CULTURE

Mighty return from Stereo MCs

It was a little over a decade ago that the Stereo MCs emerged as one of the UK’s most successful rap acts before mysteriously vanishing again. In 1990, the group became the first UK rap act to hit the US pop charts, then, two years later, it released «Connected,» an acclaimed album that earned the Stereo MCs Best Band and Best Album prizes at the British music awards. Amid the euphoria, a nine-year hiatus followed, but the doldrums were finally broken in spring 2001 with «Deep Down and Dirty,» the album that refocused attention on the long-detached act and also put it back on the road. Two Athens dates have been included on the Stereo MCs’ current itinerary, this Friday and Saturday at the Rodon Club. Looking back over the missing years, the Stereo MCs have justified the unusually long period of estrangement. The group contends that behind-the-scenes work had never ceased. An overall dissatisfaction with the results of newer work, as well as feeling a lack of pressure to release anything, kept the band away from the public eye, group members have noted in interviews. «There’ve been other bands that have taken a long time but the reasons have been different for us. Some people argue about money and then they reform. But we’ve been there all the time doing it,» the band’s DJ/producer Nick Hallam, or «The Head,» remarked in a recent interview. Not long before their re-emergence as a recording act, the Stereo MCs passed through Athens for a show in the summer of 2000 while preparing their comeback album. Compared to previous work, the material is darker and more raw in texture. «Deep Down and Dirty,» some critics have argued, depicts a band stuck in a musical time warp (circa 1992). The Stereo MCs have defended the album as a work of greater depth and variety that embodies their experiences and interests as individuals and as a band. «It’s deeper than all our other records, musically and lyrically. There’s more variety in the tracks. But what’s most important is the attitude of the album. It represents us striving to do something different. It represents us as human beings and everything we’ve done to make it is somehow in it, although we didn’t consciously say we wanted to write about this, that or the other,» noted the group’s rapper, Rob B. The group formed in London in 1985 when Rob B (Birch) and The Head established their own Gee Street label as a means of promoting their own music. Soon after, a distribution deal for the US market was forged, and a series of singles was released as precursors to the Stereo MCs debut album, «33-45-78,» in 1989. A year later, the band became the first UK rap act to make it onto the US pop charts with the single «Elevate My Mind.» A second album in 1990, «Supernatural,» was followed by a three-pronged tour with the Happy Mondays and EMF before the band returned to the studio to record its breakthrough album, 1992’s «Connected.» But the life of success took its toll. Long spells away from home and constant touring led to disillusionment. «It’s fair enough touring and promoting your record but it can go on a bit too long sometimes and you lose the point of why you’re doing music,» recalls Birch. «Also, ‘Connected’ had blown up so big that we’d lost focus on what it was and what we were trying to do with our music.» Now back in the limelight with a well-received comeback album, renewed zest for concert dates, and regained confidence and musical direction, the Stereo MCs are reportedly well on their way toward releasing a new album, which will be their fifth.