Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Age concern ignored for club feast

They come round rarely, arguably for a man of my advancing years they should never come round at all and I should stick to the craft beer, port and cheese board. I’m talking about trips to nightclubs, not bars or pub with late licences but actual clubs where the space is given over specifically to musicking. A few visitors from out of town a few weekends ago had the calendar mockingly screaming ‘club double-header’ at me; the first served to heighten prejudices and fear of the age gap; the second showed the enjoyment to be had when there is a roster of acts booked to incite more than mere pavlovian reaction and appeal beyond a specific age group.

Make Me was on at the Hoxton Basement, an unbranded space for hire on the corner of Drysdale Road and Hoxton Street. It featured Berlin’s Steffi and Bristol’s October, so a night of upfront house and techno. Having finally passed door and cloakroom queues, I found my mates and was quickly into the groove. All was fine and as expected musically, although the sound system was a bit stodgy. I didn’t hang around for the final hours with Steffi but all the jocks proceeding her set played good solid house, as generic demands still seem to dictate, sometimes a bit ravey, sometimes a bit euro, and mixed in with veritable classics such as Photek and Robert Owens’ Mine to Give and Moodymann’s Shades of Jae to make the basement space proper sweaty.

There were no specific idiots beyond some hard boys lighting up fags inside and the usual coked up cubicle hangers yet the crowd still put me off. Generally mid 20s-late 30s and well heeled, cut-glass accents tamed by the needs of sounding cool and living east (off trust funds, perhaps). With the music not especially cutting edge and the crowd having no edge, this night never seemed likely to ‘go off’. That may be me getting older, poorer and more bitter, or it may be a valid critique of the flattening out of the audience group to bourgeois media operators.

Fast-forward a night and Blackest Ever Black at Elephant’s Corsica Studios. Leading lights from the ‘hardcore continuum’ were promised such as junglists Source Direct and grime ledge Slimzee (who didn’t show), alongside modern producers making waves such as Raime and Vatican Shadow with his terror-branded technofear, experimental stalwarts such as Bruce Gilbert and William Bennett in his current heavy voodoo Cut Hands phase, and other more acts that fit in with the very lateral visions of the Bleed night and the Blackest label.

I have been to enough of these more experimental nights to know your desire for aesthetic shock is tempered with a blasé attitude that realises you could just be greeted with indulgent drivel. Last year’s debut do had its moments but seemed a bit chaotic and ill served by the Basing House layout. This is a different type of scenester night, where fans of any act are hyper-critical and ready to press ‘the heard it all before – next’ button at the first sign of any banal repetition. Much of the time can be spent working out what exactly they are doing behind their laptops.

Luckily however, there was more than enough here to not only test us but actually enjoy; fine dj sets from Powell and label duo Raime, who turned the bass up on their 92-94 jungle set to make the most of room 2’s speakers, convulsing those bodies able to move; Cut Hands entrancing a packed main room (so packed we had to listen to most of it outside) with his hard-edged Afro-ceremonial sound; Haswell and Regis’s new Concrete Fence fucking up the techno template in pleasingly novel ways I won’t attempt to describe; Dominick Fernow pushing his Vatican Shadow project into an often danceable version of his paranoid military-industrial-terror productions (although he was also very animated in buoying up the crowd we did mark down the Hospital/Bed of Nails man for having rather samey, and rather 90s techno drum patterns).

After two nights we couldn’t hang around to finish off with Source Direct (the need for drum and bass probably satiated by Raime in any case) and the other late acts but we’re all looking forward to another showcase event for the label next year. I also saw enough and heard enough over the weekend not to feel the need to venture out for a while.

Pictures from Blackest Ever Black night

Concrete Fence mix

Make Me photoset on Resident Advisor

Old Steffi mix

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What they wanted, they got

Turning our neglected ground into all seater stadia was not not just a pure Taylor safety-based recommendation, reaffirms this recent LRB letter in italics below. The Thatcher government wanted it to avoid the bureaucratic nightmare of making every ground accessible for club members only and the FA (moves already afoot to establish a breakaway league) wanted more revenue that seats would bring.

