[7 September 2009]
DJ Food’s nine-year absence from the conveyor belt of releases has landed it a question mark in its Wikipedia entry: “Years active: 1992 to Present?”. But then you check out its webpage—link provided by Wikipedia no less—and it tells you that what used to be a collective side project of Ninja Tune/Coldcut founders Matt Black and Jonathan Moore, but misunderstood by many to be one person, is now more or less one person: Strictly Kev, Ninja’s art director. You are also told that far from hiding out in a bat cave somewhere in Australia, DJ Food has been hitting the decks from Reading to the Rivera, taking his kids to see giant Tokyo-style robot displays, and getting his art fix at a decrepit shipyard in Poland. The Afrika Bambaataa in him has also dug out the recesses of lost records, producing gems like the Sesame Street classic “Pinball Number Count”.
You are also told that DJ Food’s dearth of releases this decade comes down to Kev becoming the go-to person for wacky album covers. His client list includes the Cinematic Orchestra, DJ Vadim, Amon Tobin, 9 Lazy 9, Kid Koala, and pretty much everyone else on Ninja’s roster. But for some unexplained reason, Kev wasn’t up to designing the gnarly face of One Man’s Weird Is Another Man’s World, instead enlisting comic artist Henry Flint.
Thanks to multiple personnel changes, DJ Food has evolved somewhat since its days as the DJ’s DJ, issuing raw breaks for the turntablist to tear, stab, transform, and remix. It was not until A Recipe for Disaster (1995) that DJ Food became a bona fide producer as well. Created by Kev and PC (Patrick Carpenter, not Personal Computer, as was the confusion at one point), it was a slick sample-laden mashup with jazz as its backbone and wit as its lifeblood. Then came the duo’s last full-length collaboration, Kaleidescope (2000), before PC decided to dedicate himself fully to the Cinematic Orchestra. That release bent freeform jazz into a series of schizophrenic skits, with the double allure of a Quincy Jones sample and veteran jazz poet/voiceover artist Ken Nordine. It sounded like the Herbaliser hobnobbing with Herbie Hancock during his Miles Davis group days on a hit of mushrooms in an echoing chamber.
One Man’s Weird Is Another Man’s World, on the other hand, has something akin to Hancock leaving Blue Note to produce the Mwandishi albums. It’s less jazz, and a tad more rocking, a result spun by Kev’s crate-digging of Eno, Adam & the Ants, the Bomb Squad, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Kraftwerk, anything on ZTT… But rather than appropriating found sounds and samples in wicked ways, as producers are wont to do, DJ Food appropriates his influences in wicked ways. Opener “The Illectrik Hoax”, for instance, sounds as if Magazine were in cahoots with both Rage Against the Machine and the Smashing Pumpkins. Yet every bit of the track was written by Kev.
As a six track EP, we are told that One Man’s Weird… will form an upcoming album tentatively, not to mention aptly, titled Stolen Moments. We are also told that it will evolve into some sort of “concept” album. Given what we know about DJ Food, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that he will playfully gibe against the usual epic grandeur of concept albums. In fact, we are told one track, “Extract from Stolen Moments”, will provide the theme, and that track, along with “Colours Beyond Colours”, suggests DJ Food’s fascination with retro-futuristic absurdism still has much life left in it.
A shelved outtake for Kaleidescope that was co-written with PC, “Extract from Stolen Moments” has Ken Nordine embodying the 1960s Space Age, prophesising that the end of the ‘60s will usher in a world ruled by robots instead of humans. The menace of his announcement is drolly amplified by thunderclaps and a tinkling piano hook that would do well in detective series Columbo. “Colours Beyond Colours” opens with a Jamaican-sounding speaker ostensibly describing the supersensory effects of LSD, and then segueing into a cod-‘60s-didactic announcement about the electromagnetic spectrum. It’s all very idiosyncratic and not entirely original, but One Man’s Weird Is Another Man’s World wouldn’t be recognisable DJ Food produce without it.
But before all this, the listener is plunged into Food’s experiment with harder, grungier elements. “The Illectrik Hoax” is mired in an inferno similar to the Pumpkins’ “The End Is the Beginning Is the End” with Nathaniel Pearn (aka Natural Self, or one-half of funk-rock duo the Broken Keys) droning about some impending cataclysm. His voice at times assumes a Trent Reznor-like tenor (as when he warns “The season will become one / Numbers and other things will get crushed right down to dust / Count your money and count it again”), and at other times a Howard Devoto snarl (as when he snidely tells us “Don’t pray, don’t bother”). A guitar whines and slides around him, terminating with a full drum assault that mimics Rage’s “Sleep Now in the Fire”. If “The Illectrik Hoax” says anything, it is that Strictly Kev is one mean songwriter if he wants to be, and that he’s managed to unleash the unsung vocal talents of Pearn. Aside from its lyrical matter, though, the ‘90s alt-rock of this track appears to be an anomaly within a set of tracks that draws most of its sap from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Perhaps the songs that will go to make up the final album will rectify this.
“All Covered in Darkness (Parts 1 & 2)”, with its blatant Pink Floyd-esque title, is, for instance, a condensed rock opera spanning those proggy times. With the foreboding of The Wall hanging over it, it begins with a sample of Nordine describing from the back of his throat a strange unknown experience that “curves like the speed of light”. At the same time, a plucked Kraftwerkian synth and sliding strings provide a comically fitting cosmic effect over a sample of Dr. Rubberfink’s forbidding drum track. This then cuts away to the Dragons’ Rubber Soul-era harmonies chiming “Just believe in love”, with Rubberfink building up the tension with Ringo Starr-like drumming (think “Strawberry Fields”). After several reprisals of these dual themes and a trippy vocal montage, “Part 2” ensues with a scampering metallic lead followed by a continuous onslaught of drums. We then have a fuzz-drenched, droning, Beatles-like instrumental buildup that includes some tape looping, polyrhythmic drumming, and cosmonautic sounds. Despite how it looks, “All Covered in Darkness” is a rather unified and seamless accomplishment. This comes down to Kev’s sterling intuition for arrangement, which includes the smart decision to rehash the various motifs of the track rather than go off in profligate directions at the risk of sounding piecemeal and overblown.
Given the busyness of most tracks, though, and the fact that it’s music for the head rather than feet, the EP needs to be taken in doses if it is to be absorbed with intent. Otherwise it risks becoming aural wallpaper for getting stoned to, which it surely doesn’t deserve. In fact, because of its cerebral nature, it would actually be unwise to expand One Man’s Weird Is Another Man’s World into a full-length LP when songs last an average seven minutes. This listener, for one, became a little fatigued by the fourth track “A Trick of the Ear”. A 13-minute remix by ex-Tortoise member Bundy K Brown, it’s a new age-y percussive meditation that indulges DJ Food’s original love of the break. But nothing really happens.
It’s difficult to speculate whether the effect of including more songs of the nature of “The Illectrik Hoax” to break up prog elements like “All Covered in Darkness” will add much to the listening experience of One Man’s Weird…. I hazard a guess that it will at best be overwrought, and at worse a sprawling shambles.