Monday, May 28, 2012

RETROMANIA RELATED ARTICLES written before the book - 1/  linked articles 2/ full text articles

links (in approximate order of how they relate to the book, chapter by chapter)

Free folk / freak folk / Wooden Wand (Village Voice)

Manifestos book with stuff on Futurism and Marinetti (Village Voice) 

Tombstone Blues: the Rock Doc Boom (Sight and Sound)

Gang of Four's Return the Gift (Slate) 

Nico Muhly (The Times)

Oneohtrix Point Never (Village Voice)

Record Stores (for Used Rare New book) 

New and Used (book about second hand vinyl stores) (village Voice) 

Saint Etienne - almost all my writing on them

Urge Overkill (melody maker, 1993) 

Royal Trux -- all my writing on them

Stereolab - all my writing on them

Sonic Youth as curators (Guardian)

Numero Group and reissue label as archaeology and heritage custodianship (Guardian)

Eighties revival -- New York Times

Daft Punk (Blender)

The Endless Eighties Revival That Lasted the Entire 2000s (Guardian) 

DFA Records and James Murphy (Village Voice)

DFA and LCD Soundsystem (Groove)

Fifty Ways to Leave Your Decade: Eighties synthpop and punk-funk revival - Playgroup, Ghostly, electroclash (Village Voice)

The Other Eighties / the Bad Music Era / a mid-Eighties Revival? (Guardian)
Pirate Radio Tapes and Old Skool Rave Nostalgia (The Wire)

Spirit of Preservation (originally titled Hauntology): Ghost Box (Frieze, October 2005)

Hauntology: Ghost Box, Mordant Music (The Wire, 2006)

Moon Wiring Club - review of first album for Wire + piece for Guardian on MWC and Advisory Circle and D.D. Denham

Toward Tomorrow: BBC Radiophonic Workshop (Guardian)

 James Ferraro, hypnagogic pop, and  Southern California (Frieze)

Dolphins into the Future (Wire)

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti (The Wire, with Animal Collective) 

Ariel Pink, House Arrest (Observer)  

Ariel Pink profile (LA Times)

Ariel Pink interview (Field Day festival website)

Ariel Pink, Mature Themes and live at the Fonda Theatre and Ku Klux Glam (Faber blog the Thoughtfox)

 J Dilla (Guardian)

Back to the Future: a thinkpiece pegged to Where's My Jetpack (

 Creel Pone and the lost future of electronic and concrete music (The Wire)

 Prospective 21e Siecle series and Electronic Panorama (The Wire, Inner Sleeve column on album artwork)

Analogue Synth Gods of the 1970s (Observer)

Burial and the ghost of rave (Observer)

Klaxons and nu-rave and the ghost of rave (Observer)

 Bearded rock / Fleet Foxes and late Sixties nostalgia (Guardian)

Fanzine revival - and the cult of the analogue and handmade versus digiculture (Guardian, 2009)


articles - full text not links

Music Overload (Pulse, 1995)

