The Essential… Scott Walker

The Essential... Scott Walker

By the age of 23, Scott Walker had enjoyed a more successful pop career than most could hope for in a lifetime.

As one third of The Walker Brothers, a trio of Americans in self-imposed exile in the UK, he experienced a level of superstardom that briefly rivalled that of the Beatles. Mid-60s songs like ‘Make It Easy On Yourself’ and ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More’ made Scott, John and Gary the clean-cut pin-ups du jour. But entertainment, as they say, is a fickle business, and the success wasn’t to last.

As The Walker Brothers disintegrated, Scott (real name Noel Scott Engel, and no relation to his two bandmates) would strike off on his own, producing a string of albums in the late ’60s that, while largely overlooked at the time, are now considered among the finest of the decade. Again though, Walker would quickly lose his way, slipping into MOR obscurity for the majority of ’70s. From there, many would happily have fallen into a lengthy, royalty-funded retirement. Not Scott. In the early ’80s he would reinvent himself again, emerging from the ashes of a faltering light entertainment career to become one of the most brilliant and distinctive voices of the pop avant-garde.

Walker and his music continue to captivate and confuse with a force rarely attained by musicians of any generation. His most recent solo album, 2012′s Bish Bosch, was of a piece with his best work, while this month he released Soused, an earth-shaking full-length collaboration with pivotal doom outfit Sunn O))). And while he has long had a cult following, a renewed frenzy of discourse in the past decade – the most visible products of which are a documentary  and a book, both excellent – has helped cement his status as an underground hero with few equals.

Walker’s knotty, uncompromising and utterly unique body of work seems to be resonating more strongly than ever, with the likes of Radiohead, Jarvis Cocker, Damon Albarn and David Bowie all singing his praises. But Walker’s discography is an imposing one, and not an easy ride for the uninitiated. By way of introduction – and taking in love and loss, dead dictators and easily as much commercial failure as critical success – here are 10 of Walker’s best.

Andrew Weatherall’s 30 greatest remixes

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It’s quite some going for a DJ to have an entire two-day annual festival named after them.

Sure, several curate their own events – Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide, say – but could anyone else out there get away with the equivalent of the Andrew Weatherall Festival in the south of France this weekend? But then who else has achieved so much in so many fields as the man formerly known as Audrey Witherspoon, Lord Sabre, Rude Solo, The Chairman and The Major?

He was the rockist grit in the oyster of Shoom and the Boy’s Own Organisation (as you can see from his brilliantly punky sneer in this vintage Boy’s Own interview). He stormed the studio with zero training and immediately hit paydirt with his remixes for the Mondays and Primal Scream (smashing up the latter’s cheery-sad Stones ripoff ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’ and building ‘Loaded’ from the pieces), and has never looked back since.

As a member of the original acid house mafia and a startling talent on both the ones and the twos, he could easily have taken the superstar DJ route, but instead focused on running several mythical underground club nights – Sabresonic, Blood Sugar, Haywire Sessions and most recently A Love From Outer Space.

He’s produced plenty of great records, whether for bands (from The Scream and One Dove through to Fuck Buttons) or under his own steam (as Sabres of Paradise with Jagz Kooner and Gary Burns, Lords Of Afford with David Hedger, Blood Sugar with David Harrow, Two Lone Swordsmen with Keith Tenniswood, Asphodells with Timothy J. Fairplay, or solo).

And he’s no slouch as a writer, turning in scabrous, funny and weird journalism and creative writing of his own over the years, as well as collaborating with author Michael Smith to soundtrack his book Unreal City and eventually becoming artist in residence for publishers Faber & Faber.

But it’s as a radical remixer that he really catapulted into the public consciousness, and his desire to turn other people’s songs inside out has remained strong right up to the present. Dub, punk, techno, rockabilly, ambient, psych-rock, disco, the experimentation of Joe Meek and Phil Spector, and quite likely several kitchen sinks, have all been thrown into a remix oeuvre that belongs to him at least as much as it does to any of the acts who provided the source material.

So as The Chairman, now 51, celebrates a quarter of a century ripping the guts out of other people’s music and his fellow misfits pay tribute to him in an actual castle, we present 30 glorious examples of his ornery art.

