The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'indie'
Late last year, the indie-music world was surprised by the announcement that Lush, one of the better-known lost bands of the 1990s shoegaze/ethereal/dreampop zeitgeist, were reuniting, and were not only planning to play gigs but were working on an EP of new material. On one hand, it made sense; with My Bloody Valentine having played sold-out gigs and finally released the Shoegaze Chinese Democracy, The Jesus and Mary Chain having played successful reunion gigs for a few years and talking about recording again, and Slowdive's expectation-bustingly successful comeback (and, again, an album in the works), if ever the time was right, it is now; though on the other hand, the fact that the end of Lush came after the suicide of their original drummer, Chris Acland, always seemed to rule out a reunion. Yet, after almost two decades, it was officially on the cards. A gig was announced at the Roundhouse in Camden for May; it sold out rapidly, and another was arranged for the following night.
I managed to pick up tickets to one of the May gigs, and have been looking forward to finally seeing Lush play live, even if doing so was from a distance in a large venue. So imagine my surprise when, flicking through upcoming gigs on Songkick just over a week ago, I found a new Lush gig on Monday week at Oslo Hackney, a much smaller venue, and that, even more mysteriously, it was not sold out.
I, of course, grabbed a ticket to this gig. Tonight, I went to it, and I must say it was great. The band went on a little after 20:30 (“No red hair, get over it”, said the now-brunette Miki, before they launched into their first song), and were in fine form, playing tightly and with energy for an hour and a half, doing mostly songs from between Gala and Split, with a cursory nod to their final Britpop-tinged album Lovelife. Above the driving bass lines, propulsive drums and the swirl and crunch of interlocking guitars (each through its own array of pedals), Miki and Emma's voices floated, as melodic and forceful as a quarter-century earlier. Anyway, the audience loved it, applauding rapturously; the band came on not just for the standard scheduled encore (3 songs, including Desire Lines), but for another subsequent unscheduled one.
There was, of course, a merch table, and alongside the usual T-shirts and a zine (Thoughtforms, glossier than the indie fanzines of old but the same concept) containing interviews, there was the new Lush EP, Blind Spot; a flat, oversized card package designed by V23 designer Chris Bigg, containing a semitransparent CD. I bought a copy and listened to it upon getting home, and it is very good indeed. Some are calling it a more mature version of Lush (which it is), though to me, it sounds most like a timeslip; an anomalous artefact from a parallel timeline, which somehow mysteriously appeared in this one. In its home timeline, Lovelife and the foray onto the Britpop bandwagon never happened; instead, Lush kept honing and refining their ethereal/dreampop sound, with Blind Spot, or something very much like it, coming out a few years down the track. That timeline is, of course, a very different world to the one we know.
In any case, I'm looking forward to seeing them again in a month or so, and hoping that this is the start of the second chapter of the Lush story.
The BBC has a new documentary series about the history of indie music, specifically in the UK; titled Music For Misfits, it follows the phenomenon, from the explosion of do-it-yourself creativity unleashed in the wake of punk, running throughout the 1980s like a subterranean river, largely out of sight of the high-gloss mainstream of Stock/Aitken/Waterman, Simply Red and Thatcherite wine-bar sophistipop, channelled through a shadow infrastructure of photocopied zines, mail-order labels selling small-run 7"s and reviews in NME and Melody Maker (which, it must be remembered, had countercultural credibility back then, and were run by people whose business cards didn't read "youth marketing professional"), surfacing in the 1990s into the new mainstream of Britpop (much in the way that its American counterpart, alternative music, had become a few years earlier with the grunge phenomenon), before finally coalescing into a low-energy state in the new millennium as the marketing phenomenon known as Indie, a hyper-stylised, conservatively retro-referential guitar rock sponsored by lager brands. Though by the third episode of this series (the 1990s one), the BBC seems to succumb to this very revisionism of the term "indie", and, as Emma Jackson of Kenickie points out, retroactively edits almost all women out of the story, presumably because otherwise it wouldn't jibe as neatly with what modern audiences understand "indie" to mean:
It wasn’t just the lack of voices but the choice of stories that were included. No mention was made of the Riot Grrrl movement. Including the story of Riot Grrrl would have easily linked up with the previous programme’s section on fanzines and C86. Riot Grrrl also complicates the idea that British indie was in a stand off with US music. Rather in this scene bodies, music and fanzines travelled across the Atlantic and influenced each other. Also, while in indie music ‘white is the norm’ as Sarah Sahim recently argued, the Riot Grrrl moment in the UK also included bands lead by people of colour such as The Voodoo Queens and Cornershop (who had a number one on the independent Wiija in 1997).
Some major players were also missing. You have to go some lengths to tell the story of Britpop and not mention Elastica, but that’s what happened in the programme. There was a very short clip of them that flashed by. Or Sleeper. They were huge. Or PJ Harvey. Or Lush. Or Echobelly. Or Shampoo.Perhaps this is all a clever meta-narrative device, highlighting the issue of the blokeification of the term "indie" that is concomitant with it having ceased to be a structural descriptor ("indie" as in independent, from the major labels, from commercially manufactured pop music, the materialistic cultural currents/right-wing politics of Reaganism/Thatcherism, or what have you), and having become a stylistic descriptor (you know, guitars/skinny jeans/Doc Martens/Fred Perry/Converse/reverent references to an agreed-upon canon of "cool" bands from the previous half-century), and soon after that, a signifier of Cool British Masculinity, in the way that, say, Michael Caine, James Bond movies and various East End gangsters of old used to be. Perhaps it's a monumental oversight, inexplicable in hindsight, an oh-shit moment as the programme goes out. Or perhaps the original outline for the programme had sections on Bratmobile and Lush and Dubstar, which ended up on the cutting room floor after some risk-averse executive ruled that putting them in would weaken the narrative, confuse the audience or induce the Daily Mail to scream about "political correctness".
The equation of indie with retro probably didn't help. The seeds were sown in the underground 1980s, along with the rejection of the glossy commercial pop of the decade (which was partly a practical matter, with the kinds of high-tech studios the Pete Watermans of this world used to craft their chart-toppers costing millions, while electric guitars and Boss pedals were cheap), though became codified in the Britpop era, when journalist after lazy journalist equated the bold new age of British Guitar Rock with that last imperial phase of UK pop culture, the Swinging Sixties. Soon this became a self-fulfilling prophecy; things which didn't fit the narrative were pushed to the side, vintage Lambretta scooters and Mod roundels started showing up everywhere, and the Gallagher brothers, gazing down red-eyed from the heights of Snow Mountain, announced themselves to be the second coming of John Lennon, returned to bring proper rock'n'roll back to the people. Somewhere along the way, this retro rockism absorbed some of the retro sexism of the post-ironic lad mags of the time, marinated in the reactionary miasma inherent in the idea of a lost "golden age" (one before all this modern nonsense, when music came on vinyl and dollybirds knew their place was hanging on a geezer's arm, and so on), and so was born the New Lad Rock, whose name, in time, was lazily shortened just to "indie"; in its moribund terminal state, the Yorkie bar of music, right down to the "Not For Girls" label on it.
(Of course, the problem with looking backwards is often also the fact that those inclined to look backwards tend to fixate on forms rather than the processes that they emerged from (as the forms are the obvious thing to grasp, especially if one is not analytically inclined) and draw reactionary conclusions. For example, the fetishisation of the two-stroke motorscooter, a symbol of teenage freedom in the 1960s (it's probably no exaggeration to say that the Vespa was the
The equation of stylised "indie" rock with a retrograde "lad"/"geezer" masculinity seems to be firmly embedded in the culture of this day; only recently the radio station Xfm, which originated back in the day with an indie-music format, was rebranded, explicitly, as a blokey-guitar-rock station, without too much loss of cultural continuity. The next logical step would be would be to introduce a musical segment into the upcoming reboot of men-and-motors TV show Top Gear (which, of course, is already to be fronted by a Britpop-era radio DJ), where, between the high-octane stunts, a band of lads with guitars and Mod haircuts take to the screen and play something that sounds like a stodgily conservative take on the Beatles/Kinks/Clash/Pistols/Stone Roses.
With the release of an extended reissue of the NME C86 cassette (which gave its name, fairly or unfairly, to a genre of shambolic/jangly guitar-pop by predominantly white people in their early 20s, and/or was instrumental in the redefinition of the term “indie” from meaning non-major-label recorded music in general to meaning a certain style of guitar-based pop), there is an interview with members of several of the bands on the original compilation, where they talk about their creative motivations and what they were getting at in their songs:
Greg Keeffe (Big Flame): Punk happened, and then there was this incredible accelerated culture. ’78 was new wave, in ’79 you had the Specials, by ’80 you had Postcard [Records] and Gang of Four and the Slits. It was an incredible period of time. And then this goth thing happened, and I absolutely hated goth. I thought it was like heavy metal — a return to the bad old days. We were the antithesis of goth. Our raison d’être was to kill goth.
David Gedge (the Wedding Present): When we were in the studio recording our third single, we ended up with two versions of a song called “This Boy Can Wait” — a short version and an “extended” version. There was some discussion as to which version to use on the single. The C86 invitation actually came at the perfect time, because it meant that we could use both. I think it was our drummer, Shaun, who came up with the idea of calling the extended version “This Boy Can Wait (A Bit Longer).”
Kev Hopper (Stump): For “Buffalo,” I came up with a bass line that was full of discords and slides. Mick had this silly idea that Americans were buffalo reincarnated, and ["Buffalo"] was a satire about Americans in London: “How do I get off the bus,” “Does the fish have chips.” I remember David Thomas from Pere Ubu disliking it.
Nikolai Galen (the Shrubs): Every generation is unique, and every generation is less unique than it thinks it is.
I think the record is the equivalent of an honest, expressive film or novel…something people can spend a bit of time inside. I know it’s good. But those are not the kind of attributes that a lot of the Pitchfork side of indie culture values. They mostly want clever abstraction of a good idea or aesthetic from the past. Which is like the same thing say… a trendy clothier does. Presented by skinny young white people whenever possible. Which is also what a trendy clothier does actually. I mean all artists explore what’s been done before, that’s WHAT ART IS, but ideally on top of a foundation of intention, something with a bit of warm blood in it. Music like DIIV seems to just aggregate other good records and blur the meaningful bits that aren’t quite as easy to ape. Youth as the best car commercial ever. VICE on the other hand just promotes what I call ”transgression tourism”. Nothing entertains rich kids quite like the fucked up things poor people, or better yet, poor people of color do. But beyond that, people aren’t really looking to take chances with what they expose. Thus you get coverage for a whole label, with the same publicist whom essentially do the same thing. Honestly, soon we will only be thinking in 7 second intervals and real art will be something exchanged in the shadows like cigarettes or Levi jeans in the 60s Soviet Union.
So our plans are to try to get people to give a listen, and our dream is to be part of a wave of groups that starts a discussion about the state of ”overground” music in the boutique subculture. Capitalism has finally alienated us from our music. Rock n’ roll was actually one of the success stories of capitalism in the 20th century. But no longer. We need to demand poetry.
John “Menk” Doran on the last 10 years in music genres; it's not pretty:
Even naysayers would have to admit that new rave was MDMAzing when compared to what we have now: EDM or Electronic Dance Music. Despite its utilitarian, almost sexy nomenclature, EDM is utter fucking neo-trance bilge for those who can’t tell the difference between a nightclub and the Stanford Prison Experiment. So we’re talking David Guetta, Afrojack and that cunt with the big metal rat helmet. Seriously, America, what the actual fuck? Your boys (mainly gay and/or black but still your boys) invented techno and house in the fucking 80s and you decide to wait 25 years until some spray-tanned berk from France who looks like Owen Wilson in Zoolander does this to it before you’ll dance to it? It’s a fucking disgrace.(Previously on “EDM”.)
Weirdly, despite arguably being the most sonically progressive and inventive mainstream genre of the last ten years, R’n’B doesn’t really seem to have thrown up any particularly memorable or clearly defined sub-genres. Much to the dismay of fans of Usher and Ciara, the indie kids and hipsters have been getting in on the act to bring you PBR&B or R-Neg-B, a smacky, bro-friendly take on 80s/90s smooth music, with Gayngs, Destroyer and the Weeknd being the best and worst of the bunch, designed to give the bromantic a broner, which then may require the attention of bromide. Or a court-sanctioned brostraining order preventing you from going within 100 metres of her house.
Elsewhere, the class system is as entrenched as ever with cakeeating aristocrats and the upper middle classes (hypnagogic pop), the students (chill wave) and the lumpen proletariat (glo-fi) all having different names for the same genre, which is not dissimilar to listening to Hall & Oates on a Walkman with a head injury while throwing orange-tinted Polaroids of your 1982 summer holiday to Morecambe into a swimming pool. The rest of the feral underclass had shit gaze, which, oddly, didn’t trouble the charts much.It's not all shit, though; Doran has some good things to say about hauntology, ironically possibly the most redeemably original phenomenon of the past decade.
Merry Indie Xmas; some guys in New York performing various Christmas carols in the style of well-known “indie” bands (Interpol, Beach House, The XX) as well as, for some reason, Mumford & Sons. (I suppose they're there by way of the same American hipster Anglophilia that resulted in Coldplay being regarded as a credible indie band for a while.) Anyway:
The Quietus' Alex Niven writes in defence of the Stone Roses and their legacy, challenging the twin views that (a) the Stone Roses were little more than patient zero of an epidemic of thick, gormless lad-rock that subsumed British “indie” music from Britpop onwards, and (b) their reunion and forthcoming gigs are a triumph of the cynicism of late capitalism and a disproof of any idealistic construction of the cultural values of indie music, past or present:
The Roses' resurrection might actually amount to something worthwhile because it offers the prospect of a return to – or at least a reminder of – a tradition of popular radicalism in British music that was to a large extent derailed and suppressed in the nineties and noughties. This happened because, amongst other reasons, the Stone Roses pissed away their potential so regally and left a void behind for Blur and Kula Shaker to step into. This was a tragedy from which leftfield British pop has never quite recovered; revisiting it might provide some much-needed catharsis, as well as a chance to consider why we seem to have been stuck in a loop of ever increasing apathy and retrogressive inertia ever since the Roses seemed to metamorphose nightmarishly into Oasis one day in early 1994.Niven's contention was that the Stone Roses, beneath their laddish swagger, articulated a form of eloquent popular radicalism that, had things turned out differently, may have taken Britpop in a more interesting (and more culturally and politically significant) direction than the stylistically conservative, politically Blairite, Beatles-citing nostalgia industry it turned into.
Throughout their apprenticeship on the margins of the mid-eighties indie scene, the band occupied a classic romantic-radical position from which they made repeated assertions that another dimension was lying dormant, ready to burst into life with the right amount of collective belief and imagination. Magical train rides through rainy cityscapes, hallucinations of bursting into heaven, graffiti scrawled on statues, daydreams about young love, lyrics about searching for the perfect day wrapped around chiming Opal Fruit guitar lines: this was the druggy landscape of dole culture in the second Thatcher term, a place where fantasy and utopianism offered a trapdoor-escape from post-industrial depression, especially in places like the North where the social defeat had been very real. Countless bands from the Smiths to the Cocteau Twins adopted a similar tone of hermetic idealism during this period. What was remarkable about the Stone Roses though – and the reason surely why they are regarded with such quasi-spiritual reverence to this day – is that their romantic assertions about another world being possible suddenly and miraculously started to seem realistic and realisable as the end of the eighties loomed.
But the failure of the Roses in the early-nineties – which was basically an arbitrary collision of bad luck and personal fall-outs – was the kind of unfortunate collapse that has profoundly negative repercussions throughout an entire stratum of the culture. Instead of being a wild anomaly that stood at the summit of a creative apotheosis only ever partially recaptured after the mid-nineties comeback, 'Fools Gold' might have been the foundation text of an alternative Britpop: a politically engaged mainstream movement that would never have gotten into bed with Blair, a revival rather than an attenuation of the post-war New Left, guitar pop more in thrall to Bootsy Collins than the Beatles, a progressive filter for – rather than a reaction against – the most thrilling leftfield developments of the nineties from Tricky through Timbaland. As it was, the independent scene crossed over to the darkside and instantaneously lost its whole raison d’être, while the underground progressively retreated into microcosmic obscurity in an age of internet atomisation (cf. chillwave).So if the Stone Roses' reunion is not merely a spoonful of heritage-rock nostalgia for the record-fair fatsos or an affirmation of the bankruptcy of indie music as an ideology of resistance, confirming instead that everything is a commodity in the great marketplace, what is it? Niven suggests that it may be another chance, however slim, to peer through a window into the Another World that Is Possible, a sort of very British visionary socialist arcadia:
What the Camerons and the Cleggs and the Cowells and the monarchists and the Mail-readers and the Mumford & Sons minions are really deeply fucking scared of in the pits of their blackened souls is a normative radicalism, the sort of aberrant culture that does all the traditional things like making us dance and giving us songs to sing at weddings and wakes and school discos and sports occasions, at the same time as it introduces subtle formal innovations and delivers uncompromising messages of insurrection. The Stone Roses Mk. II will have a tough job managing to do anything very effective at all, once Zane Lowe and the Shockwaves NME start winding up the hyperbole machine. But if we press the mute button on our cynicism this Imperial-time-warp summer, we might just be able to hear their profoundly optimistic message resounding through a landscape ravaged by a newly virulent strain of Thatcherism: a kind of spiritualized socialism framed as a funky, communitarian song; an angry, affirmative voice promising that he won’t rest until Elizabeth II has lost her throne. Take a look around, there’s something happening. It’s the Britpop that never was. And right in the nick of time.(Though wasn't Britpop at the time that the Major government crumbled sort of like that? And can such a world survive for more than nanoseconds before market forces act on it and it becomes commodified, and if the original participants don't sell out, someone who wasn't involved cashes in instead?)
Dorian Lynskey, music journalist and author of 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs has posted a blog article about the rising infantilisation of culture, as seen in everything from food packaging to utility bills being written in a cutesy first-person voice. The catalyst having been a Sainsbury's branding exercise renaming tiger bread to “giraffe bread“, allegedly at the behest of a small child:
Surely rechristening a product to appease someone not long out of nappies marks some kind of turning point in the infantilisation of branding: a seemingly interminable trend which makes grown men think it’s OK to give their age as “27 & 3/4” without being shoved into a canal. Maybe I should ask my five-year-old daughter to rebrand the Jerusalem artichoke, which is neither an artichoke nor from Jerusalem, and we can all start cooking with Goblinhead instead. Or would that be “a bit silly”?(And Sainsbury's aren't the only supermarket to do this; according to Morrison's, the natural voice of food products is first-person, in a wobbly, childlike handwriting, which is perhaps somewhat disturbing. I'm not sure I'd like the idea of eating a loaf of bread with the ascribed personality of a small, cheerful child.)
