Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 133
Tues. June 11, 2013
“She Said (Portishead remix)”
I’m a lover of all things Portishead. I have just about every remix Portishead has been commissioned to do, including Paul Weller’s “Wildwood,” Primal Scream “Give Out But Don’t Give Up” and I just discovered this rarity, Portishead’s vintage remix of “She Said” by The Pharcyde. I know what you’re thinking one of these bands is not like the other, what the heck is Portishead doing remixing a rap song? While some Portishead fans may not realize that Geoff Barrow’s love of hip hop gave the band it’s defiant back beat, finding strength from the rappers, MC and DJ’s that he first discovered during the early eighties as Barrow himself discusses in R.J. Wheaton’s 33 1/3 tome on Portishead’s Dummy, “when hip-hop first hit suburban England, it kind of took over and was massively exciting. [Hip Hop] was a real thing you could get into. It’s difficult to describe, but to a younger generation of sixteen-year old kids it was that you wouldn’t go out and have a fight; you’d go out and dance against each other.”
Although break dancing didn’t take off like it did in the States, according to Wheaton’s book Dummy, guitarist and co-producer Adrian Utley, “the discovery of hip hop was a ‘huge life-changing experience—like having a baby or something.” Barrow’s production partner, Utley shared Geoff’s enthusiasm with the American hip-hop lifestyle, especially with the influence of Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, explaining in Wheaton’s 33 1/3 tome, “I bought the album on cassette, which made it sound even better, and played it my car at ridiculous volume…And for me it was like a whole new exciting world that I knew nothing about. But […] when I met Geoff that was probably the first tracks we talked about, Takes a Nation of Millions. […] And I found it brave a new way of interpreting music. It had the energy of music I’d listened to in the past. So we spoke about, “How the hell—how they do—what—how is it made? How can that be made?” And just like that Barrow and Utley’s love of hip hop and especially Takes a Nation of Millions birthed the seeds in the future sound of Portishead.
Geoff Barrow admitted to The Village Voice that “Hip-hop is kind of my punk, really.” More than just a Public Enemy fan, one of Barrow’s being a fan of hip hop of SlimKid3 and The Pharcyde, you may recall that Barrow and Utley sampled a verse of The Pharcyde’s “She Said” on Portishead’s 1998 single “Only You.” Talking with The Village Voice about his turntable skills on 1998’s Portishead album, Barrow said, “I got bored of the way people were scratching on records. Loads of people were just getting into that technical shit of how fast they can scratch, and they weren’t even scratching in time anymore because they were just trying to do it so fast. What went from Jimmy Page to Steve Vai was exactly the same thing that happened to scratching culture. ‘Look how many quadruplet flares I can do.’ It was the Olympics of scratching. ‘Only You’ was my last passing shot of scratching because I wanted it to stand out more as an instrument, that it would be more wrong than right.”
The thing I respect about Barrow, even though Portishead’s renowned for dubbing their own instruments onto vinyl and sampling themselves from wax, is that unlike some other space age dance outfits from across the globe, Geoff gives credit on all samples Portishead scratches on their records. Barrow not only sampled The Pharcyde’s “She Said” on “Only You” but Geoff, like the class professional that his is, respectfully returned the favor by agreeing to remix the same song he sampled, “She Said” for his favorite and beloved hip hop outfit’s The Pharcyde.
Not only that, Barrow is such a hip hop purist that, according to The Village Voice, modern day hip hoppers like Gravediggaz and The Pharcyde commissioned Barrow to remix their original songs. Geoff was flattered but working with the influential hip hop was overwhelming to this rap loving aficionado as Barrow explained, “Yeah, thank fuck. I always felt like I had too much pressure to prove myself as a hip-hop producer, so I always fucked them up. I was just shit at it. It never felt quite right because it was me trying to be someone else. It sounds like a mid-OK kinda the third hip-hop guy you go to. Oh, dear.”
Geoff Barrow’s remix, expertly mixes the best of both music universes, while the original “Only You” uses the scratch sample of “She Said” to emphasize Portishead’s seductive desperation, Geoff’s remix uses Barrow’s expert scratchy trip hop backbeats with Pharcyde’s lyrical hip hop treatise of modern love. I don’t know what he’s talking about, Barrow’s remix shows that he is a master turntablist who can hang with hip hop pros like The Pharcyde.
Geoff Barrow may not be a traditional hip hop artist but his love for the craft of rap has not only influenced the sound of his made but made Portishead the respected crossover and pioneering band every genre defying musician longs to be. Barrow hopes that young music dreamers will follow his lead like he first did discovering hip hop as a teen in suburban teen. Where would Barrow, Utley and Portishead have been without the creation of hip hop? Barrow knows this and always goes out of his way to mention his heroes from his hip hop loving history. Because Even Geoff knows, “Only You” can change the world. It starts with a scratch and ends with your personal backbeat.
I think Nikki Lynette, from R.J. Wheaton’s 33 1/3 book on Dummy, said it best, “If you listen to the Dummy album, it does not sound like they were trying to define the times. It doesn’t sound like they were trying to define this whole sub-genre. It doesn’t sound like they were trying to relate to millions and millions of people. They just did.” And with the success of Dummy, their self-titled second album and Third, because of their inspired love of the American hip hop esthetic, it will take more than nations of millions to hold Portishead back.
R.J. Wheaton’s 33 1/3 tome on Portishead’s Dummy is available at all online and fine bookstores near you.