Let’s settle this… Is it ‘Old School’ or ‘Old Skool’?

Let’s settle the debate once and for all. Is the correct term to use, when referring to, say, The Prodigy‘s first album, ‘old school‘, or is it ‘old skool’?

For years, I have tended towards the former – as a journalist I just can’t deal with that ‘k’ in place of the ‘ch’. But the use of the term ‘old skool’ to refer to old dance music, rap, hip-hop etc persists to this day, which has led me to do a bit more digging.

First, let’s look at the word ‘school’.

Going back to the original etymology of the word; it appears to come from Ancient Greece, where it had two meanings, the first, obvious one, which refers to ‘a place in which lectures are given’. The second, however, is more intriguing: it also means ‘leisure’, or a ‘place in which leisure is employed‘.

Thus, when people refer to the ‘old school’/’old skool’ in a musical sense, they could be said to be referring to both the old ‘teachers’ of the scene (e.g Run DMC in a hip hop context) as well as the ‘leisure time’ associated with the scene (lounging around in Adidas gear, I suspect).

But why ‘skool’? Other than being a simple mutation of the word ‘school’, is there more to this particular spelling?

The Urban Dictionary has a novel interpretation, suggesting that the term ‘old skool’ is actually referring to ‘old’s kool’, or ‘old is cool’, meaning that anything from back in the day is favourable. Interesting.

Further research would indicate that perhaps the use of ‘skool’ instead of ‘school’ (in a pop-culture context at least) can be traced back to a big selling video game of 1984 for the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 – Skool Daze. (More recently, shoemaker Vans co-opted the phrase ‘old skool’ for its classic sneaker range.)

The year 1984 is significant in hip hop as well; it was the year in which Run DMC released the original It’s Like That, Newcleus unveiled Jam on It and Doug E Fresh was Just Having Fun.

Anyway, regardless of whether you prefer ‘school’ or ‘skool’, I suppose the moral of the story is that things were almost DEFINITELY better back in the day…

I’m off to get some Alka-Seltzer, this whole debate has given me a headache. Or should that be ‘head-ake’?

[Kudos to Adam Gomez for the YouTube upload, image from 123rf.com]

The must visit nightclubs… of 1996 [January 1997]

Were things really better in the 90s? A quick glance at Mixmag’s list of the Top 15 Clubs of 1996 would indicate that the answer is undoubtedly in the affirmative.

This was a period, after all, in which Cream Liverpool, The Gallery at Turnmills, Bugged Out at Sankeys and Atomic Jam in Birmingham’s Que Club were firmly in their pomp, while newcomers such as Gatecrasher in Sheffield (in The Adelphi, rather than its later home The Republic) were on the march.

One year before the broadcasting of Sky One’s Ibiza Uncovered, 1996 marked arguably the final year before Ibiza went stellar, with the review of Manumission at Privilege an indication of the nascent hedonism therein…

“Another stupendous Summer at Privilege from the masters of interactive Ibizan clubbing. Dwarves having it off, people serving up cold spaghetti in the middle of the dancefloor, confused English journalists in fancy dress (hello Pembo), promoters doing the biz and about 10,000 loony bins going for it. Last one in the pool’s a nonce.”

Also notable on this page is a panel indicating how the UK’s super clubs were announcing a series of ‘changes’, with Cream reportedly shunning guest DJs and Renaissance embracing drum n’ bass. Thankfully, neither club adopted this strategy for long…

[From Mixmag, January 1997]

Underground Resistance embrace the ‘Code War’… [July 1992]

“The Cold War is over, this is the Code War…”

Back in July 1992, while filming an event dubbed Public Tranceport in Vienna, videographer Konrad Becker perhaps unwittingly captured a classic moment in techno history, a live performance of the original Underground Resistance lineup: Jeff ‘The Wizard’ Mills, ‘Mad’ Mike Banks and Robert ‘Noise’ Hood.

