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The Cult of Screamadelica

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“Just what is it that you want to do? We wanna be free. We wanna be free to do what we wanna do. And we wanna get loaded. And we wanna have a good time.”

In London’s Olympia, 10,000 men of a certain age are standing, eyes closed, hands aloft, heads turned upwards towards the heavens, swaying in something approaching unison as Peter Fonda’s euphoric battle cry batters their eardrums. Not to mention synapses. The date may be 26 November 2011, but in that moment they are all transported back to 1990, when Loaded appeared seemingly out of nowhere to completely destroy what everyone thought they knew about Primal Scream. Not only that, Loaded paved the way for arguably their greatest ever album. The album described by the BBC in later years as a “solid gold classic”. The album that won the inaugural Mercury Music Prize. The album named Select magazine’s No 1 release of the Nineties. The album that was immortalised as a Royal Mail stamp, for Pete’s sake. That album was Screamadelica – and the crowds of unusually emotional British men were gathered en masse to pay their respects and mark 20 years since its birth.

The story didn’t always seem like it would pan out that way though...

THE FINGER OF FATE

Rewind to the late Eighties, and Primal Scream were having a more ‘challenging’ time. Their 1987 debut album Sonic Flower Groove charted at No 62 to mixed reviews (Melody Maker called it “dandelion fluff”). The band regrouped, reorganised the line-up and returned with a self-titled second album. With a harder rock edge than its psychedelic predecessor, it again struggled to make an impact. But luck was about to make a surprise appearance when track number five, I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have, caught the eye of someone very (unexpectedly) important. Andrew Weatherall was a set builder and sometime DJ and journalist from Slough who’d met the band when reviewing one of their gigs. He’d previously remixed Happy Mondays’ Hallelujah and, spotting magic in the song, offered to do the same for Primal Scream.

Over the bassline and piano melody of the original, Weatherall laid a drum loop from the Italian bootleg version of Edie Brickell’s What I Am, sampled Gillespie singing a line from Robert Johnson’s Terraplane Blues and Andie MacDowell sighing, “That’s beautiful… That’s really beautiful,” in Sex, Lies And Videotape, and finished it off with that immortal Fonda dialogue from The Wild Angels. He ended up with something approaching lightning in a bottle. He ended up with Loaded.

Meanwhile in Brighton, Alan McGee, boss of their record label Creation, was undergoing what Bobby Gillespie described as a “religious conversion”. McGee had discovered two things which would become hugely important to the inception of Screamadelica: acid house and ecstasy. McGee introduced the band to the scene in the spring of 1988 and by the close of the year they were converts and regulars at nights in London and Brighton.

“Gillespie got it,” McGee said later. “By about June, [he thought] he’d invented acid house!”

Used to the snarls, aggression and elbows of the indie scene, they were won over by the love and harmony that characterised this new underground movement. “You went from being out at some indie club where some drunken idiot would start trying to pick a fight with you to this incredible new-sounding music and beautiful girls and everyone’s being friendly,” recalled Innes. “You’d bump into some football hooligan and think, ‘Oh, God, here we go…’ and he’d give you a cuddle and that would be your new best friend for the night.” Loaded — and then Screamadelica — voiced perfectly what was happening in those sweaty, euphoria-filled all-night raves.

Upon release in March 1990, Loaded went to No 16 in the charts (their highest position to date) and the band were even invited on to Top Of The Pops (it was a big deal then…). The success lined their pockets enough to build a studio in Hackney in which to write the rest of their next record — Screamadelica.

HIGHER THAN THE SUN

The band may have been knee-deep in E culture at the time, but they certainly weren’t just interested in making a dance record. Working with Weatherall and producer Terry Farley, they produced something arguably far more innovative and unexpected. “It’s not just a rave album,” says Radio 1 DJ Rob da Bank. “It’s a beautiful fusion of soul, electronic, indie and dub. Although this is commonplace now and something everyone’s doing, this was the first time it had been done.”

When it finally landed, it received a truck load of both commercial and critical success. The album charted at No 8 and was hailed by the music press as one of the most important records of the decade (and it was only 1991…). “Everything about [Screamadelica] is iconic,” says NME editor Krissi Murison. “From the artwork, to the name, to the fact it managed to capture the feeling of a whole movement when acid house collided with guitar music for the first time.”

It was certainly a departure from their previous incarnations and provided a massive contrast to the bands that were dominating at the time — this was the year that Nevermind was released. “It freshened the guitar scene up by making bands more experimental, and turned indie fans on to club music,” says Murison. “It also helped get dance music a lot more respect as an art form — allowing the more arty dance bands like Underworld, Orbital and The Chemical Brothers to be taken seriously as album artists after that.”

Rob da Bank clearly remembers the impact it made on him as a twentysomething clubber. “The record didn’t leave my turntable for years. I was going out raving and I know it sounds like a cliché, but this really was the soundtrack to our lives. Five nights out of seven we’d go out and come back and listen to it.”

While it’s long been accepted that the record couldn’t have been made without Primal Scream’s immersion in the ecstasy scene, is it fair to characterise Screamdelica as a drug record? Rob da Bank, who has booked the band to play Bestival and the family-friendly Camp Bestival, certainly doesn’t think so. “I’ve never thought about the record in that light,” he insists. “And what record hasn’t been made without one element — whether it be the producer, the engineer, the band — having taken drugs in the last week? I’m proud to put them on at Camp Bestival. I have three young children and I look forward to having the eldest on my shoulders during Movin’ On Up.”

The album produced a slew of stand-out singles, aside from Loaded and Movin’ On Up — Come Together, Higher Than The Sun and Don’t Fight It Feel It enjoying varying degrees of chart success, but all having an important part to play in the album’s growing reputation.

The following year (1992), Screamadelica went on to win that Mercury Music Prize (something Gillespie was reported to be livid about) and in the decades that have passed it has been lauded as many things by many important people, but ‘damned important’ seems to be the gist.

ENDURING APPEAL

Fast forward 20 years and as the band play to a packed London crowd, it’s clear why Screamadelica didn’t merely break new ground but smashed it to smithereens. With a massive claw hammer. Most astonishing is how relevant it still feels, and sounds, on this dark winter’s night in 2011.

“Despite being the perfect reflection of a moment in time, it still sounds as fresh today as it did on its release,” says Krissi Murison. “And nothing’s topped it [since]. Despite spawning hundreds of imitators, it’s still the defining record of its genre.

“Twenty years after the album came out, the music landscape actually feels quite similar in that genre boundaries are being broken down again and people are a lot more relaxed and experimental in what they listen to. It’s interesting for young music fans to find out the historic precedent for that.”

“Just what is it that you want to do? We wanna be free. We wanna be free to do what we wanna do. And we wanna get loaded. And we wanna have a good time.”

As the drums kick in in Olympia, and the crowd either relives old memories or makes new ones, everyone agrees on one thing: Screamadelica was simply awesome.

Screamadelica 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition by Primal Scream is out now

Images: Getty

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