Friday, August 11, 2006

and in weird synchro, what comes in the mail just as i post the below, but Goldfrapp's rmx album, We Are Glitter. Oh not you're not...
"If I am accused of too elaborate a reading, I must insist on the awe, pleasure and bafflement that the records still incite"

and in a coda to the past week's epic SuperPop theme, a classic piece by my old Monitor comrade Paul Oldfield on Glam and Glitter, an influence on my Last Few Days fantasy.

by Paul Oldfield
(from Monitor, issue number 4, October 1985)

Imagine the future, already fading, there, between the laminated covers of these forgotten annuals, these ephemeral hagiographies. This is the lost moment of the futuristic: 1972. Discover fear and exhilaration in a platform shoe, a clenched fist, silver foil; an empty beat, choreography of un-release, of self-overcoming. These are years that DARED MORE than our present-day bureaucrats of desire can CONCEIVE.

The catastrophe theory of pop, with its assumption of periods of continuity, development and decline, punctuated by intervals, rupture and reversal, has been installed by critical history, popular aspiration and the business alike. A critical consensus has been achieved easily for the 1970s. Even the most invaluable and thorough pop writings have mapped out this decade similarly and reinforced, more or less, the general distribution of attention. Dick Hebdiges’ Subcultures outlines the history and modes of the artschool end of glam, and even describes punk as “a scrawled addendum” to it, but in practice inverts this order: glam is included as part of the prelude to punk, and his sociological and semiological approaches are excercised on oppositional cultures--mods, skins, rasta, punk. Iain Chambers, in his Urban Rhythms, has a full account of the more self-conscious and poised glam artists, of teenybop and heavy metal, but here still the early ‘70s are “fall-out”, we are “Among the Fragments” and the scope is discriminating. And Chris Cutler’s essay on progressive and radical musics in File Under Pop describes the period ’69-75 (reasonably) as a silence, an exile, a “Tiny Flame”, and acclaims the hygiene of ’76 as a precondition for the new wave and experimental freedoms--a different approach but the same shape for the 70s. What critics have in common is either a privileging of underground or oppositional cultures, effectively an underwriting of the new wave’s rhetoric, or a bias to the study of particular early 70s artists/musics: Bowie or Ferry, or reggae, partly because of its uneasy accommodation with punk, or 70s soul, because that was outside the debates and upheavals of the decade. The mainstream of glam-rock, Glitter, Sweet etc, are simply not discussed.

Perhaps this consensus will begin to be dissipated. A warning sign: David Stubbs undertook for Monitor a full-length study of 1975 as THE nadir for youth culture. Perhaps the result of vertiginous fascination, the research became protracted and ambiguous: the article never appeared. Any revisionist pop history could well return to this apparent low ebb and moment of partition. Greater importance should be attributed to hwat was disinvested, made unpopular, in the disturbances of ’76. If punk and new wave were predicated on a refusal of both “progressive” and glam, they were still intimately involved with them by derivation and opposition.

“Progressive” rock had entered its decadence by the mid-70s, but structurally it occupied the same space, musical and commercial, as punk. New musical departures, and a distancing from pop, had demanded independent labels (Island, Charisma, Vertigo, Virgin) and a valorization of “non-commercialism”. It was the music of college and artschool graduates, as was punk for all its claims to proletarian or underclass origins, and its audience was (lower) middle class. Punk’s styles and rhetoric necessitated conversion for this audience, who then had to define their choices by refusing most loudly what had so recently been their culture. For punk, the representatives above all of the superceded progressives were Pink Floyd: see Julie Burchill’s story of Johnny Rotten’s defaced and mutilated T-shirt in The Boy Looked at Johnny. Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, released only months before the events of ’76, is important for what it was and for what it nearly was. For once, Pink Floyd were surprisingly prescient: “Welcome to the Machine”, which described the alienation and expropriation implied in the traditional relations of labour and capital, was followed by “Have A Cigar”, about the co-opting of pop culture in to a spectacular leisure economy that ensures profit and social integration. The disenchantment with the record industry and the market was developed further in the sleeve. Such reflections were a little belated, after glam’s reflexiveness, and musically, of course, this was the antithesis of what punk meant in ’76. But then Wish You Were Here was substituted for a project called Household Objects: this was an LP made entirely with non-musical instruments, e.g domestic appliances, which was to be supplied with a guide to home music-making. Household Objects, in its break with instruments and its emphasis on participation, could hardly have failed to be more radical than punk’s return to the garage band and reinvention of rock music (while European and European-based pop had been inventing new musics throughout the early 70s--Faust, Magma, Henry Cow).

Punk’s borrowing, or descent from glam rock, was also obscured or forgotten in its unspecific reproach to all superstardom, affluence or glamour. Resemblances and repetitions abound: GLAM manifested itself as a disturbance and renewal in pop too, so that Nick Kent could write in ’73 that, “Slade’s total reconstruction of the energies that govern the workings of pure rock’n’roll music… has brought rock back to the people when it seemed to be going through its final death pangs” and Sounds could describe ’72 as a year of “spending energy” and “raw nerve ends”. GLAM too was a challenge to values, a return to vitality, as in Charles Shaar Murray’s account of Roxy Music, “new standards… impeccable bad taste… musical anarchy” (’73). GLAM too was an amplifier of strains in the social fabric, as in Alice Cooper’s readiness to “act through the audience’s fantasies” in this “society of bad taste”. Today’s rock critics, trained in semotics, have begun to concentrate on the self-consciousness of early ‘70s music. So the construction of the star is uncovered in the adopted personae--Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and his single-year career, Ferry’s foolish dreamer--allowing a distancing of the performer from his work and his status, a “confusion of levels”. Artifice and superficiality are emphasized. So gender differentiation and its concomitant social practices can be challenged by androgyny. And there can be a flirtation with inappropriate or forbidden matter--Bowie’s Hitler Superstar provocations or Roxy’s Nazi uniforms--that is stripped of its meaning or force by the context: compare punk’s Nazi preoccupations, 1979/80’s Joy Divison/ACR/New Order debacle, and the eternal anxiety of alternative/goth culture about Nazi overtones.

Elsewhere, in the undervalued and marginalized glam rock of these years, the music of Gary Glitter, the Sweet, the Glitter Band and Slik, a different, more perplexing and elusive deconstruction of pop is performed. If I am accused of too elaborate a reading, I must insist on the awe, pleasure and bafflement that the records still incite, especially in the case of Glitter.

Gary Glitter can not be assimilated to teenybop. His “boystown” image and dancefloor qualities put him in a different class from the Bay City Rolelrs, the Arrows or Hello. Nor does he belong with articulate and self-referential glam. In interviews he issued disclaimers: “my music is purely physical. It’s vulgar. It’s crude. It’s raw”. Glitter said that he could not “explain” his own image or image; rather than being distanced from his performance, he said, “I can’t detach myself for long enough to fathom out what I’m all about”, and “I’m so close to it myself that I could never see [its appeal] unless there was someone… to tell me.” There is no distance, no commentary, only a PROXIMITY that is, or would be, pure pop, pop’s prime signifier, the star. Glitter’s records are the approach to and FAILING of a pop that tries to pure, outside history, unmarked by incidentals or anything complex, pure sex appeal and directeness. Everything that has been said about Glitter--rock’n’roll revivalist, camp, over-the-top--is really only applicable to the late records when rock’n’roll was incorporated into the songs, there was a camp self-awareness. Before then, what is attempted is more like a minimalism.

