The Great TUNE Robbery- Library of Mu
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- Library of Mu record:
- Title: The Great TUNE Robbery
- Date: 12 December, 1987
- Journal: Melody Maker
- Author: Mat Smith
- Type of resource: Interviews
- Status: text
- No. views: 6241
- Description: As Rockman defaces a billboard with the JAMs christmas message, King Boy and Rockman discuss the end of hip-hop as rebellion, the 1987/Abba events, how samples made their way into Downtown, the Whitney video and heavy metal gigs.
The Great TUNE Robbery
By Mat Smith (12 December, 1987, Melody Maker)
As astonished as our own Mat Smith that
they've been heralded as the robin
hoods of rock, the Justified Ancients
of Mu Mu confess they haven't a clue
what they're doing. Still their new
single, "Downtown," could see them in
that same old sampling mess. Pics:
"IT'S a cop! It's a plain clothes cop! We're buggered"
The heavily built chap in the dark blue overcoat strides purposefully
up to the old American police car and tugs hard on the coat tail of the
shaggy looking creature standing on the roof, paint brush in hand
defacing the advertisement hoarding above.
It's broad daylight, it's the busiest intersection in South London but
this doesn't deter the thing whose name is Rockman from communicating
The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu's Christmas message to the world. The
man below tugs again. The creature ignores him and carries on painting.
The creature ignores him and carries on painting. The creature is about
to be arrested. Then, all of a sudden, the visitor shuffles off,
presumably to get reinforcements. Rockman jumps down from the roof and
joins us on the traffic island opposite.
Who was he?
We thought you were gonna get done. Where's he gone?"
What did he say?
"Something like 'Do you know where Nine Elms Street is?'"
EVER since it began, pop has replied [sic] on the art of deception to
win over its audience, alternately promising and threatening the most
outlandish horrors and ecstatsies that it knows it can never deliver.
Thus, when a group group [sic] comes along with [a] record that's so
blatantly honest in its _dishonesty_, it takes a while [for] the impact
to sink in. Likewise, if you back an American police car down the
pavement, scattering pedestrians as you go, stand on its roof and
deface a poster in full view of the world, chances are you won't be
done. People are too surprised to act. "We do it all the time," says
Rockman as the car sweeps away. "I can't believe that nothing ever
Of course, eventually something does happen. In August of this year,
the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society ordered the JAMMS to
destroy all remaining copies of their "1987" LP following a complaint
from Abba whose single, "Dancing Queen," was heavily featured without
permission. In true style, the JAMMS decided there was only one thing
for it . . .
King Boy: "Basically we were in a f*** of a position where it looked
like things were gonna get ridculously heavy for us and there was no
way we could fight it in court. The only way we could do it was by
being totally reasonable about everything. Their reps in this country,
Bocu Music, didn't want to know at all so I said 'Right, we'll go over
to see _them_.' At this point, I didn't actually know that one of the
band lived in England."
Rockman: "We only found that out after we bought the ferry tickets. We
knew that nobody would see us but we just thought that, if it goes to
court and it looks like we've done everything we can to put our side of
the story, it'd look better for us. It worked in the end cos they
decided to drop the damages charge as long as we didn't carry on making
the LP. The only damages they wanted from us was the percentage that
they'd get if we were doing a cover version of one of their songs."
What would you have said to them?
Rockman: "I dunno. We'd have probably tried to shag them - the girls
King Boy: "We would have just played it by ear. We didn't really have
anything worked out. We would have done what we normally do - see what
Rockman: "I think we would have been really straight with them. I mean,
we _were_ shocked by their reaction to it. I mean, they said that what
we did was disgusting. It wasn't."
King Boy: "We didn't want to get done, it was gonna cost us thousands
and we felt that what we'd done was artistically justified."
Rockman: "We were hoping to explain that to them and that maybe we'd
come out of it friends, you know, them producing our album and us
producing theirs - the kind of thing that often happens at these
King Boy: "Yeah, we'd have said, 'Look, you haven't had many hits
lately, you don't really wanna bother with all this West End musical
shit do you? Come and do the new JAMMS album.'"
One of the MCPS's orders was that the JAMMS destroy all remaining copies of the
record. Have you?
