Sunday, 20 January 2013

Damian Harris, Musical Genres and Social Awkwardness by @SlightlySubDad

Welcome back, my friends.  Before I introduce you to today's excellent post, I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who has visited the blog over the last couple of weeks since I started publishing guest posts.  You are all very beautiful people.

Anyway, before I get all choked up, today's Session Blogger is the wonderful Jason who blogs over at Slightly Suburban Dad.  Jason is another person who I instantly clicked with on twitter (follow him @slightlysubdad , you won't regret it, he is a very funny man) given our mutual love of music. 

Jason's post today is all about his experience of meeting a music hero of his, from the Brighton Big Beat scene, recently.  In all honesty, I think he handled it pretty well, whereas he would probably disagree. Anyway, have a read and decide for yourself.

Over to you, Jason...

They say you should never meet your heroes. I always thought it was because you may be disappointed in them but, thanks to my social awkwardness, I’ve just discovered you can disappoint them. Possibly. Anyhow, it turns out I’m scared of famous people. Even people who used to be famous. You may not have heard of Damian Harris but, along with Fatboy Slim, he pretty much invented a musical genre and a famous one at that; Big Beat.
Damian, you see, founded Skint Records. He was responsible for signing and promoting three of the best dance acts of the 90s (I say act, and I know it makes them sound like a magician on Blackpool Pier but what do you call musicians who are part band, part DJ, part composer?). They were Fatboy Slim himself, The Lo Fidelity All Stars and Bentley Rhythm Ace. Combining huge riffs and acid squelches with hip hop breaks, and more jazzy, downtempo influences, Big Beat could be in your face on a sweaty dance floor and yet played to calm you at a chill out afterwards (“Bentley’s Going To Sort You Out” by Bentley Rhythm Ace was particularly good at this).
The genre was named after the Big Beat Boutique which ran in Brighton. But for four years travelling and working abroad I have lived in Brighton all my life and while I was more of a trance and techno clubber there are certain places in Brighton that are institutions and that you would inevitably end up in sooner or later. Big Beat Boutique was such a place and inevitably, a few times, I did.
Even if you never went you were soon sure to have heard of it, thanks to the massive selling second Fat Boy Slim album You’ve Come A Long Way Baby. It was a world wide smash, selling millions. The money rolled in to the Skint offices in such large amounts they could barely keep count and suddenly the world knew all about Brighton and Big Beat. At the time, techno snob that I was, I perhaps didn’t appreciate the impact (too busy deconstructing the latest Carl Craig or Jeff Mills track over a Marlboro Light) but there is no doubt in retrospect that it WAS the sound of Brighton.
Then Damian and Norman Cook did something mind blowingly cool. They sponsored the shirts of my beloved Brighton and Hove Albion football club and produced other clothing merchandise in association with them. Now I was fully onside. I filled my CD racks with Skint albums and my clothing draws with Skint t-shirts. I bought the ONLY cool football shirt that’s ever been made, the original Skint sponsored black and red striped away shirt. I still have it even though, when I wear it now, it makes me look like I’m smuggling a beach ball.
I mention this all to reminisce and also to illustrate just what a huge deal Big Beat was as a musical genre.  It’s vaguely important later.
Unlike many other bloggers who write stuff that is either quite personal, swearily humorous or, in the case of the brilliant Motherventing, both, my mother is aware that I have a blog. Since I have written about her in the past it’s a good job that she just keeps forgetting the url.  She also knows that I would dearly like to write a book and have it published one day, arrogant as that may be, and that I am never really satisfied with the quality of my writing. Therefore for Christmas she got me something REALLY cool. A writing masterclass at The Guardian offices in Kings Cross held by Jay Rayner (another hero, a favourite writer of mine. The masterclass was brilliant and Jay was fantastically entertaining and informative). He had sent out four of his pieces to read beforehand as homework so we could go over the techniques he had used. Then, a few days before it started he sent through a fifth piece to read. This was not one of his but was from The Independent in the late 1990s. It was an interview with Damian Harris. Reading it I was transported immediately back to the Brighton of my youth.
