Saint Etienne / Casino Classics

Despite appearances, 1996 was a good year for Saint Etienne. Although it was two years since Tiger Bay came out and another two years before they would release Good Humor they weren’t resting on their laurels. I would regularly see them DJing at the Heavenly Jukebox at Turnmills, alongside the likes of The Chemical Brothers. It seems kind of crazy to think that you could go clubbing where the Chemical Brothers were residents, but remember that Dig Your Own Hole didn’t come until 1997. If it wasn’t the Chemical Brothers headlining the night, it would be David Holmes, or Richard Fearless from Death in Vegas, or Jon Carter from Monkey Mafia, or Andy Weatherall. Only in retrospect can I see just how stellar the line ups were.

Saint Etienne have had one foot in the charts and the other on the dancefloor ever since Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley decided to cover a Neil Young song because they hadn’t yet written any songs of their own. The 7″ version of Only Love Can Break Your Heart is a Balearic classic, but Andrew Weatherall’s Mix of Two Halves (a nod to the fact that Saint Etienne are named after the football team rather than the French town) was the first of dozens and dozens of remixes which were as good, if not better than the original.

In 1995 the limited edition run of Saint Etienne’s first best of, Too Young To Die, came with a bonus disc of remixes which went down a storm. The following year this bonus disc got a full release with an extra cd. Casino Classics hit the shelves and featured remixes by The Chemical Brothers, Aphex Twin, Way Out West, Underworld, Monkey Mafia and Death in Vegas. Where the first disc was previously released mixes, the tracks on disc two were brand new unreleased remixes. Some were remixes of tracks that hadn’t even been released, and tucked at the end of the compilation was a remix by Broadcast, who at the time had only put out one EP and had yet to sign to Warp records.

Over the past three years, Saint Etienne have slowly been reissuing remasters of all of their old albums, and it’s now Casino Classic’s turn. Where each previous reissue has included an extra disc of material, the deluxe reissue of Casino Classics comes with two discs of additional material covering some of the best remixes since the original release all the way through to the release of London Conversations – the remastered Greatest Hits which kicked off the reissues. On the new version we’ve gained remixes of tracks by the likes of Paul Van Dyk, Faze Action, Tiesto, Aim, Add N to X and Hybrid, as well as US-only remixes of Only Love Can Break Your Heart and Nothing Can Stop Us by Masters at Work. There’s also some more remixes from the older days which weren’t included on the original Casino Classics including Pete Heller’s piano house take on Kiss and Make Up which only ever came out on 12″ over twenty years ago. Completing the circle, things finish with their Cola boy remix of The Method of Modern Love – the last single from the period covered. Cola Boy was another project that Pete and Bob were involved with in the early days of Saint Etienne, who only released two singles in 1991.

It’s hard to know where to start with recommending tracks from this compilation. I’ve already mentioned the Andrew Weatherall remix of Only Love Can Break Your Heart, and the Broadcast take on Angel. David Holmes remixed Like a Motorway before he got the funk, and is an amazing thirteen minute acid-techno wig out. The Monkey Mafia remix of Filthy is a big beat classic. The Faze Action mix of Sylvie is ten minutes of brilliant Latin house. Cool Kids of Death mixed by Underworld has been slimmed down by four minutes from the original to be able to fit more tracks in, but you still get more ten minutes of it. Their foray into drum’n’bass – when PFM remixed Down By The Sea is also reduced by half, but across the four cds (and the bonus downloads), you get a monster 54 tracks. It’s astonishing for any band to have that many remixes in the first place, let alone so many over so many years of such consistently high quality.

