Wednesday, January 30, 2019

the return of WANKLE (another dream of a different Nineties)

I saw an early version of the James Lavelle doc at a festival a few years ago and what amazed me, first and foremost, was how many UNKLE albums there'd been.

the first was bad enough - so i guess i'd assumed that that would have been it

but no, no, they persisted after Psyence Fiction (yuk wot a title) -  there's something like FIVE subsequent UNKLE albums!

and what's worse is that they get increasingly rocky, involving such as Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age

like Lavelle started buying into this really naff idea of rock rebellion and intensity and authenticity

like a less tastefully executed version of the Death in Vegas approach - a studio assembled simulacrum of rock, without the actual rhythmic engine of band-energy powering it

i guess it shows the odd lingering prestige of rock - and especially the punk strand within rock - as the ultimate stand-in for rebellion and individuality, which continues to exert its thrall over people who've come up through hip hop or dance music, and whose creative procedures are radically different

for some reason deep in their hearts their burning desire seems to be to collaborate with Noel Gallagher (as with Goldie circa Saturnz Returnz) or Pete Doherty or somebody like that, despite being light-years ahead sonically of those guys

the other thing I gleaned from the doc - and Lavelle's embrace of rockism - was that he'd managed to convince himself that  being a curator really is the same as being a creator -  that's there's really nothing to writing songs, creating a distinctive band-sound, a band-voice.

all you need is some famous pals, and some connections - and taste, and attitude

simply convening the ingredients would somehow generate vibe in itself, hey presto, through the magic of chutzpah


hubris 101: not knowing your limits, the nature of what you are actually good at (in his case, arguably at any rate,  branding, packaging, spotting talent in others i.e. Shadow, Krush, building a buzz)

yet despite this, UNKLE is still going - there's a new album out at the end of March -  The Road: Part II/Lost Highway -  a "filmic" affair whose cast includes the  Clash’s Mick Jones, Dhani Harrison, Editors’ frontman Tom Smith, The Duke Spirit’s Leila Moss, Mark Lanegan, Keaton Henson, Queens Of The Stone Age’s Jon Theodore and Troy Van Leeuwen, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds vocalist Ysée, Brian Eno collaborator Tessa Angus, producers Justin Stanley and Chris Goss,  BOC,  spoken-word contributions from legendary Scottish actor Brian Cox, and more

first single

press release:

“Once you have walked the road, everything becomes clear,” says Elliott Power on the Prologue to the sixth album from genre-bending pioneers UNKLE. ‘The Road: Part II / Lost Highway’ is the sound of an artist forever in transit on life’s journey of discovery.

“My work has always had an eclectic essence and soundtrack-influence in its structure,” says Lavelle. “If you go through the back catalogue, there’s a continuity between the motion and the ambition of the sound. Ideally, you’re constantly collaging and sampling elements of what’s relevant at the time to create something new.

“Now, there’s a lot more freedom. When I first started, the walls between genres in front of you were a lot greater to climb. We’re at a much more open-minded and eclectic place with music now.”

"I started doing a show on Soho Radio last year, which made me think about playing records in a different way,” says Lavelle of his life after ‘Part I’. “It wasn’t about trying to make people dance in a nightclub. It was a breath of fresh air, and about playing a more eclectic mix. ‘The Road Part 2’ was made in the same way – it’s a mixtape and a journey. You’re in your car, starting in the day and driving into the night. The language of it was for it to be the ultimate road trip.

He continues: “It’s the mid-part of a trilogy. The first record is like you’re leaving home; you’re naive and trying to discover. There are elements of my early days in there, as well as a bit of everything since. There’s an optimism and excitement to it, as there was with me having to direct this project alone for the first time.

“This record is the journey. You’re on the road, out there in the world. There are let downs, highs, lows, love, loss and experiences. The third record to come is basically about coming home; wherever that may be."