Consider “Rock’n’roll (parts 1 and 2)”. A reviewer in Let It Rock called Part 2 “a castration op where you throw away the patient and keep the balls”: musically, sexually, Glitter imagines an unyielding, uninflected, un-soul, MASCULINE performance, without ambiguity. Glitter and Leander were attempting a sound “near rock’n’roll” but influenced by Afro-Rock. The single was improvised, and was mainly determined by what was left out, “layer upon layer of drums and guitar… we wanted to make it purely a tune and rhythm with no embellishments like harmonies or chords.” Leander claimed that it was not black music, but in some sense, a rock’n’roll record. The r’n’r is “deep down”, but it seems to me to be mainly there by association, by lyrical suggestion. What there IS is a minimal dance-track, unprecedented except perhaps for James Brown’s spare disco breaks, and vocals that are mixed well back, with a fast, slight echo that makes them disembodied, all attack and no decay, all hard edges and hardly inflected. When the Human League covered it, it could have been a manifesto for vocals-and-synths-only, and the cover could only succeed in so far as it managed not to add anything.

What makes Glitter interesting, what makes for a deconstruction of pop, is the failure of the minimal, a tension. The music and image are intended for communication and gratification without postponement, but are bound to be traversed by excess, lack or contradiction that are covered up. Glitter created an impossible star when his clothes were simply too contrived to be created outside publicity shots and could not even be worn on stage. The silver suits, slashed to the waist, emanated from nowhere, or from that imaginary place we now know as Boystown. The exposed chest isn’t a sexy suggestion of what is desirable, half-hidden. Instead the glimpse of the natural body only sends attention back to what is excessive, the un-natural envelope of fabric not usually intended for clothing, like suits of silver foil on a wire framework. We perceive the fetishistic: no longer a pure star, but something known to be a fetish, an abnormal fixation of attention, even a demand on our attention (Glitter can’t be a sex-object).

For Glitter, communication and sex appeal can be beyond delay or discontinuity. He quotes Brando in Last Tango In Paris, “’I don’t want to talk. I don’t need to talk, but we can still communicate.’ And he grunts and groans. That’s pretty similar to what I achieve.” Communication and content are coterminous: that is Glitter’s desire. The choreography and the inarticulate sounds are, as Glitter said, not meant to be suggestive--meanings are too clear and fixed. Like Roland Barthes’ strip-tease, the conventionalized, formal and inexpressive moves disperse sex appeal, are a ritual. In “Do You Wanna Touch Me”, there is no intention to suggest, instead there is a specific need, “touch me… THERE THERE THERE THERE”. There is only a single signified place, where desire will supposedly be satisfied: but satisfaction is postponed, which is what propels the song, is the incompleteness that Glitter’s dance discipline conceals, or rather around which it is constructed.

Glitter appears in a still from a TV performance of “Leader of the Gang”: he is wearing a sheer silver suit and platforms and is half-astride a customized chopper motorbike, caught in movement. There could be some sense of confusion--the silver suit doesn’t belong with the biker cults--but this seems unimportant. What matters is that a scene has been set-up that is placeless, without a context, where these contradictions disappear. All that is signified is a style that can be sustained only here. Glitter’s photos always reveal him in a motion or in an identifiable posture from a dance routine, itself made up of these discontinuities. His movements constitute a choreography only in their interruption, their moment of cessation and restraint, just as the music encloses ever-returning blank silences--the records are empty at the beginning, an awesome near-lack waiting to be occupied by, anticipating the vocals, but never being finally filled by them, and the bare chest too can never completely make the clothes, otherwise seamless, excessive, and without a proper place in the signifying-system of garments, lose their blankness and superfluity.

This is another deconstruction of the star, of pop, of the male, that had already surpassed the tactics of ’76, ’81…..

Thursday, August 10, 2006

"Plastic is the material of the future, after all..."

And the final instalment of the Tony Ogden RIP bonanza--bit of an oblique one, this: a piece that’s not actually about World Of Twist, but is in some ways a call for bands like them to come into existence. Written late 1989 or early 1990 (I’m not sure), a Melody Maker interview with Last Few Days, a long-forgotten band who started out industrial and then went through a remarkable glam metamorphosis.


A little over a year ago, a demo tape turned up in the post, from the now-defunct Product Inc*. The group's name,Last Few Days, stirred faint memories of a shaven-headed, vaguely totalitarian outift, with a single on the Touch label: a spartan electro work-out with the apocalyptic title "Too Much Is Never Enough". So I popped the tape in the machine, expecting something collectivist/constructivist, and out of the speakers leapt this crazed glam bubblegum apocalypse. "Soul Destroyer" and"Yes I Would" were all shockadelic attack and dead-eyed riffs, apoplectic menace ("I don't know what I want/I blow you apart") and brutally vacant intensity. "Wild" sounded like the missing link between Glitter's "Rock 'N' Roll Pt Two"and Cool J's "Rock The Bells". "Kix" was like Southern fried Spiders From Mars. And "Hot Tonite" was deliciously rubberised pulp funk, all bass squelch and spandex swank.

Raw raunch; self-preening vocals; rebellion in a void, without rationale, context or content; a kind of enflamed artifice. Last Few Days seemed to have found their way to the absence at the heart of glam. Their music suggested all manner of reference points - Alice Cooper, Glitter, The Sweet, Hello, T. Rex, KC and The Sunshine Band, Billy Idol - whose common denominator was an enormous instantaneous impact that burned out leaving nary a singe mark on the "official" history of pop. As '89 proceeded, and the noise extremists began to run up against definite limits, Last Few Days stragegy - updating the emptily sensationalist gestures and effects of Seventies glam - began to seem like an exciting option. After all, the early Seventies was the last time that extremity and pop had co-existed, as the norm.

Since then, I bided my time til Last Few Days got their shit together. Eventually they signed to Phonogram, with the single "Kicks" b/w "Hot Tonite" announcing a new, groovier direction. Finally I got to talk to Keir and Si, the core of LFD, over afternoon tea at Fortnum and Masons.

How did they come to make this massive leap from avant-gardism to trash pop?

Kier: "What we did back then was part of its era, that period after punk had killed everything off. It was a black couple of years, and that kind of soundtrack just seemed appropriate. There was a feeling around of the End of things. The late Seventies and early Eighties felt like music and culture in the death throes, really. Hence the obsession with noise and the darker side of things."

When did all that extreme noise terror become invalid for you?

“It wasn't a conscious decision, just that the times changed. As the Eighties wore on, we felt the music needed a more positive feel."

How did you come to reawaken to Seventies music? What's been lost from that period?

"A naivety, a sort of joyous expression, before punk and the late Seventies made you look at things twice, look at things harder. But you can't separate your experience of those things from your mentality at that time, and we were young. So the memory is tinged with innocence."

What Seventies groups in particular appealed to you?

"It was more that the whole area of mass music, commercial music, suddenly seemed interesting for the first time after a long period. It suddenly seemed like it was possible to express yourself within those confines. We started to listen to Radio One, and just got more into regular music, after years of extremism. We had been playing to three hundred people, and you don't feel like you're achieving very much. When we did this thing in Eastern Europe, we sometimes played to three thousand people, and that felt more real. We visited Poland and Hungary and Yugoslavia, playing with Laibach. The intention back then was total culture clash. Especially in Eastern Europe, we wanted to leave people with brain damage. We were trying to do shows that people would never forget."

Maybe the connection between what you did then and what you do now is that the early Seventies was the last time that shock rock could be chart pop. Even bubblegum groups like The Sweet and Sparks had a perverse hysteria to them.

Si: "They also had such a massive sense of fun, and wackiness, and I think that's really missing. We're trying to inject a bit of that. That real monster irreverent vibe."

I throw some of my thoughts at the pair. To me, it seemed like LFD had taken all the pinnacles of pop at its most inauthentic - glam rock, Bowie's plastic soul and plastic funk phase ("Fame", "Golden Years", "Fashion"), even the honky superstar pseudo-disco of Rod Stewart and Rolling Stones during their most discredited, mid-Seventies trough - and aggregated their most fabricated aspects.

