Wednesday, February 28, 2007

... so I was reminiscing wasn't I, about that strange little phase when the MM crew--or our gang within it--was besotted with metal. In 1988, the same year we had Loop, Spacemen 3, My Bloody Valentine, Front 242, on the front cover, we also put Megadeth on the cover. I can still picture Dave Mustaine's ginger tresses exploding across the front page. David Stubbs did the piece. The idea of him hanging out with Mustaine in New York...

The Stud Bros, who originally looked like metal kids, both long-haired in the early days, were the driving force. They thought Megadeth and Metallica were the bee knees but sniffed a bit at Anthrax as light-weight, right-on fodder (whereas Megadeth and Metallica were rather more conservative in their views). I interviewed Anthrax twice, once at a Dutch metal festival, in Arnhem I think it was. The scenes of baseness and oafish lowliness I witnessed! Not the band, I'm talking about the fans: a Hieronymous Bosch horrorscape of drooling and mooning. It was always somewhat wrenching and cognitively dissonant to have pontificated purply about this music and its assaultive and avant-garde properties based on listening to the records in the decorous confines of your living room and then be confronted with its actual subcultural use. That really was an assault on the sensibilities.

I said before that unlike the current hipster metal thing we were bigging up the least esoteric stuff around, what you might call the mainstream of the metal underground, the ones that would soon crossover but would continue to win metal mag readers polls. But there was one band that was a kind of pet or mascot metal unit for the Arsequake League in a way that was analogous to the "hipster metal syndrome", and that was Gore. No, not Gone; Gore. You've never heard of them, right? Exactly. This Dutch band appear to have left virtually no mark on official metal history*. The Studs discovered them, did the interview, but in the working-as-a-team thing we often favored then, I came on board for the lead review. Maybe I'll dig it up. It was pretty over the top. When I was checking out the modern drone/doom units, as well as being frequently reminded of Saint Vitus, I did also think of Gore now and then. Because they were an instrumental outfit, no vocals at all, and they'd done this distilling-the-form thing that created something not unlike a 45 rpm version of Swans circa Cop. Incredibly austere and punitive, a real killing machine sound. I think the one I reviewed was Hart Gore. Or maybe Mean Man's Dream. As I recall the follow-up, Wrede (A Cruel Peace) was disappointingly turgid.

* supposedly they were the toast of the NYC pigfuck hipoisie though at the same time as we were raving about them... apparently there's a Rollins Band/Gore Live split LP from '87.... Which reminds me: Prong.

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This MMmetalhead phase (and similar things were going on in America critland, Chuck Eddy used to be in stuff like Mark Stewart then all of a sudden he's writing about metal), that wasn't the first hipster metal moment though. I think there had been an earlier phase at NME of tentatively bigging up the harder and noisier end of the music; Barney Hoskyns I seem to recall frothing quite enthusiastically about some thrash bands, and there was that whole point where the line between hardcore (cool) and metal (uncool) got so blurred, with bands like Negative Approach of the great "Tied Down (on a fucking leash')", the distinction became untenable.

And everybody loved ZZ Top, although they're not really true metal I suppose.

I remember hearing "Cheap Sunglasses", some years before the Eliminator breakthrough, by chance on the Tommy Vance show, and being struck, despite my postpunk bigotries, by how damn funky it was. It was like, "hhhmmm, Delta 5, Gang of Four, they aren't the only white folk funking it up".

