The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'punk'
Sad news: Christina Amphlett, frontwoman of post-punk rock band The Divinyls, inspiration to many, first crush to many more and arguably the archetypal Australian Rock Chick, has died in New York, aged 53. The Divinyls are best known outside of Australia for I Touch Myself, though in their career had many more hits, including Pleasure And Pain, Back To The Wall and Science Fiction, through the 1980s and until their generation was displaced by the JJJ Grunge Revolution (many of whose key players, like Adalita from Magic Dirt, were inspired by her).
It's fair to say that Amphlett lived the lifestyle. Born in industrial Geelong, she left home in her teens and spent time busking in Europe, at one point being imprisoned for three months for singing in the streets; she was born at the right time to be there when punk broke, and her artistic career embodied its values—aggressively forward, unapologetically raunchy and cuttingly honest, expressing both toughness and vulnerability; her voice certainly did.
Amphlett was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2006 and breast cancer in 2010; had it only been one of the two, she'd probably had more of a chance, but apparently the MS made radiotherapy impossible.
There is more coverage, including quotes from other musicians who knew her, here
In Boston, the local police are cracking down on unlicensed hardcore punk shows in private homes, and to find them and shut them down, have been attempting to infiltrate online message boards looking for details, often doing a laughable job of it:
“Too bad you were not here this weekend,” “Joe Sly” wrote. “Patty's day is a mad house I am still pissing green beer. The cops do break balls something wicked here. What's the address for Saturday Night, love DIY concerts.” He might as well have written “Just got an 8 ball of beer and I’m ready to party.”
You don’t have to be a local-music Agent Smith, though, to tell that some of these emails smell pretty fishy. “Hey there, local P native here,” wrote one probable imposter to a local band, (who probably meant to type JP, slang for Jamaica Plain). “What is the Address for the local music show tonight?"Granted, whilst these profiles do look laughable, the police have successfully shut down a lot of shows before they happened, presumably from intelligence gathered elsewhere; whether that was done by more successfully impersonating punk rock fans or from obtaining warrants to intercept the email/Facebook messages of known organisers. Meanwhile, in a climate where one knows that narcs are about, it's hard to promote shows and yet make sure that only the right people hear about them:
As a result of efforts like this, promoters and houses have become much more cautious when they receive requests out of the blue for information about shows. And this kind of caution may be, in its way, a kind of success for the BPD initiative. It's kind of hard to put on a show when you can't tell anyone ahead of time where it's going to be. In that sense, the cops seem to be succeeding through another tried-and-true Internet tradition. Trolling is almost always transparently obvious, but when it's unflagging and endlessly annoying, it can be extremely discouraging. Troll a group of people hard enough, and they may end up saying, like famed Boston Beat Gang punk Joe Sly, “What's the point?”As such, requests for information that sound like they're obviously from clueless cops may be exactly the right tactic; they're not meant to catch the prey, but rather force the prey to keep their heads down, because there are predators about.
In 2003, US mass-market clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch approached Slovenian Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek to write some ad copy for them; he took them up on the offer, and the result (NSFW) consists of goldenly sunlit vintage-soft-porn-style photographs of naked good-looking young people, with Žižek's unique brand of macaronic Freudian-Lacanian theorising superimposed over a proportion of the pages, in bold sans-serif face. A representative example of the text:
Žižek reportedly said that the assignment took him 10 minutes of free associating, and that he found it less demeaning than the US academic sector:
But Zizek bristled at the suggestion that there was anything unseemly about an internationally renowned intellectual writing copy for a clothing catalog. ''If I were asked to choose between doing things like this to earn money and becoming fully employed as an American academic, kissing [EXPLETIVE] to get a tenured post,'' he growled, ''I would with pleasure choose writing for such journals!''Which sounds like a Marxist take on the “punk rock” philosophy mentioned in an earlier post: if the bourgeois-capitalist system is (a) bullshit and (b) inescapable, and the supposedly “credible” parts of it are the worst by their pretence of being something other than bullshit, why not show the lie of the system by shunning its serious institutions and engaging solely with the most honestly base and tawdry aspects of it: populist cinema and mass-market clothing chains?
Punk Rock Is Bullshit, a robust broadside against the ideology and cultural phenomenon of punk and its legacy, both in terms of the lumpen aesthetic conservatism of punk rock as a musical genre and the narrow, self-defeating and ultimately nihilistic nature of punk's ideal of that great subcultural holy grail, Authenticity:
I have friends in their mid-40s who don't even have a savings account because "saving money" never seemed punk rock. I can't count the number of small businesses I've seen fail because worrying about inventory or actually charging customers didn't seem very punk rock. I was once chastised for playing at a private Microsoft function by a guy who worked there, so disappointed was he that I would sell out by playing a corporate gig.
I'm not talking about punk-rock music, because I don't believe there is such a thing. Punk music is just rock music, and the best punk is halfway decent rock. Punk rock was nothing new in 1976, and it's nothing new today. The Beatles' cover of "Roll Over Beethoven" is more punk than 90 percent of all punk rock; the Ramones were way more conservative—musically and socially—than Sha Na Na; the Sex Pistols were just dumb David Bowie; The Clash was a world-music band and the direct antecedent of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. If anything, the mantle of "punk rock" was an umbrella to describe a reactionary retro-ness, a feeling that music was best played with old-fashioned dumb energy, simple to the point of being simplistic—which not coincidentally corresponded to the period of the widest proliferation of recreational drug use in world history. It was music to validate being too wasted to think.
What started out as teenage piss-taking at baby-boomer onanism quickly morphed into a humorless doctrine characterized by acute self-consciousness and boring conformism. We internalized its laundry list of pseudo-values—anti-establishmentarianism, anti-capitalism, libertarianism, anti-intellectualism, and self-abnegation disguised as humility—until we became merciless captors of our own lightheartedness, prisoners in a Panopticon who no longer needed a fence. After almost four decades of gorging on punk fashion, music, art, and attitude, we still grant it permanent "outsider" status. Its tired tropes and worn-out clichés are still celebrated as edgy and anti-authoritarian, above reproach and beyond criticism. Punk-rock culture is the ultimate slow-acting venom, dulling our expectations by narrowing the aperture of "cool" and neutering our taste by sneering at new flavors until every expression of actual individualism is corralled and expunged in favor of group-think conformity.
The Quietus has an interview with Dr. Greg Graffin, evolutionary biology professor and frontman of long-running hardcore punk band Bad Religion, conducted on the supposed date of the Mayan Apocalypse that never was, and talking about the aforementioned non-apocalypse and other potential cataclysms, such as a climate “death spiral” (a term which US Government-funded scientists are reportedly prohibited from using) and asteroid strikes:
Because of my training in science, I always think the simplest interpretation of data is the best. If we wanted to make it complicated we could easily tell a story where the Mayans foretold all of what we see today. All this complex culture leading us to over-consumption, leading us to global warming, but the truth of the matter is that there's not a shred of evidence - no matter how much you read the Mayan calendar - that they had that kind of insight. So for us even to be talking about it makes me angry. The truth is that we have more serious problems on the agenda - partly what you alluded to. We need action - particularly political action - to avert catastrophe. Continuing these conversations about the Mayans, what we're doing is alleviating our responsibility and we're saying, 'Well, there's a part of me that thinks this was all foretold anyway and this was the way it was supposed to happen, and therefore I don't need to make drastic changes in my lifestyle.'
Here's a good example: we just had that terrible school shooting. The FBI record every murder and they detail what firearm was used in every murder – it's a very extensive database. However, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has lobbied to make laws so that it's illegal for any citizen to have access to that information. So even though the results of the study are very clear, the data is sitting in a vault somewhere and nobody can report on it. So all these statistics you hear about handguns or assault rifles – all that data is locked away and it's just a big public relations spin.
