14 January 2006


Who's Afriad?

Just on the final chapter of Simon's book tonight, covering the whole Trevor Horn/ZTT thing, and once more I'm scurrying through the collection to listen again.

When I was at school, there was this one other kid who was into cool music. His name was (and as far as I know still is) Mark Sutton. We were best mates for several years, but then we had some big argument over something completely stupid, and we stopped speaking. I guess the last time I saw him was when I was about 18 years old. I've lived another 18 years since then. If you're out there somewhere Mark, I'd just like to say "hi", and no hard feelings, okay?

Anyway, being school kids on very limited budgets, me and Mark basically had our own 'music swaps' club. We'd take the bus into town and go record hunting together, then later exchange cassettes, so that we basically had all the same music collection. I hipped him to stuff like Cabaret Voltaire and he introduced me to things like Eno & Fripp. We'd sit around in each other's bedrooms listening to records, discussing them and even talking about getting our own project together, although we only had a Texas Instruments computer and an acoustic guitar between us! We were a group, but only in a conceptual sense, in so much as we discussed the sort of music we wanted to make, and designed the record sleeve for our first album etc, but never actually wrote or recorded a note, as far as I can remember. To be honest, I don't think we even had the faintest idea how to make any kind of music at that time. There were other, superficially cooler kids at school who were already in bands, but it was just some boys with guitars and drums thrashing about. We felt that we were superior to them at some basic intellectual/aesthetic level, even though we had nothing concrete to offer as an alternative.

One day Mark came around my house, with a big mysterious grin on his face and told me I had to listen to this new record he'd bought. I could tell from the way he was really buzzing with excitement that he'd discovered something special. Without telling me what or who it was, he loaded a cassette into my 'music centre', pressed play and waited with baited breath for my reaction. This is what came out of the speakers:


Reaction? Totally, completely blown away. Astonished. Speechless. Practically jumping out of my skin with excitement. This was the best fucking record ever in the history of human endeavour. The drum sound alone was a total mindfuck - a dirty Fairlight 'breakbeat', which I now know was lifted from an unused drum track by the prog group Yes, who Trevor Horn had been working with around that time. The snare, corrupted by the Fairlight's primitive lo-rez digital capturing process is more like a series of gated, percussive mini explosions. The bit around four minutes, where the beats get juggled, just took my breath away with it's crushing dynamic power...it was like a rhythmic Armageddon. Then in came the spluttering car ignition samples and it was just total sensory overload. Don't forget that, when "Beatbox" was first released in late '83, Kraftwerk actually aborted their "Techno Pop" album after hearing it, cos they thought it made them sound dated. For me, one of the single most intoxicating audio experiences of the '80s.

I still think it sounds great. Someone should get those drum sounds into Fruity Loops and give 'em a fresh lease of life, unless someone already has?

By the way, the above MP3 was ripped from the excellent Mantronix "That's My Beat" compilation on Soul Jazz, cos it's the best quality version I've got. My CD re-issue of the "Who's Afraid..." album sounds terrible, with really piss-poor mastering. I think I'll try and track down an original vinyl - remember, Mark bought it back then, not me!

One other thing - respect to JJ Jeczalik, Anne Dudley and Gary Langan, the creative engine room of Art Of Noise. But I'm afraid I never much cared for anything they did after the split from Trevor Horn. Sorry...

Last thing - I'm sure someone must've blogged this tune before, but fuck it.