The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'bob stanley'
The British supermarket chain Sainsbury's is doubling up on the fashion for vinyl records. For a while, they (alongside their rival Tesco) have been selling a small selection of classic albums, repressed on 180 gram luxury vinyl, to shoppers who want to own a slice of pop-cultural history in its most authentic format, and to be at one with Led Zeppelin or Amy Winehouse or whoever in a way that those listening to the iTunes download can never be. And to think: all this at your local supermarket. And now, they're launching their own brand of vinyl-only compilation albums. Named Sainsbury's Own Label, the records, overseen by pop historian and Saint Etienne member Bob Stanley, will contain classic vintage tracks, and come enclosed in retro-styled monochromatic sleeves, for that extra dose of supermarket-fresh vintage authenticity. Two albums have been announced: Coming Into Los Angeles, which features Californian rock from the sixeventies such as Fleetwood Mac and The Monkees, and Hi Fidelity, which leans slightly (but never excessively) prog, with the likes of Mike Oldfield, 10CC and Roxy Music, and sounds like just the thing for putting that expensively restored vintage hi-fi system through its paces.
Which is an interesting business decision (and it's good that Bob Stanley is getting paid for his expertise), though I'm not sure it makes that much sense. From what I understand, the fashion for vinyl is less about its function as a sound carrier than its role as an ark of Authenticity, a token of connection to a legendary album, artist or era. Surveys back this up, showing that almost half of all vinyl bought is never played, and instead purchased to have something to keep whilst listening to a streaming service. In other words, a vinyl record is primarily a 12" collectible poster, representing the body of music one enjoys listening to or the artist one admires; that it contains a legacy sound carrier adds gravitas to the mystique, but is secondary. And as a sound carrier, vinyl records leave a lot to be desired; other than the bulk and the fiddly nature of putting a record on, as compared to queueing up a track on Spotify or YouTube, the sound quality of vinyl is objectively, measurably inferior to digital sound in a number of ways. Some of those shortcomings (the surface noise, the “warm” frequency distortion) can, to those who grew up with them, induce warm feelings of nostalgia, but that does not make vinyl's fidelity superior, as some of its champions are wont to claim, except, of course, at producing a characteristically vinyl-like experience. To claim that the experience of recorded music with the surface noise, distortion and constricted dynamic range and frequency response of vinyl is “better” or more “authentic” is a claim of subjective faith. (And then, there is the fact that the PVC that vinyl records are made of is pretty toxic stuff, impossible to recycle, and slowly emitting toxic particles as they age.)
It seems that what Sainsbury's are trying to do with Own Label is effectively sell the equivalent of Spotify playlists of “Classic Tracks”, only pressed to a stylish-looking vinyl record. Fair play that they slapped some modishly retro-modernist artwork on the cover, but it really does seem like the worst of both worlds: none of the collectibility of vinyl albums (except perhaps to a handful of people who fetishise commercial ephemera, and wish to get a head start on tomorrow's) and less convenient than listening to it on a computer or phone or digital system. Good luck to them, but I suspect this might not be a runaway success story.
The Grauniad has an article, by Bob Stanley (also one of knowingly smug London indie-dance outfit Saint Etienne), on the DIY music movement that formed in the UK in the wake of punk, with countless garage bands, improvised instrumentation, passion, whimsy, cardboard drum kits, homemade synthesizers, homemade C90s sold by mail order and pseudonyms more for escaping the attentions of the dole office than affecting any sort of rock'n'roll cool:
The look was monochrome, handmade, an A4 photocopied sleeve wrapped around a handstamped 7in single. Photos of the bands were rare. Grinder were an exception - their sleeve shows four blokes, three with moustaches, the other with a Rocky Horror T-shirt. DIY had no time for poseurs. Pseudonyms abounded, probably so the dole office wouldn't get wind (after all, some of these records were selling thousands of copies). On the ideal DIY single, Warner reckons, "no band member's name should be over three letters long; otherwise, it should be false. If there is an address on the sleeve it should be the drummer's aunt's house or a local youth club." One Hornchurch band, What Is Oil?, numbered Dunk, Mike, German, Stoat and - playing "toast with cheese" - Dungheap.
The sound was art-school - a kind of urban British folk inspired by Vivian Stanshall, Syd Barrett, music hall and Dada. It was rickety, semi-musical and open to anyone: it related to punk in the way skiffle had to rock'n'roll. DIY archivist Johan Kugelberg describes it as "the wild enthusiasm of being 17 and discovering Alfred Jarry and the beauty of children's drawings." Strange, redundant keyboards were a common feature, as punk had laid waste to anything outside the guitar/bass/drums set-up, and this old gear was going cheap. Martin O'Cuthbert's Vocal Vigilante EP lists a Dubreq Stylophone and a Crumar Performer as his instruments - highly desirable now but obsolete technology in February 1978.
If you can find them, DIY records are extraordinary artefacts - the last hurrah of the Angry Brigade, good hippy aesthetics, and the punk/situationist interface. If you can't find them, the Messthetics series of CDs provides an in. This was the sound of the underground; the hiss of the tape, the amateur pressing, the sloppiness and the sheer sense of glee. The feeling of liberty. Chuck Warner compares DIY to the early days of blogging: "Both DIY and the blogs were so engaging precisely because of their common carelessness about wide public response."The DIY scene is often categorised as "post-punk" (which is chronologically accurate, though stylistically, as Stanley points out, the term belongs too much to more polished and/or deliberately abject bands like PIL and Joy Division to fit this scene easily); its history is mentioned in Simon Reynolds' excellent history of the post-punk era, Rip It Up And Start Again. Some DIY bands ended up acquiring skill and technical polish and metamorphosing into something slicker (most notably, Scritti Politti, who started off as rabid Marxist squatter types and ended up as a polished, if knowingly subversive, pop band, who, incidentally and through no fault of their own, served as the inspiration for the naming of Milli Vanilli); most vanished without a trace as their members got Proper Jobs. A few served as the training ground for other projects; the article mentions acid-house outfit 808 State. The DIY scene also spawned numerous successors: C86, bedroom electronica, the millions of homemade MP3s all over the web and phenomena like National Solo Album Month all owe a debt to this explosion of creativity.
It's interesting to compare the UK DIY movement with the "little band" scene in Australia at about the same time. They were roughly the same phenomenon (improvised, ad hoc creativity, occurring in the wake of punk), with similar aesthetics. However, the Australian scene seems to have been more live-performance-oriented, whereas the British one was more concerned with recorded music (the artefacts being homemade cassettes or hand-pressed 7"s). Could this be a result of Australian enthusiasts tending to gravitate to concentrated bohemian epicentres in the inner cities (St Kilda/Fitzroy, Newtown, Fortitude Valley and such), while Britons, not having any such focal points, remained in their suburban sheds, or of Australian musical culture being more rockist and/or more gregarious, with live performance being considered more important than in the UK?