"Plastic-y," nods Si. "Yeah, we're into that."

Kier: "Plastic is the material of the future, after all..."

The lyrics too aren't authentic or torn from the heart, but more like a string of fantastical buzzwords and fizzy doggerel.

"Fantasy and the fantastic is more inspiring to us, than that 'dear diary' approach to songwriting."

When I listen to "Hot Tonite" I imagine this rock star, wrapped in a fur stole, cruising around in a limousine from discotheque to discotheque, hustling for chicks and action. The new Last Few Days seems very pleasure-principled and hedonistic. The songs are all about kicks, getting down, groovin', "flying high". A stark constrast to their early days of shaven austerity and severity. New songs like "Work" and "Satisfy" are very much in the groovamatic "Hot Tonite" vein. Have they dropped the shock rock of that early demo tape?

"At the moment we're not really into the rockier stuff. It was kind of a bridge between the old Last Few Days and where we are now. Dance music and electronic music: there's a kind of purity to them. Perfect beats and clean noises**. Music is moving towards that cleanliness and plastic-ness. The Nineties are more about that purity."

But your groove is much more dirty and lowdown and from the hip, than House, which, as brilliant as it is, is pretty sexless.

"I think it's a different ... sort of sex, maybe. But dancing is never gonna be sexless, is it? I just think that the technology of pop is dragging music kicking and screaming into the machine age. People just can't match machines, can they? The sort of things we were into, extreme frequencies that affect people in ways they can't help, I'd like to do that to people in their living rooms rather than in some sleazy cinema."

Si: "I'm not sure I agree with all these notions of music being subversive and all that."

Kier: "Music on a mass market scale is an expression of the unconscious of the society, and it's a challenge if you're a musician to see to what extent your creative urges can fit in with that. And see if something new and the masses can coincide."

What might be jarring about Last Few Days if they charted is that their music is juvenile and ego-centric in a way that's been disallowed by the post-Live Aid consensus that pop should be adult-erated with altruism.

"A lot of that is just shallow guilt after having made a lot of money."

Like all successful capitalists, it's an attempt to to legitimate their domination with philanthropic acts.

"But it's inevitable that the generation that grew up with pop should want to start to shoulder responsibilites, rather than growing old disgracefully like the Stones. But you're advocating irresponsible pop music?"

I think that pop has lost touch with both its drive (the self) and its domain (the present tense). Pop is about burning up like there's no tomorrow.

Si: "Doesn't that make the caring pop more of an innovation?"

Historically, maybe. But I think the music's weakened because it's less ruthless, less carnivorous... But how will Last Few Days be live?

Si: "A big party, lots happening. Mayhem. Which is what we used to do. Going to see a band is such a boring thing, in a way."

Will you dress up?

Kier: "I think it's your duty. Don't you? I've got my eye on some nice yellow fur suits. Fake fur."

How does something as foxy and neon as "Hot Tonite" spring out of your everyday life? Is it a reaction against your life?

“It's more like a dislocation. I think every person is complicated, has lots of parts to them, and music is a way of giving voice to some of those parts."

So your secret self is a raver?*** Fey but rampant?

"I feel quite schizophrenic about it. When I get in a vocal booth, I feel I can let anything out. Fuck knows, what I do, you'd have to be there. Everybody has a greater potential, I think. The old Last Few Days had a much more group expression, where we presented a flat, aggressive, emotiveless front. We were provocateurs, and some gigs in East Europe got stopped by the police. We were never out to entertain people. We were out to provoke them, or upset them. Now we're trying to caress them. Tantalise them. I can't really imagine what we were trying to do before. I suppose it must have felt good and right for us then, but looking back it just seems perverse. Nasty. But it's hard to separate that from how you feel at 21. You feel the need to get a reaction, you feel negative towards the world. Now, all that seems black, nihilistic, heavy. You can generate just as much energy through having fun."


* Product Inc -- affiliated to Mute if I recall right; vaguely similar to Blast First; seemed quite a crucial label for a moment there (their roster included World Domination Enterprises)

** After the debut single Last Few Days misguidedly went “house”, their second single was really disappointing, shedding everything that made them seem exciting, and they faded away completely. I think they never even got to record an album.

*** “raver” used here not re. the contemporary E culture but in the Sixties sense--nympholeptic fan

I guess this Last Few Days piece is almost a manifesto for my own personal brand of POPISM, rooted not so much in New Pop as Nik Cohn’s SuperPop. (I’ve sometimes wondered what Cohn would have liked in the ‘70s if he had not lost interest in pop not long after Sgt Pepper’s when everything went bearded, self-serious and concepty. Would he have been into Bowie and Roxy, or found them too clever-clever and art-school? Surely he’d have dug Marc Bolan and T-Rextasy--although maybe the music itself wouldn’t have been LOUD enough for Cohn the Spector fan. Slade? Alice Cooper? He fell for disco obviously and even had a role in inventing its mainstreamed version with the fictionalized "report" on Brooklyn nightclubbers he did for New York magazine that became the source for Saturday Night Fever). C.f. “camp sublime” as used later in the WoT reviews, which I think is either something I nicked off Fredric Jameson, whose thick tome on postmodernism and late capitalism I’d just read/reviewed, or a concept reached with his help, as it were. The “sublime” is the rockist tinge to SuperPop: the craving for shock, sensation, having your eyes blown, pop as a force from above that leaves you rapt and raptured. And it’s that element (thoroughly absent in yer actual chartpop of that era, e.g. Stock Aitken Waterman’s brand of mild ‘n’ perky) which gives the Neo-SuperPop proposed here its bygone quality, that sepia-tint of epigonic yearning. Because those were different times.... and when bands materialised with similar ideas.... WoT, Denim, Saint Etienne... they would all fail. A failure that indicted the times maybe (in what godless universe does "Avenue" not become #1 for six weeks?!?!?!?), but so what… Of them all, only Pulp would make it.

(If WoT and their “moment” had a legacy, it was, I think, Big Beat’s “rave’n’roll”. The Chemical Brothers were indelibly marked by their time in Madchester. WoT were the first of the Manc-area/era bands not to sound baggy-mellow but uptempo/speed-E, to have a stompy Northern Soul beat rather than hazy-lazy shufflefunk looped for E-ternity. WoT's combination of techno-like rush-thrust dynamism with “warm” analog-y sounds is very Big Beat; there’s a track Fatboy Slim used to play a lot, either by or remixed by a breaks outfit called Soul of Man, that’s almost like a drastic dub version or distant cousin of “Sons of the Stage”, a this terrific whooshy chugger (wish I knew what it was called). As legacies go it’s not a bad one for WoT to have: much maligned then and now, but once the fog clears--the pall of cool--I reckon there’s three or four things by the Chems, three or four things by Fatboy, and Bentley Rhythm Ace’s "Return of the Hardcore Jumble Carbootechnodisco Roadshow" that will STAND as classics of Nineties dance production (“Everybody Needs A Filter” is just consummate), and will at veryleast outlast ooh the entire werks of Soma/Peacefrog/Dave Angel.)

Woebot feeling, just a little bit, the dubstep

That's kinda what I thought at Dub War the other month: the leading edge was most definitely the half-step. The slower the better. At times almost like jungle, screwed. Conversely, when dubstep goes midtempo and sprightly, it's like breakstep all over again, or that early Wookie track ("Scrappy"?), this sort of fidgety fuss-funk, useless.

