Post punk, new funk, even if its old junk, it’s still rock and roll to me. Call it what you want, but history shows that Manhattan’s Liquid Liquid were essentially a dub/groove-based band that while in their short lifespan became incredibly influential on the New York music scene both then and now, being name-checked and sampled on high from Grandmaster Flash all the way through to LCD Soundsystem.
Not as slick as you would imagine, Liquid Liquid were little more than a garage band that built a minimalist percussive/samba-based sound incorporating tight rhythms, dub/funk basslines and distant vocals. Heavily influenced by punk and the burgeoning hip-hop scene in New York, Liquid Liquid fused the punk ethic with African and hip-hop rhythms to create an urban soundscape that along with bands such as ESG, DNA and the Bush Tetras became part of the short-lived no-wave scene.
Despite their brief career (running from 1980-84), they released three EP’s — 1981‘s Liquid Liquid and Successive Reflexes and the classic Optimo EP released in 1983 that quickly became a watershed release both for the band and the hip-hop scene in general. It would later bring about a lawsuit against Sugarhill Records and Grandmaster Flash who appropriated the bassline for their hit “White Lines” from Liquid Liquid’s own track “Cavern”. After winning the case, the bankruptcy of Sugarhill Records and legal costs involved brought the band and their label 99 crashing down.
Due to the limited vinyl pressings by 99, Liquid Liquid releases were highly sought after by collectors and were unavailable on CD until the late 90s when Grand Royal compiled the EPs on vinyl and CD. In the wake of Grand Royal folding, Domino Records has stepped in to put the final word on their legacy with Slip in and out of the Phenomenon, bringing together everything Liquid Liquid put to vinyl including a stash of previously unreleased tracks and superfluous, though no less interesting, live material.
Key songs like “Optimo“ and “Cavern” from the Optimo EP show their great potential that despite the limited scope of tracks like “Spearbox” and “Eyes Sharp” which make Liquid Liquid sound like a less interesting version of the Pop Group, display the obvious influence they’ve had on the bands of today, where a track like “Bellhead” sums up the entire career of The Rapture in under three minutes. Elsewhere, songs such as “Push” and “Lock Groove” lend sway to the argument that given time could’ve seen the band evolving into what Talking Heads would later become, incorporating the same rhythms with distinct melodies, and elevating them beyond the gritty New York subculture.
A timely compilation for completists with holes in their collection, Slip In… is finally there for those who want to connect the dots between influence and appeal, but for a band who never really got their dues it has largely missed the boat in orchestrating real impact on a career revival amongst a scene that has since passed relevance. Nevertheless, it’s an apt snapshot at a brief moment in New York’s musical history and on a band who’s impact has been far-reaching ever since.