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The One: Artistic Events That Change Lives.

   Have any of you thought about those events that are known collectively as The One? I used to call them ultimages, that is to say, ultimate images. I refer to books, films, paintings or music that we encounter for the first time and which suddenly transform our lives in some significant manner. I gave this some thought recently because some of these items either no longer interest me or else my relationship to them has changed since their discovery.


Ron Grainer: Doctor Who – discovered circa 1969.


   I assume we are talking 1969 because Patrick Troughton was still playing The Doctor. What makes this piece so effective is not so much the music itself but the superlative arrangement by Delia Derbyshire, hammered together at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop where she worked throughout the 1960s. It could have been 1968 I suppose but I think it unlikely that ones’ memory is reliable before 4 years of age. This music constitutes an ultimage because it is the first piece of music I ever consciously remember hearing. It is also the first piece of music I learnt to play (albeit very badly) on a piano.


Ludwig Van Beethoven: Symphony No.5 – discovered in 1976.


   At ten years old I had no real interest in music except for certain television signature tunes, my favourites being Doctor Who, Panorama (which in those days used the 4th movement of the 1st Symphony by Sergei Rachmaninov) and the BBC World Service science programme Discovery which used part of the Suite No.1 by Igor Stravinsky. This last case is ironic since I absolutely loathe and detest everything else he wrote! I also liked The Sweeney by Harry South, mainly because I associated it with fast cars hurtling through grim, deserted east London streets, litter blowing across the screen and so on. I had already become aware that I was ugly and disabled so when this boy Harding offered to sell me a long playing record for 50p, I bought it not because I wanted it but because I was grateful that anyone was willing to speak to me.

   When I played it at home that evening, I was abruptly flung into heaven. It was not always a pleasant place – parts of it terrified me – but it was also grand, profound and occasionally glorious terrain that I was desperate to explore. Before my 11th birthday I had, via evening and weekend jobs (my parents never gave me pocket money) saved up sufficient funds to acquire the complete symphonies and piano concerti by Beethoven. They don’t all make the grade – to this day I am unable to understand all the fuss made over the Eroica symphony – so much bluster, bellicose noise and shouting – give me the 8th every time, a magnificent and hugely under-rated work.


Anthony Burgess: 1985 – discovered in 1977.


   I knew about all the furore caused by the Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange. I wanted to read the original novel but in the second hand book shop, the only one by Burgess was 1985 so I bought that instead. To say I was impressed is like saying world war two was rather irritating. I bought and read 1984 by George Orwell as a result. I  then threw it in the canal in disgust; what utterly trite, over-rated garbage! But the Burgess book led me back to the book shop (Popular Books, a small chain of second hand stores that were brilliant for children and unemployed people – sadly these shops no longer exist, possibly because hardly anybody reads books these days) where I discovered science fiction (see below).


Edgar Varése: Arcana – discovered in 1979.


   By this time I had acquired a formidable collection of classical records – Sergei Prokofiev, Gabriel Faure, Paul Hindemith and Gustav Holst being my favourites. At my second secondary school (Arnewood in New Milton, Hampshire) was this art teacher called Mr Mastrand. I am forced to admit that all art teachers are either alcoholics, paedophiles or bonkers. Fortunately for me, Mastrand was just bonkers. He was also the most arrogant snob I have ever met. At each art class we were assailed with Stockhausen, Berio and Xenakis at armour piercing volume. This may be why to this day most avant garde classical music appeals to the more homicidal side of my nature. Then one morning he played this 1927 gem by Varése. I knew it wasn’t proper music. I knew I shouldn’t allow myself to like it. However, I asked Mastrand if I could borrow it. He was so shocked that anyone should actually want to listen to one of his horrible racket records he almost crapped himself with gratitude. By the end of the week I was convinced. The album was deleted and it took me years before I eventually managed to track down a copy in a second hand shop (Harold Moore in Great Marleborough Street). Thanks to Arcana I realised that music could relinquish traditional melody, harmony and rhythm yet still be valid and enjoyable.


Patrick Moore: The Sky At Night – discovered some time during the late 1970s.


   I still can’t remember when I first sat and watched The Sky At Night. I don’t think punk rock had happened so it may have been before 1976. For the benefit of overseas readers, The Sky At Night is in the Guinness Book Of Records on two counts. First, it is the longest running television programme with the same presenter (Patrick Moore) and second, it is the longest running television programme with the same signature tune (At The Castle Gate by Jean Sibelius, the greatest composer Finland produced and one of the top ten greatest composers who ever lived). It is a 25 minute programme broadcast very late at night once a month, usually at about 1 o’clock in the morning on a Monday on BBC1 and repeated on BBC2 a week later. It is the one truly educational and informative astronomy programme on British television and its format has never changed since it was first broadcast in April 1957. Admittedly the graphics are somewhat better now. I have seen excerpts from some of the early broadcasts and the sets appeared to be constructed from cardboard and plasticine. Patrick Moore evidently made a significant impact on me because I have never believed in God, flying saucers or ghosts. My rational, humanist, logical beliefs firmly grounded in pure science are attributable to him because, as a result of the programme, I started to borrow astronomy books from the library written by him and people he recommended such as Fred Hoyle and Isaac Asimov. I believe I can even attribute my libertarian beliefs to this programme. I remember being absolutely astounded – almost intimidated – by the gargantuan immensity of both time and distance when one studies the universe. This put nationalism, racial purity and political squabbles very clearly into their true perspectives.


John Wyndham: The Midwich Cuckoos – discovered in 1980.


   Authors dread their books being placed on the school curriculum reading list; they know that children will learn to hate them and thus avoid those authors for ever afterwards. However, when we were set The Chrysalids by our English teacher, Mr Holmes, I think I wanted to like it because Holmes was one of the very few decent teachers at Alton County Secondary School where generally I suffered seven shades of hell and abuse at the hands of most of the other cowardly thugs who taught there. (For a full account of this disgusting school, see the relevant article in the booklet that accompanies our album ‘Rock In Opposition.’) When I told Holmes I enjoyed science fiction but not the silly American bug eyed monster stories, he told me I might find other books by Wyndham of interest. He also gave me the names of Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov. Mr Holmes, if you are still alive (highly probable) and reading this (highly improbable): thank you. I purchased no less than 4 Wyndham books that summer: Day Of The Triffids, Trouble With Lichen, The Kraken Wakes and The Midwich Cuckoos. They were all highly enjoyable but the latter story, written in 1957, was just simply the best book I had ever read by anyone ever. It is an unfortunate fact that most science fiction novels are bereft of much character development since the hardware and science allegedly leaves little room for it. A writer of quality (Clarke, Asimov, Wyndham) will generally prove this does not have to be the case. Without qualification I recommend this book to anyone, including people not interested in science fiction.


