‘Black History Month’ by Death From Above 1979
From the album You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine (2004)
Not very often does a band come along who mix up a formula so radically that it takes almost a decide or appreciate, and even then that appreciation comes along in the form of another band doing what you have done (almost) tirelessly for the previous decade and steals the show. This is the outline story of Death From Above 1979 and this week’s Track of the Week is their sublime ‘Black History Month’, named as it was written in February (incidentally the month of my birth.)
The formula that I speak of above is very simple; a distorted bass takes on the role of a guitar, with drums for rhythm and an additional synthesiser here and there to fill out the sound and powerful vocals leading the line. ‘Black History Month’ is almost the perfect example of this and was one of the standout tracks from DFA1979’s debut album, You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, which came jam-packed full of unforgettable tunes with a cover so distinctive that it has become the long-standing emblem for the band. The other band that I refer to above, Royal Blood, came out of nowhere about 18 months ago and were hailed as the next great, innovative thing for their use of just bass and drums. It always seemed to me that DFA1979 were on the cusp of breaking the mainstream before they broke up in 2006 (reforming five years later), whereas Royal Blood went from playing club dates in early 2014, to supporting the Arctic Moneys in Finsbury Park in summer 2014, to sharing the bill with Iggy Pop and Foo Fighters on the latter’ stadium tour in summer 2015. Food for thought.
Anyway, ‘Black History Month’. The song is underpinned by a classic driving bass line courtesy of Jesse F. Keeler, the kind that gets the kids too cool to like dance music to dance and contains lyrics that are, on the face of it, abstract, but carry a message that things are changing:
Do you remember a time when this city was
A great place for architects and dilettantes
A nice place for midwives and crossing guards
And on, and on.
The driving bassline remains uncompromised even when Sebastian Grainger’s vocals become strained and frantic at the denouement of the song and, for me, this really sets ‘Black History Month’, and the band, above a lot of similar songs and bands; there is always organisation in the chaos. The fact that just two people achieve this organisation makes it all the more remarkable and the band certainly are one that must be caught live to appreciate fully.