Thursday, December 23, 2021

retrotalk2021 #6- heritage techno

The arrival of  heritage techno Guardian's Jake Tapper reports on the consortium of Berlin techno DJs and promoters who are lobbying the German government to request Unesco to grant ICH ("intangible cultural heritage") status to the city's club scene, currently languishing from lockdown 

Detroiter turned Berliner Alan Oldham says "Unesco protection would go a long way towards maintaining that old spirit. Legacy venues like Tresor and Berghain for example would be protected as cultural landmarks."

Explains Tapper, "....rRecognising techno would open up access to government subsidies and other funding sources, and clubs would gain extra protection under town planning laws."

Oldham again: "“Unesco protection would help a lot towards establishing techno and club culture as a legitimate social force with historical value and worthy of government support, not just hedonistic, disposable club music and drugs. Eventually, my hometown Detroit could maybe also benefit.”

The New Orleans-isation of once disreputable (and fertile), now touristic (and developmentally-arrested ) music-towns - well, exactly 20 years ago, I imagined this happening to the NY house scene... 

Meanwhile, the Museum of Modern Electronic Music is finally set to open in Frankfurt - in spring next year

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

retrotalk2021 #5 - presentism

 In the NYT  Lindsay Zoladz says 2021 was a year when we couldn't stop looking back and wields the concept "presentism" to describe a tendency to project the concerns of now onto the past and to judge it by today's advanced standards

"The allure of presentism is causing people to romanticize contemporary perspectives at the expense of an excessively vilified past. It’s uncomfortable to dwell in gray areas, to admit imperfections, to acknowledge blind spots — better to have a 100-minute documentary or four-part podcast to allow us to tidily “reconsider” something that we got wrong the first time around, so we never have to think too hard about it again."

Seems to be a different use of the concept "presentism" than in Douglas Rushkoff's 2014 book Present Shock: When Everything Happens NOW -  well at least as far as I can tell / recall, given that I started but never got far with it (victim of a presentist inability to concentrate? well, I did then and have since started and finished other books...). 

From the book's website, a breakdown of the major contentions: 

Narrative collapse – the loss of linear stories and their replacement with both crass reality programming and highly intelligent post-narrative shows like The Simpsons. With no goals to justify journeys, we get the impatient impulsiveness of the Tea Party, as well as the unbearably patient presentism of the Occupy movement. The new path to sense-making is more like an open game than a story.

Digiphrenia – how technology lets us be in more than one place – and self – at the same time. Drone pilots suffer more burnout than real-world pilots, as they attempt to live in two worlds – home and battlefield – simultaneously. We all become overwhelmed until we learn to distinguish between data flows (like Twitter) that can only be dipped into, and data storage (like books and emails) that can be fully consumed.

Overwinding – trying to squish huge timescales into much smaller ones, like attempting to experience the catharsis of a well-crafted, five-act play in the random flash of a reality show; packing a year’s worth of retail sales expectations into a single Black Friday event – which only results in a fatal stampede; or – like the Real Housewives – freezing one’s age with Botox only to lose the ability to make facial expressions in the moment. Instead, we can “springload” time into things, like the “pop-up” hospital Israel sent to Tsunami-wrecked Japan.

Fractalnoia – making sense of our world entirely in the present tense, by drawing connections between things – sometimes inappropriately. The conspiracy theories of the web, the use of Big Data to predict the direction of entire populations, and the frantic effort of government to function with no “grand narrative.” But also the emerging skill of “pattern recognition” and the efforts of people to map the world as a set of relationships called TheBrain – a grandchild of McLuhan’s “global village”.

Apocalypto – the intolerance for presentism leads us to fantasize a grand finale. “Preppers” stock their underground shelters while the mainstream ponders a zombie apocalypse, all yearning for a simpler life devoid of pings, by any means necessary. Leading scientists – even outspoken atheists – prove they are not immune to the same apocalyptic religiosity in their depictions of “the singularity” and “emergence”, through which human evolution will surrender to that of pure information. 

Monday, December 20, 2021

retrotalk2021 #4 digital nostalgia

Kyle Chayka in The New Yorker from a weeks ago, exploring "Pokémon and the First Wave of Digital Nostalgia" and the poignant pangs triggered by the rudimentary graphics of early Nintendo. 

"The visuals of the original Nintendo Entertainment System, from 1985, consisted of a 256-by-240 grid of tiny squares of color. There were fifty-four hues altogether; each character was limited to three colors at a time...    a time before hyperrealistic 3-D graphics and screen overexposure, the desaturated pixels were innocently entrancing, an immersive other world."

Chayka notes that the 20-year-cycle is bang on cue for "the first wave of nostalgia for early digital life, a longing for our first digital worlds, onscreen spaces in which we could act, create, and communicate." 

"For many people, the earlier era of the Internet represents a time when they still had power over their digital lives, before they became dependent upon the repetitive templates, inhuman scale, and turbocharged content feeds offered by the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.... The revival of pixel art may be a quest for the kind of variety and texture that massive social-media networks have gradually banished, a harkening back to a messier, more human moment in our digital lives."

Other symptoms of early 2000s-stalgia

"A clone of the Web site for MySpace, the early-aughts social-networking service, recently drew three hundred thousand subscribers. 

"Some of the most popular recent independent video games, such as the farming role-playing game Stardew Valley and the adventure game Celeste, are entirely pixel art... 

"With all of the gazing backward, the new digital era, which is often labelled Web3, may end up looking a bit like the older, pre-Facebook Internet."

Chayka references an essay by Robin Sloan called "Notes on Web3,” which argues that the retrodigital buzz is about "rediscovering a sense of online ownership and creativity that has been gone since the era of blogs and browser games."

Also interviewed, an artist called Maria Vorobjova whose work includes "Wood Wide Web,” 
a simulated video game of a biological office space, presented in glitching, imprecise polygon models with pixelated, supersaturated textures. The graphics are intentionally messy. Vorobjova, who recalls playing games on her father’s desktop computer as a young girl, uses the rendering software Blender and then films walk-throughs of her creations in low-resolution 320-by-265 pixels, mimicking the capacity of the original 1994 PlayStation. Upsizing the videos for modern platforms only exaggerates the graininess. The work is an attempt to evoke what the Internet used to be, Vorobjova said: “A continuous rabbit hole, leading to unpredictable, mystical destinations.” When she adds small details to the worlds she builds, she added, “I’m trying to make that old aesthetic new again.”

