Melt Yourself Down‘s third album 100% YES is an epic, exciting joyride which sets saxophone genius Pete Wareham and front man Kush Gaya at the controls of the now six-piece genre-mashing outfit. It drills down both to individual identity, opening a dialogue of what it is to be British with reference to majority behaviour towards minorities, Grenfell, social media and crack addiction; and music identity, reconnecting the present with jazz from a time when, as Gaya puts it, it was “the wild, dirty music of the ’20s and ’30s; it was not a sit down, polite experience”.
Wareham, veteran of Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear, prefers his jazz “when it feels dangerous”, and 100% YES – the band’s first album for Decca – feels accordingly insurgent, melting together rap, jazz and their particular pan-global party punk spirit. “So much has changed in the world since we started writing in 2016,” says Wareham. “We couldn’t ignore any of it, and this new music is borne from our feelings of extreme cultural restlessness”. Yet it is hugely optimistic too, with Wareham’s urgent, anchoring sax work front and centre throughout.
On putting together the albums that have influenced him most for his This Music Made Me, Wareham says: “This has been a very difficult task and taken me nearly a week of thinking about it to come up with the goods! The criterion I’ve ended up using is that the album has to be formative to me in some way, a gateway to other music, the first time I heard an example of this kind of thing. So there are some huge omissions here – Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Led Zeppelin, Love, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Bob Dylan, The Beatles – but I had to draw the line somewhere. These are in no order whatsoever by the way!”
Van Morrison – Astral Weeks
I’ve had to use this album to summarise all the albums of that era that I love so much – The Doors, Love, etc. This one is particularly special because of Van’s incredibly expressive voice, that freewheeling, otherworldliness and the kaleidoscopic colours that it always conjures.
This has been a firm fave since the very beginning and later I found out that Richard Davis played bass (I never knew these details because all these albums were just tapes my friend gave me). Davis is one of my favourite bassists of that era, and played on so many incredible free and progressive jazz albums.
I think he’s a big reason why this album feels so flowing and elemental – the bass parts are not really written or fixed, and he just explores all over the place while still locking things down. Stunning.
Nico – Chelsea Girl
One album which won’t fit into the summary of ’60s music, or any summary for that matter, is this. It is so incredibly beautiful and dark, harsh, melancholic as well as gloriously ornate and organic so the overall effect is completely intoxicating.
This always reminds me of the English countryside in spring – lots of green leaves and dappled sunlight, the smell of the river, the warmth of the sun. I love all Nico’s stuff and this album taught me so much about long notes, the power of zero vibrato, the heavy syllables and the emotional intelligence of the arrangements. This is another side to the writers she collaborated with – the music was made by members of the Velvet Underground but you’d never know it – the sound is very different.
Nico herself hated the album apparently, particularly the flute: “They added strings and – I didn’t like them, but I could live with them. But the flute! The first time I heard the album, I cried and it was all because of the flute.” It’s a shame she didn’t listen to it because it is a masterpiece which never gets old.
Public Enemy – Yo! Bum Rush The Show
I’ll always remember stripping down my skateboards and re-painting the graphics on them in my dad’s garage in the late ’80s, listening to this, Beastie Boys, Run DMC, Anthrax, The Stupids, Suicidal Tendencies.
I was really into skate-core and metal bands, and this kind of hiphop fitted in perfectly. This album was also so amazing at the time because whilst we had been introduced to hiphop via the Beasties and Run DMC (and had the stolen VW car badges to prove it), this was altogether more grown up and serious. Despite hearing NWA and KRS-One a bit later, this album had a huge impact on me and led to a lifelong love of hip=hop.
Obviously the golden era followed, and via Tribe Called Quest and Guru, a direct link to the jazz I was becoming obsessed with. Such an important band and the beginning of so much incredible culture.
Archie Shepp – Four For Trane
I’d grown up playing jazz in the school jazz band and that repertoire was entirely trad jazz and ragtime. Amazing tunes, beautiful forms and colours in that music. That grew into a love of bebop and beyond, so by the time I got to this I was pretty familiar with most jazz.
Imagine my surprise when confronted with this Ben Webster-ish sound, but so out there and progressive, so utterly emotional and serious but tuneful as well. I heard this before hearing any free jazz really, so it sparked a huge journey via Ornette Coleman and then Sam Rivers.
For him to be interpreting all these Trane tunes gave it context and made it more understandable, so we could follow the action more easily. Thrilling. Such a vibe!
Salamat – Mambo El Soudani
I took a chance one day in Tower Records and bought three CDs just from the cover. This was one of them and it sparked a now 20-year obsession with Nubian music.
