In the churning tumult of the present, it can be easy to forget the past. It can be easy to forget the ephemera we held dear, the stories we told, and the music we danced to. It can be easy to forget that for a solid year in 2002 the most commonly heard song in the world was a big-beat remix of an Elvis Presley record.
It all started with the upcoming World Cup, a Nike commercial, and a Dutch producer who became the first artist outside of the Elvis Presley estate authorised to remix one of the King's songs. The resulting work—a bombastic reimagining of "A Little Less Conversation"—was a number 1 in Britain, before becoming a top ten hit in a further 17 countries, hitting the top spot in at least 10 of them. It soon became a goal compilation staple, gaining further notoriety on the official soundtrack albums of movies like Shark Tale and Bruce Almighty. Its legacy is wide-reaching and varied; it revitalised London's lindy hop scene, was the campaign song for George Bush's 2004 re-election trail, and arguably provided the sonic template for the I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here theme tune.
To honour the 15th birthday of a track that says more about 2002 than David Sneddon ever could, we've asked some of our favourite writers to reflect on the song's importance. How Elvis vs JXL shaped them, and in turn, shaped the world we live in today.
Alex Horne: It's hard to overstate just how much Junkie XL's A Little Less Conversation did for the spirit of humanity at the turn of the century. Like an extraterrestrial hero it came from out of nowhere to save us from ourselves.
In early 2002 we were a cowed people, but when the first dings of Conversation's cowbell rang across the post 9/11 landscape we knew we'd be alright. As The King crooned to us from the past, his mouth sounding more full of boiled eggs than ever, the world grew more confident that the storm could and would be weathered. "Come on, come on! Come on, come on!" became a mantra for the new millennia, urging us onwards into an uncertain future.
To the younger generation this JXL classic is just another funky number for the discotheque, but to those of us a bit older and a bit wiser it represents so much more. Not only the origins of the electro-swing revival, but the origins of hope.
That's why I still hear echoes of that swinging rhythm in the #Resistance, and I recognise those stonking horns in the hacktivisim of Anonymous. It brings me joy that after all these years this aggravation still ain't satisfactioning the youth of today.
Daisy Jones: I feel the same way about this song as I do about trainer socks and Eamonn Holmes and Morrison's the supermarket and LCD Soundsystem and pre-sliced onions and most of the people I went to school with and Oyster cards. I don't care about it, I don't even notice it's there—which it always is, in adverts, in coffee shops, humming in the background of my life, sloshing around in my veins and imprinted into my DNA—but when I do, I feel absolutely nothing, other than a dull and fleeting sense of nonspecific irritation.
Angus Harrison: This song is all about the good times. Personally it takes me right back to the summer of 2002, AKA the summer I first started taking parkour really seriously. If I remember correctly, it was the same summer the BBC ran their now legendary "Rush Hour" promo , featuring French free-runner David Belle. Who am I kidding? Of course I remember correctly. It was a summer I will never forget. For three sweet months I did little more than vault bollards and attempt frontflips off yellow grit bins. I lost hours on the grassy knoll outside my local branch of American Golf, learning how best to absorb the impact when I tumbled from a height. Back then I always used to say, "get to know your limits, then tell 'em to go to hell!"—How wish I still had some of that chutzpah now to be honest. And what did we listen to all day long in the summer of 2002? JXL vs Elvis of course. That and Mr Scruff's Trouser Jazz which came out the following September. I'm a little too old to go throwing myself off giant granite balls in pedestrianised shopping centres now, but I cherish the aches, pains and memories of those days. A little less conversation, a little more action, please.
Francis Blagburn: When I was a child, I found there to be something scary about Elvis. The gaudy mythology that surrounds him lodged itself deep in my febrile mind and wouldn't let me go. I still remember now, the tender underscore of his slow ballads fusing with this decrepit imagery of melting Mars Bars, shit stained toilets in run-down diners and the crazed, bulging, dying figure of the man himself. I pictured him sweating and babbling, and lunging to and fro in white costumes, taunting people like a drunken God. I felt like I could see him, trapped in time, forever arriving at the same Elvis Impersonation Competition only to come fifth. I saw him shouting at the vacant crowd that once loved him, ordering them to recognise that it was him, that he was the real Elvis, and that he was still The King.
My feelings towards JXL were much the same of course. He appeared to me as a fleeting apparition, a tragic figure lost in a myth of his own making. I pictured him, on tour with The Prodigy in 1999, getting a beer from an on-stage mini-fridge and maybe biting into a glowstick to activate it but getting a bit of the glowy goo in his eye and having to use an eye bath back at the hotel to try and get it out and then going to bed.
That's why, when I came downstairs one morning and saw the video for JXL x Elvis, "A Little Less Conversation" playing on the TV, I stopped dead in my tracks. This was not the jolly, turn of the millennium pop heater that it wanted you to believe it was. This was not Chumbawumba's "Tubthumping" or Run DMC Vs Jam Master J. This was a death march performed by twin ghosts, a P!NK song sung acapella by Edgar Allen Poe. To this day I can't watch that video without getting chills up my spine, and for the sake of my own peace of mind I'd rather not commemorate its anniversary.
Tristan Cross: When VICE Magazine asked me to reflect on the 15-year anniversary of "…Conversation," at first I thought: good tune. Something I'd blast while trying to pull off Joga Bonito skills in my bedroom, wanging a tiny World Cup ball I won from a Pringles competition against my wall and ceiling, damaging the paintwork and devaluing my mum's house with the finesse and grace of Eggy Davids having 2,000 volts pumped through his body. All in all: just a damn good tune.
But then I thought: hold on a second. "A little less conversation, a little more action… please"? Why did this resonate so much in 2002? And how has this informed everything since? Could you not apply its fundamental message—an invocation to do now, discuss later—to the Iraq War? To the global financial crisis? To responding to the looming prospect of humanity's impending climate-change-caused obliteration by sticking our fingers in our ears and our iPods into the mains? To Sachsgate? To Brexit? To Donald J motherhecking Drumpf?! Have we not spent the best part of this millennium recklessly careening from one avoidable disaster after another without a solitary pause for thought, all on the advice of an Elvis sample?
Then I remembered that I work in content, and that there isn't a single event in the history of the 21st Century that hasn't been meticulously poured over, re-evaluated, re-appraised and re-contextualised by myself and my peers. If anything, we've steadfastly ignored Elvis' pleas. We've looked up from our desks, seen the world being raised to the ground all around us, and continued scrutinising whether or not, 13 years on, the Crazy Frog is actually woke. We've discussed everything, without doing anything. I wanted to change the world, but I ended up penning a love letters to The Simpsons Hit & Run for helping reconcile me with my absent father. Damn, son. But then I looked over the 300 words of utter drivel I'd written and thought: this is an awful lot of conversation. And so I put the song on again.
And then I thought: good tune.
Emma Garland: This song sounds like Shaun Ryder was possessed by Johnny Bravo and someone tried to perform an exorcism with bongos. I don't like it.
Kev Kharas: I used to work on this fairground at the weekends as a kid for cash in hand—you'd have to get up ridiculously early for it on Saturday and Sunday mornings, picked up in an old Luton van by an ageing teddy boy named Pete, but sometimes you could come away with 200 quid from two or three days work, so it was worth it. My mates would all work there too and one of them, Thom, had a beard and looked 18, so even though we were still doing our GCSEs we'd be able to get booze wherever we went. This one we did was a sleepover job in Barnes in south London, and there happened to be an Elvis impersonator there at the same time as the Junkie XL thing was in the charts. His tent was next to ours and we were up till about 4 getting smashed on cheap vodka when he suddenly poked his head in through the zip and went "a little less conversation, a little more sleeping please".
I'm aware that many of the entries will be ironic so lamentably I feel it's worth emphasising that this story is genuine. I often wonder where Pete is now, if he's still working the fairs, rousing a new gang of stoned 15-year-olds every Saturday and Sunday morning, and if he still makes them sit in the back on the bouncy castles with all the spilt petrol if there are too many for the cabin. My friend Thom, I believe, is working as a barman somewhere in the Portsmouth area.
Unfortunately, I'd wager that the Elvis impersonator is no longer with us, but his mild-mannered pisstaking in the face of low-level juvenile delinquency will live on forever in this blog post.
Tshepo Mokoena: I'll always remember where I was when I first heard it. At home, watching MTV. I think. Or maybe at a friend's house. You know, thinking about it, I could have been in the pub down the road that I used to try to sneak into underage with my friends from school, but the details aren't important for something like this, are they? I definitely, most certainly, was emotionally moved by this eternal classic. That's all that counts.