I think it’s partly related to the Cult of the Child, defined by one blogger as “the brainwashing some parents undergo that convinces them their children are innately, infallibly wise, untainted by worldly prejudices, and therefore their opinions and pronouncements should be heeded as if they were handed down from the heavens, and their every wish should be indulged”. Parenthood, instead of marking the point at which one irrevocably becomes an adult, is often presented as a second go-around, with the parent eager to shrink the age gap. The packaging of Little Me Organics (“Lots of mummys got together to create a range that was carefully selected to be the best for their little ones…”) and Ella’s Kitchen baby food bizarrely addresses parents as if they were babies themselves, making childhood synonymous with those sacred concepts in upmarket food branding, “natural” and “pure”. Handwritten, obviously, because fonts are for phonies.
And that’s the thing. The brand’s voice is “childlike” but it’s not actually like a child at all, because real children are complicated and tempestuous and say all kinds of stuff: it’s the voice of a parent trying to get a child to do something by approximating their outlook. Innocentese is relentlessly chirpy and nice, in a profoundly white and middle-class way which connects with its affluent customer base.Lynskey puts the blame for this kind of quirkiness on the rise of faux-naïf indie culture (think Wes Anderson, Zooey Fucking Deschanel, &c.), with patient zero having been the twee indie-pop genre of the 1980s, where a rejection of adult tropes was a reaction to both reactionary rock'n'roll machismo, soulless corporate music product and sexualised consumerism.
When, a decade later, alternative rock had come to resemble the things it had once opposed, via Britpop and corporate grunge, key indie bands once again reached for the satchels. Belle & Sebastian named themselves after a children’s book and wrote some of their best songs about school, while Neutral Milk Hotel recorded an album inspired by Anne Frank and the lo-fi, pots-and-pans amateurism of a particularly enthusiastic summer camp. These were gifted songwriters creating idiosyncratic private worlds born of refusal and I don’t blame them for what followed anymore than I blame Nirvana for Nickelback, but over the following decade this cult of childhood became part of indie’s schtick.This sort of tweeness spread outward, to the less muscular fringes of dance music (Lemon Jelly and Mr. Scruff are mentioned), cinema (from Wes Anderson and such to more mainstream fare), and, so on. And as we all know, every oppositional stance gets commodified sooner or later, and in this case, the result is Innocent Smoothies, inanimate objects addressing people in the first person, and a surfeit of typefaces that look like wonky handwriting. Though the end of twee may be in sight:
I thought perhaps that the whole down-the-shitcan vibe of the world at the moment would puncture the whimsy bubble. If anything it seems to have intensified the need to escape to a wuvly innocent world where nobody’s heard of the Euro crisis or Iranian nukes. But I suspect that just as indie music and cinema laid the groundwork for Innocentese, the growing revulsion towards twee art is the first sign of a backlash against it among consumers. As the language becomes more common, more widely mocked, less trusted, it becomes less useful for brands and one day soon — I hope and pray — we will see the end of the Innocents.
The Quietus, an online journal of music and culture, looks at contemporary "folk" culture (you know; the intersection of the improvised and rough-hewn, the spontaneous and "authentic"; ukuleles, beards, peasant skirts, artisanal food, that sort of thing) and argues that contemporary indie-folk culture is essentially a bourgeois, conservative phenomenon; you see, only those comfortably well-off (and sufficiently well connected to the establishment to feel confident) can allow themselves to indulge in a spot of faux-rustic reverie or fantasise about that old canard of "a simpler life". If those who are not unmistakably comfortably middle-class or better do it, they might get mistaken for the actual underclass and treated with the contempt Anglocapitalist society reserves for its lower orders. (Hence the well-documented phenomenon of class anxiety in England, where every class tries hard to draw a sharp line between itself and the class below, with the exception of the very top and the very bottom, who have the luxury of not caring.)
Shortly after the riots, a photograph was taken that let slip pop's complicity in this subterfuge. Alex James, a man who has spent the last few years protesting too much about how organic food production is infinitely more gratifying than the life of a touring rock star, gave consent for his Oxfordshire farm to be used to stage Harvest, a boutique food and music festival. Playing the garrulous country squire, he was snapped deep in conversation with both Cameron and Jeremy Clarkson, the avatars, respectively, of compassionate Conservatism and PC-baiting, speed camera-hating Little Englanderism. Harvest, it appeared, was an ideological interzone for disparate trends within modern Toryism.
During the mid-2000s, forward-thinking tendencies in rock were suddenly overwhelmed by a glorification of spontaneity: it didn't matter what the music sounded like, so long as it could be knocked out at short notice to a crowd of thirty-six slumming private school kids in a Bethnal Green bedsit.
Presumably the "private school kids" part comes from the fact that, in today's Austerity Britain, those not born with a silver spoon in their mouths these days are too busy holding down two low-wage McJobs to pay their tuition fees to get in much in the way of spontaneous ukulele-strumming, the places in urban bohemia they reluctantly dropped out of to survive having been taken by the slumming scions of the gentry, taking a break from playing tennis and skiing to play at doing whatever (they imagine) common people do. Much in the way that a significant proportion of Brooklyn hipsters these days are one-percenters from the Hamptons (see also: Vampire Weekend, Lana Del Rey).
In this similarity, one can perceive a fundamental truth about the cultural logic of Big Society. When it did locate compliance in popular music, Thatcherism gave rise to an aspirational, future-oriented strand of New Romanticism: Cameron's Conservatism, by contrast, finds a less direct mode of expression in sham enactments of 'folk' autonomy. The organic, 'real' provenance of movements which affirm the ideological status quo is offered as proof that challenges to that dominant order are regarded by the majority of the nation's population as undesirable and inauthentic.Meanwhile, the comedian Stewart Lee is the latest to be faced with the agony of having one's favourite art defiled by the approval of the political centre-right; specifically, he is throwing away his Gillian Welch CDs, after the alt-country singer failed to display the integrity to prohibit David Cameron from liking her music, as Johnny Marr did with The Smiths.
Why was Cameron there anyway? Welch's music is not the music of library closures and the stoppage of disabled babies' free nappies. Great art ought to be incomprehensible to the dead-hearted politician. But then Ken Clarke comes along, with his brilliant Radio 4 Jazz Greats. Were his real parents bereted beatniks, who abandoned him as a baby in a golf club toilet to be raised by Tories?
It is inappropriate of Ken Clarke to love jazz, and cruel of David Cameron to attend a Gillian Welch show, or indeed any live event except sport, which is of no value. It must be obvious to him that the majority of fans of anything good would despise him and that knowing he was in the room would foul their experience.
Simon Reynolds writes about popular culture's increasingly revivalist tendencies:
Head into the post-indie musical zones of NME/Pitchfork and most of what you encounter is "alternative" only in the sense of offering an alternative to living in the present: Fleet Foxes, with their beards and balladry modeled on their parents' Crosby, Stills & Nash LPs; Thee Oh Sees' immaculate 60s garage photocopies; the Vivian Girls' revival of what was already a revival (C86 shambling pop). In indieland too we're starting to hear 90s vibes creeping in, from Yuck's grunge-era slacker-isms to Brother's Gallagher-esque "gritpop".
Head into the post-indie musical zones of NME/Pitchfork and most of what you encounter is "alternative" only in the sense of offering an alternative to living in the present: Fleet Foxes, with their beards and balladry modeled on their parents' Crosby, Stills & Nash LPs; Thee Oh Sees' immaculate 60s garage photocopies; the Vivian Girls' revival of what was already a revival (C86 shambling pop). In indieland too we're starting to hear 90s vibes creeping in, from Yuck's grunge-era slacker-isms to Brother's Gallagher-esque "gritpop".(I'm not sure I'd lump NME and Pitchfork in together; while each does convey a formula for what "indie" is, there's an order of magnitude of difference in how cynically formulaic it is. Pitchfork, whilst being a musical equivalent of Stuff White People Like, at least aspires to a demographic which purports to be somewhat more thoughtful about its aesthetic preferences. NME, meanwhile, has long ago abandoned any ideal of "indie" being driven by any sort of independence of tastes; its oeuvre is marketing-driven Indie® reduced to a cartoonish lowest-common-denominator of facile lad-rock in skinny jeans and striped deep-V T-shirts, the messages of the original source material reduced to a series of cool stances, with ads in the back for where to buy the uniform.)
Reynolds' contention is that popular music (and other aspects of popular culture; witness retro fashion, for example, or pixel art, or the prevalence of apps that make your smartphone simulate a stylishly crappy old camera) has increasingly become focussed on the past. The mainstream has all but stripmined the obvious things (garage rock, Motown, synthpop), turning them into pattern-books of conventions (I'm not sure if anyone has described 1980s synthpop as "timeless" yet, though it's bound to happen). Meanwhile, once bounteous treasure troves of leftfield cool and edgy weirdness such as krautrock and tropicalia now look as despoiled as Nauru's phosphate quarries, leading retro cool hunters to look further afield, from exploring foreign tributaries of the collective past recently opened by the advent of YouTube (apparently the next big thing among hipsters is Soviet new-wave post-punk known as stilyagi) to the cultural equivalent of tar sands oil extraction, digging up and reviving what was considered terminally cheesy (the yacht-rock revival could be considered in this regard), to the point where one considers whether we may, indeed, run out of past. And now, as the 1980s revival is exceeding the duration of the decade it revived, the revivalists are moving into the 1990s, with indie bands doing grunge and R&B/pop artists detuning their polyphonic synths and riffing off cheesy Eurodance.
The question is: does popular music really look backwards a lot more than it used to? Is it because, as recorded music (which, a few decades ago, was relatively new) has accumulated more past, it is increasingly difficult to do anything totally novel without referencing the past, or because recorded music is becoming an elderly pursuit, with the more forward-looking diverting their attention to newer endeavours?
Anyway, Reynolds (who has a new book titled Retromania out) is chairing a talk on the subject tonight at the ICA in London.
An observation I recently had about the way the various classes of "indie" music fall across the spectrum of class in Britain:
The Guardian reviews the new album by The Drums (the NYC86 band everybody's comparing to The Field Mice), isn't that impressed:
Of course, to spurn the big, bad adult world in 1986 was implicitly political, hence C86's spiritual influence on riot grrrl and the Manic Street Preachers. It came with manifestos and passionate values. The Drums, however, echo only the sound and the wilful naivety. In interviews they champion "melody, sincerity and truthfulness" – a formulation so bland that you might hear from anyone from Noel Gallagher to Nick Clegg – and grumble about bands who are "overly clever", as if music's biggest handicap in 2010 were a surfeit of intellect.
But the Drums' charm is spread rather too thinly. Too many songs kick in with the same brisk, toytown beat and thin, high guitars. Like one C86 influence, the Groove Farm, who knew roughly as much about grooving as they did about farming, the Drums belie their name with a prosaic rhythm section that does little more than keep time. Pierce's little-boy-lost vocals begin to grate as well: just the way he sings "li-i-i-i-i-i-ife" on I Need Fun in My Life is enough to make you fantasise about bringing back conscription. Real teenagers tend to be turbulent, questing, contradictory, but the Drums' prelapsarian ideal seems to be a lovesick simpleton.
Simon Reynolds writes in the Graun about the 1980s revival that lasted an entire decade and is still going; starting off with electroclash and new-wave/post-punk and now having gone up to "yacht rock" and the Hall & Oates revival:
Electroclash went from Next Big Thing to Last Little Fad within a year. But it didn't go away, it just slipped on to the noughties pop-cult backburner, biding its time as a staple sound in hipster clubs. By mid-decade the "clash" was long gone; people just talked about "electro". This was confusing for those of us who'd been around in the actual 1980s and for whom "electro" meant something specific: that Roland 808 bass-bumping sound purveyed by Afrika Bambaataa and Man Parrish, music for bodypopping and the electric boogaloo. In the noughties, electro came to refer to something much more vague: basically, any form of danceable electronic pop that sounded deliberately dated, that avoided the infinite sound-morphing capacities of digital technology (ie the programs and platforms that underpinned most post-rave dance) and opted instead for a restricted palette of thin synth tones and inflexible drum machine beats. "Electro" meant yesterday's futurism today.
As such Discovery anticipated a quite different uptake of 1980s pop that would occur in the second half of the noughties: the ecstatically blurry and irradiated style of indie that's been dubbed "glo-fi". Compare Bangalter's remark with glow-fi godfather Ariel Pink, who says his pop sensibility comes from watching MTV incessantly from the age of five onwards (ie only a couple of years after the channel was launched in 1981). Pink went so far as to describe MTV as "my babysitter". As a result, on the many recordings he's issued under the name Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti – two of which, Worn Copy and The Doldrums, are among my favorites of the decade – his reverb-hazy neo-psychedelic sound is haunted by the friendly ghosts of Hall & Oates, Men Without Hats, It's Immaterial, Blue Oyster Cult, Rick Springfield. It's an approach to songwriting and melody he assimilated as an ears-wide-open child.("Glo-fi" seems to be related to what others have referred to as "hypnagogic pop".)
Reynolds also cites a number of other aspects of the ever-unfolding 1980s revival:
Another 1980s-invoking hallmark of the new sub-underground is its cult of the cassette. Tape has a double association here. On the mass level, it was the 1980s quintessential format: far more than the CD, it was the way most kids would have owned music. But cassettes were also the preferred means of dissemination for underground 1980s scenes like industrial and noise. Tape was the ultimate in do-it-yourself, because they could be dubbed-on-demand at home, whereas vinyl required a heavier financial outlay. Today's post-noise microscenes like glo-fi maintain the tape trade tradition, releasing music in small-run editions as low as 30 copies and wrapping them in surreal photocopy-collage artwork.And sums up with a list of things not yet mined from the 1980s
As someone who lived through the 1980s – it was the first decade I was pop-conscious and alert all the way through, from start to finish – it's enjoyably disorienting to observe all these distortions and retroactive manglings of the period, from the vocoder fetish to the fact that I really don't recall terms like "Italo disco" or "minimal synth" having any currency whatsoever back in the day. But what's also interesting is how much of the era has yet to be rediscovered or recycled: the Membranes/Bogshed style shambling bands, the Redskins-style soulcialists, goth, Waterboys/Big Country-style Big Music, and a half-dozen other scenes and genres. But hey, it's 2010, the first year of the new decade, which means that – according to the 20-year rule of revivals – we really need to get started on the 1990s.It looks like there's a lot left in the 1980s to revive, though time is running out as the inevitability of 1990s retro looms. (Aside: back in the actual 1990s, I wondered what "1990s retro" will be like; I imagined a Hegelian synthesis of cheesy commercial dance (Technotronic and such) and grunge-influenced three-chord alternative-rock. It'll be interesting to see how close I was.) As such, I wonder whether they'll manage to get it all out, or whether parts of it will be left behind to be subsumed into the anxious echo, and forever lost to everyone except for wilful obscurantists. And if the latter, I wonder what the fitness function will be.
Also, while we're on Simon Reynolds' articles, here is an interesting one about the decline of "indie" into the morass of crap guitar bands and the simultaneous rise of interesting music from the awkwardly ineffable we'd-call-it-"indie"-only-that-now-means-lad-rock sector.
The New York Times has an article on the thriving indie music scene in Athens. Athens, Greece, that is:
The artistic director, Konstantinos Dagritzikos, who plays drums in the ’60s-influenced band Love Beverly, says he tries to maintain a balance between booking local independent bands and acts from abroad, like the London-based electro-punk outfit Publicist, which played at the opening, and the English D.J. collective Disco Bloodbath (traces of this group are still visible in the form of splattered fake blood handprints on Six D.O.G.S.’s graffitied facade).
Though musically diverse, the bands currently emerging out of the Athens scene like the Callas, Phoenix Catscratch, the singer-songwriter Monika, and My Wet Calvin, an experimental indie pop act that often performs in animal costumes, all share a commitment to wild, unconventional live shows and a high-concept, do-it-yourself aesthetic.I recall that there was apparently an indiepop scene in Athens in the 1990s, informed by Sarah Records-style pop from the UK and El Records/Shibuya-kei-style bossa-pop, with acts like The Crooner (who, if I recall correctly, had a few songs on compilations from the German label Apricot).
The Official Chart Company, which runs Britains's music charts, is reviving the indie charts, updated to reflect the changing definition of "indie":
The initial criteria defined an independent release as any record which was released by a label with independent distribution, in an era when major record companies were self-distributed and smaller labels used alternative routes. Today, however, with even majors outsourcing their own distribution to independent operations, this criterion has become less relevant.
Under the new rules, a download or CD will be eligible for the Official Independent Charts if it is released on a label which is 50% or more owned by an independent (or non-major) company, irrespective of the distribution channel through which it is shipped or delivered.So now joint ventures with the Big Four major labels are officially "independent".
I think, however, that they missed the big picture. When the word "indie" is used to refer to musical product (bands, labels, records), it seldom refers to the business model under which the product was released. Typically, when a band or record is described as "indie", this refers partly to what they look or sound like (which is to say, to a greater or lesser extent like the independent bands between post-punk and the rise of Britpop), but more saliently, to the target demographic. "Indie" means sort of what "alternative" meant in the 1990s; a conspicuous badge of not being "mainstream" that doesn't require any more effort to obtain than being in the mainstream would, with its sounds and styles (not to mention the word "indie") borrowed from the original independent bands, only stylised and streamlined for easy mass consumption ("Note: lose all that stuff about Marxism and Fluxus and existentialism, and pump up the sex.")
As such, looking at the ownership and distribution of a record label when assessing whether a record is "indie" is woefully inadequate. A more suitable criterion would have to be based on a points system, with bands or releases being awarded points if they fulfil certain criteria, i.e.,
- band is on an independently-owned label: 2 points
- At least 50% of the band wear skinny jeans: 2 points
- At least one band member has an asymmetrical haircut: 1 point
- 1 point for each of the following influences cited (with proof): The Clash, Joy Division, XTC, Gang Of Four, Neu! (maximum 3 points)
- band's sound has been described by music critics as "angular" - 1 point
To keep the criteria relevant, a committee of industry, media and marketing types would convene every six months to update these rules to take into account recent trends. (For example, in light of the recent trend towards hipster-folk, the committee might now be debating allowing one point for band members with rustic-looking beards, or for bands having ukuleles in their instrumentation.)