"Roy Hattersley wrote to me on 2 January 2003: ‘[Lord Justice Taylor] actually told me that the obligation to all-seater stadia had been included in his report after pressure from both the government and the Football Association. The government needed an alternative bright idea to enable it to back away from the unworkable notion of only allowing registered club members into grounds and the football authorities wanted the extra revenue which flows from seating – the extra costs can be borne by the different sort of customer it attracts'."

It's a useful reminder that the conspiracy around the Hillsborough disaster was much wider than the criminal negligence, media lies, inadequate inquiries and inability to prosecute any of the key groups involved in both precipitating the tragedy then failing to deal with it. The tragedy was also the means to take the people's beautiful game and make it a commoditised spectacle, to wring far more money out of the cash cow.

As fans we may have wanted to go to a generally safer and better equipped environment where hooligans would not be free to roam, but we did not want a diaster and then dodgy report to achieve it. And we really didn't want the ultimate end product of stadia without character, rip-off tickets, merchandise zones, five quid pies and middle-class newbies taking our place. We look at the German model with safe standing, supporter-owned clubs and degree of financial caution with no little envy.

Click for the full letter from Iain Mackintosh.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Digging out the dinosaurs, or How I Came to Love the Canon

Having predominantly retro music tastes was once a bad thing; now we’re all retromaniacal. It’s hard to divine the exact balance between the epochal failure of the underground’s continued search for the New (indeed, the cleverest practitioners no longer present their stuff in such a way) and an individual’s frustration with the latest sonic output and correlative tendency in advancing years to stop exploring. But that dualism only serves a process of looking back, and then perhaps to revel and apportion even more value in our beloved rock legends of yore. When all microcosmic context has been lost, there is arguably something a bit odd in going misty eyed over a Pale Saints lp, Todd Terry mix or pirate recording rather than a no-explanation-needed, bona fide classic. With that in mind, I look at what some of the brightest lights of the west’s popular music revolution did and do for me.

BEATLES - The Fab Four, Too Big to Ignore. But in my family it was possible to give it a good go as a consequence of my parents returning decluttered from NZ meant we had no recorded 60s beat music in the house. Yet their limited stories of stepping out in the decade usually included stories of bopping along in the dancehall to Twist and Shout (but it was unlikely my old dear was one of the 18 who attended this 1961 gig in Aldershot!); it was always important to state who your favourite moptop was even before you knew enough to make a judgment (I went with my mum and sided with George, later to be an icon of the Desire warehouse raves in London). So even though my knowledge was restricted to what I’d heard on regional radio shows, that still accounted for a lot.

If the Beatles had enjoyed fallower periods of popularity and lost their place as the long rock and pop revolution took in soul, metal, prog, glam and punk in the 70s, Lennon’s death added tragic, sainted weight and an endpoint, the documentaries went into overdrive, and the sonic twists of the new wave jangled in their favour. Tears for Fears were sowing the seeds of a Beatlesesque-love, and the generalised influence on the baggy guitar groups was obvious; even beatsmiths said Ringo was a good ‘hip-hop’ drummer. Our first lads’ holiday in 1990 made their importance clear; someone had bought along Sgt Pepper’s to play alongside the new rave ’n rock gear. The poster of the four them hippied up was popular at university. They were avoidable, but the consensus was that it was churlish to do so: how can you like not the Beatles? Or even, as Alan Partridge averred, the Best of the Beatles? So despite owning little more than a tape of their BBC sessions and a never-returned mate’s copy of the White Album I ended up concurring with this, though always remaining suspicious of their systemic importance in the vague region between populist and countercultures and their status as undisputed leaders in their field.

All this applies to a lesser extent, for the STONES, WHO and KINKS – all playing intrinsic roles in self-expression and hedonistic behaviour (both sometimes confined to the bedroom, but nevertheless…) at various stages between early adolescence and my mid-20s. All bands with history as hagiography to navigate, and with a varied and rich musical output before they all became certifiably crap. If pushed to choose, The Who of Can’t Explain and the Kids Are Alright would accompany me to the desert island.

