Sep 29, 2020

A Full On Guide to Full On: Havana's Shift and Ramirez's Hablando

Full On Fat Roland Havana and Ramirez

Let's continue on my very niche journey of deconstructing the Deconstruction house music compilation album Full On – Edition One (see its Discogs listing here).

The second track on the album is Havana's Shift. I can't find a stream of the particular remix, but here is a version.

Slightly tribal progressive house, setting the tone for the Full On album. 

Shift was released on Limbo Records, a label that arose around Glasgow record shop 23rd Precinct, a place frequented by the legendary and uber-cool Slam DJs. 

You've heard of Slam: they're responsible for the Slam tent mentioned by Limmy here.

So yes, Glasgow is a very clubby city. I once hung around in Glasgow kebab shop after a club kicked out at 4am: these folks know how to party.

Limbo Records once held an online poll between Shift and Havana's other big track Schtoom. The latter won with 69% of the vote. It's like Brexit all over again, although with totally different voting numbers and no direct comparison to be made so please ignore this paragraph.

Let's move along. Havana, who sometimes spelled their name with a double N, was followed by Italian-Columbian house act Ramirez and a track called Hablando (it means 'talking' or thereabouts).

Ramirez was a project of the DFC (Dance Floor Corporation), another pioneering underground label that was an advocate in Italy for house music before any Italians were bothered about house music. 

The imprint was the dance offshoot of Expanded Records, who'd struggled to sell new wave and punk records. They got into dance music in the late 1980s because their Bologna heritage. Label boss Giovanni Natale told Billboard in 1994:

"We got into the dance field, and it works because traditional Italian melody is ripe to be recycled into Euro-dance riffs."

I wonder if this is what is going on with the accordion line in Hablando. Have a listen. Again, I don't think this the exact same version that's on the album: let's just assume a whole bunch of the Full On tracks aren't available online, and we'll have to settle with different mixes.

We're three tracks in and we're already feeling the full Italian flavour of this Euro disco, via the underground Scottish club scene. Which is why we're about to take a detour to, er, Wilmslow Road in Manchester. What? Stay tuned for the next instalment of my peek into Full On – Edition One.

Read the Full On series in, er full.

Read the Full On introduction explaining what the heck this is all about.

Sep 28, 2020

A Full On Guide to Full On: Usura's Open Your Mind

Usura Open Your Mind

I'm deconstructing the Deconstruction house music compilation album Full On – Edition One. Let's start with the first track on the album: Usura's Open Your Mind.

This was a pumping hippy house number that went top ten all over Europe. Have a listen.

The lyrics are pretty easy to get to grips with:

Open your mind (oh)

Open your mind (oh)

Open your mind (oh)

Like a lot of dance tracks at the time, it was heavily based on samples, with the "oh" exclamation taken from the very beginning of Ashford & Simpson's 1984 single Solid. The "open your mind" hook is taken from the bit in Total Recall when Arnie meets a grotesque belly baby. No, really.

The main chord sequence is such a heavy sample of Simple Minds' New Gold Dream, it's essentially a cover version. I didn't like Simple Minds when Open Your Mind came out, but I hadn't twigged the connection. They were secretly feeding me Jim Kerr's rock sludge, like sneaking vegetables into a child's dinner.

The choice of Open Your Mind as the opening track on Full On – Edition One was an obvious choice. The bloke from Usura ran Time Records in Italy, a label that played an important part in pushing Italo disco and euro-house. I presume Decon had a deal to release Time tracks in the rest of Europe and beyond.

I bought Usura's album, also called Open Your Mind. It contained their follow-up single Sweat which sounded so much like Open Your Mind, I felt pretty ripped off. You're not allowed to release soundalike tracks in an attempt to replicate past successes. Little did I know this was exactly how pop music worked.

There you go. Track one on Full On – Edition One. Only 15 more tracks to go. Oh. Only 15 more tracks to go. Oh. Only 15 more tracks to go. Oh. *cue belly baby sample*

Read the Full On series in, er full.

Read the Full On introduction explaining what the heck this is all about.

Sep 27, 2020

A Full On Guide to Full On: introduction

Full On

When Kylie Minogue moved to Deconstruction Records to release Confide In Me, she gained an indie credibility entirely absent from her Stock Aitken and Waterman past.

