Thursday, July 02, 2020

WHEN MATTS MAKE BOOKS

                                     


In a couple of weeks, an old and very good mate is publishing a book that has been a passion project for the last several years, involving an astonishing amount of research and trips to far corners of the world. 

That mate is Matthew Ingram, a.k.a Woebot - and although he's put out a pair of compendiums of brilliant bloggage, and a tasty monograph, it would be fair to describe Retreat: How the Counterculture Invented Wellness as Matt's first book proper. Published by Repeater on July 14, the debut does not disappoint. Here is my blurb: 

“This richly researched archaeology of the counterculture places health at its core, showing how ideas of healing and therapy were inextricably bound up with the era’s spiritual longings and erotic politics. Each chapter scintillates with surprising revelations, unexpected connections and startling insights”

More info about Retreat and further endorsements can be found at the Repeater website

As part of the build-up to publication, Matt has broken out of blog retirement to post a long and probing essay on Woebot, not so much a preview of the book as a side-bar to it - on the relationship between music, Eastern philosophy, spiritual equilibrium, cosmic vibrations, "bliss consciousness" etc. 

Read it here while also listening to this fabulous 2-hour mix of astral sounds Matt has especially prepared for your elevation. Tracklist here





Lots of revelations in the mix, here's a couple of that particularly glisked my third eye: 





Not on the mix, but the tune-writer's own version:




Met Mr. Budd a year or two ago, on the streets of South Pasadena (Geeta knows everybody)


                                         

                                                                   The author holds forth...

Friday, June 26, 2020

hauntología

The favorite things I've heard this year are not from this year





The first track, "Echos" is  hauntología far ahead of its time (made 1978). "In Memoriam Of Mercedes Cornu," it's a sonic equivalent to those little roadside shrines of flowers and candles and photographs that are so poignant to stumble upon. Ferreyra wove it entirely out of the voice of her niece, who died in a car accident. 

The creator's account of the track sticks to technicalities, perhaps as a form of emotional self-defense: "This work has been composed by reconstructing four Latin-American popular songs – 2 Argentinian and 2 Brazilian – which were sung a capella by Mercedes Cornu. These songs were broken down into short and long sounds, syllables, breathings, coughs, etc and then rearranged using techniques of tape cutting, mixing and manual shakes."

About the second piece, from 1987, L'autre ... Ou Le Chant Des Marecages /The• Doubue • Or The Swamp's, Ferreyra talks of the inspiration in more vivid and animated terms: "I was deeply impressed with Blaise Cendrars’s paradoxal personnality, his terrifying « Double » which strips itself with an naked  extrem and sadic cruelty in his book « Moravagine, It was impossible for me not to record the depth of my feelings in a brutal and wild vocal composition. The « Sacow » of Moravagine, lurks behind it. The work’s onomatopeia was inpired by the short « black poems » from Cendrars’s story : « the white were black » (Les blacs étaint des noirs)."


Saturday, June 20, 2020

"Webster's set me free"



Released on my birthday, Green's first new release in fourteen years!

I've been listening to his music for over forty years now  and - apart from a couple of lulls - it's continuously delighted and fascinated.

Part of the gift of "Tangled Man" is the impetus it's given me to listen finally to Anne Briggs. Just never got around to it somehow.



Gorgeous...

(I have a record-fiend friend who happily coughed up $600 for an original copy of one of Briggs's albums. I gasped when he told me - but couldn't help admiring how he brooked no obstacles to his wants and needs.)


On "the flipside", Green covers another Briggs tune



The original




Here's Green talking about how he was a folkie before he was a punkie:

“Recently, in an interview for a forthcoming book about art and music in Leeds in the 70’s and 80’s, the author asked me, as an aside, if it were true that I was wearing Morris Dancer’s leg bells at the 1976 gig there by the Sex Pistols, Clash, Damned and Heartbreakers as other interviewees present that night had reported. My DNA was reconfigured that evening so my memory is hazy but it is very likely that I was wearing the leg bell pads made for me by a school friend some years before. In fact I may well have gone to the gig straight from the evening Morris dancing lessons I attended at Leeds university.

"Because before punk gave me the liberty and license to make my own music I was geekily obsessed with ‘folk’. When I was fourteen I was enraptured by the Fairport Convention album Liege and Lief and became an underage regular at Dublin Moran’s folk club at the Castle, a very insalubrious pub down Newport docks. It’s there I was made aware of the Topic record label and the music of the Watersons, Martin Carthy (who I subsequently stalked . . . ask him) and Anne Briggs. The beautiful melodies Anne sang unaccompanied were profoundly affecting, her unornamented voice a precursor to the anti-professionalism of DIY. For a long while I walked about dressed like a 19th century farm labourer (with a bit of eyeliner) in a kind of hypnagogic reverie to an inner soundtrack of Northumbrian pipe tunes, Wassailing songs and Morris dances. Jesus.

Forward some 40 odd years and my friend and Scritti Politti bandmate Rhodri Marsden had been contacted to do an arrangement of an Anne Briggs song for a project with which he was involved. Knowing I was a fan he suggested maybe I’d like to take on the task. I was dead keen and recorded myself at home playing and singing my versions of a couple of the very few songs Annie had written many years ago...."

Interesting that Green here pinpoints Briggs's naturalistic, "unornamented" singing... because his own vocals on "Tangled" and "Wishing" have never sounded so synthetic and stylized, a quality shared by  the denatured setting for the songs (bar the guitar part on "Tangled"). Far far from folk (indeed he sings, as he has since Songs To Remember, in an American accent.... rippling strands of liquid sugar spooling from his lips).

The title of this post? When I listen to "Tangled Man," I hear the lyric  as "Webster's set me free".  Which would fit the logophile bibbly-o-maniac Green, evoking all the places that reading has taken him...  (Even the Americanized reference would be the kind of thing he'd pop into a lyric, rather than the OED).

Green's words, in song and interview, have been among the "ways to set me free", the select number of mind-expanding things that set me on my present course.

Now, how about an album, you lazy sod?

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

UTOPIA NOW: Music & Utopia – Carl Neville & Simon Reynolds in conversation

Tomorrow, Wednesday June 17th, at 7pm UK / 2pm East Coast / 11 am West Coast - a YouTube live discussion between Simon Reynolds and Carl Neville on the subject of utopia and music.  Part of a series of virtual events on Utopia, to celebrate a novel of Utopian speculation -Eminent Domain, Carl's new novel for Repeater Books. Questions and comments from viewers welcomed.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

WHEN MATES MAKE BOOKS



The present flickers on a knife edge between the dystopian and the utopian - and here's Carl Neville with a new novel for Repeater that hurls the reader into a counterfactual world circa now that in some ways is close-to-utopian, but also contains within it dystopian aspects - or regions - far worse even than the worst that last week momentarily seemed to herald.

Here's how I blurbed it:

“Alternative history usually involves dystopian scenarios – counterfactual realities in which the Nazis conquered the world, the South won the Civil War, the Reformation never happened. Eminent Domain is that rare thing — a near-utopian version of the present more advanced and progressive than our own, rendered with a level of vivid and intricate detail comparable with William Gibson at his most disorienting. But where speculative fiction typically presents a warped mirror image of our own era, Carl Neville’s enthralling and immersive novel does something different – it makes you aware of the radical potentials, the different way things could be, that lurk latent in the world as it stands. Eminent Domain makes this present in which we currently languish feel like the impostor reality.”

More information and how to purchase Eminent Domain at the Repeater Books site.

Carl has started a series of blog essays that detail his journey through life, art, writing and thought that led to where he is now and the work he is doing. Here is the first installment.  He's also just blogged a couple of Spotify playlists related to Eminent Domain and its precursor-sibling novel Resolution Way.

Carl will also be convening a series of discussions on the theme of utopia to take place live on YouTube -  including one next week on music and the utopian in which I will be participating. More details on that to come.

Music and the utopian, eh? It's such an open-ended term and if you're not careful you can start thinking of any music that is vaguely suggestive of paradise or heaven. But in terms of music that actually proposes or enacts a model society, for months now - since doing the memorial lecture in fact - I have been obsessed with this song.












Thursday, May 21, 2020

"I had tightened it, I had brightened it"

Some interesting reflections on what blogging is / was, from Bruce Sterling as he announces the closing down of his own long-running (17 years) blog Beyond the Beyond (c/o Wired magazine) ...

Bruce describes it as "a form of psychic relief...  by blogging, I removed things from the fog of vague interest and I oriented them toward possible creative use"

That chimed with my own feelings about the value of unpaid labour: writing as freeform fun, as mental calisthenics, as intellectual hygiene... the blog as public notepad, a testing space or site for the construction of thought-probes

This comment also struck a chord:

"I’m even proud and happy that I managed to spare the readers so much of my own mental compost in this blog. The chosen, curated material that made it on to this blog was maybe one percent of the vast heaps of rubbish I was overturning. I could have stuffed this blog with two hundred times as much “content”..."

