Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Grimey Jeremy

Here's a piece I wrote for i-D on the unlikely love affair between grime and Jeremy Corbyn.

Although written a good while before the Burial essay, they are companion pieces in some ways.

For instance, public transport - specifically, the night bus - plays a role in both pieces.

And Mark makes another appearance.

Parallel text: Paul Mason on broken neoliberalism and the rise of Corbyn:

"If [neo-liberal / third way] social democracy’s strategy was to generate a surplus through a highly financial, globalised free market economy and distribute it downwards as a compensation for stagnant wages and atomised communities, that is no longer possible. The more you try to do it, the more you have to coerce competitive behaviour into people’s lives, from the counter of the coffee bar to the welfare system, to housing, to the process of finding someone to go on a date with.Promise number one of a radical social democracy should be: we will switch off the great privatisation machine. Promise number two... we will stop imposing, nudging and coercing market behaviour into the lives of people and foster instead the human, collaborative impulse that 30 years of neoliberalism suppressed."

Monday, October 30, 2017

chatting with Chuck

This week I'm heading to Palo Alto in the Bay Area to make an appearance at Stanford University:  an onstage discussion with Chuck Klosterman on the subject of nostalgia and pop culture (although I daresay the concept of retro-politics will also rear its head, as it could hardly fail to) followed by Q+A. 

Date: Wednesday, November 1

Time: 7-30 pm (doors open 7: pm) - 9pm.

Location: Bing Concert Hall, Stanford University

Further information here

Stanford borders on Menlo Park, whose Menlo-Atherton High School famously produced Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. And Greil Marcus.  

And then a little ways in the other direction there's 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Spectres of Mark: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning

Here's an essay I did for Pitchfork about Burial's Untrue ten years on. 

It's also effectively a tribute to Mark Fisher, who is a recurring presence in the piece. 

It's intentional that Burial's real name is never once mentioned in the piece - honoring his original allegiance to rave's radical facelessness and anonymous collectivity. 

Below is my favorite out of the post-Untrue Burial output - in some ways the missing chapter from that album.

There were two parallels and precursors for Burial's  ghost-of-rave (as ghost-of-socialism) aesthetic that I couldn't get into as it would have been too much of a digression.

The first: Mark Leckey's Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, which I wrote about here

And the second:  "Weak Become Heroes" by The Streets.

What Burial related through samples and moody orchestrations, Mike Skinner conveyed with words,  describing the flashback of a former raver abruptly set adrift on blissed memories of love and unity on the dancefloor. All the commotion becomes floating emotions...  They could settle wars with this...  Imagine the world's leaders on pills... All of Life's problems I just shake off.” Then he's snapped back to the dreary streets of a hostile and hopeless 21st Century England: “gray concrete and deadbeats... no surprises no treats... My life's been up and down since I walked from that crowd.” “Weak,” in Skinner’s song, means not just personally frail, but politically powerless. The weak became heroes when they became a mass, uniting around the unwritten manifesto in the music: someday there’ll be a better way, but in the meantime let’s shelter for a while in this dreamworld.  What the critic Richard Smith (like dear Mark also “late” now – so many ghosts these days) called “the communism of the emotions” triggered by Ecstasy seemed to prefigure a social movement. But the collective energy never got beyond the level of a pre-political potential; the moment dissipated. 

I love those hardcore and rave tunes because they sound deep, hopeful, for the times, and the people... It’s unbelievable, that glow in the tunes, it almost breaks your heart.” - Burial, someplace, sometime

"The tunes I loved the most…old jungle, rave and hardcore, sounded hopeful....  All those lost producers…I love them, but it’s not a retro thing… When I listen to an old tune it doesn’t make me think ‘I’m looking back, listening to another era.’ Some of those tunes are sad because they sounded like the future back then and no one noticed. They still sound future to me." - Burial, someplace, sometime  

In a way, it's a shame Burial stopped doing the interviews -  he was almost born to do them, even more than make music! He's better at describing his own music and motives than any of his critics, except K-punk himself. I remember Mark telling me after he'd done the interview that he couldn't believe his own ears - the stuff that Burial was coming out with was so poetic and evocative, too good to be true almost. A dream of an interview. Anwen Crawford told me of a similar experience: as I recall it, it was like she was hypnotized, sent into a trance by his voice over the phone. But at same time he was completely real and genuine - somehow down to earth and an ethereal being floating out there at the same time....

"I wanted the tunes to be anti-bullying tunes that could maybe help someone to believe in themselves, to not be afraid, and to not give up, and to know that someone out there cares and is looking out for them. So it's like an angel's spell to protect them against the unkind people, the dark times, and the self-doubts" - Burial on Rival Dealer EP / "Come Down With Us"


Actually there's a third parallel/precursor - The Death of Rave by V/Vm, a/k/a The Caretaker - another of Mark's favorites of course... 

This post is dedicated to Carl Neville

Sunday, October 22, 2017

the Love in our eyes

Here's an essay I wrote about The Smiths and The Queen Is Dead for Pitchfork - on the occasion of the record's reissue as a deluxe expanded box set.

Given a lot of space here but feel like I could have easily gone twice as long. Despite the immensity of the writing about The Smiths already out there (including my own quite sizeable contributions) the mystery of Morrissey and the magic of  Marr (+ Rourke + Joyce) feel inexhaustible.  I could write a whole essay just on "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side."