But at that time, metal was a no-no. The UK music press would do these ritual castigations of it, especially as, in the resurgent form of the NWOBHM, it had become a real threat in terms of capturing the hearts-and-minds of the youth. The genre was critiqued for its blues-bastardising (yet lack of any relation to contemporary black music), for its sexism and misogyny, for its militaristic imagery. One review's last line is burned into my memory: "its inertia is its success is its intertia". Or maybe it was "stasis". Something like that anyway. Poor luckless hacks would be sent off to Knebworth or Donnington and write saddened reports. (I actually got sent to Donnington myself in '87--it was the rockpaper equivalent of being on latrine duty, really a short-straw assignement--and had a similarly traumatic experience). But it was really MM and above all NME who were dismissive of metal during postpunk days, because Sounds totally backed the NWBOHM (they coined the term didn't they?) as well as championing Oi!, both of which were considered loutish anathema by your postpunkers. It was the sexism that was the main problem for us progressive types. And one key development in the rehabilitation of metal was that the sex dropped out of the music. It became sexless and as a side effect sexism-less--in terms of the music, not necessarily the culture or how the bands behaved. The sexlessness was made up for by death-fulness--another key Freudian drive! Metal became totally Thanotic. Or manic-depressive, frenzied hacking one minute, lush suicide balladry a la "Fade to Black" the next. I think it would be hard to find anything equivalent in modern metal imagery that equals the cock-rockin' hyper-phallic misogyny of metal album covers and ads that you'd see in the 70s, which were full of rape imagery and cheesecake. I mean, check this UFO album, the title (Force It, OK pun on 'faucet' except not really... they chose the title before the sleeve was photographed I'm sure ) and the cover image. (Fascinating fact, someone told me that this is actually Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey in the shower; Sleazy did the sleeve as part of his Hipgnosis day-job!).

Hitting the scene circa Metallica and Anthrax, Guns N'Roses were a throwback to metal's phallic days (the name itself, but also the famous--withdrawn--cover on Appetite for Destruction of the woman's who been raped by a robot). Metal was becoming raunch-less, about punishing the body.

Which reminds me: Slayer. That was where I drew the line. Could never get into them.

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And then after the MMetalheads moment, the next phase in terms of UK hipsterdom flirting with metal came with the magazine Lime Lizard. Which used to run, alongside pieces on Belly and Papa Sprain and Lush and Slint and Ultramarine, massive features on Brutal Truth and Neurosis and the like, interviews in which their love of non-metal like MBV and Cocteaus would be prominently mentioned. It was a really good magazine, in some ways what I would have liked MM to have evolved into, a magazine dedicated to a coalition of underground sounds, from techno to metal, industrial to all flavours of alt-rock, from hip hop to experimental Wire-y stuff. The writing could be variable, but, well, the mag most definitely had "vibe". Then Lime Lizard folded, but the editor and some of his core writers founded their own magazine, much tighter in terms of writing quality and design, but similarly omnivorous in terms of content and coverage (metal, again, prominent in the menu). For reasons best known to themselves they elected to call it The Lizard (wanting to build on the earlier reputation/vibe/energy perhaps; I'd have gone for a clean break myself). But despite the mystifying name, this was an excellent music mag--maybe the best of its time. Kind of a bridge between the late Eighties Melody Maker and The Wire.

Lizard lasted about six issues, then folded. After that, the editor/co-founder Nick Terry went to become.... the editor of Terrorizer, where he enjoyed a long and productive reign. When he quit to become a postgraduate student of military history (specialising in Nazi Germany) (metal to the core, that Nick Terry!), his replacement at the tiller of Terrorizer was Jon Selzer (another core member of the Lizard team, but also a contributor to Melody Maker, where he was a sort of one-man Junior Arsequake League). I think Jon is still the editor in fact.
K-punk (dramatically expanding his guest worker program I see!) chips in again. I think he's
misunderstood the comparison between hipster metal and intelligent drum’n’bass*. I wasn’t making a musical comparison so much as a structural and sociological (Bourdieu-stylee) one. There is something analogous between drum’n’bass’s “downplaying rave's 'silliness'” (Mark's words) and Sunn O))) & co's “subtracting metal's residual rock and roll dynamics and sonic pallette in favour of an exploration of forbiddingly featureless anti-climactic drone-plateaus” (ditto). In both cases. there’s a sublimation (or sublime-ation?) of the original music, a shedding of its coarse, rowdy, plebeian trappings and a distilling away of it generic impurities to reveal an essence (an essence, though, not the essence--rich genres are multi-essenced, capable of mutating in multiple directions, seeding entire family trees of successor genres). The motivation for doing this is most likely entirely aesthetic and "pure", ie. the extrapolation/refinement/intensification of a sonic logic immanent to the parent genre (rave/jungle in d&b's case, metal in Sunn O et al's). It just so happens to conveniently open up a whole new niche market of listeners--people who would never have been caught dead at a rave (in the case of Bukem/Photek-style d&B), people until recently who would never have been caught dead at a metal gig (in the case of Sunn 0)))/Boris et al) .