With the album split into two acts each with a beginning, a middle and end, the trips from light to dark, from brute force to tenderness make for both the full arc of the adventure and suites to be enjoyed separately. It’s a bold, assured and confident collection – from the Americana of ‘Long Gone’, to the Kanye West ‘Black Skinhead’ - inspired ‘Nothing To Give’, the alt-orchestral rush of ‘Only You’ to the guitar-heavy mantra of ‘Crucifixion/A Prophet’ and the electronic child’s lullaby of ‘Sun (The)’ – via covers of ‘The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face’ made famous by Roberta Flack and the ‘guilty pleasure’ of the euphoric ‘Touch Me’ by Rui Da Silva. Helping to travel further down the myriad avenues of UNKLE’s sound are the full spectrum of collaborators and guests.

‘The Road: Part II/Lost Highway’ welcomes The Clash’s Mick Jones, Dhani Harrison, Editors’ frontman Tom Smith, The Duke Spirit’s Leila Moss, Mark Lanegan, Keaton Henson, Queens Of The Stone Age’s Jon Theodore and Troy Van Leeuwen, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds vocalist Ysée, Brian Eno collaborator Tessa Angus, producers Justin Stanley and Chris Goss,  BOC,  Philip Sheppard and artist John Isaac among others –  as well as spoken-word contributions from legendary Scottish actor Brian Cox (who used to be Lavelle’s landlord) and Stanley Kubrick’s widow Christiana, who leant her trust and voice to Lavelle following his acclaimed exhibition to the seminal director. The two names who crop up most throughout the record however are rising West London singer and producer Miink and experimental rapper Elliott Power.

“They’re just both so incredibly talented, and everything I love about London right now,” says Lavelle. “I’ve been playing a lot with going back to sampling and going back to certain aesthetics from when I was first buying records and DJing, then to mix that with something contemporary. They’ve helped me create this ‘Bladerunner meets London Soundsystem’ kind of vibe.”

But then, Lavelle has always been an artist as inspired by the past as he was racing towards the future.

“The way that things are now are what we were always doing with Mo’Wax,” says Lavelle. “The legacy was that we broke down barriers, took down everything culturally-lite and put it into something. Now street culture is the predominant visual culture of the world. It’s mad to think that Supreme is more popular and recognised than Louis Vuitton. Every major label and rapper is making sneakers and toys. At the time it was seen as vanity and gimmicky, but look at the way culture is now. That’s what we started.”

The striking artwork of the hooded knight that adorns the sleeve on 'Lost Highway' is by celebrated artist John Stark – renowned for drawing upon magical realism and using the more mystical elements of the past to reveal something profound about the present.

"It’s about the yin and yang, night and day, the rolling journey," says Lavelle of the artwork. "Here's a Ronin-like, lone warrior. It represents what it means for me to be going out into the world and finding myself."

"the emphasis was on new"

"The whole ethic of the band, though it was unwritten and rarely spoken, was to create new music, so if a piece had a similarity/reminded someone of another work it was generally rejected. The emphasis was on new... It was all about new sounds and new ways of writing a song.... Even now, making a new sound is still our first impulse, and that includes not repeating previous Pram recordings...To repeat ourselves or someone else would be boring and not really worth the effort.... My working life is ten times harder than it needs to be because I hate repeating what’s gone before“ 

Matt Eaton,  Pram, 2011

words to live by

but what a terrible pressure to put yourself under, as an artist

to come up with something new, and then to do it again, and then to do it again - to never settle into a sound, a procedure...

hard enough to come up with something new in the first place, such that you'd almost forgive someone for stopping there, repeating it, milking it

such a burden of unrest  -  self-imposed, self-inflicted

heroic, really

Saturday, January 19, 2019

collect your self

"Many collectors feel synonymous with the objects they collect and use them to derive or define a sense of self. Though they may not have any objective value, objects collected are seen as uniquely interesting or valuable to the individual collector. Thus as collectors accumulate large numbers of valuable items, they construct the sense that they, too, are valuable by association, i.e., 'The more of this great stuff I accumulate, the more I matter.... [Obsessive collecting] tends to arise out of one (or a combination) of the following three basic human needs: the need for a personal self- definition of worth, the need for a sense of life purpose (or meaning), and the desire for immortality."
psychotherapist Gaelen Billingsley, quoted in this piece by music critic Dave Segal about the trauma of the loss of most of his record collection owing to dodgy removals company 
I have often wondered what would I would feel if by some calamity or other - fire, earthquake, etc - I lost all my records
I would be traumatized, but ultimately I think I would feel strangely liberated
the gift of existential weightlessness bestowed by chance

because right now, all that cumbering lumber of vinyl - painstakingly accumulated, chased, 1000s of man-hours of pursuit invested and embedded in it, the sunk costs of time and libido and life-force pulsating dimly - it is all just sitting there, unused
it is hardly ever played (same goes for the similarly vast accrual of CDs, the cassette tapes also)
because if i want to hear something, it's so much vastly easier to go to Spotify, YouTube, a sharing blog (how often have I downloaded things I already own, simply because it's quicker than trying to find the bloody record or compact disc!), Bandcamp, Soundcloud, et al
so what is the point of keeping all this stuff?

(50 percent of which isn't even here, directly accessible, but in storage, in New York)
since i don't have the will, or the time, to part with it voluntarily - to convert it into useful cash, or even to just have it hauled off by some charity
an act of Fate would do the job, and perhaps do me a favor
not that i'm asking for it, not at all  -  i still am fatally attached to these things, to the delusion of ownership and the counter-factual delusion that "you can take it with you oh yes you can"
the lady therapist is right in implying that to collect and to hold on to things (which chronic obsessive downloading is still an extension of, and in which OCD patterns I'm still enmeshed, hunter-gathering, turning YouTube and Vimeo into audio files - a new frontier of exploration, new vistas of long out of print or never even properly issued in the first place - e.g. soundtracks to experimental films and animations) - to do that is a vote of confidence in the idea that you have enough time left in your life to listen to these things
to download - as I might well do in a particularly OCD day - more hours of listening than would actually fit into that day, in excess of 24 hours of listening  - is a reality-denying, finitude-refusing act of faith in an infinitely prolonged and expansive future for the listening self
as said much more pithily by Schopenhauer:

"We love to buy books because we think we’re buying the time to read them.”

Well that's another subject in itself -  the chronic collection of books. I have in excess of 200 that have come into my possession - bought, sent, found, got through my books-editor spouse - that i really seriously desire / intent to read, but are sitting them, in unruly stacks, in various places in the house, reproachfully staring back at me unread.

but the actual number of owned but unread books is probably much larger, distributed all over, on shelves, in boxes in the basement... things acquired during research binges for various books of mine own... things acquired in the Eighties and never read...


Another piece by Segal, on the theme of "I Collect, Therefore I Am"

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

the dream of the Nineties is alive in... Chelmsford?

well, a dream of a Nineties

from Jon Caramanica's New York Times profile of the Angloid emo-rapper Ratboy

"A couple of months ago, the 22-year-old musician who records as Rat Boy rented a huge empty warehouse a short walk to a lovely little stream and a slightly longer walk to a small black sign leaning against a decayed wall that reads FARM TOILET. Here, slowly, he, his father, and brother have been building out the raw space into a place — inspired by the Beastie Boys’ old G-Son Studios in Los Angeles — where he can work, and also play.

A few days before Christmas, it was mostly empty save for a roughly fashioned studio. On one wall was a Public Enemy “Fear of a Black Planet” poster. On a shelf was an autographed vinyl copy of the Beastie Boys’ “Hello Nasty.” On the center table, an old issue of the Beasties’ publication Grand Royal and some obscure graffiti magazines. Up against the wall, a small-scale screen printing rig and several of Cardy’s ghoulishly realistic illustrations. Sitting on a pallet under a blanket was an Amek Einstein console, the same kind that the Dust Brothers used to work on, that Cardy bought for about 6,000 pounds on the internet from Peru. It’s the most money he’s ever spent on anything, he said, but he still wasn’t sure it worked....

The 1990s are the leading touchstone for Cardy, who has studied the era with loving devotion and built a specific, refined aesthetic from it: “It’s a bunch of people that are around my age making something for themselves. I love the way stuff looks — making their own magazines, the music, being motivated to put stuff out,” he said, slumped in a chair wearing a Supreme bottle cap T-shirt, his hair pink and scraggly. “They did everything right, but did they know they were doing it right?”

