Age Of Chance Interview: Get To Grips With The Lycra Clad Revolutionaries
, August 28th, 2009 05:17
Mark Emsley recalls how a chance encounter with AOC via the pages of NME gave him a "boot up the proverbial arse" and catches up with Geoff Taylor from the band
22 November 1986
When it comes to life changing events, I very much doubt that for most people a copy of the NME would be anywhere near the top 10. However, for me that is precisely the case.
On pages 32 and 33 of the issue was a two-page spread on the Leeds band Age of Chance, by Dele Fadele. In the article the band talked about crush collision, their love of industrial noise (and by that I don’t mean ear shredding processed guitars a la Ministry/NIN, but proper building site noise), the avoidance of all things goth, and of course hip hop.
For a young, wide-eyed, 18-year-old who had just swapped the soul-sucking countryside idyll for life in grime-saturated Leeds, the article was nothing short of a slogan-infused kick up the proverbial arse. Not only did they talk in sharp buzz-phrases, name-checking all and sundry from Motown to Z’Ev, but the band looked like nothing else in the LS postcode area. Their use of dayglo lycra and cycling wear, sharp haircuts, intense stares and multiple watches clearly isolated them from the rest of the fringe-heavy, "Oh woe is me!" C86 scene that Age of Chance had become linked to (due to the inclusion of 'From Now On Will Be your God' on the C86 compilation).
I had, along with many others, heard their mutilated cover version of 'Kiss' on Peel's radio show and picked up one of the many 12” versions (mainly due to the record being released on Chakk's Sheffield-based Fuck Off Nazi label); so I was aware of the band's rise up the rankings. Yet the combination of the article and the image of the band relaxing amongst mangled cars hit me on a deeper level.
Bored with my Weather Prophets cassettes [No way! Ed], fed up with Shop Assistants, and not in the mood for the doom and gloom that the rest of the grey-n-grim Leeds brigade provided, Age of Chance provided me with a new alternative that was brash, colourful, and full of a much needed blast of beat heavy ugly noise.
How on earth could I resist?
A few days after the article, I happened to be in the epicentre of all things worthy at the time, Jumbo Records (not the current large open plan incarnation of the shop but the original cupboard version based in the upper regions of the Merrion Centre), when I spotted Neil H of the band checking out the 12” section. Despite the rattling knees, I decided to seize the day, introduce myself, and try to find out how I could get a copy of the John Peel sanctioned 'Kisspower' 12” that consisted of 7 minutes of high profile samples, cut-n-paste beats, and deft splattering of the source material. A few moments later I walked away empowered with the knowledge that the 12” was not going to get an official release due to legal implications, but with the promise that Neil would send me the track on cassette.
Much to my amazement a cassette did turn up, and Neil had even taken time to fill the other side with a live session by the Beastie Boys, thus underlining the fact that the band also were going through a change from their early shambolic guitars-drum-bass style towards the more focused, sample-stuffed grooves of their debut album. Over the next few months I saw the band perform one of their last shows in their technology-free line up, chanced upon the various members of the band whenever I popped out to buy Pot Noodles, ended up on first name terms with them (I suspect I was one of a select minority), and generally soaked up the whole experience with youthful relish.
Following the success of 'Kiss', the band enjoyed a honeymoon period with the media, several labels showed interest, and in the end, they signed to Virgin Records. The first official release in the UK via their new paymasters was the blistering track, ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Noise’; as with the FON releases, the record was wrapped up in eye catching artwork by new kids on the Sheffield block The Designers Republic.
The sonic template was laid down. Discordant noise, drum machines clattering away, DJ scratches being provided by new addition to the ranks, Powercut (aka well established hip hop and later house DJ, Noel Watson), mob-friendly chants — all matched by Steven E ranting, “Free your mind and your ass will follow”.
Soundsystem threatening New York-styled house basslines and beats formed the foundation for the bands next release, 'Don’t Get Mad Get Even' which raised the bar even higher. And a few months later, the bomb was dropped.
