In conversation with A Certain Ratio
The post-punk, funk inspired band A Certain Ratio (ACR), have an enduring legacy from their position as one of the original bands on Manchester’s Factory Records. Martin Moscrop, Jez Kerr and Donald Johnson returned after a hiatus in 2020 with their album ACR Loco. Since then, they’ve released a string of brilliant EPs, with one track being remixed by Speedy Wunderground’s Dan Carey.
This year they return with their album 1982, out on March 31. I caught up with Jez and Martin from ahead of their album release to chat about creating the album, their experiences playing in Manchester in the 1970s and 80s and their thoughts on the current music scene.
How are you feeling about the upcoming album 1982?
Martin: I think it’s one of our best albums yet. It’s a real spread of minds really, and as well as working together as the three of us (Jez, Martin and Donald) we brought in Ellen Beth Abdi who is mega creative, Matt Steele our keyboard player, Tony Quigley on sax, and then Chunky features on the album. Bringing all these different elements into our creativity, it’s just like a meeting of creative minds that makes it a really unique album.
How was the process of making this album and what were your favourite tracks to create on it?
Jez: I think the last album because it was the first for a long time we tried to put everything in it and I think now we realised that actually going to make a few more albums now, we did the EPs and the album Loco and I think we sorta realised that we don’t have to put everything in it, it’s not so much of a rush so I think we’ve got it even more right on this album. My favourite track to create on the album was ‘Waiting on a Train’, its one of the first times we’ve had a rapper on a track and we wrote and recorded the track in the studio in just one day.
Martin: It was a lot easier to make, we didn’t have to really think about it. My favourite from the album is ‘Trip in Hulme’. It’s the most clubby record on the on the album and if I was DJing out that was would be the track that I would play. I think we got all the elements right on that track and it’s a sort of track that I would take mushrooms to, yeah so great for tripping, yeah hence the title.
1982, the name of the album, a pivotal year for you guys with some of your most famous albums being from then, such as Sextet. How does this album compare to what you were producing in 1982?
Jez: In hindsight the album is very much like our album Sextet in a way, not musically so we’ve obviously changed a bit, but I think the way that we recorded 1982 is similar to the way we recorded Sextet in the fact we do it very quickly and without too much analysing. I think we use the spontaneous and inspirational sort of vibe that you get when you’re actually in the studio rather than sitting at home trying to write things.
Can you tell me about the track ‘SAMO’, how did it come about and why the reference to Jean-Michel Basquiat?
Martin: Well it started off with Jez hearing The Streets record and he liked the drum beat on that but he also said he wanted to do track like Talking Heads so we started off on that journey with The Streets and Talking Heads in our heads and we wrote the music, the music sounded wicked, added a wicked chorus on it and then Jez put the lyrics on it. Jez is really influenced by Basquiat as an artist so that’s where they came from.
Jez: Yeah Basquiat influences us a lot musically and sort of just head wise. One night I made a connection between Blondie’s track called ‘Rapture’, where she does a bit of a rap and mentions Fab 5 Freddy and thought a rap is definitely the direction for this track and its gotta be about early 80s New York. I was really into Basquiat, and we were in New York in the same area he was living in when he was first emerging, so it just clicked. Basquiat was SAMO before he was a celebrity, spraying little phrases that caught people’s attention, so it seemed natural to use some of those phrases as lyrics to the tune.
You began your career in Manchester, what were your favourite venues to play back in the day?
Jez: Factory! which was The Russell Club…
Martin: There were two places, one was Pips Discotheque, where we played our first gigs, and the other was the Band on the Wall. It’s such an important Manchester institution for music. It’s a venue that’s been about forever and continuously improving I mean we played there once when it was so run down that there was piss leaking through the ceiling and dropping on people’s heads over that.
Jez: I think it was rain, but yeah it was falling apart. It’s nice how it helps a lot of Manchester musicians. Through the arts council, there used to be a free gig on a Monday night that allowed bands like Joy Division, The Fall, and ourselves to have a free gig. These were really important and hopefully there are similar things happening across the country today. That there are people who are not in bands but want to be involved in the music scene promote nights and stuff and use all their energy to put on bands you know at these people like that that the help musicians who want to be creative.
Martin: We don’t need more arenas, we need more small venues you know money that was going being pumped into the arenas was being pumped into smaller venues we have a much more vibrant music scene I mean you know music is going in the way that people are prepared to pay £200 to go and see somebody, why not share that that money with smaller artists.
