Monday, October 29, 2007

My Alibis #2

"Part of the to be the greatest rock-and-roll writer of all time is a complete lack of modesty. And having an utter lack of modesty as a rock critic is easy if you also have the other necessary qualifications - being shy, antisocial, awkward and desperately in love with your own company. All the things that you repress in the real world - confidence, articulacy, charm - you could unleash from the privacy of your writing room (usually your bedroom) into your writing, creating a massively arrogant and charismatic persona for yourself in print that could be something you could only re-create in the real world when very drunk."
--Paul Morley, Words And Music.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

I don't particularly want this blog to turn into a trickle of bits (as happens with so many other blogs) (rest assured, there are more real posts on the way), but just had to share this:

I saw this lot play in March at the Camden Barfly - they weren't particularly good then, either (although their keyboardist is very good-looking) - but what I found amusing was the hype on the video sidebar: "pronounces all that is exciting about what it is to be young and in the here and now." So that would be... nothing then? (Excepting this, which genuinely still sends me into raptures whenever I hear it.)

Friday, October 26, 2007

My Alibis, #1

"There's a flat, filled droniness to it that I've personally thrilling since I first heard Tangerine Dream as a fourteen-year-old - I think hearing Tangerine Dream meant I didn't lose my virginity for many, many years, because their music, and the music it led me to listen to, seemed like the most sexual experience you could expect from life."
--Paul Morley, Words And Music.

(Not quite true, but I think my copy of Zeit is still in a CD rack somewhere in the house. I haven't listened to it for years (like Morley with Phaedra), and for me the requisite mind/loin-bending album was most probably The Velvet Underground And Nico, but the sentiment still stands.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

One For The Diary...

Out to all Dorset, Hampshire and South-West crew: an absolutely astonishing gig at Poole's Lighthouse, on November 9th and 10th - on the Friday evening, a duo gig by free saxophonist Jan Kopinski and drummer Steve Harris, followed by Poole's own Safehouse Collective providing a live soundtrack to films by students from the Arts Institute; on the Saturday, two free (in both the monetary and musical sense) improvisation workshops hosted by Steve Harris and Chris Burns, followed in the evening by sets from cellist and electronics player Mark Wastell with trumpeter Matt Davis, drummer/percussionist Steve Noble (who has recently put out an excellent disk with Alan Wilkinson and John Edwards on Bo'Weavil Recordings) with guitarist Alex Ward, and the king and queen of British improv, Keith and Julie Tippett (look at those muttonchops on Keith!) on piano and voice.

It's £5 and £10 for each night respectively, and will no doubt be well worth the price. This is undoubtedly the best thing the Lighthouse has put on, or will put on, all year (certainly a damn sight better than The Imagined Village or Gilbert O'Sullivan.)

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Les Savy Fav's Tim Harrington, on the nature of the album - what most amuses me is the ambiguity of his scholarly tone, balanced on the edge between irony and brilliant earnestness (and does he really smoke a pipe? Notice also that he doesn't actually attempt to persuade the viewer that the album is worth saving, which was the original purpose of the broadcast.)

I personally have never really bought anything but albums (excepting a few 7"s, and a couple of legally downloaded EPs), and almost all on CD. I have about 200 - astronomically small, no doubt, compared to most people's collections, but I've only been buying them for the last 4 years or so (and I had, for most of that time, next to no money.) The question of format has intrigued me since I began buying vinyl (a small stack of charity shop LPs - including a vintage copy of Crass' Penis Envy - has built up, despite my having no record player to speak of), and it seems to me to be the best approach. The MP3 player is not so much, as far as I see it, a filtering tool, allowing you to gather together the best of your collection and push out filler, so much as a dessicater: everything becomes a 'best of' the artist, when really you want to listen to it yourself and find out what's 'best'; I'm a non-systematic hoarder of music, buying from my enormous List Of All The Albums I Want, which currently runs to over 700, whenever the money or interest strikes me, and I'm more interested in getting all of the things within a certain category I want from an artist (for example, all of the LPs John Coltrane recorded with the Miles Davis Quintet, or the whole of Glenn Gould's recordings of the Goldberg Variations) than getting a selection of the supposed best. I'm really just a musical (and literary) glutton, wanting the whole of the turkey, when record companies are increasingly just offering plates of sliced breast, in accordance with the demands of a generation which has often eaten nothing else, and, in fact, probably never even seen a live turkey (where exactly is this metaphor going?)

