Whatever Happened To Swingbeat?
It's a question of semantics, and it's a mighty long way from Dr Feelgood. And yes, r'n'b has been very much on my mind, though I have never been a great r'n'b aficionado. Even with '60s stuff, I prefer my soul uptown and smooth, like Sceptre Wand, rather that down home and funky. I would rather listen to the sound of Philadelphia than the blues. Yet, I struggle with the polished, processed r'n'b productions pf today. I am uncomfortable with the amount of flesh, jewellery, lame and lycra on show (and the ladies are no better!). I believe that looking for meaning and mystery in Destiny's Child is as daft as deconstructing The Three Degrees.
Like Sid Vicious said, 99% is shit. That's true of everything. Yet, pop does not get any better EVER than Missy's 'Freak Thing', and I struggle to think of better pop records this year than songs by Sunshine Anderson, Eve, Mary J Blige and Alicia Keyes. I'm no expert on what is now called r'n'b. I suspect there's better still out there. Any genre of music bears testament to the fact that the best songs are not played on the radio, but I do like a listen to shows like Rampage on London 94.9FM or whatever it's called this week. When they mix up the garage, r'n'b, ragga and hip hop, I become painfully aware of mow much music is passing me by. If only I could switch off and remain oblivious to what's happening now.
So, appropriately, my favourite record of now is Now Thing, a collection of 15 dancehall instrumentals collected for Mo' Wax. It's a record that does what it says on the label. It's a record that is compellingly addictive, and it's a record that makes me feel uncomfortable. Uncomfortable, as in guilty about feeling so exposed about a whole area of music. Uncomfortable in the sense there is a suspicion about just buying the record because it's on Mo' Wax. Yet, I should not feel so guilty. I heard a track played by Rampage and a track on Rodigan, and both times my jaw dropped at the sheer exuberance and adventurousness of these 'now' version excursions, or digi-dubs. The fact the collection is on Mo' Wax is a bonus, and oddly apt. maybe more than any label, except Warp and Basic Channel / Chain Reaction, Mo' Wax proved to be the one to capture musical imaginations in the '90s, and its Indian summer a couple of years ago (Quannum, Blackalicious, Divine Styler) was sadly short-lived. So, this old romantic is delighted to see them turn on the old charm and point out what is music's most innovative area.
And yes, it's true, I know next to nothing about what is happening with Jamaican digital dancehall dub experimentation. The names here, like Lenky and Frenchie mean little to me. I guess like many busy looking at reggae through rose coloured lenses provided by Blood and Fire, I suspected the last 15 years of reggae and raga were filled with lewd slackness, rehashed righteousness and processed sameness. How wrong can you be? How representative is this set? Where do I go from here? With the exception of Missy's 'Freak Thing', will I hear a better noise than Lenky and Snapple Dapple's 'Desert Storm' or Ward 21 and Renegade's funky rhythms?
Like Afrika Bambaataa's 'Planet Rock' and 'Looking for the Perfect Beat' (now available on the ace Tommy Boy collection of Bambaataa works), Winston Smith's 'Sleng Teng' has achieved a mythic status in the scale of impact it has had on music. The digital transformation of Jamaican music heralded by that track is clearly still being pushed further along, and the tracks here state an overwhelming case for some ragga records being the most inventive sounds around. There may be echoes all around, from darkest drum'n'bass once conjured up by Doc Scott or Omni Trio, to the most out-there hip hop, be it Skitz or the Anti-Pop Consortium, but this compilation throws down a very intriguing gauntlet, and it's going to be interesting to see how the world responds. So, many thanks to Mr Lavelle, but where do I go from here? Erm, the last 16 Greensleeves rhythm albums please my good man.
© Kevin Pearce 2001