There's stuff on the aesthetics of NFTs and a Madeleine moment of the author's - "Succumbing to my own digital nostalgia, I recently bought the newly rebooted Pokémon Brilliant Diamond for the Nintendo Switch console... It has been a comfort to immerse myself in a digital environment that doesn’t update or change every minute, as social media does, with its thousands of blips of new content. I thought that it might be boring, too slow or simplistic, but playing Pokémon is easily more satisfying than an hour spent checking Twitter. My decisions have actual consequences, at least within the game; instead of shouting into the public void, I am performing for myself alone." 

Saturday, December 18, 2021

retrotalk2021 #3 - pop will (rep)eat itself

Alexis Petridis in the Graun wonders why pop has got so predictable...  

Starting with Adele's endless misery-go-round, ABBA-in-aspic, the sheer(an) bloody comfiness of ginger Ed's latest, Lana Del Rey's copiousness, and yet another yearly glut of Drake, AP wonders whether "perhaps what people want from pop music" - nowadays - "is reassurance and comfort rather than startling novelty"

"There was a time when artists who wilfully repeated themselves were the subject of mockery – think of all the jokes aimed Status Quo’s way in the late 70s and 80s, and the snarky comparisons to Status Quo lobbed at Oasis once Britpop’s shine wore off...  In 2021, however, it frequently felt as if the best way to maintain one’s place at the pinnacle of pop was by doing exactly what audiences expected them to."

He offers various candidates for an explanation - comfort in a time of turbulence, the longing for authenticity / relatability, or simply allowing ourselves to be steered by streamers to things like things we already like, in the confusing welter of newstuff and microgenres and hybrids...  

In the comments, Mark Fisher comes up a bunch of times (and Retromania gets a mention)

retrotalk2021 #2 - a cross-culture innovation drought?

From a few week ago, an Atlantic piece on an innovation drought in American culture, titled "America Is Running on Fumes". Derek Thompson focuses on the shortfall in three specific areas 


"Throughout the 20th century, Hollywood produced a healthy number of entirely new stories. The top movies of 1998—including Titanic, Saving Private Ryan, and There’s Something About Mary—were almost all based on original screenplays. But since then, the U.S. box office has been steadily overrun by numbers and superheroes: Iron Man 2, Jurassic Park 3, Toy Story 4, etc. Of the 10 top-grossing movies of 2019, nine were sequels or live-action remakes of animated Disney movies, with the one exception, Joker, being a gritty prequel of another superhero franchise....  Americans used to go to movie theaters to watch new characters in new stories. Now they go to movie theaters to re-submerge themselves in familiar story lines."




“New ideas no longer fuel economic growth the way they once did,” the economists Jay Bhattacharya and Mikko Packalen wrote [in the 2020 paper Stagnation and Scientific Incentives]. In the past few decades, citations have become a key metric for evaluating scientific research, which has pushed scientists to write papers that they think will be popular with other scientists. This causes many of them to cluster around a small set of popular subjects rather than take a gamble that might open a new field of study. 

"In science, as in cinema, incrementalism is edging out exploration."

“Everywhere we look we find that ideas are getting harder to find,” a group of researchers from Stanford University and MIT concluded in a 2020 paper. Specifically, they concluded that research productivity has declined sharply in a number of industries, including software, agriculture, and medicine. 

".... Setting aside a spike during the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. business formation has been declining since the 1970s. 

".... Until about a century ago, the U.S. was building top-flight colleges and universities at a dazzling clip. But the U.S. hasn't built a new elite university in many decades.... 

"f you believe in the virtue of novelty, these are disturbing trends. Today’s scientists are less likely to publish truly new ideas, businesses are struggling to break into the market with new ideas....  we are less likely than previous generations to build institutions that advance new ideas.

“What about all the cool new stuff?” you might ask. What about the recent breakthroughs in mRNA technology? What about CRISPR, and AI, and solar energy, and battery technology, and electric vehicles, and (sure) crypto, and (yes!) smartphones? These are sensational accomplishments—or, in many cases, the promises of future accomplishments—punctuating a long era of broad technological stagnation. Productivity growth and average income growth have declined significantly from their mid-20th-century levels.

"New ideas simply don’t fuel growth the way they once did. 

".... This is not the first time that somebody has accused America’s invention engine of running on fumes in the 21st century. (Not even the idea that America is running out of ideas is a new idea.)

"In 2020, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen published the instant-classic essay “It’s Time to Build,” which urged more innovation and entrepreneurship in public health, housing, education, and transportation. “The problem is inertia,” he wrote. “We need to want these things more than we want to prevent these things.” The same year, Ross Douthat published The Decadent Society, which levied similar criticisms of languishing U.S. creativity. These works are partly descendants of Tyler Cowen’s books The Great Stagnation, which diagnosed a slowdown in America’s innovative mojo, and The Complacent Class, which observed that Americans are self-segregating into comfortable echo chambers rather than taking risks and challenging themselves."

Why is it happening, Thompson asks? 

"I don’t think there is an overarching reason for our novelty stagnation. But let me offer three theories that might collectively explain a good chunk of this complex phenomenon.

"1. The big marketplace of attention

Almost every smart cultural producer eventually learns the same lesson: Audiences don’t really like brand-new things. They prefer “familiar surprises”—sneakily novel twists on well-known fare....

"2. The creep of gerontocracy..."

"Across [politics]. business, science, and finance, power is similarly concentrated among the elderly...." 

3. The rise of “vetocracy”

"What if it’s not American creativity that’s suffering, but rather that modern institutions have found new successful ways to thwart and constrict creativity, so that new ideas are equally likely to be born, but less likely to grow?

"... They’ve become, in political scientist Francis Fukuyama’s term, “vetocracies,” in which too many actors have veto rights over what gets built. That’s true in the federal government. It’s true in state and local governments. It’s even true in the private sector.

"Last year, fewer bills were passed than in any year on record. 

"Vetocracy blocks new construction too, especially through endless environmental and safety-impact analyses that stop new projects before they can begin."

