Planningtorock - All Love's Legal
Over a shimmering synthesiser, the voice of Jam Rostron floats. Less modulated than we've heard before, perhaps an attempt to emphasise the artist's belief and conviction in their words. The message, powerful - yet beautifully simple - is one that many of us can agree with. "Fall in love with whoever you want to." The phrase is repeated several times, meaning there is no chance of missing the message, or interpreting it in any way other than what was intended by Planningtorock. Those eight words are crucial in setting up the remainder of All Love's Legal, an album that's not just a politically charged record, but one that is direct and honest in its presentation.
Whether you are already a fan of Planningtorock or not, it will be clear from the album title and a quick glance at the tracklisting, that All Love's Legal deals with themes of gender politics. It does this by using the aesthetics of clubland, whilst the lyrics owe much to sloganeering. This form of lyricism is what gives All Love's Legal its directness. Planningtorock repeats certain phrases, not just within a single song, but across the record - the opening line from the album is repeated during the titular track, for example. Lyrical repetition is nothing new, particularly in dance music, but here it is greatly effective, creating memorable lyrics that could easily act as a rallying cry. The intention, like a protest, is not to offer solutions but make the subject unavoidable and open up debate.
Nowhere is this clearer than on 'Let's Talk About Gender Baby' a reworked version of a remix Planningtorock dropped last year. It takes the final line of 'Full of Fire' by The Knife and brings it to the foreground over a house beat. Whilst The Knife's track was a brutal 9 minute onslaught of distorted percussion, this version utilises synth stabs and a funky bass riff to make for an infectious dance floor workout that manages to be incredibly liberating.
This is in part thanks to the music, which owes much to dance styles. 'Misogyny Drop Dead' is a four-to-the-floor dance track, whilst 'Human Drama' is a wonderfully lush electronic song with echoing, plucked strings and rising and falling synthesiser chords. The production throughout that track in particular is excellent, the whole thing sounds expansive and welcoming, with the beat - an intricate mix of clicks and kicks - providing the core rhythm without overpowering things. Again the focus is on the lyrics as Jam sings "give me a human drama and understand that gender's just a game." Later Jam will go as far as announcing that "gender's just a lie," and on 'Misogyny Drop Dead' will ask to "degenderise our intellect."
Jam has stated in the past that "I don't believe in men and women" a sentiment echoed by 'Full of Fire's director Marit Östberg who wrote in a manifesto accompanying a film "we don't believe in the battle of the sexes, we believe in the battle against the sexes." It's an important distinction to make, particularly when you consider tracks like 'Misogyny Drop Dead' and 'Patriarchy Over and Out'. For many people gender has long been a way of defining and controlling people, be it through social conditioning of "acceptable" roles in society, to expectations of behaviour, right up to the ownership of power. Gender politics are becoming a much more common focus in public discourse, thanks in part to the work of artists and activists who make sure that their voices are heard, but there is still a lot of confusion, even around an idea such as feminism, which put simply aims for equality of the sexes.
In 'Patriarchy Over and Out' Jam sings of how the time of the old paradigm - that being where power is in the hands of old, white men - is over. It's a surprisingly non-confrontational song, asking quite simply for those in power to step aside. The shift is already happening, you can see it in the growing discomfort towards inhumane and outdated ideas around marriage and homosexuality. It's also visible in the way that people are putting increasing pressure on organisations to recognise the struggle of women, and those who identify outside of binary gender distinctions.
All Love's Legal is the kind of record that reaffirms your faith in the power of music. Whilst largely political in its focus, it never patronises, or indeed preaches to, listeners. The intoxicating mix of beats and sloganeering creates something recognisable, yet completely unique in the way it approaches subjects that have largely been ignored - something Planningtorock finds strange given dance music's roots in black and queer styles. It's also richly detailed and takes a number of unexpected turns. The album version of 'Misogyny Drop Dead' takes a much more subdued direction in the final third of the song, whilst 'Steps', one of a few less overtly political tracks, features gorgeous strings over a haunted vocal from Jam. "Oh, sometimes my heart is on the ground / and it's me who is walking all over it" goes the refrain in one of the album's more downbeat moments. Yet the introspection of 'Steps' gives way to an almost euphoric end and the optimism of 'Patriarchy Over and Out' closes the album in triumphant fashion.