They Hate Change / photography by George Goldberg
The accompanying video for Tampa producer-rapper duo They Hate Change’s recent track, Faux Leather, is a proud homage to A Certain Ratio’s 2002 record Early; translating the cover’s abstract shapes into a moving framework. While Manchester’s Hacienda may seem a far reach from Florida’s sun-kissed shores, They Hate Change – Vonne Parks and Andre Gainey – are self-proclaimed anglophiles who have long tuned into the UK’s music scene, particularly during the 80s/90s when genres merged, raves bounced and beats reigned. Imbuing these influences with their own distinctive groove, They Hate Change’s latest track 1000 Horses is an ideal example; projecting UK subcultural sounds through the lens of Tampa Bay-originated Jook music.
From one generation to the next, here They Hate Change speak to A Certain Ratio icon Martin Moscrop each from their own home studio, each surrounded by their impressive electronic instrument collections.
Vonne Parks: Can you explain everything behind you?
Martin Moscrop: We’ve got a Roland XH101, a Roland SH09, a 303, a real 303 not one of the copies [all laugh], a real 808, the Roland TR8 which obviously it’s nice having a modern machine like that because you know sometimes the older machines are a bit temperamental and it’s good to write on a modern machine then convert it to an older machine. There’s a little mini Nova which is a really good synth. Lots of nice analogue sounds.
VP: You got all the Manchester classics and then you have some of the modern stuff, solid. [laughs] I mean obviously you were around during those Hacienda days – what was it like hearing it all for the first time?
MM: You know what it’s like when you go out to a club and the best feeling in the world is the very first time you hear a record, something that blows your mind. No matter where you are, whether you’re in the Hacienda or round somebody’s house. that first experience of hearing a brilliant tune or seeing a top artist is always a great experience and there were so many of those experiences at the Hacienda. There were tunes that you would have to run to the DJ booth and knock on the door and say, “What’s this?” – we didn’t have Shazam in those days [all laugh]. Also, even before the acid house thing happened, when it was just a regular club, we had loads of acts come over from the States like Trouble Funk, Trouble Funk (the Go Go Outfit), Madonna.
VP: Did ESG play at the Hacienda?
MM: I think so yeah.
VP: Damn that’s crazy.
MM: I can’t remember but I’m sure they did because obviously when we first went to New York and did our first gig there, ESG warmed up for us, and from that gig we loved them. We were blown away, we couldn’t believe that these girls from the Bronx could play soul music but not be able to play it, sounding totally unique. Because we loved them so much Tony Wilson spoke to Ed Bahlman and that’s how that first Factory thing with ESG came about.
VP: Dig it, dig it.
MM: I don’t think Tony would have appreciated them as much if we didn’t like them so much.
VP: You kind of gave them the co-sign.
MM: He had good musical taste but he wasn’t into the sort of funky Black element, he was more into the rock side of things. Is that your studio you’re in?
VP: Partially. We each have our little individual home set-ups so we’re at Andre’s house right now, then we’ll come together and knock stuff out. In here right now there’s a MPC 2000 XL, Akai S2800 rack sampler, electron Digitech, which is like a new thing, micro cord. So a mixture of older gear and some newer, we definitely got the Akai rack sampler 2800 because of a bunch of the stuff that came out of the UK. We were like, “Okay, they’re using the S950 and 900 to make jungle,” we went crazy so we had to dig into those flavours a little bit.
Andre Gainey: Buy floppy discs. [laughs]
VP: Yeah exactly, rocking off the floppy discs, [laughs] which is a whole situation.
MM: I noticed you guys are influenced a bit by drum ‘n’ bass or jungle, and even the stuff that hasn’t got jungle rhythms in is a bit sort of broken beat, rave type stuff.
VP: Absolutely yeah, it all comes down from listening to UK music for a really long time.
AG: Important inspiration.
