Category Archives: Hip-hop/’dance’ music

MARRS: Pump Up The Volume (12″, 4AD BAD 707, 1987)

MARRS - Pump Up The Volume

This may be the first 4AD release I’ve mentioned on here, and I’m pleased it’s come about, as 4AD is a label with almost invariably good artwork. As the spine of this 12″ proudly states: “Art Direction & Design : Vaughan Oliver; Photography and Set Construction : Panni Charrington; MARRS”. So, in a traditional Western left-to-right reading hierarchy, the credits for the design and photography come before the artist.

Vaughan Oliver is, of course, something of a legend in the area of music design. Through his work for 4AD, he’s responsible for the very familiar, now iconic visuals for releases by Pixies, Lush, The Breeders, Cocteau Twins and a huge number beyond that rather obvious selection. On this Marrs 12″, there’s a typical use of jarring layout (the orientation of text elements is designed as shown in the image here, if we use the opening of the sleeve being on the right as a guide to ‘correct’ positioning), mysterious imagery (the rear sleeve, also shown here, depicts a highly colourised image showing what looks like Elvis atop a burger, holding a bottle, surrounded by guitars, swans, TVs and maybe a gun), and a strong sense of typography and space (large blocks of colour, the distinctive use of somewhat bland typefaces). The circled AA device is a particularly nice, albeit subtle, way to denote a ‘double A-side’ record, where both sides share equal importance.

Panni Charrington, based on having a distinctive name, and hoping that Google is quite clever in joining together the dots of the internet, seems now to be known as Panni Bharti.

This was a pretty revolutionary record. MARRS are summed up neatly by Wikipedia: “MARRS (stylised M|A|R|R|S) was a 1987 recording collective formed by the groups A.R. Kane and Colourbox, which only released one commercial disc. It became ‘a one-hit wonder of rare influence’ because of their international hit ‘Pump Up The Volume’.” That hit was everywhere around the time of its release, and in part heralded the introduction of ‘dance’ music, and sampling, into the mainstream musical mindset. Although I bought this actual record much later than its release – it was a charity shop find in the mid-2000s – as an inquisitive and inventive 13 year old, as I was in 1987, ‘Pump Up The Volume’ was one of tunes I listened to a lot, recorded from the radio, and self-remixed into several different versions using a double-tape-deck player, which allowed one tape deck to play while the other recorded.

MANTRONIX: Music Madness (LP, 10 DIX 50, 1986)

In 1986 when this record came out, I was around thirteen years old and the existence of hip-hop and breakdancing was evident enough for me and a few pals at school to feel confident and knowledgable enough to form our own little breakdancing crew. After all, we’d all seen movies like Beat Street and Breakdance and listened to a lot of badly-recorded tapes of whatever repetitive beats we collectively managed to track down through random radio dial whirling and home taping. Admittedly, our middle-class Midlands-based upbringing may not have been the same experience as if we’d grown up in the rough corners of late ’70s New York, but regardless, the Electro Breakers (as we cringingly named ourselves) were formed, and enjoyed many a playground-based dance off during a few months’ worth of breaktimes. We must have been doing something right, at least in the eyes of our obviously hip teachers, as the highlight of our brief career was to host a physical education class for an hour, teaching classmates how to pop, lock and spin whilst remaining effortlessly cool, clad in matching Nike tracksuit tops.

Some of the artists I remember from those scratchy old cassettes include Roxanne Shanté, LL Cool J and Mantronix, amongst others whom I’d surely recognise but never knew of a name to attach to the sounds. I wasn’t much of a record buyer back then, so unfortunately I don’t have an outstanding collection of original early hip-hop and electro vinyl, but nowadays I’m very slowly picking up records here and there to, effectively, recreate those old cassettes that are now long gone. So, this Mantronix album was acquired at a charity shop somewhere – I can’t remember where – a few months ago. As is so often the case with these things, however, it was something of a small disappointment to play it after a twenty year gap. It’s good, but it’s not as revolutionary or inspiring as it seemed to be back then. I guess that’s what comes of knowing more about music, putting things in perspective and forming your own timelines and histories of sound? The genuine thrills become few and far between. That sounds sad, but it’s not supposed to – I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m not about to reform the Electro Breakers, though.

OL’ DIRTY BASTARD: Got Your Money (12″, Elektra E7077T, 2000)

Occasionally I’ll hear some piece of music from the mainstream that totally sticks in my head and obsesses me to the point where I ultimately end up in HMV buying it whilst trying to maintain an air of independent coolness that will convince the person behind the till that although I’m buying something that’s been bought by thousands and millions of kids who just don’t know music, I’m still somehow better and more knowledgeable and more hip than any old casual purchaser. Hah! Deal with that long sentence.

This record is such a case – okay, so it might not be from the complete MOR pop mainstream, but it got what I believe is known as ‘heavy rotation’ on major radio stations upon its release. Those major radio stations were the ones that polluted my ears during my working days at the time, and this song was a huge relief amongst the relentless crap every time it came on. Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s voice is so ugly, so rough, I love it – and I love the fact that such a dirty and sleazy song as this was all over Radio One for a time (even if they did have to refer to the artist as just ODB in order to fend off the inevitable flood of complaints)…

By the way – Ol’ Dirty Bastard; RIP. He seemed to live life to the full (to put it mildly).

My Wu-Tang Clan anecdote: I saw Raekwon and pals performing at an All Tomorrow’s Parties festival a couple of years ago, and a few memories stay with me:

  • The total rip-off they got away with by playing snippets of Wu-Tang faves for a minute or so before playing out a huge gunshot sound, shouting at the crowd for a bit and then moving on to the next track. Then ultimately descending into nothing more than a sales drive for Wu-Tang t-shirts from the stage.
  • How inappropriate the sleazy, dirty hip-hop of Wu-Tang seemed to be when played out to a room full of pasty-faced indie kids (in which group I consider myself firmly a member). The intense embarrassment of seeing flower-skirted indie girls attempting to shake their booty when invited up on stage.
  • A brief, drunken conversation with a couple of Wu-Tang entourage who were stalking through the crowd during the performance, selling mix CDs. I purchased a couple, and attempted a manly slap on the back whilst informing the guys that they were ‘great sallesshmen’. What did I expect to be the outcome of this lame performance? That I would get invited to hang out with the group? That I’d become an honorary Wu-Tang? Alcohol makes you do funny things.