This journey led me to Ali Hassan Kuban, whose track Habibi was the inspiration for Melt Yourself Down, and his percussionist, Mahmoud Fadl who was also a key player in Salamat. This music has some gloriously dodgy synths in it but the horns, the riffs, the energy, drums, everything is just so fresh and never gets old.
There’s something about Nubian rhythms which just get so far under my skin and coupled with the same pentatonic scales used by Coltrane, Hendrix and so many others, I’m as hooked as hell. Hearing this for the first time was like a giant door opening, that I previously didn’t know was there.
Dahmane El Harrachi – Le Chaabi, Vol II
Another one of the three Tower Records blind buys. This is the sound of Algeria in exile in 1960s Paris, and Dahmane El Harrachi is one of the finest exponents of Chaabi music.
His voice is so incredibly gravelly and authoritative, the rhythms here are to die for and the harmonies are dark but hopeful and everything in between. This music has much more of an Arabic quality than the Nubian stuff, but not as delicate as some of the more classical styles and you can almost hear the geography in this if you listen in context of the country’s physical distance between Morocco and Egypt.
Chaabi is mysterious music and hard to master and has a uniquely folkloric sound and energy whilst being sophisticated as well. There is tonnes of Dahmane’s music on Spotify and it’s all brilliant.
Velvet Underground – Velvet Underground
I guess the first music I really lost my shit to, apart from the pop music I’d been served by TV and the radio throughout the 1980s, was rock and roll. I was obsessed with Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Bill Haley, Louis Prima et al and played in a rockabilly band in Southampton.
So when I heard the Velvet Underground I was already speaking the language and able to see how deeply and utterly they shook it up. The excitement of that raw energy, crazy drug-fuelled chaos and incredible songwriting chops just never gets old and I still get the same feeling from this album as I did the first time I heard it. It makes you just want to rip everything up and walk out, knowing you’re heading somewhere dangerous and electric.
This is another gateway album which led (perhaps obviously) to so much – Iggy, Ramones, Clash, Pistols, Buzzcocks, Misfits, Sonic Youth etc.
Olivier Messaien – Turangalila Symphonie
The third Tower Records buy which opened up another new world. Messaien’s language is so detailed, so complete and yet so unique that the scale of his vision feels almost impossible to comprehend.
I spent a long time studying his Scales Of Limited Transposition and the instructional books he wrote, detailing his language and processes, but I’ve only really scratched the surface of this. I used some of this language in Acoustic Ladyland, my previous band, but I’ve struggled to fit it into Melt Yourself Down so far. This symphony was written between 1946 and 1948 and features one of the first uses of an electronic instrument – the Ondes Martenot – and always sounds incredibly futuristic and profound. It amazes me how much Messaien could hear, and how he could make such strongly conceptual music feel so natural, so spiritual and colourful.
I transcribed the first movement of this once and we performed it with a short-lived band called The Final Terror. It was a bonkers thing to do but was also very exciting and I learned so much. Must dig that out!
John Coltrane – Crescent
I was having music lessons with a bassist in Southampton when I was 18, who introduced me to this. After that, John Coltrane’s music became my religion for about 10 years. It completely changed my attitude to life, and during this time I also became involved with Tibetan Buddhism.
This, combined with a very long daily practice routine and an almost hermit-like existence was my thing at the time, and I loved every minute of it! I only had to stop because it got to the point where I couldn’t play a single note on the saxophone without Coltrane inhabiting my breath somehow and I realised that this was the worst way to pay tribute to him. I realised that the best way to pay tribute to an artist like this is to become as much yourself as he was himself, not to imitate him. To strive to be as original as he was, not to copy him. Copying him is the exact opposite of his message.
But, like Messaien, the blend of skill and spiritual elements is so effortless and natural that it always makes me feel healed somehow when I hear it.
PJ Harvey – White Chalk
This is another album which never fades, only grows in intrigue. I had a very long PJ Harvey phase, and this one is so different from all her other albums. The ethereal piano, the atmospheric production and compositions, the myriad characters and stories in her voice, the dark and poetic lyrics which leave more unsaid than said, the mysterious way this album was presented – it’s a masterpiece and Polly Harvey is such a genius.
I almost can’t remember the names of the individual songs because the album as a whole feels like a film – lots of veils and organic colours, weird Great Expectations-like scenes of dusty glamour, conjured by the quasi-classical piano and almost period drama-ish nature of the characters and themes.
All tied together with that amazing PJ Harvey humility and seriousness which means you can lose yourself completely in the music without always having to deal with the personality of the artist, reminding you of their efforts.
Melt Yourself Down’s 100% YES is out through Decca on 27 March 2020. Tour dates and further information can be found at meltyourselfdown.com