Originally published on The Line of Best Fit
When I was growing up, the big boys in the town near my village were either Moshers or Trendies. The Trendies normally wore Spliffy jeans and Naff Co 54 jackets and picked on the greasy haired, denim wearing Moshers outside the hippy shop. Indie was something for students and Channel 4 ‘Yoof’ TV only.
Sometimes you would get Happy Mondays or James on Top Of The Pops and it would be like Christmas: days of excitement, building up to the moment you could press record on the video, capturing that three minutes on VHS forever. There was after all a real risk that it may never happen again, such were the dangers posed by Jazzy Jeff and Simply Red.
People never spoke of crossover; there were pigeon holes that must be obeyed. If you liked jangly guitars or had long hair then samplers were simply out of bounds. But we didn’t complain: this was a time when the only people attempting to combine rock n rave were Pop Will Eat Itself and The Art of bloody Noise, and no one in their right mind wanted anything to do with them.
There was, though, a sense that something was on the horizon. The Stone Roses had already released ‘Fools Gold’ a song that was like witchcraft – a guitar track, with a dance beat! Rock and Punk purists were dumbfounded. All the while, alternative culture ditched its punk roots and thrived at Acid House raves and anti-bypass protests.
Suddenly in 1991 culture shifted: Sounds, one of the music press holy trinity, completed by NME and Melody Maker, and the most rock-focussed paper, folded. The gloves were off. The paper which first featured punk, which itself saw off the prog-rock dinosaurs, had gone. The indie students no longer felt an allegiance to doom filled toilet circuit venues and ventured into fields. Beautiful fields with visuals and sub bass. Fields where people reached higher than the sun, reached above little fluffy clouds. Fields where they couldn’t sit down. It was year zero, the closing decade of a century, It was time to come together. It was time for Screamadelica.
Primal Scream had already released ‘Loaded’ and ‘Come Together’ in 1990, but they seemed like one off singles, fitting nicely into the dance paradigm: anthems for warehouses and motorway arches. But now there was more – further singles and an album. This was rock territory. Primal Scream had inadvertently made the dance–rock crossover acceptable and a new generation had their own Dark Side of The Moon.
Twenty years later, in Brixton Academy, Screamadelica’s cultural epoch is celebrated, and that generation – now in their 40’s and with generic media or IT careers – can rekindle their summer of love, when they got loaded and had a good time, while the baby sitter awaits their return.
There is an atmosphere associated with being allowed out of the house: a chatter of excitement between long held but rarely seen friends, the flame of romance reignited between settled couples, and more Guinness and spirits being drank than the usual (cheap) Carlsberg. It’s a grown up night.
And Brixton Academy feels like a club. As Andrew Weatherall pumps out an awesome acid house set, the atmosphere builds and people are dancing by their seats. The euphoria is building and the bass is pounding, when suddenly a roar goes up and the guitar riff to ‘Moving On Up’ starts and the balcony is lifted off its seats. Backed with a seven piece gospel choir it sounds like an epic coming of age anthem, aspirational and confessional. With their arms in the air the audience testify in front of Bobby Gillespie as the familiarity of the song envelops them as if providing protection for the trip ahead.
As ‘Slip Inside This House’ emerges from its own acid break beat the back projection changes to psychedelic dripping blood. Sitars and pianos compete for attention, pulling at our senses, with the volume increasing further and further. Gillespie croons “Trip, trip, trip inside this house” as the beat keeps on rolling.
There’s no respite. Gillespie hands over vocals to backing vocalist Mary Pierce for ‘Don’t Fight it Feel It’ and we are pierced with barrage of laser lights while guitars attack and tribal beeps gather in a swelling orb around us. It’s the perfect juxtaposition of what Screamadelica is about; fusing, gospel dance and guitars and engraining them into our souls. Unfortunately, we’ve peaked too early and encountered Screamadelica’s main problem: half of it’s just bland chill out music . ‘Damage’, ‘I’m Coming Down’, ‘Shine Like Stars’ and ‘Inner Flight’ are all played together, but it’s too much. It’s having a fag and ranting about how brilliant everyone is in the chill out room, when you should really be sweating away on the main floor. For such a renowned album it’s just too easy to remember the main tracks and forget there’s a high proportion that’s meant for the home stereo.
This lull is thankfully lifted with ‘Higher Than The Sun’, a track that will always sound epic. It triggers the release of endorphins while balding blokes prey to the skies and couples’ embraces tighten. Gillespie dedicates it to The Orb’s Alex Patterson, for his early trance tinkering which was the genesis of the song’s magnitude. Other songs on the album may be catchier and more popular but everyone in Brixton knows it’s this one that sparked the musical revolution.
When the next dedication goes out to Charlie Sheen, we know what’s coming next: “Just what is it that you want to do?” echoes around the Academy, followed, barely audible through the immense cheer, with, “We wanna be free to do what we wanna do/And we wanna get loaded/ And we wanna have a good time.” ‘Loaded’ is always a track to extrapolate the emotions and tonight the horns at the start are a totalitarian announcement. We fall into line, happily obliging. It’s a timeless song of beauty and this is reflected in the back drop. The 1990 video is projected and it’s as if nothing has changed. Gillespie is stumbling around in the screen and on the stage with the same hair and same tambourine, while Andrew Innes still lollops with his guitar. It’s Innes’ crunching guitar riff during the break down that really propels ‘Loaded’ and tonight it’s one of the loudest things I’ve heard from a stage.
They end with a 15 minute take on ‘Come Together’ which highlights the epic achievement of Screamadelica. It allows rock music to be indulgent without being pompous. Before this record, any rock track stretched out this far would have been banned by the still prevalent punk police. Framed in a dance ethos, anything was possible and music was rewritten.
They encore unecessarily with ‘Country Girl’, ‘Jailbird’ and ‘Rocks’. We’ve been taken on a trip and we’ve had a good time; we don’t need a rock n roll show now and many are leaving.
I’m always dubious about ‘album’ shows: they’re predominantly for the old fans who haven’t bought any other records by the band and live in the past, wanting to reminisce. But if the likes of the Lemonheads, Teenage Fanclub and Suede can do it why shouldn’t Primal Scream? The others have classic albums, but Primal Scream have one that changed perceptions and redefined music. It created a meeting ground for the moshers and the trendies, and opened indie music beyond a student elite.
Maybe it was making alternative culture mainstream, diluting acid with simplified rock. Or maybe it opened people’s minds to new possibilities, which reverberates today with our current melting pot of genre bending artists. Whatever the case: I’m converted. Any chance of a Xtrmntr show for next year please? For my generation?