For convenience' sake, I should theoretically get an MP3 player - not least so I can listen to my podcasts outside the fucking house, or take walks listening to music without having a bulge the size of a Walkman in my jeans - but it just feels impossible. It sounds stupid to say that we've lost something by going from CD to MP3, but it seems true: notwithstanding the transformation of hard, fetishised objects (pun intended) into a collection of immaterial ones and zeroes, or the simultaneous reduction in sound quality (which, having grown up with CDs, I can pretty much tolerate), the reduction of music from the album to the pick-and-mixable track, is exactly that - a reduction. And I don't simply mean that it's a Violation Of The Artist's Intent, or of the vinyl LP as constructed aesthetic experience; it's that, instead of whittling down the world of music (much of it populated by crap) to a goodly core, to which you can then give love and attention, you're demeaning it. It becomes literally, well, not a simple commodity - Soulseek and Limewire have put an end to such fetishism - but wallpaper, background noise. And whilst it's probably not a good idea to import too much importance to music (a state of affairs giving a much higher chance of developing Malachi Ritscher Syndrome) it's still a change in use-value that wrecks one of the best things in life. The most fascinating thing about Richard Meltzer's 'Vinyl Reckoning' - quite possibly the most important thing he ever wrote - is the way that, despite being the distant forefather of Frank Kogan-trivial poptimism, he imports an importance to the music itself that's heartbreaking. Vinyl can be seen as the literal manifestation of that weird, immaterial thing some of us give so much to, or get given so much by - a literal codification of music, residing in the grooves like an archaeological tale in geography and landscape. He writes "that the very idea of the single is rather amazing, and in retrospect almost preposterous. Two sides, one song per. One!--what forcible focus on the unit sonic offering!" - and whilst that's, theoretically, what MP3s allow you to do, take records one-dose-at-a-time without the dilution of the other dozen tracks on an album, it in fact makes them less important. If the single is the central currency/totem of Pop fandom, an object charged with the complex electricity, the magickal will-power of fan-lust, something even more "queer... [and] abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties" (Marx) than your average commodity, then format-destruction turns it to, um, just the music - sound to be picked-and-chosen (I don't want to use the word 'dilettante-ism', but it's going to appear, I think), consumed (in the sense of buying), rather than consumed (in the sense of 'taken wholesale into the body/mind.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Music In Our Mess-Age

Not that anyone outside of Bournemouth will really give a shit about this (and do I have any readers inside Bournemouth? Do I have any fucking readers at all?), but 3rd November sees the kind of line-up that would have Lazarus clambering forth to partake of possess The Gander for its relaunch. That means no more forays into the wild wastelands of Eastern Poole to The Central (no-one has any idea what I'm talking about, do they?), except maybe to attend interviews for jobs I'm not going to get. Since the majority of my friends have physically disappeared to various corners of the country to pursue whatever ill-advised half-arsed academic line they wish to, I guess this is the only thing I have left, apart from my increasingly hermetic pursuits (currently reading Pride And Prejudice, Touching From A Distance and Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure), and the constant task of keeping mental illness at bay, and limbs from freezing, as winter closes in. Wonderful. Excuse me if I sound a bit bitter, it's only because I AM.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

I Remember Nothing

Seeing as everyone is writing about Joy Division at the moment – and, in some cases, doing it with the greatest of aplomb – I have, perversely, decided to write about New Order, partly because I’m all JD-ed out (reading Touching From A Distance, hopefully eventually going to see Control), partly because other people are doing/have done it better than I could ever hope to, and partly because I bought a copy of Substance today. I had possibly plumped for a copy of Singles, but that possessed everything bad they ever did (e.g. everything after ‘True Faith’, minus the famed ‘acid house’ mixes bootleg), and had no ‘In A Lonely Place’, whereas it turns out Substance is a collection of the extended 12” versions of their first twelve singles.

