Whilst some of the CDs in this feature – Richard Barnes and the Chefs, for example – are late purchases, anthologies of music I’ve listened to in more fragmented form, most of these albums are things that went through some pretty heavy play in the first few weeks after their acquisition before being lodged in the limbo of too much enjoyment to get rid of, not enough to demand frequent playing.
Dubstar are an example of why it’s never a good idea to say “I don’t like (insert genre here)”. It’s easy to say “I don’t like Heavy Metal” (believe me, I don’t), but once you’ve said that, you’re hostage to the inevitability that, here and there in the aural wasteland that is this form of music, there are going to be songs, maybe even albums, that you do like, that contain something that gets under your skin and triggers a reaction, something that no amount of semantics and sophistication can disguise the fact that it’s Heavy Metal.
I don’t like electronic music. Not in the way that I don’t like Heavy Metal, and with more loopholes to the statement (whilst Technique was out there beyond what I could take, you can’t have been a fan of New Order for that long and still say you don’t like electronic music). But whilst Dustar grew out of a world in which New Order were tremendously influential, they still represented a form of music, heavily dance-oriented, that did not thrill. Too cold, too synthetic, too concerned with repetitive rhythms: music for generations awake to music’s developments in the Nineties that I had long since ceased to be.
But then there was ‘Stars’. Perhaps I was already vaguely aware of it: modern music was not entirely escapable, and I still had a passing interest in what consituted popular. But it was on one of those free CDs that were increasingly being given away with magazines like Q, so I ended up listening to it. The song exists in many mixes, and this was the one that stripped out the programming, the rhythm, the sequencing, and left only the melody and Sarah Dashwood’s voice: pure, sweet, uninflected and unemotional but, in this context, overwhelming. I loved it.
I didn’t love much else on the CD, but I wanted to get hold of that track. Which brings me, once again, to Sifters (Fog Lane, Burnage, South Manchester, just past the railway bridge, another grateful plug to Pete). I found Disgraceful there, nice and cheap, the 1996 reissue without the pencil case labia artwork but with the bonus disc of remixes, started playing it in my nearby office, and thoroughly enjoyed this near alien music.
True, this ‘Stars’ was the more typical, dance-based original, and most of the album was a balance between the ethereal of Dashwood’s pure yet distant voice and a shuffling, mainly mid-tempo rhythm, and I didn’t get the version I wanted until I found a five-mixes CD single of ‘Stars’. But this was an altogether enjoyable excursion into a world of music where I knew all along that I didn’t fit, but which could absornb me into some corner.
The music’s been described as ‘dream pop’ and ‘indie dance’, and I’m sure purists with a finer ear for musical distinctions will not class Dubstar without adding the suffix ‘-lite’, but that ‘lite’ was enough to give me a foothold upon which I could stand, knowing myself to be a tourist, having no real urge to explore further, but gaining a little understanding.
So, after fully settling into the sound of this polite, melodic, in some way almost fluffy representation of a scene alien to me, I put the CD back for the occasional play that reminds me that music is much wider than my take upon it, and it really is better that way, and that somewhere in every sound that repels is that variation of it that instead draws you forward, with ears to hear, if only for a time.