Roberto Gerhard: Collages – discovered in 1981.


   Still fascinated by Doctor Who, I discovered that some of the electronic sounds used in it were created by a modern classical composer, Roberto Gerhard. The first record of his I ever encountered was Collages, composed in 1960, for orchestra and tape. It was the first piece to combine electronic sounds with a live orchestra and even though it really was a little too avant garde for me, parts of it fascinated me and to this day it remains one of my favourite pieces of music.


Hans Werner Henze: The Tedious Way To The Place Of Natascha Ungeheuer – discovered in 1982.


   Britain was aflame. Thousands of working class people took to the streets and rioted. Was this an expression of their response to Thatcher? If so, why had they voted for her in 1979? Other people my age who were aware of politics listened to The Jam if they were intelligent or ‘oi’ punk rock if they were not. I was still not interested in pop music. To me it was all so conservative, so closeted and so tediously conventional that I simply could not take it seriously. To this day I can’t remember how I encountered this piece. I do remember I was in HMV on Oxford Street. I looked at the cover and it simply did not look like a classical record. Here was this young black man in army fatiques in front of a brass quintet, each wearing world war two battle helmets. The percussionist Stomu Yamashta was bashing lumps out of an old car. I looked at the reverse and read the line-up: a jazz quintet was included among the performers.

   I was already familiar with Henze via his 2nd Symphony and his superlative cantata The Raft Of The Medusa. I took a risk and bought the record. Before the end of the week I think I had played it over a dozen times and driven my neighbours to distraction…or ear muffs at least. The music is nothing special – typical of the noisome racket composers tended to make in 1971. However, the text, by Chilean poet Gaston Salvatore, was something completely different. First, it inspired me to learn German. Second, it inspired me to study political movements and the history of class struggle in the world but (and this is crucial) not purely from a Marxist perspective. Third, it persuaded me to add intellectual rigour to my own lyrics which I had begun to write a couple of years earlier.


Five Or Six: Folded – then everything else – discovered in 1983.


   I purchased a compilation album called Perspectives To Distortion because it contained a track by The Lemon Kittens whom I had discovered the previous year when they played at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden. They were supported by Twelve Cubic Feet, the group I had actually gone to see because my own little band, The Apostles, had supported them on numerous occasions at concerts we played in and around London that year. Their drummer was the older brother of our guitarist, Pete Bynghall. What? Oh yes, Five Or Six – well, I’d never heard of them but I played the whole album (most of it is utter rubbish) except Folded which I played to death. I reckon I wore the record so thin in that part that it was virtually transparent. Before the end of the year I had just about everything that marvellous group released. Their existence proved that ‘pop music’ could be original, innovative, eclectic and, most importantly, intelligent. Their influence on my own compositions is profound. Now for the absurd part: at the time of writing (March 2005) none of their records have been reissued on CD.


Arthur C Clarke: A Fall Of Moondust – discovered in 1984.


   For years I wanted to read a science fiction book devoid of bug eyed monsters which presented its protagonists with a purely scientific problem and then proceeded to find a solution by strictly plausible scientific means. This excellent novel not only fulfils this function but achieves it with verve, excitement and quiet dignity. If anyone wants to know how to write proper science fiction then they should read this book first. I read it again in 2004 and it was just as brilliant, perhaps more so since I had completed a home study course in physics and astronomy by 1997 and I was able to appreciate properly the impact of the problem and the elegance of its solution. As usual, Clarke populates his story with interesting and convincing characters.


The Wall: Dirges & Anthems (the whole album) – discovered in 1985.


   This strange album is of interest because it is the closest I ever came to liking a punk record. It was released in 1982 and came with a free 7” single. Allegedly they were a punk band but this music contains interesting melodies, memorable harmonies and intelligent lyrics, 3 factors never normally associated with punk rock. I discovered this band via a glue sniffing punk who briefly stayed at our house that summer when Boris Becker won at Wimbledon. I still don’t really know why I like this band so much; I collected their entire recorded repertoire and I still enjoy it to this day. However, typically, this album and the singles from this time have yet to be reissued on CD.


Fred Hoyle: Frontiers Of Astronomy – discovered in 1988.


   During the latter days of The Apostles a few people began to write letters to me. I was always the least approachable member of the band (apparently) so I tended to receive less mail than the others. However, many people who purchased our records became acquainted with my fascination for and knowledge of physics and astronomy. This provoked some interesting correspondence and on one occasion I mentioned on a record cover that I had been trying to locate a copy of this book, written in 1955 and long since out of print. It is a classic and it turned Fred Hoyle into a household name provided those houses were inhabited by intelligent people. Well, this sporting chap from Brighton sent me a copy he had found in a second hand shop. I sent him a free copy of the next Apostles record which, in retrospect, I consider hardly fair. I definitely had the more profitable part of the exchange there. The book was even better than I expected. I had never been satisfied with the assertion propagated by so many scientists that the ‘big bang’ model of the creation of the universe was an accurate description of events. The ‘steady state’ model depicted in this book, while imperfect, is so much more logical and convincing that even now I find it difficult to take any other model seriously. I am in a minority, true, but that does not mean I am wrong.


Ice T: Lethal Weapon and Freedom Of Speech – discovered in 1989.


   The Apostles were booked to play a couple of concerts in Scotland. So there I was, sat in this comfortable house in Leith, Edinburgh, when Jess Hopkins played me an album called Freedom Of Speech by someone called Ice T. That is how I discovered rap and hip hop. Thank you, Jess. Now, bare in mind I didn’t listen to pop music radio stations and I didn’t own a television. I was aware that there was this new black music genre called rap or hip hop but I paid scant attention since my only other encounters with black music were soul (which I found rather boring) and reggae (which I hated). I was so shocked and impressed that when I tried to put on my hat I was scarcely able to find my head. I wanted to discover more…so (see below).


