Wednesday, June 27, 2018

When Mates Make Books - summer book bonanza

The first time I met David Stubbs - I cold-called at his digs after spotting his flamboyant and acerbic prose in the Hertford college paper -  was to recruit him for our fledgling magazine Margin. But all the while I was pitching the idea of him contributing, one eye was greedily scanning the row of LPs that took up most of a wall  - easily the largest and coolest collection I'd ever seen - and mentally filing records to borrow, once a decent period of acquaintance had elapsed. I could see names on the LP spines that I'd only read about then - like Faust and Can and Sun Ra. Names I'd never heard of.  Releases in strange and elaborate packaging.

As I got to know Stubbsy over the ensuing months, I realised that this was one precociously hip cat.  When I had been buying Tubeway Army singles at WHSmith and listening to Kid Jensen's homework-hours slot on Radio One, Stubbs was mail-ordering items from the Recommended Records catalogue and taping Stockhausen concerts off Radio 3. Indeed my first real exposure to  avant-garde electronic music was borrowing a cassette of something like Hymnen that he'd recorded off the radio - I can still picture Stubbs's left-hand scribble on the inlay card. I couldn't make head nor tail of it, but for David this was terra cognita, just one of several regions of outermost sound he'd explored while still in his teens.

Even more than his Krautrock epic Future Days, Stubbs's new tome Mars By 1980 (great title!) is the book he was born to write. The scope runs from the Italian Futurists to the digital maximalist everyday of the 21st Century - the journey of electronic sound from heroic vanguard to current omnipresence - via Pierres Henry and Schaeffer, David's teenage fave Stevie Wonder, Suicide and synthpop, Delia D and J Dilla, and much more besides.

The preface hooks you straight off with a flashback to the flash-forward of "I Feel Love" in 1977. Evoking the future-rush of hearing the Moroder-Bellote-Summer track -  Number One in the UK for a whole month - Stubbs remembers the feeling as -

"like first contact: the slow opening of the spacecraft door, the blinding shaft of green light.... Pure, silver, shimmering, arcing, perfectly puttering hover-car brilliance... Keyboards are played with unheard-of, bionic, rotor-blade capability. It glides the way scissors do when you achieve that perfect synergy between mind, hand and blade, cutting through the dreary brown curtain of 1970s entertainment and revealing space. Space 1977. No exhaust, no vapour trails, no strings, no frills, this is take-off. People will be left behind, people will be laid off. May you never hear rock music again...  There is something coolly indifferent about this sonic craft, indifferent even to Donna Summer as it glides onwards and upwards, for minute after minute, powered on something far more durable than mere human stamina. Even as the record fades away, you sense it is still out there, puttering pneumatically away, cruising at cirrus level." 

Sentences that give me the same electric tingle as when I first encountered David's prose in the Hertford college paper  - most likely a dandyish disdainful diatribe about the conservative musical fare 
on offer at student parties, where there was a distinct deficit of DAF and Thomas Leer!

Mars by 1980 is out in a month's time.

Slick segue ahoy - there is a character in the new novel by Bethan Cole (old mate from the glorious  2-step dayz at the turn of the millennium) who is writing a book about the early development of electronic music in the decades after World War 2 -  musique concrete,  Oram & Derbyshire, etc - and another who soundtracks run-way shows using Ligeti and Cornelius Cardew. Bethan tells me it is a  modern morality tale, set in the early 2000s - a critique of celebrity culture and fashion, centred around the rivalry between two designers.  The Glide of Swans is available from Barnes & Noble and other online retailers. 

"Mate" is probably stretching it  - we've never met, we've also sparred a few times - but cordial email acquaintance Dan Hancox has written a vivid and serious study of grime, stretching from its earliest stirrings through to its unexpected love-fest clinch with Corbyn, and making all the right (i.e. Left) connections to urban politics, race, class, gentrification as social cleansing etc.  While I can't resist wryly noting the Nuum-iness of using a lyric from a jungle classic to title a grime tome, Inner City Pressure is the perfect title: as Goldie recently commented at a deejay event, "what we did with beats and sounds, the grime kids are doing with words.”  Or to put it less snappily, grime is the product of the same long-running political impasses and social blockages that shaped jungle, and it's powered by the same rage to live.  And, as we approach the end of this century's second decade, grime  seems to me unchallenged in its stature as the most impressive thing that the U.K. has come up with during the 21st Century, in terms of sono-social energy - just as jungle was the most impressive Britmusic phenomenon of the Nineties.  Inner City Pressure is out in a couple of weeks

Another cordial email acquaintance. So far I have just skimmed Will Ashon's Chamber Music but I hear very good things about this experimentally structured celebration-analysis of the Wu-Tang Clan debut, which evokes the world that produced the album, the world that is the album, and the ways the album changed the world.  Out this autumn on Granta.

Another book by an Oxford friend from the early Eighties. (Indeed this features an introduction from one David Stubbs). Back then, Steve Micalef never used to talk much about his days at the epicentre of punk (as Steve Mick of Sniffin' Glue, inventor of the Bin-Liner etc), which frustrated those of us for whom 76-and-all-that was legendary if recent history. Indeed Micalef liked to say that punk got boring very quickly and boasted of having been the first  front-line punk to depart the scene.  Still, nostalgia claims us all eventually... A collection of verse reminiscences and what looks like original diary entries in scribbled handwriting, The Punk Kings of Dyslexia is an appetiser for a full-blown memoir of his mid-Seventies youth that Micalef - nowadays a poet, still a wit and bon vivant non pareil - is hatching... advance glimpses of which are wonderfully vivid and funny.

I've yet to clap eyes on a copy of All Gates Open, but looking forward very much to reading Rob Young's new Can chronicle, written with the close involvement of Irmin Schmidt.

An acquaintance... but one, uniquely, that I've rubbed shoulders with in two different hemispheres, James Bridle - coiner of the optimistic-aspiring, looking-for-future concept The New Aesthetic - comes with an unexpectedly ominous and glass-nearly-empty view of  the Information Age (just check that subtitle "Technology, Knowledge and the End of the Future") in New Dark Age, on Verso - which I am looking forward to reading.

Talking of dark futures and sad presents... not out until November but advance notice of this huge compendium via Repeater of our late friend and much-missed colleague's work - K-Punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher 2004-2016, which is edited by Darren Ambrose and for which I wrote the foreword. If anybody in the UK or US (or indeed elsewhere) wants to host an event celebrating Mark's life and work, now would be the time to start getting things in motion.

Another friend and colleague, but thankfully a far from late mate  (well, except for rendez-vous and appointments maybe ;) ). The republication by Verso in rebooted / expanded / updated form of  More Brilliant Than The Sun, the masterwork by Kodwo Eshun, was already once prematurely flagged up in this blog about a year ago. But now it appears to be definitely coming out in October. A completely different vision of music and cultural temporality, proposing a discontinuum rather than the roots 'n future / "neither vanguard nor tradition but both" way I see and hear things - but seductive and mind-shaking nonetheless. (Re)read it with or against the sociohistorical Inner City Pressure  (I've long thought grime was the Problem for the More Brilliant viewpoint, the upshot it couldn't explain or assimilate to its system without misrepresenting - and trap may pose similar difficulties and challenges). Or indeed (re)read it with or against Chamber Music.