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ANTI-POP CONSORTIUM - BACK IN FLUORESCENT BLACK by BRAM E. GIEBEN (AKA TEXTURE)

New York's Anti-Pop Consortium are a band defined by their opposition to convention. Their name defines an anti-mediocrity stance to which they remain committed. Their first full-length album, the seminal Arrythmia, was an object lesson in wonk, wobble and cutups – a far cry from the formulaic, R&B-led hip-hop that dominated the scene in 2002, and arguably still does.

And yet, their influence on hip-hop is undeniable; audible everywhere among the best non-mainstream emcees and producers – from the hilarious chaos of Quasimoto, to the far-flung space adventures of k-the-i???, to the amped-up club beats of producers such as Armani xxxChange and Diplo

As the first hip-hop group to sign to the legendary Warp label, the group have consistently pushed boundaries in music. Now finding their natural home on Big Dada, the UK’s biggest independent label for electronic and hip-hop music, the four-piece – rappers M. Sayyid, Beans and High Priest, and producer Earl Blaize – have reunited and returned with their muscular, bass-driven second LP, Flourescent Black.

Opening with a squall of electric guitar, taking in fidget house, double-time space-crunk, futuristic P-funk and neo-soul, the album is a tour de force. WPNZR had the privilege of talking to the three emcees on the phone last month. They invited us to party with them too – unfortunately we all live in Scotland, so couldn’t make it along. Next time guys, next time!

It goes… a little… something… like… this…

What does the name Anti-Pop Consortium mean to you, and has the meaning changed over the years?


M. SAYYID No, not at all. For us the name is a commentary on the pop machine. Giving someone who was totally unfamiliar with our work before an indicator, to know immediately what it doesn’t sound like.

BEANS There aren’t many other names we could have been called. We couldn’t have been the Whatevers. We have to be called Anti-Pop because it’s a statement about the music we continue to try to make, which is forward thinking and experimental to the core.

Some of the tracks on Arrhythmia – like Conspiracy of Myth – are overtly political in their lyrics. Is there a similar political bent to Flourescent Black? How have things changed in the intervening years between the albums?

M. SAYYID Things have definitely changed. The politics we talk about are more incidental politics, from a life day-to-day, as opposed to a particular political standpoint. You dig?

You’ve all been involved in hip-hop culture for more than a decade now. Is it true you had your roots in the New York poetry scene? Do you ever head down to the Nu Yorican Café these days?

M. SAYYID
Not so much, but it is something I want to revisit.

How big an influence on your music is New York City?

M. SAYYID
It’s major, man. It’s the backdrop to our canvas.

HIGH PRIEST New York is not the end of the world… but it some ways it is the end of the world. In some ways, it is the centre of the universe.

I was there this summer, and I got a powerful feeling that NYC was the world’s capital. You’d be hard-pressed to name another city that could make that claim.

M. SAYYID
The thing is that everyone in New York thinks they are the shit. They believe it. Whether they are or not, it doesn’t really matter: they really believe it. In their actual blood, they believe that they are the shit.

You’re credited as being one of the first hip-hop acts to embrace diverse underground musical styles, like glitch and other so-called ‘IDM’ strands. Was it a conscious approach while making Arrhythmia to display some of these electronic influences? What was behind the decision to approach your album in that way?

BEANS It was before all that IDM and glitch and all that stuff, you know?

HIGH PRIEST At that time it was funny that those parallels were drawn. We had an awareness of it, but we weren’t necessarily part of that scene.

M. SAYYID It was really experimental. It was really art!

HIGH PRIEST We didn’t arrive at that conclusion in the same way that people from that side of the scene did, using the same production techniques.

M. SAYYID Honestly, it was about being in the context of what hip-hop originally started as. For example, when Afrika Bambaaataa first heard Kraftwerk, he appropriated that to make Planet Rock. So we saw it as going back to what hip-hop started as, and expanding that with our own experience. It wasn’t about following the IDM scene. Although, we did used to do stuff through a venue called Sound Lab, which allowed us – rather than incorporating say, IDM – to stay true to a vision of hip-hop that we knew when we were growing up. Also, to go a little bit more in-depth than that, we came from the whole spoken word poetry scene, which was very explosive and impactful for us in the nineties. Then it was a question of, how do we duplicate that in the artform that we love the most, which is rap. How do we synthesise that personal experience – an explosive expression of spoken word, and the jazz stuff that we grew up listening to, how do we synthesize all that? And the art – Beans and I both do art a lot, we’re both art school people. So we synthesised that through electronic equipment. Synthesisers, and drum machines, kit like that, you dig? We weren’t listening to a lot of current electronic music – we were listening to Biggie, Sonic Youth, Sun Ra, Pharcyde, De La Soul, you dig? Taking all those things, and synthesising all that with our own personal expeiences. It’s like, you remember the term Electronica? When we started out, it was like: “Oh… this is kind of… Electronica-Rap…” But as you go through time you realise that these terms can be very interesting…

