OF TRICKY LIVE AT THE PARADOX, BRIGHTON
in The Guardian, November 1996)
making noise down there. Somebody’s f***ing talking. Security! Can we get
this geezer up? Security! Is there any security in the house?”
By Tricky’s standards, this is mild. Abuse of the audience is an old favourite
of his, and tonight, for once, it’s deserved. The venue is riddled with
people who seem to have bought tickets for the sole purpose of squawking
throughout the gig. More than most, Tricky’s music demands attention. It’s
strange. It’s complex. It’s dance music you can’t dance to, unless you
have an improbable sense of rhythm and an abnormally high leg count. You
can’t see the band, because the lighting is so furtively dim. You can only
listen, and you’d be a fool not to.
Tricky makes music as dark as his stage set. His first solo LP, Maxinquaye,
was a masterpiece of claustrophobia, a thrillingly original pleasure, possibly
the album of the decade thus far. Within months, this mixture of scrambled
hip hop beats, sinister sonic loops, spectral guitars, whispered asides
and the plaintive female vocals of his regular accomplice, Martina, had
spawned a plague of imitators. This may explain why Pre-Millennium Tension,
Tricky’s second LP (unless you count a set of collaborations, Nearly God,
released earlier in the year), is so extreme. Without changing his technique,
Tricky has upped the ante. It sounds like an attempt to go where no copycats
will dare to follow. It is also quite brilliant, and obviously far too
demanding for tonight’s crowd, who shout in vain for “the one with Isaac
Hayes” - Hell Is Round The Corner, his most tuneful track to date, which
borrowed the same Ike sample as Portishead’s Glory Box.
If they shut up long enough to find out, they’d notice that Tricky has
finally come up with a live show to match his recorded output. Essentially,
he’s a producer, a man whose first instrument is the studio. His early
performances took place in total darkness. They weren’t bad shows, because
the songs weren’t bad songs, but they felt hamstrung and subdued; and Tricky,
on the rare occasions you could see him, always looked as if he’d rather
be somewhere else..
Now, thanks to Pre-Millennium Tension, he has a set of songs which expresses
his disgust musically. The ferocity of the hardest hip hop and the most
savage heavy metal has been distilled into them. With a new and more sympathetic
band to play them, they come alive and burn with a harsh, smoggy flame.
And while we can hardly see more of him, Tricky’s shadowy presence seems
more like the tease of a performer who revels in his own excellence than
the defense of one who doubts it.
The outlandishly catchy Tricky Kid, with its hilarious ego-tripping rants,
remains much as it is on record, which is nothing to complain about. The
same goes for Christiansands and Makes Me Wanna Die, where Martina becomes
Tricky’s mouthpiece, intoning pretty melodies caught in a dense fog of
paranoia. Bad Dreams, like Black Steel, the devastatingly denatured Public
Enemy cover which precedes it, takes an already radical piece of hip hop
and through inspired sonic restructuring and Martina’s broken automaton
vocals turns it into a truly convincing episode of nightmare, far beyond
the queasiest dreams of any future shock merchant you care to name.
Tricky is not a thing apart from hip hop, but nor is he exactly of it.
He clearly admires and draws on the deft, dazzling brutality of premier
rap “family” The Wu-Tang Clan. Freestyle Conversation, a stand-out track
from the new Snoop Doggy Dogg album, Tha Doggfather, which owes more than
a little to Tricky, accompanies his band’s arrival onstage. But it’s unthinkable
that any rap act might come up with a show like this. Lyrics Of Fury and
Vent both refer to hip hop, but turn into gargantuan rock-outs. Vent manages
to lend a convulsive glamour to the notion of stress-induced rage, while
Lyrics tumbles headlong into the beyond like Can or Remain In Light-era
Talking Heads, a blazing funk-rock probe disappearing into space.
Failing to silence the chatterers, Tricky does the next best thing. He
drowns them out with apocalyptic noise. But it’s no random assault of decibels.
The louder it gets, the more focused and furious the music becomes. This
show is breathtaking. It sees the transformation of a studio-bound talent
into a live firebrand. That’s why Tricky is the most important musician
in Britain today. Not because he’s the most copied or widely praised or
likely to change the face of music in the long run. Because he’s the best.
IS TRIP HOP?
Trip hop was
first used to describe the slow, soulful sound which emerged from Bristol
via acts like Massive Attack, Portishead, and Tricky, like a narcotic version
of the hip hop beats which underpin rap music. Now it refers to anyone
who has access to a sampler (an instrument which plays back snatches of
recorded sound) and knows a girl on his English course who writes poetry
and can sing a bit.
Like jungle, trip hop came about when the British finally conceded they
couldn’t rap like the Americans, and decided to put to other uses all those
old records they’d bought to nick beats from. It’s easy to do, now that
everyone else has done it. All you need is a sluggish beat, a dub bassline
and an echo chamber. A few ideas wouldn’t hurt, but judging from the genre’s
recent showing, these are definitely optional.
Luckily, pretty much all trip hop sounds good if you smoke enough dope.
But then so does everything else, apart from Shed 7. If, when the smoke
clears, you’re holding onto records by DJ Shadow, Rob D, DJ Food or The
Poets Of Thought, then you grabbed the right ones.
is taken from
with kind permission of the author