QUICK NURSE, THE SCREEN!
After a generation of duos, the power trio is back, hotwired into the 21st century in the startling new form of SCREEN. But, where the threesome lineup, first propagated in the mid-60s by the likes of Cream, used guitar, bass and drums to rattle the roof, ALEX PATERSON (The Orb), GAUDI and CHESTAR have conjoined to tear down the walls, powered by mutual obsessions with dub’s bass-propelled dislocation of the norm, except used as a springboard.
It was a love of dub reggae which first brought Alex and Gaudi together, the ever-questing pair bonding over remixes and a monumental back-to-back soundclash on the former’s Chewy Chewsdays radio show on fnoob.com. Studio collaboration was inevitable so, joined by percussionist-vocalist Chestar, who Alex knew from his time in an early 80s incarnation of Youth’s Brilliant, they embarked on the intense series of recording sessions which have resulted in 'WE ARE SCREEN!.', one of the most startling creative and turbulent albums of the new decade. Where technology often seems to squeeze the original passion and maverick dam-busting spirit out of music, Screen have appeared to rough and dub things up, both in homage to this most anarchic musical form, while also plugging into the kind of syncopated creative emotion which fuels great music.
Both Alex and Gaudi are already renowned as fearless aural trailblazers with many successes under their belts. Navigated by Alex, the Orb morphed out of the late 80s acid house explosion to become UK album chart-toppers and top ten space invaders, establishing a name for spectacular intergalactic whoopee, while displaying an often criminally-overlooked knack for bringing together idiosyncratic musical forms and often-unwitting avant garde attitude [underpinned by the eternal subliminal question, ‘What would King Tubby do?’]. Just the last 18 months have seen Alex collaborate with Thomas Fehlmann as the Orb on the evocative Baghdad Batteries, with Dom Beken on the future hiphop soundtracks of High Frequency Bandwidth’s Hell Fire And Brimstone and Shooter 2 soundtrack, and with Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmore and Youth for the Metallic Spheres project, which boasted a Gaudi remix. Alex’s early work has also been heard again recently on the reissue of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, on which he supplied the stratospheric mix of ‘Higher Than The Sun’.
While most reading this will be aware of Alex’s enormous story, Gaudi packs an equally as eventful tale after cutting his musical teeth in his native Italy‘s new wave/punk scene during the early 80s. His reggae epiphany came soon after and he quickly sharpened his production skills while opening his soul to the infinite vistas of Jamaican music. A few years later Polygram released his first solo album Basta Poco (Italy’s first home-grown raggamuffin outfit) and the follow-up Gaudium Magnum which led to several years touring with reggae artists including Jimmy Cliff, The Wailers, Third World, Yellowman, Shinehead and Ziggy Marley. Gaudi moved to London in 1995 and set up his Metatron Studio [where he still creates and the seeds of the Screen ejaculated into bloom]. Collaborations commenced, including Terra Terra with DJ Angelino, remixing Cool Jack’s ’Jus’ Come’ to pole position on the UK dance charts, and further mixes over the years including Lamb, Simple Minds, Afrika Bambaataa, Mansun, Cast, Apache Indian, Zion train, Artful Dodger and Scissor Sisters to name a few. He has also written movie soundtracks and theatre plays, while his solo career continued with third album Earthbound, which brought in world music giants, and then Bass, Sweat & Tears emerged from time he spent immersed in Africa. The Orchestral World Groove collaboration with DJ Pathaan resulted in four years touring the world, while he continued working with anyone from Simple Minds‘ Jim Kerr to hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash to reggae legend Horace Andy. 2006 saw him teaming up with legendary ambient producer Peter Namlook on their Re:sonate album, 2008 with Lee Perry on his Bob Marley refurbishment project, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan on Dub Qawwali album which gained a nomination for the BBC World Music Award. Gaudi’s fertile relationship with Alex started after the former remixed ‘Vuja De’ off the Orb’s The Dream album then Metallic Spheres feat David Gilmour, while the pair have also embarked on remixing classic tracks from Trojan Records’ monumental catalog.
Chestar has been present in the South London Orb-related axis since the early 80s, arriving from the North-East, first as percussionist in Brilliant, the band formed by Youth after Killing Joke’s runner to Iceland [Their later guitarist was Jimmy Cauty, promoted from sound man to band member on Chestar’s insistence, paving the way for his explosive exploits in the K.L.F. after meeting Bill Drummond as a result].
