For once, 6 x 6 = 147, as we go on a crate-diggin' trek through prog rock, 70s soul, leftfield electronica, kids' TV soundtracks and more
We're barely waist-deep in 2016 but - unless Nigel Farage comes out as a dancehall DJ this Xmas - the most unlikely DJ story of the year can already be 100 per cent agreed upon: the runaway success of six-time World Champion snooker player Steve Davis.
But was it really that unlikely? Rumours he'd amassed one of the UK's most handsome collections of northern soul have been rife for years...
"Soul music," says Steve in his deadpan London twang. "I got really into soul music and collected it intensely throughout the 80s and 90s. But for some reason people added the word northern to that. I do have a lot of records that would be considered to be northern soul, but I wasn't exclusively collecting it. Anyway, I've had my fill of soul music. I love it but I don't want to hear it every day. The music I've rediscovered now is a lot more mentally stimulating."
He's not alone. Since this spring, Steve and his mate Kavus Torabi have proceeded to stimulate the club and festival landscape with esoteric blends of prog rock, leftfield electronica and all things in-between. From hippy haven Glastonbury to nostalgia rave Fantazia by way of supporting Squarepusher, Steve and Kavus's Interesting Alternative Show has been one of DJ culture's coolest, realest stories of the year.
"Considering this a relatively new thing, it's coming together really well," says Steve. "We're not making any expectations of ourselves, we're just turning up and making sure we play the best records we possibly can. There's the element of novelty factor about it, we could get away with playing any old music and it wouldn't matter. But we're not. We're sticking to our guns and playing what we play on the radio show. It seems to be working."
Owing his success and confidence behind the decks to Bloc, who gave them their first 'break' (sorry) in the electronic sphere in March, Steve's taken to the festival circuit consummately. In the case of recent Irish festival Castlepalooza, he and Kavus turned up a day early to make a weekend of it and catch Caribou headline. Their next festival stop is Tramlines, Sheffield on July 23. For an idea of just what to expect, Steve has stepped up to take part in the flagship iDJ series 6x6, with an extensive dot-joining mission between prog rock, the buzzing Canterbury jazz-rock scene of the early 70s, zeuhl, psychedelia and pioneering electronica.
From pure uncut techno separating the men from the boys at his next BBQ to how his walk-on music at snooker exhibitions was written for the first vampire film ever made, Steve's selection collection is unlike any other 6x6 we've published before. And that's something we can 100 per cent agree on, too...
SIX EARLY INFLUENCES
Man - C'mon (United Artists, 1973)
"This is from the album Back Into The Future, a blues rock LP my friends and I would listen to back at school. C'mon in particular takes me back to that time, practising snooker on a six-foot table at home when I couldn't go to the working men's club. I'd have this on a tape player in the kitchen while my parents were in the lounge and would practise with the table up against the kitchen wall, devising my games from just one end of the table. I was about 15 and I couldn't go to the working men's club without my dad."
Neil Young - Heart Of Gold (Reprise, 1971)
"The first single I ever bought. I was working a Saturday job at a supermarket and got paid 28p an hour - £2.80 a day. I went to buy the album but it was £2 which was too much out of my wages! So I bought the single instead. My collection and fascination with records started right here. As far as first records go, it's not a bad one!"
BBC Radiophonic Workshop - Doctor Who Theme (BBC, 1963)
"The BBC Radiophonic workshop, led by Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire, made some incredible instrumental music. They were some of the earliest, most exciting pioneers in electronic music history. The Doctor Who theme is particularly striking. It has a relevance to anyone's life of a certain age. It was so unusual and futuristic for its time, it caught a whole generation's attention and informed music forever after. Arguably around half the world knows this song."
Caravan - Golf Girl (Deram, 1971)
"Back at school we all listened to prog rock. Most people were into Yes and Genesis, they were two of the most well-known prog bands that everyone loved. But I lived in south-east London which bordered on Kent and I quickly got involved in the Canterbury jazz-rock scene. It was a sub-genre of prog but had a jazzier twang to it. Caravan were one of the more accessible, sing-along bands in the movement and In The Land Of Grey & Pink was one of their classic albums. Golf Girl starts the whole trip and is told with witty lyrics that Canterbury bands really put together well."
