2 Tribes were a band from the early 1990's who flirted with fame during the days of Funk-Metal and cut-off shorts. I've included them in the Nutmeg index for a number of reasons: not only were they a "black rock" band, they were also British. There aren't many of those about! They were also happy to mix and match their sounds, flirting with electronica at a time when other rock bands still eyed it with suspicion. Their brief career is also a warning of sorts to other bands.
2 Tribes the album appeared on Chrysalis Records in 1992. It was the record chain Our Price's album of the week, professing punk guitars and heavy funk grooves. What it delivered was a rock album with nods to funk and soul. The rhythm stomps along solidly, the guitars are very much in a pre-grunge rock groove, while Ashton Liburd's vocals brings a touch of Black English soul to the proceedings. A couple of tracks really do deliver on the funk front. "Waiting For The Truth" is a corker of a song, a smooth groove with great harmonies, delicate grooves and a very soulful performance from Liburd. The song lyrics reflected exactly what the band themselves projected: urban life in the 1990's melting pot. The problem of wrongful arrest was the subject of "Innocent Man", "Immigrant Song" covered the wrongs of history, while "What Do They Want From Us?" addressed the apparent problem of rich white girls taking black boyfriends as status symbols (I'm afraid I'm not in a position to confirm or deny whether this was a widespread occurrence in early nineties British society!) "File Under Rock" sets their musical agenda: "This ain't Soul II Soul, it's rock 'n' roll". It seemed that bands on both sides of the Atlantic realised that artistic decisions in the music business are "Decisions made by those who don't know/ That black and white is the real rock 'n' roll."A single "Back to Love" followed, featuring a cover of AC/DC's "Back in Black". On the whole the band's music at this time stands alongside such albums as "Black Radio Won't Play This Record" by Mother's Finest, "Circle of Soul" by Circle of Soul, or the works of the Dan Reed Network, and like them works well as an injection of much needed soul into the moribund body of pre-grunge heavy rock.
Oddly, it was only a few months after the release of their first album that 2 Tribes decided to radically overhaul their sound and image. Still in 1992 came the single "File Under Rock". It was the same track from the album, but the drum beats had been beefed up with a bassier sound and the addition of what sounds like a programmed drum loop, and the guitars while still present seem less pervasive. Unusually for a black rock band, the British music papers were behind them, applauding their sound and attitude as if black rock had just been invented. The cover photo on the single featured the band crouching around a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig with "THE MUSIC BIZ!" written on it, trying to encourage it to take their demo tape. Subtle stuff. The flavour of the month atmosphere didn't dissipate when it transpired that this picture and all their later artwork was photographed by ultra-hip black photographer and tv presenter Normski. Normski at the time was a presenter of a show featuring the latest electronica tunes, and interestingly the "File Under Rock" single features three dance mixes. Not exactly hands in the air handbag house anthems, you'll understand, but dance remixes none the less.
The confrontational sleeve pictures and new sound continued. The cover art for 1993 single "What Do They Want From Us?" featured Ashton hand in hand with Princess Diana. Again, the new version was much more groove oriented, the remixes dancier still. Then the "new" album "Race Against Time" was released. It featured all the tracks on the first album remixed in the same way as the last two singles had been. The cover art for the first album had been abstract, with the band featured in silhouette. The new album, like the singles, featured all the band members against a stark white backrgound. When I saw it I couldn't help but picture a PR man spouting phrases like "attitude" and "in-your-face". I didn't buy the album. I wasn't alone.
Whether the band revamped their look and sound at the behest of the record company, or of their own volition I don't know. If they'd released "Race Against Time" as their first album, or made a new album of new songs rather than remixing the old, maybe I'd have liked them more. I never saw them live: I imagine they were very good. The musicianship on the album can't be faulted. To a certain extent they prepared the way for other British rock acts like Skunk Anansie and Dub War. Is there a moral to this story? Keep it real? Don't work with Janet Street-Porter's ex-boyfriends? I don't know.
Vocals, Jon McLoughlin: Guitar, Paul Gold: Bass, Rod Quinn: Drums.
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