Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bring the Noise is coming out in a German translation to be published by Hannibal Verlag. Publication date TBA--most likely late 2008.
Bring the Noise is being picked up for Italian translation by ISBN Edizioni. Publication date TBC--probably late 2008.
[Bring the Noise deleted scene #21]

the Guardian, December 28th 1989


For many, the Eighties was the decade when pop finally grew up. Demographically, the decade saw the twilight of the Teen Age, with the rise of the 24-35 age group as the music industry's principal market. But the decade also saw a concerted and conscious effort on the part of a new breed of pop artists to distance themselves from rock'n'roll's original driving impulses: irresponsibility, narcissism, a spendthrift attitude to time and self. The luminaries of the new 'progressive pop' were determined that something good should finally come out of pop.

This Eighties pop meritocracy (Sting, Eurythmics, Tears For Fears, George Michael, U2) was determined not to repeat the glaring abuses of the pre-1976 rock aristocracy. From punk, they had learned the importance of control, learned how to say "no" : to manipulative record companies and managers, to the ruinous lure of drugs. In the Eighties, pop was no longer an arena for dissolute playboys, for the shooting star who burned out after a brief burst of glory. Eighties pop
stars planned their careers, invested their earnings prudently, spread their assets by branching out into production or other media. Above all, they paced themselves, aimed for longevity.

And like other successful capitalists, eventually they looked to legitimise their ascendancy, with acts of altruism and philanthropy. Live Aid signalled the triumph of this new consciousness (idealism married to pragmatism). In its wake
trailed a seemingly interminable procession of less spectacular charity iniatives, dwindling down to this year's unsuccessful Spirit Of The Forest record in aid of the Amazonian jungle (which sold only 4,000 copies).

For the more daring, the new selflessness took the form of political alignment: benefit concerts (for the striking Miners, Mandela, AIDS research), or Red Wedge. The latter was an attempt to forge a Socialist pop culture, where certain
consumer choices were deemed to have a natural fit with certain political values. Paul Weller of the Style Council typified this mentality. He looked back to the early Seventies protest soul of Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye as a model for his agit-pop, and was widely imitated by the likes of The Christians, Blow Monkeys, and Simply Red. In the Eighties, soul became the voice of the new spirit of care and concern.

But behind this spirit of passionate compassion lay something rather less noble: a shame about pop, about being involved in something so "obviously" trivial. What resulted was a pop adult-erated by the Left's longstanding ulterior attitude to culture and pleasure (as something of only instrumental value).

But the Eighties also saw a massive reaction against the new conscientious consensus, in the form of pop that refused to be ashamed of itself, that was happy to be a glorious waste of energy. There was rap, with its grandiose,
groundless pride, its egocentric universe, its sadistic relationship to its own audience. There was hardcore, a genre that descended from the side of punk bound up with outrage, delinquency and nihilist despair, rather than the more
positive side (which blossomed in Rock Against Racism and Red Wedge). Hardcore groups like Sonic Youth, Swans, Big Black and Butthole Surfers were driven by a morbid fascination for the worst in human nature, the worst that can
happen (bizarre accidents, psychosis, perversion, acts of monstrous cruelty). The appeal of this vicarious, voyeuristic aesthetic is rooted in what the French psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva calls the psychedelic "powers of horror": being
confronted with the unthinkable is mindblowing.

As well as the brutalism of rap and harcore, there were other pop subcultures that were simply careless, un-concerned. These were musics specifically designed to erase anxiety and transport the listener out of the real world (of everyday worry and political commitment). There was the "acieeed" scene. Acid house's hypnotic, repetitive electro-pulse, its lack of conventional narrative and lyrical focus, empties the listener's consciousness like a mantra. Acid tracks are endless trips into polymorphous pleasure (one acieeeed slogan is "where now lasts longer"). An acid rave is a kind of communal isolation tank, hermetically sealed
from reality.

Very similar in effect, if not in sound, is what's been called "oceanic" or "nirvana" rock: the blissed-out dreampop of the likes of Cocteau Twins and A.R. Kane. These groups' hazy, radiant guitar sound and lullaby vocals invite reveries
of halcyon childhood innocence. Like acid house, the oceanic sound is wombing. Oceanic rock appeals to subconscious memories of the maternal heaven-on-eart' that enfolds the suckled infant. It stirs up nostalgia for this
time before time, where the child lives in a beatific 'forever now', free of anxiety.

This is the big difference between uncaring/care-free pop and mainstream mature pop. Care-less pop lives in the present tense (whether blissful or threatened). Care-worn pop is creased with anxiety: about the future, and about a pop past whose legacy it feels it must live up to (Live Aid was an attempt to realise Woodstock's dream of a benignly united youth, while Red Wedge harked back to Seventies soul and Rock Against Racism). This explains why the most musically progressive music of the Eighties (rap, acid, hardcore) has been the most emotionally regressive, and why the most politically progressive manifestations of mainstream pop have been invariably couched in such retrogressive and retrospective music. If nothing else, the Eighties have proved once again that the Devil has all the best riffs.
[Bring the Noise deleted scene #20]

AL GREEN, Love Ritual
Melody Maker June 3rd 1989

Dry details first: Love Ritual consists of rare and previously unreleased Al Green material from between 1968 to 1976 (his creative prime) including a “Love Ritual” remixed even swampier and glutinously funky than before, and tracks like “Up Above My Head,” “So Good To Be Here” and “Strong As Death (Sweet As Love)” which are right up there with more reknowned peaks like “How Do You Mend A Broken Heart” and “I’m Still In Love With You.”

Okay, now let’s get moist. Why is it still possible to melt for this man after a decade in which so much odious charlatanry has been promoted and prattled in the name of Soul? Al Green is the man who took all the things that usually make for MOR tedium in music--constancy, fidelity, permanence, trust, security--and made them seem like heaven-on-earth, a consummation devoutly to be wished. His voice--an androgynous purr, a svelte, silvered, sinuous swoon--is the sound of someone expiring for love. “Mimi” has the beautiful line “Hope that I die before you”, but if you twist the sense of that plea around you reach an important truth: die is just what Al Green does, slowly, right in front of our dazzled ears.

