Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Hauntology Parish Newsletter

1/ New album by The Focus Group, The Elektrik Karousel


 Toys & Techniques man  Benjamin Graves ably reviews it for Quietus and avers that it's Julian House's best LP yet.


Ruddy excellent it is, but I would place it  #2, just a hair and a half ahead of the formative (literally form emerging out of formlessness) Sketches and Spells.    Nothing, nothing tops hey let loose your love, one of the Top Ten LPs of the 21st Century so far. We Are All Pan's People, it can now be admitted, was a tad disappointing (too bad my Wire mega-piece on the H-zone un-hype-illy coincided with that LP plus Belbury's uneven and pastiche-laden Owl's Map, eh?) while Investigate Witch Trials of the Radio Age is a Broadcast record, really, isn't it?

To Benjamin's point that it should be filed under "Anglo psych" much more than H-ology, I would counter," well 'Anglo psych' is part of the ancestry of hauntology, surely?  As much as library and Radiophonics and far more than dub."  From 'Strawberry Fields Forever' to the weird-yet-twee-est parts of Piper At Gates of Dawn to Tintern Abbey's "Beeside" to "Defecting Grey" to  "Hurdy Gurdy Man"....  Also Derbyshire & Hodgson were in the radiophonodelic  White Noise.

In a new move for Ghost Box, this CD abandons the hard shell case for a very attractive cardboard gatefold package.
 

Stop Press: actually it's supposed to form a kind of box, like so:



Talking of psychedelia, here's

2/ a mix of "rural psychedelia" from The Outer Church, aka Joseph Stannard, stalwart champion of all things ghostified at The Wire  - done for Kit and titled "Halos Over the Moon"

the mix is sort of, kind of an oblique quasi-premonition of an excellent 2-CD compilation of artists who've performed at the Outer Church -- including Pye Corner Audio, Ekoplekz, Grumbling Fur, Vindicatrix, VHS Head, Mordant Music, Hong Kong In The 60s and  more -- which is due out in August on Front & Follow , and is titled, well, The Outer Church

interview with Stannard here

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"who are you, 2013?"

talking about retrodance, Martin Clark aka Blackdown takes Disclosure to task in an open letter

which picks up on a quote Howard from the group said:

“I could drop our song with Eliza Doolittle, "Neighbourhood" by Zed Bias and "Saved My Life" by Todd Edwards and no one could name what decade they’re from.” 

Martin's response:

If the fact that your sound is indistinguishable from music made over decade before doesn’t scare you shitless as an artist, I’m not sure we’re on the same page here.

He further proclaims:

We need to reject this kind of neutered brainwashed thinking and build something vital for this era. Something totally built by, owned by - and unique to - 2013.

Who are you, 2013?
 

Because this is sorta my issue with all the big “post”/“bass” guys, now playing housey tech mixed into techy house with additional retro anthem bashing, the guys who build up the DJ hierarchy which ends in Disclosure headlining your festival.
 

I keep thinking this…
 

In twenty years time, these DJs will be in their 40s and their kids will be old enough to ask them: “Dad, what did the music sound like when you were the biggest DJ?”

... Music should be essential and it should be unique: of its time, for its time, belonging to its time. You where there. “Were you there?” “Yes I was there.” “Where were you in ’92?” “I was there too.”

Great music is the cultural journal of record of its time, the soundtrack to generations.  ’66, ’77, ’88, ’93, ’99, ’03, ’06 – if you read this blog you should pretty much instantly be able to tell just from those numbers what movements blew up then. Depending when you were born you’ll go misty eye’d to “Strings of Life” or “Valley of the Shadows (31 Seconds)” or “Spirit of the Sun (Steve Gurley mix)” or “Midnight Request Line.” They define a time and a place
.



I don't mind Disclosure, but of course I agree with Martin's thrust here – how could I not, it's basically the "atemporality" syndrome he's railing against

What is confounding for nuumheadz like he and me is that the younger generation just don’t judge or appraise or respond to music like this - in terms of a dialectic in which there's a series of advances that entail jettisoning previous styles that have been superceded.

