Tuesday, November 01, 2005

When we go dancing underneath the city in the catacombs

Rob Levy: What is your songwriting process? Do you set aside specific time to write, or does it just come in bursts of creativity?
Merritt: I sit around in gay bars with a pencil in one hand and a drink in the other, my little black notebook in my lap, listening to thumping disco music and eavesdropping.

(from Playback St. Louis)

Stephin speaks fondly of various dance clubs from his younger days in Chickfactor #11, and although loud throbbing dance music was probably responsible for much of his hearing loss, it serves an essential role in his songwriting. Though Merritt is primarily a pop songwriter, dance rhythms are used in various tracks, from "The Desperate Things You Made Me Do" to "You Can't Break a Broken Heart," and a handful of Merritt tunes have been remixed for dancefloor action, including "Hopeless," "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend," and several tracks on The Lonely Robot.

Merritt's pick for 1987 on the list is by an outfit which has the unique distinction of being a one-hit wonder and also being hugely influential in the dance world. M/A/R/R/S was a collaboration between two bands on the 4AD label, Colourbox and A.R.Kane, around the time when American house music was arriving in British clubs. The driving track, "Pump Up The Volume," was considered the first house hit made in Britain, and it inspired, for better or for worse, numerous sample-heavy dance tracks for the next few years, bringing sampling from hip-hop circles out into the mainstream. In the 4AD catalog, the song is considered a bit of an anomaly, as the label's early-to-mid 80s output gravitated toward the gloomy and dark.

One enduring band that joined 4AD's fold during the early 80s was Cocteau Twins, who are responsible, more than anyone else, for the popular conception of "the 4AD sound": a sort of structured ambience, using chorus-laden guitars and synthetics. This pigeonholing is unfair to the majority of 4AD bands who sound nothing like Cocteau Twins, but on the other hand, you can always spot an Ivo production (Ivo Watts-Russell being the label's founder) a mile away. The Twins' third album Treasure is oozing with artificiality, which Merritt would undoubtedly appreciate - it's his selection for 1984 on the list. The drum machine, the guitar effects, and the synth flourishes are all distinctly unnatural sounding, and even the non-language in which Elizabeth Fraser sings is of her own invention. And that voice...Fraser is simply one of the most amazing singers around, capable of making astoundingly beautiful sounds.

November is a big month for 4AD, as they celebrate the 25th anniversary of the label with ten nights of performances in London and the releases of a retrospective label compilation and a Cocteau Twins boxed set.

M/A/R/R/S - "Pump Up The Volume"
Cocteau Twins - "Lorelei"

(sorry, again, for the delay!)


Anonymous chase said...

Awesome! I had a feeling that Merritt liked the Cocteau Twins. One thing though, Robin Guthrie has said numerous times that Cocteau Twins never used synths. It's guitars man! guitars!

10:32 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home