Sunday, January 28, 2024

Neil, continued

Tributes keep coming... 

Here's one you should really read - a loving portrait from his close friend Simon Price, full of details and stories I never knew. For The Quietus.

Update February 1st: lovely extended meditation by Cam Scott on Neil and specifically his book Eastern Spring: a 2nd Gen Memoir . Here's a mix Neil made to go along with Eastern Spring

David Stubbs directs Kulkarni fans to a classic installment of the Chart Music podcast, in which Neil rails against the turn-to-shite of Melody Maker in the final years of the '90s, late period Britpop, the infamous "Craig David" cover, etc. From about 35 mins in...  

David's Gofundme for Neil's daughters has just topped 40K - an amazing testament to the love and respect he inspired. Contribute if you can.

Neil's colleagues at The Wire have assembled a medley of his pieces for the magazine across 20 years of being a contributor.  They have also published what may well one of Neil's last bits of writing - they invited him to pick - and comment on - his own favorite pieces written by other people from The Wire's vast archives.

Apparently there are plans afoot for a Neil Kulkarni anthology. Below are a few links to classic pieces that are already online - some of them rant-mode and some just passionately perceptive about music he loved. 

Neil lays into the Ten Most Overrated Albums in Pop History - guaranteed to be something here that'll get your hackles rising. 

Neil in dialogue with Rudy Tambala of  A.R. Kane around the time of the One Little Indian singles anthology (which reminds me that I've still not read his sleevenotes to last year's Kane box A.R.Kive - can anybody help me out here?)

Neil's series  A New Nineties, about the groups that have come to be known as The Lost Generation - i.e. first-wave UK post-rock. For The Quietus:

introduction / Main

Disco Inferno



epilogue / other unmissable albums / rant about bands making music that is "unforgivably British"

He also did a follow-up Quietus series about the US end of the "New Nineties", worth looking for although some of the groups, the appeal always eluded me I must say. 

Here's a couple of pieces Neil did on Marc Bolan and T.Rex 

A piece around a Pulp reunion tour, celebrating the band and what it represented

Neil with Sleeper (and all indie) and Kula Shaker in his sights. And damning Ride with faint abuse.

Via Nick S in comments, a clip of Neil blasting Oasis on the Chart Music podcast

Neil as Coventry native remembering local boy Terry Hall.

Neil on Auto-Tune-glitzed 'n' spritzed dancehall

Finally, a bit of Kulkarni meta-talk... Neil was fierily eloquent about music journalism as a vocation, the point and purpose of criticism, how to do it right.... often this would come out by implication, a sort of photographic negative, in his tirades about the shite that the latterday NME was trying to foist on the world, famous feats of fight-picking that riled up the guilty parties no end. But here at Drowned In Sound, is one of his positive articulations of How to Do It and Why To Do It

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

RIP Neil Kulkarni

Stunned, heartbroken, by the news about Neil Kulkarni.

I never met Neil in the flesh but I feel like I did, his personality is so vivid in his writing, and as a social media presence and podcaster. By the time Neil started coming down to Melody Maker from Coventry, I would have been mostly in New York. I did have some lovely phone conversations with him when getting him to review rap records for Spin (his opinions annoyed some of my staider colleagues - mission accomplished!). But mostly I know him through his writing and his presence on Facebook, where he'd be chatting about the stuff of everyday life as much as music ( he was enormously knowledgeable and opinionated about crisps, for instance! And one of his last tweets was a photo he took of a large Swiss roll someone mysteriously left on a stairwell banister). 

As a music writer, Neil Kulkarni is one of the greats - the kind of stylist and personality born for (and born in) the UK’s weekly music press. Like many readers I expect, my favorite Neil mode was the rant – these were things of great rhythmic beauty, deadly in their accuracy - incendiary devices that incensed their deserving targets. The energy he could transmit through words was extraordinary. But Neil wrote in many other modes beyond the polemical and shouty -  ruminative and tender, for instance, in the pieces for The Quietus that evolved into Eastern Spring: a 2nd Gen Memoir, his 2012 book for Zer0. 

