Shock Beat Jazz

This week I’ve been listening to the new Stereolab compilation, Electronically Possessed [Switched On Vol.4]. As we all know, Stereolab represent the highest development of music under capitalism before society transforms to technocommunism, where we will live in floating sky-cities and listen to telepathic salsa symphonies composed democratically from the mass consciousness.

This collects many odd singles and rarities. As its subtitle indicates this is the 4th instalment since the original Switched On in 1993 brought together the early singles from before the debut album Peng! The second instalment, Refried Ectoplasm [Switched On Volume 2] in 1995 was a truly essential 90s album, bringing together the absolute bangers of their early motorik style: “French Disko”, “Revox”, “John Cage Bubblegum”, “Exploding Head Movie”, as well as the softer sound of “Lo Boob Oscillator”. That capped their first era from 1990-95, and then came the transitional sound of Emperor Tomato Ketchup in 1996 before the great run of soft-pop influenced albums from 1997’s Dots And Loops onward. Aluminium Tunes in 1998 was Switched On Volume 3, so we’ve been waiting quite a while for this latest sweep-up.

Like Aluminium Tunes, this folds in to itself an old short album that isn’t on the reissue catalogue: in this case The First Of The Microbe Hunters, from 2000.

I remember buying that when it came out, along with NYC Ghosts And Flowers by Sonic Youth and All Hands On The Bad One by Sleater-Kinney. All 3 of them from Tower Records in Camden, next door to The World’s End pub and the Underworld; nowadays Tower and high street record shops generally have been eliminated in favour of a system where artists get even worse deals than they did when EMI and Polydor were competing to rip them off. The World’s End still continues, however.

The other tracks include rare singles such as the collaboration “Calimero” with Brigitte Fontaine, so my copy of that now has less rarity value. Fortunately I also have the 3-inch CD single from the 2004 tour, which isn’t included, but would fit in perfectly.

Another odd single that seems to have been missed out of the Switched On programme was “Low Fi”, which was released on Too Pure and may have been caught up in a contractual tangle. I notice that Peng! isn’t on the reissue list either; I think Hefner and other TP acts got in litigation with the old label. “Low Fi” is great for 2 reasons: “Laisser-Faire” is an absolute banger, and also at the end of the title track you can hear Laetitia muttering “You bastards…” in the studio.

A version of “Laissez Faire” was on ABC Music, the Strange Fruit compilation of radio sessions from 2002, dated to the Peel show 28-06-92. That album also includes the session of “Heavy Denim” from Peel on 28-09-93 which was at the time of the sessions for the Mars Audiac Quintet album. “Heavy Denim Loop Pt 2” turns up on the new compilation, credited as “unreleased out-take” from that album. I think the radio session version was better.

Let’s all sing along now…

It will come to us as a shock
But we’re letting it happen
People with their carelessness
Governments with their laisser-faire
Are going to lead us straight into it
That’s for sure

History will only repeat itself once more
The western world is going more and more right wing
Yearning for some sort of protection, too scared to do anything
Not to take the path that’s dragging us down, oh no
Remember it’s in our power not to go down
I can feel it more and more
Within ten years we’ll have a war

Laetitia Sadier attended Nanterre University, though not during 1968. Situationism and all that was a big influence on the early sleeve designs, and so I thought no one would mind if I copied an image from this source to put at the top. “Shock beat jazz” is from The Mercy Men by Alan E.Nourse, his name for the manic dance music we’ll be listening to in clubs in the future, whilst trying to cope with everything going wrong with everything.

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