Tuesday, September 26, 2023

"cluttered with regurgitations"

A piece by Chal Ravens at DJ mag asks "what is the future of sampling"?

The first half  is more about the present (the craze for edits on the dance scene and bootleg tracks that rip from well-known pop songs) and even more so about the past of sampling. Indeed it's a bit of a samplescape itself, with loads of quotes (including one from Kieran!) and some fairly familiar history (stuff about the Akai MPC, court cases in the early '90s).

Gets really interesting in the second half when it looks at the artistic potential and cultural implications of AI.

Like the STEMS technology that enables producers and deejays to cleanly separate the instruments within a sampled stretch of music. (Similar AI demixing technology enabled the remixing of Beatles albums where the four-track technology of the era had meant that tracks had been bounced down, smushing together instrumental parts inseparably - until now)

Then there's software that can "generate entire songs based on text descriptions" like Riffusion . "Through text prompts, the model can find the midpoint between otherwise unrelated sounds — what’s between, say, Goa trance and Don Cherry’s trumpet? Ask Riffusion and it’ll spit out a sample that imagines exactly that, despite the impossibility of making the “real” thing.". 

Then there's deepfake raps, where a producer can generate a convincing simulacrum of a guest feature by a star artist - not quoting an existing performance and redeploying (as with jungle borrowing bits of dancehall and gangsta rap) but creating an all-new performance in another's style. 

I wondered though - do either of those really count as sampling? Aren't they more like AI-assisted pastiche, or AI-assisted impersonation, or AI-assisted identity-theft? 

The text-to-audio stuff seems like it's outsourcing the kind of zany hybridization that supergroup initiators like Bill Laswell liked to do. Or wackily eclectic genre-colliders like. I don't know, Primus, that kind of band. The creativity reduces to thinking up the goofy idea;  the craft of implementing it is left to the technology.  But as Jaron Lanier says piquantly in the piece, the struggle to realise an unlikely or adventurously preposterous idea is the point:  “Would you want robots to have sex for you so you don’t have to? I mean, what is life for?”  

Likewise the things that Holly Herndon have done with training a vocal entity by feeding it human singing seem so far removed in process, intent and outcome from sampling as audio-quote that it doesn't really make sense to think of Spawn et al in the same breath as mash-ups and collages. 

Ditto patten's deployment of " text-to-audio AI samples from Riffusion, a model based on a database of sonograms" on Mirage FM. This feels more like a convoluted form of synthesis than a citational mode in the tradition of Pop Art / Appropriation Art. A couple of steps beyond Todd Edwards's sample choir into effectively sourceless ethereality. 


One thing worth noting is that until recently - the rash of interpolations and quotes in pop songs, driven by publishing companies looking to exploit assets to the utmost - overt sampling had become rather rare in mainstream pop. It was particularly noticeable with hip hop during the 2000s and 2010s: the whole historical branch of it based around the deejay-as-crate-digger became a niche underground aesthetic (Dilla being the most visible exponent). Probably the only major mainstream rap auteur still basing his thing around recognisable sample quotes during this period was Kanye. Whereas trap, for instance, hardly ever featured samples. When it did - Future's "Mask Off" with the use of an obscure soundtrack song, Migos clumsily deploying "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" -  it was striking, had a pronounced throwback feel. For the most part trap - and mainstream rap generally - in the 21st Century wasn't about breaks and loops;  it  involved programming beats, synths and keybs, and other elements assembled and organized within digital audio workstations. Beat-makers might still sometimes call themselves "DJ", but what they did had little relation to the deejay skill set. 

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Hauntology Parish Newsletter - Harvest Festival edition - Elizabeth Parker, The Stone Tape, Warrington-Runcorn New Town Development Plan, Kilkenny Electroacoustic Research Laboratory Anthology Vol. 2

Trunk Records recently put out a very nice compendium of short spooky works by long-term local resident Elizabeth Parkerwho'll be familiar to many parishioners from her volunteer work for the Radiophonic Workshop.  The vinyl long-player is called Future Perfect. And what an attractive cover! 

This piece in particular struck me as Caretaker-adjacent in theme and vibe if not texture and method

Release rationale 

Elizabeth Parker is a composer you may not have heard of until now. Well here she is, in all her musical glory, having worked for decades at the front line of British electronics, radiophonics, soundracks and more. This is an album full of musical ideas ahead of the curve, with contemporary technology that was to go on and very much shape the future of sound we know now. From classic tape loop techniques to modern sampling concepts you will find dark ambience, drones, beer adverts and drifts into space. This is the first ever Elizabeth Parker LP and represents (with 26 tracks) a very small retrospective of her extraordinarily prolific and commercial output. Not to be missed.

Ms. Parker back in the day being interviewed about soundtracking The Living Planet

An Electronic Sound interview with Parker, in which she talks about being "the last" Radiophonic composer and also her encounters with Delia Derbyshire. 

Sound on Sound interview about Parker's post-Workshop career 

Underscores and FX that aren't on the Trunk comp 


Something else BBC-vibed... 

Release rationale via Bandcamp:

Christmas Day 2022 marked 50 years since the original broadcast of the ground-breaking BBC supernatural thriller, 'The Stone Tape', written by Nigel Kneale.

In early 2023 Hidden Britain commissioned a group of UK based musicians to produce a new piece of work inspired by this extraordinary 1972 TV film.

The result is a 16 track tape compilation which blends reimagined theme tunes and Radiophonic incidental motifs with dark ambience and hauntological synth explorations.

The artists involved in this release come from some of the finest electronic and experimental labels currently operating in the UK, such as Wayside & Woodland, Clay Pipe, Castles in Space & Spun Out Of Control.

Out in late October, in an edition of 50. 

Limited edition C90 transparent cassette tape with foldout artwork inlay and exclusive sleeve notes by writer and comedian Stewart Lee. Also ships with an exclusive A3 Risograph print on 270gsm Colourset paper.


