Wednesday, December 29, 2021

slender harvest

Far and away my favorite and most listened-to contemporary recording of 2021 - New Long Leg by Dry Cleaning

Some disjointed thoughts: 

Florence as a modern day singer-songwriter, although without much in the way of sing or song going on.  As with the classic '70s female singer-songwriters, the backing band is all-male and the music lags a little, or a lot, behind the contemporary edge of mainstream pop. Back then the singer-songwriter template might draw on folk or country... here, today, the settled style is post-punk (40 years on, as fixed in its strictures as the blues). 

One counter-critique to the retromania argument is that it fixates on sonic innovation – form rather than content. It doesn’t take into account the possibility that the innovation might  occur in the domain of lyrics, emotional expression, persona, or other non-sonic aspects of the work, while the music itself might be relatively traditional.  Dry Cleaning’s music contains familiar elements; as able or apt as the playing is, nothing really innovative happens there. What is new: Shaw's language, delivery, and the subjectivity, the portrait of self.

Pressed to characterise Florence's affect, I would go for the slightly old-fashioned English expression "browned off.”  It's an affect that speaks to the blankness of the present – the feel of life in the Boring Dystopia (to use Mark Fisher's term). This blankness is different from the sort of emptiness that triggers the imagination and stirs daydreams; rather, it's a saturated  blankness, crowded with trivia of the type that snuffs daydreaming in the cradle. The mental space of this record is insanitary with inanity. "Scratchcard Lanyard," then - a "Transmission" for an era in which vision-quest of the kind that Joy Division could undertake is no longer accessible.  

Another Fisher notion - "depressive hedonism" – threads through New Long Leg.  Small pleasures snatched, or snacked (a profusion of references to treats, fast food, artisanal goodies, splashing out on gourmet mushrooms, a favorite cafe you used to frequent).  Comforts that don’t console (a different kind of full emptiness).

I’m not hugely au fait with the late Lauren Berlant’s work, but what I've gleaned seems to have applications.  The emotional landscape of New Long Leg teems with bad attachments, hopes  that impede flourishing, impasses, interpersonal skirmishes, a perpetual low-key state of ordinary crisis. So it's what Berlant might have called a new kind of affective realism. Part of that realism relates to the way the "songs" aren't stories, they don't resolve (often the track cycles back to the opening verse and ends with it).  Each piece consists of an accretion of disjointed perceptions in shuffle mode. Listening, the overwhelming feeling you take away, beyond browned-off, is accuracy. This is the texture of everyday life today, this how the mind moves. Focused goal-oriented thinking or sustained feeling-flow constantly perforated by the relentless telemediated blip-blip-blip of alarming nonsense  from outside one's immediate lived situation. Attention flickers back and forth across the battery of implanted aspirations, desire-triggers, ambient fears,, the tragic absurd and random grotesque.  

"Emo dead stuff collector" is a great line: the artist casually defining her method.  But Dry Cleaning is the opposite of emo – Shaw is a nondrama queen.  The deadpan flatness tamps down the musical backing, which, left to its own devices, could easily take on the epic swell of a post-rock group as the term is currently (mis)understood: dramatic instrumental guitar music with quiet-loud dynamics.

Her intonation and inflection stir a kind of expatriate ecstasy in me. There's an exquisite nostalgic pull:  "this is my people (for better or worse)".  The songs clearly translate (loads of Americans love New Long Leg, and even some non-Anglophones) but I can’t quite believe that it does or that it should. Surely only someone born and bred in that septic isle could even pick up these emotional frequencies, feel the full richness of the meagreness, the mustn’t-grumble stolidity.  

Emotions so opaque they’re like the point where colors mixed turn muddy. Like the percussively exhaled “ha” at the end of “Scratchcard Lanyard” - a mouth-snort of poisoned breath, equal parts derision, defiance, exasperation, indignation, hostility, exhaustion. 

Or the “well well well well” in “Her Hippo”.

The actual Southern Mark Smith arrives, finally.

Sleaford Mods -  if the place they wrote from wasn’t the Greggs and poundshop world of the lumpen-prole Midlands, but the aimless ennui of post-postgraduates whose fresher-year at uni occurred somewhere near the end of the Coalition. The well-fed fed-up.

eMMplekz / Baron Mordant – minus the electronics, the dyspeptic mise-en-scène shifted slightly, from petit-bourgeois to middle middle-class.  “Simple pimple, stomach stab” could easily be a Baron line. And mordancy is one of the inflection flavours on NLL.

An inventory of irritating sensations (“raincoat sweat” ). A list of listlessness. A catalogue of intractabilities. 

Rock poets, then and now. Half-a-century of contracted horizons captured in the shift from “we want the world and we want it now” to “just want to be liked.”   

The heartbreaking mildness of  “I like you… stay.”

