THE YEAR OF RIVER COTTAGE POP – My 2012 In British Pop Music
So at a time when pop’s vital function of providing a genuinely alternative view, of suggesting the orthodoxy might be wrong, is more needed than ever, what are we hearing? Tacit approval of the status quo, terror of pop reaching any level of import beyond the pleasantry of background wallpaper, lifestyle augmentation/affirmation. Hey, I was going batshit about this back in February.
All the time trying to press fantastic plastic like Task Force’s ‘MyLast Trip’ into the unconsciousness of everyone I know. ‘My Last Trip’ breaks Task Force’s long hiatus with perhaps some of the weirdest music they’ve ever made, Farma G stretching out some astonishing doom-drone replete with scarifying Goblin-style vocals, the whole coming across like Sabbath/Amon Duul at their trippy best. Hadn’t heard hip-hop get this fucked up and psychedelic since the golden age of New Kingdom – Chester P matching Farma’s far out freakitude with some mind-bending DMT’d-verbals. Astonishing. ‘Music From The Corner 5′ is out early 2013 and hell I’m getting scared already. OFWGKTA seem awful polite next to these loons.
In 2012 perhaps more than ever before the British music media’s increasing South-Eastern myopia really started to rankle, and started seeming awfully dickheaded when you were hearing the fantastic racket being made by Bristol’s Split Prophets fam this year. Res & DatKid‘s ‘Comparisons’ was a prime example, two of SP’s finest acolytes with a bristling, spitting slab of aggravation marshalled into funky frabjous phat waves by producer Bad Habitz — early in 2013, Split P’s are gonna drop something massive in your ear and put Bristol back on Britain’s musical map once and for all. And what various dicks in NW1 think will simply not matter for shit.
Of course if it was purely musical, the metropolitan elite’s adaptation of the trappings of peasantry to flog the values of stoutness and sturdiness and ‘heart’ to the heartless would be annoying but at least easily ignored. What’s made it so tough in 2012 to be sanguine or resigned is that perhaps for the first time in my life, pop is purely and absolutely regurgitating the clichés and lies of government, happily promulgating the notion of music as neutered & essentially harmless soundtrack to the big society. And so government and press can keep up the talk of ‘fairness’, can keep victimising the poor and disabled, can keep the immigration-rhetoric at a constant pitch of ‘toughness’ all utterly unchallenged by anyone in music. When I was 17 I had Public Enemy to ask the questions, answer some, take your anger and show what it could be turned into. Right now, if I was 17 it’s quite conceivable that I’d have nothing musically doing that for me, and it’d be no surprise if that anger started getting sucked up, my past present and future explained, by someone with a more ferocious sense of ideology, perhaps even religious, a danger that’s ever more likely the longer pop opts out of the battle and merely seeks its precarious foothold in commerce.
If I was lucky, before I started acting in my own movies, stepping on to the odd bus with the odd pipe bomb, someone woulda directed me towards Phoenix Da Icefire’s ‘Cinematic’ a wide-screen steadicam prowl across PDI’s rampaging imagination, the music laced together with hypnotic guile by Croydon boy Strange Neighbour. (Go d/l the debut album The Quantum Leap toot-sweet if you give anything approaching two fucks about the most vital UK music being made right now and be proud).
If I was lucky, someone woulda pushed Joker Starr’s ‘Too Many Not Enough’ on Flukebeat at me with a shove and a snarl. “Not enough producers, too many rappers becoming like actors” – pertinent, incisive verbals from JS and a great sun-kissed minimal production from Appa Tight sealing one of the highlights from Starr’s debut LP Blood Ren, Appa propelling the vocals into a multi-tapped delay firestorm in all the right places.
Or someone woulda slipped me Piff Gang’s ‘Tanqueray And Piff’ – produced by Sumgii outta LDZ so you know what kind of delicious derangement you’re letting yourself in for here — a beautifully strung-out, almost levitating track, genuinely summing up that feel of being so high and fucked up that you’re living on a plateau of blissed-out autopilot unsteadiness you have absolutely no desire to leave any time soon. Oozing bass, shimmering ghostly keys, roach-croaked vocals, utterly brilliant, the best UK dub-hop this side of Trellion & Sniff.
Yeah, fuck, Trellion & Sniff, not seen them mentioned fucking ANYWHERE but without a doubt their ‘North Luna’ EP was one of the most stupendous moments of the year- slo-mo spooked out genius from Sheffield’s finest sustained ‘til you start falling apart, the ultra-minimal, maximally-unsettling feel of an old-skool Underdog production for Output Records, peppered by T&S’s typically twisted (“bullet to your mullet”) poesy. Fantastic fucked-up uniqueness.
And if you reeeeally need a British album of the year, alongside T&S check out the awesome Kingdom Of Fear‘s s/t debut on the ever-mighty YNR. Was wondering when Edan-style psyche-hop was really gonna start belching forth from the heads and hard drives of this fair isle and then here came Jehst, and Kashmere & Jazz T and a cast of fellow YNR psychonauts with one of the most stunning, startling, brainjangling releases of 2012, inspired by Hunter S. Thompson and just as far out, freaky, fearless and compelling as auld King Gonzo himself.
Drugs key see. Druggy year. Fuck all else to do. Ears open, you’d have heard plenty of British music this year that actually seemed to speak about a reality you could understand, and the unreality of that reality, with music that uncannily and eerily matched the groggy fog of narcosis and despair that was most of our lot in 2012, that’s increasingly becoming our autopilot fug of choice through these desperate hours and dreadful final days for the capitalist dialectic. None of it has made any of the end of year lists, none of it has spiritually accepted the pistoning tumescenses of Osborne and Cameron plunging into its collective anus nuts-deep. But it’s out there, and it doesn’t give a fuck about the prevailing bourgeoisie impulses of curatorship and regression strangling the life out of the rest of British pop. Rarely on a label, for many of these artists and us listeners Bandcamp’s been a fkn godsend this year. Eeeh Gee if you ain’t heard Sonnyjim & Wizard‘s The Executive Branch, a staggering 10-tracker from the hardest working lunatic in rap with typically brilliant Brummagem rhyming from Sonny and great production throughout from Wizard, drop a few dimes and snap this shit up sheeple.
Likewise if you didn’t hear The Natural Curriculum EP0003/0004. Go get pronto. From Manc-genii Dayse & Aver (if you ain’t checked out their ‘EP0001′ yet do so ghost-haste) — this keeps up the tension, stealth and stunning sonics they’ve made their own, great rhymes from D & A as well as Chalk & Sykes, unsettling future-fuckery on the decks from Omas & 13. Stunning, superb music from one of the UK’s most unjustly unheralded names. Like I said, get on it.
In a sea of Britpop mediocrity and collaborative palliness across the stage-school masseev lovely to hear, in total contrast, Spida Lee (whose ‘Carriacou Jack’ EP was one of the summers other highlights) spit something like ‘You Can’t Rap Pt. II’, the ever-dependable Beat Butcha hooking a monstrous beat to some simmering Hermann-esque strings, & heavy-assed doom-funk bass, like some of Marley Marl’s darkest 90s productions touched by the hand of RZA.
Alongside Beat Butcha, my fave producer of 2012 had to be Leaf Dog – Verb-T’s mighty ‘Said And Done’ on the always-engrossing High Focus a peach perfect example of his work, atmosphere and vibe piped in from Muscle Shoals circa 1966, that perfect Stax blend of grittiness, straight up testifying grit and off-kilter weirdness.
And no look at 2012 would be complete without mention of the mighty Mystro, whose ‘That Rush’ channelled the twin spirits of John Carpenter and Sergei Rachmaninov but ended up spinning on a brilliant ruckus-starting beat peppered with some ace one-string Eastern European/North African thrumming guitar, Mystro’s rhymes a typically compelling, deep-yet-delirious rush of adrenaline straight to the synapse. Ace video too.
Already a billion names I’ve no space to mention come to mind. Follow the links, the trails, the shout-outs, the other names. See what spins you. In 2012 and into 2013, I commend and command your attention towards these oddbods. The true sound of the UK, the true folk music of our time. Not a fuckin’ Alt-J fan among them and none of them are gonna end up running a fkn dairy-farm or metaphorically rolling organic meatballs across a plate with their noses towards Sam Cameron. Music that doesn’t prefer to ignore politics and thus through sheer cowardly silence wave through the seeping notion that the hard-working poor must hate the workless poor, music with compassion for ALL of our twisted apprehensions of the slide into doom, music that at the very least apprehends that doom and responds to it with a ferocious escape, or equally ferocious anger.
If we’ve been made more and more aware this year of how the disproportionate influence of posh cunts in politics is ruining all our lives we have no reason to accept the same skewiff slant of influence in pop, our pop, the pop we no longer have to depend on fucking majors to give us or the mainstream press to tell us about. Under the guise of ‘organic’ creativity, privileged youth will continue to preside over what officially passes for British culture in 2013, carefully mentoring our ‘progression’ back to the same imperial class structures and strictures of the Victorian era, and then, their fans will form bands and the hierarchy and inheritance will simply be reified permanently. A grim future only if you allow yourself to give a fuck, accept those difficult-to-shake cultural habits that push you towards consensus and the illusion of zeitgeist. In the face of saturation, of SO MUCH music, the natural filter becomes WHO you know, who you’re pals with – and we shouldn’t be surprised that British Music, as delivered to us by the majors and media multinationals is coming from an increasingly narrowing pack of pricks whose dads all shop at the same boutique deli-counter.
In 2013 let’s reject that entirely, let’s spotlight and condemn that nepotism wherever it occurs and focus on that British music that is truly, desperately, anguishedly, disturbingly, derangedly, deliriously British in the most glorious, fucked up, diverse way possible. No other attitude will be up to the job, or up to the fantastic music that will be created in the UK in 2013. I declare 2012, in many ways a shitty year for life and a great great year for music, OVER. See you on the other side.
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