Melody Maker | Feature | 6 June 1992 | Photo: Stephen Sweet
SHUT UP AND DANCE
"It's fucking crazy. It's completely fucking mad. We can't stop celebrating. We've been off our fucking heads since Thursday."
Thursday was when Shut Up And Dance learnt that their new single, "Raving I'm Raving", was set to smash straight into the charts at Number Two. Three days on and the duo still can't believe it. Which is why they're
spending this glorious Sunday afternoon holed up in their Stoke Newington office, eagerly awaiting the run-down of the new chart. It takes ages to persuade them to have their photos taken in the sunshine. They don't want to miss hearing Mark Goodier make their success official.
"It feels really strange," continues Smiley. "I mean, we've never had so much as a sniff of the Top 40 before this. Now I've got to try to find time to do 'Top Of The Pops' this week."
Stranger still is that, however much media coverage Shut Up And Dance receive in the next few days, nobody will actually be able to buy "Raving I'm Raving". Having sold 50,000 copies in the week of its release, the pressing of the record was stopped by a legal dispute over SUAD's use of uncleared samples of Marc Cohn's "Walking In Memphis". Even if Cohn permits another pressing of "Raving", the wheels of industry will need to turn mighty fast to stop the record plummeting down (and maybe even out of) the charts by the time you read this. It's one of the weirdest stories in the history of pop.
"Just don't ask us about Marc Cohn. We've been instructed to say nothing. It's fucking ridiculous though, isn't it?"
Few of today's dance music acts have worked longer and harder for success than Shut Up And Dance. Smiley and his partner PJ started out as MCs with a north London sound system in the mid-1980s and released their debut single, "5, 6, 7, 8", in 1989. It appeared on the duo's eponymous record label, which they set up after a year of rejections from just about every major and indie label in the land. Several A&R men are probably kicking themselves today.
Since "5, 6, 7, 8", the label has released not only half a dozen SUAD singles and the group's 1990 album, "Dance Before The Police Come", but also records by The Ragga Twins, Nicolette and Rum And Black. Right now, PJ is in conference with the Raggas, leaving Smiley to talk about how the duo's first releases pioneered the speeded-up hip hop drums that can now be heard on every single hardcore rave tune.
"We started using those beats on the sound system. We'd take old Def Jam tracks, push them from 100 to 130 bpm, and let rip on the mike. The next step was to put something of our own on vinyl, but a lot of people said it sounded too fast. A couple of years later and millions of hardcore groups are having hit singles with our idea, while we've been left out in the cold. We think there's been a conspiracy against us."
Fair comment. It is a little suspicious that the group have found chart success with the melodic "Raving I'm Raving", rather than the kind of hardcore track with which they first made a name for themselves.
"We may be identified with a particular sound, but if you listen closely you'll realise that we've never restricted ourselves to one type of record, unlike a lot of other dance groups. Most of them don't know what the fuck they're doing. It's no good feeding the same old shit into a sampler. You've got to put your head into it. If you put shit in, you get shit out. That's why I don't bother going to raves now. The DJs play one record all night long and the punters are too off their faces to notice.
"I know everybody associates 130bpms with the rave scene, but that's not what we're about. We're not a rave group, we're a fast hip hop group. We've moved hip hop on in a way that people like Public Enemy haven't dared to. I mean, their lyrics are great, but the music is fucking terrible. I'd like to produce Public Enemy and help move them on a bit."
Even if "Raving I'm Raving" is no longer available in the shops, a remix of the track can be heard on SUAD's forthcoming double album, "Death Is Not The End". Dedicated to a friend who recently died in a motorbike accident - "People don't die, they just move onto a different landing," says Smiley - the LP provides further evidence that Smiley and PJ aren't interested in simply following the latest club music trend.
While manic instrumentals like "Blue Colour Climax" and "The Art Of Moving Butts" will cause uproar on the dancefloor, "Green Man" is essentially a classical piece and "Pure White Black Life" is a gritty soul ballad. Then there's the brilliant remix of "Autobiography Of A Crackhead", one of last year's best hardcore dance singles. The new version is a rap track consisting of just two voices and an acoustic guitar. Dexy's Midnight Runner Kevin Rowland strums the strings.
"The variety of music is something else that goes back to the sound system. We listen to all kinds of records. We have no musical prejudices whatsoever. Right now, I'm really into Nirvana and I wouldn't be surprised if their influence came out the next time we go into the studio. I don't mean copying or sampling them, I mean picking up on their vibe and attitude. We have a very straightforward approach to music - we take it all in like a spliff. We smoke music.
"Working with Kevin Rowland was great. He was a bit wary of us at first, but that was fair enough. We'd have thought he was a fucking idiot if he hadn't been. As soon as he understood what we wanted, he recorded his part in one take. I suppose an acoustic rap track will come as a bit of a shock, but we just thought it was the best way for people to hear the lyrics properly."
SUAD's lyrics is something else that sets them apart from the rest of the dance posse. "Autobiography Of A Crackhead" is not the only anti-drugs song on "Death Is Not The End" and "Runaways" is a scary tale of lost innocence inspired by Bronski Beat's "Small Town Boy". Another highlight, "Down The Barrel Of A Gun", is not what you might imagine from the title.
"That track is an answer to the rap and reggae artists who give credibility to the gun. We're saying, 'Hey, slow down a bit, a lot of kids out there are starting to think this shit is cool'. Their attitude is wrong, man. It's negative. We see a lot of negative thinking here in Stoke Newington, you know, black people moaning because the high street is full of Turkish shops. But those shops were empty for years before the Turks moved in, so good luck to them if they've got the sense to get something up. You shouldn't sit around moaning, you should just get on with it.
"Some people might not like hearing stuff like this, but we'll keep speaking our minds, saying what we want, how we want, for as long as we like. That 'You can't do this, you can't say that' attitude is bollocks. We proved that a couple of years ago with a tune that used samples from Eurythmics' 'Sweet Dreams'. We asked for clearance from RCA, Eurythmics' label, and had given up hope of ever hearing from them when they suddenly released another dance version of 'Sweet Dreams'. They'd obviously thought, 'This is a good idea, we'll have some of this ourselves'.
"At the time we were really pissed off, but now I have to admit that the experience taught us a lot. After that, we'd never ask permission to use a sample again. If people don't like it, they can fuck off. They can fucking sue us."
In the light of "Raving I'm Raving", they probably will.