Joel Golby: At the 1998 World Cup, Brazil and Nike invented the Really Good Football Advert—the one in the airport, oooooooooooriahhhh raioooooo, oba oba obaaaa, Good Ronaldo in his first prime, absolutely tonking it into the post, you know the one—and this established the template for the next eight years of Nike adverts, thus:
— Eric Cantona would make an entirely unnecessary cameo;
— Vintage-feel swing music set over hyper-modern Brazilian tricks and skills;
— Roberto Carlos does a slide tackle that's so crunching it sounds like a cow collapsing;
If you were a boy aged anywhere between nine and sixteen at the time of this advert, you will know that it was possibly the most exciting and vital 90-seconds of anything ever committed to film, the kind of advert that can make your blood jolt in its veins, make you sit up straighter and shush everyone else in the room. The golden era of Nike football adverts started to fade around the same sort of time Ronaldinho did—or, maybe, my enthusiasm for them did, maybe the ascension of the anodyne Messi/Bad Ronaldo world football paradigm was what made me finally grow up—but that's how it was from 1998 to 2006: Nike, Brazilians, slightly smaller than regulation footballs, The Best Adverts Ever Made.
And in between all that, 2002, just in time for Korea/Japan, the best of the lot, bringing together everything—Eric Cantona for no reason, Roberto Carlos sliding the length of a passenger train to make a tackle, and, music-wise, an Elvis classic rejigged and remixed for the Nike generation. I give you… The Cage:
Is this the best Nike x Glamour Football advert of the era? Absolutely yes: the gunmetal colour scheme; the overlarge Nike tops; Cantona ballroom dancing solo atop a death cage; a team of Vieira, van Nistelrooy and Scholes somehow going out first round; Edgar Davids, who history will remember as the coolest footballer of both his generation and every subsequent generation, existing; Rio Ferdinand just pointing; Thierry Henry cheating to win. And, fundamentally, that soundtrack: Elvis v. JXL, released as "A Little Less Conversation" after the success of this advert, 15 years since it was a 20-country number one.
I often wonder what the cooling off period is between a fashion being hot (i.e. current) and terribly of its time and embarrassing (i.e. dated). Judging by this Junkie XL reminisce-fest, that time is exactly 15 years. In 2002, everything in the Junkie XL rush-video—'90s references and '70s references and Shirley Carter choppy men's mullets and flares and matching vintage-feel tracksuits and belly jewellery and coloured sunglasses and that move when you dance by splaying your hand out towards a fisheye lens—they all felt extremely, extremely cool. This was a time when we had the internet, but not at the speeds and always-on access we have now. This was when we knew the millennium hysteria was behind us, but we still didn't know what the century had in store. We thought DVDs were good and were one year away from a war. The Junkie XL era was a time of both confusion and hope. It was a different time, but in many ways it was exactly the same.
Francisco Garcia: The great English lexicographer, critic and bully Samuel Johnson posited that "Human life is everywhere a state in which much is to be endured, and little to be enjoyed." Which is a wonderful thing to say, put on a mug, or furnish a 4-like Facebook status. He was obviously very fond of it, as he later rehashed it with one important caveat and inversion: "The only end of writing is to enable the readers better to enjoy life, or better to endure it." And you know what? The doddery old bastard had a point. Surely the end of any art—high, low or grotesque—is to provide either a better means of escape or of consolation for the everyday miseries of life.
Which is handy, because I was very miserable and young in 2002. Nothing would be more boring to you or me than elucidating how, or why. This is meant to be about when Junkie XL (a Wikipedia of astonishing melancholy) took the ripe remixable bones of Elvis and produced a genuine novelty smash hit. Wonderful. Huge. Iconic. Being ten years old, it obviously meant I wanted the CD. Being very poor at the time, it took a lot of awful puppy-eyed guilt-tripping to get my Gran to buy it for me. Being a high-spirited, borderline ADHD case, this meant a lot of agonising afternoons for her as I pounded round our basement flat with my walkman.
Look, I can't pretend for symmetry's sake that it was particularly formative, or significant. But I remember, or maybe I don't, that the cover was extremely lurid. I definitely remember that it was on fairly solid rotation in my shitty little CD player, that my Gran probably resented buying it, and that we were all very miserable at the time. Did it offer that much enjoyment? Probably not, in all honesty. But we somehow managed to endure that year, and in its own tiny way, it reminds me of that.
