JO'B: I was just going to ask you about that. Gabba is the polar
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Here's the transcript of an enjoyable interview I did in late 1998 with the Irish journalist Jonathan O'Brien, i.e. shortly after Energy Flash first came out, when - as so often happens, after the process is done - I am starting to get a clearer idea about what I was trying to do all along. Plus some glimpses of what was ahead for the music, at least as I saw it at that precise vantage point in time. How it turned out - a quite different story.
JO'B: What motivated you to start writing the book in the
SR: I'd been writing a lot of stuff about most forms of dance music,
particularly hardcore, since I really got involved in the scene, which
was towards the end of 1991. So I'd accumulated quite a lot of stuff,
including think-pieces and essays. My initial idea was to just do a
collection of it, but then I realised that would be kinda lazy and I
should probably just really go for it, and try and do a sort of
definitive, comprehensive book on all the different styles of the
music. I knew that another book was coming out, Matthew Collins' book,
but I knew that it was more a history of Ecstasy, and crime and
gangsterism and the law. So I felt like there was a clear field for me
really just to deal with the music.
JO'B: Did you want to avoid the sociological aspect of dance, to
SR:You have to have that in it, but I wanted it to be a sort of
celebration and analysis of the music, because there have been so many
amazing mutant forms of it.
JO'B: Tell me about the Energy Flash CD. When
did you get the idea for putting one on the front of the book, and did
you have any licensing difficulties?
SR:Initially, I thought we'd do a CD with a . . . y'know, other
people have done this, David Toop did this thing of having a CD which
was in parallel with the book, and that was the initial idea, to just
do one like that. But then, my editor at Picador said, "We can actually
stick the CD on the book." I don't think anyone has really done that
before. Someone did a book of John Cage's lectures that has a CD of him
actually reading the lectures attached to it. Disco
Biscuits, that collection of club fiction, had a CD in
parallel with it, put out by a record label. But the actual physical
sticking of a CD on the book is a new thing.
I was a bit worried that it would spoil the design, or people would
steal it, or whatever. It seemed fraught with problems, but actually it
worked out really well. Originally, the CD was gonna be a bit more
broad-ranging, as well . . .
JO'B: Well, certainly, there seems to be a preponderance of
hardcore on the CD itself.
SR:Yeah. I mean, it was always gonna be like that, because
hardcore is my favourite music, and it's also the stuff I think most
people haven't heard. It's quite hard to get hold of on record these
days - there's a collector's market for this stuff, the 12-inches go
for thirty quid now. So the CD was always going to be mostly that, but
I wanted it to be more of a continuum running from . . . eh, ideally I
would have wanted it to start with something like Todd Terry, which I
sort of see as the origins of hardcore, because it's had a very strong
hip-hop influence to it, although it was considered as house anthems at
the time. It was really chopped-up, with lots of abrasive edits in it.
So the CD would have gone from that through all the Nightmares On Wax,
bleep-and-bass stuff, and Beltram. I wanted some more Belgian stuff but
we couldn't get those, it was too hard. And then I wanted it to
actually go all the way up to Big Beat. Right up to the very end of the
process, Skint Records promised us these tracks by Fatboy Slim and
Bentley Rhythm Ace. Then they signed this big deal with a major label,
and the tracks were sort of tied up because of that. Also, I think
Fatboy Slim's stuff has so many samples in it that there were problems
there as well.
So in the end the CD was very focused on hardcore. But I'm not too
bothered by that, because I think a lot of people have never heard a
lot of this stuff, so I wanted a CD that hopefully substantiated my
descriptions of the music (laughs).
JO'B: Most people would think of hardcore as the stuff that was
in the charts in '92 - very cheesy and toytownish-sounding - but the
stuff on the CD couldn't be more different. It's a lot more complex
than I thought it would be. I hadn't heard very much of it before.
SR:Well, there are quite a few tracks on the CD that are almost
sort of toytown-like. They have high, squeaky voices . . .
JO'B: The Blame and Hyper-On Experience tracks are like that.
SR:And also DJ Trax. But even then, I think this is really good
music. The beats are put together very well. The thing I like about
that music, a lot of it is real value for money. You get people going
through seven different segments of a track, instead of this thing of
dragging out one or two ideas for a whole track, which seems to be the
norm now. (excitedly)The tracks are, like,
action-packed! There are bridges and breakdowns - you can go through
literally six distinctive ideas within a track, like with that DJ Trax
thing. I just wanted to put this stuff down and make a claim for it as
great music, as well as rave anthem fodder.
