Wednesday, 24 February 2010

2: Justice vs Simian - We Are Your Friends

Back at the beginning of the decade, I was DJing on student radio, writing for both the student newspaper and a number of independent webzines, and, as a result, receiving vast quantities of promo CDs and album samplers. More than I could ever possibly listen to, in fact. They say "never judge a book by its cover" but I was often forced to choose which CDs to review based on what the artwork looked like. I distinctly remember the yellow cover and typewriter font of the promo version of Simian's 2002 album, 'We Are Your Friends'. I listened to the album, was mildly impressed, put the CD back into the pile, and forgot all about it.

And then, a couple of years later, two Frenchmen came along and changed everything. Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay remixed the Simian track, 'Never Be Alone' (the central lyric of which had been used as the album's title) for a student radio competition. Which they lost. But French label, Ed Banger Records released the remix in 2003, then re-released it via International Deejay Gigolos in 2004, and out of nothing Justice was formed.

The song, now renamed as 'We Are Your Friends', finally achieved mainstream success in the summer of 2006, scraping into the UK Top 20. The week of its release, I had a torturous journey from Paris (where I was working at the time), via Barcelona and Valencia, to the Benicassim music festival. And on the Saturday night, drunk as a lord, I witnessed a steaming-hot dance tent explode when Soulwax dropped the track. There's a very embarrassing video of myself and my friend Cat at that precise moment on YouTube, and no, I'm not going to tell you how to find it.

From there, the story is simple... Justice's remix became my favourite drinking song, the one guaranteed to get everyone up on the dancefloor on nights out. Their debut album (the one with a cross on the front and no official title) changed my perceptions of dance music and electronica, and I witnessed the Frenchmen dazzle live audiences around London - blowing Chemical Brothers off the stage as their support at Kokos in October 2007, then doing the same to CSS at Brixton that December, and finally getting everyone dancing despite an unseasonal downpour at Somerset House the following summer.

We're still waiting for album number 2 (reportedly due this year), but in the meantime, 'We Are Your Friends' never gets old, even if it has been around in one form or another for virtually the entire Noughties.

Friday, 19 February 2010

3: Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch

I first discovered Ladytron when their debut album, '604' was released in 2001. 'Playgirl', that album's lead single, received reasonable amounts of airplay on Xfm, and I began incorporating that song into my DJ sets at around that time - indeed, I believe I played 'Playgirl' at that same party I mentioned when discussing my #72 song of the decade.

But Ladytron remain one of Britain's most criminally underrated bands, even though they have been producing electronic pop of a consistently high standard throughout the decade. The Liverpool four-piece are far from being a household name, and have actually never had a single reach the UK Top 40.

'Destroy Everything You Touch' was as close as they got, charting at #42 in September of 2005 (whilst the album 'Witching Hour' only got to #81 in the albums chart). It's truly a travesty that a song of such magnificence received so little acclaim. To my knowledge, it barely appeared in end of year 'Best of 2005' lists, despite the fact that it's a song much beloved by everyone I've ever discussed it with.

Mira Aroyo's haunting vocals wormed their way inside my brain and never left. Accompanied by the glossy production and swirling synth soundscape that is Ladytron's modus operandi, it's one of those songs that seems to adapt to every possible scenario. It fits perfectly into a night out, a night in, a happy moment, a sad moment and every possible scenario in between.

If there's one song in my Top 100 that I wish more people knew (and loved) it would be this, so I urge you to watch the video below, and then let me know if you agree with my sentiments.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

4: Girls Aloud - Sound Of The Underground

Another long delay. I'm good at starting "projects", less good at finishing them. Ah well, nearly there now.

The credit for my #4 song of the decade really goes to Xenomania, the production duo of Brian Higgins and Miranda Cooper. 'Sound Of The Underground' was one of 60 songs that the pair had written with the intention of launching their own girl group. Yet their project failed to get off the ground, and when ITV's reality show, 'Popstars: The Rivals' approached the pair for a song that they could use, Xenomania were suddenly launched into the big time.

In truth, the outcome of 'Popstars: The Rivals' was a done deal before the show even commenced. The pop charts of 2002 were screaming out for a relevant girl group to fill a Spice Girl-shaped void, and One True Voice, the male winners, never really stood a chance. The combination of Nadine, Sarah, Kimberley, Nicola and Cheryl just seemed to make sense, instantly. Winning the show (and the battle for the 2002 Xmas #1) was one thing, but Girls Aloud's remarkable continued success relied on a combination of exceptional talent, good looks and effective marketing.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. 'Sound Of The Underground' was the perfect way to launch the group. A Guardian article at the time famously called it "a reality pop record that didn't make you want to do physical harm to everyone involved in its manufacture", and my own initial reaction to it was similarly positive. I loved the drum'n'bass style beats, and the equitable dishing out of the lines allowed me to quickly identify my favourite Alouds (Nadine and Kimberley, for the record). It felt fresh, modern, relevant. It pulsated with energy, but was not without a little, er... sultriness.

The rest, as they say, is history. 'Sound Of The Underground' became the 40th biggest selling single of the decade, and Girls Aloud followed it up with another 19 consecutive Top 10 singles (a run that ended just months from the end of the decade when 'Untouchable' only reached #11). They're Britain's finest pop group over the last 10 years, and as much as I could have chosen any number of other hits, I felt that going back to where it all started was the right thing to do in this countdown.