NWA: Straight Outa Compton (the whole album) – discovered in 1990.


   The next year I returned to Edinburgh. The Apostles had disbanded and I went purely to escape from London for a week. I visited Jess again and he played me some truly horrible pop rubbish by some American bands but he also treated me to this rap outfit called Niggers With Attitude. I thought it was impossible to be more powerful and direct than Ice T. I was wrong. The whole album was a revelation. When I attended the punks picnic on Cramond Island, I was perplexed and frankly irritated that anyone could still find punk rock at all relevant. Most people there no longer wanted to know me because, with the demise of The Apostles, I was no longer a minor pop star and so not worth their attention. I suppose it was the raw, white hot aggression in NWA to which I could relate.


The Prodigy: Crazy Man – discovered in 1993.


   I had begun to spend Monday evenings at the Hippodrome in the west end of London with my Vietnamese pals. Monday was Chinese night and it was there that Tony (Chau Hoang) introduced me to techno, rave and dance music. The first piece I heard that I recall clearly was this ‘b’ side by what became one of my favourite groups. From this auspicious start evolved my entrance into the whole rave culture scene and I quickly became addicted.


Sidney Lumet: The Offence – discovered in 1993.


   Sean Stokes moved into our house for a few months in 1993 and brought with him his television. I hadn’t even seen a television since 1983 so the novelty was amazing. The technology had advanced so much that for a couple of weeks I could watch almost any old crap just to marvel at the new slick, smooth presentation provided by linear editing combined with digital graphics. However, it was a film made in 1972 that made me realise what I had missed during the decade I deliberately avoided the one eyed god. This film shows Sean Connery and Ian Bannen at their very best. I have never seen better acting, anywhere, ever. Even the sound track, by British classical noise merchant Harrison Birtwistle, is entirely appropriate: clarinet and electronics create a subtle, disturbing background at specific tense moments during the events which are told in a non-linear fashion, very much in the manner of Reservoir Dogs by Quentin Tarantino. I had never heard of this film before. The story of the rape of a small girl in a suburban new town like Milton Keynes is given an unsettling twist when it transpires that there is literally not one sympathetic character in the entire film. Bannen plays the prime suspect but even at the end of the film we realise he may have been innocent. Connery plays the neurotic police inspector who is incessantly haunted by images of all the past atrocities he has witnessed in the line of duty. Trevor Howard plays the hard, bitter, cynical detective inspector called upon to head the investigation into the death of the prime suspect after he is accidentally killed by the police inspector during the interrogation. The interrogation itself is surely one of the most intense scenes in the entire history of cinema anywhere in the world. I purchased this film as soon as it was released on video in 1999 and although I’ve watched it at least 6 times so far, I have yet to grow bored with even a second of it. I most emphatically recommend this strong, intensely disturbing film to anyone who enjoys intelligent cinema at its best.


The Chemical Brothers: Leave Home – discovered in 1994.


   Tony also introduced me to the works of the Dust duo soon afterwards at a nightclub rave he organised himself with his pals. This number was frequently requested by the punters and I could understand why. When I hear this now, I automatically think of crowds of travellers and protesters lined up in woodland across the country as we tried to prevent the destruction of our forests by property developers. I think of all the derelict buildings we squatted where we held our own raves and created a revolution we could dance to. I think of the excitement, the ‘buzz’, as we all celebrated a culture we had invented. ‘The brother’s gonna work it out’ indeed!


Ng Wu Sum: Bullet In The Head – discovered in 1996.

Yuen Woo Ping: Tiger Cage – discovered in 1996.

T F Mous: Men Behind The Sun – discovered in 1996.


   As I’ve had Chinese friends since I was at school, it is odd that only in 1996 did I properly discover Chinese films and that was initially due to Dave Fanning more than most of my Chinese and Vietnamese friends. Theban Dang introduced me to many obscure Hong Kong films that were not (and in some cases are still not) available in the west. The three films listed are all of equal importance in the effect Chinese cinema had upon me. Previously I had only ever seen parts of Chinese films, bereft of English subtitles, at friends houses, watched by their parents. My pals tended to be more interested in the latest action films from America which was frustrating for me but totally understandable. They had grown up with Chinese films and were bored with them, even those they liked. Oddly, it is the Chinese and Vietnamese people born in Britain who often exhibit a greater interest in Chinese films because often they have not been so rigorously exposed to them during their childhood. Anyway, these 3 films cast me into the world of Chinese cinema. Little did I realise then that only 8 years later, in 2004, I would finish the first textbook ever written outside China that gives a detailed history of Chinese films from 1905 to 1997. To date I have nearly 400 Chinese, Taiwanese and Hong Kong films in my collection. That’s how much these 3 films inspired me.


Joanne Rowling: Harry Potter & The Philosophers Stone – discovered in 2000.


   My previous experience of popular cultural icons had already taught me to avoid any mainstream items, be they on film, on record or in print. I bought this book for the younger brother of one of the members of Unit (I prefer not to identify him because I wish to prevent any embarrassment it may otherwise cause him or his family) who was having serious problems learning to read and write at school. The Potter phenomenon was at its height and this Chinese family were as middle of the road as anyone. However, being curious, I decided to read the book first. The rest, as they say, is history. That book had the same effect on me as it had evidently upon millions of other children around the world. That week I purchased The Chamber Of Secrets, The Prisoner Of Azkaban and The Goblet Of Fire. By the end of the year, my office at work was plastered in Harry Potter posters.


King Crimson: The Construction Of Light (the whole album) – discovered in 2001.