What’s most interesting about New Order on first hearing them is their position in lineage of disco and electronica: listening to the 7 minutes (!) of the 12” version of ‘Blue Monday’ is bizarre, primarily because you wonder what the hell to make of it – driven by a skull-cracking drum machine beat, absolutely filled with synths arpeggiating like mad, with Peter Hook’s bass adding strange figures, not attempting to lay down a beat as such, then the drum machine rearing up and whinnying before the vocals come in; the entire thing seems not to know where it’s going, but damned if you’re going to stop it getting there – a mad, tank-like motorik ride cruising down a highway from Tron towards nowhere. Bernard Sumner sounds utterly numb, buried under effects, intoning a litany of will-less apathy (“Tell me now, how should I feel”), and really, the lyrics are something you can barely notice, partially because Bernard doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to say beyond telling us he feels betrayed (“Tell me now, how does it feel/When your heart grows cold”) and can’t really speak (“You know I find it so hard/To say what I need to say”), and partially because the insane background is so engrossing. It seems to upset the usual priorities of pop music: even in electro-pop, such as the concoctions of The Human League (on Dare) and Heaven 17, the ‘pop’ element was decidedly to the forefront, conservative and classical song structures, orientated around the voices, simply played on synthetic equipment. By contrast, New Order seem to tap into the sensibilities of synthetic disco, reducing the voice to little more than an avatar of the beat, one more element in the instrumental, scrambling the composition of pop in exactly the way electronic music should.

You can already see that process in some late ‘70s American disco, where lyrics become little more than party chants between extended instrumental sections (e.g. Chic’s ‘Le Freak’), and, where verses existed at all, they were generally short and contained yet more party sentiments. Italo-disco took the process even further, having even less regard for lyrical content, and much more for ass-shaking. As is well known, synths were used by the likes of Giorgio Moroder precisely because they were much more cost-effective than musicians (he says sneeringly), but also because they can produce rhythms that have the most profound effect: the arpeggios that power ‘I Feel Love’ (which ‘Temptation’ seems to quote) an oblique, machinic take on the organicism of funk that delivers the goods, in a decidedly, ahem, non-orthodox manner. As K-Punk has pointed out, the change is from the frustrated libidinal pulse of rock and funk – the push to achieve the aim of will and desire NOW NOW NOW – to the “thousand plateaus” of music beyond the pleasure principle – which rhythmic blueprint essentially laid the foundation for techno (it isn’t that far a leap from ‘Blue Monday’ to, say, the work of Ellen Allien), and a new way of enjoying music. I personally love the work of Villalobos, Michael Mayer, et. al. precisely because of the lack of obvious emotional signification: listening to something like ‘Easy Lee’ you feel somewhere between happiness and melancholy, a sort of wistful almost-pleasure, not the release from tension that pleasure is, but rather an interest, and focus, on the moment. (That’s what I think so-called ‘space disco’ is seeking: the serenity of cosmic suspension, rather than the ecstasy of the outward-bound journey.)

I’ve no idea to what extent New Order directly knew about, or were influenced by American and Italo-disco, but that doesn’t really matter: the fact that a trio of Heterosexual Gruff White Northern Lads (and Gillian Gilbert) should either be influenced by disco, or have arrived at the same conclusions, is interesting in itself. That the black pioneers of Detroit techno – the beginning of the lineage that ended in Villalobos and ‘minimal’ – should have then picked up a similar approach (in rhythm, synthetics, melancholy) adds further interest. That certain moments on Substance (the synths and increasing vocal/pop emphasis on ‘True Faith’ makes it sound proto-Balearic) seem to blueprint Chicago and Acid House – an ostensibly ‘black’ sound, with the soul vocals and piano hammering – is fascinating. If you wish to be even more complex about this, you can trace the motorik of New Order and Italo-disco back to the ‘Autobahn’ travels of Kraftwerk (a bunch of ultra-academic, white Europeans). So, question: what does this all add up to? Well, firstly, I would venture that New Order were far more interesting and important than they’re generally given credit for; that they were, by the whims of fortune, absolutely central to the evolution of electronic music, a continuum stretching from Krautrock to today, a group who took in both the past and future, both pop and the unheimlich virus of the electronic; secondly, that, as Simon Reynolds and many others have pointed out, the interaction of black and white cultures in the evolution of electronic music is more complex than most people would own today – the idea that people could pursue the same ideas without necessarily being ‘influenced’ by them is one which would seem ridiculous; if a black DJ like Afrika Bambataa played Kraftwerk these days, it would be something willed, an ironicism on his part (cf. Erol Alkan’s notorious eclecticism), and the freakish hybridisation of someone like Arthur Russell would be the self-conscious channelling of ‘influences’ (or sources of plunder), rather than just his doing what he liked.

