Stranger to stranger
We’re both dressed for danger
Something is generating here
Oh, take off your halo
For the all night inferno
Something is happening in the air
It’s not like anything I’ve ever known before
And I don’t care
Dangerous rhythm in the air
Surging and merging
Urgent and urging
Soft as a footstep on the stair
The red light is on now
My gravity’s gone, and how…
I can feel something in the air
And it’s not like anything I’ve ever known before
And I don’t care
Dangerous rhythm in the air
Lyrics © John Foxx.
Notes on the text © Martin Smith and translated from birdsong.
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Written in the latter half of 1976, at a time when the London punk scene was ‘happening in the air’. The Clash, The Damned and The Sex Pistols were beginning to articulate the dissatisfaction of British youth with the political and economic situation, surfing the wave of resentment, despair and frustration that the generation was feeling. Summer of 1976 was a time when everyone who was everyone on London’s underground had a sense that something was ‘generating here’.
‘It’ was just beginning to take shape. Power pop pub bands were getting edgier, sharper. Cruder, perhaps and simpler. A fashion statement was being written on the toilet walls in clubs like The Marquee and the Roxy in Soho, the 100 Club and the Nashville Rooms.
Taking his cue, like his contemporaries, from the emergence of and controversy surrounding bands like the New York Dolls and Velvet Underground, Foxx succinctly presents this half-formed, threatening tidal wave of change as the ‘Dangerous Rhythm’ making itself heard in these crowded venues.
Venues where strangers meet and find kinship in the appearance and attitude of those around them. Places where you can forget who you are, your situation and your lack of opportunity perhaps; or shake off any pretence and inhibitions represented by the ‘halo’ required by regulated society; analogous too of the rather more ‘perfect’ image that many parents would like to have of their emerging teenage offspring. Rejected by society and treated with impunity. Protected by their dignity…
At the same time, Foxx contextualises the song with references to similar ‘all night infernos’ that he would have experienced ten years earlier, such as the 14-hour Technicolor Dream ‘happening ‘ at Alexander Palace in 1967, Pink Floyd’s Christmas On Earth, or any number of sessions watching avant-garde experimental films at the Arts Lab on Drury Lane. A parallel underground ‘scene’ that emerged in a rather more peaceful way.
He selects the phrase to maximise the threat implied by the imminent, uncontrollable and intense fire that is about to be unleashed. Interesting to note that within two years, and certainly by the early part of 1979, the ‘inferno’ had all but burned itself out. Punk ultimately burned with a fierce but short-lived aggression. It was more of an expression than a movement – a knee-jerk response that had, longer term, ‘no future’ of its own.
Many critics have written on the symbiotic relationship between reggae and punk. An affiliation that was nurtured by Jamaican born DJ’s in London like Don Letts. Black music was (and Letts would argue, always will be) ‘rebel music’ and therein lies a common ground between the two genres. Many skinheads were into reggae, particularly Ska. Joe Strummer and John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) were famous Marley fans. Both John Foxx and Chris Cross, the bass player in Ultravox, were big fans of Reggae and dub music, and were present at the sessions in Basing Street when Bob Marley and the Wailers recorded the ‘Exodus’ album. It is not by chance that Ultravox themselves signed to Island Records – reggae heavyweights like Jimmy Cliff, Burning Spear and Third World were label mates. By the release of Dangerous Rhythm in February 1977, Ultravox had just returned to London after touring the UK with Eddie & The Hot Rods, sharing the support duties with Brinsley Forde’s ASWAD.
Not just a Dangerous Rhythm – a Dangerous Fusion…
The ‘red light’ of warning was switched on. The Rock Against Racism movement was born out of this mutuality in August 1976, uniting punk and reggae bands on the same stage in the interests of racial harmony and respect. The Clash covered Junior Murvin’s Police & Thieves (and had Lee Scratch Perry from the Wailers produce their Complete Control single), and Marley himself wrote ‘Punky Reggae Party’ in recognition of what he saw on the streets while visiting England early in 1977.
Further to the punk ethic, Foxx throws in a sneering ‘I don’t care’ – punk’s iconic war cry, delivered from the battle’s front line by Johnny Rotten on the Pretty Vacant single.
Which suggests of course that it doesn’t really matter what I think it means, or that any particular analysis is either valid or worthwhile…