Pet Shop Boys and New Order and the birth of rap and house music
Let’s go back to 1989. I am young and live in a part of East London which is being transformed by massive investment, the Docklands. My flat, which is surrounded daily by the banging and rattling of construction workers, costs £15. I have £500 to my name and some clothes, most of which I ruined because I thought bleach was the same as detergent (never cleaned anything until I lives alone in London).
I also have a Walkman, which plays the music I recorded on the radio. Two tracks stand out at the moment: “Left to My Own Devices” by the Pet Shop Boys and “Fine Time” by New Order. Both are heavily influenced by the new sounds coming out of post-disco Chicago house music. (I wrote about this period in my 2011 article “I Was There When Acid House Hit London and This Is How It Felt.”)
“Left to My Own Devices” captures the ambitious spirit of the third and, in my opinion, best Pet Shop Boys album, Introspective. Its beat, accompanied by an offbeat piano house riff, moves at the speed of a limitless, lyrical future as lead singer, Neil Tennant, portrays an artist who dreams of one day sending “Che Guevara and Debussy in a disco”. beat.” He also describes Tennant’s life as a Londoner:
I get out of bed at half past ten
Phone a friend who is a party animal
Turn on the news and drink some tea
Maybe if you’re with me, we’ll go shopping
As for “Fine Time”, the opening track of New Order’s fifth studio album, it had, like so many other pieces of London club music, a twist on the Chicago sound called acid. I first discovered this variation the year before (1988) when, in the Highlands area of Harare, a friend – a well-to-do Filipino named Raul Fernandez who had access to all the new music that was happening in the United States – played a band that featured “Acid Tracks” by Phuture. I was blown away by its relentless technological impulse, which was enhanced (made funky) by the sinuous bass of a Roland TB-303. There was simply nothing like it anywhere else in the world. But by the time I arrived in London, the city had not only digested this new black technology, it was at the top of its pop charts.
London had also turned its attention to Detroit, which had left its electro scene (the best example of which is Cybotron’s “Clear” in 1983) by borrowing heavily from Chicago. Electro was actually the sound that emerged between early rap (1978 to 1982) and classic hip-hop/boom-box (between 1984 and 1988). Indeed, New Order released an electro song during this transition period, “Confusion”. Long before I knew of Factory Records, Ian Curtis and “Blue Monday”, New Order was only in my mind as a bunch of Brits who, for some reason I didn’t understand at the time, worked with the legendary Arthur Baker (producer of the hip-hop and Kraftwerk track, “Planet Rock”). It’s also worth noting that Zimbabwe’s main music video show of the early 80s, Sounds on Saturday, featured ‘Confusion’ on a regular basis, giving us a glimpse of a nightclub that was, for many between us, the center of the world. , the Roxy NYC.
Arthur Baker also worked on a Pet Shop Boys track, the remix of “In the Night”, but the result wasn’t as impressive as “Confusion”. Nonetheless, Tennant can be credited as being the first British subject to introduce a wide audience to the possibilities of rapping with an English accent, and that almost sounded classy. Before Tennant, most Brits rapped with a black American accent, like Derek B and the Cookie Crew, whose great track, “Born This Way,” was a hit while I was in London. (“Born This Way” was produced by Stetsasonic’s Daddy-O.) Tennant didn’t try to sound American or even black. But he was definitely rapping – “Sometimes you better be dead / There’s a gun in your hand and it’s pointed at your head…” In fact, “Left to My Devices” could be considered his last great song. British rap.
New Order and Pet Shop Boys perform Friday, October 14 at Climate Pledge Arena.