Nov272017| November 27, 2017
Björk is back.
Though so-called ‘Best Albums of the Year’ lists have begun to drop, we’d be more inclined to call them ‘Best Albums of the First 10 Months’, or more succinctly, premature. To prove the point, look no further than this week’s vinyl releases.
In albums, Björk returns with a beautifully ethereal follow-up to the earthbound heartbreak of Vulnicura. Deep down below, Svengalistghost brings whispers from mechanoid hell, A Certain Ratio’s long overdue reissues have landed, and stripped back blues is resurrected.
In singles, there are selects to suit every whim and fancy, with a Loft disco staple, strangulated off-kilter noise rocking, a Fela Kuti cover and more.
Scroll down for our definitive across-the-board rundown of the week’s new vinyl releases as selected by The Vinyl Factory’s Chris Summers, Patrick Ryder and James Hammond with help from Norman Records. 5 singles and 5 LPs every 7 days that are unmissable additions to any collection.
DJ Spider & Franklin De Costa
F Planet EP
So, Black Friday’s been and gone, paving the way for a succession of dark days from here into the New Year. All of which means the meteorological conditions are perfect for a the gloomy throb of techno, supplied in this case by Berlin/NYC collaborators DJ Spider & Franklin De Costa. Storming out of this Berceuse Heroique disc, ‘F Planet’ is a no holds barred snarler, all corrosive midrange and pummelling percussion, while ‘Astral Pilot’ sees the duo get creative with mind expanding frequencies, twisted percussion artefacts, and a rusty guitar pedal over a chunky b-line. Chuck in a punishing darkroom dub from Shifted on the flip, and you’ve got everything you need to hunker down for the winter.
‘Looking Up To You’ / ‘Diamond Real’ (Tee Scott Instrumental Mix Dub)
(Be With Records)
Two stone cold classics from 1982, paired together for the first time. ‘Looking Up To You’ is a shimmering, essential love song for any season. On the flip, Tee Scott’s ‘Diamond Real’ dub – a boogie Loft staple previously only available via elusive 12″ promo – will take you to higher R&B planes.
Third Article EP
Drahla are Wakefield’s great new hopes. They play strangulated, off kilter noise rock that will appeal to anyone who has heard a Sonic Youth album or two. This one sided 12″ is their most realised statement yet. Watch this space….
Here Lies Man
Animal Noises EP
The L.A. band set up by Marcos Garcia of Antibalas return with a killer four track 12″ on Riding Easy, like an afro rock Black Sabbath blasting out the grooves. Here you get a brand new track, an instrumental version of a track from their killer LP, a Fela Kuti cover, and a Chico Mann remix. Be quick, there are only 300.
Alvarius B & Sir Richard Bishop
Strange Fruit EP
Outside of the Bishop brothers’ resplendently odd Abduction label, Unrock have done a fine job of documenting various outings from the duo in recent years, and this 10” comes as part of the label’s 25th anniversary celebrations. Ever productive and inventive, here the former Sun City Girls drink from varying streams of Middle Eastern sound and lyrical surrealism, mingling sublime instrumentals with a classic Alvarius B monologue on the perils of raising a child in a hunting lodge.
TV Live LP
(Long Island Electrical Systems)
L.I.E.S. are on a roll at the moment when it comes to the long player, and this six tracker from Svengalisghost makes for the perfect follow up to Krikor’s wavy Pacific Alley. The Chicago musician adopts a similar VHS vibe, though this time taped over the video from seminal ’90s board game Atmosfear, turning out a succession of dark and garbled industrial jams each more terrifying than the last. As the churning synths and clanging beats meet for an inner-ear battle royale, the producer whispers from the depths of mechanoid hell, blithely taking control of your mortal soul. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here…
Memories of a Cut Off Head
Where the former Thee Oh Sees reunite with former member Brigid Dawson and go all hushed, bringing to mind the sophisticated indie musings of the likes of Stereolab and Yo La Tengo.