   It was Dave who made me realise that progressive rock was not simply an interesting but historical curiosity. But whereas it is true he introduced me to the delights of KC, I was not totally impressed with their work, except for two pieces, I Talk To The Wind (1969) and Fracture (1974). I was curious when I discovered that there were 3 later incarnations of the band: 1981-1984, 1995-1997 and a contemporary one that is currently active. Now I am familiar with what happens when a band splits up and then reforms a decade later: all the originality, vitality and innovation vanishes; it is replaced by the sound of some tired old men playing middle of the road rock. The evidence is there if you wish to become depressed and cynical about pop music: Deep Purple, The Groundhogs, Wire, The Buzzcocks and even Alternative TV although they at least were never as woefully embarrassing as the efforts of the others. Colosseum almost manage to sound decent but they still sound like a bunch of dads. Crimson break this tragic mould entirely, primarily because they never attempt to recreate the music for which they became associated in their former incarnations. Thus each new version of the group is a new progression with young ideas. The discs released by the 1990s version of the group actually sound like the raucous transmissions of some slightly unhinged bunch of American teenagers from Seattle. Suitably intrigued, I bought their 2001 album second hand from Reckless Records in Islington for £4.99. I could not believe what I was hearing: here was music that was young, vibrant, full of energy and it bristled with bold, brave ideas yet two of the group members were almost old enough to be my grandfather! When I am their age, I want to be able to release music like that.


Simon Hughes: A Lot Of Hard Yakka – discovered in 2002.


   I have no idea why I began to love cricket but I clearly remember switching on the television one afternoon in 1969 or 1970 (I don’t think I had started school yet) and being fascinated by all these men in white track suits and black caps, most of whom just stood there and did nothing to help this frantic fellow who every half an hour dashed up to a trio of sticks and hurled a ball to knock over a further trio of sticks at the other end. Sadly, this idiot with a block of wood in his hands kept knocking the ball away. Maybe that is part of the reason I became a bowler and fielder rather than a batsman. Anyway, when I was in The Apostles, Bynghall reminded me of the delights of cricket. I started to listen to Test Match Special on Radio 3 (medium wave). Viv Richards had started to reduce bowlers to tears around the world and Ian Botham was in his prime. It was a marvellous time to become interested in cricket again. Fast forward to one rainy afternoon in Islington. Reckless Records was closed so I stepped into this charity shop a few doors down the road on Upper Street. There was nothing to interest me but, because I had no wish to have gone all the way there for nothing, I spent £1 on this book in the belief that I might read it one day. I had never bought sports books because, to me, sport is something you do, not something you read about. Well, I soon realised why Hughes is such a popular sports writer. That he was a first rate bowler for his counties (he played for first Middlesex then Durham) also helped. I was hooked. I wanted to read another book like that. What is important is that it persuaded me to take up cricket again, despite my disability. I have since bowled our youth club team to victory on 3 occasions (and, let’s be honest, batted them to defeat on 2 other occasions). In 5 matches I have made 15 catches and taken 47 wickets but only scored 23 runs, 17 of those in one uncharacteristic innings. My batting skill is such that I have been out first ball no less than 4 times.


The Charlatans: Weirdo and The Wish – discovered in 2004.


   In November 2003, Garlen Lo joined UNIT, thanks to U-J. He finished his university degree course at the Surrey Institute Of Art & Design in April and an exhibition of successful students work was staged in Bethnal Green in May. I had arranged to meet Garlen there to watch his 20 minute film and discuss his plans for the group for the next 6 months. It was soon evident we had very little in common in terms of our musical tastes. He did not share my enthusiasm for progressive rock, gangsta rap, drum & bass, techno and rave. I could not comprehend his delight in The Libertines, Oasis and Brit Pop. During the 1990s when my mates and I went clubbing, Brit Pop was to us just some silly retro sixties fad that we all dismissed with thinly disguised contempt. However, I had to wait for an hour or so in this pub next door while Garlen helped his tutors and fellow students set all this technical gear up and obviously I was unable to assist in such an activity so I stayed out of their way. This pub was run by and for middle class trendy art school types. I have no complaints – it was the sort of pub you could take your children to, if children were allowed into pubs, which they are not, because this Britain and Britain lives in fear of anything and everything even remotely associated with freedom.

   Anyway, on comes this music: a break beat with Hammond organ and swirling vocals. This is followed by another similar number only this time it’s an instrumental. Both pieces sound a little like Bob Dylans’ backing band but with far more interesting music and the bass guitarist and drummer sound as if they’d rather be recording backing tracks for NWA. I asked the barman what sort of music this was. ‘It’s The Charlatans, one of the first Brit Pop bands from Manchester.’ Well, due to my association with Garlen, he introduced me to Blur and Radiohead. Finally, he actually managed to convince me that even Oasis had written a few decent songs before they became boring old men in 1997. As I gradually listened to all those CDs he lent me, I realised what I’d missed during that decade of raves and clubbing. Never mind, the records remain. Oddly, The Charlatans are not one of the bands Garlen rates as highly as the others but, because of that Saturday afternoon in the pub next to the Truman Gallery, I now associate The Charlatans with Garlen and the bold new direction he gave to UNIT.


Andy Martin 6th March 2005.

































☺ Now The Dance Is Dead ☺


   In November 2004, The Prodigy (the first major pop act to come from Essex) released their first album since 1997. It reached No.17 in the national charts. In February 2005, The Chemical Brothers (originally from London but who met at Manchester university and adopted that mecca of popular culture as their centre of operations for the next decade) released their first album since 2002. It is currently at No.15 in the national charts. Both these groups were regarded as the epitome of all that was excellent in what was loosely termed ‘dance music’ in the 1990s. However, much of the material on these two contemporary releases is hardly what would have been recognised as dance music in 1995 even though on an aesthetic level, the music is among some of the best these outfits have ever released.


   A colour supplement issued with The Guardian newspaper in 2004 proudly announced the death of dance music in a three page review. So are The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers simply living out the fag-end of the dance craze in a tedious repetition of those punk bands like Discharge and The Exploited who tried to keep the rotten corpse of punk alive after 1977? Were they repeating similar instances of an even earlier age when beat groups in 1967 reverted to playing cabaret venues if they were unable or unwilling to mutate into psychedelia like all their more commercially successful peers? One thinks of the group UK who, in 1979, tried to prove that progressive rock was still alive and well. On the contrary, they proved nothing of the kind. Their two albums, while technically most accomplished, were rather boring and sunk without trace at the time although they sold reasonably well when they were reissued on CD in the 1990s, no doubt purchased by middle aged middle class types alienated by the dance craze that swept the nation at the time.