Sirin Kale: Basically yes I do remember watching this on Top of the Pops in 2002 and I hated it then and I hate it now but mostly because I have a thing about the colour red so this is very jarring for me to watch, it's just an unnecessarily aggressive colour in my opinion and there's a lot of red in the video. Found watching this again quite stressful actually. So yeah mostly I don't like it because of that but I don't think that's what you wanted me to write? Sorry just being honest. Wow so much red. Also Elvis was really shit wasn't he? Don't get the appeal at all.
Josh Baines: It wasn't until that day that I learned the hard way that people really can roll in their graves. I had made a pilgrimage to Memphis, Tennessee with my grandfather, who was dying. We were ensuring that his dying wish, a wish he had talked about for as long as our lives had intersected, became a lived reality. As you can imagine, that brought with it a great deal of pressure, pressure which was only ever partially relieved by the vast amounts of fast food and cold beer he consumed on the trip.
By this point he had swollen beyond recognition; his torso, which I saw unmasked one evening, was a heaving boulder, a map of a territory long since abandoned by any kind of self-regard. He walked with a white cane and a pronounced limp, and each slow step saw him shifting his not inconsiderable weight from left to right, right to left. He huffed. He panted. He wheezed.
My grandfather had never been one for change. At home he drank the same beer, ate the same meals, sat in silence day after day with the same people in the same pub. Here things were different. It seemed like knowing his death was slinking around the corner, ready to grab him by the wattle and thrust him into hellfire and eternal damnation had spurred him on to do things differently. I watched as he ate calamari for the first time, as he drank a pint of iced tea, as he spat watermelon onto the dining table.
His first wife had died before I was born. They had met a few years after the war, in a town they never went back to, and never spoke of. They were the first teenagers there, and he would show me photos of the man he had once been. He did not, by anyone's standards, have a good voice, but that did not matter, because it was my grandfather's voice and I wanted him to sing and sing and sing.
"Love me tender/Love me true/All my dreams fulfilled/For my darlin' I love you/And I always will"
The day we made his wish into a memory, he sung at the breakfast table. Over salmon and scrambled eggs and french toast and bagels and cereal and coffee and orange juice he sang to me, to the waitress, to the table next to him. He looked prouder than I had ever known him to, proud in the way young boys are proud when they wear a smart shirt in public, proud in the way they are when they're still too small to embarrassed by holding their grandfather's hand.
Graceland was not as grand as either of us had imagined, and I masked my disappointment for his sake. I remember little of the house now because all my attention was focused on my grandfather's face, on watching this man who was finished with his life start it again. Every few steps he would turn towards me, smile, and look down, with a childish shyness. Thank you, he whispered at one point, or at least that's what I tell people he did, because usually I end the story there.
In reality, the story goes on. The story takes us outside, to the garden, to the resting place of Elvis Aaron Presley. My grandfather turned to me, and asked what the name of that new Elvis song was, the one he'd seen on the telly, with the footballers, the one that he'd heard on the radio at the GP. I reminded him of the title. He sung, again.
"A little less conversation, a little more action please/All this aggravation ain't satisfactioning me"
He sang it again and again and again and as he sang we began to feel the earth tremor underfoot. Each repetition would increase the depth of the movement. He looked pained and anxious. I told him to keep singing. I joined in and the shakes got even stronger. The earth was cracking around us, opening up. Smoke was rising and the air became tinged with sulphur and my grandfather was going grey with worry and I was singing with more feeling than I ever knew I had and then it happened.
Elvis Presley was rolling in his grave. We peered over the precipice, dodging the debris that was being flung up by this earthly cleaving and Elvis was looking directly into my grandfather's eyes and he was hissing smoke and blood and stomach acid and he was trying to talk, Elvis was trying to tell me and my grandfather something, but he couldn't because he was choking on the smoke and the blood and the stomach acid and Elvis, with big, orange slugs where his eyes should have been, was dying again, and we were watching him die and my grandfather tried to help but how could he help a dying again Elvis and what could anyone to do help and my grandfather, oh my grandfather, he fell into the grave, and he landed on Elvis and they both huffed their final breaths in unison.