New Order, by contrast, meander, seemingly without a care in the world, between black and white musical elements (the electronic elements being very ambiguous as to ‘race’ (God, this is getting horrible) anyway.) (Incidentally, is it me, or is the intro to ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ a distant precursor to glitch-hop? And what does the beat flurry and gunshot in the middle of ‘Blue Monday’ evoke but jungle?) Bernard always has a very ‘white’ voice, and guitars are often present (cf. ‘Temptation’, ‘Confusion’, ‘Thieves Like Us’), but the funk bassline on ‘Thieves Like Us’ says otherwise. This is primarily because they seem to inhabit a kind of emotional and libidinal universe beyond the categorisations of ‘black’ and ‘white’, as if they haven’t really got much interest in them because they have other things on their minds.

The angst and introversion of many New Order songs – and even ‘True Faith’ is pretty bleak: “I used to think that the day would never come/When I’d steal a life in the shade of the morning sun/The morning sun is a drug that brings me near/To the child I lost replaced by fear” – belongs to the late ‘70s just as much as it does to the paranoiac casualties of the rave generation (whose musical highs were descended from New Order, in any case). Whilst Factory Records did prosper, against the odds, in the Thatcherite Eighties, giving the band plenty to be cheerful about, they seemed to have a perpetual shadow cast over them. Needless to say, it’s all there in ‘Ceremony’ b/w ‘In A Lonely Place’, the first N.O. release (FAC 33, January 1981 – that is to say, just over six months after Ian Curtis’ suicide.) Both compositions were written by Curtis’, and, according to my meagre sleevenotes, ‘Ceremony’ at least was given a backing whilst Joy Division were still active. Neither were recorded by JD (except for one, unfinished version of ‘Ceremony’ on a rehearsal tape, and that’s hardly a JD recording – the studio, and the attentions of Martin Hannett, would have been necessary to make it a JD recording); they are, therefore, the last splutterings of Ian Curtis, theoretically lost to history, but filled in, rescued, by New Order, an act of the most extraordinary beyond-the-grave ventriloquism (recorded, as K-Punk notes, in a “post-traumatic zombie trance”), Bernard Sumner mumbling the words Curtis no doubt would also have hardly had the heart to sing, masked behind effects (judging by the evidence of Closer). It’s for that reason ‘Ceremony’ doesn’t feel like a Joy Division song, but neither is it a New Order song, which may explain why it’s so oft-covered (Xiu Xiu and Galaxie 500 having both delivered superlative versions.)

The primal trauma that gave birth to New Order – and severed post-punk from New Pop – was, in a sense, the consummation of personal trauma and the trauma of a nation (how much of a future was there in the UK circa 1980? Less than none); it cast such a shadow on the participants that it took them years – at least up until the release of 'True Faith', the only sunshiney record they would release before getting hyper on E – to get over it. The depressive coldness of Joy Division, made (im)material in the synthesised dub/disco/European electronic structures of the musical backing, provided both the philosophical and musical foundation for the non-pleasure aspect of their work, the catatonic intonations of Curtis the foundation for 'Blue Monday'; their inheritance, and what they would bequeath to the rest of the world, was a poisoned one; and if 'Ceremony' is meant as an exorcism, an attempt at closure, a forgetting, it is just as much a continuance, a haunting, the very act incarnating the forgotten objects, to linger in traces. The horrors of late '70s England - incarnated in the grey static bleakness of JD, The Normal, The Human League (circa Reproduction and Travelogue), and those bands' uses of the narratives of sci-fi (in this case, the white proto-post-punks Ballard and Dick), just as much as Kraftwerk (in the midst of Baader-Meinhof terror) used the myth of the machine, and Detroit techno and jungle utilised the outward-escape narratives of black science-fiction, from existential necessity - and the personal terrors of the members of New Order remain, like ghosts in the machine of the
music, the jerking death-drive tremors of 'She's Lost Control' still present as the oxymoronic "shade of the morning sun" in 'True Faith'.

