I listen to a lot of compilations. Working in a record store makes it unavoidable. The fact that the Ministry of Sound releases about 400 a week makes it even more so. In June 2018, MoS released one of my undoubted favourites.
For me, the primary appeal of Live Forever came from its reflection of my childhood. Despite featuring hits from other decades and nations, Live Forever is an archive of some of the biggest hits of the 1990s. As the title suggestions, its main draws come from Britpop. That mad, exhilarating movement which allowed British popular culture to assert itself in ways not seen since the 1960s.
Songs which defined my adolescence are in there. Oasis’ “Live Forever” (naturally). The Manic’s “A Design for Life.” “Slight Return,” “Born Slippy,” Mansun’s “Wide Open Space.” These are but a handful of tunes which made music a vital part of my life. Let’s just gloss over the inclusion of Starsailor and Embrace.
But as great as Live Forever is, it left me with a burning question. Where was White Town’s “Your Woman?”
In a landscape dominated by Liam and Noel, the Spice Girls and Blur, this one-hit wonder from 1997 was wildly out of place. The hook was sampled from the trumpet line to 30s crooner Al Bowlly’s “My Woman.” Singer Jyoti Mishra’s vocals were subtle and muted, reflecting a musician who’s persona was well out of step with his peers.
As Selim Bulut wrote in a 2017 article for Dazed Digital: ’He wasn’t white, he came up through the decidedly un-commercial twee pop scene, he’d been straight edge since he was 16, and he was a radical Marxist.’
Mishra and his music were distinctive. This song remains great. But there was something extra special about it. Something which makes its relative obscurity all the more surprising and undeserved. Bulut again:
Mishra made it entirely on his own with a zero budget – he used a cheap sampler bought with money borrowed from his girlfriend, and he sequenced it on a program given away for free on the cover of a magazine.
“Your Woman” is generally acknowledged as being the first “Bedroom chart-topper.” That anyone with a laptop and the right software can produce music is taken for granted now. But back then, this was a massive deal, and a lot was made of it at the time.
I bring this up because Forc3d R3boot – the first album from Nottingham based producer Paul Owen (aka Straight Red) – invokes the spirit of “Your Woman.” On Bandcamp he states:
This album was created between March – June 2019 using a cheap Toshiba laptop loaded with open source software (Hydrogen and Audacity) using Hydrogen drum kits and various copyright-free sound files online.
This low budget approach is one thing tying Mishra and Owen together. The majority of artists I discuss use tools which are more sophisticated or at the very least, more costly. But on Forc3d R3boot, Owen demonstrates what can be done with the basics.
But what has Owen done? Forc3d R3boot is ambient electro-industrial, spread over ten tracks. It’s high-quality work too, certainly in consideration of Owens’ resources.
That being said, you can find a lot of work which sounds like tracks such as “Paul Goes To Get His Crisps” and “Thefuck is Going On.” In fact Forc3d R3boot somewhat reminded me of Neotenomie’s Witches EP. This is a massive compliment of course, but the fact remains that there’s a lot of work like this out there.
However, the unique titles of these opening tracks are signs of one of this album’s greatest aspects. Owen’s sense of humour.
It’s typically self-deprecating, as his Bandcamp profile reveals. ‘If there is any lack of quality about his [sic] record then it is my lack of quality.’ In the acknowledgements, Owen adds: ‘Thanks to friends for the support and amazement. I’m still not sure if it’s genuine or if you are humouring me.’
This trend extends to Straight Red’s official site: ‘This album cost nothing to make, apart from a little electricity, recycled audio and a lot of time. It’s the most environmentally friendly album you could ever come across!!”’
Based on these examples, you could assume that Forc3d R3boot is an exercise in irony. But contrasting elements are also crucial to Owen’s work.
“Paul Goes…” has a disorientating quality to it. And it samples radio chatter between air traffic control and a pilot who’s encountering a UFO. All creepy, but the energetic beat gives it bounce. And the track’s info description asserts the humour yet again: ‘Little does he know it was French Paul going to his locker to fetch a packet of Smiths Salt n Shake.’
But the contrasting elements extend to the themes and messages of certain songs overall.
There are several vocal tracks on Forc3d R3boot. The most notable being the spoke word piece “On3 Thin9.” It’s nakedly political and socially conscious, which again contrasts it against the weirder, funnier aspects of Forc3d R3boot.
I grew up in the nineties when people believed that we had arrived at the end of history, and that all that was left to solve was climate change. Then we had the financial crash of 2008. Now we’ve seen the rise of populists around the world, right? Trump, Bolsonaro…we’ve seen Brexit. and what give me great hope right now is that there’s a new generation that is actually waking up. Actually waking up.
One thing that’s really interesting about “On3 Thin9,” is the tension running through it. Yes, there’s optimism here, but the repetition of ‘People waking up. That’s what’s happening’ towards the end does suggest a need for reassurance. Tension is also created by the contrast between the largely optimistic lyrics and the sinister Reese bass underlining everything.
I love this album. Really love it. True, I’ve acknowledged its similarity to other works. But it’s not generic. It’s certainly not boring, which is a criticism I could level at many of its contemporaries. And I admire how it harkens back to the earliest forms of “bedroom production.”
I encourage you to check it out. Owen deserves your support. Buy the album. Check out his website and YouTube channel. Spread the word, though keep in that, as Owen is at bones to point out, ‘You will not find me on F*book.’
You can find Straight Red here: