Not the same old new

POP Will Eat Itself. The best thing about the band of that name was the name. Ten years after they called it a day, the phrase has become the quickest, laziest way to describe how music endlessly mutates. You hear it more often today than when it directly referred to PWEI.

How are you on new rave? Yes, it exists - the NME tells us so. Grooves which are a little bit dumb, and clever enough to know it; are a little bit guitary and a little bit dancey, are big again. And just the other day The Rapture woke up to find they'd been anointed godfathers of the movement.

"Kinda crap, huh?" sighs Mattie Safer, bassist in the New York fourpiece when I show him the latest edition of the music weekly. What does he know of new rave? "Well, I've read about it, but only in the NME. Most of these bands have big, stoopid keyboards and I guess you're supposed to bring some glow sticks to their shows and take some Es."

Isn't The Rapture's music - they're about to release their second album, called Pieces Of The People We Love - more subtle than that? "I'd like to think so. But at least new rave is better than calling us dance-rock."

The Rapture - Safer, Luke Jenner, Gabe Andruzzi and Vito Roccoforte - have been called many things. "Post-punk, dance-punk, disco-punk," adds Safer, maintaining his wearisome air. And lest we forget: "disco pogo for punks in pumps".

That was the legend under the masthead of Jockey Slut, a more hip mag than the NME, so hip in fact that it ate itself. Before its demise The Rapture were its poster-boys and their debut album Echoes was trailed from a long way back as the rewriting of the Scriptures.

With that build-up, it was bound to disappoint. There were great moments, most notably 'House Of Jealous Lovers', the song with which they blasted into clubs four years ago. The Rapture have a fantastic vibe but words fail them. None of their lyrics will ever become a T-shirt slogan or the subject of a post-graduate thesis.

"Trends used to hang about for a little longer than they do now," says Safer nostalgically. "We seem to be ripping through the entire history of popular music at the rate of a year a month.

"I mean, new rave as a concept doesn't really exist. But I guess it's about 18-year-old kids who completely missed out first time, back in the days of old rave.

"It's what always happens. There are these kids who feel alienated by politics or popular culture and they go seek out something else. They start bands, they rehearse and they get good. Because they're good they become popular, and then a bunch of not-very-good bands come along and they're popular too, but they haven't put in the work. Suddenly we're over-saturated with mediocrity.

"So a new generation of kids comes along and they go: 'I don't like all those terrible, really samey bands, I'm going to find something else. I know: English minstrel music!' And then a whole minstrel scene develops, and so it goes on..."

Safer says the best will always survive, and maybe here he means The Rapture, and maybe, too, he's referring to his band's beginnings in New York when, in the wake of The Strokes, all eyes were on the Big Apple. Disco-punk, for want of a better name, had existed before. The Rapture came at it slightly differently: with a cowbell.

Jenner, who shares singing duties with Safer, brought schitzo guitar to the band's sound. Safer, who was in Washington DC when he met Jenner and Roccoforte en route to the East Coast after a fruitless spell out west, brought throbbing bass. Andruzzi, who's Safer's cousin, brought saxophone, which is unusual enough these days, but his clanking cowbell quickly became their signature.

Early on, The Rapture were spotted by James Murphy, one half of the production team DFA. This increased their hip quotient, and got Echoes out, but the band didn't repeat the association for Pieces Of The People We Love. "James and Tim [Goldsworthy, his musical other half] are very confrontational," says Safer. "A lot of their bands, DFA end up rolling them over and replaying the guitar parts. We had a lot of fights so I'm glad we set off on our own this time."

Pieces is hardly lacking in superstar producers. Paul Epworth twiddles knobs for Bloc Party and Futureheads, Ewan Pearson remixes Franz Ferdinand and Danger Mouse is, well, Danger Mouse. The overall effect is a warmer, squelchier sound. Sharp edges have been smoothed away.

But the Rapture are still slaves to the rhythm. They bonded over a shared obsession for what Safer calls "classic funk, rhythmic shit". The Chicago house standard, Marshall Jefferson's 'Ride The Rhythm', was a big favourite, as was MFSB's 'TSOP', the theme to the Soul Train telly show. The Rapture clearly have impeccable taste, but it must be said: there are times on the new record when they sound like the Glitter Band.

Well, Gary Glitter may have tainted their memory, but no group boasting two drummers can be all bad in Safer's eyes. "They mean something different in the States," he says. "'Rock 'N' Roll (Parts 1&2)' is a sports-stadium anthem and for us it's just got that pulse. We used to encore with it, and one Halloween we even dressed up as the Glitter Band."

That sort of behaviour could get you a sore face in Glasgow, but The Rapture are big fans of the city's nightlife, and in particular Optimo. "Jonnie [Wilkes] and Keith [McIvor, the promoter/DJ duo behind the venue] were supporters of the band early on," he says. "The very first Scottish gig we played was at Optimo and I don't think anyone in the crowd knew who we were. The big question that night was [affects pretty decent Clydeside accent]: 'Who are yooz?'

"We always go back there and it's been great to watch the club grow as we've kind of grown. It feels like home in a way." In fact, Safer rates Optimo better than any of the clubs back home.

Admittedly, the New York scene has suffered recently to licensing restrictions. "Clubs were viewed by the authorities as bad places where people drank and took drugs and, worse than that, enjoyed themselves. So they stopped issuing the licences that were needed for dancing."

But, more than anything, the thing that impresses Safer most about Scottish crowds is their "Go on, impress me" attitude: "There's this great abandon about Scotland when we play there. Also, the culture is very sarcastic. As a cynical f****r myself, I appreciate that. Scots see through trends and have no problem calling something shit if that is what it is."

The Rapture are far from shit but, if I'm being Scottish and honest, Pieces Of The People We Love is not the classic I hoped it would be. The sound the band make is often thrilling, but from the very first line, the lyrics promise to take us "High, high as they sky" and never really get there.

Safer, who writes the words with Jenner, is no fan of the literary approach. "With lyrics, being referential can be clever, but the best ones are not really that smart," he says. "Luke is certainly stream-of-consciousness when he writes; my main thing is that the words must rhyme. When I was 12 and into hip-hop I remember being told that if there was no rhyme, black people wouldn't like your music. It's kind of a weird thing to remember, but it's stuck. That's why you don't hear any mentions of James Joyce on our records."

And it also explains why The Rapture are confident enough in their own clever-dumb abilities to call a song 'Whoo! Alright - Yeah... Uh Huh'. Maybe they are new rave, a band who all the time were waiting for the right trend to happen.

Pieces Of The People That We Like (Vertigo) is released tomorrow. The Rapture play Liquid Room, Edinburgh, on October 12

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