Saturday, January 26, 2008

Ten (Or Thereabouts) Records Hiding At The Back Of Your Collection That No Grown Man Should Own

Uh, oh. This is actually pretty difficult for me, primarily because most of my naff records were gotten rid of one time when I was low on cash, and couldn't get a job - sold to the surly bearded guy at Dragon Discs down the road from me, for peanuts. So, some of this is being done from memory, of stuff I did own, but don't anymore. Also, I've been scrupulously hip in most of my record buying for quite some time, after a bad experience with one of the records listed below - I find 'hip' actually does tend to guarantee 'better quality listen' (this, BTW, has loads of exceptions, I expect, but I haven't sought them out yet...) (I don't know whether to make this easier by adopting the looking-down-the-nose pose of yr typical Wire reader - in that case, my copy of Pet Shop Boys' Discography would go in here, as would my Xiu Xiu CDs, Kylie's Fever and Iron Maiden's Number Of The Beast. Nah, fuck that.) Anyway:

1. Yes - The Ultimate Yes: 35th Anniversary Collection

What can I say, I was young and foolish... Listening through this again recently, I twigged that there are precisely three good tracks on here, out of 21 - 'Siberian Khatru' (monstrous 100-mph twisty-turny riffage with marvellously ludicrous lyrics), 'Roundabout' (massive propulsive bass-and-guitar alternate riff number, again with sing-alongably silly lyrics), and 'Don't Kill The Whale' (because it mentions whales, and has a fun, awkwardly funky chorus). I'd also nominate 'Owner Of A Lonely Heart', even if it were just for Trevor Horn's production, which is so slick and clinical you could eat off it...

2. U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind
3. U2 - The Joshua Tree
4. U2 - Under A Blood Red Sky

If you're looking for potential skeletons in my closet, this is the glaringly obvious one: I was a rabid U2 fan for more than a couple of years. I remember that, when I bought the first-mentioned album, I was still in a wheelchair, recovering from a skateboarding accident (long story), and to a certain extent, I think I was going for something tried-and-tested, something with a reliable brand-name to it, like the way you might buy Birds' custard rather than a store's own, even though it's peanuts. I can't remember any opinions I had of it, except that I liked the singles I'd already heard ('Beautiful Day', 'Walk On', 'Elevation'), because they seemed more sophisticated or expansive than the petty pop-punk I had been listening to (copies of which have long since disappeared from my collection). I suppose it would make pretty pleasant listening under heavy sedation, but otherwise it's just fucking dull. The Joshua Tree, meanwhile, is actually good in places, mainly for the fighter-jet guitar and burning atmospherics of 'Bullet The Blue Sky'. The desert-dry guitar tone - which, as Julian Cope pointed out in Japrocksampler, can be quite effective if done the right way - and gospel influences, however, are rendered useless by the band's milk-white bloodlessness. Under A Blood Red Sky is a live recording from their tour of Australia in 1983, and detached from the ridiculous and pathetic spectacle itself - Bono climbing scaffolding to wave a white flag during 'Sunday Bloody Sunday'; fuck off, will you - my memory of the songs is that they were actually quite interesting, if a little underdeveloped and dull. 'New Year's Day' and slightly creepy Joy Division tribute 'Eleven O'Clock Tick Tock' are taut and militant, 'I Will Follow' and 'The Electric Co.' gallop along with an embarrassing amount of earnestness for such stupid subject matter (=my entire psychology as a teenager, prior to engulfing misanthropy) and '40' drifts along rather nicely. Not that I'd want to listen to any of it again, mind you.

