DJ Magazine Issue No. 73, 1-15 October 1992
I scream, you scream, we all scream err… Sunscreem?
by Ronnie Randall
Sunscreem. Perfect pop dance – but is it live, and does anybody care anyway? Ronnie Randall is asked to put any prejudices aside on your behalf.
Yes! The singer IS a blonde female from Essex. Yes! They HAVE got two guitarists and a ‘proper’ drummer. Bloody hell, even the dancers are MALE. Sunscreem seem to have got all the ingredients wrong for an act that want to appear in clubs and at raves. Yet since (or perhaps despite?) their jolly poppy mainstream singles chart entry earlier this year with ‘Love U More’ they’ve been doing just that, and what’s more are proving rather successful at it if sheer volume of bookings are an indication.
Funny thing though, I thought they were children of the revolution, circa 88/89, so why do they keep stressing this term ‘live band’ all the time? Almost as if they’ve got a guilt complex about faking it occasionally or something, like it’s a sin.
“We ARE live…” Whatever you say.
“But it’s true.” I’m here to believe you.
“Basically the sound is keyboard generated, but on stage we blend the guitars and the drums with all the electronic stuff, and actual ‘live’ vocals, none of that lip-synching through the PA to a DAT backing track. We just use a sequences, otherwise it’s the real thing… I suppose we’re a bit of a hybrid, quite bloomin amazin really.”
Does anyone care if you’re genuinely ‘live’ at a big dance event? Who REALLY notices an ‘act’ at a rave? The whole night is generally cranked up by the volume and the beat, they flow uninterrupted and nobody really looks up.
“They do, people appreciate that we’re setting up substantial gear (err.. as in equipment) for them, they can see that we’re not just turning up, plugging into the PA for ten minutes and them buggering off to the next rave along the motorway. There’s a genuine appreciation of that fact. Besides, a live band is a statement, we’re here, look at us, we’re happening now.”
Was your ‘live’ bug a conscious reaction against the current vogue for cardboard cut out ‘musical turns’ performing short variety ‘acts’?
There’s so much more energy when you play live, it’s not calculated and cynical like the whole PA thing. The atmosphere in different clubs demands a different approach each time, so if everything is pre-programmed on say DAT, then you’re not able to adapt to reflect that atmosphere, you basically don’t give full value, for either yourself or for the audience. The image most personalities on the rave scene project is garish and cheap, like the videos, there’s little long term investment in dance music.”
Sunscreem have been sussed, some would say cynical, enough to realize that major labels like Sony are primarily interested in acts with long term potential. Corporate wisdom preaches that pure dance music doesn’t sell volume outside of the dance arena. In their view yer typical Urban Hype types are unlikely to be the next Elton John, and neither will there be too many publishing royalties from the future cover versions of ‘A Trip To Trumpton.’
“We consciously sold ourselves on the basis of our songs foremost, and then slipped in the instrumental dance tracks after getting the deal… The ‘proper’ album is done by THEY (Sony) say dance albums don’t sell, they want it released on the back of a top ten hit, so it’s been put back to January now, after the ‘Perfect Motion’ single. Don’t sell? What about 808 State, Orbital, The Orb… This is the future.”
So it’s back to the old gigging trade routes for Sunscreem, EARNING their future chart position on the tried and tested autumn college circuit.
“Right now we’re into a two month solid college tour… It’s tough, the label wants us to sleep on the bus, images, ten people and no showers. We usually perform for around 15-20 minutes in clubs, but colleges require 45-50 minutes, so it’s a different challenge, much more about the songs. We take our own DJ, like Dave Valentine, to warm up, and he performs with us. There are 8 on stage, the DJ, five band members and two dancers.”
A college crowd are potentially more receptive to axe-wielding and drums.
“Sure, but it’s important to point that our guitars don’t play rock riffs, we try to create new sounds by using them to trigger samples sounds. There’s a lot of content in the songs too, we’re into words, very fussy, there’s got to be more to lyrics than just ‘Take Me Higher.’ We go down well in any situation; really hardcore places like The Eclipse in Coventry and Rage at Haven have asked us back so we be doing something right.”
Strangely I was at the second Rage, (which incidentally isn’t that hardcore on the main dancefloor anymore) and was surprised, in view of what I’d heard, to see Sunscreem mix lip-synching with a smattering of live vocal, meanwhile failing totally to convince that those famous loneliest guitars in clubland are either being played, or triggering anything beyond audience mirth and occasional hostility. The one surprising and exciting truth of that particular night was the sight and sound of a real drum kit being thrashed about. Call me an old fart reactionary if you like, but I was just DYING to hear the authentic screech of one of those guitars, they CAN work in a club context, and soon someone is going to realize it.
Sunscreem? Visually it’s a great package, action packed, fun, yet earnest all at the same time. But inevitably by trying to be all things to all people, and all sounds for all ears, credibility problems are a concern. After all look what happened when science bods mixed pop with hardcore… Smarte’s.