The Sex Pistols are undeniably one of the greatest punk rock bands in history, as their influence on both contemporary music and pop culture is inarguably ubiquitous.
While punk counterculture seeped into nearly every cultural crevice of the United Kingdom in the late sixties, it had yet to ooze into the streets of the United States for some time. Of course today, punk rock is a seemingly omnipresent cultural phenomenon in the US’s rock culture. This is not to say the counterculture was non-existent in the US before bands like the Sex Pistols’ sonic shipment overseas, but rather, full-blown anarchy vis-à-vis music was simply offset.
Certainly, as any punk pundit knows, it wasn’t just the music that catapulted bands like the Sex Pistols to the top of the industry or allotted for punk music to see the light of day. Rather, it was the movement’s ethos, specifically punk’s raw propensity for authenticity, its attacks on social conformity, and actions like the Sex Pistol’s continually neglected deference to the Crown.
Formed in London in 1975, the band initially lasted just two and a half years until 1978. They produced four singles and one studio album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, during that time. Following this breakup, three band members went on to record songs for their manager Martin McLaren’s film version of the Sex Pistols’ story called The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, which depicts the journey of a band that went from fighting systems of oppression to one who had traded a pursual of “cash for chaos.”
It is with the Sex Pistols’ unfortunate demise — and opening up of a counterculture to the public eye that musical composer Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo found inspiration for his latest album under his Bloody Beetroots moniker. In it, he has cultivated an effervescent punk endeavor over the last decade that is explored deeper with each individual release.
Surely, it is with The Great Rock N’ Roll Swindle in context, that Rifo contextualizes the modern space electronic dance music resides in, too.
“I am absolutely defeated at defining any aspect of the EDM cauldron – at the moment, electronic music seems to be rather reductive and poor. EDM has become a useless and empty acronym. It deserves a deeper cultural structure and it is time to start working on it.”
Rifo has expressed a belief publically that punk died in 1977. This was the year the Sex Pistols attained mainstream popularity, and thus lost their edge in the process.
Rifo challenges EDM The Great Electronic Swindle (TGES),an industry he very much believes has lost its edge, too — much like the Sex Pistols sought to do during their time as an institution.
Rifo himself embodies much of what the early Sex Pistols encapsulated, with his boundary-less lifestyle and a long list of musical achievements, and it is through The Great Electronic Swindle that he asserts his demeanor.
Rifo may argue punk died in 1977, but for an artist to refuse to adhere to a genre by way of their outpouring, and to have managed to collaborate with legendary acts like The Cool Kids, Peter Frampton, Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee, and not to mention The Beatles’ Sir Paul Mc Cartney along the way, he’s about as punk as they come.
“I believe we’ve been experiencing parallelism at the same time: much of the electronic music we hear has become flat and those who often occupy the stage are just ‘figures’ and no longer ‘artist’,” Rifo asserted. From my point of view, I saw the emergence of electronic music from a very strong underground scene where there was a lot of real stuff and way less money than today. Knowing that the artists who are on the stage NOW are not the authors of the piece they are ‘playing’ – I think it’s a big scam.” Presently, as his music evolves to a higher sonically communicative niche, language — in all its gravity and fluidity — plays a pivotal role in the Beetroots’ furthered deliverance.
“The album is my way of alerting people about this scam, about these people who are not artistically legitimate. It has often happened to me, especially during the years of the SBCR project, to know about DJs and producers and to congratulate them on their respective hits and to hear that the piece in question wasn’t produced by them or even written by them. ”
Certainly, the fluidity of the Italian-born artist’s own outpouring hasn’t stopped him from connecting with audiences worldwide over the years. Almost immediately after he unleashed The Bloody Beetroots in late 2006, Rifo’s vision was amplified. Inspired by a lifelong love of comics and punk rock, the visceral kick of the Beetroots’ sonic outpouring has been featured prominently in pop culture.
The Bloody Beetroots discography features a dizzying array of successful EPs and two full-length albums: 2009’s Romborama and 2013’s Hide. Indeed, clubs, theaters, and festivals around the world have willingly laid host to The Bloody Beetroots’ incendiary live show. Between Coachella and Lollapalooza to Governor’s Ball and more, The Bloody Beetroots’ lively dance-punk has enthralled millions.
