It takes a heap of audacity to cover such a recent classic as Prince's 'Kiss'. But then, it's a heap of audacity that the Age Of Chance have. Its reception has been varied. There has been no mincing of words. It's either loved or loathed. There has been no mincing of tactics either. It's all there in black and white. You know where you stand with the Age Of Chance. Just one step beyond into their brave new world. They feel the necessity, and they have the resources, to create a potent new force from the destruction and decay that surrounds them. Their's is the phoenix that rises from the smouldering rubble when four cultures clash.
The Age Of Chance are about crash collision, the crash collision of diverse cultural forces.
Detroit: Sixties Motown- their bible of the beats.
New York: Hip-hop dance rhythms- crossover medium where black meets white.
Berlin: The element of noise, grinding machinery, technology.
Leeds: The stark reality of urban decay, lost cities, the politics of destruction.
Jan P (metronome): "I don't see it as destruction. I just see it as opposing forces meeting."
Geoff T (bass frequencies): "There are a lot of destructive sounds in our music, but basically it's positive. Our music is forward looking."
Neil H (duelling cathedrals): "I think it's about that old adage of destroying to create. You've got to disrupt whatever is around to make something new out of it. It is forces meeting rather than wholesale destruction without a purpose. There's very much a purpose to what we do. It just so happens that the most arresting sounds that you can imagine are explosive ones."
Age Of Chance come at you with acutely limited financial resources, the bare minimum of equipment and of determinedly aggressive attitude. Their three commandments from January this year still stand: (1) Be L-Louder, (2) Be more beautiful, (3) Be unreasonable.
The Age Of Chance are certainly exploding into our lives, and with a bigger bang for each single. 'Kiss' is their third to date. A strange cover for such an adventurous group?
Steven E (mob orator): "It's a song we all like. Some of the ideas we had, as regards dance music, seemed to be in synch with that particular song. We made a point of not going out and buying the record. We'd only heard it down clubs and we just started off by not thinking about it too much. The beat of it is a hip hop rhythm. The thing we like about a lot of hip-hop rhythms is that they are really stupid, like those toy rabbits. 'Kiss', to a certain extent, is along those lines; the beat of it. The guitars and bass we've tried to mesh so you get the big, massive hammering sound. Most people who hear it can't remember what the original is like. Ours is so distinctive."
Jan: 'The thing about the Prince version is it's very definitely Prince. It's very much his personality, it's very expressive of him. Our version is very expressive of us."
Geoff: "Our version is a mix that actually lends tension to the original recording. A lot of disco mixes are basically a waste of time. We stripped it down to basics to get some tautness about it. Personally, I think it's worked. It's what we are as people that's made it work. Sly And The Family Stone fused rock and dance years ago. There's nothing unusual in what we're doing."
Dance music is the base element within the Age Of Chance. With a plethora of other musical investments- Einsturzende Neubaten, Test Department, Al Green, Diamanda Galas and Five Star (!!) feature prominently in their tastes- it is the dance factor that stimulates their battle of the beats.
Neil: "Some dance music has a certain attitude to it. A lot of the records are all syrupy sentiments. The stuff that we do, we like to think is a bit more realistic. It's more a reflection of what we think rather than boy-meets-girl kind of thing. It's our personality that comes across rather than any wishy washy sentiment, or wishy washy power. We deal in very direct terms in music, in terms of the beat, in terms of the force of it."
Geoff enlightens us further on the subject. 'A lot of the dance music around at the moment isn't quite powerful enough. We wanted to do something that was fairly heavy handed."
Being able to dance to an Age Of Chance record does, in all truth, seem a highly probable notion. Some frantic arm flapping and a general unruly vision of flaying limbs could be expected, but dancing, orderly disco type dancing? They assure me nothing could be more natural. Take any mid-Seventies disco dance routine and they can put it to the test - the Spanish Hustle, the Slosh, the Bump, and apparently Steve's a dab foot at the Geg! So you've been trying all these nifty foot-works out down the disco have you?
Geoff: "Well, not exactly. More like in our bedrooms. We said when we first started the Age Of Chance that we would always dance to our own records. But now it's actually come to the crunch, we would look a bit silly." So who does dance to 'Kiss'? Neil: "Everybody, absolutely everybody - even the Goths- in Leeds dances to 'Kiss' on a Friday night."
These are a few of Age Of Chance's favourite words: 'Confrontation': (Neil) "It's all about battle. The destructive ethic, if there is such a thing, in our work. Whatever we take, we use it in such a direct, black and white way that it's difficult for other people to use it after that. I couldn't see a lot of other people doing what we did to 'Kiss', given the climate, and other people's attitudes."
Steven: "The confrontation is the mesh of the noise element and the dance element. 'Kiss' is a perfect example. It's got a fairly conventional electro type beat, but it's a well structured noise fused together."
Neil: "We're also confronting the area that we live in. The unease, unrest, dissatisfaction, things like that. The element of where we come from is prevalent in our music. Also with the lyrical content, our songs are questioning, confronting. I don't mean that in a wet liberal way, but they have a certain polemical value in the way we work. There's a kind of hectoring style in the way Steve delivers his lyrics; a sloganeering quality."
Noise: (Steven) "Since the dawn of time, records have had noise on them. It doesn't have to be feedback, or anything. It's just the feel of loudness you get from records. 'Kiss' is a really LOUD record. It jumps out at you. You get that from early Motown records, from T Rex, ‘Metal Guru' and so on."
