Monday, May 28, 2012

blogging pre-echoes and steps leading up to Retromania

all the below from Blissblog if not otherwise indicated:

Thursday, October 27, 2005

A past gone mad, #1

Perusing the gig and tour ads at the back of Uncut is a dizzy-makingly anachronic experience. You get the most incongruous juxtapositions and unseemly adjacencies. Why, just on p. 173, divided into quarter-page ads, you'll find New Model Army, Seth Lakeman (whoever the fuck he might be), and Dreadzone rubbing shoulders with Bob Dylan. (Who you might have thought could afford a whole page of his own, i mean, Jesus, he just had a documentary on him that was some kind of world cultural event!!!). It seems like everybody's still treading the boards again: The Levellers, the Pogues (minus Shane), the Proclaimers, Was (Not) Was, Swing Out fucking Sister, Lee Scratch Perry, Jethro Tull. Durutti Column gets sandwiched in a bottom-of-page threesome with Kate & Anna McGarrigle and Eliza Carthy (well, foursome I suppose)! Sinead O' Connor with Sly & Robbie, and I don't mean ads next to each other, they're performing together, presumably they're her backing band!

Now, I don't begrudge Roy Harper his annual tour, though, some fifteen decent-sized venues across the UK. Don't begrude it one bit, and in fact if I lived in Britain I'd pay to see the man, never have had that pleasure. Hey Woebot, hey K-punk, you surely know, right, that Jeff Wayne is restaging your much-loved War of the Worlds across the country, April next year, with extra shows in response to public demand, later that summer? Delightful-sounding venues like the Glasgow Clyde Auditorium and the Bournemouth BIC, where'll he be conducting the Black Smoke Band and the 48 piece ULLAdubULLA Strings., Special guest Justin Hayward and Richard Burton in ghost form.

But all generations are catered for in this long night of the living dead. P. 170 has an almost conceptual unity, baggy-tastic and scally-delic, with Ian Brown in the upper right corner, Happy Mondays (plus support The Farm!) in the lower left, and Scousters The Coral and Echo & the Bunnymen squaring off in the middle. And bloody hell, directly opposite, a group called The Hacienda Brothers! (And I just learned that there's going to be a recreation of the Hac in all its pills'n'thrills'n'bellyaching glory, promoted by none other than Tony Wilson's young son Oliver. I would go if I lived in England, having never caught the Hac in its rave-on prime, but gone a little too early when it was still a little too indie). But I guess all this shouldn't be surprising, as it's just the live-music corollary of the retro-reissue explosion, an over-population of music with bands dying at too slow a rate c.f. the birth rate, and worse, many of them resurrecting. I suppose you can't blame 'em for having a second go, or trying to eke out a living; what else are they supposed to do? But it all contributes to what I increasingly feel is a key issue of our pop time, namely the erosion of a sense of time, of forward temporal propulsion.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

(from a post on a flurry of great rock books, focusing at the end on Erik Morse's book on Spacemen 3)

.... Morse’s book arrived at a point earlier in the year when I was giving some thought to this idea of the Rift of Retro--trying to pinpoint when exactly a breach in the sense of rock temporality occurred, with an ever-largening amount of its attention going to its own past. Obviously there had been revivalisms and period stylists in rock for a long time, going back to Sha Na Na, or Creedence Clearwater Revival, and there had been instances where progressive artists took a step back and did period exercises or back-to-our-roots numbers (e.g. Beatles doing “Back In the USSR”). But at certain point in the early-to-mid Eighties it seemed like the leading edge of rock became the retreating edge of rock, as it were, i.e. the sort of bright, uber-hipster people that only a few years earlier would have been pushing the envelope, advancing, talking futurist talk, etc, started to do very precisely the opposite (I always think of the fact that Primal Scream's origins partially lie in a PiL-inspired band of Gillespie's). They were no longer forward-thinking, they were backward-thinking. In Rip It Up's afterchapter I pinpointed J&MC as a decisive moment in that rift-shift, but you could equally point to Spacemen 3, who were doing the same kind of rock-scholarly, heavily-citational work at the same time as J&MC but only started to get (UK) press attention some years later. Then again, you could equally argue that Orange Juice pioneered that pastiche approach, and that New Pop as a whole legitimized a heavily referential postmodern approach (think of ABC with their lyric borrowings from Smokey Robinson etc, or Scritti’s Percy Sledge “when a man loves a woman” sample in “Getting’ Havin’ and Holdin’”), and that this approach was then taken up by what became indie-rock. Of course, in so far as the past was a foreign country, unfamiliar to a lot of us who’d been so now-focused during punk/postpun/new pop, it felt like an adventure to explore Sixties and early Seventies music. It wasn’t a case of rediscovering this stuff, but discovery pure and simple, since we’d not lived through it (well biologically we had lived through the Sixties/Seventies, but not in the pop-conscious consumer/participant sense). But this feeling that some kind of collective decision was made to go back, and this being if not a turning point then a tipping point, chimes with my memories of how it went down at the time. Initially it was disorienting--I remember actually being disconcerted by how mundane the sound of The Smiths was, the plainness of drums and bass and jangly guitars, when I heard them for the first time on those Radio One sessions, compared with recent extravagances like the Associates, and it took me a while (and a Barney Hoskyns article actually) to fall in love with them (they became, of course, probably my favorite band of the Eighties). Increasingly I wonder if the rift-shift was something that could have been averted… or whether the retreat from the present somehow analogized the defeats of that particular present (the re-elections of Thatcher and Reagan), in the same way that so much of late Eighties and early Nineties independent rock was rooted in a kind of aestheticisation of surrender.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

john darnielle had a few comments about my A Past Gone Mad post, the first in a series (where have you heard that before eh? no honest this time I mean it) , namely, in reference to the idea i suggested of a loss of a sense of forward temporal propulsion, he wondered:

"is there such an erosion? Or is that sense of forward movement something that dies for everyone, and for every generation, in some new and different way, via different signals? Is there an historical narrative here (one didn't used to see this, now one does), or is there rather a mythic narrative, one which is occult 'til a person (you; me) has been kicking around long enough to notice it, at which point it's a new story? After all - in older pop worlds (jazz, classical really [Vienna being a very pop> scene in its day, albeit with shockingly different social cues & mores], vaudeville) the same entertainers-sticking-around-as-long-as-they-possibly-can tendency is also present; see also film, where Bela Lugosi was appearing in whatever no-budget production would have him, stage or screen, up to the week of his death. And Maria Callas starring in Pasolini's Medea after her voice was shot. Chaplain's "Limelight." Etc".

to which I responded:

"Well some of this had crossed my mind a bit--the idea that entertainers keep on treading the boards and always have done (cos what else can they do?). but i think there's differences. one is that the reformation thing--bands coming back after having split up, a long time after they split up--is pretty unique to rock/pop. (As is the tribute/clone band thing, come to think of it). i also think that showbiz/variety/MOR/whatever you want to call, it is not based around the idea of moving forward/progression etc as rock was in its identity-defining heyday, either on the macro level of the music-culture and on the individual level of the career (the artistic need to progress, change styles, a big jump with each album, etc). i do think rock is uniquely afflicted by this retro inundation effect--and it's made worse because you have a whole bunch of syndromes going on at once. You have the natural greying of the music 40 years into its existence (bands just carrying on, becoming cabaret versions of themselves), you have the endless reformations, you have the reissue explosion; you also have sampling and the whole 'record collection rock' thing i've written about. You get remakes of songs and cover versions. Mash up culture. You have an explosion of historical documentation: TV and film documentaries, books, magazines that are heavily slanted to retro like Uncut and Mojo, at least in their features. And then there's all the spin-off issues, like the Mojo specials: magazines that are like smallbooks, one on synthpop/New Romanticism, one on ska/2-Tone, one on punk, one on prog, and so on; some on individual bands like The Clash. NME has done all these similar books, basically reprints of old reviews and interviews: one on Britpop, one on Manchester--really recent history becoming dug-up, in a way that feels premature to me. Then you factor in VH1, all the endless documentarys, the I Love the 80s, I Love the 90s things, etc. So I do think it is a unique predicament for rock music and for this era--it started a while ago, but it just keeps building and building, and I wonder if it's reaching a tipping point, when the present is buried in the past.

"One thing that chimes with your point about MOR folk treading the boards forever, though is that I remembered Broadway Danny Rose, where the guy that Woody Allen's character is managing is a washed up MOR singer who had one hit in the 60s. But then "the nostalgia circuit starts to take off" and the guy's career gets a big shot in the arm, which is why he ditches Woody for a big-name manager. But then it's actually kinda hazy what era Broadway Danny Rose is set in, anyway... but it did make me curious about nostalgia, and about when it actually became an industry. The first nostalgia phenom I can remember is 1920s nostalgia in the early Seventies, which was in fashion, in movies like The Sting. I wonder if there have been any historical studies of nostalgia? Were there nostalgia crazes in the Victorian era, in the 18th Century?"

John also wondered:
"is this an erosion of our sense of time, or is it a clearer view of time? When we stop moving forward, might it not be the case that we only noticed we weren't really moving forward in the first place? I don't think of this as a depressing possibility but a liberating one, since I suffer from the dual attractions of classical studies & poetry, where the possibility that time is a painting rather than a film drives further engagement. The best point of a night out dancing, I mean, are those moments in which one feels certain that the flow of time has been somehow changed - the sorts of words used to describe this feeling, such as "lost in the moment," point directly at this thirst for an ahistorical experience of life/music/what-have-you."

to which i responded:
"that's a good point, but i think the kind of "in the now"/"outside time"experience you talk about to do with dancing is something different from retro time. i think there's some Greek term for that kind of ecstatic immersion in the now, kairos maybe, it's the opposite of chronos, which is like the everyday time of routine and work and going about your business. Kairos, if i've got the word right, it means intensified time or epiphanic time, or ritual time--something like that. At any rate i think it's different from retro time--there's an uncanniness when you see certain bands where it all refers back to a period in rock history. Or a reformation, seeing Gang of Four live on their current tour was strange and bleak, as powerful as they still areas a band. I always felt the rave-now was a kind of future-now, like the music was totally immersing you in the present moment but somehow that moment was tilting into the future at the same time."

Monday, February 06, 2006

Fighting talk from K-punk

His trope of pop as undead reminded a bit of something Greil Marcus wrote in a great 1992 piece, "Notes on the Life & Death and Incandescent Banality of Rock ‘n’ Roll", for Esquire (!) (you can find it in the Faber Book of Pop, ed. Jon Savage and Hanif Kureshi). Spinning off a discussion of a Poison video (!) as being emblematic of the state of rock as “a pornography of money, fame, and domination, all for no reason outside itself” (sounds more like hip hop than hair metal, these days!), Marcus speculates:

It’s as if the source of the depression is not that rock is dead but that it refuses to die. Far more than Elvis, really, a clone like Bret Michaels, so arrogant and proud, is of the walking dead. It’s just that the money’s too good to quit.”

In the same piece, he also wrote about how the “myth of the Sixties” was felt, by modern youth who’d never lived through the time, “as a an absence, like the itch of a limb amputated before they were born”. Which at the time of first reading, really irritated me--bloody babyboomers and their generational narcissism! (And I can only imagine how annoying Mark would find it!). But these days I think maybe Marcus was onto something, while also appreciating the hauntological reverberations of the phantom limb metaphor.

But back to K-punk. Really liked this idea:

What Pop lacks now is the capacity for nihilation, for producing new potentials through the negation of what already exists.”

And the example given of the syndrome struck a chord: ABC (New Pop) versus The Birthday Party (the new Rock). Light versus Dark, Upwardly mobile Health versus Romantic self-destruction. This was an even more resonant example for me because the two bands also represented my two favourite music writers (and all-time formative influences), Paul Morley and Barney Hoskyns, then engaged in a mighty agon in the pages of NME; ABC champion Morley frothing over the new cleanliness and health in pop and Birthday Party worshipper Hoskyns championing dirt, sickness, darkness, the Dionysian. I simply could not choose between these two visions, so instead oscillated wildly (PM and BH’s sole point of overlap was the Associates if I recall, although some kind of détente was later reached). If Morley was the original Popist, then Hoskyns was the original nu-rockist: one week writing about Black Flag, the next Donna Summer, the week after some anthology of Lost Soul from the early Seventies, the week after that some NYC postdisco electrofunk 12 inches, the week after that the Blue Orchids… but never as mere generalism , always with an underlying vision-quest and value-scheme somehow connecting these seemingly disparate or even incompatible sounds. Talking of weak ecumenicalism versus enflamed partisanship:

Kpunk again, rejecting the idea of music “as an archipelago of neighbouring but unconflicting options” and envisioning pop as “as a spiral of nihilating vortices.”