JIMI HENDRIX - An iconic ace face that made for endless silkscreen and then digital repro treatment, just like Che, that told its own story of countercultural times, that bore repeated commodified representation by manufacturers of cool. Crosstown Traffic sounded great even in that jeans advert, while Viz dug the cat in a gently ribbing comic strip. At the tail-end of the 80s the anti-rockist modernist pop surge had stalled and Jimi Hendrix, who had been deemed surplus to the decade’s alternative music demands (too individual, too virtuoso), would like the Beatles prove a good fit for a dance revolution that let its psychedelic side hang out. Getting into this guitar hero coincided with the first adolescent bursts of free expression, going out, getting out of it, dressing in purple – and a group of us were loud and proud Jimi converts, maan. I dug unusually deep in the short burst of fandom I had for Chas Chandler’s man, getting three or four albums, a tape of Live at Winterland and poring over the couple of documentaries aired at the time that went a long way to consolidating the Hendrix myths. The Experience were a shithot power trio, and in their range seemed to convey ably the occasionally dark and dangerous side of late 60s peace and love. Now he shares museum space with Handel in the house they lived at in Mayfair.

In those documentaries you thought there was never enough said about the alienation of playing mostly for the white man and inability to reconnect fully with tumultuous times in Black-American culture, about how creatively he was already looking out on his feet by 1970. But you didn’t want to think too ill of Jimi, did not want the legacy too spoiled. I get the impression that Hendrix may be passing younger generations by again as the pool of rock and metal continues to deepen, but those LPs are never too hidden away in my racks.

SEX PISTOLS - The recent Punk Britannias told us largely what we already knew. I always bow to Phil Oakey’s description that the uprising was the final ‘end of the second world war’ – meaning Britain was ready to culturally project in a more essential ways than ‘phoney Beatles mania’. And, up to here with bullshit served up by rock dinosaurs or a pop mediated over a by a troupe of protected child abusers, project it did. Johnny Rotten/John Lydon fills one criteria of a fully fledged rock icon in that his very image, right in yer face, was imprinted on my brain long before I’d been properly exposed to the Pistols’ music, let alone PiL. Long after the outrages of 76/77, he was still serving as the media establishment’s bete noire. He WAS punk, and if you were heading that way you’d have to go via the Pistols, a bunch of herberts who largely hated each other, the manager, the industry, the obstacles to their wider success and, of course, this shithole of a country that Britain had become, unable to manage its postwar transition in the face of vested interests; racism, monarchism, the ruling class on one end and working class intransigence on the other. Politically, we entered the long decline so the coup would have to be cultural.

Punk of course was part situationist intervention with disposable product but it would always be subsumed into rock’s tapestry, just part of the story. Ownership of their material has been limited to reissued singles and borrowed tapes but big hitters like Anarchy, Pretty Vacant and God Save the Queen are absolute classics like any other rock primal scream and I look back fondly on those days where growing personal frustration, generalised enmity and a dawning realisation that Britain is fucked could only be channelled through an uncannily effective marriage of pub-rock and Rotten’s futile howls. Years later PiL’s paranoid death disco parsed well in the cultural retrenchment and paranoid geopolitical dementia of the new millennium.

THE CLASH - As the 80s neared an end punk was only a little over 10 years so some protagonists would still hate the idea of the movement being fully assimilated into that rock hall of greatness. But The Clash, the self-styled band of outlaws, were a band that always wanted to be in the canon, and with this in mind probably welcomed the resurgent interest that followed Should I Stay or Should I Go being on that jeans ad.

They were another where, appropriately for punk, I would have a short-lived relationship of intensity, and again the big numbers generally prevailed more than all four sides of London Calling or Sandinista. White Riot, Tommy Gun, Capital Radio and all that, loving the manic energy and trying to work out how that all-out politicised attack fits into late-80s/early 90s England. The love letters to London were probably also important, though there was little doubt the capital was going to be my eventual escape route. Later I bought a properly-released minidisc (Super Black Market Clash) of their B-sides, which opened me up to their funky/dubby edge, Magnificent Seven, etc. So again a band that didn’t necessarily outlast my teens in any devotional way, but one about which it seemed vital to have a period of acquaintance with the music and their history. Later the Clash’s lead role would seem to be confirmed by the gradual canonisation of Joe Strummer as some kind of freewheeling urban prophet, and his daughters' work to ensure the legacy isn’t sullied. But not all of us will forget just how shit the America-infatuated Clash were, the kind of pointless, style mag rocker rock that hung on in Kensington Market stalls for years.