King Boy: "Er. . . "
King Boy: "Not all. There are about 560 cassettes left and 150 LPs."
Rockman: "We had this big burning ceremony in Sweden. We were bombing
down this country road at about six in the morning, we turned off down
this dirt track that led to some farms. It was gorgeous, the sun was
just coming up, there were these huge Nordic forests either side -
Noggin The Nog and all that. We found a field we were happy with and
piled up all the records and set fire to them. The smoke was
incredible. This huge plume was going right down the valley and
collecting above a farmhouse. It was obvious that something really
dodgy was going on. Suddenly this farmer appeared with a gun and
started shooting at us."
King Boy: "We jumped into the car and left very quickly."
Rockman: "Two minutes later, we were in the outside lane doing about a
hundred and there was this huge explosion - the whole engine just blew
up. A bullet must have hit it. In the end we were towed all the way
back to England."
King Boy: "Luckily we'd just joined the AA the day before. We got five
star cover cos I was an associate member. It cost us 40 quid and saved
Although they're (A) white, and (B) Scottish, the JAMMS have somehow
revitalised hip hop and sampling with the similar "no limits
creativity" that the music industry distilled from the original
artefact only to replace it with a more sellable lowest common
denominator harder-than-hard image.
King Boy: "Hip hop's gone now. It's just another form of mass produced
black music. Do these package tours boys. Wear these plastic tommy guns
boys. They're just like the white rocks stars. It's just careerism."
The JAMMS are determined not only to have their cake _and_ eat it. But
also to devise some scam whereby they can sell any crumbs left over.
King Boy: "Well, we're not con men at all cos what we do is what we
are. I mean we've told lies at times but that's not because we want to
con anyone - there's no Malcolm McLarenisms in it. We're not going hey
hip hop's happening, let's get in there. We've just been caught up in
it and looks like we're championing something but we've never even
thought about it."
"We didn't sort of think 'Yeah! Liberate the grooves man!" We just did
it. It's nothing we feel very strongly about at all which is a bit
weird cos we keep getting letters saying things like 'Keep sampling
boys' which makes you go 'Ugh?'"
Rockman: "We'll only do another sample if we feel like it."
Indeed, the new JAMMS signle, "Downtown," was originally planned to be
sample free. However, as King Boy so eloquently puts it -- as a dog
returneth to his vomit so a fool returneth to his folly.
King Boy: "It was definitely _gonna_ be unsampled."
Rockman: "But we really couldn't help it could we?"
King Boy: "This is going to sound ludicrous. We didn't even know it was
going to be called 'Downtown,' we didn't even know what it was going to
be like when we started doing it. One day I was in the studio and I
just started humming the chorus of 'Downtown' over the intro. I thought
'That's funny I wonder what key it's in?' I dug out the record that
night and found that it was in the same key. I took it into the studio
the next day and found out that it was absolutely the same number of
Beats Per Minute -- 118. Most pop songs are between 80 and 160 BPM so
that's 80 times 12, so it was a one in 960 chance that it would be the
right BPM _and_ the right key so we couldn't resist it."
And you got full permission this time didn't you?
King Boy: "Em, I better not talk too much here."
Rockman: "We got permission from Tony Hatch."
Is that the only person you had to get permission from?
King Boy: "Er, no, not really."
Rockman: "Depends how you look at it really doesn't it? It depends on
wheterh you're the record company or not."
King Boy: "There's a certain lady living in Austria."
Has she heard of it?
King Boy: "We're hoping that she hasn't."
Rockman: "It was like that with the 'Whitney Joins The JAMMS' single.
It got to Number 3 in the indie charts on 'The Chart Show' and they
kept pestering us for a video and we were saying 'Oh no, we haven't got
one and we don't want to do one, just get it out of charts fast.'
Eventually our ego won and, with the loose change we had in our
pockets, we hired a video and got one of our mates to film us driving
in the JAMMmobile to the place where they make 'The Chart Show.' When
we got there, we took out the cassette, handed it in at the gate and
said that's your video! The next day it was on National TV. It cost us
#19.96. Most record companies spend up to 100 grand on their vids and
almost as much on lunches trying to get people to screen them. We did
it for under 20 quid."
