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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

POP GOES THE WEASEL WORDS #1: 'Passion'

From Gorkana.com but really, could be from anywhere right now. 



Jesu Christu Saints Preserve Us Don't ever ever ever call me 'passionate' about music. I'm as interested in being 'passionate' about music as I am about being 'credible'. Only people who at a fundamental level don't truly need music could summate their feelings about it as 'passionate'. I'm not 'passionate' about music because music is not something I come to from a life being led without it. Music is part of my life, part of me..., part of my make up and consequently I have as complex a relationship with it as I do with my body, heart and soul. Like those three things, music's too complex, too mutable to not be rejected now and then, hated, shut out, questioned, ignored, refused, resisted. 

'Passion' is the word the music marketeers use to grease their moves of exploitation, just as they have in football. They understand the fan's 'passionate' love. Thus better placed and justified in treating those fans like cattle, like idiots. 'Passion' is the word used in job-adverts, CVs, Linkedin profiles, career-development materials, it's a management word spoken by management people, a corporate word that corporations enbalm themselves with, a word you spout in the shameful self-loathing of a job interview, it's the word cast around by the creative sector to let the dog see the rabbit, the subtextual insistence that skill, or anger, or ability, or having some discontent behind your content, some style or substance doesn't really matter so long as you're keen. Madpash. Passionate. Passionate about strategic solutions for multi-platform brand identities. Passionate about dashboard paradigms and hotspots and dwelltime. Fucking fuck anyone who uses the word passionate unless they're talking about fucking. 

Fans aren't so dumb. Quite often, quite rightly, we feel dispassionate about music. Often dispassion enables insight and 'passion' clouds it. The dispassion that comes when pop hasn't just disappointed you but has betrayed you. The dispassion that comes from being a fan. 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

White Power And Black Pop: The 1Xtra 'Power List'


Suckered in the morning, wise by teatime but still at sundown an old graze stings again, a dormant papercut refreshed. Isn't it nice when your low expectations are undercut with such clumsiness, such idiot innocence?  Initially I was tickled by the fact that 1Xtra had published a list of their most 'Important Artists In Music' of which 3 of the top 4 were white, nodded at Wiley's amusement, growled a little at those who thought something could be remedied or set right by the names on that list being more preponderately black. Never gonna happen. You're in England remember. We don't progress in our racial politics, we just get more self-congratulatory and blind. 
    Hence the immediate dismissal of criticism, the semantic pirhouettes, the insistence that all keepers of the racial order always insist on - 'it's not about race'. We'd all expect a list that foregrounds overwhelmingly white male pop names to be defended thus but what did tweak my nips about the screens I looked at this morning was the deeper, longer narrative about British pop you could see moving under the skin, behind the pixels. "Compiled by industry professionals". Absolutely goddamned right. I know what quantifies importance for those guys and consequently the list hurts cos it's true as the FTSE or Nasdaq - the problem is not that Sheeran and Disclosure and Sam Smith shouldn't be on such a list, the problem is that in terms of 'importance' to the music industry and influence over that tired-old keen-young industry's idea of what 'black and urban music' means, Sheeran and the others genuinely ARE influential. By equating, as we all have to now, 'importance' with economic impact, the industry can safely ensure it never seeks out any music straying too far from the golden-aim of 'crossover' or that would antagonise a white middle class audience. And so we arrive at a place where a racist, snobbish industry, with the press' ongoing acceptance, can continue to eliminate & shut out big neglected swathes of the music being made by the people of this country. A fake meritocracy that operates on pure favouritism, that can only push from the margins to the mainstream those names blandly palatable enough, safely connected enough with the existing power-structure, the right school or parents with their feet already in the door and a few hundred-thou in the bank to buy their kids the future they dreamed of.