by Simon Reynolds

  The other day, I decided to finally clear the backlog. As a rock critic, music floods through my doors; some 100 + CD's had accrued over the course of a year, items
I'd never had a chance to play, but had held onto because they looked intriguing.
I thought it would be easy to whizz through, sample a few tracks from each and
cast the bulk of 'em out;  I think of myself as pretty merciless when it comes to aesthetic adjudication, someone who doesn't suffer mediocrity lightly.  Five hours later, with throbbing ears and aching back, and with two-thirds of the pile still unplayed, I was dismayed by how much stuff seemed 'good', how little was capable of being instantly dismissed. Glumly, I came to a conclusion that's been lurking at the back of my mind for five or six years: that there is simply too much 'valid' music being made for the world to handle. We're drowning, deluged by pernicious adequacy, and as we go under we experience a peculiar new emotion--the boredom of sheer abundance.
     One example out of countless: "Paths, Prints" is one of my favourite albums,
but I swear that fucker Jan Garbarek releases some new solo LP or collaboration
on ECM every three months. How much piercing, plangent, dawn-rising-over-the-
fjords beauty can one human being absorb?
     Faced with the MUSIC OVERLOAD, you can respond in two ways: by struggling to
keep up with all the diversity on offer, or by narrowing your aural horizons,
focussing on one obsession.  You can either be a generalist or (to coin a ghastly
word) a genre-ist.
     Generalists tend to be populists, they believe that the music that matters
is the stuff that leaves the ghetto of a particular style and commands the common
ground.  Genre-ists, by comparison, have come to terms with the postmodern idea
that we live in a culture of margins orbiting a collapsed centre.  In rock
terms, this means that the era of Big Figures who allegedly Speak For Us All, i.e
the Dylans, Lennons, Springsteens etc, is over and dead; that this is the age of
genres--thrash-metal, industrial, ambient techno, lo-fi, G-funk, swingbeat, trip
hop,  ad infinitum--styles that speak only to their own.  Moreover, genres
have an innate tendency to fragment still further (there's already at least three
sub-genres of thrash, four sub-styles of jungle, and so on), with the result that
the "we" that each style/scene addresses gets smaller and smaller.
     These days, rock that purports to speak for Everybody-bands like U2, REM,
Pearl Jam--is just a genre itself, one among many.  Call it 'classic rock', in so
far as it's steeped in the same late '60s and early '70s values as the music
played on classic rock radio, and because when classic rock stations add
contemporary bands to their playlists it's always only Bands Who Say Something
(like Pearl Jam, U2, REM etc).
     If you're a genre-ist, though, you don't care a fig for some bygone and
probably mythical Unity that rock bands were once supposed to marshal into being.
You like the specificity, the genre-icity, of the style you're into (the
lo-fi-ness of lo-fi, the junglism of jungle), not its potential to transcend its
local audience and reach out to the mass. You dig the fact that it speaks an
idiolect (a specialist language, a tribal slang). Artists from a particular scene
who attempt to translate its idiom into mass-speak--Moby with techno, Trent
Reznor with industrial--are therefore treated with suspicion by the genre-ists.
By definition, they're not cutting edge, because the edge is what's always pushing the style further out from universality.
     Personally, I'm in an odd, unenviable predicament: I  believe that
the most interesting music is usually made by genre-extremists as opposed to
crossover artists. But I can see the point of too many genres, I want to cream off the
 best each has to offer. Then there's the universe of music outside rock and dance..., jazz, classical, Javanese Gamelan, Mongolian throat-singing, musique concrete, space age bachelor pad music-- a legion of genres seem to glare at me reproachfully, beseeching: 'check me out, I've got something to give!' These days, I feel a weird relief when I discover a genre  that I simply can't see the point of, like thrash-metal or the New Country. In the age of cultural overload, the invention of new prejudices , the erection of boundaries and barriers, is vital to one's mental health.
     But such bigotries offer only slight relief, because the wealth of the past
is beckoning, thanks to the CD reissue explosion, and its knock-on effect, the
glut of used vinyl.  So many eras, so many styles to check out: Southern boogie,
Krautrock, mid-70s dub, Sixties garage punk, '70s UK folk-rock.... Each could
easily absorb a lifetime's worth of obsessiveness.  Which brings me to another
realisation: how I'd hate to be 16 now and getting into music for the first time.
Not only would you have the contemporary deluge to filter, you'd have to catch up
with the past. Let's say that approximately the same amount of great music is
produced each year (averaging out the fluctuations within specific genres); that
means that each new year's harvest of brilliance must compete with the past's
ever more mountainous heap of greatness. How many records released in 1995 are gonna be as worthwhile an acquisition, for that hypothetical 16 year old, as Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks"?
     For a rock critic, the problematic of TOO MUCH MUSIC is an occupational
hazard. But sometimes I wonder if it'd would actually be much different if I
wasn't a professional fan (an interesting oxymoron). I
vaguely remember that I was verging on my current predicament even before I
started getting paid to listen to music. Ten years ago, I was buying records that
only got listened to once; I was taping albums off friends and acquaintances, or
from libraries, for future reference, or "just in case"; there's  might even have
been a few acquisitions that I still haven't gotten round to
removing from the shrinkwrap. Thank the Lord that I've never been able to see the
point of bootlegs.
     Sometimes I wonder what psychic hole I'm filling with this neurotic
stockpiling of sound.  But my real concern is the way that stockpiling and
skimming affect the depth of my listening experience.  It's the old opposition of
quantity versus quality. Inundated with music, how is it possible to have a relationship with a record?  There are albums from when I was 16, when my collection was still in single figures, that I know inside out; records like The Slits' "Cut", whose every rhythm guitar tic and punky-dread inflection is engraved on my heart, albums like PiL's "Metal Box" or (a bit later) "The Smiths" that I lived inside for months.  Music overload destroys the conditions that allow music to weave itself in and around the fabric of your life,  to MEAN something.
     Of course, as you grow older, you find it harder to get fixated, anyway; you
have less dead time on your hands, you don't tend to have the same emotional
voids to fill.  Nonetheless, I still feel that the adolescent mode of engaging with music, i.e.  obsession, is the "true" way. Strangely enough, in amongst my hyper-eclectic attempts to keep up with the gamut of modern musics, I have also developed an obsession, whose adolescent urgency I cherish: jungle, a UK-specific post-rave mutant that deliriously blends hip hop's rhythm-science with techno's futuristic textures.
     Like any obsession, jungle is literally an addiction.  I want that buzz that
even a mediocre jungle track gives me, and that eclipses the appeal of almost
everything but the very best from other genres. 'Cos if you're a genre-ist, it's
the sound (the distinctive production aura of ECM, the groove of  '70s dub, and so on),  that you're after, not 'songs'.  Obsession destroys perspective. To a
non-convert, it all sounds the same; that's how I feel about styles that do
nothing for me, like thrash--to me, an undifferentiated blur of
flagellating chords, tempo gear-changes and vomitous vocals.  But the thrash
partisan listens from a different vantage point, can track the microscopic permutations and evolutions of the genre.  As a junglist, I too thrill to the play of sameness and difference, the way that the style bends and contorts as it absorbs external influences yet still remain JUNGLE.  If you're obsessed, there's no such thing as overload: too much is never enough.
As a music journalist, I'm in the frontlines of what may be a crisis for
the post-industrial West in the 21st Century: cultural overproduction.  For it's
not just music, it's the entire mediascape that (with the cable revolution,
on-line, desk-top publishing etc) is afflicted by an excess of
access. There's gonna be too many creators, not enough consumers.  I can imagine
a future World Government doing something similar to what the European Community,
faced by surplus 'food mountains', does when it subsidises farmers to leave their
fields fallow, i.e.  pay people to be uncreative.
    The punk ethos of anyone-can-do-it lives large in music, from lo-fi indie to
home-made techno, and that's fine. But when you move from amateur music-making to
putting out a record, you're staking a claim on people's time.  So my message to
music-makers is: think hard before you put it on disc and out into the
marketplace. And to music-lovers:: if you're lucky enough to get
obsessed with something, go with flow, forget about the rest.  Music should be
precious, not something you channel-surf through.

ROCK BOOK OVERLOAD, Village Voice Literary Supplement (VLS), 1999
by Simon Reynolds

     Imagine rock music as a beached whale's carcass. What seems like intense activity  (all
those bands!) is really necrotic vitality--a seething maggot horde  living off the rotting flesh
of a moribund culture. In their teeming tediousness, rock books exist on an even lower
plane--microbial parasites who live off the maggots. 

            In the Sixties, rock literature barely existed because the culture was moving so fast
nobody had time to sit back and ruminate. The first rock tomes, Richard Melzer's
Aesthetics of Rock, Paul Williams's Outlaw Blues and Nik Cohn's Awopbopaloobop, came out as the decade's momentum  was winding down, establishing the abiding syndrome of the rock book as tombstone to a dead (or at least ailing) obsession. Rock's current crisis of  overdocumentation suggests that there's an inverse ratio between the vitality of a popular music and the amount of book-length analyses it generates. Compare rock (or the equally mined-to-exhaustion seams of jazz and blues) with rap and rave, the two most vital forms of modern music,which each occupy barely half a shelf in the music book departments of Tower and Virgin. Coincidence? I think not.

            Rock biography, especially, presents a panorama of shame--from the
bustling micro-disciplines of Beatlesology,  Elvisology,  Hendrixology et al (each
occuping multiple shelves), through the redundancy-afflicted realm of  cult figure biographies (does the world really need four Costello tomes? Two on Scott Walker?), to the mirthless absurdity of rocksploitation pulp (an Ian Gillan memoir, a 436 page account
of Badfinger's tragic arc, a book on *all five phases* of Manfred Mann).

Most rock biography operates as though a secret contract has been drawn up
between writer and reader: keep under wraps  all the emotional/sociocultural resonance
stuff (the real reasons, presumably, why the writer and reader is obsessed with
the artist in the first place), stick to the facts. The result, 19 times out of 20: a
drily delineated career trajectory of recording sessions, releases dates, intra-band conflicts,
and record company hassles. 

        Leaving auteurism for the wider world of genre-focussed or thematic
rock books, you find similar problems of redundancy. Virtually every last
area of and angle on rock has been covered. Take progressive rock, for instance: to adapt
the old complaint about buses, you wait twenty years, and three come at once--Edward
Macan's English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture ; Paul Stump's   title TK; Bill
Martin's Listening to the Future: The Time of Progressive Rock. The last ten months have
seen two how-to-be-hip guides (Roni Sarig's The Secret History of Rock, Richie
Unterberger's  Unknown Legends of Rock'n'Roll) and additions to the burgeoning
subgenre of rock necrography (The Walrus Was Paul: The Great Beatle Death Clues
R.Gary Pattersons and Better To Burn Out by  Dave Thompson, industrious author of
more than fifty books). These days, it seems almost anything tangentially related to
rock'n'roll can get between covers: a history of  Skiffle (a long-forgotten pre-Beatles Brit-
craze), the quasi-Beat scribblings of  Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo (whose jrnls80s
features, amongst other ephemera, postcards to friends dating back to 1980 --did Ranaldo
keep *copies*? Of *all* of them, or just the "poetic" ones?).

        But even with the 5 percent of rock lit that plausibly meets a demand and achieves
a measure of quality, there's still the strange suspicion that anyone attempting to write a
book about rock is somehow missing the point. (I speak here as the perpetrator
of three). Admittedly, these doubts are not restricted to rock; "There are no good
books on music," declared Sir Thomas Beecham decades before "Blue Suede Shoes". Still, there is something about the concept of the "rock book" that seems intrinsically misguided. The retrospective tone and dour, stolid bulk of the book form seems to betray pop's essential immediacy.

            One measure of  rock lit might be the extent to which a book transmits the present-
tense heat of obsession.   But  this criterion only opens up another can of worms, as there are different modes of obsession-- some more enthralling to the un-obsessed than others. (it's totally subjective: one reader's contagious enthusiasm is another's anal-retentive trainspotting.
some are more effective at communicating the contagion of enthusiasm than others.

 As an example of  "bad"  (tending towards idiot-savant data-accumulation) obsession I'd offer Clinton Heylin, the respected Dylanologist whose oevure includes Bob Dylan: Day By Day, and Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions, 1960-1964, amongst others. Fine, let him crawl over history like a fly on a turd; it's only Bob Dylan after all. But recently, the fact-fiending Heylin's anti-Midas touch has extended to the music that changed *my* life. His  Never Mind The Bollocks (Schirmer)--a session-by- session account of the making of that world-shaking album--is so remote from any tenable "spirit of punk" that it beggars belief. This kind of nuts-and-bolts, behind-the-scenes approach needn't be deathly dry--witness Revolution In The Head, Ian McDonald's fascinating song-by-song history of the Beatles. But unlike McDonald, Heylin gives no indication of why the Sex Pistols mattered to the world, or indeed to the author. Interviewing engineer/producers like Chris Spedding and Dave Goodman, Heylin painstakingly scrubs away any glint of  myth to reveal the prosaic reality of line inputs and overdubs. This slim volume is a microcosm of the broader problem with rock book overload: the notion that you can never know too much about your subject.

       Never Mind The Bollocks ends with contemporaneous reviews of the
album, including Julie Burchill's piece for the New Music Express. Capturing the
necrophile mood that surrounded punk even in late 1977 (Bollocks came out when the
band's cultural life was ebbing) Julie Burchill mocks the collectors of  rare Pistols singles
and bootlegs: "You wanna collect butterflies? Very fulfilling, collecting things.... Keep you satisfied, make you fat and old, queuing for the rock'n'roll show." Funnily enough, Heylin wrote a 438 page book on the subject, Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry, arguing that the overpriced and illegal recordings "have reminded fans that rock'n'roll is about 'the moment'... " The bootleg might be the ultimate example of  rock fandom as bad faith: the pre-doomed attempt to transcend the commodity relation inevitably degenerating into the ultimate form of commodity-fetishism. Fetishism's "error" is to mistake the part for the whole, the relic for presence. Stockpiling "lost moments" until the daylight of the present is blocked out, the bootleg completist winds up like Miss Haversham in Great Expectations, self-interred in a necropolis of morbid obsession.
What, then, is "good" obsession? Naturally, it's in the eye of the beholder. My examplars might include renegade biographer Fred Vermorel, who always uses his subjects (Kate Bush, Vivienne Westwood) as an excuse to write about his own obsessions (the middle section of the Westwood bio is basically a Vermorel memoir of life as an art student in the Sixties). Then there's  Michel Gaillot's monograph Techno: An Artistic and Political Laboratory of the Present (Editions Dis Voir)-- an argument, unencumbered by a single shred of information,/sleekly unburdened by factual baggage,  that rave is the re-efflorescence of sacred
festivity in the midst of our atomized, secular society;  a "Dionysia of modern times" that
only works because it is apolitical and un-ideological. Despite the book's theoretical nature
and absence of concrete detail, you can tell from the urgency of the prose that Gaillot's
brain's been burned by what he's witnessed at raves.
Another exemplary instance of  positive obsession is Steve Ball's  Playing With Fire: A Search for the Hidden Heart of Rock & Roll (Hohm Press), an eccentric, often
unintentionally comic, but ultimately touching attempt to map rock'n'roll onto the author's
personal quest for spiritual transformation.  Like any fan, Ball projects-- choice moments
include a Jungian analysis of Bowie's 1987  Glass Spider tour in terms of  androgny
and alchemy, and a salute to Harry Chapin as "an invocational shaman". But these lapses
of over-interpretation (and taste) are preferable to the fact-crammed, idea-free wasteland
that is most rock lit. In his highly idiosyncratic responses, Ball manages to communicate the ways that rock can catalyze an individual's life rather than serve as a compensation for life unlived. Therein might reside the crucial difference between good  and bad obsession,
between "cultural practice" and mere hobbyism.

        True infatuation means risking making a fool of yourself. My favorite bit in Playing
With Fire is the passage where  Ball, who's the organist for the spiritually-inclined Arizona
band  liars, god & beggars, recalls a gig where a drunken buffoon won't
stop trying to hype the crowd to party hard. Onstage, Ball muses that the guy's "really
got the right idea in a sort of bassackward kind of way....  he wants... to step out of his
usual day-to-day mode of stifling ordinariness and access something else.... Well, good
luck my friend. We'll provide the soundtrack for your transmutational bacchanal tonight."
The impulse is to snigger at this collision of lofty discourse and base materiality, but then
again, maybe that inebriate oaf  did find Dionysus in an unknown jam band.  Such
mundane epiphanies are what music is all about, after all -- not that you'd know it from 95 
percent of rocklit.

The Perils of Loving Old Records Too Much
New York Times, December 5th 1993

(original working title - RETRO-MANIA/RECORD COLLECTION ROCK -!!!)

director's cut version below:

by Simon Reynolds 

    Today's alternative rock suffers from a strange kind of

nostalgia - a yearning for a golden age that one never
personally experienced. There's a term for this born-too-late
feeling: "epigonic".  Derived from a peculiar Greek verb that
means "to be born after", it describes anyone who's convinced
that the present era is less distinguished than its
predecessor.  Rock is full of epigones or "imitative
successors", bands who resurrect the sound and the look of a
period when music seemed to be more exciting or to mean more
than mere unit-shifting.  But since nothing is more modern
than the conviction that earlier generations had it better,
these groups have been shifting a lot of units lately.

