Citizen Kane

Andy Crysell, NME, 14 March 1998

The list has been passed to DEPTH CHARGE, aka J Saul Kane, to read and yet The List appears to have failed. It was specially compiled to induce rancour, jealousy -- some kind of reaction, at least, not a look of utter indifference. Still, let's try again: The Chemical Brothers, Propellerheads, Fatboy Slim and Bentley Rhythm Ace... Hmm?

Citizen Kane Tsk, we give up. He's clearly having none of NME's attempts to persuade him to impart how it feels to be the man who more or less invented big beat, only to have watched from the wings for the past few years while numerous others bagged the cash and acclaim. He's too reticent to enter into ill-natured verbals of that kind. And besides, he has a flat that looks like a particularly well-stocked branch of Blockbuster Video and therefore, hits or no hits, is his own personal nirvana.

Not that you need to have visited his small abode in Westbourne Grove, west London, to realise he adores movies -- and particularly those of Far Eastern descent, featuring pyjama-clad blokes having high-speed fights. Because from 1988 to 1993, early Depth Charge tracks were liberally smothered in celluloid samples. And on most of them, oh yes, everybody was kung-fu fighting.

There was 'Shaolin Buddha Finger', 'Dead By Dawn', 'Bastard Swordsmen', and 'Bounty Killers'. Best of all, however, there was his sensational eponymous 12" -- the surefire signal for dancefloors to react with a mixture of pure joy and pant-wetting trepidation at the time of its release in 1989, as the vocal rasped, "You bastard / I'm going to do for you what you did to my father in the woods ten years ago", while the drums did indeed resemble underwater explosions.

So what came next? There was J's tribute to his other obsession of football, 'Goal', which came out in time for the fever of Italia '90; an album called 'Nine Deadly Venoms' in 1994 (which rounded up his releases to date), a handful of recordings put out under his other pseudonym, Octagon Man, and, um, not much else really.

"Actually, I've been working hard," he's keen to point out, taking genuine umbrage at the oft-aired view that he's a bone-idle dawdler. "Everyone goes on about what a time-waster I am, but that isn't true."

He cites the following as evidence: that he's out there DJing most weekends and has been sorting out teething troubles with his DC Recordings label; that he runs a company called Made In Hong Kong, licensing kung-fu movies for UK video release; that, as well as having an album of "horrible hip-hop" out now (under the moniker Alexander's Dark Band), he has two further LPs awaiting release (monikers yet to be decided).

And besides, he shrugs, what are we complaining about? His superlative new Depth Charge EP, 'Disko Airlines', is out now -- on which, nuzzling up next to the bonce-walloping rhythms, there is the voice of an air hostess bidding us welcome aboard a flight into chunky disco delirium, rather than deranged karate chops.

Fair do's, but as much as he denies he has the work ethic of a sloth on downers, that still doesn't explain why the release most have been waiting for has been non-apparent. J, where the hell has that long-overdue second Depth Charge album got to?

"It's coming," he insists. "It's just that I hate working to a schedule. This is music and it's not as if you're expected to clock in and out every day. Inspiration's not there on tap - it comes when it comes."

BIZARRELY ENOUGH, IT comes to J in the early hours; not after a heavy night of chemical abuse and in-club frugging, however, but with him getting up at five or six in the morning to work on tracks. As for that album, he swears it'll be completed before June. If it's not, we'll just have to wait some more, because then his world is set to go completely ball-shaped for a month.

"It's not even a close contest," he grins. "If the album's not finished by the time the World Cup starts, the football will take priority. It only happens every four years. There's going to be some great games."

Lock him in a room with Jimmy Hill and Alan Hansen and he'd probably out-footie fact the pair of them. The chances of him writing a pro-England tune for the summer are precisely zero, however.

"We've got no style, so there'd be no point," he states bluntly, before adding with a look of extreme doubt: "Erm, I suppose we could do quite well, though."

So instead he's continuing his 'Goal' series of 12"s with 'Romario', a tribute to the Brazilian ace that "should" be out in time for the World Cup.

"We just can't play football like the South Americans," he continues, gloomily trashing England's chances some more. "And when we try to, we look about as convincing as we would if we attempted to make kung-fu movies."

And it's the same matter of limited style that causes him to have a problem with that aforementioned list of big-beat bands. Without specifying who's guilty, he sighs: "There's no character in the music. Will we be listening to these tracks in three years' time? I don't reckon so because it's all too shallow. People need to think about what they're doing a bit more."

"You need a clear idea and to pay more attention to detail," he advises the rest of planet big beat. "You've got to make what's in your mind actually appear on the record."

J Saul Kane HE'S DRIFTING OFF THE subject of music again now. Supreme Swordsmen, one of his favourite movies, is beaming from the monster-sized TV screen, and as three old fellas with wispy facial hair observe a younger one who's happily beating up most of China, he's more keen to explain that, no, kung-fu films aren't just about comedy rucking.

"That's what Jean-Claude Van Damme is about," he says. "You've got to understand the intricate details to appreciate kung-fu movies. But this one's in Mandarin, which is a shame, because I can actually speak a bit of Cantonese."

Not right now, though, because there's just a bit more groove-related talk from him. What, for instance, does he think of the Wu-Tang Clan adopting his brand of movie-sampling?

"Everyone asks me that, but if that's the case, you might as well say I nicked Lee "Scratch" Perry's ideas. He was doing it years before any of us. He used to actually go to the cinema with a tape recorder."

Playing live -- any plans in that department?

"I saw Trouble Funk when I was young so I can't, because I'd never be as good. I couldn't be bothered with all the touring and little venues, either -- I'd rather do a Kraftwerk and just play one massive show, then disappear again for another ten years."

OK, a major deal -- any chance of Depth Charge signing one of them?

"I don't really hang around with the sort of people who dish out major label deals," he replies sheepishly. "But yeah, I guess I could get one if I could be bothered to look."

Which, obviously, he cannot. It's not that he is being deliberately awkward or 'underground', mind -- just that, like Kevin Shields in rock, Kool Keith in rap and LFO in electronica, here's a talent who's sticking firmly to his own strange schedule, values and concealed aspirations. In a very acute sense, then, it's a case of 'up yours' to the rest of the music biz.

"Still," he concludes, allowing a glimmer of optimism into the conversation. "My music seems to follow the same cycle as the World Cup. It was really popular in 1990, then again in 1994, and this year... well, you never know."

In the case of this man of few words and releases, you certainly do not. Sure, he doesn't shoot very often, but when he does, he always scores.

* The Octagon Man's 'Zedd' is out on Kane's own Electron Industries imprint on April 6.

Copyright 1998 NME.


The Exciting World Of J Saul Kane