JO'B: Why do you think that things changed, that people started
using only one motif for an entire track, instead of cramming in as
many ideas as they could?
SR:I don't know. I think back then, maybe people were more . .
.. hyped-up, just throwing stuff out. They weren't
really thinking that far ahead, and maybe later people realised they
could put seven 12-inches out instead of one. Also, in a weird sort of
way, a lot of the music made back then was actually pop music, in its
ambition, whereas now, people make stuff as kinda DJ tools - so the
reason there's only one idea is because the DJ's only going to play it
for two minutes or so, then mix into another track. So it is like raw
materials for the DJ to work with.
JO'B: I unearthed some of your cuttings before this interview,
and I was reading some of the stuff you'd written about Omni Trio. One
theme that kept coming up again and again was the . . .
naïvetyof the melodies, in his music in particular,
but also in other acts.
SR:Well, I write some stuff in the book about the
non-importance of melody, but in actual fact there's a lot of great
tunes in this music. A lot of it's very catchy. I was actually
listening to a re-release of, you know Steve Reich? He did mostly
minimalist stuff. But he also did this record called Music For
18 Musicians or something like that. It was much more lush and
beautifully textured. And his whole thing is based around these almost
inane, childlike little melodies. Little plinky-plinky piano sounds.
And it's this dense weave of these little tiny melodic fragments. The
sequence of it sounds purely like Orbital or Omni Trio. Very
naïve-sounding melodies and naïvely happy textures . . . plangent
little sounds. I was struck by the fact that there were respected
composers doing this childlike thing. That's one of the things I like
most about Aphex Twin, his stuff which is most naïve in its melodies,
rather than his . . .
JO'B: You're talking about the music from his first album, rather
than things like 'Quoth'?
SR:Yeah. I think the other stuff he does is fantastic, but
there's something about the childlike-ness of the euphoria . . . little
simple melodies and plinky sounds.
JO'B: To get back to hardcore itself, you say you got into it
around the end of '91. And you stuck with it until it sort of mutated
into jungle. What were the exact circumstances - did you just hear it
on a pirate station, or did you get sent a particular record, or what?
SR: Being a journalist, I got sent some of this stuff, like what
R&S was doing, people like Beltram and that, which I loved. And my
friends, who had been indie-rock fans, had started going to these
events that The Shamen put on, or Primal Scream gigs, or whatever. I
had been really into Screamadelica, and I kinda kept
one eye on some of these things - 808 State and such.
The first two raves I went to, which I describe in the introduction to
the book - one was this event by The Shamen, and the other was what I
realise now was a really cheesy event for most people. It was N-Joi, M
People and Bassheads. I had no idea this was naff! I knew at the time
that they'd all had hits. And so I was just blown away by both these
events, and then I did start obsessively listening to the pirate
stations in London.
At the time I was quite into the hard Belgian stuff, and I didn't
really care much for the breaks. I couldn't get my head round it. But
gradually, I realised it was not only the most exciting stuff but the
most creative stuff, compared with what was being touted at the time:
all this stuff on Guerilla and Leftfield. There were a few good things
in that area, but hardcore seemed so much more
insane and crazy. Coming from a rock background, that's what really
appealed to me, the insanity of it.
JO'B: I remember reading some of what you wrote for
Melody Maker about hardcore/jungle in '93-'94, and you
were saying that it was almost like a crusade for you at one point,
trying to get other people interested in it.
SR:Yeah, I was just obsessed with it. It's the most exciting
scene I've ever participated in. I was into punk rock but I missed it -
I got into the Sex Pistols after they split up. I could say I was a
participant in Pixies, Sonic Youth, Loop and My Bloody Valentine, all
that stuff that happened in the late '80s, in the sense of writing
about it. But there was never really a subculture there, whereas
hardcore was the first time I was actually a participant in a
I couldn't understand why the people I knew didn't actually listen to
the pirates. I couldn't get my head around the fact that this stuff was
FREE! You could tape it off the radio! It was insane-sounding and
interesting. And I was there defending this thing that nobody in the
world took seriously. Critically speaking, there were definitely a
couple of years where there was only me, and then, towards the end of
that year, this friend of mine - Kodwo Eshun - started writing about
it, but not quite as regularly as I was.
