From hip hop and electro via Bogshed, The Fall and Bis to his current dancefloor focus, it's been an interesting musical journey for Ant Chapman. He started out putting on gigs at The Square in Harlow before joining local guitar wranglers Pregnant Neck and then forming Collapsed Lung. When The Lung folded, he became Scissorkicks, then DJ Scissorkicks and is now Scissorkicks again. "Originally it was Scissorkicks but I was on a compilation album with Silverkick where they managed to muddle our pictures up. After I stuck DJ on the front Silverkick never released another record."
This is the full transcript of Ant's interview for the Where Did It All Go Wrong? feature.
What are your first musical memories?
My mom loves music and I can remember being really young and my mom listening to Neil Diamond and Johnny Cash. I have to admit to being a Neil Diamond fan - it's genetic. My mom tells me that when I was about one-and-a-half she took me to see The Dubliners in Sunderland.
When I was really young I always seemed to get into stuff with a gimmick, like Buggles and Sparks. I can remember when Beat The Clock was on Top Of The Pops and everyone was talking about that mental band with the bloke that looked like Hitler in it.
When did you start listening "seriously" to music?
In terms of going out and buying a record because I'd heard it and was into it, the first record was Buffalo Gals by Malcolm McLaren. I was aware of rap before that from Rapper's Delight and The Message and, of course, now I realise that Malcolm McLaren had almost nothing to do with it, he just brought some people together. At the time, I was OH MY GOD, and it still happens to me today - you hear something and it's almost as if it's something that you thought of because it's so right and it just fits into your mind. After that, I just dived into hip hop and electro and all the compilations that were coming out at the time, like Streetsounds.
It's mad now looking back at it. Me and my mates all got so into that music but you had to work so hard to get hold of it. You had to beg your mate's older brother to do you a tape of something he'd taped off the radio. The only hip hop or electro that you could hear on the radio was Mike Allen on Capital, which is astonishing now because he sometimes turns up on the telly on dodgy talkshows and he's this old fart so he must have been about 40 or 45 and he was an old white guy doing this hip hop show. But now, here in The Square, 99% of the kids have absolutely no imagination - they're just into the nu-metal thing.
What music were you listening to?
I think it was because John Peel was playing hip hop and electro on his show that I started listening to it. It was worth me sitting through all the Smiths and Smiths-style stuff that I couldn't (and still can't) tolerate for him to play some hip hop or Adrian Sherwood or something. But then I started to hear bits of guitar music that really turned me on. The edgy stuff from the C86 scene.
That wasn't really a scene at all, it wasn't based around a sound, it was just a load of bands that were around at the same time. It was split right down the middle between the jingly-jangly fey indie pop, which I wasn't into, and the weird quirky stuff, which I loved and still do. C86 wouldn't happen today - it'd be like putting Coldplay next to The Residents.
So I sort of diverted and started getting really into Bogshed and The Fall and Stump. It was an epiphany seeing Stump on The Tube. It really excited me because they didn't give a fuck. It was insane. It wasn't just some people fucking around, it was deliberate. That really turned me on.
I'd always wanted to make music but when I was young it just wasn't an option because to make electro or hip hop you'd have to spend thousands of pounds on equipment. Getting into all this fucked-up guitar stuff was a way for me to put off doing the electronic stuff until it became affordable. I started playing in a band called Pregnant Neck. And there's my claim to fame. I was still living at my mom's and John Peel rang me up. My mom shouted up the stairs "it's John Peel on the phone!" and I couldn't believe it. He was really funny and really nice and was saying how much he loved the Pregnant Neck single and friends of his wanted copies. At one point he was going to come round to Harlow and pick up some records!
Did you read the press? What papers?
