“No way, man. I’m not a wigguh. I’m more of a B-Boy,” insists Theo Keating, a.k.a. Touch, sole creator of The Wiseguys. “I am what I am. I don’t pretend I’m black. I know I’m white. I’m not ashamed of that. I just have a real appreciation of hip-hop.”
Theo not only has a real appreciation of hip-hop, but he also has a firm grasp on what draws people to the dance floor. Combining the best of hip-hop with the finest in big beats, Theo has constructed a masterpiece in his US debut, The Antidote. Part of his success owes to the album’s first single, “Ooh La La”.
“That song was simple to write,” he explains. “I just took some samples that I had and threw it all together. And for some reason, it all stuck together.”
It stuck in people’s minds, too. Its referential point being Sassoon’s 70s shampoo jingle, “Ooh la la, Sassoon,” the track has struck a chord not only on dance floors, but in tv commercials and movies as well. “It’s quite mad, actually. I had no idea nor any clue what ‘Ooh la la, Sassoon’ meant. I only saw it as a cool phrase. Prior to assembling the song, I never even heard of it.”
Ironically, the song that was constructed from a commercial jingle has become a commercial jingle in and of itself. “Here in London, the song was used for a Budweiser commercial, which is quite strange actually. [Budweiser] usually never uses music; it just shows guys drinking beer.” On UK television, Levi’s has been instrumental in launching the fleeting careers of musicians by using a song with an advertisement, from bands like Babylon Zoo (“The Boy with X-Ray Eyes”), Kula Shaker (“Tattva”) and Smoke City (“Underwater Love”). But just as soon as they reach the top of the charts, they fall victim to what seems to be some type of Levi’s curse. “Most of those bands’ singles go on to become huge, but, after that, you never hear from them again,” he says. “And since Budweiser had never done it before, I thought, ‘Why not?’ and gave them permission to use it.”
Most recently, in the US “Ooh La La” was used as the music for the Big Daddy trailer. “I signed some paperwork a long time ago and forgot all about it, because those [movie] companies might not even end up using the song. But while I was in New York a little while ago, I was watching the television and heard the song used for an Adam Sandler film. It was quite a surprise.”
While some musicians slave over single writing, for Theo the opposite was true. “It’s quite funny that the easiest songs to write, ‘Ooh La La’, ‘Cowboy ’78’, ‘Start the Commotion’, were the ones that were chosen as singles.” So what was the hardest? “Ooh, good question. Never really thought about that. ‘Au Pair Girls’ was difficult. But I think ‘Face the Flames’ was probably the most difficult. I was going for a mood and I had a tough time trying to achieve it.” Starting with a dark and almost gothic introduction, “Face the Flames” begins with echoes of early Bauhaus and Einstrzende Neubauten, lethargic piano keys striking lonely chords as a wailing trumpet cries in the background. But as the song picks up, the piano leads the way to a scuffling, almost jazzy, mid-tempo beat. While not as catchy or instantly likable as “Start the Commotion”, which seems to have been written as a dance floor classic, “Fan the Flames” really displays Theo’s mastery of beat and orchestrated noise.
But it’s his singles that will win him applause. “Cowboy ’78” strings a conga beat and a Manchester rhythm to a spaghetti western theme, complete with snake rattles and pistol shots. The aforementioned “Ooh La La” fuses the funky drummer to a samba beat with the singalong chorus, “Say ‘ooh la la, Sassoon’/ Come on, Come on.” It’s experimental concoctions like these that drive the heart of Theo’s music. “When I started out, I played these straight hip-hop clubs where you could get creative with the mixes. There was one night where I played ‘Billie Jean’ next to Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ and I put this hip-hop drumbeat underneath. People loved it. These girls were falling over because they thought it was hilarious. But it worked. Could I ever do it again? Probably not, because it could only happen once and that’s it. You can’t recreate that.”
With the transience of pop stars these days and with the reign of teen artists who will ultimately grow up and find themselves on VH1’s Where Are They Now?, Theo isn’t afraid of losing his mainstream audience. He’s as content being an underground B-Boy as he is with having a number two UK smash. “When ‘Ooh La La’ originally came out in the summer of ’98, it was being played a lot in the clubs, and I thought, ‘Great, I’ve made it,’ because that was my world. Fuck everything else, as long as I’m still being played in the clubs, I feel that I’m successful.”
+ rey roldan