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X Factor: The Lost Tapes - When Simon Cowell Met Kraftwerk
David Stubbs , October 25th, 2013 07:50

Sweat! Passion! Vibrato! David Stubbs unearths Simon Cowell's lost tapes of unsuccessful auditions from Public Enemy, Patti Smith, Kraftwerk, Mark E Smith and PJ Harvey

Under a new ruling issued by the Ministry for Arts, Culture and Sport designed to tackle the current surfeit of rock and pop, artists hoping to perform in the UK are to now required to audition before a Government-appointed X Factor panel, headed by Simon Cowell, if they wish to have their entertainment licences renewed.

Some of the auditions will be broadcast on ITV next year as part of the X Factor series; however, The Quietus's David Stubbs has come across a cachet of discarded VHS cassettes containing some of the less successful candidates.

What follows is a transcript of their efforts to impress the pop mogul.


COWELL (As a curiously sodden SMITH shambles onstage): Hello. What's your name?

SMITH: Mark E Smith.

COWELL: "Marquee Smith", well, that's a good stage name for someone who wants to hit the big time, I'll give you that. Where have you come from today, Marquee?

SMITH: Broughton.

COWELL: Where's that?

SMITH: Salford, like.

COWELL: Which is . . . where?

SMITH: Near fuckin' Manchester. 

COWELL: I'm sorry, I'm unaware of any of these places. We'll just say "The North", shall we? And is it just you? 

SMITH: No, there's me band. The Fall. Only they're not here, we had a fight by the canal this morning. I sacked them, so they fuckin' threw me in. That's why I'm soaking wet, like.

COWELL: O-kay. Sharon, stop giggling. And what will you be singing for us today? And will it be more intelligible than that series of muddy noises that came out of your mouth just then?

SMITH: It's called 'Hit The North'. 

COWELL: Ah, your place of birth, how delightful. Very well. In your own time, then.

SMITH (supping deep from a can of lager):

"Hit the North
Hit the North
(My cat says, "Eee-ack")

Hit the North
Hit the North
Hit the North

95% of hayseeds or corn-pone, guaranteed
(Hit the North)
(Hit the North)
Computers infest the hotels
Cops can't catch criminals
But what the heck, they're not too bad, they talk to God

COWELL (grimacing stoically): I'm sorry, Marquee, I'm going to have to cut you short because I'm afraid you might be in need of urgent medical attention. That didn't sound so much as a song as some sort of psychotic episode. And what's with that squealing? Have you been swallowing party balloons for a bet, or something?

SMITH: There's more. 

COWELL: I'm afraid there isn't, Marquee. Tell me, as you emerged from the canal this morning, as you wended your way to the studio, evidently fortifying yourself at several hostelries along the way, what made you think that you and "The Fall" might hope to be the next Brother Beyond? 

SMITH: Never thought we would, no.

COWELL: So we agree on something, Marquee. I'd advise you, in the words of your own composition, to 'Hit The North', stay there and consider a career more suited to your talents, perhaps sitting on a park bench haranguing pigeons. Goodbye. 

SMITH: Can I have a fight with Gary Barlow?

COWELL: By all means, if it helps your recovery in any way. Goodbye.


COWELL: And your name is . . . ?

SMITH: Patti.

COWELL: Short for – Patrick?

SMITH: No – Patricia.

COWELL: Sharon, please stop giggling. So, just so I've got this straight, you are a female of some description. And your surname?

SMITH: Smith.

COWELL: Okay, I'm seriously not sure I can go on with this. Is this a prank? Is everybody auditioning for this competition today a Smith? I've just had a Marquee Smith, earlier this morning I had to throw out some gladioli-brandishing, groaning poltroon who said he was singer with a group who called themselves The Smiths, now you, "Ms" Smith. Are you being serious?

SMITH: Very serious.

COWELL: Yes, well, let's not go too far the other way. Okay, in your own time. 


"When suddenly Johnny gets the feeling he's being surrounded by horses, horses, horses, horses
coming in in all directions
white shining silver studs with their nose in flames,
He saw horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses -"

COWELL: Yes – okay – okay, thank you. Many, many horses, I think we get the point. I think I'm beginning to understand how Johnny feels. You convey that feeling of incessant, inescapable whinnying very effectively. May I ask you a question, Ms Smith?

SMITH: Sure. 

COWELL: Have you any idea about the hard work it requires for a woman to make it in today's pop world? Someone like Dannii Minogue? The hours in make-up? The choreography? The smiling and singing and dancing all at the same time? The general absence of agitated horses as subject matter from their songs?

SMITH: I guess I don't.

COWELL: I guess you don't also, because you don't seem to have applied yourself in any of these areas whatsoever. This is what makes the Minogues of this world special. I don't want to be screamed at by angry women, Ms Smith. I get plenty of that in my domestic life. I want to be flattered and seduced and purred at. For some reason, I get very little of that, and certainly not from you. Goodbye. 


COWELL: And your names are?

FLAVOR FLAV: Yo, we're Public Enemy, I'm Flavor Flav. And this be my homie, Chuck D.

COWELL: I see. And you're a vaudeville comedy duo of some sort? You say something idiotic and Mr D here takes off his baseball cap and slaps you around the head with it?

CHUCK D: It ain't like that. 

COWELL: What are you singing for us today?

CHUCK D: We don't "sing". We rap.

COWELL: Okay, well, as this is a singing competition as opposed to a "let's waste Simon's time by spraying him at close range with gruff doggerel and phlegm" competition, can I humbly suggest that you approximate to a tune of some sort? In your own time?


"Givin' whatcha gettin'
Knowin' what I know
While the Black bands sweatin'
And the rhythm rhymes rollin'
Got to give us what we want
Gotta give us what we need
Our freedom of speech is freedom or death
We got to fight the powers that be
Lemme hear you say
Fight the power."

COWELL: Yes – thank you. I advise you to sing, you rap anyway, because of course, you know best, and Simon Cowell, multi-millionaire manager of groups like Il Divo, Zig & Zag and Robson & Jerome knows nothing. I don't wish to be rude but I've done you the courtesy of listening to your rhymeless indignation for ten whole seconds. All I can say is that you two are certainly no Robson & Jerome. Robson & Jerome did not get where they are by fighting the power.

CHUCK: But - 

COWELL: Be quiet! Be quiet for one second and listen. And Sharon, can I please ask you to stop giggling. Because I am the power, you understand? Robson and Jerome submitted to the power. Submitted. May I suggest you change the title of this song to "Submit To Simon", bring the voices up to a falsetto and learn how to dance in sync?

CHUCK: That ain't happening.

COWELL: See, that lippy arrogance, everything I hate. Well, Public Enemy, I'm afraid you're going to have to change your name to Public Indifference, because that's what you'll be facing from now on. Goodbye.


COWELL: And your name is?

HARVEY: Polly.

COWELL: Speak up, please, my dear.

HARVEY: Polly.

COWELL: It says here PJ.

HARVEY: It's complicated. 

COWELL: It certainly is, I've a headache already. And where are you from?

HARVEY: Dorset. 

COWELL: I rather feared as much. Well, you're here, you might as well sing. 


"Hey I'm one big queen no one can stop me
Red light red green smack back and watch it
I'm your new one second to no one
No sweat I'm clean nothing can touch me

I'll tell you my name F U and C K
50ft queenie force ten hurricanes
Biggest woman I could have ten sons
Ten daughters ten queens
Ten foot and ris-"

COWELL: Stop – STOP! I'm going to have to stop you there, my dear. Polly, or PJ, or whatever – I have you not read the script?

HARVEY: What script?

COWELL: The one where you come on, looking all unpromising, from some ghastly region or other, wouldn't say 'boo' to a goose and looking completely devoid of talent, then you open your mouth and – out comes the voice of an opera singer, a miracle from God. The SuBo story! As repeated at least half a dozen times across the X-Factor franchises worldwide! Instead, we get . . . that, which, I don't mean to be rude, sounds like someone in the slow throes of losing a limb in a tractor accident. 

HARVEY: Well, that's me. That's my voice. My way.

COWELL: You see, again, it's the arrogance of you people that gets me. You think you know it all. If I felt like it, I could make you a star, PJ. An all-girl group, Aviary Aloud. All five members have a "bird" theme. There'd be the sparrow, the crow, the eagle, the robin – and you. The parrot. You'd be called Pretty Polly. I'd make millions, you'd be on TV. But I can see the way you're glowering at me you're going to go with the tractor accident thing. Well, PJ, I'm, going to have to ask you to make like your namesake Mr Proby's trousers and split. Goodbye.


COWELL: And your names are?

RALF HÜTTER: My name is Ralf. These are my co-workers, their names are unimportant. We are a product of West Germany.

COWELL: Interesting, you're right, their names aren't important. All day long I'm asking people what their name is, I DON'T BLOODY CARE WHAT YOUR NAME IS! And yes, product. You're talking my language. 

RALF: We believe that popular music is a matter of the man-machine relationship. 

COWELL: Yes, the machine, manufacture, good. 

RALF: We have our own doppelgangers, the robots.

COWELL: Yes, that's very good, I had One Direction all replaced by robots a year ago, no one's noticed. I like what I'm hearing here.

RALF: Our song is 'Pocket Calculator'. We consider this little device can be a pop instrument.

COWELL: Couldn't agree more, I consider the calculator to be the most important instrument in pop music today. Profit margins, projected turnover, units – do, please, start in your own time.


I'm the operator with my pocket calculator
I'm the operator with my pocket calculator
I am adding and subtracting
I'm controlling and composing
I'm the operator with my pocket calculator
I'm the operator with my pocket calculator
I am adding and subtracting
I'm controlling and composing
By pressing down a special key, it plays a little melody -

COWELL: STOP! - Sorry, I'm going to have to stop you there. Ralf – what was that? Kenneth Williams doing a homosexual German voice? 

RALF: But this is how I sing. It is the concept.

COWELL: Look, I don't wish to be rude but –  machines, unimportant names, synthetic, manufactured, all good. You've almost got the idea. But that's not how a band based on the principles of factory production sings. Gary! 

GARY BARLOW: Yes, Simon? 

COWELL: Show them how it should be done. 

BARLOW: Okey doke. (Scrunches up face soulfully): "By PRESSSING DOWN A SPESSSSSHHHHULLL KEY . . . it PLAYS a little MEEEEELOOOOOODEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!"

COWELL: You see? Sweat! Passion! Vibrato poured over the song like a giant tub of molasses! Pointless elongation of vowels! Emotion like a sharecropper watching his shack burn down with all his twelve children trapped inside it, turned on and off like a tap by some overprivileged little sack of Caucasian mediocrity! THAT'S what manufactured pop sounds like. Not like some knock-kneed Düsseldorf chocolatier. Goodbye. And Sharon, for the last time, will you please stop giggling . . .

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