08 June 2005


Straight outta Manchester, it's the much anticipated Virus Syndicate long-player "The Work Related Illness". The fact that all production is handled by Mark One will be your guarantee of musical quality here, and Mark totally delivers with a brutal series of beats and atmospheres that build on the outstanding work he did on "One Way" last year. Unlike the often schizophrenic approach of his more low-profile twelve inchers, here his focus is locked on (in)tense half-step riddims and lo-end pressure combined with insidious eastern melodies and extremely effective orchestral inflections - most notably on "Taxman" which simply sounds gigantic with it's soaring woodwind and string section arrangements. Anyone who's been enjoying the old"Anastasia" MP3 at the Gutterbox will appreciate how great orchestral elements can sound when used in dance music, and on this track Mark reveals yet another spin on that concept that's like the Grime equivalent of Venetian Snares' latest direction. More shit like this please, sir!! Another eye-opener is "Clockwork", which features jaunty samples of jazz horns which, musically speaking, provides some light relief from all the overpowering grimness. A brave move, and a clear sign that Mark is willing to push his sound into unexpected territory, although for me it's probably the weakest track.

But what of the MCs? Whilst they provided effective vocal interjections on "One Way", I was a bit worried that a whole album of rhymes would too distracting for someone like me who wants to listen intently to Mark's production skillz. But there's no denying that JSD, Goldfinger and Nika D have enough magnetic 'star' quality to ride the beats and totally draw you into their seedy little gangsta soap opera. Some of the lyrics really are a bit nasty, especially the rampant misogyny of "Girls" which, with it's list of previous girlfriend's names, strikes me as the evil alternative to the saccharine pop-whimsy of The Beautiful South's "Song For Whoever". I mean, okay lads, so you've been stung by a few bad relationships but I really don't think the line "cut you with a razor and cover you in salt" is a very positive solution to the problem, do you? To be fair, I think the guys are only putting on a personae here, and I can't believe they've really done all the unpleasant things they describe on the album, otherwise they'd be in prison or dead by now. Plus I've heard rumours of middle-class origins, so I reckon this is more a commentary on the gangsta life, rather than the real deal. I could be wrong of course, and maybe they'll be coming to pay me a visit to prove how hard they really are (please don't give 'em my address, Mike!!). Besides, on "Throwing In the Towel", they drop the violent facade and reveal a relatively sensitive, intelligent view of relationship trouble. The opening lines "I spent years being single, a shy guy I didn't like to mingle, quiet and simple keepin' it low key, and wait till the woman approached me" scores high for honesty and I'm sure there's a few 'late starters' out there who can empathise with those words. Overall, I'm impressed by their willingness to confront personal politics rather than just going for the standard bluster of 'my crew's better than yours', etc and I really like all the little staged conversations they have at the start of the tracks. Then of course there's "Wasted", a paean to the joys of getting pissed/stoned/mashed which never fails to raise a smile 'round here.

The way they've cleverly structured the rhymes with catchy half-sung choruses is interesting too - it gives the music an accessibility that could almost crossover as pop. Because I was mainly caning this album back in Jan/Feb it has a bit of a wintry feel for me, yet for the kidz it could be this years' surprise summer hit. Get it in the shops with a 'parental advisory - explicit lyrics' sticker and get it banned on Radio 1 and watch those sales figures go ballistic! It's about time Planet Mu had a big-selling controversial record and I reckon this one could be it, with the right marketing. But maybe I'm just used to it - perhaps this shit still sounds fucking unlistenable to your average Eminem fan. But if Dizzie can do it....?

Buy the vinyl/CD here. Digital download here.


Probably due to my questioning of Virus Syndicate's gangsta credentials yesterday, I've been forwarded an interview that they did for HCC Magazine this month, which is quite revealing. Obviously I'm not gonna reproduce the whole thing here - you'll have to buy yer own copy - but here's a few interesting quotes...

Remember I suggested that they'd be in prison if they really did all those things they rhyme about? Well, turns out that Goldfinger has done a bit of time at Her Majesty's Pleasure...

"I missed my first ever video shoot 'cos I was locked up, which was a stupid fucking thing to do...that was only two months for driving whilst banned....the first one...was (for) money-making, racketeering, shit like that. Jail life just fucked me."

He then goes on to explain a little about his background, revealing that he did have a pretty decent upbringing prior to stepping onto the wrong side of the tracks...

"...my mum sent me to a pretty decent school, where everyone could ask their mum for a tenner every day. I was getting an education, but obviously peer pressure made me wanna keep up with the other kids. I wanted to make money and did what I had to do."

But he makes it clear that he's a reformed character now and, as I suggested myself, Goldfinger clarifies that Virus Syndicate merely reflect the mood of where they're from, rather than actually getting involved in any serious naughtiness...

"I'm not trying to say that I did everything I talk about, but it don't mean the people around us aren't doing it. I'm an entertainer - I pick up on the stories and things I see around me and put it into words. Hopefully it can spread to a different audience , who can then understand what's going on where we're from...if other people recognise this is what's going on, maybe they might sit up and think 'we need to put some youth clubs in the 'hood'...We're good boys - we don't do crime, we just rhyme about it."

That's that one clarified then!