Part of the problem is the existence of 1Xtra itself. I have problems with that, just like I have problems with the Asian network and Radio 6 and alot of the BBC's loss-leaders and specialist networks. I think they benefit older radio listeners to the detriment of kids in need of protecting from the ceaseless powermove onslaught of corporate pop. I don't think those stations benefit the minority communities in a real way because they make it easier for the BBC to continually marginalise those stations output away from their 'one-nation' voices, thus being able to keep those major stations as safe and neutered and unplayful as possible.  Keep the Locals local, the Loyal loyal, and the great unwashed at the edge of music, paddling in the shallows, any depths or drop-offs safely farmed out to those who are prepared for them - the priveleged 20 odd percent of listeners and dedicated fans who listen digitally. Despite the looming big switchover, despite their supposed committment to digital minority programming the marketing of BBC radio tells its own story, a massive foregrounding of 1, 2 and 4, an almost dreamlike non-mentioning of anything else unless something cross-platformy (eg. the Proms, Glastonbury) comes along. It bugs me that the BBC seems content to let its 'lesser' brands linger on the margins comparitively massively underpromoted compared to their flagship networks, while still being under threat of closure should their precarious and small RAJAR figures slip. Beyond that it bugs me that the major national radio stations are becoming more blanched and ossified, more parochial, more expressive of a primarily white understanding of modern British pop and British musical history. It fits with industry notions of the categories and strictures and shapes pop's present past and future must remain within - we have reached a point where, for all its self-piteous lifecoaching, the idea of pop as transformative of life, rupturing of the intellect, breaking barriers, busting heads, has been all but abandoned. Pop is confirming of life on radio right now, the hand on the shoulder too earnest to even think about straying down and copping a feel or reaching up & tweaking your nose. A soundtrack to your consumerism. The wallpaper of your essentially commercial existence, and thus it has to 'clean up' the more rugged genres it pulls from, make garage cosy, make rap tuneful, make grime behave itself and always always always, just as it's always been in the UK, it's only white artists who can perform that magical act of thievery, dilution and repackaging, it's only white artists who can fully reap the benefits of black innovation. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.


Pop radio, like the pop it plays, merely waits to settle on your lifestyle. Would never threaten it. Surprise is abandoned, the unforgettable radio moment of chance revelation forgotten in favour of the sureity of loyal ratings, quite rightly of course, to stay 'competetive'. The structure exudes itself an extra layer for this competetive edge, a 'diverse network' where the key is knowing your place, the sense of shared learning that was the BBC shattered into shards and target-audiences, a fragmentation in which mutual education stops and private indulgence is sated. In the name of catering for diversity the BBC's output becomes ghettoized, the playlists become narrower in the precise place where they should be opened up, on the network enjoyed mainly by kids. So black and white kids, the CDE's lumbered with old ways of listening (as opposed to those agile hyper-connected ABCs who for some reason BBC Radio seem to think are their target audience) listening to Radio 1 get fed only the most watered-down cross-fertilizers and stage-school pootlers in every genre, very-rarely the hardest-core from within those genres, the spitters and shredders who might really challenge but more importantly really delight. The 3 million odd people who listen to 6, Asian Network and 1Xtra are 'catered for', certainly - I just wish more of that content could be considered worthy of the rest of us. A bhangra tune, a grime tune, a voice not sanctioned by a major label in the daytime playlist? The national radio station sounding like the nation? Too much to expect perhaps, but some of my most formative pop memories are when something was put in my day that my day couldn't deal with, whether that was something odd spun by Annie or Peelie or those odd moments where something non-pop (hip-hop/metal/alternative) crashed into the breakfast playlist. Even yearning for such moments seems antiquated now. Get with the program. You're catered for, somewhere.







Beyond the individual source of this latest nonsense (and I happen to think that too often 1Xtra is a model of wasted potential) the major faultline in this shitstorm is that word 'important'. 'Important' (like 'iconic') is pure management-speak when it comes to music. It means 'stop here, look no further'. 'Importance' will always favour that which finds itself open to compromise, that which can adhere widely, across 'territories' and 'reaches' and 'awarenesses', build up enough agglomerative strength to hit those magic numbers whereby money starts coming your way. And the more often other notions of importance get written out of music, the less likely they are to return or be rediscovered, so the future looms, a hierarchy from old old roots of race and class, a hierarchy that kids us its a meritocracy. At the teat-end, we can't afford a future anymore. It's been postponed. So what we must do is engage far more furiously with the present and win ourselves a future. For they, those who have a future, will do anything to prevent us being there. And they have more time than we do to make sure of that, to ensure our vassalage and fealty or if we refuse, shut us out from the system altogether. It's colder than it's ever been out there. What are you willing to give up to make it?