The author concedes that "the best objection to everything that I’ve written so far is that there exists a world where young people tend to be in control, where regulatory burdens aren’t blocking megaprojects, and where new ideas are generally cherished and even, perhaps, fetishized. It’s the internet—or, more specific, the software industry. If you are working on AI, or crypto, or virtual reality, you probably aren’t starved for new ideas. You very well may be drowning in them...."

So all the change is happening in this immaterial realm.. 

"... Patents today are more concentrated in a single industry, the software industry, than at any other time on record. We’ve funneled treasure and talent into the world of bits, as the world of flesh and steel has decayed around it....

"What I want is for the physical world to rediscover the virtue of experimentation. I want more new companies and entrepreneurs, which means I want more immigrants. I want more megaprojects in infrastructure and more moon-shot bets in energy and transportation....  finally, I’d like Hollywood to rediscover a passion for cinematic blockbusters that don’t have numbers in the title."

My own less informed thoughts on this deficit of big thinking and aiming high from a piece in Salon from 2007... 

retrotalk2021 #1 - time-reversal pop

here's an ingenious time-runs-in-reverse way of celebrating a derivative and backward-looking contemporary artist that you're nonetheless highly partial to, from Robert Barry, author of  The Music of the Future

"Think of all your favourite songs by Scritti Politti, Grace Jones, Mylène Farmer, Adele Bertei, Wham!. Now imagine that none of the people who wrote those songs really wrote those songs. Imagine they all ripped them off – the melodies, the rhythms, the sound, the feel, the lot. Imagine it was all stolen from some other artist, some obscure studio-bound hermit without the looks and the money and the record label pull. Imagine some baroque conspiracy to have the music of that original artist suppressed. Every copy of their work deleted and pulped. Just one third gen copy remaining, buried in a ditch for decades, then finally dug up, a little warped, a little grimy. Do you ever hear a record and feel like it's been made just for you?"

He's talking about an outfit called Mirage, in the Quietus Best Albums of 2021 roundup (although it's actually a sample from his longer review for tQ in April)

It reminds me a bit of Playgroup's 2002 album, showing that retro cycles are themselves going in circles now... 

I rather like I must admit - have a listen 

That trick - where the earlier, actual influence / source, can be made to sound like they're the one that's derivative of a chronologically later group - it doesn't happen often but when it does, it's eerie

Modernist Churches


an amuse-bouche for the pictorial contents of this... 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

new Position Normal single!


"Godfathers of hauntology" Position Normal return with a new single out today - "Lite Bites" - on the Swedish label Bibliotek

Apparently it's a taster for a series of EPs!

See also post from a few months ago about intriguing PosNorm driblets on YouTube hinting a return to activity... 

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Omni solo

My teenage s.f. fiend self would have been well chuffed and seriously impressed if I could have peered into the Phuture and seen my own childspawn writing for Omni  

(albeit a revival of that publication launched by Adidas)

(and that said, I'm not sure I ever bought or read a copy of Omni but I certainly ogled the covers)

The original Omni seems to come from a point in late 20th Century when the idea of the future / outer space  - or at least the graphic language attached to it - is edging into tackiness.... NASA becoming naffer by the year

the imagery and attendant hopes 'n' dreams appealing still to the unjaded and earnest, but sophisticated taste slipping deeper into the retro

Friday, October 29, 2021

ghost slavery (the revenant meme)

Seem to be on the verge of meme-isis with "ghost slavery" which pops up regularly when the subject of pop holograms of deceased performers gets an airing

viz, this Washington Post piece on the profitable afterlife of Whitney Houston by Steven Zeitchik

interestingly if you flick through the comments below the article, the vast majority find the whole phenom creepy, morbid, unsettling, exploitative

it is the ultimate expression of Momus's retro necro

here are choice portions of the WashPost piece, with incredulous outbursts from me in BOLD

"The Grammy-winning legend died more than nine years ago. But in Las Vegas beginning this week, Houston took the stage with a complement of breathing performers, shimmying and shimmering and of course singing some of the most famous pop songs of all time in “An Evening With Whitney,” a live concert with a Houston hologram.

"This is what Pat Houston, her sister-in-law and manager, wants; this is what BASE Hologram, run by the former Clear Channel executive Brian Becker, wants. Soon enough, we will find out if this is what America wants — whether we crave Houston in colorful regalia on a buzzing stage, delighting audiences as she did so often when she was alive, ascending us to new heights of afterlife performance, or, maybe, just plummeting us straight into the uncanny valley.

"The show in many ways shatters the norms of techno-illusion. A two-minute deep fake is one thing. The dead dancing for us is another.

"“I don’t see it as resurrecting the dead but as celebrating a life,” said Becker over Zoom last week, pushing back, a little. “We want to build a great live show around her.”

"The “live show” is made up of a four-piece band and four dancers. “Her” is a computer-generated face of the singer in her prime that has been digitally grafted to an actress body-double, choreographed and shot months ago and now projected onto a scrim. Nothing on performance night can go wrong.

".... Several performances were held in the United Kingdom in early 2020, before lockdowns did to its star what death could not. The pause gave BASE and the creative team time to regroup, and now they are back with an open-ended, $80-a-pop run in Sin City.

"If all goes well, a tour will follow in 2023, delivering Hologram Whitney to one American road stop after another. 

"... The singer walks around the stage, she salutes the band and crowd, she slinks and dances, all in a dynamic, human-seeming performance. Oh, and there are wardrobe changes.

"... Holograms are not new in pop music. Nine years ago, at Coachella, Tupac appeared, via an old trick known as “Pepper’s Ghost.” (Technically, it’s an optical illusion.) They popped up again last year after Kanye West gave Kim Kardashian the holographic gift of her late father.

"They’re also not new to BASE, which has had hologram tours with Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison and Maria Callas.

"Some see exploitation in conjuring dead performers by hologram — “ghost slavery,” the journalist Simon Reynolds has termed it — either by damaging their supernal essence or by simply forcing technology to stand them up again and again on stages they never meant to grace. In America, you cannot defame the dead. But you can overwork them seven shows a week in a Vegas club.

"Pat Houston objects. She sees the production as a dream realized — a chance for a person to do in the virtual afterlife what she could not do while on earth.