"Life force" is a phrase I keep seeing in tributes. I so wish I’d felt the heat of it up close and in person, but it blazed through his writing. It seems inconceivable that this fire has been extinguished, way too early.  The world feels colder today. 

My heart goes out to Neil's daughters, partner, and family;  his friends;  his colleagues past and present;  his bandmates;  his students;  and his fans and readers.

Close friend and fellow Chart Music podcaster David Stubbs has started a Go-Fund Me for Neil's children. 

Neil aged 18 going on 19, in 1991, just before starting to write for Melody Maker.

Tributes from his friends and editors and colleagues are too numerous to list here, but here's a few to start with

Simon Price meets the moment with this loving portrait at The Quietus

Derek Walmsley, who worked with Neil at the Wire, remembers him at his blog Slow Motion

Chart Music's mainman Al Needham 

Carl Loben at DJ

David Stubbs at Electronic Sound

Ian King at Unexpected Delirium on NK and loss in the age of parasocial media

In the coming week, I will pull together some of Neil's pieces for a post on Pantheon. Here's a couple that already appeared. 

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Head Over Heels about "shitpost-modernism"

Gutted about what's happened to Pitchfork.

Bizarrely, both me and my son had pieces pending when the news came - and they've both just run. 

One of the great things about Pitchfork is the space they've given to young writers to go wide and deep (old writers too!). Here's Kieran Press-Reynolds with a thinkpiece on shitpost-modernism: "the flood of 2020s music that straddles the line between serious and silly, shattering conventions and exploding taste boundaries".

One of my favorite things - as a reader and a contributor - Pitchfork does is the Sunday Review: writers going long and deep on records the magazine never covered before, usually because they came out long before the website existed. After a tough week, it feels bittersweet to be this Sunday’s Reviewer, with a paean to Cocteau Twins and Head Over Heels, one of my favorite albums of all time.

In the piece, I reference a rave review in NME that turned my head around after initially finding the album off-putting. By Barney Hoskyns, that review can be read here at Pantheon.  And here (also here as scans) is a much later piece where Barney interviews Cocteau Twins about the length and breadth of their career.

On the subject of music journalists and music journalism, there's been a lot of interesting, if necessarily anguished commentary about what happened at Pitchfork and the future for criticism. I particularly like these thoughts for NPR music from Ann Powers, especially the last of her three points: 

"To me, the best thing about music writing is that compared to other elements of the culture economy, it’s relatively useless. Some forms of entertainment journalism feed the star-maker machinery more than others: celebrity profiles, for example, flesh out the personae that turn artists into fetish objects.... What I love about music writing , though, is that it can sidestep that productive, competitive side of culture, the market-driven need to sell more tickets, more records, more streams. Instead, great music writing messes with productivity by creating a space to slow down and really immerse in someone else’s creative work. To really listen.....  I feel nourished by the daring of my fellow scribes, by the way their words are indeed extraneous to the churn of art and emotion as product, carving out a zone where the pause matters, time spent thinking, laughing at a good line, feeling my brain crackle as it absorbs an insight....  In the end, what matters about music writing is exactly the same as what matters about music: It isn’t leading anywhere productive. Instead, it’s offering a break from the grind, a free zone for thought and a few glorious, rejuvenating moments of fun.... Music writing says: Slow down. Pay attention. It witnesses the unfolding of meaning within measured time, and calls back to it"

Absolutely - music and music writing are alike in being one of life's essential inessentials. You can get by without either of them - but why would you want to?  


postscript: former Pitchfork editor in chief Mark Richardson with some fond reminiscences about colleagues who abruptly no longer work there either anymore.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

the original doomscroller

As the end of a year approaches, Sasha Frere-Jones invites writers, musicians, and artists to come up with some words about that year.  "Reflections on 2023" went up on his Substack on January 1st and it includes some thoughts from me about doomscrolling. You'll have to - haha - scroll down a ways to find it, though, as he's got a hell of a lot of guests and some of the contributions are quite lengthy. 

The gist of my micro-essay is that the doomscroll is a new affect, brought about by a convergence of technologies. To achieve that specific mental-physical sensation in the pre-digital era would have required cobbling together a Professor Branestawm/Rube Goldberg-style construction, a rotational contraption through which would pass at speed a ribbon onto which was glued stories clipped out of the newspapers. But the ribbon would run out... and it's the inexhaustibility, the endlessly renewed quality of the scroll that induces those fixated feelings of panic and paralysis. 

About a week after the reflections went up, though, I stumbled across a precedent! 

Something on Twitter (more on that in a minute) led me to look up "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall":

Bob Dylan attributed his inspiration to the feeling he got when reading microfiche newspapers in the New York Public Library: "After a while you become aware of nothing but a culture of feeling, of black days, of schism, evil for evil, the common destiny of the human being getting thrown off course. It’s all one long funeral song."

Dylan, original doomscroller! 

And the microfiche reader is a machine that you crank manually - so not unlike my mad-inventor contraption. (You can watch someone actually using one in the 1960s here).

The reason I was looking up "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" is a Twitter thread, started by someone who proclaimed that: 

"the music opinion I have that people would hate me for is that I truly think Bob Dylan is underrated, like severely underrated. and that he’s maybe the single most interesting person alive on earth right now. and that no other living artist even comes close to his significance"

Someone else chipped in with a hard agree: 

"It’s like living at the same time as Shakespeare"

Then someone else co-signed using a George Harrison quote: "There’s not a lot of people in the world who I see from a historical point of view. Five hundred years from now, looking back in history, I think he will still be the man. Bob, he just takes the cake.” 

And then - in what was turning into a competition between Dylan nuts to say the most Dylan-nutty thing ever -  yet another person declared that the line “Where black is the color, where none is the number” alone merited the Nobel Prize.

Not being a Dylan-nut, not in the least, I had to google the line, which led me to "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall."

An enduring bemusement for me, this phenomenon of the Dylan-nut. D-nuts are forever quoting lyrics, brandishing them as if the most profound utterances ever uttered -  oracular, Bible-level stuff. They seem to like the parable-like cadence, or the old-timey American quality: plainspoken yet poetic. Sometimes, they'll talk about how funny a particular line is. (I'm always like, "really?") 

"Where black is the color, where none is the number” - partly it's the way it's sung, I should imagine. But as a stand-alone line, stripped of intonation, taken out of the mounting intensity of the rest of the lyrics, that particular line strikes me as.... fine.  

Of course (I've written about this before), Dylan would not make my Top 1000. Not contesting the  objective eminence, the historical importance, here - just talking about what I personally would reach for as something to listen to.  

Still, Bob did invent doomscrolling, so there's that.  

I wonder if he owns a dumbphone and actively doomscrolls today. Perhaps he'll write another "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall". Then again, he doesn't need to. It's a hardy perennial. 

postcript: A Britrap doomscroll from the mid-2000s

Sunday, January 14, 2024

the final (connect_i)cut

Talking about blogs operated by musicians, word comes that the last ever album by connect_icut, also known as Sam Macklin and whose nom de blog was Bubblegum Cage III - is now out on the Blasted Gorse label. 

And it's really excellent, weaving Sam's abiding passions for early UK post-rock (Disco Inferno and that kind of thing), left-field electronic music, glitch, et al, into a shimmering final statement. Nice late period ECM-ish cover design too.

But it's not the last we'll hear of Macklintronica -  simply the retiring of a particular identity and the launch of a new direction. 

Check out his back catalogue while you're about it

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

blogging, continued

Xenogothic with some thoughts on blogging.  