A Certain Ratio
The Graveyard and the Ballroom
It’s about time this happened (and it’s hard to choose between them) but Mute have just reissued some A Certain Ratio classics and The Graveyard And The Ballroom is an absolute banger. Made up of demos and live tracks recorded at The Electric Ballroom, it’s easy to hear how these boys dropped the funk on post punk. Check opener ‘Do The Du’ and gyrate from there. Nice packaging too.
(One Little Indian)
Though self-described earlier this year as a “tinder record”, Utopia sees Björk re-emerge in fiery, celestial form following the earthbound darkness of her 2015 LP Vulnicura. Co-produced with Arca, the album weaves signature, ethereal visions: “Vulnicura was a barren landscape. On Utopia we wanted to make melodies that were like constellations in the clouds.” And indeed, this album is an ode to the beauty that she creates when operating from such otherworldly terrain.
Robert Crotty & Loren Connors
Robert Crotty with Me: Loren’s Collection (1979-1987)
Whilst Loren Connors’ gorgeous abstractions of the blues have continued to reach a wider audience in recent years, Robert Crotty’s raw and atmospheric incantations have been little heard outside of New Haven, where he was a lynchpin of the region’s blues scene. With this LP/ CD bundle, Connors’ mainstay label Family Vineyard, are rightfully shining a light on his and Crotty’s collaborative work as well as Crotty’s sole LP release from back in 1989. Essential listening for lovers of stripped down blues.
Sep142017| September 14, 2017
The group who mixed punk with Parliament funk.
Manchester band A Certain Ratio are rereleasing all of their LPs on vinyl, as well as a new compilation and rarities box set, via Mute.
Once described as “James Brown on acid”, the band released the first album on Factory Records, and were best known for their song ‘Shack Up’, but never went on to achieve the mainstream success many believe they were deserved.
“They were post-punk Wire/Throbbing Gristle fans who got their name from a Brian Eno lyric (‘I’ve been looking for a certain ratio’), but listened to Parliament-Funkadelic” says Dave Simpson.
Full details on what is to come have emerged, after the band teased the reissue project late last year. On November 24th ACR’s 1979 debut album, The Graveyard and The Ballroom, originally released by Factory Records, will be available on limited edition 500-copy vinyl, as well as To Each (red vinyl) and Force (yellow vinyl).
On 23rd February 2018, the band will release I’d Like To See You Again,
Good Together, and acr:mcr on vinyl, followed by a new compilation and rarities box set in April.
ACR will also play a hometown show at Manchester’s Ritz on 16th December 2017 to support the albums.
Pre-order the first three LPs here, and listen to ‘Do the Du’ below.
Mar222017| March 22, 2017
Everything you need to know about the obsessive record producer behind era-defining records by Buzzcocks, Joy Division and Happy Mondays.
There are producers, and there are visionaries, manipulators and megalomaniacs posing as producers, who see commissions as chances to create music without the time-consuming task of writing and promoting it, riding slipshod over the artist’s desires, obsessively driven (crazy) by a sound seemingly only in their head. Producers such as Phil Spector, Joe Meek, Trevor Horn and Martin Hannett.
Typically, this style of producer brings baggage, often various degrees of tragedy, to complement their obsessive, blinkered personalities, triggering conflict, which in turn can trigger brilliant work or catastrophe (sometimes both). Hannett is a textbook case, creating legendary work between the late ‘70s and his last production in 1990, a year before dying, weighing 24 stone, aged 38, defeated by his addictions. But he left behind some of the most memorable, era-defining records in British history.
Hannett’s legacy is not just the music but the mechanics of making music, which a new book, Martin Hannett: His Equipment And Strawberry Studios, addresses directly. The author Chris Hewitt was behind Martin Hannett: Pleasures Of The Unknown and the DVD Martin Hannett: He wasn’t just the fifth member of Joy Division, but neither provide this kind of electronic geek porn, writ large on A4, a cornucopia of keyboards and computers, tape machines and devices with names such as the Ursa Major Space Station (a digital reverberator).