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.
The Graun has an article on the alleged class divide in British commercial rock ("indie") between working-class "lad bands" on one side and privately-educated "smart, literate" bands (or "oiks" vs. "toffs", if you prefer). The details are the standard phony war of marketing narrative, though it features the following interesting paragraph:
For an art-rock band such as Foals, solidly middle class both in membership and their perceived appeal, a common marketing tactic is to use a nominally independent feeder label as a means to building up vital credibility. "Finding an indie to start things off before putting stuff out on the major label is something that happens all the time with bands like that - there are very few true independent labels now, the majority are funded by majors," the A&R says. "You've got to be careful, because you can damage the credibility of your indie label if you force them to put out some crap you've just signed. But it's about putting the band in context for the media and for fans. If you put them out on a certain indie label, it puts them into the context and aesthetic of that label, and leads people to think they must be similar to their other bands. It doesn't even matter what they sound like - it's all just codes and clues as to what you're trying to do."Which suggests that Britain's indie labels (well, the ones with offices in Soho, proper distribution deals and extensive "fruit & flowers" budgets, not small bedroom efforts struggling to put out a band they passionately believe in) are in the pockets of the majors, who are keeping them at enough of an arm's length (i.e., not actually handling distribution for them) to not make the connection obvious. I wonder who pulls who's strings; I think there's some connection between hip young art-rock label Moshi Moshi and EMI (presumably making them Heavenly 2.0), and wasn't Memphis Industries (the Go! Team's label) connected to Sony in some way?
Anyway, further down in the article:
Once an act are stereotyped, they can suffer from it, regardless of their background. Public school-educated George Pringle's experimental spoken-word electro has drawn both critical plaudits and brickbats, but her undiluted middle-class accent has been a frequent point of interest for writers. "Every critical review I've ever had has included the words 'moaning posh girl'," she explains. "I had no idea my voice would end up pissing people off as much as it has. People associate wealth with not having a cause for complaint, that you don't have something to talk about because you come from a privileged background. But you only have to look at someone like Joe Strummer to see how ridiculous that is."I don't think it's her "posh" accent that is the problem (and she doesn't sound that "posh" to my, admittedly foreign, ears, unless you're comparing her to the cast of EastEnders or something), but rather the content-free, self-indulgent nature of her stream-of-consciousness monologues, which mostly consist of her describing her mid-youth/existential crisis whilst making knowingly hip pop-cultural references, and the ploddingly dull beats that sound like someone spent half an hour slapping them together in Fruity Loops over which they're artlessly layered. Which, I suppose, is the modern equivalent of singing tunelessly about your personal growth experiences whilst strumming two chords on an acoustic guitar, but the novelty doesn't make it any better.
The Independent has a pretty authoritative piece on the terminal decline of the genre of "indie" in the UK, from its origins as independent, defiantly noncommercial popular music (typically released on small DIY labels) in the late 1970s and 80s, through the Britpop hype explosion, and to the present day, when "indie" means formulaic, commercially-oriented guitar rock by image-conscious young Blatcherite careerists:
John Niven was an indie fan in the 1980s, an A&R man in the Britpopping 1990s, and is now the author of Kill Your Friends, a sadistic satire of the record industry of which he was once an enthusiastic member. "I was in Gap a few weeks ago and there was some sort of generic indie music playing," he says. "I was with a friend who's a promoter and a bit younger than me. After about three or four tracks I asked him: 'Whose LP is this?' And he said, 'No, it's a compilation.' Every track sounded identical. The guitars, the production; all these bands sound like they're made in the same studio with the same producer. It's such a ball-less, soulless, generic whitewashed indie sound. You could probably take a member from each band and throw them together in a new group and no one would be able to tell the difference. They're completely interchangeable. Scouting for Girls are like the sound of Satan's scrotum emptying. They're abysmal."
"[Britpop] was great fun," wrote the journalist Andrew Collins in a 2006 piece for Word. "But it wasn't indie, and it pushed a whole slew of workmanlike guitar bands centre-stage, where they were even expected to represent their rebranded country, giving the quite false impression that Cool Britannia was an Indie Nation. The essence of New Labour, indie was capitalism dressed up as revolutionary socialism."
These days the term 'indie' is little more than a generic sonic description for any band that plays guitars and probably wears skinny ties, skinny jeans, and skinny cardigans. Collins, a former NME writer and ex-editor of Q, says now: "'Indie' has become a meaningless term. It just covers guitar bands. But it was never meant to be about a type of music, it wasa spirit and an attitude. When I glance around the bands that are supposedly 'indie' today, I don't see any attitude. I don't see any content in their records, any political interest in the band members. They're a terrible generation, unfortunately, but they're becoming famous overnight and selling a lot of records. I've heard them called 'mortgage indie'. It's a career path – a way of making a lot of money very quickly. The Kooks did so well so quickly. Scouting For Girls, from a standing start, have become a really big band. The Fratellis have become massive in a remarkably short time."
Here's another term for the indie glossary: a "firework band". It means a widely touted young act whose label has a debut LP to sell. They begin their professional lives by exploding into the top of the charts, shine brightly, then drop out of sight. The turnover of new acts is terrifying. Parklife, lest we forget, was Blur's third album.Also in the Independent, an apposite example of "mortgage indie" as a career move, in which a Cambridge indie band named Hamfatter turns to venture capitalism to bypass the recording industry. Which is something I have mixed feelings about: on one hand, from a business perspective, this is as indie in attitude as it guest. On the other hand, when art is seen through the jaundiced lens of business, with market research and venture capital, business plans and promotional campaigns, that is somewhat saddening. What happened to art made for the sake of art, without commercial calculation? Is there even a place for it in the post-Blairite marketing society? The new indie revolution may be about allowing the little guys to be as soullessly mercantile as only the old, huge record labels could afford to be.
This blog has been quiet recently, as your humble correspondent spent the past few days off the grid, attending the ATP vs. Pitchfork festival at Camber Sands (site of the famous Bowlie Weekender).
The festival was great. Being set in a holiday camp (where, presumably, working-class families went to spend their holidays in the days after the 1950s consumer boom but before cheap flights), camping in mud and queueing to relieve oneself into a pit did not enter into the equation; instead, the attendees stayed in chalets (which, despite the name, aren't wooden cabins of Alpine design, but blocks of somewhat minimal one-bedroom flats; my one reminded me of the first flat I ever rented). While the facilities were mass-market, the music wasn't; the bands themselves were chosen by ATP and Pitchfork, hence the standards were quite reasonable, if perhaps a bit hipsterish in places. As well as bands, there were DJs in various venues, and in the chalets, the TVs carried two extra stations of cult films, documentaries and shorts, one programmed by ATP and the other by Pitchfork.
Anyway. some highlights were:
- The Clientele - As dreamy and ethereal as I remember them; music with the texture of honey-golden sunshine through gossamer. Their new songs may have more energetic drums or guitars, but that's still not enough to break away from the la-la land of Alistair's vocal languor. These guys most specifically don't rock.
- Vampire Weekend - Yes, they're a scions of America's elite taking the music of the global downtrodden and using it to sing songs about their disgustingly privileged lives in Cape Cod and at expensive colleges, and liking them invalidates one's right-on credibility, but they are quite good at what they do (which is making danceable pop grooves) and entertaining to watch/listen to, even if one is aware of the inappropriateness of the juxtaposition between medium and message.
- Fuck Buttons - Two guys in hipster attire making electronic drones with a laptop (Mac, of course) and circuit-bent toys, and then fashioning the noises into passable dance music. Not bad. One has to wonder who Buttons was/is, and how he/she/they feel about all this.
- Glass Candy - Former hardcore punks who got really into 1980s Italo-disco and brought some of the hardcore punk energy with them. The floor was a mosh pit with crowd surfing and all. As for Glass Candy (i.e., DJ Johnny Jewell and singer Ida No), they were great. Afterward it was pointed out to me that they are influenced not only by Italian disco but also by the aesthetic of Italian horror films, in particular those of Dario Argento.
- Even - Yes, the Australian indie-rock/power-pop outfit. They struck me as very Australian and very competent at what they do. The bloke looks like quite the part of the veteran Aussie rocker; a solid tradesman in that respected and established of entertainment trades. They've done the hard yards on the long way of rock'n'roll, though haven't reached the top; perhaps if they were 10 years younger, NME would pick them up and make them the next Jet, though right now, they're more like a dependable brand of a traditional product than the Next Big Thing.
- Yeasayer - They seemed epic and prog-rocky; one to look into.
- Los Campesinos! - They were ace. When introducing Knee Deep At ATP, Gareth told the audience that this was their equivalent of playing Wembley, and he's not going to say too much in case he starts crying. They played with terrific enthusiasm and were lots of fun to watch, not to mention musically really good. One of the highlights of the festival.
- Hot Chip - They got the crowd dancing, though people didn't dance as immediately as in Hay-on-Wye last year. Perhaps those Guardian readers really know how to get down? A more likely cause would have been the lack of working air conditioning in the room on that night, though despite that, people did get down.
- Jens Lekman - He opened on Sunday. He had a backing band comprised mostly of cute Swedish girls in colour-coordinated outfits. Everyone wore a brass key around their neck, whose significance is apparently a secret. As he played, Jens instructed the sound engineer, one Steffan, on what to think about when mixing songs: for I'm Leaving You Because I Don't Love You, it was about his last breakup, for Black Cab, about being a teenager and catching public transport, and for Sipping On That Sweet Nectar, about his first kiss. Anyway, Jens' set was really good; the man is an adroit entertainer.
- A Place To Bury Strangers - very loud, and a bit Mary Chain-esque. Not bad.
- Of Montreal - They were brilliant as before. They had the psychedelic costumes, the dancers/psychodramatic performers and the visuals, and played an hour's worth of songs, mostly from their past 2 albums. I also saw the mirrorball ninja guy wandering around the festival site in full costume a few hours earlier, playing on the adventure playground.
- Harmonia were very impressive; three older German men (the oldest of whom is in his 70s, apparently), seated behind tables covered with electronics, and producing immersive ambient soundscapes, of the sort that all the ambient artists who followed took off, only usually not as well. I stayed for the whole thing, which unfortunately clashed with Caribou. I did manage to see the end of Caribou's encore, and that was quite impressive too; droney electronics with mad percussion.
Anyway, there are photos here.
Guy Blackman writes about the recent wave of afrobeat-influenced indie, excoriates Vampire Weekend for being privileged, apolitical hipsters and using the music of the global downtrodden to essentially crow about their own privileged lives:
As for Vampire Weekend, the newest kids on the Afro-indie block, their adoption of West African and Madagascan musical elements seems deliberately apolitical. "There are certainly going to be a lot of people that listen to our music and they couldn't care less about that stuff," says drummer Chris Tomson, who met his bandmates as students at Columbia University, a prestigious Ivy League college in Manhattan's moneyed Upper West Side.
Despite their protestations, Vampire Weekend are undeniably provocative, and arguably offensive. Their preppy image and campus-based lyrics invoke connotations of rare privilege, while musically they mix their clean Sunny Ade guitars with a heavy dose of Weezer-style nerd rock. They describe their music as "Upper West Side Soweto", and filmed the video to first single Mansard Roof aboard a yacht on the New York Bay. Their debut self-titled album (released last month on influential British label XL Recordings) includes a song entitled Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.
But it seems the past decade or so of conservative rule in the West, along with the progressive dilution of independent music culture into the diminutive, apolitical genre that is indie, has divorced many young artists from the larger ramifications of their music. These days everything is available, everything is free, and so nothing needs to mean anything.I wonder whether the whole taking-the-music-of-the-downtrodden-and-singing-about-elite-colleges thing is meant to be some kind of deliberate attempt at ironic asshole cool, like Gavin McInnes (the Vice editor) wearing a Skrewdriver T-shirt with a Michael Jackson badge.
Music critic John Harris looks at the curious phenomenon of today's Tory politicians proclaiming their fandom of vehemently anti-Thatcherite music from the 1980s, including The Smiths, The Jam and even bolshy Billy Bragg:
He praises the Smiths for their "brilliant" lyrics; while he was at Eton, he says the music of the Jam "meant a lot"; his initial shortlist for Desert Island Discs included Kirsty MacColl's version of A New England, written by Billy Bragg. At one time or another, all of them were leaders of a subculture that pitted a good deal of British rock music against the party Cameron now leads, but he swats away that incongruity with the same blithe confidence he has used to remarket the Tories as zealous environmentalists and friends of the poor. "I don't see why the left should be the only ones allowed to listen to protest songs," he says, and that seems to be that.Surely there are right-wing protest songs as well. The Beatles' Taxman, for example, or perhaps something by Bryan Ferry.
In the wake of the IRA attack on the 1984 Conservative party conference, for example, Morrissey rather regrettably claimed that "the sorrow of the Brighton bombing is that Thatcher is still alive". By way of pointing up his lack of remorse, his first solo album, Viva Hate, featured a particularly pointed composition entitled Margaret on the Guillotine, which ran thus: "Kind people have a wonderful dream/Margaret on the guillotine/Because people like you/Make me feel so tired/When will you die?" The song has been endlessly mentioned by those who have been querying Cameron's attachment to the Smiths, but to no avail. Just lately, he was once again presented with the words during a Guardian webchat, but batted them away with a glib flourish: "The lyrics - even the ones I disagree with - are great, and often amusing."
On this score, my favourite story concerns the Cameroonian Tory MP Ed Vaizey, who recently appeared on Michael Portillo's BBC4 Thatcher documentary, The Lady's not for Spurning, talking about the Birmingham-based 80s band the Beat, whom he claims to have "adored", despite being an "ardent Thatcherite". "They had a song called Stand Down Margaret," he marvelled, before telling Portillo he assumed that everyone in Britain admired Mrs Thatcher in much the same awestruck terms as he did, so when it came to the song's target, the penny never really dropped. "I couldn't work out what they had against Princess Margaret," he said. D'oh!The article also has an amusing anecdote about David Cameron trying to have his photo taken outside the Salford Lads' Club (where The Smiths were photographed in 1986, while the Tories were last in power and Salford had 80% youth unemployment), and being thwarted by Labour activists
Which is more evidence supporting the argument that the countercultural underground music of the 1980s has finally completed its decay into the innocuous kitsch of "heritage rock", spent of its vitriol and now merely acoustic wallpaper? And all this with neither the original musicians nor, indeed, Margaret Thatcher being dead.
And the award for chutzpah in music marketing goes to EMI for their "Independent Vol. 2" sampler CD:
This artefact was found at Rough Trade Records, in the area by the door where the free magazines and sampler CDs are left. Note the cover, with its semiotics screaming "keeping it real", with the photo of a lovingly tended independent record shop, and above all things, the blurb:
Independent Not depending upon the authority of another, not in a position of subordination or subjection; not subject to external control or rule; self-governing, autonomous, free.Note the word "independent". Not "indie" (which, in today's popular parlance, means music by white boys with guitars, stylists and skinny jeans, and has long since lost any connection to the prickly, unmarketable socialist-contrarian aesthetics of its origins in the Thatcher era), but "independent". If that wasn't enough, the word's definition is given. When we say "independent", the cover seems to say, we mean it
Turning the disc over, however, we see an entirely different story:
It turns out that the record is not actually a compilation of independent artists or recordings from independent labels, but rather a sampler from major label EMI and its various imprints. Granted, some of them are more "alternative" or leftfield than others (veteran post-punk indie label Mute, acquired some years ago, New York mutant-disco imprint DFA, and indie-pop retirement home Heavenly, not to mention Regal, best known for the underground hip-hop of Lily Allen, Voice Of Da Streets). Though somewhere along the way, they stopped trying to fool anyone and slapped on the logos of establishment cornerstones like Capitol and Parlophone.
As for the content? Well, there are some interesting bits (Loney, Dear and Jakobinarina, representing Sweden and Iceland respectively), a few credible veterans (Dave Gahan, who appears to have bought a copy of Native Instruments Massive), and some truly dire Carling-indie (the Pete The Junky Show kicking off the record, doing exactly what you, I and The Sun would expect from them), with a fair amount of workmanlike garage rock. Being the sorts of acts that a major label would convince its accountants to pour money into, though, it's considerably more conservative in style and tone than what you'd expect from independent artists. Independent this ain't.
Heritage-rock bible Mojo Magazine has published its list of the 50 greatest UK indie records of all time. For the most part, it's quite solid, being a melange of Glasgow-school new-optimists, C86-era janglepop and the odd bit of arty post-punk. The only concessions to recent commercial/populist Carling-indie are The Libertines and The Arctic Monkeys, inexplicably placed at #26 and #7 respectively. The Sarah Records roster is represented by one track, The Sea Urchins' Pristine Christine. (I would have expected that a label that defined a big chunk of what British indiepop was for a stretch of the late 80s and early 90s would have had more; perhaps Heavenly's Hearts and Crosses or The Field Mice's Emma's House?)
This acquisition extends destra’s capacity to deliver credible and compelling content and create advertising opportunities on a multi-platform basis around targeted, online communities, particularly in the X & Y demographic.
Mess+Noise will be promoted across destra’s digital and physical publishing and broadcasting platforms, enabling collaboration with destra’s other music communities such as http://www.threedworld.com.au, www.centralstation.com.au and www.mp3.com.au.In other words, we can probably expect it to turn into a sort of JJJ of the web, with the unprofitable articles about small independent bands being replaced by PR pieces about commercial alternative-rock acts, and the forums being swamped by bogans.
After a year of bands with animal names and hipsters with rustic-looking beards, the pastoral/folk thing is well and truly mainstream, now that Goldfrapp's next album, The Seventh Tree, is going in a pastoral direction. That's right, the EMI-signed chanteuse who is known for moving with the winds of change, first having abandoned the post-Morricone dinner-party trip-hop of Felt Mountain for the then fashionable electroclash and glam revivalism, seems to have jumped on the neo-folk bandwagon, albeit with a touch of 1970s Britishness:
Nevertheless, The Seventh Tree is not from an entirely different planet to Supernature. It's also inspired by music from the 1970s, but the softer end of psychedelic pop rather than glam-rock. The band craved a sound that was woozy and hypnotic, and after the album title came to Goldfrapp in a dream, everything else followed suit.