Among many other things, Matt talks about blogs operated by musicians, by the likes of Deerhunter and Phil Elverum, as a whole other field of bloggy action. I suppose Momus's Click Opera,  mentioned in the previous Blissblog post about blogs then and now, counts in this category. In an earlier longer version of the Guardian column, I did link to a currently active music-maker blog that I enjoy: Wreckless Eric's Ericland

I have been going back and adding more blogs and bloggers that I remembered from the olden days to that post. But there are still swathes of blogging that I didn't cover - even within the music blogging arena.

For instance, I don't talk about MP3 blogs. But then they were never something I got into. The free MP3s seemed as unenticing as the flexi singles attached to fanzines back in the day. And the textual element rarely seemed as interesting as the output of the blogs I considered my true neighbours.

There was a whole other phase of hyperactive blogging I clean forgot about - all the blogs associated with hypnagogic pop and that late 2000s / early 2010s emergence of largely-online DIY micro-genres like witch house and vaporwave.  Blogs such as 20 Jazz Funk Greats and Visitation Rites and Gorilla vs. Bear and Rose Quartz that would be shepherded for a while under the Pitchfork-hosted mantle of Altered Zones.  I tried to evoke its neophiliac fever in this piece:

On Altered Zones and its constellation of blogs, the flow is relentless: What matters is always the next new name, the latest micro-genre, another MP3 or MediaFire. Artist careers likewise are a continuous drip-drip-drip of releases, a dozen or more per year—there’s no reason to edit or hold back, every reason to keep one’s name out there. Stimuli streams in, largely via the Web; creativity streams out, largely via the Web. Today’s musician is a pure screen, a switching center for all the networks of influence.... This scene is about being engulfed and enthused, carried along by the currents of the new. Drifting not sifting. 

Another huge wave of blog energy - and one that had a huge effect on me, albeit not necessarily for the good - was the whole-album sharing blogs. Some of these didn't just offer an album cover image and a link to Rapidshare / Megaupload  / Mediafire, but had proper textual content: well-written and informative, if rarely polemical or argument-starting. Serious curatorial activity, as undertaken by the likes of Mutant Sounds, Continuo's, Twice Zonked!, A Closet of Curiosities... I wrote about that scene in this piece for The Wire on "sharity" blogs. Even interviewed a couple of figures behind blogs.  That scene is much declined from its height but there's sharity soljas out there still, digging strange shit up... 

Yet another still active sub-subculture of music blogging: the "imaginary albums" blogs. This overlaps with the sharity in so far as they sometimes - not always - share their recreation of the rumored but never released album. Some of these blogs generate an enormous amount of counterfactual text, as discussed in this essay of mine on alternative history and music: 

Fans for years have been creating unfinished or unreleased albums like Beach Boys's  Smile, Hendrix’s First Rays of the New Rising Sun, The Beatles's  Get Back, the Who’s Lifehouse – using bootlegs, demos, out-takes... Today there is a whole realm of blogs dedicated to this practice – Albums That Never Were, A Crazy Gift of Time, Albums That Should Exist, Albums I Wish Existed… Usually they create fake artwork for the counterfactual albums. 

Some of these blogs, such as Strawberry Peppers, don’t stop at creating imaginary albums and record covers – they write incredibly detailed and extensive alternative histories of worlds where the Beatles didn’t split up, or where David Bowie joined the Rolling Stones, or where the Soft Machine’s Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt and Daevid Allen don’t leave the band, or alternate timelines where Syd Barrett stayed in Pink Floyd.  A kind of counter-discographical mania erupts.  


In addition to Xenogothic, there's been some other post-Guardian-piece posts -  a few from blogs I know well (like Feuilleton), most from blogs I'd never come across before:  Torpedo The ArkBhagpussThe Sphinx. Somewhere amidst all that chatter I gleaned that there's been  unconnected blog talk going on too, at The Lazarus Corporation, at Velcro City Tourist Board, and in a piece about the internet getting weird again by Anil Dash for Rolling Stone.