I don't want to sound like I'm blowing my own trumpet, but what really
amazes me is that during this entire period I was spending more than
half my time in New York, and I was more on it than
those in London. I didn't think anyone had an excuse to miss out on
this stuff if you were living in London. In '93 I think I spent three
months in London, and the rest of it in New York; I was writing
The Sex Revolts with my wife at the time, so I was in
America most of the time. I would come back, and in the space of three
or four months, it seemed to have leapt another era ahead, musically.
I'd keep asking my friends and people I knew had they heard this stuff,
and nobody seemed to have.
JO'B: Did you think you were missing out by spending so much time
SR:I was terribly frustrated. It's very hard to get the records
in America. Although that sort of rave music had been big in '91-'92 in
the New York scene, I think the New York scene veered off, and if you
were into breakbeat you were a tiny minority. So it was pretty hard to
get the records in the USA. And there were no compilations available.
It took me a little while to work out that you had to go to specialist
stores in London to buy the stuff, although I could find the odd thing,
like the Omni Trio and Foul Play material in the local branch of Our
Price in Brixton.
There was certainly an appeal in it being fantastically underground,
but at the same time I was very frustrated that I couldn't seem to
convince anyone to investigate it. So whenever I wrote about it, I
always stressed the fact that you could get this music for free, off
pirate radio. It's there, it's accessible.
JO'B: But of course jungle ended up splitting up into six or
seven different strands, and it seemed to peak, commercially at least,
around 1994-95. What do you make of it now? I was looking at some of
the stuff on your website, and you were having a go at people like LTJ
SR:I think that stuff about Bukem, I actually wrote it about a
couple of years ago, when all that mellow sound was kind of in the
ascendant, and it kinda needed to be taken down a peg. But I actually
have a weird respect for Bukem, in so far as he's stuck to his
aesthetic guns. He could have easily gone along with something like
techstep, but he's stuck to what he believes in, and kudos to him for
that. It's certainly not my favourite kind of drum and bass, but good
things are still done in it - Adam F has done some good stuff.
Generally, I think drum and bass is like a sonic narrative that's
stalled at the moment. I dunno, it could be renewed at some point down
the line, but it feels like it's painted itself into a corner. The
current sound which rules would be the Optical sound. It's like, they
don't wanna be too jazzy because they think that's a media fix, they
don't wanna be too dark because techstep made it too dark. So it's like
nowhere music. It often has no definable mood to it, or explicit
emotion, or anything. I just find it very numbing.
JO'B: Have you heard the new 4 Hero album? One disc of it is
jazzy kind of stuff, and the other disc is really mechanical, metallic
drum and bass.
SR:I thought that was a good record. I actually didn't mind the
really strings/jazzy-orientated stuff, I almost kind of feel they've
earned the right to do that, because they've done so much amazing
stuff. And the second side I probably like more. I think actually
there'll be good drum and bass albums coming out, and the odd good
track. But it's a bit of a fallow scene. I feel it's gone the way that
techno went a few years ago, that really purist techno sound.
JO'B: What about Goldie? You wrote a lot about him in
Melody Maker for a while, but from what I can gather
from the book, you don't think much of his new stuff at all.
SR:Well, I think Timeless was a bit overrated
and overblown. There's some really amazing stuff on it, but I
sort of came round to this intellectual, theoretical position on the
music, which is kind of my opinion on all of dance music. When it
begins to stray from the dancefloor too much, or from what DJs need at
any particular moment, it comes a bit of a cropper. It's like music
without a reason to be, in a weird sort of way. It could either be
totally atmospheric, and then it's not really any relation to dance
music at all - or it could be semi-danceable . . . there are some
amazing things on Timeless, but also some real
embarrassing things . . .
JO'B: The jazz-rock elements?
SR:Yeah . . . and the new one is a bit of a stinker, isn't it,
let's be honest (laughs).
JO'B: I'm not wild about the big long 60-minute track, anyway.
SR:Although I know someone who claims to be really moved by it,
and thinks it's brilliant!