Enjoy listening.

And indeed...

Link betwixt the last and next post:

Is it alright to admit here that I really kind of like Caralee McElroy? (And Jamie Stewart, for that matter?)

I Hope You're Ashamed

I heartily concur.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Angels Are So Few

Channel 4 finally did something right last night, showing Without Walls, the interview Dennis Potter did with Melvyn Bragg just over two months before his death (marvellously, they're also showing Cold Lazarus and Lipstick On Your Collar for free on the web service 4OD - for the most part a frightfully useless application, but worth it just for those two.) It's absolutely fascinating viewing, not least for the sense it gives of the symbiotic relationship between Dennis Potter and his fiction(s): he talks about every aspect of his life that touched on his work, a comprehensive fucking rundown; it felt as if the works - The Singing Detective, Pennies From Heaven, Karaoke, Blackeyes - were something he had written in an attempt to construct a mythology around himself, and, simultaneously, that the plays had written him into existence, that Dennis Potter's life would not exist without the plays. Which shows that Potter's value was not just in terms of his formal innovations and ideas - those come and go in more or less random fashion for writers, it's just a question of being open and implementing them, as he apparently did with Blue Remembered Hills, using adults because children were, uh, just children, and couldn't convey the brutality and absurdity of childhood without it being naturalised - but in terms of understanding better than probably anyone the need for narrative, and the process of narrative, the writer's relationship to what he's writing. By apparently inserting himself into the plays at various points - as Marlow in The Singing Detective, the lecher in Blackeyes - he short-circuits the autobiographical reading by paradoxically inviting it, blending dream, reality, hallucination and supposed memory to break down what we think we know about the capacity for 'making shit up', as if it were ever that simple.
In a sense, it feels as if Potter the writer were writing this last interview, too, beforehand and during. The supposed autobiography of the plays needs Dennis Potter the writer to function, and the writer needs the plays in these last days to find a role to play, to find Dennis Potter the writer, located amid a sparkling, sordid mass of things: the explicitly mythologised Forest Of Dean, the hymns and Thirties songs (the voice of God rising up from the phonograph(?)=the voice of the so-called 'author'(?)), the Biblical plague of psoriasis, the resolutely old-old-school Owenian socialism, the transition from the pits to Oxford, the curves of women's bodies and the drift of cigarette smoke. And just occasionally death flares up: Potter reaches for the flask of liquid morphine, and is unable to do it because of his club hands. It's only then, as he gets up and goes during the break, an assistant tending to him, that you think of what was being done to him at the time, his cells eating away his own body at a terrifying rate. And somehow, he can still turn that around, chanting "Will there be any stars in your crown?", like only a true poet (and I mean that in a good way) could.


Beautiful beyond measure. Of course Marxists have all the best music. (Except for punk pathetique, but work with me here. In 100 years, Garry Bushell will be forgotten, and Robert Wyatt will be canonised (or whatever the atheist equivalent is).)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Loose Ends Tied

Online Videos by

1) An interesting video from They Came From The Stars, I Saw Them - affiliated with the mighty Xylitol and Staffordshire's The Emperor Machine - which, apart from the cameos by Autechre, Le Couteau Jaune and Kevin Rowland (! (and yes, I know he's not that good these days, and Dexys' could be a bit... trying... but as far as white soul goes, you really can't beat Searching For The Young Soul Rebels and the MKII line-up's singles before Too-Rye Ay)), is interesting primarily because it represents a rather odd strain of retro-pop: wondering what might have happened if Harmonia had moved in the same direction as The Human League did between Travelogue and Dare, a weird exercise in bouncy Kraut-electro-glam-pop. It reminds me of a remark David McNamee made about Robyn in the new Plan B - that she's like something "that 'we' made up when we were drunk... exactly like the kind of thing we'd invent": the self-consciousness, the feeling of the weight of the archive that burdens so much postmodern pop seems actually, instead of preventing good, uplifting music (and by 'uplifting' I don't just mean 'happy': Joy Division are 'uplifting', whereas something like Girls Aloud are just plain depressing) it seems to possibly be spawning some of it. Examples would include Los Campesinos!, Bearsuit, Robyn herself (yes, like every other person in the world, I do love 'With Every Heartbeat'), The Emperor Machine, Lindstrøm and Prinz Thomas, Hot Chip (to a certain extent), The Blow, the Italians Do It Better bands (Chromatics, Glass Candy, Farah, Mirage, etc.) What seems to be the crucial difference between these bands and time-serving, copyists like The Rapture, Editors, Bloc Party, etc., is that these guys are actual pop fans, immersed in the music, and trying to make music that creates the same (or, indeed, a slightly different, unique) rush that they themselves got from (pop) music, a (re)creation of libinal and emotional effect rather than sonic surface and tics. You have to *heart* pop music to make it.