One of the problems with having a blog (or blogs multiple) is that you start thinking bloggy  -  everything becomes potential "material", something that could be turned into a riff with only a smidgeon of effort, given the lax standards of the format and the tolerance of the readership.  The incontinence you see (not here these days, but still on the other blogs) is a fraction of the stuff that I have in bulging folders of scrawled notes... and there is more that never even reached paper at all. 

(Perhaps this level of mind-churn was always going on - and getting emitted in letters and later in emails - both of which tend to go copious -  or in conversations in pubs and elsewhere. I don't know. But there's something about the itch caused by having a blog outlet that is generative, for good and for bad).

So here I am in the 18th year of blogging - a little bit longer than Bruce lasted - and although most everybody on the original scene has stopped, a few haven't...  there are newer names who are prolific and copious... and now and then a brannew one gets started.

To adapt the Ivor Cutler ditty, I believe in blogs. I truly believe in blogs.

Still.

Besides, it feels like I couldn't cease operations, even if I wanted to... it's too late to stop now.

But something might have to change.



Monday, May 18, 2020

Friday, May 15, 2020

some things



!!!! Foul Play's first two EPs + "Finest Illusion" b/w "Skrewface" get reissued by Sneaker Social Club in a pristine remastered vinyl set titled Origins  !!!!

Here's the blurb I supplied:

"From the slamming science of “Ricochet,” through the jittery ghost-rave of “Survival” and the outer-space lover’s rock of “Dubbing You,” to the manic magic of “Finest Illusion,” this collection of early EPs by rave legends Foul Play tracks an astonishing evolution across barely more than a year. Some of the top tunes to come out of the hardcore > jungle > drum & bass journey? Yes, but also some of the most thrilling and gorgeous music of the entire ‘90s"



Well, it seems the vinyl is already sold out in advance, but the digital album goes on sale on the 22nd of May - and hopefully there will be a repress.




Mexican Summer's Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti reissue program, aka the Ariel Archives, reaches Cycle 2 : The Doldrums, Worn Copy, House Arrest. Each of these retransferred / remastered and deluxely repackaged vinyl double-LPs is accompanied by a liner note essay by yours truly.based on new interviews.




A few years ago I had the pleasure of participating in Donaufestival in Krems, Austria. This year's festival had to be cancelled, like all the others. But a festival reader based on the 2020 leitmotiv, Machines Like Us, has come out with a mixture of essays in German and English. I contributed a piece entitled "Desiring the machine / Machining the desire" which compares the Deleuze-delirious discourse around technorave in the '90s (perped by such as Kodwo, ccru-kru, Kroker and truly yours) with the notably less exultant way that electronic musicians and their critical champions evoke digital technology in the 21st Century: no longer as a Promethean power trip, something exterior to the self that can be harnessed, but as a insidious soft technology worming its way into our interior life, abjecting the self from within.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

RIP (it up) Little Richard





As well as being the ignition point for it all, Little Richard also provided the title for the best book about rock and roll and the Fifties-Sixties POP! explosion.



And Little Richard appears on the cover (albeit the back cover).

That's the UK paperback version. The original hardback had a different title - rather neutral and coolly professional in tone (and thus deceptive - the opposite of the contents).



Although perhaps the cover image itself gives the game away.

Then the book came out in America with a slightly different title



But Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom is what the book should be called - since it's all about the SHOUT!!!, the LOUDness of early rock and roll, the cry of joy that bypasses sense with its wordless eloquence, the blast and the bolt that jolted a generation alive.

Superpop, Cohn named it -  noise that spurred his writing to mirror the impatient and impulsive movement of the music itself...  that didn't wait to do its research properly, to gather in the dusty facts for a responsible accounting. "My purpose was simple: to catch the feel, the pulse of rock, as I had lived through it. What I was after was guts, and flash, and energy, and speed."

Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom is what the book deserved to be called. Even though only some of its pages are about Little Richard, the existence of the book, with that title, is the greatest tribute he'll ever receive.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

RIP Florian Schneider

Here's my NPR tribute to Florian Schneider.

It's a deliberately Florian-centric history of Kraftwerk.

I'll do right by Ralf when it's his turn.






when Ralf left for a bit, leaving Florian in charge of the Neu boys

  











Maybe my favorite K-werk



But then again, there's this



And this of course



RIP Dave Greenfield



The most instantly grabbing musical element in The Stranglers, the keyboards (although the bass too was insistent and unignorable in its gnarly in-your-face way). Greenfield led some of us to Manzarek and a lifelong love of The Doors.

A band difficult to defend, but impossible to deny (The Stranglers, I mean - although some would say the same of The Doors, and perhaps disagree about the deniability bit in both cases).

Such great tunes. Such an original sound.





Is there a rock band that's made better use of waltz-time?