Of course, as they're fucking idiots for making these lists, we're idiots for paying attention to them, but I'm sure 'importance' meant something else once. Or at least, could mean something more than just mercentile credit, a canny investment. As politics has delegated its responsibilities to business so goes so much critique (so much 'content' about music is fknway too content about music), analysis becomes a look at the figures and stats, appreciation a tacked on checklist of tired cross-reference and cliche. I loathe the idea of a 'Powerlist' but it's a bitter pill we should suck on a while cos it suits these mendacious, craven times, is something of a perfect emblem of the endlessly infantile listed ordering & toptrumps competetiveness that comes when a culture is looked at through backwards opera-glasses from the safe remove of the capital, fogged by chortling. 'Power' & 'importance' are useful things to write about because you don't have to write about the music, and they're particularly useful things to hide behind when ostensibly speaking for music fans you don't understand. Y'know, just like Jay-Z is the most important rapper of the previous decade, Kanye the most important rapper of this decade. Nothing to do with music, all to do with the most superficial of impressions, the bullying of airtime, the weight of hashtags and clicks: 'importance' and the search for it is a way for a lazy white superstructure to ameliorate its guilt about its own ignorance, the blatant contrast between its love of 'serious' white music in all its variety, its faint distaste for investigating anything bar the most obvious, deoderised or corporate-backed music from the other side of the racial tracks. 
   I know, change the record, been backspinning this a while now. But what unsettled me this morning was my own unsettlement. At my age, you might want to be resigned to this stuff cos you've experienced it so many times in your life as a pop fan, British pop's superiority complex about black music, the pat on the back it reflexively reflectively gives itself for waybackwhen reintroducing black American music to white america, the enabled entitlement to turn a blind-eye to what's going on now down its own streets. The elbows it throws out to ensure that any such flourishing of interest in black music from within our own borders can't get any oxygen, light, a chance to grow or go beyond the grassroots of localised scenes, without blanching itself with a touch of folk, a pinch of house, something to make it palatable to the playlisters. Reading the 'power' list, I had that not altogether unfamiliar feeling of apprehending how much worse things are getting, especially as the majors the PR and the press gets increasingly sewn up by an ever-narrowing class & race base. One of the most magical things about music is that it is communication between people unlikely to meet, a window into other worlds that are going on alongside your own, a response to urges you didn't know you had. By reducing music to a lucrative centre of overarching dullness creatively fed & sustained by margins of ever-dwindling opportunity the BBC are part of the damaging process of centralisation and conformity currently strangling the life out of pop and eliminating wonder from the charts. By qualitatively reducing music's analysis to an almost-mathematical evaluation of 'mobility' within markets, the 'Powerlist' eerily mirrors an entirely corporate & governmental idea of what music and the creative industries should be all about. By talking about it, of course we're all merely adding to the 'success' 1Xtra doubtless see the list as being, but our conclusions should be clear. Turn your back on the powerful. Seek the powerless. Fuck the statisticians. Do your own digging. 

Friday, 20 June 2014

"An overdub has no choice": R.I.P GERRY GOFFIN 1939-2014

“No matter what you write it always sounds good on the radio, so they sound fine. But not as fine as Chuck Berry. I think Chuck Berry wrote the best lyrics to describe what it was like in teenage America in those days. I think his was a more accurate picture than mine. I didn’t realize how good his lyrics were–because I didn’t listen to lyrics much, I just sort of enjoyed them–until I got a job and had to write them every day."

