Tuesday, February 27, 2007

here follows some disordered thoughts and data chunks about metal, hipster and non-hipster... strung across several blogposts, with more to follow (well probably)


i'm thinking "hipster metal", maybe it's a bit like "intelligent drum'n'bass"-- something that's organically evolved out of the real thing --Sunn O))) being original metalheads i believe --but they've now found a different audience and are perhaps subconsciously (or consciously, cannily?) pandering to them a bit. Certainly talking the kind of talk that plays well in the Wire, about liking Coltrane and Tony Conrad and Swans (see the recent Om Invisible Jukebox). Bit like when Photek would talk about being influenced by Carl Craig or Pharoah Sanders (an echo of this recently when Boxcutter talked in a Wire feature about naming a tune "Tauhid").

Then again, Boris, they might be a bit more like Squarepusher or Spring Heel Jack–someone really from outside the metal nuum, attracted to certain elements of the music, exaggerating those aspects to the point where it's something else; or, combining aspects of "the real thing" with elements from totally different musical traditions, experimental this, improv that, noise.... so what they're doing is a new genre (drone 'n' bassssss?) that runs parallel to metal proper, is properly speaking parasitic on it... With them I sense a little bit of ironic distance, or art-house detachment. Others, though, are maybe coming from outside but would really like to be totally inside, be fully accepted (the Boymerang approach).


Someone asked me what I meant by "hipster"... obviously it has tended to be used as a pejorative term, it's something that other people are, a category you wouldn’t want to be identified with, oh no. I might have used it that way myself, for a long time, but I don’t see if that way any longer (c.f. people using "rockcrit" as an insult, the kind of people who use ‘hipster' that way are of course chronic hipsters themselves!). Hipsters, they're people cut from the same cloth as me (except younger and with more energy and spare time!), it's a class designation almost. It's what you might designate as informed opinion, early adopters, people who actively pursue new music and the cutting edge and define themselves through that quest. To collapse an old polarity, the hipster is a fanatical dilettante– that ardour for the new and edgy might take the form of serial monogamy, rather than playing the field (a/k/a eclecticism), but there is an element of evolution of taste (positive spin) aka generic inconstancy/faddism (negative spin).

True metalheads, of course, are loyalists, sticking with the genre through thick and thin, fertile phase and dry spell alike. Generic loyalty of this sort is like Catholic marriage. Til deaf do us part.


K-punk chips in -- love the po-faced versus pomo opposition. I wonder though if Sunn O))) have really escaped the irony/standing-slightly-outside-what-they-do syndrome. Something about the robes makes me think of the KLF, whose Drummond raged against "irony and reference points" as "the dark destroyers of music" but who never quite escaped the curse of knowingness completely. Perhaps in some way Sunn O))) and Boris are like a vastly cleverer and superior-sounding The Darkness for the Wire reader! I bet that's why the true metalheads are suspicious and sniffy about all this hipster metal stufff.


Gek-opel, aka K-punk guest worker Alex Williams (quoted in the post linked above) talked on Dissensus about doom/drone's "negative transcendence" and "raging amniosis". Excellent formulations. It occurred to me later though that essentially what he's talking about is ARSEQUAKE. That whole sub-Bataillean rhetoric of nihilistic jouissance/eroticized apocalypse that some of us at Melody Maker spun around units like Loop (and indeed some of the bits I like most in Boris remind me of Heaven's End, albeit without the period-specific aura--the wah-wah). Arsequake: where bliss and trauma become identical, rend identity asunder. Really, very much an intellectualized (and in my case French theory-ized) version of headbanging. (Flip your wig was the term we favored, borrowed off Husker Du). A few of the groups from that Loop-y period were actually pretty metalloid--Godflesh, for instance, whose Justin Broadrick is grabbing attention again with his Jesu project, "metalgaze"it's been dubbed, ie. shoegazing meets metal. And coming out of the tail-end of pigfuck there was White Zombie, who became horror-shlock industrial-metal stars in the 90s but at one point seemed to belong in the same post-hardcore underworld as Pussy Galore and Sonic Youth.

The Arsequake League (no, we really called ourselves that) had a brief infatuation with metal proper, though, the real thing. I'll get into that in a later post as it's quite involved, but part of it related to changes internal to metal, a new vigour and severity accompanied by a sloughing off (or diminishment) of the sillier aspects of the genre. Another element to the MMetalheads infatuation, though, came because the noisy alt-rock we were into was evolving in directions where at a certain point the resemblances between it and metal were impossible to ignore. Sometimes the bands, aware of where their impulses were leading them, signposted the affinity, eg. Butthole Surfers with "Sweat Loaf", their versioning of "Sweet Leaf". Other outfits who put a rapprochement with metal on the alt-rock agenda included:

* SST (they had a bunch of straight metal bands, most of whom sounded like Graham Bonnet, but also Gone, Greg Ginn's instrumental stop-starty power trio, and more significantly the also all-instrumental Blind Idiot God, who were into metal and dub and Stravinsky. Not forgetting Saint Vitus, the Joe Carducci-produced Sabbath clones who pretty much pioneered doom metal)
* Beastie Boys and their various Led Zep and Sabbath riff-rips.
* loathe as one is to admit it the Cult played a role with their cock rock pasticherie.
* less metal in the classic sense and more "heavy" in the very end of Sixties/very start of Seventies vibe there was Walking Seeds (Blue Cheer, Iron Butterfly, et al) and there was
ex-Lemon Kitten Karl Blake’s band Shock Headed Peters, steeped in the heaviosity of Sabbath, Atomic Rooster and other weirdo Brit bands.
* most relevant to the Arsequake League though was the Young Gods, who derived 50 percent of their sampled riffage from classical music and the other 50 percent from metal.

It's not so much that all these outfits legitimised metal for late 80s hipsters as it is that they just made the sonic proximity so palpable that it was simply illogical not to start concertedly eroding the postpunk prejudice (which, not unjustly, pilloried metal as phallocratic, misogynist, militaristic, reactionary if not outright fascist, etc). And this happened at just the point when a new breed of metal band, influenced by punk and Motorhead, arrived on the scene who represented a kind of Protestant Reformation within metal, a Calvinist paring-down and expunging of decadence, folly, corruption, ornament, etc.

What made this moment of "hipster metal" distinctly different from the current one is that rather than alt-rock types glomming onto an arty offshoot of the mainstream of metal, the bands embraced--Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeath--were among the most popular (with true metalheads) of their day. Another difference: unlike now, where hipsters are impelled metal-wards by a dearth of intense options elsewhere in music, back then there were tons of things going on, outside the mainstream. So the uptake of metal was more a case of "whoopee, one more vital unpop sound to add to the coalition of undergrounds... another margin circling the collapsed centre that is postmodernity!"

No comments: