It's Grim Up North! - Intervista ai Bad Meds

Nel 1991 non avevo mai partecipato a un rave e non ero mai stato nel Nord della Gran Bretagna. Però, in qualche modo, avevo ben presente i KLF e il loro alter ego Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu, e avevo anche qualche confusa idea sulla loro strategia di sovversione attraverso la musica. Il singolo It's Grim Up North mi deve essere arrivato dentro qualche cassetta mixata di acid house pesante. Faceva venire i brividi perché il suo passo industriale, costellato di lampi minacciosi, aveva una cadenza epica, ma solo anni dopo ho potuto capire davvero di cosa si trattava.
Quando Maple Death, la nuova label curata da Jonathan Clancy (His Clancyness / A Classic Education / Settlefish), ha annunciato la terza uscita del proprio catalogo, l'eponimo EP di debutto dei Bad Meds, non mi sarei mai aspettato di trovarci dentro una cover di quel lontano pezzo. In effetti i Bad Meds provengono da Liverpool, ma fanno sostanzialmente un post-punk cupo, a tratti piuttosto aggressivo (vedi il singolo Hoax Apocalypse), e che in uno dei suoi momenti migliori (The City Against Itself) ricorda i Fall.
Mi è venuta la curiosità di andare a chiedere ai diretti interessati come era nata questa loro versione, che mi arrivava ancora una volta dentro una cassetta, e così qui sotto trovate le risposte del cantante e chitarrista Paul Rafferty (qualcuno lo ricorderà nei frenetici Hot Club da Paris). Ed è con grande piacere che oggi polaroid vi offre la première mondiale di It's Grim Up North nella infuocata versione dei Bad Meds.

[Bad Meds è disponibile su cassetta Limited Edition e digitale via Maple Death]

I would describe the sound on your debut EP something like "dark post-punk": how did you come up with the idea for a cover of a techno anthem from the early Nineties (apart from the fact that there are names of towns and villages close to your home) and how did decide to you approach it?

I first heard It's Grim Up North on the 4th side of a NOW THAT'S WHAT I CALL MUSIC cassette compilation back in 1991 - shortly after it'd come out. My mum had bought it for me so we had something to play at my primary school's disco. I suppose I would've been about 10 or so. As a kid it struck me as strange that towns I had been to or had heard of were mentioned in a real song. It wasn't until I was in my teens that I became aware of Bill Drummond's work and It's Grim Up North made more sense. I'm still very much interested in Drummond's work and have participated in his The 17 choir project. Anyway, I'd always longed to hear that song in a punk context so when we made a punk band, we tried it out and it totally worked.

The original song ends with a huge orchestra part, and I always felt it was somehow "rave-optimistic" (and a little bit boring, to be honest). You cover doesn't include that part: should we assume it's more gloomy, and you wanted it to sound really "grim"?

Well, that orchestral part at the end of the original is "Jerusalem", a piece of music based on William Blake's poem "And Did Those Feet In Ancient Time." The poem is an ode to Jesus' rumoured visit to Glastonbury before he became the pop star we know today. The poem was set to music and became a celebratory nationalistic anthem. The use of it in this context is an artistic appropriation and with its descriptions of beauty and bleakness, it becomes a fitting anthem for the north.
Sadly we're not friendly with any orchestras, so we left it out.

Is it still "grim up North" nowadays? Do you feel the political attitude behind KLF's song is still valid or necessary, and, in some measure, you wanted to share it in your music?

Everywhere is grim for at least some people and the towns in this song are no exception. Some towns in the song are considered beautiful places and some are considered terrible ones- much like the juxtaposition between the pleasant pastures and the dark satanic mills in Blake's poem. I always read the song as a celebration of the north's beauty, diversity and its resilience to the decade of aggressive Conservative rule that preceded the song's release. I figure the phrase "It's Grim Up North" is used sarcastically though Drummond may have had different motives. In view of the last General Election and our electorate's evident self-loathing, perhaps the song is as relevant now as it was in 1991.

Your cover on the EP, with this long list of Northern cities, comes after another song called "The City Against Itself": what is that song about? Is life in the urban landscape a theme or an inspiration behind your music?

I think it's difficult to write songs about anywhere other than where you live. I've lived in a city for the last 15 years so I suppose I have no other choice than for my life in the city to be a theme in the songs we write. The City Against Itself is about developers moving in and crushing, scattering and suffocating the best bits of the places that we live. It's an epidemic.