Clinton is the mother of reinvention

A chart-friendly blend might seal their success, but, finds Andy Gill, the Cornershop pair are exploring new paths
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When a big hit single propels a group's career into overdrive, what usually happens is that the sheer momentum of events (and industrypressure) petrifies the band creatively, preventing them from deviating from the profitable path. The follow-up record is a carbon-copyof the hit, and so on, with rapidly diminishing returns and equally diminishing interest from fans.

When a big hit single propels a group's career into overdrive, what usually happens is that the sheer momentum of events (and industrypressure) petrifies the band creatively, preventing them from deviating from the profitable path. The follow-up record is a carbon-copyof the hit, and so on, with rapidly diminishing returns and equally diminishing interest from fans.

Not so with Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres, who after five years of indie dues-paying with Cornershop suddenly found themselves thetoast of Top of the Pops when their "Brimful of Asha" reached number one in February 1998, hoisting UK sales of their host albumWhen I Was Born For The Seventh Time past the 150,000 mark, and boosting their already burgeoning reputation in the UnitedStates.

The next step, according to industry logic, should have been "Brimful of Asha (Slight Return)", or some equivalent crossover blend ofAsian and indie elements, sculpted into chart-friendly shape by the latest hot remixer.

So what did they do? They changed horses nimbly midstream. Singh and Ayres not only switched styles, opting for a quirkyretro-disco collison of kitsch and politics, but changed their name as well, releasing their follow-up album, Disco and the Halfway toDiscontent, under the rather dubious moniker of Clinton.

"Well, it's a different project," explains Singh matter of factly over a steaming plate of vegetable curry in his local Stoke Newington jazzbar, "and we liked the idea that it should therefore have a different name. Also, there's a bit of history involved, in that we started puttingout 12-inchers under the name Clinton in about 1995, mainly to get across to DJs and clubs without anyone knowing who we were.We had good reactions to those first few releases, so it made sense to do an album."

Although, as Singh points out, Cornershop had delved into sample-based music as far back as their third single "Readers' Wives", thisnew direction still comes as quite a surprise, given the duo's predominantly guitar- based past.

"It's just nice not to work with guitars for a while. Then when you return to them, you come back a bit fresher. It's always nice todabble with new things. We'll still work as Cornershop in the future, but we're totally committed to this at the moment. We think it's abrilliant way to end the year with, and that's why we stopped Cornershop and got on with it," says Singh.

It would be wrong, though, to present the Clinton album as a full-bore blast of Ibiza-bound trance'n'dance, with Seventies slap bassjostling with Eighties vocoder and syndrums, and Sixties electric piano riding a Nineties breakbeat. There's much more variety to Discoand the Halfway to Discontent than you would encounter in most house music, and it has a more individual attitude, to match.

It's no surprise that, apart from specific records here and there, Ayres and Singh claim no great expertise regarding the contemporaryclub scene. "But we certainly know a lot about, and took a lot of influences from, Seventies funky stuff," says Singh. "We could havegone for easier beats, like the typical house 4/4 beat that has been popular for the past 10 years, but we wanted to do something a bitdifferent, put funky Seventies drumbeats in there, and mess around with drum samples that didn't sound like drum machines. Wewanted it to be varied as well, so we put in a lot of different influences.

"We kept it pretty laidback, too. A lot of technology-based music is very complicated, but we tried to keep to the spirit of the sounds wewere going for. And again, we used different sources of samples, so you've got some variety in the production textures."

There is an undertow, too, of political comment running through the album, from dry barbs aimed at the music business and referencesto Labour Day being "every day", to catchphrases such as the single entitled "People Power In The Disco Hour" and the album titleitself. Do they, I wondered, have a problem with dance culture?

"Not really. We think it's a good thing that people can dance their toes off and get rid of any worries they might have. But we alsothink that it's a good thing for people to protest every now and then. We've always thought music was a good way to do that, andalways tried to put a political edge on everything we do, even if it's an instrumental," replies Singh.

"We're acknowledging that there is a disco heat," explains Ayres, "there's a lot of uncontrollable energy with disco - you can feel thewhole venue come alive - but it's about taking that disco heat and putting it on the street, as far as we're concerned."

Accordingly, where previously they had promoted Cornershop albums by touring, Singh and Ayres will be doing DJ spots to promotethe Clinton album, a move which in a few years will probably be forced on more bands by the decline of the small club circuit that usedto support the indie scene.

"There are hardly any small venues left," says Singh, "and that's why independent music has become so lame and boring as well - Idon't think it's ever been less adventurous. There are no outlets to do live music, so people can't experiment with it - they have to get itright very quickly, and therefore they just copy."

Ayres adds: "You can see the result of that in the charts now. It's all prefabricated groups and hits, and artists that come out of nowhere,have a hit and that's it, then it's someone else next week."

Despite their position on the outer fringes of the music business - they've always been on small labels and they still record in the sametiny studio in Preston where they began their careers - their distrust of the industry clearly runs deep.

"I think the concensus of style that it seeks to push forward is very bad music," says Singh. "It's simple, formularised music. If it's pop,it's either Ibiza house or children's boy and girl bands; and if it's more independent, it usually rips off Beck, the Bristol scene, whichI've always thought was rather lame. That's about as adventurous as it gets at the moment."

But surely Asian pop has never been as healthy as now, judging by what some would see as the somewhat over-generous award of theMercury prize to Talvin Singh's Indo-jazz fusion album, OK, and the additional nomination of Black Star Liner? Or do they agree withAsian Dub Foundation's Deeder Zaman, who felt that this year's pair of Asian nominations effectively devalued ADF and Cornershop'sachievement in getting nominated the previous year?

"I suppose he thinks, quite rightly, that he's done a lot of touring in Europe and America," reflects Singh, "and also really achievedsomething in terms of what that brought about; and it's the same for us, whereas these two other Asian acts haven't done that. At all."

Ayres says: "And then there's the question of whether every year they have to find two acts fronted by Asians." He suggests that amore worthy contender would be Scotland's Sushil K Dade, who with a career stretching from Eighties indie-poppers The SoupDragons to his present guise as remix wizard AKA The Future Pilot, deserves recognition as the true pioneer of Anglo-Asian pop.Maybe next year - though with an album as engaging as Disco and the Halfway to Discontent, we're more likely to find the nameClinton somewhere on next year's list.

Talking of which, to whom does their name refer - Bill or George? "Neither, really," says Singh, with the air of someone who's a bitsorry to disappoint. "But like the album title, it can't be easily ignored, you have to think about it and if that's what you think, that's whatyou think." Grinning, Ayres says: "We also thought that if there happened to be any other outfits called Clinton, we could knock the Coff and just call ourselves Linton." His afterthought is: "Of course, we would have to move more in a dub- reggae direction in thatcase." 'Disco and the Halfway to Discontent' is out now on Meccico Records