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S'Express

S' Express

Fresh from Germany - Mark Moore spoke to us about the European music scene and the kind of technology he uses


In the last year Mark Moore and his ragbag posse of London club vets have led a dance revolution which has now all but colonized the British charts. Last spring S'Xpress's debut single Theme From S'Xpress, a hypnotic soul-House hybrid, crashed into the charts and took up residence at number one for five weeks. Superfly Guy followed it into the top ten and now, with a debut album due in late February, speakers throughout the land look set to throb to the sound of the dance underground once more.


Sipping tea quietly (an encounter with the German Press has left him, shall we say, subdued), Mark Moore explains what a technological wizard he isn't and how easy a do-it-your-self studio recording can be: "My technological insight is almost nil, in fact I'm a self-proclaimed dunce! I think the most important thing about what S'Xpress is doing is the fact that it does follow the Punk do-it-yourself philosophy. People are too easily daunted by technology but it really is a question of dreaming up what you want and then making the machine do it for you."

And dream is precisely what Mark did. Initially it was a question of choosing sounds that he liked, either original or bits from other peoples' records, and piecing together the hits in his imagination.

"The ultimate accolade as far as I'm concerned would be to find a part of one of my songs sampled onto another," says Mark, "that's why a song like S'Xpress is a tribute to Rose Royce rather than sacrilege, as some have said. We've moved right away from sampling on the new album but basically for a song like Theme, it was a question of working out the ideas on a mixing desk. I had two Technics and a Four-track recorder, anything I couldn't do on that was overdubbed. This was something anyone could be found doing in a club, but I learnt a few new things after being teamed up with someone more experienced in the studio. It was going to be Mark Saunders from Bomb The Bass but I ended up with Pascal instead and he showed me round the essential gadgetry."

Having recognised the "essential gadgetry" the next trick of course is to get access to it. The dance revolution may have borrowed Punk's self-sufficient ideology as far as the simplicity of recording goes, but not when it comes to the price of the best drum machines and synthesizers. As Mark Moore explains, this is an area for your abilities to beg, steal and borrow.

"The thing I most needed for Theme was an analog synth and I didn't really care what analog synth it was so I used an Oscar Pro-1. Now before you invite me to go on at length about its great qualities I might as well tell you I used it because it was cheap to hire. No one else wanted to use them because they were thought to be a load of old crap, but the crappier these synths were the more I wanted to use them!

"I owned an SH-101 at the time which was the only synth I actually had personally, so we used that too. Everything else was borrowed, really because I don't think being weighed down with tons and tons of equipment benefits you in the end. You can end up making things very complicated for yourself."

The next stage of course is commiting ideas to tape. Mark Moore confesses to a supremely unreliable memory and usually ends up humming into a tape-recorder or scribbling down things.

"God knows how many classics I've just forgotten, an idea can strike at any moment. When I am ready to record I usually start with a series of riffs, either bass riffs or horn riffs. Then I might start messing around with different vocal lines or a melody but at this stage there's no guarantee that any of this lot are going to fit together. Mostly we'll go into the studio and come out with something different to what we were planning. Basically if an idea doesn't fit then you chuck it and try something else. It's best to be as fluid as possible and you'll end up with a sort of collage of sounds and effects which is quite spontaneous.

"Occasionally I've gone into the studio and simply been so taken with a particular machine that I know I want it somewhere in my song. The space echo chamber is a good example. I used to have a go on one when I stayed with my cousins - I'd just plug it into the stereo and dub up mixes from there. The thing is I haven't got round to using one on a S'Xpress record yet, in fact I haven't even got hold of one and I know they're going to be really big. The reason why I've been put off using one recently is the fact that Sigue Sigue Sputnik have been using one on their records. The fact is they've done it really well and taken that sort of spatial reggae sound and transposed it into a rock back ground. So much so in fact that they've really made it their sound, and the last I want is for us to end up being compared to Sigue Sigue Sputnik. That's one thing about technology, a unique sound is hard to develop but when you do it becomes your hallmark."

The unique sound of S'Xpress, despite the odd respectful nod to the past in the form of a sample, is resolutely new, undeniably modern. In fact, though they happily use parts of songs to fill out their sound, S'Xpress's cut-ups and lack of orthodox song structures are almost without precedent. You can't really follow their line of development, they don't seem to come from anywhere. However, as Mark explains, some of the uses he put his first synth to in the days before S'Xpress were reassuringly simple and ordinary.

"Oh God, I was a two fingered maestro for quite some time. You could usually find me bashing out Depeche Mode or Kraftwerk tunes, nothing particularly avant-garde. I think I probably thought the Human League was about as complicated as you could get!

