Thursday, August 10, 2006

"Plastic is the material of the future, after all..."

And the final instalment of the Tony Ogden RIP bonanza--bit of an oblique one, this: a piece that’s not actually about World Of Twist, but is in some ways a call for bands like them to come into existence. Written late 1989 or early 1990 (I’m not sure), a Melody Maker interview with Last Few Days, a long-forgotten band who started out industrial and then went through a remarkable glam metamorphosis.


A little over a year ago, a demo tape turned up in the post, from the now-defunct Product Inc*. The group's name,Last Few Days, stirred faint memories of a shaven-headed, vaguely totalitarian outift, with a single on the Touch label: a spartan electro work-out with the apocalyptic title "Too Much Is Never Enough". So I popped the tape in the machine, expecting something collectivist/constructivist, and out of the speakers leapt this crazed glam bubblegum apocalypse. "Soul Destroyer" and"Yes I Would" were all shockadelic attack and dead-eyed riffs, apoplectic menace ("I don't know what I want/I blow you apart") and brutally vacant intensity. "Wild" sounded like the missing link between Glitter's "Rock 'N' Roll Pt Two"and Cool J's "Rock The Bells". "Kix" was like Southern fried Spiders From Mars. And "Hot Tonite" was deliciously rubberised pulp funk, all bass squelch and spandex swank.

Raw raunch; self-preening vocals; rebellion in a void, without rationale, context or content; a kind of enflamed artifice. Last Few Days seemed to have found their way to the absence at the heart of glam. Their music suggested all manner of reference points - Alice Cooper, Glitter, The Sweet, Hello, T. Rex, KC and The Sunshine Band, Billy Idol - whose common denominator was an enormous instantaneous impact that burned out leaving nary a singe mark on the "official" history of pop. As '89 proceeded, and the noise extremists began to run up against definite limits, Last Few Days stragegy - updating the emptily sensationalist gestures and effects of Seventies glam - began to seem like an exciting option. After all, the early Seventies was the last time that extremity and pop had co-existed, as the norm.

Since then, I bided my time til Last Few Days got their shit together. Eventually they signed to Phonogram, with the single "Kicks" b/w "Hot Tonite" announcing a new, groovier direction. Finally I got to talk to Keir and Si, the core of LFD, over afternoon tea at Fortnum and Masons.

How did they come to make this massive leap from avant-gardism to trash pop?

Kier: "What we did back then was part of its era, that period after punk had killed everything off. It was a black couple of years, and that kind of soundtrack just seemed appropriate. There was a feeling around of the End of things. The late Seventies and early Eighties felt like music and culture in the death throes, really. Hence the obsession with noise and the darker side of things."

When did all that extreme noise terror become invalid for you?

“It wasn't a conscious decision, just that the times changed. As the Eighties wore on, we felt the music needed a more positive feel."

How did you come to reawaken to Seventies music? What's been lost from that period?

"A naivety, a sort of joyous expression, before punk and the late Seventies made you look at things twice, look at things harder. But you can't separate your experience of those things from your mentality at that time, and we were young. So the memory is tinged with innocence."

What Seventies groups in particular appealed to you?

"It was more that the whole area of mass music, commercial music, suddenly seemed interesting for the first time after a long period. It suddenly seemed like it was possible to express yourself within those confines. We started to listen to Radio One, and just got more into regular music, after years of extremism. We had been playing to three hundred people, and you don't feel like you're achieving very much. When we did this thing in Eastern Europe, we sometimes played to three thousand people, and that felt more real. We visited Poland and Hungary and Yugoslavia, playing with Laibach. The intention back then was total culture clash. Especially in Eastern Europe, we wanted to leave people with brain damage. We were trying to do shows that people would never forget."

Maybe the connection between what you did then and what you do now is that the early Seventies was the last time that shock rock could be chart pop. Even bubblegum groups like The Sweet and Sparks had a perverse hysteria to them.

Si: "They also had such a massive sense of fun, and wackiness, and I think that's really missing. We're trying to inject a bit of that. That real monster irreverent vibe."

I throw some of my thoughts at the pair. To me, it seemed like LFD had taken all the pinnacles of pop at its most inauthentic - glam rock, Bowie's plastic soul and plastic funk phase ("Fame", "Golden Years", "Fashion"), even the honky superstar pseudo-disco of Rod Stewart and Rolling Stones during their most discredited, mid-Seventies trough - and aggregated their most fabricated aspects.

"Plastic-y," nods Si. "Yeah, we're into that."

Kier: "Plastic is the material of the future, after all..."

The lyrics too aren't authentic or torn from the heart, but more like a string of fantastical buzzwords and fizzy doggerel.

"Fantasy and the fantastic is more inspiring to us, than that 'dear diary' approach to songwriting."

When I listen to "Hot Tonite" I imagine this rock star, wrapped in a fur stole, cruising around in a limousine from discotheque to discotheque, hustling for chicks and action. The new Last Few Days seems very pleasure-principled and hedonistic. The songs are all about kicks, getting down, groovin', "flying high". A stark constrast to their early days of shaven austerity and severity. New songs like "Work" and "Satisfy" are very much in the groovamatic "Hot Tonite" vein. Have they dropped the shock rock of that early demo tape?

"At the moment we're not really into the rockier stuff. It was kind of a bridge between the old Last Few Days and where we are now. Dance music and electronic music: there's a kind of purity to them. Perfect beats and clean noises**. Music is moving towards that cleanliness and plastic-ness. The Nineties are more about that purity."

But your groove is much more dirty and lowdown and from the hip, than House, which, as brilliant as it is, is pretty sexless.

