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RETURNING TO THE BRAIN FARM: REVISITING LO-FIDELITY ALLSTARS’ “HOW TO OPERATE WITH A BLOWN MIND”

This is going to be the first in a continuing series called Revisiting. I want to bring attention to great musicians, producers, and artists who may have been overlooked during their prime (or existence). The first subject for this first entry of Revisiting is the painfully under appreciated Lo-Fidelity Allstars’ debut How to Operate with a Blown Mind.

In the late-1990s, Big Beat was a rising sound in United States. And not just in the clubs, but on mainstream radio and television. To the shock of many of who had loved the sound for years, albums such as The Prodigy’s The Fat of the Land, Chemical Brothers’ Dig Your Own Hole and The Crystal Method’s Vegas were being exposed to the masses. Even the videos for Chemical Brothers’ “Block Rockin Beats” and Prodigy’s “Breathe” were no longer segregated to wee hour airing on The Amp, but were starting to slip into the prime time rotation on American MTV (back when the “M” in the station’s name stood for “Music”). And this is all before Moby’s little gospel-inspired album called Play took America by storm.

In 1999, when the American craze of “electronica” was in full boom, a track called “Battleflag” by a group of boys from Leeds that went by Lo-Fidelity Allstars started getting play on American mainstream radio. The track featured rapper Pigeonhead and shit load of expletives, and seemed as unlikely a hit on the U.S. Modern Rock Charts as Ice-T’s “Cop Killer” would on the Modern Country Charts. And yet, on July 11, 1999, “Battleflag” reached the #6 spot on Billboard Alternative Charts. Moreover, Lo-Fidelity Allstars’ debut How to Operate with a Blown Mind, spent 15 weeks in Billboards’ Top 200, peaking at #155.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuwWvPGul3o

At the time, I loved How to Operate with a Blown Mind, so much so that I ended up seeing them perform three or four times in the summer of 1999 with my boy Brewz Willis. But despite this passion for this record, I, like many other Allstars fans, kind of forgot about them as my insatiable appetite for new sounds drove my musical interests elsewhere.

However, upon moving back to Baltimore and listening to “Many Tentacles Pimping on the Keys” — the B-Side to the “Disco Machine Gun” 12” – my interest in the Allstars was reignited. In November 2010, Skint Records’ released High Rankin’s remixes of the Allstars’ classic “Disco Machine Gun,” and with that, I dug out my old CD copy of How to Operate with a Blown Mind and pressed play.

 

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=paD8CCYQYFI

Aside from the obvious nostalgia that was sure to accompany such listening, Blown Mind reminded me of something that I had since forgotten in the introspective world of electronic music. Dance music should make you fvcking dance. And here was a band that made crowds do just that.

The original Allstars lineup for Blown Mind consisted of Dave Randall (vocals), Phil Ward (decks/samples), Any Dickinson (bass), Johnny Machin (drums), Martin Whiteman (engineering/keys), John Stone (additional keys), and Matt Harvey (keyboards). The shifting musician lineup of Blown Mind can go from spaced out narratives (see: “Warming up the Brain Farm”) to funk-infused 4×4 (see: “Kool Roc Bass”) with a fluidity lost on many of the dance/rock bands of now. Despite the success of “Battleflag”, Blown Mind is far from a pop record — in part due to Dave Randall’s tripped out lyrics [see: “Warming up the Brain Farm”]. Furthermore, the record boasts some of the strangest collection samples – from “Lara’s Theme” from the film Dr. Zhivago, to Paris’ militant opus, “Panther Power” to 1970s “cosmic funk” guru, Billy Paul’s “War of the Gods.”

 

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsEpRnwkaq8

Blown Mind is an ambitious debut; stretching from cinematic big-beat symphonies like ”Vision Incision,” to the psychedelic ”Kasparov’s Revenge” to the fledgling sounds of electro (“Lazer Sheep Dip Funk”) to ambient (“How to Operate with a Blown Mind”). All the while, Randall’s eerily prophetic ravings about ”screaming sirens/skyscraper coffins” and all things cataclysmic glue the otherwise schizophrenic sound.

 

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1aJt7-dj0A

I’m sure you can find this lost gem for pennies at your local record shop, or on Amazon or other favorite digital music store. I promise that it is definitely a record worthy of revisiting.

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