Tuesday, March 27, 2007

SONG: "Thou Shalt Always Kill" - Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip (2007)

This track is currently doing the online blogging rounds, accumulating a level of excitement so shrill that pretty soon dogs are going to come running. Zane Lowe and John Kennedy have both picked up on it, and the word-of-mouth buzz is spreading like wildfire. So far, so predictable. However, for once there’s good reason for the hype.

What really marks this record out for me is its sheer ball-busting audacity. It’s a simple enough premise on paper: a quintessential world-to-rights British street-rant in the form of a scathing modern scripture, set to what sounds suspiciously like Nintendo GameBoy music (remember the intro to Beck’s happy-clappy summer anthem Girl? It’s a bit like that, with added diatribes). Consequently, the song comes across like a deranged subculture-hybrid of Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen and the Bodyrockers’ I Like the Way, as re-imagined by Al Franken or Zack de la Rocha.

Of course, deifying either the track or its authors is exactly the kind of false idolatory its tirade aims to skewer (“Thou shalt not put musicians and recording artists on ridiculous pedestals no matter how great they are or were”, the bearded rapper proclaims, before reeling off a riotous list of sacred cows and spitting: “The next big thing? JUST A BAND”). Clearly Le Sac and Pip have pre-empted perceptions of both themselves and their music which might arise from such antagonism, in turn covering their asses from all angles. Hell, even the notion of a critical review itself becomes utterly redundant in light of their confrontational ‘kill your idols’ stance. However, I had to sit down and blast out my thoughts on the track as it’s sent my head spinning, and as far as I’m concerned these things just don’t come along often enough nowadays.

The brilliant thing about this record is the way that its polemic is underscored by a self-reflexive personal slant, as if the nihilism of its worldview can only be validated through the hopelessness of an individual perspective (“Thou shalt not go into the woods with your boyfriend’s best friend, take drugs and cheat on him”, states one disarmingly personal appeal; “Thou shalt not fall in love so easily”). More broadly, this ideological push-pull adds a fascinating political dimension to the rabble-rousing, one whose beating heart cries out for tolerance and compassion in a world gone to hell. The song’s scattershot lyrics are the verbal equivalent of machine-gun fire, espousing feminist ethics (“Thou shalt not use poetry, art or music to get into girls’ pants; use it to get into their heads”), pleas for religious tolerance (“Thou shalt give equal worth to tragedies that occur in non-English speaking countries as to those that occur in English speaking countries”) and cultural action (“Thou shalt not buy Nestlé products”). It is a blistering indictment of mass media, trash culture and a society obsessed with its own inherent vacuity. It is alternately hilarious (“Thou shalt not judge a book by its cover; thou shalt not judge Lethal Weapon by Danny Glover”), cutting (“Thou shalt not think that any male over the age of 30 that plays with a child that is not their own is a paedophile; some people are just nice”) and flat-out bang-on (“Thou shalt not read NME”).

Indeed, if there’s contradiction to be found in its logic then that’s precisely the point: they aren’t giving you the answers, they want you to figure them out for yourself (“When I say ‘Hey’, thou shalt not say ‘Ho’ / When I say ‘Hip’, thou shalt not say ‘Hop’”). Tired of mindless submission, the overriding message that the song screams loud and clear is for people wake the fuck up and open their eyes. Stop believing what people tell you. Do not automatically buy whatever it is they’re selling. Do not consume information unquestioningly and without conscience. Refuse, refute, resist – but above all else, for god’s sake, do something.

On a personal level this chimes perfectly with the direction my own writing has been heading of late. Its libertarian rhetoric directly echoes the despairing tone of the social comment pieces in the forthcoming fanzine Action-Reaction, and slots in nicely with the overriding themes of my animated series Modern Life is Rubbish. Angry and empathetic, Thou Shalt Always Kill is a bold and breathtaking statement of intent – a searing entreaty towards political action through personal empowerment. It is a vision for a better world, and a mouthwatering introduction to the kind of things we can hopefully expect from this duo in future (on another track, Pip reads a letter from God while Le Sac spins a sample from Radiohead’s Planet Telex. Sweet baby Moses, that’s big thinking).

If South Park’s underlying ideology were summarised in song it would sound exactly like this. A genuine underground classic, my only fear is that this magnificent record will meet with the fate of all cultural artefacts swallowed up by the homogenous void of the mainstream and become just another commodity for passive consumption by the exact same people it vilifies. In a knowing act of self-destruction, the record implodes before providing any concrete answers, ending with the resolute assertion that above all else, “Thou shalt always kill”. On this song, Le Sac and Pip do just that. But hey, don’t take anything said here too seriously – after all, they’re just a band.