Part of a series of long lost interviews I wrote for 3D World Magazine back in the mid 1990s.
Over the underground?
It was a disaster. Plaid, all the way from the UK and former members of Warp label stalwarts – The Black Dog, turn up to 2SER expecting a proper radio interview. The studio was in chaos, the microphones were playing up, the phone wouldn’t stop ringing, and Lex Luthor was left to roll out the questions whilst I tried to control the havoc. Fortunately another chance came which saw me lunching with Ed and Andy at a cafe in the supposedly “cleaned-up” Kings Cross. In the background, a British trip hop album warbles away – and one can’t help thinking we still are just one of the colonies – suckers for any imported hip culture.
Part-techno, part-hip hop, and probably what Atomic HiFi’s selector Sir Robbo would wince at hearing called “funky”, Plaid are here in Australia with Bjork and quite markedly different from their earlier incarnation as two-thirds of the Black Dog. Roped in as extremely last minute replacements for her keyboard player, they are on the final leg of an Asian tour which has seen them also visit Japan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, New Zealand. “Bjork called us a week before we had to leave and we had to take our studio on the road with us . . . . into five-star hotels where we’ve been writing tracks and putting everything together . . . . . fortunately we’ve only had one noise complaint . . . . the best atmosphere was at the show in Thailand, but we did this one in Beijing in China where the crowd almost rioted. You see they don’t really have support acts in China and so when we’d finished everyone thought we were Bjork without the singer. We were twenty metres away from the audience on the stage with a row of security police kicking out everyone who got up out of their seats and dancing was forbidden – it was really weird”. Their Hordern Pavillion appearances as a solo act before Bjork saw them squeeze out moody atmospheres over geometric and mechanical beats veering from slow messed-up breakbeats to an almost junglistic number – 4/4 techno or trance was nowhere to be heard. As part of Bjork’s accompaniment their presence was marked, rearranging the programming and the live performance of the recently available B-side Charlene, a fitting testament to their collaboration. Squelches, clanks, and abstractions slowly metamorphosed over the set into a brilliant imitation of Fluke on the rendition of the penultimate Violently Happy with the biggest snare-roll since Josh Wink.
An EP for Clear, work with Jonah Sharp and his Reflective label in San Franscisco culminating in a mini-American tour,, and a plethora of remixes has been the bulk of Plaid’s output in the last year or so since the split from Black Dog, now reduced to a one man act. “When the tour’s finished, we’re going to settle down and write the next album as Plaid [the first one being over five years ago as part of Black Dog Productions] which will probably be preceded by an EP. There are four tracks on the new Nicollette album, and remixes for Red Snapper, Ruby and Lady Miss Kier from Dee-Lite which will all be out soon but are at the whim of their record companies . . . . the Lady Miss Kier mixes have also been done by 4Hero and A Guy Called Gerald and her American record company is getting very confused . . . and some more tracks for Bjork which may or may not see the light of day”. Explaining the attraction, Ed and Andy agree, “remixes are good because they give us a chance to get some other influences which hopelfully flow through into our own work, for example, on the new tracks of our own there’ll be vocals but used as textures rather than straight-up lyrics”. Andy adds “I’d love to do some remixes with Kate Bush just for that voice”.
Since acid house, lyrics seem to have been taking a bit of a back seat and now with jungle and “trip hop” times have certainly changed for the better and things seem to have shifted more the way of the avant-garde. Ed, a longtime hip hop listener and afficiaonado, agrees “even in hip hop the delivery of the lyrics often is heard more than the lyrics themselves . . . . and it’ll never go back to the old days of rock’n’roll because there’s simply too much technology around which is used in the studio nowadays”. Andy is slightly more skeptical, “but you’ve got those [handbag] house tunes with phrases like ‘everything is beautiful’ repeated over and over which still set the crowd wild”. Ed continues, “hip hop in Britain has been largely ignored by the press partly because it has always been regarded as merely imitating the style of American hip hop and in many cases it was and the rhymes were really wack, but now there are a whole new range of crews feeding off the [space] jungle and trip hop, especially the dub-influenced stuff, have opened up but trip hop will always be a slack imitation of hip hop . . . I think people in Britain really got turned off hip hop in the late Eighties when it got particularly focussed upon American politics and a lot of White kids just went straight over into the house scene which you could say was to escape from the politics . . . . and now they’re getting back into it thru the [bastardized] trip hop genre . . . . which the real hip hop purists, perhaps rightly, hate . . . . but maybe its now working the other way too with Prince Paul and Wu-Tang’s RZA for example completely changing around hip hop production styles . . . . adding a more soundtrack-like feel”. Andy jumps in, “there are purists everywhere – trainspotters – and you have to ignore them sometimes . . . our work with Bjork, our remixes, could all draw flak from the purists but we’ve reached a point where we can at last live off our music without sacrificing ourselves to a major label by releasing substandard product every few months . . . we could re-release all the very first Black Dog Productions stuff if we wanted I suppose but, in all honesty, we’d prefer to get on writing new material, and it would really just be a money spinner”.
Sebastian Chan 1996