Instead these are simply options available to us as listeners and as creators ...  styles that are fully present, in the present

(An aside: it's a bit too perfect that it's the El B remix of Disclosure that Martin would deign to play!).

 Martin's  "Dear Disclosure" has engendered a fierce, 45 comment debate in the comments box, making it the Dissensus/UK-bass world equivalent of the Peace / Barlow / Kulkarni flap and the Savages debate

"who are we?"

commenter at Rolling Stone on Daft Punk's Random Access Memories

"listening to this album for the 5th time now...after readin everyones thoughts on it on tumblr...
i’m not trying to like it … i’m trying to understand why people like it cos between all the sheep i believe that their r genuine people that love this album…so i go through the tag…and every body is getting all crazy about this touch song.

and i listen

and just listen, not judging, allowing the music to do its thing

and it starts and it feels like i’m in this 1970s AGAIN! anybody ever see the movie FLASH GORDAN? no…of course not how about the original planet of the apes movies?? still no?? cool ummm the episode of south park where kenny sniffs cats and ends up on that boob planet??yeah that!!…well it starts off as u are transported to these worlds via some whack interstellar tube thing u even hear that weird wind sound u end up in this cave with this weird echo voice and then all of a sudden there is this old dude just sitting on a chair singing and this singing is not bad…not bad at all…very stop motion animation type stuff then bam!! u on the mother f12king love boat!! in the lounge area and the bands playing and then the lights go down and the smoke machine kicks in and the band is totally psychedelic man(google george clinton and the Parliament funkadelic)!! and then u are transported and now you are the stop motion singing robot dude trapped in a cage and it fades out.

and as i write this and listen to my words i can’t help but appreciate the production value and talent that daft punk has…i mean all that in 8mins but still…still its so in the past its so retro…it feels unoriginal…its so 1970s disco era…its good…but its not new…its not the future…its the pasts future its the dreams of the 70s pushed on to us…i want something new i want to move forward…i want our generation to leave a impact…our now fashion is late 80s early 90s bright colors chunky chains beanies animal prints and aggressive make up GOOGLE TLC!! …we are a generation that have nothing to claim as our own…who wants to say they are part of the reality tv generation? not me!!.60s flower power. 80s had people power.even the 70s had disco 90s had grunge and i’m not talking just music …look at your dashboard this generation has tried to be all of that but we never try to make our own style.

who are we?"


(i love the album, well most of it anyway -- the first five or so tracks I could live without, it starts to take off with "Giorgio By Moroder" and then just gets better and better - but the above strikes me as a perfectly defensible and understandable reaction  -- "it's 2013 ferfucksake")

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

retrodance

Random Access Memories hovers at the perfect convergence point between Retromania and Energy Flash. Here's my New York Times piece on how Daft Punk fell out of "digital love" and down an analogue time tunnel .

Featuring cameos from Giorgio Moroder, Nile Rodgers and Paul Williams....

Nostalgic both in sound and in theme (songs about lost futures - "Giorgio By Moroder", "Contact" with its sample of the Eugene Cernan, the last man to set foot on the Moon's surface - songs about memory and loss like the gorgeous soft-rock/AOR Todd Edwards-sung "Fragments of Time"), Random Access Memories seems to be a deliberate attempt to turn back time.  It's consciously conceived as a near-total flashback to analogue modes of being. Not just to the methodology of pre-digital recording (live musicians, etc) but to the promotional strategies, the cultural economy of anticipation and delay that characterised the Analogue System



Even Daft Punk’s business strategy could be construed as a throwback. When their contract with Virgin expired several years ago, they could have self-released their own album to their huge fan base via the internet, as Radiohead did with In Rainbows in 2007 and My Bloody Valentine has with m b v earlier this year. But instead the duo signed with Columbia, the most major of major labels, which Thomas Bangalter praised in the interview as “the first record company, the inventor of the 33 rpm record”.  Comparing the record business in its Seventies and Eighties heyday to Hollywood’s studio system, he sounded wistful for the era of  “sonic blockbusters” like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours or Off The Wall, albums that everybody heard or at least heard about.  “Pop culture is the monoculture,” he argued.  “Today the only monoculture is brands.” Using the marketing muscle of an entertainment conglomerate like Columbia/Sony, Random Access Memories  tries to swim against the historical tide of popular culture’s fragmentation into niche markets and micro-genres. 


Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Audacity of Hype

Lot of chatter, pro and anti and pro, about Savages

(and some more anti)

Including this review "Against Music's Reductive Obsession With the New"

Of course, what Tom Hawking really means is, "Against (Some) Music Critics's Reductive Obsession With the New"

Because, for those critics (whoever they are!), the problem is precisely that Music isn't Obsessed with the New... that in fact Music, most of it anyway, is overly comfortable with being not-new....  

(that could have been the Retromania subtitle, actually - Against Music's Unproductive Obsession With the Not-New)

Savages, eh?

Good name

Like the band's manifesto, as daubed on the cover, and incanted at the start of this video



(Although, ironically, far from instilling "silence" they have managed to add greatly to the din of discourse. They are the proverbial hot new band making a lot of noise)

and the wo-manifesto falters with the bit about "an angry young tune" -- it's like, after the build-up,  THAT's what you're brandishing? A tune?

 
Now, part of me thinks:

look - Malaria

sound -  Red Lorry Yellow Lorry

it's WAY too early for a  Post Punk Revival Revival


Another part of me thinks:

well maybe it's like Elastica or PJ Harvey, the form fairly familiar, the content new and fresh, the energy and urgency undeniable

(and the parallel there would be the trans-gender shift: Justine F's Hugh Cornwell impersonation, or Polly Jean insisting all her role model were male - Nick Cave, Beefheart, etc)


The pro and the anti reminds me of the  debate-flurry earlier this year re. Peace and that NME rave review by Eve Barlow:


The narrow-minded reckon their experience of history can’t be surpassed; that there’s no point in drawing inspiration from the past because it was better IN THEIR DAY. They murder people’s vibes because they’re buzzkillers. They criticise young people for being unoriginal and lazy because 58 years after Bill Haley And His Comets’ ‘Rock Around The Clock’ charted, idealistic, rebellious teens haven’t evolved beyond simple pleasures like first crushes, guitar strums, pop hooks and leopard print. This disappoints buzzkillers immensely.



Buzzkillers will use songs such as Brummie quartet Peace’s ‘Lovesick’ – about reckless abandon and skipping school – to lambast uncomplicated singers like Harry Koisser for cooing “I don’t wanna make no sense” over an updated version of the refrain from The Cure’s ‘Friday I’m In Love’. They’ll demand something more sophisticated – a unique way of saying “I love you”, perhaps. You can safely assume buzzkillers are no longer in love, detest romantic gestures and are cautious of hype bands with hippy names....



Those with one foot in the past may view Peace with scepticism, finding them over-familiar. Alright, the psych opener ‘Higher Than The Sun’ reminds us of The Beatles’ ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ as guitars swirl through a Technicolor wash of dirge. Admittedly, the grunge ‘Follow Baby’ blasts off like My Vitriol or Mansun before hammering a Gallagher lyric of “We gon’ live for-evaaah”. Yes, ‘Wraith’ is laced with Herculean drumming and could’ve been by The Charlatans. Indeed, ‘Toxic’ is one-dimensional, employing riffs that fizz like sherbert Flying Saucers. Totally, you can sing Blur’s ‘There’s No Other Way’ over ‘Waste Of Paint’’s feral chorus. BUT ENOUGH WITH THE BUZZKILLING.



So long as teenagers exist, there’ll be eternal value in rock’n’roll this spectacular. It has no sell-by date...  Peace are intoxicated by their own youth, and all that matters is that they’re happening NOW.... Point is: music can reflect the past and still be valid. Some may see it as history repeating itself, for others it’ll be brand spanking new... As Britain suffers from youth unemployment and economic crisis, our greatest currency is the chime of a golden tune. Peace have delivered 10 of them. So what if they’re a bunch of pirates and not pioneers? This is their time.



Quite a few people of my generation found risible both the band and Barlow's review (a sort of defensive-aggressive paean). (It's interesting that so many of these 'let the young have their music' articles are couched as defences - Hawking's piece above is subtitled: A Defense of Savage. Whereas actually self-evidently new music never needs an apologia or a justification -- it is proclaimed, exalted, the trigger for a manifesto or a sermon).

