Sunday, 24 April 2011

3: M/A/R/R/S, “Pump Up The Volume/Anitina (The First Time I See She Dance)” (no.1, 1987)

The 2001 of one-hit wonders, pointing us in the direction of a new way of making music; one that seemed revolutionary at the moment of release, and has grown commonplace in the years since. From the word go, they were a sampled band, mashing together members of two indie chart favourites - electronica specialists Colourbox (responsible for one of my favourite ever pieces of music, the Mexico ’86-inspired “The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme”) and moody minimalists A.R. Kane - plus a couple of then-prominent club DJs, CJ Macintosh and Dave Dorrell.

They didn’t all get on - in later years, the Kane lot would take steps to prevent Colourbox from re-using the M/A/R/R/S name, payback for what they considered the shoddy treatment of their altogether indier B-side - yet the fractious creative process would in several ways mirror the finished product. What was so radical about “Pump Up the Volume” was that neither the vocals, nor the orchestration would be laid down in a recording studio; instead every element you heard on the record would be sourced from a pre-existing recording, mostly - as it turned out - obscure soul, hip-hop and R’n’B tracks. (Anoraks attempting to identify the source of individual samples will have a field day here.)

Naturally, this was perceived as a threat to the musical orthodoxy, as much as punk had been a decade before. In September 1987, with “Pump Up the Volume” climbing the UK charts - and threatening to topple Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” from the top spot - Astley’s producers Stock Aitken and Waterman launched a legal action related to copyright infringement, and successfully had the “hey!” sample (extracted from their earlier hit “Roadblock”) removed from all future pressings. (The stalling tactic was less successful: M/A/R/R/S displaced Astley at number one in the first week of October.)

As a result, like a classic text over whose differing folios scholars continue to argue, “Pump Up the Volume” exists in multiple forms: the version on the video above, with its shoutout to “all you homeboys in the Bronx” is the U.S. radio edit. (The original UK release opened with Lovebug Starski’s declaration “this has gotta be the greatest record of the year” - now that’s chutzpah.) Worth remembering, with each leaden R’n’B “smash” that simply lifts wholesale one riff from a record most of us were already aware of, how dynamic sampling once was - and still could be. How wide-ranging it was, too: for “Pump Up the Volume” - a genuine journey into sound - stretches out into the furthest corners of the universe. (Hell, as number 90 on this list demonstrates, it even reached Whitley Bay.)

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