Section 25: The Brit Post-Punkers on Being Sampled by Kanye West
Probably no one was more shocked and delighted by Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo than Vincent Cassidy, the founding drummer of Section 25: Their 1981 track “Hit” comes through loud and clear in Kanye’s dark domestic rumination “FML.” Once upon a time, the North Englanders’ post-punk melancholy epitomized the sound of Manchester’s Factory label. Indeed, the Joy Division singer Ian Curtis even co-produced Always Now, the album on which “Hit” appears.
Against most odds, Section 25 remains an ongoing family concern. Following the death of co-founding bassist Larry Cassidy in 2010, Bethany Cassidy, daughter of Larry and wife Jenny Ross, who sang Section 25’s electro-psych masterpiece “Looking From a Hilltop,” now fronts the band. In April, Section 25 will release a new live album, Al Fresco, and will play a few England dates before beginning work on their ninth studio album. We spoke with Vincent and Bethany about how “Hit” finally became a hit.
How did you learn about Kanye sampling “Hit”?
Vincent: James Nice, who runs the Factory Benelux label, said to me, “Are you sitting down?” He told me a sample had been requested, and I thought it would be a snare hit or a guitar riff or some other snippet. So I was completely thrilled and surprised when “Hit” started playing about halfway through — with my brother playing bass and singing, Paul [Wiggin] playing guitar and me drumming — and went on for the rest of the track. It sounded like Kanye doing a duet with me brother! [Laughs.] I got pretty emotional, really. I’m not one to cry about things like this, but I miss my brother every day and wish he could come back and hear that.
Bethany: I’m absolutely stunned by “FML.” It was surreal to hear my father in that song, but I love it. It’s so airy, and a bit twisted. My dad sounds like a chipmunk.
“FML” begins dark and desperate, but the “Hit” sample suggests a sort of Buddhist acceptance.
Vincent: Larry and Paul were very interested in Buddhism at the time and that’s reflected in the lyrics. Maybe Kanye’s framework is stark and minimalist, but the lyrics to “Hit” are certainly optimistic. “FML” is about his wife, isn’t it?
What would Larry have thought about this?
Bethany: If he were here, his head wouldn’t fit through the door. [Laughs.]
Vincent: He would have loved it like I do. We applied the principle of unexpected style juxtapositions to our playing, and still do. We always tried to mix things up. I don’t pretend to know anything about Kanye West, rap or hip-hop, but I gather “FML” isn’t a typical Kanye track, and I like that.
How did Blackpool influence Section 25’s sound?
Vincent: Blackpool is basically a Victorian seaside resort with piers and Venetian arcades and that sort of stuff. Amusements for the masses, shall we say. Like a lot of Britain in the late Seventies, it was fairly grim, so I suppose our surroundings were reflected in what we did. We had a rehearsal room in the center of town, and I don’t think they liked us being around. We soldiered on anyway.
How would you compare Section 25’s sound before and after it reformed in 2006?
Vincent: While the way we approach music is essentially the same, the music itself is quite different. It’s more complex, with more instrumentation. We start out the same as back then, which is the four of us in a room with a bunch of instruments making shit up. We record it, sift through, pick out the bits that are good, and work on them. And now we have a female vocalist at the front.
What did your mom Jenny Ross bring to Section 25 in addition to her voice, Bethany?
Bethany: Section 25 was starting to get more electronic when my mom joined. Where my dad approached it from a visual-arts point of view, my mom was a naturally talented multi-instrumentalist who brought more light and a faster spirit to the band. I was born in 1986, after its peak. Section 25 felt like a remnant of the past my parents kept very private as I was growing up. I had to find out about it myself.
How did you come to join the band?
Bethany: My mom died in 2004, when I was 18. I tried to forget about it and ran away to university. In 2009, they asked me to sing on Nature + Degree. My relationship with my dad wasn’t amazing, so I thought performing with him might help. It was weird at the time, and we had more of a friendship than a father-daughter relationship. I only got to be onstage with him once before he passed away, and it was fantastic seeing this slightly obnoxious guy so full of bravado. He owned the stage, and I was very, very proud of him.
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