FROM BRIAN WILSON'S SURFIN' PSYCHOSIS to Thom Yorke almost drowning in an astronaut’s helmet for the ‘.\'o Surprises‘ video. rock‘s most eccentric figures have always played ottt their quirks in the water. How appropriate then that John MacLean. decks and samples man with those proud ambassadors of contemporary pop's lunatic fringe. The Beta Band. should choose to combine this interview with the rather more pressing matter of having a bath.
“Sorry about this.‘ he splashes. ‘I just cycled across London. so I'm absolutely fucking stinking. I hope it doesn‘t put you off‘."
Not at all. In fact. it confirms the group’s pole position in the (irand Prix of Doing Things [)ifferently. The Beta Band will soon release their eponymous debut LP. an hour-long double album featuring a ten-minute take on Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total liclipse ()f The lleart' (sample clearance is proving a problem on this). and a Dylan-esque paean to insanity called ‘Round The Bend'. The opening track. ‘The Beta Band Rap‘. relates the history of the band in a genre- jumping number which bounces between a pastiche of 50s staple ‘Mr Sandman'. stoned hip hop. and an lilvis impersonation.
For those unable to decipher the lyrics. The Beta Band story goes like this. John MacLean and Robin Jones (drums. percussion) met at lidinburgh College Of Art in the mid 90s. Macl.ean DJed monthly club nights at the (‘ollege’s Wee Red Bar. playing an eclectic
we share his ecleticism. but definitely nothing else.‘
The Beta Band see themselves more in terms of a hip hop collective. This influence is obvious in the use of beats and samples. but the comparison has more to do with a certain looseness in attitude and willingness to experiment.
‘Hip hop is really important to us.’ says Macl.ean. a Wit—Tang (‘lan fan. ‘It‘s the only genre that seems to have tried to keep surging forward. It seems to have kept its edge. kept its rawness.‘
Limited to 4()() copies on l2in vinyl. '(‘hainpion Versions‘ quickly sold out. copies now fetching around £50 each. That El). together with the next two releases. 'The Patty Patty Sound‘ and 'l.os Amigos Del Beta‘. were compiled on 1998‘s T/H’ Three Ifl’s‘. Astonishingly. for such challenging music. the
(‘D charted. possibly thanks to an .\'.lll;' cover
which saw the band dressed as .Mexican bandits. Now. eight months later. The Beta Band face the acid test of any young band —
releasing a debut album. Trouble is. none of
them like it.
‘We finished it at the end of December. then because it's been put to bed until recently. we just think of it as being worse and worsef explains Macl.ean.
’I‘lu' [3cm Band is definitely a flawed diamond. Most songs lack the twisted pop sensibility of Tllt’ 'l'lm'c lil’s. and it‘ll take
THE BETA BAND
of the acoustic guitars have disappeared and they are a lot more dancey.‘ says Macl.ean. 'There‘ll still be a huge visual element to the show. We’re making new films for the backdrops: we‘re scrapping the whole palm tree thing and working on more of a lightshow.‘
The lasting impression you will take away from any encounter with John Macl.ean is of a man untroubled by the pressures of the music business. If he was an animal he would be a sloth. a comparison lent weight by photographs in which he is seen lazily scaling a tree. Certainly. he is far from overwhelmed by the ecstatic press lavished on the band so far. It has been suggested that The Beta Band are an important force in British music. Does Macl.ean not think that‘s true’.’
“Um. no. But. we‘ve all got our own agendas. Steve wants to try to make it a bit more futuristic. to try and make a brand new music. We‘re not doing that yet. I‘m interested more in the cross-relationships between the music and the art and all the other things going on.‘ he answers. ‘Someone wrote that one track on "Champion Versions" was like the whole ll'liilc xii/mm. which is absolute nonsense.‘
()ne individual who isn‘t buying into the Beta-Band-as-saviours-of—music myth is Manic Street Preachers bassist Nicky Wire. who recently went on telly and suggested that seeing as how they weren‘t going to sell any
The Beta Band face the acid test of any young band - releasing a debut album. Trouble is, none of them like it
selection of funk. rock. house and hip hop which would later inform The Beta Band sound. ()n graduation. they moved to London. where they bumped into Steve Mason (guitar. vocals. percussion) and their only non— Scottish member. Richard (ireentree (bass. percussion). They got a flat together in I996. which MacLean recalls as ‘a creative time'. and The Beta Band was born.
Signing to Parlophone subsidiary Regal. the band released their debut lil’. ‘(‘hainpion Versions. in July 1997. prompting favourable comparisons with Beck from a captivated press. Macl.ean doesn‘t see the link at all.
‘\\'e‘re not involved in irony.‘ he says. 'We really mean everything we do. and don‘t go in for pastiche. which I think Beck does. Maybe
you. ooh. at least ten listens to get to grips with its sprawling dimensions and sonic ambition. Like Beck's ()m' ["001 In The (have. the album has the making of a future cult
classic. but isn‘t quite the masterpiece a lot of
people were holding their breath for.
In truth. recorded material has never really been their strong point. If you want to fully appreciate them. go see them live when they play lidinburgh this June. Their last gig in the city was an extraordinary experience. and not
just because they had decorated the stage with
palm trees. "The live stuff‘s going well. we‘ve
changed a lot of the arrangements. so some of
the tracks sound a bit more powerful. more like they should have sounded on record. A lot
records they might as well pack in this pop lark. MacLean is blase in the face of such invective.
'l‘ve never listened to that band.‘ he says. 'l’ve not got any of their records. I don‘t know who they are. so I don’t really care.'
It‘s just like bath water off a duck’s back in fact. John Macl.ean shrugs and returns to his ablutions. He may be on a mission to take milsic into the 21st Century. but you can be damn sure that he's going to take a wash on the wild side first.
The Beta Band play The Liquid Room, Edinburgh, Sat 12 Jun. The Beta Band is released on Regal on Mon 21 Jun. The Three EPs is available now.
2/ liar. 10 l..'" 1999 THE “ST 13