The album is rap vocal rhythms and general rabble-rousing over a violent and noisy backing track; a blend of samples, scratching, noise, Motorhead and LL Cool J. Punk-hop perhaps? A very contemporary sound, great production, and it could have been the debut LP of the year, is AoC hadn’t already seemed so well established.
Life’s not like that. AoC didn’t just materialise fully formed at the heart of the pop cosmos, samplers on stun. They came (and still come) from Leeds, and their line-up is classic vocals/gtr/bass/drums, and they love playing live. So how come a rock-shaped four piece ends up out there in the left-field?
It happened in Leeds. Four non-musicians in the night clubs of the urban heartland, drawn together by a love of dance music, and a common dissatisfaction with the local and national music scenes.
“There seemed to be nothing rally exhilarating or powerful around at that time”, explains Neil H., guitarist and ‘Power Noise Generator’, as it says on the record sleeve. So our intrepid heroes created Age of Chance.
“None of us have been in a band before – I started playing drums the day the band started,” relates Blond Beat Dominator Jan P. “For the first year we just had a snare.”
“And I,” grins Neil, “literally picked up a guitar the day the band first started.”
Just ten weeks after that fateful day, AoC were on stage, speeding nervously through their half-dozen original songs in a mere sixteen minutes. As Jan says, “The earlier you start playing live, the more you start learning.”
AoC’s early material was a mixture of catchy melodies and all-out mayhem. “I think the first songs you write together as a group, it’s like you’re learning the language,” says Neil. “Because we’d not had any musical training, the first things we did were utterly, utterly primal.”
“The common denominator between us all is probably dance music, primarily Motown,” says Geoff ‘All Nite Bass Frequencies’ T. “One of the reasons for Jan just having one drum is that most of the Motown beats were a straight snare thing. ‘Motor City’ – the first song we ever wrote, that was along those lines.”
And it was in April 1985, a mere six months after AoC’s first rehearsals, that ‘Motor City’ was launched onto the unsuspecting public. Steven P, ‘Mob-Orator’ and singer, explains. “It was the first song we had that was releasable, so we scraped £800 together, and pressed it ourselves. The Cartel wasn’t interested as we weren’t categorisable – you had to be a Goth band. So we put it out on our own label.”
But why do they sound like they do? Surely Age of Chance’s sonic war sculpture isn’t a natural progression for four people from Leeds with a mutual admiration for Tamla Motown?
As Jan explains, the seeds of their development were sown even before those first rehearsals. “We’ve got a really fresh approach – none of us had been in a band before, so we have no rules, no conventions to follow. We had a completely open attitude right from the start. We’d hit anything.”
They maintained that attitude in the studio. When effects accidentally fed back during the recording of ‘Motor City’ (in the chorus), they didn’t scrap the take – they used it, and decided to try it again on their next waxing.
Steven mentions AoC’s extensive use of feedback , which Neil attributes to playing live, and their experiments with The Trammps’ ‘Disco Inferno’. “It sounded like war,” he says. Geoff uses bass feedback too, which he describes as “a real visceral howl.” Steve agrees. “It makes you fall over.”
In the Summer of 1986 AoC performed their version of Prince’s current hit, ‘Kiss’, during a Peel session; it went down rather well. Its subsequent release in Autumn brought the major record labels to AoC’s collective feet. They signed to Virgin because “they had the best grasp of us – not as a wacky cover band, or a little indie band.” Their rapid acceptance by the big companies ruffled some feathers.
“Everyone’s really fucking nice to you in the indie scene,” said Geoff, “until you start selling more records than them. Then they stop phoning you up.”
Throughout AoC’s phonodynamic career, there’s been constant conflict between the hi-tech image, and the low-rent reality. Before they signed the deal, AoC were instrumentally virtually skint. All Jan’s drums (she’d added two toms to her lonely snare by then) had been ‘acquired’ in unorthodox ways; Neil’s Pro-Reverb had blown up; Geoff’s Traynor had destroyed itself. They were having to borrow gear to play. But what of the gear they did own? Geoff and Neil played matching Burns Flyte bass and six strings.
