You might think Paul McCartney getting on board with the likes of Skrillex and Deadmau5 by making an EDM track is a bit like watching your uncle groove at a wedding, and yet you could say Macca was there in the beginning (in the garden of EDM if you will). In 1980, the ex-Beatle brought out his second purely solo record (as opposed to those made with wife Linda or his band Wings), and most of what emerged was far out and experimental, harnessing the most cutting edge equipment of its day, even if now it sounds a bit on the lo-fi side. ‘Temporary Secretary’ from McCartney II is probably the best known of Macca’s seminal electronic tunes that had a bigger influence on techno than you might care to realised. And it’s definitely on the right side of bonkers, all told.
McCartney wouldn’t be the first or the last to dramatically change direction or head off on a quest of musical discovery, and indeed he’d been there before (the Queen of England is said to have remarked that the Beatles had “gone funny” when watching their Magical Mystery Tour film, screened on British TV at Christmas, 1967).
Here are ten musical acts that have boldly gone where no others could have imagined they would. Behold the sublime and the ridiculous…
What an adventurous rascal Jack Barnett is. These New Puritans’ apocalyptic ‘Hidden’ album from 2010 was critically-lauded right across the board for its cinematic flourishes, its epic ambition and also for its foibles (and what foibles they were). Southend-on-Sea’s own musical magus might have lost us with new opus ‘Field of Reeds’ however – a record so unlike anything else that it refuses to be pigeonholed… yet. Is it alt-classical? Is it atonal arse or is it genius? Maybe we just can’t see it yet. Or maybe we should give it some proper attention and discover an album not afraid of its own sparseness, but also rich in mood altering blocks of choral sound that take the listener on a journey into the sonic unknown.
John Paul Jones, Led Zeppelin’s celebrated bass player and keyboardist, has never been short of work. The multi-instrumentalist and producer has made records with artists as diverse as Diamanda Galás, Ben E King and the Butthole Surfers over the years, and he also plays with Josh Homme and Dave Grohl in Them Crooked Vultures. As legacies go, his will surely be mighty, and yet JPJ ploughs on. He’s apparently turned down a year playing with Led Zeppelin next year, much to Robert Plant’s chagrin, to write an opera based on Spöksonaten (The Ghost Sonata) written by August Strindberg. It should be noted that Damon Albarn, Rufus Wainwright and Neil Hannon have all had a stab at writing operas themselves, with varying degrees of success.
Neil Young is not a man you’d readily associate with electronic music, and yet in the 1980s, he might not have had much choice when he signed to new label Geffen. In an effort to stay current, Young made ‘Trans’ in 1982, managing to alienate most of the fans who preferred listening to a whiny dinosaur with an acoustic guitar. It was terrible mostly, mainly because you sense Young’s heart wasn’t in it. The Canadian weathered the 80s and came back stronger in the 90s, with young retrogressive pups like Pearl Jam championing the old bruiser.
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David Bowie has spent much of his career confounding everyone with his chameleonic tendencies, and so it was perhaps a surprise that any of us were surprised when he went drum ‘n’ bass in the mid-90s. Maybe we’d more readily expecting him to align with Britpop, but if Britpop was some kind of facsimile of the 60s then it’s easy to forget Bowie had tried his hand as a beat singer in that decade and had been no good at it! It was only when he artfully reinvented himself that people took notice, and so it was with Earthling in 1997. It won’t be remembered as his best, but then there’s some serious competition in that department.
Rappers more than most are prone to the odd name change. Puff Daddy became P Diddy and then just Diddy, but despite the moniker changes it was business as usual. Snoop Doggy Dogg became the more punchy and diminutive Snoop Doog not long into his career, however, a recent change to Snoop Lion signified a significant change in direction, one in which the former MC claims to be reawakened and even seeing out of his third eye. Snoop has gone reggae, and given the fact we’re talking about reggae and Snoop, it surely wouldn’t be stereotyping to suggest some herb might have been smoked in the transmogrification. You have to say his change in direction is a wholly convincing one though.
Another artist who went reggae and surprised even more people was Serge Gainsbourg in 1979. The French agent provocateur went from jazz to pop and then made the groove laden and ambient orchestral masterpiece ‘Histoire de Melody Nelson’ with Jane Birkin in 1971, but nobody was quite prepared for this. Serge upset the French public almost as much as he did when he set a banknote on fire on French television, and more than when he asked Whitney Houston to fuck him, also on live telly. His crime? Bringing a Jamaican flavour to La Marseillaise – the French national anthem – and adding some of his own saucy lyrics on ‘Aux Armes et cætera’. Typically the French public forgave him, and eventually embraced reggae too.
Controversial R&B singer R Kelly has announced he’s going country. Who better to explain his motives than R Kelly himself? “I used to get criticised for doing a ‘Bump & Grind’ then turning around and doing a gospel song. But the truth is I’m glad I have a gift that allows me to switch lanes.” He added: “My talent is more than just sexual songs… My whole goal in life was to reach that certain success where people will say, ‘Hey, that guy can do anything. He’s the Evil Knievel of music. He’s jumping over 15 buses!”‘ So there you have it.
A duet between Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue doesn’t seem that strange now, but in 1996 it looked preposterous, at least on paper. The reality was something rather different, and the glowering beauty and insidious menace of ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’ translated to healthy sales and went top 20 in the UK. It also gave Kylie the indie cred she’d craved and not quite garnered with her Impossible Princess album, and Cave was exposed to a whole new audience. Thankfully there was nothing ironic or knowing about it, although the wiley Cave might have known it’d do the Bad Seeds plenty of good in the long run.
Adam and the Ants went from punk to pop and mega fame, much to the annoyance of their fan base. Stuart Leslie Goddard was so ensconced in the punk scene that his former band, Bazooka Joe, inadvertently gave the Sex Pistols their first break at St Martin’s art college in November 1975. The Pistols got up and played without invitation, causing a hullabaloo, though Goddard decided to leave his own band and form one more like the Sex Pistols the next day. Ant fans will always site Dirk Wears White Sox as their favourite, though Kings of the Wild Frontier in 1980 established Ant as a teen sensation and the following album Prince Charming spawned two number one singles.
Elton John and Queens of the Stone Age might seem like odd bedfellows, but Elton knows how to rock. And rock he did so with none other than The Who in Ken Russell’s gloriously terrifying rock opera Tommy in 1969. ‘Pinball Wizard’ is one of those iconic moments that’s impossible to forget once you’ve seen it (and that’s not because the person who uploaded this video called it “Pimball Wizard”). If you’re still wondering what to expect at Bestival, then you can add “big shoes” to your list.