But, despite the American references, the record still sounds indelibly English. Gregory puts it down to their music not having its roots in blues, but I fancy it's more than that. It's the deadpan-meets-Carry On humour that crackles through the album. It's the way in which Edward Lear's nonsense poetry finds a new home in the song Little Bird, which features a crow with mouths for eyes. It's in the Moogs, Mellotrons and Optigans that bring to mind the terribly English electronica of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and when Syd Barrett haunts the album's more psychedelic corners.
There's also a sense of cracked innocence threading itself through these sounds. In the process of songwriting, Gregory and Goldfrapp remembered music from their childhoods - spooky soundtracks to children's programmes, strange sci-fi shows and public information clips. "It was that era that everyone thought the world was going to blow up," Goldfrapp says. "Either the bomb would get you or the rabies."Which sounds like it could potentially be interesting. Or it could be a mainstreamed take on the kind of retro folk weirdness that independent artists have been exploring over the past few years. Though, to be fair, Goldfrapp's niche is not to explore the fringes, but to aggregate what's on them for a more mass-market audience. Of course, as it's a mass-market product on a major label, there is every chance that all that lovely gentle psychedelic-folk subtlety mentioned in the article will be crushed out of the finished product by the standard commercially-mandated brutal overcompression.
(I wonder whether The Seventh Tree is a take-off of the name of freak-folk outfit Voice Of The Seven Woods, a favourite of weird-music curator Andy Votel.)
Here is a tale of two indie bands and their respective negotiations of the contentious issues of commercialism and integrity that arise when an artist is tempted by the siren song of advertisement licensing revenue.
A while ago, Band Of Horses decided to licence one of their songs to Wal-Mart, that scary right-wing bète noire despised by a significant proportion of the sorts of people who buy independent music. After the ad was tested on a limited web release, they started getting bad feedback from fans who heard about it, had a change of heart and pulled the ad, returning Wal-Mart's 30 pieces of silver.
"Some fans, they don't even give a crap," he continued. "They're like, 'Whatever, bands got to get paid.' But at the same time, I was reluctant to do it in the back of my mind, and some fans reminded me there is a reason to feel that way about it. "So once I saw our fans were let down by it, I nixed the TV commercial, and said, 'You know what, this isn't for me. Keep your money.'"Meanwhile, after copping a lot of flack for licensing a song to restaurant chain Outback Steakhouse (itself a major Republican Party donor), Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes digs in and comes out swinging for the moral defense of capitalism, like some kind of indie-hipster John Galt:
The worst kind of person is the one who sucks the dick of the man during the daytime and then draws pictures of themselves slitting his throat at night. Jesus Christ, make up your mind! The thing is, there is a lack of balance. When capitalism is working on a healthy level, everyone gets their dick sucked from time to time and no one gets their throat slit. It's impossible to be a sell out in a capitalist society. You're only a winner or a loser. Either you've found a way to crack the code or you are struggling to do so. To sell out in capitalism is basically to be too accommodating, to not get what you think you deserve. In capitalism, you don't get what you think you deserve though. You get what someone else thinks you deserve. So the trick is to make them think you are worth what you feel you deserve. You deserve a lot, but you'll only get it when you figure out how to manipulate the system.
The thing is, I like capitalism. I think it's an interesting challenge. It's a system that rewards the imaginative and ambitious adults and punishes the lazy adults. Our generation is insanely lazy. We're just as smart as our parents but we are overwhelmed by contradicting ideas that confuse us into paralysis. Maybe the punk rock ethos made sense for the "no future" generation but it doesn't make sense for me. I like producing and purchasing things. I'd much rather go to IKEA than to stand in some bread line. That's because I don't have to stand in a bread line. Most people who throw around terms like "sellout" don't have to stand in one either. They don't have to stand in one because they are gainfully employed. The term "sellout" only exists in the lexicon of the over-privileged. Almost every non-homeless person in America is over-privileged, at least in a global sense.The devil, of course, is in the details. Capitalism doesn't reward those who make good art per se, but those who can find a niche in the market and fill it. Occasionally these two goals line up, but most market niches are for unchallenging populist fare. If one restricts oneself to making significant art, one will find the pickings relatively lean. (Just ask the members of OMD, who started making songs about nuclear war and, once they had mortgages to pay off, went on to manufacture commercial pop groups like Atomic Kitten.) The most successful capitalists in music aren't the most highly critically appraised artists, but rather the likes of 50 Cent and Simon Cowell.
Oh dear; it appears that there's now a Britpop revival, with bands like Kula Shaker and Northern Uproar coming out of retirement to play the Carling circuit for a new generation of NME readers:
Today, Hodgson is wearing a black Harrington jacket, tight jeans, trainers and badges - a visual blast from the era when he rode a scooter and rubbed shoulders with Shed Seven at Brighton Beach, the Leeds club night that was synonymous with Britpop in the north the way Blow Up was in the south. Hodgson went there for three years. He and his bandmates claim they could tell which band a person was into by the shade of their clothes.
"Music was stale," he says. "It was all shoegazing, American grunge. The charts were full of dance shit. We thought we'd bring indie back, but with more rock guitars. Suddenly, there were a load of bands with the same idea, and it became a scene."(Also known as "when indie turned to shite". Then the careerists, realising that there was money to be made from white boys with guitars, haircuts and a stylist's careful touch, jumped on and the whole thing went (champagne, or perhaps cocaine) supernova, sucking the oxygen out of the British indie genre like a fuel-air explosive. And thus, a decade and a bit down the track, we get Carling-indie in its most moronic, populist form; no longer music for thoughtful bookish types but for lagered-up geezers on the make.)
"There was camaraderie between bands that toured together, like us and Oasis, but I always thought Damon Albarn was a wanker," says Priest. "He'd say things like, 'You're looking very psychedelic tonight, Mathew.' I'm from Birmingham. What's that about? He totally puts your back up. But I completely respect the cunt. He's a genius."For small values of "genius". He's like a Momus for Evening Standard readers.
In today's Grauniad, Jude Rogers looks at the shoegazer revival:
Ulrich Schnauss, the 29-year-old DJ whose dreamy second album Goodbye came out in June, thinks this escapism is vital to shoegazing's appeal. He comes from the north German outpost of Kiel, a dull town that he saw as the equivalent of Reading, home to Halstead's Slowdive. "Too much music these days is about how bad these towns are, about everyday life, and all the dull details. Shoegazing is a way out of that - there's melancholy in it, but lots of heaven there too." He thinks people connect with dreamy music more in times of world crisis, and points out how psychedelic music has flourished during the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. "It's music that offers a much more profound way of trying to cope with a bad world, isn't it? Offering hope rather than breaking your guitar and shouting 'fuck you!'"
Still, images like these won't help change the minds of detractors. It doesn't help that Alan McGee, the man who signed Ride, My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive to Creation, is its most vehement critic. "Bloody nonsense. My Bloody Valentine were my comedy band. Ride were different - they were a rock band, really, a fantastic rock band - but My Bloody Valentine were a joke, my way of seeing how far I could push hype." Although he said Shields was a genius in the Guardian in 2004, he now says, unconvincingly, that the revival is just people still buying his lies.It's interesting that the two genres of independent music antithetical to the mainstream currently undergoing revivals—indiepop (as per an earlier article by Rogers) and shoegazer— are largely separate worlds. Having lived in London for most of the past 3 years and attended both shoegazer nights (Club AC30, Sonic Cathedral) and indiepop nights (How Does It Feel To Be Loved (which, incidentally, has a "no shoegazer" policy on its music) and Spiral Scratch) nights, I've noticed that very few of the people who go to one kind of night go to the other.
The Guardian's (and Smoke's) Jude Rogers looks at how the meaning of the word "indie" has changed, and attempts to reclaim it:
Indie used to be such a simple term in the Eighties - a byword for an attitude, a subculture and a territory of music that was quietly, stubbornly, alternative. In the UK it meant anti-commercialism wearing a cardigan and glasses; a protest against the mainstream sporting twee hairslides. But now it has come to mean something entirely different. A few weeks ago, Big Brother contestant Emily Parr proclaimed, hilariously: 'There's a new music taking over this country and it's called indie.' Mario Testino shoots 'indie fashion' for Vogue and multi-platinum-selling guitar groups such as the Kooks, Razorlight and Snow Patrol are 'indie bands'. Indie is now a byword for something very different: for commercial savvy and success disguised as contemporary cool. It is no longer independent of anything: indie has become the mainstream.Rogers' first stop is, appropriately enough, a gig by Art Brut, who combine the shambolicism of "old indie" with the style and marketable coolness of "new indie".
Outside, a group of teenagers in velvet jackets are handing out flyers. They positively ooze indie. 'We're independent, not indie,' says Cyan, 16, with a studied world-weariness. 'We would've been, but indie means the Libertines and the View these days. We're more DIY.' He's in a band called I Am the Arm with his friend Aimee, and they both like Art Brut because the band doesn't subscribe to any notions of 'cool'. 'Indie's not difficult or energetic at all any more. It's just music for the mainstream. It's music for poseurs.'
That said, her friend Ben, 21, says, 'Indie is something to make you look better next to the chavs.' And Emma, 23, and Jo, 26, two very well-spoken, pleasant girls with thick fringes, like the term because 'being indie made you cooler at school, because you were wearing the right kind of clothes'. They agree this isn't the kind of indie that ruled back in the Eighties, but a modern, fashionable strand. And how would they define indie now? 'Cool guitar bands,' they say, before running down the stairs to hear Art Brut arrive in a flourish of feedback.
I catch a bus to the Young and Lost Club in Shoreditch, east London. I come here to investigate a related complaint about contemporary indie: that it has gone posh as well as cool; that the music of the underdog has been taken over by the rich kids, including ubiquitous gossip-column staple Peaches Geldof. Pop critic Simon Price recently complained about indie gigs being full of 'horsey young fillies canoodling with flush-faced bucks, fresh out of public school', deeming the indie gig the new 'social club for dressed-down debutantes to see and be seen'.However, there is hope; while the word "indie" essentially means "music that was considered "white" 10 years ago", and encompasses everything from Judas Priest to Coldplay (the other variety of music is "hip-hop", which includes reggae, funk and R&B—though not Rhythm and Blues, as that's "indie"), the term "indie-pop", lacking the sort of cocky stadium-filling swagger that brings the sponsors and advertisers onside, is still cherished by legions of purists and not of interest to trendy poseurs; which means that, by the new definition, they're not very "indie":
A large part of tonight's crowd come from the indie messageboard Bowlie, an international web community that grew out of the Belle and Sebastian and Jeepster label websites. Regular member Emma, 24, laughs as she tells me what a bouncer said to her recently: 'He said, "You're the most uncool crowd I've ever seen. You're like a disco for the computer club."' The messageboard's founder, David Kitchen, agrees. 'Indie initially was never about coolness. It was about the people that Pulp summed up so well - a little bit ugly, a little bit kooky, a bit fucked-up. It's for people who want to do things for themselves, and share things together, without fear of recrimination.'
HDIF founder Ian Watson is especially delighted that this culture is booming. Thanks to the internet, and a renewed enthusiasm for stuff away from the flimflam of popular music, he thinks we're now living in a golden age for DIY music. He mentions a new indie-pop festival, Indie Tracks, to be held in a station in Derbyshire this month, and how he keeps hearing about people setting up their own clubs, bands and labels.And here, rock critic Kitty Empire writes about the history of "indie" and how it won the world and lost its soul.
Melbourne casiopunk combo Ninetynine recently played a live-to-air performance at Melbourne radio station PBS. The performance (which was quite good; including Wöekenender and The Process and some promisingly angular-sounding new songs) may be streamed from here (or, if you view the source, you can find the RealAudio file here.
The Spill Label, Greg Wadley's indie label, spent much of the 1990s compiling tracks by Australian indie bands (that's real indie bands, ones without marketing budgets or commercial sponsorship) and releasing them on a set of cassette and CD compilations. They've now made these compilations available for download in MP3 format. This includes Spill 1, 2 and 3, as well as the Box compilation of bands covering TV theme songs (which has some quality material) and the Kraftworks compilation (no prizes for guessing what this is), and includes material by artists such as Clag, Clowns Smiling Backwards, Small World Experience, Minimum Chips, various projects involving the likes of Laura Macfarlane and Guy Blackman and, of course, New Waver.
Aleks And The Ramps' first full-length, Pisces Vs. Aquarius, does have its share of eccentric moments. "No Se Si Es Amor" is a cover of Roxette's 1990 chart hit "It Must Have Been Love", sung in Spanish and backed by primitive electronic blips and beeps and Aleks' banjo. Other song titles include "Aminals" and "Diary Of A Lizard Man". But there are also threads of a much darker lyrical obsession woven throughout. Often, they appear as dialogues, either between two people or a conflicted memory, which travel along the entanglements of violence and sexual politics in neatly rhyming couplets.
In the story told by one track, "Brain", two cripples hobble aboard a bus and share a flashback to a car accident. The lyrics are written as two individual memories which spool together into a kind of disjointed conversation. "If you were in pain, I couldn't tell," laments Aleks in deadpan character. "I was dealing with a punctured lung." The voice which replies is so playful and effortlessly gorgeous that it's difficult not to become entranced by the contrast. "Your gasping reminded me of the first time we made love," sings Janita, member of The Ramps and Aleks's real-life lover.I have Pisces Vs. Aquarius, and can vouch for it being as good as the article suggests. With a mordant wit and a deadpan voice, Aleks touches on themes such as prison escapes ("123456 (pardon us)"), the state of being a corpse ("Rigor Mortis"), and paranoid schizophrenia ("They're Recording Everything We Say"), whilst jumping between genres, combining banjos, electronic beats and crunchy metal riffs, and yet somehow manages to remain highly listenable. And the Roxette cover is genius.
According to the article, though, not all is well in the Melbourne live music scene, with commercial pressures pushing out the sort of experimental leftfield music in favour of a more commercially viable aggressive normality:
Since then, the band has recorded an album, performed a live-to-air on Melbourne radio station PBS and accrued a reasonable amount of interest. But when Aleks tried to book a venue for the launch of "They're Recording Everything We Say", the first single from Pisces Vs. Aquarius, he found it a difficult task. Many of the smaller inner-city venues he had frequented had closed -- including Good Morning Captain, where the first incarnation of the band had played its first and only gig -- and those that were left were either too small to fit five animated musicians, or wanted to play hard-ball on the door figures.
No doubt it is difficult for larger, well-maintained rooms like the East Brunswick to risk booking young or experimental bands in a headline slot, while venues in their shadow - bleeding door numbers - have become more fastidious about ensuring each night's profitability. The result can be a closed door for bands that are untested or outside the current status quo. Whether due to fatigue or necessity, the problem is reflected in the habits of venues' music directors.
Aleks: "A lot of bookers don't actually watch the bands. It's really weird that the type of people who are put in these positions are the type of people that don't bother watching music. I think they just sit in their office in this weird little bubble browsing MySpace, judging who are the best and biggest bands based on how many friends they've got."
In the Observer, Sean O'Hagan has a piece about the history and legacy of The Smiths:
No other group carried such a weight of expectation — and tradition — as the Smiths. Had they not risen to the occasion, it is not overstating the case to say that the entire trajectory of recent British rock music as we now know it — that's the line from the Smiths to the Stone Roses to Oasis and on to the Libertines and today's indie darlings, Arctic Monkeys — would not have been traced.Mind you, it seems that much of the influence The Smiths had over today's commercially ubiquitous white-guys-with-guitars ("indie") bands was to legitimise being an anachronism.
'Who would have thought,' as Will Self puts it, 'that over 20 years after the Smiths' demise we would be listening to so much music that, in the main, is simply an atrophied form of the Smith's rock classicism?'In other news about Mancunian bands: apparently New Order have broken up, this time permanently.
I just watched Sticky Carpet, a recent (2006) documentary on the Melbourne music scene. It was quite interesting, interviewing musicians and scene figures about various aspects of it, such as the interplay between the mainstream and the alternative (most of them were very anti-mainstream), art and commercialism (the consensus was that when money becomes a consideration, the range of allowable creative decisions narrows severely), Melbourne's profusion of band venues and community radio stations, and even the theory that Melbourne's preeminence in the Australian music scene has to do with the cold winter days encouraging musicians to go indoors and rehearse.
Sticky Carpet's main flaw was its fairly heavy
I was surprised to find that the frontman of Eddy Current Suppression Ring wasn't wearing a blue singlet or sporting a rat's tail mullet. I sort of placed them as part of a Bodgie revival.
Another interesting thing that was said in the documentary: Tony Biggs (who presents the talk-radio segment on 3RRR) made the claim that the fact that 99% of commercial music consists of love songs might contribute to depression and mental illness, as such songs instill unreasonably optimistic expectations in listeners.
Sticky Carpet, a recent documentary on Melbourne's independent music scene, is coming out on DVD on 8 March 2007, and will feature over an hour of bonus material, including live footage and film clips:
This raw and vital film collects interviews from musicians currently leading the charge in Melbourne's underground. Not restricted to any one genre the film brings together everyone from sound explorers Robin Fox and Rod Cooper to and Melbourne scene stalwarts like Ross Knight (Cosmic Psychos), Bruce Milne (founder of Au-Go-Go Records, In-Fidelity Records) and Roland S. Howard (Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party).
Bands included on the documentary: The Stabs, HTRK, My Disco, Colditz Glider, The Birthday Party, Baseball, Group Seizure, True Radical Miracle, Cockfight Shootout, Nation Blue, The Sinking Citizenship, Agents of Abhorrence, Civil Dissent, ABC Weapons, Pisschrist, The Dacios, The Sailors, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Depression, Trash 'n' Chaos, Batrider, Ninetynine, The Stabs, The Assassination Collective, Digger and the Pussycats, The Losers, Bored!It looks like a DVD well worth getting.