Yeah, not so much war on pop, as pop-as-war, riven by factionalisms and schisms: Northern Soulies hating progressives, postpunk versus Oi!, new pop versus rock, Goth versus new pop, Dexys versus everybody, etc. Every strong passion accompanied with an equally strong antipathy. This adore/abhor reflex relates to that old argument about the either/or mechanism as intensifier, versus the dis-intensifying logic of plus/and…. The latter seemingly proved by all the recent articles about how downloading creates apathy, that ennui of abundance syndrome… I’m not sure if the polar thing's gone away completely: I seem to remember reading a few years about how in the UK the bashment/grime hated nu-metallers and vice versa. But far more common, encouraged by iPod/downloading, is a sort of mild omnivorousness (Burchill's "rock's rich tapestry", except it extends way beyond rock now), liking a little bit of this and that, with the fan losing its fanaticism and becoming more like the generalist critic who doles out praise evenhandedly across a broad spectrum, emotional investments distributed judiciously across a portfolio of pleasures.

Mark asks:
Where is the chorus of disapproval and disquiet about a group like the Arctic Monkeys?,” while also conceding that they’re not “significantly worse than any of their retro forebears

This brings us to the tiny Achilles heel in the argument which is that within the terms of what they do, Arctic Monkeys are (whisper it) exceptionally good. Of course it’s still possible to reject “what they do” on principle (a jihad I might have signed up for even a few months ago) but such a principled stand would mean you’d deny yourself one of the best records of the year.

I must admit when I wrote that bit in the Frieze piece about rhythmically inert Britbands and referenced “whoever’s on the cover of NME this week” I had Arctic Monkeys in mind, I just assumed from what I’d read that they’d be just another nowt-going-on-in-t'-rhythm-section indie-rock combo, fronted by an excessively cocky Northern lad singer, drawing an ever-more insular set of quintessentially English sources. On this occasion, though, the inbreeding has paid off: the family tree is narrow (Jam, Smiths, Oasis, Libertines, etc ), but for once the result isn’t an enfeebled poodle, it’s a mighty attack dog spliced out of the most potent and poignant genes of their ancestors. The drummer and bassist are uncommonly dynamic and flexible, several cuts above the Brit norm--just listen to the way they switch, on “Perhaps Vampires Is A Bit Strong But…” from Sabbath-style “heavy” dynamics to punk-funk that casually out-grooves Franz Ferdinand. Unlike Oasis, who were really like Carducci's "electric busking", singalong-plus-riffalong but dead-below-the-waist, Arctic Monkeys make physically involving music.

Also unlike Oasis, their lyrics aren't gibberish, they are actually about something. People compare Alex Turner’s words to The Streets and Pulp (actually Alex himself has made that comparison, saying he walks "the lyrical tightrope between Jarvis Cocker and Mike Skinner”), but in some ways he reminds me as much of Dizzee Rascal: the combination of cockiness and sensitivity; the way the melodies curl around the natural cadence and flow of his regional speech patterns; the jouissance of the moments when his accent, always present, asserts itself with a word or syllable that rings out completely and jarringly askew; the combination of proximity to the experiences he’s writing about and being ever so slightly above/beyond/outside them (old head on young shoulders); the sense of locality and rich verisimilitude in the details; the hunger that shakes through the voice and whips out of the speakers. (Oh yes, not forgetting the fact that internet buzz got the ball rolling…). I once fantasized about Dizzee becoming a Morrissey-like figure, his account of a very particular and relatively unusual troubled youth and his alienation from everything, coming to represent a much larger unity of alienation. Well, of course, Britain being how it is, the black artist doesn't get to be NME-readership-beloved Everykid spokesperson. Instead it's another white Northerner who gets to be the Morrissey-like figure.

One thing that’s oddly engaging about the Arctic Monkeys is how they actually subvert Sheffield’s own pop myth as the city of electr(on)ic dreams. I wonder if that’s a subconscious impulse lurking behind the line in “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” about the girl “dancing to electropop/like a robot/from 1984”… sort of that was then (synth Sheffield), this is now?

Their use of guitars alone is probably enough to condemn the Monkeys in some people’s eyes, including Mark’s. But you know, synths have been around a long while now, 20 or 30 years, haven't they? Long enough to signify their own kind of retro, even if it’s aa retro-futurism. So have samplers. This brings me to a larger point about the absent “chorus of disapproval and disquiet”. It’s not just that the group are great enough to be an exception to the rule, it's that the rule itself is ailing. The trouble with all the arguments that can be mustered against Arctic Monkeys is partly that these charges (Luddite, Anglo-inbred, parochial, etc) have become as stale and predictable as their music itself is purported to be. It's a critique that goes back at least as far as Oasis (although I remember people also making it about The Smiths in the mid-80s come to think of it) . What's different now from Oasis days, though, is not simply the relative freshness of the critique; it's the fact that there is much less of a sense of there being an aesthetico-moral high ground from which to make it. Circa Britpop, you could argue “this stuff is retro-gressive, if people want the true modern British pop they should listen to jungle/Tricky/uk postrockers like Disco Inferno/etc etc”. Nowadays it’s harder to see where are the vanguardist bastions on behalf of which one would launch one's volleys of indignation and disgust. Not dance music, which give or take a handful of peripheral innovators like Villalobos, has for the last half-decade or so been recycling its own history as assiduously as rock has. Hip hop and R&B are puttering along at a snail’s pace; there is a definite “same old shit in shiny new cans" syndrome at play, except the cans aren’t that startlingly novel either. E.g., I love Lil Wayne’s “Fireman” but lyrically it’s the same bleeding metaphor that Cash Money were caning 7 years back (Hot Boys, we on fire etc) while the sonix are sorta gloomcore-meets-crunk, recalling the Goth-tronica of the Horrorist, himself always on a kinda retro tip.

Sure there are innovators and extremists way out on the fringes of music, but most people can't live on fringe fare, that’s not the kind of action that Mark is pining for, that’s never going to be war-inside-pop. Like the poor, the remote-periphery experimentors are always with us.

I don’t really buy this notion of the nu-Pop as the nouveau New Pop. What it is, it’s like New Pop if New Pop had only been in the mold of Dollar; if there’d been Trevor Horn, but no ABC, no McLaren, no Frankie, no AoN/Morley. The characterless vocals, the choreographed routines, the quirk-less personalities…. it couldn’t be further from the New Pop menagerie of Adam Ant, Kevin Rowland, even the spark of a Clare Grogan. The comparison with postpunk is even more tenuous: formally there’s a strong element of retro-pastiche in the Nu-Pop, which stems from its links to mash-up culture, and draws heavily on this indigenous English-pop tradition e.g. the glitter stomp element (BTW, remind me to tell you the story of how the Monitor crew invented schaeffel)….

Grime worked as the high ground for much of this decade, but… well, that banner is looking a bit dog-eared right now. As for dubstep: jolly good stuff, i'm chuffed on the scene's behalf that its morale is so high, that the buzz is building and spreading... But the idea that it is stepping fearlessly into the future is, well, an over-estimation; it strikes me as very much a consolidation sound, it moves forward slowly and steadily, but it works from a tradition and a set of historical sources that are just as narrow as that which nourishes Arctic Monkeys. You’ll hear elements from techstep 96, from bleep’n’bass, from digi-dub… It’s roots’n’future music, like all hardcore ‘nuum sounds, but to these ears it feels like the ratio of rootical to futuroid is weighted to the former. I saw Digital Mystiks’s NYC debut the other week and the vibe was very Disciples/Iration Steppers, even harking at times back to On U Sound…

None of these points diminish the overall thrust of K-punk’s critique--he’s against Arctic Monkeys-type music on principle. But I do think there is a sense in which, at the moment, it’s much harder to single out Brit-rock as especially culpable on the retro front. There's probably a sense in which the Arctic Monkeys are a disaster in the grander sense, their very excellence will inevitably lead to the Oasis>>>Northern Uproar syndrome--droves of dismal soundalikes given a warm welcome by hapless A&R executives. In that sense I’m “against it” --but not to the actual point of denying myself the delights of the album.

Monday, February 13, 2006

It’s weird, when I read Mark’s riposte, I can still feel the pull of this ultra-futurist rhetoric, the allure of this severity stance….

A number of points to be made … I’ve lost track, though, if they’re in reference to Mark here, or other outcrops like here, or K-punk guest worker Alex Williams

* record collection rock

See, AM’s music doesn’t strike me as that really…. “record collection rock” in my usage has a much more specific application than just "the group has precedents" or "they work within a tradition" or "sounds familiar". R-C-R is music where the listener's knowledge of prior rock music is integral to the full aesthetic appreciation of the record ("full" because the creator put the allusions there for you to spot with a smile). Prime exponents include Jesus & Mary Chain, Spacemen 3, Primal Scream, and--to a lesser degree but still part of the sensibility I think-- Stereolab; there's many many more. Oasis are the paradigm case: you get Beatles deja vu flashbacks from the melodies, the title “Wonderwall” is sampled from a George Harrison album and “What’s the Story Morning Glory”, slightly more esoteric, comes from “Tomorrow Time” on John and Beverley Martyn’s Stormbringer (someone I only realised the other day playing the recent reissue, and imagine my surprise!), and ooh just check out this for a list of Noel Gallagher’s Top Ten blags , and that's just scratching the surface I’m sure. But AMs strike as more along the lines of The Smiths: precedented, for sure, but not a pastiche, you don’t listen and spot specific steals and quotes. The hints of Mozz and Gallagher in Turner’s voice here and there are fully integrated into a vocal identity that's totally sure of itself; the guy is very much his own man. Is it even "retro"? Not in the sense of intentionally flashing us back to a specific era or lost golden age (e.g. The Cult circa "Love Removal Machine," any number of nouveau garage punk bands you care to list, et al), or being taggable to a single illustrious ancestor band.

* indieAnd you know, there’s moments when I don’t even feel that word applies, except as a vague and derogatory social designation based on their assumed audience. See “indie” to me always implied a certain lameness, what Carducci calls a “feeb” aesthetic, you think either of twee C86 tunesmithery or Wedding Present-type scruffiness; deficiency is part of the music’s point and appeal, its rhetoric of sound. Musically AM’s strike me as simply a British rock band; the key difference is the way they’re plugged into the rhythmic power and fluency of British beat music of the Sixties, ie. the side of the Sixties that indie always used to ignore in favour of melody/guitar-jangle, or was simply too inept to duplicate. In that sense AM’s are very much a post-White Stripes band, which won’t placate the futurists one bit, but at least they’re reactivating some of what’s actual worth keeping in rock and something which most British bands since baggy have been grievously lacking in (Stone Roses being one of the last UK bands with a really moving rhythm section, although it should noted that the Libertines are relatively dynamic on that front).

* “be reasonable, capitulate to the available”The angle I pursued last time--nothing really futuristic around at the moment, so non-innovation is more forgiveable--is of course way too negative. I actually think this would be a splendid album in any year, that it would stand up to the competition like Pulp’s Different Class did in 1995, a futurism-crammed year by any measure. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not is in fact the strongest record of its sort since Different Class, and if Turner isn’t yet the match for Jarvis Cocker lyrically, he’s real close. Plus he’s, like, 16 years younger than Cocker was when he wrote those songs. What does “of its sort” mean though? I think Mark hits the nail on the head in the various places he’s brought up “New Wave”. If musically the sheer potency of Whatever People Say shakes off the limp designation “indie”, lyric-wise the content is New Wavey--songs of love and lust with bite and a hint of bitter; social realism, observational lyrics. In 1979 it would have been filed alongside Costello, Specials, Dury, The Jam.

The Specials seem worth picking out from that list, because the title Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not is something Arthur Seaton the bloodyminded young wage-slave in Saturday Night, Sunday Morning says, and the best songs on the AMs album remind me a bit of “Friday Night Saturday Morning,” the last great Specials song (give or take “The Boiler”), track 3 on the Ghost Town EP. Turner's songs give much more sense of the lust-for-life boiling inside the teenprole leisure treadmill than Terry Hall on that tune (or “Nite Klub” on the Specials debut), but he’s just as aware that the short-term-buzzy bad things are long-term bad for you, dissipating energy and life-force as well as money. That’s why the CD front cover of the lad smoking a cigarette down to its nub opens up to display a CD picture of an ash-tray crammed with fag-ends. It seems significant that two tunes on the album--probably the two most subtle and evocative and no-one’s-written-about-this-before--involve young people being locked inside a vehicle by authority figures, “Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secure” and “Riot Van.”

To me, what AM’s are doing is analogous to someone working with the conventional novel form and coming up with something fresh, if not precisely innovative. Like Jonathan Coe’s The Rotters Club; now, that guy is very interested in avant-garde literary form, he wrote that biography of B.S. Johnson Like A Fiery Elephant, but his own novels are fairly conventional (in fact his big cited influence is Henry Fielding). But that doesn’t stop Rotters being an amazing book Actually, a better comparison with AMs, given the youth landscape it depicts, is Alan Warner’s The Sopranos. And then in a clever touch, seemingly to circumvent the romanticisation of W/C teen life that invariably wraps itself around or permeates from the inside out such depictions (Warner being a case in point), the album ends with a song set off on its own in the credits, as a coda or afterword: “A Certain Romance”, which says, no, actually, there’s no romance in this life, this place--nothing glamorous about it at all.

* daft comparisons and the impulse to make them
Whether it’s kingmaker/cud/wonderstuff, or ruts/members , to me it's no different to someone saying "Dizzee Rascal, Kano, that's just Derek B and Rebel MC all over again--more black blokes, boasting over beats, heard it all before." Indeed I think there is a sense in which, for a certain ‘informed sector,’ hating indie-rock saddoes and NME readers is an OK form of bigotry, almost an inverted racism.

* turn to face the strange change-lessness

Correspondent Matt Wright wonders whether "advocating for a return to a past aesthetic ideal”--“the modernist principle of pushing forward and advocating the Truly New”--as espoused by K-punk and (most of the time) myself, whether that was in some senses “anti-modernist /nostalgic”, in so far as one of the salient features of modernity as it's been for some while now is the fading away of the idea of the vanguard, its retreat from the centre of cultural life.

This is an idea I’m presently trying out, like a new pair of shoes that are slightly uncomfortable, that you have to wear in a bit: the idea that we are now in different times, or more profoundly, living with a different sense of temporality. Indeed, have been for some while.

I do think the uncanny persistence of indie-rock, the fact that it has outlasted all the obituaries written for it, is something to reckon with. Explaining it by positing an inherent lameness or laziness to its audience seems… inadequate. Perhaps it’s a format that does a certain thing particularly well, and the mystery is not the survival of the format, but the survival of the need for it (society's to blame?). Maybe it’s that indie-rock is actually like metal, a fixture on the music-culture menu now, again serving a certain population that keeps reforming itself and rewewing itself, again because of a certain stasis in society. Most of the time, metal's internal fluctuations are no interest to those not immersed in it, but every so often it'll throw up something that grabs the wider world's ear. And yet, metal does change, almost imperceptibly; you put a metal track from 2006 next to one from 1984 and they’re not the same. And so it goes with “indie,” that increasingly inadequate term; if you tele-transported an AMs song back to 1985, it wouldn’t, actually, fit right in.

Talking of a sense of temporality changing radically, the fading or disruption of a former sense of forward propulsion through time… Alex Turner is 20, which means he was born in 1985, the annus disappointingus at which Rip it Up ends; the year when Retro-Rock displaced the early ideals of “independent”; his is a generation that was born under the sign of anachronesis, perhaps.

Except perhaps not… because in the 90s there was a sense of future-tilted motion, largely due to E-lectronic music (do all the hurtling-into-the-future period--sixties, punk/postpunk, rave--have in common the quickening of culture caused by amphetamines?).

Then again, it’s bizarre how "indie" has outlasted the irruption of “faceless techno bollocks,” the culture of DJs, beats, and E’s; how it’s outlived the future-surge of the ‘90s*. This struck me really forcefully with the unexpected appearance, near the end of “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor,” of the phrase “banging tunes in DJ sets”. It suddenly made me wonder what dance music meant to this generation. The last convulsion of dance culture in Sheffield presumably would have been Gatecrasher, and that would have been 1999-2000--six years ago, an eternity when you're young. It would be something that AMs’ older brothers and sisters would have been involved, maybe; music for the AMs generation begins with the Strokes most likely. Jesus, for some of the young kids getting into AMs-type music now, the ones aged 11, 12, 13, raving might even be something their parents did! Or perhaps--and this is almost worse in a way--perhaps clubbing-and-drugging is something that’s around still but relegated to a leisure option, something they’ll dabble in a bit for a while (a teen rite of passage, doing your first E’s), or even to keep on dipping into, now and then…. but not a cause or a creed, no longer based on the military/religious models that underpinned rave in the ‘90s, not even a vibe-tribe or AWOL.

* while writing this I’ve been listening to that Boxcutter Breezeblock set that folks have been bigging up, except that the mp3 is of the whole Breezeblock/Mary Anne Hobbs show, which I’d never listened to before, and pretty diverting stuff it is, mix of dubstep/grime/drum’n’bass/UK hip hop/weirdbeat/melodic IDM/all sortsa beatz-oriented electronic music… but then I got this sudden feeling that "the future" itself had somehow become a minority interest, a niche market to be catered to... An enclosure where the Nineties never stopped happening.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Past Gone Mad #4

July 18th to July 26, London: the second annual Don't Look Back gig series--bands recreating onstage, in the original track sequence, one of their "classic" albums. Last time it was The Stooges and Patti Smith, this time the line-up is:

Ennio Morricone--Film Soundtracks (fair enuff, living legend)
Teenage Fanclub -- Bandwagonesque (hmmm, reasonably well loved, i spose)
Tortoise--Millions Now Living Will Never Die (weeeell)
Green On Red--Gas Food Lodging (wuh?!)
Girls Against Boys--Venus Luxure No 1 Baby (cmon!)
Nightmares On Wax--Smokers Delight (strickly supine stupor slippers'n'spliff sofa-listening surely?!?!)
Low--Things We Lost In The Fire (ferfuck'sfuckingsake!!!!@*@!???)
Isis--Oceanic (who the fuck are they even?!!?)


A Past Gone Mad #5

From the current issue of The Wire's 'Bitstream' news section:

London's Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) has awarded 10 thousand pounds to artist Jo Mitchell to stage a reenactment of a notorious 1984 ICA performance involving members of Einsturzende Neubauten and Fad Gadget's Frank Tovey, among others. Called Concerto for Voice and Machine, the event was legendarily chaotic, with members of the group attacking the wooden stage with pneumatic drills, purportedly in order to reach secret tunnels rumoured to run between government departments and Buckingham Palace underneath the Mall, and the audience joining in by tossing glasses into a cement mixer. It ended when ICA staff turned the power off. The reenactment is scheduled to take place in February 2007.

Does that mean ticket holders are allowed, or expected, to riot, smash up the stage, etc? Or will the mayhem all be enacted by performers, garbed in painstakingly authentic circa-1984/Immaculate Consumptive-type clothes and hair, like one of those fake Medieval villages you can visit with blacksmiths hammering at the anvil, milkmaids tugging teats and lugging pails, miscreants in the stocks, and so forth?

onday, July 31, 2006

A Past Gone Mad #5

It’s MTV’s 25th birthday tomorrow and to celebrate, VH1 Classic are broadcasting the entire first 24 hours of MTV’s output from August 1st 1981. As an appetizer this past week they’ve also been showing the first hour* as a stand-alone show at regular intervals. Now every child knows the first video played on MTV was Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star,” but what were the second, third, fourth, eleventh promos played? Well let’s just say it wasn’t an auspicious start.

Pat Benatar, “You Better Run”--drab soundstage, band-playing-as-live job, Pat doing her feisty chick thing.
Rod Stewart, title i forget-- same band as “Dya Think I’m Sexy” (the Japanese bassist who endearingly gets really into the disco walking B-line breakdown bit, the drummer with the unfortunate mustache) but this is more of your standard blues-tinged Rod horror. Soundstage/
as-live but with polka dot background for a bit of visual excitement.
The Who, “You Better You Better You Bet”. Compelling awful song, a feast of lyrical embarrassment (“and I look pretty crapp-ay sometimes”, etc). Video = dull soundstage as-live job, but black-and-white for what, an arty touch?
Ph.d. “Little Susie on the Up”. Who they?!? The first proper filmed video since Buggles--motorbikes, ballroom dancing at the Palais...
Cliff Richard, “We Don’t Talk Anymore”. Great song (actually quite Hall & Oatesy) but dull-ish if nicely spangly backdrop type affair.
Pretenders, “Brass In Pocket”. Filmed/semi-narrative (Chrissie as lovelorn waitress), quite cute (sings “I’m speshul, so speshul”, band members at table point to “special” on the menu), classic example of video forever tarnishing the song with specific images. (Did you know that the gorgeous gobbleydegook bit that sounds like “deterleenin” is actually “Detroit-leaning”?)Todd Rundgren, “Time Heals”. Figures he would be a “video pioneer”. Excruciating clever-clever (for its time) special effects-y affair based around Dali and Magritte paintings--one of the most abysmal crap song/pretentious video combos ever. The singing is also dreadfully off-key.
Styx, “Rocking in Paradise”. A stage set but more stagey than most as this is Styx in their “paradise theater” rock-goes-show-tunes phase. Painful to watch, especially
the singer’s tight-crotched protuberance and Freddie Mercury aspirations.
REO Speedwagon, “Take It On the Run”. Live footage.
Robin Lane & the Chartbusters.Sub-Steve Nicks AOR-plod, but with a bizarrely high-budget video with a vaguely French Lieutenants Woman nautical period theme: yokels with tankards in taverns, seafarers, actual genuine galleon with sailors clambering in the rigging, cliffs, stormy seas, forsaken and shawl-clad singer on rocky promontory staring wistfully into the surf crashing on the breakers, etc. Plain sonic fare garbed in costume drama glad rags.
Split Enz. Also filmed, fairly clever for its day, although i can't remember anything about either promo or song except that there was a pronounced Yes/Genesis vibe to the tune concealed inside its New Waveyness, and indeed Split Enz actually started as proggers then jumped ship. which might explain why their (and Crowded House’s) melodies are so unpleasant, sort of wavering on the edge of melodic beauty but always falling short or to the side of it
38 Special. Live footage. Radio-pasteurised erstaz Allmans, right down to the two drummers and the hats (although perhaps those come more from Skynyrd). (I once bought a Molly Hatchet album after a friend described a Butthole Surfers song we saw them do at Lollapalooza as "kinda Molly Hatchet". Big mistake).
And that’s where I couldn’t take it any longer… but yes, a really inauspicious beginning and you can see how those videogenic/promo-savvy/glam-literate New Popsters really arrived in the nick of time... if MTV had carried on like that first hour it surely would have surely joined the great graveyard of botched and aborted cultural innovations.

* except not exactly as it was originally broadcast, some of the original veejays appear now and then but it’s framed by current VH1 Classic presenter Lynn Hoffman … now there's something quite odd about this woman, a disconcerting quality of anachronesis made flesh, cos she's like a retro-veejay: a calculated reversion back to the days before veejays (post-grunge) were chosen for their real-ness or for having a smidgeon of personality, instead she has that old skool TV presenter fakeness/blandness... she and fellow vh1 veej Eddie Trunk emit exactly the same modulated level of perky enthusiasm for everything they're introducing/interviewing , whether it’s a solo album by Smithereens frontman Pat Danizio or Joe Cocker or Gang of Four.... she particularly has that forced brightness of the American radio host (which is her pre-VH1 background) but rendered with facial expressions too.... the effect is either anachronetic or animatronic, i can't quite decide


and even further back:

Wednesday, June 04, 2003


[blue chip stocks, cooler than being obscure ultra--oneupmanship manoevure stuff]

Beatles. Kraftwerk. Chic. Giorgio Moroder. Nirvana. Tubeway Army/Numan. Joy Division. The Fall. Pixies.

[tapped-out, yesterday's cool move, middlebrow]

Gang of Four. First three albums Wire. Can up to Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi/Neu!/ Faust. Electro. Obvious No Wave/mutant disco: Contortions, 99 Records (Liquid Liquid, ESG). Gram Parsons. Boards of Canada. Italo Disco. Crate-digga: Library Music: KPM, Boosey & Hawkes etc/David Axelrod/The Rotary Connection. Obvious dub producers: Perry, Tubby. Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks. Scott Walker. Tropicalia. Cleveland: Electric Eels, Styrenes, Rocket For The Tombs, early “classic” Pere Ubu. New York electrofunk/postdisco: Arthur Russell, Prelude, West End, Peech Boys, D-Train etc. "Being Boiled" era Human League/The Normal/”Nag Nag Nag”-era Cabaret Voltaire. Suicide. Nick Drake. United States of America. IA-era Red Krayola.

[OTM this minute, edge-of-middlebrow danger like pears that go over-ripe when you turn your back for a second]

Soft Machine. Dancehall: early Nineties to early noughties. This Heat. St.Pancras/Rough Trade-era Scritti Politti. Ze. Eugene MacDaniels. Incredible String Band. The Cure. America. Young Marble Giants. Supertramp. Amon Duul (I). Fleetwood Mac circa Rumours/Tusk. Ethnographic field recordings. Proto-synthcore: The Screamers, Nervous Gender, Minimal Man.. Post-electro: Mantronix, T. La Rock, Chep Nunez, Nitro Deluxe, Cutting label, freestyle. My Bloody Valentine. The Godz. The Fugs. Virgin-era Scritti. Canonical UK folk rock: Fairport Convention/Shirley Collins/ Pentangle. Janet Kay/Dennis Bovell lovers rock productions. ‘Attic Tapes’ era Cabaret Voltaire. BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Yoko Ono. Rudimentary Peni.

[cooler-than-thou dead-cert trump-all-comers power move]

The Homosexuals. Jefferson Airplane circa After Bathing At Baxters. Heldon/Richard Pinhas . Eighties pre-ragga dancehall. Electronic body music: Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, Skinny Puppy, et al. Bugge Wesseltoft. Henry Cow. Less obvious No Wave/mutant disco: Lust Unlust label, ImpLOG, Jody Harris/Bob Quine, Pulsalamma, Dark Day, Ut. More obscure UK folk-rock: Martin Carthy/Topic label/ June Tabor/Albion Band. Tuxedomoon. Canterbury lesser lights: Caravan, Egg, National Health, Hatfield & the North, Gilgamesh. Ron Geesin. Radar/Rough Trade-era Red Crayola. More obscure post-punk: Family Fodder, Fatal Microbes, Metaboliste, I’m So Hollow, Lemon Kittens, Vice Versa, Out On Blue Six, Basement 5, 4 Be 2’s, Furious Pig. Metal Urbain/Dr. Mix. South Asian fusion/desi/bhangra. Bleep & Bass: Unique 3, Sweet Exorcist (esp. C.C.C.D), Nexus 21, Rob Gordon productions, Ability II, etc. Soft-hop: PM Dawn, Definition of Sound. Vanity 6/Early Prince/Sheila E. Wire circa "The Drill." Speed Garage. Hamilton Bohannon. Romeo Void. The Buggles. M. Tom Tom Club circa The Man with the 4 Way Hips. David Crosby. The Blue Nile. Simple Minds circa New Gold Dream. Swoon/Steve McQueen era Prefab Sprout.. Ragga jungle. "Lost Generation” a/k/a UK postrock-with-songs: Disco Inferno, Seefeel, Pram, Earwig/Insides, Moonshake/Laika etc.. The Minutemen. Judee Sill. Australian postpunk: Voigt/465, Rhythmx Chymx, Slugfuckers, Tame O’Mearas, early Severed Heads. Pre-Some Bizarre Einsturzende Neubauten. Recommended Records. Bill Fay. San Francisco industrial: Factrix, Monte Cazzazza, Chrome, Z’Ev. LA Free Music Society/Monitor/B-People. German postpunk/industrial/artpop: pre-Virgin Deutsches Amerikanische Freundschaft/Der Plan/Palais Schaumberg. Japan circa Adolescent Sex. Sproton Layer. Rose Royce. Fuck Off Records: Danny & the Dressmakers, Teen Vampires, etc. Savage Rose. John Martyn circa Inside Out/One World. Pere Ubu circa New Picnic Time/Art of Walking/Song of the Bailing Man. Joni Mitchell. Obscure Manchester postpunk: Object label (Spherical Objects, The Grow-Up), The Passage, Manicured Noise, New Hormones (Ludus, The Tiller Boys, Biting Tongues, Eric Random). Thomas Leer (with Robert Rental and solo circa 4 MovementsEP ). Annette Peacock. Curved Air. Early Gun Club. Blood On the Saddle. Agitation Free/Univers Zero. David Byrne circa “Cloud Chamber”/Catherine Wheel. Pre-baggy Happy Mondays.

[a gamble--major ahead-of-the-curve cool potential versus total humiliation]

Jefferson Starship. Simple Minds circa Empires and Dance. Spacebox. Colosseum. Wigwam. The Strawbs. Rock Follies soundtrack/Julie Covington. Sopwith Camel. The Police circa "Walking On the Moon". Wings. Pavlov’s Dog. Virgin era-Can. Steve Hillage. Stackridge. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. Danielle Dax. Kate Bush circa The Dreaming. Late Gun Club. Patrick Adams. The Three Johns. Irish folk-rock: Planxty, Horslips, early Clannad. Be Bop Deluxe/Red Noise/Bill Nelson solo. Peter Gabriel III. Pre-'94 trance: Hardfloor, Arpeggiators, etc. Second-wave avant-funk: Chakk, Portion Control, 400 Blows. Doctors of Madness/Richard Strange. Angletrax. Judie Tzuke. Man Jumping. Crammed Records. UK Decay. Mid-Eighties New Zealand: The Chills, The Clean, etc. Jean-Michel Jarre. Shambling: Ron Johnson Records, Stump, Shrubs, Bogshed, Big Flame, Membranes. Yargo. The Skids circa Absolute Game/Joy. Terence Trent D’Arby. Osibisa. Belgian hardcore techno. Luigi Nono. Really herky-jerky/quirked out New wave: first three albums XTC, Punishment of Luxury, Lene Lovich, Nina Hagen, Plastics, Cardiacs. Landscape. Post-golden age SST: Saccharine Trust, Paperbag, Always August, Universal Congress Of, Lawndale, Zoogz Rift. "Mature” Undertones circa “It’s Going To Happen” and “Julie Ocean”. Gryphon. Jethro Tull. Sailor/Pilot. Swans Way. Raunch-era Last Few Days. Brand X. Non-Devo Akron (Tin Huey, Rubber City Rebels, etc). Batcave: Specimen, Alien Sex Fiend, Sex Gang Children, Flesh For Lulu.

[their day will never come again]

Starship. Simple Minds from “Don’t You Forget About Me” onwards. The Doobie Brothers. Pearl Jam. Collective Soul. Bush. Primal Scream (all phases). UB40. Jamiroquai. Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. Fatboy Slim. NWOBHM: Iron Maiden, Saxon, etc. Manic Street Preachers. Beck. Deep Purple/Rainbow. Roger Waters solo. Pink Floyd post-Roger Waters. Elvis Costello from Blood & Chocolate onwards. Texas. Leisure Process. The Police circa Synchronicity. Mid-period Factory: Cath Carroll, Kalima, etc. Big Country/The Armoury Show. Microdisney/Fatima Mansions. Bethnal. TRB. Erasure. The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Jeff Beck. 1984/85 retro-rock Americana: True West, Guadacanal Diary, Long Ryders, Jason & the Scorchers. Curve/Garbage. Living Colour. Blood Sweat ‘n’ Tears. UK mod revival: Secret Affair, Merton Parkas. College rock (including all REM apart from Murmur).

Compiled from data provided by Dominic Laruffa, Kodwo Eshun, Jess Harvell, Rebecca Rosengarde, Jon Dale, Sasha Frere-Jones, Job de Wit, Suzanne Spiers, Joshua Merin, David Howie, Steven W. Schuldt, Scott Neill, Matthew Ingram (ha, gotcha), Nicola Stecher, Haley Kenshin, Nick Runcible, Gus Halpern, Michael Jary, Graham Dudlike, Mark Simmons, Donald Pryner, Alice Thompson, Heike Blumner, Jake Sandlin, Fletcher Kern, Claire Brighton, B. Cole, Chas Bovis, Jason Blum, Noam Chomsky,
Chris P. Laika-Crouton, Rennie J. Pilgrem, Hugh Ball, Michael Belfer, Owen Gavin, M. P. Acardipane, Sasha Digweed, Jen Porridge, Chris Watson, Ally Turnbull, Adrian Newton, Mal Linder, Una Friel, Nicky Mancuso, David Siano, Danny Privet-Hedge, Rupert Sager, D. Raskit, Sprettro Blanquez, D. Galas, Orlando Julius, Smitty Davenport, Sid Barcelona, Jeff Simply, Sly Fidelity, Brown Hitgowenit, H.P. Buggo, Waldorf Statler, Andy Breton, Linda Gartside-Stroheimer, Gabi Bargeld, Holger Fehlmann, Mannie Fresh, Lynval Schneider, Rowland Cave, Bruce Falconi, J.D. Carducci, Mark E. Bramah, Deena Wrigley, Hilary Small, Brenda Twice.

Thanks to all contributors.

Best of the individual ballots to appear next week.


1/ Which Eighties? Post-punk still has some legs but it’s advisable to disinvest from obvious names and areas, and stack your portfolio with the very obscure (John Peel one-offs) or the geographically remote (Germany, Australia, the Belgium/Netherlands, even France). Generally speaking, the early Eighties looking pretty peaked on most fronts, even though it’s yet to really cross over into the mainstream, so the smart money is already moving deeper in that decade--skipping
the mid-Eighties (the so-called “Bad Music Era”: 83/84/85/86) altogether and going straight to the late Eighties. Now is the time to start investing in second-wave industrial/Euro Body Music and early dreampop (the surprise, seemingly premature return of My Bloody Valentine to currency). Likewise in dance music, it would seem that last year’s power move--punk-funk/mutant disco/Italodisco/NYC electrofunk (Prelude/Russell/West End)--is already tapped out, and the more astute speculators will be moving into the post-electro/pre-house phase (Cutting, Nitro Deluxe, Freestyle). The trouble with moving to the late Eighties and bypassing the mid-period (a time when things were so desperate that The Triffids were regarded as saviours) is that the optimum time span for recycling is 20 years or more, and although revival-attempts often begin after 15 years, the first several attempts are usually false starts or premature stabs (sort of equivalent those warriors in Zulu who sacrifice themselves in order to test the firepower of the besieged British garrison and use up their ammunition), e.g Romo which was roughly 14 years after the period it was attempting to revive and thus six to eight years premature. So although we can expect some tentative moves into baggy/Madchester, say, these are too risky for the sensible coolmongerer.