I wrote here earlier about “every day is a dick” - about creative mishearings truer than the truth. Here's some other lines from New Long Leg (accuracy not guaranteed) that speak to me. Speak for me. 

“Absolutely huge fuck-up”

“Sick of that shit”

 “Thanks a lot

“I don’t know, what’s the point” 

“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do”

“So full of poisonous rage”

"Do everything and feel nothing"

 “Too much to ask about, don’t ask”

“Time to get fed up”

"It's useless to live"


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Far and away my favorite and most listened-to archival release of 2021 - Ann Southam's The Reprieve, the Emerging Ground



At one point, over a decade ago, Creel Pone was supposed to be winding up -  now, was that just a wind-up,  or did they simply  recover enthusiasm and/or come across further caches of esoteritronica?  This past year in particular has seen a huge new surge of activity, an  avalanche of releases, indicating the seeming will to push onwards, up to and beyond the #300 release point. There's also been a flood of reéditions of earlier releases with bonus material added to them - sometimes a whole second disc of new stuff.  There's even been a series of prequels, releases apparently once intended to happen before the Creel project was properly conceived and started. Releases that have now emerged with catalogue numbers that go into the fractisimal space between 1 and zero, e.g. CP 000.10 for their deluxe unoffish-reish of the legendary Philips 21e Siecle box Electronic Panorama

For a good while now - perhaps even as far back as the  #100 mark - Creel output has been variable: a lot of the stuff files under "interesting", or it's curios so curious that you (meaning me) can't help craving them (musique concrete using langue d'oc - aka Lenga D'oc-  also known as Occitan - i.e. the language of Medieval Provence; most recently a disc of tape and electro-acoustic music by Basque composers). There's been a fair few duds too. What keeps the Creelhead hanging in there loyally are the marvels that turn up regularly. And the one out of this year's copiousness that stands out as very special is this hard-to-find, hellish-expensive-if-you-do album by the Canadian composer Ann Southam, originally released in 1983.. 

Made for a dance piece, "The Reprieve" (1975) is less a unified 24-minute composition than a suite of texturescapes, a succession of spaces. The coherence comes from the techniques and the sound palette: even more than electronics, Southam's primary instruments here are reverb and delay. Listening, you feel like  you're moving one by one through a grotto's chambers. Light from the headlamp flickers across nacreous walls and damply glistening ceilings;  magnified sounds of distant dripping water bounce through the uncanny acoustics of the honeycombed underworld. "The Emerging Ground" (1983) -  constructed according to a similar logic, nearly as wondrous - unfurls as serried ranks of pearly palimpsests, each pulse trailing a glimmering succession of after-images.  The original 1983 album is expanded in this Creel edition with two other pieces composed for dance, "Seastill" and "Rewind" -  plus an excerpt from 1974's "Walls and Passageways" - and these likewise get your mind's eye dancing with wraiths and rivulets, fronds like wavering perpendicular ribbons, looms of lustrous yarn.... 

















You can buy The Reprieve, The Emerging Ground here - and if you hurry there's still 10 percent discount on Creel releases that applies until the year's end. 

You can listen to a snippet here.  Actually, the whole of "Reprieve" is hearable, albeit in a "stereo diffusion mix" by one Jeff Morton, here.  And "Seastill" you can check out here

More of Southam's earlier-Creeled work can be checked out here and here and here

The late Southam is interviewed at length here


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Far and away my favorite and most listened-to piece of non-reissued old-music-new-to-me  would be  this mos' t'peculiar assemblage by mouth-music-maven Anton Bruhin. I've no real idea how he made this (it's non-digital, from 1981 - some kind of repurposed, fucked-with children's toy?) and I don't want to know really. 



(Bruhin actually had a properly reissued set put out this year by Black Truffle and it's very good, if not quite as sound-clowning crazed as "InOut" - Speech Poems / Fruity Music  - stuff made in the 2000s using digital technology)


No, I tell I a lie - there's another contender for far and away my favorite and most listened to piece of non-reissued old-music-new-to-me. Let's say it's equal first: Ennio Morricone's "Invenzione per John". Which I stumbled on -  and was instantly entranced  - while watching Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dynamite (also known as Duck, You Sucker!). I had faint memories of seeing this film a kid and enjoying James Coburn's performance as an Irish Republican soldier exiled to Mexico in the 1920s. But I didn't remember the soundtrack particularly, and so was unprepared for the revelation that is "Invenzione", which crops up several times during the film. 


An extraordinary piece of music - "originale" indeed. Like, what is that emotion?  "Invenzione per John" features an insistent, strident, almost jarring rhythm - a bolero? - that feels both at odds with and yet perfect for the billowing cloud of strings, voices, mandolins, and what almost sounds like controlled waves of guitar feedback. If not for that rhythm, the opposite of groove, "Invenzione" feels like something that belongs in the rock leftfield of the day. You could imagine it as perhaps the backing track of a tune on  Scott 4 - something over which Walker might  have intoned one of his more abstract and darkly mystical lyrics, like "Boy Child".  Or maybe something John Cale might have done if he'd gone into movie soundtracks (okay, bar the whistling). Or perhaps a lost track from by Shame, Humility, Revenge, by Skin, that Swans offshoot.

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So those are the three / four favorites - who else has also served to amuse-bemuse-beguile?




My favorite Ghost Box in a few years...  I want to say, "sounds like Der Plan if they'd formed in 16th Century Swabia", but perhaps I'm being led towards that idea by the Bruegel-ish artwork. ToiToiToi's sound here is certainly jaunty and volkish, but it's completely electronic. 



A gorgeous return from Julian + Kirsty, every bit as good as their earlier Insides classic Euphoria.




Dependable pleasure from Moon Wiring Club, arriving in the nick of the time to make this year's tally, and here proferring a pleasing foray into drum+bass skitteration on the first couple of tracks, before sinking into sunken, brackish terrain that  - in the case of "Are We 100 Years Too Late" - Mr Hodgson likens to a later nuum-phase: "a bit like a dubstep excursion that’s been buried underground for a century ~ you can sort of feel / see the component parts of the track as different layers of sediment cross-sectioned in a museum exhibition".

Update January 13 - well, it seems I've been listening to the files of the vinyl version, and in fact Ghost Party Delirium on CD is a completely other album - and in fact, a double album! Which is also a terrific listen. My initial impression wasthe  coordinates that waver somewhere in the early UK house-techno zone (faint whiffs of A Guy Called Gerald, 808 State, Humanoid, Ultramarine maybe) but apparently the concept / inspirations are a bit earlier: "The overall idea is that the LP is a party that ends up back in time inside an Edwardian Immersive Theatre experience, while the 2xCD is a party that goes off to a Phantom Roller Disco. 
In terms of a production template, the CD is inspired by 80s 12” extended versions ~  where a 3min pop song gets wonderfully dragged out for just a little bit too long and studio limitations mean there’s lots of ’stripping back the tracks’ after the second chorus before it’s built back up again before the end chorus and then deconstructs again. Most of the tracks on the 2xCD were originally shorter in length, but received the extended ’12” style’ treatment once I’d figured the 2xCD format could accommodate the format." Breaking with the 80s template, D&B reskitters into earshot on the second disc occasionally, e.g.  "Zodiac Flair", which Ian describes as "a LTJ Bukem track gradually infected by a jaunty necromancer on skeleton harpsichord



And then there were these too (with links to my scribbles about same)

PinkPantheress - “Break It Off” 

Foodman - Yasuragi Land 

Saint Etienne - I’ve Been Trying To Tell You 

Oneohtrix Point Never featuring Elizabeth Fraser - “Tales From The Trash Stratum” 

Proc Fiskal - Siren Spine Sysex 

Dean Wareham -  I Have Nothing To Say to the Mayor of L.A.

Wet Leg - “Chaise Longue” 

Position Normal -  various scraps (previews of promised-in-2022 EPs, one hopes) plus an actual single release "Lite Bites" . Oh and this, what I suppose must be a Christmas single, stumbled on while looking for "Lite Bites"


Archivally, there were also (with links to my scribbles about same)

London Pirate Radio Adverts 1984-1993, Vol.2

Various - Creelpolation-2.2 (Singles 2) 

Suburban Lawns – Suburban Lawns 

Acen – Trip to the Moon 2092

Seefeel – Rupt and Flex (1994-96)

Janet Beat – Pioneering Knob Twiddler 

The Stick Figures – Archeology  

Beatriz Ferreyra – Canto+ 

Full Spectrum, Australian Digital Music (early 1980s release added to the 2021 reédition of Creel Pone's Electronic Music, University of Melbourne)

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

RIP Greg Tate

Still in a state of shock after the awful news yesterday morning that Greg Tate has died. A gigantic figure in criticism - original thinker, dazzling stylist...  someone with something unique to say and an unique way of saying it...  fearless, daring, always surprising (loved the Van Halen love!), a joy to read on anything and everything...   I did not know him really, a few amiable encounters over the years,  those left the impression of someone as kindly and gentle in person as he was cool and commanding in print...

It was a thrill when Tate became an early Stateside champion of A.R. Kane (one of his celebrations can be read here, there's another circa 69 that appeared in Village Voice and later in Flyboy in the Buttermilk, which maybe I'll dig out later) and his writing on the electric Miles is the best there ever was. 

He wrote about a lot more than just music, of course. But when he wrote about music, it was about more than just music, if you get me. 

Here's a review I did in '92 of Flyboy, that only scratches the surface of the greatness of Greg. 