I didn't know
It could be done so easily.
Now I know


"I started writing songs when I was eight years old. I mean just lyrics, like some kind of game in my head. I’d think of them as songs. They’d have a kind of inane melody. Sometimes I would sing the melodies over chords, but they were pretty horrible. In fact, even after we made it, no one recorded them. When there was a completed melody and a whole structure and I’d write to that, those seemed to be better songs. Many of them were written simultaneously, one line at a time. When you’re writing something good it always seems to be easy. Any time it took me a long time to write a song it usually wasn’t too good a song. When I say good I mean something that’s right, marketable, that has something to say. It has to go through a lot of different ears; different people have to decide if it’s something that people want to hear. If it gets on the radio and if people want to hear it, they buy it. That’s how I thought I could tell if a song was going to be a hit or not, or how big a hit it would be–by listening to it on the radio. I never listened at home; I used to always listen in the car. I don’t know, it was just something about the resonance of the car radio, usually with the good records you caught the sound of a hit single."

You may lead me to the chasm where the rivers of our vision
Flow into one another
I will want to die beneath the white cascading waters



“There’s also another thing. There’s a certain magic that some records have and that some records don’t have and that’s not a quality you can capture unless everything is going right, and that’s something that comes and goes and there’s no formula for it. I’m talking about even at a record session. There are so many personalities involved, so many variables. Sometimes you could write a mediocre song and it becomes a big hit–it’s really hard to talk about.”

My, my, the clock in the sky is pounding away
And there's so much to say,
A face, a voice, an overdub has no choice,
An image cannot rejoice


Friday, 13 June 2014

METAL TAPES & LINKS FOR A DIRTY BLACK SUMMER

Proper label releases by Triptykon, Mastodon and Behemoth may well have been occupying the heavy part of your mind thus far in 2014 but there's so much great metal available on bandcamp & tape at the moment I had to tell you about these.

"Formed in early 2011 as a Stoner/Doom band in a shithole in Akureyri, but with increased irritability and distress Naught naturally crawled towards Sludge. Naught is driven by negativity."

Yeah. I'd agree. This is not happy music. And the unhappiness seems to extend beyond nihilism about life but nihilism about music as well. Naught seem intent on removing all flash from their sound. ALL flash. Old cliche in metal that in actual fact it's uplifting, creates you an identity, galvanises your pride and isolation. Naught do none of this. They're not larger than life. This is not inspiring music, it doesn't make you feel bigger. Although it's heavy, it's as small as you, as lifesize as your own despair. This is a rawness not borne from any desire for authenticity but a rawness born of shame, appalled horror at music offering any kind of veil. There is nothing mythical or mystical about Naught. They seemingly exist purely to shit this stuff out before it eats their insides. So slow. So one-take. So utterly un-selfpiteous.

Previously only on bandcamp "Tómhyggjublús" (the title translates to "Emptiness Blues" which just about nails it) will soon be available on Transylvania Tapes.

Bandcamp is truly a trove as ever. Too many things to point you towards from names you already know but top of that particular list has to be this new ish from SUNN O))) . . .




. . . of the new breed I'm currently digging Threshing from Tallahassee, Florida, whose free (if you're tight, if not, drop em a dime or several) self-titled 3-track debut kicks off on some eerie buddhist chants and drone (the whole thing is peppered with much found-sound oddity) before 'Church Warden' steps forth on giant, cumbersome legs to flatten your world. The non-majorness of the chords is key here, dropped strings and open-ness more akin to slo-core faves like Idaho or Codeine than anything borne of the horNED hand, delay-strewn distortion over soft acoustics redolent of Flying Saucer Attack or Jessamine. Quite dismally wonderful.



While we're on a doomy tip very much enjoying the charred pustulence of Altar's 'Plague Pit'  which with titles like 'Under The Banner Of Carrion' you know can't fail, and which puts in some fantastic grindhouse samples amidst its titanic waves of fat-heavy gore and sludge. Swedish doom par excellence.




