Tuesday, April 28, 2009







white lines... blow away

(images from the gatefold inner sleeve of Fleetwood Mac 1980 live LP documenting the Tusk tour)

fourth instalment in an irregular series occasioned by the large number of friends who've got books out this year

No, I've not got a ouija board and I'm not claiming to be pally with the author of Against Nature. The mate here is Paul Oldfield, although "mate" doesn't seem quite the right word for someone whose byline in Margin was once prefaced with "the apocalyptic sobriety of...". Also the state of "mate" is somewhat lapsed; I wouldn't even have known about this book at all if another Margin/Monitor veteran, Hilary Little, hadn't kindly given me her
own personal copy of this when I saw her in Manchester on the Totally Wired micro-tour. "Make" also needs to be qualified: Paul didn't write this book, obviously, but he did the translation, wrote the foreword and annotations, and in every other respect almost literally made the book--designed it, chose the font and paper stock, selected the illustrations, self-published it on his own Caryatid Classics imprint. This is the first English translation of a J.K. Huysmans miscellany originally published in 1874 as Le Drageoir a Epices. In Paul's foreword (as far as I know, the first piece of publicly available criticism he's penned since dropping out of the music press game circa 1990) he itemises the contents of A Dish of Spices -- "splenetic prose-poems", "sketches of street-life in suburban Paris", "comic-grotesque fantasy in the manner of Poe or Gautier", "tableaus suggested by Flemish painting", "faux-antique ballades," "parodies and caprices" and "illuminated Symbolist opiates." Huysmans's own dedication goes: "TO OLD FRIENDS, I dedicate this whimsical spread, these odds and ends and bagatelles". To old friends....

Monday, April 27, 2009


I can't be at the Hardcore Continuum seminar at UEL this Wednesday (details here and
here; note that Martin Clark has since been added to the line-up). But I can be there in spirit with the following handy check list of misconceptions about the nuum, ideal for printing out as a card and consulting whenever you feel in danger of hearing, or indeed emitting, a fallacy.

fallacy #1: the nuum is a theory
It's something you can theorize about, certainly, but fundamentally it's an actually existing, empirically verifiable (and abundantly verified) thing-in-the-world, like jazz or reggae or folk or metal. "Continuum" is another way of saying tradition, which I prefer because "tradition" has that folksy/rootsy whiff about it and suggests an orientation towards conserving/preserving. "Continuum", more neutral in aura, suits a music culture that's temporally a two-way street, always simultaneously harking forward and vibrantly haunted by its past.

fallacy #2: the nuum is prescriptive
The misconception here is a mental image of a bouncer standing in front of a door barring admittance. How it actually works: new sounds emerge from the area of sound/culture/demographic under consideration, they have links to what came before, and what's interesting is to work out how strong the continuity is and what are the significant differences. Sometimes the links start to seem tenuous to the point where it feels like the music has branched off in another direction, perhaps ultimately to merge with other traditions/continuums. But this is descriptive as opposed to prescriptive.

fallacy #3: the nuum is parochial
Even quite sharp people have been heard to complain that the nuum concept doesn't "take into account" sound X from America, sound Y from Europe… But no one would say of an ethnomusicological study of cajun music that it was parochial for focusing primarily on Louisiana; no one would insist "hey, you should really factor in salsa to your analysis". The nuum is by definition UK-centric. To those who feel "left out," all I can say is: attend to your own continuums!

fallacy #4: the nuum = nineties
Grime and dubstep are indisputably extensions of UK garage, itself an extension of the nuum, its "Part 2". Grime and dubstep are undoubtedly phenomena of this decade (as are those other UKG offshoots bassline and funky). Yet strangely some of the same people who insist on grime and dubstep's continued vitality also like to maintain that the Nuum is a Nineties phenomenon. You can't have it both ways! Sure, the conditions within which music is made, distributed, discovered, consumed, etc, have changed a fair bit since 1992. But that makes the self-consistency of this strand of sound/subculture, its ability to change while remaining the same, all the more remarkable and intriguing.


There are other fallacies but this is enough to be going on with. One final observation: on Wednesday the phrase "UK bass music" will crop up quite frequently I expect. Bear in mind that "UK bass music" is just a colourless and contentless synonym for "hardcore continuum."

* "You and Me and the Continuum": a story by J.G. Ballard would you believe!

Sunday, April 26, 2009


third instalment in an irregular series occasioned by the large number of friends who've got books out this year

I'm sure Owen would much prefer to be described as "comrade" rather than "mate". For my effusive blurb about MM go to "product description" here (where you can also purchase it) and to watch the man himself talking it up at the Zer0 books launch last week go here.
reading matter:

Emmy Hennings a/k/a Anwyn of Aloof from Inspiration on Belbury Poly

Charles at Fantastic Journal on The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and the bygone art of the Britcom

Nick at Riffmarket explores complicated feelings about Lady Sov

Carl at Impostume continues his thought-provoking series of meditations on writing and reading
(particularly liked "the literature of insufficiency" and this bit--"in its aspiration it’s only a polemical or didactic work that can finally escape the gravitational pull of the fiction’s hermetic world. A useful ugliness in the face of all this useless, trite beauty"--without necessarily agreeing completely, although it is quite a postpunk stance (the autodidact/didactic syndrome)... but then again, postpunk did exhaust itself by the early Eighties and necessitate other approaches didn't it?)

(even more belatedly)
a thread on "current trends that will age horribly" at Dissensus

as well as people's suggestions of candidates (oddly nobody said "every last one of them" or "which of them won't?!?!") there's an interesting tangent provided by one poster spiralling off the nomination of "bloghouse", arguing that
mid-range frequency dance music (bloghouse, wobblestep) as well as lairy-bleary rock (Oasis etc) is closely related to alcohol--supposedly booze reduces one's ability to hear lower frequencies, leading to an audience responsive to the mid-freqs. Never heard that one before! Also that drunk people tending to talk loudly this leads to vicious cycle of everybody else drowning everybody else out (c.f. your average pub) hence need for mid-range riffage to cut through and compete on the same frequency spectrum as rowdy blare.

more generally, re. the idea of the Judgement of Posterity, people do try to shake that off, on the grounds that's there's no way we today can tell what Posterity will rate or not, therefore it's stupid to try to project forward, and also irrelevant, some things being good for their moment and none the worse for that... and I'm quite in sympathy with this attitude, but it is hard to do, isn't it, to chase away completely that lingering apprehension that our current faves will turn out to be the Blood Sweat & Tears or Boomtown Rats of their day?

This topic--the irrelevance of critical judgements made on behalf of an imagined Posterity ("this will stand the test of time" etc) -- comes up fairly regularly.... Strangely what hardly ever does is its temporal opposite--the idea of the Judgement of Antiquity.... the possibility that there are benchmarks, a measurement system, all too readily available to us (more accessible than ever, in fact, given the archival overdrive that's possessed the culture), the accumulated genius of the past -- in this case, the stacked masterworks of 50-plus years of rock/pop/etc. Perhaps because that specter is not so easy to brush off.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Hey, the next instalment of Henry Rollins's radio show is inspired by Rip It Up and Start Again! I knew he was a fan of postpunk (remember his far-ahead-of-the-curve reissuing of records by James Chance, Gang of Four, Devo, Flipper, Alan Vega, etc in the mid-90s via his label Infinite Zero?) but not to this extent: looking at the track list for the show, Rollins really knows the era inside and out. The show airs Saturday 25th April--tomorrow night--at 6-8 pm PST on the Santa Monica NPR station KCRW FM. As far as I can tell it can be listened to via the web live. It will also be archived online for several weeks thereafter.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

piece by me celebrating Ballard as thinker, prose-poet, dreamer of dreams

also all-round admirable human being

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

my latest Guardian blog post, on Sonic Youth's new album, the Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds reissues, and music that offers "a portrait of the artist as consumer"

Sunday, April 05, 2009


second instalment in an irregular series occasioned by the large number of friends who've got books out this year

Bit more than a mate: Stubbsy of course being one of my oldest friends, veteran of the arsequake trenches, etc. This is his latest book and is out in a couple of weeks on zer0, who you might have noticed has done a trawl through this corner of the bloggosphere, scooping up a large swathe of the talent. Not being in German, Fear of Music I've actually read, and it's a brilliant, thought-provoking investigation into why modernist art is happily lapped up by the middlebrow masses whereas its counterparts in avant-garde music--your Boulezes and Nonos and Parmegianis--are vastly less palatable to the general public.
Appeal to the readers: I'm after this book, The Cultures of Collecting, an anthology edited by John Elsner and Roger Cardinal. It came out on Harvard University Press in 1994, but is out of print, and seeing as I just need it for the one essay am looking to avoid paying an extortionate oop price. The New York Public Library had it in one of its specialist divisions but now lists it as "missing". This tickles me, the idea of someone being such a rapacious book hoarder they've run off with a book about collecting; it would amuse me more if it weren't so inconvenient. Anyway - wondering if anyone out there happens to own this book or, through having access to academic libraries, could do me a photocopy or scan of the chapter in question?

Saturday, April 04, 2009

"Choking the oyster" -- Nina Power a/k/a Infinite Thought interviews Charlotte Roche, German TV presenter and author of the graphically sexual yet not precisely sexy novel Wetlands.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


Duncan Powell, The Push EP
Free EP (download it here)by UKG producer whose Something's Wrong EP I loved and bought a few years back. These deliriously rapturous vocal cut-ups bear the patent imprint of Todd Edwards but are too potently exquisite to seem derivative. There's something to be said for being a master of a style even when the march of time has left it behind.

Black Dice, Repo
The Wire review claimed this bore a palpable influence from Big Beat, a notion so charmingly improbable it intrigued me enough to give this lot the time of the day for the first time since… that really dismal show they did at Bowery Ballroom, most likely. Disappointingly I can't really hear any trace of Bentley Rhythm Ace or Rasmus in here but it does remind me of the deformed and abjectly-leaking travesty of rave perpetrated by Blectum from Blechdom at the other end of this decade.

