How I wrote ‘Connected’ by Stereo MCs’ Rob Birch
The frontman explains how their most famous song is a long and winding tale of riots, London buses and underpants
For many of us that remember the early 90s, few tracks can take you back as instantly as Connected by Stereo MCs with its melodic “aa-aa-ye-ah” chant and its “You’ve gotta get yourself connected, the writing’s on the wall” chorus. So during a recent interview with Stereo MCs main man Rob Birch, we asked for the story behind the band’s most famous track…
“Connected actually took quite a long time to make. We used to live down in Battersea, in a little flat overlooking Lavender Hill. And I used to wake up about 10am, come downstairs in my underpants, turn the gear on, have a cup of tea and a smoke and I’d pull up the groove I’d been working on the night before and start looking for a break… before I’d got washed, even! In those days, before I had kids and stuff, you just lived like that.
“And I remember I was standing there by the decks, skipping through a Jimmy ‘Bo’ Horne record, and I found a tiny little part that you’d probably miss if you actually listened to the record… it’s just the duration of a bass drum beat and a snare beat, with the groove that’s the backbone of Connected. And I went, ‘Damn, what was that?’. And I looped it up, and it was like, wow. It was so minimal, it was just ‘boom-tcha, boom-tcha’, which is the bass groove behind Connected.
“So we looped it up with an 808 drum machine running it, and started putting beats alongside it. And then I was running down the stairs and the groove was running, and I saw a record sticking out of the pile called Totally Connected… I think it was by T-Connection. And I thought, ‘Connected, that’s a cool word, maybe I should write a song about something connected’. So I thought, I’ll keep that in my head. And then a little while later I was on a bus and I had this little melody going through my head, which became the chorus line.
“This was a little bit later, because we used to be working on five, six, seven grooves at a time, tweaking them every day, trying new ideas on them. So I was probably thinking about that groove on the bus when I got this melody going through my head and I just thought ‘Make sure you’re connected, the writing’s on the wall’… the words just kind of tumbled out. I didn’t really think about it, didn’t even have a clue what it meant, I just thought it sounded good and felt good when I sang it. I think that’s important, that when you sing your lyrics they should feel good, feel strident and powerful. And it did, so I thought okay, that’s sounding good. So we had a chorus.
“In the meantime, we’d moved to Brixton, and I think we must have had that backing track for at least six months. And then we went to Workhouse Studios on Old Kent Road to finish off our album, and we’d pretty much finished it but we were really struggling with Connected: we had the chorus, we had brass parts, but we just couldn’t think of the rest of the track. I went in the vocal booth and tried jamming with raps, but Nick [Stereo MCs partner Nick Hallam] was like, ‘Nah, it’s not working, it’s not right’.
“So Nick and the engineer said, ‘Forget the raps, just go in the vocal booth and start jamming’. So I did, and the first thing that came out was the line about ‘Something ain’t right’, because it was around the time of the LA riots and there was a lot of that vibe in London at that time, of police brutality and a general feeling of cultural disquiet. So the first thing that came out was that, and also the “aa-aa-ye-ah” bit which looking back is quite similar to other melodies on that album, it’s a bit of recurring theme. And they said, ‘That sounds cool, let’s loop up a bit of that and you can go back in and jam again over the top of it’.
“So I did a couple of takes of jamming over that melody and the groove, and that was what came out. It was a sort of chemical bonding of that melody, the bass groove and what was going on in the world that emotionally charged that track, and we got it finished that afternoon and I think we mixed it the next day. It was definitely an evolutionary process.”