He's right you know about Koxbox (they're from Denmark actually). I saw them play at a psy-trance rave in Puerto Rico (no really I did--a story for Spin). Great sproiiiinnng-y sounds flying hither and thither, like a clockwork mechanism disintegrating and scattering spindles and cogs everywhichway. Very drum'n'bass-like in the penchant for processing and drastic FX (hence why Matt's psy-trance friend dug "Terminator", clearly). The big buzzword in psy was "twisted", meaning heavily-effected (a sound that didn't have any effects on it was called "flat" and the psy-trancers hardly went in for flat at all). At this point (2000, some time after it was called Goa) the vibe had gotten quite darkside; in fact I was told that psy-trance nights were structured to have a "dark" phase usually during those few dead of night hours just before dawn. That Posford guy (can't believe Matt knows him), Hallucinogen also played, as did Hamburg's X-Dream, who were really raw and bare and heavy.
stimulating dialogue at Fangirl between herself and seb chan of cyclic defrost on the disappearance of independent record stores, touching on ideas related to what happens to the concept of subcultural capital when the old scarcity model of music/etc is replaced by dizzying gluttonously obscence abundance/accessibility-to-all, the decline of the public nature of music choice-as-visibilized-stance (as expressed through the "dissolving of clear modes of dress as subcultural identification") (c.f. Dick Hebdige "hiding in the light"), etc etc etc

reminded me i've been meaning to write about T-shirts and the whole thing of emblazoning your music choices on your chest, partly inspired by the recent New York Times magazine on ultra-cool T-shirt companies selling a hip/underground lifestyle as a sort of brand, but mainly triggered by a run of weird sightings e.g. a 16 year old kid in a Jaco Pastorious T-shirt, another same age in a Skrewdriver shirt (one can only hope the kid was oblivious to its connotations), and, for reason i can't quite fathom the most strangely disconcerting to me, another boy in a Tago Mago T-shirt (really yukky looking actually, like he'd spilled a carrot-and-ginger smoothy over his chest). (There was some other odd ones too but i'm blanking on 'em)

but later for that micro-thesis...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Various, Ammunition & Blackdown Presents: The Roots of Dubstep
Took a couple of go’s before it clicked, but yeah, niiiiiiiice (faintly embarrassed that only one or two of these “epochal” tunes I’d heard or even heard of… never much cared for Ghost and that kinda late 2step stripped-down, ooh-what-a-tasty-snare-sound-we-have deal i must admit). This comp confirms my feeling though that dubstep is fundamentally a “deep” genre rather than a rude’n’cheesy bashment one; it’s all about the subtleties, the exquisite details, the holding back from the anthemic. (There’s one tune on here, forget which, that’s so Looking Good/Fabio it’s unbelievable). So for me there’s a slight cognitive dissonance when you have this deepness-oriented sound but with all the accoutrements of ritual that pertain to a big bashy anthem-driven scene, ie. the rewind. It’s like a vestigial aspect hanging over from pirates culture/the Nuum, something that doesn’t really fit anymore.

Various/mixed by Manu Le Malin, Biomechanik III: The Final Chapter
Lenny Dee & Radium, Noise Brulee

Gabba lives! Apparently the numbers these records do in Europe are quite staggering. (And someone told me happy hardcore was stronger than ever in the UK). The same old pounding surge, the only difference I can detect being that they’ve upgraded their gear like everybody else so there’s all kinds of wispy sound-detail flying by vaguely redolent of ooh sasha/digweed actually, and the piledriver beat has this 3-dimensional girth to it. Wonder what Marc Acardipane’s up these days….

Clipse, “Mr Me Too”
Unexpected flash of life to the “just how weird can we make this beat and still be funky” thing… this one so abstract and noise-burbly it would not have disgraced the catalogue of Force Inc back in the day..

Def Leppard, “Rock On”
Tis the season of unlikely covers (Coal Chamber featuring Ozzy Osbourne’s impressively ugly version of Gabriel’s “shock the Monkey”). Actually this isn’t unlikely at all, given the Leppard’s glam’n’glitter roots. And it’s a well-chosen comeback single for a band entering its third (or fourth?) decade of existence. And it’s surprisingly well-done: the first bit, a sort of Pro-Tooled update of the dubfunk groove as originally done by Essex and producer Jeff Wayne, would, if not for the singer’s vocals, be getting plaudits in certain quarters as we speak if slipped out on a label like Perlon or Get Physical. (Well, they always had a “dub element to our sound” didn’t they, Def Leppard--the great cavernous guitarsound-streaked middle bit in the fabulous “Pour Some Sugar On Me”.). And then it goes into a sort of panoramically-produced chrome-plated blues-boogie a la “When the Levee Breaks” or “Gold Dust Woman”.

Wolf Eyes, Human Animal
Surprisingly agreeable--lots of bleak hollows and desolated spaces in the sound making it more like an isolationist record that neo-noise. Talking of which

Wasteland, All Versus All
A dose of desolationism from I-Sound and Scud... rave-survivors stalk the serotonin-parched endzones of South London ... a sister record to Burial's.

really feeling

Various, The World Is Gone
Impossible to describe without it sounding a bit wank really--dubstep/grime meets Britfolk. But it works and it’s not wank, not at all.

Mordant Music, Dead Air
Possibly unfair to make this comparison, I daresay this lot have been pursuing this tip for ages, but it certainly hits this listener as a post-Ghostbox record. Electronic music flitting between eerie and whimsy, baleful and jaunty; discernible influences from library music (the band have apparently just done some work for Boosey & Hawkes)… then there’s a trace of the Skam/Boards of Canada end of things…. and when it gets more beat-y and driving I think of early 90s UK techno: Ubik and Holy Ghost and stuff on Network and Outer Rhythm... pirate radio tunes before it all went totally breakbeat… lots of fun samples to spot as they whiz by… the Survivors theme tune: that shudder-ripple of electronic sound just when the bacterial-warfare scientist drops the vial of plague…. and ooh, that’s descending reverb-trail, that’s from Another Green World, “Sombre Reptiles” maybe … and the clincher for the Ghostbox comparison is the involvement of Philip Elsmore, whose warm, soothing tones will be recognizable to anyone who grew up in the UK in the 70s, on account of his being a continuity announcer for all the ITV regional franchises like Border, Tyne Tees, Southern and Thames… the mysterious Baron Mordant informs: “we tracked him down and interviewed him on the South Bank...he was delighted and mildly bemused to provide our continuity...originally it was slated to involve continuity only but the actual interview yielded so much that we cut and pasted him all o'er the tapestry...he was an abbo perb gent on all fronts”. So definitely on the hauntological tip. Excellent stuff, and it comes in great weird-shaped mustard yellow cardboard packaging. Here’s the band’s myspace ---their website proper is but seems to be on the blink.

Lady Sovereign, Public Warning (Def Jam)
Every bit as good as one could have hoped, and they seem to have refrained from doing an indie/Noo Wave makeover as in the grimette Gwen Stefani worse case scenario. in fact a bit more of a X Ray Spex/Selecter vibe might have been nice (a last minute swerve to avoid the gross outrage of being perceived by the public as a Lily Allen copyist, one wonders?)

not really feeling (yet)

Basement Jaxx, Crazy Itch Radio

Party like it’s 1999! It’s always a difficult one for any band--but especially an electronic band--trying to do the album after they’ve put out their Greatest Hits. The G.Hits is like a death knell, career-wise, generally. Orbital eked another album after theirs, didn’t they, before splitting, and following their greatest the Chems put out one that won a fucking Grammy in the Dance Musics category (bit like jethro tull winning the Best Hard Rock album in 1989 or whenever it was, though). My mate Andy Battaglia thinks highly of this so I will give it another go, although it sounded a bit toned-down and chastened on first listen. Plus the title Crazy Itch Radio adds another level of curse in so far as it’s never good when a band sums up too snappily its whole sound’n’vision-thing.

retro feeling

Sebadoh, III

Surprisingly enjoyable but the killer is the last track on the bonus disc, this insane self-hating tape that Lou Barlow made to play before the band went onstage back in the early 90s. which appeared once before on a SubPop compilation called Curtis B. Pitts, employee of the Month or something like that. The tape is Sebadoh savagely mocking themselves for being James Taylor with a fuzzbox, prostituting their own neurosis, self-absorbed little fucks, or something--it has this genuinely self-poisoned tone of ingrown and auto-mutilative sarcasm that is really quite as a powerful and telling a document of the slacker era as Slacker itself... some choice extracts:

"three guys who think it’s much more important if music is heartfelt rather than if the music sounds like shit or not -- SEBADOH

"figuratively pissing in your mouth, humiliating and subduing your spirit, exposing every nook and cranny of the human psyche -- way to go, SEBADOH

"searching for the lowest common denominator, resorting to tired tales of naughty boy boredom, asking annoying questions and providing ogus answers, self serving closet fascists, making money from marijuana masturbation, incompetence masquerading as inspiration, inspiration mistaken for true talent, a specter of egocentric behaviour sputtering wildly out of control -- ladies and gentlemen, indierock’s newest unrecognized genius of songwriting sucker punch… in a minivan for a six week tour -- SEBADOH

"borrowing the vast energy of positive pus monkey, Sebadoh snaps forth with remarkable agility -- nodding solemnly in sad resignation -- three guys who never went to college

"driving dozens of college age lemmings off the cliff of limited imagination, smashing their soft skulls on the jagged boulders of our bitter sarcasm -- three assholes --SEBADOH

"boring you shitless -- yet no one is approaching baldness -- laughing at your shortcomings -- tactlessly wielding destructive honesty to protect themselves from true feeling -- eagerly buttfucking your grandpa -- turning personal vendetta and small minded revenge tactics into eventual cult status - the only man in the world who truly appreciated the genius of the Swans -- LOU BARLOW"

Retro Really Feeling

Various, Popular Electronics
Dutch avant-classical from the 60s and 70s, some well avant and others of quite whimsical raymond scott/joe meeky nature, lots of radiphonic workshop style miniatures (79 tracks on one of the four discs!), at times so Ghostboxy it's untrue. See below for link.

Douglas Lilburn, Complete Electro-Acoustic Works
Antipodean composer, quite similar to the above, totally ace (courtesy the benefactor from down under as referenced below)
Penultimate instalment of the week-long Tony Ogden homage, a small one today....

Not content with making one of the greatest singles of the '90s ("Sons of the Stage") World of Twist managed to make a cameo appearance in another of that decade's greatest singles (well, okay, it should have been a single, in my dream memories of the early 90s it was #1 for eight weeks). I'm talking of course of Saint Etienne's "London Belongs To Me", off Foxbase Alpha. The lyric:

Took a tube to Camden Town,
Walked down Park Way and settled down
In the shade of a willow tree,
Someone hovering over me.
Close my eyes, breathe out slowly.
Today the sunshine loves me only

To the sound of the World of Twist
You leant over and gave me a kiss.
It's too warm to even hold hands,
but that won't stop us from making plans.
Close our eyes, breathe out slowly.
Today London loves us only.

Do you ever wonder where we've been?
Do you ever wonder where we're going?
Just close your eyes.
Just close your eyes.
Just close your eyes, and breathe out slowly

Tonight the world loves you only.
Just close your eyes.
Just close your eyes.
Just close your eyes.
Just close your eyes.


"I found a reason not to die
The spark inside"
-- "Underground Medecin", The Fall

Word of Twist as the Fall if they'd embraced the lie-dream of Wigan Casino soul?
"there is very little call for it"

Specks of addenda (yeuch that sounds gross actually) to the Mighty Woebot's fascinating and scan-tabulous post on the prehistory of British electronic music

* Trevor Wishart. The guy who co-founded the Manchester Musicians Collective, along with Dick Witts, also of avant-classical background, who led his own band The Passage, which had an electronic element.

* A month or so ago I got an email from Bob Dickinson, the original keyboard player (and violinist!) in Magazine, before Dave Formula replaced him. Dickinson was from an avant-garde classical background: when he saw the famous notice in the Manchester Virgin store from Devoto looking to recruit members, he had "just finished doing a 6-hour version of Gavin Bryar's 'Sinking of the Titanic' at the Peterloo Gallery (with Dick Witts)". But his avant-electronic informed approach didn't gel with Devoto's vision and he left shortly after the band signed to Virgin. He wrote: "The main problem, as I sensed it, was my extra-curricular work whilst with the band-- I was still studying electronic music at Keele and playing in a duo, 'Bob and his Dick' (with Dick Witts, later of 'The Passage') and, unlike the other members, perhaps not a 100% committed band-member (I was commuting daily for rehearsals and not living in Manchester). There was also a definite preoccupation with 'image' which just did not interest me. "

Bizarrely Dickinson had intersected with postpunk even earlier:

"I studied music at Sheffield Uni from 1973 - 76. Was very much an 'avant-garde outsider' in a music department predominantly populated by classical musicians. However, whilst there, I teamed up with a fellow student, Chris Thornton. In 1975 we started the Sheffield Musicians Co-Operative and with the help of the Uni and Yorkshire Arts deviously arranged a regular series of experimental music gigs. One of these was a gig by a piano duo - Dave Smith (who now directs the Gavin Bryars ensemble) and John Lewis - who played 'Music in Similar Motion' and 'Music in Fifths' by Phillip Glass plus 'Piano Phase' by Steve Reich. Chris Watson and the other Cabs (Richard Kirk and Stephen Mallender) turned up and that's really how we met....The Cabs had visited the music department at Sheffield Uni previously to play around with the gear in the small electronic music studio in the attic of the department building on Taptonville road (the gear included VCS3 synths and a synthi AKS). Following this initial meet I invited them to do a gig in the Arts Tower of Sheffield University (Lecture Theatre 7, if I recall). This took place in May 1976. The programme included a number of pieces by the French composer, Jean-Yves Bosseur, whose work I had been introduced to by Dick Witts... but who at the time was promoting performances of new music at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. The whole programme ran something like this:

"'Completely Sweet': Bosseur - a newly realised version by myself played by a student ensemble
'Read Schubert': Bosseur - a solo piano piece 'deconstructing' a Schubert piece and played by Peter Hill (who is now one of the foremost exponents of the piano music of Messiaen)'

"'1898' - Mauricio Kagel

" 'Trance-formations' : by me (an ensemble piece using the fibonacci sequence as a structural basis for repetitive motives)

" 'Exhaust': Bosseur - realised by Cabaret Voltaire. The original piece is a short text piece from a collection of other text pieces called 'Time to take it

" ''Viet-song': Cabaret Voltaire/Me - the Cabs provided a backing tape of synth sounds plus a projected film loop. I remember being onstage standing infront of a flickering TV screen and then moving over to play improvised atonal music at the upright piano - very angular and dissonant

"Re. the audience response [in Rip It Up, Richard H. Kirk says the audience was horrified and "we weren't invited to the after party"] : nothing special really, probably were stunned into an apathetic silence by what they heard (the audience was mainly classical music types of the 1975 variety!).