Sitting in my seat waiting for the class to start a man was brought in to the room from the door opposite the one from which we had entered. I vaguely recognised the face from DJ booths, music magazines and behind the counter of Rounder Records. Sure enough it turned out to be Damian Harris. In the second part  of the masterclass Jay interviewed Damian live. We had to take notes and then write the opening paragraph of a story about the interview. This was brilliant news. THIS WAS MY SUBJECT MATTER!
The discussion did, of course, talk about Brighton clubland in the 90s but it also focussed on what Damian was up to now – after the rave. And one thing he mentioned was that he had recently read an article about emerging new music genres and hadn’t known anything about any of them. And just a quick search on the interweb shows I don’t either. Ever heard of ‘Juke’? ‘New Orleans Bounce’? ‘Glitch Hop’?  ‘Waffle Berry Bollock Step’? OK one of those is a bit made up but only one. I doubt I have ever heard a piece of Juke music let alone identified it as such.
The tragic thing is I used to be able to do this. As a youngster in the dance clubs of Brighton I could tell my HardBag from my HandBag, my Detroit Techno from my Chicago House, my Gabba from my Trance. Trance seemed to create a new sub-genre almost every week. There was Acid Trance and Goa Trance and Hard Trance. Christ, what a boring bunch of wankers we were.
I may not be trendy any more. To be honest most of my good tips for new bands have come from my kind host Simon, here at Session Bloggers (and before at musodad) and my brother who is a Sound Engineer. I have a few acclaimed fairly recent albums but they mainly have links back to my past. Andy Weatherall’s Masterpiece is by, well, Andy Weatherall. Steve Mason’s Boys Outside is brilliant but I knew him from listening to The Beta Band at chillouts and King Biscuit Time’s ‘I Walk The Earth’ at clubs. Django Django are also influenced by and, I believe related to The Beta Band. I am mostly stuck in the past.
However, these days I don’t feel the slightest need to put a piece of music in to a genre labelled box just to look cool. One advantage of getting old and being in to music is that you just like a piece of music or you don’t. These days I’ll happily admit to liking odd songs by Katie Perry and AC/DC and Squeeze. I know I wouldn’t have in the Brighton of the 90s. Brilliantly, the older you get, the less you also feel the need to listen to a piece of music and decide if it’s really Goa Trance or Acid Trance. You can just enjoy it for what it is.
Oh yeah. The social awkwardness thing. I asked a question of Jay in the Q&A part of the class and managed to crowbar in that I came from Brighton, supported the Albion and bought records at Rounder. Afterwards, preparing to leave, Damian Harris said hello to me. My brain was doing about 6 million things, all of which were ‘DAMIAN FUCKING HARRIS JUST SAID HELLO TO ME OH MY GOD’. Unfortunately the only thing that came out of my mouth was ‘er hello’ before I practically ran for the door, scared as the proverbial rabbit in the headlights. I doubt Damian will ever read this but I realise that this made me look like a grade A twat. That may seem a bit weak but I am as awkward in real life as I am garrulous on twitter and on my blog. An extroverted introvert I think a fellow blogger once called it.
Also I’d never met anyone who’d invented a proper musical genre before.

Fantastic post, Jason, thanks for contributing.  I used to love Big Beat - how cool is Norman Cook though? He was in one of the most influential bands ever in The Housemartins, then he had the huge hit with Beats International, then he launches Skint and reappears as Fatboy Slim.  He is a very talented man if you ask me.

As for Damian Harris, he was probably as nervous as you.  You never know he could be sat at home now thinking 'I wish I'd spoken to that bloke more, he seemed very nice'.  You know what you have to do, my friend - @generalisation - it's in your destiny...

Anyway, that's enough from me, I'm off to listen to some Lo-Fi Allstars, haven't heard them in bloody ages!

Thanks for reading everyone.

Loads of love

Simon S.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Brighton is great for celeb-spotting! While there I stood in a PO queue behind Simon Callow, brushed past(the then) Mrs Norman Cook in sandwich shop, saw Nick Cave walk past my bus-stop on the way home from work, saw Bez from Supergrass in a restaurant, & more. I get star-struck too tho. I once had the opportunity to at least say Hello to Ian Brown & didn't; my mate did. Agree with about being fussy about music & genres - being old does have its benefits!