This M/A/R/R/S article was written by Nick Palmer, a GIGsoup contributor
If you had asked a music journalist at the beginning of 1987 what the 4AD record label was known for, they would have said, being a bunch moody goths and ethereal dreamers. This was largely true, except for electronica-soul-reggae odd balls, Colourbox. This was the first component of M|A|R|R|S. The other was a dream/noise pop duo named A R Kane. Both acts had independently expressed interest in making a dance track, so 4AD put them together. The name M|A|R|R|S came from the first names of the five primary members, Martyn Young (Colourbox), Alex Ayuli (A R Kane), Rudy Tambala (A R Kane), Russell Smith (associate A R Kane member) and Steven Young (Colourbox).
What resulted from the shoving together of these two contrasting acts into a recording studio was some serious friction, between each other and with 4AD, and 4AD’s first UK number 1 single. Colourbox came up with the meat of what became ‘Pump Up The Volume’, with A R Kane adding some distorted guitars, but it was actually an uncredited artist, C.J. Mackintosh, who added the record scratches and “lifted the whole track off the floor”, according to Tambala. AR Kane mostly stuck with making what would become the B-side, ‘Anitina (The First Time I See She Dance)’. When the A-Side exploded, Colourbox were pissed off that they had to share royalties with A R Kane who, in their opinion, had contributed little.
‘Pump Up The Volume’ debuted at the perfect time, house music was just starting to filter into the UK from the US. It had a catchy bassline, an infectious beat and was chock full of inventive sampling (the title came from a sample of ‘I Know You Got Soul’ by Erik B & Rakim). It was hugely ground-breaking in terms of sampling, and the number used is pretty staggering. On the first version of the song, 25 are cut, stuck and spliced together to create this Frankenstein’s Monster of a number 1 single. It cheekily begins by using a clip from ‘Positive Life’ by Lovebug Starski and The Harlem World Crew, “That’s right, dude, this gotta be the greatest record of the year/Check it out.”
The largely forgotten ‘Anitina (The First Time I See She Dance)’ really isn’t deserving of its relative obscurity, it’s a great track in its own right. It’s very A R Kane, with lashings of squealing, distorted guitars nailed down by a crashing drum machine, arranged in a poppy dreamscape. Still, it must have been odd for dance/house music fans to finish ‘Pump Up The Volume’ and then be met with that.
Though a huge success for 4AD, ‘Pump Up The Volume’ left devastation its wake for the artists involved. M|A|R|R|S, already a loose collection of people who didn’t like each other, died with ‘Pump Up The Volume’. Colourbox itself broke up later that year and A R Kane left 4AD for Rough Trade. Ugly though the recording process and aftermath was, the track itself remains a classic, and hugely influential in the dance, house and hip-hop genres.