Of course, now that everyone's watching, the JAMMS' teeth are going to
start falling out very quickly. But, instead of taking the admirable
way out -- loading the JAMMmobile with gelignite and aiming it Druze
Militia style at the offices of the BPI, they're in the studio making a
second LP and even talking about, of all things, gigging. This is not
the way to seal a legend chaps.
King Boy: "Who says we're making a second LP?"
King Boy: "Er . . . we're er, kind of er . . ."
King Boy desperately wracks his brains searching for a flash name for a
12-inch piece of round plastic with songs on it. He fails.
"Yeah, we're making a mini-LP. The gigs should be fun though."
Rockman: "It's going to be heavy metal."
King Boy: "That's all we can actually play."
Rockman: "And I prefer posing around with an electric guitar as well."
King Boy: "If you've got the choice of standing on stage going blip
blop blipitty blop on a keyboard, cos we can't scratch properly, or
going WAAAARGH! GRAAANG! on an electric guitar, that wins every time."
Rockman: "We're gonna do heavy metal covers. We thought we'd do the
whole of 'Deep Purple In Rock.'"
King Boy: "Before we ever did the '1987 LP, we were gonna do one called
'The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu In Rock' and do all Deep Purple
songs. Then we got all these reviews treating us seriously so we
thought maybe we should do a bit more of this stuff."
The ultimate scam, of course, would be to find an unsampled bit of
'1987' and, yes, you've guessed it SAMPLE! And yes someone already
Rockman _and_ King Boy: "WHO!?"
Pop Will Eat Itself.
King Boy: "The bastards! Get the lawyer on the phone!"
He must be fairly rich by now.
Rockman: "He's really funny actually. When we originally told him what
we planned to do, he said 'I don't want anything to do with it. Count
me out.' He just wouldn't advise us at all. I understand why, he's got
his reputation to think about. What could he do? It's like saying I'm
going to rob a bank can you advise me on the best way to do it."
King Boy: "We were trying to think of ways of covering ourselves. 'Do
we have to form a limited company? Do we have to go underground?"
Shooting yourself on the day of release would seem the safest bet.
However, even that might not satisfy Pete Waterman, who's trying to get
the laws changed on sampling.
Rockman: "It's him who started it as far as I'm concerned. It's just a
publicity stunt isn't it. A bit of a joke."
I don't think so, he's already suing 4AD over the MARRS record.
King Boy: "Yeah, but he's got a wicked sense of humour!"
Rockman: "I can't see it happening. How can he seroiusly imagine
stopping sampling? What's he gonna do about his own records? Anyway,
the fact that something's against the law doesn't really come into it
. . . well it does, but it's not gonna stop us. I mean, it's against
the law already isn't it?"
But there's a certain length of sample you're allowed to use isn't there?
Rockman: "No, that's what I thought."
King Boy: "That four second thing is wrong. There's a way they
interpret it which is incredibly complicated. But basically, anything
that's recognisable can be done."
Which is why Mu Mus has arrived for this interview with the proviso
that they wouldn't be featured in any of the pics.
King Boy: "If we've made a mistake this year, it's that we've had our
photos taken. Everytime we see pictures of ourselves we say, 'Oh no,
is that what we look like?' and it's a real let down."
Rockman: "it was quite important in the early days that we weren't
recognised cos we were both still under contract to other record
Nine months on, the JAMMS are more surprised find they're still
enjoying it than they are to find themselves still here. And, as long
as they haven't a clue where they're headed, they're happy.
King Boy: "I know it sounds like we're being evasive but we haven't a
clue what we'll do next. I mean, it really annoys this engineer that we
use. He gets in a really bad state. He hates us.
"Every engineer wants to make their mark with the quality of sound but
we just go in and don't give a shit. Just switch on the mike. Adrian
Sherwood records are the coplete opposite to JAMMS records. He's been
through our initial excitement and now he's doing well thought out
stuff. We could do that one day but I don't think our attention span is
going to last long enough."
Photos (all b/w, no captions):
center spread: defaced billboard (cartoon balloon coming off subject
of billboard saying "Merry Xmas from the JAMS [sic]"),
"Rockman" and "King Boy" rooting around in car trunk
smaller pictures (4): panoramic shots of the defacing in progress
(quite a bit sloppier "brushmanship" than the most
recent billboard assault [Feb 1991])
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