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M|A|R|R|S – Pump Up The Volume

Posted by Big Boo on February 11th, 2009

marrs pump up the volumeThe late eighties saw many pop records starting to use more electronic methods of music production over the more traditional methods of playing a musical instrument into a microphone.  Synthesisers, drum machines and music sequencers became common place and meant that people could now create music more easily, without having to spend years learning to play piano or guitar first.

Another new technique that was just beginning to find its feet was that of sound sampling.  This involved digitally grabbing a section of an existing song, perhaps a particular snatch of music or some lyrics, then using that sound in different ways by speeding it up or slowing it down, or repeating sections of it to give a stuttering effect.  Filters could also be applied to give the sound echos, make it sound robotic and much more.  These samples could then be strung together to make a whole new piece of music.

Pump Up The Volume was one of the first and most successful examples of the sound sampling method.  It was attributed to M|A|R|R|S which was a collaboration between two groups, A R Kane and Colourbox, who were both released on indie label 4AD.  Both groups had had the idea of releasing a more commercial dance record, as this style of music had yet to hit the mainstream, so the record label boss suggested the two groups work together to do this.

Unfortunately, this was not a match made in heaven.  Colourbox and A R Kane had different ways of working and the two groups didn’t get along together, so instead each group created a track individually, and the other group then added some of their own touches afterwards.  A R Kane came up with a track called Anitina, whilst Colourbox laid the groundwork for Pump Up The Volume.  A double A side single was released to UK dance clubs in July 1987, and Pump Up The Volume proved to be the more popular of the two tracks.

A remix of Pump Up The Volume was made featuring further voice samples and a video made to accompany it that used a whole lot of stock footage of space exploration from the 1960’s, which was very distinctive and great fun to watch.  Indeed, whilst researching this post I watched the video again (you can too below) and was astonished to notice a couple of overlays from space trading videogame Elite in there, which I had never spotted before.  If you’re interested it’s at around the 2:35 mark, and is data on the planet Lave, which is the planet you started at in a new game of Elite.

The remix of Pump Up The Volume made its way up the UK charts to the number 2 slot, but caused controversy when music producers Stock Aitken Waterman complained about the use of a sample from Roadblock, one of their hit singles.  Cynics believed that this was not so much a complaint over stealing work (the sample in question was little more than someone say “hey” a lot) but an attempt to aid Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up in it’s attack on the charts, a song which Stock Aitken Waterman were also responsible for.  Ironically Never Gonna Give You Up actually used the bassline from Colonel Abrams Trapped, so wasn’t entirely innocent of plagiarism itself.

All this ultimately didn’t stop the record reaching the top of the UK charts in October 1987, or indeed going on to perform well in other countries around the globe including a spell at the top of the Dutch and New Zealand charts.  Whilst personally I’m not a big fan of this type of music I do have a soft spot for Pump Up The Volume as I remember everyone at school attempting to “sing” it during school lessons, which was particularly funny when people tried to attempt the scratching parts of the music…

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