Graham Reid | | 10 min read
Mike Edwards has got a big mouth - and without going too far into the anatomically impossible, it’s his big mouth that gets right up people’s noses.
And right here, right now in Birmingham, he’s been getting up the noses of the British music press - which admittedly isn’t hard to do and probably quite worthwhile.
A quick glance at the British music papers recently can be a distressing experience, especially if, like Edwards, you believe the best way to move on is to go forward. It‘s all back to the future with Sixties and Seventies-sounding bands in Carnaby St gear.
"Yanks Go Home!" said a Select cover story recently acclaiming the greatness of British rock . . . and chatted with retro acts like St Etienne, Denim and, of course, Suede.
Into this atmosphere Jesus Jones have just released their third album, Perverse, a shift away from the flashy aggro-pop of their previous Liquidiser and Doubt albums and a full embrace of techno. As Edwards sneers through the static-crackling rock of Zeroes and Clues. which opens Perverse, “this time the revolution will be computerised.”
But not yet, Mike.
The very day he is speaking, the British charts have come out: Coverdale Page are at one and behind them are Lenny Kravitz, Eric Clapton's Unplugged . . . and Pink Floyd’s 20-year-old Dark Side of the Moon.
Are these the international bright young things of the 90s?
“Pseudo-young music made by pseudo-young people,” Edwards says, dismissing Coverdale Page and Kravitz in a well-rehearsed phrase. “And these cabaret-impression Seventies bands on the covers of the British music press ... it’s just people reliving their childhoods.”
And there go Suede, the Auteurs, and all the rest of them.
When Edwards gets so openly dismissive you know there's a backlash coming.
Reviewing a Jesus Jones show in Norwich, someone called Zane in Melody Maker opens with “Arrogance, assumption, haughtiness, insolent bearing. Ring any bells, Mike?"
Others are grudging in their praise: “Mike Edwards has always irritated the fuck out of me -- that smug, know-it-all grin. But I have to concede that he’s a smart cookie,” wrote Simon Reynolds reviewing Perverse.
And there's the rub. Edwards gets up noses but - and because, perhaps - he’s right.
"Oh, there’s been a lot of personal attacks on me,” he says cheerily with that grin. “The most common thing is the misquoting of my statement that ‘Perverse is the second rock album of the Nineties,‘ which variously comes out as ‘the first great rock album of the Nineties' or ‘the third great rock album'. No one has managed to get the number right yet.
“That‘s not me blowing my own trumpet. What I'm saying is, for us to make an album that reflects the society we‘re living in we use computer technology. That’s a very natural thing to do - why isn’t everyone?
“Why is it the retro stuff is getting the front covers when new music is what it’s supposed to be about? I’ just trying to draw attention to the fact nothing is going on - and everybody knows it.”
It’s a raw, late March night in Birmingham and at couple of hours before he takes the stage at the nearby Hummingbird, Edwards is wired up.
“Touring certainly shapes the way you look at music and playing the new songs at people I've got a lot more indignation and anger. I actually don't mind talking about the music non-stop and doing promotion because we do have ideas . . . although around the world - and particularly here in England - it hasn’t actually worked to our benefit that we’ve got things to say about rock music.
“At the moment a great deal of people who are commenting on rock don’t want anything new, as evidenced by the dire situation of the Grammy Awards in America. How can Eric Clapton win all those?
“lt's just as bad at the Brit Awards - some guy stands up and says, ‘We’re here to prove English rock music has got something new and it’s not dull and boring.’ And the first band he introduces is Madness playing a 10-year old hit. I ask you!" he snorts.
Yes Mike, but those awards have never acknowledged cutting edge music. Go back 10 or 20 years and see who was getting them then.
“Of course, it was all the safe, boring stuff but it was the safe boring stuff of its time. And the British music press offer equally dire options. People making the music, commenting on it and presenting it are simply not interested in anything new," he announces with the triumphant and uncompromising finality of a man whose big brother has just arrived and he's bigger than your big brother.
And that's what Edwards is all about . . . This is the Nineties, let’s get it on using Nineties technology. Sample and hold. Techno is it; boys with Hunky Dory or Aladdin Sane albums and an attitude aren’t. As Edwards says, “The future is here; you can only deny it for so long.”
As he sits courting and confronting the press yet again, you can’t help-but admire Edwards. He is smart, articulate and despite the confrontational attitude with the media - which guarantees coverage, at the very least - he’s a professional, knows whose hand to shake, and has a canny sense of what the fickle pop industry is all about.
And if that weren’t bad enough, he's good at what he does.
Later that night and it’s looking like a full house at the Hummingbird - a cavernous venue which is like the mutant offspring of the Powerstation and the Logan Campbell Centre. Big, accommodating and with great sound.
The same week as Jesus Jones hit the Hummingbird, Newcastle, Glasgow, Leeds and all points elsewhere around the United Kingdom, the Wire magazine is carrying yet another essay -- this time by fortysomething American critic Greil Marcus -- about whether rock is dead or not.
Well, Greil, tell it to the kids.
The Hummingbird is humming and by the time Sunscreem finish their laser-blazing mind-boggling techno set, the mood is one of edgy anticipation.
After half and hour of ambient techno, Jesus Jones take the stage in a blitzkrieg of hard-edged techno-rock.
Drum machines chatter, synths stammer, Edwards' mouth yawps and gapes at the microphone and guitarist Iain Baker swirls off to the right in a kaleidoscope of sound and light. The indecipherable chat of Brummie kids ("ee, choot. eaz ee greet lud that ’un thair”) is silenced and the pogoing and slamming starts in earnest.
Unlike their previous albums, Perverse hasn’t sprung the immediate pop hits, so Edwards, canny chap that he is, leads his young audience into the new material carefully.
For those of you who liked the earlier things, he says at one point, you might like this, and it’s off into Magazine from the new album.
The long but snappy set flicks back and forth between old and new material as the band delivers songs like Right Here Right Now and international Bright Young Things with the same sense of commitment as the new songs.
It’s a sonic blast -- and seems to capture the mood of young Birmingham.
The fact is -- critics from the Wire notwithstanding -- rock is alive on this night and its name is techno.
Every second Friday the Hummingbird offers "Music for the Hi-Tech Low Life” in an industrial/cyber/techno club night. Sheep on Drugs are picking up an audience, Sunscreem pours out of fashionable clothes shops on Oxford St and the Aphex Twin album went top 20 on the indie charts. It is the trickledown from Acid House from kids in the suburbs with drum machines, eight-tracks and the numbing side-effects of Thatcher’s regime. Bored? Tune in, turn on and drop it on someone else.
While techno of the Snap/Technotronic and 808 State/Adamski kind may have a facelessness and anonymity about it, Edwards advances another definition. lt’s all down to the equipment, not the product.
The main difference between the way Jesus Jones and the Black Crowes made their albums is that the Joneses did theirs on computer and stored it on floppy disks and the Crowes did theirs on tape.
“It’s a difference in method rather than performance. The fact we use samplers, drum machines and so on doesn’t detract from the human part. People -- us -- are still programming it and we’re still playing guitars on the album. It’s human -- there isn’t any music that isn’t. Even Kraftwerk.”
Whatever Jesus Jones are influenced by, it is up to the moment and on the edge.
“The best artists work the line in the middle between blatant disregard for cormmerciality and having a good way with a pop song," he says flatly.
Sound like anybody we know? Except Perverse hasn’t quite managed that . . . yet?
“I did take it to heart when people said there weren’t as many pop singles [on Perverse] as before, because there is no higher art than writing a pop single, as evidenced by the fact so few people can do it. It’s very easy to make avant-garde or alternative music, but to make music that is hugely successful does require a talent.”
“On Doubt there was a lot of instantly accessible pop because at that time that was one of the things that was directing pop -- it had an instant accessibility. In 1993 that won’t wash any more.
"I can't think of anyone releasing an album this year, however, that I am looking forward to hearing. Depeche Mode maybe. But if I'm asked what I’m listening to or who I’m influenced by, it would be a whole lot of currently obscure techno musicians, like the Aphex Twin.
“I’ve never liked any comparisons between us and anyone else, and our first single -- which mixed dance and rock, I might add -- got attention in New Zealand a year before the Manchester scene which we somehow became associated with. Odd, since we were from London.
“It was very uncomfortable for us when Manchester broke, because suddenly there were loads of bands whose fashion veered alarmingly close in our direction. They've veered away now – those that are left -- but we were running parallel for a short while and there were factors which were similar.
“On the first album the media references to us were all Pop Will Eat Itself and Big Audio Dynamite; for the second it was all Happy Mondays and Stone Roses. Perverse is the first album we haven't had all sorts of comparisons to come through, although someone called Depeche Zeppelin which is my favourite description so far.
“But actually it's got everyone stumped,” he announces triumphantly.
What Perverse and Jesus Jones are now offering may then be less an album of immediacy and pop credentials than a blueprint – Perverse being the second rock album of the Nineties. The music is enhanced by samples or uses them as a starting point.
“The Devil You Know is an example of where a sample starts the songs: at the beginning is a very high-pitched Iranian instrument. I really liked that, so then I started collaging sounds on top to get more of a mood. Once that starts, then you work with the structure of it as a song.
“But the technological aspects aside, songs come in the way they do for anybody. Yellow Brown, for example, is a result of travelling around the world and then saying, ‘Right, you‘ve been everywhere, what have you seen?’ It may seem very negative, but the one constant was pollution. It didn’t matter where it was, there was always this yellow brown hanging in the air.
“And funnily enough I find it easy to write on the road because you’re travelling, seeing something new – and that can put you in a very excited state. It’s a thrilling life to lead and it’s also an opportunity to read new books and listen to new records.
“It’s unfortunate that the only time being on the road is written about is by cliched heavy metal bands who have a stylistically incorrect version of what it’s like. Touring is getting off the plane in a country you’ve never been before and being excited about the sights and music.
“Hip hop and the fat backbeats speaks to America but when I come back to London it’s not relevant. Techno says something about what it’s like being young and in London . . . or Birmingham.
“So Jesus Jones’ music reflects that and what’s happening now. And the idea of the song is still central, it’s just all in the making of it.”
The problem now is that the so-called "traditional way" of making music in a studio with guitars and tape recorders is outmoded.
“That inadvertent statement, the second rock album of the Nineties, isn’t understood by people because they don't understand the whole recording process – but that’s not my problem.
“In that regard, Perverse is unusual by default. I can’t understand why rock bands -- and rock as such -- isn’t going in a similar direction or the music isn’t all being made in this way.
“We know techno people and if you say, ‘We’ve recorded Perverse all on computers' they'll say, ‘Yeah, so? Doesn’t everybody?'
“I don't understand why rock music has this thing about 'after '76 or ’79 nothing good ever happened.' It’s all so decidedly backward-looking and for me it is the majority of rock music that is strange and unnatural in the way it is so retrogressive."
And getting more retro by the day, too, Mike.
Within the month, Suede's album was out. It debuted at number one and a week later Bowie’s look over his shoulder, Black Tie White Noise, was behind it at number two.