More Back to Basics Leeds Stuff

Original Post

[Originally published in the Northern Star magazine in November 1992. Excellent photo of Dave and Ali by Mark McNulty]

IT’S nine o’clock on a cold Saturday evening and Ali Cooke and Dave Beer are in their tiny office in the labyrinthine Music Factory, looking suitably shagged out after a trip to the Royal Albert Hall to collect Back to Basics’ prestigious Mixmag club of the year award last night.

The two bleary-eyed promoters clearly enjoyed the occasion to the full. They are not at their best. And all this less than a year after the club’s first night.

“I didn’t even realise you got awards for stuff like that,” Beer says. “When we set the club up, it’s not as if we did it to put ourselves in the limelight.”

“Dave wanted to go to a club where he’d like the music and the people around him,” adds Cooke, who also DJs at Basics. “And I wanted the chance to play the kind of music I want to play.”

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Back to Basics was different to the ravier end of the market right from the very start, promising to “go three steps further than any other fucker” and over the past year it has redefined, to a certain extent, what’s cool and what’s not on a notoriously fickle club scene.

“We wanted something more relaxed that all the usual mental raving,” says Beer. “That’s why we have a strong door policy. We want people who are into the music rather than people who are coming down and getting wasted and sitting around on the floor all night.”

The club’s flyers emphasised the difference between Basics and everyone else, using both humour and Jamie Reid montages to set out the club’s stall. Whereas most club and rave flyers (then and now) were full of sunbeams and thinly-veiled references to ecstasy, Basics flyers included the warning: “The management reserves the right to politely fuck you off.”

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“We were just pissed off with all that Loveboat shit,” explains Beer.

“It just seemed funnier to have a picture of Elvis with his dick out on the front,” adds Cooke, managing to get a sentence in edgeways as Beer takes a rare pause for breath. “And it’s nice to swear on flyers.”

But above all, it’s the music that has played the largest role in establishing the club’s reputation.

“We have a policy of no policy, really,” says Cooke in between bleeps from the intercom as someone else tries to blag the door downstairs. “It’s about playing what you want.”

Residents Cooke and Ralph Lawson provide a solid base of proper, grown-up house and more alternative fare for guests like Andy Weatherall, Lisa Loud, Terry Farley and Mike Pickering to work from [one of Cooke’s charts from earlier in the year features Severed Heads, Boney M and My Bloody Valentine as well as Espiral, Elixir Vitae and Coco, Steel and Lovebomb].

Of course, all this didn’t happen overnight. Basics, it seems, took years of planning.

“We’ve known each other for years,” says Cooke. “We used to play in bands together in Wakefield. They were pretty shit but we always knew what we wanted to look like. It never really happened until now.”

“We weren’t even sure it was going to work in the beginning,” says Beer. “We came into a gay club in town, nobody went there, in fact nobody would be seen dead there…”

Apart from the regular clientele, no?

“We got one floor on a Saturday night, decked the place out like a grotto and got 250 people who were into the same things we were.”

The pair firmly believe that, as Cooke puts it, “you can create a really good atmosphere by having a little bit of an attitude. Like, dressing up to go out, not posing but feeling good about themselves.”

“Some people can’t understand why we had Elvis Presley on but you can’t take it too seriously .. it’s all a bit of a laugh,” adds Beer. “We’re into anything that’s slightly off the wall, anything that people can be stimulated by. That’s why we have wizards wandering round doing magic, little bits of performance art, the Jamie Reid exhibition. It’s all part of it.”

The highpoint of this mad year for Cooke was Andrew Weatherall DJing at Basics for the first time:

“I felt like it had been christened. He’s a bit of a hero to me.”

And as for Beer:

“It was my mum coming down, I reckon, and getting it on with Jon Kelly on the dancefloor.

And the lowpoints?

“They tend to be on Monday morning when you’re recovering from what’s just happened.”

Monday mornings excepted, Beer and Cooke are sitting pretty at the moment. The club is full every week and offers of work are coming in from all over the place. It’s been a good year and the sky is the limit.

“We get a nice wage out of it, it must be said,” grins Beer. “We’re lucky lads aren’t we? We realise it. Luck shone on us one day and said, have a bit of this.

“We’ve had our fair share of shit as well though.”

 

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Carter USM getting props in the Guardian

Original piece here – https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2016/oct/18/carter-the-unstoppable-sex-machine-usm-fruitbat-jim-bob

Cult heroes: Carter USM – wagers of pop’s cultural wars

Les ‘Fruitbat’ Carter and Jim ‘Jim Bob’ Morrison bought back indie’s anti-establishment rage with their searing social commentary and mockery of squeaky-clean pop

Get Carter … Jim ‘Jim Bob’ Morrison and Les ‘Fruitbat’ Carter in 1991.
Get Carter … Jim ‘Jim Bob’ Morrison and Les ‘Fruitbat’ Carter in 1991. Photograph: Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images

For indie-rock fans of a certain vintage, a train journey through south London feels like revisiting some sort of urban wild west. Tulse Hill, Peckham and New Cross are names that conjure up nocturnal transit-van dashes between tower blocks full of “smackheads, crackheads, pensioners, pimps … pit-bull terrorists, hammerhead loan sharks” and “Bostik boys playing chicken in the box”. It takes those fans back to 1990, when gentrification was but a glint in the eye of developers and legions of Sheriff Fatmen began their gold-rush on south-of-the-river slum flats, cramming them full of drug users, domestic abusers, the starving and suicidal.

