Review Summary: An underground dance classic that, miraculously, still holds up.
Anybody with a vested interest in dance music will know that seeking out influential music is a frustratingly hit-and-miss affair; everything from style to technology moves so quickly that it becomes a case of relic hunting, with every moment of timeless genius offset by three further dicoveries that are dated enough to be slightly embarrassing. It's all worth it for the truly worthwhile stuff, though; and this? What a relic to unearth. Soundclash
is an album that deserves to be shouted about from the rooftops; for me personally, it's been a long time since a straight-ahead dance record blew away the cobwebs the way this one did.
'Straight-ahead dance' is probably unfair, actually. Renegade Soundwave's main defining feature is their ability and their willingness to drag several different strands of dance into their sound, most obviously hip-hop. Fans of golden age rap will smile and nod with recognition in the direction of at least two tracks here, with "Blue Eyed Boy" boasting the sample Public Enemy would later use to such great effect on the classic "By the Time I Get to Arizona", and "Murder Music" taking the same Steinski drum loop that De la Soul did on "The Magic Number". There's something here that links the band to big beat, too - Fatboy Slim certainly stole a few tricks, while The Chemical Brothers have named them as their main influence. There's obviously a strong house influence too (Leftfield were listening in as keenly as The Chemical Brothers were), while their particular brand of alternative dance would be a big influence on several UK bands at the turn of the '90s, and it's bass-heavy and claustrophobic enough to be comparable to dub - it's all topped off by a cover of "Can't Get Used to Losing You" by The Beat, the only moment on the album where the band seem to be flaunting their diverse tastes. It never once strays from club territory, though - for an album that inhabits an unusual orbit between genres, it's surprising that they maintain such a strong sense of purpose.
The vocals, however, are likely to be a sticking point - the nasal, boozy, quasi-Madchester rapping was a big influence on acts like Stereo MCs and EMF, and it's largely thanks to the hits those bands had that it has become a quintessentially '90s sound. So much so, in fact, that it's genuinely surprising to learn that some of these songs date back as far as 1986.
It's tempting to treat the vocals and music as two seperate entities, because one is so dated and the other still sounds so contemporary it's almost futuristic - and yet, the two simply can't be seperated, because they're part of the same clear, unmistakeable identity. Although it's probably not true, it's easy to believe that this album was the blueprint for all the brash, swaggering, lager-lout British rock music that followed in the '90s, and still continues today - one listen to the excellent "Probably a Robbery" should be enough to convince anybody that Liam Gallagher and Bobby Gillespie were taking notes. In fact, if Soundclash
had been the success it should have been, than Kasabian would never have got out of the starting blocks - they'd have been immediately dismissed as second-rate copycats.
No need to bog these guys down with comparisons to the people they influenced, though. I can't even begin to imagine how exciting this must have sounded in 1989, at a time when British music was in the doldrums and independant labels were so far out of sight that it was easy to believe that they didn't even exist; even now, it sounds like the kind of album that could spark a movement.