William Gibson talks about how the internet changed the idea of “bohemia” by eliminating the scarcity and locality of subcultures and scenes, instead replacing it with everything, everywhere, all the time:
(If punk emerged today:) You’d pull it up on YouTube, as soon as it was played. It would go up on YouTube among the kazillion other things that went up on YouTube that day. And then how would you find it? How would it become a thing, as we used to say? I think that’s one of the ways in which things are really different today. How can you distinguish your communal new thing — how can that happen? Bohemia used to be self-imposed backwaters of a sort. They were other countries within the landscape of Western industrial civilization. They were countries that most people would never see — mysterious places. You’d pay a price, potentially, for going there. That’s always cool and exciting. Now, where are they? Where can you do that? How are people transacting that today? I am pretty sure that they are, but I don’t have that much firsthand experience of it. But they have to do it in a different way.Meanwhile, Justin Moyer of the band El Guapo writes about the Brooklynisation of indie music, and how a vaguely Williamsburg-flavoured global hipsterism has displaced the myriad different, wildly divergent local scenes that used to exist, literally or metaphorically “over the mountains”:
Regional music scenes differentiate Hill Country blues from Delta blues and New York hardcore from Orange County hardcore from harDCore. RMSes draw lines between KRS-One and MC Shan, Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, Merseybeat and The Kinks, Satie and Wagner. RMSes are why I would almost never play a show that wasn’t all ages in D.C., but would only play Joe’s Bar in Marfa, Texas. RMSes make you think differently.
Like accents, RMSes are disappearing. Sure, record stores and record labels are dead or living on borrowed time. Sure, smart clubowners can’t afford to book a show for an unknown, out-of-town band instead of an ’80s dance party. But money’s not the problem—or, at least, not the only problem. RMSes are disappearing because everyone is starting to sound like everyone else.The opposite of the regional music scenes is the globalised Brooklyn, based loosely though not entirely on the real Brooklyn, a place where the sheer concentration of hip, creative young people and potential collaborators absorbs talent from other areas, absorbing it into a melting-pot monoculture where everything is linked to everything else and there are no secrets:
Do not confuse Brooklyn with, well, Brooklyn—the New York borough that sits about 230 miles from Washington on the southwest end of Long Island over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge off of I-278. There are many Brooklyns. Los Angeles is Brooklyn. Chicago is Brooklyn. Berlin and London are Brooklyn. Babylon was the Brooklyn of the ancient world. In the 1990s, Seattle was Brooklyn. Young Chinese punks challenging Communism risk prison to make Beijing the Brooklyn of tomorrow. Some Brooklyns aren’t even places. MySpace is Brooklyn. YouTube is Brooklyn. Facebook is Brooklyn. Spotify and iTunes are perversely, horribly, unapologetically, maddeningly Brooklyn.
What this essay is saying: In Brooklyn, there is too much input.
What this essay is saying: If music wasn’t better before Brooklyn, it was, at least, weirder.
What this essay is saying: In Brooklyn, music comes too cheap. (Please note: “too cheap” doesn’t refer to price.)
What this essay is saying: A melting pot is not an aesthetic. Neither is a salad bar.
What this essay is saying: There is a tidal wave of generic, mushy, apolitical, featureless, Brooklynish music infiltrating the world’s stereos.
What this essay is saying: Beware what you put on your iPod. It might not be dangerous.
(via The Secret History)
Spare a thought for the goths of Uzbekistan; once plentiful around the tranquil cemeteries of cosmopolitan Tashkent (and, for some reason, the city's one Roman Catholic church), persecution by the authorities and a hostility to Western youth subcultures seeping in from Putin's Russia (many Uzbeks speak Russian and watch Russian television) has caused their numbers to dwindle, with those who can seeking refuge in more liberal countries.
There has been a campaign in Uzbek media denouncing Western mass culture for encouraging "immorality" among the youth and for "damaging the country's national values and traditions". Rap, rock and heavy metal have been labelled "alien music" and some genres have been subsequently banned.
During one punk rock concert during the last two years, masked police turned up in large numbers and began rounding up the fans, detaining some for several hours.They're kettling them? It's almost as if they were anti-tax-evasion campaigners in London or something.
In any case, the rising tide of xenophobic nationalism and authoritarianism is taking its toll on Tashkent's once flourishing punk, goth and metal scenes.
At a well-known club on the outskirts of Tashkent, an event that in the past might have attracted up to 300 people, now only draws about 20 or 30. Most tried to avoid the camera.
"In the past there were lots of goths, punks, satanists and rockers around," says Gotya sadly. While Uzbekistan appears to be a less-than-hospitable place for such subcultures, Leticia and Gotya too are thinking about emigrating to other countries, like Russia or Poland.You know a country has problems when Russia is considered a more liberal country to emigrate to.
Meanwhile, the slogan “punk's not dead” is vividly illustrated by an annual festival in Blackpool, where original punk bands from the 1970s and 1980s reunite to play sets and the veterans of the punk scene momentarily put aside whatever accommodations they had since made with the status quo and return to the glorious mayhem of their youth:
"The original punks stand out because they're older and fatter, and struggle to do the pogo now," Rooney says. Many once fearsome punk rockers are now cuddly parents, who bring punk rock babies in punk T-shirts and earmuffs. Their parents' record collections or the internet lure slightly older youngsters into seeing what this threat to society was all about.
"If you're singing about being downtrodden, 90% of the population is going to identify with it," Bondage says. "I'd be prepared to kill off punk if we lived in a perfect world. But it isn't. Punk's the modern blues."
As the Pussy Riot Three prepare to join the civil dead in the Russian gulag, numerous artists in the West have condemned their sentence, some more self-aggrandisingly than others. For example, Glen Matlock of punk marketing breakthrough the Sex Pistols pointed out the similarities between Pussy Riot's protest against the Russian Orthodox Church's complicity in the Putin regime's authoritarianism and his own band's protest against Queen Elizabeth II's inhuman fascist regime, and the sacrifices both bands made for the righteousness of their causes:
"It's bad. I suppose it's similar in a way to what happened with our 'God Save The Queen' single in '77," he said. "But though there was a bit of violence against the band we didn't do two years. That Putin's a twat, isn't he?"Quite.
The Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot have, as expected, been found guilty, and sentenced to two years in a gulag, a sentence less than the 3-7 years the prosecution wanted, but still alarmingly severe given the nature of the incident. Given the brutality of the Russian prison system (in which almost half of the prisoners are ill with HIV or antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis and disfavoured prisoners, a category into which unrepentant enemies of the powers that be may end up being coerced, are singled out for brutal abuse), their chances of emerging two years later more or less OK don't look good.
The trial, if anything, has been a turning point, in that Russia has given up the pretence of being a liberal democracy, and publicly reasserted the Czarist autocratic model, with the Russian Orthodox church acting as a Caesaropapist arm of the absolute State. Der Spiegel has a piece on Russia's reembracing of autocracy:
In the summer of 1991, for example, when the Soviet realm was collapsing, Putin moved into his office in St. Petersburg and promptly had the portrait of Lenin removed and replaced with one of Peter the Great. A janitor had brought Putin two images of the czar. The first one depicted the young Peter, looking amiable and idealistic, a modernizer who wanted to open the "window to Europe" for his giant, backward country. Putin rejected the picture. Instead, he chose one of a serious-looking older czar, marked by many battles and conflicts, one who had expanded his realm with new conquests, and one whose rule was so ruthless that he had his own son tortured to death after accusing him of being involved in a conspiracy.Then again, as Twitter user @mrcolmquinn pointed out, "Next time you see a staged photo of Putin doing something macho remember he is scared of a non violent group of young women."
And in other news, Moscow's top court has banned gay parades for 100 years.
Where punk still means something: There's a piece in the Observer about the trials and tribulations of Russian punk-rock protest group Pussy Riot, a sort of hybrid of Plastic People Of The Universe-style rock'n'roll absurdism with the semiotics and feminist ideology of riot-grrl and a touch of Situationism, who took on the Putin regime, and (in being crucified by it) may yet bring it low:
Russia's leaders have always understood the potency of the visual imagery of power. Of hammers and sickles. Of nuclear warheads and a well-muscled man doing manly, bare-chested outdoor pursuits. And, in the latest instance: of five young women in brightly coloured balaclavas jumping up and down in the symbolic heart of the Russian state: Red Square.
