The deep sairf, innit?

Tim Perry wades into the sweltering bayou of SW9 to meet Alabama 3, techno's hot tip for summer
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
"There ain't nothing worse than some fool lying on some Third World beach in spandex psychedelic trousers smoking damn dope, pretending he getting consciousness expansion. If I want consciousness expansion, I go to my local tabernacle and I sing."

"Ain't Goin' To Goa" - Alabama 3 (1996)

Those evangelical lines from Alabama 3's debut single, delivered in an acerbic Deep South drawl, signalled the arrival of something different. The song might have raised some brows by vilifying hippies, but the musical content was more cutting. Their brand of acid country blues, mixing southern soul vocals and acoustic guitar with the catchiest of techno blips, sounded like nothing that had come before.

The band themselves also contravened pop convention on several counts. The Alabama 3, it turned out, were from Brixton, numbered seven members and had never set foot in the Heart of Dixie. What's more, they were all in their 30s, looked like they had been out partying every night for a decade and had made no effort to disguise it.

Though their recording output has been less than prolific (it has taken six months for the follow-up to arrive), Alabama 3 now enter the summer months as a scorching-hot buzz band. For the past two months, 1FM have been trailing them as one of the major draws for the massive Tribal Gathering dance event on May 24, and they've been booked in for all the other major festivals. Vox also included them on a recent compilation CD of bands tipped to succeed in 1997.

If the singalong sounds of last summer were the Prodigy's "Firestarter" or the "lager, lager, lager" chant from Underworld's "Born Slippy", this year's equivalent could be "Woke Up This Morning", Alabama 3's new single. The title might lack imagination, but they've taken a deep blues rhythm and refreshed it with sparkly techno backloops and a mass voice choir while repeating the title and a refrain of "got a blue moon in your eye" just the right number of times to make it one addictive piece of vinyl.

The Alabama 3 have got to this point largely on the back of a wicked live reputation built in their south London patch over the past two years. "A lot of what we're about is a conscious reaction to the boredom we experienced going to see live techno bands," says Larry Love, the more tortured and sombre partner in their twin vocal attack. His confederate is the outrageous soul-saving, flesh-lusting, southern preacher character of the Very Reverend Dr D Wayne Love (no relation) who comes dressed up in trilby, shades and pimp's suit.

Instead of lurking behind banks of technology, they take the other fork on the road and present a totally integrated party experience. Wherever the Alabama 3 play, the place is kitted out with giant Pop Art iconographs of Elvis and a trademark skull bearing a huge purple afro, handcuffs for earrings and a big cannabis-leaf hairclip. At the side of the stage is a bulky guy with his entire upper body covered in tattoos. Then there is the Rev D Wayne's barely clad ladies who offer him the kind of attention that Jimmy Swaggart only dreams about.

On top of the freak-show stage antics, the band have edged into the gossip columns of the music weeklies; the rumours have them all meeting in rehab and the Rev D Wayne exposing his principle disciple on stage. There is also their affiliation with the Presleyterian Church of Elvis the Divine, an organised body campaigning for the singer's face to be carved into Mount Rushmore. The Rev Love has set up a UK branch of the "church" and, as its First Minister, wants to build a replica of Graceland in Brixton for the millennium. Mimicry is another of their weapons; their debut album, out at the end of the year, will be called Exile On Coldharbour Lane (more in homage to their beloved Brixton than a certain veteran rock band).

It would be easy to dismiss Alabama 3 as a bunch of chancers who have hit on a formula that works and are just out for a laugh. A chat with the band's two singers in the Alabama 3's communal living room - the comfy Prince Albert on that same Coldharbour Lane - sorts that out. "Yeah, we want to party all night long and then carry on through to the next night," Larry says. "However, while we're doing that, we want to show respect for the artists who have been spilling out beautiful, beautiful tunes and touching, illuminating lyrics and recognise that there's always been an element in the South of getting high and libertarian." Both he and D Wayne go into an excitable rant justifying their stage show, their attitude and their music by outlining the hedonistic bond that unites country, blues and techno. They tell you that hallucinogens were widespread in the South long before West Coast hippies tuned in. They point out that the likes of Hank Williams and George Jones make today's rockers look like health freaks, and they talk about how blues is riddled with sex- charged innuendoes such as jelly roll and rock n roll. For them, underground dance is just operating at a different time and place from its southern cousins.

D Wayne starts flailing his arms around, and there could have been few people in the pub who have avoided hearing about the latest tale from the studio, an audio-chemical playground that their US label, the wealthy Geffen, has given them. D Wayne was booming about how he and the others had just been playing with Hank Williams. He was talking, of course, about a man who died in 1953 aged 29, an innovative country musician who paid the price for pioneering the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. "We were sampling Hank's 'Honky Tonk Blues', and we filtered off the guitar so we had this disembodied voice in the studio. It was like a ghost. He was really there and we were playing along with him."

Before there was a chance to say "yeah, right" he was off on a second high-velocity tangent, this time about Robert Johnson, another icon who died before his sell-by date and allegedly sold his soul to the devil at a backwater Mississippi crossroads so that he could perfect his guitar technique. "We got a fax from his estate to say that they would collaborate with us over a reworking of his 'Me and the Devil'. We're really honoured about that. We might come over as freaks or whatever but we're giving something back to the families of these people. All our sampling will be done in full conjunction with their estates."

D Wayne has remembered something else. "Hey - that latest Willie Nelson album," he barked. "Wow. We've got to get Willie to produce our album. That would be wild. Willie in there with the analogues. Just wild." It doesn't occur to him that while Mr Nelson may have seen most things in his 64 years, the Alabama 3 might throw him a little. "Oh no," he says. "Willie would love it, man. We are, after all, the first New Outlaw Acid band. Willie would totally understandn"

Holy Roller Revival 97 - Alabama 3 on tour

21 May - Varsity, Wolverhampton; 22 May - Alleycat, Reading; 24 May - Tribal Gathering Planet Earth Stage; 25 May - Essential Music Festival, 26 May - Tower Records, London (free); Brighton; 28 May - Westwood Rooms, Portsmouth; 29 May - Arts, Gloucester; 30 May - Moles Club, Bath; 31 May - Mole Club Bath (all-day); 7 June - Boardwalk, Manchester; 12 June - The Fridge, Brixton

Comments