1. The British Stereo Collective - Written In Stone

2.The Hardy Tree - Chuffy

3.The Heartwood Institute - Taskerlands

4.The Night Monitor - It's In The Computer 02:57

5. Mike Dickinson - Brock's Prayer

6. SWLLWS - There Are Words

7. The Lost Past Society - We're Getting Data All The Time

8. Charles Vaughan - The Summoning

9. Warrington-Runcorn New Town Development Plan - Comparing The Properties Of Stone, Brick And Concrete 03:52

10. Drew Mulholland - The Strange Beyond

11. E.L. Heath - Whiston

12. The Soulless Party - Vigilamus

13. The Metamorph - The Uncertainty Principle

14. The Toy Library - Lethbridge

15. Nicholas Bullen - When They Return

16. The Twelve Hour Foundation - Time's Patina

Now one doesn't want to be a wet blanket - but isn't this kind of thing a teensy bit on the late side? 

Still, perhaps to expect hauntology to be timely, or to evolve, is to misunderstand the genre... ... it wouldn't shuffle off the scene punctually... it would malinger on, fixated on the same totems and  talismans... 

This appears to be Hidden Britain's first audio release - they are a company that sells "handmade signs and print from British Folk Horror and unsettling TV. Film and literature" [sic]. Again, can't help  wondering, looking over their product range, how such a settled canon could still unsettle... 


One of the contributors to The Stone Tape  - Warrington-Runcorn New Town Development Plan -  had a new record out last month, Building a New Town, on Castles in Space.

Release rationale:

"Recently found during the closure of New Town House, Warrington, these tapes formed part of the advertising by the Development Corporation in the early 1970s. Showcasing a more pastoral, rural idyll than the architecture might imply, this represented an opportunity for people from smoke grimed cities to escape into a greener, healthier setting."

The new towns claimed the perfect suburban life in a green paradise with spacious parks and tree-lined boulevards. This chimed with post-hippy ideals of returning to nature and living The Good Life. The music filters through period inspirations such as Pentangle, Mike Oldfield and early Tangerine Dream."

There was also this from earlier in the summer

Artwork for the previous releases:


A last minute addition to the newsletter  - the announcement of Vol. 2 of the Kilkenny Electroacoustic Research Laboratory Anthology! It's out on October 6th.

Check it out here

Release rationale: 

Kilkenny Electroacoustic Research Laboratory Anthology Vol. 2 – Raidió na hEorpa

This is the second volume of the Kilkenny Electroacoustic Research Laboratory Anthology, which is a music compilation anthology attempting to preserve the fictional history of a small composer community based in rural Ireland existing from the late 60’s until the late 80’s. The project is written by the Irish composer and artist Neil Quigley.

This second volume in the series is released as a compact disc and  an accompanying 50-page booklet contextualising the organisation and each of the selected tracks in probably too much detail. It is released on the record label Miúin.

Volume 2 of the anthology was influenced by a variety of Irish news stories and cultural ephemera, Alasdair Gray’s Lanark, Garry Shandling, and post-war electronic music of the U.S., U.K and Europe.


No videos as yet for the new compilation but here's some reminders of Vol. 1

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Good Citations (a syndrome identified)



I believe this singles review of Chapterhouse, from September 8th 1990, is when I more or less formulate the idea of "record collection rock". There had been earlier intimations I should imagine, when pondering Creation Records and Primal Scream, or when confronted with a Lenny Kravitz single in the heap each time it was my turn to do the Singles Page. But here I'm identifying it as a syndrome and an affliction that's a hallmark of the age. Records that are just "good bits" from an individual's vinyl archive. (Typo alert - "funny wah wah riffs" should be "funky wah wah riffs", although I quite like the idea of "funny wah wah riffs" now I think about it).

Then right below it I take issue with another kind of bittiness - sampling when it's just a patchwork as opposed to an uncanny entity.  The postmodern emptiness of good bits that don't add up to more-than-the-sum, let alone something new-under-the-sun. 

Norman Cook would go on to build a career on teetering to one side or other of this divide between collage-as-bits-and-pieces versus collage-as-new-thing-in-itself.

Sunday, August 20, 2023



A book whose title caught my eye while in the UK last week -  understandably!.

Presumably a play on Betjeman's Metroland.

Publisher's blurb:

 Over the past fifty years, fiction in English has never looked more various. Books bulkier than Victorian three-deckers appear alongside works of minimalist brevity, and experiments with form have produced everything from verse novels to Twitter-thread narratives. This is truly a golden age.   But what unites this kaleidoscopic array of genres and styles?   Celebrated writer and critic Peter Kemp shows how modern writers are obsessed with the past. In a series of engaging and illuminating chapters, Retroland traces this novelistic preoccupation with history, from the imperial and the political to the personal and the literary.   Featuring famous names from across the United Kingdom, United States, and the wider Anglophone world, ranging from Salman Rushdie to Sarah Waters, Toni Morrison to Hilary Mantel, this is a work of remarkable synthesis and clarity—a wonderfully readable and enjoyably opinionated guide to our current literary landscape.

The Telegraph says

Peter Kemp has written a history of the English novel since 1970. (Retroland describes itself as a ­history of fiction in English, but doesn’t refer to short fiction, and hardly touches on North American, Australian, or even Scottish or Irish writing.)....  Another history might have con­sidered the impact on fiction of debates about cultural appropriation, and certainly the internet and social media.

Kemp’s overall analysis is that ­fiction in English has been driven by an obsession with the past. In particular, he says that historical fic­tion is now at the centre of ­fiction’s achievements. His second con­tention is that fiction in ­English started to be written by subjects of the old empire with invigorating effect.

....This might have been a contribution to the debate if it had been written when it was first conceived of. As it is, it bears all the marks of a manuscript tinkered with over ­decades, the mind and opinions of its author never shifting from those far-off days or paying attention to major developments. A history of contemporary fiction from a book reviewer who, fundamentally, is rather scared of new things. 