Here's a great tirade from only the other day by Neil Kulkarni that picks up from a taking-the-Peace  Facebook discussion some of us were involved in April. He points out this this advance-apologetics tone of so many Peace reviews, preemptive defensive maneuvers against an imagined (and largely non-existent) army of curmudgeons.

The rhetorical stance taken by Barlow I actually thought was fine (in fact it reminded me of stuff David Stubbs wrote in his Melody Maker end-of-year 1988-Best-Year-For-Rock-Ever essay, the below-the-belt but brutally effective tactic of basically dismissing naysayers with "don't listen to them, these people are old")

What I thought was interesting was that Barlow seemed to be writing on behalf of an imaginary new-to-music teenage fan of  Peace et al (while her own, better-informed, twentysomething viewpoint is clearly cogniscant of the abject derivativeness of Peace)

Indeed in this parallel post from her tumblr (a fierce defence of the "guitar music" resurgence) she repeatedly references an imaginary 14 year old

Now as it happened, as all this "blew up", I was in the UK, spending time with  a non-imaginary 13 year old and her mother, a very dear and old friend, who I often stay with when I'm in London

Her daughter, who I've known since she was a baby and is almost exactly the same age as my son, is crazy about indie music


She is learning guitar and wants to be in band. 

(And, what is hard to get one's head around, but I suspect is both quite common and indicative of something -- she and her mum share similar music tastes -- both adore the Smiths -- and often go to shows and festivals together)


Of course this girl looooves Peace and a bunch of others from NME's current batch of young hypefuls

Confronted by such enthusiasm up-close, all of one's heard-it-before cynicism melts away

So when she played Parma Violets, Foxygen, Temple, I couldn't help trying to hear it from her viewpoint, trying to see what could be loveable about them...

Okay, Parma Violets do a good Echo & the Bunnymen (better than Mighty Lemon Drops anyway, who I made allowances for in '86, until I interviewed them) while other songs echo The Clash, J&MC, Britpop. (Many of these comparisons were actually made by the 13 year old herself, so it's not like she's unaware of the debts and derivations).  Foxygen are, what, Zombies-like or something? Temple: can't be arsed to identify the precise template but they are the most classicist and period-formalist of the bunch. I was struck by their incredibly fastidious recreation of Sixties psych, especially the drumming and the cymbal sound. .





When all is said and all is done, though, it is undeniable (contra Barlow's "this is their time") that these bands fail the test of their time.


One just wishes the ardour of young people (like the daughter of my friend), this excitement and joy of discovery -  always beautiful to witness and, up to a point, unarguable -- one just wishes that there were objects far more worthy of their passion.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013




                                               


                    
                                                       






The reference to James Colvin being crushed by a filing cabinet full of manuscripts is what made me suspicious. A quick net-search and turns out that James Colvin was an alter-ego of New Worlds editor Michael Moorcock, developed for certain stories. Then it became a "house pseudonym"  used by others writers at the magazine. (Particularly when giving negative reviews of s.f. books -- presumably to avoid recriminations). Colvin's obituarist here, William Barclay, is another Moorcock pseudonym. 





Friday, May 3, 2013

A dialogue between myself and Justin Buckley, in which he picks up on some things in that Datacide review of Retromania, these quotes in particular :

"Each historical phase seems to have its own psychological mental states and fetishisms…"   "... Technological optimism fights with other ideas about conclusive authority. And today Space optimists are at their historical ancestral space: at the lunatic fringe of society of harmless wackos…."  "...So if each epoch has its own psychic constellation, nowadays a detached fatalism in the sign of massive state deficits and financial crisis in the USA and Europe is the current paradigm. Believing in the future doesn’t seem like an option."



JB: The point about historical phases having their own mental states connects with a recent post of another blog I read, from the head of the Order of Archdruids of America (!). He writes lucidly about peak oil and possible responses to it. He summarises how different cultures and different historical periods within certain cultures have a different sense of 'the shape of time', which affects how these cultures view progress, i.e., in ancient Greece the belief that a golden age had already happened and that as time went on, things got worse and worse. He writes that in the past 300 years, since what he calls the age of cheap energy has begun, the natural view we would have of time would be a belief that things will always progress and get better.

