Reviews

Rude Boy (1979)

Rude Boy does little more than remind us of the Clash's greatness; as such, it's a cinematic failure but a musical necessity.


Rude Boy

Display Artist: Jack Hazan and David Minghay
Director: David Minghay
Cast: Ray Gange, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Nicky Headon
Studio: Buzzy Enterprises
Distributor: Legacy/Columbia
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 1979
US DVD Release Date: 2006-08-01

Nineteen year-old Ray, protagonist of Rude Boy, is a walking embodiment of lyrics from the early Clash. He don't wanna hear about what the rich are doing, and he's so bored, not just with the U.S.A., but with most other topics too, from his deadbeat job in a porno store (career opportunities don't knock much in Ray's life) to his dreary bathroom-stall encounters with girls at punk shows. When he fights the law, the law most certainly wins, hauling him in for drunk and disorderly conduct. All he really wants, it could be said, is to bum a ride on the rock 'n' rollercoaster.

Given all that, it's no surprise Ray finds himself working as a roadie for the Clash. It ultimately doesn't improve his life much, but it indisputably saves Rude Boy, a muddled mess of a movie redeemed only by the blazing presence of the punk icons. As great as they were, the Clash were never actually the only band that mattered, but they are the only thing that matters here, as the film veers from pseudodocumentary to concert film to convoluted political treatise without much clarity or forward momentum.

Directors Jack Hazan and David Mingay begin Rude Boy with a highly charged conflict between the racist National Front and an anti-racist Socialist march; if it's less gripping than the similarly real footage in Haskell Wexler's 1968 classic Medium Cool, that can be forgiven on the grounds that a few thrown rocks do not quite constitute Chicago '68. The filmmakers even offer a nicely subtle comment on the fetishistic undercurrents of British sexual politics by cutting from the confrontation to a middle-aged white businessman visiting Ray's shop and awkwardly requesting a magazine featuring black women.

From that set-up, Hazan and Mingay shift focus to Ray (played by non-actor Ray Gange as a modified version of himself), an aimless youth whose only passion is for punk shows (though even there he stands back in the crowd rather than jumping into the Dionysian craze at the base of the stage). Ray's meanderings owe much to the Angry Young Men who preceded him, but even in the context of neorealist resistance to character-development handouts he remains a nonentity, a blank cipher uninterested in politics, devoid of personality, and less likely to look back in anger than through hangover goggles. The filmmakers never effectively connect Ray to the social turmoil around him, and their attempts verge on the random, with inserted footage of Margaret Thatcher bemoaning dangers to the middle class in coded language that recalls the more overt comments blurted out by National Front activists. Confusing scenes of police arresting young black men (on apparently legitimate grounds), the relevance of which not even the press sheet can adequately explain, also help little.

All of which leaves the Clash. Distributor Epic/Legacy holds no illusions as to why people will buy Rude Boy; an option on the DVD menu allows viewers to "Just Play the Clash", and the option will surely be used. The directors approach the band with typically heavy hands. The first time we see them, covering Junior Murvin's "Police and Thieves" in concert, the camera sticks tightly to Joe Strummer's head, capturing his undeniable intensity, but at the expense of the band as a whole (we don't really see the Clash in a group shot until 26 minutes in, when they bash out a rousing rendition of "Garageland" in their practice space). Later in the film, when Strummer mentions rude boys in "Safe European Home", Hazan and Mingay repeatedly cut to Ray on predictable cue, in case the title somehow slipped past anyone.

No directorial bungling can obscure the power of the Clash in action, though. Young, hungry, and in total command of both the iconography and the spirit of rock, the band throws itself into performance with an unironic belief in the ability of music to change the world. Strummer, only two years removed from his days as a pub-rocker, carries himself like (and even slightly resembles) the young Bruce Springsteen. When he heaps scorn onto the careerist punks "turning rebellion into money" in "White Man in Hammersmith Palais", it sounds like an outrage he just discovered, not a line he sings every night. On guitar, Mick Jones channels glam and arena rock into his energetic moves, strutting and swaggering through big chord changes and solos that remind one that "punk" had yet to ossify into the dogma of hardcore. Rhythm section Paul Simonon (bass) and Nicky Headon (drums) provide a solid bedrock, with the stylish, animated Simonon in particular holding down the reggae roots that inspired the Clash as much as three-chord punk.

Seeing the Clash tear through songs from their self-titled 1977 debut and the great 1978 follow-up Give 'Em Enough Rope, as the band dances along the cusp of fame, is categorically the sole reason Rude Boy remains in print. The filmmakers offer brief glimpses of the members offstage, but given the nature of the movie, it's difficult to say just how performative they're being. Certainly they adhere to their public images: Jones the arrogant rock star, wearing a perpetual and petulant sneer; Simonon the devoted reggae fan (his main solo scene is a nicely peaceful moment of post-concert exhaustion in which he reclines on a bed and sinks himself into a song by the Slickers on a clock radio); Headon the loopy one (who practices his kickboxing on a bemused Ray); and Strummer the earnest rebel. He gets the most and the best scenes, attempting to politicize Ray and belting out a rousing rendition of "Good Times" alone on a piano. One need not join the mad rush to canonize Strummer in the wake of his recent, too early death to nonetheless conclude that, if his scenes here were any indication, he was a thoughtful, down-to-earth, and warm man.

He doesn't, however, manage to convince Ray that political punk bands are more than "left-wing wankers", though the best argument the inarticulate roadie can offer against mixing pop and politics (for which Strummer, like Billy Bragg after him, would offer no excuses) is that "it annoys me." Clearly viewers are supposed to link this apathy to the concluding shots of Thatcher ascendant -- a curiously bleak perspective on the ability of the Clash to change minds and affect society. In bonus DVD material, the directors reveal a fundamental lack of interest or comprehension of punk, which might account for that; a charming Ray Gange frankly dismisses the film as incoherent and complains about playing a character with his own name who didn't really reflect himself (though both real-Ray and film-Ray admittedly worshipped the Clash and "fancied a beer").

The extras emphasize the main attraction: two 1978 BBC studio performances (including the great "Clash City Rockers", a song not played in Rude Boy) and some outtakes (the highlight being a blistering concert version of "English Civil War", though the unbridled energy of "White Riot", which ends with Strummer literally disappearing into the crowd, compares) reinforce the already established greatness of the Clash. Rude Boy does little more than remind us of that greatness; as such, it's a cinematic failure but a musical necessity.

The Clash - Live Performances & Interviews

5

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Melkbelly splices insanely supercharged punk energy with noise-band drums and super catchy pop melodies. It's a bewildering, intoxicating sound which has caught the attention of underground Chicago audiences. We ask singer Miranda Winters how it works.

"I've always, I guess, struggled to decide what kind of music I wanted to play, something sort of abrasive and loud or something sort of pop and folky. I would bounce back and forth between the two," says Miranda Winters, the dynamic singer who careens between pretty girl pop croons and banshee wails in the course of, really, almost any song in the Melkbelly catalog. "When we first started Melkbelly, the goal was to figure out how to make them work together, but I don't know that we actually knew that it would work when we started."

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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