The footage shows the trio in full Public Enemy-style militant pomp, lashing out early UR classics including Sonic Destroyer and Method of Force to a crowd that most likely have no idea that they are experiencing techno history.

As for the Soviet flag flying overhead? The rest of the video acts as an explainer; the concept behind the event was to showcase how “the cold war is now replaced by a code war, lead by data-guerrillas and media-pirates who want to redefine the logo- and information culture.” Or something to that effect.

For us though, there’s nothing more satisfying than the sight of Mills, Banks and co strutting their stuff, even if it is for only a couple of minutes…

[Kudos to Lucia Mare for the YouTube upload]

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Camisra – Let Me Show You (Tall Paul remix)

For the first Throwback Thursday tune of 2018, we go back 20 years, to February 1998, and a certified club banger: Camisra’s Let Me Show You.

Looking for evidence? Look no further than one of the greatest moments in British sitcom history, the legendary ‘nightclub’ scene from Channel 4’s Spaced. If there’s a better sitcom ending sequence out there, I’d love to see it. [Note: this video is copyright Channel 4, and my not play in some countries, watch it online here 😦 ]

Arguably the tallest man in showbusiness (he’s 6 foot 7), there was a period in the mid to late 90s when ‘Tall Paul‘ Newman was everywhere – no mix CD compilation was complete without his input.

Amidst all the fanfare, Newman somehow found the time to release the Let Me Show You EP under his alias Camisra, on VC Recordings, a subsidiary of Virgin, in 1998.

And it’s the B-Side, Let Me Show You (Tall Paul remix) – yes that is Tall Paul essentially remixing Tall Paul – that remains the standout track of Camisra’s short-lived career (1999s Clap Your Hands) being another notable effort.

As the track’s solitary vocal intones, “I want to show you what I’m capable of…” With this track, Tall Paul has done just that… and then some.

[Kudos to Altra Moda Music for the upload. ‘Spaced’ clip copyright Channel 4 – if I’ve broken any copyright rules, I’m happy to take this down 🙂 ]

The Brothers’ gonna work it out… [June 1995]

Having forged an early career as master remix duo The Dust Brothers, schoolmates Ed Simons and Tom Rowland unveiled a new identity in 1995: The Chemical Brothers. Today, more than two decades on, the pair are still considered amongst the premier dance acts and festival headliners on the international music circuit.

But all good stories have to start somewhere, and this article, from the very first issue of MUZIK in June 1995, captures the boys in ebullient form ahead of the launch of their debut album, Exit Planet Dust.

“Nobody from the dance world has come up with an album to reflect these times,” Simons (affectionately referred to as ‘the pudgy one’) tells interviewer Push. “Why is that? Why is it left to a group like Oasis to express the way that young people want to go out and get battered every weekend?”

Elsewhere in the interview, the duo reflect on the importance of having a broad interest in music – “I can’t believe that even the most dedicated techno buff would want to stick on a Basic Channel tune when they woke up on a summery Sunday morning. I bet they all have a secret stash of Simon and Garfunkel under their beds” – their respect for Richie Hawtin and Aphex Twin, and details of a tiff with Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez over sampling rights.

“I don’t know why he’s creating such a fuss,” says Tom. “Apart from the fact that we’ve only ever used one of his beats, he makes music in precisely the same way as us.”

Some 23 years later, and with dozens of top selling singles and albums behind them, The Chemical Brothers are testament to the old adage: ‘You don’t stop having fun because you get old, you get old because you stop having fun.’

Keep up the good work, lads.

[Article copyright MUZIK magazine, June 1995. Article by Push. Photos by Vincent McDonald]

Club flyers? Nah, I’m gonna use my pager…

How did tech-savvy clubbers in the late 90s look to keep up to date with the latest club listings? Flyers? Pah! They used their pager, of course.