Monday, October 16, 2017

synth gardener

Here's my profile of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith for Village Voice.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Tale of Two Simons

Now here is a piece I've been wanting to write for a good while now.

I was delighted to get the opportunity to do it for RBMA.

It's the story of  the first decade of Virgin Records.

And it's a profile of Simon Draper, A&R Director and later Managing Director - the man whose vision and taste made Virgin a contender for coolest label of the Seventies.

Not that other chap, the one with the beard.

(Lol inventing here the industrial / Cosey Fanni Tutti style of trumpet-through-fog  four years ahead of schedule)

(Viv G on the vocals there)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


An old mate I've recently reconnected with, Matthew Worley - now a Professor of Punk - has his magnum opus on 1976-and-all-that-followed out now on Cambridge University Press.

Here's my blurb for No Future: Punk, Politics and British Youth Culture, 1976-1984:

"No Future cuts through the stodgy crust of nostalgia, self-serving memoir and fan-boy facts that conceals punk and reveals the truth of youth culture in late Seventies / early Eighties Britain: the internecine battles fought over issues of sound and style were inextricably linked to the political conflicts and dilemmas of that era. Digging deep into the fanzine squabbles and music press controversies that raged across the punk community, Matthew Worley brings to keen life the urgency of a period that felt at once like a terrifying crisis-time and the dawn of a new epoch delirious with radical possibilities. Giving Anarcho and Oi! the serious attention they’ve long deserved, and analysing this tumultuous time through perspectives that range from anti-consumerist boredom and feminist personal politics to media-critique and dystopian dread, No Future is an essential read for punk scholars and punk fans alike."

Next week there is a London book launch for No Future - on Tuesday October 17th at the Brick Lane Rough Trade, starting 7 pm, with Worley in conversation with Steve Ignorant and Cathi Unsworth. 
Something that Worley has been cooking up for next September at the University of Reading - a conference on music writing in which I'll be participating.

nifty groovers

What do these songs have in common?

1/ They come from a time when the gap between rock and black music was really small, compared with the gulf that now exists

Such that you almost wonder what the point of postpunk's vaunted embrace of funk and disco etc was as a gesture -  given that the funk was already so deeply imbricated with mainstream rock music. It didn't need to be added or restored, it's there

So you can  see - if you shove to one side the rhetoric and the clothes and the theory and the adversarial positioning - a continuum of Seventies rock that runs from beginning to end of the decade and that is steeped in black music - following its changes, absorbing its innovations (like the Larry Graham-esque slap bass bit in "Slow Ride" by Foghat... essentially no different as a musical move than scores of postpunk guitarists trying to copy Nile Rodgers )

They loved their Free after all, Go4

Old Wave / New Wave - the difference collapses as more and more time goes by

2/ The other thing they have in common - well, most of that first batch up top  - is that they are used in movies. Something about this kind of groove-oriented early Seventies rock seems to move the action along. These feel-good tunes are a perfect fit for the "up" phase of a film like Boogie Nights e.g. the scene when things are going swimmingly by the swimming pool (they use the Three Dog Night and "Spill the Wine" in that sequence) or the more fraught but still thrillingly kinetic climax to Goodfellas (the soundtrack jumping from "Monkey Man" to "Jump Into the Fire" in a way that will never cease to electrify).

3/  They are all nifty groovers


liberation-through-energy artifacts

It's the mundanity of the liberation-through-energy...  its sliced-white-bread, staple background to the times quality that I find interesting.... Most of the above are second-division acts, solid radio providers,  one-or-two hit wonders .... the liberation and the nifty grooviness is a general condition of the era... Even if (as per the kids in Dazed and Confused) the inhabitants of that era feel that the Seventies has fallen from the heights of the Sixties....  They don't know how good they got it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

some of my favorite tunes of the last few years gathered into an (unmixed) mixtape for NERO

Laurel Halo – «Like An L»
Big Sean – «Bounce Back»
D’Angelo – «Prayer»
Young Thug featuring Birdman – «Constantly Hating»
Schoolboy Q – «Collard Greens»
eMMplekz – «Gloomy Leper Techno»
Rae Smemmurd featuring Nicki Minaj and Young Thug – «Throw Sum Mo»
Future – «Fuck Up Some Commas»
Future – «I’m So Groovy»
Naomi Elizabeth – «The Topic Is Ass»
Travi$ Scott – «Goosebumps»
Travi$ Scott – «Antidote»
Migos – «Bad and Boujee»
Aphex Twin – «Original Chaos Riff»
Jeremih – «Oui»
Let’s Eat Grandma – «Eat Shiitake Mushrooms»
Hybrid Palms – «Pacific Image»
Tinashe feat Schoolboy Q – «2 On»
Assembled Minds – «Morris Horror»

Friday, October 06, 2017


Here's a piece by me for 4Columns on Franco Battiato, three of whose early albums - Fetus, Pollution and Sulle Corde di Aries - have just been reissued by the Superior Viaduct label.

Grazie molto to Valerio Mattioli - author of Superonda: Storia Segreta Della Musica Italianaa book about the experimental rock scene in which Battiato was a central figure - for filling in the background to his bizarre career. And cheers to Jon Dale for his revelatory tips on further listens  from within Battiato's close-knit community of associates and accomplices.

Attenzione Londoners! Mattioli dialogues with Rob Young about the Italian art-pop freak-out scene of the Seventies on October 22, 5 pm, at the Coronet Theatre. More details here