But Rifo’s tantalizing vision extends far beyond the sonic space. Rifo strives to engage his listeners; rather than veering towards singularity, or struggling to find the balance that pleases his audience on a multitude of fronts, his work is challenging—both intellectually and emotionally. TGES serves as an epitome of his means.
Fans are ensured the induced-introspection and extrospection is respectively cyclical. In turn, this degree of expectation, from both his listeners and himself, has enabled Rifo to work closely with a myriad of artists on his latest album.
“I had not planned to have so many singers on TGES but the story I wanted to tell required a broad range of nuances…above all, empathy. So I turned to friends who introduced me to friends with whom we developed this fantastic adventure called TGES. Each and every one of them tells a piece of my life story of the last four years, it was a long and arduous experience that made me grow a little more,” Rifo explained.
Frontman for the alternative rock band Jane’s Addiction and the creator of Lollapalooza Perry Farrel is just one of the standout acts that join Rifo on the album. Certainly, fundamentals of melody, harmony, and classical music theory are present on the resulted collaboration “Pirates, Punk, & Politics.” These elements were internalized for Rifo at a young age in his classical training and on TGES, they’re incessantly tapped into.
“As an artist I need to see the music as my primary element of expression, which takes time and can not be artificially reproduced,” he states.
Doubling down on the extensive body of work and pulling in an opposite sonic direction are two tracks from the Swedish songstress Greta Svabo Bech, known best for her deadmau5 collaboration “Raise Your Weapon.” Bech joins The Bloody Beetroots on two tracks, “Invisible” and “The Great Run.”
Ultimately, Rifo sought out artists he felt would create a challenging body of work. Henceforth, Rifo incorporated his collaborators’ ideas into the work, too. Often on the new record the working and re-working of numbers has become one with managing a sole vision.
“My Name Is Thunder,” released as a double-single with Rifo and Australian rockers Jet prior to the record, serves as a prime example — after all, there are two versions of the track.
“I knew this song needed a certain rock tone… a tone like Nic Cester of Jet had. We thought instead of someone ‘like Nic Cester,’ how about we get the real Nic Cester! Thinking he would be in Australia, it was fate that he lived just a couple hours away from me in Italy. I found him,” says Rifo. “We worked together, ate together, drank together and created something very powerful together. Around this time the Jet guys started talking and thinking about getting back together when Nic shared this with his bandmates, the idea came up to have all of Jet involved. Because of our different influences, we had different ideas on the mixing and from that, we came up with two versions.”
Of course, this expansive, genre-crossing creative body of work requires immense amounts of work, but such is Rifo’s M.O.
“You have to take the time to create something consistently relevant,” he stresses.
In an era of seemingly mind-numbing and instantly-gratifying tunes, dumbed down pop culture, and situational fleeting relevancy of hot subgenres, Rifo strives on The Great Electric Swindle to create a true counterculture — much in the spirit of the Sex Pistols, who inspired him.
TGES is thus a thoughtful investment of musical pieces, scraped and re-scraped, even lacking concise direction at times. It’s a record that gives way to a palpable culmination of energy, and it lends way to where things can be taken with a widespread re-integration of the underground.
“I want to open a little window onto the meaning of freedom, and what art and music should be in a society,” concludes Rifo.
“I’m convinced that a new, completely rational counterculture is emerging and it will rethink all the choices of artistic growth out of every music business rule. TGES will hopefully be an example for other artists who will make the choice of bringing back quality to electronic music. The more we are – the more we will take control!” he continues.
The Great Electronic Swindle doubles down as a celebratory round for the tenth year of The Bloody Beetroots and it is with Rifo’s continuously effervescent attitude that he delivers his most expansive, challenging music to date. And yet, candidly unsurprising, Rifo hints that this is only the latest chapter in a story that has just begun. “Anything is possible!” he ensures.
Featured Images courtesy of The Bloody Beetroots