Alan Moore’s Mandrill Meets Super Weird Substance At The Arts Lab Apocalypse
WRITTEN BY JOSH RAY – FEBRUARY 2017
The universe can lead you to some interesting places if you allow it to. Sometimes, if you abandon the want for success and the fear of failure, taking a ‘fool’s leap’ into the unknown, new windows of opportunity can arise and life can move in unexpected directions. 23 years after they last worked together, in the Ruthless Rap Assassins, Kermit Leveridge (formerly of Broken Glass, latterly of Black Grape) brought his latest musical project to DJ/producer Greg Wilson and they started collaborating again, taking a step into the unknown, with Greg setting up a record label. Having both been profoundly affected by the ideas explored in ‘The Mindscape Of Alan Moore‘, he named the label Super Weird Substance and it opened up a three year journey that led them to make music with the great mind who inspired the name.
Having drawn a line behind his legendary comic book past, which saw him elevate the medium with acute social commentary, inspired juxtapositioning and deeply human characters, and with the release of his epic – ten years in the making – ‘Jerusalem‘ novel under his belt, Alan Moore has turned his attention to the cultural vacuum that has been growing in the world around him, rekindling the embers of the ’60s’ Arts Lab that shaped his formative years in Northampton. Having established this base for his guerilla art outfit in his hometown, his ideas around counterculture began willing people into his orbit, Greg and Kermit included.
With comics being a colossal influence on his own life, Kermit Leveridge had been trying to put Greg onto Alan Moore from the very start of their Rap Assassins days in the mid-’80s, “I remember being sat in Drone studios and having comics put in front of me,” Greg recalls. “I wasn’t a comic reader, I was into my books, but I remember with ‘Watchmen‘, those opening frames – it planted a seed.I understood where Bomb The Bass got their sleeve image to ‘Beat Dis’ from, and that this was where the smiley face of acid house culture emerged. So that image had always stayed with me.”
You could see the ‘Watchmen’ influence just by taking a look at the cover of the Rap Assassins debut LP, ‘Killer Album ‘. Reflecting the cut-and-paste ethos of the music, which had synthesised the sounds coming from the States through a North Hulme Caribbean lens, the cover of ‘Killer Album’ is a collage of influences including a few ‘Watchmen’ references, most notably Ozymandias musing “everything’s all right”, and John Osterman being taken to pieces.
With darker forces getting in the way of Kermit’s creative work, the fact the Rap Assassins hadn’t managed to transform critical acclaim into commercial success, and with a second LP that went contrary to what EMI had envisaged for the collective, things eventually fell apart for the Rap Assassins in 1991. The times had begun to get heavy and not just within the group, it was around this time Manchester became Gunchester. Amidst the dying embers, at one of the last recording sessions, Greg and Kermit had a real moment of lucidity sat alone on the floor in the studio, discussing Kermit’s idea for a comic book album collaboration one day.
Fast-forward 23 years and listening back to the ‘Blind Arcade Meets Super Weird Substance In The Morphogenetic Field‘ mixtape he’d just glued into a coherent whole, it dawned on Greg that Kermit’s vision had just been realised. What they’d created was comic book mixtape, playful and uplifting with a range of characters Kermit and The Reynolds twins had adopted throughout amidst layers of references, juxtapositions and samples. This wasn’t planned out however, it all happened naturally.
When they were putting the mixtape together, Kermit invited his friend, Howard Marks to record on one of the tracks and while he was over in New Brighton the lovable anti-hero recited Kermit’s poem about his heroin addiction, ‘Lies & Other Fools‘, which was then pressed on a one-sided 7″ and offered up to the vinyl gods on Record Store day 2014, released on the label, A Fool’s Leap – another reference taken from ‘The Mindscape Of Alan Moore’. Greg had finally become fully acquainted with Alan’s work, initially through ‘Watchmen’ in 2011 and had worked his way through his seminal comics. The record’s release was symbolic and cathartic, allowing Kermit to move forward with the uplifting and life-affirming mixtape, before turning his attention to new things with Super Weird Substance. A copy of the record was sent to ‘THE ALAN MOORE, NORTHAMPTON’.
Having taken their technicolour sound to a number of cities and festivals and had it pressed onto vinyl, the idea for a second mixtape had been circling around Super Weird Substance for a while, but it wasn’t something that could be forced, the right moment had to manifest itself. And it would be the same journey that led them into the company of Alan Moore, that would organically lead them to a new mixtape.
Greg and Kermit first made contact with Alan Moore in November 2015 at ‘Under the Austerity, the Beach‘, a day of counterculture at the University of Northampton. Having received the record they had sent, Alan walked straight up to them and said, “you’re Kermit Leveridge”– recognising him from the photo contained, taken with Howard Marks. Having been a massive fan of Alan Moore’s work since the 2000AD days, this was seismic for Kermit, “I was stood there like “oh my god! Alan Moore knows my name.””