Here's the full transcript of Tate's 2004 conversation with Alan Licht for the Wire's Invisible Jukebox series. 




Tuesday, December 07, 2021

best of the year - father and son edition

Pleased as ever to have contributed blurbs to Pitchfork's annual best albums and best tunes end-of-year 

For Albums of 2021, I celebrate Dry Cleaning's New Long Leg - which features high up in the chart but not nearly high enough if you ask me. 

For Songs of 2021, I delectate over Oneohtrix Point Never's remix-collab with Elizabeth Fraser,  "Tales from the Trash Stratum" which pops up just after the half-way mark. 

Incidentally I had a different lyric at the end of the Dry Cleaning blurb- "every day is a dick". However it was pointed out to me that this is not actually the correct lyric. I contend that it should be the lyric (it certainly sounds like "every day is a dick" and I'd wager it's a very common mishearing). It's better and truer than the actual line - more expansive, less specific. I supplied a number of alternate dyspeptic lines from New Long Leg (there's no shortage) and they went with one of the best (although "sick of this shit" might have clinched it as my runner-up). Still, every day is a dick is the one really. Says it all. 

A casualty of compression was the single sentence in which I acknowledge the contribution of the band, which is not inconsiderable - what they do is always apt, they are  very able. But I suppose ultimately it is the Florence Show. 

On which subject I'll have more to say when Blissblog does its annual and - each year ever more compact - run-down of the year's aural delights. 

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Meanwhile  junior genreologist Kieran Press-Reynolds is doing his own looking-back-at-2021 count-down, drawing on a far larger cache of bliss. He has that young hunger to find the new sound, identify the new formation. 

So far K's done

#20

#19

#18

#17

#16

Our  listening worlds overlap at just two points (these come later in the countdown -  no spoilers). I was surprised, though, about one of the intersections. 




Sunday, December 05, 2021

The Pleasures of the 'Text(e)

                        

Owen Hatherley remembers the petite 'n' portable pocket-size "Foreign Agents" series of books published by Semiotext(e) - a format that was the little black dress of critical theory. Wistfully recalling a time when all things semiotic and (post-)structural were sexy, Owen traces how these contraband-seeming catalysts to delirious pretentiousness exerted an unlikely influence on certain elements within the UK music press. Which carried through to the blog wave of the 2000s and thence to Zero and its breakaway Repeater (now reunited, hoorah), also in the business of compact paperbacks packed with ideas. 

The piece is a Tribune tribute to the late Sylvère Lotringer, obviously - and the music connection / music-crit reception makes a certain sort of sense given that he moved in the orbit of NYC punk and No Wave.






Friday, November 26, 2021

Porto Pop

 I'm off to Porto in Portugal for a festival in celebration of music writing, Porto Pop, where I'll be performing alongside compatriots John Robb, Vivien Goldman, Don Letts and Martin Aston.

My talk is on Sunday evening November 28 and it's titled "A Fast and Partial History of Pop Writing" 

More information about the festival line-up, location and event times here



Wednesday, November 24, 2021

 And another Kieran P-R piece - this time on the inventor of (no really) dariacore, an 18-year-old called Zeke who records under the aliases dltzk and leroy

"Hit play on a dariacore track, and within two minutes you might hear PinkPantheress; a squeaky-bed sound effect; the YouTuber Fred Figglehorn hollering, "Hey, it's Fred!"; a dolphin squealing; Vanessa Carlton making her way downtown; police sirens; and Yeat rapping, "She eat me up like it's Benibachi." The basic template is a breathless mishmash of recognizable songs pitch-shifted and layered over each other."

So mash-ups, even more mashed? 










Friday, November 19, 2021

plastik flashbac

Here's a fun piece I did for 4Columns on an alternately sumptuously severe and gruesomely garish art book, Reversing Into the Future: New Wave Graphics 1977-1990 - a feast of album and single covers, tour posters, club flyers, music paper advertisements, merch and promo gimmicks, and sundry ephemera of the Noo Wave Era. Explores the punk / pink connection and the geometric aesthetic. Plus I got to use the word "stipple", knowledge fruits of having a dad who worked at a newspaper and would bring home materials from the office every so often. 

 











Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Here's Kieran Press-Reynolds talking about music writing - his own and in general - in the newsletter Music Journalism Insider's regular feature Q&A

And here's a few examples of Kieran's recent work for a different Insider  - a piece on PinkPantheress,  a profile of Quinn and a deep dive into the scapegoating of TikTok (cowritten with Palmer Haasch)

Check out also his overview of hyperpop for Omni (yes, that Omni)






Thursday, October 21, 2021

Tape Leaders Rewind!


