Pop: Put a spell on me
Nick Hasted has been a film journalist since 1986. He writes about film, music, books and comics for The Independent, Sight & Sound, Uncut and Little White Lies. He has published two books: The Dark Story of Eminem (2002), and You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks (2011), both from Omnibus Press.
Friday 02 October 1998
THE BETA Band makes music that falls apart and together in the same, spaced instant. On the eponymous, impossible-to-find "3 EPs" of its current CD compilation, the promise of psychedelia splicing with hip- hop, and brain with body, has been shakily realised. The brave few who have dared its world have been rewarded with contradictory yet compelling rhythms, repetition and sudden disjunctions; a rickety, sound-effect-infected stew reminiscent of the Goons straining to redefine rock, or the Beastie Boys remoulding Ivor Cutler. Through it all can be detected the tempting, ever-closer rumble of pop.
Small wonder that, in a music scene half-asphyxiated by reverential orthodoxy, the Beta Band's profile is soaring. But the queue of journalists wishing to sing its praises has been frustrated. The band has a Zappa-like aversion to attempts to turn its sound into words. All members will will say is that they are (mostly) from Edinburgh. It's on nights like tonight, where they are just playing their music, that they want to be tested.
Tonight's venue is crammed with indie's brightest and best, all happily expectant; it has been infiltrated too, by Beta Band accomplices, from painters to ironic DJs, playing building blocks of the Beta Band's world, from disco to Sparks. A poet dressed as a druid hypes the bill and the immersion we are about to receive. When the Beta Band at last appears, the spell is all but complete.
The music, at first, also meets expectations. A sample of Billy Smart's circus announcer is followed by Public Enemy's Flavor Flav. The two fit in the same strange but snug way as the bass that slides over house hi- hat crashes, or a wistful acoustic guitar, literally undercut by synthesised train sounds.
"This is like Wembley stadium, or some shit like that," singer Steve Mason muses amidst the cheers. One day, the comparison may be first-hand. The Beta Band and its fans may both be better off experimenting on the sidelines. But for music this strong, sacrifices must sometimes be made.
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