     One of the most successful is Blind Melon.  Musically,
their blues-tinged grooves hark back to the Southern boogie
of Allman Brothers Band and to West Coast acid rock like
Quicksilver Messenger Service and Grateful Dead).  The video
for Blind Melon's MTV breakthrough single "No Rain", which
propelled their self-titled debut album into the Top 3 after
nine months as a 'sleeper', has a pastoral vibe, with the
band frolicing in a flower-filled meadow.  Their long hair
and facial foliage, denim dungarees and beads, mark them out
as 'stoners', an impression accentuated by the hemp seeds on
the album's back cover and the band's references to pot in
interviews. Singer Shannon Hoon performs barefoot and has a
tendency to shed his clothes onstage or in photo sessions.

     Blind Melon grew up on 'classic rock' artists like
Hendrix, Traffic, Crosby Stills Nash and Young.  The band
have talked of using "vintage" amplifiers and equipment in
order to recapture the warmth and feel of that era's music,
which disappeared with the advent of digital recording, drum
machines et al.  Lyrically too, Blind Melon's songs have
something of the aura of the early '70's, when the counter
culture's momentum had ebbed and its agenda had contracted to
an apolitical, feel-good ethos: "be yourself", "take it as it
comes", "let's get stoned and see a band".  There's a similar
mellow spirit to The Spin Doctors, who combine the radio-
friendly raunch of The Steve Miller Band and the truckin'
affability of The Dead.

     Blind Melon recently toured with Lenny Kravitz, another
highly successful epigone.  Like Blind Melon, Kravitz
deliberately uses antiquated studio technology.  But where
the former revive the laidback, jamming spirit of hippy rock,
Kravitz goes even further, expertly simulating the production
styles of his heroes like Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and
Curtis Mayfield.  He's a craftsman who makes the rock
equivalent of reproduction antiques.  A supremely videogenic
performer who nonetheless professes to hate MTV, Kravitz
carries his fetish for period detail through to his visual
presentation.  In the promo for the Hendrix-pastiche "Are You
Gonna Go My Way?", his band incite a pseudo-bacchanalian
freak-out in an amphitheatre of kids.  Kravitz' bassist
sports a 'white Afro' uncannily reminiscent of the coiffure
of Noel Redding, bassist in The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
While his music and image are based in pure postmodern
pick'n'mix, Kravitz' lyrics bypass the irony and complexity
of postmodern experience and attempt to return to the naivete
of an age when people believed music could change the world.
Whatever Lenny Kravitz' or Blind Melon's intentions, both
provide counter culture for couch potatoes, a consumer
package of groovy idealism with all the confrontation,
commitment and struggle removed.

     *         *         *         *         *         *

These days, you could almost define "alternative" as not
contemporary, in so far as most alternative bands spurn the
state-of-art techniques that underpin rap, swingbeat and
techno, preferring to renovate a period style from rock's
past.  This doesn't necessarily mean their music is
irrelevant or devoid of merit, it just means that you can
distinguish alternative bands by the degree of sophistication
with which they rework material from rock's archives.

Grunge, for instance, is a straightforward return to early
'70's heavy rock, adulterated with varying measures of punk
aggression. On a more playful level, there's Monster Magnet
and White Zombie's nouveau biker rock (Steppenwolf, Blue
Cheer), or Raging Slab's resurrection of Southern rock
(Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Oak Arkansas).  These bands'
revivalism is filtered through tongue-in-cheek humour, as in
the title of Raging Slab's latest album "Dynamite Monster
Boogie Concert", and its press kit, which contained
everything you'd need to attend an early 70's arena show: a
bottle of Thunderbird, a paper bag and a tube of glue, and a
lighter to hold up during the ballads.  Perhaps the wittiest
of the retro bands is Urge Overkill, the Chicago power trio
who combine Cheap Trick inspired riffs and anthemic harmonies
with a stylised image influenced by sharp-dressed heroes like
James Brown, The Who and Sly Stone. Admirers not just of 70's
rock excess but also of the cocktail-sipping, playboy
suaveness of The Rat Pack (Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jnr et al),
Urge Overkill self-consciously embrace the ludicrousness of
rock postures.  Their latest album, "Saturation" (Geffen
24529) is their major label debut, but even as an indie band
playing grubby clubs Urge Overkill comported themselves like
stadium superstars.

    You could call this alternative aesthetic 'record
collection rock', in so far as a band is interesting in ratio
to the esoteric scope of its musical learning, the extent to
which it avoids obvious influences. The camp frisson involved
in rehabilitating something formerly beyond the pale is
something that wears off quickly.  For instance, when late
'80's band like Butthole Surfers and Tad revived Black
Sabbath's ponderous riffs, it felt like a thrilling challenge
to the approved canon of underground rock (e.g Velvet
Underground, The Stooges).  But after grunge and the
mainstream success of doom-metal bands like Alice In Chains,
Sabbath-style heaviness is no longer a novelty, it's an
oppressive norm.  In indie music, the smart operators seek
out neglected eras or genres, in order to titillate the
hipster's easily-jaded palatte.  Where financiers speculate
in futures, bands today speculate in pasts.

   In America, Pavement is the king of record collection
rock.  Their music is a patchwork of ideas filched from the
history of avant-garde and low-fi primitivist rock, in
particular from early 70's neo-psychedelic bands like Can,
Faust and Neu, and post-punk weirdos like Pere Ubu, The Fall
and Wire.  In Britain, Stereolab rival Pavement when it comes
to arcana. On their two 1993 albums "Space Age Bachelor Pad
Music" and their US major label debut "Transient Random-Noise
Bursts With Announcements" (Elektra, 9 61536-4) , the band
explore the unlikely links between the droning mantras of
Velvet Underground, La Monte Young et al, and early 60's
easy-listening (in particular Martin Denny, inventor of a
muzak brand called 'exotica').  Stereolab also like to
imagine impossible genres with songs like "Avant-Garde MOR"
or "John Cage Bubblegum".

     Rock has always had a place for the curator mentality.
For instance, The Rolling Stones began as obsessive
collectors of obscure blues records. But they at least went
on to create, intentionally or not, the soundtrack of their
time. Too many of today's indie bands are making meta-music,
scribbling footnotes in the Great Book of Rock.  The compact
disc reissue boom has made all kinds of obscure artists
readily available.  One label, Rhino, specialises in
compilations of "cheesy", second-division rock and pop.
Furthermore, as babyboomers replace their worn LP's with
CD's, there's a glut of used vinyl on the market, making it
even cheaper to explore the neglected byways of rock's past.

All this encourages bands to scale new heights of perversity
and obscurantism when it comes to their reference points and
sources. Swamped by music, dwarfed by previous eras'
achievements, twentysomething musicians like Steve Malkmus of
Pavement compensate with irony and knowingness.  But
recently, perhaps tired of being painfully hip, Malkmus has
talked of a return to the "Zen-like simplicity" of soft-rock
groups like The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac as a possible route
out of the mire of eclecticism.  Such a paradoxical
strategy - going back in time in order to go forward - is
emblematic of the state of rock.

