A Certain Ratio - Biography

Although A Certain Ratio always carried the burden as one of Factory Records’ lesser bands, the group undoubtedly added an influential strain of nervy funk and disco into post-punk’s DNA. Operating in the shadow of the Joy Division / New Order contingent the group pushed ahead to release some truly great music. Singles were the band’s strong point and classic tracks like “Do the Du,” “Flight” and “Shack Up” endure as blueprints for today’s dance punk bands like LCD Soundsystem.

Formed in Manchester, England in 1977 around the core of Martin Moscrop, Jez Kerr, and Simon Topping, A Certain Ratio signed with Tony Wilson’s Factory Records in ’79. That year brought a 12” titled All Night Party featuring two songs that sound overly indebted to Joy Division. The following year saw the band come into its own with the excellent Flight and Shack Up singles. 1980 also saw the release of The Graveyard and The Ballroom, a collection of early 4-track and live recordings. Release on cassette, the first side features studio recordings of classic ACR tracks like “Do the Du,” “Flight,” and “Choir.” Featuring a tight, simple aesthetic that champions rhythm over melody, the band’s wiry, bass-led art-funk is in fine form here, shedding the band’s earliest penchant for grinding, dark noise. It’s precisely when the group foreground the disco and funk influences that ACR’s music achieves its greatest individuality. The second side captures the band’s energetic live show opening for Talking Heads.

In ’81 A Certain Ratio teamed with Factory house producer Martin Hannett for To Each…,  the group’s first proper full-length. While tracks like “The Fox,” and the excellent “Choir” find the infectious groove ACR does best, the album as a whole feels like an attempt to capitalize on Joy Division’s gloom-driven success. The songs seem too dark, radiating a false misery that fails to ring authentic and looses the funky propulsion that made earlier singles unique.

The following two records, both released in ’82, found the band in better form. Sextet makes smoky references to soul and classic R&B. This is especially evident in Martha Tilson’s vocals. The record also makes intriguing use of pulsing electronics, rendering the band’s Latin-inspired beats even more hypnotically polyrhythmic. The following album, I’d Like To See You Again, focuses on a harder edged electro sound much influenced by the club scene of New York City during the mid ‘80s. Martha Tilson left prior to this record, and the songs here embrace a club friendly groove rather than traditional pop song structures. Mining a territory closer to bands like Liquid Liquid and ESG, rather than the melancholy of To Each…, this record gets back to the band’s early, minimal disco roots. As a whole, I’d Like To See You Again is arguably A Certain Ratio’s most successful full-length.

Haunted by a lack of commercial success A Certain Ratio began to splinter in the years following I’d Like To See You Again. Founding member and singer Simon Topping left in ‘83, as did guitarist Peter Terrell. After a handful of singles the group recorded its last album for Factory in ’86. Force is a fairly mediocre affair of slightly watered down funk and Latin disco. Surprisingly in ’87 the group signed with major label A&M and released the poor Good Together in ’89 and the equally bland follow up ACR:MCR in ’90. After these records failed to sell, the group moved to New Order manager and old friend Rob Gretton’s Robs Records label. The band released Up in Downsville in ’92.

After a five-year break A Certain Ratio returned in ’96 with Change the Station. After not much interest, the group split but returned in 2008 for its ninth studio album Mind Made Up on the French Le Maquis label. Much of the group’s success rests in the Soul Jazz label’s recent reissue program during the 2000s. Focusing on the band’s early, best work, compilations like Early and B-Sides, Rarities and Sessions show why early ACR is crucial to the development of post-punk and indie dance music.

When A Certain Ratio focused on its energetic, wiry funk sound the band developed a strain of punky funk music that would go on to influence a number of important bands over the next twenty years. Classic like “Do the Du” and “Shack Up” still ignite dancefloors everywhere and continue to inform the music of groups like the Rapture, Liars and Vampire Weekend. ACR’s early injection of disco and funk into punk’s DNA still seems revolutionary.

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