Friday, March 11, 2005

Check it out, in the April issue of Uncut, on newstands now in the UK, gotta a feature on Scritti Politti based around the Early reissue. Kind of a taster for Rip It Up and Start Again, itself out on April 21 in the UK, except I managed to write something that barely overlaps with the book’s chapter on the squatland diy-era Scrits, on account of getting a terrific interview from Green. He was charming, self-deprecating, and despite repeatedly insisting he has a terrible memory, really detailed in his recollections of the period. Despite his continued misgivings about the music first-phase Scritti made, he obviously has very fond memories of that whole time. I’ll put the full transcript of the conversation up with the launch of the Rip It Up website, which will gradually add footnotes to all the chapters, along with further transcripts and other material.

One thing Green referred en passant struck me as both amusing and oddly resonant. Last year Geoff Travis was given some kind of Mojo Award for his lifetime’s contribution to British music, and at the ceremony, Green and Carl Barat from the Libertines appeared onstage to jointly present the award to their benefactor. That chalk-and-cheese pairing struck me as containing volumes--or at least a decent-sized essay--about the last 25 plus years of British independent music culture. The obvious thing to say would be to see it as symbolizing a contraction of vision, a loss of ambition, sonic risk, and a sense of purpose: from Scritti’s attempt to dismantle rock form and rock ideology to the Libertines rehashing of rock’n’roll's (in)elegantly wasted Romantic dissolute-ness, all that worn threadbare mythology and its attendant sonic clichés.

When I interviewed Mayo Thompson, formerly Travis’ colleague at Rough Trade, for the book, a remark of his captured something of this narrative of diminuendo: he described how Travis ultimately settled into the role of “an expert on a certain kind of classic guitar group”--referring to The Smiths and Jesus & Mary Chain (who Travis took on when he started Blanco Y Negro), but you could certainly extend that to the Strokes and the ‘Tines. When you compare that to the prime-period RT possibility-space that encompassed This Heat, The Raincoats, Pere Ubu, Young Marble Giants, Essential Logic, Scritti, those Robert Wyatt singles, Swell Maps, Mayo's own group The Red Crayola, etc etc… well it’s hard to see how you couldn’t take it as a contraction. It's a shift that was crystallized semantically in the gulf between “independent” and “indie.” Still, as you know, I have a weakness for the Libertines, and almost out of perversity, I’d like to see if I can make a different argument.

[Long pause]

Well, actually, the better ‘Tines song have a certain messthetic fractured splintery thing going on with the guitar, albeit closer to Subway Sect than Scrits. And there’s a surprising amount of space left in the sound (on the latest album, that is. The first one--generally regarded as stronger by most fans and critics--sounds a lot more conventional to my ears, the guitars filling up the soundstage in a boring "thick" sound, Oasis-style. Whereas the second album has one of the best productions--in the quasi-naturalistic sense of capturing, or simulating, a group playing in a shared acoustic space--I’ve ever heard, glistening and spacious and with this radiant aura of presence. Too bad the songwriting is so erratic). Hmm, what else? Well, there’s a certain charisma of frail thin pretty young men getting fucked up going on in both groups. Seems like Scritti could have given Doherty & Co a serious run for their money on the drink’n’drugs debauchery front.... Green hid it well but there’s more of a Brit-Sixties thing going on in the music than you’d think, a childhood love of Beatles and Kinks. And don’t the ‘Tines come out of some kind of squat scene? Playing gigs in your fans’ living rooms is kind of breaking with rock routines, barriers between audiences and performers etc, it’s quite anarcho-diy. (Even if it’s just to raise funds for smack and crack).

[Longer pause]

Nope, can’t do it--it’s definitely a decline!
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