Velocity Press have just issued an expanded and amended version of Ian Helliwell's Tape Leaders: A Compendium of Early British Electronic Composers! Prompting me to wheel and come again with my own review from several years ago (see below). It's even more of a lavishly illustrated fetish object than before. You can buy the new edition of Tape Leaders here

(While we're on this subject, a huge cache of pieces - by one of the figures in Helliwell's Encyclopedia Anglotronica, the avant-choreographer Ernest Berk - has found its way onto YouTube. Thirteen pieces in all, some of them lengthy, and all accompanied by stills of his ballet ensemble performing, sometimes starkers - Berk was a fervent naturist - and daubed in psychedelic body-paint)  

Ian Helliwell also has a retrospective of his experimental filmwork showing at The Cube in Bristol this Sunday 24th October. 


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For years now independent researcher Ian Helliwell has been excavating the early decades of electronic and tape-based experimental music, with a particular focus on the British story. He's displayed his discoveries via a radio series, The Tone Generation,  the  F.C. Judd documentary Practical Electronica, and most recently through an irregular series of in-depth features in The Wire.  Now he's written a book, Tape Leaders: A Compendium Of Early British Electronic Music Composers.





As seen with his Wire article on Practical Electronics magazine as a hub for DIY synth operators, Helliwell's special fascination is for a breed of British amateurs who doggedly pursued their eccentric interests. Unlike Europe, where composers generally came out of the academy or were attached  to the experimental units of national radio stations, or America, where they might also be supported by corporations like Bell, the U.K. was a particularly fertile ground for hobbyists - boffins like Peter Keen and Brian Whibley who cobbled together contraptions in shed or garage workshops.


 Other archetypes discernible in the pages of Tape Leaders are the formally trained composer who  - in the absence of institutional encouragement or funding  - is forced to go it alone (Janet Beat, Cyril Clouts) and the artistic polymath drawn to electronics as an accompaniment to their visual or performance work (Ken Gray, who prefers to think of himself as a "communications engineer", or the choreographer and dancer  Ernest Berk,  who was also a naturist and all-round free living and free thinking chap).


Styled as an encyclopedia, Tape Leaders doesn't go in much for evocation of sonix, but the book bulges with fascinating details and the illustrative material is fabulous: groovy looking flyers and posters for electronic music events and multi-media arts festivals, diagrams of equipment set-ups, adverts for brands of tape, and as you might expect lots of black-and-white photos of  middle-aged experimenters with well-combed hair, ties and button shirts with the sleeves rolled up posed next to banks of wires, dials, and reel-to-reels.  Helliwell has fun with the guidebook format: a rating system evaluates each composer in terms of Commitment Factor, Obscurity Quotient, and Recording Availability. The latter is rather often "Poor".  That tantalising effect is one of the only downsides with this delightful book. So often the reader's desire is piqued hopelessly by the knowledge that these works - many written for arty film shorts, theatrical plays or avant-garde ballets - exist in the world but that it's pretty unlikely you'll ever get to hear them. Those pangs are mitigated slightly by the 15-track CD that accompanies Tape Leaders which includes impossibly obscure work by the likes of Peter Grogono,  Donald Henshilwood, David Piper, and the aforementioned Berk.





                                                                  




























Wednesday, September 22, 2021

RIP RHK

























Truly saddened to learn of the death of Richard H. Kirk, all-round sonic visionary and - it's not remarked upon often enough - one of the great postpunk guitarists. 

He is most renowned as a founding member - and the longest lasting member - of Cabaret Voltaire. But along with the Cabs's astonishingly productive peak-era run of sustained innovation and strangeness - one of the truly original, unlike-anything-else sounds of that time - Kirk enjoyed a second golden moment  in the early 1990s with his collaborative techno projects Sweet Exorcist and Xon, through which came some of the greatest Yorkshire bleep tracks. Tenacious bugger that he was, Kirk carried on making interesting records in great number under a profusion of aliases (including a stream of  "machine soul" / electronic-listening-music EPs and LPs as Sandoz) right up to last year's Shadow of Fear, a fine restatement of the classic Cabs sound.  

I didn't know Richard well, but do have fond memories of him generously giving me a guided tour of Sheffield postpunk landmarks on a grey, intermittently rainy day during the summer of 2002, when I was back in the UK to research Rip It Up and making similar expeditions to Manchester and Bristol hoping to detect any lingering aura-of-era that might still cling to particular buildings and streets. In Sheffield, many of the sites of historical interest to the postpunk scholar had been effaced by the passage of time. But Richard showed me the building where Western Works had been located, the road where Adi Newton lived in a fetid den of artistic and lifestyle experimentation, the record and book shop Rare and Racy (a longstanding hub for the city's left-field listeners, still in vibrant fettle in 2002) and various other nodes of oppositional culture. Then we went for a curry before I headed back to London on the train. 











