Sleater Kinney, 60 Ft Dolls, Sukia,
Moe., Bis, Ambersunshower, Cub, Skeleon Key,
Cat Power, Long Fin Killie, Yatsura, Jason Bentley
ON THE EDGE
"Rolling Stone" looks to the far edges of rock & roll in search of
new artist who march to the beat of a different drum machine. Perhaps none
do it more gracefully or enigmatically than Tricky, the Bristol, England,
performer and producer whose stunning 1995 album, "Maxinquaye," turned
the dance music underground on its head and brought what's now commonly
referred to as trip-hop intop the pop-music vernacular. On his new album,
"Pre-Millennium Tension," Tricky leaves behind the limiting trip-hop tag
for a deeper, darker and more musically complex journey into his twisted
Tricky isn't the only one out there pushing the envelope, though. For this section, we found musicians from Bristih Columbia to Scotland who challenge notions of what modern rock should sound like. From the riot-grrrrl fold of Cat Power to the hip-hop sould of Ambersunshower, from the anthemic pop of 60 Ft Dolls to the jamband boogie of Moe., these artists are forging ahead and making music that's fresh and vital.
by STEVEN DALY
|If you happen to believe,
as many do, that Tricky is the musical embodiment of pure evil, the address
of his New York pied-a-terre should come as no surprise. The glowering
gug or paranoid hip-hop blues lives in a downtown building numbered - what
else? - 666.
Up on the fifth floor, Tricky is solemnly preparing for an illicit ritual, spreading our his apparatus on the floor of his large, sparsely furnished living room. "I just need to have my morning spliff," he says, carfully removing the seeds from a batch of African-bush grass. "I've been smoking skunk weed for the last six months, but I'm finisehed with [ultrastrong] hydroponics." As a couple of his friends tumble from their sofa beds, Tricky cues up a homemade mix tape and lets Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush's languid "Don't Give Up" exorcise the collective hangover.
The centerpiece of this nomad musician's apartment is a fax machine, into whose handset Tricky talks between gulps of Rice Krispies and milk. The subject at hand is "Christiansands," The first U.K. single from Pre-Millennium Tension, the much-anticipated follow-up to Tricky's bewitching debut album of last year, Maxinquaye. "We need a really good video," the English producer and performer enthuses to his manager back home, "because I ain't got no radio-friendly music."
Unfortunately, Tricky explains, all the directors he meets want to have him crucified in their videos or put into a coffin, or done up in similar scenarios that
would exploit his image as pop's reigning Antichrist. "I get a bit annoyed about that," says the cloudy- eyed 28-year-old whose perpetual dope-smoking haze rivals Pigpen's dust cloud. "You'll se the word genius, then you'll see the word demonic. I don't know whether it's because I'm black - a black man can't be alternative without some reason behind it. They didn't call David Bowie the devil, and I would consider myself like Bowie, in that I'm around at a time when I don't feel like I fit in with whatever else is going on musically."
The misunderstanding started with the critically acclaimed Maxinquaye,
which Tricky recorded after he left the innovative British dance-music
Massive Attack. The record's bass-heavy, collage-injected grooves fairly seethed with tales of curdled sex, bad religion and urban disaffection. Disturbingly enough,many of Tricky's twisted fables were delivered by the teenage urchin-diva Martina Topley-Bird, a private-school girl whom Tricky recruited from his Bristol, England, neighborhood. If Maxinquaye's funky morbidity wasn't enough, Tricky's propensities for dressing up as Jesus of Satan, giving pugnacious interviews and performing live in near darkness were bound to raise questions about his mental stability.
Despite Maxinquaye's resolute radio unfriendliness, the recoed made it to the Top 5 in Britian and earned Tricky a burgeoning cult status in the U.S. And his stock continues to rise - everybody, as he once sang, wants a piece of Tricky, including Bush and Beck, for whom he has remixed tracks. Tricky replaces his morning mix tape (which has now segued from Eric B. and Rakim to Sting) with the latest product of his dark palette, a spectral reworking if the Garbage song
Much to the band's dismay, Tricky showed up for the Garbage sessions with nothing but a Yamaha QY22 sequencer, a Walkman-size device with which he works much of his studio alchemy. As he tinkered with the tiny gizmo, there were murmers of disbelief from the band's drummer and prodcer, Butch Vig, who could scarcely believe that the legendary Tricky was using a piece of home technology. "I said, 'You just there, Butch, I know what I'm doing,'" Tricky recalls. "I didn't know who he was - it wasn't until I was talking to some guy on the plane home that I found out about [Vig's work with] Nirvana."
DAGHTER, MAISY (by Topley-Bird, who's now 21), recently visited her father
in New York, and Maisy couldn't stop staring at the tranvestites on the
streets near his West Village home. Maybe she recognized something of Dad
in them, because Tricky has often been known to don dresses, both at work
and at play.
His fondness for female fashions dates back to the time that that the teenage Tricky spotted a smock dress in a store window and paid a schoolgirl pal to steal it for him. "I just liked the look of it," he says. The nascent drag artist would run around Bristol's club scene with an impunity, since his group of tough friends looked after its 5-foot-7-inch ringleader. "Not one of them said, 'What the fuck are you wearing a dress for?'" he says, bemusedly, in retrospect.