Miriam Elder, the Guardian's Moscow correspondent, who has covered the case assiduously, met a group of them shortly afterwards, one of the very few journalists to have interviewed them. "They were just very determined. Very purposeful. Everybody was so angry at that time. But what came across was just how educated they were. How well thought out their ideas were. They quoted everybody from Simone de Beauvoir to the Ramones. It wasn't just a silly prank. There was a real message behind it."The members of the Pussy Riot collective are anonymous, covering their faces and going by noms de guerre. Nonetheless, three members were arrested after invading a Russian Orthodox cathedral and playing a song calling for Putin to be dismissed, a gesture which was deliberately calculated to highlight the complicity of the Church with the Putin-era state in attempting to reassert absolute control over Russian society:
"More than this, though, is how the church has started to act as if it is the propaganda wing of the government. Before the election, Patriarch Kirill said that it was 'un-Christian' to demonstrate. And then he said that Putin had been placed at the head of the government 'by God'. No one was talking about this before. And now everybody is."The state has moved to make an example of the Pussy Riot Three; they have been detained incommunicado pending a trial, and face up to seven years in prison. Though public opinion, both within Russia and in the outside world, has moved against the state. Amnesty International, ignoring the tradition of religious privilege to take offence, has also designated the three to be prisoners of conscience.
Following the recent Spiegel piece on punk rock and dissent in Burma, music journalist John Harris has an article on parts of the world where punk and its offshoots are still dangerous:
It's been a long time since the term "punk rock" could strike fear into the British establishment. The Sex Pistols' John Lydon – aka Johnny Rotten – was long ago transformed into a pantomimic national institution, and now advertises Country Life butter; it's 16 years since Tony Blair admiringly mentioned the Clash in a speech at the Brit awards. The spiky-topped punk look is as harmless a part of vernacular British style as Harris tweed; the concert nostalgia circuit is now home to any number of ageing punk groups, from the Buzzcocks to Sham 69.
The last few months, however, have brought news from abroad suggesting that in many places, punk's combination of splenetic dissent, loud guitars and outre attire can cause as much disquiet and outrage as ever. The stories concerned take in Indonesia, Burma, Iraq and Russia – and most highlight one big difference between the hoo-hah kicked up by punk in the US and Britain of the late 70s, and the reactions it now stirs thousands of miles from its places of birth. Back then, being a punk rocker might invite occasional attacks in the street, a ban on your records, and the odd difficulty finding somewhere to play. Now, if you pursue a love of punk in the wrong political circumstances, you may well experience oppression at its most brutal: torture, imprisonment, what one regime calls "moral rehabilitation" and even death.The ways that punk-influenced subcultures are colliding with the local establishments differ for each place. In Iraq, Islamists are stoning youths to death for wearing clothes and haircuts associated with “emo” (which originated as an offshoot of DC hardcore punk, though in the affluent first world, has long since degenerated into Hot Topic merchandise lines and highly commercial bands making whimpering songs complaining about girls not putting out, Fake Emo having displaced Fake Goth as the bad joke of teenage angst some time in the 00s). In Iraq, however, emo is still seen as a threat to Islamic values and traditional norms of masculinity:
One thing is definitely true: figures for emo-related killings are blurring into those for homophobic murders (put at up to 58 in the last six weeks alone), reflecting a widespread perception in Iraq that emo is a byword not just for devil-worship, but homosexuality. A leaflet distributed in east Baghdad gave any local emo fans four days to "leave this filthy work", under pain of "the punishment of God … at the hand of the Mujahideen". At least two lists of intended victims have been posted online, and tattoo parlours in the city have reported terrified young people asking for their punk-esque body-art to be removed.Hard rock and the Islamic world have come into collision before: Malaysia reportedly had its own issue with “Satanist” heavy-metal fans, and in Indonesia's conservative Aceh province, officials detained punk rock fans at an event, shaved their heads and subjected them to “moral reeducation”. This action, intended as a show of strength by local political figures, resulted in protests outside Indonesian embassies across the world.
There are, he tells me, two kinds of punk in Indonesia. "One is what we think of as a poser: they adopt punk fashions." This group, he says, tend to be "street kids" who fall into begging and petty crime, and thereby provoke the authorities. "The other punks are part of a community that has developed since the late 80s – a moral, ideological type of community," he says. "They're totally different. But the government and society thinks that if you have a Mohawk and boots, you are a punk, and all punks are the same." The kids arrested in Aceh, he thinks, are likely to be the genuine article, because they were arrested at a gig, a reasonably sure sign of true believers.Meanwhile, in Russia, a feminist punk movement influenced by riot grrrl is forming part of the growing resistance to the Putin regime, the ex-KGB siloviki and the oligarchs, and their plans for a tightly managed democracy:
In Moscow, a court ruling on Wednesday marked the latest chapter in the story of an all-female band called Pussy Riot, two of whom were arrested last month after they illicitly took over the pulpit in a Moscow church, and attempted to recite a "punk prayer" written in opposition to Vladimir Putin. Pussy Riot's music is scratchy, unhinged stuff that takes its lead from a fleeting genre known as riot grrrl – once again traceable, at least in part, to Washington DC, and brought to fruition nearly 20 years ago by such groups as Bikini Kill, and a British band called Huggy Bear. Their music was clearly derived from punk's basic idea, but took its lead from such feminist groups as the Slits and the Au Pairs rather than the Clash and the Pistols: apart from anything else, the controversy around Pussy Riot has at least served as a reminder of this overlooked strand of punk history.
"We somehow developed what [those groups] did in the 1990s, although in an absolutely different context and with an exaggerated political stance," one band member called Garadzha Matveyeva has explained, "which leads to all of our performances being illegal – we'll never give a gig in a club or in any special musical space. That's an important principle for us." The band, who always perform in identity-concealing balaclavas, has a free-floating membership that can number up to 15 people – it amounts to "a pulsating and growing body", as Matveyeva sees it.In all these cases, the common theme is how punk, a dated subculture of generational rebellion, now often reduced to a grab-bag of clichés and commodified kitsch, has come to signify vastly more in considerably more desperate straits, without losing the decidedly foreign and awkwardly specific semiotics of someone else's adolescent rebellion in a distant country, long ago. So the image of punk comes, mediated via layers of marketing, commodification and nostalgia, to the developing world, where a Burmese dissident finds a copy of NME with a heritage-rock cover in the bins of the British Embassy, or an Iraqi teenager sees a Fall Out Boy video on a satellite video channel, and a chimera is born:
"You hear a lot about the clash of civilizations," [Ole Reitov, of Copenhagen-based freedom-of-expression advocacy group Freemuse] tells me, "but often, these things, they reflect a clash within civilizations. You're seeing the same symptoms in all kinds of countries: it's a matter of what you do if you feel you're powerless. You can only be extreme, relative to so-called normality. He thinks all this will only increase given two parallel developments: the rise of religious fundamentalism, and the increase in networked communications, which means that every aspect of a subculture can be globally spread at speed. "Think back 50 years," he says. "People didn't necessarily know what the Shadows or the Beatles looked like. These days, you immediately know. Someone in Ulan Bator immediately knows the body language that comes with rap music; in Iraq, the young people who've been killed knew how to dress a certain way."
While punk rock may be just another retro lifestyle brand in the West, in some parts of the world, it still means something; perhaps nowhere more so than Burma, a police state ruled with an iron fist by a military dictatorship. Punk arrived in Burma on cassettes smuggled in by sailors, and soon struck a chord with a young generation who had seen their future smashed under the fist of the state; as the junta cracked down on the “Saffron Revolution” which had been led by Buddhist monks, Burmese youth found a voice in its fiery rage, and soon adopted the semiotics of punk, born in remote 1970s London and New York, as banners of their anger at the state.