JO'B: Do you think these guys are just striving for acceptance
from the critics, by using "real" instrumentation, like guitars and
SR:I had an interesting e-mail from someone who took issue with
my idea that it was a legitimation complex or a secret inferiority
complex - that they wanted to be taken seriously. I think that's part
of it. But this guy said something which is quite true: that's it's
overconfidence, in a sense. Maybe the tons of really
over-the-top praise Goldie got made him think, "I have the unlimited
power to do whatever I want."
Also, there is this weird sort of thing within that culture of always
wanting to go further. At a certain point you just go too far into
artistry and conceptualism. That's one of the things I find interesting
about the whole world of dance culture and particularly drum and bass -
how a lot of the people involved do conceive of themselves as capital-A
artists, aesthetes. And they don't really have any connection with
literary culture, like they don't read books. A lot of it comes from a
weird mish-mash of style, fashion, and film.
JO'B: Certainly, a lot of these fellows seem to name-check films
SR:And Bladerunner. I mean, I think
Bladerunner was a huge aesthetic experience for a
whole generation of people. It's like their equivalent of reading
Dante's Inferno or something. Same with The
Godfather and Apocalypse Now. . .
JO'B: One thing apparent throughout the book, especially when
you're writing about acts like The Future Sound Of London, is the way
you line yourself up with - for want of a better phrase - the sweaty
ravers, against the goatee-bearded chin-strokers.
SR:Well, partly that's me trying to avoid my own . . . class
destiny, or where I should be. And partly I just associate better times
and a better vibe with those sorts of clubs and scenes. You go to these
events, like chill-out events and eclectronica, eclectic nights, and
nothing really ever happens. There's no real spark, no energy in the
air. I mean, I can move in that world, and it's sort of an obvious
place for me to be, in a way, given my background. I have really broad
taste in music and quite a lot of knowledge of it, and I write for
magazines like The Wire and stuff. But in some ways
it's the least interesting place for me to be.
There's a weird sort of class tourism thing, as well. You could make
fun of it, but in actual fact I think it's quite a good thing. I
actually got a lot from encountering the real energy and desperation of
working-class people, the way they really take their pleasures, living
like there's no tomorrow. It's really inspiring.
But it's more the case that working-class culture in Britain kinda
moved by its own dynamic towards my territory anyway. I was always into
psychedelic music, avant garde music and
avant-funk, such as early PiL. And it's almost like
the music moved into my area anyway. So it's not like I'm making this
trip into some exotic, other place. It's come nearer
me in a way.
JO'B: I've read some of the stuff you wrote about bands like The
Young Gods, and if I can get all high-faluting for a minute, you're
obviously more of a Dionysian than an Apollonian . . .
SR: Hahaaa. I try to be.
JO'B: You're obviously well into the idea of the "head-rush".
SR:Yeah, 'cause I'm naturally a quite cautious, organised,
well-planned kind of person. So anything that can take me out of that
frame of mind, I find very rewarding. And that's what I tend to value
in music. My crowning moments in music are things like the Stooges and
Sex Pistols, Hendrix, My Bloody Valentine . . . stuff that's really
about chaos, in a way.
JO'B: In the book, you avoided - studiously, it would seem -
writing about the more popular, song-based bands like Orbital,
Leftfield and Underworld.
SR:Well actually, I like some things Leftfield have done, and
especially early Orbital. I like most of the things they've done, like
'Halcyon' and 'Chime'. Immense tracks. I actually wanted to get 'Chime'
on the CD, but it didn't work out. There are certain people in that
scene who are doing more art-oriented stuff, who I really respect.
Someone like Björk, who I think has done really amazing stuff, is
stealing ideas from dance music and presenting them in a song context.
But I still really think the motor of the music comes from the
dancefloor and not from a really song-oriented thing. Although I
actually do like stuff that has vocals in it, such as the speed garage
stuff, with these twisted, warped vocals.
JO'B: Reading the chapter on ambient, I get the feeling you
regard it as the successor to prog rock - music for white students who
are afraid to get their hands dirty with jungle and hardcore.
SR:There is that element to it. There was a lot of good stuff
produced, and there was a period when I was equally enamoured of it;
had quite a bit of interest in that whole area of music. But I think it
just became a dead end, wispy and not very interesting. And especially
if you compare it with the whole grand tradition of ambient atmospheric
music, a lot of it was not nearly as good as Brian Eno or Jon Hassell or Harold Budd
and other people in that field.
