Against punk

Punk, we are told, came about as a reaction against the bland, bloated corporate rock of the 1970’s. Punk represented a violent and healthy shrugging off of the politeness and dullness of mainstream music (Stevie Wonder/Earth Wind and Fire/Marvin Gaye…), it was a great rebellion, a rising up of the masses who were being, in some ill-defined sense, oppressed by this meretricious pap, and who were terribly angry about it. (Quite why they were buying it in such numbers has yet to be fully explained.)

So the answer, of course, was noisy, amateurish music with a lot of rage in it. Music that could be produced by anyone. You didn’t need anything to play punk. You didn’t require any fancy musical training or high-priced skills or anything, just some mates, a shed (or garage) and guitars and amps and a drum kit and mikes and amplifiers…

OK, you needed a fair bit of kit. As much, in fact, as the muso oppressors needed to make their polite (spit) well-polished (blaaaah) music with. And you needed to know how to play chords, no fewer than three, the same three that all those poncey, sell-out mainstream bands used actually. Plus of course if you were going to actually get anywhere there would have to be someone around with some rudimentary marketing skills. You would have to have some promotional machine so that the world could know just how angry you really were about being oppressed by Stevie Wonder and Earth Wind and Fire. For the gig you would need further things: a PA (public address system), and probably a van, or  at least large car, to carry all the stuff to the gig. You would have to produce some promotional flyers for the gig, which would mean having to deal with The Man at the photocopy shop. Someone to take money. If there was a bar, you would need staff to take money there as well. Still, it was as anarchic as anything (at least as far as the constraints of being a commercially operated venture would allow, of course).

Then, if you wanted to record just how angry you were about it all, you would have to operate within the constraints of a record producing entity of some kind. Even if this was your own label (financed by daddy’s money, of course), this would involve owning or hiring plant and machinery plus expertise. It would, undoubtedly, all start to oppress the bejesus out of you at some point, so you would retire straight away and go back to your day job at daddy’s car valeting company. Unless you made it big, in which case you would  give a great many interviews to a great many angry young journalists like Julie Burchill, and then wait until it was your turn to do the butter adverts. Meanwhile the enemy, in the form of corporate media whores like Prince, would be making Sign o’the Times

Maybe it all made sense at the time. Maybe you had to be there. Though possibly even that didn’t really help much. (I was, it didn’t.)

Razak and I

 

I had just come out of a period of what I think you could call frenzied activity: 6 novels over 7 years under 2 names. I was waiting for what came next, and it turned out that nothing, actually, came next. I had entered a career lull. But the music industry was waiting to suck me back in.


I had had an unhappy, unresolved affair with the business end of music in the 1980s. I had spent six long years getting precisely nowhere, and the scars were deep. I have always loved music: it hasn’t always loved me back. We had agreed to a sort of uneasy stand off.


Razak started out in my life as a student: he wanted to learn the piano, but had no aptitude and was in a tearing hurry. So I started to play keyboards for him. We spent many nights, Razak and I, in his bedroom studio: the music was trance, synth-heavy and machine-like. The tracks were dance mixes, 10 minutes long and extremely dense. We developed something like a telepathic understanding of each other: I would play, he would record, and I would know just from the way he tapped the computer keys or used the ashtray whether or not it was right. Usually it wasn’t. Raz and me were getting nowhere: the old familiar journey.


But Razak had friends, in particular a DJ who I will refrain from naming. For no particular reason, one hot afternoon we did a ‘session’ with him: I played keyboards, Razak played the computer, and the DJ sat in the producer’s chair, occasionally relieving the monotony by losing something. Division of labour, team work.


The track worked. To my jaded ears it sounded much the same as everything else we had ever done, but the DJ suddenly started jumping up and down and saying, ‘Big track! HUGE track!’. This, apparently, is a good thing. We mastered it there and then, the DJ started talking about Pete Tong and Ibiza, and before I knew what had happened I was hearing it on Radio 1. It was going to be BIG. It was, imaginatively enough, called ‘That Big Track’. (Bigness, as you see, was the theme here.)


But there was more to come: a performer whose name I dimly recalled from a hit in the early 90’s had heard the track and decided he would put a vocal on it. The track could now ‘cross over’ , and within a few months it appeared on dozens of compilations, had charted, and was played a lot even in the kinds of places I would go to. I was hearing it everywhere. I started to quite like it.


Razak and I tried several times to do the ‘follow-up’, but nothing we did came out right. We were a one hit wonder, and we parted company shortly after that.


But it’s still out there. I heard it the other day in the gym I go to, and I still here it in pubs. It goes ‘Daa daa da-da-daa, da-da-da-da, daa da da-da-da’, and you may have heard it too. There is even a video, featuring three women in bikinis (daringly original: watch it here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZZa-xGIMuA).


I have never been tempted back into the music industry, and I never will. My place in history is assured: highest chart ranking = #72. My name is Simon, and I am a one hit wonder.