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COGNOSCENTI VS INTELLIGENTSIA - THE FULL STORY
Ricardo's Original Artwork Design

“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 April 1999

"Originally it was a 20 minute art piece, that just looped round and round. So..... be thankful”
Ricardo Autobahn - Northwest Tonight
13th December 1999

“Hamster Hit Just A Laugh Says Cuban Boy Skreen”
Teletext News Headlines - 9th December 1999

“Resistance is futile”
Lard

The 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...

All 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.

The first truth that we told was that it got sent to Peel, “almost by accident”. To reiterate, this is true. True we tells ya. We’d 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, we’d 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), we’d recorded a session for the Peel show and we were feeling like pop stars. Illustration

After 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 couldn’t 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 he’d give us some input, and to let him see what we’d been doing since the Peel Session. “CVI” was the first track on the CD, and if we’d ever have believed he’d have played it on air we would have branded ourselves as misguided and given up then. No, it’ll make him chuckle, we said, but if there’s anything to spark his imagination it’ll 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.

The 7th April, 1999, didn’t really seem like being The Day That Changed Our Lives. Nondescript as far as we remember. We’re not even sure we tuned in to Peel that night.

But he played it.

Cuban Boys EMI Promo Photo

With a comment along the lines of “The first time you hear that, it’s brilliant. The third time, it’s the most annoying thing in the world. You’ll 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.

Tuesday, 27th of April, and - due to popular demand - the track started John’s 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.

That’s 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 we’d 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 hadn’t finished his toast.

By the time May came to a close, Jonathan King had driven us around London in his Rolls Royce, we’d 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.

The 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, we’d scored another Peel hit sampling Pokemon by mistake, and visited the man himself at his home. We’d also found professional representation with Tony Beard at Sanctuary Management, to the gleeful realisation that we were now somehow related to Iron Maiden. Cuban Boys EMI Promo Photo

We 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 single’s scheduled release in September had been pushed back to November, which annoyed us immensely.

“You do realise people *will* view this as a novelty record?” said our man at EMI.

“Yeah, it’s alright. We’ll turn it round” we confidently bragged.

November 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 hadn’t been playlisted by Radio 1, for the reasons that “it’s the work of the devil” and “it compromises the integrity of daytime radio” (the latter slogan eventually finding it’s 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.

Cuban Boys EMI Promo Photo

Hell 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” competition.

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.

Hell had, by now, broken loose completely and had run off into the stormy wasteland.

 

EMI 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. We’re 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 wouldn’t 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 weren’t that bothered about getting a big hit in the Christmas chart.

We were excited, but it wasn’t real. It wasn’t 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 about us.

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 it’s 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.

However, the revelation we’d 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 we’d gone in at number 4 wasn’t that exciting - we’d known since Monday to be honest, and the surprise element didn’t 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 world’s most prepostrous song title, a joke title that we never thought we’d 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.

John 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.

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 it’s 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 weren’t truly confident in us.

The aftermath threw up some interesting asides, though. We were particularly thrilled to see the song make it’s lasting impression on compilation albums, “Now 45”, “The Best Pepsi Chart Album In The World..... Ever” and so on. Words, really, can’t 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 we’re in the Guinness Book Of Hit Singles. Which is a start.

 

ARTWORK FOR THE SINGLE

We 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...

Rejected EMI Artwork Rejected EMI Artwork

EMI 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.

Rejected EMI Artwork Rejected EMI Artwork
We 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.
Revised EMI Artwork - First Draft with incorrect punctuation

 

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