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23 Skidoo - Just Like Everybody Part 2

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Artist: 23 Skidoo

Album: Just Like Everybody Part 2

Label: Ronin

Review date: Dec. 8, 2002

Back in the mid-80s, I was feverishly buying import LPs, always in search of the next interesting thing, and stumbled across what felt at the time like a cohesive scene in the UK. Centering around a few labels like Factory, Sweatbox, and Red Rhino, among the bands were Cabaret Voltaire and 23 Skidoo. Together with Quando Quango, A Certain Ratio, Hula and the like, these bands infused rhythm and even (gasp) funk into a certain experimental, industrial aesthetic. While Cabaret Voltaire developed a somewhat higher profile over the years, and its members went on to various solo activities, 23 Skidoo seemed to vanish after 1986's Just Like Everybody. Cabaret Voltaire unfortunately took their extension of experimental electronic funk and drove it off into the disco never-never-bland of techno, and we were left with mere memories of a better time.

This compilation happily demonstrates that 23 Skidoo were in fact active, albeit even more underground than ever. Originally titled The Lost Years, this archive material from 1986-2000 hasn't seen the light of day until now, which is a shame since if it had, the group might have enjoyed some of the notoriety which they deserve.

From the opening "Roninstep" to "Recoup," which closes out the album, this collection shows how much ahead of the times 23 Skidoo have remained while indulging their disparate interests. Encompassing dub, hip-hop, jazz, and funk, their experimental urges lead them to link these interests in intriguing, compelling ways. "Roninstep" is a good opener in this respect, and when it flows smoothly into "Meltdown" it feels like a travelogue in music, as "Meltdown" takes over with its powerful groove and a melody that for no discernable reason makes me picture a desert oasis. "What Y'All Gon' Do" is a not-miss track here, with a strange static-laden snare over a dubbed-out collection of percussion and minimalist melodic punches.

These songs are certainly more accessible than, say, the experimental dubworks from their Urban Gamelan record or the esoteric The Culling is Coming. The dance rhythms here move from fast-moving hip hop style ("Lightening Beats") to slower, deep funk grooves ("Suspense"), with the bassline almost always an essential element (damn, check out that killer bass hook on "Eye Spy"!). Some songs are very close indeed to reggae, such as "The Best," with its plodding rhythm and sax melody, while others are heavier, or sometimes even eastern-influenced, such as "Mr. Lee, Are You Ready?" strong, complex percussion with Chinese plucked strings and funk bass, a combination which shouldn't work but does and "Elephants," a brief interlude with a distinctly oriental feel.

It's about time that 23 Skidoo's discography was made available again (I no longer have to treat my old Laylah CD of The Culling is Coming as some sort of rare artifact from a bygone era), and the addition of Just Like Everybody, Part 2 is quite a welcome collection.

By Mason Jones

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