As important as Punk's initial burst was back in '77, there are those who consider the two years that followed of equal or greater musical importance. The wake created by Punk's humoungous leveling boulder inspired many individuals, Brits specifically, who saw Punk as a go-ahead to pursue whatever outside and, in some cases, patently non-commercial musical paths they wished.
Among them were those with an ambition to root their work in a freer, more varied rhythmic base than that of Punk's relentless jackhammer pulse. In The Beginning There Was Rhythm - the latest compilation from the great UK label Soul Jazz (who also recently gave us a marvelous reissue of cuts by NYC funk minimalists ESG) - thus comes as a most welcome overview of the experimentalist vibe in the air circa 1978-80, of the sound of Young Britain rediscovering its Inner Groove Thang.
In The Beginning There Was Rhythm casts a wide net to make its thematic point, not only presenting acknowledged hybrid classics like the Gang of 4's "To Hell With Poverty" and the Slits' effusive title jam, but undeservedly obscure gems from the same timeframe. Among these are a pair of cuts apiece from Manchester frigidaire-funk mob A Certain Ratio - themselves the stars of a just released collection on Soul Jazz as well - and Sheffield industrial/dance precursors 23 Skidoo; choice tracks from punk/funk agitprop pioneers The Pop Group and art-rockers This Heat, too, still sound fresh and adventurous. Even such leftfield picks as the Human League's debut single "Being Boiled" (sounding like nothing so much as Kraftwerk on a beer budget), and an atypically tuneful, down-tempo track from Throbbing Gristle don't seem out of place within the overall context.
All told, In The Beginning There Was Rhythm is a stunning look at a group of musicians - from a time when the rallying cry among hipsters was "fuck art, let's dance!" - who thought of such activities as not necessarily exclusive of one another.
© Michael Layne Heath 2002