(Now we’re well into the second stage of the hipster uptake which is where the converts to the “subtle”-ized offshoot play catch-up with the music’s prehistory. With D&B that meant people scrabbling to inform themselves about 'ardkore, retroactively buying into the whole rave thing they'd once shied away from. And you can see that process already happening with hipsters moving beyond the Wire-approved artists to black metal, death, thrash, grindcore etc) Eventually some tof hese hipsters will progress to the point of disdaining the hipster-oriented stuff as "lightweight" bizniz and celebrating the real thing--c.f. d&B converts who dropped their gateway drugs (Speeed/Logical Progression/etc) for the harder hit of jump-up or techstep. I’m not judging or mocking any of this people, honest. I just enjoy these games, watching them and participating in them. It’s amusing to see these syndromes play themselves out, the patterns recur!)

Must also beg to differ with Mark re. the KLF analogy. I had loathed JAMMS and Timelords for precisely their "pomo japery" (as Mark puts it) but the KLF tunes actually worked as great techno-rave. I interviewed Bill Drummond in 1990 or 91 and was surprised by how serious he was. He said that it was the religiosity of rave, that whole aspect of collective ritual, being part of a mass of people lost in music, the element of communion and transcendence, that attracted him to rave culture**. Hence "Church Of The KLF" and songs like "3 AM Eternal", a pop take on rave's thing of transcending Time via non-stop trance-dancing. Indeed there's an un-ironic love of music’s religiosity running through Drummond's entire life-in-music, the ardour for soul and country (Tammy Wynette appearing on their record was not a camp joke, or not entirely), the involvement with Echo & The Bunnymen and their quest for a “glory beyond glories”***. So there’s a battle there in Drummond between the impulse to be lost in music, overwhelmed and transported by sound, and the knowingness that is our cultural burden, our blighted inheritance. At any rate I think c.f. Sunn O))) the costumes were KLF’s attempt to bring to the surface and literalise this latent ritualistic and ceremonial aspect to rave. And you’ve got to be on some level serious I think to go to the trouble of schlepping to the remote Scottish island of Jura to hold a Summer Solstice rave, where the KLF and their guests dressed in yellow robes and burned a giant wicker man Druid-style. If I was feeling pretentious this morning, I might even compare the KLF to a pop Acephale (what could be more Bataillean, more Accursed Share-y than burning a million quid? That also took place on the isle of Jura, making it a sacrificial rite). Even Drummond's recent**** No Music Day gesture
is born of a love of and awe for music, a resentment of the way it has been de-sacralised through saturation and repetition and ubiquity. An ascetic gesture, the equivalent of those early Christian hermit flaggelant types who climbed up pillars (eremites?)

Anyway this James Cowdery fellow at BBC Collective agrees with me re. KLF comparison, he filmed Sunn O))) last year.



* the comparison was not meant as a diss, since it’s not as though intelligent drum’n’bass was uniformly rubbish, some great music was made under that banner, it's just that it was distinctly out-numbered by wish-washy drivel.

** the KLF talked about "stadium house" didn't they -- which makes the connection with rock -- hard and heavy bands playing to massive arenas. Course people who hated hardcore techno in 91 used to call it "headbanger house", "heavy metal house". It all fits.

*** the KLF analogy is weirdly strengthened for me by the fact Drummond's old management client Julian Cope is a prominent supporter of the new mystic metal. Cope's whole Head Heritage concept is a classic example of the rock-my-religion impulse tinged with irony and knowingness.

****
actually it seems he launched No Music Day not last year, when it got all the press, but the year before that, according to this Independent piece. Ah, another interesting fact: Drummond's the son of a Presbyterian Minister....
James Parker, who wrote a great book about Henry Rollins some years ago, directs me to his own piece on the hipster metal phenom and makes this "etymological observation":

"the first time i heard the term - was referring not to the Wire'-reading avant-gardeists but to bands like Early Man and the Sword - trad metal, vintage metal i call it - who had been signed to Matador; the suspicion being that they were somehow using the old metal tropes dishonestly, to wow the indie kids (though both of those bands, as far as i can tell, are absolutely diehard Sabbath-heads). the culmination of that perceived tendency i s'pose would be a band like Wolfmother, who do seem a bit, uh, metallically disingenuous."

i had no idea that Matador was an early adopter in this area...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

i'm doing a feature on music documentaries for a film magazine, so would be glad to hear any suggestions of great or overlooked music docs from the last few years
(or indeed to get sent a copy if you happen to be the perpetrator)
here follows some disordered thoughts and data chunks about metal, hipster and non-hipster... strung across several blogposts, with more to follow (well probably)

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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!"

Monday, February 26, 2007

When I ran into Matos late last summer and he expressed the uncharacteristically unpoptimistic opinion that things were desperate out there in musicland, the worst he could ever remember, he also mentioned, later in our conversation, that as far as he was concerned right now the best music publication in the English-speaking world was extreme metal mag Decibel. In fact after we'd done eating he practically strong-armed me to my local newsagent to pick up an issue. Actually I didn't need strong-arming, I was thoroughly intrigued because if Matos dug it so much when he's not even a metal fan, well, that's some a recommendation. (And shows how obsessed with rockwriting he is). After reading it I wouldn't necessarily concur it's the best music magazine in the English-speaking world but it's definitely got "vibe", a precious and scarce commodity nowadays: a sense that the writers are having a lot of fun, are sparking off each other, that it is a collective entreprise. Anyway, I see from this rockcritics.com oral history of Decibel that Matos's opinion is far from unusual.

Incidentally it seems that the concept of "hipster metal" is, if not a Decibel coinage, then certainly something they brought to the forefront with this round-table discussion of the phenomenon.

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and while we're talking about magazines:

latest ABCs -- ie. circulation figures -- on the UK music mags

Kerrang! has jumped 12.1% year-on-year, and its new circulation of 85,377 is its HIGHEST EVER.

it is well ahead of NME, which is now at 73,008, following a 4.9% drop year-on-year

Kerrang! has gone up 20 thousand since 2005.

ah, and then this:

MixMag is now at 39,017, a year-on-year slip of 7.6% (and most of that decline in the last six months)

(Jeez, at this rate the Wire could take it in a year or two....)

interesting, interesting... so Kerrang! sells twice what Mixmag does.....

(still i suppose the real question here is what are Terrorizer's figures, eh...)

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and further on the metal-as-new-dance tip:

correspondent Carl Holmes with a bizarre snippet o' data connected to the ambient/metal nexus, viz:

"... I read an interesting interview with Mark Arm where he tied in the birth of grunge totally with E... Basically he was saying that stoners in Seattle used to get lots of cheap and at that time legal E. One of the effects of this that people started to get a lot more into the texture of what they were listening to which in turn led to the musicians on the scene exploring down-tuning and slower tempos. I got a real jolt when I read this as it made total sense to me...."

Well then there's the whole Beltram/Sabbath, mentasm-as-"Iron-Man"-soundsmearblare connection. Only thing that perplexes: wouldn't E have filled all these 80s proto-grungers with so much heart-bursting hyperness they wouldn't have wanted to listen to doomy draggy dirge tempo non-euphoric stuff, surely?

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DJ Martian, who's been tracking the realms of post-metal/avant-metal for some while now, a few weeks back had a link to yet another metal mag, Metal Storm, and their awards for 2006, which included some genre/categories I'd not come across before:

Folk/Pagan/Viking Metal

Melodeath/Gothenburg

Suomi Metal

Well i kinda knew the first one existed (is that where Blut Aus Nord--a very strange sounding outfit recommended by metalhead and Decibel contributor Joe Gross--fit in? I'm really hoping the name isn't some neo-Nazi blood-and-soil Nordic type slogan, as I rather enjoyed the record). But otherwise, elucidation welcomed!

Very like dance music in that respect, metal: the fan/critic taxonomic compulsion, and the schismatic principle that seems to animate the music, resulting in the genres endlessly splitting apart into new fractions, each of which seems--internally--to be utterly homogenous yet obviously roiling with incredibly subtle distinctions of huge urgency to the connoiseur.

mind you one correspondent, a genuine metal afficianodo, claimed there'd actually been no actual major new subgenres of metal formed this decade and that the 21st century had so far been--as far as he was concerned--a rather slack period for metal, at least on the innovation front. which makes the whole "hipster metal"/cool-fiending outsiders taking an interest in the genre syndrome doubly ironic.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Those Om dudes really are hippies, aren't they? Some quotes from an interview with Al Cisneros in Arthur from last May:

"The lyrics are just verse fragments---poem-prayers that spew forth from the mist".

And on Sleep and Om's love of weed:

"I definitely look at it as kind of a botanical shrine."

Talking of hippies, I enjoyed this quote from the interview with freak folk-- sorry, free folk (freak folk, apparently, is the sanitized, mainstream-friendly version--joanna/devendra--of the real thing) pioneers Matt Valentine and Erika Elder in the end-of-year Wire. Recalling the legendary Free Folk festival in Brattleboro*, Vermont several years ago, Valentine notes:

"I'm glad that the fest turned some around and inside out, maybe someone who digs what the pop media did with the airbrushed, souped-up free folk thing might step over to the other side and stay out after curfew, maybe even do it without the coital police around. I mean, I don't know much about Joanna Newsom's music but she would have been welcome to play our fest, maybe would have got turned on."

Coital police?!?

I also enjoyed Matt Valentine's face. His startling thicket of explosively untrimmed black brambles reminded me of this fantasy that Paul Oldfield (a clean-shaven, well-groomed sort) used to unfurl every so often: the Hair Police. A special patrol group that would descend on hippies, Hell's Angels, and other facially-fuzzed and hirsute sorts that you saw loitering on Oxford's main boulevards and cart them off for forced depilation. I imagine the squad being dressed a bit like the firemen in Fahrenheit 451 but brandishing big nets like a team from a lunatic asylum rounding up escaped inmates or zoo keepers trying to catch a fugitive leopard. This was back in the early 1980s, where there were a surprisingly large number of hippie-ish types still lingering. (Perhaps that's why Tangerine Dream could headline the biggest venue in Oxford in 1981?). Indeed I used to hang out with a bunch of them, as they were some of the only interesting people at my college--them and the Anarchists, with which the hippies overlapped somewhat. These weren't original hippies, obviously, but new recruits, young people who'd spurned the New Wave in favour of the previous youth revolution to punk. In
defiance of History's onward march they plighted their troth to long hair and (for men) beards, brightly coloured raggle-taggle clothes (and in one singular case, walking around barefoot, all year round), hallucinogens, and records like Camembert Electrique and The Hangman's Incredible Daughter. I'd never even heard of Gong or ISB, and to my Penthouse and Pavement-loving ears they sounded pretty silly ('course nowadays they're among my absolute faves, so the hippies would have the last laugh there--except I think they're all accountants now or something equally non-countercultural). But anyway, an interestingly against-the-grain-of-their-own-era bunch. And I was very fascinated by the whole Sixties thing anyway, had my copy of Richard Neville's Playpower (which one of the hippies came around to borrow in a rather frazzled state one day, urgently looking for the bring-someone-down-from-a-bad-trip recipe--orange juice and a vast amount of white sugar, if I recall--cos his mate, this charismatic sort who was kinda the hippie group's leader, was freaking out, cowering in the corner of the room convinced his mate was actually his dad and dead set on murdering him.). Still Paul screwed it up for me in that he wrote a scathing and hilarious critique of pot smokers (pretty dead-on, to be honest) in Margin, this pre-Monitor fanzine we used to do, and naturally they all assumed this represented my opinions, so I was persona non grata after that. No more blowbacks for me.

*I have actually been to Brattleboro as it happens--last summer, quite unaware that it was a centre for free folk. One of Joy's old friends lives up there now. It is absolutely gorgeous and palpably full of hippie-ish energy, dating back to the original era. A place where the real hardcore back-to-the-land, free spirit types moved. As a result, there's lots of fairly-cool second-hand vinyl in the local record stores. e.g. i picked up Wendy Carlos' Sonic Seasonings and Kate & Anna McGarrigle's Joe Boyd produced debut (always been intrigued by the fact that it was Pazz #1, the rockcritocracy's choice in the year it came out, 1975, as opposed to Patti Smith or something actually yknow epochal, which tells you a lot about said rockcritocracy's ability to sense the ways things are going (and my, while the songs and voices are lovely, but the sound of that record sure is stodgy ain't it... as with seeing The Last Waltz, my thought on first hearing it was, "this is everything I don't want from music"...) But Brattleboro, and Vermont generally--I would almost move there it's so lovely, but the winters are apparently incredibly harsh.
No luck finding an earlier example of Eno comparing ambient and metal but no less than four people emailed to say that they recalled a Gibby Haynes from the Butthole Surfers quote about listening to metal ambiently:

"I'm listening to quite a lot of heavy metal these days. It seems like metal's got so fast, it's slowed down. If you play it at a low volume, it's like ambient music, like a chorus of buzz-saws."

One correspondent, Steven Stamper, managed to track down the source on the web, and it turned out to be an old MM interview with the Buttholes by yours truly. Circa 1990, so musically they'd gone right off the boil by that point, but still superior quote machines to 99 percent of rock bands then and now.

That Jack Officers record, the concept sounds so promising--Buttholes meets acid house... god it was awful...
and here's Kid Shirt on post-metal and a band with the marvellous name Prurient
Scooting around the web for info on the new Arctic Monkeys i stumbled upon some startling heresy that's bound to ruffle a few feathers in the lone-loony bunker. Viz, a quote from Popist patron saint Neil Tennant endorsing the nu indie!

"We are going through a phase where the term 'pop' is used to mean rubbish. But bands like the Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, The Killers and Franz Ferdinand make pop music. They like to think they are rock but they are pop and all have a sense of fun about what they do and have a great look. It annoys me that pop gets clogged up with Pop Idol and reality TV rubbish."

C.f. the apostasy of Poptimist ideological godfather Morley viz. Girls Aloud last year, further evidence of the tide turning...
use your delusion

talking of Morley, on the one hand I totally understand where he's coming from with this -- so many four and five stars reviews ('course my four and five star reviews, they're fully deserved, innit!), so many exalted comparisons: how can there be this much attention-deserving music around? But then on the other hand I totally don't understand where he's coming from, cos in recent years it's felt to me as though that rockcritical sub-genre, the "I have seen the future of..." histrionic OTT rave review, has completely faded away. (Perhaps because of a creeping culture-wide sense of inconsequentiality? If no one can convince themselves that the future of anything hinges on group x or genre y, how could they even begin to consider slipping into that rhetorical mode, those oracular cadences?). Which is why I kinda enjoyed the NME rave review for the Klaxons debut that folks were ragging on a couple of weeks back, as a flashback to the rash proclamations and enthused over-estimations of distant yore. I mean, rather that--History-heedless young hotheads getting carried away--than the wizened cynicism so prevalent nowadays.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The unexpected return of Woebot to the antedeluvian world of print blogging! Delighted to hear he will be doing this now and then as well as the TV--superlative and ground-breaking as the latter is, I've missed his writing voice. And the scan-tastic posts, like this current one about his late grandparents' record collection.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

gotta lotta interesting feedback about metal (hipster versus real etc), the fruits of which
will end up on here fairly soon

something i recalled mid-dialogue with one correspondent struck me as quite revealing viz.
a dubstep/metal overlap and that is the fact that Radio 1's dubstep supporter Mary Anne Hobbs used to be a metal chick

and then, lo and behold, what arrives in the in box this afternoon but an email from Jamie Vex'd saying that the Breezeblock session on Hobbs' show this week is going to be "a Vex'd vs Distance 'avant metal' mix"!!

the tracklist is:
> > > Sunn 0))) - "Sin Nanna"
> > John Richards ft Genia- "Suite No 2 for Piano & Electronics (Vex'd > > Remix)"
> > (Khanate - "Release")
> > Dillinger Escape Plan - "Phone Home"
> > Vex'd - "Killing Floor"
> > Distance - "Taipan"
> > Distance - "Ska"
> > (Destructo Swarmbots / Isis - "From sinking, to: Drowing")
> > Distance - "Traffic"
> > Vex'd - "Nails"
> > Napalm Death - "Our Pain Is Their Power"
> > (Celtic Frost - "Human")
> > Godflesh - "Vein"
> > (Sunn 0))) - "Cry For The Weeper")
> > Techno Animal ft Sonic Sum - "DC-10"
> > Isis - "Carry"
> > Cult Of Luna - "Arrival"

the show airs thursday at 2AM London time (not sure if that means wednesday night after midnight or thursday night after midnight), you can listen live via the Hobbs/Radio 1 link above, and Jamie says he is also going to put up an mp3 of the breezeblock mix at myspace.com/vexd on friday.

