Writing by Neil Kulkarni

Friday, 28 March 2014


13:34 Posted by neil kulkarni , , , 4 comments


You should know better . You’ve been here long enough. Wasn’t it back in 31 when you hopped the Idlewild on Rose Island and stowed away to Louisville, the Fontaine Ferry Gun Shy still ringing in your ears? They changed her name to Avalon and you still hung on, through the floods of 37 and the winds of 74 and here you are, in 1992, about to get hit by a train, a creaking hulking stealthy truck of wonder called ‘Rusty’. You should know better than to be over Floyd’s Fork Creek this time of night. Unique acoustics round here. You can’t hear the trains coming. You won’t see the Pope Lick Monster  til the last moment. Till his syphilitic blue eyes roll over white . . . .blue over white, water over foam over water over foam and the deluge keeps on coming: rotate yourselves downriver and ask what is it about this place that means the music it makes is so clear, so engulfed, so utterly out on its own? You may have been told that Louisville sounded like Squirrelbait first and then sounded  like ‘Spiderland’ afterwards, but ohh what a withered reductive way to hear this city’s music, this city that for the bulk of the 90s was making some of the most fascinating American music of all. Forget Spiderland, for a while at least, stop its bullying presence and it’s easy digestion as totem of post-rock seminality. Eternally love ‘Rusty’. For its suggestions haven’t been wrung dry, its wonders not fully explored, its poise and poetry and perspective still intact, unravaged by bad-copyists and the stultifying stasis of being in the cannon. This is music yet to be discovered, fresh, vital, stimulating, new-fangled, radical, raw, novel, every time you hear it.  
   Rodan were formed in Louisville Kentucky in 1992. You could call them punks but they were also into making hip-hop, found-sound collage, industrial music, classical music, films, theorems, art both moving and static, everything. They made a cassette-only demo in 92 called 'Aviary', including some ambient weirdness, then re-recorded the songs from the demo for their one album called ‘Rusty’ in 1994, made a Peel Session and then split. That's next to nothing to go on so you've no option but to listen and try to figure this magic out. They made music with humility, played live incessantly,  had only the most tangential and hostile relationship with rock’n’roll, let everything they’d ever heard, seen and loved up the ante on what they made. Their music was both immense and intimate, immortal and life size. The power they exert over those who’ve heard them is still as livid  as it was when they were extant. ‘Rusty’, especially for those of us who never got to see them live, is a large part of that still-tangible mystery. It’s one of those rare, remarkable records that seems to tear a hole in the fabric of ‘reality’ and point eagerly at what seethes beneath & behind, as if to say “look, see? This is what’s REALLY happening”. As such it was, and remains, an immortal revelation.

   ‘Rusty’ starts like a stream, a spring, lapping ripples over stone and soil, generating its own impetus gradually, gently surging, leveling out. Where ‘Bible Silver Corner’ takes you is a place where even the tiniest thing, a single-string guitar line, a wending bass, the space between working fingers and hearts and the silence that permeates through the sound mesh, can tune your melancholy and resignation to its own pace. Four and a half minutes in you sense trouble ahead, in the peripheries you hear the stirrings of something else, something low and lurching with menace. Told you, you should know better. This time of night. The train, “Spreading a rash of arsenic, magnolias and crushed coal/A fire in its heart will not let it die”. Shiner gurns in almost-metallic relief, grinding rails and gears past your too-close head, a two-minute takeover of you, too fast and too sudden and too unexpected even after you know it’s there, “PopPop! Down goes the enemy” the band holler, waving at you from the backboard, your consciousness smeared thin over the trundled tracks. So this is what Rodan can do. They can time-lapse, they can hold a moment between tick and tock and let you linger there, reach out and leisurely pull nature’s tendrils into your lap. But they can also make a day go by in the blink of an eye, accelerate you round blind alleys, place you at the frictive fulcrum of modern mechanics, the boiler room of the Avalon, the trellis over the creek, the switchback in the canopy. They have proven this in 9 minutes. The remaining half hour that ‘Rusty’ has you they’ll prove how they can do both at the same time.

   “The Everyday World Of Bodies”is where Rodan really start suggesting to you that music is in new hands here, that the curious mix of personalities and abilities that makes up the band has led to something entirely unique. A flurry, a giggle, a cough, and then this almost arrhythmical new type of rhythm, pulled to the ground with a jackhammer relentlessness, a buzz saw riff but nothing you can cling to that seems to correspond with the normal architecture of rock. This is built with an almost industrial disregard for beauty, a civilly engineered construction meant to function as a tower for the torment being portrayed lyrically. And of course, in so doing Rodan create something truly beautiful and truly for the times they inhabited then and we still inhabit now. It’s that paradox at the heart of Rodan’s sound that’s crucial, that sense that the constituent parts in addition lead to a crazily out-of-proportion sum, the voices merely characters that wander through the factory, down to you whether their breakdowns, emotional & mental,  are changing the music or whether the changing music is compelling their breakdowns, mental and emotional. 4 people conjuring a whole singular environment - like James Brown, like Suicide, like Minutemen, like Big Black, like Wu Tang Clan,what Rodan pursue is the ability for human beings, in collaboration, to come together with the implacable force of machines, all the better to artistically express our modern loneliness in this ongoing mechanization of life, all the better to unlock the true magic of feel, that ability for people to make the body move by fusing one’s own heartbeat with others.
    This is why Rodan get so close to being some of the greatest American music ever – on ‘Bodies’, after two minutes, when it drops down to this gorgeous refraction of dappled-light and thrumming undertow yes it’s about Mueller and Noble’s guitars, the delicacy of the harmonics, the ebbing flow and shark-like constant motion of Tara’s bass, Coultas’ always-diamond-tight maneuvers between the beats (only American drummer to get close to Orestes, Scharin or Narcizo) – but there’s something ELSE you can hear, something you can’t trace to source so easily, something like the feedback of the world outside that studio, outside that room, somehow sneaking its way into the swell, that train again, head on into the headlights, and you should know better. Tara and Jeff whisper “You can trust it/This is your sound/ The clock's unwound/ We make the sound/I will be there, I will be there I swear I will be there” and you’re left trembling, dependent now on what this band are doing, unable to leave, uncoupled from anything approaching comfort but a willing witness & accomplice now in this act, committed to riding Rodan’s  wave all the way to whatever terminus they’re taking you to.
   It’s no accident that at times in Rodan’s music you can hear things that aren’t there. Eventually you start putting them in there, humming cello parts, adding counter-harmonies. In the work all of Rodan would do after the band split these things they hinted at would be further explored. Rodan was the first solid band any of them were in. Self-admittedly they couldn’t play, couldn’t write songs, couldn’t get sounds out of what broken busted equipment they had. All of it had to be learned, made from the ground up. Louisville is not a swinging town, every night is not a party, consequently people who live there feel they have time to just create. All that lull-time leads to intriguing backwaters that bigger cities would’ve muddied and swirled into the need to be current and out there and part of a scene. Rodan became who they were on the quiet, and then when unleashed zeroed in on nothing but themselves. One thing that’s apparent from “Rusty”’s first moment is that Rodan have no problem with considering their music as art, as much a visual experience conjured by sound as an aural one. Rodan cared about sleeves, cared about feel and look, cared about moving you deeply. Never casual, never chaotic. Always every moment for a reason. An artists eye for detail, and an artists heart for meaning. Serious business, no matter how much a laugh they were having playing and touring. Serious business.