2) You'll hear more about it here, but Saturday night was an evening of music at St. Aldhelms Church in Branksome, East Poole, put on by Blandford Forum's Dirty Demos label and Weymouth's Dead Sea Liner, both specialising in drone, noise and improv, and generally selling lovingly packaged CD-Rs (though Dirty Demos does also put out occasional 7" and sometimes even 12" vinyl releases). This is just to attest to what a capital evening it was, and to how good the CD-Rs I obtained are. The Doors Of Dorset Is The Doorway To Norway (DirtyCDR 024, in a limited edition of 40), a fundraiser CD-R for DirtyDemos, is particularly to be recommended for the quite beautiful packaging - a handsprayed CD, simple cardboard sleeve, lovely elemental design - and the work contained therein, particularly the spangling, twinkly drone of Anders Gjerde, a surprisingly mature, bubbling piece from Jason Kerley (certainly far better than his slightly, uh, less engrossing performance on Saturday), and an astonishing excerpt piece from Norwegian noise sorceror Sindre Bjerga (who wreaked utter mayhem with nothing more than an egg-whisk and a contact mic on Saturday - Ice Bird Spiral, take note!) In addition the tour CD from Bjerga, Gjerde and Sten Ove Toft, though I haven't listened to it all yet, is quite marvellous as well, despite possessing no better packaging than a picture of a sloth. Hm. Anyway, it carries an absolutely gorgeous 11-minute piece from Gjerde, and an unfortunately shorter (only 6 minutes! Aww, no fair!) piece from Toft, who played a 20-minute set of sub-bass rumble and face-scraping noise eruptions on Saturday that threatened to shake the church apart. There's many more CD-R and vinyl releases at the DirtyDemos Myspace (including a brilliant collaborative CD-R between idyllic glitch composer Thee Moths and Germlin, and some incredible meditative drone releases from label owner Dead Wood), the Dead Sea Liner page (see sidebar), Toft's Roggbif Records (which includes releases from the mighty Birchville Cat Motel and Lasse Marhaug), and Bjerga's uber-amazing Gold Soundz label (which has put out releases by United Bible Studies, Christina Carter, Monotract and Blood Stereo.)

3) Recently got a copy of Boy In Da Corner, and yes, I'm 4 years late, but bloody hell! I honestly can't understand why he decided to change from this to the Def Jam-isms of Maths + English, except for the purposes of stacking paper. And it's actually saddening to listen to 'Pussy'ole' now, given Wiley's pretty good performance on '2 Far', and Dizzee's shout-outs to "da one and only Wileykat" and "every pirate radio station who supported this movement from the beginning." Hopefully in a couple of years he'll be bumming fags from punters outside Dirty Canvas nights, and realise the error of his ways.

4) A note to Oliver: it wasn't a mocking snipe, I actually do take pictures of animals (as above). I'll get round eventually to replying, don't worry.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


I don't know what's weirder about this - the fact that Joy Division played in Bournemouth, the fact that a bootleg of it exists (and I don't have a copy), the mention of cyberpunk/Situationist insurrectionary Tom Vague at the end, or the fact this is being published in a Tory paper where Amy Macdonald is hailed as "the Next Big Thing". And did the prestigious Vague really operate out of "Bournemouth/Salisbury", or did they make that up?