“I kind of see Jordan as the nexus of what was happening in the ’90s when punk and hip-hop were blowing up,” said Brett Gurewitz, the founder and chief executive of Epitaph Records, which is releasing “Internationally Unknown” via its Hellcat imprint. “Rat Boy is the embodiment of that time.”

... When he became curious about music, YouTube was his university. “I used to watch thousands of videos,” he said.

Cardy’s natural artistic curiosity was buttressed by a creeping sense of outsiderness. “When I was in school when I was a kid, I did feel like there were not, like, people that were into the same stuff,” he said. “Everyone was into what was happening around here, and I’m just liking [expletive] that happened 20 years ago.”

...  One of the first people in the music business he met was Drew McConnell, who plays bass in the British band Babyshambles (which is fronted by Pete Doherty) and was introduced to Cardy’s music by an intern at his publishing company. Before long, McConnell was setting up management and label meetings for Cardy, who was sleeping on his sofa.

“He had obviously listened to a lot of records,” McConnell said. “The way he would sing would remind me of Elvis Costello, or Robert Smith from the Cure. But at the same time he’s a huge hip-hop fan.”

Wait a minute, I'm confused here - he's 90s-redux and 90s-obsessed, but he sounds like New Wave?

And elsewhere in the piece as Caramanica does his breakdown of constituent parts, it sounds even more atemporal and mish-mashed:

"This month Cardy will release the second Rat Boy album, “Internationally Unknown,” a high-energy collision of punk convulsion and hip-hop storytelling full of raucously fun, sharp-tongued songs about slackerdom, resistance and disorderly joy. It’s shaped by late 1970s punk with flickers of dub, nods to 1990s hip-hop (and also the early 2000s English rapper the Streets), and embraces the musical exuberance of 2000s pop-punk.

Which is to say, it is an extremely of-the-moment amalgam, refusing to draw distinctions between genres. It’s also part of a long continuum of British punk that looks for kinship in black music and part of a wider re-engagement with the 1990s as source material."

Further confusing me

"In person, Cardy is gentle and soft-edged. But on both his first and second records, his attitude is consistent: a permanently extended middle finger to authority, and a robust sense of working class agitation."

What working class kid in his very early twenties can afford to drop 6000 quid on a vintage studio console? Because it was used by the Dust Bros?

He's certainly obsessed with the Dust Bros, whose claim to fame eludes me (Pauls Boutique? that Urge Overkill album?)

"Cardy went to Los Angeles and spent six weeks working with Armstrong at the Boat, once the studio of the Dust Brothers. (John King of the Dust Brothers also worked on the new album.)

This stuff about his dad Brett also puzzles me - 

"Cardy recalled how Brett never pushed him to pursue things he didn’t feel strongly about, like schoolwork: “It’s always been, like, do what you want to do.” They spoke about Cardy’s music and the unlikeliness of his performance intensity, joked about living in close quarters and celebrated hating authority. Recalling when Cardy was first learning to race cars, Brett explained his hands-off parenting philosophy, which felt like the foundation for all of Cardy’s subsequent life choices. “Just let him crash,” Brett said. “He ain’t going to do it twice."

Is it rebellion / slackerdom / DIY if you learn it from your dad? Or am I being old fashioned here, myself?


also on the topic of different kinds of Nineties, a Nineties you might have barely intersected with, and "is this even the Nineties we're talking about here"? -  just got this press release through the mail, for a Hip Hop Brunch thrown by an organisation called  -

Whether you’re the ultimate ’90s fan or you just really like gettin’ jiggy wit it, this affair isn’t to be missed. The 90s Brunch’s entertainment this weekend has been seasoned with the spiciest nostalgic flavourings in the cupboard. We're talking glitter, transfer tattoos, lip-sync battles, dance-offs, and a full soundtrack that pays homage to the best decade ever. Now how’s that for 90’s nostalgia?

And you can’t forget the best part – a lip smackin’ three-course meal and an hour (yes, an hour) of bottomless cocktails – that should really get you in the mood to dance (or roller skate) like it's 1990.
Held on Saturday, Jan 19th from 12-5pm at a secret London venue, this brunch is guaranteed to be the best day-party out there.