VS INTELLIGENTSIA - THE FULL STORY
That has to be, in all honesty, the most requested
song on this show since God Save The Queen
John Peel, BBC Radio One, 27th
it was a 20 minute art piece, that just looped round and round.
So..... be thankful
Ricardo Autobahn - Northwest
Hit Just A Laugh Says Cuban Boy Skreen
Teletext News Headlines - 9th
idea of melding ephemeral novelty to something altogether
more sinister has long appealed to us. Like hearing
a musical box in a horror film, there is nothing more
appropriate to highlight something, than something totally
inappropriate. So, in a sense, when people claimed Cognoscenti
Vs. Intelligentsia was ironic, they were misguided
but not wholly incorrect.
To be honest, CVI began life as something
that would be an unfinished relic, a throwaway piece
of fluff to play to friends, make them laugh, and then
go and do something more important. For a few weeks,
it did indeed languish as the Roger Miller loop, a disco
beat, and very little else. Repeating itself ad nauseum,
until one of us unearthed some film samples, and we
realised that, by snipping and positioning them we could
actually create some sort of comment - a cut and paste
lyric - some sort of (shh!) situationist subversion...
the stuff we ever said in interviews was true. There
is a lot more truth that we never told the tabloids,
which may or may not come out on this page.
first truth that we told was that it got sent to Peel,
almost by accident. To reiterate, this is
true. True we tells ya. Wed got into a groove of
sending John Peel homemade, one-off CDRs, which he received
gratefully and regularly played, to our delight and surprise.
Indeed, wed already fluked another minor radio hit
the previous September, when a song - famously based on
the idea by journalist Stephen Eastwood - called OH
MY GOD! THEY KILLED KENNY sneaked onto a Peel CD to
fill space. At the time of writing CVI, that
song had just become our debut single on a 7 vinyl
release, had been voted the sixth best record of the year
by Peel listeners (before it came out), wed recorded
a session for the Peel show and we were feeling like pop
the Festive 50 success, there was a lean period. We
had no idea how to go about getting a deal, how to capitalise
on our marginal success, and there was a lengthy gap
of twelve weeks after the Peel Session aired when nothing
else caught the imagination of the radio. We stared
into the future and couldnt work out for the life
of us what to do. The CDR we made for John in March
was, and you have to believe us on this, purely for
his own personal interest. In the hope hed give
us some input, and to let him see what wed been
doing since the Peel Session. CVI was the
first track on the CD, and if wed ever have believed
hed have played it on air we would have branded
ourselves as misguided and given up then. No, itll
make him chuckle, we said, but if theres anything
to spark his imagination itll be the industrial
tinges of DATACRIME, the happy hardcore stylings
of MOON MICE ON ICE, the plaintive mandolin twang
of LITTLE SADIE. Those tracks are ideal for the
Peel Show, we thought.
7th April, 1999, didnt really seem like being
The Day That Changed Our Lives. Nondescript as far as
we remember. Were not even sure we tuned in to
Peel that night.
he played it.
a comment along the lines of The first time you
hear that, its brilliant. The third time, its
the most annoying thing in the world. Youll be
hearing that again. He also, prophetically, proclaimed
it to be
...an unreleased track that could become the most
irritating hit of 1999. Six days later, the
nation did hear it again. Then again on the 22nd of
April. John was, by now, getting requests from people
desperate to hear the track again.
The Cuban Boys were taking over the Peel Show, with
e-mails from the public, interspersed with e-mails from
ourselves, filling the four corners of the evening broadcast.
Meanwhile, we were negotiating with Che Records to put
out a 12 single of our cover version of SELF
ESTEEM, and we were increasingly desperate not to
put CVI on the single.
27th of April, and - due to popular demand - the track
started Johns show. In an almost unprecedented
move, it was played again in the same week, closing
the show on Thursday. That has to be, in all
honesty, the most requested song on this show since
God Save The Queen said John, as his show
ended at midnight. The Cuban Boys laughed hysterically
for most of the night.
when all hell broke loose, really.
Paul Scaife from the industry magazine The Tip Sheet
had heard the track, and called one of us to ask to
put it on the free CD that went with the magazine on
the 4th of May, to all the industry movers and shakers.
