Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Hula - Threshold (1987)

Sounds like Nine Inch Nails, suggested the handwritten sticker hopefully as I picked this from the bin at a record fair, specifically a record fair in Texas which, as you will notice if you consult a map, is quite a distance from Sheffield. It doesn't sound like Nine Inch Nails, but I suppose it sounds more like Nine Inch Nails than it sounds like George Strait, so whatever.

Hula somehow passed me by, although I always had at least a little curiosity given the presence of the bloke who bashed the skins on all those Cabaret Voltaire records. I saw Hula albums in the racks, but there was always something else I wanted more. Online wisdom seems to suggest that they were amazing live but the albums were weird and disappointing, although some of the singles were pretty good; and happily it turns out that Threshold is a singles compilation.

Hula sound roughly like I expected them to, being very much of their time and place, namely Sheffield during the second half of the eighties. There's the drum machine - a Yamaha RX15 I'd guess - pounding out its cold climate equivalent of a b-boy rhythm; and there's the slap bass, horn stabs, flat tops and crew cuts, sweaty young men grunting and frowning in those vests everyone used to wear. You can almost see the video as you listen, somewhere dark with chains hanging down, maybe some sparks flying and a whole lot of funky grimacing. It's the most eighties thing I've heard since the eighties, except even as I formulate the thought, I realise how unfair it is. Hula only sound so firmly cemented into their era because of the distance between now and then, and how record production has changed, not even necessarily for the better; and it doesn't even make sense when you consider that what replaced this sound was mostly jangly arseholes trying to recreate the sixties.

So I gave Threshold a few more spins than I might usually have done, mainly just to reacquaint myself with what all those college discos I always fucking hated used to sound like in between the obligatory bursts of James Brown and Smalltown Boy. It takes some doing, but it's worth it. Once you're past all the reverb on the snare and those congas pinging away in the left channel, distinguishing features begin to emerge - and lest we either forget or hadn't realised in the first place, Hula incorporated members of Clock DVA, the Box, and Chakk, so it's not unreasonable to expect at least some distinguishing features. Twenty or thirty spins down the line and it still sounds like a cross between at least two of the marginally more famous bands already invoked, and yet somehow they get away with it by virtue of just how hard those boys were straining and sweating at their instruments, and they get away with it because there's something brooding, genuinely soulful, and even jazzy buried beneath the pounding rhythms, particularly with Get the Habit and Black Wall Blue.

I'd say there used to be a lot of music which sounded like this, but it's an illusion of memory and not entirely true, because most of those cooking to this recipe usually sounded like Pop Will Eat Itself and were thus a complete waste of everyone's time. Hula were one of the few acts who got it right. Thirty years later, this still holds surprises.

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