Mixing ragga with rap with rock, Genaside II keeps pushing its sound into new territory.
Mixing ragga with rap with rock, Genaside II keeps pushing its sound into new territory.

Big Beat

As is the case with many innovators, Genaside II is popular but unknown. In its more than ten years together, the British band has been credited with both helping invent jungle and, under the pseudonym G-Double E, launching big beat, which is essentially rock tempos with electronic hooks. Most have heard Genaside II's sound via Prodigy and its annoying hit "Firestarter." The song was nothing more than a glorified cover of Genaside II's 1991 single "Hellraiser."

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Kris Bonez, Genaside II's producer/songwriter, doesn't make claims for his group. People who like the Chemical Brothers and Liam Howlett of Prodigy do that for him. "It wasn't a question of trying to invent jungle," he says. "What we were doing was our own version of hip-hop. For the likes of somebody like Prodigy to come along and just take bits and pieces and make it their own is just a natural progression."

Genaside II's second record, its American debut, Ad Finite, hit these shores only late last year and to little fanfare. Its first, 1996's New Life 4 Tha Hunted, features guest appearances from Prince's New Power Generation band, reggae giants Eek-A-Mouse and Wu-Tang Clan's Cappadonna. The album generated some stunning reviews in England, but not enough sales to warrant exporting it here. Now the band is on old pal and trip-hop godfather Tricky's Durban Poison imprint.

Though Ad Finite has only one high-profile guest, Tricky, it has loads of ambition. Originally designed to accompany the band's manga comic and eventual movie, the record's scope encompasses drum 'n' bass, trip-hop, Wu-Tang-style apocalyptic/gothic hip-hop and opera. (Yes, opera.) The label that was originally scheduled to release Ad Finite had also agreed to help fund the movie. Instead, it dropped the band completely. Which is where Tricky came in.

Bonez admits that the original intent may be lost on listeners. "I've probably come up with an album that makes absolutely no fucking sense, because I did it for a purpose of this other thing instead of it being a complete musical event that you just listen to as an album," he says. "The Ad Finite thing was kind of like a prelude and working of the comic. The character on the front cover of the album is the character from the comic. To us it's quite disassembled....It's all over the place, [but] I don't like having to do one particular type of music."

In fact, while the rest of the band (Chilli Phats, MC Killerman Archer and Scotty) has already begun to tour with Lords of Acid, Bonez is finishing a bit more work in his home studio. This time he's composing and recording an opera, full-blown and Italian.

"We've got old-school Italian singers; I've got a whole album's worth," Bonez says. "It sounds nothing like Genaside II. Some of it's got beats and stuff, but they're not the main adventure. The only reason it has any modern sounds is to not make it sound out-of-date. It's not sounding modern for modern reasons, it's just an amalgamation of all the things we know put to a classical Italian opera style."

Bonez's wishes for Ad Finite are much more subdued. "We've always been pseudo-graffiti artists, kids of the late 1980s that were listening to U.S. hip-hop," he says with a laugh. "As we grew older and were a bit too big to ride BMXs anymore, you still try and hold onto some sort of youth. The comic was an idea that we had from way back."

Together with reggae, American hip-hop is one of the bedrocks of '90s British electronica. Its influence is evident in both the heartbeat beats of trip-hop and the jet-propelled breakbeats of jungle and drum 'n' bass. The English have never been particularly good at getting to the heart of hip-hop or capturing the essences of songs for whatever reason. (Quick, name a good British rapper.) But what they have done is digest the krushed grooves of hip-hop and make something new out of them. Imitation may be a sincere form of flattery, but failing to imitate and consequently discovering new things is cooler. Ad Finite reveals well-placed Cypress Hill and Public Enemy samples, which are woven into the sound. They become as much a part of the framework as the drum machines.

"Me and Tricky first met in '88, and at the time I was trying to do stuff faster than what was going on, and he was doing stuff slower than what was going on," says Bonez. "[We were] basically both trying to do our version of American hip-hop but didn't want to do American hip-hop. Their love of hip-hop made them go slower and more dubby, because Bristol [music uses] real dub kind of echo. And London was always more ragga and dancehall, so it was a little bit more up-tempo. So it's just taking two completely different styles of reggae, put it in with the hip-hop, and then the music subsequently has gone them two ways."

As his own music has broadened in scope and style, Bonez's love of hip-hop has faded, in part because the same sensationalist British press that praised his band has also played up its criminal reputation and Archer's stint behind bars. The thug life was what the band grew up in, coming from London's riot-prone Brixton area, glorified and vilified as the UK equivalent of Compton or Harlem. Bonez is also unimpressed with hip-hoppers' reluctance to admit they're influenced by dance.

"I've had a passion for hip-hop, I used to bleed hip-hop, but the last couple of years, especially the last year, I've become quite disillusioned by it," he says. "It's that macho, egotistical thing about hip-hop that's gone on from day one: 'Let's all talk about guns and hold our balls.' When there's a gang of 12 kids and one of them wants to paint instead of play football, it takes a big man to say, 'Look, I'm going to be a painter, not a footballer.' The first one gets his head kicked in, but after a bunch of them start doing it, then you get some painting going on."

Genaside II performs Sunday, February 27, at Numbers, 300 Westheimer, at 8 p.m., with Lords of Acid and Praga Khan. Tickets are $17. For more information, call (713)526-8338.


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