Argent - Hold Your Head Up (Epic, 1972)
"Argent were rocky but had prog elements and enough of a unique factor for me to want to dig deeper. They actually became the first band I bought the complete works of. I heard Hold Your Head Up then bought the album In Deep which had God Gave Rock & Roll To You on it and from there I bought more and more until I had the whole collection. It was the first completist thing I'd done. Now that's just how I enjoy and collect music; I find an artist I like and buy whatever I can. The only problem with this approach is that you sometimes don't get around to listening to every record before you go on the next trip! But at some stage you get round to listening to it and it's a fresh treasure waiting to happen."
Oliver Postgate - Pogles Wood Theme (Smallfilms, 1966)
"Oliver Postgate wrote a lot of music for kids' programmes like Bagpuss, Ivor The Engine and Clangers, and the first thing he wrote music for was Pogles Wood. It's this mad time-lapse animation with puppets in real wood. All very strange and the music was equally weird. Clever, soundtrack-y stuff that, when taken out of context, was pretty out there. It's resonant with so much stuff I listen to now. Whether it's Autechre or Stravinsky, there's a parallel there. Oliver was a very clever man, he left a mark on me as a kid without me realising. Whatever you play to your kid now - or show your kid on TV - you'll be surprised how much of an influence that has in years to come."
SIX PEAKTIME RECORDS
Captain Beefheart - Tropical Hot Dog Nights (Warner, 1978)
"All of these tracks in this category are guaranteed hits when we play live. They're not club records strictly but they work for us! This one especially... it's such a happy record, we often play it at the end of the night and always get asked about it. Beefheart was ahead of his time. He was a conduit and the musicians he worked with understood what he wanted. It's from the album Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) which is one of my favourites."
Weidorje – Vilna (Cobra, 1978)
"A French band established by the bass guitarist in Magma, Bernard Paganotti. This is a 12-minute-long track and it's such an out-there record. You have to listen to it to appreciate how involving it is. It offers so much. You'd probably file this under 'zeuhl', which is a subgenre or style that's usually associated with Magma. It can be quite bass-oriented and very repetitive with chanting - like a cross between rock, jazz and opera with heavy basslines. Not every zeuhl track represents the whole subgenre but this is a really good example... and an absolute monster of a track!"
Squarepusher - Baltang Arg (Warp, 2015)
"When we play we try and put a bit of everything in there - we want to show there's great music in all genres. Kavus, my co-pilot, believes in this record so much so we always play it. It's pure pandemonium. It sounds like a car crash, it's incredibly violent. I wasn't sure if it was too much for people but you play it and people go mental! It's the violent part of our act. Sorry, I mean show. It's hardly an act is it? We just turn up and press play. Kavus is essential, though... one person judging what people might like, you might get it wrong. Two people working out what people might like on a dancefloor is more likely to get successful results."
Polymorphie - Suite N C Part 3 (Grolektif, 2012)
"I've only just discovered this and the whole album it's from, Voix. I don't think it's that widely available, certainly not on vinyl. It's a shame as this is such a killer track with a great beat and bassline. It's not electronic, I guess you'd call it jazz if you have to call it something but it just kicks off. Listen to it."
The Gasman - Trip (Gasman Music, 2016)
"Trip is the total complement to Squarepusher's mentalness. We've come into this straight off the back of Baltang Arg and it's the perfect respite. It's just a happy, bucolic track that bops along. It's so simple but cleverly constructed, it rewards anyone who's sacrificed the last seven minutes of their life to the chaos of Squarepusher! Gasman is a very clever artist. He's made a lot of very complex music over the years. Taken from this year's Aeriform album, this is one of his most simple compositions and it just makes you very happy.
