Thursday, 23 January 2014

Funky Alternatives: Best of Volume One to Eight (1996)

In case anyone has forgotten, 400 Blows were at least notable for citing their main influences as Chic and Throbbing Gristle, which made a lot of sense given their authentically funky yet oddly gritty sound and a handful of mostly decent records of which at least The Return of the Dog and Declaration of Intent should be considered works of true inspiration. When they started releasing the Funky Alternatives compilations through their own Concrete Productions label it seemed like a minor revelation from where I stood, at least in bringing together massive names like New Order and The Shamen with more obscure but equally noteworthy groups such as Nocturnal Emissions and of course 400 Blows themselves.

I kind of lost track after the first few volumes, and the last I encountered was the fifth one which I saw in a shop a few times but was never tempted to buy, probably due to the presence of My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult. The eclecticism of the first few discs had given way to that late 1980s understanding of electronic dance music as a skinhead in one of those vests with a German eagle motif grunting along to a soundtrack of drum machine, sequencer, and a tape of a man saying Praise Jesus! It seemed like the game was up, at least judging by the fact that even Phil fucking Collins was making records with tapes of American televangelists.

Also, I suppose I had begun to wonder just what was meant by Funky Alternatives - alternatives to what exactly? It seemed like a vestigial hangover from the punky loam in which 400 Blows and others had at least some of their roots, dance music but not that disco shit like Tony Blackburn plays, oh no - an unnecessary bit of asceticism if ever there was, particularly as it unwittingly resulted in the formation of the Exploited, and Earth, Wind & Fire now sound like the Sex Pistols compared to Justin Bieber or whoever. That said, club-orientated white guy dance music - as something distinct from music you can dance to - was, with a few exceptions, pretty much a waste of time prior to the rise of DJ culture so far as I can tell, racist though that may well be. Whilst I have multiple reservations about DJ culture, or specifically about the DJ culture which ended up stood in fields in Somerset at 4AM waving a luminous stick above its head for six hours, it did at least engage with dance instead of just assuming anyone could do it because it's just a drum machine and some stuff innit. It sought inspiration from what was going on in Chicago, Detroit and other places, rather than that Work! Obey! music by bands with names like Efficiency Unit and the Funky Marchers.

From what I can tell, most of the tracks on the latter volumes of Funky Alternatives seemed to have derived from these wilderness years: plenty of those horrible roadies let loose in a studio and having a go bands like Pop Will Eat Itself, Meat Beat Manifesto, and the Revolting Cocks: thump thump thump thump - heavy metal guitar - thump thump thump thump - Praise Jesus! - thump thump thump thump - bit of rapping by someone who can't rap etc. etc.

Also featured here are Die Krupps who can piss off on the grounds of having named themselves after a German arms manufacturer who famously supported the Nazi regime and made use of slave labour during the second world war, although in their favour, their so earnest it might almost be a pisstake brand of stomping EBM at least fosters an appreciation of how Nitzer Ebb - unfortunately absent from this collection - were actually nothing like so generic as you might recall. Actually Nitzer Ebb sound like Led Zeppelin compared to half of these tracks.

The rest of the disc is okay I guess - some fairly good stuff, some steaming shite - although mostly it inspired me only to seek alternative listening, either those first three greatly more eclectic volumes of the original series, or some Front 242 who did this sort of thing with a lot more imagination.

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