VP: We really like breaks in general. We just love drums, so whatever way we can represent that. That was something that drew us to you guys in the first place – I can show you – this is the first ACR record we ever got if you can see that, Flight 12″. We saw that in our local store called Planet Retro. I saw it from afar and I was like, “I’ve never seen that cover before but it’s gotta be something.” So picked that up, grabbed it, Factory Records, of course, the design ethos, all of that stuff, played it and it was just mind-blowing. We dug into the catalogue completely and started hearing… like you guys covered Shack Up, right? That’s one of the most sampled hip-hop breaks ever obviously, but listening to you guys and the way you’re drumming. We always wanted to know, was there a particular inspiration to the type of drumming you guys did or that Donald did in the group, or did it just fit whatever you guys wanted to do?
MM: When Donald joined us, we were a drumless band and more post-punk, more towards the punk side or the Brian Eno side. We’d started listening to more funk music and wanted a funk drummer, so we sent Tony Wilson out to find us a funk drummer, and he came back with Donald. He was one of these bedroom boys that practiced, had all his favourite records, knew how to play every drum beat on each one of those records. So when he joined us he just had this head full of drum riffs right, hundreds of top drum riffs and we’d play our version of the tune without the drums and then he’d just come in with these killer riffs.
VP: Damn, that’s crazy.
MM: He transformed us. Then we started writing together and I think Shack Up was a really early thing. It was good to do a cover version like that because it taught us about the simplicity and the space in funk music. Before we did that there was probably a handful of people in the UK that had ever heard that record and it made go people go out and find the original. For years and years people didn’t even know that it was a cover version, they always thought it was our song.
VP: Yo, straight up at first we thought it was definitely ya’ll. That’s so tight though and it makes a lot of sense, everything really really does feel like funk.
AG: It gives it a pulse.
VP: Exactly. So you mentioned Brian Eno, I know you guys obviously pulled the name from him. When we first heard Eno it was obviously great but I want to know what it was like to hear such innovation at that time, when everything was just completely new?
They Hate Change / photography by George Goldberg
“We were like, “Okay, they’re using the S950 and 900 to make jungle,” we went crazy so we had to dig into those flavours a little bit.”
MM: Well Brian Eno was quite poppy at that point, he’d not long left Roxy Music and he was playing really good pop songs with a bit of a weird element, then he sort of went more electronic after that. That pop era of his was a massive influence on us, the jangly guitars, the tunes. We used to go to a club in Manchester called Pips, they used to play Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, Roxy Music, David Bowie just before punk happened.
AG: We would’ve been in there.
MM: The drumming on Flight is another good example, where there’s so much space in it the bass and the drums really lead but it’s very atmospheric – it’s probably one of the best things that Martin Hannett ever did with us. We only really made one proper album with Martin, we cut our ties and then went on to produce Sextet, which was probably our most popular album, but Martin did a brilliant job on Flight. I noticed you guys have a lot of trippy elements in your tunes as well as the rhythms, you’ve got a lot of head stuff going on there, do you guys smoke?
AG: One would think but no, we’ll have a drink with you though. [laughs]
VP: We get that a lot. But I think all of our influences are so, whether it was like the Prog stuff, early on we were super like Floyd heads obviously.
MM: Early Pink Floyd.
VP: Yeah yeah, so like A Saucerful of Secrets all that shit.
MM: Let me ask you about the Faux Leather video.
VP: Uh oh are we going to get sued? [all laugh]
A Certain Ratio / photography by Kevin Cummins
MM: No, no it’s great. Who’s idea was that?
VP: Collectively yeah, so that was really going back into our archives and searching through things that we’re into and came across that soul-jazz version of Early. Looking at that going, “Okay there’s something here, what if we did this thing where we do these kind of like moving squares.” It’s really convoluted to look at an album and go, “Let’s make a video out of that,” but that was really what happened – seeing the cover in our library again and seeing an image that’ll inspire us before a moving image I guess.
AG: It was also a sense of, how can we let people know there’s more to us.
VP: Yeah exactly look at the references.