     *         *         *         *         *         *

Rock's retrogressive tendencies reach a nadir of redundancy
with the Tribute Album, wherein various artists pay respect
to iconic figures like Neil Young, Syd Barrett or Captain
Beefheart by covering their songs.  A current example is
"Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix" (Reprise, 9 45438-2),
a collection of pointlessly faithful versions of the acid
rock visionary's classics, by artists as diverse as Eric
Clapton, Belly and The Cure. Only PM Dawn's soft-core hiphop
reading of "You Got Me Floating" and fusion-guitarist Pat
Methey's science fiction jazz take on "Third Stone From the
Sun" bring any new dimensions to the originals.  Esthetically
dubious, maybe, but the commercial logic of "Stone Free" and
similar projects like the forthcoming KISS tribute is
unassailable.  As well as intriguing fans of the honored
artist, these albums tempt diehard followers of each
contributing band to shell out in order to complete their

     On a similar wavelength, the future may see more
exercises in nostalgia like Guns N'Roses' "The Spaghetti
Incident?" (Geffen, GEFD-24617), where one band pays homage
to its roots. In this case, Guns N'Roses cover a bunch of
favourite punk songs by bands like UK Subs, The Damned, The
Dead Boys and The New York Dolls.  Along with paying respect
(and potentially colossal publishing monies) to artists that
have influenced them, the album is an attempt to place Guns
N'Roses in rock history as a descendant of punk as opposed to
Aerosmith-style arena raunch'n'roll.

     *         *         *         *         *         *

     In some ways, sample-based music would seem to be even
more dependent on the past, since its collage esthetic
involves the wholesale appropriation of licks and riffs from
old records. But the best sampler music - rap bands like
Cypress Hill or The Goats, techno artists like The Prodigy or
Ultramarine, and a precious few rock bands who use sampling
technology like The Young Gods - revitalises the music of the
past. They weld together incongruous elements to create a
kind of Frankenstein pop, in which musical atmospheres from
different eras are compelled to coexist. Or they warp their
sources by modulating them on the sampler keyboard until
barely recognisable. Or they simply ransack the archives with
an invigorating brutality that's infinitely preferable to the
wan reverence of retro-rockers.  Compare Blind Melon with
gangsta rapper Dr Dre.  Both partake of the hemp-
consciousness that pervades today's pop (Dre's LP "The
Chronic" takes its title from a particularly strong breed of
weed).  Both pay homage to their roots: Dre even features
live footage of his idols Parliament/Funkadelic at the end of
the video for his current single "Let Me Ride".  But where
Blind Melon's music exudes nostalgia for the lost free-and-
easy spirit of the counterculture, Dr Dre cannibalises P-funk
synth-motifs and basslines, using their panache and joie-de-
vivre as components in the soundtrack to a contemporary,
vital (albeit death-fixated and nihilistic) subculture.


HARDY PERENNIALS (obvious but unassailably cool)
Rolling Stones, Beatles, Velvet Underground

PASSE (exhausted by being oversubscribed in recent years)
Big Star, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Funkadelic, Neil
Young, My Bloody Valentine, Husker Du, Black Flag

Cheap Trick, Pink Floyd and Brian Eno, Can and Faust, The
Fall, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Captain Beefheart, Rush, dub reggae

King Crimson, Gentle Giant, early Roxy Music, Weather Report,
dancehall reggae/ragga, Fairport Convention, Foghat

APOPALYPSE NOW - the state and stasis of pop
GQ Style spring/summer 2008

by Simon Reynolds

 Come Christmas time, music magazines and newspaper critics traditionally survey the trends and events that shook the pop world during the previous 12 months. Late last year, as the time approached for the annual reckoning, I found myself wondering: what on earth are they going to come up with for 2007? I mean, did anything actually happen? Hmmm, well there was Radiohead’s gambit of selling their latest album direct to the fans via honour-based pay-what-you-think-it’s-worth download. But that was a breakthrough in music distribution, not a dive into brave new worlds of sound (indeed In Rainbows’s Radiohead-by-numbers could hardly have been more same-old-same-old, more déjà entendu). What else? There was Britney’s meltdown, a convulsion in celebreality that far eclipsed the schizo-jagged avant-pop of her Blackout, a relative flop sales-wise. But when it comes to big shifts and new directions… 2007’s pop cupboard was bare. 

 Indeed, looking back on the whole decade so far, the Noughties has had a ‘fallow years’, holding-pattern feel.  Writer and musician Momus, an acerbic culture-watcher, recently declared that pop was one of several things he regarded as essentially ‘over’ (others included television, the telephone and democracy). Me and Momus are roughly the same age (forties), and everyone knows that as you get older, it’s harder to perceive newness in music. Partly it’s because the more knowledge you acquire, the more you can see how everything is precedented. And partly there’s an element of projecting your own decrepitude onto the culture at large.
But the truth is that it’s not just us curmudgeonly codgers who are casting a jaundiced eye over the landscape of contemporary pop. Pitchfork critic Tim Finney recently noted ‘the curious slowness with which this decade marches forward’ – and he’s in his early twenties. Right now, there is an emerging consensus cutting across generational lines (at least among people with an emotional investment in the idea of music progressing) that pop has stalled in its tracks.

 Pundits have been casting around with palpable desperation for explanations, with some pointing to the lack of mutual exchange between black and white music, and others pointing to a congealing of class divisions that’s caused music to speak only to its own narrow social niche and accordingly lack adventure or disruption. Both these diagnoses have the ring of partial truth, but there’s something else going on; something that’s unaccountable and even slightly mystical, in the sense that it feels apocalyptic. Except that it’s the whimper-not-a-bang version of the end of history, a relapse into lameness and inertia. One manifestation of the slowing-down sensation that Finney observed is the way that 2007 didn’t feel that different from 2006, or even 2003. Whereas in the surge-phases of pop history, the differences between years – between 1967 and 1968, or 1978 and 1979 – felt huge.

 How would one go about measuring the rate of innovation? This is culture we’re dealing with, not science; the slippery, soft data of perceptions. One method might be look at genre formation – the arrival of new sounds, scenes, subcultures, of the sort that are generally accepted as a New Thing even by people who dislike the music. The Sixties gave us the beat group explosion (white R&B Brits such as The Beatles, Stones, Kinks), along with folk rock, psychedelia, soul, ska. Arguably even more fertile, the Seventies spawned glam, prog, metal, funk, punk, roots reggae and dub, disco and more. The Eighties maintained the pace with the arrival of rap, synthpop, goth, house music, indie, dancehall. The Nineties saw rave culture and its spiralling profusion of subgenres jostling for supremacy with grunge, while hip hop’s continued full-tilt evolution led to the nu-R&B of Timbaland and all who followed (including the UK’s 2-step garage explosion). Across these first four decades of pop, added bustle came from the endless revivalisms that found new life in styles that had been prematurely abandoned as pop hurtled relentlessly forward into the future. Some of these seemingly backward-looking movements – 2 Tone, for instance – became significant and ‘current’ in ways that transcended retro-pastiche.

