Bill Nelson: After The Satellite Sings

The guitarist getting down with the kids in 1995.

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Anyone that has heard Madonna attempting to rap will know that appropriating cutting edge musical forms can be a huge threat to the dignity of an artist.

Former Be Bop Deluxer Bill Nelson was probably well aware of these potential pitfalls when he made After The Satellite Sings in 1995, but he went ahead and dove headlong into the murky depths of drum ’n’ bass and post-rave electronica anyway. An almost casual disregard for the rules has long been a hallmark of Nelson’s work, and in keeping with his remarkably high success rate, this potential clanger was actually a beguiling triumph.

The key here is context: the likes of Deeply Dazzled and the endearingly sardonic Old Goat hinge on their creator’s sharp lyrics and refined sense of skewed melody, leaving the skittering breakbeats and programmed bass throb to suggest momentum and ephemeral clutter, rather than a misjudged attempt to emulate Goldie and Grooverider in order to break into the world of superclubs and millionaire DJs. Even Streamliner, with its smooth Soul II Soul beat and drive-time radio blues licks, hits the mark. The great man’s trademark guitar flurries are still very much in evidence, of course, but here they were woven into the overall tapestry of sequenced pulses and grid-bound glitches; illuminating colour, rather than the usual, swooping main event. And while the cross-pollinated likes of Deeply Dazzled and Rocket To Damascus cannot help but evoke a very specific moment in musical time, they have weathered far better than most of the electronic source material from the same era, largely thanks to an overriding sense of wonder at new possibilities. Somehow, Nelson had pulled off the same trick here that David Bowie did on the breakbeat-driven Earthling just a year later. Dave never had a song called Wow! It’s Scootercar Sexkitten!, though. So, at the end of the day, Bill wins.

Paul Lester

Paul Lester is the editor of Record Collector. He began freelancing for Melody Maker in the late 80s, and was later made Features Editor. He was a member of the team that launched Uncut Magazine, where he became Deputy Editor. In 2006 he went freelance again and has written for The Guardian, The Times, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, Classic Rock, Q and the Jewish Chronicle. He has also written books on Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Bjork, The Verve, Gang Of Four, Wire, Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, the Spice Girls, and Pink.