A.R. Kane

January 7, 1992

Now with new notes by the late great Greg Tate:

In the beginning there was only Black Noise. As in every sound Western European ears heard emitted from an enslaved African lung, on either coast of the Black Atlantic, was considered barbaric yawp, barely human let alone musical dissonance. The paradox in the Southern U.S. was that Black Silence was considered even more terrifying and alien than Black Noise. In his autobiography Frederick Douglass reports that slaveowners insisted on incessant singing by their captive chattel because silence made them fear an insurrection was simmering beneath the underdog. This is why so many accounts of  life on antebellum plantations reported of happy singing by the chattel. From Black barbarism to Black euphoria in audible steps. No white barbarism and inhumane torture of human beings to see here, because the property is jubilantly singing under threat of barbaric brutalization and inhumane annihilation.

Black alienation, the rage of its depressed raucousness, is the great superpower of Black music. Not least because Black alienation delivers us unto the blues and the blues give us Black consciousness and the agency to freely roam the Black Interior with as much boundaryless imagination and dissenting dissonance as we choose, while still under threat of brutalization and annihilation in the post-reconstruction 100-year Jim Crow South. The uses made of Black silence, raging Black alienation  and Black noise by the blues people will contribute the most influential and inspirational musical idea heard in Western culture until the invention and advent of the breakbeat in 1970s South Bronx, NY.

By the time the blues erupts as a recording phenomenon in the 1920s it has had nearly 60 years of providing a liberated zone for free thought among  Blackfolk at the disavowed margins of  American society. The creative democracy of the form accounts for the rampant individualism, diverse poetic turns and range of romantic emotion heard on the first decade of blues recordings.

Whatever we today identify as Afrofuturism and Afrosurrealism is already evident in the mystical, sensual and transcendentalist  lyrics and dark mood music of Lucille Bogan, Bessie Smith, Son House, Skip James, Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell who croons “My baby got a bed it shines like a morning star. When I crawl up in the middle it rides me like a Cadillac car.’’ The Bessie Smith who wails of how, in  violently Seussical space and time known as “Black Mountain, / a child will smack your face, / the babies will cry for liquor and the birds sing bass.’’

The blues is where Black fantasias more fantastical and phantasmagorical than anything Walt Disney was animating were conjured up between the ears of free Black people. Folk who didn’t have to hide their wildest and most libidinous imaginings from their racially psychotic white countrymen who still found their noises and their silences equally threatening and alien.

Buddy Bolden was likely the first sonic Afronaut of the 20th century. He came and went before recording technology could document his magical horn’s call across the Mississippi River to the impressionable ears of Louis Armstrong. He who would become the Satchmo of legends whose musical prestidigitation and brass poltergeists would inspire the ghostly romanticism of Lester Young and Billie Holiday whose own projections of Black alienation, ambience and noise in the 1930s would establish the high bar for soulfully abstract expressionism and transcendental pathos in modern Western music well into the next century.

Holiday and Young’s most astute and audacious pupils, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, fully assimilated the aspects of their example, which said that the sound of  brokenness and split-apart sonorities were essential to communicating pain, viscerally and wonderment in modern Black music.

James Brown, Albert Ayler, Aretha Franklin and Jimi Hendrix recovered the blackest screams hauled off the auction block, the whipping post, and the lynching tree, as race-memory recalled and replicated necessities for any Black musician attempting resonant and authentic Black and blue expressionism in the 1960s. Hendrix drove his livid Marshall amplifiers and the most advanced studio technology of the era to provide him with a psychedelic palette and scriptural canvas for what he called “sound-paintings”; graphically detailed illustrations of his vivid dreams, hauntings, night terrors, extraterrestrial visitations and lysergic hallucinations. His deployment of harmonic feedback created lyrical consonance from electronic Black noise and opened up the cosmos for his Stratocaster’s infinitely barbaric yawp. As infinitely and cosmically representative as multiphonic horn sections and synthesizers were for Sun Ra and his Interstellar Myth-Science Arkestra.

These desires for more hoodoo, juju and muon headroom in modern Black music-making found their way to Jamaica and the outlier outposts of King Tubby and Lee Scratch Perry’s dubwise reggae factories, and to the Columbia Records operation, the temple where Miles Davis and Teo Macero would deploy a bevy of  ‘mugicians’ well-versed in what Ornette Coleman called ‘The Art of the Improvisers’ to stir up  his own hybrid of jazz, funk and psychedelia, Bitches Brew.

Not long after, George Clinton and Eddie Hazel blessed the omniverse with  their implosive supernova homage to  John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Jimi’s ‘Machine Gun’’ and called it “Maggot Brain.” Next up: Bad Brains, the original hardcore autocthonic dubwise Rastafari Afropunks.

