Friday, March 29, 2024


 Interesting post by Robin James at It's Her Factory about how we've moved into "Pop's Franchise Era". 

Noting the Bob Dylan biopic and the horrific thought that each individual Beatle is getting their own biopic, she argues that what already unfolded in Hollywood - franchization, cinematic universes, stars replaced by characters - is taking hold in pop music. Not just with Legacy Artists, but with relatively young, musically active stars who are prematurely Legacy-izing.  

Hence Taylor Swift's Eras tour: only 34, she's already consolidating the exploitation of  her archive in the way that Bowie did with his Sound + Vision tour of 1990 and the Rolling Stones have done since the late '80s. 

Robin writes: 

"... When Swift repackaged all her individual albums into a catalog of “eras” for a tour of that same name, she created a universe; each album set the vibe for world-building sets, costumes, and the like. The same is true of Beyonce’s various acts: there’s the house music act, the country act, and purportedly a forthcoming rock act....  

"Taylor and Beyonce are franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They are not stars, per se, but tested and proven brand IP that the industry leverages into blockbuster content like the Eras and Renaissance tours and concert films. And they franchise not just in the music industry, but across media – that’s what the Taylor and Beyonce beats at Gannett are, new locations of existing franchises. I will be the last person to be surprised if and when they build a Taylor Swift theme park....

"With their “portfolio careers” spanning various industries like apparel, beauty, instruments, and food... , pop stars treat their own brands as a franchise.... Pop artists are less like stars and more like characters whose vibes grace everything from athleisure to sweet potato pies.

"The problem, of course, is that this concentrates all the wealth in the hands of the richest artists and corporations... 

"In August 2023 Billboard published a piece asking “Why Aren’t More Pop Stars Being Born?” 

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

the future behind us now

Xenogothic exhumes a panel discussion from 2014 involving Mark Fisher, Lee Gamble, Kode9 aka Steve Goodman, Alex Williams, Lisa Blanning - and bearing the title The Death of Rave - and does a public service by getting the debate transcribed.

Go here for his reasons for digging this up and reflections of how it relates to current glumness, state of clubbing and club music, as well as the transcription itself

Here's one choice exchange: 

Alex Williams: As regards hedonism... What was interesting about things like the early days of rave music, is that it’s fun, but it’s serious fun. It’s seriously fun. But also it has some… There’s a kind of a sense that sort of eliminating yourself collectively through drugs and music is an intense and meaningful experience. … Kids still go out. They still have a good time and people still take lots of drugs and become highly intoxicated....  The lack of the idea that this could be a good time that is also more than a good time, in a certain sense. An intense experience that could be transformational, in some way. Maybe not political. I think in many ways, all of this stuff stands in for politics. The politics we’re not allowed to have.... Within the impulse that you see in rave is a lot of things coming from the failed revolutions which were happening in 1968, which couldn’t happen. They failed. So that impulse, then, sort of reverberates throughout culture, and pops up every now and then. And rave was one of these things.

... To a lot of eyes today [it] seems naïve. We think it’s naïve that you could treat a rave as if it was really serious, as if.... this sort of being together with people and having this collective experience could be transformational. We view it a bit distastefully, as if it’s sort of jejune, or sort of hippy-ish. It’s something to be kind of viewed with contempt. 

Mark Fisher: The key affective figuration of our time is depressed hedonism. Depressive hedonism. Like the way Drake sings, “We had a party, we have a party, we had a party”. [Laughter] It’s like the saddest sound you’ve ever heard....  The best kind of critiques of capitalism coming out of, like, Drake and Kanye West… Even if you’re super rich, you’re totally fucking miserable.... Just the absolute abject misery of on-tap hedonism...

Friday, March 22, 2024

trick of memory


It's funny how an image like this can give you a right hauntological frisson....  

But at the time, it would have just been part of the dreary everydayness of the era (that dingy orange)....  graphic with-it-ness reaching the mainstream and becoming mundane....  unremarkable, unnoticed... 

But there are design scholars and archivists and imagery collectors who love the Sainsbury packaging, see it as an outpost of popular modernism

And they're not wrong

Selection of Sainsbury delights below and the growing official archive here

As pointed out in the comments, there's been a book of this stuff out for over a decade now, the brainchild of one Jonny Trunk

Some sample pages

Thursday, March 14, 2024

good retro versus bad retro

Last year, on Twitter a designer who identifies himself only as Stuff by Mark put up a bunch of imaginary movie posters that took New Wave songs and imagined each of them as a film from the New Wave of British cinema aka 1960s kitchen-sink realism. 

I  thought these were clever and attractive. 

This kind of thing strikes me as "good retro" . It's work that's fun to look at but it's based in an affinity between the two things being mashed together: British realist cinema of the late '50s / early '60s, the New Wave / 2-Tone school of late 70s / early '80s groups,  Films and songs about ordinary people and ordinary life, equal parts wry and gritty. Social comment, social observation, class-consciousness, deglamorized documentary-like pictures of real life. A tone of undisguised bitterness. These were new things in pop in the late '70s, as they'd been in British film in the early '60s.

The affinity is even clearer in the case of the Squeeze song, which takes its title  - and lyrical ambience - from the Sixties film. 

Stuff by Mark puts out a steady stream of, er, stuff, all based on bygone graphic styles. Prints of the work are for sale from the website.

But just like there's good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, so there's good retro and bad retro. 

And this recent offering strikes me as the bad kind.

It takes the track list of  the one and only album by The La's and imagines each song as a movie poster in the style of the legendary Saul Bass, famous for his title sequences for films by Hitchcock, Kubrick, Preminger  and Billy Wilder, among many others.


Why "bad retro"?

Unlike with the New Wave songs as New Wave film posters, there's no aesthetic affinity between the La's and Saul Bass.
The La's were an edge-of-Madchester / proto-Britpop outfit, immortal for "There She Goes", itself totally retro - or perhaps "time travel" is the operative word, the true hopeless desire at work here. (Famous story of Lee Mavers rejecting a vintage studio console because it didn't have "proper Sixties dust" on it). 

But the region of the recent past that the La's were obsessed with reenacting was completely separate from the world that Saul Bass operated in - the Hollywood mainstream. You think Saul Bass and you're instantly in the era of Mancini and Martinis and mid-century modern (the kind of look and feel that suffuses the decor and costumes of Mad Men, say).  

Whereas The La's reference points are Beatles and Merseybeat and perhaps a bit of Crosby Stills and Nash (the Graham Nash bit). The look and feel of this 1960s is a world away from Saul Bass's world.  Rock, then, saw Hollywood as showbiz, as phony, as nothing to do with youth culture (or hopelessly clumsy and out of touch when it tried to deal with it). 

The La's own album artwork is faintly Swinging Sixties / mod / Carnaby Street, or just ugly.

The other big difference is that The La's are throwbacks, while Saul Bass was absolutely modern in his moment. Ridiculously with-it and au courant.

More to the point, whether it was the credits sequences or his film posters or his logos for corporations, Bass did things that had never been done before.  He innovated with typography, with cut-out animation, with methods of production. The very idea that a title sequence could be a miniature work of art in its own right was a new thing.

So it's an arbitrary marriage of contraries, done according to the additive logic of the mash-up:  "Here's two things I like - Bass's designs, Mavers's tunes and voice - so let's combine them". 

AI means the world is going to be choked with this kind of thing. Already is being choked by it.

Like low-density lipoprotein, it clogs up the arteries of the culture.