Ruby Tuesday: Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, “It’s Grim Up North”

After tumbling down the remix rabbit hole in the mid to late ’80s, the unthinkable happened: the scene changed on me. By the early ’90s all hell was breaking loose in the clubs. House music pretty much wiped my favorite kinds of dance records off the map (mostly dance oriented rock, or DOR as they once called it). That, combined with my remix hero Shep Pettibone’s sudden retirement, left me in no man’s land. EMF producer Ralph Jezzard made some nifty mixes, but he didn’t make enough of them. I slowly stopped paying attention to remixes at that point.

Then one day my old DJ buddy Paul MacDonald sends me a dozen cassettes with assorted remixes and such on it. One of them was called Techno Mixes. Techno, at one point, meant New Order and Nitzer Ebb. By this point it meant Orgy and Moby. This new techno frightened and confused me, but I pressed on. Most of the tunes were pretty harmless, really. They stole lines from movies, TV shows, educational films, what have you, and surrounded them with shrieking synthesizers. There was a tune called “Sesame’s Treat” that amused me. “LSD is the Bomb” had a cool drum track, and someone even sampled the theme to “Halloween” for a song. Meh.

And then I heard “It’s Grim Up North,” and my jaw hit the floor.

Officially credited to the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, “It’s Grim Up North” is the KLF in disguise (though not really in disguise). Released in late 1991, the band had made some inroads on the American charts earlier that summer, but “Grim” was playing a completely different sport than their Top Five hit “3 A.M. Eternal.” Those songs were bouncy: “It’s Grim Up North” was industrial grit, complete with screaming steam whistles. Bill Drummond’s lyrics are nothing but lists of cities in northern England (you can find a list on the song’s Wikipedia page), spoken in bleak monotone. And then, after pummeling and pounding the listener for eight minutes, the drums give way to the hymn “Jerusalem,” steam whistles still screaming in the background. Hell, yes.

The song didn’t convert me to the then-new techno scene, but it did serve as one hell of a last hurrah to my golden age of dance. “Sesame’s Treat,” on the other hand, hasn’t held up so well.

Justified Ancients of Mu Mu – It’s Grim Up North.mp3