It was quite a long way from the ten-year-old kid who’d been thrown off the set of a Campbell’s soup commercial by legendary director Fellinii, when he was ten years old. In 1967, his ten-sibling family won a competition to star in the advert, made around the time Andy Warhol was turning the soup cans into objets d’art and shown on TV for two years. Chestar first gig was as 19-year-old drummer for John Lee Hooker’s bassist Smudger Smith, then percussionist for the nascent Tourists in 1977, alongside Dave Stewart and Pete Coombes. He recalls young singer Annie Lennox’s audition, but was commendably thrown out for taking the piss out of Stewart. Now ensconced in London, Ches hung out with Joe Strummer, Tymon Dogg and the Maida Vale squatting fraternity.
Chestar first gig was as 19-year-old drummer for John Lee Hooker’s bassist Smudger Smith, then percussionist for the nascent Tourists in 1977, alongside Dave Stewart and Pete Coombes. He recalls young singer Annie Lennox’s audition, but was commendably thrown out for taking the piss out of Stewart. Now ensconced in London, Ches hung out with Joe Strummer, Tymon Dogg and the Maida Vale squatting fraternity, before relocating to the remote Welsh mountains. He later gravitated to Brilliant’s West London HQ, replacing drummer Andy Anderson [who went on to the Cure, Jeffrey Lee Pierce and Iggy Pop], playing percussion and drum machines at their gloriously chaotic gigs, bringing Jimmy into the band, while hitting it off with Alex through mutual love of breaks and beats. Brilliant had three singles produced by SAW, the Chestar-penned ‘Somebody’ one of their most successful, getting to number 20.
After Brilliant dissolved, like many others, Chestar caught the rave bug, involved in putting on events like Sunrise. By now, Youth had built a mini-empire around his Dragonfly operation, Chestar plugging into the psy-trance vibe. After experiencing an epiphany in India that a raga is similar to a Celtic reel, he reinvented himself as Baba G for Youth to produce ‘Dig A Jig’, only kept off the top spot by the Rednex’ ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe’ in 1995. Chestar then spent five years in Japan, promoting raves and managing a didgeridoo band. Between 2001-03, he also promoted the legendary Samothraki electronica festivals in Greece, raided when he wouldn’t pay bribes, resulting in jail and deported to the UK, where he worked as festivals production manager. Most recently, Chestar wrote and sang lyrics for two tracks on Younger Brother’s Last Days Of Gravity album.
To quote Joe Strummer, a cog in the universe shifted somewhere when Chestar set up a meet between Alex and Gaudi, putting down beats as the creative collision between the pair turned into a hyper-sparking particle shower of new music. Gaudi remixed ‘Vuja De’ off the Orb’s The Dream album, then Metallic Spheres feat David Gilmour, while remixing classic tracks from Trojan Records’ monumental catalogue with Alex. But, for the last few months, Screen has been evolving fiercely, now resulting in the new album.
While its ten tracks sport recognizable elements from previous signature sounds, the spirit of collaboration turns the album into a three-way odyssey leaving musical barriers as distant specks on the horizon, the afore-mentioned dub pulsing in the lower reaches or splintering vocals, which sometimes use vocoder effects to lend a cold, futuristic sheen to the messages.
After the swirling pulsations of ’15 minutes’ and intoxicating strings and contagious bongos of ‘Frog Time’, the album ventures into the orchestral dronescape of ‘Gone phishing’ before the sugar-rush monotone funked-up robo-rap of ‘Just outside’. The electronic wind effect of ’Perfect’ turns loose a slo-mo dub-funk behemoth, goosed by sinister narrative which continues as Giorgio Moroder operates from the Clockwork Orange chemical toilets on the post-apocalyptic city prowl of ‘Section by section’. Crucial dub hoists its mighty bass appendage on ‘Smokescreen’, before ‘Weather will be bigger than war’ continues the reggae celebrations, which reverberate into the closing version of Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a wonderful world’, which manages to mate ricocheting tablas with Maytals-style rock steady skank, Satchmo’s gorgeous song providing an optimistic, uplifting finale after the gamut of panoramic visions which have just transpired, leaving no doubt that the Screen is up. (Kris Needs)