The man’s doodles also occupy whole pages, so in a sense, this is the most accurate portrayal of Hannett, and the kind of producers typically obsessed with machines to facilitate their vision, or open the door to something they didn’t know existed. And with each new machine, they plough on, taking more time, falling deeper into their obsession. Since Hannett began working in studios at the dawn of digital production, this process would dominate his life and the records he produced. But what was – is? – “the Manchester sound”? And how did Hannett get there?
(New Hormones, 1977)
For a producer in the mould of Phil Spector, it’s fitting that Hannett was exposed, at fairgrounds in his native Manchester, to Spector’s towering sixties edifices. “I used to stand underneath those enormous Wharfdale speakers,” he recalled. “I was 11 years old.” Through his teenage pal CP Lee, whose cousin in the navy brought back hard-to-find imports, Hannett discovered rock music, especially loving “anything off the wall, because of the production,” Lee recalls. “When you listen to the first Doors album, recorded with Dolby, but played back without Dolby, compressed treble, incredible!” Hannett said.
Invariably stoned or tripping, in his long coat, scarf and curly mop like Manchester’s version of Tom Baker’s Doctor Who, Hannett worked as a lab chemist, a soundman and early production work for theatre. He also played bass for the short-lived Willy & The Zip Guns but stage nerves put paid to band ambitions, and he began promoting local bands and renting equipment. “Martin wanted musicians to control their own destinies, create their own gigs, make their own records,” said Lee.
Punk, therefore, was perfect timing. But Hannett wasn’t just thinking altruistically. As opposed to dealing with uppity musos, punk bands gave Martin the raw materials that he could manoeuvre and mould.
Inspired by The Sex Pistols, Manchester’s punk trailblazers knew Hannett through his occasional writing for the local New Manchester Review. Hannett’s company Music Force helped get Buzzcocks gigs, and when the band wanted to make their own record, the experienced, enthusiastic Hannett – or Martin Zero as he was then calling himself – was a natural ally. “In the control room, Martin was twiddling the knobs and faders, and as fast as he was doing it, the engineer was moving them back, saying ‘you can’t have that,'” recalls Buzzcocks frontman Peter Shelley. “He was already experimenting. It still surprises me know how alive and fresh Spiral Scratch sounds, and how perfectly it encapsulated Buzzcocks.”
Dry, direct, compact, surging, metallic: Spiral Scratch was powerful and authentic in the way that other punk records of the period weren’t. “When you play Spiral Scratch loud, it sounds exactly as if you’re right in front of the stage at one of their gigs,” Hannett subsequently said. “I was very disappointed when the Sex Pistols album came out with seventeen guitar overdubs.”
John Cooper Clarke
Disguise In Love
Hannett co-founded Rabid Records and produced Slaughter And The Dogs and Jilted John records with the same ‘natural’ dynamics as Spiral Scratch. But poet John Cooper Clarke’s Disguise In Love album – released on major label CBS, so there was a decent budget involved – allowed Hannett to open the portals, while getting free rein to co-write the music and play bass as one third of Clarke’s backing band The Invisible Girls (alongside drummer Paul Burgess and keyboardist Steve Hopkins). Together, they forged a bassy, dubby kind of wayward style of psychedelic lounge music to back Clarke’s scattershot poetry and flat Manc monotone. “The snare drum is the essence of rock and roll,” Hannett claimed.
Hannett first advised Tony Wilson how to start a record label and then joined him at Factory Records. “He was brilliant; I could just see it in his eyes,” Wilson recalled. He always maintained Hannett was the catalyst for the way modern music now sounds, starting with drums. Hannett got hold of the first ever digital delay machine (where a machine repeats notes, like an echo) from AMS and founder Phil Nevis revealed how Hannett would describe to him the sounds he was imagining in his head, and then Nevis would modify the machine accordingly. Soon enough, the AMS was a must-have for every studio.
First, Hannett produced local synth-pop duo Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’s debut single ‘Electricity’; his sense of space and sound created, according to OMD’s Paul Humphries, by “two FX units, a crappy little Marshall time modulator, which he put on everything, and this rack of digital delays,”. Oh, and copious amounts of marijuana – “good for the ears,” Hannett reckoned. And yet OMD decided to re-record the track without Hannett, which was the version Factory released. But as Humphries admitted, “We could never better his mix of ‘Electricity’”.