Probably from being about 14-15 I'd started picking up usually NME and sometimes Sounds. I went through a phase of buying Sounds a lot later on when I was about 17-18 when it was really good even though, by all accounts, it wasn't selling many copies. They were giving a lot of coverage to mad American bands, the Amphetamine Reptiles stuff and Sub Pop and things like that. It's really weird looking back and thinking how we used to find the NME really cryptic and mysterious when they were making references to stuff we'd never heard of. A lot of the time I just wanted to see the adverts and what was coming out. For years the NME used to print a column saying what was coming out the next Monday.
Was there a tribal NME/MM thing between you and your mates?
Yes. If we're talking '88-'89 NME was getting into its dance music heavily, and in my opinion quite patronisingly, to the exclusion of most everything else. Sounds was still a rock paper although it wasn't just cheesy cock rock and then Melody Maker was the indie paper and you'd have the latest 4AD signings on the cover. In a way that was nice because if you wanted to read about things with a certain skew placed on it then you knew where to go.
When did you become disillusioned with what the music media was offering you?
I suppose part of it was when I was 16 and I started putting on gigs up here [at The Square in Harlow]. There were bands that I was putting on, like Blur, who were getting reviews full of vindictive and personal nature of the criticism. It happened to me when I was in Collapsed Lung as well. We'd get reviews and the reviewer would spend half the review talking about what I looked like.
I always thought, perhaps naively, that no-one would be interested in writing like that. And the thing is, no-one's ever had any comeback with the papers because of the monopoly that the weeklies had over news and adverts for gigs. I wish you could get two versions of NME: the full version and then, for half the price, the adverts and the gig guide. I know which one I'd buy. The rest of the magazine I find depressing, or pointless, or both.
There was a point at which writers seemed to stop writing about bands and start writing about themselves. You can understand why someone like Lester Bangs is a celebrity and a rock journalist but I can't really say the same for.. erm, I was going to try and reel off the names of some NME journalists.. ha ha! No, there is one that I have a problem with. Yes, Ian Thornton, does he still write for them?
I haven't got any old issues to look at and compare, but how much of it is the press changing and how much is the readers getting older? I know that at the moment I find the editorial content of NME horrible and blinkered and as if they're desperately trying to keep their little empire together. With Melody Maker being no more, they have to make even less effort. I think that there's a guaranteed market which even at its lowest ebb is enough to keep NME going. Which is a shame. If there wasn't then maybe they'd think a bit more about what they were doing.
When did you start doing your own thing?
I differentiated between the stuff that the mags were writing about and the stuff I was interested in. I started coming up to The Square when I was about 14 and most of the local bands were just rubbish then I saw a band from Romford called The Horse Doctors who later ended up as The Zuno Men. They were a year older than me or something and they brought loads of mates down and they were total fun. They were quite poppy but not in a totally vacuous way. I just thought I'd like to get them on with one of the other bands that I'd encountered, one of the rare good bands from locally. The first gig that I put on was them, a band from Luton called Thrilled Skinny and a band called Stitchback, who were stunning but never made it.
That started, basically, because if I didn't do it then I wouldn't get to see the bands. For a while a lot of my peers were into it as well and every now and again I'd get people up from London to see a band. Y'know it was quite selfish but other people seemed to be getting into it. The other reason for doing it was so that I could DJ: Public Enemy followed by Bogshed really loud.
It wasn't the case of realising that the press and the media were so crap that I had to do something else, but as it went on I realised more and more how far away I was from the things that the press were writing about.
Why do you think people have moved on from the weeklies over the last few years?
There's this idea that record companies are saying "no-one's buying records any more because of the Playstation" but it's not that simple at all.
In terms of the time when Sounds went down, I think perhaps that was the beginnings of the recent changes in the music scene in Britain. I'm 29 now and even I find myself thinking "oh yeah, there was a time when dance music wasn't the mainstream." It's a crazy thing because it's everywhere now. Every provincial town in Britain has got a club, a mainstream club that plays dance music every weekend and probably through the week as well. If you went back literally 11 or 12 years and said to people that it would happen, they wouldn't believe you. The time when Sounds disappeared was the beginning of that. The "crust" of the music audience was beginning to leave, and getting into dance music.