One Thousand Years of Trouble, the band's big budget debut, was 35 minutes of cut-n-paste samples (the chorus to 'Take It' being a delicate amalgamation of snippets of David Bowie, the Clash, and even Van Halen), noise, guitars, northern grit and sarcasm. Along with my On-U Sound System tapes, it became my personal soundtrack for the rest of the year and beyond.
6 December 1987
The band performed their final 1000 Years of Trouble show at the Town and Country in London (I’m ignoring a sham of a later charity event for the sake of preserving the legend).
With Geoff T having invited the whole of the Leeds audience from their hometown gig (at Leeds Polytechnic on November 24th — 12 months to the day after the NME article) down for the show, I ended up on a London-bound coach on a mad school-trip type of adventure, along with other regulars at the Downbeat club (where house, hip hop and jazz were blended together by an early version of Nightmares on Wax, and where Unique 3 on one occasion turned up with a box of test pressings, hijacked the DJ booth, and played their soon-to-be acid anthem 'The Theme' four times in a row, much to the delight of the paying customers), and had one of the most intense nights of my life.
Following the Town and Country highpoint things began to unravel. Steven E moved on, and having already recorded the majority of the follow up album; the rest of the band recruited a Terence Trent D'Arby wannabe, overdubbed the vocals, turned down the guitars, turned up the keyboards, and tried to become record label-pleasing pop stars with the release of the ill-received Mecca.
Even during this period of internal trouble and strife, there were brief flashes of brilliance when the music matched the bluster — normally via the band's self-produced 12” house remixes, which were picked up and used by name DJs during the original explosion of acid house. However, the odd remix aside — there is no denying it — nothing ever really came close to the intensity of that magical 12-month period again.
That was then, this is now.
Word has reached the outer regions of the English outback that after years of online persistence by a hardcore few, EMI (who now own the band's Virgin era recordings), are to dust down the tapes for a digital release. Being made available for the first time in clean, digital form are the tracks that comprised the Beneath the Pavements EP (including 'Kiss', and the band's jaw dropping feedback overloaded version of 'Disco Inferno'), 1,000 Years Trouble, various remixes of the singles, and Mecca.
AoC made a small imprint on the history of pop, but one that in the passing of time proved to be of importance. Following the demise of the band's fortunes, others stepped in and ran with the ideas to greater commercial effect: Pop Will Eat Itself effectively dined on the same menu for many years thereafter, but had a knack for humour and melody that was often missing from AOC's oeuvre; Jesus Jones wore the same clothes due to having a genuine passion for cycling, and hit the mainstream charts. Whereas in the 90s, any rock band who claimed to be cutting edge added a hip hop DJ to their ranks (but we can’t blame Age of Chance for that, now, can we?)
So, what better time to catch up with Geoff Taylor from the band and talk over various aspects of the interesting turn of events?
Given that it has been a long time since any AOC product was available officially, was there any point at which you thought the catalogue was never going to be dusted down?
Geoff Taylor: I began to wonder I have to admit. Who can say how these things are decided upon? Nice to see everything coming out together though. Better that than coming out in dribs and drabs.
When you heard about the reissue plans, other than some royalties, what was the first thing that went through your head?
GT: Where the hell did I stash those old cycling shorts…
While the debut album proper, 1000 Years of Trouble is clearly the jewel in the crown for those who have had to live with their scratched vinyl copies for the last 20 years, I have to say, the Beneath the Pavements EP material (included as a bonus) sounds particularly widescreen and impressive. What was it like for you relistening back to the tracks in clean digital stereo?
GT: Like revisiting a remote beauty spot known to a select few and finding it as beautiful and as captivating as you remember it.
A rush of enjoyable nostalgia, or, were you critically picking apart certain production decisions?
GT: Nah, all production decisions were all part of the learning curve. A rush certainly, but I wouldn’t use the word "nostalgia" myself.
Any ideas as to whether the pre-Virgin (now EMI) material will ever be made available again, or, are the master tapes rotting unloved in a broken down warehouse on the outskirts of Wakefield making such a task impossible?
GT: We’re essentially talking two 45s: ‘Motorcity’ and ‘Bible of the Beats’, later re-assembled to form the 4-track ‘Twilight World of Sonic Disco’. It’d be nice to see these released with the original inserts (Motorcity/Twilight World) and coloured vinyl (Twilight World). There’s also some good stuff post-Steve/Charlie when AoC equated to myself, Neil and Jan: Slow Motion Riot (12”) and numerous mixes, and ‘She is Filled With Secrets’ (12”). It’d be nice to give ‘em all some kind of a release.
Now that the full set of tracks have been put online at some of the well known mp3 stores I have noticed in the listings a few unreleased extras, ‘Definition of a Riot’, and 2 remixes of the final Virgin single ‘Playing With Fire’. Were you aware of these getting dusted down, and what’s the story behind their creation? Are they studio offcuts that were not deemed worthy at the time, or were they made with another 12” in mind?
GT: ‘Definition of a Riot’ is a wild dub version of ‘Flame On’ (from the ‘Playing With fire’ 12”), and until now unreleased. People need to hear it I think. It sounds quite current, to my ears at least. All these tracks were recorded during the Playing With Fire sessions in Leeds. It’s not that were deemed unworthy of release, just that there were too many tracks to put out at the same time.
**In previous discussions, you have disassociated yourself from the Mecca album. Has this process helped you realize while not made by the same Age of Chance that made 1000 Years of Trouble, it is still a very good late 80s pop album. The stripped back shiny production sounds rather good in 2009 – and rather relevant given the return of certain production styles.
GT: For myself, it’s not so much that I want to disassociate myself from Mecca, it’s just that the recording of it was pretty stressful, was marked by some unfortunate turns of event, (eg, Steve leaving) and stretched out for a long time. We were over a barrel having spent a considerable portion of the album’s budget getting to that point. Then we had to go out and find a replacement. A lot of bands would have left it and shelved the project altogether but we saw it through to finality. I still think tracks like ‘4 More Years’, ‘Snowblind’ and ‘What’s Happening?’ are worth the price of admission. Some of the mixes ‘Timeless’ say and the 12” ‘Playing With Fire/Flame On’ are crucial AoC recordings.
I recently heard a radio interview on 6 music in which you declared that back in 86/87 people either loved or hated the band. Were you aware of the animosity at the time, and if you were, did it concern you?
GT: Yeah, as time went on we became aware that we were pissing some people off, certain journalists and bands, and that became pretty enjoyable I have to admit.
What was it about Age of Chance that rubbed people up wrong the most, the cycle gear, the perceived arrogance, or something to do with the fact that you talked like you were selling millions of records despite not having had a record in the proper pop charts?
GT: Probably our whole stance - the look, the interviews, the records - upset certain people, campaigners for Real Rock mostly… [there were] lots of those about back then. The 80s was the era of leather trousers and winkle-pickers remember. The Jim Morrison on a giro syndrome. Our love of lycra was always going to cause waves there. I never saw us as being arrogant though to be honest.
Also, during the interview there was also the suggestion of an actual CD being issued. Is that correct, as the details in the press release only seem to mention a digital-only campaign?
GT: As I understand it, the releases are digital-only at present. It would be nice to see some artfully-packaged AoC product follow on from that though. We’ll have to wait and see.
The reaction to the news of the campaign has been quite impressive given that, beyond the cover version of 'Kiss', AOC are rarely mentioned. Must feel good to find out that people still are interested?
GT: Indeed it does. There’s a few treats in store for the fans and non-initiated alike, and now they’re all available online, pop-kids.
The band's concept of "Crush Collision" seems to have become part of modern pop culture, but for newcomers to your material, do you see any connection between the AOC catalogue and what's going on in music now, or, is the music very much of its time?
GT: I’ve noticed over the years that the term ‘Collision’ – two or more disparate elements, whether music, visuals whatever - coming together, has entered the popular lexicon. That’s completely down to AoC’s use of the term. I suppose what we were doing was essentially what hip-hop was about, back then anyway. No boundaries – mixing completely opposing elements together and making something new come out of it. I can certainly hear AoC’s influence in some current names. 2ManyDJs for instance. Their sets are Sonic Metal Disco, pure and simple.