Monday, July 20, 2009

Top 10 of the decade - fifth entry

Kode 9 – Sign of the Dub (later just ‘Sine’ - Hyperdub 01 – 2004)
(series growing here)

The millenium bought more relentless intensification of the kapitalist spectacle. We were entering a technofuture we’d in some ways always wanted but were realising it came with negative implications, that it all seemed like flat-out indulgence. We were holes another pixel could not fill. In turn, rave had just bought more splitting of genres and development of niches and hedonic modes, while WhoreCull’s outlook was one of bleak, negative flux; in our inability to find no worthy flight anything so conventional as a consistent editorial line would have been a pathetic bolt-on. We were as guilty as the well marketed appeasers but maybe we were at least razing the ground. It was definitely time for theory and sincerity and valid commentary to take over. Who from the culture was brave enough to make a modern morality tale? The guy who’d bought us the rave theory website, that’s who.

Emerging in late 2004 ostensibly as a cover of Prince’s Sign of the Times, there was nothing like this cold snap of music to remind us all of the flipside of speculative materialism. I found it in HMV Oxford Street floating free of section having maybe heard of it through the burgeoning music blog scene on one hand and the fading dance music press on the other (scroll to bottom for early reviews). A 10” double-sided release in the usual image-free cover; just label logo and other basic information. Beat-less except for the occasional echoed cymbal. A reggae note, reverbed to fuck, is the main motif coming in hard but drifting away backed up by nothing else to clinch on to. A bass pulses as on a jittery life support machine, just as likely to stop as to keep going. Synths very occasionally shudder, an emblem of the subject body’s readjustment to straitening times, then out they go, wisp-like. That’s the instrumentation, put it all together with a narrative from the Daddi Ape and it’s a potent urban gothic brew.

While Goodman’s subsequent (and still sounding excellent) Memories of the Future album was, at least from its title and presentation, a musical gambit, updating and substantiating the hollowed out and neglected electronic rave template (a product of the demands of functional hedonism, music being made to match the shallow expectations we had generated) when too many producers preferred hauntological, nostalgic or just plain stuckist modes, this acted differently to the album’s other tracks due to the jettisoning of rhythm (if not momentum). Musically, everyone knew that the ‘dark’ and ‘sick’ instrumental style had no emotional leverage anymore (and this was at a fecund time within ‘dubstep’ – as it was not known at the time - before ‘dubstep’ went cartoon clownstep) and was merely Pavlovian in delivery and intent. Grime with its low-fi clatter and vocal onslaught carried the weight but somehow blunted the message.

To make something with real force a producer had to do more with his palate than either. Equally, while in the ever-diverse Wire world there would be many non-rave producers capable of utilising similar sounds the net result would usually be music-as-installation, nice/moody/challenging but devoid of context. Kode9 put milieu in his production but let it breathe.

Sine is an expressive warning about now. Some people say, a man never truly happy, unless the next man truly dies: Sine of the Times – gonna mess with your mind. Blow out a church having gone messianic, and from spliff to rocks in months. Today’s tropes are no good for us, many of us won’t emerge unscathed and this is a warning shot explaining why and highlighting culture’s casualties. The way we’re going this track will always be relevant and vital.
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Monday, July 13, 2009

Steel Transmission

From Steel Harmony on Jeremy Deller's Procession at the Manchester International Festival (where I see the Blackout Crew rave scrotes were representing Bolton area):

Certainly better than that Nouvelle Vague Joy Division cover.
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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Ten inky covers