AG: You see that and you’re like, “Oh yeah, that reminds me of this.”
VP: We’re really interested in that, being referential in our music. The video is a reference to your cover, but then the wardrobe, we’re wearing these like Princess Diana sweaters, there are a couple of little things in there for people to dive into and pick out.
MM: Another similarity between us is that in 2019 you released three EPs.
VP: We did yeah, knocking them out.
MM: And they weren’t just EPs, some of them had five or six tunes on them, like mini albums really.
AG: That’s how we treated them, everything we put out we try to give it the same amount of attention and detail and that was coming from performing a lot of those songs live.
VP: For a long time we really didn’t record, we would just perform and we built a name from that. We felt like that was a sort of punk approach to things, just honing in on the songs and getting really good at performing before recording. So those three EPs are basically us unleashing, by the time they came out they were already classics in the area, people already knew.
AG: Noise platinum. [laughs]
VP: People were like, “Oh my god finally this record, I can ride around to this now.” We’re big on EPs, obviously you’ve done a bunch of EPs as well so we’re definitely similar in that regard.
MM: We released three EPs this year because when we finished the album ACR Loco we just carried on recording, we didn’t want to stop. It was lockdown so there was nothing else to do, no gigs or anything like that, so we just spent all the time in the studio. We did the opposite to what you did with your three EPs, we wrote them in the studio and then we had to sort of learn to play them live, which is what we’re going to do for the tour in November. It’s hard work when you do it that way, you write in the studio and then transform it to live.
AG: Did you guys realise you’d just hit a stride, like, “Let’s keep going until we’ve knocked out a couple more projects.”
MM: Yeah, we were in a groove we didn’t want to stop. We stayed in the studio and carried on recording, then we told our label, “We’ve got five more tunes,” and they said, “Oh have you, do you fancy doing two EPs?” So by this time we already had two EPs ready and had started some more tunes, so we said, “No we want to do three EPs!” We got three EPs together really quick and then they came out in quick succession. We’re not getting any younger and we just want to produce as much music as we can now while we’re happening and we’ve got the ideas.
“…when you’re just on your own in your bedroom, which is how we are, there’s no pressure.”
VP: So do you feel like this era of ACR is maybe the first time you guys have hit a stride like that where you’re just like back-to-back with things?
MM: It pretty much mirrors how we were in 1988 and 1982, we were quite prolific then. Not quite as prolific as it’s a lot easier nowadays because you can do stuff in your home studio, whereas back then you had to pay a lot of money for studios – now you come up with an idea you can record it straight away and get it in the can.
VP: Did you have a favourite studio to record in back in that era?
MM: Yeah, Strawberry was really popular but we really liked Yellow Two which was Strawberry’s sister studio across the road. We also used to record in another studio called Revolution in Manchester and we made some really good records in those three studios, but we now record at a studio called Oxygene. It’s nice getting out of your home studio into somewhere that you’re paying for, it gives you time constraints.
VP: Definitely. I think that’s why we never really branched out into the studio world, because when you’re just on your own in your bedroom, which is how we are, there’s no pressure. Every song you heard from us pretty much happened all in one sitting, the production, the writing, maybe the recording was later, but the songs come together pretty quickly. But you said it’s more of a process for you guys?
MM: The best ones come together in a day. The best ones are always the quickest.
They Hate Change / photography by George Goldberg
AG: Have you ever made a song and it’s like, “This is too much, people might not get it”? Because with the influences we have, sometimes we want to try to make sure we show them off without becoming a mess. Have you ever held back stuff like no this is just too much?
MM: Yeah in a way… but we never waste any ideas. Even if we don’t like an idea, if we’ve spent time on it, we won’t throw it away, we’ll just put it to bed and maybe come back to it six months later with a really fresh approach. It’s a different approach for each tune, there’s no one set approach, it’s trying out different ways of working and of approaching ideas, that’s what makes it interesting.