   “Jungle Jim” (not the Hugo Largo cover you might’ve dreamt of but just as good) seeps forth with Tara singing weakly over a gorgeously downered opening melody heavily preminiscent of her later work with The Sonora Pine. Whenever melody clearly occurs on 'Rusty' it’s of an almost orchestral aesthetic, or at least seems to occupy the same fin-de-siecle post-romantic pre-modernist lines of Satie’s piano work, Debussy’s tone-poems, Bartok’s string quartets. When these ornate melodies give way to the unholy racket that Rodan could make all musical bets are off, there’s no safe ground, no root note, just surge, just fwd motion under tremendous funky duress and lashed with the fire of Noble/Muellers attack and Tara’s unforgettable voice, her  lines veering ‘tween Plath-like morbidity & ravished love-confessional (“done with one touch lying on my thighs/ no i didn't come/TOUCH ME HONEYFINGERS WENT INSIDE/you looked most tempting”) as the music underneath flits tween, unbridled desire, ash-flicking afterglow, post-fucked wreckage. And the song ends on a moment of silence, then the slow build of a drone, as chilling as the first 30 seconds of Throwing Muses ‘Colder’, that ebbs into ‘Gauge’.  By now, Rodan are truly out on their own, shedding any relationship but the most tangential with 'rock', recalling Unwound at their most skin-puckeringly odd, lyrics a disturbing trauma-diary shot through with sedatives and nightmares, at the precise point an album should be aiming for redemption instead suggesting that only madness is liveable with, the guitars a tritonic mathematical mess of unsettling angles and angelic light. Closer 'Tooth Fairy Retribution Manifesto' starts on a bewitching gamelan tinkle and shimmer before gliding on another new dynamic, that sense of water and flow back again, like the album's initial trickle finding the bay, able finally to lose itself in something wider than itself, ending up with a volcanic grinding rumble that sounds both troglodyte and cubist, a sound that doesn't contain notes, only urges, has no rhythm, only impacts, only craters, all before you can realise why or how you're being effected. And then, suddenly and forever, 'Rusty' is over.

   And you're left struck dumb. Wanting more. Wanting resolution. Wanting to hear nothing else. Perhaps even wanting to form a band. Too neat to say Rodan perfected themselves and thus had to be destroyed. Pure coincidence – varying rumours about mental problems & frictions within the band notwithstanding, in 1995, a year after 'Rusty' dropped, Rodan was over.

   As we see so often in any look at the truly important American music of the 90s, one band leads to another and another and you've got to stay aware of what members do after the main event and the attention THAT got slipped on by. With Bitch Magnet, you go to Seam. With Codeine you go to Come but  you'd also be demented to forget about what drummer Doug Scharin did after Codeine split cos then you'd miss out on his astonishing solo work as HiM (a truly odd dub side-project that ended up heard alongside equally odd mid-90s American instrumental hip-hop by the Crooklyn Dub Consortium & other freaks of the anti-industry like Ui) . . .

   AND you'd be totally unaware of his Brooklyn-based crew Rex whose eponymous debut remains one of the great lost classics of 90s slow-core . . .

   These trails are tangled but so rewarding, not just for completists. With all of the musicians we've looked at so far in A New Nineties American Edition, from Oberlin, from New York, from Louisville it's crucial that you follow what they did AFTER what they're mostly known for. In the case of Rodan this is doubly important because with June Of 44 and Rachel's, Jason Noble and Jeff Mueller made music almost equal to Rodan's in terms of shock, perhaps even surpassing Rodan in terms of wholeness and revelation.

“I am the one who has had an obsession with sailing for about five years and for me boats do represent archaic technology, things that die, things that get overlooked, things that pass away." - Jeff Mueller.

   June Of 44's 'Engine Takes To Water" initially reminded me so much of Slint's 'Good Morning Captain' in its lyrical obsessions it was almost a guilty pleasure. Over the course of the album though it becomes much more than just maritime monomania, a briny blathering bruising beauty to be shackled to, to plummet the depths with. June Of 44 (the name refers to the period in which Henry Miller & Anais Nin engaged in their hottest correspondence) were made up of members of Lungfish, Rex, Rodan and Hoover and they played music of brutal heaviness, infinitesimally finessed precision and rampaging radiance. Dubbed 'mathrock' by the clueless, '44 were propelled beyond such petty and inadequate categorisation by Scharin's stunning drums, Mueller's tremendously suggestive and evocative lyrics (further explored in the band Shipping News that he and Noble formed after 44's demise) and the impossible-to-imagine near-prog painstakingness of the guitar arrangements – they'd make three more albums that mixed in electronica and jazz to their swirl and slam but nothing they'd ever make would eclipse 'Tropics & Meridians' (their second LP) and the still-astonishing 'Engine Takes To Water', one of the most beautifully packaged fully-realised visions in the history of American rock.

   The cardboard it came in mattered, had an odour, a feel, a rub that matched the decaying antiquity and pristine drive of the music. That attention to detail, that attempt to make a record not just a document of sound but a fully engulfing experience that stretched from the look, feel, smell of the sleeves to the sounds contained theirin, reached it's pinnacle with Jason Noble's next project after Rodan, Rachel's. Ongoing from 1991 as Noble's solo project, gradually more and more Louisville artists and musicians became involved, Noble collaborating strongly with core members, violist Christian Frederickson and pianist Rachel Grimes. Their debut, 95's 'Handwriting' was a gorgeous, fragile, plaintive mix of minimalist and classical instrumentation combined with a  rock-band backline but it was their second, incredible album, 'Music For Egon Schiele' that really crystallised something entirely unique from this free-floating pack of freaks. Here's what I said in 1996, from the Melody Maker:

Music For Egon Shchiele
"One has to realise what restraint it needs to express oneself with such beauty. Every glance can be expanded into a poem, every sigh into a novel. But to express a novel in a single gesture, joy in a single breath, such concentration can only be found where self-pity is lacking in equal measure"- Arnold Schoenberg.
   Rachel's "Handwriting" LP, 13 infinitely evocative songs without words but with plenty of
orchestration, was THE great lost underground American classic of 1995. Such gorgeous shocks are never repeated. Here they're surpassed, "Songs For Egon Schiele" is, if anything, even more of a unique delight. It is, in a word, incredible.   
   This suite of pieces was written for a piece of dance and theatre based on the life of Schiele, performed in Rachel's home town of Louisville. But, for a piece so specific in it's reference, you find your mind running further than you've felt it in years. I want my retirement to sound like this; while it's on, I can't stop thinking about my childhood.
   More minimal than it's predecessor (Rachel's are now often pared down to just strings and piano) this LP, from it's stark opening to its sparse, shattering coda, is a million miles away from the implicit superiority of most "classical" music.
   Rather than being concious that you're listening to Something Without Guitars Or A Beat, you're so instantly transported within your own imagination that within a minute you're locked into its spell, the piano lacing fingers over your spine, the cello and violin filling out the sound, picking out melodies that seem to suffuse the room with changing moods as they wind their way around you.
Dark, mournful at times; even though training and the like are probably involved, I prefer to think of Rachel's as writing these pieces like pop songs and then tearing them light years from the moorings of band and noise and letting them float free in the emotional chiaroscuro that only these instruments can create.
   It's less important that this is the most impossibly moving American record you can hear right now, or even that the care in it's recording and exquisite packaging make it feel like a personal gift to you . IT IS).  What's important, what's overwhelming, is that your room can be a constant stage with this record. Be ready for your close-up and let your mascara run.
There'll be no stopping it.
Perfect and unafraid. Let it in."

I still stand by every word of that, and urge you to hear it if you haven't. And despite my youthful purple-ponciness of expression something deeper emerges over time listening back to Rodan, June Of 44, Rachel's, something beyond mere artistry and taste. What the Louisville bands all did was crucially not just informed by aesthetics but informed by attitude – in an era in which bands from America were trying to reconjure the 70s and bands in the UK were still trying to resurrect the 60s, bands like Rachel's were engaged in something entirely different, trying to reconnect with a spirit of suprising modernity, & elegiac clarity more akin to the artistic impulses of Post WW1 Europe than anything so dead as the recent past. In so doing they not only isolated themselves from the prevailing grunge/metal impulses in American music but they posited a way of working that now seems curiously ahead of its time – small dedicated groups of artists working together across multiple artistic disiplines to create their own cottage-industry of perfection, records that were utterly unconcerned with place in any lineage but totally concerned with YOU, and your multi-sensory relationship to what you were hearing.