Each change has had bits of the audience moving away from the press. I can imagine why, because the rise of dance music was such a major thing for so many people, the older readers of the music press would have got alienated by it all.
NME, were trying to have their cake and eat it. They wanted to have Marshall Jefferson on the front cover and still have features on, I don't know, The Parachute Men, on the inside. The indie people, even to this day, regard dance music as the enemy and the dance music people think that the NME is all about The Smiths, so they probably shed some audience there. Then, as the audience shrinks, its tastes become concentrated and it gets harder and harder to cover anything other than their tastes.
Even NME, except for a few times when it wrote really nasty things about me personally, never managed to make me feel as angry and as violent as reading the last few months of Melody Maker. It was verging on being racist. They did this whole thing where they had this parody of the Craig David record cover - some guy made up to look like him sitting on the loo with his trousers round his ankles. I found it so insidious but on the other hand I'm thinking why are they so wound up about Craig David? No amount of plugging Placebo is going to stop people going out and buying Craig David. The letters page was all about "our music" which consisted of anything which had four white blokes playing guitars, and if it's miserable then that's a bonus. Then the reviews, there's a few journalists trying to hold a torch for other types of music. Neil Kulkarni, who I've got a lot of time for, should've given up years ago - no-one's listening.
I think that the press trying to invent the next thing has caused so much damage. If you go back even 10 or 15 years scenes would just develop and the papers would go "look at this!" I think that's really healthy, but now because everyone knows what they're like - the New Wave of New Wave and New Grave and all that crap - people are more cynical. Now, it's funny how NME have co-opted the Nu-Metal thing. Just looking at this venue, local young bands have been into it for ages and now it's big NME are trying to claim it.
They missed drum'n'bass as well. They stopped covering dance music by the time that rave music was turning into hardcore and drum'n'bass came out of that. By the time that they woke up to it, drum'n'bass had shattered into 20 different sub-genres and they desperately tried to latch onto it. They had the press darlings like Goldie and Alex Reece but they were too late.
How have you been personally affected by press coverage?
With Pregnant Neck we had a few bits of coverage. I seem to remember a really good review in Sounds by John Robb. There was one in NME that said we made good noise but were too self-conscious, but we were only playing in a small pub, not Wembley Arena! We got some astonishingly bad reviews as well. Nowadays it's rare for the stuff I'm doing now to get NME although my album got got 7/10 from Roger Morton or someone, and it mentioned Collapsed Lung!
People don't believe me when I tell them that there was a couple of months in late '92, early '93 when things were going mad for the Lung. I was working at a publishers in Harlow and half the time in the office was spent answering phone calls from every major label and the press. It seems ridiculous looking back now, and it was then too, but we got gushing reviews and we didn't know what we were doing. We were literally just having a laugh. The first gig we did with Nihal, our rapper, he didn't even know the songs, he just came on and did some freestyle rapping and we got these reviews in the NME saying it was amazing.
We did two singles with Nihal rapping and we got a big money deal offered to us which the rest of us didn't want to take but he did so he went off with his own thing and signed to Go! Discs. We started again and got a new rapper, Jim, in. Once that happened we were just..
Do you think someone just decided at a board meeting, Collapsed Lung are out now?
It's strange because I defy anyone to compare the two singles we did with Nihal to the two albums and numerous singles we did with Jim that are just so much more together and right and tight, whereas there was a definite naïve charm to our early stuff. That puzzled me because I thought that was what good bands did, they moved on and whether it was a case of getting better or moving on and doing new stuff. We did both.
The first single we did, we didn't have a clue what we were doing. It took hours to build the track in the studio with Steve Mack [of That Petrol Emotion]. By the time we were doing stuff with Jim it had moved on and by the time it came round to our second album.. I'm still really proud of that, but we were getting live reviews that were just so nasty, especially about me. People don't want to read about that. It's just kind of depressing because no matter what we did it would just be misinterpreted.