Magma - De Futura (Utopia, 1976)
"Magma came into my life when I was about 15 or 16. I went to see a Canterbury rock band called Isotope and they were supporting Magma. We were actually meant to go home after Isotope but these French weirdos came along and their music knocked me out. My life was never the same again: they have, quite frankly, made the most astonishing music I've ever heard. This isn't my favourite track from the album Udu Wudu but in a live setting it has to be seen to be believed. The tempo rises and gets more intense, and everyone just goes with it and they get the whole room nodding in unison. We've played it and it has the same effect. Immense."
SIX RECORDS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
Magma – Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh LP (A&M, 1973)
"The first Magma album I ever bought. It was on A&M, so it was promoted pretty well in the UK. All the music press supported it and they came over and did concerts - which was the concert I just mentioned actually. I heard this first at my friend's house and thought it was a pile of crap. I had to hear them live before I'd appreciate just how ahead of their time and immersive they are. This is a desert island disc. It's a mixture of rock, prog, jazz, classical and opera all together. It's proper Marmite, but if you love it, you really love it."
Knifeworld - This Empty Room Once Was Alive (Inside Out, 2014)
"This moved me to tears when I first heard it. Kavus, my mate and co-pilot, is Knifeworld's frontman. He was originally in a band called The Cardiacs, a cult band whose fans will argue tooth-and-nail that they're the best band in the world. Sadly the frontman Tim Smith had a heart attack and was confined to a wheelchair, and this track is about him. It's very heartfelt when you know the back story. I'd also go as far as saying that Kavus saved my radio show, because I'd run out of ways to say ‘This is a great record'. He changed the dynamic of the show and made it a lot more fun, especially now we're doing the live stuff. Madly, I was never into The Cardiacs. I missed out on them in the 80s – I was too busy playing snooker and collecting soul music."
Robert Wyatt - Sea Song (Virgin, 1974)
"Another very sad album that documents a terrible incident. Rock Bottom was the first album written after Robert Wyatt's own accident when he became paralysed. He was in Matching Mole and Soft Machine, two of the biggest Canterbury bands, but he fell out of a window and was confined to a wheelchair. This album captures that time in his life. Very poignant, and the whole LP would be another of my desert island discs."
Gentle Giant - The Runaway (Vertigo, 1973)
"I still remember hearing this for the first time. Alan Freeman was on the radio while I was packing meat at a supermarket. John Peel would get all the credit for pushing alternative music, but Alan did his bit every Saturday afternoon! This wasn't Gentle Giant's first record but it was the first one I was aware of. We were winding up the day, this came on and I instantly became a Gentle Giant fan. They've done better albums if I'm honest but In A Glass House was the first one I knew and The Runaway was the first track. It's incredible."
Autechre - Nuane (Warp, 1997)
"Released around 1997 on the album Chiastic Slide, this is the era when Autechre started to get more experimental and really push things into uncharted territory. This moves me to another place and it's actually the first Warp album I'd ever heard. I was like, ‘This is fantastic!' and just went on a Warp frenzy. This was my way into electronic music. A hard way in but a brilliant way in. Obviously Aphex Twin and Boards Of Canada come very closely behind but Autechre are my biggest legends of electronic music. Everything they touch turns to gold for me."
Oscar Perry - Merry Go Round (Red Sun Records, 1986)
"I used to listen to Robbie Vincent's radio show and he'd play a lot of soul, funk, jazz and rare groove. He'd play records I could never find in my local record shops, so I discovered mail order record shopping which opened up huge new doors to me. It's here I discovered 45s and fell in love with them. Oscar Perry was the first 45 I ever bought on that path, so definitely a huge life-changer!"
SIX DRIVING RECORDS
Caravan - Memory Lane (Deram, 1973)
"Driving records are what they are: they involve you so much you're in danger of driving too fast! I've played Memory Lane so much over the years. It really carries you along and I can't say much more than that about this one... it just instantly reminds me of long journeys and has that powerful hook that almost seems made for the road."
The Camberwell Now - Working Nights (Ink Records, 1986)
"Charles Haywood was a drummer in a band called This Heat. When they disbanded he set up The Camberwell Now. They were like punk but not punk: everything that was good about punk but done in their own way, basically. He's such a good drummer, everything he does has so much energy. Working Nights is just driving, it's a beat that keeps you going. The same can be said for the whole album Ghost Trade in fact. Everything Charles has done has attitude: not chip-on-your-shoulder attitude but raw energy."