"“Whitney would have loved the size of the venues and the ability to be in a smaller, more intimate setting,” Pat Houston wrote in an email. “Whitney’s touring was of course so massive when she was alive that she was playing arenas and stadiums and Super Bowls. But we often discussed the smaller venues and the ability to connect with an audience. She grew up singing in the church, so the connection to an audience was so important to her. She would have loved this show for its ability to be intimate with an audience.” INTIMATE!?!? YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING

"Becker points out that it would be hard to call it exploitation when the estate is involved creatively and sharing in the profits. HUH? THAT'S THE POINT, THE FAMILY CUSTODIANS ARE MILKING IT

"Reynolds also sees in the form a kind of disruption to the music ecosystem, since instead of new artists rising when old ones die, the old ones never clear out.

"The show offers a chance for people who never saw Houston in concert to do so. But their language is not yet developed. When the image pauses before a song, claps cheer her on.

"“It’s weird — like, you can’t encourage a hologram,” said Becker. (If the Whitney tour works, he has plans for other icon shows, estates-permitting; he also envisions living artists appearing by hologram in multiple cities on the same night.)  OLIGOPOLY AHOY!

"The social-media backlash has been noisy. Becker theorizes it is the boldness of the experiment, but something more primal may be at work: Seeing a late icon vital again reminds us of the thin line between life and death.

"To contemplate the Whitney Houston hologram is to feel instantly better about life — how nice to be reminded so viscerally of all we once loved — while also coming face-to-face with the uncomfortable truth at its center: It all goes away. Technology’s tempting of mortal physics touches deep.

"Harris’s experience is that the crowd softens as the show moves on. “They’re very quiet at the beginning, like, ‘how are we supposed to react to this?’ And then a few songs in they’re clapping and getting into it,” he said. “By the guitar solos, they’re cheers-ing and crying.”

"This, of course, is the goal. Watching Houston, we are meant to slip, if only momentarily, into the ecstasy of her presence, her talent, her alive-ness...." NO PRESENCE, NO LIFE, HERE!

Saturday, October 16, 2021

"I have vintage interests, but modern values" - the Nineties time capsule man

 via this Dissensus thread on 'The Meaning of the '90s',  a Daily Mail story about a "retro-obsessed man" who spent "£5,000 transforming his home into a time capsule complete with retro TVs, pine furniture, landline phones and a very chunky laptop.... complete with dated Ikea furniture, VHS players, telephone alarm clocks."

"Jack Walter, 23, from Bakewell, Derbyshire...  even drives a 'G reg' Austin Mini Metro.  The illustrator often scours charity shops and eBay while wearing high-waisted Levi jeans and Sweater Shop jumpers and says he finds comfort in the era and hoped to recreate the 'cosiness' of his parents' house from when he was a child - though he admits people think he's 'mad' for not enjoying the present day.

"And due to living in the countryside, he claims his 90s phone with extendable aerial ensures he gets better signal than his mobile phone.

"'I never really enjoyed modern decorating with all the greys. It didn't have the homey quality, and I wanted to replicate that.

"'When we moved into this current house two years ago, it was super bland and white. 

"Jack loves nothing more than watching TV shows from the era such as Absolutely Fabulous, Men Behaving Badly and The Vicar Of Dibley and 'always' plays his Now That's What I Call Music cassette tapes.

"Other photos show his home full of Ikea catalogues from 1997, old Nokia phones and a bulky, square laptop displaying Windows '95.

"He believes the 90s had the 'perfect balance of enough technology to keep us entertained, but not enough to feel like an overload' - though he admits he has to explain what his VHS tapes are to younger relatives.

"Sharing videos of his time capsule home on TikTok where he 'pretends it's the 90s' has earned him more than 5,000 followers as people have fallen in love with his obsession and he's met other fans.

""I'm probably at the charity shop once every two weeks, and I probably spend about £30 max,' he added.

"'The most expensive item I've probably brought is my 1980s television in my living room. 

"'That was £155. Not that expensive really, but for an old TV, people think I'm mad. A friend told me I probably could have gotten one from the tip.

"''I decided to share my house on TikTok initially because I was bored in lockdown and wanted to have a bit of fun.

"'Then I had a lot of people saying they remembered a lot of the items in my house, and that they feel the same way about the 90s.

"'There was a nice feel to it too, knowing that I'm not a weird person and other people enjoy this stuff too.

"Jack lives in the three-bedroom cottage with his parents and his partner of two years, Matthew Whiting, 28.

"For Jack, who admits he used to get 'funny looks' for wearing his 90s jeans, the decade offers an escape from modern life whilst also accommodating a lot of his interests.

"Jack's phone is pictured. He says 'I love my home telephone. I live out in the sticks, so I get awful mobile phone signal. A home telephone works for me

"Jack said: 'In the 1990s, we had enough technology to keep us entertained, but not enough to feel like an overload. Now we have so many different media outlets that it can get a little overwhelming. It's nice to have an escape from that.

"'I have my old television hooked up to an Apple TV which is hidden around the back. I have loads of old taped TV programs on YouTube.

"'But I also enjoy videos of series like Absolutely Fabulous, Men Behaving Badly and The Vicar Of Dibley.

"'At a push, I'd say my favourite item is probably my radio-alarm clock-telephone. It's very mundane, but I always feel a bit glam taking calls from my bedroom.

" 'I love 90s music. I always play the Now That's What I Call Music cassette tapes from 1998 to 1999. It's very 'Mum music'.

"'I obviously love the Spice Girls too - Gerri Halliwell being my favourite.

"'I'd say that any point between 1996 and 1999 is my favourite era for decor and music.

"'It's an escape from the modern world. Some people go to the gym, some play video games, this is my thing.

"'My partner is massively into video games, so he has all the original Nintendo consoles. We overlap in our interests there, so that's nice.'

"Jack said: 'I usually get one of three reactions from people when they come around and see my house.

"'There'll be some people who get nostalgic and remember things from my house from living through the 1990s.

"'Then you get people like my niece. She's only young so it's all new to her and she didn't believe that my phone or telephone worked. I had to explain to her what a VHS was.

"'And I get some people who walk in and don't get it at all. They think I'm mad, and they'll ask why I'm not enjoying what we have now.

"'They'll say that I should buy new things as they're better quality. In my opinion, it's cheaper for me to live like this and everything in my house has a story. They last a lot longer too.

"'I'll have some people online who will tell me it's not accurate. They'll say 'That TV is from the 80s, it's not 90s'. I think people forget that back in the day, people bought things to last.'