And yet, Deconstruction was no less pop. Co-founded by Mike Pickering of M People, they had the big piano anthems of Black Box, K-Klass and Bassheads and M People. Taking on Kylie seemed an entirely sensible choice.

There was one compilation, however, which cemented Deconstruction's underground credentials. It was Full On: Edition One, subtitled "a year in the life of house music". This was Decon sticking a massive flag on the moon, and that moon was underground dance music. Not that moons can be made from abstract nouns, but you get the idea.

Full On Edition One cover
The cover design wasn't great. Here is its Discogs image in all its low-resolution glory. It looks like the front page of a financial company's glossy annual report. "Yah, Damien says the VAT changes have had a peripheral effect on out-sourcing but the bottom line remains pretty solid."

I shouldn't knock the designers, Farrow Design. They have pretty solid credentials, helping define the look of post-Richie Manics, Orbital's 20th anniversary, and recent Pet Shop Boys.

Anyway, I'm not here to talk about whether navy goes with burnt orange. I'm here to talk about the music.

Full On came out in 1992, which made it pre-cool-Kylie but post-Italo-house. 2 Unlimited had taken the charts by storm with their lowest common denominator "techno" sound. Full On had a foot in similar bouncy Euro-house, but there was something so much more listenable about it.

It had Felix and Usura banging out thumping anthems for blocky pre-Windows-95 visuals. It had an early appearance from Justin 'Lionrock' Robertson', laying an early warning shot for the rise of big beat. And it had a nascent appearance from someone who, five years later, would score one of the most memorable top ten singles of all time.

So here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to analyse one track a day and I'm going to call it a Full On Guide to Full On. I'll do two tracks a day if I don't have much to write about. Three if I'm really struggling. You can see the complete track listing on Discogs.

Don't worry: if you never listened to this album, you should still enjoy this. I'm going to shine a light on 1990s dance music by, er, deconstructing this Deconstruction album. At least, I hope so: I haven't written any of it yet.

Stay tuned for the Full On Guide to Full On.

Read the Full On series in, er full.

Read the Full On introduction explaining what the heck this is all about.

Sep 21, 2020

Not the best music recommender in the world


My spiritual blogging brother Benjamin Judge has been asking for music recommendations. 

A simple request, you might think. But Ben is a clever bunny. He has been turning the spotlight of criticism onto his recommenders as well as the music they have been recommending.

It's a cruel twist. That's like going to the opera, settling into your seat with your glossy programme and those little binoculars stolen off an Action Man, then the befrocked cast turning to the audience and gruffly demanding "Entertain us, scum!"

It's exactly like that.

The Best Music Recommender in the World is a competition in which Ben spends his weekends listening to music nominated by his readers, then ranks everyone's choices. There's a leaderboard and everything. He's been working through the alphabet and this coming weekend will be about acts beginning with Y.

This is natural territory for me: I consider myself a pretty decent music recommender. It's why this blog exists. I write album reviews for Electronic Sound and have been guffing on about bands since my first ever job, music columnist for the South Manchester Reporter, in 1991.

I have recommended to Ben the likes of µ-Ziq, EOD, Rival Consoles and, perhaps less successfully, Transglobal Underground. Overall, I was pretty confident I would win this thing.

It all went wrong when I tried to game Ben's system, switching one of my recommendations on the basis of a Twitter conversation. I lost points for cheating. In fact, I was penalised a number of times. I was so desperate to win the affection of Ben's ears, I cut off my nose to spite my face. I became addicted to cheating. I became the Lance Armstrong of music recommending. 

My ego got the better of me, and it cost me bad. [Takes long drag on cigarette as camera pans in.] I suppose I flew too close to the sun, just like Icarus. Also I failed to covert Ben to the joys of Underworld, just like Icarus. 

I have no chance of winning the competition now. That said, I'm still in the top 20, and 261 points ahead of Rufus Hound (no, really). I'm going to keep recommending as we pass through the final letters of the alphabet. Also I'm totally going to check his tweets to see if he's into any bands beginning with Z.

Give him a recommendation. Just don't get too cocky.

Further Fats: Meet the Manchester bloggers: the gathering, July 2010

Sep 15, 2020

Looking for a top ten hit: Paul Woolford does good

Paul Woolford Fat Roland blog

This blog seems content to trundle along in obscurity, like a beetle scuttling underneath rocks, or a Beatle scuttling underneath rocks. We see you, Ringo, there's no use hiding.