Neil: "Noise is what most groups try to cut out of their records, but we leave it in. It adds atmosphere. You can use it to pull up your record. Some great pop records could be termed noise records because there's more 1 than just the tune going on. Like Janet Jackson's 'Nasty'. It uses noise in such a way that it enhances the record. That's what we try and do."
The Age Of Chance have also recorded their version of the Trammps' mid-seventies hit 'Disco lnfeno', a track that also appeared in the film 'Saturday Night Fever'. Its chorus "Burn baby burn' refers to the Chicago riots of 1968, an act of black confrontation with authority.
"I don't think it was quite so political in 'Saturday Night Fever'."
The Age Of Chance's version is also about NOISE.
Neil: "'Disco Inferno' is a really brutal record. It just got out of hand and we couldn't do anything to stop it."
Steven: "It was like Frankenstein. We had this monster of a record that we couldn't control any more. I'm scared for the kids when we let it loose on them. I just don't know what's going to happen. We'll have to stick a label on saying 'Not for consumption by the under 18s!'."
‘If you can get through my wall of Sound I'll marry you in Motor City'.
In the early 1960s, Tamla Motown would test the potential of a proposed song by playing a tape of it through a transistor radio. This was their method of artistic quality control. The Age Of Chance also adopt Motor City's testing techniques. They demo potential songs in a cellar onto a tape recorder. If this particular song doesn't stand up when they blast away on the little recorder, then it doesn't get used.
Geoff: "We probably discard more songs than most bands even write. There's a lot of covert we've tried doing that we've never really got on with, totally disparate sounding things. The original of 'Disco lnferno' is basically orchestral so there was a lot of interpretation we could put on it."
Steven: "We wanted to do something people would raise their eyebrows to. People get an impression of you through things you cover. There are groups around now doing really obvious post punk songs. It's just like stating the obvious- and they do them really straight as well."
Jan: "We don't confine ourselves to what we can and can't cover. The attitude is that we'll do anything, but on our own terms. Well, maybe not anything. I can't see us growing moustaches!"
Neil: "We work by instinct, if by anything. And it usually takes us in the right direction. We go through a hell of a lot of material, and a lot of it never sees the light of day because it doesn't meet up to the quality control that we've got collectively. We're fairly perfectionist."
As well as a stark, clear-cut musical delivery, the Age Of Chance deal in stark, clear cut visuals. The bold, strident nature of their sportswear can be a little overbearing for the weak of heart. Prominence is the key. Bold, assertive, active. This is the message that's symbolised in the clothes. Is this visual still instintctive, like the music?
Jan: 'It must be, because we've never sat around and said let's try tuxedos'. It grows out of what we're interested in. Brash, rash, simple lines."
Neil: "There's a lot of pop art in what we do. The visuals do coincide with the music. Strong lines and bold colours."
art, now that'ss a curious state of affairs. Art tends to lead to alienation.
Art is, and always has been, the domain of the middle classes. Pop music
does not confine itself to class barriers. The combination of the two?
"The stimulation for the group doesn't have to be musical. Everything
is an input. Films, visuals, everything.'The Sweet Smell Of Success' is
a collective favourite. It stars Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster. It's
Neil: "I like the expressionist JacksonPollock”…
Geoff: "Yes, I think that's influenced his guitar playing more than anything else!"
Neil: "If people want to judge what we do as art, it's up to them. To us it's what we do. It's an expression of our creative ideas. And at the moment our creative ideas are direct. That's what makes us good, if not great."
It is this self confidence, them knowing that they really are about the best band around at the moment, that has brought out the packs of wolves ready to tear them to shreds, or bring them down a peg or two. All too often, jealousy becomes the blind man's faith. A healthy feeling of self confidence is twisted out of all proportion. It is mistaken for arrogance.
Geoff: "Arrogance is not doing what you're supposed to. Like dressing up. In the indie scene, dressing up is seen as an arrogant gesture. Not looking sheepish on stage- then you must be arrogant. We've had more mishaps on stage than just about any other band. Like last night an amp blew up. Apart from breaking down and crying, we made it into a really positive thing."
Neil: "Geoff became a backing dancer."
Geoff: "Just because we have a positive attitude, we are accused of being arrogant."
This isn't the only confrontation with today's indie scene. The ambitions and designs of the Age Of Chance are far too expensive for the parochial attitude of the Indies. It's the use of technology, especially, that has got the Indies' backs up.
Neil: "There's so much around, equipment-wise, that we'd be absolutely stupid not to use it. Besides which, the more you use, the more you learn. There's a really strong sort of Luddite spirit that runs through the independent scene- 'we hate machines, we hate computers' - it's ludicrous. You never learn anything unless you use equipment and learn how to control it."
Steven: "We used the high technology studio in Sheffield with lots of vastly expensive equipment which we availed ourselves freely on. But outside, there's lots of mechanical noise and decaying buildings. It's like being isolated completely, but being able to take in your surroundings as well. We can fake the outside- the urban decay, and rusting cars, and what have you- and use the technology to get that feeling across.”
Isn't all this technology- and images of cities being destroyed, crashing metals- a bit futuristic?
Steven: "You're making us sound like performance artists!"
Geoff: "What we're doing is realistic not futuristic. It's what's happening around here. You can't move for decaying buildings and falling down foundries."
Neil: "lt's an actual reflection rather than a prediction. Futuristic attitudes are all about experimenting. You haven't got total control of a situation if you are experimenting. We don't allow anything to control us."
Neil: "Absolutely nothing."