   The analogy should not be taken too far.


1)     Punk rock lasted just 3 years, from 1976 to 1979.

2)     It was a movement in complete isolation with no other musical fashion of any worth to compete with it.

3)     It was a direct reaction against the alleged irrelevance of the previously prevailing musical scene to life in Britain in 1976. 

4)     (This is most crucial) it was musically an extremely conservative genre afflicted with severe limitations. Technical ability was not only regarded as unimportant, it was even dismissed as bourgeois! In a misplaced desire to be direct and honest, the music was simple to the point of being primitive. Basically, the music had nowhere to go after every possible permutation had been played, rehashed and regurgitated in garages and clubs across the land.

5)     The political posture of most of these groups was precisely that: a pose designed to boost street credibility.


   Perhaps the most odious example of this last salient point is a group called The Clash whose meticulously manicured record covers contrived to present the band to their public as a bunch of political revolutionaries, of aural guerrillas intent upon the downfall of western capitalism. In fact The Clash had nothing much to say and were bereft of any means by which to say even that after the first two albums. They made records for CBS, an American multinational corporation involved in the arms trade. The nadir was attained in 1980 when they released an album called Sandinista. The cover showed the four band members lounging on a flat bed rail truck in some rural setting intended to imply Nicaragua. Each of them was attired in military combat drag, an allusion to the Sandinista rebels. This cynical use for personal glorification of an image by a mere pop group of a nation of people engaged in a struggle against a military dictatorship is deeply offensive.


   Here is where the analogy fails to retain an ability to be completely convincing.


1)     The dance craze lasted from 1990 to 1997, over twice as long as punk rock.

2)     It had to compete with Brit Pop (Blur, Oasis, Pulp and Radiohead being the most obvious examples) and the burgeoning, relentless march of gangsta rap (NWA, 2 Pac, Puff Daddy, Ice Cube, Three Six Mafia, Snoop Dogg Snoopy, Master P, Ghostface, So Solid Crew and a whole host of others). Brit Pop and Gangsta Rap were hugely successful, both commercially and aesthetically. Gangsta Rap in particular succeeded where punk rock failed, that is, it spoke for a marginalized section of society with wit, anger and eloquence. Even now, in 2005, there are gangsta rap outfits in operation which, though they now sound a little dated, are still highly enjoyable and definitely relevant to the social milieu they represent. Compare that to the lamentable attempt of punk rock in the 1980s whose groups trudged ever further down a vacuous little cul-de-sac populated by sad social misfits unable to face reality or the passing of time.

3)     The third point is also salient. The dance craze was never a reaction against anything. On the contrary it evolved from a curious amalgam of American hip hop, European industrial noise groups and a mutation of disco. When teenagers first flocked to the Spanish island of Ibiza in 1991, their sound track must have sounded like tunes written by aliens to the local population. A brief digression is in order here. Consider the two drugs favoured by punks in the late 1970s: amphetamines and alcohol. Both are killers. Both render the participant incapable of coherent speech or activity. By contrast, the favoured drugs for the baggies were ecstasy and marijuana. Both are virtually harmless taken in moderation. Both render the participant able to converse (on a somewhat eccentric level, to be sure) and, in the former case, leap about in alloyed joy. The euphoria may well have been false but I preferred to be among my pals who were laughing, joking and having a good time on E than with a bunch of sad, miserable brutes incapacitated on alcohol, choking on their own vomit and starting fights they could never finish.

4)     When we encounter the fourth issue, here we are obliged to confront a problem. Critics of dance music complain that it is little more than a repetitive succession of computerised electronic sound effects set to a moronic 4/4 beat. I have to accede to there being a degree of truth in this but only in the sense that there will always be third rate copyists who try to emulate the more artistically successful efforts of their peers from the first division. For example, Travis and Coldplay were initially poor, meagre and much less accomplished relatives of their heroes Radiohead. That they later managed to produce more interesting music coincided with a corresponding decrease in the musical influence of Radiohead on their own works. In any case, The Orb, Paul Oakenfold, Leftfield and their peers at the Ministry Of Sound were never going to produce progressive rock or freeform jazz for one simple reason: their music was designed primarily for nightclubs and raves. It was functional music, a sound track for a scene raised on computers and the internet. The use of collage had never before been so effectively utilised. Through the use of digital manipulation, samples of music from any and every source (even classical, country and western and swing bands from the 1940s) were infused into this joyful electronic melée.

5)     As for politics, our rave culture was political in action. We preferred to club together and do something rather than inflict polemical diatribes upon our audience with every record we released. Any fool can sing about the injustice of the world from the clinical safety of a recording studio or on a concert hall stage. Well, when crowds of teenagers (and older people) flocked to our dwindling forests and woods during the 1990s to prevent motorways and tower blocks being built in their place, these were the same people you would see next month at squatted warehouses, dancing to the latest remixes from the Ministry Of Sound. They were not punks.


   Note: most American punks who read this will either find my comments above faintly offensive or simply confusing. To them, I apologise right now. I am well aware that there is and has been for over a decade a strong political consciousness among the American punk movement as is revealed by their support of AK Press to give just one example. Besides, there is no equivalent of Rave Culture in America. Point 5 above applies to Britain only. To emphasise the issue, during the first years of the new century, we encountered many punks in London who started to squat empty and derelict council buildings. This was new – punks had ceased to bother with this form of direct action since the early 1980s. What had caused the sudden change of attitude? We found out soon enough when we asked them: they replied in strong French and German accents. So that is the way it is: to locate punks who are politically active, we have to import them from Europe. (Also, I admit in this instance I was personally biased in their favour because it turned out two of the German punks owned copies of Fire & Ice, our 3rd album!)