For sure, the lyrics are either nasty or silly, most of the time. But they lodge in your brain. And if nothing else, it all adds up to a worldview, a stance. Gruff misanthropy, sour disillusion.



"tasted man, tasted flea / couldn't tell the difference"





It's only recently I realised that Greenfield actually sang on some Stranglers songs.







And on one of the Meninblack tunes that's too awful to post.

Dave's thick black oily raven's wing mustache certainly contributed to the glowering malevolence of the group image.







Sunday, May 03, 2020

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Reave on



The new video-single from debonair Estonian chansonnier Mart Avi.

Or rather video-singles, as this is what we used to call a double A-side.

I'm reminded of Junior Boys, not in the particulars so much but the approach: a thoughtful outsider take on / takes on deluxe nowpop aesthetics (Weeknd, Jeremih, etc), that level of gloss and seductive sumptuousness...  but with echoes of earlier pop-not-pop infiltrators such as The Blue Nile, Prefab, Associates, Climate of Hunter Scott.

In the mission-statement, “Soul ReaVer” is described as "a long exhale full of nameless longing, sharing Burial’s introspective yearning for lost cultures and futures, and the wistful elegance of a 21st century Cole Porter".  This dude can write!  And in his second language too!

Avi further explains the video concept as "an alt-history of a torn personality like a Star Wars Sith Lord or some Disney character being revived – brought back to die again, then to awake again, It doesn’t have the oomph and zest of  “Spark”, no yearning for ultimate supremacy, no plans to find anything in particular, not even oneself, in that celluloid shrine — just a vague urge to make the Big Reel spin again.” 




According to the AVICORP communique, flipside "Spark" for its part teems allusively on both audio (New Jack Swing) and video levels (The Matrix, Hype Williams, Bowie's "Little Wonder”) with '90s-ness.

In case you're wondering, "ReaVer" comes from an actual, if archaic, English word, "reave" - "to rob, despoil, deprive one of, tear away."

This lead-dual single is a taster for his late-2020 album Vega Never Sets which promises to be a gorgeous treat.


 

                                              Avi caught in performance in Tallinn in 2017.


                                       More to explore at https://martavi.bandcamp.com/

Monday, April 27, 2020

RIP Bohannon




Big tune the year it came out.

For a moment almost my Platonic ideal of what music should be.

"The whole house starts rockin'
As the drummer starts sockin'
That anti-wallflower sound at you"

Rap by Dr. Perri Johnson!

Never heard this Francois K rmx before




Nicely nodded here

Sunday, April 19, 2020

electronic dance music

Here's a piece - the last bit of pre-lockdown writing I did  - for 4:3 on the Alwin Nikolais radical-dance piece Noumenon - choreographed and debuted in 1953, but here caught in a 1995 retrospective of the works of the avant-dance genius.

I first came across Nikolais's work quite by chance back in the early 2000s, when the East Village apartment block complex over the road from us had its annual stoop sale. Not expecting to find anything of interest in a cardboard box crammed with sad, shabby looking LPs, I stumbled upon an album of Nikolais's "choreosonic music of the new dance theatre", going for $1.  The cover sent an electric shudder of anticipatory excitement through me.


The cross-pollination of avant-classical music and avant-garde ballet has a long tradition, but unusually - possibly uniquely - Nikolais created his own electronic and musique concrete scores for his work. He also devised the startling light design, the costumes and wigs and bizarre head-gear, and every other component of the spectacles he staged -  which as I write in the 4:3 appreciation, "hovered somewhere in-between ballet, kinetic sculpture, avant-garde fashion, and ritual ceremonies from the far future or from some alien civilisation".

Here are some examples Nikolais's work, including this recreation of "Tensile Involvement" for the opening sequence to Robert Altman's twilight-era film The Company (the movie heads sharply downhill after this, let me tell you).


















Update: Andrew Parker points me to this bizarre film, for which Nikolais did the choreography




How are you all doing out there / in there? Slowly going barmy as time turns mushy.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Saturday, April 11, 2020

WHEN MATES MAKE BOOKS


My old friend Pat Blashill, writer and photographer, has just published a book of his pictures of the Austin punk>postpunk>80s-alt scene: Texas is the Reason: The Mavericks of Lone Star Punk.  Pat came of age in the thick of the scene that included bands like Butthole Surfers, Big Boys, and Scratch Acid. Alongside the photos, there's guest texts from Richard Linklater (whose Slacker was filmed there and effectively documented that scene as it reached the '90s) Theresa Taylor the flame-haired Buttholes drummer (and Slacker actress),  David Yow of Scratch Acid and Jesus Lizard, and others.