2/ It seems like only yesterday. Dance music’s cycles run about half the duration of rock’s cycles--instead of 20 years, the optimum period is 10 years. Despite the surprisingly non-appearance of a major ardkore/darkcore revival (probably because people started pining for and recycling that era within only a few years of its demise), we’re gearing up for a massive ‘94-the-year-jungle-broke ragga-amen-rinse revival. For a while now, ‘ardkore dealers have been devoting more space to tunes from 94-95 and prices have been rising accordingly. Other signs include the Soundmurderer CD, figures like DJ Shitmat and Enduser, Luke Vibert who has cut five old skool jungle singles and has the Amen Andrew Vol. 1 record sooncome on Rephlex, while Mike Paradinas’s Planet Mu label is putting out a compilation of Remarc’s classic amen tunes. Power moves here entail moving out well beyond the obvious knowns (forget about the serious middlebrown zone of Rage/Grooverider/Fabio/Reinforced/Goldie, and especially Bukem --even though ‘Demon’s Tune’ was one of the first Amen tunes) and expand the ‘auteurisation’ syndrome to the figures who never got the iD/Face/Muzik/Mixmag treatment: Remarc, Bizzy B, Randall, DJ Nut Nut, Kemet Crew, Suburban Base/Ganja (Marvellous Cain, Hype, Pascal/Johnny Jungle, Noise of Art, Flex, Krome & Time), Dead Dred/Second Movement/Back 2 Basics, DMS & Boneman, X Ram/Shimon/Andy C, Gappa G & Hyper Hyper, Formation/SS, plus the countless ragga-sploitation bandwagon-jumping dancehall relicks of the era. Ultra power moves: Leviticus ‘Burial’ and anything by M-Beat especially the ones not featuring General Levy.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Won't post the whole murphy interview just yet as the magazine it's in is still on the shelves, but here is the most relevant portion:

Of course, all these comparisons and reference points only underscore the point I earlier made in reference to “Losing My Edge”: the poignancy of living in a “late” era of culture, the insurmountable-seeming challenge of competing with the accumulated brilliance of the past and creating any kind of sensation of new-ness. “Yeah, that is kind of tattooed on my stomach,” says Murphy . He acknowledges that “great influences do not a great record make”. And yet despite all the odds, the LCD album is a great record.

When I mention the American literary critic Harold Bloom’s concept of “anxiety of influence”--which argues that “strong” artists suffer from an acute sense of anguish that everything has been done before, and that makes them struggle against their predecessors in a desperate Oedipal attempt to achieve originality--Murphy flips out. “It's hilarious that you say this--I mention Bloom's anxiety theory pretty regularly in interviews! This is the shit I've been screaming about for years. Learning and progress has always been based on learning from the past. Real originality never comes from trying to defeat the past right out of the gate. It's a spark of an individual idea caused by the love/hate relationship between a "listener" and the "sound". I love music, and it inspired me at first to copy it, then to be ashamed of copying it, then to make music in "modes" (genres) while trying to pretend they were original, then finally making music with a purpose--which for me was dance music. It made people dance. It was no longer just music to make you look cool and feel like you were part of something you admire. I don't feel like I'm in any danger of making ‘retro’ music, but at the same time, there are things about the ways various people who've come before me did things that I prefer greatly to the way ‘modern’ things are done. I use a computer. I edit and do all sorts of modern shit, but there are things I consciously do that were done in songs I love from before me.”

That seems to be a really good defence of the recombinant approach.

I think Ronan maybe right, the worst phase of retro-dance may be over, in fact that's why i originally compared the state-of-now to the rock Nineties, ie. the Sixties-cannibalizing Eighties being over... The comparisons of Tiefschwarz and LCD to PJ Harvey and Pavement weren't idly chosen, those seem to me to be paradigm examples of 90s artists doing really interesting stuff, Yet you could still imagine the "shrug factor" coming into play, someone inclined to be hostile/sceptical saying "ah, but she's just like Patti Smith really" or (bit later) "she's just reworking blues rock" (which she was of course, brilliantly) or "she's the female Nick Cave". Similarly with Pavement, "oh they're just a Fall rip off/Faust rip-off". The difference between rock and dance, though, is that rock has expressive content, so even if the music is kinda neo-conservative, there might be lyrical innovation going on. That doesn't really apply to dance, which is more functional (although you might say "expressive content" applies and operates on the collective level, the entire scene or genre maybe).

It's perspectival too: what seems revolutionary to a scene insider, can be a bit "big deal!" to someone less engaged, let alone the fully disengaged. The first example of this syndrome I can recall is speed garage, when some of the people who'd been won over by jungle were like, "but isn't this just, like, house music?".

So in the case of Tiefscharwz, the music is on the one hand fabulously clever and interesting, but i can still see how a sceptical outsider would have the shruggy response.

I guess approaching a lot of this stuff I have the head of a critic, which might be a professional liability (except I suspect i thought like this long before I did it as a job/vocation/mission), which is a kind of split response: on the one hand 1/ is this enjoyable/exciting? 2/ what can I claim for this?

Hitherto with dance music the two principal angles of claim-age have been "underground" (and/or drug culture) and "musical progression".

Which brings me to what I thought was the sharpest point Ronan brought up , in re. undergroundism and progressivism as key underpinning concepts of the dance culture and also being really rockist, he tartly suggested that:

"surely this ultra boring alignment with rock is why techno, in the strictest sense of the genre, is completely and utterly dead?" *
Touche, and you could say the same about drum'n'bass too (with the obvious renegade factions going against the bosh-bosh grain excepted). I had to ponder this one for a few minutes. I think he's right, undergroudism and progressivism pursued singlemindedly and to the exclusion of any other criteria leads to a dead end. But the phases of music I think of most fondly in the history of dance (hardcore, 2step) would have had the progress, the undergroundism, but also a strong element of poppiness, fun, rampant hedonism, and a bit of humour too. (Grime actually has a combination of all these, but it's lost the danceability). And i do think that if it's given up on those founding concepts altogether, "dance" does have a kind of rhetoric deficit -- if all it claim for itself is that it's good for dancing, well, there's loads of musics you can dance too, aren't there?

* is it actually dead? i regularly get emails from little promoters in places like Leicester and Middlesborough -- god knows why! -- announcing strange little hardtechno events, the DJs have names like Dave Techno, and the flyers always end with the words "Caution! Nuts Inside". There's obviously still a tiny sub-underground of bangin' slammin' music made by and for pill-popping loons, perhaps a la my alternate heavy-metal analogy, these are like the tribes of grindcore and thrash and deathmetal who refuse to die.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

K-punk diatribe against Sonic Youth as retro-necro godfathers. He mentions their Karen Carpenter fetish as in "Tunic (Song For Karen)", which I'm kicking myself for not bringing up in my own SY-as-curators thing. Reading Mark's piece it also struck me that the title of Bad Moon Rising is itself a rock scholarly citation: Creedence Clearwater Revival, one of THE American bands of 1969, the year they were obsessed with at that point.

"Tunic (Song for Karen)" came a few years after the hoo-ha about Todd Haynes's Superstar, his animation movie about Karen C, which was forced-from-circulation but which you can watch here. Although that's indie film rather than downtown art, again it indicates how Sonic Youth were plugged into sensibilities and practices outside rock.

SY seem initially to make a good pairing with J & MC--a cloak of kill-your-idols noise covering worship-your-idols traditionalism (with the riots being meta-riots, enactments of a desire to have a reason to riot.) On reflection that's a little unfair to SY, their noise being more structural and deep-technique oriented than the patina of feedback J&MC slathered over their melodies. I don't think it can be denied that for all the citational flourishes (which aren't really that encumbering or obstrusive in the late Eighties work) there is a three album run back there-- EVOL/Sister/Daydream Nation--that doesn't actually sound much like anything that came before: a gorgeous noise where No Wave's stringent modernism merges with numinous psychedelia (a new psychedelia, one that barely references anything in the vocabulary of Sixties rock). As irritating as they can be that shouldn't be taken away from them. One might even feel an empathetic twinge for the vanguardist hoisted by their own reinvention-of-the-guitar petard and faced with the problem of reinventing themselves. Why shouldn't they be like Neil Young, an alt-institution, criss-crossing back and forth within the range of sound they've established? That doesn't mean anyone should necessarily feel obliged to bother with their albums after a certain cut-off point.

Re: Portrait of the Artist As A Consumer I forgot the most glaring and earliest example: the cover of Sgt Pepper's. However this was coded (you had to know or work out who the people were) and it did extend beyond music (Did it have any musicians in the pantheon? Stockhausen, yeah, but rock'n'roll musicians?).

Some of Mark's polemic chimes with the laments of Aaron over here.

Some days I'm totally of this mind, feeling that the most pointless thing in the world is to make more good music. (Our house is packed with the stuff, my computer is crammed to bursting with the stuff… years and years worth…. if Music was just about "good music" I could spend the rest of my life listening to what I've already got and what's already been made that I've not got around to hearing… what Music in the capital M sense needs to do is give us new concepts, new sensations, to create both new disagreements and new convergences/communalities…)

On other days, swept up in the majesty of music that could be from this year or twelve or twenty two years ago, such concerns seems silly, "why not just enjoy it".

I think the first response is the better one, the more productive one in a sense: keeping keen the blade of one's dissatisfaction, one's impatience … It's just a harder place to live, it's easier to relax into the enjoy-it-all mode.

This relates to Sonic Youth in that the subtext with a lot of discussion of the new album is: what's the point of there being ANOTHER Sonic Youth album in the world, in my life… precisely because they've mattered, done so much, in the past… why listen to the new one when you could listen to Daydream Nation for the 63rd time? Indeed the longer they go on, by this logic, the more they erode their peaks--an analogy that could be extrapolated in reference to rock as a whole, couldn't it?)

Perhaps there are two kinds of responses here that are rather revealing in a glass half-full, glass half-empty kind of way -- "Sonic Youth? A new album? Oh goody" versus "Sonic Youth? A new album? Oh no..." Perhaps you have to be a certain kind of person to actually feel that "Oh no" in this and many other situations... a dismay/distress that can be there as an undernote even when it's things you actually love and on some level are eager to hear

right at the almost very start of writing, fanzine days, (and the only interview Monitor ever ran, funnily enough, was with Sonic Youth circa Bad Moon Rising, done by Gina Rumsey and featuring virtually no quotes), I came up with this phrase that I've recycled at regular intervals ever since, "pernicious adequacy"... its sister term would be something like "pernicious carrying-on" or "pernicious not-dying"

this is why I understand only too well the calls for the death of the hardcore continuum, or announcements of its demise... the impatience to close one chapter and open a new one... believe it or not I actually feel it myself... i suppose what I believe is that these chapters open and close by themselves and there's little we (those of us who aren't DJs and producers, and even there I think there is limited individual agency in terms of steering the direction of a music culture)can do to hasten the demise...

in a real sense we are readers.... waiting perhaps like Dickens audience (Little Dorrit has been on TV here) for the next instalment of a serialised novel, not knowing how many chapters are left or whether the next one is the last instalment...*

that doesn't mean the book or oeuvre (and the nuum is a body of scenius-work of a Dickensian scope and prodigality, whose main subject is London) isn't capable of being read and reread for some time to come... studied and interpreted but also gloried in...

and here's where I'd link to DJ Luck feat. Shy Cookie, Spee & Sweetie Irie's "Millenium Twist" if it was on YouTube...

* of course with music culture it's slightly different in so far as what seems like the penultimate chapters of one book turn out, in hindsight, to have been the start of another book altogether.... and that's almost impossible to determine until you're a good way into the new book

Thursday, November 30, 2006


An aside in a Dissensus thread (I forget which) some weeks ago to the effect that “Nineties music sounds shit now, doesn’t it” made me wonder… well, does it? I don’t need too much prompting to go on a major back-to-da-90s kick, so I dug deep in the closet and had a bit of week back there…. Ultramarine, Wagon Christ (still think Throbbing Pouch is towering, magical, and mystified by the paucity of love out there in the community for this album), loadsaloadsa ambient jungle , even some Orb, never got around to DJ Shadow though… And I can confidently say that, as far as my ears can tell, "no, actually, it doesn’t sound shit. It sounds, in fact, glorious". Well, there was a moment several years back when I put on Omni Trio “Renegade Snares” for the first time in a long-ish while and thought “oo-er it does sound a bit cruddy ‘n’ muddy, the production, the drum sounds…". But it’s well past that now, that phase of cringing at the only-recently-cutting-edge-but-now-already-dated which so often afflicts dance music, that phase is some way behind us… and the best of that decade sounds, once more, unimpeachably great... And then a lot of the other stuff--and there was so much dance music, electronic music, in the 90s, things moved so fast, fragmented so multiply-- well I think that stuff too s going to be salvageable as kitsch actually quite soon…. who knows, even things like FSOL’s Lifeforms or Sven Vath may enjoy a second coming as the Esquivels of their day!

But relistening and inevitably rethinking this music, it also made me consider the recent discussions about the future (and nostalgia thereof), the issue of futurity/futuristic-ness in music, and what exactly do we mean when we describe a music as futuristic or a certain exponent as a Futurist? How much is rhetoric and how much is substance? Can sound itself be a kind of rhetoric?

Because so much of this Nineties music did talk itself up as future-music and see itself in those terms. You got in the interviews and you got it from all the science fiction, bit-kitschy-even-then packaging /artwork/typography… and not least you got it in the band names and track titles (Omni’s “Living For the Future”, Noise Factory’s “I bring you the future, the future, the future” riff used in “Futuroid”, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse a/k/a Foul Play’s “We Are The Future” ... not forgetting Phuture of “Acid Tracks” fame naturally, and that “ph” itself becoming the coding for FUTURISTIC as with Photek and and countless other examples eg 2steppers Phuturistix revealing their roots in drum'n'bass with their moniker as much as neurofunkazoid trax)… So much of this music as it happened was received and felt and written about as future music (which I’m sure philosophically presents some problems--if it’s happening-right now, how can it be from the future or of the future?)…

There’s various ways to take the idea of “future music”--the angle of futuristic as literally predictive of what tomorrow’s music will sound like ("tomorrow’s music today" was actually Melody Maker’s slogan at one point if I recall, but that meant more a tipsheet, you-read-about-it-here-first rather than a futurist credo, Front 242 Skinny Puppy and Young Gods covers withal)… or perhaps in another sense, "future" applies because if the underground is the vanguard it’s because it’s bringing right here right now what will eventually be the common everyday stuff of mainstream popular music… well you could say that did and didn’t happen with the technorave/drum’n’bass/et al …. some of the ideas seeped sideways into rap and R&B, or they popped up subliminally in adverts and movies and TV scores… but no, faceless techno bollocks did not, ultimately, vanquish and eclipse for all time songs/guitars etc.

And then (as discussed earlier, towards the end of this post) there’s “futuristic”, which involves playing with received ideas of the future as already established in science fiction and futurology and popular science programmes/books: the imagery of cyberpunk and space-age whatnot that pervaded techno, D&B, etc, and pretty shlocky-kitschy stuff it was too, a lot of the time, whether slanted to the utopian or the dystopian). So for instance, synthesizer tones per se were already established (from the late 60s onward, through movie soundtracks, then with Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, also in jazz-fusion, etc) as connoting the Future/Outer-Space.

And there is another category that I’m going to designate “futuroid”, in homage to the aforementioned Noise Factory track, and that would refer to genuinely unforeheard, cutting-edge, out-of-nowhere elements in music. So the actual futuroid elements in jungle were the beats and the bass-science (not so much the dubsway rumblizm but the more radically mutational and counter-intuitively pretzel-like motion-shapes of bass-goo), and in techno it would be those sounds and effects that weren’t part of the established 80s synthpop palette (e.g. mentasm, or acid when it first appeared). In all the rave styles, though, there tends to be a mixture of the genuinely futuroid and the merely futuristic.

Further complicating all this is that some of the mood of the music that made it feel tilted towards Tomorrow--that mood in, say, ambient jungle/artcore drum’n’bass of brimming optimism and anticipation--is actually created with backward-looking elements. So in the case of Omni’s “Living for the Future” it’s the John Barry influenced soundtrackisms that
create the eyes-on-the-horizon feeling. (A different set of soundtrackisms, I expect, contributed quite heavily to darkside and techstep’s dystopian futurism). Likewise with the Bukem end of things, there’s a lot of harking back to to 70s fusion, jazzfunk, O/S/T thematics…

These thoughts were brought into relief when rummaging through the closet for 90s stuff I stumbled on a CD I haven’t listened to since I got it, Breakbeat Science: two CDs of 1996 drum’n’bass plus a fat full colour booklet of interviews, as done by those Volume people who did the Trance Europe Express/Trance Atlantic series (I remember thinking how this development signified that d&b had crossed over into middlebrow). 10 years old, poised between Logical Progression and Techsteppin’, it’s a curious artifcact, and quite a kitschy relic in itself… and naturally every bloody interview is riddled with references to “the future”, uttered by interviewee and journalist alike… and yet d&b is already at that point where the rhetoric is slipping out of synch with the actual achievement… in part because the producers ideas of how to advance the music actual involve backward steps (musicality, soundtrackism etc) … in retrospect it becomes clearer than ever that hardcore was way more futuroid than jungle--it had the breakbeat science, the radically non-naturalistic, no-relation-to-the-acoustic-instrument bass-plasma element, but it had other elements too: radical vocal science, with the squeaky voices, the voice-as-riff played percussively on the sampler keyboard, the sampladelic voice-goo smearage… the unforeheard Beltramoid synth-timbres and stab patterns…. even those manic Morse Codey piano vamps were more what-the-fuck futuroid than the glancing minor-key jazzual keybs in drum’n’bass… Yet I suspect there was significantly less “we are the future of music” rhetoric during hardcore than later on, cos everyone was in the rush of the now. Did I even used the F-word at that time? (Actually in the end of 92 Wire ardkore piece, I said listening to the pirates “you know you’re living in the future”). But generally, rave in its pure form was about the now.

Perhaps there’s a three-way division here.

Artists who make an overt ideology out of their aspiration to make tomorrow’s music today (this would include quite a few techno people, but also a group like The Young Gods, or earlier, the Art of Noise--both of whom could also be seen as having a relationship to the actual early 20th Century movement Futurism, adding a tinge of retro-Futurism)

FuturisticArtists who play with science fiction imagery, a set of signifiers and associations that refer back to a tradition of how the Future was envisaged or sonically imagined. For quite some time--even in the early 90s--this kind of thing already had a retro-futurist tinge to it. Again lots of techno artists went in for this kind of imagery but so did a lot of genres (synthpop, industrial, space music) outside the dance field.

FuturoidThe actually emergent or unforeheard elements in music.
(Why not call this ‘modernist”? Well, Modernism is itself a style, a period-bound thing to the point where there is such a thing as retro-modernism… Not all futuroid things are going to manifest as stark/lacking ornament/bleak/brutal/abstract/functional/minimalist, i.e. the clichés of modernism…. For instance breakbeat science as it evolved turned into a kind of rhythmic baroque, and wildstyle graffiti, while futuroid and futuristic, was not Modernist in that style-defined sense of stark etc).

To map this onto the old Raymond Williams residual/emergent dichotomy, most musics that are any good or at all enjoyable or have any impact on the wider culture are going to involve a mixture of futuroid and traditional. A wholly Futuroid music would probably be as indigestible as Marinetti’s proposed Italo-Futurist replacement for pasta--a dish of perfumed sand.

Finally, “futuroid” is not solely a property of electronic music or computer-based music… To pick only the most consternating example, I would say that the style of guitar-playing developed by the Edge in the early days of U2 (“I Will Follow” to “With or Without You”) was as futuroid as anything done by most electropop artists at the time… furthermore that the futuroid in music can exist without any accompanying trappings of the futuristic either in sound or imagery

PS As I finish this I’m listening to the last track on 8-Bit Operators, an 8-bit tribute to the music of Kraftwerk… it's a version of “Man Machine” by gwEm and Counter Reset that is either live or simulated-live … the shaky-middle-class-English-voiced parody-MC calls out “alright Bagleys, how do you feel out there this evening… speak to me Bagleys [massive crowd cheer] …we want to say a big shout out to Kraftwerk and all the ravers in the world…” (Bagleys being this old British Rail depot turned dance venue near King's Cross which is
where in 93 I went to one of the first jungle-as-Jungle raves… and now I think about it, they had an old skool room even then…). But yeah, talk about retro-futurism! The music--sort of techo filtered through an indie-rock lo-fi amateurism and archness--is actually kinda like how I thought Nu Rave would sound. The track ends--“Easy my fellow junglist warriors, until the next time, gwEm and Counter Reset, out of here”--and I don’t know how to feel…

PPS and what do you know, in marvellous synchrony, Dorian Lynskey asks whatever happened to the future?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

nostalgia for the future #2

No less than four-- Stanley Whyte, Ian Penman, Stephen Trousse, Kevin Pearce--email to point out the glaring ommission from the nostalgia 4 da phuture list: “Nostalgia” by the Buzzcocks, on 1978's Love Bites.

The lyric:

I bet that you love me like I love you
But I should know that gambling just don't pay
So I look up to the sky
And I wonder what it'll be like in days gone by
As I sit and bathe in the wave of nostalgia for an age yet to come
I always used to dream of the past
But like they say yesterday never comes
Sometimes there's a song in my brain
And I feel that my heart knows the refrain
I guess it's just the music that brings on nostalgia for an age yet to come

About the future I only can reminisce
For what I'e had is what I'll never get
And although this may sound strange
My future and my past are presently disarranged
And I'm surfing on a wave of nostalgia for an age yet to come

I look I only see what I don't know
All that was strong invincible is slain
Takes more than sunshine to make everything fine
And I feel like I'm trapped in the middle of time
With this constant feeling of nostalgia for an age yet to come


I guess it is one of those meme-phrases that spontaneously emerges from different lips at different times because what it describes is very real

For instance I’d be surprised if Ballard hadn’t somewhere in his writings come up with a similar formulation of words, independently of Rorem.


Michael Jason Dieter chips in by mentioning Walter Benjamin as a pre-emiment theorist of all this, “especially in 'the Arcades Project', where a kind of materialist history is mapped out. The notion that the past commodities, for instance, still hold a kindof utopia waiting…" And “Walter Benjamin wrote on the complex fore-history carried through material objects as resembling a ‘dreamscape’. Indeed, his spectral analysis of theParisian arcades was premised on a retrieval of the latent potentialities embedded in the concrete form of past commodities, or the garbage cast-offby modernity. By implementing various relational and montage-basedtechniques, the futurity or utopian promise originally associated withthese items might be drawn out by an individual and fully realised in thepresent. In doing so, Benjamin theorised the linear continuum ofhistorical progress could be brought to a standstill, stretched outlaterally across a network of time, to reveal the actual experience ofmodernity in a ‘flash of lightning.’ Somehow, teleology would becircumvented, and the assignation of events exploded within the practiceof history itself. The result would be a pure dialectical image, a variedconstellation that finally made legible the geography of contemporary lifeas a communicable form.”

The one bit of Spectres of Marx that never seems to come up in discussions of hauntology is the (admittedly glancing) allusions to Benjamin’s “weak messianic power”. Which (excuse me if this is poorly grasped; I’m only just struggling through Spectres now, so this is largely derived from the mostly hostile Marxists’ responses to Spectres in that Ghostly Demarcations collection, plus Derrida's hilariously petulant and wounded response in the long afterword) I take to refer an idea of keeping alive a sense of utopian possibility and change-will-come during periods of contraction/reaction/stagnation/reversal, when all hope of revolution or change seems to have gone. In political terms I imagine this involves preserving the knowledge of historical breaks that happened in the past ... the Bolsheviks, the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, 1968... or more vaguely, just the notion of building a better society/social engineering/grand collective projects of amelioration and emancipations... The “weak” presumably connoting a sense of fadedness and faintness (as well as ineffectualness--vague hopes rather than a political program, the party with its science of history pointing the path to tomorrow). The “messianic”, because it relates to the Judaeo-Christian tradition, also to the millienial/prophetic mystico-political line running back through the ages (all that stuff Norman Cohn wrote about; also Marcus in Lipstick Traces)… “gnostalgia for the future” to borrow a Penman pun… and again a point of convergence with dub & roots, Rasta’s apocalyptic confidence that Babylon-shall-fall… … With the Ghost Box lot, this politically dissident dimension isn’t there so strongly, it’s really more the cultural aspect--keeping alive the idea of the futuristic and unforeheard as a possibility: not so much “change” as “strange will come (again)”… Mind you, Ghost Box’s formative predecessor Stereolab had both aspects going on: the nostalgia-for-the-future of analog synth worship/Neu!-fetishism, but also the Marxist don't-stop-thinking-about-tomorrow element, e.g. Laetitia singing re. capitalism “it's not eternal, it's not imperishable/oh yes, it will fall”…


When we talk about “nostalgia for the future” there’s really two different if related syndromes. The first is the classic ache for tomorrow, the utopian impulse expressed not (as it was for most of human history) through the idea of a lost golden age but as an orientation towards a future state of perfection. The second impulse, more common today, is really retro-futurist: that sensation of wistfulness induced by looking at old science fiction movies, images from 1950s science fairs and technology exhibitions, modernist cooking-ware and furniture from between the wars, etc etc. Or listening to early analog synth music, avant-classical, moogy wonderland bizniz. It’s a postmodern emotion, mingling poignancy and camp, pathos and affectionate amusement, the virgin sense of wonderment partially recovered but checked by a hindsight awareness that none of this actually transpired.