   It's a tempting old habit to try and see something in relation to the mainstream it both reflects, reacts to and rejects but really the Louisville bands weren't some last-gasp attempt to save rock, or recalibrate it for a new future. They were an attempt to create entirely new music, and not even worry about that music's place, not just afterwards, but EVER. Lots of bands say they don't care – about other bands, about authority, about fitting in, about success – and it's always transparently obvious that in their denials they're masking their insecurities and entirely conventional yearnings. Rodan, June Of 44 and Rachel's were revolutionary, and seem so eerily prophetic of those cabals and communities that fascinate us now in music because at a time when music was still so dependent on the conventions of the music industry they DID care about EVERYTHING other than what bands are meant to care about.  Certainly, the times they emerged in had the feeling of running down, of the great countercultural and creative surge that was post WWII popular music reaching a point where it had nothing more to say, its craft becoming nothing more than reassemblage. Alot of rock fans simply abandoned guitar music, or in my case got my jollies from metal way more than anything you'd call 'indie'. Crucially though, however vague the Louisville bands' awareness of rock's dead-end might be, it never seemed to be what was animating them. You'd get these records from out of the blue and have to figure out what they meant, where they fitted, and frequently you'd end up transported by bliss to you know not where. In the ongoing battle for music's heart and soul, these bands were reclaiming playfulness, innocence and creativity without any kind of ideological impetus behind those decisions, without a masterplan or a strategy or anything that could get in the way of the naivete of that expression. And because of that innocence, they left some of us auld cynics, in the mid 90s, wondering how we'd ever listen to rock'n'roll again, beginning not to care if we ever heard indie rock again.

The band I want to talk about next left us in no doubt. It was all over. And something new had to be mapped out. Something so distant from rock that to even mention conventional rock in relationship to it was absurd. Unique. Undimmed. And unlike the Louisville bands, nearly entirely forgotten. Labradford.

This piece is dedicated to Jason Noble, 1942 – 2012. You can download a  tribute mixtape to Jason here  http://jasonnoblebenefit.bandcamp.com/ - all proceeds go to his family.

Thursday, 27 March 2014


(all txt from 'Eastern Spring' by Neil Kulkarni, published 2012 by Zero Books)

1. Lata Mangeshkar - Ghanu Waje Ghun Ghuna (from the album ‘Amratachu Ghanu’, song by Hridnyath Mangeshkar)

“Happy daze - I hear the Seekers and the Sex Pistols and Val Doonican and it all sounds the same. I also hear this song and I realise that music can make me cry and choke. This song is about moonlight, shelter, looking in the mirror and not seeing yourself looking back. It's by Maharashtrians of a similar vintage to my parents, Hridaynath Mangeshkar and his sister Lata, a familial combination that created gold whenever it collaborated... but at age five I knew none of this. I just knew it felt funny, that this song woke and walked into new chambers of my still-growing heart, instrumentation I couldn't quite picture that pulled the brine from your eyes in pure melodic yearning and sent you on through your day levitating a few inches above the ground. A poem that's over 1000 years old. Hits you like it were writ tomorrow."

2. Lata Mangeshkar - Are Are Dnyana Jhalasi Pavan (devotional Abhang to the Saint Dnyaneshwar, arranged by Hridnyath Mangeshkar)

“That dislocation increases with age, even if the future generations of people who are going to call themselves proud to be British will be similarly composed of phantom solidity, but in numbers will find STRENGTH from that non-alignment with the monolithic, the strength us nervous pioneers had to keep locked up, sipped from in those moments alone after the freshest latest despair. When we didn’t have the advantage of numbers, our music made us strong, gave us voices upon voices, calling us back, pushing us on.”

3. V.G Jog & Ustad Bismillah Khan – Dhun Karhawa (from the album ‘Sublime Notes’)

“Listen to Bismillah Khan, perhaps the single most inspirational musical artist of the 20th century this side of Miles Davis, and remind yourself how little any of us know, how much any of us can feel.”

4. Lata Mangeshkar – Ya Chimanyanno (composed by Shrinivas Khale, words by Ga Di Madgulkar)

“Lata Mangeshkar, like all Marathi singers, sang songs about Shivaji because he was a hero to Marathis.”

5. Lata Mangeshkar – Avachita Paramilu (from the album ‘Avachita Paramilu’, musical director Hridnyath Mangeshkar)

“Melodies I couldn’t explain, rhythms without time conjured by the all-powerful multi-tracked voice above the drone. Another Hrydnath/Lata gem, another 1000 year old libretto by the Saint Naneshwar who translated the Gita into street-level Marathi from Sanskrit and that has the good sense to know that God is a perfume, and his stink is everywhere.Screens off if you can bear to be reminded of pure sound, and the pure vision that can come from it. Format matters.”

6. Sudhir Phadke  - Jag He Bandishala (literally ‘Imprisonment As Metaphor For Life’ from the 1960 movie Sakharam, a Chaplinesque tragedy of blindness, gangsters and revenge. Lyrics by G.D.Madgulkar and music by Sudhir Phadke)

(Lyrics Translation) “This World is a dungeon/ Nobody here is virtuous / Everyone is a wanderer off the path/ Everyone loves his cell / Friends and consorts in the cell/ Be it handcuffs or heavy gyves - everyone sticks to them/ Everyone clings to his place ! Nobody's vision goes beyond the walls/ Worms in a fig, in the fig they exist/ Nobody knows what's the term/ From where he comes nobody knows/ Everyone fears his deliverance/ Every one is happy with confinement”

7. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi – Raag Puriya Pt 4 of 4 (from the album ‘"Raag Puriya Dhanashree: Vilambit Bandish - "Ab To Ritu Maan" In Ek Taal (12 Beats) / Drut Bandish - "Paayaliya Jhankar" In Teen Taal (16 Beats)")

“Joshi’s music is proof that Raga is simply a framework within which anyone and anything can happen, his melodies the most astonishing modernist improvisations within that ancient framework, his songs as Islamic as they are heathen, as prehistoric as they are futuristic, as civilized as they are untamed.”

8. Asha Bhosle - Ya Dolyanchi Don Pakhare (from the film Paath Laag, 1964, Music & Songs by Datta Davjekar)

“Haunted by who you are, by the idea of being someone. I don’t lend vinyl anymore but there’s a song at the heart of this. It’s a song sung by a dead woman, a ghost to her husband, warning him that wherever he goes and whoever he’s with she will be in his heart. It’s soundtracked by vamping keys, insanely heavy reverb, spooked and wracked sound fx and was made in about 1964, (just before Marathi song started being bulldozed out of Indian cinema, just before my mum and dad decide to blow Mumbai for the other side of the world) for the film Paath Laag and is called Ya Dolyanchi Don Pakhare.”

9. Asha Bhosle - Vikat Ghetala Shyam (from the film Jagachya Pathivar, 1960)

Lyrics translation: “Didn't spend a farthing, neither did I spend a penny/ I acquired my Shyam (Krishna)/ Some may think Its a theft, some may think I borrowed him / But as many as thebreaths in my whole life I've counted His Name/ Child Shepard from Yamuna river, naughty child of Sant Poets/ He has names as many as owners he has/His habitats are as many as hearts are there in the world/ But still nobody knows Him/ He still remains a poor nameless orphan”

10. Suman Kalyanpur – Jhite Sagara Dharni Milte (from the film Devbappa, 1953)

“The pictures are out-of-synch and so is anyone who escapes the world they were born to, to step and stumble out into another. Out of synch as is anyone who's walked on these black beaches barefoot and finds themselves grown up and trudging through a substance called snow that they'd only read about before.”

11. Lata Mangeshkar - Karangali Modali (from the film Padchhaya, 1965 music by Datta Davjekar)

“Born out-of-synch. Because 'Indian' culture as perceived by the English is either hidden or horrific by then, bar the odd gem precisely those pale imitations and painful malapropisms of contemporary western pop that the west loves so much, the camp failure of all these Bengalis-in-platforms trying to look like they belong on the dance floor where it's unlikely they'd make it past toilet-attendant. I don't need that neediness cos with the Indian music I hold close in my juvenile 16-year-old fogeyness there's no attempt to ingratiate, only the instant ability to fly, to be yourself where that self is free, where your eyes hurt because you've been waiting for god too long.”

12. Lata Mangeshkar – Om Namo Ji (‘Invocation Of Saint Dyanyeshwar’ from the 1971 album ‘Dnyaneshwar Mauli’)

“Crucially, Indian music at its best reminds me that I had music before I had words or categories for it: at its best, it suggests to me that it’s time I shut the fuck up about music and spend a few years just listening. Care less about having the final word than exploring those moments for which there aren’t words, let those folk who mistake music for the accumulation of taste have their lists and lineages and things You Must Hear Before You Die. Get busy finding out what and HOW I must hear before I can start living again.”