Here's some excerpts from Texas is the Reason at The Austin Chronicle, plus an interview with Pat. Here's a quote where he explains the book's title:

'There’s a Misfits song called “Bullet” about the assassination of JFK in Dallas. It includes the line, “Texas is the reason that the president's dead.” I read a review of that single that made a really great point about how America, and maybe especially Texas, has a death wish. Texas is this crazy extreme place, and I think that extreme stuff is what made this music happen in Austin. The bands were reacting against racism, sexism, and conformity, and all of the things we grew up with. They messed around with this idea of being stupid, conservative redneck people. One of the interviews I did was with [Butthole Surfers drummer] King Coffey, who reminded me that when they started the band, they were well-versed art students, and you could say that about a lot of people in the scene. The Buttholes really tried to portray themselves as these weird perverts from the backwoods. None of us really were that, but some people could play with it and turn it on its head.' 


                                           

The book is available from Bazillion Points, the publishing imprint specialising in heavy 'n' hard musics launched by Ian Christe.














Me on the Austin slackerdelic vibe when it reached the shores of the U.K.





Thursday, April 02, 2020

rips

I'm not sure I'm going to be able to keep up with the onslaught (I just had to add two more since posting this yesterday). But for now

RIP Cristina




RIP Krzysztof Penderecki





RIP Gabi Delgado




RIP Adam Schlesinger



(who in his early days played piano at our wedding reception in '92)




RIP Manu Dibango









RIP Alan Merrill 





RIP Bill Withers




^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Penderecki interviewed by Andy Battaglia for Resident Advisor








Gabi Delgado and Robert Gorl of DAF interviewed by David Stubbs for The Quietus.


An interview with Cristina at Festive magazine







Manu Dibango interviewed at Qwest




Sunday, March 29, 2020

isolation mix



Moon Wiring Club with a hunkered-in-the-bunker mix that starts with bouncy electrokitsch and heads into a blend of  early UKtekno, twisty-turny Nineties IDM, and unusual breakbeat hardcore choices. Excellent selection, expertly threaded. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Here's a thing I did for Tidal on Genesis P and Throbbing Gristle's legacy a/k/a the several strands of industrial culture.

One of the groups / records in the mini-primer is Skinny Puppy / VIVIsectVI  - an album I wrote about at the time. I doubt very much whether I listened to this LP once in all the intervening years between reviewing it in 1988 and doing the Tidal piece last week. One of those albums that is food for thought, fuel for empurpled prose, but not necessarily suited for everyday listening. (Although I did listen a lot to the earlier album Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse - also the  cEvin Key side project The Tear Garden, with Edward Ka-Spel).

This doesn't particularly apply to Puppy, who at least outwardly were protesting the grim and the gruesome (on this album, animal testing) rather than reveling...  But generally, all that apocalypse culture, "bring on the Collapse" stuff seems very silly at the present moment, doesn't it?  Baudelaire and his "oasis of horror in a desert of boredom" can get stuffed.  (At the moment, we have the boredom and the horror in one dismal package).

In truth, "that kind of thing" has seemed silly for a long while. C.f. the exaltation of the virus, or the likening oneself to a cultural contagion, that you would get in certain circles - music and theory. As I have noted acidly before, I bet those folk change their tune pretty quick when their hard drive dies, or they come down with a nasty bug.


Monday, March 16, 2020

stuff to read while cooped up for the foreseeable

For starters - a piece by my son Kieran Press-Reynolds on how TikTok is changing pop and the rise of no-melody rap

A little thing I did for Tidal on David Bowie's second album Space Oddity, which they now have up there in "360 Reality Audio"

Stuff to read and stuff to listen to too - for here's a radio show / podcast about The Sex Revolts - which is about to come out in Germany for the first time - produced and hosted by Klaus Walter, featuring interviews with me and Joy Press.

Quite a family affair, this blogpost!

Outside the immediate clan, here's some things worth a peruse:

From a few weeks ago, an interesting piece by Chal Ravens about a sound that has emerged in recent years on the UK club scene based in a transnational eclecticism that coheres through its vibe (percussive, jolting, lots of flashy deejay tricks) and by its relative lack of relationship to either the sound system / hardcore  continuum lineage or to 4/4 house / techno (it'll use elements from both here and there, but the groove feel is different - drawing more on gqom, Jersey club, etc).

major points: 


"sideways not forwards" is the axis on which this music moves i.e. it doesn't have a romance of the future, it has a romance of the exotic

"It’s music to stay on top of rather than music to get lost in" (a sharp description of how the juddering beats put you on edge, you don't trance out)

