It was the 7th best title of 1992: so why didn’t you hear it?

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No one remembers much these days, but 30 years ago The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy’s Television, the drug of the nation was part of a two-pronged movement that turned rock fans into beats and raps, and introduced black artists into once all-white record collections.

Television, the drug of the nation was the kennedy dead with groove and the NME voted it on 7th best track of 1992 and its parent album Hypocrisy is the greatest luxury was No. 11 in their album of the year list and No. 3 in melody makerthe listin front of Pavement’s Tilted and enchantedIce cubes The predatorthe maniacals Generation Terrorists, LemonsIt’s Ray’s shame and other more memorable albums from the era.

Offered a support location on U2from the Zooropa tour, The Disposables went from playing clubs to performing in front of 50,000 people a night, with Bono joining them on stage for a signature track Television. So what? Well, not much. But their work here was done.

It was confusing to be an alternative rock fan in the early 90s. To those of us who became teenagers after punkrock’n’roll’s worst excesses weren’t just back, they were evident and everywhere (and getting old by the minute). Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Motley Crue? Rich white guys with big hair and shitty smiles. This was not the revolution we had been promised.

In fact, the revolution came from two different but similar directions: electronic music and hip-hop.

Electronic music had morphed into something more than “just” synth pop – it was a truly futuristic sound, with huge beats and shaky bass. And hip-hop was more punk than real punk: more rage, more attitude, better lyrics.

Some rock bands could feel the tide turning. In the late 80s in the UK, rock bands like Big Audio Dynamite, Pop Will Eat Itself, jesus jones and Gaye Bykers On Acid had begun adopting big programmed beats and basslines, and stringing their music with samples. They showed it was neither. In the words of PWEI Can you dig it?they dug marvel and DC, Renegade Soundwave and AC DC.

Elsewhere, industrial got ready. The punks had got their hands on drum machines. The whole DIY punk ethic fit perfectly with the programming and the use of samples. Weird anti-establishment bands like Finitribe, (before Mr C) The Shamen, Tackhead, Meat Beat Manifesto, Nitzer Ebb, Front 242, Young Gods, Revolting Cocks, Ministry, Consolidated and many more were busy making music for IBM (Intense Balding Men) and bringing outrage and punk rock attitude to this new electronic revolution.

But, Tackhead aside, they were mostly white people. The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy were black, formed from the ashes of The Beatnigs, an art-punk collective whose debut album was released on the kennedy dead‘Alternative Tentacles label, at a time when you could count the number of black punk artists on one hand.

Singer and lyricist Michael Franti had grown in love with “storytellers who could make you dance”, he said. DJ magazine. “Stevie Wonder, santanaWar, John Lennon, Johnny Cash…Then I discovered Shock. They used reggaepunk, R&B, Latin grooves, jazz and rap – and that political voice.

Based in San Francisco and inspired by the industrial sounds of Einstürzende Neubauten and Tackhead as much as public enemy, The Beatnigs used scrap metal from the dying Bay Area shipping industry for the percussion. “We were like, ‘Let’s take some scrap metal and fuck the hell out of it,'” Franti said. “We liked hip-hop, but we didn’t use drum machines.”

The great Beatnigs track was called Television – it was on the terminal ricochet soundtrack album, alongside songs by American punks DOA, Nomeansno and Jello Biafra – and when the band broke up, Michael Franti and Rono Tse formed The (let’s be honest, dreadfully named) Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. With Consolidated’s Mark Pistel on lineup and arrangements, they revamped Television for the new decade.

Parallels have been drawn between Television, the nation’s drug and Gil Scott-Heron The revolution will not be televisedbut where Scott-Heron was impressionistic, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy was more literally witty.

Television, he said, was “the nation’s drug, feeding ignorance and fueling radiation.” Chuck D once said that rap was the CNN of black America – “informing people, connecting people, being a direct source of information” – and The Disposables took that literally: television is the reason less than ten percent of our nation reads books daily,” goes the lyric. “Why most people think Central America/means Kansas/socialism means un-American/and l apartheid is a new cure for headaches.”

A decade later pink floyd“I have thirteen shitty channels to choose from on my TV,” Franti rapped:

150 channels 24 hours a day

You can browse them all

And there’s still nothing to watch.

Floyd and Franti’s words may sound quaint today, with 37 million barely regulated YouTube channels to choose from, but that doesn’t mean their concerns were unfounded. “Ronald Reagan was president at the time,” Franti explained, “and he could convince the country of almost anything.”

The rap may not have been CNN, but it served as notice to rock ‘n’ roll. It was cooler, more dangerous, lyrically smarter, sonically new, and his rage was real and justified. Looking back years later, Franti commented that disposables “were kind of like broccoli – people were in it because they thought it was good for them”. But the truth was they were good for us.

Television This is when a lot of rock fans finally embraced hip-hop. The listeners of John Peel the show voted him No. 38 that year Fifty Festive. Single tracking The language of violence was at no.30. 1991 Fifty Festivities had been 100% indie and alt.rock bands – without a single black artist, hip-hop or electronic act. In 1993 Chumbawamba & Credit To The Nation anti-fascist anthem enough is enough was number one and the ranking included Senser, Transglobal Underground and more. The door had been broken down.


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