Wobble & Keith Levene:
Sounds, December 16th, 1989
Transcribed (and additional info) by Karsten Roekens
© 1989 Sounds
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Everyone knows what John Lydon's up to these days, but what about the forgotten members of the original PIL line-up? John Robb tracks down bassist Jah Wobble and guitarist Keith Levene, and discovers that musically they've more in common than their notorious past…
Jah Wobble, the ex-PIL bass plugger, the man with the fattest, loopiest four-string at his fingertips, has been struggling along his own valiant path for the best part of the decade. Splitting from PIL just before it collapsed into pathetic parody, Wobble hasn't played any Yank sports stadiums but he has retained a dignity for his work by following his instinct and not some senile old punk dictate. The man had a somewhat wild reputation but, having given up the booze, has calmed down into the amiable nutter that wobbles about on the cutting edge of r'n'r. He's a charming and vital eccentric tapping away at the edges of rock. Wobble's current album - 'Without Judgement' - is a live beast, recorded in one of the eternal partyland Dutch venues, featuring a superb pick-up band that includes the relentless drum spiel of Urban Dance Squad's Michael Schoots. And the 'Unspoken Word' single is a full frontal dance attack - a collision of Eastern drone and dancefloor muscle that explodes when cranked full through the stereo. Other signs of a muso health kick include Wobble's recent collaboration on the monumental Gary Clail album and Fuse's 'World Dance Music'.
Wobble is a maverick spirit and a damn playful one at that. In a crunched geyser grey suit, he's wider than any wide boy flogging his new work but cutting through business bullshit with his second-hand car dealer enthusiasm. Wobble's music has a soul and he is definitely not a product. "Music is an external force that you pick up and you get to feel the presence of God or Allah or whatever. I don't mean in the normal Christian sense - it's just a matter of getting the right atmosphere and musicians tapping it on the groove." From any other dude's lips that would sound like hippy bollocks, but you can believe Jah. He's got the music to back up his guff.
The way Wobble works is to give his current gang of musicians a set of parameters to work within and then groove along till it feels right. "I try to keep it free without being too democratic. I like to steer people, and let them find their own thing. It's great, when you're playing, to suddenly not be aware of time, to get into a trance-like state." Of his contemporaries Wobble rates his sticks genius Michael Schoots, Bill Laswell and a bunch of jazzers with names that I couldn't hope to spell.
He also has great affection to former PIL sparring partner Keith Levene. "He's down to earth - he doesn't talk like a pompous arsehole. I heard a track off that new album of his, the cover of Hendrix's 'If Six Was Nine', and thought it was great." What about your old boss John Lydon, King Of Punk, the sneer that launched a thousand bands? "I really liked the album that 'Rise' was on, with Laswell producing, but I've not liked anything since then." What about contemporaries? "Adrian Sherwood and Gary Clail are really great, down to earth people. To me, anyone who likes football is a good geezer." (And that from a Spurs fan!) "Putting a team together is like pulling a band tighter. The way I see football is that it's a struggle against the forces of darkness that are represented by the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool."
1990 should see Jah continue to walk the tightrope between Eastern drone and dancefloor, underpinning all with his huge bass wobble - creating his own soul music and scratching his head, while the world speeds up its own flappy ass. The warmth of the man and his music shines on a crucial, overgrown corner of pop's garden. It's mavericks like Jah that infiltrate the mainstream with ideas and not sad puppets like Johnny, ahem, Rotten.
Public Image Ltd. were the first band to spin past punk: ready to lead the rest of the pack into the '80s. Taking strands of Beefheart, Can and experimental music freaks, they tied them together in an amazing sonic blast of sound - and 'Death Disco' still stands as one of Top Of The Pops' finest moments. Naturally, the sheer energy and resourcefulness required for such godlike scraping had to burn out eventually. The original line-up faded many moons ago, leaving Lydon to play the pantomime villain that we all boo and hiss and then forget about till next Christmas.
Keith Levene, former guitar sparring partner of Jah Wobble, has now skipped his Brit homeland and relocated alongside several other late 70's spunky rock faces in LA. After spending the last few years struggling to get his act together, Levene has finally cut an LP with his new group, Violent Opposition. Based around a bunch of covers, 'Violent Opposition' retreads old allotments with a new sound. And the coolest retreads are a tremendous mugging of Hendrix's 'If Six Was Nine' and a searing knife slash at Lennon's 'Cold Turkey'. You can almost hear Levene rub his eyes as the transatlantic call hauls him from mid-morning rock'n'roll slumber. "I've spent the last couple of years trying to get this record together. 'Cold Turkey' was done because a lot of people have trouble with that sort of scene and as a song it really rocks."
The album also includes a couple of reggae grooves, which isn't surprising as that was the sort of music that Levene grew up with in the early 70's. "I grew up listening to a lot of reggae - I used to be a skinhead. I like to get those influences onto a record and there are a lot of different aspects to music that I've used on this album. "There's a couple of good things going on at the moment, but I don't hear much music - maybe I'm an old fart. "I went to see the Stones recently when they played in LA (*) and the whole thing was like a fascist rally - the crowd were so far away, they weren't allowed to touch the band or dance. "It's all packaging now - typical of the 80s. Packaging CDs like they were McDonald's. It's a fascist regime of communication, there's nothing exciting about a record now."
So why did he leave our cold damp isle for sunny Californian climes just as the party finally got re-started over here? "I only just left London a couple of months ago. While I was there I was in the studio with Adrian (Sherwood) a lot, I saw a bit of Wobble and had a laugh. "The most happening thing in London at the moment is Sherwood and his On-U Sound System - I really enjoyed working on the Clail album. "I'd like to do something like that on a more grandiose scale. It's getting the dosh to do it. I'd like to combine the live thing with the sound system thing."
Harking back to the PIL days, Levene believes that the rock gig has become a dull conveyor-belt system of entertainment. "With PIL, if there had been a riot then something got smashed, or if there was a lot of people on stage, fuckin' great. It was all about getting that response from the audience - the opposite of thinking about what the audience wanted. The name of the band, Violent Opposition, is like hoping to get a response. We have no expectations - we just want a high velocity response."
So what does Levene think of his former partner John Lydon? "PIL is a travesty, a disgrace. I've got far more of a right to that name than the man with the current responsibility. There's like a list of things not to do and he seems to have done most of them. "When we played in PIL, people used to talk about the gigs. The music really sucks now - I'd rather listen to U2, and that's really saying something. "I've only spoken to Lydon twice on the phone since the split and he's constantly lied about me and slagged me off in the press. I don't think that the man is hungry enough these days - he's too tied up with the lawyer."
Bitter words they may be, but then it was Levene's sonic axe slicing on the 'Metal Box' marvel that virtually reinvented the six-string as a creative tool and not as a cod-piece extra. It's been a sad collapse for Lydon, but his former guitarist and bassist are still committed to cutting edge action. And with major label interest in his current scribbling's, Levene may even get the chance to cash in on his music. Public interest, it seems, is unlimited.
Rolling Stones played three gigs at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on 18.,21. and 22.10.1989
Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
Jah Wobble; circa 1989 © unknown
Keith in LA, 1989 © Evgena Nesterov