"Following this first gig by the Cabs at Sheffield Uni, they then joined me and my experimental music group (called 'E-Music') to travel over the Pennines to do a very strange gig at my old school, The Derby School, Radcliffe road, Bury. This must have been May/June 1976. It took place in the main hall of the school to a full house of a couple of hundred kids ranging in age from 11 to 18. My group did a piece called 'Marsyas Musique' which consisted of a free improvisation to a projected film made by another French composer called Pierre Marietan (who worked with the same performance group as Bosseur). The Cabs did a performance using tapes and synths. During this someone pulled the plug but things were soon re-connected, power restored and the gig continued. A complaint was made as exams were taking place in the adjacent gym !!! On the day I also arranged for other things to occur at the school which included an artist from Rochdale who had created this automaton with an electric saw who was cutting up books !!! I think the Cabs signed the visitors book.The final collab with The Cabs was a set of tapes and films they prepared which I took to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 1976 with other members of the Sheffield Musicians Co-Operative. We were performing at Leith Town Hall and sharing the space with a student theatre group presenting some quite traditional theatre.They didn't attend in person. The theme of their piece was Donald Nielsen, the 'Black Panther' who kidnapped and subsequently murdered a teenage girl. Very disturbing to say the least. They also produced some handouts. The intention was to present them in a programme which included the 'Marsyas Musique' piece by Marietan, a vocal ensemble piece by Bosseur based on texts from 'Finnegans Wake' by James Joyce using the 'mesostics' technique of John Cage, called 'Anna Livia's awake'. I think the tapes were played once and someone objected - Lol Coxhill and Gerry Fitzgerald turned up for the Marietan piece along with an American new music journalist called John Schneider. Lol and Gerry ended up improvising along with the film. Bosseur also came along for the trip from Paris but did'nt take too kindly to the tent accomodation provided. On return the tapes were supposed to have been sent back to The Cabs but they got lost in transit...... "

Following this Dickinson lost contact with the Cabs when he went to study at Keele. Today he is involved in numerous musical endeavours, lectures in music, and also published a book in 2001 via Capall Bann called Music and the Earth Spirit

* seems like there's some prog and psych intersections with avant-c electronic/concrete worth noting... Matt notes the Goonsy Anglo-Surrealist/absurdist aspect to some of this britronica, and you get that in spades from Ron Geesin, mucker of Pink Floyd (who had their electronic moments: "On the Run" on Dark Side of the Moon, albeit more pulsetronic proto-trance than avant) .... George Harrison's Electronic Music is basically him messing about on a then state-of-art synt, ... and we know all about Paul MaCartney's dabblings in this area .... David Vorhaus the guy behind White Noise went on to do a second record in 1975 (sans Delia Darbyshire, and on Virgin) called White Noise 2 , a "Concerto For Synthesizer" if you will--cool systems-y electronica, if not quite grab-you-by-the-throat avant. Egg did a reputedly concrete-y tour de force of tape collage called "Boilk" on their The Polite Force album of 1970... Peter Hammill's In Camera if i recall right has a well-weird track at the end that's quite concrete-y, and there's elements of that creeping into Van Der Graaf Generator things like “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers’ and the 15 minute triptych “Squid 1/Squid 2/Octopus” that's bonus material on one of the recent reissues.... Those VDGG pieces are quite in the vein and vibe of the schizo-collagey sounds-effects-y track "The Bob (Medley)" on Roxy's first album, and one thing I stumbled on recently was this:

Electronic Music: The Instruments, the Music & The Musicians
by Andy Mackay (Harrow House, 1981)

Yes it's the same Andy Mackay -- I didn't know that in addition to Eno there was a second Roxy member deeply involved in avantgarde classical music. How he went from that to doing the Rock Follies music is fairly boggling.

It's actually a rather fine book, a straightforward and accessible introduction to this area, covering the machines, the composers, the history of both in classical and how it filters into popular music, with plenty of good pictures. Well worth the $10 it cost me.. There's a section at the end of potted biographies of major players in the history of electronic music and, confirming Matt's contention, there's precious few Brits in there. But there is one on Tristam Cary:

TRISTAM CARY (1925...)
English composer. After studying science and philosophy at Oxford, Cary embarked on a musical career, having experimented in the application of electronics to music following his Navy experiences as a radar technician. During the fifties and early sixties he was one of a select few pioneers of electronic music in Britain. To finance his own research, he composed incidental music for radio, films and television. In 1968 he founded a studio at the Royal College of Music in London, and the following year, in partnership with the brilliant systems designer Peter Zinovieff, founded Electronic Music Studios Ltd. manufacturers of the famous Synthi series. He now teaches at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

* finally: In weird synchronicity/serependity, the day after reading Matt's post i'm wading through this fabulous box set of avant-electronic music from the 1950s/1960s Netherlands, Popular Electronics (courtesy of a benefactor from down under). The final track is a "spoken letter" from Englishman Fred Judd to Tom Dissevelt, one of the Dutch composers on the box set, and it's taped reply, made probably in 1963 or thereabouts, to Dissevelt's enquiry about the prospects for this kind of thing in the UK. And (chiming with Matt's argument) Judd says in this hesitant sadsack garden-shed/allotment/shove-h'appenny all-too-English voice:

"I think what I'm going to have to say, you may find somewhat disappointing. Now I think I should explain to you, that first of all, in England, that as far as electronic music is concerned, there is very little call for it. I don't think anyone in this country has had an electronic music recording produced, and unfortunately, the sort of return one would get for doing this kind of work is very very small indeed.... Rather like Holland I should imagine, very few people over here listen to any new kinds of music--the pop music, so-called pop music--the Beatles and so on--the teenagers' music, they have precedence here. And the only demand these days is for this teenage music. "

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

"We're a celebration of everything - except life!"

Part three of our week-long Tony Ogden/World of Twist memorial: an interview with the band by me that appeared November 2 1991 in Melody Maker. It's mostly with guitarist Gordon King (Ogden's songwriting partner) and drummer Nick Sanderson, but the singer turned up near the end to make a few comments.


"When I went to see Hawkwind as a 14 year old kid," recalls Gordon King. World Of Twist's guitarist, "I was awestruck. I thought 'where the fuck do they live, what kind of people are they?!' I was fascinated. Seeing Nik Turner walking around with someone's head on a axe, behaving like a twat, or Bob Calvert narrating some of his drivel - I just thought it was a really heavy trip. 10 years later, you listen and you have a really good laugh."

That's as good an evocation of the confused drives behind 'kitschadelia' as you'll get. Kitschadelia is what happens when an aspiration to the monumentalism of pre-punk, is checked by post-punk irony. Seen through the primal gaze of the quintessential pop kid, The Sweet's plastic insurrection, Gary Glitter's barbarian bubblegum, Marc Bolan shrouded in Top Of The Pop's cheapo purple haze effects, were truly apocalyptic, genuinely alien. In retrospect, you have to laugh at the crass sensationalism, the naff, over-stated effects; at the time, your eyes were blown.

World Of Twist aren't alone in hankering for the lost innocence of what Nik Cohn called SUPERPOP. There's St Etienne, with their dreams of gold lame, limousines, and a Phil Spectoresque empire of puppet-proteges. There's Teenage Fanclub, whose Bandwagonesque is virtually a concept album about Seventies glam'n'metal. In the States, Urge Overkill's ironic-yet-awesome anthems like "The Kids Are Insane"
resurrect the stadium rock of their adolescence. Partly, bands are playing with the idea of superstardom, as a way of coming to terms with the insignificance of being a rock band in 1991. Partly, it's a genuine envy of the days when rock was titanic, hysteria-inducing, before punk demystified the process, enabled/obliged us to see through the spectacle.

"The finest age you go can through with pop is when you're thirteen," avers drummer Nick Sanderson. "It's all totally fresh, you're so obsessed."

"You can be so snobby about everything," adds Gordon. "You can be at school and everyone's into Gary Glitter and Slade - which I did like, I admit - but I'd sneer and say 'I like progressive'. I had long hair, an Afghan coat and a gas mask bag. I was three years ahead of my contemporaries, and hated by everyone. I didn't have a girlfriend til I was 18! You forget that that still goes on - there's probably some 13 year old kid with the modern equivalent of a gas mask bag with World Of Twist's logo on it, and he's sneering at the kids who like Carter".

Like Gordon, Nick was obsessed with Genesis, Bowie, Roxy Music, Peter Hammill of Van Der Graaf Generator. "If I'd known then, aged 13, that one day I'd be doing an interview with Melody Maker, the progressive paper, I'd have cried tears of absolute joy. It was my first music paper."

