Archive for the ‘New Music and New Discoveries’ Category

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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.

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First things first, where am I going to be on Friday May 3, 2019? Attending the premiere of Marco Porsia’s film “SWANS: Where Does A Body End?” at the Indie Lisboa International Independent Film Festival. And the 6th May? Right back at the same venue for the second screening. How about Friday 10th May? Oh that’s different. I’ll be in Brussels for a weekend break…And watching the third screening of the movie.

Over the past couple of years I’ve had the honour of seeing several rough cuts of the movie at various stages in it’s development and it’s amazing how much has gone into the work – and how powerful I’ve found it each and every time. Breathtaking.

Busy past month beavering away on various endeavours – around which there’s still been time for music. Record Store Day, I visited Specialist Subject Records at The Exchange here in Bristol – it’s on my front door and jeez…This crew make me feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of the current music scenes afoot in the U.K. and around the world. Just a sea of underground and indie vinyl from bands I find myself looking up over and again. I wound up walking out – after a very pleasant chat with the staff – with:

Birds in Row “We Already Lost The World”

https://birdsinrow.bandcamp.com/album/we-already-lost-the-world

Television Personalities “Some Kind of Happening: Singles 1978-1989”

https://recordstoreday.co.uk/releases/rsd-2019/television-personalities/

And, finally: Bossk “Audio Noir”

I had bought the I/II reissue on a previous visit so I was helpless to not wide up with Audio Noir this time around (https://bosskband.bandcamp.com/album/i-ii-reissue-3).

Around that I’ve been taking time to fill in my collection of Burial 12″s and spending time with Leyland Kirby’s latest (final?) utterance as The Caretaker – things of beauty. check out Bliss Signal too!

Reading-wise, I can’t speak highly enough of How To Survive A Plague by David France (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/dec/12/how-to-survive-a-plague-review-david-france-activists-aids-treatment-hiv). By the final chapter, when there’s finally a true chink of light and hope, I found myself tearing up and gulping with relief – totally sucked into this account of people striving to survive, to protect loved ones, to claw their way into the consciousness of a world that wanted to pretend these weren’t real people deserving of care or attention. Amazing.

http://www.trebuchet-magazine.com/the-tyranny-of-the-beat-pt-i/

I was honoured to be asked by Trebuchet Magazine (thank you Kailas and Naila!) to contribute a brief article to their website…And I totally failed them by contributing a lengthy rant instead! Luckily they’re kind people and found enough of substance in my growling that they were happy to publish it as a two part discussion piece.

In essence, have you noticed how inescapable ‘the beat’ is? In a world of infinite possibility how limited the possibilities used actually are? I’m not talking absolute rejection but I like the thought that my world might be limitless rather than limited by unconscious design.

http://www.trebuchet-magazine.com/tyranny-of-the-beat-pt-ii/

https://thevinylfactory.com/features/an-essential-guide-to-public-image-ltd-in-10-records/

For a couple of years now Vinyl Factory has been allowing me to come up with brief spotlights on ten releases by an artist – always an enjoyable experience siphoning down to a certain core and bound to cause disagreement given my ten worthies very likely don’t mesh with many other people’s own lists. But that’s the fun of any public opinion, it invites others to say “no,” or to suggest alternatives. The funniest two comments I’ve received? Number one was on a Nine Inch Nails focused piece where someone wrote that not including Pretty Hate Machine or Still was a “tragic mistake which discredits the whole of your so called ‘introduction to NIN'” (answer: I love Still but had to leave something out while Pretty Hate Machine just isn’t on my list of favourite NIN releases at all.) The other was on a piece focused on Coil where, having listed all the things they would have preferred I include the comment said “It seems like some of these choices were poorly made – a lot of compilation albums that all have ‘Amethyst Deceivers’ on them.” To be fair, I agreed that remakes of Amethyst Deceivers cropped up probably way too much in the latter years of Coil – but trying to choose Coil releases is like deciding which diamond is most sparkly.

My view is always I refuse to write about an artist I don’t respect or enjoy (the two don’t have to coexist – I respect Radiohead but only enjoy them in patches. I don’t want to spend my limited time focusing on anything that doesn’t enthrall me – there are enough such distractions in the world.

So this month I decided to swallow the whole of Public Image Ltd’s discography whole, with a couple of John Lydon sidebars added on for good measure.

The greatest enjoyment I took from it? Comparing Commercial Zone to This Is What You Want…This Is What You Get! The original piece was two, maybe three times as long – there was just so much to say about the comparison. For a start, Commercial Zone gets that extra ‘gloss’ that sometimes adheres to anything that can be described as lost, secret, unofficial – anything with that outlaw edge. I wanted to try to disregard that and consider how it really stands up. Truth is it’s a mixed bag: some of the songs gain an eerie and atmospheric vibe in early demo form – if you like horror/sci fi movie soundtracks, it’s great. Other tracks though are just blatant noodling and tossed off time-filling. Thing is, that’d be a pretty balanced description of the official album too: so it just becomes a Pepsi/Coke question – depends on your tastes because neither is significantly above the other.

The least enjoyable moment isn’t visible in the final post: having to listen through Happy? (1987), 9 (1989) and That What Is Not (1992) in search of something good to say about them. It killed me. I respect and enjoy John Lydon’s work deeply: most artists are hard pressed to wind up with one truly significant band let alone two; to make one album that people might claim as an all-time favourite let alone three or four (depending on your take on Flowers Of Romance.) There’s something about that late eighties-early nineties British guitar pop tone that never hooked me even as a cheery nine or ten year old. The jaggly drums, the over-production, the gleaming plastic vibe of so much of that time. I just can’t fathom what Lydon was singing about by then: the mansion liberal substituting CNN for any contact with life – harsh but I see little evidence on those albums of it being unfair. Still! To digest them in detail and in full was something I’d meant to do for ages. Two whole weeks working those albums round and round, giving them all the energy I could, then realising it was hurting to write about one of them let alone all three.

The most obvious moment, well, sheer truth, I love the first three PiL albums: such a distance travelled, so many different terrains explored, words and sounds that work, humour and seriousness in equal measure – glorious. And the two comeback reecords have been very pleasing.

 

Marco Porsia is currently in the midst of creating the film Where Does A Body End? regarding the truly awesome Swans. He’s put together this brief three minute film to commemorate the final show of this Swans line up which took place earlier this month in New York City.

I’d have to say, after so many years of watching (and loving) live music, Swans are the only band where I was ever struck by the desire – mid-show – to abandon everything and just go watch them night-after-night-after-night. They remain the standard against which I judge a live show: does the set flow? Is this a journey or just a grab-bag of songs? Was it possible to surprise me with the decisions made? Did I hear something new? Did I hear old things anew? Did I lose track of time and space and the presence of others? Did I reach a point of complete surrender to sound and spectacle? Swans.

Currently trying to read more fiction. Two authors in particular are heading up my “what’s awesome?” list. Firstly, Adam Nevill:

http://www.adamlgnevill.com/

He’s a British horror author I’ve followed a while now. His first book was very visibly someone learning as they went – a university/post-university effort but it’s been great to see that develop into such a diverse expertise in how to chill. I loved Last Days for its keen observance of cult structures and the building dread; The Ritual for the sense of being hunted in a believable space; then his most recent works have entered something new. No One Gets Out Alive is the tale of a down-on-her-luck zero-hours girl scratching together enough money to live and forced to take the worst accommodation with the grimmest bottom-feeders, the kind of guys who take advantage of the weak. It’s gift was in making something that is a part of day-to-day life feel more horrific than the imaginary or the supernatural: the way the two realms worked together created something with huge emotional power. Lost Girl was another step out of fantasy and into something closer to home: a world beset by the realities of climate change, in which predating on one’s fellow man is increasingly the norm, in which money provides insulation – again, the weaving of supernatural into a believable context was talented and intriguing.

On a lighter note, the other author I’ve got a lot of time for right now is Jonathan L. Howard:

http://www.jonathanlhoward.com/

I’ve got one more book to go in the Johannes Cabal series. The tale of an amoral anti-hero with a talent for unwitting humour and knowing sarcasm, again and again there’s a turn of phrase that I have to stop and re-read to appreciate how beautifully done or imaginatively written it is. Add on the humour, the depth, the diverse landscape in which everything takes place…I’ve become a big fan. I’m concluding The Brothers Cabal at the moment and enjoying the digressions and diversions (the scene where he lectures the creatures that live in the garden on who/what to eat and not to eat for example.)

https://thevinylfactory.com/features/best-john-carpenter-10-records/

I did this piece for The Vinyl Factory recently – a relatively easy one for me given my day-to-day listening habits have quite a lot of space for John Carpenter’s work at the moment. Assault On Precinct 13 and The Fog are my favourite soundtracks of his I admit.

In life, all the time, I’m struck that I think most things are good/bad simultaneously. It’s like candy: the initial sugar hit, the flavour, the indulgence – great! But the undercurrent is, sure, it’ll lead to tooth decay, obesity and so forth. It doesn’t mean one should avoid these things, it just means that there’s no avoiding consequences in life and that people’s tendency to divide into good/bad is just plain silly. Most things are both all the time.

A fair example is the work involved in creating things like one of these ‘Ten Of’ lists. Sure you say, it’s just listening to a bunch of music – it ain’t hard. True! And there’s a really deep pleasure involved in sinking so completely into someone’s work. I tend to find that listening to this much of one person’s music in a concerted way over a couple of weeks gives me an expanded awareness of the things they do that make the music theirs, what their techniques and approaches are, where they’re deviating, what makes this piece standout or that piece fit.

On the other hand, it’s not just listening. It’s hours of flicking back, re-listening, discarding notes and thoughts on one piece, thinking more about another. It emphasises that no one is so original that listening to their music so obsessively won’t kill the vibe or point out the bits where it’s a bit the same, or where they’re coasting. It means I can’t bring myself to listen to Carpenter’s latest just yet – I’ll need a break, time to cleanse the palette and digest.

It’s a constant sin of mine: I get into an artist, I hoover up music by them, then I need a pause before returning to them to really ‘get’ the individual joys of a particular record.

 

 

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.