From Italy come Buioingola with their superb 'Dopo L'Apnea' set - possessed massively of that one unplaceable unlearnable variable that makes this kind of post-metal racket work - atmosphere in abundance. If it aint racist to say so (and it probably is) - Goblin would let them play suppport. Intense, emotional, I don't understand a word of it but I feel every second.




Also at the 'looking peaky' end of things, Cursed Altar  (Bio: "Anger. Emptiness. Depression. Hatred") have a new free 4-track album out that's fantastic and completely fucks with your expectations. With most black-metal tracks hitting the 13 minute mark these days 'The Light Shall Die' packs everything (all 4 songs!) in within 6 minutes flat. Abyssal fuzz, song-structures like prolaptic spasms, punk, blackcrust, doom, sludge, noise all chewed up and spat out in 4 little pipebombs of trauma. Utterly superb.



(and if it's straight-up fucked-up church-burning satanism you want, have to say that the hazed-out dazed-out  'Consecration Of The Temple by London-based maggots Qrixkuor will paint it black all summer long. I can't tell if it's fucking awful or fucking magnificent which is usually a good sign that this is great great black metal)



Arizona psychonauts Gatecreeper's self-titled free 4 tracker is some of the finest death metal I've heard all year, crunching riffs, ace double-teamed guitar attack, storming licks and leads and a ferocity to the beats that recalls prime Sepultura or Morbid Angel. Get it while they're still pure and putrid - these guys are too good not to get signed sharpish.



It says "noisy Hardcore Punk from Barcelona" on Veils bandcamp page but that's only a fraction of the story: the tempos are fast but their free debut five-tracker 'Unquestionable Appreciation Of Suffering' is tight as fuck (no songs over 4 minutes), has a density more akin to death metal, and is prone to moments of sheer shrieking noise from the darker end of power-electronics. Loving this fuck-off loud at the moment.



Like so much else that's vital in metal at the moment 'Gatecreeper' and 'Suffering' were first put out on cassette, that long-maligned, increasingly cherished format. Undoubtedly part of what's going on with tape's re-emergence as underground format is a fetishisation of metal's tape-heavy past (alot of us have incredibly clear memories of first hearing Venom, Celtic Frost and others first on bootlegged tapes or fanclub tapes), but it's not just nostalgia or an attempt to copy their heroes that's causing so many bands to use it. It genuinely is a way of parsing out the twats, maintaining a loyal, hardcore underground fanbase. Nashville tape label Graceless Recordings deal with nothing else. Their output is by turns disturbing, hilarious, ear-razing and grimly compelling - particularly spinning a propellor into my soft choppable face are the mighty Alraune who simultaneously channel the unkindred spirits of Sarcofago, Sister-era Sonic Youth and Darkthrone into an unholy caboodle of carnage.




Also Pissgrave's self-titled demo features a truly unpleasant sleeve and some utterly horrific music, all slathered in the most satanic-sounding evil-goblin vocals you've ever heard. Fucking marvellous aggravation.




and Sewer Goddess creates a truly startling femme-take on Industrial Death that's utterly engrossing and will have social services at your door if you even crack a window on it for a moment. Keep it in your headphones and let the demons build around and within you. JESUS WEPT.


If anyone has anything else I should be listening to in Da Wuld Ov Metal please do comment below. Until the sun starts disappearing again, let's keep it dark.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

NEW OLD THINGS TO HEAR

A few new mixes at my mixcloud page. Open 'em on mixcloud to peep the tracklistings.

Firstly in addition to the two New Nineties UK mixes, did a US version featuring tracks from Dub Narcotic Sound System, Come, Codeine, Shudder To Think, Rodan, Chavez, Low, Spain, Throwing Muses, Unwound, Swell, Acetone, JSBX, Helium, Thinkin Fellers Union Local 282, Tortoise, Jessamine, Labradford, Six Finger Satellite, Royal Trux and more. Enjoy.



And have also created 2 mixes for the year 1993. No separation tween UK & US tracks this time, dive in and dig and you might also enjoy the F.U.N.K Radio Cloudcasts as well as well as my 'Spare Hours' selections.