Back to the heart of noise

Dance music is a broad church and The Beloved inhabit both ends of it - they're a little bit pop, a little bit club. All the more reason to love and understand them, argues Sheryl Garratt
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The Independent Culture
Jon and Helena Marsh are miffed. "Satellite", the first single from their new album, X, as The Beloved, entered the charts at number 19. Despite protracted negotiations as to whether they were to be allowed to sit down during their performance on Top of the Pops, in the end they were not asked to appear on the show. And their video - a classy, black- and-white affair which features dancers moving sensuously against the backdrop of a Moroccan harbourside and the duo's faces morphing into each other - has been deemed too rude for TV audiences. MTV will be showing it, but only after 10pm, when the shadowy, blink-and-you'll-miss-them flashes of bare breast and bum will still be covered up with strategically placed "Xs" to protect the innocent. Denied exposure, this week the single dropped to number 40.

Probably the best promo for a pop/ dance track for some time, the video wasn't calculated to shock. Nothing is shown that can't be seen more clearly on page three of the Sun, although perhaps it was what can't be seen that caused concern, the fact that Jon's voice and The Beloved's music is warmer, sexier, more emotional than most current dance music. The idea, perhaps, is that the mass of writhing bodies looked like they could be getting down to something altogether more serious than dancing when the camera stopped rolling. "I suppose it does look like there could be quite a party kicking off," smiles Jon ruefully.

In fact, few groups can be as wholesome as The Beloved. Still clearly, endearingly besotted with each other, their songs of love and sex are all contained within the sanctity of a happy marriage. The Beloved may take house music as their first inspiration, but they write songs with memorable choruses and should be, like M People, the kind of club act that are liked by people who never go to clubs.

But they can also be perversely unconventional, which is why they've never enjoyed the same kind of success. The Beloved are a good-looking couple, yet "Satellite" is the first record ever to show their faces on their packaging - and since the picture was taken with a brain scanner and shows the inside of their heads only, you could be forgiven for not recognising them. Jon happily hauls his record boxes up and down the motorways every weekend to work as a DJ at various club nights, yet has so far refused to tour as The Beloved on the grounds that he'd hate the repetition. Their singles always include an underground dance mix, and they admit that hearing these played in a club like New York's Sound Factory gives them a bigger thrill than any commercial success. "We still feel that we have a point to prove. We're treated as being half in and half out of the church of dance music: people in mainstream pop music don't have any concept of real dance music at all, and most people in dance music have unfortunately gone up a very one-dimensional alley. We genuinely like both styles of music, and don't see why we have to choose."

The Beloved's story began in a club. Inspired by acid house in 1988, Jon Marsh slimmed what had once been an indie guitar band down to a dance- influenced duo whose first big hit was "The Sun Rising", probably the definitive anthem for a generation who first discovered nature's best light show while off their heads at a party in a field. Like many of those carried along by the first summer of love, Jon and Helena thought they were witnessing something revolutionary. "I used to eulogise about the benefits of ecstasy use, the enjoyment of club culture in a way that was maybe more naive than the people who were just taking it for what it was," recalls Jon now. In 1990, he did an interview in which he came across like one of the hippies who thought that acid should be put in the water supply, and decided it was time to shut up on the subject. Because so many of those involved in the first wave worked in fields like music, fashion, club and the media, it was easy to overestimate the scene's effect on people's lives. In fact, for the majority of those involved, the scene was always more about escapism than personal growth.

But still, eight years on, the Sex Pistols are selling their sorry souls on a comeback tour and the promises of punk look empty. Yet dance music has been a catalyst for change, with every town boasting its own house nights, every country its own hit factory churning out production line "dance" tunes with little relevance at all to the underground that initially inspired it. The Criminal Justice Act may have contained clauses designed to kill it, and the tabloids can still work themselves into a lather of righteous indignation about it, but in the end the club scene survived and grew because it embraced Tory enterprise culture so wholeheartedly. From the small-time drug dealer selling a couple of pills in order to fund his own night out to the promoters who started out with small parties and now own bars, shops, record labels and a name they can merchandise around the world, clubland has been built on the art of the deal. "At the time, we thought it would change everyone's ideals," says Helena. "But what it's actually done is brought house music overground and made clubbing the norm, part of the whole process of growing up."

Last weekend The Beloved played their first live date in three years at London's Ministry of Sound. When acid house began in illicit parties in a South London gym, few of us could imagine that it would all end in a superclub like the Ministry, which offers legal, all-night entertainment to thousands every weekend, runs a record label, tours, has a lucrative merchandising line, and is franchising its name out globally starting this summer with the opening of a Ministry club in Bangkok. With state- of-the-art sound systems and the money to fly in DJs from across the world and pay them fees of up to pounds 20,000 for a two-hour set, it's impossible to compete with such organisations, and instead the underground is retreating back to basics, to small rooms, illegal gatherings, and ever more obscure and rigid sub-strands of the music.

The Beloved, meanwhile, are left to ponder where they fit into all this. From the upbeat gospel backing vocals to the haunting, ethereal feel of the slower tracks written after the death of Jon's father, X is the most mature and varied album to date, and they concede that they will probably tour to promote it. Meanwhile, Jon will continue to preach the cause. "I play in clubs every weekend because I love house music," he says. "I'm fairly evangelical about what I play, but I accept that most people don't go out on a Saturday with a notebook and pencil. They go out with their mates to have a good night out."

n `X' is released on East West Records on Monday