Hannett’s unique sensibility is the reason why his first album production for Factory sounds the way it does. In fact, Joy Division’s debut album didn’t even sound like the band, who complained they didn’t recognise themselves in the finished record. But as one reviewer noted, Joy Division entered the studio, “as a talented punk bund, they left it as purveyors of unique, futuristic pop music.”
The band’s mix of gothic grind and contrasting levity was future-proofed by Hannett’s bass-heavy, spacious urban sound: influenced, he told me, by dub reggae star Joe Gibbs, ‘50s country superstar Patsy Cline (“that echo, those low notes, the drums”) and The Doors’ second album Strange Days. On top, he added, “a certain disorder in the treble range,” and a distinctive drum sound via tape compression, plus “attention-grabbing things,” such as the grinding ambience of a lift – Hannett loved “found sound” and “sound effects,” said CP Lee.
“In a perverse way,” said Hannett, “I have ordered myself to re-evaluate sounds to create a different perspective, to draw attention, to shock.” This, in all its glory, was the Manchester sound.
The Durutti Column
The Return Of The Durutti Column
By the time guitarist Vini Reilly began recording, he was the only surviving member of The Durutti Column, as his bandmates left after Tony Wilson insisted Hannett produce them. Reilly, chronically depressed and suffering from anorexia nervosa had met Hannett at Music Force, noting “Martin seemed very untogether but he has this remarkable spark. And he was obsessed with sound. He just had this tunnel vision about creating music.”
The session began with Hannett’s “big Moog, and these funny old boxes with loads of holes, everything held together by wire and Sellotape,” said Reilly. “He didn’t engage in conversation, so I just sat in the corner while he fiddled for what seemed like hours, making funny noises. Eventually I screamed, ‘I’m fucking sick of this!’ I realised it was Martin’s method of pulling my brain around, to get me to a place that was otherworldly. Suddenly, he got this twittering bird noise, which I started playing along to, and Martin invented a very simple drum and snare pattern, and we recorded it, added a second guitar, and that’s ‘Sketch for Summer’ on the album.”
The finished Return Of The Durutti Column, “flabbergasted” Reilly, “because it sounded nothing like how I’d played the guitar. I absolutely hated it for two years, like it had nothing to do with me, but after I heard his work with Joy Division, I realised he’d given my body of work a very strong identity that I couldn’t have.”
The Correct Use Of Soap
After producing U2’s second single ‘11 O’Clock Tick Tock’, Hannett was reportedly too preoccupied by Ian Curtis’ suicide to make the band’s debut album. “He didn’t want to get into anything new,” reckoned The Edge. Yet the single’s swampy dynamics wasn’t his finest work, so it’s more likely the band vetoed Hannett, who in any case, produced several other records that year – including Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls, an exercise in gleaming, angular pop, and Magazine’s third album The Correct Use Of Soap, “professionally, my best”, Hannett claimed.
Magazine, fronted by ex-Buzzcocks singer Howard Devoto, had crafted two multi-layered neo-prog (in other words, they’d zoomed right past ‘new wave’) albums, and Hannett was their way of dialling things back: despite the keyboards and general ambition, The Correct Use Of Soap was more Spiral Scratch than prog. The bright clarity of the Pauline Murray and Magazine albums were the polar opposite of Unknown Pleasures, showing Hannett wasn’t trapped in his crazy lab-coated persona, but could dovetail his own demands with those of the artist.
A Certain Ratio
Then again, Hannett loved nothing more than to create something uniquely his, with a hermetically sealed ambience that became his trademark. If Tony Visconti told David Bowie and Brian Eno that the Eventide Harmonizer “fucks with the fabric of time,” then Hannett fucked with the fabric of space.”
