Music: Red Snapper Dingwalls, London
Friday 05 June 1998
Ever since they appeared four years, ago, they've been touted as the next dance outfit with the ability to break out of the jungle ghetto. Releasing a series of EPs in 1994 and 1995 (including a collaboration with Beth Orton), the group earned themselves a club hit, "Hot Flush", courtesy of an Andy Weatherall remix. The LP, Prince Blimey, followed in 1996, and a hard year touring and recording culminated with a short tour supporting The Prodigy last year. In truth, however, Red Snapper are never likely to make it big. Jungle/drum and bass - call it what you will - has been usurped by the big beat brats in the marketing strategies of the important record companies .
A year after the rank outsider Size deservedly won the Mercury Prize, his victory still looks as unlikely now as it was surprising then. To judge by this vibrant performance, though, break beat culture is flourishing. Fielding a live set up of drummer, guitarist, double bassist and two vocalists, Red Snapper keep the electronic additions to a minimum. Ironically enough, you don't often see drums and bass when the music the instruments lent their names to is played live. There's a sound biological argument underscoring this absence: man has but two arms - just watching Richard Thair flailing away is enough to induce arhythmia. Ali Friend, the group's front-man on double-bass, is an equally disconcerting sight: think Gazza raised by Art Monk.
Any lingering doubt that a musical inferiority complex has prompted Red Snapper to wield real instruments is soon dismissed, however. Famously, Roni Size also chains some poor unfortunate to the drums when attempting to mount New Forms live, but, whereas his epic seems to struggle under its own immensity in concert, Red Snapper ally their characteristic invention with an organic consistency that their recordings struggle to match. The bluesy funk of "Three Strikes and You're Out" is typical of the performance's irresistible texture: a chugging beat with a simple, repeated bass line topped off with an even simpler guitar motif. The brooding "Snapper", from their first EP, builds on the same elements, with floating horns and guitar over a distorted bass riff.
The best tracks depend less on any ambitious structure than on an innate sense of momentum, an instinct which saw Red Snapper through their first album and which they ought to trust more. While Alison David has a fine voice, the torch song complexities into which she occasionally leads the group seem to stifle the idiosyncratic grooves. Though she and rapper MC Det bring a bit of drama to the stage, they're lyrically redundant - on evocative tracks like the reflective
"Spitalfields", from the forthcoming album, shows that Red Snapper have got all the soul they need without a word being spoken.
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