The other thing that was really important for us back then back in prehistoric dinosaur times was the clubs that we used to frequent. We used to go to a club night at a place called Legend where Colin Curtis and Greg Wilson used to DJ and part of our musical upbringing was going to those so of club nights and listening to all the jazz funk. Another person who is really important in our musical education was a DJ called Euan Clark who when the Hacienda first opened, he was the DJ there, we used to go to his nights, and he had all these amazing Brazilian Latin records.
Jez: That’s the thing about ACR, we were open to all these influences and tried to assimilate them into what we were doing. We tried to play Brazilian percussion but we’re Mancunians, we’re not Brazilians, you know, and that little interpretation, that that’s what makes it sort of interesting.
Martin: We’re all very keen learners and we we’re always wanting to learn the next bit and music the next instrument and how to do this how to do that and I think that’s what has kept us going for so long.
Have you incorporated any other new instruments into your music?
Martin: Yeah, a Korg Monotron, it costs £45. It was on the last album as well, but it appears more on this album. The other person that plays Monotron is Quinn Whalley from Warmduscher. When we played at Blue Dot festival, I went into their dressing room I said “hi I said Quinn you’re the second best Monotron player in the UK£, he said yeah who’s the first and I said me.
Keeping the post punk industrial element of our music is really important. We were always famous for making noise and, you know, adding weirdness to the music and I think no matter how catchy or nice and summery tune is you’ve got to have an element of industrial post-punk in it.
What current bands are impressing you?
Jez: I like The Orielles I really love their album Tableau. When they were quite young, they supported us, they loved ACR. I think had a conversation with one of them and one of them said once said “I hope to be doing this when I’m as old as you”. I loved that somebody so young could sort of say that, you know, and be so impassioned about music. That’s the important thing Tony Wilson taught us, the most important thing for you is your passion.
Martin: We like Werkha, who’s going to be touring with us and we’ve been working with Ellen Beth Abdi who’s a rising star and obviously Chunky too. There’s so much good music about, I’m DJing next week and I’ve just been frantically downloading so much good stuff. There’s a great label from Zurich called Phantom Island, there’s a brilliant track by Kejeblos featuring Momo Love called ‘Just Me No You’, it sounds a bit like ACR.
Martin: The good thing about DJing is that you’re sharing your musical taste with people. I think the important thing about it is that you play things that people have never heard before otherwise there’s no point you may as well be playing at an 18 year olds birthday party, yeah everyone knows it’s about education. The best thing about music is the very first time you hear that new tune that you’ve never heard before actual timeline is going past year hearing all the things that you’ve never heard before
Jez: When I was checking out some tracks for DJing, I heard that Jockstrap track, you know the crazy one, ‘The City’, that is so good. When it went into that crazy bit, it blew my mind.
Martin: That’s I’m talking about that first time you hear it, it’s not about playing the same fucking record 20 times.
You’ve got your gig in Manchester coming up in April at New Century Hall, how do you find playing in Manchester and to your home crowd?
Jez: I get more nervous about Manchester gig than anything going anywhere else you know coz when you’re away you’ve got a kind of invaders spirit you know, that gives you the adrenaline. In Manchester you’ve got a lot of things to worry about.
Martin: You’ve got people ringing you up five hours before saying can you put me on the guest list and all the pressure of your family watching you. But the reception we get from a Manchester crowd is amazing. The only other crowd and know that comes a close second is Glasgow but Manchester people just really know how to enjoy themselves at the gig.
The last gig we played in Manchester was at Gorilla and we had some serious technical problems, we were a guy short and a lot of the equipment wasn’t working. You would have thought we’d get a bad reaction, but they absolutely loved it. I think the crowd really loved the fact that we were making it up as we went along.
Jez: Some of our best gigs have been when things have gone wrong is when things go wrong yet you that’s what it really comes out what you are as a musician. There was a gig in Portugal, where our gear didn’t arrive, and we had to improvise but we were front cover of the paper the next day cause the audience loved it, when you have to improvise that’s when things get interesting.
What tracks are you looking forward to playing live?
Jez: ‘Yo Yo Gi’ – when we play it live it is turned into this amazing track, it’s got a sequence in it but I think it’s just a triggered sequence is not something that’s running all the time and the drummer Donald triggers this sequence and it’s just fantastic. It’s got the element of funk in it and its sort of like a four to the floor electro track, I find that really exciting.
Martin: One we’ve never played live before which is a track off the new album called ‘Constant Curve’, but I also really enjoy playing ‘Afro Dizzy’ and looking forward to seeing the reception for it.
1982 is released on Friday March 31, if you’ve got any more questions for this iconic band, then head down to Piccadilly Records on Friday where they’re hosting a Q&A and an album signing, you find the link for tickets to this here.
Tickets for their Manchester show at New Century Hall on April 22 and for the rest of their UK tour can be found here.