In the late 1990s conceptual artist Jeremy Deller approached a colliery brass band and asked them to perform and record a selection of late 80s / early 90s Acid House rave classics. Deller narrates that when he first approached the brass band in question, the Williams Fairey Band, he didn’t use the term ‘acid house’, such was the stigma that still surrounded this genre 7 years or so after the tabloids had waged world war 3 against rave culture, instead calling it ‘contemporary electronic dance music’. The band got to work and within a year were performing the repertoire throughout festivals across Europe.
No doubt many thought it couldn’t be done, but of course it could. Incongruous reinventions of original songs have always been a staple of the music industry, from the Langley Schools Music Project in which a school choir took on 60s psychedelia to various symphony orchestras working through Metallica and Slayer. Then there’s the Easy Star All-Stars, who have recorded dub versions of classic albums with varying degrees of success. Check their version of Radiohead’s Let Down where they get it just right, adding new layers to the original and genuinely reinventing the song. The misguided Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Dub band is best ignored however. Tori Amos turning Nirvana’s Smells like Teen Spirit into a melancholy piano ballad was interesting and ever since the death of the king of Pop it’s hard to enter a rehearsal studio without hearing a teenage indie band crunching out ‘Billie Jean’ or ‘Beat It’ (in an ironic, post-modern kind of way of course)
Last year a 9-piece band toured the UK performing DJ Shadow’s seminal Entroducing note-for-note. The gimmick being that this was the first ever album composed entirely of samples and was now being reassembled with not a sampler or laptop in sight. It was very good, but watching it you couldn’t help wondering that as they had managed to create such a facsimile of the original, wouldn’t it have been cheaper staying at home, rolling a fat one and sticking the CD on. Which brings us back to the reinvention thing. If you’re not adding to the original in any way, it’s probably not worth doing.
Acid Brass does just that. Jeremy Deller has noted that the music of brass bands and rave do have things in common – “menace, melancholy” but “ultimately uplifting”. And in the brassic interpretations of tunes like Voodoo Ray and Pacific State, it’s the melancholy that bursts through. It’s also a reminder that those early rave tunes, though widely disparaged at the time for having no musical value by the mainstream, had at their heart unbelievably strong melody. My grandad used to complain that no one since the Beatles had written a song you could whistle along to. I think he’d have liked ‘acid brass’. It’s a riposte to all those people who used to make jokes about raving being like ‘dancing round a car alarm’. Well, here’s a 30 piece colliery brass band performing that car alarm so fuck you!
So why is all this resurfacing on a blog 14 years after its conception? Well, another track off the album, Kevin Saunderson’s The Groove that Won’t Stop is the closer to the brilliant 4 Lions film and ‘Acid Brass 2 -in yer face!’ is due for release sometime this year. Tea and a rave anyone?