19 January 2009
Girls On Top - Being Scrubbed/ I Wanna Dance With Numbers
Label: Black Melody
Year of Release: 2000
As we begin the final year of the "noughties", as this decade has been rather unsatisfyingly referred to by most people (is it really the best we could collectively do?) it's hard to think of many musical genres, innovations or even quirks which arrived as the 21st Century began to make itself comfortable. Whatever the quality of the music itself has been like - and that's probably no better or worse than most other decades, if we were to do a fair analysis of it - it's still a source of disappointment to me that a technological leap like the Fairlight didn't come along to change the way people thought about writing music. It seemed as if it should have done. In the early part of the nineties, revolutionary new sound recording systems were written about by hi-fi journalists, and we were told that music would soon wrap itself around your ears in three dimensions and smother you, even on ordinary, cheap steroes. Hasn't bloody happened yet, though, has it? The way we purchase music may have changed, but it still sounds much the same*.
In fact, the only real noughties trend which some people seem to argue is without precedent is the mash-up. Taking the melody of one record and splicing the vocals (or other aspects) of another across the top of it has become an online phenomenon, although the limits of such an idea meant that the whole affair appeared to have totally lost the interest of most record buyers by early 2005 (and I remain convinced that I first heard somebody say mash-ups were 'over' in 2001). I have heard that club promoters threaten DJs who play mash-ups now with their P45s. From starting life as a bold and exciting new way of crossing genres and making people realise that everything is, as Andy Partridge once said, pop, then becoming a worn and tired gimmick, it's perfectly possible that people will actually be nostalgic about mash-ups next year if things move fast enough.
For what it's worth, I was genuinely excited about them when they first became apparent to me. OK, admittedly the first I heard - Evolution Control Committee's "Rebel Without A Pause" in 1998 - seemed more like a laugh-up-one's-sleeve attempt to soften Public Enemy by mixing them with Herb Alpert than having any kind of particular point. By the time I caught some of the Girls On Top mixes by Richard X, however, I was totally and utterly sold on the idea. It seemed to me to be something that, far from being remixing at its most idle, utilised the new tools and the ease of access of knowledge available to the music lover. As more people began illegally downloading and therefore sampling a wider range of music from the present and the past, the idea of welding it together into one strangely workable whole seemed enticing. It could be distributed easily (the above is a bootleg seven inch white label single, but by the mid-part of the decade most people were doing this online), created without too much fuss, and - without being explicit, and perhaps in most cases purely by accident - toyed with people's ideas about such precious things as 'classic rock' or seminal sounds.
Whilst the best Girls On Top release by far was "We Don't Give A Damn About Our Friends" which later became "Freak Like Me" by the Sugababes (a cover of a mash-up? How preposterous), "Being Scrubbed" is still a great little chunk of vinyl, mixing TLC's "No Scrubs" with The Human League's "Being Boiled". It's low grade eighties electronic music mixed with sex, replacing something which seemed cold and calculated with urban sass. Every time I hear it, I think that it's probably what The Human League would have wanted to sound like eventually, if they'd actually stumbled across TLC rather than some girls at the Sheffield disco.
The other side mixes Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" with Kraftwerk's "Numbers", and comes out less successfully, but still works well enough to be more than just a casual gimmick. Whitney sounds better than she did on The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu's "Whitney Joins The Jams", which I've often suspected this is referencing - here she sounds like she belongs rather than gatecrashing into the mix. For all their pioneering work in illegal sampling, Drummond and Cauty could never quite master the art of making Abba, Whitney, Jimi Hendrix, or The Fall sound like anything other than rude interlopers. The best of these records, on the other hand, are inclusive, seamless affairs.
By the time 2010 rolls around it's unlikely anybody will still be bothering with this stuff apart from a few die-hard mixers on some Internet forums, keeping the flame alive for the sake of a sense of community rather than the end product itself. That shouldn't be surprising. There are limits to how far you can take this kind of idea before everybody gets bored. Nonetheless, whilst I frequently bemoan the fact that the sound of music didn't greatly change in the so-called noughties, I quite like the fact that, right at the starting block, we had a phenomenon that claimed that all music was just pop, and could be listened to as such - that artists who seemed to exist at polar opposites to each other actually weren't that far apart, and could co-exist happily. It's perhaps not the terrible start to the century some would say it is.
Now it's over with, let's move on to the future, shall we?
(*Yes, I know the big technological revolution in this decade has been the cheapness and ease of availability of decent home recording equipment. I'm not that daft.)
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