Will Hodgkinson, Guardian columnist and early-1970s folk-rock enthusiast, has decided to start his own record label, and is writing about it:
The plan is simple: in the space of one year, I'm going to launch a record label. I have a name for it (Big Bertha), enough of a loan to get going, in a modest sort of way (£5,000), and a philosophy (Big Bertha's releases have to fit into my existing record collection: somewhere between 1968's Chelsea Girl by Nico and 1972's Moyshe McStiff and the Sacred Lancers of the Tartan Heart by medieval folk-rock obscurities Cob).The unabashedly retro focus sounds like it could constrain the label somewhat; then again, perhaps in this day when most "indie" music one hears about that's not whorishly commercial and artistically moribund is describable as "hippie-folk" (with, perhaps, the odd laptop), it could work. Perhaps Pitchfork will pick up their releases and break them?
Hodgkinson then describes the next step of his adventure: the talent-scouting process.
My evening at the boozer in the official role of Big Bertha talent scout did not get off to a good start. First up was a woman who insisted on explaining what each one of her painfully literal songs was about. "This song's about the Iraq war," she said, before singing a song called The Iraq War. Then came a middle-aged woman in thigh-high leather boots who looked, in a rather disturbing way, like my mother. She took tambourines and miniature drums out of a Tesco carrier bag and passed them round the audience, insisting that we bang along as she jumped around the stage and yelped discordantly. I shook my tambourine weakly and tried not to burst into tears. The next act was called Scrotum Clamp. Further comment is surely superfluous.The article is the first in a monthly series, which will chart the progress of newly-formed Big Bertha Records.
And then there's the Nippon Whale T-shirt.
Scottish skronk-pop trio Bis have reformed, albeit for two gigs only. Bis will be playing at King Tut's in Glasgow on the 6th of April, and the NME/Carling/Xfm/VirginMobile Academy in Islington on the 7th.
The Graun writes about The Pitchfork Effect, which is sort of like the Slashdot effect, only rather than overwhelming web servers, it propels obscure indie bands to fame and critical acclaim, on the strength of a single review in one of the new generation of independent music websites like Pitchfork and DrownedInSound. These sites can now make or break a band by word of mouth, not because they are read by many music fans, but because they reach the few passionate enough about new music to be high up the opinion-forming chain; by the time a band filters down to corporate mass media dinosaurs such as NME, and the millions of teenagers of all ages who buy their "indie" uniforms through the mail-order ads in the back hear of a band, it's overexposed and the Pitchfork coolsies have moved on to the next new thing.
But websites flourish precisely because they don't have to worry who to put on their covers, a factor that still makes or breaks magazine sales. They feel more fearless in the face of the music industry because they're not part of the system, says Schreiber. "Publications obviously seem to feel they need to watch their step and not alienate the label or the artist or the publicist or the advertising department, but that means sacrificing a lot of how you wind up feeling about a lot of the records you have to cover. We don't have to do that."
Travis buys plenty of albums from Pitchfork's recommendations, because he believes its reviews. "I trust them because Pitchfork has more independence. It's like the NME used to be, back in the day. These days it has more of an agenda. Like when Conor [McNicholas, editor of the NME] said on national TV that the NME wouldn't put Antony [of Antony and the Johnsons] on the cover after he'd won the Mercury Music Prize - because he was 'too weird'. It's staggering to hear that."Also in the Guardian: a piece on the recent wave of Balkan/Gypsy-influenced indie music.
Australian indie/folk-pop label Candle Records, home to the likes of The Lucksmiths, The Guild League and Mid-State Orange, is closing down at the end of March next year:
It's with a heavy heart that after 12 years of running Candle Records, I have decided to close the label on March 31, 2007. Candle Records has been a big part of my life, run on the passion and love of music. I have made so many good friends and have worked with an incredible group of talented people. Great friendships have formed and the Candle family has in fact felt like a family. My job has involved managing bands, releasing albums, booking shows, publicising gigs, selling CDs, running the mail order and website and it's all been an absolute pleasure. But now is the time for change.
Hopefully you've enjoyed the music and the shows. The bands will continue on but with new homes next year. We'll keep you updated. The last candle concerts will be held in February. I hope you can make it. After March, I plan to take a well deserved holiday and will continue to run Polyester Records in Fitzroy.
US musician James "Wooden Wand" Toth has written a test for predicting the lifespan of your band:
We'll start with a generous TEN YEARS and go from there, adding and subtracting as needed.
- SUBTRACT ONE YEAR for any two people in the band who identify themselves as a couple, and TWO YEARS for each additional couple.
- ADD ONE YEAR for every attractive girl in the band. Add six more months if she doesn't play bass.
- SUBTRACT THREE MONTHS for each vegetarian in the band who worries that the Waffle House hash browns are 'cooked with the meat spatulas.'
The Manic Street Preachers' Nicky Wire talks to the Guardian about C86 and the "true birth of indie".
Music history holds that nothing much happened in British rock between the rise of the Smiths (early 1980s) and the rise of the Stone Roses (early 1990s), but something did. For want of a better name, it gets called C86, after a compilation tape the NME put out that year. It was iconoclastic and human, and so fiercely independent it was kind of beyond authenticity. Some people have called it the true birth of indie, in which case this year marks its 20th anniversary.I suspect Simon Reynolds (who is on record as dismissing the time between post-punk being assimilated into "new pop" and the rise of acid-house/rave culture—i.e., the C86 era—as a wasteland) would disagree about the "true birth of indie", placing it back in the post-punk era. Though the two aren't disconnected; there are probably threads running from post-punk (in particular DIY mail-order cassette labels and provincial garage bands like The Homosexuals, not to mention obvious influences like Orange Juice) into C86.
Even at the time, being into C86 bands felt like being part of a secret society. The scene was snobbish and elitist - although in a really good way. If the bands had icons, they always seemed to be slightly under the radar: record sleeves wouldn't have a picture of Andy Warhol on them, but of some girl who had hung around the Factory for a couple of days in 1966. It forced you to think a bit - to discover things.
A couple of the bands went on to lasting success, including Primal Scream - who now seem really embarrassed about that era in their history. But most C86 bands had a lack of ambition in a really good way. There seemed no desire to make any money. Today's indie artists are well-groomed; in the C86 era, every band member had holes in their jumpers. It wasn't a punk thing, it was a poor thing. You also got the impression, looking at a C86 band, that a lot of these musicians were living at home with their parents. This was totally inspirational: here were people who were in a band and just like you.
The ICA in London is marking the 20th anniversary of the C86 era with a weekend of live shows, exhibitions and film screenings. I'm not sure if we need these gigs to remember it. The thing I loved about C86 was the romance and doomed elitism: it felt like nostalgia even as it was happening. It's telling that none of the original bands have actually reformed to play at the ICA, and that none of the individual records have been re-released. That somehow makes it more special, more precious. Some things are meant to be rare.Ah yes, the ICA's C86 commemoration, with a headline gig by The Magic Numbers, who were presumably chosen because they play old-fashioned pop on guitars and aren't particularly macho. (Perhaps Coldplay and Blandly Drawn Boy were otherwise engaged?) Never mind that their brand of guitar-pop has a genteel, approachable smoothness and Spectoresque studio polish to it that's as far away from the naïve, ramshackle enthusiasm of C86 as it is from thrash-metal or Tuvan throat singing. It could well be that today's vaguely indie-ish commercial music, from the Arctic Monkeys to Coldplay, couldn't have existed in its present form without C86, but it is a different species, one more polished, more tastefully conservative and better adapted to commercial niches which C86 couldn't survive in. (Could you imagine, for example, the Wolfhounds or McCarthy being played in chic Notting Hill eateries full of designer-attired yummy-mummies and media types?)
In their latest attempt to buy underground street cred for their Zune music player, Microsoft approached record-store hipster bible Pitchfork to set up a Zune section on their website where hipsters could use the player's proprietary technology to post reviews and content (all under the umbrella of Microsoft's DRM, of course), and hopefully serve as opinion leaders for making the DRM-crippled, ultra-proprietary piece of crapware synonymous with indie cool as much as the spammy wasteland of MySpace has become with cutting-edge unsigned bands. Pitchfork said no.
"Pitchfork's audience looks at that site like it is the Bible," said one high-level music industry executive. "They might not take too kindly to a Microsoft pop-up on the site or a relationship with such a big corporation."
But Schreiber shot down that rationale. "It wasn't anything political, and I don't want to sell Microsoft or the Zune short," Schreiber said. "But the idea just doesn't make a whole lot of sense for us."There is still hope for Microsoft: they have
Despite being on indefinite hiatus, Melbourne/Brisbane krautesque art-pop combo Minimum Chips are following the likes of The Lucksmiths, Sodastream and Architecture In Helsinki into Europe, having just released a retrospective album. Titled "Lady Grey", it combines tracks from Sound Asleep and Kitchen Tea Thankyou (their last two releases). Reviews have so far been pretty good, with the expected comparisons to early Broadcast and Stereolab, with added Australian sunshine.
If you like Lady Grey, you may want to check out some of their earlier tracks; they've made MP3s of everything before Sound Asleep available on their web site.
"Poor Aim: Love Songs", an EP by US indie electropop band The Blow, is available for free download (in MP3 format) from the K Records web site. This offer is valid until the 24th of October, when their new album, Paper Television, is officially released. The EP is fairly good (it's somewhere between Talkshow Boy and Pony Up!), so grab it.
My favourite radio programme these days is International Pop Underground. This is a weekly 2-hour show on Melbourne's community radio station 3RRR, presented by music journalist Anthony Carew, and playing a broad selection of interesting music from all over the world, ranging from indiepop to post-rock to antifolk to bedroom electronica; it's quite variable, though typically falls somewhere in the pop-music tradition whilst having that slightly rough-hewn, handcrafted eccentricity absent from the assembly-line ad-jingle/ringtone music most people know as "pop".
I started listening to this back in Melbourne some years ago, tuning into 3RRR using a radio. I stopped doing so when moving to London, mostly because, while you can stream it from the radio station's web page, it falls inconveniently on Wednesday morning local time. A year and a bit ago, I cobbled together a script for capturing and storing the stream for future listening, and started tuning in, sporadically, again. In recent months, I have started regularly listening to this show (usually on the following Saturday morning, whilst still in bed; at(1) is my friend). Whilst doing so, I have discovered numerous gems; for example, last week's show included:
- The Blow, Babay (Eat A Critter, Feel Its Wrath); a cute, clever song about meat-eating as a metaphor for unrequited love, from the point of view of the eaten creature/spurned lover, over a choppy, jaunty, Casiotone-ish backing. One for DJ sets.
- The Decemberists, Sons and Daughters; nothing to do with the old Australian TV soap or the NME band from a few years ago, but rather a song rallying the faithful to flee strife and persecution in boats and dirigibles and leave for a new underwater utopia of freedom and abundant cinnamon. Surreal and yet stirring.
- José González' cover of Kylie Minogue's "Hand On Your Heart", and André Herman Düne's similarly acoustic cover of Bronski Beat's "Small Town Boy", both of which were quite good.
- Okkervil River, The President's Dead, which was almost like a piece of spoken word set to music, about an otherwise ordinary, and quite pleasant, day suddenly shattered by an event in the news.
- And a track by The Whitest Boy Alive, Erlend (Kings Of Convenience) Øye's new electropop project, whose CD I'll have to get. (Damn you, Mr. Carew, for making me spend so much money on CDs.)
This is not the only programme on RRR I listen to; I also sometimes tune into Local And/Or General, the new-Australian-indie show. I don't listen to it as often as IPU because it's not as consistently rewarding. Whilst it does play a few gems, there is rather a lot of standard garage/pub/grunge rock to sort through to get to it.
An addendum to the Swedish indie-pop post made yesterday: Jim tells me that government-funding of indie music does happen in Britain—in Wales:
Many of the small bands and record labels here are part-funded by the Welsh Language Board. Who knows what'll happen to that funding once the Welsh Language Board is shut down, folded into the rest of the Assembly by Rhodri Morgan's "Bonfire of the Quangos." But here's an example - the Board have just released the new "Dan y Cownter 2" CD, which anyone can have for free, showcasing 10 bands on 10 different labels. If you want a copy, just email email@example.com. You don't even have to do it in Welsh. Review here. Sorry to sound like an advert, but it's an excellent thing.There is indeed a vibrant music scene in Wales (Jim played me some examples, from the early 1980s to the present day, when I was last in Aberystwyth, along with commentary and translations), and a lot happening there creatively, with both the eisteddfod tradition and local government funding helping.
Of course, the key difference between Welsh and Swedish indie pop is that the Swedes usually sing in English. I guess it helps that the English never colonised Sweden and tried to extinguish its language.
Jude Rogers (who, I believe, co-edits the Smoke zine, along with Matt Haynes) has an article in the Graun about the recent explosion of Swedish indie pop, and how Sweden seems to have recently become the homeland of indie-pop (in the old-school, pre-Britpop/Carling/Xfm sense of the word):
"Things have always been very do-it-yourself here," says Angergard. "Labrador has never had a grand, ambitious plan. Partly because bands don't expect much in Sweden. They never think of the fame, or the money like you do in Britain; there's just not that attitude. Bands are more laid-back, they all have jobs and normal lives." Angergard pats his chest contentedly. "They just make music because it's a fun thing to do."Which sounds a bit like Melbourne; at least compared to hyper-competitive, status-conscious England. Of course, in England you do get bands in the old-school indie-pop tradition, though they're the exception rather than the rule, and when you mention "indie" to someone, you have to explain that you're not referring to the Kaiser Monkeys or some other hyper-stylised, massively commercial, aggressively success-oriented outfit.
What's noticeable about these Swedish indie bands is their ambition - not in terms of a rock'n'roll attitude, but in terms of them wanting to put more in, and get more out of, their songs. Johan Duncanson of the Radio Dept - a Labrador band who had two NME singles of the week with their last album and hope for more with their new one, Pet Grief - reckons that this difference is because Sweden's musical culture's less laddish than elsewhere. "So much indie music in America and Britain these days is very male, very urrgghh. Dirty, smelly, heterosexual music. We're less about getting drunk and more about sitting with friends, playing around with keyboards and guitars, finding different sounds and textures - making something exciting for ourselves."
Duncanson admits that it helps that the Swedish government is so supportive of the arts. Anyone can get money for guitar strings, or form a studiocirkel - a group of individuals who apply for government funding for rehearsal rooms. This encourages bands such as the Radio Dept to take the DIY ethos further. Bands who, in Duncanson's words, want to "go back to what indie used to be about, before it became a term that doesn't mean anything".Of course, this would never happen in Britain. There's no economically rational reason for the government to fund indie music, when corporate sponsors can do so, and additionally result with a more efficiently marketable form of "indie music".
Have these "old English indie principles" helped Swedish indie connect with indie kids here in Britain? It helps, obviously, that most Swedish indie is written in English - mainly, the bands say, because they have grown up with pop music being sung in English, or they have been Anglophiles themselves. Still, there are Swedish language bands such as [ingenting] (which means [nothing] in English) and Vapnet, who are getting record label interest over here, and who are regularly played at Brighton's Scandophile club night, Sweden Made Me. "It's mainly the sound of these records rather than the language they sing in," says the club's founder, Rob Sinden. "It's homegrown music, made in bedrooms, there's this whole DIY ethic. There's a pride about that, a real happiness about it, that appeals to English indie fans."
Ninetynine have just posted their upcoming European tour dates. They're playing Finland (13-15 October), Russia (17-19), Iceland (22nd), then a five-day tour of Spain (24th to 28th), and ending the tour with a London date on the 31st.
Their new album, Worlds Of Space, Worlds Of Population, Worlds Of Robots, has just been released in Australia. More details on that when my copy arrives.
As the Triffids' Born Sandy Devotional gets rereleased by super-trendy Indie™ label Domino Records (presumably adding some gravitas to their current roster, which leans towards ephemeral, facile Carling-indie), The Age looks at the phenomenon of how so many Australian bands attained critical acclaim abroad, often succeeding in Australia only after the UK and Europe, if at all:
The curators of Kunstencentrum België are still raving about "the importance of the Triffids (to) musical developments from the '80s onwards, and their influence on diverse musical movements afterwards". The Belgians are flying in the surviving members as guests of honour at a Triffids music and memorabilia retrospective next week. Then the band goes to London, where Islington Council has approved the unveiling of a plaque on the hallowed site where their Born Sandy Devotional album was made 20 years ago.A lot of the Australian indie exodus, argues Australian popular-music historian Clinton Walker, was caused by Australia's oppressively (pub-)rockist monoculture at the time:
To illustrate why the Triffids left Australia, Graham Lee opens the Born Sandy Devotional CD book to a photo of a Queensland pub's events board: "Friday: stubbies welcome nite. Saturday: Triffids with Phil Emmanuel's Rockola. Sunday: wet T-shirt competition."
Dave Graney also recalls the '80s indie exodus in terms of cultural conflict. "These inner-city bands didn't want to engage in pub rock. They couldn't. Famously, the Scientists opened for the Angels at Parramatta Leagues Club (in 1983) and they were bottled off stage.(Though what of the famous "little band" scene, as celebrated in documents like Dogs In Space? Was that merely the urban fringe of the rockist hegemony, as unwelcoming to those not sharing its Aussie larrikin values as the audience at a Rose Tattoo gig, an oasis of cosmopolitan bohemianism accessible to a lucky few who found it, or a bit of both?)
Of course, then came JJJ going national, and after the shockwaves of grunge going mainstream in America reached Australia's shores, pretty soon you had Big Day Out, major-signed local "alternative" bands (most of whom were parts of an equally rockist grunge monoculture) on JJJ, and then it's not long until Killing Heidi were selling mobile phones on television. Though then there was sufficient open-mindedness in the new Australia for vibrant and cosmopolitan scenes to flourish in the inner cities (well, mostly Melbourne, with smaller scenes in places like Brisbane and Perth; Sydney hadn't recovered from the two-pronged onslaught of poker machines and its community radio station being ripped out of its heart and refashioned into a deracinated national "youth" broadcaster, though things appear to be much better there these days), producing a rich ecosystem of original bands, which continues to this day.
Even if he was still with us, it's unlikely the Triffids would have been invited to play Wide Open Road at the Countdown arena spectacular in September. Instead we'll celebrate their stay-at-home contemporaries: Kids in the Kitchen, Uncanny X-Men, Mondo Rock, Pseudo Echo, Real Life. In Perth the local heroes will be the Eurogliders.
Grant McLennan, one half of the core of legendary Australian indie guitar-pop group The Go-Betweens, passed away yesterday, dying in his sleep at his home in Brisbane. He was 48. His band, The Go-Betweens, formed in 1981 and reformed in 1999, released quite a few albums, had a number of hits including Streets Of Your Town and Cattle and Cane, and, with their jangly guitar melodies and thoughtful lyrics, were hugely influential on a generation of songwriters and musicians.