Yes I have been in the attic pulling out all the MMs and (as I am duty bound to embarrass my mother every time) 'Neemies' and asking myself the question should they stay or should they go. I'm veering toward a cull, keeping only the most significant issues and giving away ('to a good home', etc) the rest. Some of the most emotive covers are here:
Manic Street Preachers – Indecent Exposure (inside headline - 11 May 91), Not their debut inky cover (I couldn’t find either that or Flowered Up’s one for prime examples of the weeklies’ hyperbole of the Next Big Thing), or even the infamous ‘4 real’ self-harming Lamacq interview of a few years later, but this Cummins cover from around May 1991 was definitive visually of the band’s Richie period. The classic inky band, in that their statements were always much more interesting than their music, no matter what phase or line-up they were in.
Primal Scream – The Final Frontier (1 June 91). Bobby Gillespie and co had to ditch indie, rock and then indie-dance (just how plodding is the main weatherall mix of Loaded?) before they were ready to hit the motherlode, with the landmark Screamadelica. This interview was a promo for the Higher Than the Sun single. Gillespie told Reynolds how he was ‘through being cool’ – but it was the pull and framework of traditional music media that influenced them reverting to that on Rocks (Cocks).
The Shamen – Last Will and Testament (8 June 91). The Shamen were never much cop musically but they were evangelists for the new culture with their Synergy night and had a lot of love and support. Such a pity then that Will died while they were shooting a video in the Canaries – not least as that would indirectly usher in Ebenezer Goode. Also inside, Slowdive, three singles in, tell us how they could never listen to ‘punk – to me that is horrible’.
LFO/techno – Digital Overground (18 January 92). A big one for me, conceptually. Like every other raver I recognised that the sound I was dancing to was ‘hardcore’, in itself more of an attitude than anything in a scene that still incorporated techno but was fast mutating. Was this a conscious effort to put a more comfortable label on the scene, paving the way for an approvable canon from Derrick onto Deutschland? Any road a classic example of when the mainstream music press tried to cover something that was not ‘theirs’, putting a slightly ill-fitting frame on things (LFO’s best work was already way behind them). This would effectively mean a lot of recovering ground when jungle, which was emphatically not techno, arrived only a year or so later.
Nirvana – Face to Face with Kurt and Courtney (19/26 December 92). Another whose best work was behind them, for entirely different reasons. Grunge had exploded, and even though certain groups I mingled in had already been big on Mudhoney and Nirvana, nobody denied the force of Nevermind, and its ability to convert the rocker-mates. Poignant to think that Kurt was already very probably lost on the H at this child-rearing time. I’d seen their last UK gig at Reading (earlier that year), and that was enough of a mindfuck. The demand for others’ satisfaction would be too much.
Velvet Underground – 50 in Their Shades (5 June 93). Emerging proof that heroes/ghosts from the past, even the most ‘anti-establishment’/‘alternative’/‘cult’ etc would come back to haunt us for the revival live gig paycheck. Now it’s me and the wife’s favourite cd ‘for the car’. Me and my mate Tommy wouldn’t have reckoned with either of those developments when we were lost in the band’s noise at 14/15.
Simon R’s single reviews (28 August 93). Still often a lone voice because the NME and MM had gone big on ‘techno’ and other less exciting splintered genres as we’d seen, for me too this was sadly mainly of informational use as I had left the emergent sound behind on heading up north for higher ed. Tantalising prospect only then, with Foul Play’s Open Your Mind only not SOTW because there was no picture available of any of the group (so Goldie got it for Angel). I’d be back.
Cypress Hill – Gang Squeaks Roachshow (!)(19 Feb 94)/Snoop Dogg – Every Dog has its Dre (better!)(14 May 94). Evidence that hip-hop was becoming bigger than any of us would ever want it to be, that the spectacle would soon take over. Back then though, we could still just ride the new sounds. Cypress’ two albums were big in weed-smoking studentland, that Muggs blunted low-end reeling in even non-hip hoppers for a while (especially when Jump Around was released), and we’d be on Dre’s G-funk thing not much later, and with expert cultural relativism bang that out with the ‘gin and juice’ before heading out for a night out in our home counties patch.
Oasis – Those Windows Are Saying ‘Throw a Chair Through Me’ (4 June 94). This was emphatically not what the world was waiting for, but like the suckaz we were experienced a massive sonic consolidation with the City boys. But a great Cummins cover in the classic inky icon-building style. The bigger ressentiment was theirs, as the first tunes we heard (Columbia, Supersonic) did not suggest quite how deferential and traditional the rest of their stuff would be. Britpop was near, and the UK would go back to liking the cut of its jib for several painful years. The effective nail in the Roses’ coffin.
Glastonbury – Pastoral Breaks (2 July 94). When Glstnbry came around, it was time not to worry about subgenres and who’s carrying the torch, as rave had revitalised the Worthy Farm festival for a good few years of TAZ hedonism before its latest ‘alternative weekend break’ incarnation in the noughties.
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Monday, July 06, 2009

Cultural nadir

’Twas a backintheday that food was a mere back-end service at festivals, with the highly drugged off only able to manage a falafel or two before returning to the trip. Now it’s the cretinous focus – Jimmy Doherty has invited his friends Jamie Oliver, James Martin as well as a Gennaro, Gino and another James or two for very cosy phonetic arrangement for Harvest at Jimmy's at his massive east anglian farm. Perry Peters, we assume, was out of the running for this reason – but who’s going to make a two-course businessmen’s lunch for the commuters, sorry, festival goers?

'Organic' musicians Badly Brawn, Steph Lakeman and the legendary Athlete have accepted that this is the cultural frame their music lives in and have taken the gig.

Butter up your balls. Slap the cheese loudly on a cat, etc then (scroll down). If you do get within kicking range of Jamie’s ‘buns’ then make it hard and unforgiving. But let’s hope for a last-minute reprieve as the licence hasn’t been granted yet.
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Friday, July 03, 2009

Train overhearing

The two male students got on at Brockley. Opinionated, informed and fully commentisfreee, at first they were assessing the progress of the civil engineers on the east London line extension, perhaps wondering just when that direct link to Shoreditch will open.

But thought soon turned to weightier cultural matters. Apropos of maybe a post-Glstnbry sartorial appraisal in this close summer, one averred:

“Got to be the wellies mate. They are so ghetto.”

Any affirmation from either his mate or closet listeners was superfluous for an opinion so forthrightly rendered in the modern style as fact. We were off to search out the sickest boot looks on the streets of southeasy. Maybe the festival can be the real world.
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