In Burma, punk is far more than just a superficial copy of its Western counterpart. Here, what is probably the most rebellious of all subcultures in the Southeast Asian country is going up against one of the world's most authoritarian regimes. Punk gives young Burmese a chance to symbolically spit in the face of the hated government, which took power in 2010 in the wake of what was widely considered a fraudulent election.
"The government keeps the people in poverty," says a 30-year-old who goes by the name of Scum, spitting on the ground. "It's a daily struggle just to get by." Protests are rarely possible, he says. Scum is one of the leaders of Rangoon's punk scene. He is sitting on a tattered sofa, the only piece of furniture in his narrow one-room apartment. Dirty dishes are piled up on the floor. In the corner, there's a box with English-language books. Scum studied literature, but now he makes a paltry income selling tickets for an illegal lottery. He refuses to have a legal job because he says it "would only be supporting the government."
Ko Nyan organizes most of these punk concerts. The 38-year-old makes a living selling punk T-shirts and CDs at a market stand in Rangoon. He is also one of Burma's original punks. In the mid 1990s, he read an article about the Sex Pistols, the legendary British punk band, in a music magazine he fished out of the British Embassy's garbage. Ko and his friends try to imitate the look of the musicians they saw, which comes as a shock to their countrymen. "When we walk through the market, everyone just stops and stares at us," he says. "They have no idea what punk is and just think we are crazy."What's interesting to me is how Burma's angry youth have taken a foreign cultural phenomenon (and one now confined to the cozy past in its country of origin; there's even a punk rock compilation from the National Trust for visiting Anglophiles to take home alongside their diecast model Routemaster bus and Kate and Wills teacups) and repurposed it into something new without changing its outward appearance. Looking at the attire of the punk scene members in the photo gallery accompanying the article, there are few if any references to Burma, its culture or politics; instead, one sees English-language slogans and band names of the sort one could find at a stall in Camden Market, as well as meticulously assembled collections of studded leather jackets and tartan bondage trousers. (One of the interviewees recounts working for a year in a textile factory to buy his leather jacket; upon reading this it is tempting to contemplate the exquisitely ironic possibility that similar factories were making Sex Pistols T-shirts for export to teen boutiques in the West.) Yet another young punk wears a vest printed simply with the Union Jack, a provocative symbol lobbed with weaponised irony in the malaise of 1970s Britain, though in Burma (a former British colony), I imagine its connotations would be quite different. And yet, the gravitas of Burma's situation takes these acts of almost cargo-cultish copyism and imbues them with a fresh radical meaning.
Data wonks at the social music-streaming site last.fm have been taking advantage of their vast repository of recorded music to correlate analyses of the music (made using cold, hard signal-processing algorithms, not anything more subjective or fuzzy) with data from sales charts, determining how the characteristics of popular music have changed in response to cultural trends. The results make for fascinating reading.
Among findings: by looking at how percussive tracks in the charts were (i.e., how strong and regular a rhythm they had, according to spectral analyses) they pretty much pinpoint the rise of disco in the mid-1970s, a change towards more strongly rhythmic tracks which has never been reversed:
The rise in percussivity was followed by a rise in rhythmic regularity in the early 1980s, when drum machines and MIDI came into existence. Unlike the increase in percussivity, though, this was a temporary hump, which waned in the 1990s, as people got sick of drum machines, grunge/alternative did to overproduced 1980s studio-pop what punk had done to prog, and/or simple 16-step drum machines were replaced by Atari STs running Steinberg Cubase, and equipped with more humanlike quantisation algorithms. Interestingly enough, the same study found that the hump in rhythmic regularity was accompanied by a rise in tracks with a tempo of 120 beats per minute, either out of laziness or from some folk wisdom about 120bpm being the optimum tempo:
Our first thought was that songwriters in the 80s must have turned on their drum machines, loved what they heard and wrote a song to that beat - without changing the default tempo setting of 120 bpm. I would love this to be correct, but I have a hunch that it's not, especially after having found this highly interesting manual for writing a hit single written by The KLF in 1988. They say that "the different styles in modern club records are usually clustered around certain BPM’s: 120 is the classic BPM for House music and its various variants, although it is beginning to creep up", and also, "no song with a BPM over 135 will ever have a chance of getting to Number One" because "the vast majority of regular club goers will not be able to dance to it and still look cool".Time, as the KLF said, may be eternal, but time signatures aren't; dance music (which remained strongly clustered around 120bpm at the time of acid house and the Second Summer of Love) soon started creeping upward past 130bpm, while tempos of charting music in general moved down.
last.fm's DSP algorithms also pick out the rise of punk, with its simplistic rock'n'roll arrangements and emphasis on DIY enthusiasm over polished virtuosity, and the vanquishment of prog rock, glam and other more experimental genres; this manifested itself in a steep rise in the proportion of the charts occupied by records of low harmonic and timbre complexity (i.e., both simple melodic/chord structures and unostentatious selections of instruments) between 1976 and 1979, and map the Loudness Wars of the past few decades, as the rise of the CD and a competition for sounding louder and more kick-ass than all the music that came before conspired to annihilate dynamic range:
Finally, another cultural trend that shows up in the data is the steady decline of the Truck Driver's Gear Shift (i.e., the tendency of songs to shift their key up one or two semitones before the final chorus, for some extra heartstring-tugging oomph) from the 1950s to the present day; presumably because that shit got old. When the incidence of gear shifts is plotted by month, however, few will be surprised to find that December has 2-3 times as many as the rest of the year; after all, 'tis the season to be cheesy.
The percentage of loud tracks has increased from 10% in 1964 (by definition) to over 40% in recent years. So music has got louder. Well, isn't that in the spirit of Rock'n'Roll? Sadly, it isn't, because the increase in loudness has led to worse sound quality. Granted, it's louder, but boy is it flat!
And in heritage rock news: archaeologists from York University have unearthed a fragment of Britain's cultural heritage: graffiti on the wall of a London flat shared by members of The Sex Pistols in the 1970s, including drawings believed to have been made by John Lydon:
"This is an important site, historically and archaeologically, for the material and evidence it contains. But should we retain it for the benefit of this and future generations?" they ask in a study of the drawings for Antiquity magazine.I wonder what Lydon (who's surely not even dead yet) makes of being the subject of archaeological interest.
The Guardian's art correspondent Jonathan Jones argues that mainstream acceptance is killing street art; how what used to be an outlaw pursuit, charged with an edgy, subversive frisson, is now thoroughly commodified, exhibited in galleries, flogged en masse to tourists and posed alongside by centre-right politicians, fatally eroding what underground credibility it once had:
Visitors to London buy Banksy prints on canvas from street stalls, while in Tripoli photographers latch on to any bloke with a spray can near any wall that's still standing. Graffiti and street art have become instant – and slightly lazy – icons of everything our culture lauds, from youth to rebellion to making a fast buck from art.
Maybe there was a time when painting a wittily satirical or cheekily rude picture or comment on a wall was genuinely disruptive and shocking. That time is gone. Councils still do their bit to keep street art alive by occasionally obliterating it, and so confirming that it has edge. But basically it has been absorbed so deep into the mainstream that old folk who once railed at graffiti in their town are now more likely to have a Banksy book on their shelves than a collection of Giles cartoons.He has a point about the mainstreaming and commodification of once transgressive phenomena (recently we have witnessed the confirmation of punk's position as a safe and cozy part of Britain's heritage by the National Trust releasing a punk compilation album), and the fact that there is a lot of street art which, when one puts aside its illegality and unconventional locations, is quite mediocre. Though the final stage of this process of commodification seems less than apocalyptic: a culture in which street art becomes a sort of accepted folk art, sometimes critical or confrontational, occasionally brilliant, more often mediocre, and very occasionally leading to wealth and fame, though generally practiced by small-time artists, and tolerated by society as part of the local culture and the broader conversation. Which, to me, looks healthier than a society of zero-tolerance policies, where the means of street-level communication belong exclusively to corporate advertisers.