Actually, Tricky has enjoyed a healthy measure of indulgence ever since, as the 4-year-old Adrian Thaws, he was taken in by his grandmother after the
death of his mother, Maxine Quaye; his father abandoned him shortly thereafter. As well as encouraging Adrian to watch late-night horror movies with her and then not attend school the next day, his grandmother would protect the asthmatic yougster from his own extended family, one of the few mixed-race clans in a tough white neighborhood. "I was soft; I was pampered by my grandmother," Tricky admits. "All my uncles were sent off to do boxing when they were kids. But when I went to
boxing, I lasted two weeks. My gradma didn't make me go back."
The uncles to whom Tricky refers are "heavy fucking geezers" whose outlaw exploits are well-known in Bristol and Manchester's clubland. "I broke the link in my family," Tricky says. "I proved that you can get a life without going that way. When I was a kid, I used to look up to gangsters because that's what my uncles were. It's only the fact that I'm
|weak and I can't fight
that means I can't go that way. But it's dangerous that I respected it.
Now, my little cousins, they respect me for being a musician - they see
me in dresses with lipstick on, and they're proud of me."
Tricky was in drag the night he was dicovered by the Wild Bunch, the Bristol collective of DJs and rappers that included future star producer Nellee
Hooper (Madonna, Soul II Soul) and members of what would become Massive Attack. When the self-described "little fuck" with the blond dye job commandeered the mike at a local hip-hop club, he brought the house down, rapping in a rural West Country brogue at a time when his peers were striving for South Bronx bluster.
The Wild Bunch mutated into Massive Attack whose groundbreaking 1991 debut, Blue Lines, introduced Tricky to the world as a guest
performer. Tricky also appeared on the band's sophomore album, Protection, but now insists that he never really felt part of the Massive setup, claiming that the whole affair went quickly from fun to business." The members of Massive Attack may have grown up in the same multiracial port, with its laconic pace and tradition of reggae sound, systems, but Tricky maintains that he and his former band mates are from very different backgrounds. He points out that when the group's debut independent single, "Any Love," came out, he was in prison for passing counterfeit bills.
Massive Attack's ominous rhythm tracks and cinematic strings were almost too influential, spawning the watered-down trip-hop that is now
the international leisure groove of boutiques and bars from Paris to Tokyo. Having pursued a more obdurate vision as a solo act, Tricky was astonished when he began to hear his own ideas being plundered. Everywhere he turned, it seemed, there
|was trickle-down Tricky.
"I thought people wouldn't copy Maxinquaye off because it was just sound,
noises," says Tricky. "But it's easy to pretend that you're weird; make
any shit and say it's experimental. These kids are coming out of art college
and putting [drum] breaks and saying they're doing something new. No, they're
just following. So I couldn't make anything like Maxinquaye again; I've
been chased away from that."
Just as people were getting comfortable with the idea of Tricky, dubbing him King of the Slow Beats, he decided that he would give them something to
think about: an album with no beats. Recorded in two weeks, Tricky's Nearly God album of this summer featured a clutch of cosmopolitan collaborators - Neneh Cherry, former Special Terry Hall and one-time Tricky consort Björk - leafing listlessly through a sonic sketchbook of skeletal arrangements and claustrophobic lyrics. "If I had made another Maxinquaye," he says, "I'd have had 10 times' as much success. I could feel it all being set up around me: I'd become important, with bigger [marketing] campaigns and money. I ain't going down that path, because that way you're totally controlled by people around you. I don't want to be controlled."
Certainly no one's controlling Tricky's productivity, becuase hot on the heels of Nearly God came Tricky Presents Grass Roots, a genial collaborative EP under the aegis of the New York hip-hop label Payday. Now he and Topley-Bird are back under the Tricky banner with Pre-Millennium Tension, a record designed to defy imitators. "I think the new album is gonna be difficult for them," Tricky says. "It's too fucked up; there's no organization to it. It's not proper music." Sure enough, it's hard to divine a pattern in the album's leaps from bucolic New Age ballads to white-noise assault; and even if
|you can penetrate the
treated vocals and sinister asides, most of the lyrics are so oblique,
they defy interpretation.
While Tricky was whipping up this inspired chaos in a downscale Jamacian studio, he heard tales of Lee "Scrath" Perry, the legendary reggae producer
who reputedly buried master tapes in the ground for days and blown ganja smoke over them to achieve the right feel. "Lee Perry made some of the best music there is, so who says magic doesn't work?" asks Tricky. "Most people are in [music] for the wrong reasons. If someone can tell you how they did a song, I don't trust them. It should be a magical process."
Tricky's imagination thus liberated, he often seeks inspiration in the gangster imagery of his youth, avidly consuming books and movies about violent
criminals. "I'm fucking obsessed with what can make someone like that tick," he says. "The stories are quite exciting. I think that the fact that I could never be that facinates me." So much so that he's co-written an "accurate but mystical" gangster-movie script about his outlaw uncles and even landed a small role as a thug in the upcoming Bruce Willis film The Fifth Element.
Still, despite all of his dark-side dabbling, Tricky is at pains to point out his own lack of hardman credentials. He mentions, for example, the evening last summer when he showed up at New York's Roxy to watch the London jungle producer and performer Goldie (now Björk's lover) perform a DJ set. Tricky wandered into the clubs VIP room, where he promptly turned down a photographer's request to get the two British dance-music avatars in the same frame. Goldie flew into a rage. "He actually wanted to fight me!" says Tricky incredulously. "I said, 'No way, I ain't going outside to roll around on the street with you - I'm wearing a dress.'"
photos: Ruven Afanador