So a lot of the sonic hallmarks which people decide signify
"experimental" are actually conventions in a weird sort of way. You
can actually change the conventions. So within a
couple of years' time, breakbeats, which had been considered totally
crap and degraded and stupid, became the hallmark of what was
experimental. All the bands that had been doing "intelligent" stuff all
started using breakbeats, and mostly not very well.
It's weird: a lot of the signifiers of supposed intelligence or
experimentalism are actually just conventions that are constructed in
particular moments in the music, constructed by labels, fans, artists
and critics together. So whenever a concept becomes too calcified or
rigid, you try to disrupt it in some way - which is what I've been
trying to do by pushing gabba (laughs).
JO'B: I was just going to ask you about that. Gabba is the polar
JO'B: I was just going to ask you about that. Gabba is the polar
opposite of a lot of the stuff you write about in the book. It's
probably the most prole-centric of all the musical art forms you
mention. It seems even more . . . again, for want of a better phrase .
.. . more down and dirty than even hardcore.
SR:Yeah. It's weird, gabba . . . um, is it popular in Ireland
at all? Or Northern Ireland, given its relationship with Scotland?
JO'B: No, it's all 4/4 techno over here. David Holmes is the big
dance figurehead in this country.
SR:Oh, right. I think the gabba audience does have a mass sense
of proleness - but then you find that there are all sorts of odd people
involved in it, like Technohead. Michael Wells is from an industrial
background originally, and he went to art college and stuff. All kinds
of odd people can actually move within that scene, and a lot of the
people doing it now are actually from an avant garde
background or anarcho, y'know, a lot of anarchists are into it. It's
weird - the anger in gabba seems to attract types from right across the
political spectrum, from right-wing people to really left-wing or
anarchist people. A lot of it is moronic, but I think there's a lot of
ideas in it that are actually quite interesting: the noise of it, and
the textures in it.
JO'B: And the sheer speed of it.
SR:Yeah, that in itself is quite radical.
JO'B: You were saying there are certain melodic ideas in it that
are interesting, but if you were to just cast your eye over it and take
it at face value, you would think it's merely boing-boing-boing stuff
for mad Ajax Amsterdam fans who are out of their boxes on speed. But
from what you're saying, there's obviously a lot more going on inside .
.. . to be fair, I haven't heard an awful lot of it.
SR:Well, there's a sort of outer fringe of people who tend not
to like using the word "gabba" - they say "hardcore". They have all
sorts of new terms for it, like "stormcore" or "splatter-breaks".
JO'B: It must be difficult, living in America, trying to keep up
with all this stuff that seems to change on literally a weekly basis.
SR:Well, I actually find it easier to keep up with it in New
York than when I was in London. Because the scene here isn't so big,
any given specialist store tends to have a little of everything. You go
to one store and they'll have a little bin of hardcore, a little bin -
well, a big bin of trance, and Big Beat. You would just have the full
spectrum of stuff, often. In London, you can't find any gabba, I don't
think. You have to actually mail-order it from these fanatics.
JO'B: In Holland?
SR:Well, there's some guy who operates a distribution company
out of his bedroom in South London. It's like a really tiny, incestuous
scene in London. But in New York there seems to be a representative of
every scene or sub-scene. Very small, but they bring the records over
just to service these people.
JO'B: This seems to be one of your pet subjects - rescuing
obscure 12-inches from anonymity. In another interview you said you
were trying to "save these records from the dustbin of history", such
as unknown Omni Trio 12-inches that no-one will ever hear again.
SR: (laughs)Well, a phenomenal amount of music
was made: I don't know when it really went into hyperdrive, I guess it
was around 1991. But it seemed like one in five people who went to a
rave made a record, or something like that. You could probably work it
out, but it does seem like nearly everybody had a go.
Initially, when I listened to stuff, it was on pirate radio, and I
didn't know who the creators were, because the DJs never said. But then
later you find out who made it, and often it's by these people who go
on to do great things. A lot of early things I liked, and didn't know
who they were by, turned out to be by Goldie, 4 Hero, or Rob Playford,
2 Bad Mice, or Sonz Of A Loop Da Loop Era. But a lot of stuff was just
inspired one-offs by people who hit upon a good idea, or sometimes they
were sampling someone else's good idea, but they fucked it up in an
interesting way and created something different.