Poly Styrene, the frontwoman of seminal 1970s teenage punk band X-Ray Specs, has passed away, aged 53. Styrene (real name: Marianne Elliot-Said) turned to punk rock in 1976, and managed to not only question the norms of bourgeois society and the modern condition but to subvert the macho orthodoxies of punk rock, and inspired a few generations of outspoken female rock'n'roll artists; were it not for her, punk would have been a less interesting phenomenon.
Styrene had finished a solo album, Generation Indigo, last year when she was diagnosed with cancer. There is an interview she did with the Guardian a month ago here.
BBC Radio 4 has an interesting radio programme about the surprisingly extensive French influence on the punk movement. Alas, it's not downloadable, and may not be accessible outside of the UK, but the gist is that the oft-cited Anglocentric creation myth of punk—the movement having sprung fully formed from the loins of Sid Vicious and/or Malcolm McLaren somewhere on the King's Road, with possibly some reference to Iggy Pop and/or the New York Dolls—is very much incomplete; or, in the words of the presenter, Andrew Hussey, without France, punk would have just been pub rock with shorter hair.
The French influences on punk rock cited by Hussey and his interviewees (who include the members of French punk bands such as Stinky Toys and Metal Urbain, as well as an adjunct professor of punk and reggae at NYU) are multiple. A big one is French philosophy, particularly Situationism and Lettrism, but going back to various strains of romantic nihilism, Dada and the poetry of Rimbaud and Baudelaire. (French punks were less afraid of being intellectual than the English rockers of the time.) There was also a lot of cross-pollination between Paris and New York's art-rock scene (Patti Smith is an obvious name to mention here), not to mention precedence in earlier French popular culture, such as les Zazous, the black-clad, swing-dancing rebels who defied the Nazi occupation, and of whom one sees superficial echoes in everything from Mod to Goth. And then there were the stylistic cues, cribbed by punk's more historically literate stylists:
Malcolm McLaren and Tony Wilson were hugely influenced by the Situationist movement in particular, and deliberately and explicitly trawled it for images and lyrics that were to become iconic punk expressions (the Sex Pistols record covers, lyrics such as 'Cheap holidays in other people's misery'...); the first festival of punk music took place at Mont de Marsan in 1976; the first Rough Trade release was from the Parisian band 'Metal Urbain'; the punk 'look' first embodied by Richard Hell was drawn straight from fin de siecle French poets, and the graffiti strewn clothing of The Clash comes straight from the 50s group les Lettrists.
For one week only, Pitchfork TV is streaming Wesley Willis's Joy Rides, a documentary about the late outsider musician.
Perhaps the inevitable result of the aging of the punk rock generation: a middle-aged Cardiff punk band named Punks Not Dad has written a song about pottering about in the shed. It arguably captures the spirit of punk—the short sharp shock, the brusquely defiant assertion of one's right to be antisocial—in a more authentic fashion than many of the meticulously stylised, overengineered Sex Pistols/Buzzcocks/Clash copyists young enough to be these blokes' sons fighting for the cover of the NME these days:
Theres a place where I wanna be -
get away from the family
Where a bloke can be a bloke
put me feet up have a smoke
If you want me - you know where to find me If you need me - you’ll know where to look…
In me shed - varnishing a picture frame
In me shed - mending a toaster
In me shed - doing the sudoku
In me shed in me shed
(via Boing Boing)
Your Scene Sucks, a set of sketches of contemporary (US) youth subcultures:
this guy is single-handedly responsible for the commercialization of your favorite bands, childhood television shows, and quirky indie movies. his other favorite shirts include such witty sayings as... "i saw your mom on myspace," "the voices in my head are telling you to shut up," and "can't sleep... the clowns will eat me!"
like most in his scene, he doesn’t know the first thing about politics aside from what his father brings to the dinner table. he has a strong stance against fascism, racism and sexism even though he has no idea what any of those terms truly mean. this punk firmly believes in anarchy, but this does not stop him from posting all day on the rupert-murdoch-owned myspace.com.
Also, LOLHipsters, which is like LOLCats crossed with VICE's "Do's/Don'ts" page.
two years ago, he had blonde hair and an abercrombie-wardrobe, but that all changed the second he first heard my chemical romance playing on a random myspace page. from that moment on, his entire existence could be summed up with just three words: "i'm not okay."
(via mrsmalkav, M+N)
The latest trend for American punk rockers, indie-rock hipsters, Mod scooterists, hardcore straightedgers and such seems to be joining Masonic lodges. Freemasonry, which was once at the centre of Enlightenment radicalism, and later exerted untold influence over the business, political and legal worlds (not to mention wacky hijinks in 1920s America), had recently ossified into a stodgy, conservative institution, seemingly comprised of a dwindling number of old men. Now the lodges' ranks are being swollen with members of youth-oriented subcultures looking for camaraderie and networking opportunities.
“It’s kind of like a history class that no one else can take,” said Dave Norton, drummer for Victory at Sea and The Men. He believes his membership in the fraternal organization will be especially rewarding when he tours Europe later this year.Of course, Masonry has its critics. Traditional lodges only allow men to join (though there are womens' auxilliary lodges, and even mixed ones), atheists are not allowed to join (unless they're hypocrites and/or flexible with interpreting what a "higher power" is), and the institution has become somewhat conservative over the years. It could be that punks and/or hipsters joining Freemasonry is a sign of the conformism of countercultures (or perhaps of some countercultures; vide Jello Biafra's denunciation of punk's devolution into a conformistic fashion cult). Though, in part, it could also be the latest instance of the rustic/archaic tendency in indie-rock adorning itself in increasingly anachronistic symbols.
(via Boing Boing)
The Guardian fires off a robust rhodomontade at the phenomenon of knitting as a staple of alternative culture.
We've gone from screaming for anarchy, rocking against racism, storming the US Embassy and picketing recruiting offices, tuning in and dropping out and rutting like pigs on Viagra to taking up the favourite hobby of senile old grannies everywhere and declaring it radical. Which was hilarious for about five seconds about five years ago.
Nonetheless, the truth must be stated. Germaine Greer didn't articulate her disgust with women's oppression by knitting a lavender and yellow toilet-roll holder. Dr Martin Luther King Jr didn't say: "I have a dream ... set of place mats that I crocheted using a pattern I got from a magazine." Jimi Hendrix didn't take to the stage at Woodstock wearing a nice orange and puce cardigan (with a reindeer on it) that he made using a job-lot of wool he got at a jumble sale. And Sid Vicious didn't crotchet his own stupid mock-Tibetan hippy-dippy ear-flapped bobble hats. And neither should you. If you need a hobby, take up spitting.They have a point, if one regards punk-as-macho-destructive-nihilism and ignores the DIY aspect of punk and post-punk alternative cultures. (Wasn't it Lydia Lunch who said that the problem with punk rock is the "rock" thing, i.e., that beneath the obvious stylistic novelty, it's still the same regressively macho alpha-male proving-ground as the greaser rock of two decades earlier?)
Today in heritage rock news: the Sex Pistols are reuniting, yet again, to play a show marking the thirtieth anniversary of their album Never Mind The Bollocks. The show, their first since 2003, will be at the NME Carling Academy in Brixton and tickets will cost £37.50 plus fees. Meanwhile, joining in the punk spirit, EMI are rereleasing four of their singles on vinyl, and underground music magazine NME is running a campaign to get God Save The Queen to number one in the UK.
