February 14th, 2003


Concert memories (11), Urban dance squad

Concert memories (11), Urban dance squad
Tivoli, Utrecht, december 22nd, 1991

Some people say that they are the best band ever to come from the Netherlands. The thing is, they never were a real band. Some of their members couldn´t stand each other, which interrupted into violence even sometimes. But their music was brilliant, that part is absolutely correct.Their debut album ´Mental floss for the globe´ is a classic, which will be ranking high in the all time favourites list of plenty of music fans. In the Netherlands it is taken as a compliment when something is called Undutch. The Urban Dance Squad were so good, they could not possibly have come from the Netherlands. The famous anecdote about this is that at some point, on a warm sunny day, outside a bar in Utrecht a discussion started between a group of American backpackers and some Dutch students. The Americans started with their point that any music from outside the USA must be crap. The Dutch just told them that they didn´t know any other music, therefore weren´t in the right position to judge. It ended in naming bands from their country to prove a point. So after every American superband, the Dutch replied with a Dutch band. I guess this part of the discussion will not have taken too much time. After the Golden Earring, the Outsiders, Focus and Shocking Blue there aren´t any Dutch bands that have actually scored hits outside Europe. Then one of the Americans made a huge mistake. He came up with the Urban Dance Squad. He had recently seen them somewhere in the States and considered them to be one of the young and upcoming bands. The Dutch just laughed. Utrecht was the hometown for this band. In an even stronger version of this same legendary story one of the bandmembers is actually sitting on the terrace to settle the argument.

Shortly after their American tour I went to see them in Utrecht. It is nearly christmas 1991, within four years the group has changed from a beginning band, an experiment, into an international reknowed group of musicians. They even had an US-hit to prove it. "Deeper shade of soul" made the Billboard top 20 a year earlier. Their music was a mixture of styles, a style that later become known as cross over. A rock guitarplayer called Tres Manos who didn´t get that name for nothing, a militant singer with political lyrics called Rude Boy. The baseplayer seemed to have missed the auditions for a reggaeband, a drummer, Magic Stick, who doesn´t mind using drumcomputers as an added extra and DJ DNA who throws in samples in a cacaphonia of noise, which makes the Beatles White Album sound like an afternoon in the park. Their lyrics were extreme before Rage against the Machine were even considering to use political anger as a source of inspiration. They were the only foreign members of the black rock coalition, founded by Living Colour. In a review of the concert the local newspaper chaos is mentioned as one of their strongest points.

It is true that concerts by the UDS are completely unpredicatable. I had seen them once before at a festival were they played mid afternoon. Good, but not overly inspired. This was different this time. From the very first noise onwards the crowd loved it and singer-rapper Rude boy seems to be relieved to be back home after a long tour. For once he throws in all he has and hardly knows where to put his energy. Halfway through the gig he starts climbing the speakers to reach the balcony. Even though the top speaker seems very wobbly he manages to reach the higher echelons of the hall. He jumps back to the stage, an athletic achievement on its own, to find the stage filled with some stage divers waiting for their turn at this new rage. Not one second of the evening the electric atmosphere seems to go, the tension between the crowd and the band was perfect, they played all their songs (two albums at the time) and had to replay some of the songs during the encores.

Beeping ears, buzzing head and a high level of adrenaline were normal for the crowd when they left the Tivoli hours later. I remember getting the ticket back at the door, knowing that it would look brilliant on my scrapbook, I had just seen a historical concert.

Only a couple of albums later the frustation of not being able the be new and inventive anymore, combined with the lack of growth, caused many more internal fights. After DJ DNA left the band went on for a bit, but the spirit was gone. I saw Rude boy twice in Amsterdam through the years. Once in the queue for a cashpoint, the other time in the corridor of a student house where both he and my little sister lived at the time. I couldn´t find any excuse to talk to him. Rude boy appeared with Tom Holkenberg in a band called Junkie XL. After one album he left after another fight. Junkie XL became famous all around the world last year when he was the first one to be granted permission to remix Elvis. His hit "a little less conversation" should have the motto for Rude boy, a talented angry musician who could have been huge, but instead ignored every possibility for compromise.
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