n coming weeks. two relatively unsung Scottish acts will have new product released by the same major London record company. In these recessive times. this is itself a notable event. That both groups are from Edinburgh and purvey music which seeks to lift the early 90s dance phenomenon into a new aural dimension makes the up-and-coming art of Sugar Bullet and Botany 5 all the more irresistible.
Formed in Leith in 198‘). Sugar Bullet has the creative nucleus of Kenny MacLeod and Shaun Mc(‘abe on ‘music and machines‘ plus versatile chanteuse Izzy (‘oonagh. Their debut album. tellingly titled Unrefined. has the eclectic. experimental trio fixing the renegade spirit and rasping basslines of punk rock onto a selection of house-influenced beats. overlayed with samples. rap and reggae toasting. The result is original and innovative: Cure/liter! is one of the most singular musical statements to have emerged from Scotland in a long time.
Equally unique in terms of undiluted artistry. Botany 5 is the musical baby of Gordon Kerr(‘l am Botany 5.‘ he whispers). Stirling-bred but now resident in central Edinburgh. ()nce described as ‘The Blue Nile in Nike trainers‘. the soulful Botany sound. as showcased on their excellent 1991 Virgin debut. Into The .N'ig/zt. employs a less frenetic. more mellow electro-groove than the Bullet‘s. and yet there are hefty links between the two operations. Both bands surfaced via a Tennents-sponsored national talent contest. According to one judge. ‘most of the 600 entries were easily pigeonholed. with obvious influences. Botany 5 and Sugar Bullet were different. They were miles ahead ofthe field.‘ In 1990. both acts signed major deals with Virgin. thus ensuring — the mechanics of the music industry being as they are — an eighteen-month wait before recorded product reached the shops. In the sphere of dance music (where a year is a lifetime — Adamski. anyone‘.’). this delay tempted disaster. It is testimony to the precocious talent of both acts that. two years on. they find themselves leading the current field with songs written in 1989. and not being overtaken by trends.
Another link-up comes with the fact that. unlike many aspiring popfolk. neither act blew its record company advance on holidays and narcotics. but instead built their own recording studios. Both facilities are now fully operational and used around the clock; in a futher extension of the punk ideology of collectivism. neither Botany 5 nor Sugar Bullet developed around a traditional 'band‘ format. but more as cottage industries. little hives ofmusical activity with loosely defined operational edges.
‘Well. that was initially the case with Botany 5,‘ admits Gordon Kerr. ‘but I‘d like to qualify it now. I‘ve stopped that communal thing. You spend most ofyour time working your arse off for other people and neglecting your own output. Sugar Bullet are still doing it all the time. always with the door open to anyone. My thoughts now are that you should concentrate first and foremost on your own material.‘
‘But when you‘re helping other people
you‘re usually helping yourself.‘ counters MacLeod. ‘There‘s always been variety in what we do — reggae. hardcore. electro. dance beats. rap. . . We blend it all and it‘s by interacting with people that we find the raw ingredients. We‘ve lent gear to friends and given them studio time. People did that for us before we signed up; we always used borrowed gear. We like to think that by keeping our doors open we‘re keeping that benevolent tradition alive.‘
While Kerr now sees his Botany project ‘moving away from sequencers and drum machines. getting back to real musicians playing live‘. the Bullet team are content to
‘I’m not interested in the rave scene anymore. . . . I don’tsee anything positive in paying £20 iora tab of E and getting completely out of it.’
stick with their everything-plus-the- kitchen-sink philosophy. But this all-comers-welcome approach has already caused problems. Izzy has never appeared on stage. but Sugar Bullet have been on the bill ofvarious rave events. Will the real Sugar Bullet please stand up‘.’