i asked Jamie if it was true about Mary Ann's headbanger past and apparently she was a metal journalist and (he thinks) hosted a rock show on radio 1.

interesting to see godflesh in the mix, i remember in interviews (paul oldfield did one i seem to recall) broadrick & co used to go on about the convergence of the heaviness of dub with the heaviness of metal

also Khanate, of all the things i checked out on my trawl of the nether realms i think they were the most impressive, a really sculptural quality to the sound that put me in mind of some sort of ungodly merger of Pink Flag Wire and Cop Swans
no i haven't gone all anti-social -- in the attempt to restore the archives, which had disappeared, i've gone and lost my links somehow

any clues as how to restore them -- without also losing the bleedin archives again -- will be received with much gratitude
I was looking for this old Eno quote about how the closest thing to ambient music was heavy metal, on account of the engulfing, sound-for-sound's-sake quality both genres share. And found this from the Daily Telegraph, November 17 1995:

.... The soft-spoken musical pioneer has more predictions for the future. "Ambient is closer to heavy metal than anything else. Because it's to do with immersion and so is heavy metal. It's obvious to me that the next step is going to be something like metal ambient, some extremely harsh, hostile but intriguing sonic environment."

But I'm almost positive this is Eno recycling one of his old licks, and that he had made this heavy metal/ambient connection much earlier--in the Eighties. Because far from being a soothsayer with this November 1995 utterance, he's lagging a bit: Earth's second album would have been out a couple of years by this point (although that seemed like "ambient grunge" at the time) and the Isolationism compilation had recently come out I think and if I remember right had some things by Final and Lull on it, i.e. metalheads (Godflesh's Justin Broadrick and Napalm Death/Scorn's Mick Harris respectively) doing the ambient noir deathscape thing.

So does anyone recall when and where he first made that metal/ambient connection?

two new(ish) bloggs of note:

wire writer joseph stannard's You Need A Mess of Help

and my friend pat blashill's musings on life as an american exile in vienna, Euro Like Me
dominic fox on xasthur and black metal, questioning the "hauntological metal" angle

looking through my terrifying teetering cd stacks for something at the weekend i stumbled on a baleful-looking promo with a smeary black cover. on close inspection it turned out to be xasthur. seems i've had this CD for some while, unawares! if not for the title subliminal genocide ringing a bell i 'd never have spotted it, the band's logo being an inky glyph that's completely illegible. so naturally i gave it a listen. it sounds a bit like robin guthrie doing warm up licks on his guitar and FX rig, hampered by the world's most disabling migraine.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Here's my essay for this year's Pazz and Jop

And here's a sentence that got removed (apparently Pazz commentators aren't allowed to contradict each other)

"... It gets boring, doesn’t it, acclaiming Timbaland’s genius for the tenth year in a row."

And here's the original Phil Freeman screed--received first as an irate email, then published on his blog

I love this bit where he parodies the supposed attitude of me and my friend:

'Folks gotta stop expecting US and UK mainstream pop to give them everything they need…. "This pablum you're spoon-feeding me sucks! I demand you spoon-feed me a higher grade of pablum!"...'

Yeah right that's me, sucking languidly on the teat of the Kapitalist Pop Industry! Whereas my diet this decade has mostly been either ruffage like grime or the audio-gourmet equivalent of artisanal cheeses (Ghost Box, Mordant, Ariel P, et al)....

(Freeman, incidentally, doesn't actually like the hipster-approved metal at all, as you can tell by his list, he likes the real-deal proggoid-stuff. That Xasthur record--"pretty much metal's own Burial"--sounds kinda alluring, doesn't it? Talking of hauntological metal, in my trawl through the netherworlds I came across a group who did an album called the Music of Eric Zann--back in 1988!)

This latest efflorescence of hipster respect and ardour for metal is intriguing because--having been around the block a few times--I can remember at least two earlier distinct phases when hipsters woke up and started concertedly paying attention to the genre. Indeed the first one, me and MMine participated in the rehabilitation. I'm curious why it doesn't stick (well, evidently for a few people it does stick, they carry on checking for metal, but most don't) and also wonder if this latest adoption of metal (or a certain strand of it) will stick this time or if the hipsters will soon drift off to something else, the flighty faddists that they are. More on this later...