Gordon: "It's got the best name as well. Born in a different era. But I've got to pick you up on one thing, Simon - Melody Maker seems to have dropped the folk rock coverage. Why is that? There was some lovely, lovely bands on that scene. What happened to Gryphon?"

From their unlikely beginning as prog rock fiends, Nick and Gordon moved on to Northern Soul - all nighters, spending forty quid on rare singles. Then came punk. "When punk happened, I had to hide half my albums when people came round," remembers Gordon. "All the prog stuff."

Nick: "You had to rewrite history. It was very Stalinist. Me, I had to put all my albums at the back of the collection, make out I didn't listen to music."

Gordon: "During punk, the band that finally drove my dad into a fit of rage was XTC on So It Goes - the most innocuous of the lot. All his pent-up fury went on them".

Perhaps the most long-lasting effect of punk was irony; after the Pistols, you could never quite return to the life- and-death seriousness of imagining rock as a world-changing force. In some ways, the spirit of punk lives largest and most visible in Vic Reeves, who's as much a part of the kitschadelic sensibility as any of the bands. As it happens, Gordon's turn of phrase (lots of arch expressions like "super", "hopping mad", "slap-up nosh") is tres Vic.

Post-punk irony is both curse and blessing. Pre-punk, rock stars took themselves seriously to the point of madness.

"We recorded the album at Real World, Peter Gabriel's studio," says Gordon. "And he's a classic case of a man who's lost touch with reality. The title of the studio's so ironic. He was a childhood idol of me and Nick, and we were dead keen to meet him. But he was really shy. Worse thing is, he makes such strenous efforts to stay in contact with the real world. It's almost touching. Like he kept making cups of tea for everybody in the whole room. It's little gestures like that, where he's trying to say 'I am normal'. Yes all went mad, too."

Punk's more immediate effect, though, was to discredit the idea of spectacle, of the performer as superhuman or otherworldly. Apart from a few shamanic, glam-influenced figures like Siouxsie and Adam Ant, the main thrust of punk was demystificatory, icon-oclastic. The first group to break ranks and reinstate the idea of spectacle was The Human League - a big influence on WoT.

"The best gig I've ever seen was Human League at the Lyceum, just before the girls joined. It was just so strange. I used to go all the big, progressive shows - Hawkwind, Genesis, all the dinosaur groups - so I wasn't aware of the irony involved in the League. I just thought, after four years of sweaty pogoing and ordinary blokes onstage, that this was the kind of SHOW I'd secretly always wanted."

In fact, Human League were the first kitschadelic group, the first to go back to yesterday's idea of the future. They even covered Glitter's "Rock'N'Roll". WoT hate "politically motivated pop", bemoan the recent overdose of drab realism, lament the fact that TOTP is a barren zone, devoid of aliens and freaks. Acid house, great as it was/is, has only contributed to the new facelessness. Like the League back in '79, World Of Twist stand almost alone against the resurgence of "ordinary geezer-ism" (Carter, drongo bands, knob-twiddling rave technicians). WoT want to bring back awe, fascination, a gulf between audience and band.

"We're trying to do something a bit larger than what everyone else does. But it's not like we're really arrogant. It's just that, from when I used to go and see bands as a kid, the ones I remember are the really massive groups."

Quality Street, World Of Twist's debut album, sounds larger than life. At the risk of labouring the Human League analogy, I'd say it's a Dare for the Nineties.

"It's the only pop album available, isn't it?" says Nick.

World Of Twist dwell on a most peculiar planet of sound. The album ranges from monumental moog-mantras like "Sons Of The Stage", "The Lights" and "On The Scene", to glutinously saccharine love devotionals like "Jellybaby" and "Speed Wine". The stand-out track, "The Spring", cuts between mock- orchestral lavishness and seriously cosmic trance-rock, while cryptic lyrics conjure an Ecstasy-addled vision of pop
utopia. Bubblegum sitar, corny horn flourishes, Northern soul beats, Dave Gilmour/Loop guitar curlicues, mucoid spurts of synth, aciiied frenzy - it ought to be a mess, but the absurdly motley inputs come together like a dream.

"We're all fired up by such different things, we're too old for that unity thing," says Nick. They're an absurdly motley crew. Visual technician and Catweazle-lookalike Adge's ideal night, says Gordon, would be a rave; "my ideal night would be a Northern Soul all-nighter." Nick's would be a weeekend in pre-glasnost East Germany. He used to be morbidly obessed with the late, unlamented DDR - with the dimly lit drabness, the all-pervading misery, the surly restaurant service. "Everybody wore crap versions of Western clothes, Finnish jeans - they all looked like Mark E. Smith. I went so many times, they wouldn't let me in anymore."

And then there's crooner Tony Ogden, who (according to Gordon) listened to things like MC5 "way back when they weren't cool like they are now", but who is now more enamoured of mid-Sixties pop cabaret like The Honeycombs. "They had very peculiar sound for the time, the vocals were recorded on ten tracks, sped up and slowed down". A jittery, cagey fellow, Tony's contributions to the interview are coded and evasive. Asked where the obsession with sweets (Quality Street, "Sweets", "Jellybaby") comes from, he replies "it's a purely accidental, confectionery connection." Nick adds "'cos, personally, I'm more of a savouries man."

A lot of songs about are the exhiliration of pop, the thrill of neon-blitzed Saturday Nite, being "on the scene". Does World Of Twist music come out of your life or out of a love of pop?

Tony: "We're a celebration of pop, no doubt about it. We're a celebration of everything - except life! It's a celebration of celebration as well. There's so much celebrating going on, you wouldn't credit it. Serious!"

What's your ambition for World Of Twist, your dream state of total achievement?

"We want to make both the best and the worst record of our time."

* “a Dare for the Nineties” -- erm, not quite. Even if it hadn’t tanked totally in the marketplace, it’s no match for Dare-- the Grid weren't exactly blessed with the Martin Rushent Midas Touch, indeed their botched production gives the record a curiously muted and at times unfocused feel (they should have done it all in mono, sounds more forceful that way apparently). Still the strength of the songs shines through, just about.

**“a purely accidental, confectionery connection”
It fits WoT’s plastic fantastique pop artificieur’s vision-thing, being into all things candytastic and sugar-rushy.... makes sense they would align themselves with the processed, the refined, the non-nutritive/not-good-for-you, the non-wholesome/wholegrain (c.f. Words and Music’s antipathy to the wooden/woodsy) (c.f. Scritti on processed pop/whitebread/sweetness and the criminality thereof)
.... but I’m being naïve, it’s all code for drugs, right? Listening to Quality Street again after all these years, with the benefit of ardkore knowledge, it can seem like half the songs are obliquely hymning E….. even, or especially, the ones that present themselves as love songs ( c.f. Baby D “Let Me Be Your Fantasy”) … I mean who is this “rocket girl” who
takes me to another world” and why is the track called “Speed Wine” when those words don’t appear in the song? (I vaguely recall in the drunken after-interview phase Gordon and Nick telling me what speed wine was and then forgetting). Is it really a flesh-and-blood woman who's ”the queen of my mind” cos she makes him “come alive to the dancey music” in "Jellybaby"? Who in "Lose My Way" melts him "like the snow... ties me like a bow" and has his (straight?) friends worried sick cos he's “acting like a fool” and “she's going to make me lose my way”? And who's the "you" of "On the Scene” who makes "the moon so full/everything's soft like wool”? Even as an near-innocent in those days I could tell what the idyll of "The Spring" was about. But the best songs on the album have lurking behind or even inside the euphoria, hints of darkness... interior shadows that can only be banished by intense doses of artificial illumination... "The Lights" reads ecstastic but the delivery has a ravenous desperation, a precariousness. And then there's this unexpected aside in "Sweets":

"Life is rushing by
And I can feel it leaving
We'll all going to die
And I can't take it baby"

Tony Odgen was from Stockport-- same as Martin Fry and Paul Morley. “The Lights” made me think of the city of pop, the city of light, in Words and Music. (And also, inevitably,"Neon Lights", my favourite K-werk, and maybe the very tune Morley was thinking of when he wrote
there was absolutely nothing wooden about Kraftwerk”.) How much artificial sunshine, how much cultural E-lectricity, how much glam, is required to abolish those grey Northern skies, those lowering moors... and to resist their corollary, the downward drag of depression… ("The Storm": “I've tried a thousand times/To make the sun shine in my mind/But the mind will not be warmed/I can't release it from the storm.”

