Are Friends Electro?


Do you have a bitchin’ stereo system? If you don’t, go get one. Then go out and buy Space Raiders’ Don’t Be Daft, and play their song “Monster Munch” at top volume. Yes, that is a sample of Sweet’s 1974 “Teenage Rampage” (previously covered by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods!) played in tandem with fat-boy glam beats and an electro-guitar army that simultaneously rawks and raves. Then play “Song for Dot,” where changes in direction and tempo and a well-placed Fats Domino snippet (reminding one of Moby’s appropriated field hollerers and two groovy trance trax via Alan Lomax that I heard while mistakenly watching John “Extra Bacon With That!” Travolta’s The General’s Daughter) foil the most stalwart of erstwhile dancing fools and give a reason for the words collageand pasticheto remain in a critic’s vocabulary.

Then play “Glam Raid,” where you are exhorted to “Dance to the rhythm of the rock’n’roll sound,” and then play “Raiders Rock the Nation,” where the stinky and slinky boogay of Marc Bolan’s (R.I.P.) “Chrome Sitar” smacks its bitch up against the 21st Century Boy’s idea of a groove thang writ large in latter-day technological graffiti. Then, last but not least, listen to “(I Need the) Disko Doktor,” and revel in a machine-made re-creation, straight to CD-ROM, of that sacred American art form so revered by the Swiss: disco! Every quirk and cliché of this golden moment in time is touched upon (including the ever endearing use of robotic computers feeling human emotion and wanting nothing so much as a hug) in a truly clever display of virtual reality genre-worship.

And that’s it, really. After you’ve listened to those songs, I don’t know, go to work or water your plants or something. If I were cruel, which I am, I would call Space Raiders Daft Punk Lite or Fratboy Slimmer. But there is something about the way they take everything mindless and fun about ’70s dance and/or electronic and/or Bazooka rock and twist it with such precision and authority that I can’t help but be engaged by the result.

And while I’m at it, I might as well tell you about one of the greatest ignored albums of late 1999 that will take you well into the new millennium with a sound straight from 1982. It’s DMX Krew’s We Are DMX. (And come to think of it, aren’t we all DMX? What with our shaved heads and love of oratory, and our paradoxical need for blood, pussy, benjamins, and the love of God? But no, this is a different DMX altogether.) And “Oh, no!” I hear you say at the mention of the ’80s. “Didn’t I just live through a decade where every year saw a return of the ’70s?”

Yes, you did. But don’t be scared of DMX Krew. Like Space Raiders, they are retro so good it’s a little scary. The Krew’s “Street Boys” is not just a great song (those synth lines, that drum machine, that dreamy deadpan boy voice singing about dreamy boys on the street!), but a pitch-perfect tribute to the cream of new romantic pioneers, and on the same high ground as “Fade to Grey,” “Enola Gay,” “This Wreckage,” “Moskow Discow,” and “Get the Balance Right” (by Visage, OMD, Gary Numan, Telex, and Depeche Mode, respectively). “Release My Dub,” where the often forgotten marriage of new wave and Arthur Baker electro street beats is made readily apparent, is the eerily accurate instrumental B side to a Heaven 17 12-inch that never was, complete with semi-wordless fake soul divas in the background. “Konnichi Wa!” could go head-to-head with any of the Yellow Magic Orchestra’s more danceable offerings, fascination with the Orient being yet another forgotten theme of early-’80s Brit-pop.

Do you need to listen to music that looks back on a time when Japanimation meant a new David Sylvian performance on Top of the Pops? Yes, you do. At least if DMX Krew are involved. Novelty records are not my bag. As much as I respect Weird Al, Ray Stevens, and Rolf Harris, I don’t make a habit of spinning “Sheik of Araby” or “The Streak” more than thrice a year. (Although Rolf’s “Sun Arise” is a stone-cold classic that bears repeated listening.) But there is something magical about the fun and enthusiasm of how DMX Krew songs like “The Glass Room” and “Hard Times” both look behind to an era when Anglo-beats and A.R.P. manipulations were an edgy commentary on man’s uneasy relationship with machinery, and look ahead to a time when the sins of fabulousness and melodrama perpetuated by the likes of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Sigue Sigue Sputnik are forgiven and understood as the grandstanding attention-seeking acts of high-pop self-invention/creation that they were.

DMX Krew, like a lot of nuevo-retro-electro acts nowadays, make warm and kitschy sounds out of once disposable music that was nevertheless filled with dread and anxiety. Gary Numan, at one time, was an agent, a vapour, had dreams about wires, and needed to be reminded to smile. DMX Krew on the song “We Are DMX” sing: “It’s the sound of tomorrow/It’s the look of the future/Too bad if it don’t suit ya!/We are DMX/We never make mistakes.”

The certainty and optimism with which DMX Krew ply their trade of trading on past trends and sounds to achieve modernity can only minimize and mock those past wavers’ reliance on the fear and anger people felt in relation to the various machines and conveniences which have since been taken to heart and bonded with. (As quaint as it may seem now, in the not-so-distant past people were actually frightened of the computer age and changes it would bring.) There are no alien sounds anymore that can make us fear Big Brother’s hand on our shoulder. Among an increasingly sophisticated populace, there is only entertainment, and entertainment masquerading as homework.