Archive for October, 2017

Thurston on Shelf

Sometimes it can feel like working in a void: the clear out of the book store industry, the increasing reality that niche books exist mainly via online retailers, there’s often a sense that the books I write – given my particular focus – only exist on my own shelf and among the people I’ve sent copies to myself.

That’s why it’s always warming when a friend or comrade sends me a picture of something I’ve done existing out in the world in a book store someplace. We Sing A New Language: The Oral Discography of Thurston Moore came out in the U.S. only about a month ago so good to see it’s about.

I saw a hilarious review on Amazon.com earlier which really made me chuckle! Sense of humour is a valuable thing in this world and this was glorious:

The problem with Sonic Youth LPs is that they sing on them. If they eliminated the vocals, they could have achieved 2nd level Dead C status (and that’s not a bad thing). The problem with Thurston Moore has always been that nobody in The History Of Rock has ever tried so hard to adopt a “cool” persona…and for the record his ex-wife Kim Gordon trails a close second. I used to see these two all the time around NYC and it was actually painful to see them “downtown” it up. On the other hand, Lee Ranaldo would come off in Washington Market Park as just a regular dad. I’m giving this book three stars for the simple reason I did not read it. If it was difficult seeing Thurston Moore in real life, why would I want to read a book about him? Three stars seems fair.”

It’s just one of those things: human lives move so fast that if you’re there at the start of something and therefore help forge the identity associated with it, then at some point ‘who you are’ becomes seen as a cliche or as a persona rather than as something original that you bequeathed to the world. Most people’s experience of this phenomenon is when their own kids look at them and sneer, roll their eyes or snigger at the idea that you were ever fresh, new, a clean sheet, an empty page starting to fill up with hasty scribbles. Being a star of one kind or another means seeing it play out across entire scenes and cities.

From my personal encounters with Thurston, from all the people I spoke to for the project (some 170 of his fellow performers), the person I met was every bit the enthusiast for life and culture he’s made about to be: 100% authentic and valiantly rare. I’ll admit I hope to retain that absence of cynicism and “seen it all before” some 30 years down the line. I got the same bright-eyed vibe when walking round the Tate Modern with Lee Ranaldo. There’s something about the generation that grew up in that moment of the NYC scene that doesn’t seem to get old…

 

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I watch this and wonder if I’d be able to detect which song was being played purely from the drums without any further reference…Then I look at some of the isolated drum tracks present on YouTube and confess I often can’t see the overall track at all.

 

Caught this recently, the track ‘Salvation’ from Solar Twin’s new album Pink Noise. Lyrically there’s a lot going on, a musing on current state of music and world that’s worth following throughout. What hooked me the most, however, was the alliance of modern day pop music to the footage of Cobain in a heyday that passed some 29-to-23 years ago: genuinely an entire life time of separation. I couldn’t help but watch it and think when was the last time I saw a mainstream star genuinely acting out emotionally on stage to this extent? Sure, Cobain was aware of stage craft as anyone: seeing the impact smashing a guitar made in front of an audience in 1988 sparked a light bulb and so the reheated Who/Hendrix motif made it’s way through years of Nirvana’s live performances – but there was honesty shot through it at all times. Nirvana didn’t wreck their gear every night: it was a final ecstatic moment when happy or it was an expression of a pissed-off and rotten show – it could be both, it could be either, it was the emotion behind it that mattered. Something has definitely changed though because something so un-contrived, and that looks so right as oft-shaky handheld video footage, is rare at a time when every moment is made to be screened one way or another.

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My best recent purchase was from Little Cracked Rabbit:

http://www.littlecrackdrabbit.co.uk/box-set-subscription.html

Around 2007 to 2009, I was becoming jaded when it came to music. The internet era had it’s positives but, ultimately, being able to saturate myself in any genre, label, artist, movement at a moment’s notice wasn’t glorious, it was exhausting. DC Hardcore? Sure, here’s the ten key albums digested inside just a few weeks. The Definitive Jux label? No problem, the label’s hot streak done and dusted in little more than a month. The reduction of music to a series of clickable files robbed any sense of value for me: I could acquire it at a click, hear it at another, bin it moments later or lose it on a practically limitless hard drive the next.

The restoration of my pleasure in music took several forms. Initially it was about regaining limitations: to this day I take CDs and vinyl to the Record & Video Exchange store to trade. They have an amazing selection but it brings my budget down to where I have to commit and decide “this is what I want.” It also reopened the door to treasure hunting: a record I’d wanted to hear forever appears suddenly, being surprised to spot a band I’d never had a chance to look at. The manageability of the experience helped: instead of hundreds of hours of music I’d never get the chance to look at let alone feel something for, I’d get an amount manageable across a month.

I started to realise too that my choices mattered in an age where the bare truth is that outside of a pitiful handful of mainstream artists, the majority of indie musicians barely break-even on touring that lures only a dozen people out of their homes; on the pennies that come in through streaming and downloading. The expansion of the audience to a worldwide level hasn’t led to a commensurate increase in the money they live on day-by-day. The charts of the most widely listened to music show, to an ever-increasing degree, that though people like to say the internet exposes them to stuff they’d never hear, the truth is most people are listening to and buying the same major label (or secretly major label subsidiary) product. It’s getting harder to be heard because there’s so much musical clutter out there. The big bucks, to a greater degree than ever, can dominate what people hear about, find on playlists, and therefore listen to.

The positive of the Internet, however, was that I could ensure that my money actually went to an artist not to a corporate. The reason I buy the physical releases is because the artist gets a greater overall sum. And I buy them in two ways: direct from particular labels that I want to support; direct from the individual artist so they get everything minus their own production costs. I think it’s genuinely important that my money sustains the work and well-being of the people whose work I appreciate and there’s near no excuse not to seek them out and do it except in the rarest of circumstances i.e., a record is out of print so I can only find it on eBay or Discogs; a record is exclusively sold through a particular outlet.

Labels themselves have reacted to the modern realities of the industry by focusing not on runaway, unexpected success, but on manufacturing limited editions that they know will sell out and thus fund further activity; creating subscription series that ensure lesser known artists have a fair hearing; art editions that will appeal to those who enjoy music as a tactile experience not just a sonic one; on the human touches that enhance the connection to artist and to the music.

 

So! The Little Cracked Rabbit box set arrived in the post the other day: glorious! It’s not just about packaging, it’s about looking at something that has been composed with such care, where every aspect of it is genuinely beautiful. It’s been created as an item of artistic merit. My interest initially came about because I’ve been collecting the solo works of Norman Westberg (most famously guitarist with Swans and an ambient guitar legend in his own right) but I’ve had a glimpse now of the other three artists — Mia Zabelka, BLK w/BEAR and P.J. Philipson — and I’m finding a lot to enjoy.

The bonding of music and art at Little Cracked Rabbit made a lot of sense when I spoke to one of the gentlemen running the label. David Armes explained the label as a labour of love run with his friend and collaborator Kevin Craig. The two of them are visual artists who played music together in Last Harbour and currently in A.R.C. Soundtracks. Kevin’s work focuses on experimental film predominantly so he handles the digital side of LCR: videos, collage images for covers, flyers and so forth. David, meanwhile, is a letterpress artist so he handles the physical sleeve print and preparation.

The overall look and feel of the releases is co-designed. They’ve gone with the (wise) approach taken by labels like Young God Records and other classic music labels where there’s a shared aesthetic across the releases, a visual identity connecting each record to LCR. The simplicity, combined with the genuinely sharp design (the lettering, the stark black/white/silver, the hole in the front cover of the card CD case inside the box is all exquisite) gives it all a real electricity and impact. Take a look at the label’s catalogue and I think you get the sense of it:

http://www.littlecrackdrabbit.co.uk/releases.html

In terms of the label approach, David made a neat point about “wanting to do something low-key in expectation but high in quality; releasing whatever we like (at this point our tastes crossover) without worrying about sales, press, distribution…There’s nothing wrong with all that but we were just bored of taking it into account. We’ll never earn any money from releasing editions of 150 CDs so we need to enjoy it and do it precisely as we want.” Amen to that! People often think the joy of music, books, art is in the completion and conclusion when the pleasure has to be taken in the process because it’s that day-to-day over weeks, months, years which is the core reality and enduring experience of making anything of this nature.

Further examples of Kevin’s work are at:

http://cargocollective.com/kcraig

While David’s work is visible at:

http://www.redplatepress.com

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