13. Asha Bhosle – Gyansham Sundara (from the film Amar Bhupali, 1952, music composed by Vasant Desai and lyrics penned by Shahir Honaji Bala)

“I suggest it to you because I love you. Because you’re my friend. Because we’re living proof that it never was about finding out who you are. Just about making sure who you aren’t, who you’re not gonna stand alongside, who you’re going to share your impure bastard-past and fucked-up future with. Sorry to have kept you so long. Let our eyes meet on the nearest star through the silhouetted branches. At the start of a new day of eastern spring. The summer soon come.

Vultus oriens, Ecce Homo Sacer, Rodus Dactlyus Aurora I don’t have long so listen now, before your house wakes and time starts stealing your future again an ancient song for a new dawn. Hear the sun? Hear the noise it makes?

Feel it in your heart.”

Eastern Spring page at Zero Books 
Eastern Spring on Amazon.co.uk

Thursday, 20 March 2014


Smiley Culture & Asher Senator from Saxon Sound, in the NME: " . . .  we started making what we call ‘style’ by writing rhyming lyrics that went on and on without finishing… continuous style. The way I see it, some MCs live off six lyrics for years and years, never changing. Whereas we’re on the move all the time because time is running, y’know… Smiley and I took a break once and developed 10 new lyrics each and then appeared at the Nottingham Palais. We chatted on the mic non-stop right through to the end of the evening. A wild feeling . . . "

I've never had much of an idea exactly what the fuck's going on in alot of the soundclash tapes that have ever come my way, but I do know that's partly why they so often excite me. I know that sense of WTF is what's always excited me about all Saxon Sound tapes -  listen to any (and there's dozens) Saxon Sound clashes from the early 80s on Youtube (particularly rich pickings tween 82 & 85 by which time SS gained an 'official' release on the awesome 'Coughing Up Fire' album) and you're confronted with the necessity of having to totally overhaul the official version of British music you've been reared and raised on. Of course, when reading any history you look between the lines, you look at what's been left out, particularly in any history of UK music, this entity so splayed and lashed and divided by lines of class and race it's a temptation to forget about what doesn't get heard any more, and just to be grateful for what can survive. Most of what's been written about post-punk and new pop, that dizzying five years of innovation from 78-82, sees things as a musical rather than lyrical development, and focusses on those bands you know & love making the classic albums you know & love that touched on a rich lineage of those anti-classics you know and love. And don't get me wrong, I know and love all of them. But  to hear something from that time that absolutely turns that (anti)cannonical safety on its head, taps you into a whole bunch of British people making music whose main resource wasn't a cannon of alternative-music made by experimental psychonauts but rather old-testament prophecying and civil-war-borne production-line doom about the end-times  - inevitably this music touches you more now than all that reshuffling and reiteration of the usual pack of underdogs. Can't ever get enough of these Saxon Sound System tapes, although wish even more had survived, to further flesh out my growing apprehension that in Tippa Irie, Peter King, Asher Senator, Maxi Priest, Daddy Rusty, Smiley Culture and Papa Levi, Saxon basically assembled thee greatest crews of lyricists and DJs that have ever existed in the UK (no accident that so many of those names ended up signed to majors). Crucially the 'importance' of these fuzzy, distorted, sometimes barely-musical, decayed transmissions, which is massive, doesn't obscure the sheer pleasure they give, how compelling they remain as listening experiences. And just how much Saxon Sound owned things, everywhere they went, dominated, crushed all opposition. We should've shouted about them more. We should never forget to listen. 

Saxon started in 76 in Lewisham as purely a party set-up, soon progressing to supplying sound systems at local venues, functions and weddings in and around Lewisham, spending the rest of the 70s building their rep as the number one sound system in the UK. Clear to anyone who heard them that their MCs, dubplates and DJs were a cut above. Perhaps clear that anyone who heard DJ Peter King (who always had such a stunning ability to switch his voice, going from lightspeed chat to slow drawling cockney within the space of a syllable) at the DJ Jamboree dance in Lewisham in 82 were witness to the birth of a totally new style, the reverberations of which still seismically rumble through UK rap, grime and d'n'b.  Crucially a style that in a sense cut the umbilicus between UK dancehall and Jamaican dancehall. 'Fast Chat', as the style came to be known certainly had its antecedents in the artists that Levi, Smiley, Aher, Tippa and King were raised on, the U-Roy, Brigadier Jerry and Nicodemus yard-tapes they were listening to. But in the hands of Saxon the style got stretched out, extended, elaborated upon, given up to English as Londoners speak it and crafted by consciousnesses that were pure black British, straight from the streets and shops and homes and intellects that struggled in Lewisham and elsewhere to come to terms with their own 1st & 2nd Generation immigrant identities, their parabolic relationship with international black consciousness and the tightrope tween slackness and roots they walked every time they stepped to a mic, with charm, grace, humour, poetry and an almost-frantic inability to stop themselves. Only white guy to come close at the time is Mark E. Smith and that's not an altogether daffy comparison, there's a similar sense of eccentricity and irresistable life to the best of Saxon's output. Because if your day-to-day life tells you you're at the margins, that you've got to remain silent, try and sneak by for fear of violence, for fear of bigotry, then when you get that mic in your hand there's a very real danger no-one will be able to stop you talking. The 'Fast Chat' style enabled the artists on Saxon to say the unique things they had to say in a totally unique way, to push themselves and their experiences out as compellingly breathless art. It was as complete a simultaneous homage and immolation of a 'homeland' culture as Two-Tone was, and should be listened to at least as regularly. 'Rapid rappin' was another name for the style Saxon pioneered and it fits, at a time when the UK was just waking up to hip-hop Saxon were delivering British rhymes, lyrics that could only have been birthed in the minds of British people, delivered with supreme finesse at dizzying speeds, freestyled over thumping bass-heavy beats to a point where sometimes all you can hear is a 2-speed kick-drum pulse and somebody's deepest'n'darkest, funniest 'n'lightest thoughts coming at you like a nuclear train - perhaps the only British artists to get close to the kind of thing Treacherous 3 and Run DMC were pulling over in NYC at the time, even though how conscious of hip-hop Saxon were who knows. King explained the birth of the fast-chat style in an 85 issue of Echoes: 

“A lot of English MCs was chatting like yardies, they weren’t trying to be original. I heard a lot of MCs copying and pirating, not entire lyrics – just the style. It all became rather the same … I did the fast style in 1982. People was already coming to Saxon but they used to love the fast style … People from other sounds used to say the “fast style” was bad. They come to me and say “drop it in now”, in the dance so that they could hear it. Everybody was doing a style off a it – just said, well, cool runnings, at least they know who originated it.” 

Listening to the tapes, you hear Levi, Asher & Tippa in particular stretching the possibilities of breath, of thought, of throat. Nothing compares to it - nothing contemporary at least but it does recall later work by SUAD,  London Posse (both of whom were regular attendees at Saxon parties), or the most frenetic mindblowing grime to come much later- there's also a warmth, a humour, a turn of phrase simultaneously so English and yet so revolutionary you frequently have to note down where you're gonna rewind to, just to check you were right to believe your ears. Just as Jamaica had discovered its own ska sound in 62 beyond mere plagiarization of American r'n'b sources, so you can hear in tapes from 82 onwards Saxon discovering their own sound, a new way of both grounding themselves but also propelling themselves into totally new territories lyrically and musically. 
   Of course, Saxon's innovations lyrically offer stark counterpoint to what was going on in Jamaican dancehall at the time. A waning of political emphasis, a growth of slackness and a proto-hip-hop kind of assertive individualism opened up that space for Saxon to reaffirm the lost Rastafari consciousness of roots reggae, apply that dialectic to dissecting the ravages suffered by young black Britons in Thatcher's first two terms. It's not as simple as a rejection of Jamaica's changing lyrical emphasis though - there's still plenty of slackness in these tapes, these guys were too big fans of Yellowman to totally excise that stuff and you wouldn't want them to. And as Saxon started playing and winning clashes back in Jamaica that speedy-style fed back into Jamaican dancehall itself, reinvigorated a style that had only fleetingly been hinted at before. Listening to Shinehead or Supacat from later on in the 80s it's clear that Jamaica fed back Saxon's impetus and explorations - that Jamaican crews returning home after battles with Saxon had been infected a little by just how odd, just how convincing Saxon were. It's Saxon's fluidity, their ability to melt together their roots, their present, and glimpses of the future in their music that makes these tapes so compelling. You can hear the crew's diasporic disconnection get fused, get fixed and lived with and that's an incredibly liberating, joyous thing to hear. Never just bleak, though sometimes bleak, never just happy, though often happy, Saxon summed up the defiance, despair and triumph of their times like no-one else, stylistically AND in terms of the topics and things they chatted about. Helps that in comparison to Jamaican tapes from the time tapes of clashes involving Unity, or Fatman Riddim, or Coxsone or Saxon in England are just more lively, funnier, with way more crowd interaction & way more bedlam. These tapes document a desire to party hard, because the Monday that beckons will be hell, because the mean time between dances is a mean time indeed. 
    It's inevitable, looking back, that Lewisham would be the birthplace of Saxon, the place they so often returned to. After all, it was Lewisham where Jah Shaka's record shop opened up, Lewisham where Jah first started his dub soundsystem Shaka Sound, Lewisham that contained the Moon Shot Youth Club, the Moon Shot Youth Club raided and vandalised by police in 75, adding to tensions that would grow and explode into the Battle Of Lewisham in 77, Lewisham that was witness to the horrors of the New Cross Fire, Lewisham where the NF and other fascist groups focussed their terror and thuggery, making every walk out for young black kids an exercise in running the gauntlet of hatred and violence. You can hear that tension teasingly hinted at in Saxon tapes, even if the main impetus is liberation and joy - the soundsystem, the clash, the dance as safe-haven, as transcendental refuge, a place where black unity and autonomy was celebrated,  a space where pleasure and politics could co-exist. Dr. William 'Lez' Henry, who started out as a soundbwoy with Jah Shaka was in no doubt about exactly why Lewisham would prove a fulcrum for British dancehall in  this fascinating interview from 2013

"They were alternative public arenas and alternative public spaces. That’s exactly what it was. DJs in the UK were articulating about absolutely everything; from love to hate to life and death.You know they say that hindsight is a fine thing because when I was immersed in the culture and DJing as Lezlee Lyrix, although I appreciated certain things, you don’t really understand just how profound the nature of what you’re doing is until you reflect on it. And when I was doing my doctorate work, I concluded –and I’m not asking people to conclude with me, it bothers me not if they do or don’t – that what was being articulated in reggae sound systems in the UK from probably 1981 to 1987 is probably the most pro-black, African-centered voice to ever come out of the UK. We governed that space. We were judge, jury and executioner of what happened. It was almost like an autonomous space in that sense, and a self-regulating one. Personally, I don’t think people really appreciated that. Especially, in the contest of the Black-British sound system and DJ culture . . .  people would be articulating what you could do to get yourself out of your situation. What you can do about a particular situation. That’s why on the sound systems, the DJs would talk about everything from being stopped and searched by the police to how to deal with love problems. The focus wasn’t just on race or racism. That was just one aspect of our live or our “livity” as Rastafari would say. People need to understand that these were transcendental spaces and not just spaces of resistance"

   Still topping the youth unemployment league table (JSA claimants currently outnumbering available jobs 14 to 1) Lewisham is still suffering in sight of the city, finding itself the victim of both all-new brutalising cuts to youth services by the Coalition and all-too-familiar police-tactics of racist stop & search both before and since the riots of 2011. How much would Lewisham benefit from a transcendental space again, and from a set of artists who could  summate and surpass these times as effectively and elegantly as Saxon Sound did? Needed now more than ever. Here's a few clashes I've stitched together. An 80s you're being kept from in most nostalgia from that decade. Get that wild feeling and then go find who's doing this now and report back to me. Cheers boss.

Thursday, 13 March 2014


12:24 Posted by neil kulkarni No comments

OK, here's what we know - next to fuck-all. 2 years ago, New Years Eve 2012, a mixtape dropped called 'Syrup Splash'.

   It was fucking great. The sleeve and the mystery behind its creators led alot of people to suspect the perpetrator was Caucasian (like that would be a crime), soubriquets like 'tumblr-rap' started getting slung its way, the confusion of listeners as to whether SMT was black or white getting a whole load of hipsters' knickers in a knot. Didn't help that SMT's web presence was ghostly, fuzzy, refused to skewer reality and play the usual games of instant explication, refused to give much info beyond suggestions of a collective, that Paper Platoon was the producer (or was that just another pseudonym of SMT himself?). The music PP spun around SMT's slow-mo'd raps (all of his vocals are sluggishly drawn out to a crawl), though peppered with identifiable tropes (air-horns, trap beats, DJ-rewinds), somehow emerged as utterly unique, the utterly unplaceable samples and unique sense of genuine chaos, the way that tracks hung somewhere between sumptuous soundtrack and pure verite anti-music, the way those familiar motifs were used less to make you feel comfortable, rather to massively unsettle your concentration on the bass-heavy headnodic bliss of PP's backdrops and shapes. PP's manipulation of sound was disturbingly freewheeling, tracks slipping into pure racket, samples stretched and split until their rubbery innards spilled out.  I filed 'Syrup Splash'  firmly under the 'keep an eye on this guy' file, promptly forgot about it and then couldn't forget about it. It was just too pointed, too scary, too resistant to anything you might surround it with. Time went on. Still no interviews. No features. No face to put to the name, little attention paid by any of the usual places. Time went on. 
Then in 2013, another tape dropped. 

It was even better than 'Syrup Splash' - more kaleidoscopic, more colourful, more lyrically confrontational, more prone to give itself over to ear-razing conflations of dubbed-out wibblery and gorgeously frazzled noise-scapes (check the astonishing 'Castles & Towers') than anything else going on in hip-hop, a Houston-style heaviosity and heatstruck sense of grogginess but still, by dint of the sheer odd instinctive range of sources and the way it surged through your headspace ENTIRELY unplaceable. Who knew if PP WAS SMT, whether the 'guests' were simply more facets to SMT's schizophrenia or parts of a genuine crew? Together with the tape's release, SMT seemed to take on a little more of a web-presence, twitter, FB, soundcloud all now pumping out SMT music but still with that utter refusal to give us a photo of the person or people responsible, still absolutely refuting any attempt to be nailed to anything like a conventional physical identity or persona. Check out this 'interview' and see if you can pick a SINGLE SERPENTINE FACT out about SMT or PP or ANYONE involved. For those of us who truly sunk ourselves into the depths of 'Serengeti' this indeterminacy suited the chopped-up screwed-up nature of the music but you also got the growing sense that people are terrified that he'll turn out to be just 'some white guy from the suburbs' (as one commentator on that interview disparagingly puts it). Alot of folk put off by the lyrics also, lyrics that almost make a virtue of being unmemorable, rather another element of the druggy fucked-up psyche intent of the music.

Vapid, shallow, obnoxious - yup, so fucking what? Charmless? Absolutely not - it's SMT's exaggeration and detonation of stereotypes that makes 'Serengeti' so compelling throughout, someone clearly with a deep grounding in hip-hop creating a monstrous, menacing edifice out of all that cultural wreckage and then torching the fucking lot with a maniacal glint in his eye. Who even knew if SMT hadn't just c&p'd a whole load of accapellas and then put them in his slo-mo grinder to create the lyrics for '#SWOUP'? The sampladelic reach of PP's production throughout both mixtapes is just incredible, the connections made between disparate cultures absolutely what hip-hop should be all about. It shouldn't matter to you (and also white guys from the suburbs have made some of the greatest music ever made) - what should matter to you right now is that if you haven't heard either of the above, do so now (I'd start with 'Serengeti')  because A NEW SMT MIXTAPE is gonna drop any time soon. It's gonna be called 'Silhouette Of A Sunken City' and I'm warning you now it's bound to be one of the highlights of 2014. SMT raises a hell of a lot of interesting questions - about how to make music genuinely scary, as scary as the times we live in, about anonymity, and how in a time of information overload an artist can still manage to construct an identity forged almost entirely in pure sound and word and then suck you into that identity and never exhale you back out - finally SMT dares you to let myth back in to music, dares you to outfox his own steely sense of mystique. This is a mystery I don't want solving. For as long as it can be kept intact, dive deep within SMT's universe before its imploded from without. He's either gonna self-destruct or ascend down to hell soon.


09:48 Posted by neil kulkarni , , , No comments
Stuff that I couldn't squeeze on to the first F.U.N.K mix for Spring, alot less hip-hop, more drone, metal and electronics incl. a HALF HOUR from the astonishing Nemorensis. Yeah, going for the big sell here. Do check out the artists here in particular Ian Crause's amazing 'Vertical Axis' LP, Bolzer's awesome 'Aura EP' and Spark Master Tape's amazing 'The SWOUP Serengeti' mixtape.


Monday, 10 March 2014


Bolzer's Aura EP, Nemorensis, Hellebore and Irkallian Oracle's 'Grave Ekstasis' LP reviewed. 

Aura EP
(Iron Bonehead Productions) 
   In a permanent state of catch-up with metal from 2013 - missed alot and I'm sure alot was worth missing but my god, this 23 minute slab of rarefied riffola from Swiss duo Bölzer is just astonishing, so good it doesn't feel absurd to call it a new high-point in metal, something WAAAY too good to just sadly note and prod people towards, a record I want to press into strangers lives with evangelical fervour. It's a total and utter stone cold red hot freakin masterpiece, addictive, a record I can't stop listening to, loud. Sometimes it's easy to seek controversy or revelation where there is none, insist that something 'progresses' or 'moves on' a genre - what's wonderful about 'Aura' is that it's so fucking good none of that even occurs to you, it just does what it sets out to do so brilliantly, rocks so fucking hard, so beautifully, that you can't believe these people weren't stars by 2013's end, can scarcely believe metal isn't now thoroughly engaged in 'Aura's absorbtion, wondering how in holy fuck it can even dream of topping it. It's as good as its sleeve. Look at that sleeve. It's THAT good. 
    Opener 'C.M.E' (catchy shorthand for only slightly less-snappy 'Coronal Mass Ejaculation') takes precisely 2 seconds to get and what you get is the three components of Bölzer's ound that makes 'Aura' so utterly compelling. Firstly - riffs. No, not just riffs, I mean RIFFS. Planet-sized. Riffs that latch themselves to your brainpan and then start thrashing your body about like split-head Palmer chowing down on Windows' skull in The Thing. Bölzer's songs are constructed around about a half-dozen riffs each, every single one of them so fucking awesome you get serious Sepultura-style palpitations from every single corner and spiral 'Aura' drags you down. The guitars never refract into sheer noise, there's a sharpness, a corrosive skins-stripping adhesiveness to this music and the shapes it makes - you have to pay attention to go on the journey but it's an attention you give gladly cos the riffs are so utterly enslaving, hooky, obsession-creating. Swinging like Hanuman's balls.
   Secondly - the sound. Inexactly right. Like the similarly two-strong Towers & the magnificent Primitive Man, not so macho-maximal to have no sense of space, somehow managing to give all of this racket its own tangible tactile room to breathe and impact. Something analogue about it in that space, the way pumping the volume up reveals MORE not less, but absolutely nothing dated about it. A spacecrucial to what makes Aura so devestating because both of Bölzer are on fire, the guitarist seemingly the greatest riff machine on the planet in 2013, the drummer able to blast-beat and Bill-Ward it simultaneously, keeping the tracks at this wonderfully ambiguous, hugely suggestive place between frenzy and dread, a murderous intensity, an almost reflective self-loathing. On the second track, the astonishing 'Entranced By The Wolfshock' they hit a monstrous psychedelic weight redolent of Amon Duul, Oneida or Comets On Fire while also shitting on ALL those bands from a truly spectacular promontory height. Like I said, it's as good as its sleeve. Look at that fucking sleeve! It IS THAT good. 
   Thirdly - the utter unplaceability of it. You see that name, you hear lyrics like 'His psalms emanate power/ Beset with lightning and thunder/ As you slip into trance/ You swear allegiance to dance'. Your smirky first-language prejudices might come into play, or like me you might immediately start thinking of previous Swiss genii who've blown your mind, The Young Gods, Celtic Frost. But really, 'Aura' is genuinely unplaceable in any one subgenre (and metal's all about the subgenres). Not quite Death Metal, too uplifiting, although in its most furious moments 'Aura' is like the best death-metal you've ever heard. Not Doom cos even the moments of quicksand-drowning crawl still flicker with all kinds of lightspeed detail. Not Black Metal cos at no point is anything obscured, at no point is there any 'attitude' about honouring an old form or staying 'true' to anything, just an outpouring of the good great awesome stuff that happens when Bolzer plug in and play.  An incredibly catchy record, too catchy to be thought of as anything except immensely generous in its conception and execution. Warm fuzzies? Yeah, along with the mute awe, along with the broken shredded proneness, you will feel affection for this record, a need to evangelicise for it. Can. Not. Wait. For A Full Length, although to their credit Bölzer are apparently insistent that the EP form is what best suits them. Until the next one, avail yourself of 'Aura's blissful bewitching brutality fucking YESTERDAY. Too good to let die on the margins. Should be bigger than Satan already. 

[Oh and BTW, while on the darker end of things -  two things I can't make head nor tail of but that I can't stop listening to. The half hour of building drone & doom that is The Lady In The Lake by Nemorensis, now out on tape & bandcamp from the ever-intriguing Northern Idaho label Sol Y Nieve. . . 

and from the same label the spellbindingly strange, lo-fi fizz and fury of Anouof Thwo by Quebec weirdos Hellebore

Get back to me when YOU figure them out. And keep em peeled on ANYTHING Sol Y Nieve drop. These people are clearly the kind of sick twists you want to follow and love]

Irkallian Oracle 

Finally, also tickling my racket-receptors this month is IRKALLIAN ORACLE's masterly 'Grave Ekstasis' LP. Originally, like Bolzer, 'Grave Ekstasis' was released in a beautifully thought-out limited edition, only on tape, like much of the most compelling black/extreme metal at the moment. Just now reissued on CD & Vinyl by those lovely people at San Fran's Nuclear War Now , on original label Blovark's site the following statement appears: "Irkallian Oracle - Grave Ekstasis is now sold out. The band should not be bothered about copies as they have none. The few remaining copies at Bolvärk are reserved for people that already have contacted us on this matter and waiting. New orders are not possible. Bolvärk will be back in business in early august when we have access to tape machines and communications." That kind of sullen, hostile, blank almost machinelike refusal to boyhowdy and do the ordinary friendly gladhanding that characterises most mainstream media-friendly promo also finds itself in IO's own stated aims, unblinkingly serious, daring you to smirk, knowing that if you do you're condemned to the flames forever. "Ekstasis (as in ”out-of-itself”) denotes the great leap beyond the limited existential confinements of being wrapped up in confused states of ego-centrism. It is here drawn forth by both terror and awe at the apocalyptic totality of the Grave; the abysmal Other that mirrors the infinitude of endless possibility upon the beholder. Like an absence of self it becomes the very significant of Being, as the notion that existence only may be relevant in the encounter with inexistence. Hence, the ecstasy here spoken of is based upon the mystical endeavor of transgression, deconstruction and iconoclasm of selfhood that is revealed in the face of DEATH." Compared to 'we just want to make the music we want and if other people like it that's a bonus' this is some mission statement:  "Born in the year 2012 on Swedish soil, Irkallian Oracle is a musical vehicle for the Void. Drawing its art from the darkest and most horrific vaults of the Death and Black Metal tradition yet still searching ever deeper and beyond all confined artistic boundaries, it wishes to both musically and lyrically explore the ecstatic mysteries of abysmal infinitude. "Grave Ekstasis" is the first released material of Irkallian Oracle and consists of five revelations at the combined length of almost 45 minutes, and it shall function as message to all those who wish to enslave Death and Black Metal to purposeless retrospection, mediocrity and shallow ideals." LOVE that last line, and listening to 'Ekstasis' the rhetoric becomes less lofty, a million miles away from the empty promises of so much 'rock and roll' at the moment, far more accurate, far more convinced and justified. 

