Wednesday, 24 December 2008

A Christmas Double Shot (Part 2)

Primal Scream are a band it isn't always easy to like. Their near-fundamentalist adherence to the tenets of The Rock'n'Roll Lifestyle can sometimes make them appear little more than a bunch of dicks suffering from an advanced case of arrested development rather than a group of people with a sincere belief in the redemptive power of music. Yet both live and on record, they're often capable of shoving such doubts right back down the throats of those who hold them. One of the best live shows I've ever seen was their performance at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool in April 2000. So often you'll hear bands say how they're influenced by this or that, or that their new direction is like X meets Y, and when you actually hear the end product, you wonder what the fucking hell they were talking about. But if Bobby Gillespie had said in 2000 that the new Primal Scream sound was like a Krautrock Stooges scrapping in a pub car-park with Sun Ra's Arkestra, Charles Mingus, My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth...well, after that show, I'd have believed him, because that's exactly what they sounded like, and it was fucking astounding. I've seen them three times since, and they've never come close to matching the thrilling, terrifying, remorseless racket they made that night. They divided our party right down the middle and all; half thought it was near-transcendent in its magnificence. The other half thought it was a load of shite. Well, so long as you get a reaction, eh?

The album they were touring back then, XTRMNTR, is, for me, probably their best. I've never entirely bought the argument that Screamadelica is one of the great creative touchstones of late 20th century rock music, although I do like it. What's interesting when you play those two records alongside each other is just how radically different they are. Essentially, it's the same band on both albums, and this is the thing I admire most about Primal Scream; they don't stay in the same place for too long and, for a band that supposedly once typified the intensely conservative indie ethos of the 80s and 90s, this is pretty remarkable if you ask me.

They've also long been market leaders when it comes to mucking around with dance-music idioms, drafting in DJs and remixers like David Holmes, Andrew Weatherall and Jagz Kooner to not only remix their material, but to produce it as well. As a result, those less conventionally rock'n'roll/dancefloor aspects of their sound never give the impression of having been bolted-on as an afterthought for marketing purposes, as was often the case with some of their peers, back when "indie dance" was the buzzword of the day. Consequently, what you end up with is dance music which properly rocks out, and rock'n'roll with the kind of pilled-up, hip-twitching groove that today's pop kids are really diggin', daddy-o! Jagz Kooner's Spectre Mix of Swastika Eyes is absolutely fucking brutal. Imagine Neu! if they'd grown up on a Salford sink estate listening to nothing but Belgian techno from 1990 and Fun House by the Stooges. If you can't, then I suggest you play it as loud as you possibly can and find out what such a thing might have sounded like.

Primal Scream: Swastika Eyes [Spectre Mix] (single, 2000)

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