But unlike it's sort-of precursor deconstructed club, it's very much banging, slamming, hedonistic, exuberant, physical


Enjoyed also Chal's swipe at "the fusty-seeming legacy of the hardcore continuum," something the      nu-generation producers in the UK are keen to leave behind 

If there's a philosophical wrinkle in the project, it's the fact that the style is dependent on the kind of regional sounds that the UK itself is not able to generate anymore - all those African or US-city based genres it draws from



Another interesting piece is this one by Ryan Alexander Diduck (author of Mad Skills: Music and Technology in the 20th Century) in which he attempts to identify what sonically defined the 2010s.  Starting with the observation that "the sound of the decade was … processed...  The electrical signal of almost every recording...  was to some extent rendered synthetic. Pop music of the 2010s was dripping wet with all manner of effects, plug-ins, pitch correction, equalization, delay, reverb, time manipulation... " Diduck suggests that although Auto-Tune is the most well-known and ubiquitous form of this plastic-fantastication of pop, side-chain compression was "equally omnipresent," if less easily apprehended by the layperson listener.  You're hearing it constantly, but you don't necessarily know that you're hearing it.  Diduck further argues that side-chain compression constitutes not just a recording technique (squeezing "the volume of a.... specific instrument or track [let’s say, the bass guitar] to the input of another instrument or track [say, the kick drum]") but that it carries with it and imbues a techno-politics. "Technologies enact, technically, analogous cultural logics.... [they] act out our shared understandings and expectations about how things could or should be in the world." 


The argument is quite intricate, but the gist is that sidechain compression represents a kind of regulation of noise, allowing for disruption but channeling and constraining it. "Each time any sound too aggressively enters into the sonic field, other sounds drop out to absorb the potential trauma of a distorted signal."  This happens automatically. "Side-chain compression can therefore be read as a kind of sonic risk management system" - one that parallels the "algorithmic, artificially intelligent, and ideally automated functioning of global capitalism. Our system is built to absorb, redistribute and even to foresee shocks of all stripes: economic, political, social, environmental..."

Towards the end, Diduck - writing some weeks ago, before the current crisis - wonders whether there could be a "a shock that cannot be conceived, much less compressed, yet to come?" Well, events overtake: it could be that it is now upon us, a catastrophic shock to the system that can't be assimilated, absorbed, and turned to profit....  an abyss of pure loss.  

(Incidentally, Diduck starts the piece referring to my series of end-of-decade pieces on conceptronica, the resurgence of ambient and new age, and streaming in music and TV' , which he describes as "each more contentious than the last". [He missed one, though - the feature on trap and its globalisation].  Weird -  I don't feel there's anything hugely contentious about any of those pieces - I mean, they each have an argument, but they're hardly inflammatory or willfully contrarian. If people's tolerance for "opinionated" has weakened that much.... ooer missus)

Saturday, March 14, 2020

rip



And here's a thing I did for Tidal on Genesis and Throbbing Gristle's legacy a/k/a the several strands of industrial culture.

And here's a public chat with GB P-O from 2015 at the Hammer Museum

Sunday, March 08, 2020

24 Hour Theory People

And here is the third and final installment of the joint remembrance and retrospect of the 2000s blogscene, K-punk, and Mark Fisher - convened by Anwen Crawford and featuring the voices and thoughts of Carl NevilleOwen Hatherley,  Rhian E. JonesIvor Southwood and yours truly, c/o Sydney Review of Books

Sunday, March 01, 2020

writing free (oh those blogging days)

And here is the second part of the 3-part colloquy on the blogosphere of yore and its departed hubmeister k-punk - hosted by Sydney Review of Books, conversationally shepherded by Anwen Crawford and involving me, Owen HatherleyCarl NevilleRhian E. Jones, and Ivor Southwood

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Où sont les blogs d'antan?

Here's the first installment of a three-part conversation convened by Anwen Crawford and hosted by Sydney Review of Books about Mark Fisher and K-Punk and the blogging circuit of the 2000s.
It was a stimulating and fun discussion, for all the sadness of the reason we -- Owen Hatherley, Carl Neville, Rhian E. Jones, Ivor Southwood, Anwen, and myself - were gathered, remotely, to remember and reassess.

Friday, February 07, 2020

some things in Italy



I really enjoyed writing the companion essay to Sandro Moiso's vintage interview with J.G. Ballard, as reproduced in All That Mattered Was Sensation, out now on Krisis Publishing. This attractive and portably petite volume contains the text in both Italian and English.

"Prophet of the Present," the title of my essay, comes out as "Profeta del presente" in Italian - nicely preserving the alliteration.

