Freewheeling through time and space, our renegade columnist ventures out on his further adventures in audio. This month, Primal Scream…
My old friends/partners-in-mischief Primal Scream are promoting a recently released “best of” set, with a welter of gigs between now and Christmas. This got me thinking that, although this miraculous band’s groundbreaking past achievements, punk-style confrontational attitude and insurrectionary electronic mayhem has long been part of my DNA, younger generations may be coming to them as just a heritage act who had some stellar indie dance hits when they were so much more.
The compilation’s title, ‘Maximum Rock ’N’ Roll’ emphasises just one eternal aspect of the Scream, capturing their unique evolutionary arc through their singles; from jangly indie beginnings to ecstasy revolution soundtrack ‘Screamadelica’; the get-your-rocks-off Funkadelic fantasies lived out on 1994’s ‘Give Out But Don’t Give Up’ (one band George Clinton himself embraced); confrontational explorations of the ‘Vanishing Point’ and ‘XTRMNTR’ phase and on into the 21st century, where the loss of guitarist Robert “Throb” Young removed their purest rock ’n’ roll element, leaving Bobby Gillespie and Andrew Innes exploring sonic boundaries in that spirit with 2013’s ‘More Light’ and 2016’s ‘Chaosmosis’.
All this is neat compartmentalisation is a little too neat. The main element that always struck me about Primal Scream, especially when touring the world as their DJ through 1994 and 1995, was that they saw no boundaries in music, using anything or anybody to make it sound great or take it further.
Andrew Weatherall’s reinvention of the remix form with ‘Loaded’ and ‘Come Together’. The spangled, solar orgasm of ‘Higher Than The Sun’ taken to the cosmos by The Orb, then dubbed out by Weatherall who, in cahoots with Hugo Nicolson, brought the noise to hedonist anthem ‘Don’t Fight It Feel It’.
Just allowing mad electronics to storm the gates of rock ’n’ roll was an audacious move then, but perfectly natural. As Bobby told me, “The main thing with the people involved is the fact that we don’t see any barriers. People talk about breaking down barriers but us and Wobble and The Orb don’t see any… I think listening to just one form of music is the pits. Andrew’s some guy that just likes playing music. Producers are basically jumped up engineers. A producer should have vision and soul.”
Then they went out and rewrote the gig format template by having The Orb’s Alex Paterson warm up the crowd before the Scream’s 45-minute assault, leaving Weatherall to take it out in a technicolour firestorm.
Even during the maligned “rock” phase that followed, the Scream used Brendan Lynch to make mad dubs of tracks they’d recorded with George Clinton, before repairing to their Primrose Hill “bunker” as the sonic laboratory where they hatched ‘Vanishing Point’. As a regular visitor to Scream HQ, I witnessed them working with Innes gouging noise out of arcane machines and samplers, Martin Duffy pitching in, and Bobby throwing in ideas and passion.
Declaring they were “fucking about with sound again”, Bobby described the pummelling turmoil of ‘Kowalski’ as “a junkyard having a nervous breakdown”. Visiting collaborators included Jaki Liebezeit, Augustus Pablo and Mani, who joined the band. Adrian Sherwood created a stellar dub set version of the finished album called ‘Echo Dek’.
The Scream then entered the extreme noise terror of ‘XTRMNTR’, their hard-line monster for modern times, bringing in The Chemical Brothers for ‘Swastika Eyes’, David Holmes on ‘Blood Money’ and ‘Keep Your Dreams’, Brendan Lynch on ‘Kill All Hippies’, MBV’s Kevin Shields on ‘Accelerator’ and ‘MBV Arkestra (If They Move Kill ‘Em)’; these cutting edge visionaries coalescing around the Scream’s restless hub. The album’s jagged electronic tentacles extended into 2002’s ‘Evil Heat’ album, on tracks such as ‘Autobahn 66’ (Weatherall returning with Two Lone Swordsman) and Sabres mainstay Jagz Kooner producing the edgy ‘Miss Lucifer’.
The Scream then moved into another phase straddling retro-rock, shiny pop and further esoteric monoliths (‘More Light’ is an epic sound sculpture, bringing in Sun Ra’s immortal lieutenant Marshall Allen). They might be touring their greatest hits, but you can bet they’re not done yet in the sonic foraging stakes.
Some columns ago [Issue 40], I recalled the late Arthur Russell being my upstairs neighbour when residing in New York’s East Village in the 80s, in connection with a new record by Arthur’s Landing, the group of former collaborators carrying on his mission. It was the rhythms of brilliant percussionist Mustafa Khaliq Ahem’s that had brought Arthur from classical to downtown disco on songs like ‘Is It All Over My Face’, ‘Let’s Go Swimming’ and ‘In The Light Of The Miracle’. Now, after over 40 years playing with dance troupes, artists and like-minded musicians, Mustafa has released ‘Son Of The Drumsong’, the first album to bear his name.
Recorded almost in celebration of recently beating cancer, it’s an astonishing work; one of my favourites of the year and a modern New York classic.
Mustafa has long felt rhythm instruments were wrongly relegated to backing status, answering back by making his arsenal of drums, bongos, gongs, chimes, bells and shakers sing as upfront melodic instruments over beds of sound created with long-time multi-instrumentalist collaborator Charles Compo (whose many albums include 1983’s seminal, electronically-shaped ‘Seven Flute Solos’, recorded with his neighbour Harry Smith).
Joined by Mark Peterson’s lyrical string bass, the trio explore panoramic spiritual vistas that soar higher than the Manhattan skyline on billowing beds of pulsating bliss, Mustafa’s percussion taking the “talking drum” ethos to higher levels against the lustrous backdrops. After atmospheric pieces like ‘At The Temple’, ‘Destination’, ‘Backyard Jam’ and ‘Djembe Jam’, the trio even get down to some modern mutant disco on string-driven ‘The Haitian’ and throbbing ‘See, Know, Love, Praise’.
One of those rare albums that soothes the troubled soul while elevating it to a superior plane, in the fashion of New York’s jazz grand masters, disco pioneers and, yes Arthur Russell. I turn 65 this month; what a great party soundtrack!