"I think it's a different ... sort of sex, maybe. But dancing is never gonna be sexless, is it? I just think that the technology of pop is dragging music kicking and screaming into the machine age. People just can't match machines, can they? The sort of things we were into, extreme frequencies that affect people in ways they can't help, I'd like to do that to people in their living rooms rather than in some sleazy cinema."

Si: "I'm not sure I agree with all these notions of music being subversive and all that."

Kier: "Music on a mass market scale is an expression of the unconscious of the society, and it's a challenge if you're a musician to see to what extent your creative urges can fit in with that. And see if something new and the masses can coincide."

What might be jarring about Last Few Days if they charted is that their music is juvenile and ego-centric in a way that's been disallowed by the post-Live Aid consensus that pop should be adult-erated with altruism.

"A lot of that is just shallow guilt after having made a lot of money."

Like all successful capitalists, it's an attempt to to legitimate their domination with philanthropic acts.

"But it's inevitable that the generation that grew up with pop should want to start to shoulder responsibilites, rather than growing old disgracefully like the Stones. But you're advocating irresponsible pop music?"

I think that pop has lost touch with both its drive (the self) and its domain (the present tense). Pop is about burning up like there's no tomorrow.

Si: "Doesn't that make the caring pop more of an innovation?"

Historically, maybe. But I think the music's weakened because it's less ruthless, less carnivorous... But how will Last Few Days be live?

Si: "A big party, lots happening. Mayhem. Which is what we used to do. Going to see a band is such a boring thing, in a way."

Will you dress up?

Kier: "I think it's your duty. Don't you? I've got my eye on some nice yellow fur suits. Fake fur."

How does something as foxy and neon as "Hot Tonite" spring out of your everyday life? Is it a reaction against your life?

“It's more like a dislocation. I think every person is complicated, has lots of parts to them, and music is a way of giving voice to some of those parts."

So your secret self is a raver?*** Fey but rampant?

"I feel quite schizophrenic about it. When I get in a vocal booth, I feel I can let anything out. Fuck knows, what I do, you'd have to be there. Everybody has a greater potential, I think. The old Last Few Days had a much more group expression, where we presented a flat, aggressive, emotiveless front. We were provocateurs, and some gigs in East Europe got stopped by the police. We were never out to entertain people. We were out to provoke them, or upset them. Now we're trying to caress them. Tantalise them. I can't really imagine what we were trying to do before. I suppose it must have felt good and right for us then, but looking back it just seems perverse. Nasty. But it's hard to separate that from how you feel at 21. You feel the need to get a reaction, you feel negative towards the world. Now, all that seems black, nihilistic, heavy. You can generate just as much energy through having fun."


* Product Inc -- affiliated to Mute if I recall right; vaguely similar to Blast First; seemed quite a crucial label for a moment there (their roster included World Domination Enterprises)

** After the debut single Last Few Days misguidedly went “house”, their second single was really disappointing, shedding everything that made them seem exciting, and they faded away completely. I think they never even got to record an album.

*** “raver” used here not re. the contemporary E culture but in the Sixties sense--nympholeptic fan

I guess this Last Few Days piece is almost a manifesto for my own personal brand of POPISM, rooted not so much in New Pop as Nik Cohn’s SuperPop. (I’ve sometimes wondered what Cohn would have liked in the ‘70s if he had not lost interest in pop not long after Sgt Pepper’s when everything went bearded, self-serious and concepty. Would he have been into Bowie and Roxy, or found them too clever-clever and art-school? Surely he’d have dug Marc Bolan and T-Rextasy--although maybe the music itself wouldn’t have been LOUD enough for Cohn the Spector fan. Slade? Alice Cooper? He fell for disco obviously and even had a role in inventing its mainstreamed version with the fictionalized "report" on Brooklyn nightclubbers he did for New York magazine that became the source for Saturday Night Fever). C.f. “camp sublime” as used later in the WoT reviews, which I think is either something I nicked off Fredric Jameson, whose thick tome on postmodernism and late capitalism I’d just read/reviewed, or a concept reached with his help, as it were. The “sublime” is the rockist tinge to SuperPop: the craving for shock, sensation, having your eyes blown, pop as a force from above that leaves you rapt and raptured. And it’s that element (thoroughly absent in yer actual chartpop of that era, e.g. Stock Aitken Waterman’s brand of mild ‘n’ perky) which gives the Neo-SuperPop proposed here its bygone quality, that sepia-tint of epigonic yearning. Because those were different times.... and when bands materialised with similar ideas.... WoT, Denim, Saint Etienne... they would all fail. A failure that indicted the times maybe (in what godless universe does "Avenue" not become #1 for six weeks?!?!?!?), but so what… Of them all, only Pulp would make it.

(If WoT and their “moment” had a legacy, it was, I think, Big Beat’s “rave’n’roll”. The Chemical Brothers were indelibly marked by their time in Madchester. WoT were the first of the Manc-area/era bands not to sound baggy-mellow but uptempo/speed-E, to have a stompy Northern Soul beat rather than hazy-lazy shufflefunk looped for E-ternity. WoT's combination of techno-like rush-thrust dynamism with “warm” analog-y sounds is very Big Beat; there’s a track Fatboy Slim used to play a lot, either by or remixed by a breaks outfit called Soul of Man, that’s almost like a drastic dub version or distant cousin of “Sons of the Stage”, a this terrific whooshy chugger (wish I knew what it was called). As legacies go it’s not a bad one for WoT to have: much maligned then and now, but once the fog clears--the pall of cool--I reckon there’s three or four things by the Chems, three or four things by Fatboy, and Bentley Rhythm Ace’s "Return of the Hardcore Jumble Carbootechnodisco Roadshow" that will STAND as classics of Nineties dance production (“Everybody Needs A Filter” is just consummate), and will at veryleast outlast ooh the entire werks of Soma/Peacefrog/Dave Angel.)

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