If you are wondering about the "James Ballard" bit - it seems that J.G.'s books were published under that name in Italy, or even as James G. Ballard. When I saw that, I thought I'd possibly stumbled upon a national quirk of Italian publishing - an aversion to the old-school Anglo-American style of impersonal initials in literary nomenclature, as in E.M. Forster or G.K. Chesterton. But as far as I can tell, D.H. Lawrence is D.H. Lawrence in Italy, not David Herbert Lawrence or Dave Lawrence.

                                                     

Something else in Italy -  out in May, on Minimum Fax, a collection of my electronic music writings:



"Sogni Elettronici," in case you were wondering, means "Electronic Dreams"

German and Japanese editions - slightly different contents - due 2021.

Anglosphere versions - probably not. I have other plans for some of the material. But who knows...


Now I think about it, there's a third thing in Italy happening on the books front. Minimum Fax are publishing the massive Mark FisheK-Punk anthology in translation. Because texts typically get longer in Italian, they are breaking up the colossus into two volumes. The first installmentIl nostro desiderio è senza nome - which translates as Our Desire is Nameless - has just come out.  This first chunk of the collection also contains my prefazione from the Repeater edition - and this foreword is shortly to be extracted in the newspaper Il Tascabile.



How cool - and circular - that the subtitle of Il Nostro Desiderio is Scritti Polittici.

"Something in Italy" indeed...  in this case it's helping keep Mark's ideas alive






                                      

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Look Back in Clangor - the Jagged Genius of Andy Gill

Here's my Pitchfork tribute to Andy Gill
Below are some Gang of Four related graphics (the greatness of which I didn't have space to go into in the eulogy) interspersed with off-cuts from the piece + sundry informational nuggets. 



[pic by Christopher Tomond]


Gill's stage persona - always stern and unsmiling - in his later years started to resemble Alan Rickmansworth armed with a Stratocaster. 

                            



Gang of Four rearranged the structural grammar of rock as music while  reinventing the way that lyrics could process and probe political reality.  

“There’s almost nothing in Gang of Four that relates to anything a purist would describe as ‘punk’. Most punk rock was slightly faster and slightly worse-played heavy metal. Whereas Gang of Four is stripped down, it’s funky, there’s no power-chords.There’s very little about it that’s punky”  - Andy Gill, 2001.


                             


Several years before G04, while still at Sevenoaks School, the teenage Andy Gill and Jon King had dabbled with being a band. They called themselves the Bourgeois Brothers! 



                              
Waiting for the Great Leap Forward... 

Although it's taken from the ruling cabal in Mao's China - and would later be applied to the leadership of the SDP – the name "Gang of Four" is like a demystified version of "the band". It takes the piss out of the adolescent romanticism and male-bonding camaraderie of rock 'n' roll - the idea of the group heading out on an adventure together - while hinting that those very energies could be channeled for higher purposes, a true mission-quest. 



      


The Wilko influence: Johnson didn't exactly "slap" the strings, he sort of cuffed them - flicked at them with the tops of his fingernails (as opposed to picking with his fingertips) while muting the strings with his other hand, to get that choppy percussive sound.  Gill himself used a plectrum, I believe, but built from Wilko's jagged rhythm style. 

 

      

The emergence of the Leeds Sound. With Gang of Four, it’s angular and spartan; with Delta 5, it’s loping and bouncy; with The Mekons, it’s loose and blurting... but there are similar riff-structures and approaches to the guitar as a primarily rhythmic instrument; there are textural affinities in terms of scrawny abrasiveness; vocally there’s a shared deployment of catchy but unmelodic chants, a gruff flatness of address, and a general departure from rock’n’roll norms of singing and emoting.


     
Gill’s first great guitarist crush had been Jimi Hendrix. On the day of his death in September 1970, the teenage Gill wore a black armband to school. But in Gang of Four, the volcanically cascading solos of Hendrix and other guitar-heroes of the pre-punk era were strictly forbidden.



 “Andrew was… I was about to say he was a ‘master baiter’! But he would bait you” - Hugo Burnham


                             



The title track of their 1978 debut EP, Damaged Goods, used the language of commerce to present a startlingly unsentimental anatomy of desire and frustration.


It wasn’t just the controlled paroxysm of Gill’s playing on songs like “Natural’s Not In It” that was so bracingly abrasive. It was the sound too. Clipped and clean, it came from using transistor amps rather than the valve amps that most guitarists then and now prize for their “warmth” and “fat” richness of tone. “It’s more brittle,” Gill said of his beloved transistorized  sound. “And it's not warm – Gang of Four were against warmth.” 