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Or so you’d think from the musical dispatches of this modern Dodge City’s two grebo Gary Coopers. Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine were Jim “Jim Bob” Morrison and Les “Fruitbat” Carter, accompanied by a drum machine that they appeared to have had unlocked at a dodgy key-cutters and souped up to three times the legal speed limit. Spitting in the dilated pupils of Madchester, they hammered out barbed punk poetry of urban degradation and decay, twisting to their own sardonic ends the regal synth-pop of the Pet Shop Boys, baggy’s filthy guitar funk, the indie urgency of the Wedding Present and popular culture references – Peanuts cartoons, Martini adverts, Gene Pitney, It’s a Wonderful Life, Elvis Presley, The Taking of Pelham 123. They sounded like the late 70s snatching the 80s’ gleaming blade from its hands and going for the throat.

Imagine Sleaford Mods with choruses and something to watch. Carter USM concerts were a riot of blinding white light, crowd-surfing mayhem and chants affectionately mocking the thyroid issues of their famed roadie and compere Jon “Fat” Beast. So it was no wonder, with the emergence of their shoestring debut album 101 Damnations and its stupendously faux-epic single Sheriff Fatman – condemning the rise of mercenary cowboy landlords with their criminal backgrounds and “more aliases than Klaus Barbie” – that they shook the indie-rock scene out of its ecstasy stupor and set a tone of snarling social commentary for the new decade that would be chorused by the likes of Primal Scream, Pulp, S*M*A*S*H, Blur and Chumbawamba. They were the unflinching report card on Thatcherism and the diagnosis of a brutalised Britain that’s yet to heal.

All of which sounds as likely to appeal to the masses as a humane politician or a fully dressed fantasy drama series. Yet the critical rapture that greeted 1991’s 30 Something – broadening their horizons beyond Brockley to tackle nationwide alcoholism (Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere), war and its inherent racism (Say It With Flowers, Bloodsport for All) and blind globalist consumerism (Shopper’s Paradise) – sent them into the top 10, arguably the most snarling and subversive breakthrough act since punk – or at least Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

Not bad for one squatty Sideshow Bob and one stumpy Lance Armstrong, but mock Carter USM at your peril, lest you get a thorough “Schofielding”. Popularity did nothing to sugar their vitriol, so when caught in the shallow machinations of the mainstream, Carter kicked back. Literally. Booked to mime their one-off single about child molestation and murder After the Watershed (Early Learning the Hard Way) at the 1991 Smash Hits poll winner’s party, Fruitbat reacted to their backing tape being cut short by kicking over the speaker stacks and flooring presenter Philip Schofield for yelling, “Blimey, that was original!” and calling him “The Fruitbat”.

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Les’s handbagging of the face of Just for Men had an impact on popular culture that alternative music could only dream of today. It cut through indie-rock’s cuddly druggie image of the age, blurred music’s thick line between grimy underground menace and sparkly gnashered pop safety and repopularised indie’s anti-establishment rebellion. In its wake, major televised award shows became cultural war zones; the KLF machine-gunned the Brits audience with blanks, Danbert Nobacon of Chumbawamba drenched John Prescott, Jarvis Cocker flapped his blazer seat at Michael Jackson. Carter became instant superstars, hitting No 1 with their third album, 1992 – The Love Album, and having a bona fide Christmas hit with their cover of The Impossible Dream. A barrier broke, and through the breach charged the grebos, the crusties, the T-shirt bands and the scintillating dandies of Britpop.

Musical conspiracy theorists have remained strangely silent about the indiscernible brainwashing-sound hidden on the first Suede album, which somehow robbed the wave of bands that came before them of their ability to write tunes. The Wonder Stuff, EMF, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Jesus Jones, Senseless Things – by the end of 1993 there was barely a chartable hook between them, and Carter’s fourth album Post-Historic Monsters was among the most high-profile victims. Bitter, twisted and taking sideswipes at everyone from Richey Edwards to Terence Trent D’Arby, it bristled with a malcontent firmly at odds with the sleazy hedonism of Suede or the oompah nostalgia of Blur, and set them against the mood of the age. Adapting to survive, the duo ditched their drum machine for a human drummer on fifth album Worry Bomb, and by 1996 they were a six-piece who had shifted their sound towards straight-up punk pop. But style trumped sweat, and like most early 90s alternative acts trying to reinvent themselves mid-decade, Carter were swept under by the Britpop tsunami and split up on their 10th anniversary.

Since then, Carter have been unfairly dismissed as part of the wave of early 90s T-shirt bands that acted as a placeholder between baggy and Britpop. Their musical legacy, on the surface, consists almost solely of Andrew WK, who took their frantic electronic fanfares, hollowed out the politics and social conscience and plonked in a large keg and a beer pong table. They deserve more credit, though: the roots and attitude of the new wave of new wave movement – Elastica, S*M*A*S*H, These Animal Men, et al – can be traced to Carter, and Jim Bob’s shameless semi-comic mangling of TV, film and music references prefaced Noel Gallagher’s identical approach to the music of the Beatles, Bowie, T Rex and the New Seekers. The 90s was the light-fingered decade, and Carter were its Fagins.

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As rock’s don’t-scare-the-demographic media training got stricter by the year, with “I don’t know enough about politics to comment” becoming the new “if anybody else likes it, that’s a bonus”, the hole that Carter USM left grew wider and darker – which is why their on-off “farewell” reunions have been crucial in helping to fill it. Between 2007 and their final set of shows in 2014, they played sporadic, sold-out Brixton Academy gigs every couple of years to an army of faithful, chanting: “You fat bastard” but yearning for such an informed, intelligent and outspoken crossover voice for the downtrodden in today’s mainstream music scene.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Fatman slavers over his billowing buy-to-let portfolio in his Pimlico penthouse, toasting the fact that he’s now the government-protected backbone of the British economy as he crams another overpriced windowless shed with 23 overseas plasterers, junior doctors and tangle-haired electro rock bands.