 So how does this decade measure up? What genres emerged that can be construed as genuinely new? Even the most generous assessment of Noughties pop must surely conclude that the majority have either been minor developments within established genres (eg emo, a melodic and melodramatic form of punk) or they’ve been archive-raiding recombinant forms (electroclash, freak-folk, neo-postpunk, and last year’s nu-rave debacle). Grime and dubstep are exciting sounds but they are contained explosions within a longstanding and settled post-rave tradition centred on London’s pirate radio scene. The longer-established genres, meanwhile, seem to have hit a synchronised rut: rock continues to graverob its own maggoty past, hip hop is stuck on an audio-video treadmill of gangsta bling and scanty-clad booty, and electronic dance putters through micro-trends that on close inspection turn out to be mere recyclings of Nineties ideas.

 So has everybody really run out of ideas, simultaneously? And if so, why? It could be that we are witnessing the music-cultural equivalent of an ecological crisis, the finite resources of pop’s possibility as an arena having been mined to exhaustion. (Finite, perhaps, until some new technology of extraction – sonic or pharmacological – is invented.) Another possibility is that music has simply been eclipsed by other forms of entertainment (game culture, for instance) and no longer attracts the brightest minds. I’m not 100 per cent convinced: the innately musical will always feel the pull of that particular art form. Then again, pop has always been a hybrid form as much to do with lyrics, persona and visuals as with sound alone; it is often pushed forward by conceptualist non-musicians. If pop’s preeminence in the culture is slipping, a vicious circle will set in of declining prestige followed by a decreased intake of lively minds, on and on in ever-depleting cycles.

 There’s another question to ask, though. Why does it matter so much that pop music be in constant motion? There does seem to be a special pressure, a historical burden, on pop that doesn’t apply to other art forms. Experimental fiction, for instance, is a tiny ghetto within quality literature; editors, critics and readers don’t anxiously wait for the next James Joyce or Alain Robbe-Grillet, they’re looking for individual voices that bring something relatively fresh to the novel, while by and large adhering to the traditional values of narrative and naturalism, deftly drawn characters and dialogue.

 At a certain point, the idea of the vanguard seems to have lodged itself in rock culture, persisting there long after other art forms had pensioned it off or problematised it. Modernism – the belief that art has some kind of inherent evolutionary destiny, a teleology that manifests itself through genius artists and masterpieces that are ‘monuments to the future’ – filtered into rock in large part thanks to the sheer number of art-school alumni who formed bands.  Perhaps, above all, it’s the Beatles (whose ranks included art-school kid John Lennon) who are to blame. Their astonishing run of creative growth – that four-year sprint from Rubber Soul to the White Album – set the bar impossibly high for everybody who came after, although musicians from Talking Heads to Radiohead did their damnedest to match it.

 Beyond just pop music, it’s the Sixties as an entire epoch that contributes to the current sense of stasis. On every front of culture – architecture, fashion, art, movies, sexuality, et al – that decade was the era of the neophiliac. That’s conservative critic Christopher Booker’s term for the Sixties mania for all things innovative and tradition-violating. It is because the Sixties moved so fast that we judge today’s sluggishness and nostalgia so harshly. Yet in a hideous irony, the 1960s are also the major generative force behind retro culture. Through its hold on our imagination, its charisma as a period, the decade that constituted arguably the greatest eruption of new-ness in the entire 20th century has turned into its opposite. Neophilia becomes necrophilia.

 It’s as if we can’t get past  this past. Hence the endless Beatles/Stones/Dylan covers on magazines such as Mojo and Uncut, the interminable repackaging of babyboomer music, the steady stream of biopics and rock documentaries. Hence also the young bands picking at the already-ravaged carcass of that era. You can’t blame them, in a way. Rock at that time had a quality of happening-for-the-first-time freshness; it also felt like a force for change. When young musicians today, like the bearded troubadours and minstrel maidens of freak-folk – Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart, Animal Collective – hark back to the Incredible String Band and Jefferson Airplane, there is a poignancy to the impulse – a yearning to restore to music the importance and power it seemingly enjoyed in that belle époque.

 Perhaps, though, it’s high time to lay the Sixties to rest, along with all its over-investments in music’s power and excessive expectations for pop to be a non-stop rollercoaster of change. Our belief in progress in general has been shaken badly recently – by the resurgence of faith-based fundamentalisms, by global warming, by reports that social and racial divisions are deteriorating rather than improving. If everything else feels like it’s gone into reverse, how could poor old pop be immune?

 Perhaps that’s why a different notion of music is taking hold: not as the endlessly recharged shock of the new, but as a force for continuity, a foundation of stability in a precarious world. From dubstep to the new folk, a lot of today’s most rewarding music is based around the durability of tradition and the strength of folk memory. Iconoclasm and innovation have been supplanted by veneration and renovation – the role of the artist is to make small but significant tweaks to long-established forms. Interestingly, both ideas of the role of art were active in the Sixties. Simultaneous with the impulse to voyage into the cosmic beyond and to experiment with technology (amplification, the recording studio, effects), ideas also circulated of going back (to childhood, or to simpler, rural ways of life – ‘getting your head together in the country’), and a reverent investigation of traditional forms of American and British music was undertaken by everyone from Dylan to Fairport Convention.

 As a diehard futurist who grew up during a period of full-tilt innovation (postpunk) while also feeling an intense attraction to the 1960s, I’d find it a real struggle to jettison my belief in change as pop’s core imperative. The future-rush of hearing music that seems to come out of nowhere is addictive. To give it up would not just be difficult, it would feel like a capitulation – learning to settle for less. But maybe we were all hoodwinked by a historical aberration, a freak period of cultural tumult that was really a side-effect of the economic boom and technological surge of the post-war period. Rather than viewing history in terms of striding boldly into the future, perhaps it’s more realistic to see it as something that moves forward in stumbling fashion, with meandering digressions, pauses, and retracings of footsteps. Certainly, there is little in current music that could sustain the faith in pop as a vanguard. Today there is no cutting edge, just music: lots of music, too much maybe, some of which feels like a vigorous if slight twist on the familiar (Arctic Monkeys, say), and a far smaller ‘some’ that glitters like the proverbial new thing under the sun.

 Yet there’s a further scenario that is worth considering, in which innovation is not so much over and done with as a ball that’s out of our court. Perhaps it is only the West (in pop terms, the Anglo-American pop/rock tradition) that is fatigued. Perhaps the Next Big Thing will come, finally, from Asia or the Southern Hemisphere. After all, China and India are set to be the economic/demographic powerhouses of this century, and paradoxically these most ancient cultures feel ‘younger’ than ours at the moment. Ironically, that’s because, in a sense, they’re still in the mid-20th century: the era of rampant industrialisation, of hubris-laden state initiatives like massive dam projects (China is even embarking on its own space missions, with other Asian countries soon to follow).