JO'B: To you, this music is obviously good enough to stand up
alongside the likes of The Young Gods and My Bloody Valentine.
SR:Well, I don't know how damaged my perspective is, through
having been a raver and getting almost neurologically addicted to these
kinds of sounds. I've become a bit of an obsessive about it. If I was
being objective, maybe I wouldn't honestly rate some of this stuff in
the top 300 records of all time. But then again, there are so many odd
little weird records.
There's this record, 'Bad Girl' by Bad Girl, on Ibiza, which was one of
the first jungle labels - and it's just a really strange and marvellous
record. It's like hardcore meets early jungle . . . just a strange,
wonderful track. There are so many examples of tracks like that which
people will never have heard of again. Maybe they (Bad
Girl) resurfaced as somebody else later on. That's why I had
such a huge discography, to commemorate some of this stuff.
JO'B: Did you feel that unless you recorded it for posterity, it
would all be lost forever?
SR:I think so, yeah, because within the dance scene there's a
lot of auteur theory - I didn't totally escape it
myself - where people are always following the careers of these great
artists, and a lot of that wayside stuff is forgotten about. Stuff that
was actually kind of grist to the DJ's mill at any given time is
JO'B: It's outlived its usefulness?
SR:Exactly - so, in a weird sort of way, I went against some of
the spirit of the book, by trying to record this stuff and trying to
put it into history.
JO'B: Earlier on, you were referring to neurological addiction
and that kind of thing. With regard to the sort of material you got off
on when you were out raving, surely you'd be the first to admit that a
good deal of that music would sound rather poor in the cold light of
SR:Well, it does sound good in the cold light of day to me, but
I don't know if that's because I'm kinda sens-E-tized to
those sounds, y'know? I mean, when I was in America I would listen to
these tapes constantly. I was leading a very sober, boring,
stay-at-home life, because I was working on The Sex
Revolts, but I was still listening to it, and it was kinda
reactivating memories - and I almost think that the memories are
somehow encoded in your nervous system.
It's impossible for me to say if they sound good. People have listened
to that CD on the book and said, "Oh, that's really good" - and these
are people who've never had any E experiences or proper rave
experiences. So I think some of it stands up. Some of
it just is pure drug noise, I think, but . . .
JO'B: Do you still go out raving these days?
SR:Now and then, now and then I go out. New York isn't that
good a town for it, really, but I was in Berlin recently and had a very
good time, as I did the last time I was in London. And I went to this
dance convention in Miami and had a wild time there as well. So I do
still have my Dionysian moments now and again
(laughs). But it's not like a lifestyle for me. I'm
like twice the age of a lot of the people involved in the American
scene - I'm 35, which is a source of grief to me
(laughs)- so yeah, you do sometimes feel a little bit
odd when you're surrounded by . . .
In England it's better, because more people are still carrying on, so I
see people my age or people much older than me. Maybe they're the same
age or younger than me, but they look older because they've really been
caning it, but they just won't stop.
But in New York it's a much younger scene. It's very fashion-oriented,
and you do kind of stand out if you're 35 and not dressed in enormous
trousers. One time I went out and people kept asking me and my friend
if we could get them ketamine and all these drugs, and we realised with
horror that they actually thought we were the dealers, and that that
was the only reason we were there (laughs).
JO'B: Your first couple of books were about rock, but you've been
writing about dance music for a good while now. Do you think there's
any mileage left in rock? Is there anything currently out there that
would inspire you to write another Blissed Out?
SR:Um, probably not. I hate it when people say rock is dead,
because they're always just talking about their own self, and it's
usually a sign of their own energies fading. I could say that rock is
dead for me, or at least in a coma, or hibernating. I hear the odd
thing now and then, like I was quite taken with Radiohead after I
stayed with a friend in London and she played the album 25 times while
I was there. Eventually I conceded it was actually really good!
There are certain things a rock band can do that a dance band
can't do, like when it's a good rhythm section and the band is really
raunching or whatever . . . y'know, that's something that techno can't
quite deliver, that kind of spark. And I hear the odd thing that I do
like, the odd sort of pop/rock hit in America on MTV . . . I think
that's kinda cool. But it's pretty few and far between.