"When I started DJ'ing I realised that just by mixing things up you were creating a new rhythm and that more or less did away with the drum machine. Using break-beats and looping parts of a record you had a backing track already without having to pick one out on the synth. That was the difference really. DJ'ing taught me the art of building a song rather than the traditional way of composing. I knew that it was something unique to the clubs which would take off sooner or later when everyone else began to catch on. My taste in music also got progressively more adventurous. I was clubbing from the age of thirteen and eventually began listening to the likes of Philip Glass and Brian Eno once I'd had my fill of Punk.

"Nowadays I don't think you could classify me as a soulboy or punk because I collect every single kind of music you can think of, and that's the way to feed your mind with ideas. S'Xpress have managed to keep all possible avenues of musical exploration open which is a real privilege and it means we can incorporate any type of music into our songs. While that simple fact remains true we'll look at anything and everything and draw inspiration from it."

The success of the debut album seems therefore assured and the continuing ascendance of the newly accessible underground dance sound looks set to continue for some time. Interestingly though, Mark is not about to proclaim the death of rock'n'roll like so many others before him. A new chapter of pop could begin at any moment.

"I don't think anyone can underestimate the British pop scene and its ability to come up with something new overnight. I think the reason why rock is maybe at a lower ebb than it has been is because there is a whole generation of club-goers around at the moment who don't really want to stand around and listen to a band unless they've got the immediacy of a dance record. That basically means one or two brilliant songs and then they disappear. At the same time someone like Prince is a compulsive live performer and people will want to watch him for hours.

"I think it's great that when things get a bit stale Britain can always be relied upon to come up with something fresh and exciting like it did with Punk rock, like it did with Electro-pop and New Romantics and now with the dance revolution. I think really the underground is always there, it just takes two or three years before a particular thing happens overground. I think Britain is at a stage where the media realize where the new ideas come from and they jump on the first thing that comes out of the clubs. As a result nothing really has the chance to develop into anything really good before the media are touting it as the next big thing, which is a great shame. The clubs as a breaking ground for new ideas are dying off a little now."

With few places left, therefore, where new music can grow and be nurtured without the distracting attention of the media, it's just possible that it will return to the bedrooms and garages of rock's past. For a man whose name has become synonymous with dance it's perhaps a bit of a revelation that Mark Moore can see himself packing away the technological hardware and getting into bands, albeit only for the day.

"Yeah, I'd love to get up there and do something just as a one-off. I was a fully-fledged son of Punk don't forget. I could never do it for long though or go on tour. The rock'n'roll lifestyle doesn't attract me in the slightest; I couldn't stand all that travelling and hanging around just for an hour and a half on-stage in the evening. I could make two brilliant singles in that time.

"Having said that, the reason why S'Xpress was born was basically because so much of the House stuff already going on was faceless and it seemed a good idea to put some kind of personality into it. We're not a band as such, I prefer to think of us as a gang, a mob, who are as much into dance music as our fans but who have taken it one stage further and decided to create music as well. What's happened now is that everyone seems to be putting out dance records under a vague sort of band format but apart from the main name, no one actually does anything and they're there just to make up the numbers. You've got the Krays now and Todd Terry who put together Royal House, but the extra people tend to be largely redundant. Contrary to popular belief all the members of S'Xpress do have some musical input. To that extent I suppose we are a band."

To date S'Xpress have made a huge impact both here and in the rest of Europe. America, however, remains as reticent as ever over music that does not lend itself immediately to radio station categorisation. For some U.S. DJ's the music is too "black", but for the black stations S'Xpress are too pop-orientated. As a result the States continues to plod on in the same AOR wilderness, apart from certain dance charts where S'Xpress have already been to number one.

"As always it's a question of getting the air-play but while they don't understand what we are I don't think the Americans are going to accept us very readily and I certainly can't be bothered to go out and explain it to them! Dance music is for the dance floor as I've said, so we won't tour over there. What can one do?

"As far as Britain is concerned I would like to do a one-off show or something like that. I saw the Bomb The Bass tour and I thought the response was great. Touring for me spells drudgery but a few spontaneous one-offs might be a fair compromise."

The future according to S'Xpress is about to be revealed in the form of their debut album and for most techno-freaks, greatest interest will focus on the sound. But fashion pundits will look with a keen eye as well. S'Xpress dealt us one severe blow last year by brining back flares, what nightmare of popular fashion are they planning to bring back now?

"Ha! Yeah, I'm afraid we do have to take responsibility for that. Oddly enough though it was only one of us, Chilo, who was wearing them in a couple of press shots but the image seems to have stuck. Anyway, that's it, we've got nothing too horrific in store. There again, you never know what we might find in the wardrobe."


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Previous Article in this issue

Master or Servant

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Alesis HR16


Micro Music - Copyright: Argus Specialist Publications

 

Micro Music - Apr/May 1989

Donated by: Colin Potter

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S' Express


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Interview

Previous article in this issue:

> Master or Servant

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> Alesis HR16


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