 It’s more than likely that the over-driven economic metabolisms of these mega nations, in tandem with the social rifts and tensions caused by uneven distribution of wealth and uncontrolled rates of change, will generate all manner of interesting cultural and sub-cultural phenomena. Perhaps it’s simply time for the West to… rest. For a bit.


by Simon Reynolds

One of my favorite British expressions is "gutted". Crude vernacular for emotionally devastated,  "absolutely gutted, mate" is what you say when your team loses 4: nil or your spouse runs off with your best friend."  Thinking about the ever-escalating output of reissue culture, it struck me there's scope for a variant.  "Absolutely glutted, mate" would be the plaintive admission of the chronic music fan overwhelmed by the torrential output of new-old recordings. "Glutted" perfectly captures that over-sated sensation, the aural equivalent to chronic fatigue syndrome, where the auditory-pleasure centre of the brain is fried after years of trying to process, absorb, feel, too much music in too little time.

Reissue-mania --conceived in the largest sense to encompass both official rereleases/compilations/box sets and the sharity blog bonanza of out-of-print arcana--would appear, on the face of it, to be an unqualified boon.  Surely it's churlish to complain when so many remarkable treasures have been unearthed?  How easily we forget how ridiculously hard it was to get hold of legendary obscurities in the bad old days when records actually went out of print,  compared to today when everything under the sun gets reissued while the Internet/Ebay/et al makes finding recondite weirdnesses infinitely easier. 

Certainly there's plenty of fantastic bygone sounds encountered for the first time this year  I wouldn't wish to have foregone.  Postpunk's seam ought to have been mined beyond exhaustion after six years of  steady excavation, but gems are still coming through.  The Acute label provided some genuinely unknown pleasures with Memory Span and Flood Bank, their two 2008 reissues of music by The Lines (imagine A Certain Ratio with tunes) while  LTM launched their  "Auteur Label" series with fine anthologies of  Factory Benelux, Les Disques du Crepuscule and New Hormones (how wonderful to hear the hooligan-Neu! stampede of "Big Noise From the Jungle" by Pete Shelley's side project The Tiller Boys  approximately 27 years after it fell off John Peel's playlist).  Another great lost Manchester independent, Object, also received the LTM treatment with a label overview plus albums by Spherical Objects and Grow Up. At the other end of postpunk's timespan, ZTT followed its Andrew Poppy box set and deluxe double-disc 808 State reisues with a lavishly appointed box containing three discs of the label's monster-hits, oddities, and latterday twilight-matter, a DVD of ZTT's arty promo videos, a Paul Morley mini-memoir essay, but--frustratingly--not a complete set of his heroically pretentious sleeve notes.  Another area of personal passion, post-WW2 electronics/concrete/text-sound, was well-served this year by labels like Paradigm (Trevor Wishart's Machine, Lily Greenham's Lingual Music), Melon Expander (Warner Jepson's Totentanz and Other Electronic Works 1958-1973 ), Trunk (two CD's of attic tapes from Radiophonic Workshopper John Baker) and Creel Pone (too many to mention).  And there's always the threat of new obsessions budding, like the raw yet somehow unearthly funkadelic hypno-grooves of West Africa, a dense zone of hard-to-find magic surveyed by Richard Henderson in The Wire 298 and now dilettante-friendly thanks to splendid 2008 compilations from the Strut, Analog Africa and Soundway labels.

Did I say "threat"?  There is something vaguely menacing--to your wallet, hard drive capacity, spare-time reserves and musical digestive system--about the way that reissue-mania is constantly pushing back barriers, both geographically and in terms of that "foreign country", the past. Curator-compiler types like Bob Stanley, having run out of ways to remap the relatively recent pop past through the retroactive invention of genres (wyrd folk, baroque pop, junkshop glam, etc) are now moving steadily into the pre-WW2 era, discovering music hall or early gospel recordings.  Yet the horizon of the historical past--as something ready to be reappraised and repackaged--is also creeping up on our very heels. I was startled to realise that "retro" now encompasses not just music from my teenage/student years (as with postpunk) but the late twenties of my early days as a professional critic: Loop's 1987 debut Heaven's End was reissued last month, World Domination Enterprises and Disco Inferno reissues are in the pipeline, while Soul Jazz this year edged outside their "good taste" comfort zone with a Ragga Twins retrospective and An England Story, an overview of the Jamaica-into-UK tradition of toasters and mic chatters from dancehall through jungle to grime.  Archive fever's tentancles even reached the later Nineties this year with an overdose of heroin house: Gas's Nah und Fern box (reissue of the year?), a remastered rerelease of Monolake's HongKong, Basic Channel's BCD-2.  What next,  the double-disc Deluxe Edition of Oval's 94 Diskont?!?

Reissue-mania appeals to the best and worst in music-fan psychology. Worst first: sheer greed for sound-stimulus,  a ravenous, insatiable appetite for novelty combined with a neurotic anxiety about missing out on anything.  But there's also a call to the better angels of our nature:  a self-edifying impulse to become the most fully-rounded listener you can be combined with a drive towards redressing historical injustices,  genres like Italodisco, Freestyle or Eighties dancehall that suffered from critical condescension in their own heyday.  And yet for all that, speaking purely from a punter's point of view, doesn't it feel like it's all gotten a little out of hand?   I can't be the only one who visits UbuWeb's immensely laudable, ever-growing archive of experimental sound, text and film and almost faints at the prospect of all that (thoroughly deserving) creativity's claims on my attention. Surely I'm not alone in feeling oddly heart-stick upon reading about Honest Jon's access to EMI's  gargantuan treasury of 78 rpm recordings from across the globe made by roving sound-collector Fred  Gaisberg in the first decade of 20th Century, which has already resulted in the compilation Give Me Love: The Brokenhearted of Baghdad 1925-1929, with others soon-to-come documenting Turkey, the Caucasus, Iran, and the Belgian Congo? Even a Radiophonic fiend like myself felt a shiver of queasy ambivalence at the ostensibly joyous news about the monster cache of Delia Derbyshire material discovered this year, or the announcement that  Goldsmiths University is establishing an online archive of Daphne Oram's complete soundworks (which runs to over 200 tape reels). Queasy, because, to be perfectly honest,  my life isn't… that…. empty.

There's another downside to reissue-mania, affecting production as opposed to consumption. As young musicians develop in a climate where the musical past is accessible and available to an inundating degree, more and more you encounter artists whose work is a constellation of exquisite and "surprising" taste, a lattice-work of reference points and sources that spans the decades and the oceans but never quite manages to invent for itself a reason to exist.  This syndrome, which has been building for years, rose to the surface of critical consciousness in the Soundcheck section of  this very magazine last month. Celebrating Neil Landstrumm, Joe Mugsg had to do some fancy footwork to sidestep the counter-case that this sort of "wonky" eclectronica is mere post-rave pastiche. A  few pages later, Matthew Wuethrich, reviewing albums by Valerio Cosi, asked a salient question: "where amid all this din" of  influence-daubed, transglobally hybridized musicking could you locate the artist himself?  Glutted musicians make clotted music, it stands to reason.  But short of a rigorous, self-blinkering regime of privation and seclusion, it's hard to see a way out of that.

