i-D March 1988
Tribal Sex Funk Starring The Red Hot Chili Peppers
JUDDERFUNK GIANTS OF THE HOLLYWOOD HILLS, AND FOES OF ALL THINGS ORDERLY, THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS HAVE JUST RELEASED THE UPLIFT MOFO PARTY PLAN, AN ALBUM OF BONE-CRUNCHING MAYHEM FUNK THAT WILL PUT THE WHAMMY ON YOUR WANGER AND APPLY THE G-FORCE TO YOUR G-SPOT. i-D CAUGHT THEM PREPARING TO BLAZE A SMELLY TRAIL OF DIRTY FUNK ACROSS EUROPE.
Location: the music industry. Date: the late 1980s. Problem: great. Since 1992 the charts have been taking annual quality quantum leaps in the wrong direction and, with embarrassingly few exceptions, the supposedly left-field indie sector is turning out talentless, retrogressive no-hopers.
Pop’s game seems to be up, all its moves made, and we’re left with the sound of an endless post mortem- the players reviewing, revising and reinterpreting past highlights because they haven’t got an original idea between them. The consumer can chose between stolen sounds or tongue-in-cheek classic reworkings – “One more time with irony please, John!”- and nothing better epitomises the boredom the whole shebang inspires than the return of Seventies-style drug abuse. But who can blame people wanting to stir their minds, when most contemporary music fails to stir the groin?
But all is not gloom. Marauding across these stagnant waters with the fun factor of Attila the Hun at a regional sales conference are the Red Hot Chili Peppers, judderfunk giants of the Hollywood hills. Theirs is not strictly a new musical language- Black Flag twanging Bootsy’s Rubber Band with a vengeance- but one spoken with an almost forgotten eloquence and integrity. It’s dirty tribal sex-funk.
The beauty of The Peppers lies in their unwillingness to fit into any current scene, their inspired, stroppy otherness. In an era in which it’s considered very passé to take music seriously, they are serious about their music, almost comically intense at times, yet genuinely don’t give a flying firetruck what anyone else thinks about it. You might call it sensitive priorities. Amongst all the marketing strategies and pompous compassion of their industry, they have the nerve to make music for fun, for themselves. Bassist Flea explains… “I’m all for us getting a bunch of money, but it’s not a priority. Our mental health comes first. We have to live with our music, go out and play it every night, so it has to be music that makes us happy, that makes our penises hard.”
The genuine incompatibility of their raging soul stew with the world of demographics, target audiences and made-to-measure music has meant that The Peppers have reached their third album with ‘cult’ status intact.
One of this decade’s greatest audiovisual live stimulants, they make o-called great live bands like U2 look like Andreas Vollenweider lip-syncing, yet in one night U2 will play to more people than The Peppers did on their entire 60-date US tour (playing 1000 seaters).
Apart from being able to play the arse off a camel at 100 paces, the Red Hot Chili Peppers combine behavioural outrageousness with immaculate musical taste. There are clues-a-plenty in their tour bus tape library: Jimi Hendrix, Billie Holiday, Funkadelic, The Germs, Captain Beefheart, Ohio Players, Gang Of Four, AC/DC, Art Blakey, Dead Kennedys, Fela Kuti, X, Sly and The Family Stone etc.
They’re continuing the generic crossbreeding that Funkadelic practiced- on Standing On The Verge Getting It On, Red Hot Momma, Cosmic Slop, etc.- from the black side of the racial border. Only now they’re white, and the guitar noise in this volatile reaction is punk, not acid rock (though the latter is sneaking in on their next single Behind The Sun). What sets the Peppers apart from any other white punks on funk is that one-in-a-million elusive quality, talent. They may never surpass the screaming lunatic bliss of primetime Funkadelic- who often had about 30 musicians on stage- but the way they blaze their brand of filthy funk will apply the H-Force to your G-spot and, in their own words, “make your nipples ripple, make you dip your dipple, and inner juices dripple.”