"Jack said: 'I do get some funny looks when I'm out dressed in a 40-year-old Sweater Shop jumper.

"'Some fashion trends from the 90s are coming back around, whilst others aren't. I've had people say to me 'It looks like your jeans are back in fashion', because when everyone was wearing skinny jeans, I was wearing high-waisted Levi's. People thought I was a bit weird for doing that.

"There's definitely a lot of people online who share my interests. I even met a mate online who has a house that is completely 70s.

"'I know I probably wouldn't have fit in during the 90s though. Being a gay man and having no internet, I probably wouldn't have met my partner. Gay men weren't portrayed in the media at all.

"'I have vintage interests, but modern values.' 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

pre-echoes of Retromania (3 of ??)

(This was the title I submitted the piece under - the Graun used something else)


The Guardian (1990)

by Simon Reynold

 "1990: A New Decade". So proclaimed the title of the second Soul II Soul album earlier this summer. But just as much as being the year of the Manchester explosion and the indie/dance crossover groups, of a new vibrancy and a sense of anticipation in the UK pop scene, 1990 has also been the year of... just about every other year in pop history.

     Launched last month, new rock monthly Vox is a concerted and calculated attempt to lock into the retro-Zeitgeist. Like its rival Select (which was launched earlier in the summer), Vox is aimed at a "twentysomething" market midway between the highly-committed, gig-going readership of the weekly music press, and the sedentary, partially-lapsed, semi-detached rock fans who read Q. Q's constituency is those who want to read about 'dinosaur bands' (Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Phil Collins, Clapton etc) who are still "going strong" in their third decade.  Vox, on the other hand, is less concerned with "living institutions" than with relics: the myths, memorabilia, and above all highly collectable music of Rock's Glory Years.

 Vox is targetted at a readership that divides its time equally between stockpiling the past pinnacles of rock history and keeping abreast of the latest developments.  Each issue of Vox contains a "free" magazine called "Record Hunter", which is aimed at the trainspotter types that are the backbone, the silent mediocrity, of the music press readership: collectors, curators, completists, fact-compilers. "Record Hunter" includes such anal retentive treats as: guided tours of the collections of stars (this month, the Jesus and Mary Chain) who are fanatics themselves; a paean to the collectability and "audiophile" quality of Japanese pressings;histories of the Two Tone label and The Doors' first year;comprehensive reviews of the latest reissues; a guide to record fairs; a column where readers write in with queries about discographies and related trivia.

     If this wasn't enough, the main body of "Vox" displays a pronounced retro-warp. The first issue contains: a completist's appetite-whetter of an article on legendary "lost albums" (e.g. The Beach Boys "Smile", Prince's "Black Album", Bruce Springsteen's electric version of 'Nebraska); a beginner's guide to blues pioneer Robert Johnson; a piece about Bob Dylan's eccentric studio behaviour based around anecdotes related by his former collaborators; Part One of a 'cut out and keep' Encyclopaedia of Rock; classic shots of The Stones and The Clash; 50 Things You Never Knew A James Dean.

     For those of you thought rock'n'roll was all about the exhiliration of living in the present tense, about cutting loose from the ties of the past and burning up like there's no tomorrow, all this necrophilia might seem like the final proof of rock's advanced state of rigor mortis.  But the makers of 'Vox' have shrewdly grasped the fact that there's a substantial market of young rock fans who feel they've got a lot of catching up to do. For neophyte rock consumers, the 10 or so outstanding records of each new year, compete with the 10 "classics" of each of the 30 years of pop history. The present just can't compete with the past. Not only is it outnumbered, but it is fighting a losing battle with more exciting eras, periods when rock seemed to be in some kind of direct altercation with the outside world.  Consumers who invest heavily in old Stones, Hendrix or Velvet Underground records are buying into myth: they are pledging allegiance to a golden age when rock seemed transformative or subversive rather than simply self-reflexive.

     For all the rhetoric about a New Age, a new "positivity" and hope for the future, 1989 and 1990 have been dominated by the "re"prefix. There have been REformations: Crosby Stills Nash, The Allman Brothers, The Buzzcocks, The Byrds, The Turtles, rumours of Velvet Underground and Stooges REunions, plus David Bowie's Greatest Hits tour.  There have been REturns to form by old codgers and spent forces: Brian Wilson, Neil Young, Lou Reed and John Cale, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead.  There's been REtrospection: a series of tribute albums to artists like Hendrix, Young, The Stones, Byrds, or labels like Elektra, with their classic songs being covered by young bands.  Every year sees a fresh spate of anniversaries with their attendant glut of memoirs, biographies, documentaries and biopics. Above all there's the fact that back catalogue classics, RE-issued obscurites, and "best of" compilations (e.g. Led Zeppelin and Simple Minds' upcoming deluxe editions) now account for a hefty proportion of record sales.

     Even dance music, allegedly the most happening sector of the UK dance scene, relies to a  disproportionate degree on cover versions of classics. In the last month alone, the charts has harboured Adamski's version of "All Shook Up", Soup Dragons' cover of The Stones' "I'm Free", Bombalurina's "Itshy Witsy Polka Dot Bikini", Lindy Layton's "Silly Games", Beats International's "Just Be Good To Be Me", ad nauseam.  Even Happy Mondays, who have many claims to being the most "contemporary" and "street credible" band of the day, had their first big hit with a cover of the Seventies boogie stomper "Step On You Again", while their next single is a version of Donovan's "Colours".

     Of course, the REworking and REmotivation of elements of its own history, has long been the name of the game in pop, and goes back at least as far as Bowie's glam post-modernism in the early Seventies. But now it's the norm, oppressively.  Virtually all new groups invite you to play the reference game.  The only scope for originality lies in the use of recondite source material, or incongruous juxtapositions.  At best, this can be witty and moving: e.g the David Lynch-esque retro-nuevo rock'n'roll of The Pixies, or Primal Scream's "Loaded" (a cross between "Sympathy For The Devil" and house). At worst, the stench of deja vu is overpowering.   

Of course, for young recruits to the ranks of pop consumerism, the appeal of rock's past isn't nostalgia, because they were only a twinkle in their parents' eyes at the time. The past is just one of a range of options that the record industry profitably services, as part of the new "boutique" approach to record retailing (a plethora of genres and taste publics rather than a mainstream).  Magazines like Vox are designed to be handy consumer guides through this post-modern 'mire of options', where the great anxiety is to avoid missing out on any source of pleasure, past or present.