The Sex Pistols were, of course, known for being the band that Sid Vicious, a violent hooligan, nihilist and drug addict, was in. Recently, comparisons have been drawn between Vicious and a contemporary artist of similar repute, Pete Doherty. Whilst these comparisons may arise, in my opinion, Doherty is no Vicious, and Vicious was the more artistically significant figure. For one, Vicious was not an artist by any definition; he didn't write songs, sing (by any definition of the word) or play any instruments. As such, his appointment as a member of Britain's most mediagenic punk rock group was (on the part of either John Lydon or Malcolm McLaren, depending on whom you believe) itself a work of conceptual art, on a par with Marcel Duchamp framing a porcelain urinal as art and placing it in a gallery. A urinal is not art, but presenting it as art is art — once. The second time someone does it, it is not art but mere copying. (Though the act of copying can be art if it itself is the point; for example Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard's recreation of a Cramps gig in a mental hospital, or Banksy's "Tesco Value" riff on Warhol's Campbell's soup cans; that is, if the act makes a new statement on the original, rather than simply reiterating it.) Pete Doherty, however, is worse than not an artist: he's a passably mediocre artist, a middling songwriter and scribbler, who has somehow come to present himself as the Baudelaire of Indie, the great romantic nihilist poet of our age. Sid Vicious, however, had no such pretentions (and, indeed, probably couldn't spell "pretentions"); he was just a violent cretin and made no bones about being anything more. Sid Vicious' career in the Sex Pistols was Dadaist art; Pete Doherty's career is youth-oriented advertising agency copy.
The Londonist reveals a list of places equivalent to Notting Hill around the world. (That's Notting Hill as in the part of West London, not as in the Working Title romcom.) These places include The Marais in Paris, Paddington in Sydney (though wouldn't Glebe be more Notting Hill?) and Christianshavn in Copenhagen; Manchester and Glasgow get two Notting Hill equivalents each: The Cliff and West Didsbury and Strathbungo and Garnethill respectively.
This research was carried out by the simple expedient of doing a Google search for "answer to notting hill". This technique can, of course, be extended to finding equivalents for other iconic districts: for example, Camden Town apparently has equivalents in Tokyo's Harajuku, San Francisco's Haight Ashbury (so that's full of brightly-coloured teenagers and mohician punks with "PUNK" in big letters on their clothing?), Stockholm's Hornstull and Buenos Aires' San Telmo. Running it for Melbourne locales was less fruitful; there are apparently no Brunswick Street equivalents anywhere, though there is one Chapel Street equivalent (Geelong's Packington Street).
Incidentally, there is no Melbourne equivalent of Notting Hill listed. Melbourne does have a locale named Notting Hill, but it is a rather desolate stretch of urban sprawl north of Monash University, where there are enough industrial estates to keep the student-infested 1970s bungalows spread out. Perhaps Carlton or Williamstown would be a more accurate equivalent?
It looks like hopes for a reprieve for legendary New York rock venue CBGB were short-lived; the venue will now close on Halloween of 2006. The owners are planning to open a new venue in the Lower East Side some time afterward, and/or to devote their energies to the lucrative "CBGB's & OMFUG" merchandise business.
Guerilla Drive-Ins are a cross between a drive-in cinema revival, illegal raves and Make-style improvisational techno-larrikinism. Some people in Santa Cruz are reviving the mid-20th-century American custom of drive-in movies, only this time reclaiming public space using a car fitted with a video projector, a FM transmitter and a movie; those in the know are notified in advance by email.
Films scheduled include cult classics (Dawn Of The Dead, Harold and Maude, Delicatessen) and worthy documentaries and dramas (The Take, The Yes Men, City Of God). It's an interesting idea, though, IMHO, it would have been more ideologically sound if they used bicycles instead of cars.
On Saturday night, I went to see the Castaway Theatre Company's performance of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Enchained. It was fittingly anarchic; they had five people each playing Pa Ubu and Ma Ubu, mostly attired in vaguely punky combinations of random clothes, and a lot going on on stage, most of it rather absurd. It reminded me a lot of the Doug Anthony Allstars, in particular DAAS Kapital. The music played in/between various sequences included a lot of guitar punk and several Half Man Half Biscuit songs, which worked rather well. Anyway, there are some photos here.
The journey to/from Aberystwyth involved a stopover in Birmingham, and a bus between there and Telford, due to railway works. On the way back, I spent some time wandering around Birmingham, raiding the local Music & Video Exchange and taking a stroll around the pedestrianised neo-brutalist cityscapes of the Bullring. For some reason, Birmingham reminded me a little of Brisbane.
The London-Birmingham leg of the journey was on a Virgin Trains Pendolino train, which was fairly nifty. For one, they come with laptop power points, even in cattle-class. (Now that's one thing I can't see ever being installed on the Melbourne-Sydney XPT, partly because rurals and bikies generally don't carry laptops.) Also, the way they tilt when they round a corner is pretty nifty.
(Note to self: make more excuses to get out of London; by which I mean far enough out to get out of London's reality distortion field. Living in London, it's too easy to start thinking of everything in terms of Tube lines, N|W|E|[NS][EW]|[EW]C postcodes and relative position to the Thames, and to forget that there is life and activity in Britain that's not in relation to London.)
Dispatches from the obesity epidemic: American punk/goth/alternateen mallrat clothing chain Hot Topic has launched a special chain for super-sized teens. Named Torrid, the chain sells alternative clothing in extra-large sizes, allowing the growing proportion of obese teens to look and feel cool. (via bOING bOING)
Via bOING bOING, a comprehensive archive of flyers from 1980s NYC new-wave club Danceteria; Attention new-new-wavers: if you need artwork ideas for your discopunk/electrocoolsie night/band/party, there's plenty of material here for
Former NME editor Paul Morley comments on the spectacle of Glen Matlock complaining about the amount of swearing on TV, and asks whether the former Sex Pistol, now a middle-aged family man, has turned against what he stood for, whether he really stood for it in the first place, or whether he has a point:
Clearly, Matlock has decided that as a musician, as an entertainer, he is going to grow old gracefully, even if this means spending most of his time as an unknown. He will not be an expletive-packing Pistol cursing freely into his 50s and 60s, committed to the cause of perpetuating a wild image even as the wrinkles deepen, the flesh softens and the desire crumples. Gene Simmons of Kiss, Alice Cooper, indeed Lemmy are not the right role models for Matlock as he approaches 50, which even if it is the new 40 is not really close enough to the magic years of the 20s where in the old-fashioned sense you can, in a dignified way, wreck yourself, and possibly elements of surrounding civilisation.
Then again, those of us who are watching rich celeb chef Jamie Oliver swear his way through his school dinners show actually might agree with Matlock that there really is too much swearing on television. Middle-of-the-road TV programming freely tosses in the obscenities to suggest there is grit and realism where really there is just frantic emptiness. Matlock might actually be anxious that the swearing is in the wrong mouths, that dull people are exploiting mock controversy as an easy route to commercial attention and that as an ex-Pistol who witnessed the Grundy incident he's responsible for that, and embarrassed by it.
Famous New York rock venue CBGB may soon be forced to close by rising property rents. Now where have I heard that before? (via bOING bOING)
The Graun's Alexis Petridis looks at why the (ostensibly) mentally disturbed make such compelling rock stars:
According to Oliver James, a clinical psychologist and author of They Fuck You Up: How to Survive Family Life, the rise in numbers and popularity of emo acts may be linked to a rise in mental illness among their obvious target market of 18- to 24-year-olds (the age group most likely to be affected by psychological problems, according to studies published in Europe and Australia).
But if fans buy into it, that may be because rock music, unlike other art forms, is depicted as benefiting from being created by those with mental illness. Most critics would tell you Van Gogh's paintings are great despite, rather than because of, his psychiatric problems - but that's not true of the Beach Boys' Smile or Barrett's The Madcap Laughs or Nirvana's In Utero, for example, whose greatness is widely held to be inexorably entwined with their creators' mental problems.
It's the whole dionysiac genius thing; the myth, deeply ingrained in the Rockist mindset, that primal authenticity and true brilliance comes not from carefully honed technique, deep knowledge of the genre, cleverness or anything so square and totally un-rock-and-roll, but from abandoning oneself to the frenzy like a Viking berzerker. To give a topical example, crack-smoking, junk-shooting fuckup Pete Doherty is one of the greatest geniuses of our time, and his new band Babyshambles is ten times the band that The Libertines (who kicked him out) were, as the world would find out if he'd ever get his shit together for long enough to actually play a gig.