Looking to develop a new ‘digital flyer’ type service, in 1997, the UK’s Ministry of Sound nightclub launched a ‘music information’ service on the VodaZap pager from Vodafone, which offered details of the ‘hottest club tracks’, the latests industry news, and of course, the must-visit venues for that week (which, we assume, included the Ministry of Sound itself)…

Looking back, 21 years later, its somewhat amusing to think that in the pre-smartphone age, this was considered the height of advanced technology, available for a snip at £89.99.

But with ads like this one, how could any self-respecting club kid refuse?

However, unlike the humble club flyer, this is one medium that has not lasted the test of time…

[Kudos to The Hall of Advertising for the upload]

Home Taping Is Killing Music… Or Not

There’s a scene in the latest Simon Pegg-Nick Frost movie, The World’s End, in which the central protagonist, Gary King (played by Pegg), who has been driving the same Ford Granada since 1990, pops in a mixtape recorded sometime around the same period, and screeches off towards the town of Newton Haven in a blizzard of exhaust smoke.

The scene is supposed to indicate how King, sporting a faded Sisters of Mercy t-shirt, hasn’t aged for the past 25 years. The fact that he is still playing the same cassette tape, however, which features the Soup Dragons, Primal Scream, Suede and others, is worthy of a hearty congratulations. After all, a good mixtape is for life, not just for Christmas.

And what’s more, it would seem that increasing numbers of music buying punters would agree.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, cassette sales rose by 35% in the US in 2017, on top of a 74% increase the previous year – that’s a more than doubling in sales for a format that, let’s face it, appears to be pretty much obsolete.

The biggest selling cassettes over the past 12 months? Surprise, surprise, the top three are all mixtapes. The list is topped by the Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol 2, which sold 19,000 units, followed by Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1, which shifted 15,000 units and and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Mix, Vol. 1, which sold 5,000.

Add the fact that the fourth biggest selling cassette tape was the soundtrack to retro 80s spooktacular Stranger Things, and it’s clear that movies and TV are big sales drivers within the category. Other artists to score impressive sales include Eminem, Kanye West and Nirvana.

So is the cassette tape set to make a vinyl-esque return from the ashes? Or are such sales increases simply down to a passing fondness for retro chic?

While cassettes currently only account for 0.10% of album sales, they may have a long way to go, but as long as there are fictional working class heroes such as Gary King walking the earth, there’s always hope…

Ibiza ’98 – Separating the Balearic from the bollocks… [August 1998]

Ibiza Uncovered, broadcast on Sky TV in the U.K. in 1997 (and still available in all its technicolor hedonism on YouTube) arguably marked the phasing out of one phase in the Balearic island’s clubbing heritage – that of Ku, open air dancing and a lingering hippy mindset – and introduced the era of the superclubs.

One year on from that, The Independent newspaper in London sent journalist Louise Gray along to get her thoughts on an Ibiza beginning to embrace wanton capitalism and extortionate entrance (and drink) prices. [Note: Not that this put this author off from visiting the island nine times in the following decade 🙂 ]

As Ministry of Sound promoter Danny Whittle puts it at one point: “This is our third summer in Ibiza and it’s gone insane. We’ve had to raise our prices tonight from pounds 28 to pounds 32 to cut demand. I know it sounds greedy, but we’re victims of our own success. We’re just controlling it.”

Try to get into a club in Ibiza these days for £32 (€36) and you would be doing very very well…

Some snippets from the article can be found below.

The island of a thousand dances A decade ago on Ibiza, a whole new sort of music was born. How strong is the Balearic beat today?
Louise Gray, The Independent; 23 Aug 1998

Since the advent of the package holiday, Ibiza has been marketed ferociously as a holiday resort and resorts are, by definition, places of discontinuous stays. And since 1988, clubbers have been coming to Ibiza in their droves for the summer season. Ten years ago, “on one!” “sorted!” “pukka stuff!” were the catchphrases. But anyone who’s anyone is “largein’ it” and “havin’ it” while “battered” – or even “twatted” on “elephants” today.