The Guardian also quite caustic

 a pell-mell survey of the past half-century of British fiction...  it sets out to argue that modern novels are overwhelmingly preoccupied by the past; a thesis that’s persuasive enough, and one that possibly goes some way to explaining why, come Booker time, writers who buck the trend by staying in the here and now – Gwendoline Riley, Sarah Moss, Ross Raisin – seldom get a look in.

Kemp’s tantalising introduction sketches the extent of what his subtitle dubs the “dazzling diversity” of fiction in the period at hand, taking in “a novel that uses only the 483 words spoken by Ophelia in Hamlet” (Let Me Tell You by Paul Griffiths), another “narrated by the first edition of Joseph Roth’s 1924 novel Rebellion” (Hugo Hamilton’s The Pages), and another “that excludes the verb ‘to have’” (Next by Christine Brooke-Rose). Yet you won’t find any of them in Retroland proper, home, instead, to discussions of Midnight’s Children, Atonement, Possession, et al – not so much off the beaten track as stuck on the M25.....

But no matter; you read on eagerly, keen to know Kemp’s explanation for the patterns he justly identifies: the “pervasive[ness of] the dual-narrative, double time-scheme novel which juxtaposes a contemporary story with one set in an earlier era” (yes! What’s with that?); the ubiquity of the “trauma plot” (ditto); and the enduring 90s revival of historical fiction, which the late Helen Dunmore attributed to pre-millennial anxiety about what lay ahead in “the blank, silent sheet of years around the corner”.

.... Despite the setup, Retroland is really a pretext for a whistlestop tour of dozens of novels loosely bunched into four groups –novels of empire, novels of “buried trauma”, novels about history and novels built on older novels (such as Smith’s On Beauty, pegged to EM Forster’s Howards End, or Jeanette Winterson’s Frankissstein), all of which rush by in a largely contextless blizzard of titles, names and plots, with next to nothing by way of logical signposting.... 

About his subject, Kemp knows all there is to know – that’s clear – yet as a tour guide he left me muttering at the back of the group, itching to sneak away to the dodgier locales we’re warned off....

Sometimes Retroland reads less like a literary-critical survey than the minutes of a 50-year colloquy between every author who ever put pen to paper: ... When Kemp segues from Sarah Waters’s The Night Watch to The Little Stranger to The Paying Guests to Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child and The Sparsholt Affair, or from John Lanchester to Zadie Smith and Sathnam Sanghera, or from Francis Spufford to Carys Davies and George Saunders, he’s just pasting his old Sunday Times reviews right in. Those examples account for about 10% of the text and there’s a lot more where they came from – he’s been reviewing for 40 years....

Did Kemp think no one would notice that Retroland is substantially an elaborate patchwork of self-plagiarism? Or does it not matter?...   Did Kemp (or his editor) even figure out who Retroland was for? Either way, it’s a runaway train – and the carriages are full of recycled plot summary.

Irish Times is kinder

"Kemp's loose thesis – the past is a present country – leads us to some good writing (his own included)"

Saturday, August 5, 2023

the (band)body without (original) organs

Michael Hann at the Graun on bands still touring and recording but with no original members left - among them Molly Hatchet, Napalm Death, Soft Machine, Yes (debatable but strictly-speaking correct) and Odyssey.

The current incarnation of Gong is another example

It's a bit like organ replacement and limb transplants taken to the extreme, such that there's no original body left.

Perhaps it's not so odd... You could see a band as an institution (like a school or hospital) or a commercial entity (a shop, a company). Why shouldn't it perpetuate itself after the resignation, retirement, or decease of the founders and original staff?

Then again, in rock and pop, so much of what makes a band is the players as individual instrumental voices and the almost-instantly-identifiable composite of their playing as the band's sound. 

Likewise the voice of the singer -  and in some cases how the lead voice meshes with the harmonies of other members. 

(E.g. the way Fleetwood Mac got increasingly ersatz in certain phases when most of the principals had left). 

(Conversely, you could take Fleetwood Mac's journey - with original central figure Peter Green long gone, the arrival of a wholly new creative engine in Buckingham-Nicks - as a good example of evolving longevity in a band-as-institution....  That said, they always had the continuity of the rhythm section, which was also the source of the band's name)

Given that rock and pop are audio-visual hybrid forms, you could further say that the physical appearance - the face, body, expressions, gestures, mannerisms - of the performers are part of what makes a band a band. 

In fact, given that rock and pop are audio-visual-verbal-textual hybrids,  you could further-further argue that a particular way with words, an imagination, the personality and  humour of a band - expressed in lyrics but also interviews, stage banter - is what makes a band a band. (Oasis isn't just the songs, the recordings and the concerts, it's the interviews, the ongoing saga of Liam versus Noel... )

In rock and pop, you are consuming audio-visual products but you are also consuming identities. 

If a band is both the personalities in it and the collective personality of the group, how can that still be said to exist in the absence of all the original persons that constituted its make-up?

In the arc of ersatz, at what point does a band where all the originating members have left effectively morph into a tribute band? 

Some members are more integral and identity-constitutive than others. Ergo, they should have disbanded after Moon died... like Zep did after Bonham.

Monday, July 31, 2023

"The Retromania Election"

Piece in the New Statesman by Fergal Kinney on the stagnant and deja vu condition of British politics takes for its title "The Retromania Election" - and not only has a para on my book-of-the-same but also a para picking up on recent points I made in this interview with Shawn Reynaldo for his First Floor newsletter. 

Talking about the way that British pols routinely reference distant predecessors and slogans from  bygone electoral campaigns, Kinney asks, " Do British politicians and their advisers have any reference points beyond themselves? If these people are able to draw from history or finance or literature, they’re doing an excellent job of hiding this. British politics’ retromania is what happens when politics is drawn heavily from those who have studied politics – the line is blurred between practitioners and, well, fans. It creates a language that’s off limits to younger voters who might look for inspiration to figures in tech or in activism instead of cultivating a working knowledge of Labour’s grand old men."