Hollering, exhibitionist feats of “prowess” weren’t his way. Instead his voice dances at close quarters, entwines and enfolds you in a blurry, slurred intimacy, a carnal cave of tenderness and devotion. He’s catfooted where other soul giants growl like a bear with heartburn. He woos where others breastbeat. The closest he gets to the hoarse histrionics of your Reddings or Browns are little voluptuous geysers of emotion that escape every so often. His ensemble of players---Howard Grimms and Al Jackson on drums, the Hodges brothers on guitar and bass--frame him in a chrysalis of sound as luscious and lambent as honeycomb.

They don’t make records like this anymore, the state-of-the-art won’t allow it. Black American pop now dubs itself euphemistically as “Urban Contemporary” (soul as the soundtrack to slick courtship) or “Quiet Storm” (soul as a soothing Radox bath). And this decade has seen the beige deluge of acts like Wet Wet Wet (who went to Memphis to try and learn Green’’s secrets from his producer Willie Mitchell), their clumsy veneration making soul an almost completely unviable proposition for the future. But that’s no reason to miss out on the unrepeatable treasure of Green’s music, the long-lost languor and sheer diabetic OD that he shared with contemporaties like The Temptations, Sly Stone and Marvin Gaye. Go get wrapped up in love.


Monday, September 24, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #19]

MUDHONEY, Fulham Greyhound, London
Melody Maker, April 8th 1989

Tonight, Mudhoney are a chastening experience for me. And, as our "emergent underground" hardens into homogeneity, as certain ideas congeal into a new orthodoxy, so I expect to have more and more encounters as schizoid as this one. See, Mudhoney tonight managed the singular feat of being utterly entertaining, and yet, at some deeper level, tedious beyond belief. I was bored, almost literally, to the brink of tears.

That a band can be this urgent, and yet so uninvolving, this frenzied, and yet so ultimately immobile, this charged, and yet so fundamentally lazy, is a testament to some kind of dire deadlock. The moment has passed, an impasse has been
reached. It would be more rewarding to watch someone struggle, uncomfortably and unsuccessfully, to get to some beyond, than to witness something as consummate as Mudhoney.

For Mudhoney are immaculate. Every thrust, rip, rent, howl, jut and jive is perfectly placed, and asserts, with a conviction that's utterly convinving, that punk's not dead. And I don't mean some privileged moment in '76, but punk as Lester Bangs invented it, the bad boy trash lineage that runs from rockabilly, through Sixties garage, Seventies gumbo metal to contemporary thrash. It's alive and burning still. Mudhoney have the riffs, the songs, the vehemence, the
attitude, the windmilling longhair, the witticisms ... "I'll give $50 to the first guy to come onstage and throw his guts up", "we're not playing another song until they erect a stage barrier", "we're tired of all you over-active young people,
let's have some old people up the front now" ... They've only just begun and already they're washed up, standing still at a point of perfection, giving the people what they want, fitting our talk without testing it, meeting our need without
stretching it.

"Mud Ride" tells the oldest story in hardcore, abduction and murder, froths at the mouth about "taking you any place/there's no place to hide", but no one here is remotely endangered. It's a scenario that's already becoming as cosy as the ritual narratives of heavy metal or Oi.

Maybe Mudhoney exhaust me because every word they incite in my mind feels tired and tame in the mouth. Maybe that's just my problem. But maybe - and it's worth considering - the teen sicko raving bloody mess-thetic is spent. Maybe trash is just trash. Sonic Youth have reinvented New York as a city of ghosts. Spacemen 3 have turned to ether. Pixies are now sculpted in five dimensions. So far, Mudhoney have set things up so that their only future is as the oldest teenagers in town. What they do, nobody does better. Do we need it anymore?


Thursday, September 20, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #18]

Melody Maker, October 8th 1988

I’ve no time for the fully-rounded character in rock, all those aspiring spokesmen like Bragg, That Petrol Emotion, Sting, Bono, Stuart Adamson, who try to straddle the personal and the political, and divide their energy equally between healthy desire and adult concern. No, the interesting things in rock are coming from one-dimensional characters at either extreme of the spectrum--either the selflessly militant or the dormant self-absorbed. On one side, the fanatic survivalists (Public Enemy, Front 242, Metallica), who are physically and musically stripped down, disciplined and on-the-one. On the other, the defeatists and drifters (Nick Cave, Morrissey, Vini Reilly) or the langorous absentees-from-reality (My Bloody Valentine, AR Kane).

No prizes for guessing which camp Dinosaur Jr flop into. J. Mascis’ lethargy is legendary, verging on cliché, and something he no doubt plays up slightly for the microphone. If Morrissey is “half a person”, Mascis consists of some even smaller fraction of a whole and healthy human. And Bug, basically a slightly more emphatic and vivid replay of last year’s You’re Livin’ All Over Me, is another document of a “life” that seems to be drained and devoid of all the zestful crackle that word usually suggests.

In many ways Dinosaur Jr’s “concerns” are the eternal preoccupations and stumbling blocks of parochial US youth: how to kickstart your life; feelings of claustrophobia; the chasm between Amercan dreams and American reality; vacillation in the face of your obligation to yourself to wrench free in search of something better. These impasses have been “dealt” with (that’s to say, not resolved, just suspended in glorious mid-air between hope and despair), many times before, most superlatively by Husker Du and The Replacements. What’s different about Dinosaur Jr is the extremity of their apathy (for Mascist, the struggle isn’t to get away but to get out of bed) and a particular iridescence that veins their grey gusting guitars, little rainbow refractions in the glum, hurtling stormclouds.

Like most great miserabilists, the limits of Mascis’ voice shape his melodies--which are all chips off the same block, all unmistakeably Dinosaur Jr, all just a little bit déjà vu. The effect is rather comforting, but the samey-ness adds to the feeling that with Dinosaur Jr we never really “go” anywhere.

“No Bones” could almost be a “manifesto’ for the group. When I interviewed them, I remarked on Mascis’ boneless, rag doll sheepishness, on how it was the appropriate demeanour for someone whose life lacked any kind of spiritual spine. But in another sense, Dinosaur Jr are dissolving rock’s vertebrae, as the riff, powerchord and bassline are almost lost in a blizzard of violently serrated haze.