I wonder what’s going on when we use the word “futuristic” to describe a piece of music. Rather often, I think what we’re talking about falls into the second version of “nostalgia for the future”, ie. the music is playing with received ideas of the futurist/futuristic. That was clearly going on with a lot of the early Eighties synthpop, and maybe even with Kraftwerk. Human League is a good example of this. Or at least you could say there was a mish-mash of genuine modernism and retro-futurism, with Ian Craig Marsh and then Martin Rushent supplying the former and the second aspect coming from science fiction buff Oakey and Thunderbirds-fan Adrian Wright.

I wonder also if describing something as “the future/futuristic” is more often than not a retrospective designation. For instance, flicking through a Roxy Music book (David Buckley’s fine The Thrill of It All) I stumbled on Martyn Ware’s reminiscence of seeing Roxy for the second time in Sheffield:

In the wildest excesses of rock iconography , I’d never read about, let alone seen, anything as excessive…. If you had taken a photograph of them and showed it to someone in America at that time, they’d probably have gone “faggots”! But that’s not the message it was saying to us: it was saying “the future”. It’s an exciting thing when you’re 16 years of age”.

I wonder if that’s how he really felt at the time. It feels like a hindsight comment, something processed by memory. Most likely as a teenager he just boggled, it felt utterly NOW/NEW.

(You can have that sensation--being ambushed by the unforeseen/unforehead--with music that doesn’t involve any of the conventional signifiers of “the futuristic”.
The arrival of Morrissey in 1983 felt like that. Here was a complete original (persona-wise) and a fresh sound; something completely unexpected, and all the more of a break with pop normality, how we thought the Eighties was set to proceed, through its rejection of synths, sequencers etc. )

Roxy Music are a classic example of a group playing with received ideas of the future, they were the original retro-futurists, the first postmodern popsters, probably. But to go back to the idea of not knowing what in our current cultural moment is actually future-portending, you could argue that the production of Avalon in 1982 was far more future-istic than the first two Roxy albums in the literal sense of pointing ahead to how a lot of rock music would sound in the CD age.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The glittering metropolis towards which Paulie and Kylie are driving in Words and Music—“the capital city of Pleasure”, “the concrete city of information”—always struck me as no place I’d really care to visit. I imagined it as being something like an unimaginably vast and shinily sterile music megastore. That, or like the interior of an iPod, an impossibly dense, coldly seething non-space of sound transubstantiated into data. At one point Morley describes it as “a city of lists”, which make me wonder if he actually knew about iPods when he wrote the book, or even more intriguingly, somehow sensed they were coming, that the logic of music in the digital era dictated that a device like that would come into existence.

Well what do you know, Apple, or their ad agency, appear to have read W & M, whose subtitle, lest we forget, is A History Of Pop In The Shape Of A City. Just look at their new iPod/I-Tunes TV commercial. “Frantic City" is the spot’s title and it shows a frenetically self-assembling cityscape of skyscrapers and apartment blocks built out of CD covers, which collapse like houses of cards and deliquesce into a dazzling stream of audio-visual data that's then decanted at a furious bit-rate into, you guessed it, an iPod. Advertising Age comments, “Well, yes, an iPod loaded with a thousand or so songs from iTunes is something of a city of music” , and singles out for special praise the commercial's soundtrack, "Cubicle" by Rinocerose.” A Pro-Tooled and techno-turbocharged version of Jet/Vines-style garage punk, the tune’s chorus sneers “you spend all your time/in a little cubicle/a cubicle”. The implication seems to be that I-Tunes can free you up into a world of hearing outside the box, a brave new multiverse of shattered genre-barriers and listening-without-prejudice. Which is intriguing in light of the emerging critique of open-mindedness. Might there not be a sense in which Kapital wants and requires omnivorous consumers, non-partisan and promiscuously eclectic? And that conversely, obsession and fidelity are fundamentally opposed to its interests. Obsession, after all, asserts the irreplaceableness of the object of desire, its singularity and pre-eminence over all the other goods on the market; it rejects the idea of "plenty more fish in the sea". Devout fans of a particular band take themselves out of the market: at a certain point, there are simply no more things to buy (although the industry has tried to exploit the fixated and loyal by encouraging reconsumption—all those Deluxe Expanded double-disc versions of albums you already own, endless live DVDs, and so forth—a case perhaps of the corporate music biz imitating the black market of bootlegs and foreign-TV-appearance video-comps that has served fandom for so long). The ultimate example of fanaticism’s anti-consumerist logic is the diehard who arrests pop time at the lost golden age—the Teddy Boy or old skool raver, the period fetishist or genre patriot who only plays the golden oldies, over and over and over again. True believers and keep-the-faithers like these are no use to Kapital because they have opted out of its endless cycles of neophilia and obsolescence, the turnover that ensures a healthy turnover.

A few weeks ago I referred to Words and Music as Pop-ism’s Mein Kampf but I should really have said Das Kapital—what the book imparts is actually surprisingly non-egocentric, much closer to a structuralist diagram of how pop works, where its logic is leading. The City is a place where “all that’s solid melts into air.” Music becomes insubstantial—in the sense that it sheds all those various forms of “substance” prized by rockism, unburdening itself of the ponderous encumbrances of social context and biographical input that tether it to the Real, the freight of content and intent that keep it weighted down with Weightiness. Near the end of the book, Morley writes of pop’s role in a transition “from rooted reality dwelling into a rootless post-reality heaven and hell, where desires can be satisfied instantly, where pleasure can be constant… where our lives are run by remote companies in remote control of our needs and wants, where everything that has ever happened is available, all at once, all around us, in the universe in the shape of a city mashed into a room slipped inside our head.” That passage is the only wrinkle of ambivalence in the odd closing chapter, which is disconcerting because it doesn’t read like Morley but like something out of an early 90s edition of Mondo 2000 or Wired: techno-utopian verging on capitalist-mystical. The city where “everything that has ever happened is available” sounds bizarrely similar to the loony notion of a Universal Library written about recently by Kevin Kelly in a New York Times Magazine cover article—he envisages every book and every magazine article ever written, in all languages, and eventually every movie/TV program/cultural artifact EVER, being gathered into one vast database accessible to all—which glorious prospect isn’t enough for Kelly, who then imagines the Universal Library getting miniaturized and compressed into an iPod-size device that everyone of us will carry around wherever we go (presumably because on the subway to work you might just need to refer to an editorial from an 1865 editorial in the Brattleboro Reformer, or a Sanskrit scroll, or...). Where Morley writes about how in his city of sonic information every item on every (play)list leads to another set of lists, Kelley drools about the prospect of hyperlinks that connects the concepts and key words in any given text to myriad other instances, a
paper(less) chase of endlessly receding references and footnotes, a dementia of reading lists and annotations (share your margin-scribblings with your friends!). Both, intriguingly, allude to the immortal nature of these edifices of data, a hint of that extropian hope that it’s possible to cheat death. Kelley’s pocket-portable micro-cosmopolis, Morley/Apple’s “city of music” that fits into a cigarette packet-sized memory box---these are the latest versions of the Singularity that all West Coast techno-utopians seem to believe is nigh, the point where the exponenential curve of Progress reaches vertical: a smiley-face version of the Apocalypse, in which the accumulation of all Knowledge = Enlightenment = World Unity aka the Global Village/Love’s Body/the BwO/etc. A fantasy of Total Connectivity as the End of Difference and the End of History. What’s repressed in this scenario is the fact of finitude—the finitude of resources, of an individual’s time; the limits to the sensorium’s ability to process information (there’s a speed at which stuff isn’t even experienced as such). The liquefaction of culture is actually the liquidation of culture......

No, this City doesn't sound like a place I'd enjoy living at all.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Pernicious adequacy afflicts the film world too, not just music. Well, so says A.O. Scott, more or less, in this NYT piece on the malaise of middling middlebrow movies, entitled "Where Have All the Howlers Gone?". As it'll be subscribers-only any minute now, I'll just go ahead quote big chunks of it:

"Just last summer the air was filled with anxiety about an apparent box-office slump, as journalists and studio executives alike wondered why fewer people seemed to be going to the movies. The most obvious explanation - or at least the one I favored at the time - was that the movies just weren't good enough. But now that the season of list-making and awards-mongering is upon us and the slump talk has quieted down, I find myself preoccupied with a slightly different, not unrelated worry: What if the problem with Hollywood today is that the movies aren't bad enough? Which is not to say that there aren't enough bad movies. Quite the contrary. There is never a shortage, and there may even be a glut. The number of movies reviewed in The New York Times - those released in New York - grows every year; in 2005 it will approach 600. Given that so much human endeavor is condemned to mediocrity - like it or not, we spend most of our lives in the fat, undistinguished middle of the bell curve - it is hardly surprising that many of these pictures turn out not to be very good. But the very worst films achieve a special distinction, soliciting membership in a kind of negative canon, an empyrean of anti-masterpieces. It is this kind of bad movie - the train wreck, the catastrophe, the utter and absolute artistic disaster - that seems to be in short supply.
And this is very bad news. Disasters and masterpieces, after all, often arise from the same impulses: extravagant ambition, irrational risk, pure chutzpah, a synergistic blend of vanity, vision and self-delusion. The tiniest miscalculation on the part of the artist - or of the audience - can mean the difference between adulation and derision. So in the realm of creative achievement, the worst is not just the opposite of the best, but also its neighbor. This year has produced plenty of candidates for a Bottom 10 (or 30 or 100) list, but I fear that none of the bad movies are truly worthy of being called the worst. And this may be why so few are worthy of being considered for the best..... There are fewer and fewer movies being made that send us from the theater reeling and rubbing our eyes, wondering "what the heck was that?" or demanding a refund. For precisely that reason, we are less and less likely to emerge breathless and dazzled, eager to go back for more and unable to forget what we just saw

Another parallel between music and film: the remake phenomenon. When did it start? I don't remember there being remakes at all when I was a youth in the 1970s and early Eighties, unless you count A Star Is Born, and the only famous example from the classic Hollywood studio era I can think of The Philadelphia Story getting turned into High Society (which a/ turned into a different kind of movie all together, a musical and b/ the remake is such a classic anyway). I'm not counting Hollywood remakes of foreign films, just thinking of remakes where the motivation is that the film was already a blockbuster the first time round, ie. that mixture of play-safe meets imaginative failure meets exploiting nostalgia/retro-kitsch. What was the first real example of that, cineastes and scholars?

The parallel between rock-retro and movie-retro isn't precise. You get bands who'll base themselves almost entirely on another earlier band, but you don't get groups who decide to remake a classic rock-canon album. (Well, that's not true, it's happened a few times--Pussy Galore redoing Exile on Main Street, other examples I'm sure--but always as a way-marginal, art-conceptualist move, i.e. nothing like the mainstream blockbuster remake a la King Kong, Bad News Bears, etc). Still there' s definitely a similar kinda lameness at work, a failure of nerve that proves that retro-mania isn't just a pop/rock-specific phenomenon but a culture-wide malaise.
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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

retromystique and the fetishisation of obsolete playback devices & blank media

first there was this book by thurston moore on the mixtape as bygone art form and objet de cathexis

then talk on dissensus about walkman chic versus incipient naffness of ipods

and talk elsewhere about the appeal of cassette-sound for its analogue warmth, possible collectability of pre-recorded cassettes, tapes as period signifiers, the cassette-only compilation as postpunk (touch, disques du crepuscule, etc) art form non pareil, etc etc

and now this!! ) (perservere past all the japanese characters installation bizniz and you will be amply rewarded with a feast for the eyes) (link courtesy of philip sherburne)

i can't honestly ever imagine this happening to the CD single or the cd-r for that matter, but who knows...



