In a decade that has seen electronic music grow to reach a global audience, Apollo Four Forty have always managed to stay at the forefront of dance and club culture. Founded in Liverpool in 1990 by core members Noko and brothers Howard and Trevor Gray, Apollo Four Forty has been making classic dance tracks since before the Chemical Brothers were still dabbling in dust. And if you haven’t heard of them ’til now, it’s only because the boys in the band have been so busy producing their original daft, punk, electronic chaos, not to mention remixing folks like Lenny Kravitz, the Manic Street Preachers and Puff Daddy, that they haven’t had time (or the inclination) for lobbying the British Press for accolades.
Following on the heels of their two most recent UK Top Ten singles, though, it’s now time for Apollo Four Forty to come into its own. The band’s third album, Gettin’ High On Your Own Supply (Epic/550 Music, in stores January 25, 2000), is another fearless exploration into diverse sounds, combining new musical elements and live rock & roll into their already dense, seamless weave of techno, drum ‘n’ bass and electronic funk. Equal parts Monsters of Rock and B-Boy Bouillabaise, Gettin’ High is a record that’ll shake your paranoia–and fuel dancefloors and mosh pits at the same time.
If you are familiar with Apollo Four Forty already, it’s probably because of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Dub,” their unforgettable 1995 Van Halen-meets-drum ‘n’ bass collage, or from the band’s gigantic theme to the 1997 movie “Lost In Space.” The truth of the matter is, though, Apollo Four Forty’s been around a lot longer than that. Besides having a reputation as ace remixers in the early ’90s, the Gray brothers and Noko were also composing their own original material and releasing a series of singles on their Stealth Sonic Recordings label. The aim, says Howard Gray, was to create dance music that would rock clubs but still have an “over-the-top, foot-on-the-monitor rock and roll dynamic.” It was bold and brash and, especially, loud. Loud enough, in fact, to attract the attention of Sony Music UK, who signed Apollo Four Forty in 1993. Their 1995 debut album, Millennium Fever, spawned three UK Top 40 singles and placed Apollo Four Forty at the forefront of the dance/rock interface, a position that was cemented with the release of their second album, 1997’s Electro Glide In Blue. A more experimental affair, Electro Glide In Blue showed the band’s growing comfort with pushing the boundaries of electronic music. As Howard relates: “Our records aren’t [necessarily] club chart records in the same way as Jason Nevins–we’re not trying to compete with that at all.” Nonetheless, the album yielded another string of hit singles, including such UK and European Top Ten hits as the club smashes “Krupa” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Dub.”
An intense period of performing in 1997 and 1998 across Europe’s festival and club circuits found Apollo Four Forty broadening and expanding as a live group to an eight-piece lineup. According to Howard, creating an all-live band around Apollo’s studio creation was a way to reject the idea of a dance band being simply DAT sequencers or DJ sets, “because doing the same thing every night would be anathema to a group trying to make radically different records every time.” The band’s current lineup includes Mary Mary (a/k/a Mary Byker of Gaye Bykers On Acid and Pigface fame) on vocals, Noko on guitar, Trevor on keyboards, Rej Ap-Gwynedd on bass, drummers Paul Kodish and Cliff Hewitt, Harry K on decks and vocals, with Howard mixing live as Vibe Controller. It’s a band that Howard proudly (if not somewhat immodestly) describes as “the best rock and roll band on the planet.” And foot-on-the-monitor rock and roll, at that.
The experience of becoming a cohesive live unit, capable of rocking the smallest clubs to the biggest stadiums, sowed the seeds of Gettin’ High On Your Own Supply. Ensconced in their Apollo Control studio, Apollo Four Forty set out to record an album which would capture the band’s immense live power.
“Are we a rock band or what….?” begins the record, as a lulling dawn of swelling keyboards quickly segues into the monster guitar dance boogie of “Stop The Rock,” already a UK Top Ten single. This infectiously irresistible dance track features everything from rockabilly rhythm guitar and classic ’60s organ sounds, to vocodered vocals namechecking Madonna and Henry Moore.
Elsewhere, the glam-stoked “Crazee Horse,” rocks like a house full of rave kids rediscovering the Ziggy Stardust they grew up on. Crunchy, jagged guitar riffs highlight the propulsive yet delightfully twisted “Cold Rock The Mic,” which halfway through takes a turn into a different supersonic dimension.
Apollo Four Forty’s skill with drum ‘n’ bass shines in the “Lost In Space (Theme).” Updating the classic television show theme for the ‘Net-space age, they turn it into a pedal-to-the-metal blast of guitar riffage, while keeping the track’s rhythmic base firmly in d ‘n’ b. “For Forty Days” (which you might recognize from the in-store GAP soundtrack this 1999 holiday season) is an ethereal, floating sonic landscape with breakbeat shuffles, cascading piano motifs, and wraparound flute refrains. “Heart Go Boom” begins as a languid, shimmering track with roots in dub reggae, and then explodes into a carnival-like revelry of guitar riffs and infectious breakbeat rhythmsthen returns to its bouncy reggae flow. The experimental side of Apollo Four Forty is plain to hear in the pulsing analog synths, skybound guitars, and Moogs of “The Machine In The Ghost.” But soon enough, in “Blackbeat,” the band is rocking once more, with heavy, spacey slabs of guitar mixed with the sort of keyboard textures pioneered by funk master Bernie Worrell.
Next up is “Stadium Parking Lot” a classic adrenal blast of hip-hop and rock, 440 style. Featuring DJ Harry K on co-lead vocals, the song makes good on its promise to “make enough noise to wake the dead.” “Yo! Future” brings the beat back to drum ‘n’ bass while blending a sci-fi ambiance with beat-box rock. “High On Your Own Supply” clearly has its roots in classic hip-hop turntablismbut the track is turned inside out by the band, with atmosphere strings and a doomy chorus that builds to an explosive climax. And “The Perfect Crime,” with its punchy horns, shadowy guitars, and languidly funky beats, ends Gettin’ High’s all-night party like the shimmering break of approaching dawn. US dates are planned in early 2000, when Apollo Four Forty will showcase for the American audience the rocking hybrid of modern electronic sounds so successfully captured on Gettin’ High On Your Own Supply.