The Null Device
The Graun has a piece on El Records, the artier-than-usual indie label set up in the the mid-1980s by Cherry Red's Mike Alway, which briefly counted Momus on its roster, and then went on to make meticulously art-directed records, its A&R people casting artists as one would actors in a play:
One of Alway's first castings was Simon Fisher Turner, a man whose life story includes child stardom in Tom Brown's Schooldays, taking Robert Mitchum to see Siouxsie and the Banshees, being "the new David Cassidy" on Jonathan King's record label and playing bass for Adam and the Ants. "I was making music in gallery spaces," says Turner, now a respected soundtrack composer. "But no one was really interested in a guy bagging up handmade cassettes with small bits of art and one-off collections of sweets and postcards and cheap toys. I wrote Mike a letter and sent him a cassette. He returned one to me fairly promptly and I went up to their office. He offered me a job [recording] as the King of Luxembourg there and then - I liked that. Instant. Very Jarman."
El revelled in its thrillingly sly upper-class style. His artists weren't knuckle-dragging gangs from rough backstreets: they were presented as languorous Vogue models, archbishops' daughters, royalty. There were songs about the British Empire, soufflés, choirboys and stately homes, but there was never the merest whiff of snobbery, just the crisp, lemony cologne of a delicious privilege shared.
"I used to buy lots of anachronistic magazines and trawl them for song titles," Always says. "I got the King's Turban Disturbance from a column in the Spectator. Cookbooks were good, too. People hadn't written songs about trivial things like soufflés, everything was drowned in this awful bombast. I wanted to move pop music's vernacular on a bit. We were anticipating a Britain yet to come, a more stylish place in line with the Italian and Spanish culture I loved."El Records went on to be much more influential in Japan, informing the leading lights of the Shibuya-kei movement (and even inspiring a Kahimi Karie song titled Mike Alway's Diary; incidentally, on the same EP as the Momus-penned Giapponese a Roma), though was closed some time around 1990; though it has now been reconstituted as a reissues label, dealing with lavishly eccentric old recordings:
The new incarnation of El means near-forgotten recordings by Sabu ("The Elephant Boy") and Orson Welles, Roy Budd and Al "Jazzbo" Collins, Stravinsky and the Ink Spots. The majority of these artefacts date from a time when it seemed perfectly reasonable to lavish skill and money on an LP of questionable commercial appeal, and each one feeds neatly into Always' master vision of a better world where people dress more tastefully, read more widely, think more deeply and take an interest in the world outside their immediate environs. Four wonderfully odd CDs are released every month, each selling between 1,000 and 3,000 copies. Each is a gem.
Tom Ellard (of Severed Heads fame) writes about the uncanny experience of finding that someone else created a MySpace page in your name:
Imagine, if you will, that you are walking down the street and see somebody that looks a lot like you. No really, the resemblance is striking and disturbing apart from the fact that your doppelganger looks like he or she threw up over themselves. And pooped their pants. What little pants they have.
Later you meet a friend who tells you that you look a lot better than when they saw you yesterday. No, you say, that’s not me, just somebody who looks like me except they pooped etc. etc. But your friend and others don’t believe you - they think you’re a sly pooper. Infuriating! You’d really like to get that fake and give it a shake!
And that’s how I feel when yet another MySpace page shows up for my poor old dead band. It looks like it pooped itself. And there are ‘friends’ there. (No link to here of course, that’d give the game away.) Of course these aren’t really my friends and they don’t really want to do anything but advertise their own emo myspace pages. But like Mike Jones once said - you had better get rid of that if you don’t want people to think you are utterly sopping clueless.The thing that struck me was the phrase "advertise their own emo pages"; those five words seem to sum up the MySpace ethos: adolescent attention-seeking behaviour reengineered as marketing, or "Brand You" as the new face of teen-angst. Why wait for someone to notice the scars on your wrists when you can spam everyone and let them know how awesome the darkness of your soul is and why, consequently, they should totally want to be friends with you? We're all our own rock stars, the MySpace ethos tells us, even if we've never played anything other than Guitar Hero and merely rock a Hot Topic wardrobe and some smeared eyeliner; which also means that we're all marketers, constantly pitching ourselves to the world in the way that a shark constantly keeps swimming forward.