However, as you and others have discussed, we seem to be stuck in a rut. Obviously there are numerous reasons for this, but I wonder, if peak oil is actually 'true', then it might be that we are over the apex of our culture (it may have happened in 60s-70s?) and that our cultural view on time and progress is holding us into this rut. 

OK, a sweeping statement with a few dubious assumptions built-in: that a hidden cause of the economic crisis of the past 5 years might have to something to do with peak oil, and that the energy required for further 'poetic' technologies like space travel may or may not be available. 

I can't yet make fully the link between this and Retromania, but I'm thinking about it! Maybe related to numerous media stories about our culture running into economic and environmental limits, which trickle-down into the thoughts of musicians, writers, artists.

Honestly, thinking about whether peak oil is really happening or not, and whether or not shale gas fracking is another bubble or not, is something I think about quite often with quite some frustration; it's a pretty fundamental thing to get right because oil/coal/gas has made so much of our culture possible. If it IS a real phenomenon: then what does mean for cultural producers over the next 40-50 years? That there is nothing new, and that cultural activity becomes more about somehow preserving the 'best-of'? 

If peak oil isn't true; then the original question holds: what's next? I'm not sure if I'm right, but it seems that there are thick fault-lines developing in our cultural attitude to technology - it used to be that technological change was generally viewed positively by our culture (i.e., space travel - well, OK, not to nuclear weapons) because technological change always would lead to something better - whereas now technology seems to be viewed with more distrust, i.e., the worries about drones, the backlash to Apps and Facebook, etc. Aside from the small-scale cultural segmentation that's happening because of the internet, I've felt that there's a broader cultural segmentation happening which runs along the lines with one's feelings towards technology. My own attitude towards this is my second-most frustrating and unresolved question.

Related to this, I found a day or two ago a notice about an exhibition called UnitedMicro Kingdoms at the London Design Museum (by designers Dunne and Raby): It outlines 4 fictional (possible future?) counties in England with 4 broadly different  'lifestyle , governance and economic' assumptions, and each has a different set of 'technological values'. Seems that the designers see this broader segmentation as well…



SR: There’s a chapter at the end of one of Nicolas Bourriaud’s book – The Radicant, I think - where he talks about energy, about how modernism coincided with this surge in energy production, new extractive technologies. And with that not only huge increases in industrial productivity, but also a drastic increase in speed (the invention of the automobile, the aeroplane) within a really short period of time, historically. As I recall there’s stuff about how these new energetics inform modernist works (poems,literature, painting) both in terms of explicit content and in formal ways.

 (There's probably stuff this in Virilio, now I think about it – his obsession with dromology, the study of speed -- the history of civilization understood as stages in the evolution of speed, thresholds passed.)



Anyway the argument re. modernism versus postmodernism is often related to the notion that post-1973 there's been this stagnation terms of cheap energy, which had fueled the 20th Century's sense of cultural acceleration... 

I interviewed Joe Boyd once about his memoir White Bicycles, and - in the book and the interview, but not the piece itself - he was very specific about 1973 as being a key point, OPEC, oil getting very expensive, and a sense of narrowing possiblities, the bohemia of the Sixties when you could get by on very little becoming less and less tenable... 



Two things that complicate the cultural stagflation and deceleration as our future scenario....



1/ recent talk of a new energy boom related to discovery of new fields of gas and oil, or existing areas that had been too difficult to access and profitably extract from.... also the stuff you mention about fracking, shale etc... talk of America soon becoming the second largest oil producing nation on earth, energy self-sufficient by 2030. That suggests that the slow-down may be reversed...  that a new phase of cheap-fuel fueled "irrational exuberance" could get underway. 



2/ seems like our desire to “go” and to go fast has imploded into the internet. There could be an update of Chuck Berry’s “no particular place to go” adapted to whizzing about on the net.



But yeah the relation between what’s going on substructure-wise in terms of the economy and human domination / exploitation of the physical world, that would quite logically have a decisive role in determining how a culture perceives reality, its conception of space and time, the direction that History is going...