5. V/A - Ed Rec Vol. 2

Oh ho ho - a classic example of the follies of youth, if ever there was one. I bought it not too long after I got a horrible job in a call centre; for the first time in, oh, forever, I had money (my account had literally been drained dry by months of desperately trying to 'fit in' *shudders*), and, trying to claw my way out of a not-really-all-that-bad depression (a shallow golf bunker, if you like, compared to some of the deep pits I've been in), and seduced by the imagery surrounding l'electro nouveau francaise (sex! all-night parties! countless good-looking women!) and Justice's 'Waters Of Nazareth' (which I still like, though it's not up to the mark of old-school aci-eeeeed or the Rephlex set). And well, if I'm charitable, there are... 3 good tracks on here, out of 14. I think the main problem I have with Ed Banger is that the tunes are so insubstantial - they're so busy polishing their bonnets, they don't think to put an engine in the fucker. (Which was most definitely not the case with the Justice album, which had more than enough torque for yr average pissed-up neon-suited 12 year-old, as well as being a good pop record.) Another part of the problem is that the artists on here are shameless copyists, but don't take their sources seriously, or treat in any heartfelt manner: Mr Oizo or Mr Flash's swerving hip-hop house cut-ups try to take the original principle, and like breakcore-ists with jungle, out-do it, but end up just making shite. The same with So Me's mash-up of Klaxons' 'Atlantis To Interzone' and 'Golden Skans': it blurts out air-horns like it's having a really fun time, missing the point that rave, the first time round was sensually overwhelming without being so superficial. Oh, and, if you've heard Justice's 'Theee Paartttyyy' or whatever it's called, then you've heard all the Uffie you need to for one lifetime.

6. Deep Purple - 30: The Very Best Of Deep Purple

Given that it contains their late-period non-smashes like 'Vavoom: Ted The Mechanic' and 'Any Fule Kno That', you'd think I'd be mortified by the presence of this anywhere in my past. But even now, I can see what I liked about 'Black Knight', 'Smoke On The Water', the blistering 6-and-a-half-minute version of 'Speed King' (which I airdrummed along to at every opportunity, in between Dungeons And Dragons and Goldeneye sessions at my friend's house)... Yes, I repent, but it's ex-sinners who best understand the mechanics of fellow offenders...

7. Led Zeppelin - The Very Best Of Led Zeppelin: Early Days And Latter Days

Yes, that's right, 2 whole CDs of the cunts, hooray... I got this, and The Velvets' ...And Nico together, from OurPrice (when it was still operating - a shithole, yes, but the idea of just wandering ten minutes down the road to get these magic objects was galvanising in those days), and I rarely play either of them, but, in the case of the Velvets album, that's because it became a founding object for my whole idea of aesthetic judgement and existential conduct, whereas the Zep one is mostly just tosh. Listening to a Zep live album that someone had brought in to work the other day, I was just astounded by how dull they could be: enormously long guitar solo follows enormously long drum solo, follows a few grunts by Robert Plant, etc., etc. Although, when they knew how to prune themselves down to a manageable format - 'Communication Breakdown', 'Immigrant Song', 'Black Dog' - or just went completely whacked-out - the freaky, theremin-haunted 'No Quarter', Plant putting his vox through some fucked-up modulation, or 'Achilles' Last Stand', which I still have a lingering affection for, and the storming, mulched 'In The Evening' - they could be quite effective indeed.