[…]

The extent to which the island has taken commercial initiative has surprised many old hands. New clubs are being built, while the existing ones renew their sound systems, restaurants, outdoor terraces, in bids to outdo their rivals. Roadworks improve and widen the existing communication lines.

Tracts of the island resemble building sites and, wherever you drive, you’ll see large real-estate signs sticking out of fields and hillsides. Even the sunset strip of San Antonio – a length of coastline where people gather to watch the rays of the setting sun – is not exempt.

Ten years ago, the strip was occupied solely by the Cafe del Mar, a small, laid- back bar whose DJ, Jose Padilla, was famous for serving tunes out of a relaxed ambience. Padilla’s bar has now been joined by Cafe Mambo, Savannah and El Divino’s Sunset Bar: the four jostle uncomfortably for room and airspace as rival DJs blast their tunes towards the western horizon, and drug-dealers are silhouetted in the fading light.

As a measure of how club culture has commodified, there’s no better example than the Ministry of Sound. Opened in September 1991 by James Palumbo, Old Etonian, City broker and son of Lord Palumbo, in a disused warehouse off one of London’s less-than-select spots at the Elephant and Castle, the Ministry was Britain’s first superclub. Modelled on New York’s legendary Paradise Garage, the Ministry – quickly renamed “the Misery” by wags – combined state-of-the art sound systems with huge spaces, top DJ line-ups and opening hours which stretch towards dawn.

[…]

The Ministry’s punters crowd into Pacha as if their lives depended on it, their ages ranging from extreme youth upwards. And the Ministry’s genial promoter, Danny Whittle, a former naval weapons technician from Stoke-on-Trent who served on HMS Hermes during the Falklands War, isn’t surprised.

“This is our third summer in Ibiza and it’s gone insane,” he says. “We’ve had to raise our prices tonight from pounds 28 to pounds 32 to cut demand. I know it sounds greedy, but we’re victims of our own success. We’re just controlling it.”

[…]

But if clubs are to work well even as promotional vehicles, they must be seen to succeed. Manumission is one club which literally rises to the occasion, by staging live sex shows at its climax.

Manumission originated as a series of gay one-off parties in Manchester, before its organisers – brothers Mike and Andy, and their respective partners, Claire and Dawn – fled the city’s gangland violence to reinvent themselves as an anything- goes club in Ibiza , with the emphasis on carnival excess. Manumission is held in the palatial space of Privilege; 10,000 punters weekly make it the biggest club on the island.

Taking Ibiza ‘s tendency towards ostentatious behaviour to new limits, parades of fire-eaters, strippers, drag queens, dwarves and fake Elvises make Manumission seem like a Fellini out-take. Mike and Claire, the live-sex perpetrators, are reportedly stung by press stories that their night is depraved. “Doing our sex thing in front of thousands empowers us,” Claire told one publication recently. The hordes of awkward young men clutching their groins as they gather around Manumission’s central stage presumably have few problems with Mike and Claire’s libertine pursuits, but it’s a long way from the spirit of ’88.

[Article snippets copyright The Independent; 23 Aug 1998]

WIRED explores the ‘roots’ of techno… [July 1994]

WIRED magazine has long had its finger on the electronic pulse of modern society, and one year on from its formation, the Condé Nast-owned publication headed to Detroit to discover the roots of techno, in the eyes of pioneer Juan Atkins.

This article, from July 1994, explores some of the early iterations of Atkins’ music, as well as the transition of Detroit’s music scene from the Motown-led ‘motor city’ to the home of something a lot darker and deeper. (Also worth a read for the discovery that Kraftwerk’s Karl Bartos was heavily influenced by James Brown…)

“There was a time seven or eight years ago when you could go into a city and four out of five people didn’t know what a sequencer was. Now maybe one out of five doesn’t.”

Click here to read the article