Monday, November 15, 2010

Typically interesting piece by Nick Sylvester at Riff City about going back to a record he didn't like and gave a jaw-droppingly low (from my point of view) grade when he reviewed it for Pitchfork six years ago--Doldrums by Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti--and seeing what he makes of it now. The answer is "not much, still" but that's not the interesting bit, it's his theory that Ariel Pink's music can only be enjoyed through the mediation of a Theory.

It's interesting but I think Nick has got it arse about tit as we say in the United Kingdom. It's not that Ariel Pink supporters (and I remember there being a lot of them right off the bat, circa Doldrums and Worn Copy) didn't really care for the music that much and then came up with an elaborate rationalisation to convince themselves that it was good, important, etc. That would be perverse! No, it was much more about having an overwhelming aesthetic and emotional response and then trying to understand what was going on in the music that produced that affect. (My first proper attempt is in the profile of Ariel that is the second half of this Animal Collective/Paw Tracks piece. I also have a smaller go here). It's not a case of selling oneself on the idea of enjoying something, it's "why am I enjoying this, and enjoying it so much?".

Equally, as much as it would be flattering to think that the Theory then led to hypnagogic pop/chillwave, it seems vastly more the case that the music (Ariel's mainly, a few others) engendered the wave. If theory made any contribution it was only to the extent to which the ideas were already embodied in the music. A parallel here would be shoegaze, with Ariel Pink as My Bloody Valentine... a second wave of groups emerge that are largely inspired by the music but are also affected by the discourse that swirled around the group (and similar ones like A.R. Kane).

This is not to downplay the value of theorisation, just to put it into perspective--if a theory doesn't work as a description of the music, an eludication and heightening, it isn't going to have any purchase, power, point. So the music come first--and that has always been the case, actually, whether we're talking hauntology, post-rock, whatever. (Of course there's an argument that once a theory has been cobbled together there is an inevitable tendency to look for more evidence to bolster and perpetuate it, resulting in the conceptual-intellectual equivalent to city-scene boosterism--e.g.The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays drew attention to Manchester, resulting in unwarranted attention and exposure for Northside, Paris Angels, The High, etc).

The most thought-provoking bit in Nick's piece is where he asks what the difference really is between "nostalgic" and "derivative". Several months ago I had a sticky moment where it suddenly struck me that the arguments I might make in favour of Ariel Pink might equally be made in favour of Guided By Voices, a band I detested, philosophically as much as musically, in the mid-90s (they seemed to me to be like a one-band American Britpop). It almost made me go back and listen to GbV's records a la Nick returning to Doldrums (somehow I never quite got around to that). Ariel Pink's music does fairly often border on pastiche. What I think makes it different in the end comes down to personality. True pasticheurs erase themselves completely in pursuit of formalist perfection; if personality comes through at all it is likely to be personable, pleasant, well-adjusted (e.g. Matthew Sweet); pasticheurs and classicists tend to be fan-boys, they lack the narcissism (a/k/a emptiness inside) necessary to be stars (if stardom was their motivation they'd be more likely to be doing something contemporary-sounding rather than retro-niche, probably). As much as Pink might be reaching for the purity of these bygone radio-rock and MTV-pop forms, it is all filtered through the prism of his character and his life experience. That prism is murky (something I tried to get at in this year's profile). The fragmentary, marred, maculate sound of the earlier recordings could perhaps be seen not just as an aesthetic choice (radio out of tune, mottled decaying memories etc) but also as a kind of acting out, like a razor slashing through a canvas.... or a deliberate falling short of perfection-as-lie. Before Today is cleaned up and orderly by comparison with Doldrums and Worn Copy, but in the best songs you can still hear "negative drive" (to use Devoto's term), in the vocals and the lyrics, which are mostly forlorn, bleak, cynical, nihilistic, lost, confused etc. The driven-ness and anguish is what gives Ariel his edge over most of the wistful, washed-out (if likeable) music made in his wake. It is also why his records were worth building a theory around.

ednesday, October 30, 2002

Wallowing Shamelessly in Technostalgia.
In mitigation, the night did trigger a few thoughts. For instance (much as I’m sceptical about cyclical, every-ten-year theories of pop culture) it did occur to me that the history of rave could be periodized in half-decade chunks (rave moving twice as fast as rock, naturally). 1988>>92 (the golden age from which DB & Dara cherrypicked their relentless onslaught of classics), is rave’s Sixties: the music glows with the starry-eyed, virginal euphoria of a culture’s extreme youth. 1992>>1997 would be its Seventies: fragmentation, darkness, aesthetic bloating (Timeless as Tales from Topographic Oceans) versus strategies of renewal-through-reduction (minimal techno). 1998>>2002 is clearly the Eighties: irony, self-reflexiveness, revivals galore.

Rave nostalgia--all those different old skool revivals---is a fascinating phenomenon: the irony of such an intensely future-fixated subculture being so prey to looking back, fetishising its own hallowed origins and lost moments. It really puzzled me until I realised, well, it’s just like me: I’m always decrying nostalgia and retro, but I’m also highly susceptible to that emotion. I can remember being five and looking back wistfully to how great things were when I was four! In terms of rave, I can feel a separate and distinct pang for each stage of the hardcore/jungle continuum: the nutt-E madness of ’92, darkcore’s shadow falling across the dancefloor in ’93, ’94 and the unparalleled bounty of ragga-jungle versus artcore, ’95 and the Speed versus AWOL schism, ’96 the year of No U Turn… Sigh, sigh, sigh, sigh, and sigh.

Maybe rave’s weakness for nostalgia is somehow integral to the future-mania, different facets of an acute sense of temporality?

I thought it was bizarre enough when you started to get Back to ’97 speed garage nights (mind you, that was five years ago, which would sorta fit the half-decade theory). But I know a few people who already feel wistful for the golden days of 2step: '98, '99, the moment just before it went mainstream. (As objectively as I can manage, the tunes from that moment do sound better: more exciting perhaps because the genre hadn’t yet fully arrived at itself, the tunes sounding incomplete but full of potential).

There’s another aspect to all this, what you could call anticipatory nostalgia: when you’re in a Moment, and suddenly think "will I remember this fondly one day?". With music, I’ve found that this question never raises itself when you actually are living through a period that turns out later to be regarded as a Golden Era. During post-punk, or late Eighties bliss-rock, or hardcore/jungle, I never thought about posterity: I was too fully immersed in the here-and-now, it felt like this Moment would extend itself in perpetuity. But when you’re actually ambivalent about a contemporary pop phenomenon, not wholly convinced or seduced (see: electroclash), I find the question becomes irresistible: you can't imagine who could possibly look back on this one day and feel an ounce of nostalgia.

PRE-BLISSBLOG  - FROM UNFAVES 2001 (off the old website A White Brit Rave Aesthete Thinks Aloud) 


I was enjoying the Avalanches show at SOBs, NYC, late 2001: not the full band playing live, but the two DJs doing their mesh-it-up back-2-back across four (or was it six?) turntables thingy. Really enjoying it, actually, but somehow through the pleasure I could sense what I can only describe as "lameness on the horizon". The set was consistently surprising and clever, full of delightfully incongruous-yet-apt juxtapositions and montages, all executed with consummate turntablist skill. You couldn't help smiling when "Like A Rolling Stone" surfaced out of the midst of some banging house track, like nothing could be more natural.

But as I say, there was something vaguely disquieting at the back of it, a premonition of disappointment, ennui, sort of "is that all there is?" mixed with "how much longer can this kind of thing carry on being exciting/worthwhile/surprising." At the end of the day, everybody's got cool records, everybody's got interesting taste and provocative ideas about links and secret connections. (Well, not everybody, perhaps-- but most people I know, and most people reading this, I suspect). In a certain sense, everybody could do what The Avalanches do--maybe not with anything approaching their degree of flawless dexterity, but then again, seamlessness is over-rated, donchathink?.

I felt a similar split response to Gold Teeth Thief, DJ Rupture's highly-regarded three-turntable mix-CD, which mashes up a taste formation that's right on the money vis-a-vis my personal audio-erogenous zones (post-Timbaland R&B, street rap, dancehall) spiced up with some Ambush-style splatterbreaks and bhangra for nice non-obviousness. It's a great selection, and technically dazzling, but once again, doesn't quite transcend the hey-I've-got-some-wicked-tunes-wanna-hear-em? syndrome. (Coldcut's celebrated Journeys By DJ mix-CD of many seasons ago, always left me underwhelmed for similar reasons. i.e. the ultimate lameness of "eclectic" as concept/praise word).

Sort of on the same tip, and inducing a similar ambivalence, are all those Kid606-and-friends homage-through-defacement/dismemberment jobs on Missy Elliott, NWA etc: these are well-intended expressions of genuine enthusiasm for mainstream black pop, and because that music is often underestimated and patronised within IDM circles, there's a certain heretical-polemical edge to these releases. And yet in the end all they're really saying is we really REALLY like these Missy Elliott records. Plus there's a certain pathos to the tribute-cum-desecrations: if only we could be this cool, if only we could pull off the avant-garde yet massively popular/potent balancing act too.
Now wouldyabelieveit, in the interval between starting Unfaves early in the New Year and actually completing the bugger, an entire subculture, nay movement, has sprung up that gives my premonition of lameness-on-the-horizon all-too-solid form. I'm talking about the bootleg/"bastard pop" craze, of course.

Well, that was my initial knee-jerk reaction, and having checked out some of them, it's only been slightly tempered: reams of poor man's plunderphonia, cackhanded and so-very-far-from-alchemy (ie. the kind of transubstantiation which the Avalanches's actual album achieves), leavened by the occasional mass-cult chimera (The Normal + Missy Elliott = Girls On Top's "Warm Bitch") that sounds genuinely striking and even makes an interesting meta-pop critique by linking two apparently remote yet secretly compatible artists.

It's tempting to speculate wildly on the phenomenon. Bootlegging as the expression of subconscious ressentiment on the part of the peon-like punter, a desire to somehow cut down to size the tyrannical uber-pop that invades our consciousness, literally fucking with it by forcing pop stars into kinky congress (a preview of the inevitable D-I-Y movie-remixes to come: Cameron Diaz fisting Brad Pitt while he reams a donkey, etc). Bootlegging as a reversal of the monologic vertical structure of the music industry: the force-fed consumer answering back, with regurgitation. Or (a more positive punk interpretation, this) bootlegging as an attempt to participate in pop, which is otherwise delivered from on high, totally out of reach and inaccessible; the DIY impulse achieving that million-dollar sound the only way it can, theft.

Actually, the fad seems driven by little more than the age-old phenomenon of fandom: people who like music, all sorts of music, and the only way they can think to express that all-gates-open (a nice way of saying "uncritical"?) enthusiasm is through arranging it into different patterns, except now they have the technology to do it in a much more extreme way, and live in a time more inundated by pop past and present than ever. Bootleg as more compressed form of the mix-tape-for-your-mate, in other words. Take Osymyso's "Intro Inspection"--a witty and expertly executed montage of hundreds of famous pop intros, from "The Message" to "Love Cats", Sinatra to Spice Girls. It is possibly the zenith of the bootleg phenomenon, if only because in 12 minutes it manages to cram in all the enjoyment and all the incipient-lameness-ahoy! that the Avalanches DJs mustered across a three hour set. It's impossible to listen to "Intro Inspection" without a fat grin creasing your face for most of its duration, and also impossible (for me at least) to not feel a certain shame tainting the glee. Cos that Cheshire grin is a smile of recognition ("oh, yeah that's X... isn't that Y... ah!...nice!"...) and as sensations-that-pop-music-can-induce go, it's all a bit cosy and self-congratulatory and selling yourself short.

Not wishing to resurrect some ancient notion of creativity ex nihilo, but underlying and unifying all the above, I sense a tendency towards entropy: indistinctness, inertia, ultimately indifference. Whether it's good (Since I Left You) or bad (most bootlegs), what we're witnessing is the kind of sonic grand bouffe only possible during a late era. Could it be that the age of retro-mania/file-sharing/sampladelia--where time has effectively been abolished--enables us to use the abundance of the past to obscure the failings and lacks of the present? Well, it's a thought...


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