“Don’t”, the last track, is where the caustic dreaminess of their sound is at its most sulphuric and psychedelic. It’s a gorgeous cataract of opalescent Hendrix guitar, through which is blasted the soiling, scorching hurt of the repeated plaint--“WHY? WHY DON’T YOU LIKE ME?”--bellowed by what sounds like a voice put through a fuzzbox.

In their strange combination of urgency and ennui, bang and whimper, Dinosaur Jr are the latest angle on one of the oldest rock themes: “I don’t live today.” But understand that this lifeless life, this fogginess of the depths of torpor, this blurry indistinctness of the edges between yourself and the world that comes with inaction--all this is the necessary grey shrinkage of consciousness you must go through before you get to dream up the kind of visionary new colours that Dinosaur Jr drizzle down on us almost absentmindedly.

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #17]

“Doing it For The Kids” Creation Records Alldayer, Town and Country, London August 7th 1988
Melody Maker, August 1988

As rock grows long in the tooth, as the possibility of it exceeding itself seems to dwindle further each day, so the temptation is to look back wistfully to the high points. For some the definitive Lost Moment is (still) punk’s Pyrhric rage and convulsive passage through the mass media. Others can’t see their way past the immaculate personal/political anguish of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On. And the truly perverse can currently be heard “cheekily” espousing the likes of Wendy (James) and Patsy (Kensit), in homage to that Lost Moment when Paul Morley got Kim Wilde onto the cover of the NME (as if there were still “hippies” to be baited, as if we hadn’t all been through New Pop). In every case, though, the past pinnacles are venerated so utterly, the result can only be a neurotic endeavour to recapture the lost glory of those moments and extend it into eternity.

For Creation and its constituency--the sea of floppy fringes, black leather, suede and paisley gathered here today--rock is over, something that’s been and gone. Creation isn’t fixated on a particular Lost Moment, or a golden age with clearly defined boundaries, but it does have a canon of visionary outsiders, honoured tonight on the tapes played between acts. Tim Rose’s “Morning Dew”, Alex Chilton, The Seeds, Gram Parsons’ “Grievous Angel”, the Stones’ “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby”, Lee Hazelwood, all pretty incontestable, really, and close to my own ideas about the past, not least in the implicit rejection of punk’s long-term effects (New Wave and New Pop). It’s a canon that should be remembered, privileged even. The trouble is that the sense of upholding a legacy through the dark ages of plastic pop has bred a servile and lily-livered deference to the sources. Rewriting is unavoidable at this late hour, sure, but what’s needed is an approach that can inflame these traces rather than preserve them in aspic. Otherwise you become a living, breathing archive of rock gesture. A mere footnote. The fate that’s befallen too many of the bands at this event.

HEIDI BERRY is an admirably eccentric gesture for Creation. She harks back to the islet of troubled AOR occupied in the early Seventies by Sandy Denny and John Martyn, and indeed looks gloriously unfashionable in this context--her thigh-length suede boots, puce velvet jacket and boob tube jarring conspicuously with the (admittedly ravishing) ideals of female indie-style visible all around…

The reputedly “quite good” JASMINE MINKS get people jigging from one foot to the other with their moderately radiant guitar interplay, but the singer sounds like he’s gargling a sock, and ultimately theirs is a thin-lipped and ill-fitting appropriation of “the Sixties”. I never saw a band leave the stage so lackadaisical and unemphatic a manner.

Then the gaunt, scarecrow figure of NIKKI SUDDEN shuffles on for a couple of rather scrappy blues numbers. “Death is Hanging Over Me” would be affecting in its abjection if not for the camp effect of Sudden’s weak R’s. “Crossroads” is introduced as a song about Robert Johnson: “And he’s ultimately the reason why we’re all here today… even though you probably don’t know his name.” Well, yeah, no doubt that’s true, in the strict archeological sense: but a hell of lot has happened in the interim. For a lot of the kids here, the Mary Chain’s riot gig is almost prehistory.

THE JAZZ BUTCHER gains a point for sounding comparatively robust, but loses several for his Jennings-and-Darbyshire/Robyn Hitchcock Englishness, and for his session-standard saxophonist. Unclassifiable, clever-clever indie-bop, somewhere between Monochrome Set, The Woodentops and Jimmy the Hooever. Packed, bustling and void.

PRIMAL SCREAM’s moment has long passed. The talk of feyness and innocence has evidently riled them into aping the Stones. They’ve abandoned the gossamer fragility of “Crystal Crescent” and “Gentle Tuesday” for a blues that sags but never approaches the ponderousness and tumescent turgidity attained by various visionary white bastardizations of R&B. Bobby Gillespie and the drummer are the main culprits, the dragging vestigial limbs. Gillespie’s voice just doesn’t have the grain for raunch, can only sing ba-ba-ba Bay City Rollers tunes. “Fire of Love” is rendered impossibly lukewarm and lackluster. Gillespie crouches low, wigs out in that boneless, rag-doll manner of his, a flailing cod-dementia, willing it to be as good as the old days.

I’ll venerate FELT until the end of time for “Primitive Painters” alone. Like Durutti Column’s “Missing Boy”, it’s a classic defeatist anthem, a shamefaced confession of an inability to cope with life’s most rudimentary demands (like eating vegetables). Live, even without the stratospheric powerhouse of Liz Frazer’s vocal, it’s an irresistible, cascading surge, a contradiction of the vocal and its morose words. Laurence’s listless whisp must be the ultimate voice of deficiency and unrealized selfhood: a one note range, and even then he doesn’t sound in full command of that note. And there’s plenty more of Felt’s halcyon dappled sunlight and gilded ripple tonight, a sound perfectly complemented by the trippy back projections, including one that looks like rays of light convering on a retina and its burnt-out pupil.

What else to say about THE HOUSE OF LOVE? Nobody has a bad word for them. In the nicest possible way they are the Consensus Band of 1988, unimpeachably wondrous. Tonight, an incredible piece, like a whale song reverberating through the recesses of the galaxy, turns out to be Terry Bickers messing about while the others tune up. There’s the godlike glow and gazelle grace of “Destroy the Heart”, the vast cathedral resonance of “Christine”, the luminous aftermath of a personal apocalypse that is “Man to Child”. “Shine On” is all baleful gravitas and cold smouldering ascent, while “Nothing To Me” is one of these great Guy Chadwick lyrical inversions, like “Blind”: the title’s a monstrous fib as the sound tells you the singer’s minds eye is ablaze with the memory of her. Burgeoning axe hero Terry introduces sounds and effects that just don’t belong in this kind of pop. “Real Animal” leads into “I Wanna Be Your Dog” from the first Stooges album, which--impossibly--manages to be both bestial and celestial. Drowned, I tell you.

MY BLOODY VALENTINE are about to release a fabulous and quite extraordinary five-track EP [You Made Me Realise]. But live, the delicate melodies and the fine-tuning of chaos get crushed in the melee. “Cigarette In your Bed”, a most peculiar, unplaceable song on record (a Sonic Youth lullaby?) is a shambles live, Belinda Jayne Butcher’s bloodless vocal almost completely lost. The stop-start paroxysms of “Drive It All Over Me” and “You Made Me Realise” thrive better under the thrash approach, churning up foaming noise in the Husker Du/Dinosaur style. But they disappoint me by not playing “Slow”, the sex song of the year (along with “Gigantic” by the Pixies). With its colossal “Sidewalking” bass, disorientating drones, and langorous, enervated vocals, it conjures up a honeyed, horny lassitude of desire to rival AR Kane. This raven-haired thrash-pop has a sight more edges and secrets to it than any of its “rivals.”

The event peters out with a bit of malarkey involving a cut-out Alan McGee and Joe Foster attempting to lead a singalong of “We Are the World”. The “no encore” rule (to ensure each act doesn’t over-run) is observed even at the end, leaving the crowd restive and frustrated. Overall impression: a sense of “now” being eclipsed, drained vampirically by the past and its stature; the loss of the present moment through being made to seem impoverished next to the history it was umbilically bound to. Only The House of Love and My Bloody Valentine know that you have to torch the whole heap of pop signs and totems, rather than shuffle them about a bit. Only those two bands brought back the sudden quickening of “NOW” that eluded us most of the time today.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #16]

Melody Maker, April 23 1988
by Simon Reynolds


Up Home! (Rough Trade)

A.R. Kane return, with an impossibly total vindication of one’s hopes: not so much living up to the rhetoric as burning it up, leaving it exhausted and impoverished. “Baby Milk Snatcher” returns to the deep, deep dub-sway and heavy reverb reaches of “Anitina”, the hideously under-exposed B-side of the M.A.R.R.S. smash/scourge. But the other three tracks on this EP are the real deal.

I don’t know how Alex and Rudi get these sounds: they seem to be playing not guitars but stalagmites and stalactites. “WOGS” is a vortex of refractions, an overload of colours canceling each other to produce a dazzling white-out. You think of Arthur Russell, subaqua reef worlds or the dreamscapes uncovered by explorers of the underworld: the kind of grottos we haven’t encountered since Garlands, maybe even Bitches Brew.

Alex’s voice is the human heartbeat at the core of this miasma, listeless and withdrawn, carrying the melody as though nearly borne under by its heavy burden of wonder, then dissipating into whispers and cries through all the secret, silent spaces in this sound. “One Way Mirror” is almost dancey but for the near unbearable magnesium radiance of the sound. “Up” has an intolerably lovely melody that slowly, slowly paces an endless spiral “stairway to heaven”, while all around the ice cathedral resonates like a giant bell.

Up Home! is the slow supernova of rock: not its burn-up in velocity, rather the supercession of riffs and even chords by a shapeless radiance of sound seemingly without origin (certainly not in the human touch), conceivably without end.

This is rock’s Ice Age, its Antarctica, its final petrifying spell. The chiming of a million icicles.

“The Real Beat” (Gee Records)

I’ve looked on in sadness as hip hop has reached a tedious consensus with the rare groove snobs, and has come to draw on a smaller and smaller repertoire of approved R&B samples, trading in its baleful rigour for a boisterous fluency. Maybe that’s why the slow and deadly stealth of this track is so appealing (although that’s an odd word to use for something so unsettling and disinclined to ingratiate).

Against a backdrop of ominous drones, distant detonations, and a shiftless electro pulse, a rapper examines, with murderous finesse, “how the world just goes today”. Cross-dressing, transsexualism. AIDS, the breakdown of borderlines and differences: this is an apocalyptic vision, but one that is fetishised, reveled in, even -- perhaps because the toughter things get, the more the rapper’s survivalist prowess is brought into relief.

The only sample here is a howl of female anguish, strangely suggestive of Diamanda Galas, that seems to issue from some dungeon languishing in the depths of the mix. The title ‘The Real Beat’ isn’t a claim to authenticity or unique dance-powers, but a claim to “realism”, a shedding of rose-tinted vision.

This is a different tkind of machismo, measured not in throwing your weight around, but in how hard and cynical a look you can take at the world, how much shit you can face.

“Party People” (Idlers, import)

This track is like being possessed. It turns you into a marionette. It sucks away your will, the autonomy of your limbs, and invades your body, makes it thrall to a kind of disciplined epilepsy. It’s the closest House music has yet come to simulating the effect of a strobe. Incredibly brief snatches of reverb, long since severed from the musical events which birthed them (a deliberate piano chord? a string crescendo? a minute segment of party hubbub?) are mixed up with micro-consonants of vocoder gabble, and turned into a stuttering shudderquake. Dancing on hot coals.


“Listen to my Turbo” (Show Jazz, import)
“Bad Young Brother” (Tuff Audio)

More hip hop like they used to make it in the good old days. “Listen to my Turbo” is wound uptight, so superstressed you’re sure the mechanism must break any second. Its grid of beats is like some mad scientists’ lunatic creation left untended, warning signals bleeping, circuits about to combust: a B-movie master computer heading for a nervous breakdown. Hi-hat ticks like a cardiac monitor 10 seconds before a stroke, scratches that harass like mosquitoes on PCP, this will turn your sinews to cheesewire, pop every vein on your temples.It’s great, but it’s not the thing to help you unwind after a day’s wage-slavery. This is for the idle numb who need a dose of hypertension.

As for Derek B, “Britishness” is not an issue here. How tired I am of the lazy journalism that, unable to say anything about the music, needs to resort to knee-jerk attempts to rally us to some obsolete punk-derived patriotism. Why should we support initiatives just because they hail from our manor? “Bad Young Brother” is simply very good, and so confers upon young Derek the status of honorary American (I notice he doesn’t rap in a British accent, which is all to the good). This is a pugilistic, jabbing bout of Moog bass and disfigured, thankfully unrecognisable samples.

“My Philosophy” (Jive import)
"It Takes Two” (Citybeat)

These two are more squarely in the swing of current rap trends, ripping off R&B’s more sanctioned sources. KRS1, the late Scott La Rock’s other half, is a bit of a pompous git, dramatizing himself here as a poet, savant, and all round positive role model, berating his more dissolute fellow B-boys from the pulpit about the need to shun the dissipatory lure of drugs and violence. But “My Philosophy” manages to be both groovy and grueling, which is quite a trick these days.

The Rob Base/EZ Rock track is another exercise in attrition through overbearing sensual soul power. They take a shriek of JB at his most histrionic, and turn what is on the original record a singular peak of ecstasy into a jackknifing rhythmic copula that just goes on and on and on, like a locked groove. Climax after climax after climax. The effect is akin to hyperventilation.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #15]

FISHBONE, Dingwalls, London
Melody Maker, February (?) 1988

There’s no bigger bummer than being obliged to use language that’s repugnant to me. This, after all, is the year in which we’ve ripped up the old rock charter of values, its accepted lexicon of approbation, and celebrated instead neurasthenia, directionless languor, casual unearned brilliance, groups that are barely there. Then here come Fishbone--a band who fully and forcefully occupy every inch of the stage--and they damn near force me to write about them as if they were a go-go band. More baffling still is that, as implicated as they are in a whole bunch of obsolete values--sweat, soul, charisma, energy, tightness, fluency and working your butt off--Fishbone are bloody good. Great, even.

I guess Fishbone show that all ideological stances, however valorous and supremely demanded by the times, are going to come a cropper once in a while. How do they do it? It must be that they take it all a little bit further than anyone else before. So you’ll just have to accept that when I say the horns were “blistering”, I mean like a flamethrower against paint, rather than like the Q-Tips giving it some; that when I say they’re “tight”, we’re talking strict time, dance music as a stricture, a rhythm section nearly seized up with hypertension; that when I shamefacedly allude to “energy”, we’re talking palsied, St Vitus Dance, unhealthy vitality. Watch the critic squirm.

Everything Fishbone are made from--R&B, Ye Olde Funke, ska, hard rock, soul--is organic in the most reactionary sense, and simply not on the agenda for 1988. But somehow they transcend. What could be a horrible mélange, as with the very boring Living Colour, is an electric soup. Fishbone are just the right kind of deeply confused.

The most bizarre trick they pull off is to make ska--surely the most redundant, greyest of genres--seem vaguely appealing again. But somehow the cataleptic beat, hair-trigger shudders of rhythm guitar and the nervous tic vocal gibberish make splendid (non)sense when spliced to P-funk bass squelches, Hendrix whiplash licks and Sly & the Family Stone zany chants.

In truth, they are not as glorious as when The Studs and I saw them in Rotterdam--and no doubt the blame is all Dingwalls’s. For stretches they were as negligible as Geno Washington & the Ram Jam Band, all perspiration, call-and-response and “are you havin’ a GOOD TIME? I said ARE etc etc.” There’s a little too much deference to JB-type “hardest working man in showbiz” mythology. On the plus side, they are domineering in a way that implies a degree of rap-consciousness: Angelo comports himself like a character in If, has an utterly aristocratic, silver-spoon sense of self, and his attempts to shame lazy-ass non-participants in the audience were impressively dictatorial. I’m just glad he didn’t pick on me.

Like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, they’re an anomaly, not an example to us all. I couldn’t handle any more bands like Fishbone. But they’re doin’ their own thing with a singleminded mania that burns a hole through the overly neat demarcations we’d drawn up for 1988. They’re neither oppressive nor out-of-this-world, but they are virulent. They don’t really touch, but they can convulse.


Saturday, September 01, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #14]

SINEAD O'CONNOR, Hammersmith Odeon, London
Melody Maker, January 2 1988

So, Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares For Me”*--the clubland secret, the cult trophy--went High Street provincial, Top Ten Top Shop. A monopoly on suffering invested in soul/jazz/gospel, by a London hipster elite over five years ago, has now been installed as a pop cultural hegemony. I like to think that the massive success of “My Baby Just Cares” indicates the final exhaustion of the process (carried through by Absolute Beginners, The Style Council, Alison Moyet’s “That Ole Devil Called Love”, Working Week, the risible Carmel and her “ba da da oh yeahs”, Swans Way, countless copyists, endless reissues) whereby “vintage” jazz-and-soul have become both an oppressive model of authenticity and a LUDICROUS SEPIA CARTOON. I can’t get to this music anymore, can’t cut through the dense cloud of signifiers, the berets, the suits, the cigarette smoke…

What fascinates me now is a certain troubled space, a potential, that has recurred in AOR over the years. Not a “period”--I have no knowledge, no images (bar details one prefers to shut out of the mind: capes, long beats, sideburns, facial hair) and thus no nostalgia. The traces of real desperation in Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies” have plunged me into vertiginous retrospective fascination with the dolorous languor of Stevie Nicks (“Dreams”, “Gold Dust Woman”, “Gypsy”) and other mysterious figures like John Martyn, Sandy Denny, Roy Harper. The West Coast sound (from which followed both UK folk-rock and American AOR/FM-oriented soft-rock) came about when folkies like Jefferson Airplane went electric without any intervening period of involvement in R&B. I think Sinead O’Connor must have made a similar leap.

She takes the attractiveness of AOR and turns it into beauty, through her voice and her subject matter. She makes the A in AOR stand for ‘adolescence’, a phase that’s both more embarrassing and more noble than the even keel of adulthood. Similarly, her voice combines awkwardness and grandeur.

It’s a voice that burns like ice: like Grace Slick, the prototype for all ice queens, it goes through you like a lance of stalactite. Unlike your Tina Turners, pain is not signified by gritty timbre, exaggerated tremulousness or a heave from the gut; like her ghost-folk peers, the voice is pure and clear, and emotional disarray is expressed in swerves, catches, lapses, somersaults, abrupt leaps between octaves. On “Mandinko” Sinead towers, then collapses immaculately, like a house of cards; on “Never Get Old”, there’s an exquisite shudder, almost like tape drop out. Sinead’s voice is majestic but never robust, like Lennox or Armatrading; rather, it’s harrowed but defiant.

Kristin Hersh has described what she does as a real female violence. Women bottle up their anger, turn it inwards, sometimes as self-mutilation. Sinead O’Connor’s work is an exorcism of all that. It’s music that’ll appeal to girls who want to be different rather than normal, boys who think problems are more attractive than strengths, and anyone who believes suffering imparts depth.

The gig was marred a little by a lack of atmosphere: the philistine fans of headliner INXS’s Noo Wave techno-rock preferred to loiter in the lobby, her band are able but faceless, and Sinead herself seemed a little sullen--a thin, pale figure in punky tartan. But when she got into it, the results were spellbinding, in particular the sublime “Never Get Old”, her voice traversing a terrain wherein met Tim Buckley, Clannad, Ofra Haza, ECM’s languid Scandinavian neo-jazz, Liz Frazer and raga. Never mind. Autonomy has rarely been so seductive.


* of course I loved and love the Simone song (who doesn't? who couldn't? it's a bit like "Say A Little Prayer For You" in that respect) and today would much rather hear it for the umpteenth time than anything on Sinead's debut.
[Bring the Noise deleted scene #13]

PUBLIC ENEMY/ERIC B AND RAKIM, Brixton Academy, London
Melody Maker, December 12, 1987

Public Enemy tonight were an undanceable, unintelligible, indecipherable avalanche, as noisome and impenetrable as The Membranes. All sense and internal dynamics was drowned out by the swollen bass registers, an undertow amplified to the point where there was nothing audible but undertow. All other sounds, scratches and samples merge into a faint Mary Chain miasma of treble. Only the twists and barbs of the raps make it possible to identify tracks.

And still London’s dancefloor culture struggle to grapple with this unbearable din, recognize it as a good groove, turn the occasion into a night out. No wonder the fainthearts are retreating to rare groove in droves. Hip hop is too slow’n’heavy to get down to, or, increasingly, too fast (“Bring the Noise”). The only “dance” response possible is Flavor Flav’s clenched, rigor mortis strut, a taut regime of flexed sinews, survivalist bodypopping.

Despite the deafening assault, Public Enemy fail to make much impression. With only three members of Security of the First World onstage, they’re hardly intimidating. These three are short, their drill ain’t tight, and with their young, guileless faces, the machine guns and camouflage just suggests kids playing soliders. Chuck D stops the flow to address the crowd: what he says is platitudinous, barely incendiary, but what matters is the fact of remonstrance and engagement, the aura of weighty utterance, mass rally. He tells us that the gutter press reports of incidents after the Def Jam Hammersmith shows are lies, “and we all know that because those papers lie about everything”: that may be true, but I spent 30 minutes in a tube stalled at Barons Court while people were having their wedding rings snatched in the next carriage. Public Enemy tell the crowd: “none of that Third World shit--and we know black people are the first world”, and I wonder, is it really progress to counter a devalued sense of self-worth (arbitrarily imposed) with an equally arbitrarily assumed pride, jingoism-in-reverse? And when Chuck tells the fly girls to make the peace sign and the homeboys to make the power salute. I think of Ian McEwan's "Imitation Game", where the heroine realises that the reason men like to "protect" women from war is so they can pretend it's women they're fighting for. Women become the custodians for human value (a.k.a. femininity) so the men can steel themselves, become inhuman, tear the femininity out of their hearts. If women involved themselves in carnage, there'd be nothing to fight for. (Like "The Godfather", where men mutilate and maim each other in defence of "the family".)

With Erik B the mix is bright and clear, so at least the scratches cut.
But again, the bass is like molasses to the dancing feet. Eric B and Rakim are too baleful, too chilled to be groovy, they just draw you into the wary, controlled economy of their dance, the dead, still centre of their vigilance. On one track, the intro from Barry White's "I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little Bit More" becomes a perpetual cusp of portent. Rakim isn't brash and pugilistic, like LL, he isn't in your face; his drawl detains you, draws you near in a hideous inversion of seduction. Like a communications theory student who's learnt that if you speak slightly slower than is normal (fact!) you can make it psychologically impossible for people not to listen. Your attention can't wander. Mesmerising, probably literally.

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #12]

AR KANE interview
Melody Maker, July 25 1987

Each week we hurl a batch of New Names at you. Perhaps it’s not surprising that you wilt under this constant attrition, cease to believe we can really mean it. Easier to shelter from this endless barrage of hosannas and extravagant claims, to shrink back into the rut of skepticism, and stick with what You know--the tired and trusted post-punk dinosaurs.

I’m going to tax your credulity again, today, by suggesting that rock--at this late hour--has, unaccountably, entered a New Golden Age. At the forefront of this scattered maverick tendency, right up there with Throwing Muses and Young Gods, is a virtually unknown group called A.R. Kane. And I’m going to ask you, beseech you: do yourself a favour. Shake off this faithless despondency. Move forward. My estimation of this group is not the result of considered assessment. I listenened and was stricken. I fell for them. I believe you will fall too.

The initial impression was of a black Jesus and Mary Chain. It dind’t take me long to realise how lazy, how small, a tag this was. Rock noise is a GREY affair, generally: the sound of concrete, pig iron, swarf, silt. Maybe this is a malingering hangover from the industrial aesthetic, maybe it’s just the ineradicable taint of New Wave. Even the Mary Chain at their best could only produce a kind of mildly trippy smog. Coming from a different place, fired by other, jazzier ambitions, A.R. Kane have a more vivid spectrum--an iridescence that makes me think of Hendrix. A.R. Kane themselves were amazed at being compared with the shambling bands. “We’d never heard of any of these bands until we released our first single, and people started to play us the records. There’s something very trimmed about that sound, we’re not impressed by it.”

“When You’re Sad”, released in January on One Little Indian, streams over the ears, a dazzling cataract: not so much a wall of noise as a hanging garden. “Haunted”, the B-side, was more spell-binding still, shimmering like the sparks beneath half-closed eyelashes on a summer’s day. Now A.R. Kane are on 4AD, and their new Lollita EP spells out their difference even more clearly. “Lollita” is a gorgeous haze that slowly enfolds the body body, turning your nerves to frost.
a lullaby split apart at the seams by a column of noise, a crystal spire veering up into the heavens. "Sadomasochism Is A Must" opens like a sandstorm on Venus, then turns into a jagged, poisoned ballad, each chord lash showering you with shards of amethyst. "Butterfly Collector" is an icy thrash, culminating in total white-out, a saturated overload of splintered signals.

And there’s more. For all the fevered fleshiness of pop today, how many songs are there about falling in love? AR Kane are one of the few groups that convey the vertigo of rapture rather than the solid earthiness of need. The bastardized soul that is the sound of Planet Pop is all breath, exertion, the burden of passion; AR Kane are about the breathlessness, the numb suspension of enchantment. Pop desire is brazen, brassy, a Wide Awake Club; with AR Kane, love is narcotic, a drift into reverie, oblivion. Alex’s voice is gut-less, fey even, roaming listlessly in some indeterminate region between languour and languishing. It’s the voice of someone vanquished, about to give up the ghost, a ghost of a former self. Steve Sutherland reckons he can hear the ghost of Arthur Lee.

A good notion, because, with AR Kane as with Love, sweetness and sickness, fragility and violence, adoration and loathing, are alternate sides of the same coin. The Lollita EP follows the course by which desire undoes itself, pursues the phantasm of possession to the point of madness, Mutually Assured Destruction. “Lollita” is the idyll--“love to go on down and kiss your curl”, “when I touch your skin/something spins within”, “when I kiss your lips/oooh my head/slides and slips”. But already there’s the incongruous appearance of the word “bitch”, a hint of what is to come. By “Sadomasochism Is A Must” , the desire for total absorption of or by the Other has degenerated into perversion. And with “Butterfly Collector”, the dread of losing the loved one (to the outside world, to Time) has blossomed into psychosis: “I’m gonna pin you down/I’m gonna keep you/I’m gonna kill you”.

Alex expains, “We didn’t intend there to be a narrative when we recorded the songs, but afterwards we realized it was about the development of a relationship, from adoration through sadomasochism to complete possession and destruction. All the songs, even “Butterfly Collector” are love songs. I suppose I’m quite cynical about love. I don’t think there’s a pure love anymore. All love is tainted. “Butterfly Collector” is about when you love someone too much. You put her on a pedestal, you don’t want her to go out in case someone else gets interested, you end up tying down and destroying the thing you love. I think there’s an inherent violence in everything, even the sweet things.”

Maybe that violence at the heart of love is the very process of idealization itself, the living flux of being-in-process is frozen into a series of static, consecrated images. When the flawed, fickle, changing reality of the loved one starts to play truant from the image--that’s our first taste of grief, our first intimation of loss, of death.

Rudi: “But it’s not just as male/female thing, it informs people’s relations to objects too. The guy with the motorbike he never rides but just keeps in the garage, cleaning over and over. People who buy paintings and keep them in private vaults, for their eyes only.”

Alex: “The subject’s huge… people are bound to call me misogynist, but the subject’s bigger than that. But if you’re narrowminded you won’t see that.”


WHAT made them pick up guitars for the first time, only a year ago?

Rudi: “No one was making the kind of music we wanted to listen to.”

Alex: “We listen to a lot of jazz, stuff like Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way and early Weather Report. We don’t aspire to that, but we wanted to produce something with that kind of feeling--spontaneity, freshness, creativity…”

Rudi: “Something more abstract than the verse/chorus/verse/chorus formula. Our songs emerge out of total chaos, which we then strip back in order to bring out a melody. We want to use melodies to suck people into the chaos.”

Can you pinpoint the feeling in Bitches Brew and Weather Report that you like?

Rudi: “It’s too big, you can’t pinpoint it… which is what’s good about it, that it’s abstract. it gives you the chance to let your imagination loose, whereas with modern indie music all you hear is a conventional structure. You listen to your preconceptions, you don’t really experience the music.”

Is it a kind of psychedelic, dreamlike feeling you’re after?

Alex: “Dreamlike, yeah. It’s when you remember one of your dreams you can never really explain it to anyone else. It’s really vivid, really haunting, but abstract. An ambition for us would be for people to have dreams in which our music was the soundtrack”.

Rudi: “A lot of the time we’re trying to transform dream imagery into sounds, which is hard to do!”


ALEX and Rudi are from the East End and have known each other since primary school. They refuse to tell me anything more about themselves “because we don’t’ want people to come to the music with preconceptions. What we do or what we’re like as people isn’t really relevant.” They also say they don’t want to slag other bands or other kinds of music--“if people like something it’s valid.” But they soon forget this resolution.

Alex: “People don’t really listen to music anymore, they put it on as a reflex, as a background to a lifestyle. The supreme example of that is the Sixties soul and Levin jeans thing.”

But you’re not entirely innocent of this subordination of pop to consumer lifestyle thing, having been the person who dreamt up the idea of using “Song to the Siren” [This Mortal Coil’s cover of the Tim Buckely song] as the soundtrack to the Thompsons’ Freestyle holiday ad (Alex is a copywriter).

“That was the furthest thing from my mind! ‘Song to the Siren’ fitted the mood of the commercial, it wasn’t linked to a particular lifestyle. The Levi thing was much more of a case of a two-pronged commercial campaign, where the song sells the product, and the product sells the song.”

You could still argue that the song has been tied down, that people’s freedom of imagination has been irreparably interfered with. The irony is that 4AD were seriously pissed off by the ad, but now have the person who thought it up on their label.

Alex continues: “I think music’s really potent, but most people making it don’t know what they’re doing with it. It’s like handing out guns to children. Like sampling--people are using technology that’s potentially really mindblowing, but in a really cretinous, gimmicky way. There’s sampled stuff on our first record, but you can’t tell because it’s been done in an AR Kane way. With most people it’s like sticking different kinds of wallpaper together. What’s that group? Something Mu Mu--they’re like retarded toddlers messing about.”

Rudi: “To me, most pop today is like cabaret. All these indie bands doing impersonations of Fifties and Sixties bands.”

So far from everything being “valid if someone likes it”, you do seem to think it’s a moral issue that some people are wasting other people’s time?

