Aesthetics Is A Funny Word

To rue the absence of great pop writing is to acknowledge that the aesthetics of pop may be all wrong.

Where there has been great pop writing, it has been part'n'parcel of the whole experience. The aesthetics have been spot-on in such cases.

We can all think of favourite examples; such as Paul Morley and the Fire Engines, Julian Cope on Krautrock, Val Wilmer on free jazz, Dave Godin on deep soul, whatever; where great pop writing has created a unique context.

It has been said many times before, but context really is everything. It really is not enough, say, to take a collection of great music and whack it out.

Context is the difference between Kent and Goldmine, the gap between Blood and Fire and Trojan, the chasm between Universal Sound and Cherry Red, if you understand what I mean.

So, if you worry about your aesthetics and your contexts, and you love your reggae, then may I point you in the direction of the Wackies salvage experts? Not coincidentally they are also the heroes behind the Berlin-based Basic Channel/Chain Reaction/Rhythm & Sound set-ups.

Wackies, as you may know better than me, was the outlet for Lloyd 'Bullwackie' Barnes' Bronx-based productions throughout the '80s. These recordings, as truffle-hunters have sought out rarer and more exotic pleasures and treasures, have attained mythical status.

As you hopefully know better than I do, the Basic Channel/Chain Reaction/Rhythm & Soul set-ups have been outlets for some of the most adventurous techno/electronica. That's putting it mildly. More to the point, these set-ups have created a unique context, not least with completely cool generic packaging. A real aura of mystery has been generated, and a real sense of brand loyalty created.

So, putting the two together is perfect. As you would imagine, the sound mastering is spot-on, with the bass way down there, and the trebly guitars, vocals, drums, organs and synths right up there. In-between there is so much cavernous space. You can make your connections here.

And understandably the packaging is spot-on: wonderful digipaks, glorious very basic original artwork, and yes, yes, it all up adds up to a field day for the aesthetes. Be careful, though, there are other Wackies reissues that are not from the Basic Channel stable. Look out for the authentic EFA prefix on the catalogue number or the reference to where you can check out what is available.

If you are going to start anywhere, I would urge you to go for the Wackies Sampler Vol. 1 which collects tracks from the first 18 reissues in the series. It is an absolute treasure trove, with some legends like Horace Andy, Wayne Jarrett, Pablo, Leroy Sibbles, Stranger Cole present. The real stars though are the great unknowns, and in particular the contributions from the Love Joys, which are astonishing.

I got the Love Joys' Lovers Rock Reggae Style for a fiver from Amazon recently, and it's got to be one of the greatest records ever. As minimal as any Basic Channel production, the two Brixton girls sing sweeter than you would think possible, and each of the seven tracks are teased into epics like say 23 Skidoo's The Gospel Comes To New Guinea. Yes, we are talking that kind of invention. Appropriately one of the Love Joys has recently worked with Rhythm & Sound, in an ESG style return to action. Anyone heard it yet?

I can see myself spending too much money on Wackies, and the thrill of waiting for the records to arrive is wonderful.

What we need now though is for someone to write spectacularly about what's happening and add an extra dimension to the wonderful world of Wackies.

© 2003 John Carney