sounds great when Artwerk's Red is mixed into Seiji's Loose Lips into Zed Bias, when tracks would appear to be taken out of their immediate contect and put adjacent to something different - not a very extreme example here, but I'd love to hear a few acid jack tracks, some Transmat or Wiley thrown amidst some 2000 Black or Bugz in the Attic remixes, some real creative jaxtaposition at work. They're probably already doing it. Been doing it for years. I should probably get down there... might be missing the boat as fucking usual! ///

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