DJ Nu-Mark: Hands On

Stefan Braidwood

Dj Nu-mark

Hands On

Label: Sequence
US Release Date: 2004-02-17
UK Release Date: 2004-05-03

The cover photo of this 'mixtape' CD reminds me of an interview in The Face with Bobby Gillespie and David Holmes of some years ago; more specifically a shot of the Primal Scream front man, wreathed in smoke, gazing vacantly off to the left in sullen boredom whilst his cigarette-baring hands flash through a dozen poses of gnarled nervous energy, like some disgruntled Kali on speed. Whether or not this more mellow cover, with Nu-Mark seemingly playing the bongos on two piles of vinyl, is a tribute to that shot or not, Hands On is based in an appreciation of old funk and eclecticism that has a lot in common with David Holmes' mixes. In a time when most mixtapes are seen more as an opportunity for promotion and a platform for badly segued commercial exclusives than a musical form of expression, this can only be a good thing.

Anyone who's heard Jurassic 5 on wax, or as part of their relentlessly touring existence as a staple of West Coast hip-hop over the past decade, will have a good idea of what they're going to get out of this mix: simple yet funky analogue drums that kick, laced with unsubtle but effective basslines, boom bap piano, flourishes of brass and Asian woodwind. It's a consistent and fun continuation of J5's tried-and-tested formula that never quite rises to the raw, dirty heights of Holmes's best work, but neither does it suffer from any extremes of gonzo drug sounds. It's also the first chance we've had to hear a solo effort from the man who appears almost a recluse in comparison with his J5 DJ/production partner Cut Chemist, whose Brainfreeze in collaboration with DJ Shadow is a stone cold classic. For all his lack of public persona, Nu-Mark has undoubtedly been busy, as this selection includes four of his own productions and two upcoming projects whilst showcasing his seamless mixing.

Baring out the tactile nature of the title and the vinyl-eye-view, operating tables scene of Nu-Mark on the inside cover, the first half of the 23 tracks on offer wander through a tasty assortment of funk 45s and their array of warmly textured grooves before gliding via a trio of DJ Premier-produced tracks and a Beatnuts skit into his first self-produced offering, under the moniker Blendcrafters. "Melody" is a headnodder of an instrumental hip-hop club track, employing so much delay that it's practically dance floor dub; this bodes very well for any future releases by this side project. This is followed up by the lead-off single from Chali 2Na's forthcoming Nu-Mark-produced solo LP, and unsurprisingly the "brother with tha monster voice" carries off what's basically a J5 track minus the other MCs effortlessly, chanted chorus included.

From here on in the mix goes truly global, taking in tracks from hip-hop crews from all over central Europe and even Australia, as well as the other stand out instrumental, the head-bob inducing "True Urban Grit" by Prophetix. Although all of the MCs perform at least adequately, I can't help but wonder whether the initial novelty of hearing French and German MCs might not result in track-skipping over the long-term, despite some nice backing tracks. Perhaps that's why Nu-Mark chose to add a little MF Doom into the mix before things got truly multi-lingual, in the form of his collaboration with RJD2 on the Viktor Vaughn project, "Saliva": he's captivatingly charismatic and universally liked, despite the fact that no-one really knows what he's saying. Unfortunately, I don't really want to hear what Key Kool of the Visionaries has to say in American-accented Japanese on another Nu-Mark beat, even if it is the titular "Hands On". It just sounds like a simplistic imitation of a J5 track, chanted chorus included. Still, at least the accents of the Australian and Scottish crews entertain by themselves, not to mention the latter's tirade on sexual favours for the ladies on the brashly amusing "68 and I Owe You One".

After a couple of instrumentals (including a bongo solo -- an "Apache" reference to accompany the cover, perhaps?) the mix then finishes on a J-Live collaboration. Sadly, this suffers from much the same understated, lovely-yet-uninteresting problem as a good deal of All of the Above; which is to say it's good but hardly exciting, and as such constitutes something of a letdown when compared to my bombastic hopes. J-Live does, however, nail the attraction of this mix when he claims "the vibe is here". This is a quality mix by a quality DJ that delivers a variety of flavours without ever betraying the old school vibe, and as such is more than worthy of providing a backdrop for the summer evenings to come. For true greatness, though, collaborating with someone as truly unpredictable as Bobby Gillespie would be needed.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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