What with our current culture of download-whatever-you-want-whenever-you-want-on-demand, it still comes as a huge surprise that, no matter where you look, certain commercial artefacts are just not available. Want a copy of Leslie Feist’s first album, Monarch? No can do. You can download it from a BitTorrent site, but don’t hold your breath in the expectation that a bonafide copy is going to find its way into your possession. Want a copy of Slab’s second album Sanity Allergy? No way bud, unless you trawl E-bay for rubbishy second hand copies. However, if you think these are rare, it’s nothing when compared to Dif Juz’s Who Says So? released on Red Flame Records in 1983.
Dif Juz were signed to 4AD Records, the home of the Cocteau Twins and a whole pile of homely, occasionally strange, gothic winsomeness. Every now and again, a band such as Pixies would emerge – all shouty and brilliant and raw and rock n’ roll – or Colourbox – berserk dance pioneers better known for their collaboration with AR Kane that resulted in the insanely successful Pump Up the Volume – but otherwise it was This Mortal Coil, Wolfgang Press, X-Mal Deutschland, and Red House Painters. Nothing wrong with that (I love all these bands), and you could almost make the argument that Dif Juz slotted right in alongside these more ‘generic’ 4AD bands.
Note the almost in that last sentence.
The aspects that set Dif Juz apart from their peers are all things you probably wouldn’t expect to see of a ‘generic’ 4AD band. Their sound – on the album Extractions especially – was pristine. Their musicianship was the work of real virtuosos. Listening to the records again, you start to realise how much of it must have been improvised through incessant jamming. The structures seem somehow jazz inflected as well. Add to this that almost everything they recorded was instrumental, and you start to get an idea of just how different they were – not only in comparison to their 4AD stablemates, but in comparison to just about everything else around at the time as well.
Here’s the video for No Motion from Lonely is an Eyesore, a 4AD compilation released in 1987 – probably the band’s last recorded output.
The thing I love about this video is the fact that they all look so delightfully stroppy – bear in mind that this was back when any appearance in front of a camera was considered selling out (where Top of the Pops was akin to supping with Satan himself). To give you an idea about Dif Juz’s ‘strop heritage’, bear in mind that Richard Thomas went on to drum for the arch-stropsters themselves, The Jesus and Mary Chain. It’s all change these days of course – any band signed to even a semi-serious label will no doubt receive some media training at some point (pah! Where’s the fun in that?).
Extractions may not seem hugely innovative to our modern ears, but the number of bands who have taken it as an influence are probably too many to mention. Godspeed!, Radiohead, Do Make Say Think especially, who seemed to have taken Dif Juz’s love of dub and instrumental repetition about as far as it’s possible to go.
And as for Who Says So? – the closest you’re going to get to the Dif Juz of Extractions is Roy’s Tray. Song with No Name Part 2 is all atonal saxophone bleatings and skittery beats, whereas Pass It On Charlie sounds like a Brazilian tropicalia band penning the theme tune for The Third Man – it really does sound that unique. Even the band’s obsession with dub as a genre in its own right throws up a brilliant experiment in the shape of Channel (bizarrely enough, Dif Juz recorded an album with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry that resides to this day in the 4AD vaults, unreleased). That said, The Dub Song, which ends the album, is not one of the band’s greatest moments.
Of course the natural end point for the mostly experimental music on this mini album is the brilliant Extractions, which is well worth checking out. That doesn't mean to say that Who Says So? doesn't stand up well on its own - it does; it's just a shame that hardly anyone has had the opportunity to make this judgement for themselves.