Both were invited to speak at The Odditorium’s ‘Adventures On The Edge Of Culture‘ event in Brighton in May 2016, appearing on the same bill as Alan, Melinda Gebbie, Daisy Campbell and John Higgs – counterculture again being the key connector – Greg and Kermit had a proper sit down with Alan and then in June they headed back to Northampton to interview him for a film that was shown at Festival 23.
Then, on the day Pandora’s Brexit box was opened, the Arts Lab Northampton hosted an event called ‘Artmageddon‘ based on an interesting idea Alan Moore has explained to Post-Nearly Press, “I thought: what if the concept is – the apocalypse has happened? But not the one we were expecting. Instead, overnight, all of the art and culture had died. Masterpieces slid down off their canvases and crawled along gallery floors towards the daylight, like monstrous, dying jellyfish.”
When the event starts, “it’s in the context of everybody pretending they don’t know what they’re doing. So we have a host, an MC, who’s having to tell people to clap.” Alan explains. “There’s a comedian, a fortune teller even, who is trying to do a tarot reading with Pokémon and Magic cards. It was very funny.”Amidst this imagined cultural wasteland, and the wider apocalyptic undertones in Britain around that time, Alan Moore first presented his ‘Mandrillifesto’. Adopting a Mandrill persona – with make-up by Tamsyn Payne – he announced himself as the higher primate who’ll lead us out of the cultural cul-de-sac and into a colourful and creative new world.
Kermit was so impressed by what he heard that he asked Alan if he could use the lyrics, and Alan agreed. “It was like, “Shit! These are Alan Moore’s words here, we’ve got to rise to this”, Kermit recalls. “Alan’s written raps before, you know like in ‘Top 10’: the robots have ‘scrap music’ and they do raps. I remember I used to do the raps out of the comics listening to beats and tickle myself. Alan’s got a flow mate!”
The initial idea was just to do a straight cover, with Greg editing up a couple of tracks for backing. The first that sprung to mind was ‘Funky Monkey‘ by ’70s funk band, Mandrill. Cutting up another half dozen tracks with primate references, Greg sent them to Kermit and ideas bubbled around his mind as he matched up the lyrics to the grooves, finding the right lines to hook people in. Meanwhile, after the idea of a mixtape had occurred, Greg had started weaving together the various different edits, ready for the vocalists.
The first recording session really captured the playful nature of the mixtape and The Reynolds twins immediately got what it was about, quickly mastering the ideas Kermit threw their way. They only heard part of Alan Moore and Joe Brown’s version of the ‘Mandrillifesto’, allowing them to completely make the words their own. “I think it’s good we didn’t hear it all first because we were able to experiment” Katherine explains. “That’s how I’d prefer to work in future – let me find my own pattern with it.” “I really enjoyed working like that” Carmel adds. “I love that we got a mixtape like that from one poem – there was like a million-and-one things you could do with it.”
Having got the basic structure down, all kinds of new ideas emerged, leading to further collaboration with Alan Moore. Tying it in with another Arts Lab event, they took the initial stages the of mixtape down to Northampton to show Alan at his house and put forward the idea of radio show at the end of the world, with the Mandrill as the radio presenter – Wolfman Jack, Emperor Rosko and Steven Wright as K-Billy were suggested as references – they also asked if he’d be up for naming some of the artists and tracks. Clearly taken by the playful nature of the project, Alan agreed and soon sent over his voiceovers, which Joe Brown helped him record. Greg was elated with what was sent over to him; “What came back was high-class broadcast DJing – absolutely rhythmic and right in the pocket.”
It all came together naturally but also very quickly, it only took 3 recording sessions, and other music recordings were interspersed amongst those. When Alan’s parts came back, he was talking about Radio KONG so Greg brought Kermit and the girls together for a final session to record some jingles which sat nicely amidst the samples and references Greg plucked from idea space. With countless layers, the mixtape reveals more and more with each new listen.
‘Alan Moore’s Mandrill Meets Super Weird Substance At The Arts Lab Apocalypse’ brings things full circle, with another comic book mixtape, and, mirroring the release of Howard and Kermit’s poem ahead of the first mixtape, a one-sided 7″ of Alan Moore & Joe Brown’s ‘Mandrillifesto’ is being prepared for release. It was Howard Marks who was the initial countercultural link for Super Weird Substance, his days distributing ‘beneficial herbs’ dating back to ’60s Oxford, but when he took ill and was unable to come and talk at the five Super Weird Happenings in 2014, replacement speakers had to be found and, through asking John Higgs along to the Liverpool Happening, the journey that led to this latest mixtape opened up – and the label have found itself collaborating with the man who inspired the name and the ethos behind it.
Alan Moore will be joining us as we take our next ‘fool’s leap’ on the ‘day of fools’, with a 14 Hour Super Weird Happening at The Florrie in Liverpool’s Dingle, and we’ll definitely be taking direct inspiration from the line, “If there’s no culture in the land then you must make one.”
LEAD IMAGE BY PETE FOWLER / MIXTAPE ARTWORK BY DOM MANDRELL / LIES & OTHER FOOLS BY MAL EARL / HOWARD BY SLM