“Oh no, we wouldn’t say that. I mean, far more people like Duran Duran than will ever like us, and if they’re being moved, then you can’t knock that, it’s valid.”

But are they being moved, to new places or in new ways? I mean--who do you actively respect?

“Anyone who’s out there on their own. The Cocteau Twins. Azymuth. I think there’s a better atmosphere in Europe, people are more open. You’ve got labels like ECM over there.”

Alex: “I don’t think people listen to music anymore. I like to lie down and concentrate, tune in. We like to have a lot of things going on in the music, so you can lose yourself in it. The thing about pop is that the Star Vocal, the singular melody is foregrounded, and everything else in the music gets subordinated to that.”

Whereas your records are a blur, there’s a kind of democracy between sounds.

“The amount of trouble we’ve had with that idea! Trying to explain to producers that the voice isn’t important, that we want to submerge it into the mix.”

Rudi: “With “Haunted’ on the first record, we wanted to destroy the vocal, echo it out completely. We wanted to put so much reverb on the drums they’d turn into pure pulses. And the producer said, ‘you don’t do it that way’. I mean, exactly! That’s why we want to do it like that! So when we do our LP we’re gong to have to produce it ourselves.

Alex: “I think the way music will progress is the listening as much as the playing. We want people to look at music in a new way, not just as a blasé thing that’s just there. It should be like when you see a tree and suddenly it’s as though you see it for the first time. You’ve lived with trees for 25 years or whatever and it’s got so you don’t see them, and suddenly you think: ‘Amazing!’ Biggest shock of your life, when that kind of thing happens. I think music can help you see things freshly and can make you want to experience everything like that, as though you’d just been born.”

So there is a kind of innocence to A.R. Kane, in the sense of not being worldweary?

“Well, I think it’s pretty important to have a degree of cynicism, because the world is bad, but yeah, you have to have that naivete, where everything around you seems full of significance.”

A kind of strong innocence, perhaps.


A MONTH after the Lollita EP, 4AD release a one-off collaboration between A.R. Kane and Colourbox, under the rubric M.A.R.R.S. The A.R. Kane composition, “Anitina”, is a dub-noise collision, a lurid fog of echo and distortion, like children running riot with paints and crayons. Are they prolific?

Alex: “The stuff is practically coming out of our ears! We’re probably the kind of people who’d go mad if we couldn’t make music. We’ve been doing soundtracks for fashion students’ short films, things like that. We’ve got an enormous amount of material. Really we’d like to release two or three more singles and an LP this year--but Ivo won't let us.

“We couldn’t have gone to a better label than 4AD, at this stage. There aren’t many labels who give their groups that much freedom and have the capability to support what they do with that freedom. They’ve done far out stuff, they’re not pandering, but they can also sell the stuff.”

So are you aiming to establish yourselves at a kind of Cocteaus level--doing exactly what you want , but making a reasonable living out of it?

“No, the aim is to do exactly what we want, and forget the ‘good living’”

Rudi: “Living schmiving!”

“Any money we get we’ll just plough back into the music, working on the idea that the more freedom we have, the better the music will be. We want our own studio ultimately.”

Rud: “We find the recording process as it stands really stupid---all that technology going to waste. You’ve got to push the studio to its limits. We abuse our amplifiers and equipment to the point where the sounds were create are just new. Then the producers come along and put that iinto a box. We want to smash the box as well. Some of our ideas with what to do with the studio, well, I just can’t talk about them--otherwise we’ll never be allowed in one again!”

Alex: “Like if I was a drummer, the last thing I’d do is buy a drum kit, I’d buy a drum machine and sampler and play them live. We tried to get Martyn in Colourbox to play drum machine live, but he wouldn’t have any of it. That’s the trouble--people get to have too much respect for their machines, they start to worship their tools. You have to abuse them, and take them as far as they’ll go.”

Rudi: “It’s the same problem with anyone that’s trained. There’s a lot to be said for the argument that it’s only peole who aren’t formally tutored in music who can break through to new ways of seeing and feeling. We want our music to be a rush of things coming at you through the speakers, so many that the mind doesn’t have time to assimilate them and manage them. It should be like a baby being confronted with a rattle for the first time, seeing it as it is, without preconceptions.

“There’s one song we do live whchi completely takes us over, swamps us. You get sucked in, you lose control and you think you’ll never come out. That kind of thing affects you very physically, brings on a new awareness, something you feel in your guts, a new motivation, a letting loose.”

Alex: “It’s very liberating when you lose yourself, start to operate on a purely subconscious level. And when you’re coming back and you’re losing it, it’s like coming back from a brilliant dream which you know you’re never gonna be able to get back to.

“Our music’s like sculpture--there’s this chaos that we chip away at until there’s this beautiful shape. We love chaos, you can lose yourself in it. That’s why so many people hate chaos and won’t let it in. It’s too vast, you can’t tie it down. Which is why everyone tries to tame it, make a system over it.”

Putting a grid over a flux--we’re back with “Butterfly Collector” again.

“Oh yeah, everything correlates, everything we talk about comes back and joins up. It’s like a vicious circle. A gentle circle.”


There's two impulses in rock today. One is to make systems; the other is to dissolve them. One is to bolster the self and its mastery over the world; the other is to dissipate "I", blur the borders between the self and the
world. On one side, clenched-arse agit-pop didacticism; "punkies" like Age of Chance and Win, with their lippy attitude, their triumph of rhetoric over both form
and content; hip hop's tyrannical amplification of the self. Everybody eager to Tell It Like It Is (and noneof that “gurly cack”*).

On the other side, groups like A.R. Kane, Meat Puppets, Husker Du, R.E.M., suspicious of words, reluctant to spell it out, eager to be spellbound, to succumb to oceanic feelings, to go with the flow.

Two different universes: one logocentric, a world of rigid definitions; the other, a world of ambiguity, nuances, contradictions. Two different politics of sound: one starkly produced (lots of definition) with "in your face" vocals and a premium
on clear diction; the other an illegible blur, with the voice smudged and submerged in the mix.

Maybe it's all crystallised in that line that goes: "oooh my head/slides and slips". Maybe that is the thrill, that moment of teetering on the brink of oblivion is complete immersion in the Other.

* sample from Steven Wells