    Vox reflects the fact that rock has degenerated into something to collect, something to document, rather than an ongoing cultural project. Rock is dying of CONSUMPTION.  There's a vast heap of stuff to check out, get into, purchase, but what's been lost is a sense of the big picture, of meaning and direction. Rock is disappearing up its own back passages. For good?

Monday, October 4, 2021

pre-echoes of Retromania (2 of ??)


(from 2001, Unfaves,  off the old website A White Brit Rave Aesthete Thinks Aloud)

I was enjoying the Avalanches show at SOBs, NYC, late 2001: not the full band playing live, but the two DJs doing their mesh-it-up back-2-back across four (or was it six?) turntables thingy. Really enjoying it, actually, but somehow through the pleasure I could sense what I can only describe as "lameness on the horizon". The set was consistently surprising and clever, full of delightfully incongruous-yet-apt juxtapositions and montages, all executed with consummate turntablist skill. You couldn't help smiling when "Like A Rolling Stone" surfaced out of the midst of some banging house track, like nothing could be more natural.

But as I say, there was something vaguely disquieting at the back of it, a premonition of disappointment, ennui, sort of "is that all there is?" mixed with "how much longer can this kind of thing carry on being exciting/worthwhile/surprising." At the end of the day, everybody's got cool records, everybody's got interesting taste and provocative ideas about links and secret connections. (Well, not everybody, perhaps-- but most people I know, and most people reading this, I suspect). In a certain sense, everybody could do what The Avalanches do--maybe not with anything approaching their degree of flawless dexterity, but then again, seamlessness is over-rated, donchathink?.

I felt a similar split response to Gold Teeth Thief, DJ Rupture's highly-regarded three-turntable mix-CD, which mashes up a taste formation that's right on the money vis-a-vis my personal audio-erogenous zones (post-Timbaland R&B, street rap, dancehall) spiced up with some Ambush-style splatterbreaks and bhangra for nice non-obviousness. It's a great selection, and technically dazzling, but once again, doesn't quite transcend the hey-I've-got-some-wicked-tunes-wanna-hear-em? syndrome. (Coldcut's celebrated Journeys By DJ mix-CD of many seasons ago, always left me underwhelmed for similar reasons. i.e. the ultimate lameness of "eclectic" as concept/praise word).

Sort of on the same tip, and inducing a similar ambivalence, are all those Kid606-and-friends homage-through-defacement/dismemberment jobs on Missy Elliott, NWA etc: these are well-intended expressions of genuine enthusiasm for mainstream black pop, and because that music is often underestimated and patronised within IDM circles, there's a certain heretical-polemical edge to these releases. And yet in the end all they're really saying is we really REALLY like these Missy Elliott records. Plus there's a certain pathos to the tribute-cum-desecrations: if only we could be this cool, if only we could pull off the avant-garde yet massively popular/potent balancing act too.
Now wouldyabelieveit, in the interval between starting Unfaves early in the New Year and actually completing the bugger, an entire subculture, nay movement, has sprung up that gives my premonition of lameness-on-the-horizon all-too-solid form. I'm talking about the bootleg/"bastard pop" craze, of course.

Well, that was my initial knee-jerk reaction, and having checked out some of them, it's only been slightly tempered: reams of poor man's plunderphonia, cackhanded and so-very-far-from-alchemy (ie. the kind of transubstantiation which the Avalanches's actual album achieves), leavened by the occasional mass-cult chimera (The Normal + Missy Elliott = Girls On Top's "Warm Bitch") that sounds genuinely striking and even makes an interesting meta-pop critique by linking two apparently remote yet secretly compatible artists.

It's tempting to speculate wildly on the phenomenon. Bootlegging as the expression of subconscious ressentiment on the part of the peon-like punter, a desire to somehow cut down to size the tyrannical uber-pop that invades our consciousness, literally fucking with it by forcing pop stars into kinky congress (a preview of the inevitable D-I-Y movie-remixes to come: Cameron Diaz fisting Brad Pitt while he reams a donkey, etc). Bootlegging as a reversal of the monologic vertical structure of the music industry: the force-fed consumer answering back, with regurgitation. Or (a more positive punk interpretation, this) bootlegging as an attempt to participate in pop, which is otherwise delivered from on high, totally out of reach and inaccessible; the DIY impulse achieving that million-dollar sound the only way it can, theft.

Actually, the fad seems driven by little more than the age-old phenomenon of fandom: people who like music, all sorts of music, and the only way they can think to express that all-gates-open (a nice way of saying "uncritical"?) enthusiasm is through arranging it into different patterns, except now they have the technology to do it in a much more extreme way, and live in a time more inundated by pop past and present than ever. Bootleg as more compressed form of the mix-tape-for-your-mate, in other words. Take Osymyso's "Intro Inspection"--a witty and expertly executed montage of hundreds of famous pop intros, from "The Message" to "Love Cats", Sinatra to Spice Girls. It is possibly the zenith of the bootleg phenomenon, if only because in 12 minutes it manages to cram in all the enjoyment and all the incipient-lameness-ahoy! that the Avalanches DJs mustered across a three hour set. It's impossible to listen to "Intro Inspection" without a fat grin creasing your face for most of its duration, and also impossible (for me at least) to not feel a certain shame tainting the glee. Cos that Cheshire grin is a smile of recognition ("oh, yeah that's X... isn't that Y... ah!...nice!"...) and as sensations-that-pop-music-can-induce go, it's all a bit cosy and self-congratulatory and selling yourself short.

Not wishing to resurrect some ancient notion of creativity ex nihilo, but underlying and unifying all the above, I sense a tendency towards entropy: indistinctness, inertia, ultimately indifference. Whether it's good (Since I Left You) or bad (most bootlegs), what we're witnessing is the kind of sonic grand bouffe only possible during a late era. Could it be that the age of retro-mania/file-sharing/sampladelia--where time has effectively been abolished--enables us to use the abundance of the past to obscure the failings and lacks of the present? Well, it's a thought...