I first met Richard many years before, early in my time at Melody Maker, when I went up to Sheffield for the first time, to do a cover story on Chakk, one of the better second-wave avant-funk outfits who came in the wake of Cabaret Voltaire and 23 Skidoo.  Chakk manager Amrik Rai took me round the Cabs's gaff, where I was surprised to observe that they enjoyed a puff (somehow it didn't seem to fit their stern, no-hippie-shit image). Later in 1986, I interviewed Kirk & Mallinder - if memory serves in London, at the ICA bar. They seemed at a bit of a cross-roads - if not as disconsolately rudderless as Sheffield peers Heaven 17, who I also interviewed around that time -  then not knowing quite where to go next. They'd done a series of cool records through the Some Bizarre / Virgin arrangement, culminating in The Covenant, The Sword and The Arm of Lord, which I'd liked a lot, but they hadn't broken through as hoped. Soon they were to make a bid to go even nearer the mainstream, signing to EMI and taking on a glossier club-targeted sound.  Cabs fiends disagree about that phase. Kirk would have more success  penetrating the house scene - and sounded more convincing and compelling - when he partnered with DJ Parrot as Sweet Exorcist, releasing the early Warp classic "Testone".  A pioneer of industrial dance was reborn as a hardcore rave forefather. 

(Read this interview with DJ Parrot aka Richard Barratt, which has stuff on the primitive set-up they struggled with to make "Testone")

video directed by Jarvis Cocker apparently!

After that milestone of emaciated minimalism, Sweet Exorcist released a mini-LP of maximalist bleep titled C.C.C.D., whose title track "Clonk's Coming" is an under-appreciated wonder. 

Then there was Kirk's collaboration with bleep pioneer Robert Gordon as Xon, resulting in gems like "Dissonance" off the 1991 EP The Mood Set.


Here is a stash of writings by me on Cabaret Voltaire and Kirk's bleep + bass works. And below just a handful of top tunes. 

And here is a Tribune tribute to Richard H. Kirk by Owen Hatherley, situating Cabaret Voltaire and Sweet Exorcist in the political and socioeconomic landscape of the post-industrial North. 

If  - and this seems unlikely, knowing the readership - you happen to have never heard any Cabs music, may I recommend checking out Eight Crepuscule Tracks? It's the perfect distillation of peak-era Cab creativity - their equivalent to The Fall's Slates 10-inch maxi-EP.  (And yet not quite equivalent - Eight is a 1987 expansion of the Three Crepuscule Tracks EP, originally released in 1981 - the same year as Slates)


was so pleased to have this this on the Rip It Up compilation CD




 


"Black Mask" was the first Cabs tune to blow me away - still one of my ab faves out of their uuuurrrv











For some of Kirk's more obscure techno/bleep era excursions and aliases, check out this tribute thread at Dissensus. 



For a cultural and material topography of postpunk Sheffield, check out this interview I did with the late Andy Gill, the NME's Sheffield correspondent during this legendary time and friends with the Cabs and most of the other significant musicians in the town. 

Here's what Andy had to say about the Cabs and RHK:

“... Before the Cabs had a record out, they used to come into Virgin, where I worked.  I had hair down to my waist in those days. They came up to the counter and asked 'Have you got any records by Cabaret Voltaire?'. I’d heard of the name, and what I’d heard about them sounded really intriguing to me. So, I said ‘As far as I know they haven’t got anything out yet, but I’d really be interested in hearing them, cos it’s my kind of thing.’ I remember them being quite shocked that this guy who looked like a Ted Nugent fan was heavily into that kind of that stuff. Ever since then we’ve been mates....

"Mal and Rich and Chris  and their gang were heavily into the sonics of Roxy. Although Mal was heavily into clothes too.  He had two rooms in his flat, and one room was where he lived and the other was his wardrobe – and he had an ironing board in the middle of it. It was just completely full of clothes. Mal was the most stylish person I’d ever met; he always had a consummate sense of style.

“The early Cabs gigs were trying to get a reaction – it was a racket, just squealing noise. And there’d be films behind them of god knows what: biological warfare experiments, people in chemical warfare suits. They’d collect old Super-8 footage of things like that.

"Around 1975 or 1976, we became friends. They had been going since ‘73 or ’74. So, it was a bit after that I got to meet them. They had this studio in this old industrial building. The whole building was called Western Works – and they recorded in it and called the studio Western Works.”

What were they like as people, Cabaret Voltaire?

“Richard’s always been a bit stroppy –in that very Yorkshire way. He can be hellishly stubborn. That’s a typically Yorkshire thing:  ‘if you say don’t do this, I’ll do it’.  He’s got that thing in his voice.

"In Sheffield, it wasn’t like the London Musicians Collective, where everyone’s got wire-rim glasses and that sort of avantgarde middle class attitude. In Sheffield, it was working class Dada. They were heavily into Dada and liked to get a reaction. Wake people up. Richard, then, mainly played guitar and clarinet. Mal did rudimentary bass and vocals, treated beyond legibility."