   During the 1990s (which must rate as the most inventive decade in the history of popular culture) hip hop itself mutated into garage, jungle and drum and bass as black teenagers in America and Britain became more financially secure and learnt to use computers as instruments of artistic expression rather than mere functional tools. Over in Europe, teenagers interested in the avant garde realised that those same computer programmes (Q Base being the most celebrated) enabled them to create in their bedrooms what people their parents’ age had to labour over in a recording studio for £100 a day. In the best techno and dance music the phrase ‘anything goes’ comes to mind. Even if the beat was unfortunately tied to 4/4 with an unnecessary rigour, what went over the top of it was often extremely inventive and interesting. The combination of mutated found sounds, stolen music from previous eras and computer generated original sounds resulted in music that kept us fascinated and enthralled for nearly a decade. At times it may have been self indulgent but then so is much progressive rock, jazz and modern classical music. The acid test (excuse the pun) is this: do people like it? In market terms, does it sell? The answer to both questions is ‘yes’ although the latter question is utterly unimportant of course, unless you are some sort of business executive or financial consultant in which case you are a sick bastard who doesn’t deserve to live anyway.


   I go further in my assault on the paucity of punk rock to achieve anything. In the 1990s we squatted abandoned factories and warehouses. We held our own raves, complete with sound systems and DJ’s from our own social circle. We had no need of heroes or experts. We did properly what the punks tried to achieve a decade earlier. Why did the punks fail? Well, to be fair, it is not accurate to dismiss all their efforts as failure. The Zigzag club was opened up and squatted by members Crass, The Mob and my own group The Apostles, although it was Crass who organised the event and who must receive most of the credit for its success. It is believed they squatted the Centro Iberico in Westbourne Park but in fact this old school had already been squatted by a bunch of elderly Spanish anarchists – all the difficult work had been completed before the punks were invited in. I know this to be so for I was one of the young teenagers involved in this dubious enterprise. But at these and many other events, there was almost always trouble, usually in the form of invasions by skinheads.


   Anyone born after 1980 will not know what a skinhead is so permit me a brief digression. The original skinheads were a coagulation of all the brainless dross from the late 1960s who used to be mods but while their peers grew their hair and became hippies, this bunch preferred to opt for big boots, braces and beer, liberally watered by heavy doses of fascism. In the early 1980s, there was a mercifully brief skinhead revival as social misfits too inadequate and unintelligent even for the punk circuit, went to Carnaby Street and decked themselves out in Levi 501’s, Ben Sherman shirts and Dr Marten boots. The British National Party rubbed their hands with glee as a new gang of brainless cannon fodder was provided for their rallies. The radicalisation of the Asians in British society combined with a new pride (fuelled by hip hop lyrics and proto-gangsta rap outfits) exhibited by young West Indians (or black British as some of them like to be called), informed a popular rebellion that rendered the mere existence of these fascist thugs untenable. By the end of the 1980s it was simply not realistic to be a skinhead if you wanted to celebrate your next birthday. I have no problem with this.


   So, the punks were usually unable to police their events when gangs of skinheads invaded. The woeful diatribe of pacifism prevailed among the punk scene and this allowed cowards an escape clause: ‘it is wrong to commit acts of violence so I will not fight back or defend my colleagues when some mindless thug assaults him with a crowbar.’ In all the raves I attended, I cannot recall any major incidents of violence. There was the occasional minor fracas but what do you expect when 200 teenagers are crammed into a squatted warehouse in Essex? What surprises me is how little violence and trouble occurred in the circumstances. Curiously, a major reason for this is due to the choice of drugs. Ecstasy requires an increased intake of water but it absolutely does not mix with alcohol. When you have dropped an E or two, even the thought of alcohol is anathema. It is unnecessary and irrelevant. Ecstasy encourages friendliness and gentle euphoria. Alcohol is a depressant that also encourages aggression. In the chill out rooms of our raves you would occasionally (but not always) smell the caustic aroma of marijuana fumes. I hate the stuff but one fact remains: you never see a group of people loiter outside a club spoiling for a fight after they’ve had a few spliffs: even if they wanted to cause trouble, they simply couldn’t be bothered.


   There was a further advantage both The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy exhibited over any of their punk forefathers: a refusal to countenance the childishly immature hostility to purveyors of other, older music genres. For example, the album Surrender by The Chemical Brothers features guest appearances by Noel Gallagher of Oasis (on Let Forever Be) and Bernard Sumner of 1980s group New Order (on Out Of Control). That would be like The Clash featuring, say, Phil Collins as a guest vocalist on one of their numbers – which would have been interesting. Had they done so then at least one number by The Clash would have been sung properly. The attitude of the punks toward other genres and cultures was that of a group of children who prohibit anyone different from joining their gang. There were even punk records released in the 1980s with lyrics that brazenly insulted rap and hip hop even though such an assault was utterly unprovoked; I have never encountered a rap record that gives punk rock a verbal kicking. (If there is one, then I want a copy!) Anyway, this was another reason why the punk scene stultified and died a death so quickly.


   Perhaps an additional contributing factor was the social scene at the time. The 1980s, after all, is the only decade in the history of popular culture when there was actually no pop music of any worth, value or relevance to what was happening. The whole decade can accurately be dismissed with this pithy summation: crap politics, crap fashions and crap music. In fact this only applies to Britain. In America only the first half of the decade was similarly afflicted for in 1985 the nations’ youth culture was saved by the birth of hip hop, house and rap. However, white teenagers who were not interested in this music had little else to celebrate.


   As one of my numerous digressions, notice that the two major British youth cultural phenomena of the 1990s, Brit Pop and Rave Culture, were of little interest to most of America. In fact, the majority of American teenagers expressed virtually no knowledge of, or particular interest in, groups like Oasis or The Chemical Brothers. Instead they had the Seattle scene with groups like Nirvana and R.E.M. to keep them amused. Such was the quality of these groups that it is quite possible American youths felt no need for the import of oddities from the UK. I use the word ‘oddities’ deliberately for both Brit Pop and Rave Culture were essentially British phenomena even though many of the techno and rave outfits included samples from American house, garage, R&B and rap in their repertoire. In fact it was in mainland Europe that the rave scene became really popular and where techno records achieved high sales figures.


