Tuesday, 18 August 2009

1987 M|A|R|R|S: Pump Up The Volume

From Chicago to London - there was a certain inevitability that House music would make the Atlantic crossing, but unlike that other very American musical innovation rap, it tended to travel a lot better, albeit in smaller quantities. M|A|R|R|S was a one off collaboration between indie acts Colourbox and AR Kane, and 'Pump Up The Volume' was a single that caused me all manner of problems back in 1987.

Firstly, it's House music, and not being a fan of the genre, that was enough
in itself to wind me up to fever pitch before the needle even hit the record. But more than that, it was House music on the 4AD label, a label that boasted Cocteau Twins, X Mal Deutschland, Dead Can Dance etc, bands all dear to my indie,'sonic cathedrals of sound' (© every NME hack of the the late eighties) loving heart and after my dismissal of 'Jack Your Body' as 'not proper music, dammit' earlier that year, seeing something like 'Pump Up The Volume' on 'my' lable was as confusing and as just plain 'wrong' as dressing in the dark and putting your trousers on back to front. It was if the world had turned upside down. Dear me yes.

To ice a cake that needed no icing, 'Pump Up The Volume' also sat at the top
of both the national and indie charts at a time when the two were almost mutually exclusive with no crossover sought or welcomed, meaning there was a definite feeling that 'my' world had been invaded by an unwelcome squatter. Troubling days indeed for a lad all dressed in black. But enough of Memory Lane.

Created almost entirely from samples, 'Pump Up The Volume' is the first home
grown House hit that brought the underground overground (though the flurry of legal actions over the illegal use of samples anchored it well left of the mainstream) and paved the way for the imminent 'Second Summer Of Love'. Unlike the intricate syncopation and almost pure rhythm of it's American cousins, 'Pump Up The Volume' fairly throbs along on a sensual groin level pulse with acres of space to spare between the beats; no co-incidence then that the video heavily featured space rocket and astronaut imagery.

British born it may be, from it's title (courtesy of Eric B. & Rakim) in,
'Pump Up The Volume' relies heavily on America for it's samples and hooks. The prominent 'You're Gonna Get Yours' and 'Put The Needle To The Record' refrains are lifted from Public Enemy and Arthur Baker respectively, but rather than taking the form of (for example) the earlier 'Jack Your Body', 'Pump Up The Volume' doesn't lock into an airtight groove that repeats to close.

True, there's a constant underlying heartbeat that strings it all together,
but in and around this are mixed other bits of unpredictable business where Ofra Haza, The Bar Kays or The Last Poets et al appear and disappear at random, keeping the track ever interesting by keeping the listener on their toes as to what's coming next. It might sound a tad clichéd to modern ears, but it's easy to forget how original and downright fresh all this sounded in '87. Sigue Sigue Sputnik may have heavily punctuated their music with samples just the previous year, but they were shoehorned in to emphasises the comedy violence the band was peddling whereas 'Pump Up The Volume' represented one of the earliest examples of samples being arranged to form the song itself.

And clichés be damned, 'Pump Up The Volume' still carries the sensual groove
that set it apart from other more mathematically cold examples of the genre, and it's one you didn't need to be loved up and blissed out on ecstasy to appreciate. And your appreciation of 'Pump Up The Volume' will always hinge on your affinity to House (or dance) music in general - believers will love it, others won't be converted.

And that's
fine. But with a chart ever stuffed with predictability, it was a refreshing change to once again have a number one that polarised opinion on roughly generational grounds. Like a Pollock's splatter art or a William Burroughs 'cut up' novel it's not going to be everybody's taste. But it's there, it has its place and its influence is undeniable.

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