The legendary Jonathan King had been caught faxing the
head of BMG, imploring them to sign the record. Before
long wed had EMI, Parlophone and RCA on the phone
arranging meetings. In one notable moment of famous
decadence, Ricardo refused to answer the phone to an
excitable Skreen - informing him of the latest addition
to the label wars - because he hadnt finished
By the time May came to a close, Jonathan King had driven
us around London in his Rolls Royce, wed met several
major labels, and had managed, somehow, to pull an album
deal out of EMI. Our second single, Blueprint
For Modernisation had just been released on hip
underground label ORG, and we were actually making that
transition to becoming corporate whores. Two days after
signing to EMI, we were filming our first TV appearance
- not, it must be said, anything to do with having just
signed to EMI.
Best Summer Of Our Lives followed - as we frittered away
the EMI money in a remote coastal area of Pembrokeshire,
recording a succession of bizarre tracks for, what we
planned, would be the oddest album EMI ever released.
Executives from the label made the long journey to Fishguard
time and again, to hear the songs, put on worried faces
and suggest we dress up as hamsters and appear on the
Capital Radio roadshow. By the time the chilly winds of
Autumn set in, wed scored another Peel hit sampling
Pokemon by mistake, and visited the man himself at his
home. Wed also found professional representation
with Tony Beard at Sanctuary Management, to the gleeful
realisation that we were now somehow related to Iron Maiden.
returned to London in October where we found ourselves
in a freezing cold fairground at 7am, listening to the
Japanese Grand Prix on a walkman. The £25,000
video for CVI was notable for a number of
reasons, not least because we awkwardly found ourselves
the centre of attention, and not most because of the
oversized fibreglass melon, covered in trifle, that
we had to lug through the plush Dolphin Square hotel
that night. Sample clearance delays had meant the singles
scheduled release in September had been pushed back
to November, which annoyed us immensely.
do realise people *will* view this as a novelty record?
said our man at EMI.
Yeah, its alright. Well turn it
round we confidently bragged.
came and went. Aside from our first ever interview face
to face with a journalist - Pete Robinson from the Melody
Maker - and an ironically timed trainwreck which caused
the lily-livered EMI to remove the sample Station
Announcer from the radio versions, there was
nothing doing. The single hadnt been playlisted
by Radio 1, for the reasons that its the
work of the devil and it compromises the
integrity of daytime radio (the latter slogan
eventually finding its way onto the official Cuban
T-shirts). We were literally moments away from pushing
CVI back to January, the lean period for
single sales, when Jo Whiley played it at lunchtime,
on Radio 1. And got the Peel reaction. Rather excitingly
for the Cuban Boys ongoing campaign to retain
their indie cred, she inadvertantly played the
version with Bastards! on it, causing
a ripple of mild controversy throughout middle England.
It was then that Dr.Fox picked the song up on the Capital
breakfast show, and repeatedly played it throughout
his show as a jingle, never once referring to the Cuban
Boys, or even attempting to pronounce the title.
continued to break loose.
We stumbled across the longwave station Atlantic 252
accidentally, only to find that - in a daily phone in
poll - Cognoscenti Vs. Intelligentsia was
stuffing the opposition in a Battle Of The Bands
Night after night the public phoned in in droves to
vote for us, the single toppled Boyzone, TLC, B*Witched,
S Club 7, Westlife, Tom Jones and Steps. We huddled
round our portable radios and put on our bemused faces.
had, by now, broken loose completely and had run off
into the stormy wasteland.
actually went for it. They scheduled the record for
release on the 13th December, the week of the Christmas
chart, up against Westlife, Steps and John Lennon. Cliff,
of course, had already been number 1 for a couple of
weeks. Were not sure if we realised the full implication
of what was going on at the time, preferring in ourselves
simply to attempt to palm off tabloid interviews to
other members of the band. The Star wouldnt speak
to anybody except Jenny, Skreen found himself as a headline
on the teletext, Blu led the band revolt about not being
interviewed by Anne Diamond, and Ricardo attempted to
convince the viewing millions that we werent that
bothered about getting a big hit in the Christmas chart.