BEANS Or not interesting.

M. SAYYID Honestly, they’re just easy forms of classification if you’re a journalist.

You’ve stated elsewhere that you liked punk music growing up, and that when you originally started Anti-Pop Records, you were influenced by the whole punk tape-trading network. Do you feel the same way about the culture of free music downloads?

BEANS
People are gonna get the music anyway! So they might as well get it from your address, from your dot com. They’re gonna burn it anyway. When I was young, I was burning tapes, and burning CDs. It’s the same thing.

Given that hip-hop has so thoroughly colonised the mainstream pop market, do you think it still has a valid underground movement?

HIGH PRIEST
You’re talking to people who have a lot of different tastes… like, I used to do a lot of mixtapes… it’s hard for me to say that I was listening to a lot of stuff that was quote-unquote ‘underground backpack rap’ in 2002, and it isn’t necessarily what I would listen to right now. There are people in that scene who I listen to.


BEANS One of the things I came to find is that the underground is a relative term, because if you talk to some major-label artists like Jay-Z, he might still consider himself to have come from the underground. If you talk to some (independent) artists, it might not necessarily be their intention to be ‘underground’ – it’s just a matter of exposure. Their vision might still be commercial. At the end of the day it’s about finding a good balance between the two terms ‘commercial’ and ‘artist,’ because the two do sometimes seem to be diametrically opposed.

You’ve toured with some legendary bands – any favourites?

M. SAYYID
Public Enemy!


BEANS Public Enemy, without a shadow of a doubt.

M. SAYYID The impact of the Radiohead tour was good.

BEANS The impact of all of it is always great, man, because we’re just glad to be part of a forward-thinking community. Radiohead is a part of that community, Public Enemy are a part of that community. You still see Hank Shocklee getting it across heavily in the UK and Europe, and in NYC. People are still very much aware of them. That’s very inspiring for us to see. The thing about Radiohead was that, the point at which we were touring with them was the point when they were transitioning between ‘OK Computer’ and the ‘Kid A’ album…

M. SAYYID It was actually during the making of ‘Amnesiac.’

BEANS Completing the trilogy with ‘Amnesiac,’ yeah. It was a good time to see them. They were dropping back to back, pushing the envelope and pushing the media. It was good to go with them on that artistic journey.

Beans and Sayyid – you have said that you both have a background in visual art. Do you still retain a lot of control over the Anti-Pop Consortium’s visual look? Where can we see more of your work?

M. SAYYID
Antipop.tv. I work in Flash. I’m gonna put up the earlier webflyers too.

You have said elsewhere that your work can be seen as a fusion of a Sun Ra experimental jazz approach with the direct lyrics of someone like Richard Wright (author of the seminal ‘protest’ novel, Native Son). How influential are these figures on you to this day?

M. SAYYID
We don’t see it as protest literature – it’s more black experimentation. Chester Himes, Ted Jones, Richard Wright. It wasn’t protest – it was the black experience synthesised through the art form of a kind of writing that was happening in the forties. And obviously Sun Ra was a huge influence on Beans – if you look at the Beans album you’ll see he was very Sun Ra in his approach, particularly his song structure. He’s still with us, you know?

How important is storytelling to you in your lyrics?

HIGH PRIEST
It’s definitely a part of life. We all have different approaches. Within the four of us, Sayyid has the particular strength for telling stories that are clear, and also rhythmically and, cadence-wise, locked into a beat. At the same time he can swagger up to do the story. That’s always an aspect of the albums, and I know it’s something the fans appreciate, and that I as a fan of the scene very much appreciate. Overall, storytelling is songwriting, you know what I’m saying?



‘Flourescent Black’ is out now on Big Dada.

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