8. V/A - Chart Wars: May The Hits Be With You

As far as I know, this was released in 1982, the year that a certain M. Carlin hymns as the summit of New Pop, the Peak Against Which All Should Be Measured (excepting The Escalator Over The Hill, and whatever the fuck else he's declaring the greatest record ever made this week). I suppose it's somewhat sad that this music is considered an embarrasment - ABC, The Human League and Dollar were never in the same gutter of a league as Wham!, Duran Duran and A Flock Of Seagulls. There's a strange magnetism in the cover: boy and girl posed with oddly phallic lightsabres, boy in black leather pants, pink leather boots, tiger-print sleeveless top, and accessories; girl in pink leather boots, fishnets, short, oddly cut black dress, big gold neck ornament and hair like a purple stormcloud. There seems to be an odd hint of futurism, strange in something so obviously naff and retro, in her pose, the streak of glam make-up on her cheek. You could say it elides categorisation, escapes time (Kek would love this record cover): maybe it's that I can see, in her, a seed of Dandi Wind, whose ultra-glam singer I fancy something awful. "Endless variations on a drearily glossy theme", perhaps - but it's clapping eyes on a record like this (found at a local church swap-meet), or casually catching sight of a girl looking happy, sparkling and transcendantly unattached, that brightens up my work-day. Uh... and it helps that the record has some choice choons: Kid Creole And The Coconuts' amazing 'Stool Pigeon', Bauhaus cover of 'Ziggy Stardust', and a 'special remix' of Japan's 'Life In Tokyo'. Not to mention, Renee And Renato's 'Save Your Love', a song and video so transcendently bad that it escapes aesthetic judgement altogether...

9. Bruce Springsteen - The Essential Bruce Springsteen

Ha ha! My mum got this - 3CDs sans case - for a quid a few years ago, because, really, this is all the Springsteen one human being needs in a lifetime, and far more. Said required Springsteen is over by the end of the first disk: the title track from Nebraska is still absolutely disquieting, despite years of over-exposure by Mojo readers; 'Born To Run' and 'Jungleland' are the hammiest things ever committed to tape, where it's evident Springsteen just went into the studio, planning to produce something with 'ROCK CLASSIC' written on it in 30-foot-tall letters, and just piled on the instruments (although something has to be said for that level of ambition, compared to the lacklustre churn-it-out efforts of most 'rock' bands today), both lovably absurd. And, uh, that's it. Your Uncut types will no doubt argue for the tracks from 1987's Tunnel Of Love (the title track and 'Brilliant Disguise'), saying that it's his best album, but I couldn't really give a shit, to be honest.

10. Blood, Sweat And Tears - Nuclear Blues

Picked up for free at the same Church swap-meet as Chart Wars, for maybe closely similar reasons: the sheer absurdity of it. Since, for various reasons, I don't have a turntable, I don't really know what it sounds like, I can't make that much of a judgement; however, having heard BS&T's 'Lucretia Mac Evil' - a generic early-70s pre-Sabbath rock track in the Chicago vein, shot through with swaggering sub-JBs funk horns and organ, and with your average cringe-inducingly sexist lyrics - and judging by the fact that Nuclear Blues was made ten years after that, when the band would have gone even further downhill, it's most probably pretty shite. The presence of song titles like 'Manic Depression', 'Drown In My Own Tears', and '(Suite) Spanish Wine', which takes up almost the entirety of the second side (and is divided into six smaller sections, each with their own sub-title) makes for even more fear. But it's precisely that I like about it: the sheer thick-witted stupidity of it as an object after punk actually makes it morbidly fascinating, like watching a car-crash in slow motion. The cover painting shows the band in a post-nuclear holocaust city, wrecks and rubble strewn around, the members in rags, posing, flexing and smiling; one bearded member stands smoking, stripped to the waist, leaning on another burly member; drummer Bobby Economou (such dull names: David Piltch, Earl Seymour, Vernon Dorge) clutches his belt and laughs. One has to wonder at the mindset of the artists here: the idea that trash like this - white, male, heterosexual, obsessed with the 'authenticity' of the music they stole from blacks and the tough stereotypes associated with it - might proliferate at a time when the human race's extinction was potentially just around the corner at any time, and that the band might celebrate this, is mind-boggling in its utter chutzpah and ridiculousness. Fuck.