The Jam took on a similar role. A band that was always going to ‘mean’ more as they were almost local heroes to my Surrey/Hants suburban outpost (in fact, a one-nighter with the former girlfriend of Bruce Foxton is my only rock story of note!), but one whose passionate multiple stances (some on politics, some on, er, clothes) looked very gauche very quickly in a 90s environment where so many cultural connections dictated loose affiliations.

JAMES BROWN - Totally vital pathway to the broader, infinite world of soul, funk, hip-hop – hell, black music in general. It would never take much to discard the 80s rocky propaganda of Living in America, his last big paycheck, and head for the earlier stuff, the solid gold off albums such as Raw Soul, The Popcorn, Black Caesar and The Payback. In days where an album purchase had to be earned from supermarket or cleaning shifts and pored over until a point of certainty about its greatness was reached, I again relied on a Best Of tape nicked from my sister, who never held her collection with much intensity (such passion wasn’t necessary where she was heading – perpetual suburbia, soz sis!). But there was so much in those ten or fifteen stone cold gems to provide a long-lasting wow factor, a musicality beyond anything I’d heard, a tightness, a range of expression that you need in your life.

Not only did the sound lead to many more great projects led by former band members like Fred Wesley, Donald Byrd, Bootsy Collins, but it was also there in the building blocks of hip-hop, a genre that would deliver most of the best albums of the next decade or so. I finally saw him live a few months before he died and he and the band could still put on a belter of a show. Marc, the lad who I went with and whose gig experiences and knowledge far surpass mine, still has it in his top five.

VELVET UNDERGROUND - Another crucial gateway, this one even more acknowledged into the industry protectorate of, sickbags at the ready, *INDIE*. Get Lou, John, Sterling and ‘Republican’ Mo and you get, along with rock classicisms about listening on the radio and the rock ‘n roll dream, freakouts (though they were too sunglasses-at-night cool to freak out themselves), drone-outs and explicit drug texts, all very exciting to a 14-15 y/o suburbanite. Barriers also broke down between mediums, artist Warhol produced the album; the band were art scene hangers-on, with explicitly literary tastes, etc. Importantly for someone of my flighty taste, there wasn’t too much to discover: the banana debut with Nico, one or two other bits – Sister Ray the most revered of the later stuff.

Only one of my set, the set who are still my mates 20 plus years later with all their music tastes largely intact, came with me on this journey (though two estranged pals did buy me that Heaven & Hell comp of covers by the indie and grunge bands du jour; quite an imaginative effort for them); the others quite open about their indifference to this type of this music and its shoegazey offspring as they were to the burgeoning dance music scene. And arguably that initial Velvet burst hemmed him in to that province of alt-rock too much (Lou Reed’s variable solo work is revered), where an ATP weekender curated by a cult hero is some sort of modern elixir. Lou walked on the wild side so we didn’t have to.

KRAFTWERK - If someone needs to signal pre-dance influence it could fittingly be done within a genre (a liking for electro, disco, industrial) rather than an act, but Kraftwerk were the troupe that you always knew you had to get into to understand techno, electro, synth music in general.

An outfit whose influence over the 80s pop charts was inestimable, but way beyond my teens I had been content with a 7 inch of the Robots and their regular radio play until I bought a collection of their best on two twelves. That stays in the record bag ‘just in case’ today. Forget stodgy krautrock, there is no better cipher of postwar Teutonic progress and indeed the now ill-fated European drive for unity than this lot.

