There are few instances in my life when I can recall the very first time I heard a song. Of course, there were life-altering, soul-crumbling songs that could never be erased… but then there was also the first time I heard “World Destruction” by Time Zone. I’m not sure why, out of the collective musical moments in my life, the collaborative track by Afrika Bambaata and John Lydon (Sex Pistols, Public Image Ltd.) remains in my Rolodex of memory. Honestly, I only just looked it up since today is Lydon’s 60th birthday, in turn jogging my memory of the track. Before now, it had been almost a decade since I heard Time Zone – both the first and last listening experience. I hadn’t remembered the project’s name and had even forgotten that Bambaata was the mastermind behind it all! I only recollected only the distinct hip hop beat and Lydon’s signature vocals. So I easily found it (realizing that the song had acquired newfound attention for being played on the new TV series, Mr. Robot when reading the Youtube comments) and the track didn’t disappoint – thank god!
Time Zone was an electro project by New York’s influential hip hop producer and DJ Afrika Bambaata. Before collaborating with Lydon, Time Zone worked with Rusty Egan (Visage, Rich Kids) in 1983 on a breakdance track “The Wildstyle.” However, the song doesn’t have a distinct quality in the way “World Destruction” does with its pop-friendly synth leads and Lydon’s entertaining white boy rapping-cum-singing. “World Destruction’s” lyrics speak of paranoia, the end of the world, politics and the terror of the human race – all topics that still remain relevant in today’s society. Lydon’s wavering and screeching vocals add to the paranoia, a feat that probably couldn’t be done by any other vocalist in such a distinct way.
“World Destruction” is one of the first and most influential rap/rock crossover songs to come out of the 80s, obviously after the RUN-DMC and Aerosmith collaboration. Bambaata wanted to bring in a vocalist that was “really crazy” and the producer, Bill Laswell, suggested John Lydon for the part. The idea came to life and was recorded in Evergreen Studios in NYC over a period of about four hours. Bambaata and Lydon complemented one another well: the track is beautiful in its raw simplicity of minimalism, a key element to the early hip hop movement. Released in December 1984 on Celluloid Records, the track only reached the #44 spot in the UK charts, never to find its way on the US charts.
My friend who introduced this song to me was an old school punk turned college professor who had an obsession with The Clash and a record collection I fawned over. We often sat around listening to records where he would always pull out 80s albums, catering to my tastes. One day he pulled out the “World Destruction” 12″ and promised I would love this, early 80s dance mixed with a punk pioneer! At the time it seemed absurd to me, to mix two very specific genres together. I can’t remember my initial reaction since we only listened to the track once. He recommended I buy it, as an important addition to my own record collection – which, at the time, I didn’t understand why this would be necessary. (He might have even offered to give me that 12″, which I do wish I had accepted!) Upon leaving his house, I immediately forgot the name of the project, thinking I would remember it again someday. And, on John Lydon’s birthday, I am reunited with this track that has been residue in my memory for so long now.
Why “World Domination” has resonated with me, I’m not sure. Is it Lydon’s vocals that remind me of the Sex Pistols cassettes I outplayed as a teenager, a journey in nostalgia? Is the track just that good in its beat and synth elements, the production and arrangement? I suppose there is no way to discern why the mind collects and retains certain moments in life – especially in the intangible form of music.
Click here for more info on Lydon’s collaborations.
– Andi Harriman