And in terms of it being a culture, or a cultural formation . . . for
me, as well as the music, there's always gotta be this buzz of it going
somewhere, or a narrative of resistance, or some kind of sense of it
culturally mattering. I just can't see how anyone could make a cogent
or convincing argument for that for rock right now. It just seems so
defeated by its own history.
JO'B: Too much to live up to, you mean?
SR:Yeah! And also defeated by its own awareness of its history,
and referencing points. You get all these bands who are valiantly
trying, like The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. I can't take them
seriously myself, but I can see that they're trying to bring back this
lost fire that early rock 'n' roll and blues had. But it's happened too
many times for it to affect me. Still, you never know. I thought rock
was pretty played out, around the time that Nirvana came along. I was
briefly rather excited by that, so . . .
JO'B: But you live in America, and although I've never been there
myself, based on what I see on MTV and in the magazines, it does seem
as if American rock has been dreadfully dull for God knows how long.
SR:Well, the big things here, in a weird sort of way, are like
people wanting to dance again, but they don't want to dance to dance
music. So it's like, they get into ska. And the swing
revival is huge here. Under the term "swing", it could mean bands
ripping off 1920s hot jazz. You know Brian Setzer? Remember him, from
The Stray Cats? He's got a no. 14 album in the American charts at the
JO'B: Yeah! I saw that on one of the MTV chart shows the other
day! All of a sudden, Brian Setzer pops up, and I was like, "Christ!
Who the fuck let him back in?"
SR:It is pretty unbelievable, when you think about it.
JO'B: From reading the articles on your website, it's obvious
you've got a thing for swingbeat at the moment.
SR:There hasn't been so much good stuff this year, but there
have been a few really good tunes. I really like that stuff! I can't
remember who said this, but someone made this point that people go on
about electronica, but actually some of the most amazing electronic
music on the planet is hip-hop and swingbeat - or R&B, as they call it
here. It's very, very technological: the rhythms, especially with
someone like Timbaland, are just really amazing and very complex.
The stuff I like most this year in the British dance scene is the stuff
that's come out of speed garage but which has more of an R&B feel. It's
got more of a breakbeat . . . it's almost as if the jungle influence
has come back a bit. But then it's like slow-motion, and it's very
sexy. It has an R&B influence, an American, Timbaland-like influence.
That's the stuff that has most excited me in recent months.
JO'B: What are your future plans - like, what exactly is your job
description at Spin? It says here on the back of the
book that you're Senior Editor there.
SR:Well, that's just a title. I'm not really sure what it
means, but my specific job is to be the album reviews editor, and I
also edit the occasional feature. But mostly it's the albums section. I
guess I was brought in to bring more dance music in, or more of a feel
for it, anyway. But y'know, Spin is basically still an
alternative-rock paper, and there's only a certain amount of dancey
stuff they'll take on. I usually do one record review a month, or a
column or something. I haven't done any features for them; I might do
some later on, but . . . editing is quite hard work.
JO'B: Before I let you go, tell me about your website. When did
you set that up?
SR:I was just working on the book, and I was kinda taken with
the idea of doing something amateur, for the love of it. There were
various ideas and opinions I had, that couldn't really be sold in the
marketplace as a freelancer - pieces that were too vicious or
self-indulgent, but which a certain number of people would probably be
People particularly seem to like the Over-Rated section - you don't
really get that much unbridled negativity in dance journalism, it's
very supportive and boostering. It's like racing tips: "Here's one to
watch". It's all like that. And you also notice that people very rarely
give less than 7 out of 10 to a record.
It's kinda like a bit of a flashback to this fanzine I used to do with
my friends before Melody Maker: we did this thing
called Monitor. Plus, my wife is really into
cyber-stuff. She's really good at constructing websites. Also, the idea
was for it to be a kind of electronic billboard, like "I've got this
book coming out". I don't think it's that effective, actually, because
I don't get that much traffic. But there are a few people who have
followed my books and stuff, so as a little service to them, I just
wanted to say, "This is what I'm doing now".
Additionally, I'd done a lot of writing for obscure magazines that most
people would probably not pick up, like art magazines and things. I
thought a few people might be interested in seeing the pieces. So I
just put them up there. But I have done stuff that's appeared
nowhere, like my Rave Theory Tool Kit, and all the
Over-Rated and Fave Records pieces.