ORGANIC ANTI-BEAT BOX BAND
A little history… necessity was not the mother of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, all otherwise gainfully employed at the time of their one-song unrehearsed debut (a spontaneous guest spot at a friend’s gig). Flea (who formed the Peppers after refusing John Lydon’s offer to join PIL) was the bassist with LA’s notorious Fear, and had begun a fruitful acting career as the skinhead star of Penelope Spherris’ Suburbia, whilst goofy guitar genius Hillel Slovak and drummer Jack irons were with What is This. But the effect of this ‘joke’ appearance (playing Out In LA), and the club-invited return match, was such that, within a month, The Peppers had become the hottest act in their native Hollywood.
Snapped up by Capitol, their self-titled debut album was Andy Gill’s first production job outside the Gang of Four. In the studio it soon became apparent that his new-found feel for slick pop and rhythm machines was greatly at odds with the luddite Peppers’ spontaneous attitude (he apparently also dismayed them with the comment that the Gang’s seminal first two albums were “bought by a few lunatics”). But if relations were as bad as rumoured, why did he work with them?
“Lordy knows.” exclaims Flea. “He liked the band and we gave him $10,000 which was probably a big influence.”
Their second (equally apt) collaboration, with P-Funk mainman George Clinton, was such a success that the mere mention of his name sends them into a loveglow of awe. His relaxed production style allowed them to flourish, stimulating them rather than imposing ideas on their music.
Flea: “The only click track we had was when George was clapping, stamping and dancing around us. And when he was in the control room, he’d scream into the mike ‘Yeah, kick it! Do it! Get deep! Throw it Down!’ When George is doing that in your ear while you’re playing you just go (emits a pop-eyed speed-crazed yelp) whooooho whooheeooh! That’s great. George is real spiritual like that, which is why he’s 45 and still blowing it out.”
The resulting album Freaky Styley was a classic, but it wasn’t until their new album the Uplift Mofo Party Plan, that The Peppers finally achieved a vinyl sound that jumped with some of the pizzazz of their live show. The main responsible: Michael Beinhorn (ex-Material).
“We met with about 20 producers. We weren’t interested in their CVs, just in whether they understood us, and Beinhorn was about the only one who did. We got off on the same music, and he understood that we weren’t aiming for a defined commerciality; we just wanted to be ourselves as hard as possible. Seeing us live also made a big difference to the production of the album, as it’s such a large part of what we’re about. Freaky Styley was a great album, the tracks are great, but physically it sounds real small now. The guitar isn’t live and in-your-face enough. Neither George nor the band were present at the mixdown. We left that in the hands of the engineer, and he sorta lost his erection after we left, and couldn’t get it up for the mix.”
The Uplift Mofo Party Plan- which outsold their first two albums put together within two months of its US release- may well be one of 88’s finest albums; a riotously original collection of diamond-edged devil music. With realistic record company support it should put the Hollywood sound on the map. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are the preferred music mongersof the California’s surfers and skateboarders, and they and Fishbone are the tribal totems of the little-known Hollywood kids.
“The Hollywood sound is a real happy, groove-orientated sound. It’s about playing, being happy and standing up for what you believe, not shouting at the devil and all that bullshit.”
What’s the Hollywood attitude? Fishbone and The Peppers are so frantic, so opposed to the laid-back hey-manism the letters LA conjure up.
“For us it’s anti that feel, that whole middle class bullshit. It’s living in Hollywood, our sexual desires, the things we’d like to change. It’s love’n’hate rather than love’n’peace.”
So you love Hollywood and hate what it stands for.
“Not at all! That southern California groovy, mellow hippy thing is a silly stereotype. You can find anything you want in Hollywood, all of life is there, and the highest voltage electricity that’s in the Hollywood air is the feeling we choose to perpetuate.”
So how will Joe or Joelene European Public know if they’ve contracted this musical virus you call Freaky Styley?
“It feels like a vibrator coming out of your nose.”