'Grave Ekstasis' is simply fantastic, Black Metal writ vast, Death metal jacked up with more low-end than it's ever sustained before, Doom metal too committed to putting you in an altered state of consciousness to be a dead end, five tracks that'll fit on one side of a C-90 with enough crunching repetition and UTTER SHITTINGLY ENORMOUS HEADSHREDDING HEAVIOSITY to squash a multiverse between its fingers. Irkallian's genius is in absolutely not attempting to be 'progressive' or to 'extend' anything - rather, like all the best metal bands ever, what they're committed to is a refinement, a distillation, a perfection, the kind of paring down and purification that can only be enacted by egos and abilities in some serious headsdown synchro-meshed union, bereft of any one persona pushing to the fore. Opener 'Ekstasis' comes rolling at you over the moors, a lung-freezing fog, medieval drums you want to hit yourself over the head with a plank to, the band at first distant, slowly encroaching to the fore, a pre-imprint coming into horrific close-up. And by the time they're there with you, up in your face, the singer opens up a hole in his face and the rank stench of putrefaction hits your senses - all the ridiculous, partly-laughable shitchat you've heard black-metal bands trade in for so long finds true resonance in Irkallian's music - this is genuinely horrifying music, horrifying for its sounds and impetus, but also horrifying because at root this is an agonisingly human document.
   'Iconoclasm' kicks off so lunatic-fast, yet so heavy, it's like the Boredoms finally jammed with Corrupted (like us popkids always dreamed about) but then settles down into a truly seethingly venal slo-mo groove so sexy, yet so deathly, it's like witnessing, through a widely-dilated shitscared eye through a keyhole, Barry White transmogrifying into a skinny white necrophile. And every time that riff is returned to, it seems a little slower, a little heavier, a little more disturbing, as the vocal splits in two and starts coiling around itself and you succumb to the writhings of the bottomless pit. See how this music sets you thinking? 'Dispersion' simply will not stop until you are dead, the brilliantly titled 'Trans-Abysmal Echoes (Non-Sense)' is full-pelt demoniac-grindcore and closing epic 'Absentia Animi' sets out to make atonality your new tonality and succeeds over 13 minutes of molten fuzz and doom, the pulse slowing into coma beyond any fibrulation the band can bring to bear on it. And like the sick bastard you are you rewind back to the top of 'Ekstasis' to undergo it all again. A black hole of a record. A nothing you keep wanting more of. Caught up now. Ready. If any more of this godlike shit comes down the pipe you'll be the first to know. 

Friday, 7 March 2014

Thursday, 6 March 2014


12:32 Posted by neil kulkarni , , , 1 comment

Why just one single this month? Too busy, too knackered, too much to hear, too little time. 'Air Balloon''s a handily emblematic release for my purposes. Everything that's wrong. An invulnerable humourless vanity masquerading as self-deprecation, the endlessly renewable get out clause of sarcasm you'd be idiotic 'not to get'. You feel like a relic even getting angry these days. Always 'witty', a never-off wit too witless to apprehend its own tiresomeness. A 'character' - characters are who we're meant to want in pop, difficult when all it means is being a gobshite, being good for a 10-second celeb-news item or pull-out quote guaranteed to annoy enough people into clicking their way, This is who she is, and who you are. Tethered to this device that so bullies your time it has begun to shape and sculpt your consciousness. When was the last time you dimmed the lights,  let music not merely mingle with that panopticon of competing narcissisms you see on the screen, let music expose itself, show the cut of its jib? Listening to 'Air Balloon' sans distractions, as pure music, as pure human transmission, as I have been for an hour now,  it seems to summate everything that's broken with my relationship to british pop music, how the affair got broken, how it started excluding me, not answering my calls, notifying security to eject me, how when the middle-class take over pop, when our lives have been suffused and taken over by a kind of media that first postulates a desire for & then  enforces an endless gentrification,  what's lost from art isn't anything so dull as a mere 'reality' or a politic or an atittude. What's lost, fatally, is generosity, real compassion, any sense of giving. All we can give of now is 'ourselves'. All we can hope for is art that chimes with our own selfishness.

For what it's worth, 'Air Balloon' is probably Allen's weakest single yet. TOTESHILAIR she's already tweeted that she hasn't pre-ordered it! Exclamation Mark! (btw future historians - this age is the age that had an exclamation mark next to it. An endless braying Michael McIntyreish laugh at its own brilliant joke. Future Hobshawms will call it The Age Of Win).  Perhaps it wasn't her choice to be the next single. But she's shot a video, is on all available networks wireless n otherwise, talking about it. The vid has funny stuff in it and does the correct job of amounting to nothing, sitting in that same space as the cat pictures and 'Which Subatomic Particle Are You?' quizzes that could otherwise be occupying your time (I got Lepton can you believe it? Always thought I was a Weak Gauge Bosun.) In that purely traffic-directing sense, 'Air Balloon' can already be called a moderate success. Three million twats can be wrong. It's clearly not something made by anyone who gives a shit, or knows shit, about music. It's calculatedly shite, shite enough to irritate, shite enough to get noticed, shite enough to have done its job of keeping Allen's brand sufficiently respirated. For those people out there who kind of like M.I.A but wish she'd write way worse lyrics, have way worse production and erase every single nub of interest from her music, 'Air Balloon' will be ideal. For adults who dig Bubble Guppies. For those people who had their claws x'd that Lily would one day reach precisely the levels of half-witted cuntdom that had ensured her dad had been such a fucking useless shit-spewing tic on the arse of British cultural life for 3 decades the lyrics of 'Airballoon' prove she's catching up in the cuntishness stakes in brave and giggly leaps and bounds. "I don't like dropping names but Kurt Cobain is all in my face/ How the hell am I gonna tell him Elvis already took first base?" I can only feel pity for the hard of hearing and aurally impaired as well as those with a nasty build up of wax in their ears - your conditions and afflictions must for now prevent you from hearing exactly how those fantastic lyrics sound sung/rapped in Allen's customary mockney lilt, that particularly revolting strain of smugness & arrogance she's perfected in order to sound so falsely 'unmannered'. "Somebody remind me where I am/Miami or Timbuktu?/ Did I ever tell you my uncle's monkey ran away from the zoo?/ Would you tell me what this all means?"
Yeah, I'll tell you what this all means Lily, because we speak the same language, we both have the slippery accents of the middle-class, we both need to fit in wherever we go. I went to a private school too. I've shouldered it next to the future captains of industry. I know how they blithely destroy while pretending to build. Lil we're both needy see. We're both part of a class that have, through nepotism and pure cruel acumen eliminated any chance of anyone not like us being heard. Under the guile of 'trying our best' we've crowded into pop's limited elbow room, populated pop to the point where our mealy-mouthed dissent towards our occassional mischaracterisation is the only protest going, where our personal success in love or materialism is all we can agitate for, where the world and what's happening can only be talked about in vague generalities that never threaten the hierarchy we're on top of . We've been greased to the front of the queue by greasy friends in positions of power, influence, 'tastemaking', a phalanx of cultural arbiters from as fetidly limited a class & race base as the schools we went to. Mark well their gaseous 'tolerance of minorities', it obscures the glass ceilings they all hide above, the ones they want intact for as long as possible - ask if any of these people dare step beyond their own circles, dare to even imagine that pop isn't their birthright and plaything to limit and suffocate. You'll get muteness. A shrug. 'Trying our best' aren't we? What else can we do? 
   Of course we middle classes 'listen to all sorts of music'. But only that which has already been targeted at us. We don't step over the tracks anymore. We like the tracks. Keeps us here, a safely gated cultural community, keeps THEM THERE with their utterly unplaylisted utterly unsupported 'chav' and weirdo music, their grime and their rap and their garage and their r'n'b and their d'n'b and their metal and that stuff we might thieve without credit when our own taste runs dry, but all that stuff that we can safely marginalise from mainstream culture for WE ARE THE GATEKEEPERS, the educated curators of pop. So though pop needs diversity to live and breathe, we've roped off a VIP area where only skinny white versions of black r'n'b, only plummy indiefied 'reworkings' of dance/electronic music can break through, get heard & seen, win awards, make a living.
   Because pop often relies on a MIX of classes, on different classes co-existing sometimes in the same band, the ironed-out ABC-NRSgrading of everyone involved in what gets popularly disseminated in 2014 means that pop (as a thing of possibility) is being killed, slowly but surely, by the constricted anal and hobbyist habits of the bourgeoise. And killed by that bourgoeise's permanent underestimations and stereotypings of working class art, the false polarities that emerge as the limitations of what's possible in pop now. 
   So gwan Lily, keep taking the piss out of pop, keep treating it like something you're dallying with until the right offers come in from the right buddies. Those dumb polarities, that insist the middle-class can only 'pretend' and pisstake, that the working class are condemned to be 'real' and nothing more become the limitations of debate, so if you hate Lily, you hate pop, even if you might want to aver that in being so fkn jokey about pop, in populating her pop with such proudly half-witted 'intellect' she's selling pop's possibilities massively short. Listening to 'Air Balloon's deliberately irritating textures and hooks, its snotty stacking up of the adhesive, the 'catchiness' like chlamydia,  you realise that it, like all Allen's work is actually a record utterly scornful of pop, written by someone with no right to so self-consciously deride the form - reminding us all of what she said when Kylie (a true pop star) got the Glastonbury headline slot in 06 - ""To me, Kylie playing Glastonbury would be the ultimate insult to it. It should be about new, interesting music, not mainstream pop." What the FUCK would you know about interesting music Allen you shit-for-brains?