“Martin had this theory about creating a room where he could hear the music in, and then tried to get that across,” explains Pete Shelley. “To me, he was an alchemist, or a mystic.” At the same time, he loved records “with that party feeling to them, like Bowie records,” and the funk-soul axis of Manchester crew A Certain Ratio was the perfect place to combine the two aspects.
After producing the studio ‘Graveyard’ half of their debut album (originally released on cassette only), Hannett really got into the swing with ACR’s vinyl album debut. To Each… was recorded four months after Unknown Pleasures, and benefits from that album’s advances; this is dank, eerie, even claustrophobic, dance music, slathered in dub echo, like it was recorded in a basement under a swimming pool.
Some criticised the band – and Hannett too – of wanting to inherit the gloomy mantle of Joy Division after the recording of Joy Division’s second album Closer and singer Ian Curtis’ suicide in May 1980. But whatever its provenance, the record still stands up as an uncannily forceful rhythmic dynamo, and in some aspects, delved deeper into an aural representation of North Manchester’s bleak industrial landscape: “a science fiction city, chemical plants, warehouses, canals, railways, and roads that don’t take any notice of the areas they traverse,” Hannett noted.
Everything’s Gone Green
(Factory Benelux, 1982)
To the devastated, insecure members of Joy Division who formed New Order after Curtis’ death, Hannett was ‘better the devil you know’, and their single ‘Ceremony’ sounded fantastic. But Hannett’s increasing use of heroin, and the experience of making New Order’s debut album Movement, soured the relationship: everyone was in mourning, and the dynamic palate is almost suffocated by a depressive fog (albeit a very beautiful depressive fog, and I think the album is still insanely underrated).
Hannett blamed guitarist/elected singer Bernard Sumner – “we couldn’t get anything out of Bernard until he was just about ready to pass out” – but Hannett also admitted he,” took more time to refine those little sonic tricks I’d invented for Closer.”
But who was responsible for the sonic trickery of New Order’s next record, the single ‘Everything’s Gone Green’? Despite the bad feelings, band and producer reunited one more time, after New Order had visited New York, and imbibed disco and electro, while drummer Stephen Morris taught himself drum programming.
The resulting single was suffused instead by sleek synths and sequencers, as if Giorgio Moroder had suddenly taken charge and injected shards of light into their signature Mancunian murk. “’Blue Monday’, which was the first thing New Order did without Martin, gets the credit as the track that changed modern music, but there’s no doubt that Bernard got it from watching Martin,” claimed Tony Wilson. “To me, ‘Everything’s Gone Green’ is the beginning of modern music, linking those early Apple computers with keyboards, which was revolutionary.”
Hannett also heard the future in the new sampler, the Fairlight: early adopters included Peter Gabriel and producer Trevor Horn. But demands that Factory buy him the sampler fell on deaf ears. “We said, ‘What? Sorry, we’re spending the money on a nightclub,” recalled Tony Wilson – namely, the Hacienda. “Trevor Horn gets the Fairlight and does Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and the rest is history. If we hadn’t been so mean and stupid, Martin would have invented the next stage in music.”
Given his love of found sound, the Fairlight might have consumed Hannett, figuratively and literally. As it was, he fell into a comparative slump, often producing bands – Minny Pops, The Names, The Stockholm Monsters – that had pronounced Joy Division tendencies – all good records but no challenge.
One unexpected, outlandish and forgotten commission was for the sublimely camp French-Turkish singer/actress Armande Altaï, a cross between Grace Jones, Diamanda Galas, Klaus Nomi and Amanda Lear, with a soaring operative delivery. Hannett rose to task with vertiginous synths and voluminous drums, a vaulting baroque classical/electronic hybrid that mirrored and matched the album’s title, Nocturne Flamboyant. It’s quite unlike other Hannett productions, and since its online presence is restricted to a couple of You Tube clips, one of the rarest.
Wounded by his fellow Factory directors’ decision to fund the Hacienda instead of his studio arsenal, Hannett responded by suing the label. He was furious at what he perceived as being totally ripped off. “[Tony’s] made the company worth nothing, and gave me 23 percent of it”, he ranted in 1989. “Martin always took things very personally,” said CP Lee. “He considered [Factory] destroyed his whole dream. He practically lived in the studio.”
Tony Wilson also cites the impact both A Certain Ratio and New Order producing themselves, and that, “out of everyone, Ian Curtis’ death hit Martin hardest.” The lawsuit was settled out of court. Hannett received £40,000, which he sunk into heroin, while abandoning the studio: “I went back to my eight-track in my bedroom for a year,” he said.
Eventually, Hannett attempted to climb out of his hole. In 1985, he produced the first version of ‘I Want To Be Adored’ by a unproven Manchester band, The Stone Roses. Two songs, ‘So Young’ and ‘Tell Me’, were eventually released on Hannett’s own independent label, Thin Line – a sorry, sad drug reference. When it seemed unsalvageable for Hannett, Factory threw out a lifeline by suggesting he produce their new star band Happy Mondays’ second album, Bummed.
Drugs united band and producer: “He likes working with us ’cause we give him a lot of E during the sessions,” said Shaun Ryder. Taking the place of heroin, ecstasy enabled Hannett to reignite his studio nous, giving the Mondays’ endearingly shambolic shabbiness both soupy depth and sharp edges – a sound as fresh and alive as Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch 11 years earlier.
New Fast Automatic Daffodils
(Play It Again Sam Records, 1990)
Hannett managed to wean himself off heroin, but like many junkies, started drinking to compensate. “By the end of my tussle with Factory I had a bottle of Jack Daniels and a seven-can-a-day habit,” he said. He worked on odd tracks with emerging bands seeking his legendary touch, such as The High and Kitchens of Distinction (who recall Hannett drinking and smoking joints until he fell asleep on the mixing desk, and still ranting about Factory). But the best of this motley bunch of recordings was a single by Manchester’s New Fast Automatic Daffodils, probably because Hannett had the experience of working with Happy Mondays, and could respond to ‘Get Better’’s frenetic, churning energy and lend the band something of his A Certain Ratio productions.
For all the strengths of ‘Get Better’, Hannett could no longer be as out-of-the-box inventive: his health, and mindset, didn’t have that kind of resilience and focus. But he’s a legend for a reason, and few producers have a book dedicated to their studio equipment and doodles.
Nov302016| November 30, 2016
Factory Records legends share first new studio recording since 2008.
One of the first bands to record for Tony Wilson’s iconic Manchester label, A Certain Ratio have gone back to the studio for the first time in eight years to re-work and re-record Australian outfit NO ZU’s ‘Body2Body’.
Themselves influenced by ACR and that acid-laced Factory dance sound, NO ZU are releasing a remix EP of new album Afterlife early next year. Once described as “James Brown on acid” A Certain Ratio have shared their version of ‘Body2Body’ exclusively with The Vinyl Factory below:
Speaking about the collaboration, ACR’s Martin Moscrop said: “We first got to hear about NO ZU when the legendary Manchester DJ Jason Boardman introduced us to the band with a view of doing a remix. We really liked what they were doing musically and we thought a collaboration where we played on the song would work better than a remix. We approached ‘Body 2 Body’ like one of our own tunes and injected some classic ACR feel into the production. We added bass, drums, guitar, trumpet and 303 acid bassline by jamming around the vocal and the structure of the song. The ideas were recorded in Manchester and there are snippets of classic ACR tracks in the rework including ‘Do the Du’, hence the name of the mix.”
Earlier this year, Mute announced it would be reissuing a selection of studio albums as well as vinyl, cassette and box sets of B-sides, unreleased and rare tracks, remixes and live recordings.
A Certain Ratio’s Do The Du ZU Mix of ‘Body2Body’ will be included on a forthcoming NO ZU remix EP, released on Chapter Music in early 2017, with a new album also on the way.
Click here to pre-order a copy.
NO ZU will play Primavera Sound in Barcelona, as well as the following festival dates:
Nov042016| November 4, 2016
Once described as “James Brown on acid,” ACR remain a tragically unsung band from the Factory Records catalogue. With a major retrospective campaign on the horizon, Patrick Ryder charts the band’s career in 10 essential records.