Indiepedia is like Wikipedia, only focussing on indie bands, and run by people who know that "indie music" is not the same as "whatever NME and Xfm are pimping now". Of course, it could be argued that it would be better just to post these articles to Wikipedia.
Melbourne/Brisbane twee-krautpop outfit Minimum Chips have released a video to their song Goodbye, from their most recent album, Kitchen Tea Thankyou. Filmed in oversaturated Super 8, it involves the band members packing into an old turquoise Toyota and going for a picnic in the park, and goes quite well with their music. There's a streaming Flash version on YouTube here, and Spiked Candy has put up a downloadable version here.
Apparently Minimum Chips are going on indefinite hiatus, as frontwoman Nicole is having a baby; which could mean no more Minimum Chips, or just a longer than usual wait for the next EP. However, they're not leaving fans empty-handed; they have posted (128kbps) MP3s of their entire back-catalogue, including their recent album Kitchen Tea Thankyou, on their discography page.
While the major labels are looking for new ways to make their music more inconvenient to users, two US indie labels—Merge and Saddle Creek—are taking the opposite approach, and giving away free MP3s with each vinyl purchase. This move caters to the section of their customer base who prefer music on vinyl but also want to have copies for their MP3 players. Also note the lack of DRM on the MP3 files.
(via bOING bOING)
Things I didn't know until today: apparently, David McClymont, the bass player from the seminal early-1980s Scottish indie band Orange Juice, wrote the Lonely Planet book on Melbourne. (Or so someone claims on last.fm)
Black Box Recorder vocalist Sarah Nixey is back, this time doing solo work and guesting for a band named Infantjoy. She is now workng on a solo album, which apparently will be almost as edgy as the Black Box Recorder material.
This site has a lot of guitar tabs for songs by Australian bands; it includes a decent number of indie/garage/non-mainstream bands (including The Doug Anthony Allstars, The Paradise Motel, Underground Lovers, several generations of coolsie favourites such as Architecture In Helsinki, The Lucksmiths and The Go-Betweens, and numerous smaller bands), as well as all the mainstream chart-toppers you'd expect.
Apparently, the founder of one of the original non-heterosexual indie nights in London, Popstarz, which provided gay indie kids one of their first chances to come out of the I-don't-like-disco closet, has passed away. No Rock&Roll Fun has this to say:
Hobart recognised that there was a massive unsatisfied market of gay and bi people who wanted to dance with their fringes over their eyes instead of their shirts off their backs. The feeling was that gay people had been liberated from the hell that theyd been in for most of their teen to adult lives, he said. So many people said to me it was like coming out of the closet for the second time.
The success of Popstarz led to a sudden blossoming of other non-straight indie club nights around the country, most notably in the form of Poptastic, although the lack of a large geographic catchment area meant a lot of the original bright-eyed provincial nights started to water down their indie policy: first Kylie would edge out the Mudhoney; then Sonia would start to take over from the Kenickie, until at some nights it could be difficult to remember you'd turned up on the promise of an alternative. Actually, that's not so very different from most straight indie nights, now we come to think of it.That is true. These days, indie kids are largely over indie music. They know about it, for sure, and can quote Pavement discographies chapter and verse and make allusions to Johnny Marr and Jarvis Cocker and such, but in a knowing, over-it way. Sometimes you may hear some obscure twee janglepop or what have you, but step into a night frequented by indie kids and you're more likely to hear old-sk00l Michael Jackson (if one were to compile a Coolsie Top 40, "Gotta Be Startin' Something" would be near #1) or crunk booty anthems or Eye Of The Tiger or something. Indie music serves its purpose, as the gatekeeper to the scene, but once you pass the test, you can put your Kindercore compilations back on the shelf, crack open a Pabst Blue Ribbon and get down to enjoyable top-40 cheese, knowing that everyone else in the room is as hip and knowing as you. The only people who still listen to indie music seem to be nostalgic thirtysomethings reliving their anxious adolescence.
Then again, the word "indie" is going the way the word "alternative" went in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Nowadays it refers mostly to hype-led, ultra-derivative new-wave/garage-rock copyists, who, if not signed to major labels, are pimped by multinational corporations like Coors/Carling and Clear Channel and have multi-million-pound advertising campaigns on the same scale as Robbie Williams. (See also: "new wave" and "art rock".) Perhaps it's time for a new term, one which deemphasises the problematic concept of independence (i.e., who is more "indie": Pulp (signed to Universal) or Bloc Party? Did Primal Scream and the Boo Radleys stop being "indie" the instant that Sony bought Creation?) and talks about the æsthetic and philosophical distinctions between the artists and music in question and the commercial mainstream. Perhaps "intelligent pop", or "art pop"?
After 14 years, New York's finest purveyors of beautifully poetic upbeat angst-pop, My Favorite are no more. The band have broken up after frontwoman Andrea Vaughn left. From songwriter Michael Grace Jr.'s characteristically poetic communiqué:
After more than a decade of making music and memories together, life suggests (or demands) changes. And in the cracks that faith won't fill, fractures will occur. You can't build palaces upon rubble. Few things live forever. And that which does—never dies. Thus mourn judiciously, and celebrate what you can.
When I started down this road, all those years ago... a tender teenager in horn rimmed glasses and a second hand Fred Perry, surrounded by misfits and prophets, glue sniffers and geniuses... all I hoped to do was share something of the urgent loveliness and sadness of our lives, surrounded as we were by a plainness of architecture, and ugliness of spirit which defined the suburbs, and (sadly) much of America itself. There was almost something glamorous in defying it, in defining it, as we did. I was consumed with being that dark star, that obscure saint. I wanted to make an art that was as rainy and lush and real and spectral as the coastal towns that comforted us at twilight. I wanted to be a sword swallower, and nostalgia was to be my sword. I wanted to do something courageous.Grace is reportedly putting together a new band called The Secret History; which will be the New Order to My Favorite's Joy Division, or perhaps the Trembling Blue Stars to their Field Mice. I hope more the former than the latter. Anyway, I'll be looking out for it.
That leaves us with a partially recorded could-be masterpiece, one that never truly felt much like a My Favorite record to me in the end anyway. It is also an album which Andrea ended up not recording very much for. An unfinished novel missing a main character.
During the last two years of this band's shaky solidarity, I began to plan—sadly—for this moment. I wrote the name of an imaginary band called The Secret History in the margins of my New York Times. I thought of what I would do, what I could do, if I had to start again. In the next couple months, this will all begin to take shape; a new project, old faces, a new website and diary, a resurrection of the record, a search for a new Nico, a crime to end all crimes. The last battle.I had the good fortune to see My Favorite, once, when they played in London some three months before they broke up. It was a privilege I didn't have with the various favourite bands I discovered posthumously (such as Slowdive and The Field Mice), though it is bittersweet to think that that is it; that there is no more where that came from.
The famous photograph of The Smiths outside the Salford Lads' Club, taken by rock photographer Stephen Wright and seen on the The Queen Is Dead album and countless bedsit walls, is about to take its place in the National Portrait Gallery. Which, I suppose, is what happens when yesteryear's teenage bedsit tragics grow into positions of cultural influence.
I recently picked up the new Broadcast album, Tender Buttons. It's an impressive return to form.
Their earlier work, Extended Play 2 and The Noise Made By People, caught attention with its combination of experimental sounds and swinging-60s-style psychedelic pop. (I haven't heard Work and Non-Work, and so can't comment on it.) With the album that followed, Haha Sound, they seemed to lose the plot a bit; the first track/single sounded like an attempt to jump on the electroclash bandwagon à la Goldfrapp, with much of the rest of it sounding like a mediocre Sound Of Music cash-in. With Tender Buttons, they've found their direction again, and it sounds like early Stereolab only made using a GameBoy; stripped down to a tightly focussed krautrock-esque angularity, with their trademark melodious vocals. And the presence of a track that seems to be a rant about US military oil imperialism or something of the sort similar probably won't hurt their chances (except perhaps of playing at any of Clear Channel's festivals or venues).
Hard Pop artist Talkshow Boy has released his most recent album in MP3 format, under a Creative Commons license. Watch Me As I Perform My Own Tracheotomy was recorded in 2004 and languished in record-label funding limbo for a while; it features some great tunes including Chiming The Descant Like I'm Thirteen Again, Freaky Teen Fashion - Time For A Makeover! and OMG I <3 LiveJournal (And My LiveJournal <3s Me). Those who liked Ice Police (which is may also be downloaded from here) and fans of the likes of Le Tigre, Kid606 and 14 Year Old Girls may like this.
Dust off your anoraks, because a new alternative club night is opening in London; the night, Feeling Gloomy, will play only miserablist anthems. Patrons can probably expect the usuals: The Smiths, Leonard Cohen, and such, as well as a few surprises:
And Wake Up Boo, by the Boo Radleys, which far from being an end-of-the-summer anthem is apparently "about death". But just when you think the play list sounds like a trip down memory lane for those who were students or Indie kids in the mid 90s, he adds that East 17's Stay Another Day puts in an appearance. When I suggest that that particular song is just 'slushy stuff' I am told it qualifies because it is about the suicide of the songwriter's brother.
"I just created a night that I would want to go to and for people who maybe have stopped going to clubs because they don't like the music. When a flyer for a club says 'sexy, funky, fun', it makes me annoyed. It's not sexy, it's drunk girls in mini-skirts being sick."The night will also serve cheese and pickle sandwiches and cups of tea; part of the proceeds will go to the Depression Alliance.
MP3s of indie bands covering well-known songs; includes covers of Whitney Houston, Kylie Minogue, ABBA, Ace of Base and various R&B/rap artists, by the likes of The Flaming Lips, The Mountain Goats, Belle & Sebastian, and some bloke named Ben Gibbard who gets featured twice. Interesting that they have covers of REM and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but omit covers of The Smiths and Talking Heads.
The Guardian's piece on glam/funk-rock band El Presidente compares them to the Scissor Sisters. Funny, I'd say they're more like Electric Six, or at least how you'd imagine the Six would be if their stage presence matched their music.
(via Sweeping the Nation)
The Australian indie-pop marketplace now has more competition, with a new mail-order outfit and record label in Fortitude Valley opening. Taking the time-honoured indie-pop strategy of having a literary name (see also: Library Records, Chapter Music, and numerous bands), Book Club Records has their own releases and overseas imports (including Tender Trap, Amelia "Talulah Gosh/Heavenly" Fletcher's latest project), with postage being free in Australia. They also have a page of MP3s free for the download, which includes Barcelona's "I Have The Password To Your Shell Account". (via Rocknerd)
It's interesting to look at their links page. Among the usual indie labels and stores, there is an Other section, which features 4ZZZ, LiveJournal, and, um, Manchester United. The last addition seems puzzling, looking at the site from the UK; no-one here would associate football with the indie-pop subculture, and Man.U, one of the biggest and highest in profile of clubs, doubly so. Mind you, it appears the be the usual indiekid-Anglophilia phenomenon, where any and all affectations of British everyday versimilitude are more indie than the local variety. This has been commented on in the past, in observations of American indie fans who are into everything one can slap a union flag on, from Blur to Oasis to Fatboy Slim to Mogwai; not to mention appropriations of British slang, sometimes with unintentionally comical results (I mean, "Shag Frenzy" sounds more like a tabloid headline about suburban swingers' parties than a name for an indie night). With that in mind, I wonder how long until indie kids in America and Australia start imitating the chav phenomenon to get that imported-from-Britain boost to their indie cred.
Melbourne new-wave revivalists Snap! Crakk! have announced that they are breaking up. They were like a more electrocoolsie Vivian Girls or something.
A big page of Ninetynine lyrics, transcribed with varying accuracy, for those having trouble figuring out what Laura's singing. As far as figuring out what the words mean, however, you're on your own.
This evening, Your Humble Narrator went to the first night of Mon Gala Papillons, a two-day indie-pop festival organised by Chickfactor, at a rather plush music hall in Shepherd's Bush named, appropriately enough, Bush Hall.
First up was Amy Linton, of Aislers Set fame; she strummed an electric guitar and played/sang a few songs, and was quite good. Seeing her brought back some memories; the last time I saw her play was in a backyard in Clifton Hill, when Stewart and Jen were honeymooning/holidaying/touring in Australia.
Next up were a female duo from New York named Mascott. Their set started with one of them (Margaret) on stage, playing violin, as the other played a grand piano (located in front of the stage) and sang. The first song was lovely; it reminded me a bit of another New York resident, Greta Gertler. Afterward, the pianist took the stage and picked up a guitar. Some of the other songs were quite nice, though I thought that the first one stood above them all.
Third on was a solo set from Stevie Jackson, of Belle & Sebastian. He went up on stage, smartly dressed in a suit and tie, and started off playing Ode To Joy on the harmonica, before launching into his own numbers. He didn't play any Belle & Sebastian songs that I recognised; mostly his own songs, and mostly ones about girls (because, as he explained, he likes girls). The songs included "Portland, Oregon", "Phone In My Head" (which was particularly nice), and "Lonely Pop Star", as well as a Belle & Sebastian-style rendition of Frosty the Snowman (which someone requested), and a song he said he learned from Alex Chilton toward the end.
Then on came electro-pop duo Pipas, a girl with shortish brown hair in a stripy top and a guy with a bowlie haircut and glasses in a chequered shirt. They had a PowerBook on stage, which they mostly used to play backing tracks (and a bit of keyboards), over which they played guitar and bass and sang, performing songs off their recent EP and past albums. They were a little shambolic, but generally pretty good.
Finally, the Television Personalities came on. I was expecting them to be like XTC or Wire or The Fall or someone, but they were more Mod-revivalist, right down to the bassist having a Royal Air Force roundel and Vespa logo on his bass.
(Apologies for the crappy photos; I left my PowerShot G2 at home, and had only my futurephone to take photos with. I really need to get a decent camera that fits comfortably in a pocket and gives me no excuse to not take it to gigs.)
Band discovery of the day: Remington Super 60. They're a Norwegian electronic/indiepop outfit, and sound somewhere between Spearmint, the Beach Boys and Lacto-Ovo, with perhaps a bit of Röyksopp in the mix somewhere. Lots of nice 7th chords, warbly synths, vocal harmonies and the occasional 1980s-video-game bleeps. They also have an album out as Nice System, and a remix EP with some unusual remixers (gothtekkno heavy-hitters Apoptygma Berzerk are one, and Solex is another).
A massive index of indie MP3s, all legally posted by bands and/or their labels. Includes Azure Ray, Black Box Recorder (including Child Psychology), Le Tigre, The Radio Dept., Pipas, computer-club electropopsters Barcelona (including their hit I Have The Password To Your Shell Account), and coolsie-disco favourite Michael Jackson, and many more. (via stephen_cramer)
If Architecture In Helsinki were furries, they'd probably be something like this band.
Belle & Sebastian: not just a band, but your one stop shop for coolsie lifestyle accessories, from flight bags to--wait for it--trucker caps, all carrying the Belle & Sebastian brand (which could well be the next Paul Frank or something). The only thing they're missing is gas-station attendants' shirts.
And for the mono.net set, they have this badge of a very twee-looking bird kicking an egg.
And now, The Null Device's list of up-and-coming Melbourne bands and musical artists you may not have heard of but should check out:
- BAM BAM. They're somewhere between Transvision Vamp and 1960s garage rock, played really tightly with lots of charisma and stage presence. And they look hot too. They should make it big.
- City City City - About as close as you're going to get to seeing Neu! playing live. A juggernaut of non-stop krautrock-meets-postrock groove, with not one but two drummers. They sound better live than on CD.
- Light Music Club - An all-girl duo doing pop songs, with piano and vocals. Whimsically sensitive songwriting, classy arrangements (in places reminiscent of Coward or Bacharach), and Zoë has a lovely voice.
- The Rumours - Classic indie pop done well, with tight, jangly guitars, sensitive indie-boy lyrics and a groove you can dance to. The frontman is like Morrissey and Johnny Marr rolled into one.
- Season - Post-rock soundscapes you can immerse yourself with, with electric piano and guitars with the whole range of effects (from metal crunch to wah) used judiciously; like Mogwai scoring a David Lynch film.
- Talkshow Boy - A guy with a CD player full of homemade computerised glitch-pop beats, which he then sings stream-of-consciousness lyrics over, about polar bears, eskimos, his LiveJournal friends and the undead. Though he puts on a really entertaining show of it. Also see Service Station Youth, which is him and three other people doing a similar thing.
As this is a list of new bands people may not have heard of, I've omitted from this list many bands worth checking out which people probably know about.
There's a new addition on the Lost Treasures page; Jelly CD, a compilation of some of Lora/Laura Macfarlane's early projects' EPs, has now joined Clag's Manufacturing Resent in the world of MP3 files.
Danny O'Brien on the growing class of microcelebrities; people/bands/&c. who are famous within a smallish, widely distributed group:
But there are plenty more people who are what Carl Steadman first identified as microcelebrities: famous for fifteen hundred people, say. And fifteen hundred very thinly distributed people too. One person in every town in Britain likes your dumb online comic. That's enough to keep you in beers (or T-shirt sales) all year.
But is it enough? Is fame relative? The upper reaches of fame have disappeared beyond human ken - so does that mean that we're all humiliated by not being as popular as Madonna? Or is it a fixed constant? If you're liked by about-a-paleolithic-tribesworth, is that enough to keep the average person with a smile on their face?
Danny mentions a band named Groovelily, who sit in this middle class of fame; who have small groups of fans around the world willing to put them up and arrange gigs. Which sounds like a familiar story to anybody into indie music (of the DIY-CDs-sold-at-gigs variety, not the signed-to-a-label-just-outside-the-Big-4 variety).
In fact, microcelebrity seems to be the default meaningful sort of fame; the megacelebrities, the various Madonnas and Elvises of this world, are too few in number and too eroded by the demands of mass appeal to mean anything.
Manchester-based expatriate Australian electropop duo Cartwheel now have a new website, that's not hosted on Geocities or wherever. No MP3s there yet, though they have just recorded a new EP, which will be coming out in the UK soon.