     Christ, I creak. They make you feel like a relic for even getting angry anymore. Got to be happy, or at least be merely amused at your own little daily miseries, upwardly inflect your soul. What fucking young people do these people know? Just the monied-up ones? In the current pop-cultural climate, getting angry about politics is acceptable, just, so long as you keep it away from your art. Getting angry about art itself, getting frustrated with culture? Soooo last century darling, so redolent of a time when everything wasn't catered for. I'm daft for getting daft, for considering it my job to get angry about the mulch-storm when I should just focus on what I like in my squalid little corner. Space for everyone. So everyone can actually stop talking to anyone outside their own constricted circle, stay on whatever rung is your birthright. A static, stultifying conformity by no means new to pop, but enforced by a cunts consensus whose total control, whose total elimination of even the chance of surprise, has never been more efficiently enacted. Pop's not the place to talk about gender, race, class. Go keep that boring stuff to 140 characters and whip up a storm. Music isn't allowed to sustain such thoughts. Music MUST NOT DARE to stop being entirely self-referential. It's not part of life - it's my WHOLE LIFE MAAAN. It's my hobby, my interest, my wallpaper, my background. It can only help in making me feel more secure. Reassuring me, shoring up my taste. Music that threatens anything? Music that tries to change the world? Music that unsettles your categories and confines? Oh come on. Grow up man. Get with your own profile, live with your own profile and STAY there.

Music like Bölzer's stunning Aura EP - most stunning black metal/death/grind thing this side of Irkallian Oracle's miraculously fucked up 'Ekstasis' LP.

Music like Common's astonishing No.ID-produced monster 'Made In Black America' - fuck I hope the new album is more of the same

Music like Ivylab's beautifully precise and pulsatingly funky 'Missing Persons' EP on Kasra's ever-essential Critical imprint. Finest d'n'b collabo of the year thus far.

Or also on a new d'n'b tip, Metalheadz' freshest roster producers, Mako, DLR, Villem & label-boss Ant TC1's superb Hungry For Atmosphere / A Certain Flavour EP

Music like Upfront's mind-bending 'Not All Bad', beautifully measured positive negativity from another acolyte of Bristol's fantastic Split Prophets camp.

Music like Strange U's astonishing beats and blistering rhymes dropping a 'Strange Universe' on your skull courtesy of those ever-engrossing Eglo loons

Music like Tinashe's wonderfully robot-hearted, poignantly cold '2 On' with Schoolboy Q. R'n'B with just the right amount of black hydrualically-tight chrome involved, best r'n'b this spring this side of August Alsina's sumptuous 'Make It Home' and Jhené Aiko's epic 'The Worst'. 

Music like Boddika & Joy Orbison's kick-heavy industrial-strength techno monster 'More Maim'.

or Dag Savage's woozy, spooky, early-Outkast-style sloppiness on F.U.P.M

or this sublimely dark, gorgeously glimmering garage mix from DJ Elski

and before this column becomes overladen and unloadable I'll leave it at those I can recall offa the top of my head. Like I said, too busy and knackered this month.
   Point is, now the industry has failed so massively, so we have to equally turn our back on those who the industry deign can tell us about it. Everything I now know about music comes from blogs, sites like CVLTNation and The Quietus, forums and specialist shops.  And for those destabilised by that shift there can be a tendency to lash out, to stop the net being revolutionary and just recast it as merely a more efficient machine for prising money out of music fans, figure out ways to make new technology reassert the business models, shapes & structures of the past. Much of the debate around the changes in music in the past 15 years have been about technology and format, like staring at a barnacle and forgetting the shark it's attached to, as if the MP3 in itself is somehow to 'blame'. As if the internet, as the thing that finally wrenched any last power the record companies had out of their hands, is somehow to 'blame'.
   By 'blame' I don't mean that utter bullshit about how music has deteriorated, rather that utter truth that our response to alot of it, like our response to film and all other media that previously required our full attention to be appreciated has undeniably changed now that everything we hear, everything we see, is simply part of the background or foreground of an ever-present connectivity that saps focus and engagement to a minimum, keeps us evenly spread thin across different senses, mild stimulus (EXLAMATIONMARK) & sedation (SMILEYFACE) gained equally via the hum of screens and the clickyclick business of our agility in the virtual environment.
    Going back is the last thing we need or want, I fkn love the internet. There will be trauma while we figure out how music can fit inside and around it. I suspect the best music though is that which rejects an endlessly lucrative (for the industry) agility on our part, the stuff that freezes you on the spot. The best way to listen to music now, to enjoy it rather than just 'experience' it, is in finding ways to step OUT of that connectivity, music as an experience that entirely rejects that obsequiosness and diffusion, music that in some way concentrates the mind and body in readiness for the doom that surely lies ahead for us all, or defiantly blisses you out in contrast to the hyperbole-laden 'satisfaction' on offer everywhere else .
   What's still emerged from the changes of the internet age is how ill-suited to it major labels and the mags that depend on them for ad-revenues still are, how they've reverted to post-war type, to an old pals, talent-school gene pool, variety-show-friendly stageschoolers, pisspoor chain-pubrock pastiche or the 'quality' of a well-rendered standard the aim, an essentially elitist network of people in the business of show - an A&R machine that won't get its arse up and down the street, let alone to a street that isn't in the capital. A calcification of an auld order, while what's actually happening in music has totally gone the other way. Their lookout sure, whyshouldwecare sure,  but a terrible shame how many kowtow to this, how many acquiesce in this mass cultural stitch up. They've stopped looking in interesting places. They've nearly completely stopped signing interesting artists and bands, crucially, the odd talents they do have are growing DESPITE their best efforts to categorise, confine and market them accordingly.
   Alot of music writers haven't helped, don't even consider it part of their remit to seek music that might help change things, music that might move music on. I barely have time to even dip my toe in what's out there but I'm not a music critic remember? I've got a proper job. As a reader now, I read alot of music writers who seem to think being a music journalist is just about the music you are sent, not the music you go and look for. This laziness and comfort in the tried and tested, this showboating of the mediocre characterises a nervous age. Unlike the best music that characterizes this nervous age- the discomfited music that kicks back, fearless of obscurity, eyes open, music that struggles, that doesn't just know the right people, doesn't just use the right relatives, music you feel that doesn't exist purely and only to get noticed, music that scrapes something out of a fully complex, contradictory human beings, not just a shill, a persona or a walking clickbaiter. Would be good if writers could stop checking their traffic stats and re-engage with sound and how it helps you survive again. Normal service resumes next month. Comment me anything I've missed. Just one single this month. Too busy. Too knackered.