Funny the way memory works, isn't it? Isn't it weird the way things bob and weave round your head? Crazy, right, how you can just be sat there, at work, on the bus, on the toilet, on a pitch and putt course, in a branch of TK Maxx, ambling down the produce aisle in a Lidl, on top of Ben Nevis, anywhere really, and something you've not thought about for years just zaps and snaps back into your head. Totally fucking mental that, right? Insanity. Memory. It's a funny thing.
My moment of unexpected recall today, came as I was absentmindedly scanning the sandwiches in a supermarket near my office. There I was trying to pick between ham and cheese, and a BLT, when, out of the blue, I heard "Dialled" by the Blackout Crew winding round my head. Initially terrified, I made a hasty purchase — plumping for a duck wrap, a bag of cheese and onion crisps, and an orange flavoured fizzy drink, in what was the least enjoyable meal deal I've consumed all year — before rushing into the street to make sure that I wasn't having a minor meltdown. All I heard was the hum and buzz of the street. Normality.
Then I sat back at my desk and it happened again. There it was. "Dialled", a song I'd not heard or thought about in years, just there, floating around. The Blackout Crew, for those of you who can't remember, or were too busy listening to Merriweather Post Pavillion at the time were, essentially, the donk scene's posterboys. If you don't remember donk, it was basically a Lucozade-and-Blue-Bolt-fuelled take on happy hardcore that was absolutely massive in the North West. VICE even made a documentary about it. The scene took it's name from the onomatopaeic 'donk' that underpinned every song: a donk was a kind of perversely tough, rubbery combination of kick drum and bass hit. The Blackout Crew immortalized it on their genre-defining "Put a Donk On It" — a song that once heard, is never forgotten.
"Dialled", the third single from their seminal Time 2 Shine LP, is a stone cold bouncy, brash, bold, brassy classic. And it's got an incredible video to boot. To try and work out why it'd wormed it's way inside me after all those years, I had one thing and one thing only to do: I had to watch the video about seventy times and highlight the highlights. It turned out that "Dialled" was an oddly perfect hymn to the humdrum self-destruction of working a shit job, and the potential for self-reinvention that rolls round at clocking off time.
"That's not my ringtone!"
The video starts with a series of bobbing heads that bounce round the frame, spinning on their own axes, while a serious of badly imposed phones zip in and out. This happens because "Dialled", as the name suggests, is as song about the powers of telecommunications. This isn't just some arty greenscreen wankery for the sake of arty greenscreen wankery, though, no. It begins, as all good videos do, with a bit of expository dialogue. One of the crew's left their phone on while the lads are dropping fire in the booth. This is not on. "It's doing me 'ead in this!" they say. "Someone just answer it," they plead. "I tell you what, I'm getting sick of this!" "JUST PUT IT ON SILENT!" This, obviously, is both a literal embodiment of the way constant communication has eroded our ability to communicate with one another socially, and a metaphorical investigation of what that breakdown does to us. When one of the crew says, "I've got feelings of anxiety, me," they are, in fact, speaking for all of us.
"Welcome to the Blackout services…"
More phones than an Almodovar film in this video, lads. Here the crew take us deep into the soul-sapping world of call centres. I actually quite liked working in one, but that's besides the point. This is Cameron's irrevocably Broken Britain. For most people trapped in these window-less pits of mediocrity and upselling, being stuck to a headset for nine hours a day desperately pleading with pensioners to invest in solar panels, this video will feel like a 'Nam vet being forced to watch Apocalypse Now on loop. In a jungle. In Vietnam. God bless the Blackout Crew for painting such an accurate look at the world of telesales…
Hold on. This never happened in the call centre I worked in. I was never presented with the cast of "The Weekend" by Michael Gray as I tirelessly made call after call. I can only assume that the Blackout boys have a kitty for this kind of thing and occasionally like to spoil their employees on a wet Wednesday in November.
"Smack, smack the rhymin' time."
Ah, nothing beats that feeling of swiping out of the office after a long day, and hopping straight onto the top deck of a bus populated entirely by lads who look like crop-cut potatoes. It's MC Zak who has the honour of serenading us on his way home. Look at how louchely that tie's undone — this is a man who is more than ready for a microwave curry, a bottle or two of fruity cider and a few drags on a tatty spliff. He's getting in, he's putting his joggies on, and catching up on Pointless and he cannot fucking wait.
"Yeah it's me, loud and proud!"
Turns out that Zak's got quite a following on this bus. Not content with rapping — presumably to the mild annoyance of anyone over the age of 25 who's just trying to read the new Murakami in peace, thank you very much — he's decided to really let his hair down by throwing an underage rave. These children terrify me. I am utterly terrified by them.
"Sorry I cant take your call at the minute, were either busy or we don't wanna talk to you."
Remember mid-00s internet sensation MC Devvo? Classic wasn't it. Well here is, still looking as fresh as ever. MC Devvo was last seen loitering around the bins of a Bargain Booze some months ago.
"dial dial dial dial dial dial dial dial dial"
I can't lie — the chorus on this is genuinely fucking genius. I've never heard anything which captures the aforementioned feeling of being in constant communication but feeling utterly alone. DIAL DIAL DIAL DIAL DIAL DIAL DIAL DIAL DIAL. It doesn't matter who picks up. Just do it. Just DIAL DIAL DIAL DIAL DIAL DIAL DIAL DIAL DIAL. Top marks for the first appearance of a Cisco systems headset in the chorus of a chart-skirting single by a happy hardcore crew, too.
It's like "Bohemian Rhapsody" on acid! LOL! Just kidding. This is how every waking minute feels when you work in a call centre. It's a nightmarish world, a place of unstoppable voices, endless chat, and swirling visuals. There's lots of swirling visuals.
"Another new tune done and dusted, another new track people wanted."
There's always something slightly scary about seeing the big bosses of the company trudge through to a meeting room mid-afternoon. They'll be talking about stats, figures, improvements, sackings. You'll spend the whole day worrying that you came up, that your name is now mud. You sit at home that night, cradling a beaker of tap water, fearful that tomorrow morning, you'll be called in for the "quick chat" you've been dreading for months. No one's safe, not even at Blackout Services.
Can I just remind all staff that the use of mobiles is prohibited during working hours? Obviously I'll make an exception for important personal calls, but please, I can't say it again, NO texting on the job. Anyone caught repeatedly using their phone at their desk will face a verbal and/or written warning. Thank you. And no, I don't care if Stacey just bluetooth'd you the new Blackout Crew tune.
"This is how Blackout's name has spread."
Half the office aren't into it. Fuck 'em. You know they can do? DIAL DIAL DIAL DIAL DIAL DIAL DIAL DIAL DIAL.
"One minute please, let me divert you, to the department you need to talk to."
Even in a non-traditional workspace like Blackout HQ, the big boys still tuck themselves away behind glass and cheap blinds. No one knows what to do all day. My theory? Knocking up rudimentary pornography on Excel. That's what I think they do. Dowie MC, the director of the company, looks like the sort of bloke who'd flit between that and looking up reviews for an exhaust he's considering buying.
Tuck that shirt in, young man. This is an office, not a nightclub!
That's it. The party's over. Tomorrow morning, we'll do it all over again.