I’ve Seen That Face Before: looking back on Grace Jones’ iconic Nightclubbing with the people who made it happen

Just as you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone, sometimes you don’t know what you’ve been missing til it arrives.

Take the new remastered issue of Grace Jones’s 1981 Nightclubbing for example. The album is one of those things in life that it’s easy to take for granted as A Great Thing – the grooves of ‘Pull up to the Bumper Baby’. ‘Walking in the Rain’ and the rest the perfect distillation of early 1980s cool, the meeting point between the Paradise Garage, the Blitz Club and the dancehalls of Jamaica, and Grace herself is utterly unique: half disco diva, half David Bowie. It IS a near perfect album, dammit. But actually, all the editions of it that existed to date have not really done it justice.

The new release (out now) is given a full remaster spit and polish, now sounding as majestic as it always should, and includes the extended versions that were so important to the album taking its place as part of the nightlife it celebrated. There are also two long-lost tracks from the album sessions: the original song ‘If you Wanna be my Lover’ (nothing to do with the Spice Girls) and the absolutely killer Gary Numan cover ‘Me! I Disconnect from You’.

To celebrate the album finally getting the respect it deserves, I spoke to three people with unique insight into what makes it so special. Drummer Sly Dunbar (of Sly & Robbie) and French synth expert Wally Badarou were two members of the band that was pulled together for the sessions that would lead to Nightclubbing, and which would quickly become The Compass Point Allstars, named after the studio in the Bahamas where they took up residency, and featured on a whole series of classic recordings. Mark Wood, product manager at Universal Music and long time DJ as half of the legendary London Readers Wifes, was the man with the tenacity to make the new edition of Nightclubbing happen.

“The party at the end of the world”: Interview with Fat White Family

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Almost all the ink that has been spilled over Fat White Family trots out how these “sick” and “troubled” boys “crawled out of the squats of South London – an apparent Wild West at the end of the Victoria line – and on to the stage.

But such trite labels seem insufficient for the band FACT interviewed in the cavernous attic above the stage on which they were about to play a wild sold-out show at the Electrowerkz club.

Though the Fat Whites do shout, spit, use fascist and communist imagery and play shows for the most part unattired – and often surrounded by pigs’ heads on sticks – they are also responsible for some of the most refreshingly provocative guitar music Britain has heard for a long while.

“Instead of talking about what the music is all about, they’ll bang on about aesthetics, how we do drugs, how we’re crazy, how we sweat a lot,” explains frontman Lias Saoudi in an Ayrshire lilt. “It’s kind of silly. If we’re the scariest band out there at the moment, it’s a truly tame time.”

Their debut album Champagne Holocaust sat freely-available online for almost a year before generating attention when Ben Wallers of the Country Teasers started making noise about them and the album made The Quietus’ number-five album of 2013.

Its 11 tracks jump between stripped-down blues (‘Wet Hot Beef‘) that recalls slower Birthday Party songs, unhinged Americana (Heaven on Earth) of the Butthole Surfers ilk, and huge unhinged football-terrace style incantations (Special Ape). They sing portentous songs about who killed JFK’s assassin, the hanged Wales football-captain Gary Speed, or life through the eyes of a paedophile (“but a kind of sexy paedophile”, Lias clarifies).

Fat whiteIn a politically consensualist age, when major labels’ A&R departments are taking safer and safer bets with tighter and tighter budgets, Fat White Family’s music and on-stage melodrama can’t help but excite.

The day Thatcher died, the band were immortalised on the front of The Independent newspaper, sat in the window of their squat above a Brixton pub holding a placard reading ‘The Witch is Dead’. On another occasion they occupied a south-London branch of Foxtons estate agents, baring a luminous-pink flag that read ‘Yuppies Out’. Another read: ‘Homes for all!’.

“Because of our approach to these things, it’s always going be tongue-in-cheek. We’re never going to take one side totally,” explains Lias. “We’ve been slated by the Left for not talking the causes seriously enough and from the Right for obvious reasons.  So we’ve just become these idiots walking around South London without a pot to piss in singing songs about bombing Disneyland.”

Fat White Family are Thatcher’s grandchildren – the sons and daughters of Thatcher’s children. They are have-nots who are pissed off at being flat broke and at what they see as a stultifying corporatisation to modern life. To many in 21st century Britain, the days of overtly political music are over, but not for Lias and his co-songwriter Saul Adamczewski, who is an admirer of 1990s post-punk outfit The Make-Up for their mischievous and iconoclastic use of religion and politics.