Here's a good gag:

"That sense of every decade happening at once has recently become part of British politics. “If you think our job in 1997 was to rebuild a crumbling public realm,” Starmer said in May this year, “that in 1964 it was to modernise an economy overly dependent on the kindness of strangers, in 1945 to build a new Britain, in a volatile world, out of the trauma of collective sacrifice – in 2024, it will have to be all three.” Labour in government: the deluxe Greatest Hits box set."

Tangentially the piece reminded me of the way that "retro" type insults and accusations were wielded in previous UK elections - each side accusing the other of being a nostalgic reenactment or tribute act

It's much the same in the USA, where looking-back and dynasticism (the longing for hereditary monarchy and regal succession that's buried not-deep in the American political consciousness) results in grotesquerie like RFK Jr.'s campaign and - out on the loopy-loo perimeter - the bizarre fantasy of an undead JFK Jr returning to form a double-ticket with Trump. 

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Hauntology Parish Newsletter - Harvest Edition - Lo Five; eMMplekz; A Year in the Country; Belbury Poly

Spied in the window of Book Nook!

Cover Design by Rachel Laine

Alerted by Folk Horror Revival - detective work by John Coulhart at { feuilleton }

Also to be seen on the shelves of the Book Nook  

Yes, a new tome from the prolific Stephen Prince  -  A Year in the Country: Lost Transmissions: Dystopic Visions, Alternate Realities, Paranormal Quests and Exploratory Electronica

It follows swiftly on the heels of last year's A Year in the Country: Cathode Ray and Celluloid Hinterlands: The Rural Dreamscapes, Reimagined Mythical Folklore and Shadowed Undergrowth of Film and Television  - and the three A Year in the Country books that preceded that! With another two tomes not in the series, that makes seven in total.

I don't know how Stephen does it...  I feel like a right slow-poke in comparison.


Talking about prolific fellows, Lo Five has a very nice new record, Persistence of Love, recently released on Castles in Space. Inhabiting that muzzy grayscale sound that is all his own. Makes you feel as if there's a film across your ears - like looking at a landscape with reduced visibility caused by light rain. Suits these unseasonably overcast and damp days here in England. 

Here's Neil's release rationale: 

"This collection of tracks came about during a period of transition for me, from changing the way I wanted to make music to a method that was more intuitive and free-flowing. I spent a lot of time experimenting with sequencing and different bits of hardware I'd acquired. I was also playing around with an old four track cassette recorder, which was loads of fun. I think the end result feels a little broader in sound and composition as all but one of these tracks were the result of recording a live jam down to a stereo mix. I recorded dozens of these until I'd found 'the one'.

"That way of capturing a performance really excites me, it's like a crystallised moment in time when the planets have aligned. When you're really absorbed into the flow of it and there's something extra guiding you.

"Thematically, it all reflects this ongoing interest I have in consciousnesses, spiritual enlightenment, truth realisation, whatever you want to call it. At the time I'd been reading a lot about advaita, which is Sanskrit for 'not two', or what western spiritual teachers call non-duality, where it's seen there is no separation between anything, no individual self, no subject and object, just this infinite eternal consciousness. I read a few of the classic teachings from gurus such as Ramaana Maharishi, Jiddu Krishnamurti and Nisargadatta Maharaj, which reflect modern accounts of contemporary teachers like Richard Rose, Jan, Frazier and Rupert Spira.

"There seems to be this slow reconciliation between ancient eastern spiritual teachings and western psychology and neuroscience. That really fascinates me and seems to filter through to whatever I'm working on."


Unexpected silo seepage from a retiree of this parish! A trio of remixes by Baron Mordant of eMMplekz fan favorite, "Gloomy Leper Techno" - also on Castles in Space

Emission transmission: 

The collaborative eMMplekz project between Baron Mordant and Ekoplekz ran itself ragged from 2012-2016 and yielded some of their most satisfying work for the Mordant Music label - the Baron had finally found his voice in a skip behind Poundland and let his fetid alphabet loose across Ekoplekz’s mouldy electronic battlefield…lyrical Escher abstractions married to Cy Twombly soundscapes at a time when maybe only the Sleaford Mods were harrowing similar ground, albeit more commercially…the project bowed out on a low high with the ‘Rook to TN34’ album and the “Cheers mate, bye” lyric pinging off every surface…in 2022 with that still naggingly in mind the Baron set out on reframing ‘Gloomy Leper Techno’ in some different shades and the resulting ‘MMongrel versions’ were picked up by Castles in Space for this 12” vinyl

release…njoi/endure…IBM, Hastings 2023.


GLT scrawl:

“Cheers mate, bye

I see rooftops in Staines, people as drains (cheers mate, bye)

The bee in the bonnet humming Ashcroft’s ’Sonnet’ (cheers mate, bye)

Rhyming’s like climbing, surmounting a fountain (cheers mate, bye)

Wanking the walk, tanking the talk (cheers mate, bye)

A dismal day in every way (cheers mate bye)

Bandcamp’s digital damp (cheers mate bye)

I want you to follow thru…why is it you let him in?

Cheers mate, bye.”


Finally, there's a new Belbury Poly album out  on Ghost Box in a few days time - The Path

It's unusual - a full-band sound, incorporating a spoken-word element. And the voice speaks in an American accent!


Wednesday, July 12, 2023

"the essence of a seemingly essenceless moment"

Much discussed on the socials, a piece by Mitch Therieau for The Drift that fingers Jack Antonoff  - not so much an uber-producer as a ubi-producer, as in ubiquitous - as "pop music's blandest prophet".