JB: My only other comment would be about the new energy boom. I'm no expert, but my understanding of at least the shale gas / tracking thing is that the language used in the media in discussions of that industry is that it's somehow similar to language used in describing pre-bubble-burst real estate, etc - i.e., not a lot of critical press. 



Also apparently findings of large sources of oil/gas are predicted by the peak oil model, but the general long term trend is a decrease of discoveries of new sources. I've also read the talk of how the US will be the second largest energy supplier, but I'm a touch suspicious of the cheerleading in the media about it. And that's for me the frustrating part - trying to get somehow at the truth of the matter.
A French man called Cyril Galbrun told me about his schema for differentiating punk / postpunk / new pop as stages of the same cultural formation:

1st wave, the “new” one that would be new wave [i.e. punk]
2nd wave, the “modern” one that would be post-punk
3rd wave, the “postmodern” one that would be new pop


and Cyril compared it to Art Nouveau / 20th Century avant-garde / postmodernism as phases in an otherwise unified dynamic

I suggested that it might actually correspond better to Fredric Jameson's schema of Realism / Modernism / Postmodernism

Realism: novelists, painters, playrights, addressing social reality in a more direct and unprettified way, a response to the effects of industrial revolution and science, the desacralisation of the world

Modernism: more abstract, a series of formal responses to the forces and currents underneath the surface of the modern world, the accelerating pace of industriallism and urbanisation, huge leaps in terms of speed, mass communications, energy extraction...

Postmodernism: the dawning of the post-industrial era, the rise of the age of information and mass media, which then becomes digital / computer-based / net-based. A society saturated with images, advertising, desacralized iconography (celebrity, brands, logos). Where virtually the whole space of the social is commodified.

Punk would be Realism (of a kind never really seen before in rock, which had previously been largely Romantic - the Clash writing about tower blocks and street violence etc)




Postpunk is the more abstract response to  the same reality, based in the belief that the form should be as challenging/confrontational/anti-Romantic as the lyrical content.




New pop is the shift into postmodernity, meta-pop - music about music, self-reflexivity, pop that is about the history of pop and its own archive of images and styles.

It's not watertight because glam was a preview of New Pop stylereflexivity / archival quoting, history-as-wardrobe of costumes and roles; punk wasn't all Realism -- indeed glam currents of excess, theatre, the Extraordinary were in there too; some elements in postpunk already got working on the postmodern-y stuff that New Pop would do....

In any given phase there are figures whose mindset/modus operandi belongs to an earlier phase and often produce good results that are hard to deny. And - this being pop, where the standards aren't as rigorous as art theory or academia, there's a certain laxness - there are people who oscillate, or hold opposed sets of ideas simulataneously: Bowie the postmodernist circa Ziggy becomes Bowie the modernist circa Low/Heroes, because he falls under the spell of time-lagging Romantic-Avant-Garde Krautrockers. Then he goes back to postmodern with "Let's Dance"

Eno is another one who oscillates back and forth, in his interviews in the late Seventies he will be espousing innovation/make-it-new type talk at some points, and then at others he's already questioning the role of innovation in artistic creativity (saying it's a small percentage), talking the patter that eventually led him to scenius and curator-as-creator.

But overall I think the schema works quite well, and fits how rock's evolution -- Romanticism to Realism to Modernism to Postmodernism -- occurred in an accelerated form, out of synch with higher culture - but recapitulating that dynamic.(Is it an inherent logic within any given cultural field?)

Some of the discrepancies in the schema actually come through bleed-through into pop culture of ideas from higher culture / the Art World. So for instance while Rock in the Sixties / early Seventies is essentially Romantic, in the larger culture Pop Art and Warhol has already happened  and that can't help contaminating rock's brighter but also  more impressionable minds e.g. Bowie who transitions from hippie singer-songwriter into Warholite rocker.

^^^^^^^^

But then - as I concluded in my chat with Cyril - the question that we are asking, still, and with increasingly perplexity, is WHAT COMES AFTER POSTMODERNISM? Because as far as I can tell we're still in it, up to our necks. Most of the practices that I lump together under the rubric "recreativity" are basically postmodernism with added digital / netculture powers.