I SHOULD COCO
Moloko take their name from ‘Clockwork Orange’, but the
word also means ‘Loony’ and ‘Wanker’. She comes from Wicklow,
owns one dress, and sings in code. He comes from Sheffield,
produced hits for Pulp, Boy George, Psychic TV and Krush,
and he listens to the Shipping Forecast. Together they discuss
heavy-breathing with Jarvis Cocker, why tension, paranoia
and voyeurism make life interesting, and why the
Bogeyman went down on Mr Spock!
or contact : roisin.emirecords.co.uk
There’s no place more vast than an empty Bar.
Tim Vine crumples in the corner, something deflated, deep into a well-thumbed ‘Dice-Man’ paperback. Douggie and Paul, high on barstools, watch Sky Sport TV with the sound down, Leeds vs Arsenal. Leeds ahead l:0. The CD jukebox is unplugged.
I lean over to Roisin Murphy. “Saw your video on ‘The Chart Show’”. She inclines her head in only slight acknowledgement. Silence. Greatly daring, I persist. “Saw you doing “Dominoid” live on ‘White Room’ too, between Lou Reed and the archive Hendrix clip”. The first trace of an approving smile.
Should I go on, close the circuit? Like Hell. “You wore the same dress both occasions”.
Ice cold. For a moment it’s like she’s going to lash out, Then, quicker than a software crash, she goes “…and I’ll be wearing it tonight as well. It’s the only dress I’ve got”.
She does. It’s plum-coloured pvc with two curved black slashes. And it’s split up the back. At one point in the set – just as she’s doing the free-falling ‘I dreamt that the bogeyman went down on Mr Spock’, spitting wordplay like she’s firing them from a machine gun at nightmare monsters, she suddenly freezes in mid-lyric. Now she seems bizarrely angular, her shocked expression abruptly fixed as if her mic’s shorted. She staggers backwards as though neck-shot stunned. Her head snaps back in a spray of hair, before a huge charge of drum-shots reanimate her… but all that’s to come.
Right now she’s here with Moloko’s other half, Mark Brydon. His black knitted Benny hat pulled eyebrow low, hands thrust deep into his voluminous white baggy top. This is a man who once produced Boy George, and now remixes Pulp. Sheffield’s Moloko are usually filed under Dance. Then, more specifically, as Trip-Hop. Lazy reviewers tend to throw in names like Portishead and Massive Attack, which are true. But only up to a point. The Moloko ‘Do You Like My Tight Sweater?’ (Echo Records, 1995) album goes way beyond anything either of those comparisons have so far attempted, in terms of oddness, spaced strangeness, and sheer innovation.
“There’s more of a sense of humour in what we do for a start”.
“I think we should be very proud to be connected with bands like Massive Attack and Portishead” adds Roisin tactfully. “But the only thing that’s similar is that we’re both a new kind of band that’s emerging. Interested in writing real songs. Using technology in an organic way, in a musical way as opposed to being just used for effect. And our production levels are the same. We’ve both made very modern, very much ‘State of British Art’ albums. So it’s just we’re a new kind of band. And that’s it”.
Not for Moloko the easy Funk option or the photofit hypnotic repetition.
Their first headlining tour climaxes in Dublin’s ‘Mean Fiddler’. But tonight they’re in Leeds. Mark and Roisin come in together. From McDonalds (she likes their Thickshakes). I wonder, is Moloko a John & Yoko for Cybercity, is it a personal as well as a musical partnrship? He rocks his hand. “The two roles do tend to… overlap”.
--- 0 ---
Vicious three-eyed fang-toothed cartoon fish swim in psychedelic colours across the CD sleeve. Moloko is the kind of idea you wish you’d had yourself. She’s got the jazz phrasing of an Eartha Kitt. Or Grace Jones. He’s a wet-wired data courier from the planet Dance. Their album a brain-fired rush of sleazoid P-Funk where synthbeats speak louder than logic. And my mission is a Mulder & Scully-style penetration of strange mystifications in the alternate reality of a Rave New World, a la-la-la-land of trance. But this is an album that’s wider than just Dance.
“That’s because we don’t strictly go for the pure thing,” Mark explains carefully. “We skirt round the edges of it, around styles of music. Just use bits of it. Use the language of it, rather than it’s speech. Rather than speaking it fluently. We do a Jungle track, and it invariably comes out a bit wrong. I think that’s good. That’s good for us. There’s no point in repeating what everyone else is doing”.
