Over the past four years the British music industry has undergone an overhaul, one that has attempted to remedy the ineffectual post-Britpop malaise by focusing on something a little less postured.
No longer does a protruding chin and a sloppy garage-rock riff (a la Blur and Oasis) represent a musical revolution. Instead, a younger generation has embraced the bombastic rhythmic chaos of a new movement simply called "big beat," whose forefathers include The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim and even to some degree, Prodigy. But the movement also is steered by collectives such as Skint Records, whose parties and touring gigs seek to elevate the live-music experience to the next level.
A member of the Skint family, the Lo-Fidelity Allstars seem to exemplify this movement. And in many ways they've already succeeded in salvaging England's musical pertinence abroad, gracing the covers of hip industry mags and birthing a new generation of spaced-out dance-rock fanatics.
"In the dance world, I think there's some good stuff coming, but in the rock world there's nothing," explains DJ Phil Ward, a.k.a. The Albino Priest. "The last good British rock record was the first Oasis album."
"How to Operate with a Blown Mind," the debut album from the Lo-Fidelity Allstars, followed their release of a trio of influential European underground singles. The album reveals a jarring aesthetic, like a violent splash of a stream of consciousness hitting a wall of sound. "What's it all gonna mean when audio psychosis builds from the speakers' cones," barks recently departed vocalist The Wrekked Train (Dave Randall) on "Nightime Story," "and you can hear the music tearing through the bones."
Bottomed out with low-end beats and fuzzed-out guitar aggression, and appropriately laced with the percolations of dizzying electronic pathos, the Allstars' music might be easily labeled dance or big beat. But it's not, according to Ward. "A couple of years ago it was proper," says Ward of the big-beat tag. "Initially bands were labeled that. There is a scene. But now there are a bunch of major-label acts trying to be Norman Cook" -- the former member of the '80s Brit-pop band the Housemartins who reinvented himself as big-beat pioneer Fatboy Slim -- "and they're just terrible. It was good for a time. It worked well for us. But as soon as the album came out, it didn't seem to apply anymore."
The Lo-Fidelity Allstars began as a means by which three London DJs could exorcise some of their expressive electronic tendencies. The piecing together that followed involved some live instrumentation and a questionable bit of stage naming, no doubt an indication of intended global domination ... or at least a good time. The current lineup stands, in addition to Ward, as bassist A One Man Crowd Called Gentile (Andy Dickinson), drummer The Slammer (Johnny Machin) and keyboardist/engineer The Many Tentacles (Martin Whiteman). The Wrekked Train exited last year, due to emotional and physical wear.
Fortunately, the change seems only to have made the Allstars better. Their live shows are receiving rave reviews, probably because they're using "How to Operate with a Blown Mind" as more of scrapbook for a band in creation, and not simply as a self-promotional tool for its former front man. "It's just about everything we did in London," says Ward. "It's about living unemployed. It's still a part of our life."