Merck of greatness: Merck Mercuriadis - The Music Week interview

Growing up in a small town in Canada in the 1970s, Merck Mercuriadis can pinpoint the exact moment that changed his life forever. At the age of 12, the future music industry power player made the 100-mile journey to see ...

The Aftershow: Andy Gill

Forty years on from making their debut with Entertainment!, Gang Of Four have returned with new album Happy Now. Founder and sole original member Andy Gill considers a life lived on post-punk’s cutting edge. Plus, recounts how a grunge icon could have joined his gang… Hey, hey the Gang’s all here… “In the same way that Entertainment! was not an Andy Gill record, our new album Happy Now is a Gang Of Four record. You could argue that Gang of Four is my chosen vehicle for making music, but it’s got more of a ring to it then the Andy Gill Band. I basically produced the band from the beginning, and the way I go about constructing a song now is very much like the way I would go about it in the late 1970s.” You can be indie on a major… “When we signed to EMI in 1979 there was a lot of talk going: ‘Why have you done that? You should have signed to an independent, now you’ll have a major telling you what to do.’ But it was exactly the other way around. They let us do whatever we wanted. Our A&R man Chris Briggs would come down to the studio to buy us a few drinks, but nobody said: ‘You should change that bit, it’s not really commercial’. Having also been a record producer for many years, I know how involved independent labels get in songs. You get A&R coming down to the studio and saying, ‘Oh you should change that. You should keep it that way, that’s my favourite bit.’” Chris Cornell was mooted for the Gang… “After our reunion a few years ago [2004-2006] we sort of thought, ‘OK everybody’s gone Gang Of Four crazy’ and we might do a record. I had [drummer] Hugo Burnham and [bassist] Dave Allen, two of the original members, calling me up all the time and I remember saying to them: ‘I’m not convinced. I’m not that interested, anyway I don’t think [original singer] Jon King is interested either.’ They said, ‘Oh we can use that singer from Soundgarden, we don’t need Jon King!’, which made me laugh. I think Dave may have known Chris Cornell or something. I’m not entirely sure. That reunion wasn’t a fantastic experience and any other possibilities dwindled very quickly.” You should tour as hard as REM… “I have a few regrets. I think there were many missed opportunities, appointing absolutely useless managers and thinking you’ve got all the time in the world when actually opportunities are limited. The band had mixed feelings about [international] touring although we did some, especially in America. We were great mates with REM – they used to support us all the time – and when we weren’t there they were still on tour! They worked their asses off. We mollycoddled ourselves a little bit too much. It was a bit like, ‘A flight to Japan? That’s quite a long way isn’t it?’ But there are a lot of things that we got right too, so I guess it balances out.” Frank Ocean is a good guy… “Frank Ocean sampling Love Like Anthrax for his track Futura Free was not expected but very welcome. So many people would just disguise the sample and just take it. But Frank was very concerned to do it legit, so he sought us out. I like that record. I like it a lot.” Post-punk is still post everything else… “When we started out I was keen to start from scratch with a new language. It sounds like a lofty ambition, but to a certain extent we achieved it. You can spot some influences, I’m happy to list my affection for Jimi Hendrix, Wilko Johnson or Steve Cropper. But what eventually came out didn’t particularly sound like those things. I suppose that’s part of the appeal, the music is not wallowing in references.”

The (Lil Nas) X Factor: What the biz can learn from Old Town Road

No-one saw Lil Nas X coming, but no-one’s going to be able to miss him now. As anyone who’s enjoyed a working pulse over the past few weeks will know, the Atlanta rapper’s viral hit Old Town Road – bolstered by its remix featuring Billy Ray Cyrus – is the biggest song in the world. Understandably, there will be many labels, managers and artists looking to his story for some lessons.  A quick recap: in December 2018, Lil Nas X independently released, in his own words, a “country trap” track that interpolates a Nine Inch Nails instrumental. On paper, you wouldn’t exactly have bet your grandma on it being a hit. That it became just that has a lot to do with him harnessing the power of TikTok. Quite frankly, he deserves an honorary doctorate from the University Of Memeology for the way he used the platform. Scrap that, he got something better. Fast-forward to April 2019 and he is now signed to Columbia and breaking streaming records set by Drake. It wasn’t just as a meme, however, that things snowballed. As has widely been reported, X’s track was controversially deemed ineligible on the country chart in America for not embracing “enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version”. Old Town Road is many things – including the shortest US No.1 since 1965 – but it is now as much a debate as it is a song. It is one that cuts to the heart of issues of race, genre and the efficacy of the charts themselves. For the record, Lil Nas X believes his song is eligible in both hip-hop and country charts. Billy Ray Cyrus certainly agreed, jumping on the remix as a sign of solidarity. Is X a country artist? Judging by his other work… No. But that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of making a country song. There is a certain absurdity that the track that stands to do the most for country music globally in 2019 – which is also the No.1 song in all of America – isn’t actually allowed in the country charts. There has been much talk of late about the global aspirations of country music. Take X’s success alongside Kacey Musgraves’ Grammy wins, and this could be the transformative year the genre’s been waiting for. Maybe the question, then, isn’t so much what is America going to do to fix its country charts, but rather how is the genre going to work to fix them? Yet even if the song is reinstated, the danger is that it will be a single conciliatory gesture at best in lieu of lasting systemic change. Many have pointed here to a long legacy of exclusion. Beyoncé’s Daddy Lessons, for one, was deemed ineligible for a country Grammy, yet country artists leaning heavily on hip-hop under the “bro-country” umbrella seemingly get a free pass. While no-one saw Lil Nas X coming, the issues his track has raised have been hiding in plain sight all along. That’s the real lesson here. 

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Rising Star: Ellie Rumbold


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