Thursday, September 16, 2021

Lost in their music

Sometimes, when writing about a revered legend, you can reach a point where you find yourself thinking, "why do I ever listen to anything else but this?". So it was with the subject of my new piece for Tidal, the Chic Organization and its dominance of the Eighties audio Zeitgeist. Listening to non-stop Chic, Sister Sledge, the album Rodgers & Edwards wrote and produced for Diana Ross, etc, for several days, I was truly "living in ecstasy". But then the obsession focused to where I only wanted to play a single single - "Everybody Dance" over and over. Then it zoomed in further still and I was just playing Bernard Edwards's miraculous bass break again and again and again. (Some "air bass" did occur, I confess).   

The famous singles everybody knows and loves - "Le Freak", "Good Times", "We Are Family", "Lost In Music", "I Want Your Love", "He's The Greatest Dancer", "My Forbidden Lover".... 

But how about the ChicOrg deep cuts?

This is almost too obvious to mention, beautifully doubled as it by Robert Wyatt's version



I also found myself fixated on these albums cuts, "Happy Man" and especially "(Funny) Bone" . 






Love the singles off Diana Ross. "Upside Down" particularly - unusually for Chic Org, the fast-flecked rhythm guitar takes a very far-back back seat and the arrangement is based around some wonderful piano vamps. This somewhat overlooked beauty was the third single off the Diana Ross album and funnily enough it's called "My Old Piano". 



"My Feet Keep Dancing" was a Chic single but it felt less familiar to me - it has this wonderful steadfast chugging groove with a slightly involuntary, forced-march feel to it, and then this really gorgeous glassy motif that I think is electric piano, a real ice cube sliding down the back of your neck tingle effect.



That "forced march" feel fits the lyric, which is a bit like Ian Dury's "What A Waste" crossed with The Red Shoes and They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

Fly into space or maybe save the human race
All these things seem so appealing
But I'll never get the chance, 'cause all I do is dance
My mama said my brains are in my feet


Albeit with a happy ending, the affliction turned to career path: 

"So I ran away from home to live all alone
And make myself a standout in the crowd
Then it hit, my ideas began to fit
I had to be what I was meant to be
Now my name is up in lights and I hoof here every night
They were right my brains are in my feet"



Always liked this Carly Simon tune with a lilting, reggae-ish feel 








Monday, September 06, 2021

I had great fun chatting with the Rock's Backpages crew - Barney Hoskyns, Mark Pringle, Jasper Murison-Bowie - for this week's RBP Podcast.  We talked about the UK music press and my time on Melody Maker, about Bob Stanley and Saint Etienne's Foxbase Alpha, about Heaven 17's Penthouse and Pavement and a whole bunch of other things including the late Lee Perry and the late Charlie Watts.  

This week at Rock's Backpages, there's also a spotlight on some of my archival pieces, including a review of the 1987 Monsters of Rock Castle Donington festival, an appreciation of Joy Division based around the film Control, and "Worth Their Wait", a tribute to the print music press of yesteryear,  There's also a 1991 piece of mine on Saint Etienne as part of their St Et spotlight, linked to their new album I've Been Trying To Tell You


They also have a piece on mine of roots and dub reggae as part of their Lee Perry tribute. 




Monday, August 30, 2021

RIPerry

 


My favoritest Lee Perry (a Woebot turn-on)

Cool typo here - "recorded at BLACK ART STUDIO"


Almost equal favorites 







and the whole of this album 







so many more though.... 

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Hauntology Parish Newsletter - Position Normal!

 Jon Dale pointed me to a flurry of new tracks from Position Normal, the first substantial activity since the third full-length, the self-titled album of 2009.

Initially I was somewhat thrown by the ultrapristine digital sound - so different from the age-faded analogue aesthetic of Stop Your Nonsense and Goodly Time, that worn cassette, fusty-musty aura that triggered the memoradelic regions of the brain.... 

But Matthew Ingram's instant enthusiasm made me return and he's right, it's totally got the old Chris Bailiff magic, which he's somehow soaked and stained through the software of now -  all the affordances in sound quality and tricksy detailing that come with it - so that the outcomes are still bent, creaky, haunty.

Matt has usefully corralled the tunes into a playlist  

You can also check them out at Soundcloud - where there are also earlier tunes from 2 years, 4 years, even 7 years ago....  one is called "Sketch for Album 4"...  that phase of stuff is very ambient  and minimalist, far from song

In his recent Woebot newsletter (you can subscribe here) which bears the title "Lorra Music", Matt writes a lovely appreciation of Position Normal and the new batch o' tunes -  rightly highlighting "Book Looks" as a particular gem, with Chris Bailiff's voice gorgeously mushmumbled, the lyric evoking a man who loves the smell of his own house and the people in it  (ambiguously poised - is it a homebody hymn to the mammalian continuum and that primal snuggling drive to make a dwelling? Or a PiL's "No Birds Do Sing"-style barb against the Englishman's castle idea?). 


