[23 July 2001]
Sex and Techno, in the UK at least, are hardly two words that share much in common. Ever since Derrick May went all intellectual on visiting English journalists, way back in 1988, Techno has been the most serious (and humourless) of all the digital dance genres. Today Carl Craig and Moodyman keep the Detroit sound firmly on the thoughtful side of the street. When Craig played Manchester recently, it was as part of an Arts festival and not just another club date.
I can’t see Assault and his crew getting such an invitation. They are what might have happened if Techno had ignored Europe and turned towards Miami and the 2 Live Crew for inspiration. It is as if the DJ is on a one-man crusade to make up for all the cerebral tendencies that Techno has developed, and in one swoop. Jefferson Avenue is low-down and nasty—pornography at up to 150 bpm. It is salacious, misogynistic, entirely reprehensible and insidiously effective. Every track exudes orgiastic energy and a quite ridiculous excessiveness that is absolutely compelling. Guilty as it makes me feel to say it, this is a good album.
The beats are faultless—Techno but with the exuberance of early House. The whole sound also has a funkiness that owes as much to Hip-Hop as it does to the Chicago/Detroit connection. It has been termed “Ghetto-Tech” which Assault rejects, preferring the descriptively accurate “Accelerated Funk”. There is an Electro feel to it, a reminder of the missing link in House and Techno’s pre-history. It is fast—happily not as hectic as some of his earlier work which was at the hard and totally bone-crunching end of the scale. These rhythms bump and bounce rather than nail you to the wall. They still kick but cajole a little too.
The tunes themselves are rich in hooks and surprisingly melodic—even soulful (“They Clown You”)—at times. Every aspect of the groove is tightly organised and well arranged. Highly computerised, it projects an earthy feel that is not solely down to the subject matter. In fact, if it was an instrumental album many of the tracks would find their way into a wide range of DJs’ sets. But that won’t happen—because of the lyrics. Even in this day and age Assault won’t get any radio play. And the lyrics are a problem—at least sat at home they are—in the right club environment they might not be.
Assault’s club slogans are “Ass ‘n’ Titties”, “Who’s Fucking Tonight” and the rest of the songs boast titles like “Nut in Your Eye” and “Nipples ‘n’ Clits”. You get the drift? Most of the tunes are comedic, puerile and built around the repetition of obscene slogans. It is fun—or intended to be. A few years ago there would have been earnest debates about the values espoused. It does us no credit that I can safely bet that there won’t be any heart-searching in these post-modern, post-feminist times. For the record, the sketch interludes are beyond redemption and should have been dropped. Also, while endless anthems to fucking and sucking are much to be preferred to the glorification of Uzis and murder—or the craven celebration of wealth, for that matter, there is a dangerous undercurrent of woman-hating beyond the standard Bitch and Ho objectification (which the disc contains in world-record proportions). “Nut in Your Eye” and “Bustos” glory in degradation and I don’t care that it’s comic, is not supposed to be taken seriously etc.—the thoughts behind them stink.
That said, for the most part this is really a cathartic exercise in prolonged profanity—something that has been part of popular culture since time immemorial. House may be a spiritual thing but much of the early material was as sex obsessed as anything here—remember “Baby Wants to Ride” and all those Disco orgasm tunes. Assault makes music for strippers and a wild club night—propriety is hardly likely to be the result. There is even a celebratory, carnival quality about the language and you can’t help being fascinated by the unrestrained libido running wild out of the speakers. It is the least sophisticated experience you are likely to have for a while but then Male Lust isn’t exactly a delicate thing, much as we men like to hide that fact.
The repetition is crucial. “Ass ‘n’ Titties” is just that phrase chanted over and over. The female chorus has lines like “Fuck the pussy” and “Assault, fuck me harder” to incant, which they do enthusiastically and at great length. This creates a peculiar atmosphere—disturbing at first, then comic and finally just unreal. I don’t know whether this is intended—I think there is still a facile attempt to shock in the blueprint—but it adds a dimension that somehow makes the whole sleazy show more bearable.
This is club culture of a particular kind. A sweaty dive and a hyped-up crowd are almost mandatory for full appreciation. I can’t imagine anyone (other than adolescent boys) wanting to play it at home too often. If you find the mélange of dance styles interesting—and it’s an intriguing mix, believe me—and can cope with the language, it will grab you more tenaciously than you’d expect. Assault, for all his foibles, is no fool as a producer (by the way, don’t buy all the ghetto-keep-it-real justifications—the man has a marketing degree and knows what sells). Musically this is at least on a par with recent highly praised House-Electro projects such as Felix Da Housecat’s and no-one is going to accuse this type of Techno of being too gloomy.
If all pop music goes this way we are in big trouble. However, I think the dance scene is big enough to cope with a few reprobates like Assault and his foul-mouthed companions. The bitch and ho thing is wearing but we seem stuck with that for the time being. There is an absence of that murderous venom that is sometimes put into the words, largely because of the deliberate silliness of most of the choruses. Is there anything other than sex on the man’s agenda? The title track suggests a talent for social observation as well as sexual aggression but I won’t hold my breath. Assault is going to ride this slackness for a while yet. He does it with skill if not subtlety. It’s different, I guarantee that, and the keyboards and digital doodling are genuinely creative and funkier than a month of most current sounds. As long you can cope with the words then Assault will rock your party. Be careful who you invite though.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/djassault-jefferson/