Freaky Dancin'

Photograph of Pat Place by Lisa Genet.
It may be something of a cliche, but one of the joys of pop is what comes to light while rummaging around in forgotten corners. Hence, recently I encountered Pat Place lurking on the corner, no doubt wondering just why, with all these 'sex revolt' books around, she seems to have been written out of pop history, when she's the funkiest thing ever.

There is a certain type of guitar sound that leaves all others standing, and it's a specifically non-rock sound. It's sharp, jagged sparks of rhythm. You can hear it on Robert Quine's work with the Voidoids, and in Wilko Johnson's time with Doctor Feelgood. It's there on Keith Hudson's 'Pick A Dub' and the Crown Heights Affair's 'Dancin''. Yet its heyday was down with the epochal melting pot of punk / funk / art / jazz / dub / disco, and Pat Place led that field in the late '70s / early '80s.

Take three clues: 1:Mo' Wax headz giving maximum respect to the seminal New York 99 label. 2.: The accompanying brochure to the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery where Fab 5 Freddy talks about the graffiti artist and painters hanging out with the film makers and musicians like the Contortions and Lydia Lunch's Eight Eyed Spy. 3: Sasha Frere-Jones of Ui talking about recapturing the spirit of early '80s New York Hip Hop radio, when everything was being mixed-up because there weren't yet enough hip hop records to play.

Now the connection there is Pat Place, whose scratchy guitar duelled with James Chance's sax in the original Contortions, and then there's her own project the Bush Tetras, who released their debut EP of punkfunk on 99 records in 1980, defining the label sound along with ESG and Liquid Liquid.

ROIR have recently released a wonderful Bush Tetras compilation, which will hopefully redress the injustice of Place and the Bush Tetras being so ignored. Like so many of the great groups of that time (Josef K, Fire Engines, ESG etc) their life-span was short and spectacular, and probably all the better for it. It may be strange for today's hard bitten careerists, but the Bush Tetras released just three 45s between 1980 and 1983. All the tracks are collected on the CD, together with some later demos, and they still sound sassy and sharp.

The debut EP, 'Too Many Creeps', like much about the Bush Tetras, defined the time. Staccato bursts of rhythm guitar, rubber band bass (the exquisitely named Pee Pop), an original funky drummer, with the group fronted by the argumentative Cynthia Sley. Typical grrrl power? Well, it was a great time for girls in pop, with the Slits, Delta 5, ESG, Au Pairs, Raincoats, Lydia Lunch, all creating brilliant, uncompromising pop.

Luscious Jackson in particular very much draw inspiration from this brief creative uprising, and have rightly pointed out how the music was particularly covered in The Face, which was then great at enthusiastically covering the new pop.
One thing of note though, is how the Bush Tetras, ESG etc may have drawn on black roots, but in turn they would be just as influential on the future hip hop. As Ui point out, the early '80s was a great time for sounds being mixed up and thrown together. The funkiest British groups like the Delta 5 would be more excited about reaching the lower echelons of the US Dance charts than topping the UK independent hit parade. So the later Bush Tetras demos naturally feature the percussive hallmarks of West End disco contemporaneous classics like Loose Joints' 'Is It All Over My Face' and Thana Gardner's 'Heartbeat'. The clipped, funky guitar being a feature of both.

The Bush Tetras second single was released on another legendary underground label, Fetish. Almost as much as Ze, Fetish is the label to define its time. It's probably best remembered for its Neville Brody designed generic sleeves, but any label that has the Bush Tetras, Clock DVA and 23 Skidoo on its books is way ahead. The group's first release for Fetish was the awesome 'Das Ah Riot' which embraced dub, tribal rhythms and electronic effects to sinister degrees. Following shows with The Clash, Topper Headon was enlisted to produce the 'Rituals' EP. The title track still sounds eerily affecting with probably the best opening guitar motif in the world ever except Happy Mondays' 'Freaky Dancin''. In fact, I would say that Mark Day's early guitar wizardry with the Mondays is almost on a par with Pat Place's work with the Contortions and the Tetras. Squirrel and G Man is one of the few records that equals the Tetras rare groove. What was that old quote of Vini Reilly's? Something about Mark Day not having a clue what he was doing on the guitar, but that somehow he left everyone else standing. Yeah!

Now, I'm madly in love with all this drum'n'bass, and the easy listening drum'n'bass of Ui and Tortoise, but I do yearn to hear a bit of that nasty, jagged funky guitar breaking up the sound. Maybe it's time for Pat Place to take centre stage.

© Kevin Pearce 1996.