This article originally appeared in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on September 20, 2012, under the headline CHANGING ATTITUDES WITH A HIP-HOP UPRISING.
According to the cyber oracle of hipster lingo that is the Urban Dictionary, a “Hector” is an intelligent man who is unafraid to show his feelings. Its compilers may wish to apply an addendum: a “Hector Bizerk” is a brilliant Glasgow art-rap deuce, starring lyrical livewire Louie Deadlife and precision drummer Audrey Tait.
While Hector Bizerk represent the stripped-back, experimental vanguard of West Coast (Scotland) hip-hop, Edinburgh six-strong rap ensemble Stanley Odd are more lavish and pop-fuelled but no less thrilling. That these two outfits sound so different is cause for celebration: their divergence reflects the country’s thriving yet disparate hip-hop uprising.
There are commonalities too, between Hector Bizerk and Stanley Odd. They’ve both just released excellent albums, for starters, and they both explore styles and themes that accentuate the import of indigenous hip-hop: they rhyme in local accents; their songs have humour, social clout and political acuity; they skewer rap clichés viz bling, guns and misogyny with introspection, realism and satire.
Both acts are compelling on non-hip-hop stages, too: they’ve both played T in the Park; Stanley Odd performed at Celtic Connections, and Hector Bizerk shared a bill with Remember Remember and Alasdair Roberts at Glasgow’s recent Music Language festival.
“It’s our responsibility to try and win over different audiences,” offers Louie of Hector Bizerk’s eclectic appeal, which owes as much to (post) punk ideology – social diatribes, DIY ethic, primal rhythms, avant-pop – as it does to hip-hop. “Audrey’s always played in bands, and I’ve been rapping for years [he formed the Deadlife Crew, runs the Loosely Speaking rap battles and collaborated with MC / beatboxer Bigg Taj on last year’s arresting Paranoise album]. We got together to push one another – to focus on the rhythm of rap and the rhythm of drums and try to get a message across that way.”
What’s particularly striking about the duo is that they both seem to lead, without ever overpowering each other. Tait’s beats fire-up Louie’s rhymes but, critically – note the gender (re)balance – he sings to the beat of her drum.
Hector Bizerk just self-released their terrific debut, Drums. Rap. Yes., which is not so much a title as a manifesto: the album exploits minimal tools for maximum impact. Louie shines a light on the duo’s meticulous process by discussing Burst Love, the first song they wrote. “Audrey had ideas for various rhythms, and I tried to match words and syllables with hits on the drums,” he explains.
“It was interesting from a writing perspective, to be so focused on how regimented the flow, and the sound, of the words had to be. I’ve also learned so much about tone and song dynamics in the twenty months we’ve been doing Hector Bizerk, and I think that’s really exciting – understanding how to build a crescendo and come back down. That’s really propelled us.”
Louie’s enthralling, melodic flow is packed with Royston, Glasgow patois. “I’ve found my accent and colloquialisms to be advantageous,” he suggests. “We can rhyme words that people in the south of England don’t know or don’t understand. I think that’s pretty cool – it’s almost like we’ve got exclusivity on some words.”
Stanley Odd’s MC Dave “Solareye” Hook also nods to Scottish rap’s significance in a folk context – it upholds and advances oral traditions; preserves and re-animates dialect. “I’ve ranted to people about this a lot in the past, and in a way our Celtic Connections show validated that,” he offers. “It’s got real common themes with folk – it’s about storytelling, local language, social commentary, all that stuff.”
Stanley Odd are also hugely pop-friendly: their ace new single, Killergram, suggests they’re in with a convincing shot at commercial success (or at least, they should be), and there’s a rousing dynamic between Hook’s rhymes and singer Veronika Electronika’s choruses. But the outfit confound the norm at every turn: they’re a Scottish live band with a rapper; they’re a hip-hop group with acoustic instruments; they employ hip-hop’s chop-and-remix methodology, and then have to (re)learn how to play their songs live. Little wonder their new (second) LP is called Reject.
“It’s a collection of stories about rejects and rejection, about not necessarily accepting things at face value,” says Hook. “Everyone can identify with that sense of feeling out of place, and I think our material has always had a kind of outsider theme to it. Whenever we play festivals, the first thing people say when they come up to us is, ‘I don’t like hip-hop, but-’” he laughs.
Stanley Odd are easy to love and lots of fun (especially live), but don’t be misled: their songs are seriously clever and politically resonant – Thatcher and Clegg receive dressing-downs; the Occupy Movement and Edinburgh tram-scheme feature; Caledonia and Britannia are depicted as a marriage in crisis. “I’m not really into specifics – to me what’s more of an issue is that a lot of people still don’t vote,” offers Hook, underlining a point he forcefully makes in the stunning Antiheroics. “I’m neither pro-independence nor pro-union at the moment, but I feel it’s important that people engage with the debate, and turn up and vote.”
“Hip hop has the potential to change the way that people think,” agrees Louie. “I think people are starting to come round to the idea that hip-hop from Scotland isn’t a gimmick, that it’s actually a full-on, expressive culture. There are stories to be told. There are poems to be heard.”
Related articles: Sept 2012 Singles Column, The List