Famous London Guitarists

Here @ Guitar Lessons London we LOVE loads of great London Guitarists. Here we take a look at the animal appeal London’s very own Keith Levine.

The Subversive Power of Keith Levene on Public Image Ltd’s “Death Disco”

“We made up ‘Death Disco’ on the spot. Wobble had this bassline and I played ‘Swan Lake’ over it. People thought I was classically trained, which was bollocks. I knew the E chord, and ventured into E minor.”

The nonchalance of Keith Levene’s description of the process of constructing “Death Disco” contrasts sharply with my first listen to that track. Its effect on me was instant; despite my discovering PiL over 30 years after their formation, this pulsating, cataclysmic piece of music sounded profoundly futuristic to me. Somehow, this three (now four) decade-old expression of John Lydon’s grief at the loss of his mother captured a spirit of progression and invention, the voracity and viscerality of which has rarely (though, importantly, not never) been equalled since.

Famous London Guitarists
Famous London Guitarists

For a track of such power, such barbed abrasion, “Death Disco” is an oddly weightless piece. Jah Wobble’s bass, despite its simian muscularity and its plumbing of dub’s darkest, most paranoid depths, somehow manages to sound subdued, almost furtive, rather than brutish or earthly, and Lydon’s vocal situates his seething mourning within a disembodying echo chamber. Both of these elements, taken in their raw form, would be exceedingly heavy, and yet when combined they manage to evoke heaviness in the listener without grinding heaviness into each passage in the manner of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple or any other such proto-metal contemporaries. This leaves the listener – or at least this listener – with a mysterious, inscrutable impression of the track. Lydon’s ostensible lyrical intention is clear, yet “Death Disco” does not stop there. Even after having obsessed over the track for some time now, I feel it holds mysteries whose wonders I am yet to fully understand.

I suspect that the key to the track’s effect upon me lies somewhere in its combination and implication of such an array of musical forms, creative approaches and lyrical themes. It is ridden with references to deconstructed dub, restless funk, speed-freak punk rock and, of course, a pallid, uneasy form of disco (contributed primarily by David Humphrey’s disarmingly sprightly drumming). It is the guitar track, however, which crowns “Death Disco” with its mangled focal point. Its yearning refrain, snatched writhing and shrieking from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” score, confronts us square-on with simultaneous familiarity and displacement. We’ve all heard this motif from ballet’s most famous score, yet bearing aural witness to Levene’s glorious mistreatment of its arch classicism is a singular experience. Levene strangles the riff into submission, allowing it to breath during certain verses before dragging it out into the limelight once more when he decides its period of respite should be over. It is his flagrant lack of reverence for the original material, his desire to break it down into its most base elements and twist each one until it finds a slot within PiL’s throbbing tapestry, which I believe is chiefly responsible for this track’s thrillingly nihilistic edge.

That Levene is known for using such an ostensibly sparse guitar set-up (extensive online research only reveals his use of a Travis Bean TB1OOOS electric, a Fender Twin Reverb and an Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress) simply adds to the power of his subversive, corrosive contributions to “Death Disco”. This arresting piece was forged using the same technical materials as most punk guitar tracks, yet its effect upon its audience, save for a certain furious energy, could not be more different from that of much of the work of Steve Jones, Joey Ramone et al. The creation of such a vivid expression of white-hot anguish with such relatively meagre tools is an astonishing achievement, one that has been imitated, occasionally equalled, but never bettered in the many years since its revelation on Metal Box.

London Guitarists
London Guitarists

Famous Guitarists from London

Other guitarists from London include Jeff Beck (check out the sublime BECK’S BOLERO (1967) by the Jeff Beck Group below) the track features Led Zep’s Jimmy Page.  David Bowie was also a fabulous guitarist who used his beloved 12 string to write most of his songs, Also worth noting are Adrian Smith of East London Metal masters Iron Maiden, Pete Townshend (The Who), Brian May, Keith Richards & Graham Coxon these brilliant guitar players  specialise in experimental rock, blues, metal, jazz, folk, classical, acoustic and more.