Slam is Stuart McMillan and Orde Meikle. Synonymous with Glasgow’s underground club scene and their sound-searching record label, Soma, the duo have garnered a reputation as international DJs, accomplished recording artists and respected collaborators.
Their schedule regularly takes them to clubs worldwide confirming their status as one of a handful of artists that truly shape their genre. Resident at Fabric, London and Pressure, Glasgow, they are about to undergo their 8th annual Slam tent at Scotland’s T in the Park festival (15 000 capacity).
Slam were nearing the end of their ‘Alien Radio’ tour when they shared an epiphany. Rather than feeling jaded after trekking around the world at a time when the media were reporting on the so-called ‘decline of dance music’ Slam were fired-up, focused and ready to start work on their third album. The duo had been searching through their record collections collating ideas for a radio one ‘Breezeblock’ guest show and re-discovered the music that had brought them together in the first place; Tom Tom Club, Funkadelic,Mantronix and urban labels like Celluloid and Sugarhill.
This music was Slam’s ‘year zero’, informing their salad days. “It usually takes us ages to make an album,” laughs Stuart McMillan, “but we knew what we wanted to do. When we first met we were listening to electro, funk and reggae. What was exciting about the early house scene was that it wasn’t just about one thing. We wanted to step back to go forward.” Orde Meikle agrees, “We were looking for a fresher feeling. What we used to play when we started Djing was niche-less, a very eclectic mix of music. We wanted to return to these influences but draw something fresh out of them.”
After the success of ‘Alien Radio’s collaborations with Dot Allison and Tyrone Palmer, whose soulful ‘Lifetimes’ Orde believes is their most requested track – Slam were confident that ‘Year Zero’ should be song based. “It is electronic music with vocals,” Stuart says of their formative influences and the ensuing tracks on the aptly titled album. Despite having a canon of masterful club tracks to their name (‘Positive Education’, ‘Virtuoso’ and ‘Step Back’ to name just three) Slam admit they are still exploring and experimenting. Working with vocalists, in particular, is relatively new territory. “We are used to working on our own,” Orde admits, “throw someone else into the melting pot and you’re never sure how it’s going to turn out.” Dot Allison and Tyrone Palmer return alongside Elbee Bad, Envoy and the legendary voices of Ann Saunderson and Billy Ray Martin. “It’s less club influenced,” reckons Orde, “the songs and music carry the album.”
To reflect the warped and weird electro funk on which they were raised the duo dug out older synths and analogue equipment to work their magic, which, on some tracks they felt was quite literal. On the exquisite, spooksome ‘Ghost Electric’ Orde believes that the machine wouldn’t leave a particular sound alone. “It kept going back to it, finding the right sounds of its own accord.”
With the machines on their side ‘Year Zero’ is Slam at their most accomplished. Stunning opener ‘This World’ channels prescient social comment through Tyrone’s soulful voice. "We’d been listening to Prince’s ‘Sign O’ The Times’, " Stuart admits, “and wanted to write something similar but relevant to now, though it’s not just about the war in Iraq.” Orde reflects that after “too many evenings in foreign hotel rooms watching News 24”, it was a song they felt had to be written. Joining Tyrone from the ‘Alien Radio’ sessions is fellow Glaswegian and Massive Attack vocalist Dot Allison whose unique voice graces ‘Kill The Pain’. “It’s a haunting song with a message about dependency” Orde explains.
‘Fast Lane’ is lyrically in a similar vein as Hope Grant (a.k.a Envoy) sings, with a delivery reminiscent of Prince, “Sometimes I feel like giving up/Sometimes I just can’t get enough.” The killer bassline apparently travelled with Stuart to Brazil and back before he could transfer it from his head to the studio.
‘Metropolitan Cosmopolitan’ is a timeless piece of electro (from a time before it received the trendy ‘clash’ suffix). Over FX-driven breaks Elbee Bad delivers a relentless rap about nocturnal animals. They had met the Berlin based New Yorker (the inspiration behind classic techno epic ‘Smokebelch II’) on tour and had hoped to record his charismatic speaking voice. “We weren’t sure what he was going to do when he came to our studio and he surprised us with a rap,” Stuart recalls. The electro theme continues on ‘Blow Your Mind’ a slow, salacious grind that conjures images of hot summers, beat boxes and ghetto kids finding the funk in Kraftwerk.
‘Bright Lights Fading’ is a sparkling, synthetic soul track as the peerless Billy Ray Martin sings about a fading star on one of the album’s highlights. “Pick me up off the floor put me in your show tonight. I’m designed to blow your mind if you just let me be myself.” It’s beautifully skewed.
‘Year Zero’ concludes with the aforementioned ‘Ghost Electric’ and ‘Human’ – a stomper for fans of their techno orientated DJ sets. “We wouldn’t be telling the true story of Slam if we didn’t cover all our loves,” says Orde of this jackin’ beast. Elsewhere ‘Known Pleasures’ is so-called because Stuart reckons it is “the archetypal Slam track. It’s one for the clubs and continues our love affair with strings.” ‘Lie To Me’ – featuring Ann Saunderson – will also appeal to fans of Slam’s rolling bass and use of emotive strings. It’s a beautiful, twisted love song. Penned with the Inner City chanteuse, it will be the single before the album release.
“We always try and make records that sound like classics, those are the records we love,” Orde sums up. On ‘Year Zero’ they have made the album they always threatened to make; an album of fully realised songs and future classics.
Slam will be touring with their live ‘Year Zero’ show this summer including a showcase performance at their own 15000 capacity ‘Slam Tent’ at ‘In The Park’.