Once upon a time — or so the legend in the liner notes goes — there was a pirate radio station in London called KISS-FM that broadcast a “little show that could” called “Solid Steel.” The show was saddled with the tagline: “The Broadest Beats in London.” And, indeed, the original wheels-of-steel minders Matt Black and Jonathan More, would drop Sun Ra’s “Nuclear War” after a session of Salena Saliva “perv poetry” amid hip hop, techno and found sound. It would seem as though the duo, now better known as Coldcut, crafted the kind of mix that would engender repeat listens, home taping and whispers among the cultural illuminati. We Detroiters know a thing or two about this phenomenon, having had our airwaves graced by the Electrifying Mojo for so long.
That was the late ’80s, and Solid Steel has since kept the home fires burning for the art of on-radio freeform mixology, morphing into a beat-y beastie that now calls the BBC home. And it hosts such diverse guest turntable-minders as DJ Shadow, Squarepusher, Alec Empire and De La Soul’s Pacemaster Mace.
Now headed by DJ Food (aka PC and Strictly Kev) and Darren Knott (aka DK), Solid Steel has become a series of documentary recordings released by Ninja Tune (a regular recording home for Coldcut, DK and the Food fellas). Now, Listen! is the first installment and it’s easily the most fun you’ll have with only headphones and $17 (without leaving the house, that is).
Food and DK treat us to a breakneck trip through old-school funk, hip hop, spoken word and every conceivable post-modern fusion of genres that was ever intended to keep the kids sweating on the floor. They really make it sound easy. In fact, that’s an easy trap to fall into while you while away the hours dancing like some geek in an Apple commercial. Now, Listen takes in Dominic Dalcon’s “Ritmo 2” — a slick mix of Burundi beats and beyond — dallies with the English Beat’s “Mirror in the Bathroom” and indulges Blackalicious’ full A-Z tongue workout, “Alphabet Aerobics.” They dig in the crates for Commodores, Art of Noise, Herbie Hancock, “how-to” drum records, Ray Bradbury spoken-word monologues and a guaranteed handful of moments to keep you flipping back and forth to the track listing, taking copious mental notes.
Now, Listen may sound like musical comfort food — smoother and more “user-friendly” than the above-cited example of mixology from the show’s genesis — but DJ Food and DK animate even the most familiar funk nuggets and juxtapose with incredible forethought, precision, humor and economy.
That being said, if you need an excuse to dance around like a monkey on a handful of double espressos, listen now to Now, Listen! (Did we mention this was merely the first in a planned ongoing series?)
DJ Food performs Friday, Nov. 30 at Motor.
E-mail Chris Handyside at firstname.lastname@example.org.