The sniggering could be heard across the country as Hull was awarded the City of Culture mantle for 2017. But the jokers have got it all wrong. This geographically isolated outpost in East Yorkshire has been a cultural hub for decades, the place where Larkin thrived, where John Godber helped revive the Hull Truck Theatre, the home of Alan Plater. And the Spiders weren’t from Mars, they were from Hull. More recently, there have been The Red Guitars, Everything But The Girl and the Housemartins, not forgetting venues like the Adelphi (over 30 years and still going strong), The Welly Club and Spiders.
And not forgetting the matter at hand: Fila Brazillia, born out of the cottage industry that was Pork Recordings (many of whom were also from the East Riding), a label that showed what true independence could be, safely tucked away from the clutches of London’s venal influence.
The first time I ever heard Fila Brazillia was sometime in 1993. I was tuned into the then-reliable Judge Jules’ show on Kiss FM. The track caught my ear partially because it contained a sample from one of my favourite funk bands (no names, no pack drill), but also because it was so effortlessly funky, fusing the drive of early house with the thrill of hip hop’s samplemania. The tune was the aptly titled ‘Pots & Pans’ and I was an instant fan.
‘Pots & Pans’ appears on Old Codes New Chaos, Steve Cobby and David ‘Man’ McSherry’s classic debut album on Pork. Much has changed in the interim. Spurn Point, the star of the original artwork, has been half washed away, Hull City has gone from nearly bankrupt and in the Third Division to halfway up the Premiership with a new stadium, though thankfully Hull’s phone boxes are still cream.
As well as their admirable insistence of retaining both their independence and sanity (Cobby having had his fingers burnt during his stint on Big Life with Ashley & Jackson), their music, too, was a unique mix of anything and everything: junk shop funk. Old Codes is a mess of old breaks lashed over the top of house rhythms, public information speeches distended and warped, eerie Brian Eno keyboard pads, Latin percussion, while on ‘Mermaids’ they sound like Mr Fingers offering a tribute to the Robinson Crusoe Theme. You can hear everything from the Sheffield post-punk bands like Chakk and Cabaret Voltaire to My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, Virgo Four to De La Soul, all forced through the East Riding mincer to make something uniquely theirs.
Subsequently, the duo has gone on to record ten albums, as well as over 70 remixes from a diverse range of artists that includes Simple Minds, Radiohead, Busta Rhymes as well as one of my favourite remixes of all time (thanks to its bowel-worrying bassline), Fluke’s ‘Tosh’. There’s also their inimitable taciturn northern humour that runs through the centre of everything they have done like the letters H.U.L.L. in a stick of rock (who else would have called their tenth album Dicks? Geddit?)
So here they are in all their amber and black finery. Twenty years on and musically undimmed. Ladies and gentlemen, Old Codes New Chaos.
There can be little doubt that this is one of the best dance music albums ever made. Released in 1994, the debut album from Fila Brazillia was launched into a world before big beat and trip hop took hold, but after the first flush of Orb and ELF-inspired ambient. Coming after the initial chunky Leftfield-style house of the first Pork releases, but before the spliff took hold and Pork got stuck into their current down 'n' easy groove we now all love so well, this album is truly unique.
Those speech samples place it in an early Nineties framework and are every bit as effective as The Orb's Little Fluffy Clouds' 'Serratia Marcescans' mixes glittering ambient with the rambling reminiscences of a bunch of GIs fucked on acid. It's as brilliant as it sounds. Then tracks like 'The Light of Jesus' and 'Pots & Pans' pick up the pace with some chunky grooves that would fit in well enough at any Ibiza beach-front cafe. In places this has a lolling, hyper-cool, chill-out groove, such as on the supreme trip hop departure 'The Sheriff'. In others it's up and in your face. But it's always funky and always supremely melodic... a bit like a Sasha set on valium. In other words it's as essentially Balearic as a bottle of San Miguel outside Cafe Mambo. All the more surprising, then that the album is made by a bunch of stoners from Hull who have never been to the White Island. Any Fila Brazillia album is worth buying, but if you can manage to track this down, this alone it is worth its weight in lbizan gold.