Casino Classics is out on Monday 12th November. On the same day, there’s also a deluxe reissue of Sarah Cracknell’s solo album Lipslide. Saint Etienne get a mention because Pete’s a Hove resident these days, but since Sarah isn’t a Brightonian I won’t be writing about what a great single Anymore was, or about how Summer Song (previously issued as a Saint Etienne song on the fan club only Boxette) is one of the absolute very best things to have come from the Saint Etienne camp, or about the mystery of multiple inclusions of some songs at the expense of the lilting acoustic bossa nova of b-side Oh Boy The Feeling When You Held My Hand (which you can buy as an mp3 from Amazon here). Oh wait, hang on…

Saint Etienne play the Concorde 2 on 13th December

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Album Review: Words & Music by Saint Etienne

Music’s always been a big deal for me. One of my earliest memories is looking at the cover of my mum’s copy of Sergeant Pepper, slightly baffled by all of the characters on it. Growing up, I always had my walkman with me along with an extra pair of batteries in my pocket just so that I was never left stranded in silence. When I was old enough to have a bit of spare cash, I’d cycle to the record shops of Croydon and Epsom doing my best to fill the gaps in my ever increasing New Order 12″ collection. At uni I got involved with student radio, and then when I went and got a job, Monday lunchtimes would draw to close with a game of “Who?” – the inevitable reaction from my older colleagues as I went through the brand new releases I had gone and bought as early as I possibly could – 7″s by Kenickie, Bis or Comet Gain, Stereolab albums on coloured vinyl, the latest cds on Heavenly or Warp Records. Throughout my twenties, my summer holidays were festivals. Over the years I built up a soundtrack to my life – tunes which can instantly bring back memories of blue skies or broken hearts. So, music is important – If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this, and you wouldn’t be reading it. It’s especially important to Saint Etienne. They’ve been making records for over twenty years now, during which time they’ve also turned their hand to music journalism, DJing, running record labels, writing songs for other people, film-making … You name it, they’ve done it in the music industry, which is how they’ve ended up at the point where Words & Music is the natural album for them to make. Opening track Over The Border will send shivers down the spine for anyone music really matters to, lyrically encapsulating exactly how it feels for music to grow up with you.

The very first thing I read about the album was a comment from someone on Twitter saying that Saint Etienne had made a pop record. Of course it was pop, I thought – they’re a pop band, after all. The gist of next comment I read was that they’d made the record with Xenomania, and it showed. That didn’t concern me either. The lead single, Tonight, reminded me of Action, which the band released ten years ago, and my girlfriend said that reminded it her of He’s on the Phone, from all the way back in 1995. The perception from some quarters seems to be that Saint Etienne should only be allowed to make retro pop, but the truth is that they’ve always had a bit of disco in them – They even worked with Kylie on a version of Nothing Can Stop Us.

While some of the tracks have been sprinkled with a bit of pop magic from Richard X and other Xenomania alumni Nick Coler and Tim Powell, old hand Ian Catt who’s been involved with the production of Saint Etienne records since day one is also on board. Outside of the disco pop of the potential singles, the pastoral folk of I Threw It All Away could be a Vashti Bunyan cover, and the acapella of Record Doctor harks back to Goodnight which closed Tales From Turnpike House seven years ago.

For me, the most interesting tracks are those that hark back to classic St Et but that are informed by all of the new lessons they’ve learned from their new chartbusting friends. Last Days of Disco has radio friendly electric piano verses, but two minutes in has a great breakdown which brings in some shamelessly synth strings. Popular, one of the more upbeat tracks on the album, does some fancy things time stretching vocals. Still Saint Etienne, but still moving forwards, which for a band so far into their career is no mean feat.

While it’s been a good few years since the last Saint Etienne album, the band have been busy being Artists-in-Residence at Royal Festival Hall, celebrating the twentieth anniversary of their seminal debut Foxbase Alpha by playing the album live in it’s entirety and having it remixed by Richard X, reissuing remastered versions of the rest of their back catalogue, remixing a new generation of bands and quietly sneaking out a Christmas album. Here’s hoping there aren’t so many distractions for the band between now and the next album.

Words and Music by Saint Etienne is released on Universal Records on 21st May 2012. And if you’re wondering why I’m writing about Saint Etienne who are so associated with London on Brighton Music Blog, read my interview with Pete Wiggs here.