M/A/R/R/S: Pump Up The Volume

April 12, 2011

Roll: 2 – 6 – 17
Pump Up The Volume (3-track single) by M/A/R/R/S

Colourbox were the 4AD band who weren’t Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, Modern English, Pixies, Throwing Muses, Dead Can Dance or generally remembered for anything recorded under there own name. They were responsible, however, for the best UK dance track ever recorded: “Pump Up The Volume“. M/A/R/R/S was a proposed Colourbox / A.R. Kane collaboration which, once in the studio, turned out to look better on paper than in reality. The result was a split one-off double-A-side single.

One side is, for all intents and purposes, the Colourbox side and sports “Pump Up The Volume”; the other is A.R. Kane’s “Anitina“—the song which isn’t “Pump Up The Volume” an no one but the most hardcore A.R. Kane fans (and how many of those can there be?) cares about. Though fine in most respects, it really should have been omitted in favour of another remix of the PUTV.

In preparation for this review, I’ve listened to the track a half-dozen times (more than I ever have in the past) and all my memory can retain of it is the unfortunate drum programming. The song’s forget-ability is emphasized even more when placed next to a tour de force like “Pump Up The effin’ Volume”.

Probably still the best UK House track ever produced, the importance of PUTV to the world of electronic music cannot be overstated. Whether House and Techno would have remained an underground phenomenon or not without the massive success of this single is impossible to say, but it was M/A/R/R/S who launched electronic music into the North American suburbs.

In 1987 “electronic dance music” was a collection of three dirty words. Together they were synonymous with Disco and New Wave, two movements people at the time were scrambling to pretend they’d never enjoyed. But then M/A/R/R/S came along, seemingly out of nowhere, and changed the game.

Lured in with a dexterous display of impossibly catchy samples, people who’d previously scoffed at anything with an 808 drum beat started bobbing their heads. Tapes were passed around by kids who had siblings in college whose roommates were dubbing them stuff from Belgium and Germany which was “even better than M/A/R/R/S.” It usually wasn’t nearly as good but overnight there was a hunger for hypnotic four-on-the-floor beats with crazy movie sound-bites and hip-hop samples.

M/A/R/R/S are often credited as being responsible for the Acid House craze (which gave birth to rave culture) in the UK that ended the decade, but in North America the benefactors of the PUTV legacy were probably the harder-edged Industrial bands. Ministry, Nine Inch Nails and the Wax Trax! label owe a debt of gratitude for having the public mind opened towards electronic beats and cut-up samples.

As the Electronica fad engulfed the mid-to-late ’90s, PUTV’s influence could still be heard in nearly every track. Though not the first song to use samples in a cut-up montage of pop-culture referencing mayhem and dance-floor decadence, it was the de facto template.

Sounding miraculously timeless instead of dated, it remains the template a whopping 23 three years later.




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