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

NOW-ism - Nik Cohn and George Melly's thoughts on youth culture

from Nik Cohn's Today There Are No Gentlemen, a shadow history of social change in the UK as reflected in men's clothing

cf this earlier post about George Melly's Revolt into Style and youth culture's NOW-ism


What I commented then

When a few years ago I first read these passages from George Melly's Revolt Into Style -- specifically
 the lines about pop culture being "the country of 'Now'" and the insistence that youth “denies having any history. The words 'Do you remember' are the filthiest in its language" , but the other stuff too, pages of it -- I thought, "yes, yes, this is me, this is where I'm coming from".was written in the late Sixties (seemingly between the end of 1966 and early 1968)  * so it's about the Sixties, with a little bit on the Fifties-as-Sixties-prequel, the lead up to the Sixties. And really it's about the early-to-mid Sixties: that neophiliac surge,  1963-1967, the youth-affluence-confidence drive to jettison-the-imperial-British-past (the Victoriana and Edwardiana of psychedelia is not nostalgic, Melly argues convincingly but blithely iconolastic, making a merry nonsense of jingoism and propriety and stiff 'n' starched formality - that's the meaning of the Lord Kitchener poster, the brass bed-frame wheeled around London in The Knack, shops like Granny Takes A Trip and I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet).

Born in 1963, I assimilated all this through my pores as a small kid, as sense-impressions, absorbing by osmosis the cultural-myth-in-process -- Beatles movies on TV , "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "All You Need Is Love" and "I Am the Walrus" heard on the radio, mini-skirts and hot pants and hippie hair in the streets, Dee Time on teevee. And then in the Seventies I  solidified and fortified this ideology through my pre-teen and early teen cultural choices: Monty Python and satire of various kinds;  science fiction of the New Worlds / inner space kind. Comedy (the post-Goons, absurdist-surrealist-taboo-busting kind I gravitated towards) and the mind-expanding and consciousness-raising sort of s.f. (i.e. anti-fantasy, the absolute opposite of sword'n'sorcery Tolkien-in-space) were both part of the same Liberation current in which music played such a huge and central role during the Sixties.

And then when I got into music, it was the renovated version of that ideology (postpunk ) that I embraced, while equally discovering and exploring the Sixties as very recent and still to some extent unfolding history (I devoured Playpower, The Making of a Counterculture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition, The Dialectic of Sex, Life Against Death and Love's Body, Leaving the 20th Century: The Incomplete Work of the Situationist International, The Female Eunuch, Bomb Culture, etc etc... watched If... etc etc...   listened to The Doors, the Stones, and now with conscious ears, The Beatles).

A child, a creature, of the Sixties -- that's me.

There are those now who would say the ideas and the ideals, the epistemic horizon of thought and sensibility, represented by that vague term "the Sixties" (really a blurry longer period from the mid- Fifties through to the mid Seventies, with its after-echoes and resurgences that  include postpunk, bliss-rock, and rave), they would say it was all illusion, all delusion. Unrealistic. The cultural superstructure to an unsustainable substructure of prosperity and growth fueled by cheap energy and big-spending governments dedicated to long term exploratory projects.  A bubble.

But for better or worse, it's been the wind beneath my wings, the energy that has propelled me through all I've done.  It's my make-up, my make-believe. Too late to get off that bus now.  The process of identity-formation is complete!

I do wonder what generative power the current "everything is a remix"/"nothing new under the sun" episteme will prove to have over the long term -  rooted as it is in an insidious downscaling-of-expectations, an implicit defeatism. Recycling might be sound and sensible, but it doesn't promise to be spectacular.

* Of course Melly is "wrong", in the sense that his insistence that pop is inherently anti-nostalgic and intrinsically forward-looking / present-focused would be disproved very soon indeed. His "country of Now" claim in Revolt Into Style is deployed again the section on trad jazz, which he argues was never  a true pop phenomenon, despite its exuberant energy and informality,  because a/ it wasn't the exclusive property of youth and b/ it was a a revival. But by the time Revolt gets into the bookshops, pop is deep into its own revival - the Fifties rock'n'roll revival -- proving that pop has an inherent capacity to fold back on itself, succumb to nostalgia for its own youth, the era of its emergence.  Melly didn't see that coming. (Nor did he envsion the "historical turn" represented by The Band, Fairport Convention, et al - where the past is not turned into a plaything, but is taken seriously).  Nonetheless I think Melly is right to identify the Now!ist, neophiliac, generative-not-reiterative side of pop's soul as its primary motor. Certainly the  righteous side of its soul, the side worth siding with.


The full pages from Nik Cohn's Today There Are No Gentlemen

Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Defile Council

How come I missed this? Last year Paul Weller only went and wrote a new song superimposed over my equal-first favorite Belbury Poly tune, "The Willows" - with full permission from and a publishing split to Mr. Jupp. It appeared on his solo album of last year On Sunset

Unfortunately, despite good intentions, the outcome is ghastly not ghostly.  A shame after the rather good Weller EP on Ghost Box. Somewhere between conception and execution, it went awry, to put it mildly. 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Hauntology Parish Newsletter: Position Normal!

Jon Dale pointed me to a flurry of new tracks from Position Normal, the first substantial activity since the third full-length, the self-titled album of 2009.

Initially I was somewhat thrown by the ultrapristine digital sound - so different from the age-faded analogue aesthetic of Stop Your Nonsense and Goodly Time, that worn cassette, fusty-musty aura that triggered the memoradelic regions of the brain.... 

But Matthew Ingram's instant enthusiasm made me return and he's right, it's totally got the old Chris Bailiff magic, which he's somehow soaked and stained through the software of now -  all the affordances in sound quality and tricksy detailing that come with it - so that the outcomes are still bent, creaky, haunty.

Matt has usefully corraled the tunes into a playlist  

You can also check them out at Soundcloud - where there are also earlier tunes from 2 years, 4 years, even 7 years ago....  one is called "Sketch for Album 4"...  that phase of stuff is very ambient  and minimalist, far from song

In his recent Woebot newsletter (you can subscribe here) which bears the title "Lorra Music", Matt writes a lovely appreciation of Position Normal and the new batch o' tunes -  rightly highlighting "Book Looks" as a particular gem, with Chris Bailiff's voice gorgeously mushmumbled, the lyric evoking a man who loves the smell of his own house and the people in it  (ambiguously poised - is it a homebody hymn to the mammalian continuum and that primal snuggling drive to make a dwelling? Or a PiL's "No Birds Do Sing"-style barb against the Englishman's castle idea?). 