“The awfulness of these seems to be legendary,” details Geoff. “Marc Bolan had one, and the guy out of Slade had one, but nobody else ever used them. We think they’re wild guitars. I rang up all the shops in London and most of them said ‘What the fuck do you want one of those for?’. I eventually found one in a shop in Sheffield.”
Post-Virgin replacements for the Burns included two Charvels for Neil, and two active headless basses for Geoff – an Aria Interceptor, and Yamaha BX1 activated and painted black for him by the Bass Centre.
“We go totally on looks,” he explained. Geoff and Neil need pairs of instruments because of their “percussive” (more Barney Rubble than Barney Kessel, as they put it) playing styles – Neil broke three strings in one song during December’s London gig.
Jan’s shopping list included a deep Ludwig snare for her big harsh snare sound, and two new toms. “The make I don’t give a damn about. And I don’t use cymbals.”
Geoff continues. “If you don’t use cymbals, it forces you to use instruments in a different way – we quite often use the guitar in the way that you might use a crash cymbal, as a flourish.”
“We came to this without knowing the rules,” Jan says proudly. “The anyone-could-do-it ethic is how we started. We’re not a bunch of pop musos.”
Now we’re getting nearer the heart of the Motorcade of Metal: AoC as the Punk Ethic applied to dance music? “If you don’t like to dance/ You don’t like to live”, proclaims the LP sleeve. The Leeds club scene is important to the AoC, and the influence of contemporary dance floor beats is apparent on the record. Most of what seems like sampling is actually DJ Powercut scratching in chunks from music as disparate as The Clash, Van Halen, and Luther Vandross.
“He used to come down to the studio with his decks and jam along. We’d put some stuff down, keep what was working.”
The basic beats for the record were prepared in five weeks on a Boss drum machine and a Woolies tape recorder (“There is no hi-tech message to this,” interjects Jan). These were then fed to a Studio 440 sampler by Howard Gray, who co-produced “One Thousand Years Of Trouble” with the band.
“There’s a songwriting element to using found noises,” Geoff explains. “The way we do it is to have an objective, and try to fit the process of sampling into that – the worst way to approach it is to write a song and fit the samples onto that- they take on a dormant quality.”
“You have to keep a structure in mind,” agrees Jan, “otherwise it’s easy for it to ramble all over the place.”
Neil describes the construction of ‘Crush Collision’ from side two of the LP. “We looked at the original idea logistically, and split it up into four movements – industrial section, commercial section, city section, and the end is the sonic war section with everything going on. The hook is the “Leeds Detroit Berlin New York” chant, which is almost a song in itself – for a Janice Long session once we worked out raps for it. But the thing that makes it for me is the Sly-Stone-like guitar riff that runs through it.”
Technology breeds change, especially in the Age of Chance. With the LP out on the streets, precincts and walkways, the band are about to follow it. Geoff speaks.
“We’ve moved on so much now, it would be cheating not trying to integrate the sounds that we use on the album. Plus in trying to recreate the album, it’s opened up another avenue as regards song-writing.”
To that end, AoC have invested in three Akai S900 samplers, and two Roland MC500 sequencers, plus Ultimate Percussion pads to trigger S900s, for use in the rehearsal bunker and on stage. They need the duplicates because the one MC500 can’t hold the whole set in memory, and can’t load additional songs quickly enough. Jan is responsible for the on-stage loading. “We wanted to expand the live side more and go out with a less orthodox setup, but we didn’t know how, or what equipment to use, or where to buy it. We were introduced to a guy called Cliff who works with Thomas Dolby, and he took us shopping.”
Steve thinks that owning this sampler set-up is going to make a radical difference to the way AoC write songs. The others agree.
“There are certain pointers on the LP for a future career – ‘Take It’, ‘Learn to Pray’,” Neil muses. “We couldn’t have made this album a year ago. We didn’t have the capacity to write this kind of music; we’re becoming more sophisticated.”
“We’re in a period of transition, very much,” says Jan.
“We always are …” Steve concludes.