I have no-one else to 'tag' for this meme, so I'm afraid it stops here. Sorry.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Pop(ping) Bubbles #2

An intriguing final episode of Pop Britannia last night, this time focusing on the years 1975-2008 (approximately). As always, the massive over-simplification the BBC music documentary department seems prone to - classifying the early '70s as a total wasteland, missing the connection between glam's identity-warping and punk, excluding the entirety of non-New Pop post-punk (PiL and Joy Division, despite being on national television at that time, were seemingly not allowed) and disco (GAH! 'I Feel Love' was a Number One! How dare you!) - was present and correct. But at least this time they acknowledged the massive role punk played in the genesis of New Pop - whilst they left out massive chunks regarding NP's intellectual backing (Scritti, Penman and Derrida; ABC, ZTT and Paul Morley), they admitted that the likes of ABC, The Human League and Frankie Goes To Hollywood "couldn't have happened without punk" - that punk's re-routing of musical priorities from technique to the experience presented to the listener, the look, sound and ideas, was at least as regenerative for pop as it was for rock. Which is to say, that prime punk, opposed to New Pop and disco by its post-'77 fans, actually had more to do with them than its ostensible source, rock music; and they, in turn, had more in common with punk than the dreck they legitimated - Duran Duran, Stock-Aitken-Waterman, T'Pau, all the rest. And it's quite frightening to think that this is considered a threatening narrative - that rock music is still considered so much of a sacred cow by the popular mindset that saying this sort of thing remains necessary.

It seems to me that Simon Reynolds' Rip It Up And Start Again was, to no small extent, the catalyst for allowing this sort of narrative to be told; but that also, like it or not, the retro-ist music magazines (Mojo, Q, Uncut, The Word, etc.) are at least partially responsible. Despite the essentially reactionary nature of the endless retelling of rock history - their main activity, perfunctory reviewing notwithstanding - of canonisation, museum-fication, the historical process occasionally unearths variables that set the whole edifice of these received histories crumbling. I say 'histories', because everyone seems to have their own: for the most people my age, music ceases to exist before Britpop, except as an embarrasment (of course nothing happened in the '80s except for Jason & Kylie, and The A-Team); for the majority of the public, the last fifty-plus years of pop music exists as one undifferentiated mass, with certain 'classics' - Abba, U2, Bon Jovi, choose your poison - rearing their heads above the mediocre masses; for the balding Clash fans who read the above-mentioned magazines, the past is a series of Top 50 of [insert genre] list and linear historical narratives worthy of Fukuyama and his cronies. For example, in their version, the 1970s goes: 1970-1975=total cultural wasteland, with everything (from Mud to ELP to Donna Summer) tending toward creating resentment that leads to punk; 1976-1980=punk, which is then betrayed, and followed by its inheritors (Sham 69, etc.) and effeminate, wimpy, corporate pop. Any and all of these histories is immediately thrown into doubt by something like The Normal's 'Warm Leatherette' - which draws lines between punk and disco, between Conrad Schnitzler and The Human League's Dare, between J.G. Ballard and the top of the charts (via Giorgio Moroder and, latterly, Grace Jones) - and which I first came into contact with through Jon Savage's 'Post-Punk C90' feature in Mojo #122.

Thought about in this manner, history becomes less narrative, and more buzzing mass of free radicals - and hence infinitely more entertaining. And, of course, the analogy isn't complete without applying Copenhagen theory: history is changed by the very fact of its observation. This isn't to say that there is one, true history that merely gets distorted by people looking at it (in this case, people writing their own narratives of history), but that pop history is, really, what you make it. What was so exciting about Greil Marcus' Lipstick Traces, for me, wasn't the sense of unearthing a 'secret history' - I knew about Dada, Lettrism, the SI and the Sex Pistols already - but of making previously unheard-of connections, of rewriting history into a better shape, a shape that, just looking at it, felt liberatory. It's precisely this, I think, that makes historical revisionism such an attractive tactic (especially for leftist intellectuals, who have no other means of making things look even vaguely promising these days - note the amount of time spent by the SI, in Internationale Situationiste, and The Society Of The Spectacle, in reinterpreting the past in order to find a way out of the present. The rock-school graduates who populate the NME (and, lest we forget, the bleeding charts), and ceaselessly worship the past, could do with a bit of a reminder that the past was once the future, unstable, inspiring, and it can be again. All it needs is a closer look...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Provisional Notes Towards A Physics Of The Heart; Or, Harmonia, 'Live 1974'

Things aren’t exactly boring around here, just… settled. I fear this is what adult life will consist of – a day’s partly-good work (vocation being “the spine of life” (Nietzsche) but very fucking thankless as well) and then listening to records at home, trying to force my way through my reading list for next year’s uni course, worrying about minor arrangements for things… One ends up being thrown back on the small things in life, its microscopic rhythms, the little rituals I need to keep up to maintain my (currently good) mental health, the flow of traffic in the mornings, the growth of plants and drift of water, morning walks and the spinning of CDs…


As winter plateaus into grey days and cold wind, we need new listening (not just material, but ways of listening)… In her review of Harmonia’s Live 1974 for Plan B, Frances Morgan called it as “organic and ego-less as a Fibonnaci spiral… evoking the transient random joy of a landscape passing by at the speed of machinery”. Of Giorgio Moroder – who took inspiration partly from Kraftwerk, of whom Harmonia’s Michael Rother was briefly a member, during their early years with Stockhausen in Dusseldorf – and Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, Mark Fisher has written “[it] is anti-climactic and anorgasmic, since its bliss is dilated, potentially forever in Moroder's mix which is virtually infinite: the record may terminate, but that is purely a question of physical limitations, which the track implicitly surpasses by flattening the beginning-middle-end of rock narrative sequentiality into the eternal Now of the discontinuum.” Where is the bridge between these two?


I’ve spent a lot of time recently walking through the few green spaces in my hometown – in particular, from my house, through the local (King’s) park, past the ailing football team’s awful (and I mean that in the bad sense) stadium, and the yuppie-fied local leisure centre; two oversized ponds connected by a glorified stream are surrounded by football pitches (inevitably filled with thick-witted youths). The last time I walked down there, it was a cold, dry morning, when the earth was springy and birds were just coming away from the trees; Live 1974 made the best walking music I’ve ever had – each song an ever-flowing snake of rhythm provided by Dieter Mobius’ rudimentary drum programming, little percussive clusters endlessly repeating, around which Rother’s spiralling, processed guitar and Hans-Joachim Roedelius’ heavily-tweaked synths pulse, flash, burn and shimmer. The opening ‘Schaumburg’ appears as if out of nowhere, its progress made slightly ghostly by the ravages of time on the tape, and draws you down into its moment-by-moment movement, as into Kafka’s “train of wagons and tumult”. You’re invited – no, compelled – to inspect its evolution, and, more importantly, to give yourself up to its flow. It isn’t music to passively absorb, nor to actively scrutinise, but to simply work with: you can feel its rhythms synchronise with yours, and vice versa. The pound of feet becomes drum machine chug. Early morning birdsong, leaking through headphones, becomes indistinguishable from twittering synths. (One is reminded of my favourite pre-sleep listening, Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon, which features real birdsong among the synth piano keys reverberating like ripples on the pond of infinity(!) Note also Eno’s collaboration with Roedelius and Moebius on the unfortunately lacklustre Cluster & Eno.) Distant gusts and traffic beyond the high grass and trees are rendered as dull bass frequencies. The voices of any humans who happen to be around are negligible, the faintest whisper delivered through wide-open mouths, the speakers looking like ridiculous dummies. All become part of one rhythm, the benign stutter of an ever-present God…


“Towards the end of his life, Marconi became convinced that sounds, once generated never die, they simply become fainter and fainter until we can no longer perceive them. Marconi’s hope was to develop sufficiently sensitive equipment, extraordinarily powerful and sensitive filters, I suppose, to pick and hear these past, faint sounds. Ultimately he hoped to be able to hear Christ delivering the Sermon On The Mount.”
--Gavin Bryars, from linernotes to The Sinking Of The Titanic (Touch)


In Lester Bangs’ review of the Stooges’ Fun House, he writes that, having “fell in one night, well-stoked with ozone”, he listened to ‘LA Blues’, “and it seemed like some vast network of golden metal pulleys rising infinitely into the sky”. Walking through the fields beyond the football stadium one evening, just as it was beginning to get dark, and listening to Live 1974, I looked back at the trees and thought, for a second, that they were perfect. In Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea – the pre-eminent text of post-war ‘existentialist’ (*shudders*) cant – the protagonist’s disgust at the physical world is summarised by a tree whose roots and branches grow in all different directions: nature is characterised as blind, clumsy, chaotic, random; the protagonist’s pet project and ‘saving grace’, a novel, is valourised precisely because it is a shaped work of intention, the literal manifestation of human choice and will. Walking past the football stadium again the next morning – Live 1974 again – I looked up among the elaborate structure of supports that juts out from the top, all around – hanging out in the air, held only by the positioning of the bars one against another. I was weirdly transfixed – the pattern was just perfect, the same as the trees, the same as the ammonite spirals I’d stared at on Jurassic Coast beaches as a kid. There’s an interesting notion in Zen that, since subject and object are one and the same, anything in nature can be considered art – complete and perfect in its concreteness – and human art should replicate the unforced beauty of nature – hence the ‘sand gardens’ found in Japanese Zen temples. Which is the effect Harmonia has on the brain – its perfectly balanced mantra-pulses don’t seem to emerge from any human agency, the grubby little hands of ‘musicians’, but just occur naturally. They confound the organic/inorganic split that’s run like a silent narrative through pop music since the invention, well, of recording technology, actually. Techno was the first music to really disavow – and disprove – any notion of solely organic agency – the programmer might pick the sounds, but it’s the machines that make them (many of the ‘creators’ accordingly hid under pseudonyms, and – in the case of Detroit’s Underground Resistance – refused to allow their real identities to be associated with the product. (Note: if all this sounds like terribly wooly thinking - "invocations of Zen? I've seen less offensive things in the 'Spiritualism' department at Borders!" - it should be mentioned that similar ideas were come upon, and extrapolated, in more intellectually acceptable form, by Lyotard, Deleuze/Guattari, Baudrillard and so on. I don't like to pretend to have read these gentlemen's works (I'm working on it!), and so the thinking covered in Alan W. Watts' charming volume The Way Of Zen will have to do for now.) Simultaneously sensual and distant, weirdly beautiful and beautifully weird (like, indeed, the shapes generated by mathematics, or Brutalist architecture, or the shapes of naturally-eroded rock formations), this would be the record I would pick, to be one of the two poles, if I were writing my own Words And Music: what Alvin Lucier exposed so rawly and poignantly on I Am Sitting In A Room (the words recorded, played and recorded until disintegrating into the ghosts of sound, or the sound of ghosts - the acoustics of the room shaping literal EVP) - the harmony, or discord, between man and machine, is here taken up by Harmonia, polished and explored. Only when that same pulse turns up, almost 30 years later, in Kylie Minogue's 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head', does it become apparent how universally beautiful it is - that it would bury itself in our hearts this long, that we would still be carrying out this dance with inhuman electricity today...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Cult Studs 101

Watching the Top Of The Pops clip of Roxy Music doing 'Virginia Plain' (yes, that's the exciting shenanigans we get up to on a Friday night...) is a bit of a weird experience: firstly a sense of cognitive dissonance, seeing Bryan Ferry pounding away at a piano, but with rude electronic honks flitting through the soundfield not in time to his movements; he articulates his words very deliberately, like he wants absolutely everyone to know what he's saying; the camera cuts to the rest of the band, panning past Eno (the source of that odd, almost flatulent noise), Andy in a flamboyant (metallic) green silk shirt, tootling away on a distinctly phallic clarinet, Rik Kenton (I think) and Phil Manzanera looking like trad glam longhairs, flares and platforms, back onto Ferry, looking like some alien emissary in his sculpted green-sequinned top and elaborate hair. So far, so pop 1972; but Manzanera then drops a huge CLANG of distortion worthy of Robert Fripp, twisting it around like some electric snake, while the bass carries on underneath like it's Paul McCartney doing one of his downward spirals on the early Beatles sides, and Paul Thompson thumps away Oh, by the way, there's no chorus, either; and while Ferry's piano melodies carry on their merry way, Eno - who looks, BTW, neither man nor woman, nor even especially human, dressed in immaculately-tailored leopard-print and two white, rhinestoned gloves - lets off huge eruptions of synth-noise, seemingly at random.

Towards the end, the camera, after lighting on Eno, going for a final arpeggio on his synth (which must have been an odd thing to see on TOTP by itself, like watching a compressed alchemical experiment), flashes onto the crowd. And the generically wobbling teeny-boppers are dressed, every one of them, in outfits that you'd see (and I have seen - it was an intensely dispiriting sight) at an indie club nowadays - checked shirts, skinny jeans, frocks that would be considered 'vintage' now. Is this how far we've come in more than 30 years? Are we travelling backwards in time? I would suggest that Roxy were so far ahead of their time that we've only just managed to catch up with them, but in the majority of cases (there is a small amount of innovation and interest to be found among 'indie' milieus, particularly in the hipster capitals of Brooklyn and Portland) consumers of music, and those who, ahem, 'participate' in it (who involve themselves in the social orbits of 'indie' music and take part in its semiotic codes) are utterly jaded, unwilling to demand anything more in the way of music. (And don't try and talk to me about the high fashion elites of Hoxditch (or is it Shoreton?), who dance to music that may as well have been made in 1984 - a slight improvement on most guitar indie, which may as well have been made in 1970 - but who're still as retrograde as the 'lesser orders' they deride.)

So, the question I think I'm asking is, Why, for the love of God, why are we not living in the future Roxy promised? Theirs' is a future I think I can live with: the current situation, not just in indie-land, but as it connects with/infects wider society is predicated on a) an apparent democratisation (both in the activity of music, and in access to reasonable fashion-wear) which masks what is actually an outward display of privilege, and b) a disavowal of any notion that we could either do better, or that we should maybe discuss doing better. Indie-land, supposedly an escape route, has turned into a middle-class club for those too thick or lazy to attempt educational achievement, but saved, by their class status, from having to work a shit job like everyone else (including me.) The notion of intellect - and Roxy were fiercely intellectual in their concept and organisation - and any evidence that intellect once operated in culture, has been wiped out. And the fact is, that I find places and people like that, interesting, infuriating and intimidating at once - on the one hand, feeling weirdly thrilled at all that entitlement (and the presence of so many good-looking girls - I can't deny it), disgusted at all the ridiculous morons who can carry on like this without a care in the world, and feeling like I shouldn't even be there, like I'm on enemy territory, the sanctum of my 'social betters'. Cunts. Roxy were aristocratic, but not hierarchical - anyone could enter, if they were sophisticated enough, regardless of class (Bryan Ferry being, famously, the son of a miner.) (And I think I could dig the clothes as well; I'd get along better than I do in this climate of purposeless semi-finery and frame-strangling fashions.)

I bought a copy of Michael Bracewell's Remake/Remodel recently, so I may well be able to find the answers around there. "I tried but I could not find a way.../Looking back all I did was look away..."


I love, at the end of this clip, the quip by the narrator - "Those aren't the sort of clothes you'd want to take the night bus home in" - in relation to this. I guess some things never change.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Weather Forecast: Cloudy

A three day weekend - the longest consecutive amount of time I've had off since I started my job - and dry, cold, relatively bright weather, has meant lots of wandering around the little seas of greenery in Bournemouth listening to really dreamy music, birdsong leaking in through the headphones. Hence this lovely clip of Philip Jeck, performing here at 2006's Borealis Festival. Whilst a lot of the stuff related to Touch can seem a little dry - Phil Niblock, hmmm - Jeck sounds really wonderful, sculpting beautiful shapes out of crackle and mist. I can't wait to listen to his and Alter Ego's version of The Sinking Of The Titanic (reviewed marvellously in this month's Wire by Mark K-P).

P.S.: does anyone know where I can get CD copies of Jeck's pre-Stoke albums on Touch? Boomkat do MP3s, but I still prefer the physical object, and don't want to let all that beautiful John Wozencroft artwork go to waste...

Pop(ping) Bubbles, #1

Friday saw the first episode of the BBC's Pop Britannia, which the trailer had me almost drooling over - Roxy Music, Donna Summer, Joy Division, Pulp, Bowie - and which focused on the rise of popular music in post-war Britain. They of course neglected to mention anything about the prehistory of British pop - the music hall, folk song (both urban and rural) - but this is the BBC, after all, and we can't expect too much from them (*rolls eyes*). Whilst it's more than easy to contest the documentary's assertion that British pop music - the first music around here to actually possess glamour - suddenly sprung up overnight with the arrival first of American jazz, and then R&B and rock, it did shine some interesting light on certain areas. It was interesting to see how controlled, artificial and a priori commodified rock 'n' roll was in Britain - artists were only allowed to record and play approved repertoire, usually based entirely on the older pop templates of Tin Pan Alley; they were booked to play concert halls, mum-and-dad TV shows and other harmless entertainments; recording studios were tightly controlled by an old guard of engineers and producers who kept recordings as sonically innocuous as possible. The 'wildness', 'glamour' and 'rebellion' associated with rock 'n' roll was, from the very beginning, a hoax, a con trick, giving the lie to any notion of rock 'n' roll as an 'authentic' music. Rock's power, its violence, was only ever symbolic: police, parents and religious busybodies declaring r'n'r a threat to civil society were entirely wrong - physical violence a la biker flick The Wild One, or switchblade and chain-laden Rebel Without A Cause was never an option; its real impact was on teenagers' identity, its restructuring of their symbolic system, how they saw themselves, and how they operated socially.

The documentary made passing mention of rock 'n' roll's social impact, positing it as a menacing force upsetting a nation governed by prim propriety and Protestant restraint; but it was rather more interesting. Rock 'n' roll formed part of a larger cultural influence from America, the only place Britain could look to, as its empire disappeared: the first Elvis Presley LP and the Suez crisis arrived in the same year; Britain's identity had been, until then, formed almost entirely by the nationalist, imperialist assumptions of the ruling class; the mutation that British identity underwent partially by cultural importing drastically upset the notion of 'inherent' Britishness. At the same time, the relative prosperity and equality of America (increasing affluence, a swiftly expanding middle class), which pop music soon became a function of (surplus income being spent on records), spread ever so slightly to Britain, and began reshaping our attitudes: pop music, the music of glamour, could only exist "in a society that has moved towards democracy and then stopped halfway" (John Berger.) The glamour of pop music was one function of a process whereby all identities, previously presumed unshakeable, ontological ("You are what you are") were made malleable: class boundaries, sex (and orientation - nudge-nudge, wink-wink) boundaries, and supposedly national boundaries (the Beatles famously prospered in Hamburg, in a country no supposedly 'right-thinking' Englishman could have spoken of without venom, let alone visited, ten years earlier) began to dissolve in the art schools, cafes and night clubs that became hothouses for British pop. The explosion of this into the public-domain-at-large was the real violence of rock 'n' roll, and the catalyst for the best sonic innovations to be laid down - think of the shape-shifting identities, class confusions and stylistic collages of glam rock 15 years later...