Matt writes: 

"pn2021 is done with all the fuzzy analogue stylings and is clear like Listerine. That just makes the preciousness of the tip-toeing sonics more pronounced. Everything is painstakingly wonky and, such is Chris's laudable detachment, built on borrowed equipment. Just try making music as lopsided on today's DAWs - the time and care required to create this kind of spontaneity is mind-blowing."

One of the other tracks Matt singles out, "Lite Bites", seems to have already disappeared, mysteriously. As has one of my own faves from when I last looked - "Bondrun", which sneakily weaves in part of the theme tune to the '70s kids TV show How.  I wonder why - did Chris take fright, grow self-conscious at the sudden "upsurge" in interest? 

At any rate, hasten ye to check the stuff out. 

In the newsletter, which rounds up a bunch of interesting this-parish-and-adjacent releases, including an excellent cassette from Xylitol that I have been meaning to big up, Matt proposes - or rather seeps up from his unconscious  - a genre-not-genre term for this disparate field of low-key activity:

" I was amused when one came to me in a dream: krumble. Where in the nineties and onwards glitch once worked as a useful catchall - now this kind of music is not "futuristic" or in thrall to its digital nature, but rather organic and, like the fabric of western society, decaying. Decaying in a comely, small but rather delicious way..."

krumble - love it!

Matt also directs to an elegy (premature, it now seems) that he wrote for Position Normal earlier this very year, at Discogs...

"Properly divining that the true spirit of the most inventive dance tracks was DIY bedroom music they proceeded to make an eccentric and lo-fi music with rock's palate. Not for Chris Bailiff the sheen and gloss of Seefeel, Tortoise and Broadcast. Bailiff was a fan of Ralph Records' weirdo Snakefinger (a UK expat) and the waning format of the C90 cassette - but his sensibility was pure 1999. Only The Streets' Mike Skinner, a couple of years later in 2001, came as close to defining how it felt to be in the UK at the turn of the century - deconstructed and, if not homesick, timesick.

For all the patina of supposed amateurishness Position Normal's recordings have the exquisitely crafted soundscapes of productions thousands of times their budget. There's a sensitivity to sound here bred of "redeye" 4-in-the-morning sessions; of poring over nuances. All his records are masterpieces and blessed with a delightful tunefulness and charm which entirely escapes most of the desiccated Arts-Council-funded pabulum which clogs up the avant-garde mainstream. Buy."

timesick - love it!

Listening and pondering again the magic of Position Normal, I remembered two things:

1/ I have never heard the precursor-to-Poz stuff, by Bugger Sod. Anyone able to help a feller out? 

2/ I have never ever interviewed Chris Bailiff, which seems a bit remiss, given that Stop Your Nonsense was my favorite album of 1999*, but perhaps reviewing it twice felt like enough at the time, and the opportunity never presented again. Perhaps if Album 4 becomes  more than a sketch, who knows...   

* Funnily enough, with a number of artists whose albums were my ab fav of that particular year, I have never written anything substantial about them - not a feature, but sometimes not even a review. Rangers, Micachu and the Shapes, Metronomy, eMMplekz... Black Moth Super Rainbow just had a very short review ...  A strange state of affairs, really... But then perhaps I was busy doing a book, or maybe I was unconsciously driven to keep the pleasure of listening to them entirely separate from the drudgery of journalism... or even from having to try to come up with some kind of definitive set of ideas about why I liked it so much...  

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

early 2000s memestalgia

 “Technologically impressive, hyper-digital spectacles that viewers admire purely because they are so unintelligible… Creators speed up, distort, saturate, stretch, or mutate these pieces of media to maximize the ludicrousness… What was once cringe has now become cool again."

Kieran Press-Reynolds at Insider on the retro-absurdist meme collages currently infesting TikTok - early 2000s nostalgia already... .

Also contains a potted history of early stages of meme-faddery during the 21st Century so far, including Youtube poops and MLG montage parody.

Friday, August 6, 2021

It Ain't Retro?

Excerpt at Billboard from a new book about the Dap-Kings and Daptone Records. Intro snippet:

"It Ain't Retro: Daptone Records & The 21st-Century Soul Revolution...  tells the story of the iconic Daptone label, and the international revivalist funk/soul scene it helped inspire in the 2000s and beyond. Here, in a passage from the book, author Jessica Lipsky takes us through how the label's house band, the Dap-Kings, came to play on one of the most beloved albums of the 21st century -- Amy Winehouse's 2006 LP Back to Black -- and the impact, both good and bad, that the soul-pop set's success had on the Daptone family...."

"It Ain't Retro"? 

The title invites rejoinders along the line of... 

"You sure about that?"

"Pull the other one, mate!"

"If Dap-Kings ain't retro, then who, pray, qualifies?"

"Oh but it is, it most assuredly is"

and so on... 

Appearances can be deceiving but in this case... it is what is says on the tin

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Never say Dio

Andrew Parker drew my attention to more hologram action - in this case Ronnie James Dio's widow's work in keeping her husband's legend alive after death

There had been a hologram that featured as part of tour by Dio's Disciples, comprised of former members of Dio's band.

 But future plans are on hold, says Wendy Dio, because it's all a bit shonky as far as she's concerned. 

"I just think that the fans would prefer to see Ronnie as being really Ronnie instead of a hologram."

So instead there's a new project "incorporating archival footage of her late husband into a concert setting... I'm working on some special effects of stuff with Ronnie. It's a film, of Ronnie, not a hologram..."

This sent me on a little journey with Ronnie, whose eminence in the metal canon somewhat mystifies me (the mystifyingly titled Holy Diver is considered Top 20 G.O.A.T apparently) (I have actually seen Dio live, when given the short-straw assignment of reviewing Castle Donington in '87). 

During this brief research foray, I came across this too-good-to-be-true story - especially given that before fronting Rainbow and Sabbath, Dio had fronted the group Elf: 

"In September 2003, he accidentally severed his thumb during a gardening accident when a heavy garden gnome fell onto it. Dio was concerned he would no longer be able to do his signature metal horns hand gesture, but a doctor managed to re-attach it."

Can it possibly be true?