LED ZEPPELIN - The divisions between the youth cultures were beginning to fade as the 80s progressed but being a ‘metaller’ had never been an option. This overground cult was a joke they didn’t get, the non-modern, greasy and often geeky longhairs with old values I in turn didn’t get it until I’d been exposed to a bit of Anthrax and Metallica (and more obviously G’nR). Then grunge in the form of early Mudhoney and Nirvana kicked the door fully open.

But the youth’s primal urges needs big rock moments and it was the forefathers of heavy metal that provided it for many of my lot who didn’t want to take the contemporary journey through New York hip-hop, Belgian techno, London hardcore, Cornish acid, etc. Typically for heavy rock, liking Led Zep was a laughably serious business – albums just with numbers, occult symbols, no singles – and as you learned more about them later on it turned out this was fine conceptual cover for their gangster-paedo-general knobhead ways that even Plant could see made them look twats in less licentious times. Yet, then as now, none of this has ever served to diminish appreciation of the power and range of the music (initially done for me through borrowed albums and a video of an early studio gig in Denmark; now the best-of route). Time remains kind, if not to their reputation, but to their music (although I bow to true metal aficionados who rate Sabbath higher).

U2 - A slightly different case, because Edge Fund and co were still in the process of becoming preposterous in the 80s, their imminent greatness inherent in every bold walk Bono makes into the camera, in the full embrace of America as the forum for their game-changing capacities, and their ability to make a gesture look like something substantial. Full of simplistic, chest beating music, U2 were fundamental to the decade in that they embodied the desire for a rock heroism calibrated with a bit of quasi-ethical hope, and with teenagers often being quite open to leaps of faith and spiritual urges for many it was only a matter of time until they’d get U2. For me it was mid-to-late 80s, after the first electro-hip-hop wave had ebbed and I was looking for something else. So I bought War and some of the other early ones, we watched and were impressed by the Red Rock live show (and bought the LP), Joshua Tree confirmed both their canonisation and their separation from the rest of the new wave pack with their ghettoised concerns. Meanwhile, Bongo had been rising up the rock rungs with some memorable performance at Live Aid.

It was the ridiculous hype around the Rattle & Hum film and album, a hype that was ill served by the overblown music (yes, even for them) therein, that ended my brief allegiance to rock’s self appointed saviours (and also proved that they only really shine when a decent producer takes over and directs the sound). Too sincere, too dull. Too fucking professional. And still here.

Mixed legacies everywhere here I'm sure you agreee. As you can see the list of dinosaurs is selective and many of those who I missed, Dylan from the 60s, Bowie and Floyd from the 70s; Prince, Madonna and Michael Jackson from the 80s, were for me second-hand legends, at least as defined by ownership of an artist’s recorded output. With radio and TV shows that was hardly a problem then, unless you have completist urges against the populist ‘just the hits’ grain, and it’s certainly not a problem now. Access to my partner’s CDs, iTunes, the ocean of YouTubage, full discographies on Spotify and a televised documentary always around the corner all enable a space for their appreciation.

While there are robots in this overview regrettably there is also no female involvement which reflects poorly on who I regarded as rock icons that ‘had’ to be discovered. And who comes into the canon in the 90s/00s? Oasis are too parodic to make the grade, and too parochial like Blur. Radiohead yearn for this jurassic reach and scale, but their knowing mix of pseud and cool makes it very unlikely they could ever be regarded as ‘the people’s band’. No one US rock band stands out as carrying all before them (Metallica?), although Jay-Z is on track to make a claim for Rap Incorporated. On that note, sales alone (these days as easy as three or four clicks on Amazon) seems less of a guide of influence, as by that matrix Adele would be fighting for inclusion with Pink Floyd.

But when a South Korean pop star rocking his Gangnam Style has had 406m hits on YouTube and counting, that’s even more reason to frown at this western, transatlantic appraisal of popular music. The reissues and retro market may be big business, but increasingly the Beatles’ shake, the Stones’ swagger, the Pistols’ rage are not doing it for the youth – no surprise when Love Me Do is FIFTY years old (cue yet more rock documentaries). Mind, then, that these rockist rockers are not yet all I am listening to

. [pictures mostly grabbed from irrereverent tumblr pages accessible by clicking on the image]

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