The article also mentions Ol' Dirty Bastard, as an example of the fine line between empathy and voyeurism. One notable omission, though, is Wesley Willis, described by Jello Biafra as one of the most punk-rock artists ever.
Of course, with the rising popularity of emo and various forms of fuckedupcore came a lot of opportunists putting on the "tortured genius" act, acting like caricatures of pissed-off, fucked-up, tantrum-throwing teenage nihilists and raking in the cash. Thirtysomething Universal Music executive and part-time teenage mook Fred Durst is one name that's mentioned there; and I'm sure you can think of other notable examples (anyone remember Vanilla Ice's reinvention as a tortured, angry-white-guy rap-metal mook? Or cyberpunk boy-band Information Society's post-Reznorian take-a-walk-through-my-nightmares industriogothic makeover?)
Conservative Punk, a new website to fill the neglected intersection between US Republicans and punk-rock fans. In other words, it's a generic right-wing/Libertarian news/spin/liberal-bashing portal with a "punk"-style T-shirt store attached; were it not for the title, you'd have a hard time of identifying the "punk" content. (via tyrsalvia)
Say what you will about the compatibility of conservatism and punk, there are more absurd things, like, for example, Christian Hardcore Punk. Adolescent subcultures are primarily about individuation from one's parents' generation and authority, and a version of "hardcore punk" that is family oriented and whose ideals involve obedience to parental authority seems to miss the point. Whereas being a gleefully obnoxious contrarian right-winger to piss off the right-on inner-city lefty types, it could be argued, is as punk as Sid Vicious' swastika T-shirt (or at least as punk as anything the recording industry has shat out in the past five years).
The Invisible Pink Unicorn. Because atheism, like all other religious orientations, needed a logo. And there are two other logos to choose from. Two of the three logos there look a bit like the Star Trek logo, which may or may not say something about the sorts of people who would wear an official atheist logo.
Meanwhile, evangelical Christianity has punk rock merchandise. (via MeFi.) How long until someone starts making "hardcore atheist skate-punk" T-shirts?
Rock musician questioned for possible terrorist involvement after texting a Clash lyric to the wrong person. Mike Devine, from the Clash cover band London Calling, intended to send lyrics from Tommy Gun to the singer, though sent them to a wrong number, and someone uninitiated with the punk rock band's canon found on their phone a message reading "How about this for Tommy Gun? OK - so let's agree about the price and make it one jet airliner for 10 prisoners.", became alarmed and called the police.
This evening, I caught a train to North Coburg, getting off at Batman station (yes, to the Americans in the audience, we do name our railway stations after superheroes here, because we Australians are weird), and walking through darkened streets, with the occasional desultory-looking art-decoish bungalow that has seen much better days, looking for an art gallery located at 8 Lyon St. After considerable walking through this wasteland, I started wondering "what sort of art gallery would set up here?". Eventually, I found it, in a former factory/mechanic's shop/similar, across the road from the only other sign of life in the neighbourhood, a bikie clubhouse (the Foolish Few Motorcycle Club, I believe), some of whose members mingled with the hip young artists and miscellaneous troublemakers.
The art varied; it was mostly "underground" art of various sorts (think "ooh, am I OFFENDING your BOURGEOIS SENSIBILITIES? Good. *Fuck* *you*, SUBURBAN YUPPIE PIG!"). A lot of stencil art (some very intricate), done on old car doors, some of that homie graf/stencil/sticker hybrid stuff that's going up all over the city (there was one piece by "Monkey" and someone else, depicting a fantastic world, with their tags all over everything; got to love the hip-hop culture's tendency towards self-mythologisation), underground comics from members of Silent Army, someone's set of nude drawings of female artists (done as a set of postcards, yours for $10), and underworld hitman-turned-artistic cause celebre Chopper Read's own paintings, showing crude figures of big-breasted women with Ned Kelly helmets (alas, I'm not sufficiently well-versed in contemporary art to tell whether Chopper's art is a work of postmodern genre-crossing genius, a curiosity of "outsider art" notable more for who made it than its own virtues, or a publicity stunt). Chopper didn't seem to be there, though there were quite a few bikies with short-cropped hair, tattoos, big bushy beards and, in one case, Nazi patches. Which, I suppose, made the whole thing a lot more edgy and hardcore and "keeping it real". Oh, and Cameron Potts was there, in his "Osama Bin Laden World Hero" T-shirt. Meanwhile, a band (consisting of members of Jihad Against America and/or The Eggs, I'm told) made noises with distorted guitars and a theremin.
Many of the artworks had prices that wouldn't leave much change from a grand. I wonder whether many well-heeled collectors will trek out in their BMWs to the industrial wasteland to pick up a stencilled car door for their open-plan loft in St Kilda or wherever.
The new generation of indiekids are making music, and they're not using guitars, Casiotone keyboards or battered old Roland synths from the 1980s. Meet Service Station Youth, extremely lo-fi electropop from Talkshow Boy and friends, which has punk sensibility though probably owes more to Kid606 and insane Europeans with modified GameBoys than to the Pixies or Sonic Youth or whoever. Hardcore or just crap? You decide.
I just picked up the new Chicks on Speed album, 99c. It's amusing; a bit of a punk DIY aesthetic going on, with them ranting about consumerism, culture-jamming and selling out over electronic beats and sampling mobile phone ringtones and such. (I'm not sure where it falls in the ProTools<->chip music spectrum, though; bits of it have a computer-produced gloss about it, but then they're chopped up and distorted. Fake authenticity or détournement? Someone could probably do a PhD thesis on the subject.)
The booklet is a "catalogue" of Chicks on Speed merchandise, including an "urban camouflage" T-shirt printed with a lot of brand names and corporate logos. None of the items have prices, except for a coffee-table book selling for £59.95/US$85. (Somehow, I don't think I'll buy a copy.)
The CD also contains a Quicktime video for We Don't Play Guitars, which is somewhat amusing, and features Peaches as a Joan Jett-esque retro hard-rock goddess.
Today's Cat and Girl ties in nicely to the chip-tune/authenticity debate previously mentioned:
"Guitars are bourgeois, OK? They're expensive and the skill they demand is elitist!"
"We should be making music with computers! They're the populist medium of today!"
Mind you, computers are bourgeois and expensive too; the iBooks that all the inner city hipster kids have certainly are. Though maybe it's more authentic if you shlep along a battered beige box that looks like it was stolen out of an office and souped up numerous times, running Windows 98 and AudioMulch (or better: Linux and some home-brewed audio software; it's not going to sound as slick as Cubase, but slickness is bourgeois). Having to lug that and a 15" glass bottle to see what's going on bespeaks punk authenticity and commitment to one's art, in a way you can never get with an Apple PowerBook.
(Of course, there's no way you could carry a PC/monitor to gigs on a bicycle. Then again, real proles drive, usually battered Mazdas or Holden panelvans. Cycling everywhere is a bourgeois affectation, like vegetarianism. Discuss.)
(Btw, Graham: any ideas on how one could combine tracker modules and live performance? Perhaps a tracker with keyboard-controlled mutes/cuepoints/sample triggers could be useful for that...)
In today's Onion: '90s Punk Decries Punks Of Today:
"Those so-called punk bands they listen to today? Sum 41? Good Charlotte? The Ataris? They're not punk. Back in the day, man, we used to listen to the real deal: Rancid, The Offspring, NOFX, Green Day. Those guys were what true punk rock was all about. Today's stuff is just a pale, watered-down imitation. There's no comparison."