And then came A.R. Kane.

AKA Rudy Tambala and Alex Ayuli by any other UK-immigrated government names. Two barely legal art-damaged aristos of Malawi/British and Nigerian descent raised in cockney-sprechen East London, but cock sure, or as they put it, “We oozed African confidence and a degree of arrogance—we ruled” among the class-orphaned East End offspring of the former colonizers and their recently decolonized.

Two dope boyz who’d telepathically claimed each other as best friends around age 8  and who, in 1986, claimed all the aforementioned hallmarks of Black Alienation Black Rage, Black Silence, Black Noise and Black Ragga as their sonorous and luminous own.

And then some.

Like the heaven spun hyper-emotive swooning falsettos of Skip James, Eddie Kendricks, Ron Isley, Al Green, The Spinners’ Felipe Wynne, The Delfonics, The Stylistics, Black Ivory, not to mention Joni Mitchell and Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins.

By the time A.R. Kane release their first single “When You’re Sad,” a bouquet of squall and alt-soul, the hiphop revolution is on and popping. And Black men swooning and crooning in high voices is on its way out of vogue on the heels of Thriller and Purple Rain. Just as the melodic caterwaul of screeching guitar feedback, last heard when Hendrix and Funkadelic’s Hazel stalked heads on earth, has cacophonically jumped up via Prince too, only to be severely piped down by The Cool Ruler soon after.

“When You’re Sad’’ was soon followed by a radiant bloom of singles and EPs which culminated in the release of A.R. Kane’s 1988 debut album ‘sixty nine’ the group’s bona fide longform vinyl masterpiece. The going media term for the kind of introspective guitar rock they were making was “shoegaze” but A.R. Kane gave their music its own unique coinage: dreampop. ‘sixty nine’ is dream pop with a dream flow enshrouded in a dub wise dream mix where Alex’s throbbing heartbreaker vocals float and saunter burst of romantic poesy over roaring and decaying siren six-string squeals, recursive slow-jam arpeggios, and bootylicious bass lines. Bottom-heavy groove anglers which veer towards rocksteady and the low-down elliptical stank of Michael Henderson’s contributions to Miles Davis Dark Magus/Agharta/Pangaea playbook. Live and electronic drumming blur and blend riddim accents throughout the listeners journey down the winding and careening corridors of ‘sixty nine’’s sunken, drunken adrift and rapturously akimbo dreamboat.

In their own lexicon they spoke of “Kaning” the group’s sound-art spectrum. In 2012  Rudy defined the descriptive in depth for The Quietus journalist Neil Kulkarni: “‘Kaning’ means going to the threshold of creation, of maximum potential where all things are possible yet uncreated, the realm of Lucifer and the Dark angels, the shoreline where angels build sandcastles in defiance of the creator, and knit our world from love and light. Just kidding. Or am I? The creation is not a billion years in the past, it is always just ahead and above, it is our near future. The question is, how much of it do we block, and how much do we allow to become. This is the level of creativity we aspired to, without having a bloody clue. But this is what drove us to make music, as ill-equipped as we were.”

The same year of ‘sixty nine’’s liminal and Luciferian emergence, A.R. Kane will team up with Colourbox on “Pump Up The Volume,” arguably the dopest and most widely disseminated remix of an instant New York rap classic, Eric B and Rakim’s “Paid In Full.” Two more full-lengths will follow ‘sixty nine’, a 1989 double-release entitled ‘i’—and the band’s swan song, 1994’s New Clear Child.

One cannot help but notice the diminished to disappeared presence of the Black  guitar factor on ‘sixty nine’’s successors. Dreampop has become perhaps a tad poppier in the wake of “Pump Up The Volume”’s global dance floor saturation. Beats from the boom-bap, electro, and DC go-go schools have become more the constant instead of amped-up megawatt banshee cries.

Americana contains the arc of A.R. Kane’s revolutions and evolutions, from  discordant and dissident free Black rhythm-and-noise radicals to breezy chamber-dance romantics. Bold and self determined transformations which in the best and most bodacious spirits of Bessie and Billie declare ’taint nobody’s business if we doowop. This anthology captures the superfreaky derring-do of A.R. Kane as head-on full-metal jacket decimators of the false racial and genre boundaries which existed in the public and corporate lack of  imagination in the ’80s. Americana tracks the transformative and liberating changes A.R. Kane wrought on not only musicians in their immediate musical environment and sphere of influence, like The Veldt and My Bloody Valentine, but dare we say on the mutable psyche of the muse music itself.

-Greg Tate

October, 2021

A.R. Kane Cover Art