Do you think you got stick because you're white?
Partially, yeah, but the whole point, even when Nihal was in the band and he's Sri Lankan, the whole point was not to try to be like the Americans, we're rapping about stupid things that we know about. There's no reason that that's any less valid than anything else. It might be a bit less romantic and a bit less edgy but that's it. Take it or leave it. I wouldn't like to make a big fuss about the fact that Nihal was Asian. In fact, when Jim joined the band it gelled a lot more because he was from the same background as us and so the ideas started coming out. Partially it was just the fact that there was 6 months before we started again with Jim and new singles and then the album.
The other thing is that in that intervening period Elastica happened on Deceptive. They polarised the press and I'm not sure if we caught a bit of the fall-out from that as well. Then again, the fact that Steve Lamacq was involved, and he'd left NME..
Did any of the dance mags give you coverage?
Nah, DJ and Mixmag barely covered hip hop.
Well, to be honest, I've got my own reservations about the dance press as well. For me, my favourite dance mag is Jockey Slut because they've got a similar kind of attitude in what they cover as I have to what I listen to. They don't care, anything goes so long as there's some good ideas and it's fun. Mixmag and DJ, I don't buy them but I look for reviews of me or my mates. The coverage in them is mainstreamy, London-orientated house and techno and trance. It's like I was saying earlier. You've got a club in every town these days, but the music is way down the list of priorities. It's just a soundtrack for pulling. Mixmag cover a lot of that as if people care about it, but they don't so long as they cop off at the end of the night.
There's a phenomenal elitism in dance mags. For instance, they give major coverage to people I've never heard of. I don't mind reading about new things but when you've got no chance of ever having heard them it seems like a bit of a waste of space. And I've never taken any notice of magazines like The Face. Those magazines must be great if you're one of the beautiful people but I'm not so they never really made any impression on me.
Where do you get your music information from these days?
I'd guess it's probably 75% Internet, 20% radio, 5% music press. The only real information I get from the music press nowadays would be the live ads, and very occasionally a review or feature on a band that really catches my eye. To be honest, I listen to very little music radio. I'd agree with people that say we're lucky in England, at least in comparison to American commercial radio. However, despite flashes of interesting things, daytime Radio 1 is pretty much unbearable. It's a shame, but I can't even listen to Mark & Lard for more than a few minutes - I love them, but when they have to play a Boyzone or whatever record, it's just too depressing. Steve Lamacq is actually an old friend, but I usually find it virtually impossible to listen to his show. Again, I'm just not patient enough to sit through the Placebo/Manics/Offspring/whatever just to get to the good stuff. Of course, John Peel is still pretty much essential listening.
As for the internet, it's all there if you look. Once you get the knack of spotting a duff page a mile off (fonts that are too big, anything to do with Placebo etc.), it can be a veritable mine of useful info. Everything from fan sites, to official sites, to genre-based sites, even on-line stores with mp3 previews of all the tracks (e.g. www.juno.co.uk). Another good on-line phenomenon is direct selling - e.g. Ninja Tune's superb mail order service. Most new albums from them are a tenner each. I'm much more likely to "dip my toe" when the price is that reasonable.
Aren't we all? Scissorkicks has a couple of singles due out on Plastic Raygun, Everyday Thing and Stylin, which are "more housey in that they've got a 4-to-the-floor kick drum but the rest of it is not your average tedious house stuff." He's also working on a new album and is starting up a club night night in London called Knuckleheads which is the second Friday in every month at 93 Feet East. He's also working on project called Argyll Mafia, with P6 (ex vocalist with Stretchheads) and is a member of Junior Blanks ("we've got a finished album, but no-one appears to want to release it. So it goes.")
Look Ant up on the web at www.scissorkicks.co.uk
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