But if the rhythms don’t always go where you expect them to, the lyrics put added spins on the boggle-eyed fuzzy logic factor. Try the current single, “Dominoid” – ‘I lost to a chicken shit / never was panty sniffer’, or album track “Killa Bunnies” – ‘sniverling little bunny bouncing up and down / scummy little creatures run them out of town’. Not surreal. Not even stream-of-conscious she insists. They’re ‘very structured songs’, merely ‘coded’.
She’s from Wicklow. Watching her on TV I’d thought ‘a young Sandie Shaw’ (“with shoes” adds Mark). The same black wings of hair. The same elegant poise and sense of style. But close-up the comparison dissolves. “I’ve no vocal training. I was never in a real band before Moloko. I didn’t even know I could sing until I started doing this”. But her liquid delivery denies that. She performs like she knows her way around a tune. “I like Frank Sinatra, his stuff from years ago. I have a couple of his CD’s from the fifties” she suggests. “And when I was a kid my Uncle had a Jazz Band. A really nasty horrible Trad Jazz – OH NO! don’t put that, PLEASE DON’T PUT THAT!, ‘cos he’ll read it. Just say I used to go and see them play in a Wicklow pub every Sunday. He used to sing, and I used to dance to it. He had a really amazing Tom Waits kind-of voice, really really really deep down (she growls) way way way down low voice…”, the story disappears into inaudibly lower register.
But coming back to 1996, this tour, ignited by a date supporting Pulp at the Brixton Academy, is Moloko’s first? “The Pulp thing wasn’t our first gig. But it was an early gig, yes. And a bit of a strange one too. The first hundred yards of the audience was all fourteen-year old girls going crazy over Jarvis”.
“And all looking very bored with Moloko”.
“Way way back there were probably a few people who’d come to see us. We knew in advance it wasn’t going to be our ideal situation, but we thought we’d give it a go”.
“It’s charactger building,” insists Roisin.
“Yes. Like going on an Outward Bound course or something”.
The Pulp connection extends to a Moloko remix of “Feeling Called Love” on the current Pulp single. “Again that seems like a situation where people might say ‘how could you do that’? But it works very well”.
“It’s quite funny actually” adds Roisin. “Remember that track by Little Louis with all that oooh-oooh-oooh heavy sexual breathing on it? Our remix is kind-of like Jarvis doing all that, oh oh oh, oooh yeah, ooh ooh oooooooh YES! Then there’s this line in it where he sings ‘and it’s so co-wowo-wowo-wowo-wold’ (she sings it in deliciously exaggerated Jarvisese). We immediately jumped on that. If you listen closely to his vocals there are always little breaths inbetween words, you can’t always hear them on record. But they’re there. So we sort-of took all of his little breaths and sampled them up. Oh-oh-oh, oooooh. It’s quite like James Brown in a way, do you know what I mean?”
I’d never quite considered Jarvis Cocker – or even Joe Cocker for that matter, in a James Brown context. But the way she argues it, it’s difficult to disagree. And anyway, perhaps this Pulp association dates back to when they were all just wannabe local Sheffield bands sharing venues and fanzines?
“Roisin knew Jarvis fairly well back then” claims Mark.
“I didn’t!” she protests. “I might have met him about three times. So I wouldn’t say I knew him really well”.
“But he was around. Everybody knew of Pulp. They were much more an Art-House band at that time though. I remember seeing them when they had one of those old phonograms that had a big horn sticking out of the top of it. The kind that play 78 rpm records. Well, Pulp were SCRATCHING with one of those!, milking it up and doing all sorts of bizarre things with it …”
--- 0 ---
Leeds is part of a small pale-green planet, far out in the unfashionable end of the
Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy. Tonight, the more fashion-icon multi-ethnic pansexual denizens of the city are here, in too much make-up and not enough clothes. Moloko challenge even their expectations. Moloko’s moody megabyte munches and nut-job Junglist kitsch-Pop is not always easy on the unprepared. But Roisin’s odd dance callisthenics are fascinating, and there’s a maliciously skewed plot weaving unsteadily through the skittery spurts of Funk. On stage Mark and Roisin are joined by guitarist Douggie and Andy Peckit on drums, bassist Paul and Time Vine on second keyboards. Together they create a disorientating absurdism that puts new curves on Dance while it simultaneously sautés your synapses.
But then Mark Brydon, of course, is a Dance-floor original. Back in the Disco Palaeolithic, when UK Dance meant Bomb The Bass, S*Express and the Beatmasters, he was the man behind the devastating Hip-Hop crunch of “House Arrest” by Krush. A Top Three hit in 1988. From there he went on to produce Funky Worm’s “Hustle” which followed it into the Top Twenty, and then he worked extensively for Boy George’s Jesus Loves You and his ‘More Protein’ label projects. “Yes I’ve worked with everyone from Boy George, through Caron Wheeler (Soul-2-Soul vocalist) to Psychic TV. Obviously there were a lot of differences, and a lot of similarities too. Everybody’s searching for a little bit of the Dance Thing”.
