Minute-by-minute review of 'The First Big Weekend of 2016' by Arab Strap
Arab Strap reunite for 20th anniversary single and gigs
By the time you read this, Arab Strap will have revealed the point of their cryptic ‘Hello Again’ message on their website with an appearance on Steve Lamacq’s BBC 6 Music show unveiling three reunion live dates in October and a remix by fellow Chemikal Underground artist Miaoux Miaoux (aka Julian Corrie) of their debut single ‘The First Big Weekend’ to mark its 20th anniversary. The dates are the big story, of course, but we thought we’d mark their announcement by revisiting the song (in its new version), which Lamacq himself championed by calling it ‘the most perfect pop song ever’.
It’s just the same as the original, what there is of it so far. Aidan grumbling about ‘making peace with Gina and her new boyfriend’, Malcolm’s fingers scratching his guitar strings as he plays. The definition of lo-fi bedroom indie.
‘Then on Friday night, we went through to the Arches.’ Does anyone else feel a lump in their throat hearing this again? For two decades the Arches was a beacon of rave culture across much of the Central Belt of Scotland, especially to young lads from a provincial town (Falkirk) like Moffatt and Middleton. And then they shut it down. ‘Nostalgia (noun): a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.’
This is where Miaoux Miaoux comes in, Middleton’s basic drum machine beat and understated guitar pulse replaced by an urgent, thudding techno crunch and a lithe synthesiser groove. It’s a little bit Kraftwerk, a little bit Chemical Brothers. The original is still under there, pulsing away, but now with an added contemporary repapering.
‘… she had in fact been a pig.’ Men said things like this about women in the ‘90s. They probably still do. The character Aidan embodies in Arab Strap is a complex one; thoughtful but impulsive, sensitive yet selfish, villainous alter ego and honest representation of male imperfection. When he says things like this, he sounds flawed but authentic.
‘I couldn’t sleep, so I sat about drinking someone else’s strawberry tonic wine and trying to keep everyone else up.’ Mad Dog 20/20, aye? We’ve all been there, Aidan.
‘Awakened to find that England had won 2-0… ’ On the 15th of June 1996 (exactly 20 years prior to the release of this remix), England beat Scotland 2-0 at Wembley in a Euro 96 group game featuring one of the most stunning volleys Paul Gascoigne ever scored. We could write a whole article on what that may or may not have done to the Scottish game and, in fact, the psyche of a generation of Scots, but we don’t need to. It’s all in Aidan’s voice, and he’s off to get drunk on the train back to Falkirk and take drugs at the local indie disco.
‘It was a really good episode (of The Simpsons).’ Now this definitely dates the song to c.1990s.
‘Went for the weekend and lost it forever / get high with our friends, it’s officially summer.’ Malcolm’s singing this part (he’s better at it… the actual singing), then Aidan joins in again. Miaoux Miaoux has been there all the way, a subliminal presence, not getting in the way of the song but giving it a new urgency. Its creators have been around for a while now, we know, but it’s nice to be reintroduced to their most famous song. It’s forever young, and to be young is to be hopeful, callous, excited, hurt, in love and disappointed all at once. That was how Arab Strap showed it to us, anyway.
The First Big Weekend of 2016 is out now on Chemikal Underground. Arab Strap play Brixton Electric, London, Thu 13 Oct; Ritz, Manchester, Fri 14 Oct; Barrowland, Glasgow, Sat 15 Oct.