People are picking away at it, as they will do, but I thought it was persuasive and full of great lines and sharp sonic analysis of Antonoff's twin modes of cinematic maximalism and quasi-intimate whispery minimalism

"It is like Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love on a histrionic sugar high — or like cutting into what you thought was Tunnel of Love, expecting to find a substantive work of pop craftsmanship and introspection, only to find cake. Unlike the Fun. records, Strange Desire deals in a strangely hollow maximalism. You might call it, as many critics have, “cinematic” pop. In other words: pop made to serve as a soundtrack. And at the center of the swirl of sound that often doesn’t register as music so much as undifferentiated yearning, there is an empty space for you, the main character. Appropriately enough, Antonoff’s fans often describe his music as a kind of catharsis machine; a soundtrack to which you can, in the words of one YouTube commenter, “drive and cry and vent and go trough every emotion humanly possible.” It is as if Antonoff discovered that the only way to keep pop-rock viable in conditions increasingly hostile to its survival was to reduce it down to a mechanism for delivering a concentrated shot of big feelings.....

"... a distinctive yet elusive sound whose hallmarks are less musical than emotional. Verses ratchet up sweatily to choruses rather than building organically or shading into them. Choruses are strenuous; the unbearable longing they often convey registers as nothing other than the indomitable drive to become a hit....

"... nearly collapsing under the sticky surplus of emotion.... "

On producers notorious for hostile and abusive work environments:

"... treating women artists in particular as interchangeable and disposable bearers of their hit-children" 

Spinning off discussion of "Out of the Woods" (a Jack + Taylor song whose appeal and resonance beyond its author I find particularly mystifying): 

"A Jack song always seems to take place in a sort of ambiently traumatic limbo where reconciliation is right around the corner, if not just out of reach..."


I suppose the bit where the argument loses me a little is the idea that Antonoff's career has something to do with the diffusion of indie-pop aesthetics into the mainstream. 

See, I can't really hear the indie-ness.  At least it doesn't correspond to what I think of as "indie" (I know, there's multiple strands; it's evolved over time;  indie in 2023 is different from indie in 2003 is different from indie in 1993 is different from 1983 etc etc). But if I think of indie from the perspective of one who saw it emerge - who can remember a rock world before indie even existed - indeed one who wrote about it during its emergence....  one of the defining things about indie is that it's not melodramatic. I associate it with the laconic, the low-key, the understated...  small voices and non-singers... a sense of the ordinary transfigured 

(I suppose there are exceptions... that line from Band of Holy Joy through to Tindersticks and Jack...  Pulp too. The Scott Walker loving thread. Nick Cave, also, with his love of "entertainment music, though some might call it corn" . But are any of them really "indie"?)

For the most part indie = constitutively anti-theatrical, naturalistic, mumblecore. 

Sunday, July 9, 2023

"we have so much greatness from the past to reference"

 At 1.09.22, some Retromania-ish argument from Daniel Lanois, talking about the shift from musical invention to archival collage

(via Droid) 

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Decline of the Wes (slight return)

Counter-view worth a view: Richard Brody in the New Yorker reviewing Asteroid City and arguing that Wes Anderson, contrary to appearances / conventional critiques (including my earlier Decline of the Wes take),  is a deeply emotional auteur and a political one too... 

(Here's his similarly angled takes on The French Dispatch and on Moonrise Kingdom)

Oh dear, he's very nearly convinced me that I'll have to see Asteroid ("will get fooled again"). 

Counter-view worth a view: a reading of Jacques Tati's Playtime by Charlie Bertsch, very different to my own in the aforementioned Decline of the Wes triptych but no doubt closer to how Tati intended the film to be taken. One point where our opposed readings converge is connecting the Tati reaction to modernity with the Situationist critique.

The stumbling block for me as a recent first-time viewer approaching it with no preconceptions or foreknowledge is that I simply did not find the look of Playtime to be grey, soulless, or even especially dehumanized (the technocratic spaces are after all teeming with humans bustling about and being bumblingly comic...  not to mention that the spaces are built by humans and wouldn't exist without human design and human imagination). However Tati intended it to be received, to me the Paris of Playtime is shimmeringly attractive - as beautiful in its own way as the old city with its traditional Gallic charm and ancient buildings. But that may well be a trick effect of time's passage, the way that the Mid-Century Modern / New International aesthetic has a nostalgic allure now, its own period charm. 

Thursday, June 29, 2023

retrotalk2023: recreative garbage

Substack called Anglophone Xenotrope and person who goes as Thunder At Twilight riffs on the "conjunction of futuristic technology and retro" thing I mentioned in the last post. (Strictly speaking retrotalk2022 as the post - titled "The End of Culture" - is from the very end of last year). 

"Retreads, reboots and remakes were ascendant in the first decade of this new century but the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the return of the Star Wars franchise—combined with the digital       de-aging technology, pioneered by Industrial Light & Magic—added considerable fuel to the nostalgia fire.

"When Disney bought Lucasfilm and ILM, they were not just buying Star Wars; the work that Lucas had done in bringing dead actors back to the silver screen in the form of digital composites was arguably even more significant. To that end, the corporate giant has made integrating these creations into existing brands a core part of their corporate strategy.

Examples include: 

"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, featuring actors wearing digital masks of the deceased Peter Cushing and the (then living) young Carrie Fisher"

and Marvel's use of 

"the technology to provide a curious kind of continuity, allowing much older actors to play younger incarnations of their characters in earlier eras."

and most recently (at the time of writing):

"the trailer for the new Indiana Jones film featuring a very respectable depiction of a much younger Harrison Ford."

Twilight at Thunder speculates:

"Seeing cutting edge digital rendering technology used as a means of rehashing and remaking the past leads one to reflect on possibly the ultimate manifestation of the mash-up: AI systems such as GPT and Stable Diffusion. Soon we might be able to look forward to machine created films, featuring digital recreations of characters from existing franchises.

".... AI models cannot create, even if their outputs are novel. By definition, these systems are synthesising based on statistical inferences."

Saturday, June 24, 2023

retrotalk2023: where post-mortem meets postmodern

A Washington Post piece by Bina Venkataraman about the potential use of  AI to create "ghosts" - of famous performers who'll keep making records or acting in films after their physical death - but also of loved ones, who can continue to fulfil the function of companion or confidante long after their decease. 

"But what about people who aren’t so famous? Should we perform from beyond the grave, too, to nourish the nostalgia of family and friends who might want to remember us? We might want to think twice before haunting our friends and descendants like ghosts of Christmas past.

"Grief tech is already on offer. So it might be inevitable, if trends hold, that someone will try to make an AI apparition of you. Seance AI offers an AI chatbot for the living to “communicate” with dead loved ones.

"The current offerings are mostly stilted and glitchy — and a poor substitute for the experience of actually talking to a lost family member or friend. It turns out summoning the King’s likeness to sing and thrust his hips is simpler than capturing your late father’s full personality, let alone the unique way he interacted with each of his kids.... 

"However, as language models get better at imitating the natural speech of individuals, and as techniques improve for cloning human voices and facial expressions, it’s going to get easier to imagine a next generation of these technologies with the same degree of verisimilitude as the musical performances — that is, interactive AI avatars who survive us, embodied by augmented-reality holograms or robots who look and talk something like we once did."

It could be an end to mourning and its healing closure: 

"Avatars lurking around the living room could thwart the grieving process of the living, depriving them of the peace that comes from letting go. People already mistake and confide in chatbots as if they were human; those who are suffering loss might come to depend on AI avatars as stand-ins, prolonging their grief."

On the immortalized performers level -  it's a new twist on that old line (Marx's?) about the dead tyrannizing over the living. Imagine as a new artist / writer / actor / musician, having to compete for attention / support/ audience / a public, not only with your contemporaries, not only with the archived and ever-more-easily accessible works of  the reknowned dead piled up and demanding time from listeners and viewers and readers -  but having to compete with new works and new performances by artists from earlier eras long beyond their natural lifespan! Radical inequality. But it will be irresistible for estates and rights holders to attempt to milk more money from the eminences of yesteryear.

Been doing a few interviews recently about retroculture, part of this recent seeming uptick in retrotalk, and one thing I've remarked upon is this conjunction of retro and futuristic technology - hologram tours, AI (e.g. AISIS, the "new Beatles song" aka "The Final Beatles Song" . the AI-enabled de-mixing and remixing of earlier Beatles albums). This seems to be opening up a new frontier for retromania: the unsettling and eerie convergence of science fiction and nostalgia. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

retrotalk2023: "reunited and it pays so good"

" Your Fave Band Is Reuniting – But Not For the Reasons You Think" - an attempted marshalling of rationales for the legacy act festival / reunion boom, by Danny Wright at Vice

I must say I don't disapprove of this kind of thing nearly as much as I did when I wrote Retromania. "Disapproval" isn't quite the right term, anyway - "distaste" is more like it.  I could empathize with the reasons bands did this kind of thing. What else are they supposed to do with themselves?). Money - you can't blame 'em really, mortgage payments to keep up. Plus there's that resolution of interband conflicts/ friends reconciled / writing a happier end to the story than the probably messy and bitter split-up.  The distaste was more about the idea of me being at one of these events, what it would feel like, and also the sense of being a target demographic. 

But, having gone to a couple of these elder-laden festervals in the last few years, I acquired a teensy bit of taste for this kind of thing (a certain queasiness lingers, though). The events are an intriguing mixture of amusement and bemusement. Simply as a sociological phenomenon, there's stuff to observe and to consider. What happens when a youth culture ages out? How weird does it get when subcultural types valiantly persist with the look, despite the attrition of the years. A mass elegy for one's bygone identifications and intensities. 

There's something salutary about being shoved amidst your own (approximate) kind. Seeing how everybody's grappling with decrepitude. 

Also, occasionally, there'll be some actually entertaining performances. Bands you never quite managed to see in their (and your) prime, but they can still pull it off. They might even be better on some level -  musicianship, having the experience and/or the budget to put on a great show.  

Hey, as I'm about to click post on this, the missus alerts to me an upcoming festerval that is trying to out-Cruel World Cruel World - Darker Waves.  Although the lineup isn't that Gothy in fact. 

I suppose what I wonder about is not the top three ranks of the line-up, but below that.... sub-legends (Clan of Xymox, Chameleons etc).  It can't be that rewarding, financially or in terms of ego, reconnecting with the compact following, having to play in the mid-afternoon. 

Also wonder about the musicians who join legends that have suffered personnel erosion... whose function is prosthetic.  (Like, are they any other original band members in "Psychedelic Furs" now, apart from Butler Rep?). I suppose it's a gig. You get to ply your trade. Maybe you were a fan of the leg in question. 

Thursday, June 15, 2023

magazine as time machine

" To Truly Understand the Past, Pick Up an Old Magazine" -  Brian Dillon in the New York Times writing about the way that reading old magazines (his examples are a 1984 issue of The Face and a 1965 issue of Vogue) immerses you in history in a way that dissolves the inherited and calcified ideas of what a decade or epoch was actually like. It's a battle between "edits" - the original selective version of the then-present as captured in that issue of the magazine, versus the edited-down version of the era that comes down to us through a gradual winnowing into hardened cliches and stereotypes, stage after stage of nostalgic retrospection and generalization. 

"What surprises me now in the pages of The Face: There are just the tiniest hints of the British miners’ strike and the swelling unemployment that are convulsing the country politically. And not a single mention yet of AIDS; in a Wrangler ad, a model’s speech bubble announces, oblivious: “I’m Positive.” In these magazine pages, it both is and is not the 1984 of my memory."

Dillon describes the way that everything about a vintage magazine - not just the obviously notable, signs-of-the-time identifying articles, but the adverts, graphics, listings, etc - is like a plunge into the (almost) raw material of an epoch. 

"When research takes me offline to libraries and archives, or (better) into the depths of a dusty eBay find, I can’t stop at the magazine or journal pages I was looking for; I want to read everything, from masthead to classifieds. Old magazines are cheap time machines, archaeologies of collective desire."

