Shipping News’ Jason Noble Is Inspired By: Twilight 22’s “Electric Kingdom”

One constant over the past 17 years of MAGNET has been the music of Jason Noble. First with the post-hardcore Rodan, then the classically inclined Rachel’s, the post-rock Shipping News and the theatrically concerned Young Scamels, Noble has always been involved with projects that interested and challenged us. Noble has two new releases: a live Shipping News album, One Less Heartless To Fear (Karate Body/Noise Pollution), and the debut LP from the Young Scamels, Tempest (File 13). Unfortunately, creating music is hardly the main concern for Noble these days. The 39-year-old Louisville, Ky., native was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, 15 months ago and is currently battling the disease with the determination, positive energy and modesty he has always displayed in his two-decade musical career. MAGNET is proud to have Noble guest editing our website all week. Read our Q&A with him.

“It’s Possible For A Radio To Open A Door.”
Noble: I can still recall, vividly, my pre-sexual meanderings in the early ’80s, where the notion of the “wide, wide world” was just forming. I was past the tadpole but not even close to the lungfish stage. I had a few friends—but not many—and when one of them moved to the distant continent of “Ohio,” I was crushed. Silver lining? I was allowed to visit my friend John D. in his new hometown of Sidney, Ohio, that summer of 1984. The resulting bus trip/adventure was a big moment of freedom. On that trip, I saw my first punk show. (I think.) I wish so much that I could remember who it was. On the other side of the spectrum, the world of pop radio was quickly becoming interesting. Even with the mountain of commercial junk, there were those initial stabs of genius by Prince, and “Invisible Sun” was a smash, and things were more open to individual DJs spinning what they wanted. (Remember those days?) But that summer, one song changed me forever, and I don’t really know where it falls in the annals of music history or if was even a big radio hit: “Electric Kingdom” by Twilight 22, released in ’83. From the first second of its metallic/robotic/imported-from-the-future beat, I had a glimmer that music was now different—something new and utterly unexpected was happening. I wasn’t there to catch Planet Rock or be down with Kraftwerk, but this song announced that rap and hip hop had found us. In a very small town on a very large jambox. We were intrigued by its weird blend of world music, freak-a-zoid computer voices and heavy drum drones. There was an Egyptian part, then a kind of Chinese(?) part, then some Addams Family baroque harpsichord section and so on. The hard-edge lyrics described an urban life that I vaguely understood from movies. So far away from my everyday life and current battles. There was a sense of darkness but also bravado that had us crowded around the radio, waiting to capture the song on a (low-bias, red-and-gray) Maxell cassette tape.

The song was created by Gordon Bahary (who had previously worked with Stevie Wonder) and Joseph Saulter (who collaborated with Herbie Hancock). The production style alone captivates the listener, but the lack of inhibition and sense of adventure is what makes it great. The track is almost always featured on Rap Classics or Electro-Funk! compilations nowadays. Back in 1984, this song drew us in, leading to Midnight Star, Art Of Noise, Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel and the Furious Five. Soon, Run-DMC, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and Ice T would all make legendary albums. Outkast, Cannibal Ox, Jay-Z, the Roots, Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, Nas, Dr. Dre and hundreds of incredible talents proved the power of hip hop to transform American and global music forever. No other musical genre in my lifetime has more of an influence on mass culture, broken more technical boundaries and spoken to a wider and more diverse audience. “Electric Kingdom” is a song title that sounded like the future, then became the future of music.

Video after the jump.