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45 at 33: M|A|R|R|S Pump Up The Volume

33 years ago, a piece of proto-turntablism spotlighting signature sounds from Ofra Haza, Eric B. & Rakim and Trouble Funk paved the way for the development of British acid house music and, slightly controversially, the wider use of sampling in significant recordings. That’s right, M|A|R|R|S’s Pump Up The Volume was one of the greatest records of 1987. And I’m about to tell you why.

Pump Up the Volume had a long and complicated gestation, first materialising as an uneasy collaboration between two 4AD acts: electronic music group Colourbox and alternative rock band A R Kane. 4AD label head Ivo Watts-Russell suggested the team-up after both acts expressed interest in exploring the rising house music genre. The label’s involvement with the burgeoning genres of rap and Hip-Hop had been rare, but this earliest instance would go on to take the charts by storm.

This brief joint project resulted in a two-song single where one band started a track and passed it to the other to finish. Pump Up The Volume came from Colourbox and was a highly percussive nearly instrumental song. A R Kane added additional guitar, and then the samples and scratch mixing of DJs Chris “C.J.“ Macintosh and future Pet Shop Boys manager Dave Dorrell made it shine jewel-like in a thorny crown.

Colourbox did the final assembly in much the same manner as a manic record-spinner, four theoretical turntables and infinite triggers seemingly at the ready. It’s a relentless sci-fi dance party that was initially inspired by the burgeoning house music scene of the day. In reality, though, this was tech-savvy street storytelling that mimicked DJ Premier and predicted the emerging spotlight on club gods like DJ Shadow.

The track‘s strutting groove and anything-goes drop-ins make the track sound both fresh and inevitable; a bedrock anthem, you might say. In fact, Pump Up The Volume was essentially the pop crossover track from an era full of similar club-oriented cut-ups, many of them issued illegally.

The recording topped the US dance chart and climbed to #13 on Billboard’s mainstream pop chart. On home turf it dethroned Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up as Britain’s No. 1 song for two weeks in October 1987 before the Great Storm toppled everything in its path and replaced it with the Bee Gees’ You Win Again.

Nevertheless, Pump Up The Volume remains the only 4AD track to ever top the UK charts anywhere in the world, and twice if you include Stock Aitken Waterman’s Roadblock (snigger).

Curiously, the collaborators never recorded again as M/A/R/R/S because the hybrid was too much of an unpleasant ordeal for all concerned, particularly when the Thatcherite kindergarten pop combo Stock Aitken Waterman sued over the unauthorised sample of their Roadblock single. My sage advice?

Just put the needle on the record.

Steve Pafford

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