This is where my head has been at for a while now - at a certain point, I got far more excited by and interesting in gathering up ancient print music magazines than old records. Here's something I wrote in an essay for The Wire around the time Retromania was first published:

"Shopping for secondhand vinyl: I can’t be alone in too often chancing on an intriguing record and then being halted just shy of purchase by the thought: “Hmmm, I can probably find this on the Internet for free... save myself $15... do I really need another record cluttering up the house?” Digiculture has here damaged a multifaceted set of pleasures: the thrill of the hunt, the risk of taking a punt, the tactile delight of ownership.

"Curiously, revealingly, my crate-digging lust is shifting to another analogue-era object of desire: the vintage music magazine. Now and then on a blog you’ll come across a download link to a zipped file of scanned pages from an obscure fanzine or periodical, but for the most part these yellowing bundles of ink and paper have yet to undergo the fate of dematerialisation/dissemination that’s befallen almost the entirety of recorded music. Part of the sudden allure of old magazines is, I’m sure, that they retain a scarcity value that records have forfeited (at least in terms of pure sonic information: the physical records obviously retain potent fetish appeal in terms of packaging, the period flavour of the design and the label, etc).

"But there is also a more elevated aspect to the attraction. Packed with uncommon knowledge, these vintage magazines provide the kind of information that’s hard to find on the internet owing to the particular way its archiving system is structured. Online, you can uncover a vast amount about an artist in terms of diachronic trajectory (discography, biographical arc). Much harder to reconstruct is the synchronic context: what was going on at the precise moment in time of a record’s release, whether in terms of the genre in which the group operated, the general state of music culture, or the political and social backdrop. A musty, yellowing 1970s copy of NME or Melody Maker, Creem or Let It Rock, is a precious capsule of circumstantial evidence: reviews and features about contemporaneous groups, but also record company adverts and the graphic design and typography, which ooze period vibe. You can’t fully understand the impact of glam rock without a sense of how drab and style-less regular rock groups looked then, of how visually depleted the whole media environment was. Likewise, the stark angular minimalism of post-punk groups and record covers derived its salient edge from juxtaposition with scruffy Old Wave and Stiff-style pub rock. 

A time-slice of history, stubbornly analogue, the vintage music magazine in some sense resists the decontextualising vortex that is netculture, that endless end of history that never stops churning. "

Actually, nowadays you can find a lot of whole issues of vintage magazines in pdf or online form - there's a list of repositories in the side bar of my own vintage music writing blog Pantheon.

Dillon again: 

"Carry on reading, however, past famous names and images that seem most of their time, and you find the past does not look or sound as you imagined or recalled.... Of course, you might come away from such pages smirking at the fashions, assumptions and ambitions of the past — or with a nostalgic ache for its objects, textures or habits of speech. But also a sense that the past is never the past of present cliché, any more than our present is purely itself, entirely made of the self-celebrating now." 

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

retrotalk 2023: "It’s a risk to put out something completely new"

Yet another Guardian piece on retro culture attempts to explain why "why pop is so heavily plundering the past" - specifically the '90s. 

Writer Shaad D'Souza notes the number of singles in the UK charts that reference "the dance music of the 90s and 00s" -  Switch Disco and Ella Henderson’s React  "samples Robert Miles’ trance classic Children', David Guetta’s Baby Don’t Hurt Me flips Haddaway’s immortal What Is Love, Kim Petras and Nicki Minaj’s Alone recycles the hook of Alice Deejay’s Better Off Alone, and Denham Audio has had a longstanding hit with a version of Strike’s U Sure Do. All of them hark back to an era of bright uncomplicated melodies, big melancholic chords, and messy nights out that went mercifully undocumented on social media."

He argues that "these tracks differ from the way rap music has long used samples: the majority feature a faithful recreation of a vocal hook or the original song’s production. Both options create an uncanny sense of time warp, a kind of musical deja vu. "

Quotes from Radio 1 deejay Natalie O’Leary who says that “in the 90s, the clubbing scene in the UK was a huge thing, and these trance tracks were part of British culture. They’re these feelgood songs that aren’t too deep"

Others argue that nostalgia for the monoculture is part of it. 


On Twitter, It's Her Factory blogger / professor / author of The Future of Rock and Roll Robin James retweets the Grauniad piece but notes that "this article fails to mention Simon Reynolds 20 year old book on musical Retromania"

That's nice of her, but then again, I suppose A/ as much as I'd like to, I don't own the subject B/ the book is actually only 12-years-old! 

Which is revealing in its own way of how Time has become elasticated and mushified in these retro-recursive conditions. It feels like an eon ago since the book came out in 2011, yet also like only yesterday....  

Saturday, May 27, 2023

The Rift of Retro - pinpointed!

Trying to pinpoint the Rift of Retro, the date kept shifting back.

 Initial thought was circa 1983-84, when postpunk's forward drive entropized and left-field musicians and fans started listening en masse to 1960s records like Byrds and Velvets and Love, the effects audible in the likes of R.E.M. and Smiths and a swarm of jangly groops.

But this initial thought was very quickly adjusted as I remembered glam's pomo-in-all-but-name referentiality.... and then the parallel, overlapping but discrete phenomenon of the early 70s rock'n'roll revival. The huge spate of '50s nostalgia....

But then upon further reflection I realised that started even earlier -  as early as 1968 with The Beatles's "Back in the USSR", Zappa's doowop pastiche project Reuben & the Jets. At the start of that year there was talk in the music papers about a return to rock'n'roll basics, and the beginnings of a nostalgia circuit with '50s acts exhumed, many original rock'n'roll greats announcing their first tours of the UK in ages.

