Subvert and Scintillate
Shop Around Ö part 27
It is becoming very hard to avoid buying a paper or magazine that is not thrusting a free sensational sizzling summer soundtrack at you. I have decided that I want the job. I want to be the person that puts together sensational sizzling summer soundtracks. Soundtracks to subvert and scintillate. Iíd stick on, for starters, some of the stuff setting my summer alight. Like some Saint Etienne, Prefuse 73, Hood, Amerie, Mia, Roisin Murphy and, where Iíve made the connections and caught up with, some clunky crunk, raucous reggaeton, and joyous funk carioca.

The Funk Carrioca collection thatís being played to death round our way is the Slum Dunk mix for Mr Bongo. The same collective are behind the ďpost-punkĒ Sao Paulo set on Soul Jazz, which is just one of several exceptional compilations the label has put out in recent months. Increasingly I love the idea of a worldwide response to the Delta 5 and the Pop Group beginning to come to the surface when their own recordings are largely buried. Thereís plenty of great jagged funky pop noir on this compilation, and itís a lovely document. I, however, am increasingly uneasy that people are running away with the idea that the guitars of the Gang of Four really were the prevailing force in the early 1980s.

Hot on the heels of the great LTM Umbrellas In The Sun set, there is a very different document of the early Ď80s now available on DVD in the form of Rough Cut and Ready Dubbed. It makes for exceptionally uneasy viewing, but one has to say it paints a much more realistic portrait of life then. There is common ground with A Certain Ratio, though, and the rehearsal footage from 1981 of the group working out on Skipscada is priceless. There is an irony there somewhere with the group disappearing behind a latin american forcefield when clearly some groups in Sao Paulo were determined to follow in the footsteps of others on the Factory shopfloor.

The other highlight of Rough Cut is footage of the Purple Hearts live in 1980, which is invigorating and excoriating. The tantalising performance also reinforces my long-held belief that the Purple Hearts shaped the sound of the Stone Roses as much as the Byrds or anyone else. If you watch Rob Manton and Simon Stebbing here, you can easily think Ian Brown and John Squire.

Rough Cut was filmed by two young kids back in the day. It was a real do-it-yourself excursion, painstakingly put together. Like any documentary, it is skewed. It features only those they had access to. And itís edited to reflect what they want to say. But it does capture a particular reality. One that is in danger of being lost as the early Ď80s are written up more and more.

The DVD comes with extra footage, where participants and protagonists share thoughts on life then and life now. The Purple Heartsí Gary and Simon, as sharp mods, of course, look the best 25 years on, and make the point that the really striking thing about the film is the frightening amount of violence and tribalism that we took for granted then. Itís a point that also came across in This Is A Modern Life, the account of 1980s mods, where specific reference is made to an incident where the Purple Hearts came to play the Crayford Town Hall, down the road from here, and the venue was surrounded by nazi skinheads.
Much of the film features talking heads. Kids on the street. Punks in leathers. Skinheads in boots and braces. Kids in groups. Kids saying the rubbish kids say. Charles Shaar Murray of the NME, and Garry Bushell of Sounds. Journalists spouting the rubbish they spout. Tony Wilson and John Peel being the Tony Wilson and John Peel we love. On paper thatís not going to sound exceptional. What will scare the hell out of anyone watching this is the futile violence. There is some incredible footage of Stiff Little Fingers, looking frightfully gauche, and sounding ridiculously raw, doing their two immortal songs Suspect Device and Alternative Ulster at a Rock Against Racism concert. And things just explode with punks storming the stage. It makes The Clash at Victoria Park in Rude Boy look like theyíre playing at a tea dance. And we took that for granted.

Elsewhere there is footage of the Cockney Rejects live and in rehearsal, which is equally as scary. The Rejects could give as good as they got, and there is a funny side to their madness. But itís still frightening, and (inadvertently) fanned the flames of fanaticism. What remains intriguing is Morrisseyís flirtation with the Rejectsí east end iconography, and the influence that their racket had on the hardcore uproar in the States. Iím not sure Iíll ever get my head round that, but then perhaps the likes of J. Mascis have never been chased down a high street just because they were wearing a Fred Perry top and dessert boots.

The world of music and popular culture has changed an incredible amount since Rough Cut was shot. Now a bit of rain at a foul festival becomes front page news. I suppose there will be any number of groups at Glastonbury making out theyíre putting together a racket like Stiff Little Fingers. And instead of painstakingly filming on a handheld Super 8 you can now use your Ďphone. But I guess that at least there wonít be any ridiculous rampages, and the only rucks will be sacks.

Two Tone is represented on the film by The Selecter, who turn in a good workaday skanking show. Interestingly I heard someone covering the Specialsí Ghost Town when I turned the radio on the other week. I didnít catch who it was, but it was a cracking version, surprisingly so. What struck me though was that this song was number one 24 years ago, probably before this new group was even born. It is the world of Ghost Town that is captured on Rough Cut. Too much fighting on the dancefloor. Why must the youth fight amongst itself? All of that. Why is a young group singing about that now? Maybe they have good reason to.

Following on from the Grime compilations on old dance codgersí label Rephlex, Mark One is something of a hero hereabouts. I suspect that part of the reason I love his sound so much is that it connects with Ed Rush or Decoder or 4 Heroís Parallel Universe and a time when drumíníbass was going to change the world. But leaving that on one side Mark One provides the beats and bass for Virus Syndicateís The Work Related Illness (interestingly on old dance codgersílabel Planet Mu). The recordís rhymes (courtesy of JSD, Goldfinger and Nika D) reflect the grimier side of Greater Manchester life, continuing a tradition that can be traced back through Skitz to the Specials.

The interesting thing for this old codger is listening to this new music, and seeing scenesters like Lady Sovereign starting to creep overground, just as moral panics and folk devils reappear. Hoodies banned from shopping centres scream the headlines. Suddenly itís got to be more appealing for the disenfranchised to skulk around with hoods up, heads shaved, and the most brutal of beats seeping out of headphones. And the MCs want to reflect life on the streets in their rhymes, while marketing men spy opportunities. It was a moment like this that someone suggested Elvis Costello should produce the Specials, and things went horribly wrong. But then they came up with Ghost Town, and never has a song been so right.

Iím just reading Greil Marcusí Like A Rolling Stone. Itís better than I thought. A whole book about one song seemed to be a bit desperate. But it works. I suppose itís the right song. But an obvious song. What other songs would work? Well, Ghost Town certainly. Thereís definitely a book in there, with tangents flying off all over the place. But donít look at me.

© 2005 John Carney