"I saw some kid wearing a Sex Pistols T-shirt the other day--he couldn't have been more than 9 when the Pistols did their Filthy Lucre reunion tour," Tolbert said. "I was like, 'You can listen to the music, you can wear the T-shirt, but I was there.' I had fifth-row seats at that goddamn stadium, man, right up front, close enough to see Johnny Rotten's wrinkles. Did you see an original member of The Clash play during Big Audio Dynamite II's last tour? Did you see two of the four original Ramones play at the KROQ Weenie Roast in '95? You did not, but I did. I swear to God, they're like a joke, these people."
And then, the front page has the following useful wardating tip:
SPRINGFIELD, MO--Wanting to add something special for new love Danielle Welter, Andy Mansfield, 24, burned three personalized tracks Monday onto his standard new-girlfriend mix CD. "Danielle loves that No Doubt song 'Running,' so I threw that on there just for her," Mansfield said. "And she doesn't really like rap, which [previous girlfriend] Erica [Hollings] loved, so I took off [Salt-N-Pepa's] 'Whatta Man' and replaced it with two Aretha Franklin songs, because Danielle loves the oldies." Mansfield said he expects Welter to love the mix "even more than Erica did, maybe even as much as Christine."
A Grauniad piece on punk rocker Avril Lavigne, who seems to be some sort of Alanis for the wallet-chain set or something.
The four punk rockers have been trying to school Lavigne on what she should listen to. "For her birthday, I got her [AC/DC's] Back in Black, the Clash singles and the new Me First and the Gimme Gimmes - your straightforward rock & roll, your punk and your pop punk," says bassist Charlie Moniz, the resident indie-rock connoisseur. Brann gave her a copy of Nirvana's Nevermind. And Colburn gave her the Smashing Pumpkins's Siamese Dream and some Pixies albums."I started her off with the more palatable ones, like Monkey Gone to Heaven," he says. "Then I give her Debaser, and she's like, 'I don't know about that.'"
Reid contends that "there are no guys in suits that can manufacture artists like Avril Lavigne. I wish there were. God knows the record business needs them right now."
She may not be manufactured (according to the article she was singing for a while before LA Reid (of LA and Babyface, who were the Stock/Aitken/Waterman of 80s R&B) snapped her up and made her into a star), but it's apparent that any association between her and any sort of "punk" tropes is entirely artificial; even more so than for the usual mook bands whose members weren't born when Sid killed Nancy. Mind you, if she didn't have this gimmick, she'd probably not get anywhere other than small clubs and open-mike nights, and some other malleable giglet would be storming the Top 40 in her place.
(It seems these days that everybody has forgotten Jello Biafra's maxim that "punk means thinking for yourself", and it has become just another form of rebellion-through-aspirational-consumerism. Or maybe not even so much rebellion, at least not of any form that leads to questioning, soul-searching and finding one's own identity, but merely a mindless outlet for excess testosterone, like video games or backyard wrestling.)
Proof that "punk" has lost whatever meaning it may have once had: the "pro-life" hardcore punk movement; that's right, pierced, blue-haired people moshing and militating for reimposition of traditional sex roles and moral values. The signifiers of punk have been completely disconnected from the radical social causes they signified.
JUST ANOTHER Sunday night punk rock concert. But these kids are wearing bright red sweat shirts inscribed with the words I Survived on the front and Over 1/3 Of Our Generation Has Been Wiped Out on the back.
According to a recent A Word A Day a "goth" is "a rude or uncivilized person". So it's synonymous with "mook" then?
(Which other youth subcultures are named after words for disagreeable people? There's punk, for one.)
(Thanks to Cos)
A number of scholarly (or perhaps pomo-wanky, or perhaps both) books are coming out looking at punk 25 years on. (via Rebecca's Pocket)
When punk emerged, it scrambled the distinctions between high and low culture even more severely than bebop jazz (whose practitioners sometimes wore "existentialist" goatees and horn-rimmed glasses) had in the late 1940s. The term "punk" had been coined in 1971 by critics who, disgusted by what they considered pretentious "art rock," were championing obscure American groups from the 1960s such as the Sonics and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators -- garage bands that made up in energy (and volume) what they lacked in instrumental finesse.
By the time newsmagazines and record companies were discovering punk, in 1977, a second generation of experimentalists had emerged, called No Wave, in which musicians abandoned rock primitivism for even more extreme musical experiments. (The feminist group Y Pants played amplified children's instruments, while the guitarist for DNA scraped and plunked on an untuned electric 12-string.)
Children's toys? Could those be the origins of Casiopunk?
This last microtrend -- effectively a re-revival -- highlights one of the ironies of the 80's resurgence, for the 80's were the first era in pop in which recycling and retrospection became rife. There were vogues for ska, rockabilly, psychedelia and other musical antecedents. "With 1980's retro, we have reached the point of second-order recycling," said Andrew Ross, a cultural critic who is the director of the American studies program at New York University. "It's the equivalent, God forbid, of double quotation marks."
Modern digital technology is so sophisticated that producers make electronic music that sounds almost as if it were played by a live band, full of subtle rhythmic irregularities that create a humanlike feel and jazzy swing. But just as punk rockers embraced a raw, elemental music, rejecting the overproduced sound of 70's rock, today's electro groups use old-fashioned synthesizers and drum machines. They prefer cold tones and stiff beats because they evoke a period when electronic music seemed alien and forbiddingly novel. They are making machine-music and proud of it.
For many clubgoers, the 80's were a time when rock and dance music were in lively conversation with each other. Club music then was full of punky attitude and personality, a stark contrast to the functional music and faceless D.J.'s who dominate today's post-rave dance culture.
(There we have it; New Wave's Big Comeback.) (ta, Toby!)
Burn down the disco, and hang the blessed DJ: An aging rocker on why dance music is rubbish:
The dance craze is the very antithesis of what punk stood for. Punk was iconoclastic. Its gigs were exuberant and unpredictable. The Pistols and The Clash lifted two fingers at some of the worst aspects of British society, with its class-ridden inequality, nauseating obsession with the Royal Family and penchant for vile-tasting beers. Dance, on the other hand, is contrived and controlled. John Major's government gave it an undeserved outlaw appeal by trying to curb large raves through public order legislation. The little grey man need not have worried his funny-looking head. Dance culture is about as big a threat to the governing classes as Val Doonican or Celine Dion.
A friend of mine, a former punk who claims to appreciate the underlying aesthetics of dance music, explained to me why I am a dance philistine. "It's very simple, Dave. You don't take E." Taking ecstasy "gives you a great buzz", my friend informed me. After popping an E tab once, he stayed up all night reading gardening books, planning his shrubbery in minute detail. Hearing that an ex-punk resorts to rave drugs, to improve his gardening, convinced me that something is seriously wrong with the world.
I must confess that I don't entirely disagree with him; I listen to more music played by live musicians than pre-sequenced electronica (though a bit of the latter), I don't have much time for the sorts of homogeneous, repetitive records that you can only appreciate when on drugs at a club, and on most of the times I saw "live electronica" acts, I found them boring (with the exception of the more theatrical acts like Down Town Brown).
OTOH, I wouldn't write off all electronica in the same vein; some of it (such as Negativland's The Letter U and the Numeral 2, which he rubbishes in the article) has more in common with his beloved punk genre's core ethos than he gives credit.
The punk rebellion started because music in the Seventies had become mind-numbingly bland. As we approach the millennium, the dance music promoted by the style gurus is even more infuriating. Any attempt at a punk rebellion now would probably be ludicrous. Yet we urgently need something with similar vitality and imagination to challenge the mediocrity stifling European club-life.
I think the problem is not that there is no challenging, vital music, but that the industry and market ignore it and select for easy-to-digest blandness instead. (link via 1.0)
Switzerland's long-held fairy-tale image has taken a beating in recent years; first they cop some flack for running off with Holocaust survivors' life savings and killing third-world babies to maximise profits, and now a new film has presented their national icon, the flaxen-haired orphan Heidi, as a blue-haired punk who steals fruit and dodges fares. As expected, the traditionalists are up in arms. (via Lev)