Needed a break from work so headed down to The Exchange, a local venue, and took a chance on a band I’d never heard before…

…Lucky me! Turned out the band in question was Sumo Cyco – and they rocked.

Carrying a full hour-and-a-half plus on stage takes a lot more than good tunes – though Sumo Cyco have those in spades. I admire those – relatively rare – bands with the smarts to make a show flow, switch, change, stay persistently engaging and avoid repetition.

How to go about it? Well, impressively, it sure as heck doesn’t mean having an acoustic guitar-led break to kill the energy. First things first, it makes a world of difference to see a band who look like they’re having a whale of a time. I couldn’t take my eyes off Matt Trozzi – drums – who grinned from start to finish while drumming so hard it looked like he had extra limbs. Meanwhile, on bass, Oscar Anesetti bears an uncanny resemblance to a really young Kirk Hammett and merrily engaged with the audience, pulled faces and tearing it up from the start to finish. At the heart of the band, Skye ‘Sever’ Sweetnam and Matt ‘MD13’ Drake, laughed, joked, and led the party.

Enthusiasm can get anyone a certain distance, add a ton of talent and you’ll wind up miles in front. The band were so sharp. Drake, Anesetti and Trozzi never missed a beat at any point. At one point Drake played his guitar one-handed while sipping a beer he briefly used as a slide, at another he was riffing at one side of the stage then bounded over to sing lines into Sever’s mic. Sever meanwhile called the audience close together to allow her to crowd surf on her back while continuing to hit every note.

http://sumocyco.com/album3/

Thank god this is a band that didn’t just rely on eternal calls to ‘put your hands in the air’ or to clap along or cheer – there was some of that, it’s a gig so what the hey(!), but it always fitted and was used sparingly. Instead, every band member – bar Trozzi – took a shot performing from on top of the monitor at front centre or flying kicking off of it. Sever wound up in the crowd quite a few times whether encouraging a moshpit (and skillfully whipping out of the way  before it got too crazy), or getting the audience to form a circle around her as she sang; being carried through the crowd on Drake’s back; later persuading the entire room to crouch down, sing along and get ready to launch back up en masse. A total blast! The band knew how to use the stage, the crowd, their instruments, their good spirit…What a combination. The use of tapes to fill gaps between songs, keep momentum, deviate from the guitar-bass-drums-vocals approach, made for some good moments of fun too.

The set-list was kick ass, new songs for the upcoming third album were carefully laced into the set (and all sounded great); songs like ‘Love You Wrong’ or ‘Run With The Giants’ led to singalongs (I learnt quick); the vibe varied from pop rock, to punk, to heavy rock – I’d promised not to headbang because my neck and back are sore at the moment but how could I resist? A brief bass solo was a nice surprise, guitar solos glowed white hot, Sever’s voice carries a crowd at all times.

All in all, what a quality use of an unplanned evening! Sumo Cyco smashed it in Bristol.

 

https://castbox.fm/channel/NIRVANA-Podcast-id2115615?country=nl

Was intrigued to come across the Nirvana podcast on my Twitter feed yesterday – wanted to spread the word if anyone wants an in-depth and well put together telling of the Nirvana story.

https://castbox.fm/episode/Nirvana-Podcast-00-Teaser-id2115615-id163561079?country=nl

 

All credit and a heap of praise for the video above goes to Brett R, he invested $100 plus postage for what he – indeed many Nirvana fans, including myself – hoped would be a serious volume gathering together and curating the art works of Kurt Cobain. The card accompanying the collection states that the intention behind the book is to “celebrate his legacy” which seems strange given the book is the most gross and egregiously exploitative item of Cobain/Nirvana merchandise so far released.

Watching through the six minute clip it’s immediately obvious that the book is not in any way a serious study of Cobain’s art. There’s no attempt to contextualise the material in relation to Cobain’s life or experience, or to share any information about how/when/where any of it was created. There’s an occasion mention of materials and blandly literal ‘titles’ given to each piece. Oh, plus occasionally there’s a wildly unnecessary description, for example, “winged puppet with ghostly figure, small puppet, pixie, cat” – yes, we can see the picture too. It’s part of an apparently determined belief that anyone buying the book must be an idiot therefore they should be spoken to as such.

What the book is very clearly serious about is acting as overpriced sales collateral pitching a similarly overpriced Cobain t-shirt line. The book looks substantial on the outside but for every page of art, there’s a corresponding page showing the same image, just printed onto a t-shirt – a 50% reduction in content, purpose and interest. Better still, to keep the purposeless duplication as high as possible, if a t-shirt has been created in slightly different colouring then that version is printed too. I’m being unfair saying that this is purposeless, it has a purpose…If you’re trying to market t-shirts to the kinds of vapid fashion-victims who, in 1993, would have shelled out on Marc Jacob’s grunge collection for Perry Ellis because buying thrift store clothing was beneath them and they wouldn’t wear something that didn’t have a brag-worthy brand label.

The quantity of dead white space is extraordinary: every single image, regardless of whether it contains any intriguing detail, is blown up to fill a page. The 10-15 words needed to give the title/materials/description is printed in a corner of an otherwise blank page. Each t-shirt, duplicating the artwork seen on another page, takes up an entire page. Velum page inserts exist just to give random whimsical section titles. And because we haven’t had enough white space other pages are simply blank. In an art volume, one might give a sketch or painting room to breathe; space so the details stand out; a paper equivalent of a gallery wall so the image can be contemplated. Nothing here seems to warrant the space – it’s massive padding of a slender quantity of actual material.

Having billed the book as a volume of Cobain’s artwork, an entire section would fail any investigation under false trade description regulation. The book abandons visual art and simply reproduces random word scribbles and exercise book graffiti: ‘Sad And Ugly’ ‘Cold And Wet’ Bliss’ ‘Fun With Clay’ ‘Pen Cap Chew’. The absence of context to the words rob them of any meaning (i.e., the above seems to be one of Cobain’s various attempts to pick potential band names for what became Nirvana): there’s nothing visually intriguing or entertaining at all about them.

Leaving that section to one side, Brett notes significant issues with the other content selected. Various felt tip doodles were apparently drawn as part of psychological evaluation rather than as any attempt at art – clustered together across a two page spread they might have some interest but as standalone pieces they’re just tedious. The most elaborate and fully realised art pieces, meanwhile, have been seen before in other books (Come As You Are, Cobain Unseen, Journals, etc.) or in the Montage Of Heck film. That wouldn’t necessarily mean they couldn’t be reprinted but this particular volume doesn’t position them with other pieces that bring fresh enlightenment, or with information that would flesh out the ‘it is what it is’ air.

It has to be said, Cobain’s collection of mutilated dolls does form a curious segment. Doll faces are discoloured, figures are laid out like corpses, a skeleton has it’s face blanked, baby dolls are scored and marked. It’s irksome that it has to be in a section called ‘Kurt Makes Contact’: the titles regularly tip over from casual into the realm of infantilisation, the kind of cooing one might associate with a baby sensory class rather than with an attempt to position someone as an outsider folk artist.

Overall, this is truly a “wow” moment – I’m stunned it proved possible to put so little effort, homework, attentiveness or simple pride into the making of this book and to care so little who knows it that it’s obvious from start-to-finish. One doesn’t have to be a fanatical fan to take issue with a book that is as exploitative as this – and, of course, the only people even vaguely likely to pay $100 for such a book are going to be fans. No expense has been spared in terms of spitting in the faces of those fans – you’re paying for nice paper, stuff you’ve seen before, two-three copies of the same picture but one or two happen to be on a t-shirt.

There was a paranoid theory at the time of Montage Of Heck (which I personally enjoyed very deeply as film and as record release) that there was a concerted campaign, by people associated with the deceased rock star, to denigrate his work, destroy his reputation, undermine his posthumous status and trample respect for him into the dirt. I filed it away in the mental trash can alongside the (still) preposterous and incoherent murder rants. This book is the first time I’ve seen something come out with the Cobain or Nirvana name on it, that is so bad, that I seriously wondered if it was a prank by Frances Bean Cobain aimed at showing fans how stupid they are to give a hoot about Cobain/Nirvana so long after his death in 1994. I’m still undecided.

What I am decided on is that this book is irredeemably rubbish.

Been listening to this quite a bit recently: it’s Zoe Hansen’s latest Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) video. Essentially – layman’s ignorant version (i.e., mine) – the subtle sounds create physical sensation within the body, these gently relaxing vibes, tingling, more intense feelings in the brain and so forth.

Makes a difference in a day to just clear 30 minutes, bring the lights down low, settle back, let the sounds fill up the mind so I’m not thinking, my brain isn’t ticking over thoughts, it’s just following sound.

It does something similar, for me, to the peacefulness I found in listening to dark ambient – Sleep Research Facility and the like – music that just filled a room and pushed the world out the door for a time…

SRV461_cover

https://www.popmatters.com/spectra-ex-machina-vol1-2639670753.html

Apparently there are two more volumes in the works. I’d love to understand more about how they constructed the compilation, selected the material, decided how to put it all together… Original audio recordings from the thirties and earlier of seances and medium trances – then a second side focused on recordings from hauntings…What’s not to like?

SRV461_cover - Copy

 

 

Someone has painstakingly pieced together, from extant audio/video of the ’93-’94 In Utero tour performances, every time Cobain screams while performing Drain You.

It’s a ten minute scream-athon – fantastic! The cuts in sound quality, prominence of the different instruments, the visual shifts, it’s all enthralling. The way the sound might soften or punch differently dependent on where the person recording happened to be located made it impossible to not pay rapt attention throughout.

That led me to watch the Canal+ footage from ’94 too with the Beatles-esque bows to the audience at the end of each song – hilarious. Plus it’s funny watching Cobain, at the end of Drain You, tied to the microphone without the guitar:

Final thing I did this past week was whip out a quick review of an album I’ve been loving these past few months…

https://www.popmatters.com/nodding-god-play-wooden-child-2639519454.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1

 

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One of the (substantially true) cliches about the British is that we’re fixated on the two world wars of the early-to-mid 20th century. Certainly the subject comes up remarkably often and is a surprisingly constant source of reference given there are so few living participants or witnesses remaining (someone who was five years’ old in 1945 is now 78-79, someone who was five years’ old in 1918 is now vying for position as one of Britain’s oldest residents.) In some ways it’s understandable: to be British is to live in a relatively crowded country where most streets follow courses laid down hundreds of years ago, where digging down any depth reveals we’re walking on past settlement, where we’re rarely far from a physical remembrance of decisions hundreds of years old. The British character seems to have drawn something from this shrouding in memory – we mostly live in the property and belongings of past generations. I can’t help but think of that when I listen to Ghost Box, Trunk Records, The Caretaker, Burial – it’s a very British musical form, this eerie invocation of relatively recent cultural heritage: rave, jungle, the BBC – things that once sounded like the future and, of course, faded to become just an accepted and steady present before acquiring a dusty vibe that marked them as the past. Maybe it’s an aspect of life in a wet climate, that crispness and sharp decisive lines become mildewed, warped and mangled.

Anyways, ramble over. I had the pleasure of seeing Bikini Kill over in Brixton on Tuesday evening supported by the deeply cool Big Joannie and The Tuts.

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Remarkable seeing how Bikini Kill’s significance as a band that meant something more than music has given them the ability to fill a venue of this size so many years later. My friend was disappointed there was no music from any of the participants’ later bands (Julie Ruin? Le Tigre?), but maybe that’ll come (perhaps accompanied by new music) if the band stays together – there’s surely only so many times Bikini Kill’s nineties catalogue can be reiterated. Musically, it’s very much of it’s time and there’s a fairly stable and relatively unvaried palette at the centre of it all – sounded great on a big stage though.

Kathleen Hanna is such a wicked front person: a whirl of movement, eye-catching body language and captivating anti-rock god posture. She’s also a voice of rationality taking the chance to share her observations on the state of modern politics, then/now comparison, positivity and forward motion. Definitely not a ‘holier than thou’ figure, what I heard was both someone committed to their beliefs but equally committed to be humane and celebrating common humanity too – to not lauding herself over anyone.

My friend was determined to head to the front so we ducked our way through gaps in the crowd until she was ensconced in the first/second row and I held myself a couple of rows back. It was really enlightening hearing her thoughts afterward: “this is the first time I’ve been to a show and felt safe at the front.” It was so notable that the girls  were looking after one another even as the mosh-pit surged as heavily as at any other show. I really value being challenged in day-to-day life and I realised immediately that, as a bloke, I’ve never had to think twice before heading to the front. With my eyesight being less than brilliant I’ve always needed to be fairly close to feel that connection to a performance, plus I actually like seeing not just hearing the creation of music. It felt like a flash of the blindingly obvious to be reminded that it isn’t necessarily such a thoughtless decision for a woman to step in close. Great to attend a show where this was called out and people were asked to make an individual choice – some went forward, many stayed back.

It was funny to see that crowd-surfing has become a bit of an embarrassing relic indulged in only by a tiny number of people: I remember losing the appetite for it at a Feeder gig in 2000 or so when someone’s boot cracked down on a friend’s nose and she had to spend the majority of the show in the toilets trying to stem a substantial flow of blood before we took her home because her head was spinning. Part of me wishes the mosh-pit would follow, I’ve never had much interest in slamming other humans – I bounce, pogo, headbang and vibrate to my heart’s content but I just feel sheepish when my energy collides with someone else’s space.

For me, what was interesting was to be placed in a position of awkwardness, where I couldn’t relax or just be thoughtless – this was NOT a bad thing. A lot of the time, faced with discomfort, the most human reaction is to reassert one’s own righteousness and lash out – it’s worth resisting this and taking time to question oneself. Very quickly, just by virtue of following a friend, I felt I was too close to the front. I was never able to really let go during the show because I was trying my best to not let the mosh-pit crush the front rows, trying to keep my balance and not get hurled onto the people around, passing water back between songs, stepping alongside one girl’s male friend so she had a bit of cover while replacing a contact lens…But, in truth, one’s own perception of one’s gig etiquette isn’t really relevant: it’s all eye of the beholder – I could never be sure what I thought was good behaviour was being thought of that way, my friend’s assertion that “you’re not a dick,” really didn’t cover it.

It was a very positive gig, the spirit was wonderful, it was nice to see girls being able to get together and set the course…But beyond gender, beyond any group identity based on a shared ideology or belief, people are still people. Hanna made a point of stating that the left wing needs to stop spending so much time applying purity tests to fellow travelers, to accept diverse of practice and approach, that individuals needed to stop trumpeting their own righteousness over others. Amen! But still, in the audience, there were authoritarian personalities who were more interested in asserting this opportunity for power by policing those around them. A gentleman had accompanied his girlfriend to the front row – legit! He’s entitled to stand with his partner. One girl took issue with this and used “girls to the front!” to barrack him until he bluntly refused to move. Crazily someone thought it was alright to then punch him in the head. Agh…No, nothing as low stakes as a musical performance should ever justify physical violence and ‘girls to the front’, I’m pretty sure it was meant to be a positive encouragement not a statutory regulation or a club to thud over someone’s head. Certain girls in the moshpit were as keen as any bloke could ever be to hurl themselves, or other human beings, into one another – at one point the back of someone’s head connected with my nose and I saw stars for a bit. I spent a lot of the gig trying to brace so the surging bodies wouldn’t hit others on the outskirts of the pit – equality does mean the right for anyone to be as self-centred as anyone else – as I said earlier I’d still like to see mosh-pits vanish into history.

Another incident erupted close by me and, after the gig, my friend commented “he looked like a typical Incel…” which made me wince – judgment by appearance when, in truth, he just looked like a skinny punk kid. Whatever the argument that sparked it, it was notable how quickly a dozen people had lined up against this guy to force him out. I can’t comment particularly, I didn’t see what occurred so I have no opinion, but mobs make me uncomfortable – I don’t believe for a second that all those people had a clue what had happened or were acting on a thoroughly accurate perception. I took the opportunity to head right to the back and watch the rest from there. A small cluster of guys were definitely going for it in the mosh-pit and I’d been very nervous about being lumped in with them already. People often privilege their own perception over a more rational acceptance of uncertainty or a belief that other people aren’t to be lumped into friend/foe categories and dealt with accordingly.

The crucial thing for me is that none of this soured me on the righteousness of Bikini Kill or the assertion of female-friendly gigs! It was a privilege to, for once, be the person who had to question whether I was doing the right thing at a show; and the vast majority of people were a courteous and fun-seeking bunch. Like anything, there’s always that 5% who can’t or won’t be decent – ah well. There are people on the right who would likely claim that the behaviour of a tiny percentage of people says something about the wider cause of liberalism, humanitarianism, feminism – rubbish. Pointing out a few difficult people doesn’t say anything at all about a cause that transcends individuals (just as fiscal rectitude, respect for historical/cultural roots, etc. are not bad things at all and the bad behaviour of a few people on the right does not say anything about the wider intellectual currents.) People have great difficulty remembering that they are simultaneously (a) an individual and (b) part of numerous wider impersonal groupings.