Psychic TV’s darkly satanic frontman Genesis P Orridge – you may recall, organised the Temple Ov Psychic Youth whose distinguishing marks include bolts through the foreskin or labia, and more agreeably, audience nudity at concerts. He subsequently fled Europe following a series of controversial (and probably unjustifiable) Police raids that confiscated PTV Art-video reconstructions of Aleister Crowley Sex Magik rituals. “He was an evil manipulator,” grins Mark affably. “A very dangerous man. But nice with it.”
Roisin crack up, “…nice with it? Are you just saying that in case he puts a curse on you?”
“No, he was. He’s the archetypal David Koresh figure. Very, what’s the word now…? charismatic. A very brave, very nice chap. But by the end of the sessions I wasn’t entirely convinced by his motives. To contrast all that sort of Psychic TV argument, we decided early on that Good Art doesn’t have to be Dark Art”.
“In fact that’s the first place you stop if you’re really lazy,” says Roisin brightly. “That’s what you’ll do, you’ll go ‘let’s be DARK!’ It’s too obvious. Too easy. It’s a piece of piss to be dark. Aleister Crowley said ‘Do what Thou Wilt be the Law’. But people have to behave. Don’t you think it’d be a little bit flipping boring if everybody went around just doing whatever they wanted to do? There’d be no mystery. There’d be no tension. There’d be nothing. Everybody would be just spoilt brats all the time. It’s all the tension and voyeurism and paranoia that makes the world interesting. If you just start thinking negatively and darkly then you become a really boring person”.
But hang on here, surely the name ‘Moloko’ comes from the Nad-Sat language invented by Anthony Burgess for his black horror-show ‘Clockwork Orange’? That’s pretty dark. “Do you think so?” Mark affects shocked innocence.
“We’ve just been out stabbing and raping,” says Roisin.
“And I’ve been getting some fresh eyelashes put in” adds Mark.
“But no, actually it’s a funny film” from Roisin. “Anyway, it’s the style of the film we like. It’s a film that stands up stylistically. It doesn’t look old. It could have been made yesterday. It just looks so cool. Anyway, we had to have a name. And we liked the sound of the word. It’s a universal word. It means ‘milk’ in ‘Clockwork Orange’. But it means a load of other things too. It means ‘Loony” in Portuguese. It means “Wanker” in Greek. It’s fairly universal”.
“And what’s in a name? It loses its meaning once you become familiar with the music. Massive Attack could have been a Heavy Metal band with a name like that. And Portishead? What does that say to you? It says fuck-all to me”.
“They do say ‘Portishead’ on the Shipping Forecast” offers Roisin helpfully.
“So you could call yourself Tyne, Dogger Bank, German Bite!” Mark smiles slyly beneath his eyebrow-low black knitted Benny hat. “I do like listening to the Shipping Forecast, actually. I’m fond on it…”
--- 0 ---
This night Moloko follow the malicious out-of-kilter Baby-talk of their deviant downtempo second single, “Fun For Me”, with the drunken slur and lazy skank of Cole Porter’s “It’s The Wrong Song”. It works brilliantly. “I didn’t know you cared” teases Roisin as the audience erupts. We do Roisin, we do.
So Mark, how long will this dizzy affair last? Is Moloko a long-term thing? “Yes”, firmly, “but the third album will be unrecognisably different from the first.”
As Captain Kirk says it in ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’, ‘set the controls for the second star to the right, and straight on till morning’. He might just find Moloko out there.
I’d known – and followed Mark Brydon’s music, since I first interviewed him as part of the Sheffield Industrial Electro-Funk group Chakk, so getting an early access to Moloko was the obvious next step. Subsequently, a Boris Dlugosch remix of “Sing It Back” (from their second album ‘I Am Not A Doctor’, Echo Records, August 1998) became the soundtrack for the Ibiza-beat summer, and broke them out of the underground dance scene and into the Top Ten. “The Time Is Now” – from third album ‘Things To Make And Do’ (October 2000), followed it into the charts. Their final album together – ‘Statues’ (October 2003) was accompanied by a live DVD (‘11,000 Clicks’ in 2004) and the ‘Catalogue’ (July 2006) compilation, which includes all their hits. Now, Roisin continues as a distinctive solo presence…