“I don’t see how anything isn’t political. Having a cup of tea is political,” Lias says “I try and use things I creatively or aesthetically in a situationist philosophy so people can draw whatever you want from it. We’re not telling people what to think, were just trying to ask questions and open up a debate.”

Situationism was an artistic and also a political revolutionary theory that grew out of the Parisian avant-garde of the post-war years that aimed to wake people up using spectacles – or in the Fat White’s case, gigs – and liberate them with direct human experiences.

While Lias is wont to intellectualise Fat White Family, Saul sees his outfit in more nihilistic terms.

“I love the idea of revolutionary madness,” he says, grinning widely to reveal a gaping hole where his incisor once was. “I don’t think there is any salvation. I think we can agree on one thing and that is everything is doomed. It’s like the party at the end of the world. There’s fuck all left to do. We’re just rejoicing before the curtain comes down.”

Twitter: @a_merat

Forgotten Classics: Leo Anibaldi’s Muta

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Forgotten Classics is a new weekly feature where we ask FACT contributors and noted diggers from across the spectrum to pick an obscure gem that they think has been unfairly brushed under the carpet and explain why it’s worthy of re-appraisal. This week:


Leo Anibaldi
Muta
(ACV, 1993)

Picked by: Mordant Music founder and curator of the curious Baron Mordant.


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Leo Anibaldi is hardly an obscure figure in the techno/electronica realm, but his ACV LP Muta from 1993 is, I opine, not only an overlooked gilt-edged classic, but musically the sound of a place like The Overlook Hotel itself…

I first imbibed this LP a few years after its release while reading Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – thinking they’d make the right kind of imperfect coupling with neither one in tandem imposing too heavily on the other…they duetted for many months – the tome eventually took a decade to finish in fits & starts but from the outset Muta has remained a consistent staple in the Mordant Nesst…

I wasn’t a fervent follower of labels like ACV at the time & remember generally reading that era like an intermittent Blind Pew latching onto only a handful of LPs here & there…Muta was the first Anibaldi record I’d heard, and it totally satisfied my murky electronic leanings – it’s as much a suite for the decay of derelict structures as it is a contextual mood-changer while squashing foodstuffs in Lidl…If You’re Into It, I’m Out Of It by Christophe De Babalon has a similar gait…

The album itself is presented as two distinct stylistic halves, and it’s the first half that has prompted this outburst of square quilling…there’s a quality to both the poise of the music & the detuned artwork that’s not quite right, but which ends up being its strength & allure…in truth the album, particularly the gatefold artwork, has a fair deal in common with Italian progressive rock, & the suite of untitled tracks, particularly on Disc One, could effortlessly score any Argento flick – perhaps not quite out-Goblining Goblin, but there’s a brooding malevolence in the overall mood that spews techno-prog entrails across the canvas…

Track four, the LP’s apogee, certainly suits Marquez’s descriptive brilliance – think David (via Gary) Gilmour’s desiccated guitar fronds shredding velvet curtains in the billiard room as roaming cows chew on the remaining baize…there’s also, in spirit at least, a connection with sports casual Industrial druid Maurizio Bianchi – an imagined feeling of enforced claustrophobia that probably isn’t borne out in either’s working practices but suits this listener’s personal vista …there’s both a meticulous & dextrous feel to the programming, which is as tight as a tourniquet,  aswell as a cold sweat warmth to the mood like the feverish nausea that being ill in warm climes induces…

The LP exhibits an exotic palette of vintage analogue sediment – this is how I hear it & what it conjures up in the greyscale library: a pair of herniated bellows, the insistent circuitry of a locked video-game, the tightest flanged hats in Rome, spectral whistles from ransacked battlefields, distended FM voices asking for more time, searing percussive Aphexisms, drums running on the spot & the sound of empty entrance halls & vestibules the world o’er…

The second disc finally finds the baccarat party in full swing as the rusticated faces of all participants get tuned to perfection – in truth it’s a little nondescript compared to the first disc, but nevertheless the LP remains a stunning paean to overstretched opulence & detuned lakeside villas hired out as archival storage dumps…a maze in grace…BM

Mordant Music’s website is here.