Think about the early days of hip-hop and you’ll likely remember what Charlie Ahearn so earnestly depicted in his seminal hip-hop-umentary called Wildstyle. The movie, released in 1982, looked at the creation of hip-hop, which was still in the process of being written in the South Bronx area of New York. There, young MCs and breakdancers created their own rules and essentially created a lifestyle that would come to dominate popular culture two decades later.
Ian Parton, bandleader of the Go! Team may be from Brighton, England, nowhere near the epicenter of the hip-hop movement, but listening to their debut album, Thunder, Lightning, Strike conjures up that period of experimentation. On the track “The Power Is On!” you could close your eyes and imagine Double Trouble and the Fantastic Freaks having an epic freestyle battle in a packed club, with the Rock Steady Crew defying gravity with their dance moves. If that brings a smile to your face, it’s precisely what Parton had intended. His idea was to make a relentless, manic, catchy, and exciting record.
Parton, a former documentary filmmaker himself, sees a direct link with his own music and what the artists of the underground movement have been doing for years. “They were always going in different directions, trying to catch the listener,” he says. What he believes is so great about this scene, is that “in the underground”, DJs could go from breakbeat sounds to white noise instantaneously. Therefore, the Go! Team and Parton have little regard for standard song structure when writing.
And much like how early hip-hoppers were concerned with breaking the old rules and establishing new ones, the Go! Team’s new album took exactly a year after its British release to see the light of day in America for precisely that reason. The album Parton wrote in a basement by “welding ideas from songs with samples I’d heard in random places” was being held captive by the United States’ more stringent copyright laws, and the possibility of a couple of samples destroying the album’s potential release in the US existed. Parton did not want to re-record the album, and eventually the cheerleaders and double-dutch filmmakers whose samples were being used relented.
In some cases, the songs needed to be changed. You may notice for instance that “Bottle Rocket”‘s vocals have been completely re-recorded by Ninja, the full-time MC for the live iteration of the group. Changes like that one and the new trumpet intro on “Junior Kickstart” might perturb the most anal of listeners, but for the most part the original album remained intact. It was important for Parton not to mess around too much with the original songs because the samples were more about tribute than copying. “That’s what the Go! Team is about,” he says, “it’s about getting a variety of voices and eras slammed up against each other.”
He cited the track “Ladyflash” as a good example, which he referred to as a “history of girl groups in three minutes,” spanning everything from electropop to ‘60s Motown. The Go! Team’s splicing of styles can be initially disarming to casual listeners, but since the release of their album in the UK in September 2004, American listeners have been clamoring for the album’s release stateside. Parton credits the “power” of blogs and music review websites as transforming his group from a basement project to a Mercury Prize-nominated act headlining the John Peel Stage at Glastonbury.
Where the group takes an interesting turn is in their live act, which Parton calls “another entity”. The Go! Team live group was formed in three weeks when they were given an opportunity to support Franz Ferdinand in June 2004. Although Parton claims he’s “too lazy to be ambitious”, the Go! Team has already built a reputation as a manic live band. MC Ninja always freestyles her lyrics, while at a recent show they invited a group of female breakdancers on stage for an impromptu performance. A couple of new live favorites, “Hold Yr Terror Close” (which was written in a pub in Brighton) and “We Just Won’t Be Defeated” have been included in the American release of the album, for those who already splurged on the import and still want more Go! Team material.
At first, he wasn’t even sure the Go! Team could ever become a live act, especially after a horrific initial performance he referred to as “ropey”, but Parton now sees the potential of the current six, consisting of himself (guitar, harmonica, drums), Sam Dook (guitar, drums, banjo), Jamie Bell (bass), Chi (drums), Silke (recorder, melodica, guitar, keyboards, drums) and MC Ninja (vocals), as well as possible additions in the future (he said he’s leery about adding a brass section, but may add more girls for chanting music).
Despite the full band, Parton has no intention of getting rid of samples, and the music-making process will likely not change. The samples open the band to more areas of exploration while maintaining the element of surprise. He also plans on writing all of the group’s material in the future, comparing his role with the Go! Team to the Divine Comedy’s mastermind Neil Hannon. He says the Go! Team probably won’t bring the live band entirely into the recording studio because the music is about his “personal traits, and jamming in a room wouldn’t be the Go! Team”.