   So by 1999 the rave scene had dissipated and become characterised by small, isolated underground groups of people who continued to party but the original vitality (and commercial viability) had evaporated. It is therefore hardly a coincidence that The Prodigy released the superb album The Fat Of The Land in 1997 and then remained largely silent until their next record, the single Baby’s Got A Temper in 2002. Their next album, Always Out-gunned, Never Out-manoeuvred, only appeared two years later in 2004. These records reveal an increase in rock music samples and a decrease in the techno music style that characterised their 1990s recordings. The same is true for The Chemical Brothers. Their 1999 album Surrender is far more gentle and introverted than their previous records. Their next album, Come With Us, witnessed a return to form perhaps but it still sounds a little reticent compared to the all out assault that informs Dig Your Own Hole, their second album which was released in 1997. It is interesting that the best albums by these two outfits were released in 1997, the same year that three of the most famous and respected Brit Pop bands The Charlatans, Blur and Oasis suffered a marked and evident decrease in originality, vitality and urgency in their own records. It appeared that dance and techno had come of age while Brit Pop had begun to lose its direction. However, as we have seen, this was soon to spiral into second rate repetition or obscurity within a couple of years.


   When I purchased Push The Button by The Chemical Brothers in March 2005, I admit I expected to be largely disappointed. That this album is actually as vibrant and interesting as their mighty 1997 opus is a tribute to their skill and imagination. However, this is not really a dance album. Like The Prodigy, they have moved on and started to incorporate less techno and more rock / hip hop into the mix, with convincing results. That there is virtually not a single weak track on the album is a testament to this. However, this poses an intriguing question: how relevant are The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy to teenagers in 2005. How many teenagers know who these groups are? I purchased Push The Button on Saturday morning on my way to work (in a Chinese youth club). As a result, I had the CD with me when I entered the Chinese Centre. Now, Chinese teenagers display musical tastes that are often rather curious and frequently old fashioned or else they adopt the same tastes as their black, West Indian peers.


   The Chemical Brothers are regarded, like The Prodigy and Oasis, as a product of the 1990s, being the kind of music to which their older brothers and sisters listened and raved about. Consider the elapsed time between The Fat Of The Land and Baby’s Got A Temper, for example: 5 years. In popular culture that is a long time indeed where much can change. In 1963, The Shadows and The Beatles enjoyed top ten hit singles. By 1969, The Beatles were history, King Crimson, Deep Purple and Jethro Tull were the flavour in favour and it would have been unthinkable to have been seen walking into school with an album by The Shadows. The same can be said for a later period: in 1975 you were ‘cool’ if you had the latest albums by Hawkwind, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Yes and Genesis in your ‘pad’. By 1980, if you still owned any of these records then you kept them hidden somewhere more secure than a Swiss bank to make damn certain your friends never found out.


   There is a difference between previous generations and the current scene, a difference I find especially enervating: it is now quite difficult to be considered ‘uncool’. If you own a progressive rock recording from the early 1970s you are likely to be considered ‘into retro’, that is, you are interested in historical rock music. It is no longer embarrassing to like music from previous generations and genres. You can own a box set of 1940s recordings by Louis Jordan and this is quite acceptable. In fact, the only certain method to ensure you are treated with derision is to proudly boast a love of current chart fodder such as Hearsay but a year from now, of course, no-one who reads this will know who Hearsay were – such is the ephemeral nature of commercial pop fashions.


   The insular nature of the punk scene in Britain is evident by the fact that even today, in 2005, there are actually people who still want to make and listen to punk rock records. Most of these people are sad, middle aged types who lack imagination or originality but, worse still, there are even teenagers who consider punk rock ‘cool’. This is so bizarre that I no longer even find it sad. This is like a sixteen year old in 1971 forming a skiffle group and trying to find an audience for it. The difference here is that if you form a punk band in 2005, you will be able to find an audience for it although it is very small, elitist and oozes with inverted snobbery. Groups who display technical proficiency are treated with considerable suspicion. Groups who play more than one style of music are actually regarded with contempt. Also, if you seek to succeed in the UK punk scene, it is essential that you are white, able bodied and preferably heterosexual.


   If anyone should accuse me of invention, I can state a direct case very close to home: our group, Unit. Over the past two years we have been attacked, ridiculed and insulted but only by purveyors of punk rock. This is for three main reasons. First, because we include purely instrumental works in our repertoire and we use flute, clarinet, saxophone, keyboards and vibraphone as regular instruments in our group. In punk rock, you are only allowed to use shouted vocals, electric guitars and drums. Every number has to be short, fast, in 4/4 time and vocal. Again, in Rave Culture, diversity was celebrated. We wanted to hear unusual instruments and novel vocal techniques. Punk rock is all about obedience to a strict and confining set of rules. When I read what some of these punks say about groups like ours, they sound just like my dad.


   Second, although we hardly ever include brazen, empty displays of virtuosity in our music, it is apparent that 4 of the 5 members of Unit are technically accomplished musicians with formidable degrees of skill. Now, it does not require much skill or ability to play punk rock. This does not invalidate the music. On the contrary, it is important that there are kinds of music in which everyone can participate. Other than a decent knowledge of a good computer programme like Q Base, it was not essential for the purveyors of techno and dance music to be skilful musicians. So I do not seek to ridicule a group simply because they did not attend the Royal Academy of Music. But we were actually attacked because we dared to display our obvious technical ability! One little punk fanzine, Fracture, tried to be crafty and, irritated by our ability, criticised us for being ‘hopeless’ and ‘crap’. The public must have been rather bemused, then, when no less than seven other magazines, two of them punk zines, remarked on our ‘superb musicianship’, our ‘obvious skill’ and ‘evident ability’, even though the two punk zines in question otherwise really didn’t like our style of music despite our musical ability. To quote one of them: ‘bands like this are obviously very capable musicians and their music is clearly very clever but that’s probably why I find it so boring. Give me a good dose of hardcore thrash any day. What’s the matter with not being a virtuoso?’ To answer this question: there is nothing wrong with not being a virtuoso but there is plenty wrong with refusing to exhibit any imagination, originality or intelligence. There is a whole world out there – why be so narrow minded and ineffably conservative?


   It’s time for another of my digressions. I mentioned above that 4 out of the 5 Unit members are highly skilled musicians. In case you wonder, I am the one who is not so adept but then I do have an excuse: I was born with severe dispraxia which means I should not even be able to play a musical instrument at all. There are some (like the writers of Fracture and Idwal Fisher, two notoriously right wing fanzines who want everyone in the world to be just like them) who will insist that I still can’t play music to save my life (and they may have a point there, to be honest) but does that mean spastics are forbidden to participate in pop groups? Are we forever supposed to sit at home and marvel at what everybody else does but never have a go at playing music ourselves? Well, stuff that! I have as much right to release records as anyone else and I won’t have anyone tell me I can’t, least of all a bunch of elitist has-beens who are still stuck in the eighties. Is it too much to hope the UK punk scene will one day wake up and realise the world has moved on since 1977? Probably.