Parliament - Aqua Boogie (Casablanca, 1978)
"I've been driving my whole working life and Parliament have soundtracked so many journeys. P-funk really hit the UK when One Nation Under A Groove hit the charts, it was on the radio every hour at one point so it really got into me during my long journeys. I started to dig deeper from there, and when you start digging Parliament you quickly realise how much a genius George Clinton truly is. Aqua Boogie has got one of the best synth basslines you've ever heard. Great funk music has consistently come out of America but P-funk is probably my favourite subgenre because of its far-out nature. No one was doing this at the time. No one was even close. George Clinton is a god!"
Bobby Womack - How Could You Break My Heart (Arista, 1979)
"I didn't want to go ballistic on the soul offensive in this list, but I had to include this. It's the ultimate driving soul tune. It's a legendary track. Anyone who's into soul music has to have this in their collection. Not northern soul people, they're a different breed, but straight-up soul fans will all love this record. It's not rare in any way but it's a great record. So well-structured and so upbeat for someone having their heat broken. Perfect driving music."
Oceansize - A Homage To A Shame (Beggars Banquet, 2005)
"Headed up by a guy called Mike Vennart, Oceansize are a British band who were massive for a time. I don't know if you'd call this indie? It's not necessarily a specific genre, it's just bloody good music. This is one of their fieriest tracks, as they usually do pretty dreamy stuff. It's a lot more energetic and has a real edge to it. Mike is one of the good guys, I want to get him on my show in the future if I can."
O.L.D – Underglass (Earache, 1995)
"Taken from the album Formula in 1995 which completely bombed when it came out. No one bought it. But I still believe that everyone will discover it in good time. This isn't just good for driving either, it's something we play in a lot of shows towards the end and it always dismounts people. Just such a joyous record. Everyone needs to hear this."
SIX SUMMER BBQ RECORDS
O'Jays - Summer Fling (Philadelphia International, 1984)
"A serious summer track that every BBQ needs. Very well structured and taken from a very easy-to-find album. Soul collectors can be a little snobbish, and totally overlook popular records like this because they're not obscure enough - they'd rather have a £100 single that doesn't sound anywhere near as good than an O'Jays record in their collection. Shame on them!"
Gong - A Sprinkling Of Clouds (Virgin, 1974)
"A psychedelic band that kind of countered Magma in a way. Gong were this heavenly, flower power type of sound while Mamga was the lava-like, testify to the devil music. They'd often play together and take it in turns to headline. Daevid Allen was the leader of Gong during this particular era and it comes from the album You, the final part of their Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy. It's just immense. If you were smoking pot in the 70s then you'd be smoking it to this. I never got round to that, mind. I was too busy on my snooker trip... with a half of lager if I was lucky!"
Secede - The Marvel (Sending Orbs, 2007)
"Secede, aka Lennard van der Last. His albums are quite hard to get hold of but they're well worth tracking down. It's kind of downtempo electronic stuff but quite sophisticated. This one is a little more upbeat compared to others and it really kicks off. Very danceable, atmospheric and hypnotic. Ideal for a summer BBQ."
James Holden - 10101 (Border Community, 2006)
"I do love a BBQ and I do love to mix it up a bit. This is one of James's lighter, happier tracks. Not everything he's made would be considered BBQ music but he's such an innovative artist who can really conjure up an atmosphere and trigger feelings. 10101 is definitely a great track for that and this is perfect at a BBQ... or any gathering, to be fair."
Surgeon - Transparent Radiation (Dynamic Tension, 2011)
"Surgeon is an out-and-out techno god. He's been on our radio show, he's a lovely guy and is incredible to watch perform live. I actually chanced upon this on my first trip to Hardwax in Berlin. I was looking for all things Warp and Autechre-related and they said they didn't have anything like that. So I just asked them to recommend something and I came home with this. Surgeon was my ‘in' to techno and he's such a great place to start. You wouldn't normally class this as BBQ music but it's a great way to clear the place and define the real music lovers. Anyone who's not into this type of music would have long gone home by now, anyway."