“The production has got to bring out the material incidents in a perfectly sober and matter-of-fact way. Nowadays the play’s meaning is usually blurred by the fact that the actor plays to the audience’s hearts…. They ought to be presented quite coldly… objectively. For they are not a matter for empathy; they are there to be understood.” - Bertolt Brecht, 1926, prophesying "Love Like Anthrax" 


The scouring power of dour. 



“People value themselves in terms of their labour yet leisure time brings an uncomfortable void” was how the group paraphrased the topic in a brief statement on the B-side label of “At Home He's A Tourist”. The flipside itself “It’s Her Factory” was straightforward feminist critique of housewives’ and home-makers’ unpaid labour, inspired by an newspaper article about housewives as ‘the Unsung Heroines of Britain’.


                           



“Generally there is felt to be a very sharp distinction between learning and amusing oneself…. So we have to defend [radical theatre] against the suspicion that is it a highly disagreeable, humourless, indeed strenuous affair” ---Bertolt Brecht, from “Theatre for Pleasure or Theatre For Instruction?”


Entertainment! was the party soundtrack  in Athens, Georgia for a season or two, influencing art-school bands from that town from Pylon to Method Actors to R.E.M. B-52s's first two albums were essentially Entertainment! if it's lyrical content and stage presentation was had been derived from mass entertainment - in this case post-WW2 American B-movies, TV, mainstream fads, etc - and emotionally based around amused fascination rather than disdain and distaste.  No, really - look beneath the camp chassis of Fred + Kate + Cindy's lyrics, voices, and clothes, you'll find an undercarriage of sinewy dance-rock rhythm, as spare and pared as the spray paint job was garish. 

The verse in "I Found That Essence Rare" about the girl dressed in a bikini not knowing the name comes from the Pacific Ocean nuclear test site Bikini Atoll is the exact point where the Go4 and the B's meet. 


“No escape from society” - a Gramscian aside in a song ("Natural's Not In It") that otherwise offers a fractured-vision panorama of a consumerist paradise, a “heaven” that “gives me migraine”, as King’s protagonist sings it. 

Key line: “coercion of the senses”, referring to the bullying bombardment of libidinally-charged imagery from media and advertising -  what Marcuse called “repressive desublimation” i.e. sex and desire put in service of capital.



The problem of leisure
What to do for pleasure
Ideal of a new purchase
A market of the senses
Dream of the perfect life
Economic circumstances
The body is good business
Sell out, maintain the interest

This heaven gives me migraine

The problem of leisure
What to do for pleasure
Coercion of the senses
We are not so gullible
Our great expectations
A future for the good
Fornication makes you happy
No escape from society
Natural is not in it
Your relations are of power
We all have good intentions
But all with strings attached

Repackaged sex keeps your interest


Like the earlier Damaged Goods EP tune “Armalite Rifle”, “Ether” addressed the troubles in Northern Ireland, its lyrical tail-sting hinting that the British authorities's interest in keeping a foothold in Ulster might be economic as much as geo-strategic: "there may be oil / under Rockall" - i.e. the granite islet and surrounding sea 263 miles northwest of Ireland.


                                


“Guns Before Butter” took its inspiration from John Heartfield’s 1934 anti-fascist photomontage “Hurrah, The Butter Is All Gone” – a riposte to Nazi leader Hermann Goering’s remark that “iron always make a country strong, butter and lard only make people fat.”  





For 1981’s Solid Gold, the group recruited Jimmy Douglass, a sound engineer who'd worked for funk band Slave and for AC/DC among others and would later be Timbaland right-hand man, in order to help them achieve a “live” sound with more bass bottom. The resulting sound on Solid Gold contrasted markedly with the compellingly arid and anti-naturalistic (no room ambience, no reverb) production style of Entertainment! 






Gill supplied the most striking sounding and emotionally compelling tune on the album in the desolate faltering funk of “Paralysed”, which he wrote and recited: seemingly the blues of a victim of the mass unemployment induced by Thatcher-Reagan, the character knows “history’s the reason / I’m washed up” but can’t help feel humiliatingly shamed by his own fate.



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And how sadly weird / weirdly sad that Andy Gill's namesake - the other postpunk-associated Andy Gill - should have died less than a year ago. 


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Me on Gang of Four's 2005 reformation for the classics-rerecorded project Return The Gift

Here's me and Jon King talking about Gill + the Gang on Life Elsewhere Music, a radio show hosted by Norman B

Postpunk scholar David Wilkinson's Tribune tribute

Jim Dooley, who wrote a whole book on Gang of Four for Repeater, chips in at the Repeater blog. 


The Leeds / Athens connection