Matt writes: 

"pn2021 is done with all the fuzzy analogue stylings and is clear like Listerine. That just makes the preciousness of the tip-toeing sonics more pronounced. Everything is painstakingly wonky and, such is Chris's laudable detachment, built on borrowed equipment. Just try making music as lopsided on today's DAWs - the time and care required to create this kind of spontaneity is mind-blowing."

One of the other tracks Matt singles out, "Lite Bites", seems to have already disappeared, mysteriously. As has one of my own faves from when I last looked - "Bondrun", which sneakily weaves in part of the theme tune to the '70s kids TV show How.  I wonder why - did Chris take fright, grow self-conscious at the sudden "upsurge" in interest? 

At any rate, hasten ye to check the stuff out. 

In the newsletter, which rounds up a bunch of interesting this-parish-and-adjacent releases, including an excellent cassette from Xylitol that I have been meaning to big up, Matt proposes - or rather seeps up from his unconscious  - a genre-not-genre term for this disparate field of low-key activity:

" I was amused when one came to me in a dream: krumble. Where in the nineties and onwards glitch once worked as a useful catchall - now this kind of music is not "futuristic" or in thrall to its digital nature, but rather organic and, like the fabric of western society, decaying. Decaying in a comely, small but rather delicious way..."

krumble - love it!

Matt also directs to an elegy (premature, it now seems) that he wrote for Position Normal earlier this very year, at Discogs...

"Properly divining that the true spirit of the most inventive dance tracks was DIY bedroom music they proceeded to make an eccentric and lo-fi music with rock's palate. Not for Chris Bailiff the sheen and gloss of Seefeel, Tortoise and Broadcast. Bailiff was a fan of Ralph Records' weirdo Snakefinger (a UK expat) and the waning format of the C90 cassette - but his sensibility was pure 1999. Only The Streets' Mike Skinner, a couple of years later in 2001, came as close to defining how it felt to be in the UK at the turn of the century - deconstructed and, if not homesick, timesick.

For all the patina of supposed amateurishness Position Normal's recordings have the exquisitely crafted soundscapes of productions thousands of times their budget. There's a sensitivity to sound here bred of "redeye" 4-in-the-morning sessions; of poring over nuances. All his records are masterpieces and blessed with a delightful tunefulness and charm which entirely escapes most of the desiccated Arts-Council-funded pabulum which clogs up the avant-garde mainstream. Buy."

timesick - love it!

Listening and pondering again the magic of Position Normal, I remembered two things:

1/ I have never heard the precursor-to-Poz stuff, by Bugger Sod. Anyone able to help a feller out? 

2/ I have never ever interviewed Chris Bailiff, which seems a bit remiss, given that Stop Your Nonsense was my favorite album of 1999*, but perhaps reviewing it twice felt like enough at the time, and the opportunity never presented again. Perhaps if Album 4 becomes  more than a sketch, who knows...   


* Funnily enough, with a number of artists whose albums were my ab fav of that particular year, I have never written anything substantial about them - not a feature, but sometimes not even a review. Rangers, Micachu and the Shapes, Metronomy, eMMplekz... Black Moth Super Rainbow just had a very short review ...  A strange state of affairs, really... But then perhaps I was busy doing a book, or maybe I was unconsciously driven to keep the pleasure of listening to them entirely separate from the drudgery of journalism... or even from having to try to come up with some kind of definitive set of ideas about why I liked it so much...  


Monday, August 23, 2021

Inside the Process

Todd L. Burns - who many will remember as the founder of the excellent music webzine Stylus and subsequently helmed various important publications - puts out an unmissable missive, a weekly newsletter called Music Journalism Insider. One of the regular features is called Notes On Process, in which he invites a music journalist to go deep into the background (the writing, editing, etc) of a particular piece.  

Todd asked me to do a Notes on the news story I did about the Castlemorton mega-rave in May 1992.  I realised that the article that ran in Melody Maker's news section was significantly different (more newsy) than the fevered rave convert / eye witness thinkpiece I submitted. So we have both versions up there annotated with queries and comments, discussing the circumstances of the piece, the workings of a weekly music paper, the traveler-raver movement / moment, and the larger question of "the politics of dancing." 

Here are the other earlier installments of Notes on Process. And you can subscribe to Music Journalism Insider here.

Oh and I just this minute noticed that Todd and MJI got  nominated in the Multimedia / English category of an international Music Journalism Award done by the Reeperbahn Festival.

(My kid Kieran is nommed in a different category - his second time of being nominated - will he win again?)

















The missus with a piece from 1994 about the Crusty-Raver-Traveler-Squatters versus the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill.