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Everyone gets stress dreams. They’re the visual imagery representing mental pressure – the most common motif is being chased by someone or something, falling dreams have a similar impetus behind them (things being out of control, no longer having one’s grip and so forth.) I’m aware that ‘telling people your dreams’ is high on the How To Bore list…But what the hey, feel free to stop reading here.

My stress dream has been pretty consistent since I was in my late teens. What happens is I’m in a record store or at a market stall. I note that they have a load of Nirvana bootlegs, I mean, a TON of Nirvana bootlegs – more than I’ve ever seen in one place. My excitement becomes sheer awe when I realise there are song names I’ve never heard, or song names that have only been rumoured, song names that I’m sure no one knows. I’m seeing ‘Suicide Samurai’, I’m seeing ‘Lullaby’, I’m seeing ‘Song in D’. I’m seeing an array of covers, I’m seeing bracketed notes telling me ‘alt lyrics’, ‘instrumental’, ‘early version’, ‘demo’, ‘acoustic’, ‘electric’.

The detail is amazing. I can feel the pressure building – I only have enough money on me to buy one CD. You can tell I’m a child of the nineties given that particular physical media is at the centre of my dream. I’m flipping CD cases and reading the brief descriptions on the back – which gig was this song supposedly from? When was this song recorded? It’s an indication of how powerful the Outcesticide series was for me as a teenager that the backs of these discs are formatted like Outcesticide II and III and give summary details for each song.

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The guy running the stall, the guy running the shop, he won’t allow me to put the discs on his stereo and flick through before I buy. The dream seems to be pre-modern because I don’t whip my phone out and start browsing YouTube or checking for information online about these mysterious songs. I have no way of figuring out which one to buy. I’m just going to have to choose. Tension builds.

I realise I’m looking at songs that no one realised Kurt Cobain created. There’s a showcase gig listed that no one knew took place where, in 1994, Nirvana present three-four brand new songs with names that only exist in my dream. I’m in holy grail territory: the final Cobain demos, the last songs Nirvana had finished – and not a single soul ever let on they existed, never in 25 years…How do I choose? What do I have to leave behind?

And that’s it. I’m trapped. I’m stuck there reading details and trying to use that data to make an impossible choice. I wake up inside a moment where I’m sweating and stressed, reading and re-reading, juggling dates and names and descriptions trying to add up what might theoretically be more valuable than what, all the time aware of the proliferation of fake songs and incorrect song titles and minor rather than substantive differences that haunted bootlegs…

Yup. Geek dream – that’s for sure. That’s what my visits to certain record stores used to be like though, so it’s partially a memory, not just a dream. I remember finding a disc – relatively late in my bootleg-collecting spell – that listed ‘Meat’ as a song title. It was the only thing on the disc that particularly interested me, the rest was a hodge-podge of live cuts siphoned from elsewhere. Luckily the store allowed me to listen and, of course, it was Dave Grohl’s cover of the Unleashed song ‘Onward Into Countless Battles’ – nice to hear but hardly worth the marked up price point:

I’m not too sentimental about some aspects of the bootleg days: bootleg discs with the name Nirvana on tended to be way overpriced – £15 a pop. You’d get home to find the disc sounded like it was recorded through the echoing pipes of a toilet cistern. Tempting song titles would turn out to be mislabels or gig/session details were wrong and you’d find it was something you’d already heard. It was a real quagmire at times.

On the other hand, how often in life does something feel like buried treasure? It’s hard to describe how excellent it used to feel walking into a store and seeing something special. The anticipation, the spirit of discovery. Circa 1998-1999 there was a pretty common perception that the the words on the back of Outcesticide II about ‘record company vaults’ were literally true: that there was the kind of big metal cell you’d see in a heist movie, full from floor to ceiling with perfectly preserved Cobain/Nirvana demos – that there might be hundreds of entirely unreleased songs…It’s that spirit, the sense of unlimited potential, that is at the root of the dream – that moment in time.

Of course reality intervenes. I was reminded of it though when I walked into X Records in Bolton (https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g187053-d13110119-Reviews-X_Records-Bolton_Greater_Manchester_England.html). There came a point where I had to turn to my mother and inquire whether she could go and complete the Christmas Eve family shopping and I would walk home…What I couldn’t tell her was that I quite literally could not leave – there was no way I could walk out of that store. None. I searched through barely a fraction of the shop’s selection before Christmas early closing – it’s a real Aladdin’s cave! Rarities, bootlegs, old CD and vinyl singles…I was in seventh heaven. And the staff were great! I felt sheepish that I was still swapping stuff back while at the counter…

The photo at the top is the Nirvana shelf. Sure, it’s 2018, I know now that there’s only a hundred unique originals written by Kurt Cobain that have been released publicly. I know that the record company isn’t sitting on a treasure trove of polished perfection. I browsed the back of the bootlegs and recognised gigs and songs that I knew pretty well because it’s all out there now pretty well…But it was nice to remember that moment of ‘anything possible!’ And to still believe there are surprises.

Welcome to 2019, 25 years since Cobain’s death, 31 years since Nirvana’s first studio session…Feel old yet? That’s OK. Onwards to new discoveries and good dreams!

 

 

My writing work, so far, as essentially been a representation of personal fixations and obsessions. As a long-time fan of Nirvana and Swans, how could I not enjoy being buried in learning more of them? The same went for the Thurston Moore book I did in 2017: I’ve been collecting Moore’s music for a significant portion of my life so having the opportunity to understand it’s creation, the context around it, appealed hugely and led to the ‘We Sing A New Language’ volume. With it being a natural part of how I live anyway, always looking out for the rare releases, seeking out Moore’s latest endeavours, the book finished but my interest just continued on as ever.

Link to the official YouTube link below:

My highlight in 2018 was Moore’s collaboration with Adam Golebiewski ‘Disarm’ – released on the Endless Happiness label back in the spring on double LP and on CD. Partially, and oddly, there was a touch of nostalgia for me: I’d become a fan of Moore’s solo records back in the mid-nineties via his duo/trio arrangements involving percussionist Tom Surgal. With just the two instruments usually filling the sound-field I’d found it possible to follow the physical motion of a performer through the sounds created and I’d enjoyed the rock vibe behind what was created – it was a gateway to the wider world of improvisation. ‘Disarm’ shares a lot with that spell of activity when Moore was feeling his way across the rope bridge connecting the wilder ends of rock music to the vast terrain of improv. Of course by this point in time his chops are impeccable and the record is one of the most ‘punk’ outbursts of improvisational clatter seen in Moore’s discography in a while. The first two tracks really load up on crunch and slam like it’s 1995 all over again.

https://endlesshappiness.bandcamp.com/album/disarm

I found the back of the LP slightly disingenuous in that it states Golebiewski is merely supplying ‘drums’ – not true. My attraction to Golebiewski’s work is how far away he works from the clichéd, beat-keeping, four-four focused instrument most recognise as drumming. What lured me into this sonic space was the chance to hear artists reinvent the potential of a physical instrument, not by letting computers take the strain, but through sheer intellectual and creative will. Golebiewski dislocates the drum kit’s palette of sounds, turning it into an array of scrapes, scratches, sudden pummelling and genuinely surprising and subtle effects. I’ve followed his work a while now – 2017’s ‘Meet The Dragon’ with Sharif Sehnaoui was a favourite too as was 2016’s ‘Relephant’ duo with Fredrick Lonberg-Holm – and it’s always great to see that desire to forge forward and do the unexpected. I wind up wondering if there’s a line, if there’s a point where I’ll simply have seen the full bag of tricks possible with a drum-kit but, so far, there’s always something more.

https://adamgolebiewski.bandcamp.com/

Pointing to highlights in improvised music can be tricky, moments come together, cohere briefly, then the whole point is to pull them apart and see what else might live within them. To pick on a few though, on Disturb, at around the two-and-a-half minute mark, the track felt like bird song to me played on guitar and percussion – it awed me, the ability to make something sound so natural on these most de rigeur of rock instruments. Distract, meanwhile, begins tentatively with strings scrunched, metal ringing, the drum-kit possessed by some muted poltergeist who rattles up a dusty storm of small sounds into an unsettling gust. Soon the momentum builds,  both musicians rush toward the boundaries in a hail of destroyed notes and hazing beats – there are even recognisable runs of notes on the guitar, drum rolls, it’s like hearing a song that’s been dismantled into constituent parts . The only disappointment I could point to is common to a lot of records documenting improvised performances: the last track kinda just ‘ends’, there’s nothing to mark that moment sonically speaking, no grand finale. In some ways, isn’t that the most ‘real’ truth? Sure. But I still enjoy something that says ‘here’s where we chose to end, no more.’ I have my fingers crossed that, someday, I have enough left inside of me that I know it’s time to put that full-stop on my life too. Hooray!

https://blankeditions.bandcamp.com/album/not-a-cell-phone-in-sight-just-living-in-the-momment

Back in the heartland days of the U.S. punk scene, it was normal for labels to build an identity around a particular city or region – hip hop has a lot of the same focus: maybe it’s a consequence of the vastness of America that location forms a core approach to defining belonging?

Blank Editions does a great job of documenting the remarkably creative swirl taking place in Stoke Newington. It was a real surprise to me, having long since decided that London was a black hole, that there was still something culturally alive taking place so close to the dead centre.

One of my favourite gig moments this year – god it’s nice to be so surprised I couldn’t stop giggling! – was catching Camp X-Ray (CXR) at Rough Trade in Bristol. I’d been about to leave, but Eva Prinz told my girlfriend that we really had to stay to see these guys. Wow. Stripped down and sharp instrumental presence but their front man…I’d seen him at Thurston Moore’s 60th birthday, this sharp, angular, slightly stern looking bloke – and he’d been around all evening. Performing, imagine Iggy Pop blurred into Mick Jagger’s stage moves and English tone, moderated by 2010s awareness of the rules around physical contact and courtesy to audiences. He was magnificent! Dog on a leash, straining at the limits of how far his mic cord would let him go, mic stand wielded, lyrics declaimed directly into the faces of the semi-circle of audience staying resolutely an inch out of his reach except when one brave soul or another would allow themselves to be dragged into the shaking, shivering, pogo’ing, braying, snarling, beautiful punk dance. I couldn’t catch a single photo where he stood still enough to seem real – most of the photos I took he’s genuinely a ghost – there’s the outline of where he’s transparent or the mass of his body is already a blur half a foot away from where his body begins. Brilliant.

Anyways! They’re on the sampler.

Camp X-Ray_Rough Trade_24Oct18

https://campx-ray.bandcamp.com/album/hard-time-killin-floor-blues

 

 

https://www.outsideleft.com/main.php?updateID=1593

In fun stuff, Outside Left’s ‘Nick Soulsby Week’ finished with a piece on my five most hated records. Surprises? Probably not. Radiohead! Foo Fighters! One Mogwai album! Nicki Minaj’s latest letting me down! Then, my worst of all-time is definitely that horrendous ‘Duets’ album they released a few years after the death of The Notorious BIG. Bleugh. It’s nice to think of one’s worst rather than one’s best, to have to explain and justify why such a visceral reaction. Hope it amuses. Could I have made it ten? I think it would have taken work to make it to ten! My feeling is it takes a lot to make something worthy of dislike rather than just ‘nothing’. There are a lot of nothing records out there, a lot of music that just ain’t for me but it’s fine if someone else wants it (re: I missed the entirety of The Smashing Pumpkins’ career and trying to look back it just made me shrug)…Hate takes some work.

I would add The Weekend’s album Starboy on in a heart beat – I think it’s the most disappointing thing I’ve listened to ever – but I didn’t want to repeat myself for Outside Left!

http://www.wordsandguitars.co.uk/2016/12/the-weeknd-starboy/

Swans_Classic Rock Review_Dec 2018

Nice to the David Stubbs review in December’s issue of Classic Rock – a neat and to the point hundred words though I was a bit surprised to see Jarboe brushed over as merely Gira’s “ex-lover”…I mean…Jeez. Jarboe did say to me that she was antagonised by rock press tendency to reduce female artists who happen to go out with another musician or to be in a band with another musician, to simply appendages connected to the ‘real artist’ (who must, of course, be the male) – I know there’s a limited number of words available but it still felt like an unnecessarily reductionist description of Jarboe especially in the context of a book that makes clear what a vast power she was within Swans.

 

Outside Left_Nick Soulsby Week_Nov 5, 2018

https://www.outsideleft.com/main.php?updateID=1592

Just posted at Outside Left today – a brief account of some of the incident and amusement of the 1986 Swans tour. So much of what Swans was at it’s peak and was to become was becoming clear at this point – sound palette expanding, interest in dynamics overcoming the pure interest in brutality, the ongoing experiments in the potential of volume as a sonic experience, Jarboe’s arrival as a key component of what Swans ‘was’…

Speaking at the Louder Than Words Festival in Manchester at 10am tomorrow morning so good night and all the best.

Outside Left_Nick Soulsby Week_Nov 5, 2018

https://www.outsideleft.com/

The charming crew over at Outside Left (https://www.outsideleft.com/about.php) are hosting a week of interviews, book extracts and random thoughts drawn from my mind…Which is nice. I really enjoyed the ‘personal worst albums ever list’ as a thought exercise (yes, I put Mogwai and Foo Fighters on it), and it was fun teasing out another book extract exclusive, plus interviews can be very enjoyable – they just rely on an openness to being an honest and questions that have had some energy committed to them. The nervousness a lot of people have now about being confronted, I’m not a fan, I think everyone reads better and comes across better when there’s a humanity and on-the-spot realness to what they’re expressing.

Hope it’ll entertain and a big thank you to Paul for proposing it!