Veronique Vincent & Aksak Maboul - Afflux De Luxe (Crammed Discs, 2014)
"Aksak Maboul were a cult band who were very much ahead of their time with their approach to electronic instruments and how they fused their music with a Moroccan style of rhythm and French African influences. They had two albums before disbanding, but out of the blue this album with singer Veronique resurfaced from some dusty corner of a studio somewhere. Released recently on Crammed, this is actually very poppy and bubblegum but it builds with a great electronic edge that takes it to another field."
SIX AFTERHOURS RECORDS
Captain Beefheart - Bat Chain Puller (Warner, 1978)
"The first time you hear this, you'll go ‘What the fuck is this?' You won't be sure if you'll ever listen to it again. But then you do hear it again. And by the fourth time you've heard it you'll be walking around saying ‘Bat chain puller, puller, puller' all the time. Then you'll play it to people and you see that ‘what the fuck' look on their face, and know that in good time they'll also fall in love with it.
Frank Zappa - St Etienne (Barking Pumpkin, 1986)
"Frank Zappa went through this phase when he bought one of the first synclaviers for around £250,000. It was one of the earliest synthesizers and normal humans couldn't play it without programming it. The whole album Jazz From Hell came about through Zappa's experiments with the synclavier - it's an astonishing piece of work and hugely underrated. That said, this is one of the few tracks that didn't have the synclavier on it but you can lose yourself in it for days on end."
Rev James Moore - Endow Me (Malaco Records, 1988)
"Loads of soul singers came from the world of gospel, and for good reason… they made a lot more money in soul! Sam Cooke is the ultimate example. But many singers stayed true to their roots and never strayed from gospel. Some of them are the most amazing soul singers you've yet to hear, like Rev James Moore, the man with one of the most powerful, sweetest voices ever. If he was a soul singer he'd have been up there with Aretha and Curtis and Solomon Burke. So much power, so much beauty. I'm not a religious man but I'd have loved to have heard him sing this in church."
William D Drake - In Converse (Onomatopoeia Records, 2015)
"Another ex-member of The Cardiacs who I've learnt about through Kavus. The Cardiacs have this whole family of bands and projects stemming from the original band. William's solo albums really are a thing of beauty. He's inherently English and this is a quintessential British record; so dreamy it will take you to another place. Plus he sings in an English accent, which I love. He's an incredible pianist too. Just absolutely beautiful."
Art Zoyd - Anaphase II (Mantra, 1990)
"A French band I was recommended to look into because of my love for Magma. Nosferatu was the first album of theirs I got and it was written to soundtrack the first ever vampire film. They would perform the whole thing live with the film playing in the background. To be honest, the first time I heard this, I thought it was the biggest load of shit I'd ever heard! But I came to really appreciate it. Their earlier stuff is a lot more rock-oriented, but this was the start of their trend towards soundtrack experiments. I actually walk out at snooker games to this. Everyone walks out to things like Eminem or the Rocky theme but I walk out to something fucked up like this! It was either this or Steeler's Wheel Stuck In The Middle With You because of the clowns and jokers line. The Steptoe & Son theme was another option for when things are going badly!"
Albert Marcoeur - Ulysse Et Linus (Label Freres, 2001)
"Albert is hailed as the French answer to Frank Zappa, but because he sings in French no one has heard of him over here. Apparently his lyrics are very witty and clever, and every French person I know has said it's a shame I don't speak French because I'd get off on it more. But I get off on it any way, it's marvellous music. He's on his own and he has an amazing brain to create simply complex things that stay in your mind. His album Plusieurs Cas De Figure is the best one to start off with. Give it a few listens... like all the best music, these things take time. Anything that's worthwhile listening to for any period of longevity needs to be listened to three or four times. But I'm pretty sure I'm preaching to the choir here! I hope you've enjoyed my selections."
Words: Dave Jenkins Pic: Amy Miveld
Catch Steve Davis & Kavus Torabi at Tramlines Festival in Sheffield on July 22-24. For tickets and info, click here.