Words: Patrick Ryder
The angular thrust of post-punk marked the beginning of a prolific period for Mancunian music. A crumbling industrial terrain and constant downpour provided the fertile soil for a new crop of sonic outsiders who embraced punk’s democratic philosophy to describe their jaded worldview.
Concentrated around Tony Wilson’s idealistic Factory imprint, the likes of Joy Division (and then New Order) and Durutti Column soon became central figures in the city’s musical landscape and are still widely acclaimed to this day.
Curiously though, there’s one outfit from this era who consistently slip under the critical radar, the prolific, musically proficient and stylistically perverse A Certain Ratio. Fusing elements of funk, jazz, post punk and noise into their own unique musical vision, ACR resolutely refused to fit into any scene or style, choosing instead to follow their own musical compass.
With a large scale reissue series on Mute and an upcoming collaboration with Australian punk funkers No Zu on the horizon, here’s an introduction to the forward thinking, body moving ensemble in ten records.
A Certain Ratio
Though the group made their debut on Factory the year before with the abrasive post-punk snarl of ‘All Night Party’, it was their second release which saw A Certain Ratio begin to carve out their unique musical niche. Driven by limber bass work and free funk drumming, ‘Flight’ injects some hip twisting groove into the sombre and straight post-punk formula, while B-side “Blown Away” is a three minute explosion of South American drumming, bird song and disembodied vocal wails, which gets peak time play from some of your favourite leftfield selectors to this day.
A Certain Ratio
(Factory Benelux, 1980)
If ‘Flight’ saw the group take one small step away from the doom and gloom of their trench-coated contemporaries, ‘Shack Up’ was one giant leap for punk-funk fankind. The first release on Factory Benelux saw ACR offer their spiky, shuffling take on Banbarra’s ode to getting together, a mad mutant groove which replaced the soulful slant of the original with all the glorious awkwardness of a poorly attended knees up at your local social club.
A Certain Ratio
After dropping the quasi-debut album The Graveyard And The Ballroom on cassette in 1980, ACR’s delivered their first vinyl long player the following year in the form of To Each… Recorded in New Jersey and produced by Factory mainstay Martin Hannett, the LP swaggers along the precipice of post punk and odd funk to the syncopated hats and flying triplets of Donald Johnson’s faultless drumming. The rubbery twang of Jez Kerr’s bass rounds out the primal, powerhouse rhythm section, while Martin Moscrop’s plangent trumpet and a succession of warped vocals create an ever present sense of unease. Bookended by the clipped groove of ‘Felch’ and the percussion led voodoo of the standout ‘Winter Hill’, To Each… saw ACR further develop an increasingly unique sound.
Abracadubra / Sommadub
Though it wasn’t released under the ACR moniker, this one off 12” as Sir Horatio marks an important moment in the band’s evolution, showcasing a fascination with dub which seeped into much of their early 80s output. Languid and catatonically stoned, both ‘Abracadubra’ and ‘Sommadub’ glide along on the horizontal, boasting the same spacious sound design and industrial inflections we’d heard on To Each…, while making it resolutely clear that A Certain Ratio could and would master any style they turned their hand to.
A Certain Ratio
December saw the group round out a productive 1981 with the standalone single ‘Waterline’, a queasy fusion of infectious bass licks and eerie sound design which manages to be both danceable and chilling. The constant mutation of Johnson’s rhythms creates a sustained tension while the odd combination of Topping’s vocoder and Martha Tilson’s ghostly wailing moves the party to the darkest corners of a haunted house. The mood remains distinctly chilly for flipside ‘Funaezekea’, a claustrophobic fusion of hammer horror keys and disturbed horns over disjointed dub rhythms left over from the Sir Horatio offshoot.