Lady Sovereign, Jigsaw
A rather chastened and subdued Lady Sov here. (There ought to be a rockcrit jargon type term, a la "sophomore," for album-after-the-hotly-hyped-debut-that-didn't-in-fact-blow-up-like-was-expected). Flashes of the former ferocity flare up here and there… but the tune based around The Cure's "Close To Me" panders moistly (and worse panders, you just know, in total vain); the AutoTune-y one is pure sadness; you want to avert your ears during the one about the demotivated depression she sank into during the losing campaign to break America. The nadir, though, is reached with the song about sex play using foodstuffs. Still "Student Union Bar" is interestingly confused, a modern version maybe of "Rat Race" (digi-ska plus class tension) but replacing The Specials' scorn and resentment with perplexed awkwardness ("shouldn't you lot be studying or something?"). And there's one outright killer: opener "Let's Be Mates," deadpan electro + blank-eyed chat-up patter from La Sov.

Kid 606, "Mr Wobble's Nightmare"
Like Caspa & Rusko's remix of "We Are I.E.", appreciated more for the nuum-ological resonances than as a pure sonic delight, but still a giggle. You can download the title track of what otherwise seems to be a maxi-EP here.

Hell, Teufelswerk
CD 1: banging-yet-intelligent; techno-techno as opposed to minimal techno or trance-techno or hardcore-techno or Detroit-genuflective techno or… Techno-techno the same way that,say, CJ Bolland was… and indeed there's little about DJ Hell's sound here to betray this wasn't recorded in the early-to-mid-90s. Excellent stuff. Plus the superstar cameos, while strictly superfluous, amuse: P. Diddy not rapping but jabbering barely tethered to the groove about how some DJs (brave DJs, true DJs) play the full-length versions of tracks, the 10 minute or 17 minute versions; Bryan Ferry, suave and cold-blooded, slotting as perfectly into the icy accuracy of "U Can Dance" as he does with his customary supple session-played funkzak. (He's credited as "backing vocals by", although singing the lead-- for legal reasons?). CD 2: more atmospheric and film soundtracky, with certain pieces recalling John Carpenter and (on "Nightclubbing") the disjointed Fairlight pulses of the Liquid Sky score. Really excellent stuff.

DJ Koze, Reincarnations
Mnml atomized into a fragrant cloud of texture droplets.


Atlas Sound, Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel
Tried but couldn't get into the Deerhunter album, but this blissed me first listen. I'd be surprised if Bradford Cox had never heard i or 69.

Ursula Bogner, Recordings 1969 – 1988
A spoof too lovingly and convincingly executed to be dismissed as perhaps one ought… similar perhaps to how you can find yourself grooving for real on certain Rutles tunes.

OLDSTUFF-FEELING (reissued and non-reissued)

The Fates, Furia
What Una Baines did after The Blue Orchids: feminist pagan folk, with the baneful ambient textsoundscape of "Who Am I? (Ritual)" especially witchy and wyrd.

Inuit Games and Songs
A record I've been chasing--or at least hoping would turn up--for almost thirty years. Heard originally thanks to the ravenously indiscriminate collecting of Oxford legend Micalef, who trawled up all kinds of tat and piffle in his whole-grant-on-records first-week-of-term binges but also wondrous weirdnesses like the album we nicknamed "Venezuelan Vomit" and this field recording of Inuit Eskimo vocal games, which sometimes resemble DAF's interlocking synth pulses but are entirely formed out of human breath (and usually female breath, with the duets often collapsing into giggles after about a minute and a half). Every time I looked for Eskimo music over the years it would always be disappointing compared to the memory of this music (e.g. Sub Rosa's 55 Inuit Recordings CD) but finally thanks to a friend I've been reunited with these sounds, if not the fabulously hard-to-find record itself.

Bernard Szajner, Some Deaths Take Forever / Superficial Music
LTM with some crucial reissues of works by a late-period master of the analogue synth epic genre. Bernard Szajner worked as a visuals designer and lazer expert for Gong, Magma, and Klaus Schulze. His first venture into music-making, 1979's Visions of Dune was inspired by Frank Herbert’s s.f. epic and its swirling clouds of drone and unearthly melodies would have made for a much superior O/S/T for the ill-starred David Lynch movie than the dismal score by Toto. Superficial Music's first side consists of four tracks of ever-more formless wuthering made using the source tapes for Visions of Dune played backwards at half speed and then tweaked with effects; the second side is a triptych titled Oswiecim after the Polish word for Auschwitz (Sjazner's being a Polish Jewish family who managed to narrowly evade being deported to concentration camps) and lives up to its harrowing inspiration. Some Deaths Take Forever, which came between Visions of Dune and 1981's Superficial, is not quite as astonishing but still a thoroughly absorbing slab of uneasy listening, with "Suspended Animation"--a time tunnel-like vortex of losing-my-mind guitar and synth--particularly stunning.