For Holland’s 2 UNLIMITED, purveyors of mindless Euro techno-pop (without lyrics) it’s business as usual; flights to exotic destinations, endless interviews and their nth appearance on Top Of The Pops. PAUL MOODY gets to shout Techno! Techno!
RAY SLIJNGAARD, the most drop-dead miserable Euro Pop Star since Adolf Hitler was caught moonlighting in Sparks, is stomping around the stage at Top Of The Pops in pursuit of an invisible punch bag. Now and then he bashes uninterestedly at a space age piano. Ray is wearing a chain-mail trouser suit and he’s not happy about it.
Dress rehearsal over, he rattles and clunks his way upstairs toward the interview and photo-session under the watchful eye of manager Michel. Ray is muttering to anyone who’ll listen that he always prefers to do things live. This is not, apparently, a standing joke, but a genuine concern on Ray’s part.
“Feel this, man,” he suggests, offering the nape of his chain-mail jacket for inspection. “Great for TV, but it’s too hot, man, too hot for playing live.”
2 Unlimited are not noted, of course, for their reputation as Mega City Four van-hogs. They have never spent 28 nights locked in a Transit with the intention of scrawling their name in black marker pen on the walls of every toilet in Great Britain. They are much too smart for that. Instead they zoom around the world on press tours conducting automatic-pilot interviews for the “popular” press (adopt insincere drawl: “So how did the two of you meet?”) in between appearing on TV as many times as is humanly possible. They are (Bono, please note) genuinely post-modern pop stars; fixed images to be flashed up on screens at random. They have no idea how their records sound the way they do.
The point is, however, that they take a form casually derided for years (unstoppable hit machine) and instill it with a wit and direction that should be applauded from a great height. They’re as perfect at their job as the Pet Shop Boys are at theirs; ambassadors of techno-trash and masters of Woolworth culture at the same time. Your eight-year-old sister probably loves them, but the point is, YOU SHOULD TOO.
Ray (now divested of stage attire and in good spirits) unsurprisingly agrees vigorously: “When we go on TV I get them to show me how to play the keyboard parts, y’know, because it’s better than just going blah blah blah (Ray mimes boshing uninterestedly at the piano). But that’s the first time I do it, y’know?”
Wouldn’t it be more fun if you went one step further and didn’t even bother learning that? Some of the greatest pop groups have never made any attempt to look like they know how to play their instruments… Ray is not interested in this concept.
“Hur! Hur… No, man… I like to learn how to play.” Anita, techno sex-siren and the second most drop-dead miserable Euro pop star of recent years, can see Ray’s point.
“It’s interesting, y’know.”
People hate 2 Unlimited. Technophobes vent their spleen in their direction because they achieve just enough coverage to be genuinely annoying, while people whose lives are constructed around such fare consider them to be bubblegum Euro-fakers. All of them drool over Anita. The only people left free to like them, then, are those innocent souls who create all our most hilarious pop stars these days; pre and mid-teenage girls. Fortunately they have impeccable taste and outnumber the spoilers by a million to one. Eventually everyone in their right mind is then forced to capitulate and agree that they were correct all along (see Wham!, Duran, Kylie). It’s pop music set to grace wedding reception discos for centuries.
So, does such pop snobbery prove tiresome?
Anita; “Yeah… I think you should respect people if they’re doing what they enjoy. You may not like it, but they’re doing what they want to do.”
Ray considers for a moment.
“Especially with dance music, with techno, y’know? They say it’s all computers, but someone’s got to put it in the computer.”
One of the reasons people don’t tend to take 2 Unlimited seriously is because their records thump along fizzily enough but NEVER HAVE MANY WORDS. But too quick! Ray has an answer for this as well!
“Everywhere else in the world the records have my raps on them. It’s just that here our first record was an instrumental version of ‘Get Ready For This’, and because it was a hit, they think we should bring out the versions of all the songs without the raps on them. Everywhere else in the world gets the raps!”
Aren’t you in a position now where you can tell them (producers Phil Wilde and Jean Paul De Coster, previous successes: Bizz Nizz’s ‘Don’t Miss The Partyline’) exactly how you want the record to sound?
Anita: “We tell them we want the raps but they say no-one wants it, so they don’t come out here. And we get a lot of bad press where people say, ‘Oh, you don’t have any lyrics’. But all the lyrics are taken out.”
In normal circumstances, one suspects, such enquiries would bring out all the symptoms of mid-interview sulk.
As it is, the pair of them have just returned from a month long holiday, and choose to combat such (perceived) criticisms differently. They laugh. They have a point.
Get ready for this; 2 Unlimited’s appearance on Top Of The Pops tonight will be their 11th. They are owners of Number One hits around the Globe (‘No Limits’ was Number One in nine countries; the song won gold discs in territories as diverse as Australia, Latin America and the Far East). It must all be a far cry from Ray’s former life as a chef.
“I was a cook at Amsterdam Airport. It was Business Class, though, so I used to see all these successful people coming in, and all these planes taking off everywhere. That kept me going. I used to make all these calls to him (points at portable phone-wielding Michel) trying to sort out this deal whilst I was still there.”
Michel chooses to intervene: “He used to be calling me and I’d be able to hear his boss in the background saying, ‘GET OFF THE PHONE!'”
Ray: “Yeah, he’d be saying, ‘Put down that phone and cook those steaks!'”
Is it fate that’s turned him into a worldwide pop star then? Ray becomes philosophical.
“A little bit, yeah, I didn’t think about starting a group, I wanted to be a rapper. It just kind of came to me.”
Anita decides to open up: “It’s really weird, and I don’t often talk about it, but since I was ten or something I had the feeling that I’d be very successful. And later on when I was about 18, 19, I began to doubt it. Then suddenly I got this phone call and it all started.”
Have they plans for world techno domination?
“I think if we still like what we’re doing we’ll carry on, but I’m not saying we’ll always still have hits.”
Anita: “I like things how they are now. I don’t want to be like Michael Jackson. For Madonna it seems different, y’know, you read about her partying and going out.”
But hang on, Ray is warming to his theme: “The thing with fame is you always expect more and more from it, to prove yourself. People are never happy man, they’re spoilt.”
2 Unlimited’s schedule permits us half an hour in their company. After that they are due for another TOTP rehearsal, a final run-through and a flight leaving tomorrow morning, headed for India. They will be there for six hours before flying on to Hong Kong. They are massively successful in both places. Is their lifestyle all it’s cracked up to be?
Anita: “It’s not how you imagine it as a child. When you’re a child you think that when you’re famous you’re rich, you’re beautiful, you’re wanted, that you’ve got loads of friends… you think you’re always happy and can do whatever you like, but it’s not true. We’re working harder than ever before.”
Anita used to work in a police station. Is this job better than that?
“Um… yeah. I like my job more, but sometimes I just want to get out.”
It’s time for another rehearsal. She sighs.
“I still can’t get any dinner.”
2 Unlimited are a travelling press circus. Their input on their own records is minimal (Ray is ever-willing to announce that he considers himself “a rapper”, presumably on loan to the band); their chances of releasing a ground-breaking record are as strong as Milli Vanilli’s ever were.
They are as playful and valid as Take That, except that given a few months, cracks a mile wide tend to appear in the whole glossy facade. As in all such cases, our consolation is the occasional great record.
They leave the TOTP studios for a meal seconds after completing their fourth rehearsal of the day. There is only time for a brief goodbye.
Michel’s portable phone bursts back into life. Then the three of them disappear.
© Paul Moody, New Musical Express, 18 September 1993