I rarely expect anyone mentioned on this blog to break through to the mainstream. In fact, it's hardly ever happened. There was Skream in 2010. And that same year, I mentioned Diplo "breaking dubstep" a year before he hit the charts with Tiësto, and five years before his all-conquering Jack Ü project. But other than that, I'm usually talking about acts long after they've hit the big time.

Which is why this week's UK singles chart is a delight. Paul Woolford has notched up a top ten hit with a track called Looking For Me. An actual top ten hit! He's better known as Special Request, and has featured several times on this blog before now.

I gave Special Request the accolade of second best album of 2013 (behind Jon Hopkins), which I described as "a breaks album that is interesting, innovative and exciting" while bigging up his farting basslines. 

I also mentioned his collection of "dancefloor-mashing" EPs in 2015, a 2017 album that was a "Burial-inspired chill-out room", and a 2017 EP that was "beautiful, devastating, ear-bending and all kinds of wonderful".

Last year's Vortex was a "speed-fuelled hymn to BPM" and featured in my favourite albums of 2019. More recently I nominated Spectral Frequency as a highlight for Picky B*stards:

"Mr Request shoves you face-first into a raging waterfall of plunging junglist drums and low-flowing bass. It’s a heavy hit, and we spend the next five minutes concussed as the track becomes a flashback to every sweaty rave and every drug-soaked festival tent in history."

"Mr Request." Heh.

And now he's a top ten superstar. This means he gets loads of limos and flowers and his very own private island, just like Elton John or Madonna or Jedward. People will be told not to make direct eye contact with him, and he is legally allowed to throw a hotel window through a television.

Looking For Me is a big summery slab of 90s house music, and was produced by Woolford in collaboration with someone called Diplo (never heard of him). Have a listen here.

Further Fats: Top ten ways to write a top ten music list (2012)

Further Fats: Do we really want Vengaboys in our room (boom boom boom boom)? (2016)

Sep 13, 2020

Flatulent balls: lockdown thoughts and a cartoon of a bull

Electronic Sound illustration for issue 69 by Fat Roland 

Issue 69 of Electronic Sound is out now. Alongside a smattering of finely honed reviews, you'll find my latest full-page column. This one is inspired by my lack of exercise throughout lockdown.

I wanted this latest piece to feel quite physical, quite fleshy. So I start with a beautiful image of a cassette tape wedged into a roll of fat and take it from there. I also use the following words: balls, flatulent, gonads, groin, horns, nipples and orifices. Lovely.

There's also my illustration, a section of which you can see in colour above. I've included a couple of first draft sketches which show I find it much easier to draw a big old bull than stupid annoying dumbbells.

I don't mention the Covid crisis in my column, although that's where the writing process started. It's nearly six months since the UK tumbled into a viral dystopia. It's been heartbreaking for those who have lost loved ones or their income.

Here are some personal thoughts about the whole coronavirus thing. I entered the pandemic as a (a) venue guy who did (b) journalism and (c) performing: the three e's of eventing, editing and egomania. Those elements of my work life have been affected in different ways.

The venue bit of my life (running the gorgeous event space at Manchester's Burgess Foundation) has changed considerably, but I've been able to pivot my job into other things, namely coming up with clever online things that make people interested in Anthony Burgess. On this score, I am lucky to have a supportive employer, and I've found this work to be a boon amid the bedlam.

The journalism bit of my life has remained unaffected. At the start of the year, I started illustrating my own monthly column for Electronic Sound, and if anything the lockdown bought me more time to work on the words and pictures. Long may it continue – you can subscribe here.

The performing? Here's the interesting one. In fact, this is what I really want to talk about. Brace yourself.

Over the past six months, the world of spoken word and comedy has moved to video. Twitch streams, Zoom gigs, Facebook premieres and the like. Rumour has it the internet is now made up of 692% TikToks.

I did one video for The Old Courts, which was a huge amount of fun, but it made me realise that the whole point of my own performance is to react to the audience in the room. I need those surprise moments, those face twitches, that slow glorious 'failure' on stage. 

Online performing is kind of fine, but it doesn't thrill me. It doesn't scratch my egomaniacal itch. Thank goodness for that Garden Fringe real-life gig which still gives me a buzz every time I think about it. 