VP: So I’ve got to ask you about ACR Soundsystem. We DJ also, and it helps us to figure out how to put together a lot of genres in the songs we make, so our DJing ethos is a kind of selfish one, but we’re obviously going to cater it to the audience. What is your’ DJing ethos?
MM: So, the main thing for me personally is not to make people dance but to make people come up and say, “What the fuck’s that?” What I enjoy the most is when someone wants to know what that tune is, you can see them Shazamming it, then that doesn’t work so they have to ask you what the tune is. To me that’s the biggest compliment – it means you’re doing your job right because you’re educating people. There are two aspects of DJing, one is to educate people and let them hear something they’ve never heard before and the other is to make people dance – if you can do a bit of both I think that’s a good ethos. You’ll have to get me and Jez out to Florida, we’ll come and DJ over there with you guys.
VP: Hell yeah, that would be sick and we can get some classic Jez vocals on a track as well. Back to that Flight 12″ – on one side it says The Clone Ranger and the other side it says King Clone and Porky Prime Cut, what does that mean? [laughs]
MM: So Porky Prime Cut was the mastering, the cutting place was called Porkys and when he cut the record he always used to write Porky Prime Cut on it, I cannot for the life of me remember the other two things. Tell me what it said again.
VP: It said The Clone Ranger on one side, I guess it was the hip side and then on the flip side it says King Clone and Porky Prime Cut.
MM: I was going to ring Jez and ask him but I’m using the phone for this. I’ll email you the answer for that.
VP: Yeah solid, I’ve always wondered about that. Porkys makes sense that it was the cutting place – does it place still exist?
VP: RIP Porkys.
MM: It was a really cheap cutting room because all mastering was about then was cutting, now mastering is totally different, most mastering engineers don’t even know how to cut a record you know.
VP: We are aware. [laughs]
MM: What Porky was very good at was making an old lathe sound good.
VP: Art question: obviously you guys have had some of the best art in the game. For you guys was it ever an afterthought of like, “We’ll let them handle that,” or were you guys always deep inside the process in terms of contributing to the artwork?
MM: As with music, there are different approaches. If we think about the album To Each…, Tony, who plays sax in the band, his sister Anne Quigley did the painting that’s on the front of that, we chose the pictures that were on the album and then a graphic designer did the layout. For Sextet, that picture of the sunset, Jez and Pete – the guitarist who left – had a flat in Hulme, Manchester, and they pulled the carpet up and found a canvas underneath with that painting on it. Then we told the graphic designer that we wanted that corner of that painting as the sleeve.
MM: So in a lot of ways, we’re giving them ideas to make into reality. But then when we started using Trevor Johnson in the mid-80s and just let him do it because we liked his ideas so much. We didn’t feel like we had to give him any ammunition.
VP: Did Trevor do Force?
MM: Yeah, well it was Trevor and Tony Panas who introduced the aeroplanes and the maps.
AG: Did you all always have this minimalistic approach, or even the use of fonts?
VP: Yeah your font game is crazy.
MM: That’s Trevor.
AG: Damn you guys got an album cover from the bottom of a rug.
VP: Did you ever get a back story as to why it was there?
MM: No, no someone had just put it under there who had lived there previoulsy.
VP: One thing we also loved was the original The Graveyard and The Ballroom packaging that casette pouch. It looks like memorabilia. It’s so sick we’ve been wanting to re-do that for a long time but we can obviously not find PVC pouches like that.
MM: Tony Wilson found those pouches. He found a company that manufactured plastic and made lots of different things and that purse was one of them, he thought it’d be great for a cassette. Again, in those days like there weren’t that many options, you just made use of what you had.
AG: It’s still on our idea board.
MM: It’s not that cool to use plastic anymore.
VP: That’s true, damn you’re right we’ve gotta be environmentally sound, we’ll do some vegan leather pouches or something.
AG: Yeah or something biodegradable, we’ll figure it out. We’ll consult with you first. [laughs]
They Hate Change / photography by George Goldberg