Intriguing that Morley’s next book (prefigured by this) is apparently about the idea of “North” in British music…. a reckoning with the “real” he’s so often tried to flee, a prodigal son's return to the s(t)olid ground of provincial dreariness he wrote about with such incongruous vividness in Nothing?

For what happened next after Quality Street check here and also here for stuff on the "lost WoT album" that may yet see the light of day, and also these two posts from WoTfanblogger A Hazy Day Today

Sunday, August 06, 2006

second instalment of the week-long tribute to Tony Ogden, late great frontman of World of Twist: a live review from Melody Maker, April 6 1991.

Astoria, London

World Of Twist are fascinated by yesteryear's
quaint ideas of the futuristic: Tomorrow People typography,
obsolete synthesisers and man-made fabrics, astro-lamps,
fiber optic ornaments and other long-lost fads - all the drek
that Victor Lewis-Smith's Buygones used to rake up. This
kind of penchant usually leads to negligible whimsy of the
Half Man Half Biscuit ilk. But World Of Twist have somehow
evaded the belittling gaze normally associated with
camp'n'kitsch, the odious trait of looking down on pop
culture's preposterous excesses from a position of
superiority. World Of Twist's music is of a different order
of magnitude: it seems to look down on you. Their songs are
monumentally absurd, ziggurats of tinsel and tack. World Of
Twist are sublime (original meaning: an experience so vast
and unmanageable it inspires speechless, humbled awe) and

Let the bubblegum apocalypse unfurl... A bedlam of
flanged bass, phased cymbals, dry ice and stroboscope mayhem,
then it's straight into the single, "Sons Of The Stage".
Those obscenely fartacious moogs spurt like spume from a
whale's blowhole, then percolate in sensurround like a
man-made sargasso sea. Tentacles of dralon, rayon and orlon
enfold your limbs; the chorus "the floor's an ocean/And this
wave is breaking/Your head is gone and your body's
shaking/There's nothing you can do and there is no
solution/Gotta get down to the noise and confusion
" is
Dionysian doggerel to ignite teenybop bacchanalia. The
closing pseudo-orchestral coda is like a symphony for perspex

The folk responsible for this kitsch-adelic fantasia are
a motley bunch: singer Tony Ogden looks like a malnourished
Bryan Ferry, a cut-price fetishist in that hideously
inorganic, black gloss shirt; wizened techno-wizzard Adge
really does seem to come from some 1971 timewarp; guitarist
Gordon King looks and plays like a fugitive from Loop; blowsy
Julia Vesuvius is a bird and no mistake. But this is fine:
they have the blemished and decidedly mortal look that pop
groups had before the video age. And World Of Twist are not
rock'n'roll, not soul, not even "dance" (although they
partake of elements from all the above), but pop in the
purest and most bygone sense of the word. Their domain should
really be the discotheque, if such places still existed,
rather than the nightclub or the rock venue. World Of Twist's
"roots" are those phases when pop has been most rootless and
inauthentic (glam, Northern Soul, Hawkwind), when subcultural
styles have been co-opted and travestied by bubblegum
mimicry. It's so right that they should cover "She's A
Rainbow", from that period when The Stones shamelessly jilted
authentic R&B to hitch a ride on flower power's coat tails.
And their version of MC5's "Kick Out The Jams" reveals the
counter culture anthem to be pretty much on the same level as
The Sweet's "Teenage Rampage": a gloriously vacant blast of
insurrectionary hot air.

"The Storm" is a neon kaleidoscope, a planetarium fallen
into the hands of acid freaks. One mesmering miasmic mantra
(possibly entitled "On The Scene") makes me momentarily
imagine them as The Velcro Underground. "Life And Death" has
the most epic, life-and-death bassline since "Keep Feeling
Fascination" (the Human League are a righteous reference
point for WoT); future schlock-waves of glutinous moog engulf us in
plastic bliss. The kitsch-quake cometh, and it'll blow your

Friday, August 04, 2006

the first instalment of a week-long tribute to Tony Ogden, yet another severed link to the glory days of UK oddpop.... my review of “Sons of the Stage”, Melody Maker, March 23rd 1991

"Sons of the Stage"

Camp is all about a belittling delight in the quaint artificiality and over-stylisation of bygone pop culture; an aesthetic response wherein affection is mingled with contempt. Camp in pop has meant--Pet Shop Boys, Transvision Vamp, all that sorry school of shite.

But now here come World Twist, with an astonishing single that reconciles these opposites and offers the dizzying possibility of a “camp sublime”.

“Sons of the Stage” is a bugger to describe, which is always a good sign. Imagine a sound somewhere between Can and Vic Reeves, oceanic rock and a lava lamp. It’s camp and it’s cosmic. Kitsch-adelia is the best term I can find to evoke the flatulent fanfares of symphonic Moog, the spirograph curlicues of acid rock guitar, the monstrous, stomping beat. Yet underneath the arched eyebrows and laconic Northern irony, World of Twist are obviously fired up by an ardour for the imposing idiocy of pop, its vacant menace and preposterous splendour, as manifested by bubblegum barbarians like Glitter, the Sweet, David Essex. The lyrics set up a fantastical scenario of communal freak-out, joining the dots that run from acid rock through Northern Soul to Hawkwind and “Teenage Rampage” right up to rave culture. After this camp bacchanalia, the final coda--a fake orchestral fantasia of phased guitars and babbling Moogs--is a plastic apocalypse worthy of Prince, at once tacky and sacramental.



the lyrics to "Sons of the Stage"--the best evocation ever of what it feels like to be on a ravefloor in the thick of an Ecstasy-ravaged crowd

The beat breaks down so we pick it up
The floor shakes down but it's not enough
The beam is up and the kids are high
I've seen them move and it blows my eyes
The floor's an ocean and this wave is breaking
Your head is gone and your body's shaking
There is nothing you can do because there is no solution
You gotta get down to the noise and confusion

The sound goes round and we start to climb
The lips curl up and it kills my line
The beat is steal and the scene is sown
I see her eyes and her eyes are blown
The floor's an ocean and this wave is breaking
Your head is gone and your body's shaking
There is nothing you can do because there is no solution
You gotta get down to the noise and confusion

Out of our minds on the stage

[repeat first verse]

from the World of Twist site
still sad about Syd and now THIS

RIP Arthur Lee

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

This unbearable itch to do something, even if its crap!”
What we might be aiming for… is a kind of systematic re-ordering of the senses within a culture that generally wants/needs us to be as maximally sensation-hungry as possible.”

A proposal for an “ascetic bohemianism” c/o Carl Neville’s the Impostume, currently the blog that’s most relentlessly hitting the entertainment-meets-edification G-spot (although Kpunk’s post on "Conspicuous Force and Verminisation" puts things back in contention maybe)
"We're a celebration of pop, no doubt about it. We're a celebration of everything - except life! It's a celebration of celebration as well. There's so much celebrating going on, you wouldn't credit it."

RIP Tony Ogden

"We want to make both the best and the worst record of our time."