Thursday, July 14, 2005

Bizzare confluence of pieces on UK music in the early-to-mid Nineties--Stylus on Britpop; a Voice Essay, also on Britpop (by Hua Hsu!); and Pitchfork on "The Lost Generation", ie. early post-rock when it was a UK thang and actually really good and before those Chicagoan tight-butts got their noodlesome mitts on it. Nitsuh Abebe wrote that one. It's so weird to think of this stuff becoming the stuff of history and rediscovery (and retro-cultification). For the record I don't think it was the Mojo review of Bark Psychosis where I first used "post-rock", it was something earlier in Melody Maker, but can't recall what. The record should also note that although I genuinely believed I was coining the term, I discovered many years later it been floating around for over a decade--Morley used it, around the time he was hymning Haircut 100 and Altered Images, to describe something more Popist in spirit and more conceptual/cognitive than musicological, ie. a sort of total move beyond rockist assumptions, values and prejudices into some brand new kind of mental space. And I've even seen the word in the Rolling Stone Albums Guide, used to mean something roughly equivalent to "avant-rock" or "out-rock." But yeah, it was me that supplied this hitherto vague term with something approaching an ideology, and a specific referent. I'm amazed that the term has this half-life,and still gets used in record stores as a section heading, or in press-releases and e-mailouts. Lord knows, not a single band embraced the term or rallied to the post-rock banner at the time!

The obvious connection between the Britpop pieces and the Lost Generation one is arguably that Britpop is the prime reason for that generation of experimental-yet-accessible UK bands becoming lost. Ambition got redefined purely in terms of making the charts, as opposed to artistic discovery or quest; those golden ages of Britannia-ruling-the-airwaves and the 45 rpm 7 inch --the mid-Sixties and New Wave--were ransacked in order to create a third (putative) golden age for the radio and the single; the truly contemporary resources that the Brit postrockers plugged into--electronica, jungle, hip hop, etc-- were shunned in favour of an all-white, technophobic canon. True, true--yet time heals all wounds, and I feel a very faint, sneaking fondness for Britpop in hindsight (specially after seeing what pitiful sadsacks they've all become in that recent documentary). And let's be honest, Disco Inferno and Insides, as lovely as they were, were never going to be more than cult bands. I remember sensing early on, well before the Britpop juggernaut gathered momentum, that the scope had contracted for "that kind of thing'. One of the pre-sampling Disco Inferno EPs --when they were precociously postpunky, very Joy Division-indebted, but good--got made single of the week in Melody Maker (might have been me, or Stubbs, can't remember), and I was shocked, and disheartened, to discover that after this massive boost it had gone on to sell a mere 900 copies. And this wasn't Main or anything unapproachable like that; DI were making melodic, heart-bleedingly emotional pop, not a million miles from what Radiohead would go on to do circa OK Computer.

Nitsuh's piece didn't really make me think about the Brit post-rockers (i keep typing post-punkers--must be habit!--and there's a connection there that I'll return to at a later date) and their thwarted, stolen promise so much (although his reference to records with 'produced by John McEntire' on them made me flash on a certain postrock [highly reluctant] fellow-traveler who shall remain nameless who in '95 earnestly informed me that "John McEntire is one of the 50 most important people in America"). No, it made me think about 1994. That was a really happy year for me, for us. The Sex Revolts was finally finished, a massive weight lifted from the shoulders. I'd grown homesick, so at the start of the year we moved back to London for ten months. Found a flat in Belsize Park, the first time I'd lived north of the river, so everything felt fresh and new as well as familiar and homesickness-curing. A big impetus for coming back was that I knew jungle was going to blow up and I didn't want to be living 3000 miles from the action. That was a lot to do with why '94 was so exciting (and it turned out Goldie lived down the road, in a high-rise near England's Lane). But jungle and the pirates were far from the only reason. There was so much going on, so much to write about--the post-rock outfits, as mentioned; the first stirrings of trip hop; the continuation of chill-out/electronic listening music and its turn toward the sinister and isolationist.... there was the early Britpop-when-it-was-good, with Pulp and Elastica ... The happy hardcore scene was starting to take off... Is memory playing tricks on me, or was the summer particularly fine that year? Even some of the bad things that happened that year were powerful experiences--the weekend when Kurt Cobain committed suicide, and the sudden stunning revelation of the power of the internet, as news and rumor spread across the web and communities of grief and support and commemoration sprung up instantly.

Then the 10 months were up, we had to go back (or else enter the hell-process of Joy applying for permanent residency). Totally buzzing with all the stuff going on in the UK, I returned to New York to find a scene that seemed really flat. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was about the hottest ticket in town at that point. Deflated, I wrote a piece, or pique, entitled "Why American Music Sucks" for a local zine, which didn't make me very popular. (SFJ wrote a stinging riposte, conceding only that Tricky lived up to some of my bullshit hype about how happening the UK was--which is how I got to know him). Around this time I heard about a jungle club that was starting out in the East Village, a few blocks from where we now live--this is November 94 i think--and went there full of anticipation only to find a bar with about nine people in it and a pair of tinny tiny speaker. Not exactly Thunder And Joy or Sunday Roast!

Still things did pick up considerably the following year with a real, fervent, decent-sized NYC jungle scene and homegrown things like illbient (hmmm, weeell, i know, but at the time, at the time...) and then that American take on postrock which seemed kinda promising, at first, honest...

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