Someone has put up an online petition to get Talkshow Boy as a support for the upcoming Belle & Sebastian show. Hmmm... it'd be a tad more interesting than one of the more obvious candidates, like, say, the Lucksmiths or Architecture In Helsinki. Whether the organisers would take notice, of course, is another matter (after all, just a year or so ago, the organisers of the Interpol gig chose to fly some band over from Perth rather than give the support slot to Love Of Diagrams; tour organisers work in mysterious ways).
I went to the Four Tet/Manitoba show at the Corner tonight. I arrived as Qua was playing; his stuff struck me as being much as it has always been: technically polished and layered, and yet melodically almost completely random; i.e., I'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between most Qua tracks.
Four Tet was interesting. One guy with a laptop and a box of knobs of some sort (either an analogue mixer or a MIDI controller), rocking back and forth to the music as he controls the laptop. Not really much in the way of theatre, though after a while one got used to mentally coordinating his actions with the changes in the music. Anyway, his music tended towards chopped-up granular loops and glitches; not quite as hardcore as Kid 606 or someone. At the start of one piece, it sounded rather like Neu! or Faust or someone.
(Live laptop acts like Four Tet raise an interesting question: what is it exactly that we're watching? We're not watching him compose the music; it's pre-composed. We're not watching hin play it either; the computer is doing that, and he is controlling it. Chances are, as he put it together, he did so in Cubase or Logic or somesuch, assembling something that, when activated, would produce a sample-perfect copy of the recording, with no interaction required. Only that's not much fun to watch, so he'd have had to have dismantled that and put it into a performance system (like, say, Ableton Live), giving him the ability to control the playing mechanism in real time. So, in one sense, the performance is the ritual of producing an imperfect approximation of something more deterministically constructed. Strange, no?)
Then Manitoba came on. They were three guys in animal masks (though, thankfully, not full-body fur suits), and had two drum kits, guitars, some keyboards and a glockenspiel. They completely rocked out; drumming frenziedly, moving around the stage with guitars or playing keyboards. (Nobody was playing a laptop or anything quite as un-rock as that.) Mind you, a lot of the sound obviously came from a tape (the vocals, for one; nobody had a microphone), but the fact that the musicians were playing part of it and doing so well made the show. They played predominantly tracks off Up In Flames, though did an encore of sorts with a sampled rap vocal.
Meanwhile, Stereolab have been dumped by the Warner Music Group, who release their records outside of Britain (where their own indie label, Duophonic, do so). The Warner imprint the groop were signed to, Elektra, has been abolished, and nearly half of all Warner artists are expected to be axed. Those staying on, meanwhile, will have to do with smaller budgets, in what could be new boss Edgar Bronfman Jr.'s initiative to turn Warner into a back-catalogue holding company.
A mostly comprehensive database of indie pop bands, divided into 15 categories ("60s influenced pop", "twee pop", "lo-fi", "jangle pop", "C-86", and so on). Some of the categorisations seem a bit off (I'd have classified Broadcast as "60s", or perhaps "international pop", rather than "synthpop", and as for the Field Mice being "slowcore"...); this is the sort of document that could spark hours of debates between record shop clerks and people in button-badged trucker caps, about issues such as whether Saint Etienne are "Polished/International/Euro Pop" or "Club Pop". Anyway, it's full of leads I'm going to have to follow up...
John Harris (who wrote The Last Party) on how popular music has been subsumed by corporate globalisation:
For musicians whose sensitivity to such chicanery places them a few notches up the evolutionary chain from Busted and Avril Lavigne, the implied contradictions can be pretty hard to swallow. Put bluntly, Anglo-American popular music is among globalisation's most useful props. Never mind the nitpicking fixations with interview rhetoric and stylistic nuance that concern its hardcore enthusiasts - away from its home turf, mainstream music, whether it's metal, rap, teen-pop or indie-rock, cannot help but stand for a depressingly conservative set of values: conspicuous consumption, the primacy of the English language, the implicit acknowledgement that America is probably best.
As the record industry's corporate structure has hardened into an immovable oligarchy - EMI, Time-Warner, BMG, Sony and Universal - so the range of musical options on offer has been dramatically scythed down. In 2004, there are but a handful of international musical superstars: Beyoncé, 50 Cent, Justin Timberlake, Eminem, Norah Jones, Coldplay. To characterise the process behind their global success as top-down is something of an understatement. MTV may have initially been marketed with the superficially empowering slogan, "I want my MTV"; more recently, with billions gladly hooked up, it has used the flatly sinister, "One planet, one music". Those four words beg one question: who decides?
Such, to use a phrase beloved of the Bush White House, is the cultural aspect of the New American Century. How long, I wonder, before Halliburton and Exxon start sponsoring festivals?
In 1996, a number of Australian indie bands recorded covers of TV show themes for a tribute compilation named Box; this was released on cassette; I recall seeing a copy in PolyEster records back when Paul Elliott ran it. Now, it's available in MP3 form. Hear Wank Engine's cover of the Mr. Squiggle theme, Ninetynine's version of Blake's Seven, New Waver's characteristically Darwinian take on the Four Corners theme and some outfit named Pigshit doing the Degrassi Junior High theme, among others. (Thanks to Greg Wadley for the heads-up.)
In the early 90s, the Spill label (which seemed to have been connected to the Fortitude Valley indie scene in Brisbane) released 3 compilations of songs by Australian indie bands. These compilations have now been made available in MP3 format; they include tracks by Minimum Chips, Clag, Clowns Smiling Backwards, New Waver, and The Sea Haggs (which was Laura/Lora Macfarlane's old band), as well as less-known bands with intriguing names like Volvox, Wank Engine and Farfisas In Exile. The MP3s are of fairly low quality (22kHz sample rate, and 56kbps bit rate), but they're better than nothing. (via Rocknerd)
And if you like the Clag tracks there, you can find some more Clag MP3s here.
Something Awful gores indie's sacred cows, i.e., Joy Division, The Smiths, Pavement and My Bloody Valentine. (via Graham)
Everyone who considers themself a hipster should take note: name-dropping Pavement isn't going to win you any merit badges in my scout troop. You'd be a fool not to see that even the bands that everyone loves are just as terrible as the bands that everyone makes fun of. The only difference between Nickelback and The Smiths is that Smiths fans dress slightly better and don't beat their girlfriends as hard.
I hypothesize that if Ian Curtis had continued to live and exert his gothic influence over the band, they would have eventually sounded like Siouxie and the Banshees except with a terrible singer. I also hypothesize that Ian Curtis would now be fat.
They're dead-on about Loveless, btw:
Its one of those rare albums that really sounds like the album cover looks: its an indecipherable blur of noise and distorted guitars. It boggles the mind that so many goofy hipsters are so in love with an album with so little to offer. All of the songs sound basically the same, and you really have to pay attention to figure out where one ends and the next begins. The lyrics are so incomprehensible that they might as well not even be there at all. Although there are certainly noises on this album that have never been made before or since, none of them are particularly interesting noises. In most cases, its the sound of several guitars playing a couple of chords with a few layers of grinding and feedback in the background. Sure, it probably took quite a bit of time and money to make those sounds, but are they particularly interesting? No, not really; when its all put together, it just sounds like a waterfall of sludge running through your speakers.
This is part of the Your Band Sucks section, which also includes articles about bands like Radiohead and Coldplay (though, granted, there's no challenge there).
US indie/twee-pop label Kindercore is dead, shutting down their New York office and cancelling upcoming albums. Fortunately, the back-catalogue will remain in print. Cause of death is attributable to some combination of (a) poor market conditions, (b) MP3 piracy (now look what you kids have done!) and (c) the new-rock revival making twee indie-pop about as fashionable as accordion polka.
I only bought a few things from them, but it's still a pity to see them go.
A special treat for the indie-pop fans today: Clag's Manufacturing Resent 7", released in 1993 and quite rare these days, is now online in high-definition MP3 format. Enjoy the twee indie-pop goodness.
Veteran indie record shop Au Go Go is to close, another victim of MP3 piracy/recording-industry chicanery/the ease of ordering stuff over the internet. And the fact that it has been located up a flight of stairs in an alley for the past few years couldn't have helped either. (Which makes one wonder how Synæsthesia are doing.)
Today's InPress has a piece about Ninetynine, which reads much as the one before the Process launch last year did (and appears to have the same publicity photo). Though, interestingly enough, they refer to their upcoming release, Receiving the Sounds of Science Fiction (due out in Australia next year), as their "forthcoming album". Which makes one wonder exactly how many extra tracks the Australian release will have on top of the 5 that the US release has.
(The Beat piece on Ninetynine, in contrast, doesn't even mention Receiving the Sounds, but talks about their most recent album The Process, and its impending vinyl rerelease.)
Looking at the temporary page on the Ninetynine web site; apparently there is a video for The Process, but it's in streaming Windows Media only. (The XML-like file linked to also says it's copyrighted by Festival Mushroom Records, which sounds a bit odd, given how the band like to own all their own masters, unless News Corp. commissioned the video themselves or something.) Anyway, whuffie to the first person to send me a HTTP, FTP or BitTorrent link to a file of the video. (Preferably in MPEG4 or some good-quality format. Windows Media 9 and below is OK as long as there's no DRM involved; i.e., as long as mplayer on Linux will play it.)
And here are their Australian tour dates:
Fri 19th Sept - Annandale Hotel w/ The Devoted Few + Disaster Plan. - 8:30 Start $8
Sat 20th Sept - Pop Frenzy Presents.. @ The Taxi Club, 40 South Dowling St, Darlinghurst w/ Disaster Plan - 9pm Start
Sun 21st Sept - All Ages Show @ The Club House, Jubilee Park (under land bridge) Glebe w/ Pure Evil. 2pm - Donation
Fri 26th September - Rob Roy Hotel w/ Pink Stainless Tail (CD Launch) + Jihad Against America
Sat 27th September - Rob Roy Hotel w/ Love of Diagrams + Because of Ghosts
And apparently there's vinyl of The Process coming out too. (Which stands to reason, as labelmates Architecture In Helsinki have been doing the vinyl thing too.)
The new Ninetynine mini-CD is out, and it's called Receiving the Sounds of Science Fiction (how's that for a cool title?). So how do you get it? Well, you can't buy it, but you can get it by joining the Dark Beloved Cloud singles club. No, it's not a dating service. To join, you send your details and six hand-decorated 3"x3" cards (which will become the artwork for other people's singles) to a PO box in New York.
If your creative skills aren't up to it, you can always wait for the UAR Australian rerelease next year, which apparently will have bonus tracks. (I wonder what those will be; new original material, remixes, live tracks, or multimedia content?)
(Thanks to Leigh for the heads-up)
Stewart Anderson is shutting down 555 Recordings (or putting the label on indefinite hiatus), citing lack of sales due to the file-sharing culture; and he paints a grim picture of the future of indie labels:
And its clear why this has happened. If I had access to the internet when I was a teen I doubt I would have bought many records either. But consider this kids, very soon there wont be any small labels, so the underground, despite all your calls for bringing down the big guys will disapear along with them.
Of course, I understand its not necessarily 555 things the kids are downloading, but the fact is there are so many tracks being downloaded now means theres no need for traditional shops or distros. So shops order only "indie" records from sure fire sellers like The White Stripes and Belle and Sebastian. Y'know both of those bands where tiny once. Where will the next White Stripes or B+S come from if all the labels like mine give up. The consumer will loose out in the end when the new music stops happening. (You can still listen to the Rolling Stones at least). There will always be NEW MUSIC you say? Well, why bother making a CD if you have a day job and cant tour for 3 months at a time? Why bother making a CD if no distros will take it because its your first release? Why bother when the CD pressing is usually 500 minimum and you end up with 400 under your bed for the rest of your life...
555 Recordings is only the latest label to cease operations. And if Stewart is right, then the musical ecosystem could collapse, with there being no space for new bands and artists to develop, and possibly the "big indie" side of things changing to resemble the major-label world of manufactured bands (what will replace the aging White Stripes when they lose it?). This doomsday scenario, though, is contradicted somewhat by reports of indie labels doing well.
So what does the future look like? Can we expect to see a musical apocalypse? Or will music adapt to the new way of doing things? Will the post-MP3 world be a dark age or a renaissance, or something in between?
Today, I received in the mail a copy of the 7" Manufacturing Resent, by Clag, an indie-pop band from Brisbane in the early 90s. The album was recorded almost exactly 10 years ago (the sleeve says September 1993), and consists of six shortish songs; it spins at 33 1/3 RPM, presumably a common indie trick to squeeze more on a cheap 7".
The songs tend towards the twee indie-pop side of things, though the naïve, childlike lyrics (which probably make Architecture In Helsinki look like Burzum or someone by comparison) are underscored by very polished and competent pop arrangements. The two sides of the raspberry-cordial-red vinyl single are labelled the "Happy Side" and "Scarey Side" (sic.), with appropriate drawings in an underground-comics style on the labels.
The "Happy Side" starts with Goldfish, a song about vaguely anthropomorphic goldfish ("look look look in the goldfish bowl and they'll look right back at you"); the lyric about them having a party, eating gelati and drinking Bacardi reveals the song's Queensland origins; were the song written in Melbourne, the partying goldfish would probably have been drinking vodka or Melbourne Bitter or something. The knowing way the singer sings "at the little girly fish the boys will be glancing" is worth it in itself; though I'm not sure about the gargling solo. The icthyan theme continues in the more downbeat Paranoid ("fish have eyes they're following me, yeah, don't know why they bother with me, don't they know I'm bo-o-ring?"). The side ends with a song about a security guard at a shopping centre, with some nice almost ska-ish trombone.
The "Scarey Side" starts with "Barberella Part 1", presumably a homage to the Jane Fonda film. Then there's "Cow", with lyrics like "cow, c-c-c-c-cow cow cow cow, dog d-d-d-dog dog dog dog", and finally a slightly more meaningful song named Chips & Gravy.
The sleeve folds out to reveal a page of lyric fragments, random graffiti-like phrases ("What do you mix powdered water with?") and drawings (such as the Triple J logo with "Triple 6" underneath it), copyright-violating drawings of cartoon characters and even some cut-up text about the pathology of atonal music.
Oh yes; the Chomsky reference in the title. Chomsky is mentioned in the graffiti inside the sleeve, and the credits thank him "and social engineers the world over". However, that is is about as political as this record gets; there is no politics or social commentary, radical or otherwise, in the lyrics. Unless, of course, there is some sneaky subliminal subversion buried within the twee-pop lyrics and arrangements, designed to subconsciously instil political consciousness over repeated listenings to the ostensibly innocent lyrics. (Which is an interesting tangent for speculation; though if someone was to do that, they'd presumably choose a vector more likely to reach mass audiences; top-40 dance-pop, perhaps? Perhaps, in a more paranoid parallel universe (or a Philip K. Dick novel), such a record could have been an ideal test of subliminal persuasion/mind-control technologies; a low-profile, low-risk dry run before the personnel involved got new identities and jobs at major labels churning out boy bands? Actually, perhaps I'll use that idea in a story sometime...)
But yes; Clag's Manufacturing Resent is a charming piece of twee indie-pop. Last time I checked, 3 Beads of Sweat in Chicago were selling copies for US$2 plus shipping; they may still have some, but if they're all gone, I'm afraid you're on your own. Unless some kind soul posts MP3s somewhere or something.
I'm currently listening to Jelly CD, a compilation (released around 1995) of EPs from various projects one Lora (now Laura) Macfarlane was involved in in the early 90s (notably the Sea Haggs, Keckle and some of her solo material). It's rather interesting; it's similar, in places, to the first Ninetynine album (funny, that), all jagged guitars, garage-rock vocals and power-pop songwriting, though with a few oddities thrown in (quite a few of the tracks end with the sound of a radio being tuned between channels), and the odd cute indie melody here and there. There's a bit of chromatic percussion (often sounding rather discordant), though no Casio keyboards. The most interesting tracks, though, would be some of Lora's solo pieces; in particular, Boot, which eschews the pop-song format for thrashy acoustic guitar chords and abstract soprano vocals alternating between pretty and deranged. This is immediately followed by a pop song about the theft of a woollen beanie.
Unlike some people, I didn't get to go to Iceland, but I did get to see a small piece of Iceland tonight at the Corner; namely, Múm. They were supported by Minimum Chips (my second favourite local band at the moment) and Architecture In Helsinki.
The Chips played two sets on the side stage: one shortly after 9, when the doors opened, and one after AIH finished while Múm were setting up. For the first set and half of the second, they played without Ian, with the drum kit standing empty and an old analogue drum machine carefully programmed with all their drum patterns. They played all the tracks off Gardenesque, a few old songs from around the time of Swish and a few from various compilations, which was good.
Between their two sets, local twee indie-pop orchestra Architecture In Helsinki took to the main stage and played for about 45 minutes. They played some tracks off Fingers Crossed (some in extended versions) and a few new tracks; their new material is somewhat less sugary than the album tracks, and perhaps a bit reggae/dub/ska inspired in places. (Which makes sense; they have enough personnel to form a ska band, for one.)
And Múm were pretty good. Their music was rather sparse, drifting between pieces. It is probably a dreadful cliché to say that it evokes the sparse Icelandic landscapes, but it did. They played a number of pieces, including some new ones, melding from piece to piece. I was expecting them to be standing behind laptops and controlling some mysterious process that made plinking noises, but most of the music was live, played on melodica, violin, keyboards (including a vintage Wurlitzer and a Moog), guitar, drums and xylophone; oh, and the obligatory PowerBook. They finished up with an encore of I'm 9 Today. And the Guns'n'Roses T-shirt one of the band was wearing was quite amusing.
And someone kept blowing soap bubbles over the audience during their set. Probably an AIH fan.
Music heard today:
- Cartwheel, Yellow Keys - a recent 7" release by an Australian act. An electric guitar phrase looped over a fast drum machine and synth bass; slightly reminiscent of acts like Foil and some of Ollie Olsen's projects before he got into drugmusic, only crossed with an indie-pop aesthetic; one could file this alongside Stereolab or Minimum Chips.
- Clag, Goldfish. From a 7" by this Brisbane indie-pop band, from sometime in the 90s. Look look look in the goldfish bowl there are purple fish and green fish and pleasant fish and mean fish. The bowl will be rocking and the fish will be dancing, at the little girly fish the boys will be glancing. Quite possibly the most twee thing ever committed to vinyl, but it works. I'm still not sure about the gargling solo though.
- Piano Magic, Low Birth Weight. I'm really going to have to get this; it's quite good, in a somewhat muted shoegazer/postrock vein.