The Wire, 2008

By Simon Reynolds

Some call them "sharity" blogs, a three-way pun on "share" + "rarity" + "charity".  An inevitable evolution from the single-track-oriented  mp3 blog, these whole-album music blogs have undergone a population explosion over the last three years, enabled by filesharing services like Megaupload and Rapidshare, along with mediators like Sharebee which automatically distribute a blog's upload to an array of services, thereby increasing  audience reach.  In this grand give-away bonanza, barely a genre seems unrepresented, from the most readily-available mainstream fare (fancy the complete discography of Iron Maiden? Every last Pink Floyd bootleg demo?) to the most inaccessible arcana (West African guitarpop cassettes,  100-edition Eighties power electronics tapes, complete catalogues of library music labels…).   

What makes sharity blogs different from the peer-to-peer filesharing communities that have come and gone over the last decade is that their activities are more exposed. Indeed there is an exhibitionistic quality, an aspect of taste display, to these blogs, while some bloggers have become cult figures,  "faces" on the scene even though their  real-world identity remains shrouded.

One of the big names on the circuit these last couple of years is Mutant Sounds,  justly celebrated for its prolific output of esoterica, most of which is out-of-print and extremely hard to find.  Founded in January 2007 by a guy called Jim, the blog soon expanded into a collective, enabling Mutant to sustain its ferocious rate of posts and expand its weirdo-music range.  That remit encompasses the more recondite recesses of postpunk DIY, Euro-prog/Rock In Opposition, Neue Deutsche Welle, American freak music in a zone roughly  bounded by Zappa, the Residents and the LAFMS, minimal synth, acid folk, analog-synth space rock, second-wave industrial cassette compilations,  and much, much more.  Eric Lumbleau--who contributes to Mutant under the alias vdoandsound but unusually for a sharity blogger is comfortable revealing his real identity--says a key motivation is to "help demolish once and for all that hoary old line of critical discourse developed in the wake of punk's Year Zero that any meaningful discussion of radical musical thought first entails jettisoning prog outright."

The Mutant collective are a prime example of a drastic transformation that's taken place in record collector culture. The impetus used to be "I have something that no one else has". But with the advent of sharity blogging that's shifted to "I've just got hold of something no one else's got, so I'm immediately going to make it available to EVERYBODY." While definitely a giant evolutionary step in terms of emotional health, on the level of subcultural capital and the gamesmanship of hip it's kinda self-subverting. Or perhaps, not since there is still an element of ego involved, a kind of competitive generosity contest between the blogs. Lumbleau sees it as based in "self aggrandizing altruism, with blog authors anointing themselves as gurus and presiding over their own little kingdoms of cool and in the process, throwing open the floodgates to decades worth of occult knowledge for casual perusal, a mass unleashing that's surely causing fantastic intellectual ruptures across every strata of adventurous music making." 

Jim Mutantsounds, for his part, likes to distinguish between the record collector and the music enthusiast: the former is driven by "vanity of having something that no one  has or knows…   I would call him a sleeve art collector,"  whereas the music fanatic has an evangelical drive to turn on other people.  He notes wryly that "Mutant Sounds" has already become shorthand term used by record dealers, "especially on Ebay… trying to sell their items for higher prices" and says he'd "consider the blog a disaster" if it contributed to the inflationary spirals of over-pricing and over-rating that characterize collector culture.  The rise of "appeared on Mutant Sounds" as a sales pitch shows that the blog has become an updated, vastly-expanded, work-in-process version of the famous Nurse With Wound List, a list of  "out-there" artists that appeared on NWW's debut album.  Indeed in the late Nineties Lumbleau actually  wrote a "reply" to the NWW List in tandem with Matt Castille his band-mate in Vas Deferens Organization, while some of the early sharity blogs were attempts to locate and upload every last one of Steven Stapleton's recommendations.

Sharity blogs often see an almost utopian dimension to what they do, redolent of that early Nineties cyberculture/Mondo 2000 maxim "information wants to be free". Lumbleau enjoys fucking with the hoarders of knowledge and "rare sound", admitting "there's a certain perverse side to me that just enjoys the reversal of polarities for the hell of it, the rarest stuff now becoming the most commonplace." Yet there remain lingering ethical doubts, to put it mildly, concerning the practice of "freeing" music without the permission of the artist.  Because Mutant sticks mostly to out-of-print or never-officially-released recordings by ultra-marginal musicians, the blog has received few adverse reactions from artists, who---one assumes--are probably pleased by the attention.  Of the small number of complaints so far, most, says Jim,  have been "polite, asking kindly for us to remove the links."

Perhaps the real danger represented by the sharity scene is actually to music fans!  The whole-album blogs--like the web in general, with its vast array of net radio stations, DJ mixes,  official give-aways, etc--drastically exacerbates the condition known as collector-itis, whose symptoms were recently identified by Johan Kugelberg as "constipation, indigestion, flatulence." Writing in Old Rare New, an anthology of elegiac paeans to the  record store, he described how the music fan succumbs to "Falstaffian gluttony", "eating at the biggest buffet, heaping and piling exotic foodstuffs not only from all around the globe but spanning history, on your plate" and coating the intestines of one's hard drive with  "noxious build-up."

The mp3-fiend's bingeing is an inverse mirror image of the compulsion to disgorge displayed by many sharity bloggers. One of the most torrential blogs around is Sickness-Abounds. Its operator \m/etal\m/inx admits, "I've received comments like 'slow down!!!' or 'you're going too fast!'…  but I have to blog my way." She discovered the sharity scene in late 2007 and "after a few weeks of maxing out my downloading band with as much as possible", decided it was time to give back  and founded Sickness-Abounds, a blog dedicated to every kind of extreme music: noise, isolationism, black metal, power electronics, Goth, Electronic Body Music, et al.  

\m/etal\m/inx brings up a couple of intriguing analogies for the sharity scene. The first is college radio, which in the Eighties "changed my life forever.  That's what the music blogs of today recreated for me. It was College Radio x 100!" (Meanwhile, the college radio network in America seems to have dwindled in importance in parallel with the rise of the web and with the increasingly post-geographical nature of music culture). Her other comparison is with the tape-trading networks of the early Eighties. "I'd buy Metal Forces, Maximumrocknroll, and any other zines I could find and attack the 'pen-pal' sections something fierce! I really worked at it as if it was a full-time job. I had over 200 traders from around 30 countries by the time I was 16. We all referred to it as 'The Underground.' It was our P2P network, but without computers."  \m/etal\m/inx also mounts a provocative case in defence of the music-blog's disregard for copyright, comparing sharity favourably with second-hand record retail. "Neither the label nor the artist benefits," she notes, when a second-hand copy is sold. "I like used record stores, but I feel music blogs offer a wider promotional benefit for the artists than shops do." Mutant's Lumbleau likewise argues that exposure via blogs like Mutant Sounds has re-ignited "interest in the work of the long overlooked" and in some cases even led to official reissues.  What's left moot, though, is whether people will really go to the bother and expense of buying them if they've already downloaded the music free of charge.


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