Saturday, February 14, 2015

retroblogging (in at least a couple of senses)

Momus,  at Mrs Tsk, pounces on a lamentable rock band called The Struts, to argue that no bright mind in their right mind would enter the rock field these days ("if you want that kind of stasis and that kind of reverence, put on a black dress and play the viola in a quartet!"). A further sign of this is the fact graphic designers no longer think of album cover design as a field in which they can express themselves interestingly:

"Imagine if Elvis Presley had been impersonating Scott Joplin. That’s what The Struts are doing with 1960s and 1970s cultural reference points. They’ve remembered them in such detail that they’ve forgotten them completely. If 1950s rockers had done the same thing, Rock as a genre would never have happened."

Momus quotes a designer chap called Fraser Muggeridge who avers "when I was a student I always wanted to be a record cover designer. You wanted to do a record cover, and you didn’t even know what an art book was, really. Now, most people see art books as a way of really expressing themselves.”

and connects it to his own excitement about creating print products (novels and attractively packaged writings) that sell mainly through art-oriented bookshops: 

"the feeling I got from (let’s say) the Edinburgh Virgin record shop in 1974, or any independent record shop circa 1978 — the feeling that there’s an exciting underground culture just waiting here to whoosh you away to areas of spiritual and semantic richness and originality — has now migrated to art-oriented bookshops like Motto and Printed Matter, or events like the Tokyo Art Book Fair, the Singapore Art Book Fair, the New York Art Book Fair. As someone invested in the idea of cultural glamour, I like to aim products at events and networks that have topical zing. Writing books is a way for me to get into zingy, zine-y, designy bookshops, just as making records in the early 1980s was a way of interfacing with an exciting — and now largely vanished — network of independent record stores."

Yet he admits that the graphic design and art publications worlds are fixated, in their own way, on an illustrious past - the 20th Century's panoply of innovative and often politically edgy movements in art, design, typograpy etc.

Momus floats two potential explanations / justifications for this discrepancy: 

"Sometimes the only explanation for a cultural shift like this is that fashion moves on, just for the sake of moving on. Things are exciting, and then they aren’t."


"Perhaps...  there cannot be more than one designated, exemplary area of experimentation and originality at any one time." 

This isn't too convincing . In the Sixties for instance there was pell-mell experimentation /originality going on full-tilt in all the arts simultaneously - fiction, film, theater, fashion, high culture music and pop culture music and jazz too, design, dance/performance, TV). For the young and some sympathetic elders, rock was at the centre of all of this, somehow...  but from Op Art  to musique concrete/electronic composition to radical theater, there was also a lot of unrelated but parallel impetus towards breaking tradition, pushing the envelope etc.  Same for much of the Seventies and intermittently in other decades too. 

And a comments-boxer picks him up on the double standard: 

"Your criticism of The Struts is that their pastiche of 60s and 70s stylings is an appeal to the authority of music’s golden past. You then acknowledge that these art book graphic designers are drawing upon the influences of Fluxus and the like, thereby pastiching art of the 60s and 70s, appealing to the authority of the Art establishment’s golden past. “...but Fluxus has still got edge!” You say. But does it? “Modern” art isn’t that modern anymore, and any attempt to replicate it today renders it Postmodern. What The Struts are doing is tired, I agree, but I don’t believe it’s any more tired than drawing upon the concepts behind neo-dada, etc.."

There is also the point that Momus is engaged here in a kind of retro-blogging - reblogging his objections to retro-rock, as voiced quite frequently in the early 2000s. Anti-Retro revivalism!  Indeed this Struts post, or the first few paragraphs anyway, is almost a reenactment of one particular, and particularly brilliant, post from the early 2000s - which, if I'm not garbling this completely in memory, was inspired by seeing a rock'n'roll band in its period rock'n'roll garb at an airport waiting-room or something  (I think the post was circa Hives, Stripes, Jet et al) and musing about how strange it was.... that rock had become very much like classical music, with its fixed-in-time instrumentation and correct dress...  
Still, admittedly, I'm verging on kettle-calling-the-pot-black territory -  since I was bemoaning "record collection rock" back in the early 1990s!  
I suppose this is exactly what is so dispiriting, in a way. That r 'n  'r regurgitate keeps repeatin' and repeatin'....  and it's no less objectionable on the fifth or fifteenth or fiftieth retch-up than it was the first time. So you find yourself repeating yourself... revoicing those objections.
The lines of argument feel frozen, stalled....    Postmodernism and its discontents, again and again, over and over....   forever????

1 comment:

  1. Of course, during the Seventies themselves, people of Momus's advanced age would have grown up, moved on from obsessing about the music of the young, and taken up fishing or cribbage or woodwork or something.