I DISCOVERED Hyperculte’s first album while browsing the racks of the in-house record shop at the super-organised and consistently inspiring Zoro squat venue in Leipzig, left there, no doubt, when the hard-working Swiss / French duo (or one of their other musical projects) played a gig in the former vinyl factory.
I can’t think of anywhere better.
I don’t recall what particular section the self-titled album was filed in but, in truth, it could have been any of them. Avant-garde jazz-punk? Pre-kraut post-disco? Trance pop? Take your pick. Hyperculte seem pretty relaxed about genre, categories and boxes.
What I do remember is being struck by the cover image for the album, which featured the duo wearing decidedly un-ironic and bizarre out-size furry costumes by the side of a misty, fairytale lake.
It doesn’t look like they’re having a laugh. The pair of them look like they’re deadly serious, unrepentant, defiant even.
If these hairy chimeras came from some kind of fairy tale, it was clearly one that was infinitely darker, earthier and more primal than the cuddly, sanitised morality tales parents send kids to sleep with today.
In fact, Diego Sanchez’s hugely evocative photography hints at the kind of ancient, amoral, pine-scented central European folklore upon which all that Disney shit is ultimately based.
You can sense a stillness that has sustained for centuries.
It was mysterious, elegant and beautiful. And weird as fuck.
Reader, I bought it.
EVERYONE was on tour in the States and I was staying at Southview House on my own. Alice and Dan were playing stadiums for MTV with Aerosmith and I was working in Belle Isle. But at least I got to hang out with Derek the dog.
One morning, hungover as hell, I stumble out of my basement bedroom and head upstairs.
I discover the Ex cheerfully bouncing around the kitchen with what I have come to understand is their customary enthusiasm and vigour, laughing and joking with each other in high-volume Dutch while frying cheese and mushrooms with abandon.
The people in Chumbawamba and the Ex had been friends for years – in fact Coby did the live sound for the Ex before she moved to Leeds and began working with the Chumbas – and they’d let themselves in after playing a local gig somewhere the night before. It was that kind of house.
I MET John White aka UV Pop when I bunked off sixth form and went over to Doncaster with some girl I was seeing at the time to interview Marcus Featherby about his label, Pax. I’d come into contact with Marcus through the punk gigs he promoted at the Marples in Sheffield. I’d never met anyone quite like either of them before.
At the time, Marcus was staying at John’s two-up-two-down in Bentley. My most vivid memory is the heating not being on, despite it being a very cold Yorkshire winter, but then again, I was still living with my parents, and didn’t have to worry about paying for leccy. And I think my girlfriend was much more impressed with both John and Marcus than she was with me.
Marcus gave me a copy of the debut, Cabs-produced UV Pop single, and I was impressed enough to interview John for my fanzine. I have no clue whether we did the interview in person or through the post.
People being vegetarian seemed to be really important to me at the time (I’d gone veggie about six months earlier, so I had the conviction of the convert), and I had yet to work out the world was coloured in various shades of grey rather than the black and white certainty I so clearly craved.
I’d like to say my interview technique is more subtle and nuanced these days but it really isn’t.
I can’t find any activity for UV Pop (who eventually became a proper band despite John’s reservations), beyond 2012, but I hope John is still making music.
AT ONE point it seemed like the same old story.
A group of eager young hopefuls – who are every talented but also very naïve – start to make wonderful music and are taken under the wing of a backer who is more worldly wise and get taken for a ride. It happens all the time.
But the devil doesn’t always get the best tunes. The forces of good and grooviness sometimes get their act together. And that’s exactly what happened with Rotherham’s highly-regarded Beeswax label, which is run by music heads Lee Oakes and Leiam Sullivan (usually known by his DJing name of Sully) and business brain Robert Lovell.
“The deal was that we would set up Beeswax as an independent dance label alongside Empire Studio’s own mainstream label, and anything we did that had mainstream potential would be released through them,” says Robert, who is by far the gobbiest of the trio. “We didn’t want commercial mixes on our records, we didn’t want to go in that direction at all. They didn’t listen to us.”
IT’S nine o’clock on a cold Saturday evening and Ali Cooke and Dave Beer are in their tiny office in the labyrinthine Music Factory, looking suitably shagged out after a trip to the Royal Albert Hall to collect Back to Basics’ prestigious Mixmag club of the year award last night.
The two bleary-eyed promoters clearly enjoyed the occasion to the full. They are not at their best. And all this less than a year after the club’s first night.
“I didn’t even realise you got awards for stuff like that,” Beer says. “When we set the club up, it’s not as if we did it to put ourselves in the limelight.”
“Dave wanted to go to a club where he’d like the music and the people around him,” adds Cooke, who also DJs at Basics. “And I wanted the chance to play the kind of music I want to play.”
UNLIKE many people who turned up on Berry Gordy’s doorstep when he established the Motown label, Martha Reeves was invited.
Working as a cleaner through the week and performing in clubs at the weekend, Reeves was spotted by Motown A&R man Mickey Stevenson one night in the Twenty Grand in Detroit.
“He gave me a card and said, you have talent, come to Hitsville,” says the formidable Miss Reeves over the phone from her home in Detroit. “He went all over the city, gathering up singers and musicians.”
One of 12 children, Reeves was raised in a god-fearing Alabama family and first sang publicly in her grandfather’s Methodist church after the family moved to Detroit.
It was in Detroit where Reeves fell under the benign influence of her godmother Beatrice.
“She was a woman who took me under her wing and took me to a lot of plays and concerts at the theatre – with my mom’s permission, of course – and I saw Lena Horne when I was about three years old,” remembers Reeves.
“She was so pretty and she was singing the blues. As a child, I couldn’t imagine anyone like her being unhappy, as pretty as she was. And later I was influenced by Della Reese. I saw her in church and she was singing Amazing Grace. The next day I saw her singing one of her songs on TV. I identified with her and she became my role model.”
Attending Northeastern High School alongside Supremes Flo Ballard and Mary Wilson – practicing singing while she washed up in the family kitchen (“the acoustics were good,” she explains) – Reeves was part of the generation whose parents escaped poverty in the South to reap the benefits of contributing to the war effort in the North.
But not everyone was content to work for minimum wage on the Ford Motor Co production line.
TWENTY years ago, Britain was beset by riots, right-wing extremism, simmering racial tension, mass redundancies and a crumbling social infrastructure. Its Tory government, buttressed by a seemingly unassailable parliamentary majority, appeared to be hell bent on cementing the ‘special relationship’ with the United States, no matter what the cost.
Meanwhile, a largely indifferent population shrugged its collective shoulders and got on with checking its bingo numbers.
Britain then was, of course, a very different place to the land of milk and honey we live in today. Times have changed. We’ve all moved on. Haven’t we?