I have similar reservations as a consumer. I've enjoyed being part of the audience at the online XS Malarkey, chatting to techno heads in Orbital premieres, and a few fun things friends have done. However, the Burgess and journalism elements of my work life mean a lot of screen time: adding even more screen time into my day hasn't proved healthy. 

Added to that, sitting on my own in a distanced community just emphasises how far away my real actual friends are. There's a tinge of the blues to it all.

All of which is to say: I have felt increasingly left behind by Covid-era entertainment. As audiences start to return to actual venues, comedy performers will start earning again, and an industry will slowly rise again. I hope that day comes soon. But this presents me with a dilemma.

My own performing life, which was starting to move from spoken word into comedy, will be much slower to recover. Thing is, although I miss it, I don't *need* the money, and I'm not going to start hustling for paid gigs when a tonne of entertainers need to rebuild their income from scratch. I will gig again, of course, but my previous performance rate – a gig every couple of weeks and my 'residency' at a monthly spoken word night – is pretty much over.

This all sounds depressing, doesn't it. However, I am an optimist: there is a silver trouser lining to this cloud of pants. I need to see this performing pickle as a challenge to up my game. 

Firstly, I need to become a facilitator (not that I wasn't already) by putting on alternative weirdo comedy gigs myself once audience distancing is less of a restriction. Create my own stuff, like that tall bloke out of Pointless. This will give me valuable stage time for my own material while giving a bit of cash to silly, funny performers. 

Secondly, I'm going to come up with an online series that leans heavily on my cartoons. I don't know what that is yet, but it needs to happen and no, it won't be a traditional performance for reasons I've waffled about already. I'm thinking possibly an animated guide to electronic music (caveat: not properly animated).

All of these thought processes swirled around my head and ended up solidifying into a column about rolls of fat and groins and gonads. Funny how the mind works.

I haven't mentioned blogging, by the way. I'm very sad to announce that this will continue unabated, and I will carry on pummelling your face with word-zingers for a long time to come. Sorry, face.

Further Fats: Fats at the Lowry – a Curious trip to the North East (2017)

Further Fats: The quarantine raves: Top one, nice one, get Covid? (2020)

Sep 10, 2020

No mood for sniffing: five September 2020 electronic music album recommendations

Rui Ho

Here are five different flavours of album due for release in September. Think of this as an ice-cream cone stacked with five scoops. Better gobble it down quickly before your hand becomes a drippy mess.

There's a line on Marie Davidson's album Working Class Woman which goes “I want to smell you, even from far away”. On her new single Renegade Breakdown, she's in no mood for sniffing: "I feel disgraceful whenever you're around." Her new band, called Marie Davidson & L'Œil Nu, is quite the change in direction, with DIY pop influenced by Fleetwood Mac and Kraftwerk. Have a nosy at the album, also called Renegade Breakdown, here.

Berlin-based RUI HO (pictured) mixes Western dance music with Chinese melodies, and has built a reputation as a DJ and purveyor of futuristic sound collages. Her debut album Lov3 & L1ght takes a typically leftfield move into glittery EDM-tinged autotuned pop. Not for everyone, but the production is really on fleek, as the cool kids say.

Tricky seems to be back on form for the first time since, well, Victorian times or something. Fall To Pieces is his 14th studio album: that's as many albums as the Prodigy and Oasis combined. He's got a great new(ish) vocalist called Marta and it's got some pretty mournful vibes.

Field Lines Cartographer took inspiration from an elusive island for The Spectral Isle – it's full of UFOs or ghosts or Westlife fans (I might be wrong about that last one). If you want big fat soundscapes to make your ears tingle, then this is the album for you. The vinyl is 'seafoam' which means you can play it with a fish.

And finally, a quirky 1990s album is getting a fresh rerelease. Help was a hastily-assembled War Child charity compilation and featured tracks from Blur, Orbital, Portishead and Massive Attack. It had early OK Computer material, the first post-Richie Manics appearance, and a bizarre return by the long-deleted KLF under the pseudonym The One World Orchestra featuring The Massed Pipes and Drums of the Children's Free Revolutionary Volunteer Guards. The album's available to stream again in all its quirky glory.

Further Fats: My greatest idea once more crumbles to dust like a great big crumbly bit of dust (2010)