Just the other day someone posted on Twitter a Melody Maker article that pushes the date of the Rift back even further - albeit only a few months. It's from September 1967 and reports on an unexpected  interest in early rock'n'roll records. The Birmingham record retailer interviewed says that "it started about six months ago". So that further pinpoints the Rift to March '67

Of course, an interest in older music, nostalgia, these things per se are not really retro as I'd define it. Retro is when a current group spurns the contemporary and makes music that is a remake or a form of attempted time travel. So that would be "Back in the USSR", Reuben & the Jets, and other things of that time like The Move's "Fire Brigade" of February 1968 with its discernible Eddie Cochran flavor (possibly the first retro move made by a major group?). 

And probably not too long after that you would get the first of the groups whose wholesale music identity is revivalist - for instance, Shakin' Stevens and the Sunsets formed in 1969. 

(Although looking into the odd story of Shakin' Stevens, it seems he never "went back" to rock'n'roll - that was always his only love, he was a fanboy of a 1950s Welsh rock'n'roller called Rockin' Louie! Another tidbit - Shakey's manager was a member of the Communist Party and Shakin and the Sunsets played a fair few benefits for the CP of GB)


Saturday, May 20, 2023

"ahead of its time"

Recently, Bob Stanley tweeted about "Burning Up", a 1981 track by Imagination

An old subject, but Leee John's Imagination really must be the most underrated group of their age. As big in 1982 as ABC. This is, what, six years ahead of its time? Big fave of Frankie Knuckles apparently.

I can see what he means - the piano does sound like house music. 

But here's what I wondered - if I had heard it in 1981 (which I may well have done: Imagination were, as Bob says, huge) I doubt very much I'd have thought it was futuristic or  pointing forwards. 

If anything, the rinky-dinky piano might have seemed slightly old-fashioned. "Burning Up" seems like a late disco track, or something off a Chas Jankel solo album. So probably I would have heard it as par for the course contemporary club music, not as cutting edge as Peech Boys or Rockers Revenge or even France Joli's "I Wanna Take A Chance on Love".  

In the contemporary context, I'd probably have been more impressed by other Imagination tunes such as  "Bodytalk" and "Just An Illusion"

Imagination were early users of what would become key house music technology but for sounds-nothing-like-acid-house effects. They used the Roland 303, then a brand new piece of equipment, for a slippery, superlubed, lubricious bass sound. (Which then in turn inspired Orange Juice to use it on "Rip It Up").

Another thing Imagination did that was super-contemporary was their nearly-pioneering remix album Night Dubbing ("nearly" because League Unlimited Orchestra and Soft Cell both got there first. Actually I believe the B-52s were first of all with Party Mix). 

Night Dubbing I bought at the time (but never had Night Clubbing the proper album). I seem to remember it sold as a cheaper than normal album price - something it shared with the other early remix albums. There was a feeling that it would be ripping off the fans otherwise.  I do remember that remix techniques seemed very thrilling then and were increasingly heard on the flipside of the 12 inch version of pop records, even those not explicitly targeted at the clubfloor. Then quite quickly that first flush of remixology got to seem gimmicky and annoying! Indeed I sold Night Dubbing a year or two after buying it. 

Now it sounds charming all over again. 

That in itself suggests that timelines are much more wonky and subject to fashion curvature and sudden flip-arounds of instant obsolescence, where the value of something is abruptly voided. 

In these circumstances, establishing what is really ahead of its time is tricky. In a fashion economy, ahead-of-its-time becomes behind-of-its-time really fast.

Here's another example of how slippery this kind of temporal placing of music can get:  "Dancing Ghosts". I heard this for the first time only a few years ago and instantly had similar Bob-type thoughts: "this is WAY ahead of its time!".  Released by Chris & Cosey and a chap called John Lacey under the name CTI  and on an album titled Elemental 7 that was a soundtrack to a video,  "Dancing Ghosts" does sounds like the dreamier side of house (think Larry Heard) and the fluffier and floatier Detroit techno. But it was recorded in 1982 (and released in February '84).

But what I wonder now is: would I have thought that if I'd heard it in '84?  Most likely not.  Probably I would have filed it in the vicinity of things of that time, or a few years earlier, such as Liaisons Dangereuses, Hardcorps, Thomas Leer. An ongoing, already existing thing, off which the bloom had somewhat gone by then. 

(I remember in my early months of being a professional music journo giving a lukewarm review to a Chris & Cosey album. This was early '86. Electropop and synth noir type stuff seemed a bit  passé;  guitars were in the ascendant).

 "Dancing Ghosts" does sound quite close to something else that was very contemporary in terms of its technological uptake but went largely unnoticed in the moment of its release: E2-E4, by Manuel Gottsching.  At the time of release - 1984, same as "Dancing Ghosts" and Elemental 7 -  that album was neither ahead nor behind of its time, just simply to one side of everything.  Probably those few who heard it then, heard it as an incremental extension of the things that Gottsching had been doing on late '70s albums like New Age of Earth / Blackouts / New Inventions for Guitar - sequenced rhythm-pulses, feathery synth pads, glistening ripples of heavily effected guitar Then later it achieved recirculation within the Balearic / New Age House milieu and - its feel ideal for MDMA - was duly accorded some "ahead of its time" status. It became proto-house. But in its original moment, it wasn't proto- anything;  house didn't exist yet.

 "Ahead of its time", as a rhetorical trope or aesthetic claim, implies a kind of linear track to music history marked out by clearly indicated advances. A teleology. Tracks like these, dancing ghost-like across the timelines, throw all that into disarray. They show that history is constantly under revision; that "futures" when they emerge also reshape the past and suddenly confer the status of prophecy on things that in their original moment were marginal and disregarded. 


Leee John of Imagination, coming round again at the dawn of the new millennium, for a new moment of being absolutely contemporary, with this beautiful bit of 2step, a mutant form of house music. 


Here's what I said about it at the time: 

"Hearing this music is like moving through a mesh of pointillistic percussion, the body buffeted and flexed everywhichway by cross-rhythms and hyper-syncopations. On Leee John’s “Your Mind, Your Body, Your Soul”, the drums are so digitally texturized it’s as if the whole track’s made from glossy fabric that crackles, crinkles, and kinks with each percussive impact."