‘There‘s three ofus in Sugar Bullet. but when we play live it‘s usually under the umbrella name ofThe Big Payback.‘ explains MacLeod. ‘The name Sugar Bullet makes it all possible. because Sugar Bullet got the record deal. But we‘re aided and
abetted by many people. It‘s a ﬂuid stable of
people throwing in ideas. The problem is that promoters. against our wishes. stick the name Sugar Bullet on posters to attract punters. No one is consulted and then people complain that Sugar Bullet didn‘t turn up — even though Shaun and I might have backed a rap act or whatever — because Izzy isn‘t performing.‘
Both the ‘fully live‘ Botanys and the machine-triggered Sugar Bullet (including Izzy, five-year-old son J ez permitting) will be playing live dates in the near future. MacLeod believes the ‘rave and club scene‘
in Scotland to be at its strongest yet, and sees
this as the area in which his outfit are best equipped to ﬂex their musical muscles during 1992. Kerr, who aired mutated, house-ified Botany material at many raves last year, begs to differ.
'I‘m not interested in the rave scene any more.‘ he snaps. ‘I don‘t like the people involved in that turgid. sordid. commercialised little world. In the last eighteen months, “dance” has gone from soul to techno. which are totally different ends of the spectrum. but the ‘rave‘ audience has stuck with that "movement". All that does to me is show how daft. how fickle that
audience is. They‘re led in any direction. including towards drugs. I don‘t see anything positive in paying £20 fora tab of E and getting completely out ofit. The raves are crap. the DJs are crap. and the music‘s crap. It‘s just people lining their pockets. 1 want out of it.‘
Hum. All this stuff about Botany 5 and Sugar Bullet being the inextricably-related twin components of the Edinburgh rave-dance scene is beginning to look decidedly shaky. And Kerr has only just begun.
‘I was into house. but I‘ve no interest in making hardcore dancefloor music any more.‘ he declares. vehemently. ‘That scene‘s going nowhere. I‘m still interested in dance. but it‘s not what I can do best. I‘m a songwriter. I‘m closer to John Lennon than to Soul II Soul. What Sugar Bullet are doing isn‘t my cup of tea. and never was. The only similarity was that we both sampled other people‘s records. I‘m a musician. and I write songs on the guitar or the piano. The best music‘s always going to be made by musicians. not people sitting in front of computers.‘
‘I think our album‘s more conventionally song-orientated than simply a dance record.‘ offers McLeod. sitting in front of a computer. ‘There are dance beats. but a lot more as well. The stuff I do outside Sugar Bullet. the Knightstick crew and TFI. is more hardcore rap and dance. groove stuff we‘re hoping to showcase at our club in Edinburgh. Sugar Bullet is song-based music. It‘s much more than a dance album. It works pretty well. A glorious unity.‘
And there‘s a glorious unity in the differences expressed here. ‘There‘s no connection between us and Sugar Bullet.‘ declares Kerr: ‘Er. you can dance to some bits of both bands. maybe.‘ offers MacLeod. hesitantly. Ultimately. the vital connection between Botany 5‘s avowed relinquishing of technology in favour of ‘real instruments‘ and Sugar Bullet‘s ‘warm embrace‘ of electronic and human inputs lies in the fact that both strategies make each outfit more than just a plain. simply classifiable ‘dance‘ act. They exist on the edges ofthat rapidly stagnating movement and their art is more likely to endure as a result. Kerr‘s ‘dreamy. drug music‘ and the Bullet‘s ‘punkdance‘ transcend the normal definitions. impishly evading the usual pigeonholes. Both groups are stretching the meaningful parameters of the ‘dance movement‘ by refusing idly to adopt its staple codes and conventions. Botany 5 and Sugar Bullet. in their own respective ways. are trying to make music say and do something new for the 90s. something fresh and relevant for after the dance.
Sugar Bullet ’3 album Unrefined is out now. Botany 5 ’s new single, a completely re-recorded Love Bomb is released on 27
Jan. Both are on Virgin Records.
Sugar Bullet are also involved with 3 Transmission, a rave at The Network, Edinburgh on 31 Jan, which celebrates the launch ofRadio Mayday, as well as a new hip-hop based club which is now on every second Thursday nightin The Venue, [ Edinburgh. J
The LisTl7— 3i) January I992 11