The Null Device

Posts matching tags 'post-punk'


Australian post-punk guitarist Rowland S. Howard passed away today, after a battle with liver cancer. He was 50.

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In conjunction with fluoro disco merchants Modular, Tom Ellard (of Severed Heads fame) has put together a mix of underground electronic post-punk music from 1979, from Australia and abroad, with an accompanying online booklet (in Flash, alas). The mix goes for some 40 minutes and contains the likes of The Residents, Telex, SPK and Primitive Calculators, as well as, of course, The Normal and the Human League (pre-girls, of course). File this alongside the recent BBC "Synth Britannia" documentary.

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It has been a long time coming (I was still living in Melbourne when it was announced, more than five years ago), but Melbourne post-punk cult film Dogs In Space is finally seeing a DVD release. The 2-disc edition, with extensive commentaries, videos and a fly-on-the-wall making-of documentary made at the same time, ships on 28 August. JB HiFi have a pre-order page here.

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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.

billy brag heritage rock indie irony margaret thatcher new-wave politics post-punk the jam the smiths tories uk 0


A blog calling itself Psychotic Leisure Music has posted MP3 copies of the ultra-rare Japanese CD release of the Dogs In Space soundtrack. The Japanese version is equivalent to the "PG-rated" vinyl release, in that the songs aren't overdubbed with snippets of film dialogue.

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For those of you who read Rip It Up And Start Again, Simon Reynolds' excellent history of the explosion of musical creativity in the wake of punk and wished that there was a companion CD with some of the artists and tracks mentioned in it, there is now:

01 The Fall - "Fiery Jack"
02 Devo - "Praying Hands"
03 Pulsallama - "The Devil Lives in My Husband's Body"
04 Cabaret Voltaire - "Sluggin' for Jesus Part 1"
05 Josef K - "Sense of Guilt"
06 Scritti Politti - "PAs"
07 The Slits - "Spend Spend Spend"
08 Fatal Microbes - "Violence Grows"
09 Robert Wyatt - "Grass"
10 Siouxsie & the Banshees - "Slowdive"
11 The Raincoats - "Only Loved at Night"
12 Young Marble Giants - "Choci Loni"
13 The Human League - "Dancevision"
14 Thomas Leer - "Tight as a Drum"
15 The Associates - "White Car in Germany"
16 The B-52s - "Give Me Back My Man"
17 John Cooper Clarke - "Beasley Street"
18 The Specials - "Friday Night, Saturday Morning"
19 Heaven 17 - "I'm Your Money"
20 The Blue Orchids - "Dumb Magician"
There's only one CD there, so a lot of stuff had to be omitted. However, it does look like an interesting collection of non-obvious songs, rather than a compilation of the key bands' signature hits. There's an page here.

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The Grauniad has an article, by Bob Stanley (also one of knowingly smug London indie-dance outfit Saint Etienne), on the DIY music movement that formed in the UK in the wake of punk, with countless garage bands, improvised instrumentation, passion, whimsy, cardboard drum kits, homemade synthesizers, homemade C90s sold by mail order and pseudonyms more for escaping the attentions of the dole office than affecting any sort of rock'n'roll cool:

The look was monochrome, handmade, an A4 photocopied sleeve wrapped around a handstamped 7in single. Photos of the bands were rare. Grinder were an exception - their sleeve shows four blokes, three with moustaches, the other with a Rocky Horror T-shirt. DIY had no time for poseurs. Pseudonyms abounded, probably so the dole office wouldn't get wind (after all, some of these records were selling thousands of copies). On the ideal DIY single, Warner reckons, "no band member's name should be over three letters long; otherwise, it should be false. If there is an address on the sleeve it should be the drummer's aunt's house or a local youth club." One Hornchurch band, What Is Oil?, numbered Dunk, Mike, German, Stoat and - playing "toast with cheese" - Dungheap.
The sound was art-school - a kind of urban British folk inspired by Vivian Stanshall, Syd Barrett, music hall and Dada. It was rickety, semi-musical and open to anyone: it related to punk in the way skiffle had to rock'n'roll. DIY archivist Johan Kugelberg describes it as "the wild enthusiasm of being 17 and discovering Alfred Jarry and the beauty of children's drawings." Strange, redundant keyboards were a common feature, as punk had laid waste to anything outside the guitar/bass/drums set-up, and this old gear was going cheap. Martin O'Cuthbert's Vocal Vigilante EP lists a Dubreq Stylophone and a Crumar Performer as his instruments - highly desirable now but obsolete technology in February 1978.
If you can find them, DIY records are extraordinary artefacts - the last hurrah of the Angry Brigade, good hippy aesthetics, and the punk/situationist interface. If you can't find them, the Messthetics series of CDs provides an in. This was the sound of the underground; the hiss of the tape, the amateur pressing, the sloppiness and the sheer sense of glee. The feeling of liberty. Chuck Warner compares DIY to the early days of blogging: "Both DIY and the blogs were so engaging precisely because of their common carelessness about wide public response."
The DIY scene is often categorised as "post-punk" (which is chronologically accurate, though stylistically, as Stanley points out, the term belongs too much to more polished and/or deliberately abject bands like PIL and Joy Division to fit this scene easily); its history is mentioned in Simon Reynolds' excellent history of the post-punk era, Rip It Up And Start Again. Some DIY bands ended up acquiring skill and technical polish and metamorphosing into something slicker (most notably, Scritti Politti, who started off as rabid Marxist squatter types and ended up as a polished, if knowingly subversive, pop band, who, incidentally and through no fault of their own, served as the inspiration for the naming of Milli Vanilli); most vanished without a trace as their members got Proper Jobs. A few served as the training ground for other projects; the article mentions acid-house outfit 808 State. The DIY scene also spawned numerous successors: C86, bedroom electronica, the millions of homemade MP3s all over the web and phenomena like National Solo Album Month all owe a debt to this explosion of creativity.

It's interesting to compare the UK DIY movement with the "little band" scene in Australia at about the same time. They were roughly the same phenomenon (improvised, ad hoc creativity, occurring in the wake of punk), with similar aesthetics. However, the Australian scene seems to have been more live-performance-oriented, whereas the British one was more concerned with recorded music (the artefacts being homemade cassettes or hand-pressed 7"s). Could this be a result of Australian enthusiasts tending to gravitate to concentrated bohemian epicentres in the inner cities (St Kilda/Fitzroy, Newtown, Fortitude Valley and such), while Britons, not having any such focal points, remained in their suburban sheds, or of Australian musical culture being more rockist and/or more gregarious, with live performance being considered more important than in the UK?

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Well, tonight I saw 24 Hour Party People. It was quite good; perhaps a bit too cleverly self-referential for its own good in places (with all of "Tony Wilson"'s asides to the audience, for example, and the scene with the real Howard Devoto in the bathroom), though that's forgivable. Some good scenes there, though not as much Joy Division/New Order as I expected, and a bit too much focus on the Happy Mondays. Still, I'd recommend it to anyone who's into New Order or Joy Division, or who grew up listening to punk, new wave or Madchester baggycore. If that kind of thing means nothing to you, you probably won't get much out of this film though.

24 hour party people factory records film happy mondays joy division new order post-punk tony wilson 2


I'm starting to realise that The Particles' Apricot's Dream is pretty much the epitome of the perfect 2 1/2-minute pop song. In its sparse, understated form, there's nothing that can be added to (or taken away from) it that could improve it.

And this was a song recorded by a Sydney indie band in 1979, which would have remained unknown to me were it not on the Can't Stop It! compilation. Perfection hides in the most obscure of places.

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