BEASTIE BOYS FEATURE
Either the Beasties were middle-class white boys hi-jacking black urban sounds and selling it on as part of a hokey-jokey package to other middle-class white boys, or they were a novelty curio. The Maxwell/Murdoch dailies quickly put on their ‘outraged’ hats, and treated the band to the sort of hounding previously enjoyed by The Sex Pistols, and nowadays reserved for violent movies.
The music was different, too. Bludgeoning riffs and massive drumbeats ripped off wholesale from Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath — the twin pillars ofknucklehead rock — were welded to insistent beatboxes. over which the Beasties rhymed with cartoon bravura the sounds of a thousand drunken teenage PAAAR- TEEES. Adolescent. sure, but gloriously so. What rankled, even in that mindless haze. was the nagging doubt over whether the gross sexism and beer-boy philosophy of those records could be explained away as satire. Typical line: ‘I met a girl at a party and she started to ﬂirt/l told her some rhymes and she pulled up her skirt.’ Typical namechecks: Budweiser and breasts.
‘I think in a lot of ways we were being ironic on our first album,’ says Michael Diamond (nom-de-mic Mike D), the fashion guru. mini- mogul and Beastie to whom interview chores seem to fall most regularly, ‘and people just didn’t get the irony at all. Theyjust took a lot of it at face value.’
Now, nearly ten years later, we have arrived at a situation where the music press are universal in their respect for the group’s innovation and inﬂuence (Cypress Hill? See Adam ‘AdRock’ Horowitz for the original constipated-cartoon- cat nasal rap. Rage Against the Machine? Check out ‘Staring Down the Barrel ofa Gun’. Beasties circa 1989). The band are more likely to be the subject of a Sunday supplement cultural analysis than a Filth! Furyl! tabloid expose. Choice line: ‘I want to say a little something that’s long overdue/The disrespect to women has got to be through.’ Choice namechecks: Buddha, Huggy Bear.
What’s really surprising about the Beastie Boys’ UK success last year is that it comes after a period ofsuch intense disregard, with no major change of direction by the group. That happened in 1989 with their quantum-leaping second album, Paul’s Boutique, a thick, heavy stew of hip hop, soul, reggae. punk. country and funk. shot through with an overload of popular culture and stitched together old-style: strictly analogue, with the joins still showing. Since then, 1992’s Check Your Head — which saw them pick up their instruments for the first time since their early hardcore incarnation, and [/1 Communications, were reﬁnements of the 1989 blueprint.
‘Yeah,’ muses Mike D, ‘I don’t know why people decided to like us in Britain again. really. But to me, it’s actually a miracle that anyone understands what we’re doing, ’cos in a lot of ways we really close ourselves off. I don‘t wanna sound like we’re weird, introverted people and don’t communicate with the outside world, but in terms of recording, we kinda do shut ourselves into this little world, and what we’re doing really comes outta that — it’s a communication between ourselves as a group. It’s amazing to me that the things we think amongst ourselves are funny or entertaining or whatever end up actually able to transcend and reach more people than just our ten friends.‘
This is probably the nub of The Beastie Boys.
Their records work in the same way that conversation between friends can eventually break down into an abstracted code of shared references and private jokes that’s impenetrable to an outsider. The stylistic shifts are abrupt. the samples densely layered and from a bewildering array of sources. but along with lines like ‘AdRock’s down with the lone/Listen to the shit ’cos both of them is honey/Got to do it like this like Chachi and Joanie/Because she’s the cheese and I’m the macaroni‘ tnakc perfect sense in their universe. You either get it — or you don’t.
‘lt’s actually a miracle that anyone understands what we’re doing, ’cos in a lot of ways we really close ourselves off.
We kinda do shut ourselves into this little world — it’s a communication between ourselves as a group. It’s
amazing to me that the things we think amongst ourselves are funny or entertaining.’
The same philosophy is applied to the Beasties’ business affairs through their Grand Royalc empire. incorporating a record label and
magazine devoted to ‘piecing together stuff
we’re interested in". The label’s prime signings are all female rap/rock outfit Luscious Jackson, whose Kate Schellenbach was a member of the pre-rap Beasties line up. Luscious Jackson spin
a radical. cosmopolitan. city-chic groove: imagine The Raincoats were to reform
tomorrow. with Kim Gordon and Neneh Cherry sitting in. The Grand Royale magazine. meanwhile. ranges from in-depth pieces on the
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Bad Beasties: (left to right) Mike D, Ad-Roclt and MBA
continuing plight of Tibet (from the band’s Buddhist member MCA. aka Adam Yauch) to in-depth pieces on pioneering dub alchemist Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. Yet another side line is Mike D’s interest in the X-Large clothes stores which knock out Grand Royale merchandising. So are The Beastie Boys showing that becoming a business success doesn’t necessarily mean turning into an asshole?
‘I don’t think we’re role models.’ says Diamond. ‘I think it’s more the case that. somehow. people’ve been misled into thinking that being entrepreneurial and doing your own thing is harder than it really is. Anyone is capable of it. Obviously we’re luckier than most because we’re selling records and getting money and stuff, but really anybody’s in a position to do it — it‘sjust a matter of scale.’
So. as the Beasties go on — and they won’t stop — it’s hard to see why they should be deposed from their position as the coolest band in the world. One thing. though — how. musically. can they grow old gracefully? Bossa nova is my personal recommendation.
‘Uhhmm. Hmm. I’m not so sure about going bossa nova. Maybe, actually, yeah — we’ll go a little bit Latin, though. definitely. We’re gonna have some ballads that are gonna come out. you’ll see.’
Oh yeah. and Mike D’s fashion advice for Barrowland (spoken like Scotty from Star Trek) is: ‘I say go with what you’re comfortable with. It’ll probably be a bit steamy hot - so dress comfortably, and don’t be afraid to take the fashion risk.’ C]
The Beastie Boys play Barrow/and, Glasgow on Tue 7 Mar.
The List 24 Feb-9 Mar I995 17