I also managed to hear a preview of the upcoming I Want A Hovercraft EP, and it sounds quite promising, with some very nice post-rock instrumental moments.
I managed to get my hands on a preview copy of the new Minimum Chips EP, Gardenesque, which is coming out in a few weeks through Trifekta (the Fitzrovian indie label that's also home to AIH, Gersey and the last Ninetynine album). The first three tracks are from the SBS Whatever Sessions, and thus have more of a live feel than the usual Chips recording (the band being noted studio perfectionists); the first two tracks (Friends and Sunny Spot) being somewhat mellow and laid-back and the third (Rounds) having more of a driving groove to it. There's a fair amount of angular krautrockish guitar riffs and choppy electric-organ chords here, as you'd expect from the Chips. The last track, titled Oooo after its entire lyrics, was put together seperately and has a somewhat more ambient, layered sound, with a xylophone and glitchy electronic percussion joining the usual electric organ; a bit of a departure from their earlier recordings, though still characteristically Chips. All in all, it's something worth keeping an eye out for in a few weeks when it hits the shops. (As it's distributed through FMR, your local JB Hi-Fi should be able to get it.)
Notonova is a site in Germany which has a lot of pictures of recent Melbourne indie band gigs; including a few of which I've been at. (I see someone else has followed Ninetynine halfway around the world with a camera.)
Apparently he'll have videos up soon too; hopefully they'll be longer than the 30-second clips my Canon Powershot makes. (What the world needs is a good Ninetynine live DVD or three.) (via Rocknerd)
Via LHB, a pictorial guide to indie-rock hairstyles. The "bowlie" meme doesn't seem to be around (though the "Spock" may be a degenerate version of it), and even more curiously, none of the boys there has visible sideburns, let alone oversized ones. (Surely massive sideburns go naturally with the ironic Boy Scout T-shirt, no?)
The author's right about the girls though; one thing I've noticed is that the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne are full of girls (of ages ranging from teens to late 30s) with the same 3 or 4 short haircuts. Cute, maybe, but not exactly easy to distinguish between.
Local music scene news/gossip: apparently Ninetynine won't be playing around town much in the future, as Laura is moving back to Perth (where her family live). Though they're playing at the Love of Diagrams CD launch next weekend, and possibly a few shows after that. Or so I'm told. (I hope this isn't the end for them; if they broke up after the tour de force that was The Process, it'd be a shame.)
Meanwhile, Sir's new album will be released on local indie Unstable Ape, who are also home to local post-rock/grindcore fusion outfit The Night Terrors. The title won't be "Only Lonely", as previously suggested, but something else.
Yesterday I picked up the new Black Box Recorder album, Passionoia. (Heartland had it on import from the UK (and at UK prices too).) Black Box Recorder have, in their career, borrowed a variety of styles, from goth-rock ("Lord Lucan is Missing") to saccharine ghetto-pop ("The Facts of Life"); with their new album, they go electronic (think the post-Summer-of-Love synthpop of Dubstar or Saint Etienne); lots of sequencers, drum machines and the odd retro monosynth.
Other than that, the usual elements are there; sardonic commentary on everything from social institutions (The School Song) to dating and relationships (GSOH Q.E.D., with its recited personal ads and ironic Bacharach/David reference, and the Saint Et-esque These Are The Things), and of course the realities of contemporary British bourgeois aspirations (British Racing Green, The New Diana), all delivered in Sarah Nixey's lovely voice, spanning the entire range from sweetness-and-light to ice-queen dominatrix. And there's even a song titled Andrew Ridgely about growing up in the 1980s, mixing retro-pop references with traces of social commentary; it's sort of their equivalent of Baxendale's I Love The Sound Of Dance Music).
Black Box Recorder's first album, England Made Me, was sharp and minimal guitar-pop with darkly sardonic lyrics sung ever so sweetly. The follow-up, The Facts of Life, was The Awkward Second Album, more produced yet losing some of the black-and-white sharpness. It's now apparent that The Facts Of Life was a transitional work, the intermediate step between England Made Me and Passionoia. Well worth a look; whether you'd pay AUP40 for it, though, is a different question. Who knows; maybe it'll get a local release?
Not that long after having released remastered editions of the first few Cocteau Twins albums, 4AD are rereleasing the entire Pixies backcatalogue. The rights to the albums have reverted to 4AD (they had been shared with AOL Time Warner's Elektra imprint), and as such a rerelease is planned. The rereleases won't be remastered and won't feature any hidden tracks. Oh, and Death To The Pixies is being withdrawn to make way for a new best-of.
Funny how 4AD, one of the most interesting big-indie labels of the 1980s and 1990s, has become a sort of post-new-wave K-Tel. Nowadays all their releases appear to be either (a) rereleases from their legendary back-catalogue, (b) new albums by artists who were big 10 years ago, or (c) new albums by artists poached from smaller indie labels, which the critics say aren't as good as those artists' earlier and more obscure releases (i.e., Sybarite, Piano Magic).
While the recording industry is going to hell, blaming the MP3 kiddies and the lack of legally mandated end-to-end copyright enforcement for their woes, indie labels and artists have never had it better. Sure, Clear Channel (or Austere-o or JJJ) won't play their material, but profits and sales are up for them. Meanwhile, their artists get a bigger cut of their sales and actually end up seeing some of their money (unlike the major-label artists who don't happen to shift a million units). (And the indie labels are also in no hurry to put the latest form of copyright BDSM on their discs, unlike the majors.) (via Graham)
At a major label, most artists are unlikely to earn anything unless they sell at least 1 million albums, and even then, they could wind up in debt. Everything from studio time to limo rides are charged against their royalties, which might be only $1 per disc sold. That compares with an indie artist, who can sell a disc for $15 at a concert. If they make $5 profit a disc on 5,000 discs, they pocket $25,000.
One of Melbourne's most original and consistently rocking indie bands, Ninetynine, have a new website, including tour dates (they're coming to Adelaide and Sydney soon) and a lot of MP3s. (Personal recommendation: start with Polar Angle, The Process, Wöekenender, and perhaps Baluchistan or Cois Is Hamdu Lilah, and take it from there). And apparently videos will be up soon too. Excellent...
Oh yes, Simpático has a new EP out shortly, titled Club Life. Apparently it's more electronic and dance-friendly than The Difference Between Alone & Lonely, and the announcement promises reverb and swirling guitars too (as well as the usual fey lyrics); what more can you ask for?
Indie Rock Pete, a (story-driven) web comic poking fun at indie scenester pretentiousness. (It seems a little sparse on indie/hipster iconography though; no button badges, ironic hot-rodder shirts, black-framed glasses or Converse sneakers or such.) (via Largehearted Boy)
I stopped by PolyEster today and picked up the last Sneeze album, Lost The Spirit To Rock & Roll. The cover artwork is pretty doovy; the album itself, however, is not what I was expecting. It sounds nothing like the jangle-pop of their earlier stuff, and instead goes on a soul/gospel kick, with the singer trying to sound like Otis Redding or someone (and pulling it off reasonably well, even if the faux-American diction is a bit irritating). Not really my cup of tea; however, some of the songs (which have titles like "Too Much Man To Be My Woman", or "Deaf Girl, Dumb Guy, Blind Love") are amusing enough to possibly end up in DJ sets.
(Speaking of DJ sets, if anybody here knows of a smallish, living-roomy venue in inner-north Melbourne interested in hosting a regular music night (indie pop, a bit of electronica and a few oddities here and there), let me know. Especially if they have Guinness on tap.)
Anyway, I'm still waiting for Sneeze's earlier 41 Songs in 47 Minutes, which is due in a whammo.com.au order, along with Happy Supply's Crucial Cuts. (Their web site suggested that they had it in stock, but I'm beginning to have my doubts.)
(Speaking of things I'm waiting for, the UPS people tell me that my Archos Jukebox Recorder will arrive on Monday.)
Last year, I saw an amusing indie duo from London named Partition at the Empress. I recently found out that they were back in Melbourne and doing more gigs, so I went to see them tonight at Good Morning Captain.
It was a fairly good gig; about 2 parts indie-pop and 1 part comedy. They did a number of good songs, the one about fancying some bird for 10 years and then going out with her for 2 weeks that they did last year (apparently it's a true story, too); one titled Emigrating Next Week, about the perils of falling in love with someone when you're about to move overseas, a few mildly political numbers (about war being bad and bigotry against deinstitutionalised mental patients; don't expect bolshy agitprop on the level of Jihad Against America or Stereolab or someone), and some rather amusing and deliberately daft interludes, in between dancing around bozotically.
They were joined on cello by one Sheila B, who's in a band named Fosca (think sort of like Baxendale only not quite as zany); she did a good job accompanying them.
Anyway, it emerged that the guys from Partition were at the Ninetynine gig in London in October, but we didn't run into each other. Probably because darkened caverns with loud music and black-painted walls aren't the best place to recognise someone you spoke to half a year ago in a different country; unless you expect them to be likely to be there, that is.
I wandered down to PolyEster this afternoon, and saw the new Massive Attack CD. Nice packaging; though pity it's not available on a CD (only on one of those copy-restricted non-Red-Book-compliant CD-like things). Bugger that then.
(The label on the packaging says that it works with Windows, presumably in some "secure" DRM mechanism. I can understand us Linux-using nonpersons being snubbed by the recording racket ("get a copy of Windows, you bum!"), but EMI's big fuck-you to the Macintosh-using audience, especially on a Massive Attack disc, is harder to justify. Let's hope they change their minds before releasing the next Morrissey record.)
(Btw, is 100th Window released in Red Book-compliant, non-"copy controlled" CD format in any other territories?)
I did, however, pick up the new Architecture in Helsinki album, Fingers Crossed. The packaging is very cool, and on first listen (six tracks in), it sounds pretty good, in a garage-indie-pop-meets-electronica vein. Some of the tracks sound a bit unpolished (though that's probably deliberate), though there are some real gems; especially Scissors Paper Rock; expect to hear that in one of my DJ sets, possibly next to some Stereolab or something.
(Btw, what is it about Casio-wielding indie bands naming songs after games? You had Lacto-Ovo's Bingo, Ninetynine's Cluedo and Uno, and now AIH have joined the trend.)
I also picked up Stereolab's Cobra and Phases Group... while I was there. With that, my Stereolab collection has doubled in size over the past week.
A good interview with Jason Sweeney (of Sweet William, PBXO and Simpático fame, and a really cool guy too), where he talks about music scenes in Adelaide, Melbourne and overseas, influences and various other stuff.
When I first heard the Simpatico EP, Ill admit, I thought it did sound British. Surprisingly though Jasons main influences are Australian bands, and this reinforces the fact that there are many great Australian groups that the British simply are not exposed to.
I've just been informed that Sydney indie band Swirl have officially broken up.
So what's happening then? Well firstly we should start by finally, officially letting you know that after 12 years in this crazy world of rock, Swirl have finally called it a day. Mind you this had pretty much been on the cards for a while. No major dramas or anything, but it was decided the we'd probably taken the band as far as it could go, and combined with the wide and varied commitments of each of us, trying to continue would be like flogging a dead horse really. We'd held off making an announcement until we were able to decide if doing a final show were feasible, but at the end of the day getting this off the ground was proving to be more and more difficult.
They started 12 years ago, and were sort of the Australian answer to the shoegazer movement, being rather fond of effects pedals, walls of shimmering noise and feedback-drenched rock-outs. Their finest album, IMHO, was 1994's The Last Unicorn. Last year's Light Fill My Room had its moments but was a bit overproduced and MOR in places. Though their live shows were always good.
Anyway, the various members of the band are now working on solo projects in home studios and/or in other bands (David's Unseen, Keira's Sex With Strangers and upcoming electronic solo project and Richard's brief tenure with Spurs for Jesus.) May be something to look out for.
As promised, here are a few photos from the Ninetynine gig at the Metro Club, a black-painted, mirror-lined cavern beneath Soho:
And a big hello to all my readers in the international indie-pop underground; in particular, to the Japanese indie kids coming here via this bulletin board. I don't know Japanese, but it appears to be some sort of indie-pop-related web BBS, with a rather twee colour scheme, some very kawaii-looking cat cartoons and some intriguing fragments of English text
The show starts at 8 p.m. MINISKIRT will play roughly 12 songs including their classics "Blue Contact Lenses" and "No Jesus No Coffee No Coffee No Jesus" and some new songs which they never played live before.
(I'm wondering whether "win a sheep free" is the name of a band, and if so, what they sound like).
The Babelfish translation sheds slightly more light on it, not to mention a few particularly doovy turns of phrase, such as "super luxurious gorgeousness".
Btw, if you came here looking for the photos from last weekend's Ninetynine CD launch, they're here.
This is classic: serial masturbator arrested at Sleater-Kinney show. Make your own joke about wankers at indie-rock shows here:
So not only is this guy Seattle's premiere alleged indie-rock show masturbator, he's a snobby indie-rock show masturbator who will only choke his chicken to certain bands! Classic! (In a completely disgusting sort of way, of course.)
As promised, the video clip from the Love of Diagrams set at the Ninetynine CD launch on Saturday is online (6.5Mb AVI format; 30 seconds). It'll stay up for at least a week. (I can only keep 1 video clip up at a time in my Alphalink account, so the Ninetynine clip I put up earlier is gone.)
Hmmm.. perhaps it's time to expand this into a proper live-gig-video-of-the-week page?
This evening I crossed the Yarra and went to Revolver to see Kevin Blechdom and supports; meeting up with Cos there. First up was the obligatory DJ (given that it's in Prahran, I believe there are council zoning requirements mandating DJs in all venues there), playing various electro, including some new Death In Vegas, some Takako Minekawa, a Kraftwerk remix and such. Next up, local Dadaistic hip-hop collective Curse ov Dialect went up, attired in various costumes (as in robes, face paint and a jester hat; no gangsta bling-bling here), running around the stage, rapping and talking over prerecorded beats, in between running into the audience and grabbing glasses off tables. They were quite good; conceptually more original and innovative than most Australian hip-hop (which tends to consist of knockoffs of Afro-American urban culture, down to the beats and samples, with the token Australian accent and slang terms thrown in).
Next up were The Sailors, who appear to be three post-ironic inner-city hipsters doing Detroit-style rock (with a bit of Beastie Boys thrown in for good measure); either that or one of those New-Saviours-of-Rock bands whose names all start with The. Stylistically not in the same bag as Kevin Blechdom, but similarly fond of innuendo (only of a more homoerotic nature, cf. their Stooges-style opus "Y.C.M.A.", which has nothing to do with the Village People). Perhaps one could classify them as an indie-rock Down Town Brown.
Finally, Kevin Blechdom came on. (For those who aren't aware of this, she is female, and Kevin is not her real name.) She started off by playing banjo, solo or over loops from a Macintosh laptop behind her. Later she picked up a home-computer MIDI keyboard (adapted into stage gear by the clever expedient of gluing a strap onto it) and started playing that, triggering some Casio-like buzzy warbles whilst singing. She finished with her exquisitely bootywhangular chair-dance to her electropop cover of Tina Turner's Private Dancer, at one stage falling off the chair but soldiering on. Alas, my digital camera ran out of batteries at the time; had it not, I'd have a video file to show for it.
I'm not sure what to make of Kevin Blechdom. On one hand, some of her lyrics are a bit daft (some choice examples: "use your heart as a telephone, and you'll never ever be alone, you see, you'll be with me", "I don't think you understand, bad music is grand -- like a piano!", and a song about breasts exploding in flames which had a schoolyardish puerility about it), and she overacts more than a little, giving the impression of watching an enthusiastic amateur in a talent show. Though judging by her content, I suspect that that may be a deliberate aesthetic choice. OTOH, she's more entertaining than watching some bloke making burbling noises with a PowerBook, or the sort of dull, pretentious twaddle that makes up a lot of "experimental electronica".
You are so indie it hurts. You hang out with the coolest people in your city. It doesn't even bother you that none of them know your name. You know lots of bands personally, you know a couple of guys from We Hate The Mainstream Records, and you blag your way into getting almost everything for free. That fanzine you write gives you extra kudos. You probably don't even care that non-scenesters think you're a pretentious fuck.
Which is rather amusing, if totally, er, mostly incorrect. (Shut up, Graham.)
Anyway, writing a blog is apparently nowhere near as cool or indie as writing a photocopied zine, because blogs don't have the cachet of the scarcity/obscurity factor. (cf: mp3.com sites vs. 7" split singles. Any suburban bogan can put something on the web, but only the hippest of hipsters actually have stylishly crappy-looking bits of photocopied paper with twee-looking drawings on the front in all the right shops.)
So, here's the deal: every record is rated on its Mix Tape Quotient, or MTQ. This is the number of songs worthy of repeated listenings on that album. For example, a great 3-song 7" would get 3/3 or a hit-and-miss 12-song cd would get 7/12.
An interesting approach, though I'm not sure of how useful it is; some discs worth it for just a handful of brilliant tracks. (One example I could think of could be Slowdive's Pygmalion; as a totality it works splendidly, though there are only 3 or 4 at most tracks I'd choose on their own from it*). And one brilliant track could beat 7 passably good tracks.
And there's the question of what threshold you set for something being on a mix tape; does it have to really stand out, or just be good? Is it bad form to put more than N tracks by one artist on a mix tape (or CD)? (A number of years ago, I was in the habit of putting way too much Paradise Motel on my mix tapes; one or two I made contained about half of Some Deaths Take Forever, interleaved with other stuff. I try to avoid this sort of thing these days, though the last one I made did have several Field Mice-related tracks on it.)
* in case you're wondering, Rutti, Crazy For You, Blue Skied An' Clear and possibly J's Heaven; though the others do a good job of filling out the whole.
For the style-conscious indiekid: Cat and Girl, one of the better web comics, now have some rather twee-looking button badges. Wearing suggestion: on fur-lined parka with black-frame emo glasses, to flaunt your subcultural awareness.
Hmm... Ninetynine's The Process comes out on Monday, and chaosmusic.com already have a page for it. The track listing looks very promising (and the excerpts I've heard on 3RRR do too). The artwork doesn't seem to have the same indie-geeky quality of previous albums (they've ditched the graph paper, I see, along with the numerical album title thing), but it's probably appropriate, as their sound has become more fluid and organic and, dare I say, more mature.
Right now, I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this disc.