   Third, successful punk bands in the UK are white, able bodied and heterosexual. That is partly why they are able to sell so many CDs: they are acceptable to the majority. When we played concerts in London, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh and even Brighton, we were subjected to racist taunts from audience members who dressed like punks – so I assume they were indeed punks. It is perfectly understandable that such people should find our complex and varied music irritating. It is absolutely not acceptable for these same people to subject us to racially motivated abuse simply because we do not play punk rock. (Why should we? After all, we are not a punk band.) I have lost count of the number of times I have been threatened and insulted for being a queer, for playing ‘faggot rock’. Now I am aware that European and American readers will find all this most disturbing and strange. I should add here that, to date, while there are plenty of American punks who clearly don’t like most of our music, we have yet to encounter even one who has ever actually insulted us and certainly they have never ever resorted to racial or homophobic abuse. What does this say about Americans? What does this say about the British?


   Were there no decent, interesting punk bands, then? I could be churlish and state that the previous question contains a blatant contradiction in terms, like ‘military intelligence’ or ‘caring conservatives’. How can I possibly give a fair answer to that question? I don’t like punk rock; the genre does not interest or inspire me at all. There must surely be many decent and interesting individuals who are involved in the punk scene, some of whom are in punk bands, but their sloganeering, bombastic rhetoric for lyrics, coupled with their noisome, tediously predictable racket for music, means I am unable to tell one punk band from another. There was a band called Total Chaos from Gateshead in Newcastle. They broke barriers and infused their brand of punk rock with elements of folk music and the avant garde. They achieved this in a thoroughly convincing manner even though they were not what you might call technically accomplished musicians. They utilised their limitations with consummate skill so that only another musician might realise they were not top of league for virtuoso ability. They released two 7” records, one 12” record and a track on a compilation album. After that they vanished into obscurity and to date none of their works have ever been reissued on CD.


   America has been served rather better for interesting punk bands. There are the two F words for a start: Flipper and Fugazi. These two bands prove what can be achieved if a group refuses to obey the intense conservatism of the punk rock code. There was also an amazing band called Artless who were easily as musically competent as ourselves and almost as catholic in their tastes. They released an album in the 1990s called Crassdriver that remains one of the most inventive albums by a punk band ever released. This, too, has never been reissued on CD as far as I am aware. (If I am wrong here and it is available on CD then would someone please let me know how and where I can obtain a copy? You can contact me via U-J on our e-mail address.)


   There is (was) a liberating aspect of Rave Culture that was never properly addressed by the punk scene. How many people can afford to spend £200 a day in a small recording studio to record an album? Radiohead spent £100,000 to record their first album, Pablo Honey. Fair enough, they were backed by EMI, their record label. But prior to the Techno and Dance revolution, the only means by which one could release an album of decently produced music (regardless of the quality of that music itself) was to book a recording studio, not for as long as was necessary but for as long as one had sufficient funds. The rave scene liberated us from all that. Once one had paid the initial expense of purchasing a decent computer with the requisite software (which would require around about £1,000), any further expenditure was negligible. One could spend how ever long was necessary to perfect a track and then burn each CD privately if necessary. If the CD proved really popular then it was financially feasible to pay for a batch of discs to be copied professionally.


   I am not old enough to recall this from personal experience but I am informed that these days, the punk scene has changed from the ideology it once represented. Now the most respected punk bands use the most expensive instruments and it is the most professional production jobs that receive the most laudatory reviews in punk fanzines. As I always suspected, punk rock is still for little rich boys to shock their parents and impress their peers with how much they spent on producing their latest single. At least, this is true in the UK. Their lyrics about third world poverty are sung into microphones that cost enough to feed a family from Somalia for a month. I find the political posturing of punk bands so tediously pompous. You know that most of these snotty nosed oiks will buy and sell on the stock market ten years from now or, if they are successful, they will sign up to Polydor or CBS and claim they were never really punks in the first place. Are we having fun yet? Can you now understand why every member of UNIT is proud to say that we are not punks, have never been punks and never want to be punks? I am aware there are people in America, Europe and Japan who like and support UNIT, who also call themselves ‘punks’ or who identify with the punk scene and who may therefore find my remarks unnecessarily hostile. To all these people I say only this: the members of UNIT live in England, Great Britain; my sentiments are the direct result of the treatment we have received from the punk scene here. No overt criticism is directed here to any of our American, European and Japanese colleagues.


   To conclude my defence of the innovation, originality and intelligence of the rave scene as opposed to the elitism, pomposity and extreme conservatism of the punk scene, perhaps I should be fair and admit that the dance is dead. We had a laugh and a giggle during the 1990s, despite the fag-end of Thatcher and the miserable grey fog of Major but the Blair witch hunt regime, which is far worse than anything Thatcher could have invented in even her most volatile fantasies, helped to kill off the last fragments of hope. Fleetwood Mac played at the Jimmy Carter election party; Blair and his cohorts tapped their feet along to records by Oasis at their first party conference after they were elected. The government were never able to co-opt a rave outfit for any of their sordid little functions. I am grateful for that at least. Where do we go now? The Libertines – The Strokes – The White Stripes – is that it? Is that really the future direction our popular culture is to go for the next ten years? Oh, please, let there be more than that.


   Not apparently relevant to this review but a last desperate attempt to end on a note of optimism, we must congratulate Helen Steel and Dave Morris, the two people who, unaided by any organisation, single handedly took on the might of MacDonalds and won! After a 13 year struggle in the European human rights court, they won their appeal against the original British justice decision that initially ruled against them for their campaign of leaflets and propaganda against one of the most vociferous exponents of global capitalism in the world. It is the story of how it is possible for two ordinary people to take on one of the largest multinational fast food chains in the world and win. Name me one punk band that can claim a similar achievement.


Andy Martin (c) 2005.




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