We were excited, but it wasnt real. It wasnt
sinking in. We moaned about having to get up at the
greyest, dingiest 6am since records began, to appear
on the Atlantic 252 breakfast show the day the single
came out. We argued about the wording on the stickers
promoting the single. We sulked as we lurked in HMV
and failed to spot a single person buying it. Ricardo
went in the NME and bravely kept pointing out that the
last Cuban Boys single had been a limited edition release
on ORG. John Peel got a mention in every tabloid feature
Some things excited us more than others. The closing
refrain of That ought to hold the little bastards
caused so many complaints to EMI that the single had
a Parental Advisory sticker by the end of
the week. The week before the single came out, Charles
Shaar Murray had called the single eloquent
in its sheer vacuity during a highbrow
debate on the Channel 4 news. We had our picture taken
with Westlife at the Record Of The Year awards. Sir
Cliff went on Newsround and deemed our single
awful - after complaining that everybody
had been slagging his record off. And Ricardo battled
his way through a live Radio 1 interview with the worlds
smuggest DJ, Mark Goodier.
the revelation wed been invited to appear on Top
Of The Pops was greeted with little more than
a shrug of disdain from Jenny upon hearing the hallowed
news. And after waiting our lives for that Sunday afternoon
moment, the news that wed gone in at number 4
wasnt that exciting - wed known since Monday
to be honest, and the surprise element didnt kick
in. But actually reading the thing on the teletext as
we sat in our hotel rooms the night before TOTP,
there in the chart rundown, the worlds most prepostrous
song title, a joke title that we never thought wed
get away with - that was pretty good. Our Top
Of The Pops performance - never shown - consisted
of us standing around wearing labcoats, covered in cobwebs.
Peel had been officially invited to appear with us,
but he was busy - although his name remained on the
BBC dressing room door. We continued to be unimpressed
by the surrounding paraphenalia, forcing Blu to be interviewed
for BBC Choice at TOTP when none of the
rest of us could be arsed to do it.
was over as quickly as it began. The year ended with
the astonishing realisation that not only had "CVI"
topped the 1999 Festive 50 (possibly our proudest achievement),
but it had also gone into legend as the last song John
Peel played on Radio 1 in the 20th Century. Seven weeks
later, it had vanished from view - only to make a shock
reappearance in the charts as Woolworths attempted to
unload its unsold stock for 99p a throw. Our only
notable appearance in the press for six months was a
photograph of ourselves in Bella, in an article about
how callously we ripped off the Hamsterdance website.
And aside from denting a number of Scandinavian charts,
and reaching number 27 in New Zealand, our attempts
at global domination were a pretty miserable failure.
Nobody would let us actually leave the country to go
and promote the record anywhere else - in retrospect
the first sign that people werent truly confident
aftermath threw up some interesting asides, though.
We were particularly thrilled to see the song make its
lasting impression on compilation albums, Now
45, The Best Pepsi Chart Album In The World.....
Ever and so on. Words, really, cant explain
the satisfaction that comes when you write a song entitled
Cognoscenti Vs. Intelligentsia, which includes
the phrase rich, luscious, nauseating corn
on it, then record it using steam-powered samplers,
and eventually find it on a compilation album in Safeways
alongside every generic boyband you read about in Smash
Hits. Our legacy is still not finished. But were
in the Guinness Book Of Hit Singles. Which is a start.
were determined that the sleeve artwork for "Cognoscenti
Vs. Intelligentsia" wouldn't hype up the novelty
aspect of the record. Of course, EMI were enormously
keen to get a hamster reference there, and after much
committee debate the celebrated "Atomic Hamster"
sleeve artwork was borne. Here are some of the rejected
ideas, rejected by the band and rejected by EMI, that
demonstrate How The Single Sleeve Came To Be...
liked the two sleeves above. "Look at the eyes!"
they said. We weren't convinced. On an unrelated topic,
why not compare these two ideas above to the eventual
sleeve that was used for the Official Hampsterdance
single and album, by Hampton the Hampster.
liked these two sleeves much more, but this time EMI weren't
sure. We all loved the atomic-age-chic, but there was
no hamster reference. Would the public understand? So
the robot was replaced with a hamster, then that hamster's
feet were replaced with rats feet (or something), and
the resultant image found itself plastered across acres
of tabloid coverage instead of pictures of the band.