A Certain Ratio
Widely regarded as their finest moment, Sextet saw A Certain Ratio shake off the last traces of their embryonic angst and embark on a sweltering journey into the furthest corners of the musical map. Bursting into bright Technicolor, the six piece stormed through a potent brew of white funk, samba and sun-kissed jazz, driven onwards by a nimble and fast-paced rhythm section. Where the bass and drums had previously lent ACR a heavy, primal power, Sextet saw them drop back in the mix, allowing for a more dynamic, playful sound. Whether rattling through body moving jazz dance or reclining with a languid, sub tropical funk, the band sounded tighter than ever, particularly on the sensational ‘Knife Slits Water’, a sublime signpost for their next musical direction.
A Certain Ratio
Switching things up once again, this killer dance floor cut from ’85 finds the group heading stateside for inspiration, incorporating elements of boogie, street soul and electro into their unique vision of mutant funk. Boasting a more electronic sound than previous releases, ‘Wild Party’ body pops its way through stomping beats and robotic vocals as moody keys offer a moonlit suspense. Backed by the equally dope ‘Sounds Like Something Dirty’, this self produced stormer could easily be mistaken for an unheard Arthur Baker remix, a testament to the growing confidence and competence of the group.
A Certain Ratio
After six prolific years of constant evolution, the ACR of Force were all but unrecognisable from their earliest inception, retaining only a keen sense of the funk and the perennial reluctance to do what other people expected of them. Seemingly this didn’t play well with the Factory hierarchy, and ‘Force’ was to be the group’s swan song on their hometown label. Recorded with their strongest line up, immediately before Andy Connell left to pursue the chart success of Swing Out Sister, on a slew of new equipment, the album was a masterclass of sampledelic P-funk, dance floor fusion and loose limbed grooves, all crowned by Hacienda favourite ‘Mickey Way’.
A Certain Ratio
Alive and well and on A&M after the Factory split, A Certain Ratio were in euphoric and emotive form for 1989’s Good Together. Bursting with the boundless positivity of the acid house era, the LP sees ACR divert their usual funk into the baggy sound of the time, exploiting conventional song structures to convey themes of togetherness and hope. Soulful, smooth and packed with proper anthems, including the saucy eyed serenade ‘The Big E’ and the wriggling acid pop of the title track, ‘Good Together’ remains the ACR of choice for ageing ravers everywhere.
A Certain Ratio
Up In Downsville
(Robs Records, 1992)
If Good Together saw A Certain Ratio translating the acid house ethos through conventional song, Up In Downsville was a sweat drenched return to the heart of the dance floor. Released on Rob Gretton’s plainly named imprint, the LP shuffles through melodic house, slick acid jazz and brooding electro-funk, pulling together the disparate strands of Manchester’s clubland into one infectious whole. The groove is king throughout but never hits harder than on LP closer Up In Downsville Pt.2, a flute led masterpiece of Mancunian funk which forms a wonderful contrast to enduring Balearic classic ‘Salvador’s (Fish)’, the album’s finest moment.
Oct042016| October 4, 2016
“James Brown on acid.”
Kicking off in February 2017, A Certain Ratio has announced plans to reissue a selection of studio albums. The programme, announced in partnership with Mute, will continue with vinyl, cassette and box sets of B-sides, unreleased and rare tracks, remixes and live recordings.
Formed in 1978, ACR were one of the first bands to record for Tony Wilson’s Factory Records, debuting with the 7″ single ‘All Night Party/The Thin Boys’. Combining funk, jazz, tape loops and pop, the band were pioneers of punk-funk with their hit ‘Shack Up’ causing waves on both sides of the Atlantic. Their sound was once described as “James Brown on acid.”
“A Certain Ratio embraced the ethic and culture of the late seventies post-punk explosion, but sounded like nothing else around them and refused to fit in,” reads the press notes. “ACR always do what I don’t expect, who wouldn’t want to work with artists like that?” Mute boss Daniel Miller adds.
Though various members have come and gone, a core line-up of Jeremy Kerr, Martin Moscrop and Donald Johnson has always remained. The band recently performed at Festival No. 6, and will play two dates in France this month, followed by Blackburn next month.
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Registered in England and Wales under no. 04184222.