In 2008 I read a review of Liquid Liquid’s Slip In And Out Of Phenomenon in Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant. The review was short, but intriguing enough to buy the cd. In July of 2008 I changed employer and I was gifted the cd by my ex-colleagues.
Before Liquid Liquid convened in their definite form, there was Liquid Idiot and The Idiot Orchestra, who released a 7 inch single in 1978 and 1980 respectively. In 1981 Liquid Liquid was founded.
Liquid Liquid is regarded as an important part of the no wave movement, which distanced itself from new-wave, which was considered too commercial, and, as was the case with punk rock, was musically seen as nothing more than a rehash of old rock and roll clichés. Minimalism, noise, atonality and the free-jazz spirit defined the genre, which was primarily developed in New York.
Liquid Liquid was born around this time and centered itself on grooves and was influenced by funk, dub reggae, Afrobeat, punk and early hip-hop. The music was rather form-less, lacking verses and choruses. The voice was utilized as just another instrument, often used as part of the rhythm. Words/lyrics were of less importance.
In 1981 Liquid Liquid debuted with the EP Liquid Liquid, that very same year followed by the EP Successive Reflexes and the single Bellhead / Push. The single contained two songs that were (re)recorded, mixed and mastered on November 24, 1981. The single was destroyed by the band, so a very small amount survived. In 1983 the third EP Optimo was released, which turned out to be the last release of the band in its original form.
The group soon disbanded and record company 99 Records closed its doors (see paragraph Cavern). During their existence Liquid Liquid released 3 EP’s, some 45 minutes worth of music, but their impact was huge, both on new-wave bands like Tom Tom Club and A Certain Ratio, hip-hop artists like Grandmaster Flash and Beastie Boys and later dance-rock acts like LCD Soundsystem and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Because the Liquid Liquid music wasn’t available anymore, all the original EP’s were compiled and, supplemented with a live recording from March 1982, released in 1997 under the moniker Liquid Liquid on the Beastie Boys label Grand Royal. Unfortunately, the compilation sold out quickly.
Slip In And Out Of Phenomenon
By 2008 Liquid Liquid’s music was, once again, very hard to find. Bands like LCD Soundsystem only fueled the need for that music. Dominion Records decided to release the ultimate collection of Liquid Liquid music. The three original EP’s formed the base for the release, supplemented with never before released material.
Using the moniker Slip In And Out Of Phenomenon the compilation was released on May 19, 2008. It ignited the fire within the band to start performing again.
I didn’t know anything of and by the band when I got the cd. I was immediately impressed. It is still hard to believe that these recordings stem from the early years of the 1980s. Even today, the music still sounds modern, different and completely unique.
The percussive music comes off like some kind of mantra. It’s intoxicating, alienating and exiting all at once. The unique quality and originality is enormous. Another remarkable feat is that the band was a very good live act. A number of songs on the EP’s were recorded live, like the fantastic swinging and funky Bellhead.
Another standout quality is the production. 99 Records was a little record company, that released quality music. The sales were meagre, certainly relatively speaking, but their influence was huge. The last EP, Optimo, sounds the most professional and would lead to the group’s early demise (see paragraph Cavern).
In short: Slip In And Out Of Phenomenon is a unique part of music history cannot be missed for that reason alone. For anyone who’s into no wave, LCD Soundsystem, A Certain Ratio, ESG and the combination of funk, dub and dance, this compilation is absolutely essential.
Unfortunately, the compilation doesn’t contain all music by Liquid Liquid. The original version of Lub Dupe is missing, as is the Bellhead / Push single and the EP Dig We Must, which was released in 1984 when the band was already defunct.
All songs written by Liquid Liquid.
Liquid Liquid EP
- New Walk
- Lub Dupe *
- Spearbox *
Successive Reflexes EP
- Lock Groove (In)
- Lock Groove (Out)
- Zero Leg
- Eyes Sharp
- Where’s Al *
- Sank Into The Chair *
- Outer *
Liquid Idiot (live 12/05/1980)
- Sank Into The Chair
- Elephant Walk
- Not Again
The songs followed by a * and on the Liquid Idiot (live 12/05/1980) recordings, had never been released before.
- Salvatore Principato – vocals, percussion
- Dennis Young – guitar, marimba, keyboards, except on Liquid Idiot (live 12/05/1980)
- Richard McGuire – bass, keyboards
- Scott Hartley – drums, percussion
- Bill Kleinsmith – conga on Liquid Idiot (live 12/05/1980)
The song Cavern was Liquid Liquid’s biggest success and also led to the demise of both the band and record company 99 Records. Cavern struck a chord within hip-hop circles in New York and sold around 30,000 copies, a huge number for the little 99 Records label, led by Ed Bahlman.
The song was so popular that Sugarhill Records used the song for a new song by Grandmaster Flash, White Lines. Initially Liquid Liquid felt honored, but that changed quickly when it turned into a worldwide hit. Ed Bahlman in particular was mad and contacted Sugarhill Records. It was the start of a true nightmare.
Sugarhill Records had a bad reputation. A lot of the raps and music were stolen/re-used, without paying money to the original artists. Whenever the label didn’t get their way of felt cornered, threats were made, ranging from accidents, visits to studios and/or stores by shady people with weapons (like machetes) and violence towards family members. But Bahlman persisted. He spent a fortune on what ultimately led to a lawsuit. And, Bahlman and 99 Records won. But Sugarhill Records didn’t have the money and filed for bankruptcy and Bahlman didn’t receive a penny. In the meantime all his money was gone, resulting in his and Liquid Liquid’s withdrawal from the music industry, leaving them both disillusioned.
All’s well that ends well?
In 1995 Duran Duran covered White Lines. Liquid Liquid’s Richard McGuire hired a lawyer and went after the money. An agreement was reached and Liquid Liquid was finally paid for White Lines. Bahlman was (and still is) nowhere to be found, so he (probably) hasn’t received anything.
As stated before, Liquid Liquid reconvened in 2008 and played a lot of live shows. On April 2, 2011, Liquid Liquid was the support act for huge fans LCD Soundsystem, who played their farewell show on that day.
What do you think of Liquid Liquid? Let me know!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: The complete Liquid Liquid story: Slip In And Out Of Phenomenon. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
Liquid Liquid 1981-1983 images: spotify.com
Liquid Liquid – Bellhead (single), Liquid Liquid – Remixes promo only CDR & Liquid Liquid – Liquid Liquid, Successive Reflexes, Optimo (EP’s) images: discogs.com
Liquid Liquid – Slip In And Out Of Phenomenon image: dominomusic.com
99 Records – Logo image: wikipedia.org