Saturday, 24 June 2017

‘SAY NO MORE’: ANOTHER SPOTIFY PLAYLIST


After last time’s playlist devoted to the human voice, here’s one of music without words. Did you see what I did there? (Actually, the original plan was to go for entirely instrumental music, but one track was too good to exclude despite some chanting on it. A no-prize to anyone who spots it.)

Check it out here.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Their Helicopters Sing
Earth: Miami Morning Coming Down
Kronos Quartet: Winter - Lux Aeterna
Set Fire To Flames: Omaha
Pohjonen / Kosminen / Kronos Quartet: Plasma (Uniko)
CAN: E.F.S. No. 7
Michael Gordon: Tinge
Orbital: P.E.T.R.O.L.
Fuck Buttons: Sentients
Drum Eyes: 13 Magicians
Ozric Tentacles: Kick Muck
Electrelane: U.O.R./The Boat

Saturday, 17 June 2017

“LISTEN TO THE VOICES”: ANOTHER SPOTIFY PLAYLIST


It’s been a while since we’ve had a Spotify playlist around here. The theme this time is the human voice in its varying forms. That’s all… Human voice fans, click here.

Kurt Weill: 'Speak Low' (from 'One Touch of Venus')
Kurt Weill & Mary Margaret O'Hara: 'Don't Be Afraid' (from 'Happy End')
Pinkie Maclure: 'Heartease'
Leonard Cohen: 'Who By Fire'
Nina Nastasia: 'I've Been Out Walking'
The Delgados: 'Accused of Stealing'
Camera Obscura: 'Careless Love’
Goblin: 'Suspira'
Mark Stewart: 'Call To Mecca'
Mark Stewart: 'As the Veneer of Democracy Starts to Fade'
Alternative TV: 'Punk Life'
Crass: 'It's You'
Hawkwind: 'Warrior on the Edge of Time'
“All The Pieces Matter...”
Wu-Tang Clan: 'Wu-Tang Ain't Nuthing a F'Wit'
Cab Calloway: 'Minnie the Moocher'
Ivor Cutler: 'I Believe In Bugs'
Robert Wyatt: 'Team Spirit'
The Specials: 'Alcohol'

”Tell me your confessions
Let me be the ears for all your sins
Let me take advantage of your whims”

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

FURTHER ELECTION THOUGHTS – THOSE GOOD OL’ DAYS AIN’T COMING BACK

A sort of sequel to this.


The over-reaction everyone’s having to the election results, as if we can’t tell a lesser defeat from a victory – what lies behind that? Simple wish fulfilment or something more? Here’s one idea…

Many people my age or older, if from the liberal/left end of the spectrum, have effectively been biding their time. They’ve patiently assumed that if they waited long enough sanity would be restored, the post-war consensus would re-emerge, neoliberalism prove a passing nightmare which vanished with the dawn and Bobby Ewing be found alive and well in the shower.

This is in fact so absurdly regressive that the neoliberal critique of it even has some traction. It’s the trap of subjectivity. Just because that world was everything we knew, that never meant it was everything that was. And, frankly, Keynesian economics are now an analogue TV set. They were only ever an ancillary to Fordist production, out of place in a globalised world.

Nevertheless, the psychological need to believe the old certainties were coming back lay deep, and so gets mapped onto whatever passes. First, it was the financial crisis. And this assumption… not that it provided opportunities to challenge neoliberalism anew, but would in itself sound it’s death knell… was a factor in allowing neoliberalism to reconstitute itself. The markets crashed. The King was found to be in the altogether. But while we politely awaited him to admit this awkward fact, he had another set or ermine robes run up, and then charged them to us. We thought being right, in and of itself, assured victory. Just like we had over the Gulf War, which ended with us getting shafted too. Guys, they don’t care about being right or wrong. They care about being rich and powerful.

Now we’re trying to map that onto this election. Yet, as said last time, it would be truer to say that 
through their Maybot campaigning the Tories lost than Labour won . In a vox-pop on last night’s Newsnight’, one woman said “all they had to do was not be rubbish. But they were rubbish.” Which summarises the whole thing more succinctly than any paid pundit has managed.

And, if you think about the way the vote divided, claiming it marks a return to the old world ignores some very basic facts. Corbyn joked “I have youth on my side”, which they were. A viscious circle had arisen, where politicians felt less need to engage with young people who (by and large) didn’t vote, and an increased motivation to offer bungs to pensioners who (by and large) did. Finally, that circle shrunk to the point where it burst. In short, it was the generation who most remembered the post-war consensus who were least concerned with keeping it, and vice versa. The oldest of the 18-25 segment were born in 1992.

It’s perhaps easy to have an older person’s veneration of youth, imagining it has some intrinsic virtue. Young people are inherently better at staying up late and picking stuff up off the floor, but that’s about it. And I don’t hold with this ‘age is the new class’ business which is circulating. (Actually an update of stuff spouted in the Sixties, but I digress…) And, as also said last time, there’s no reason to assume some inherent change in political awareness has occurred. This election could even be a one-off. But we do need to be more… yes, really... down with the kids.

Because young people weren’t hearkening for some past system they didn’t even know, but responding to being squeezed by pushing back. They were organising around their own needs. Which is the starting point of any radical critique, and we need to be more like that. At times this will involve struggling to keep past gains, such as defending the National Health Service. Which is an entirely valuable thing to do. But at others it will involve totally new struggles, such as opposing the Snooper’s Charter.

And let’s remember – when we were in that era, we just wanted it to end. “Nine to five” meant a life not your own, trapped inside crushing conformity. Rising job insecurity has led to it feeling almost like an aspiration, which can obscure this. But our original instincts were good. We couldn’t have that world back if we wanted it. But besides that, why would we ever want it? Let’s stop opposing their future with our past, and start opposing their future with ours.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

HAS POLITICS CHANGED? (A FEW QUICK THOUGHTS ON THE ELECTION)


“Politics has changed. And isn’t going back in the box.”

So said Jeremy Corbyn. Is he right?

First, things have come to a pretty pass when we’ve come to see a victory in not losing quite as badly as we thought. The Tories have pushed through policies which adversely effect almost anyone who isn’t a millionaire, which have been literally ruinous for many and, in no small number of cases, have resulted in avoidable deaths. They pitched all this on a promise to reduce a deficit they actually increased, so it doesn’t even make sense on their own terms. And they’re still the biggest party. In fact they got a larger number of MPs than they did in 2010. We have snatched defeat from the jaws of even greater defeat. That’s all.

And support from the ultra-right Ulster Unionists is so natural to them that their full name is the Conservative and Unionist Party. Coalition with the Liberals was… well, the way you remember it. But the Liberals buddied up with Cameron’s populist side and got through some socially liberal policies such as gay marriage. The Ulster Unionists will act as a brake on anything further like that. And the Tories were more or less turning in that direction anyway, so it’ll be easy for them. (And, after all that mud slung at Corbyn over meeting Sinn Fein, don’t expect a single word in the popular press about the Tories now being in alliance with a group with a deep terrorist past.)

One thing it definitely means - the very problem May sought to extinguish is now magnified. Face up to it, in recent years the only effective opposition to the Tories has come from the Tories. Outside the heady election campaign, only a backbench rebellion (for example over tax credits) has managed to throw them off track. Now with a smaller majority, backbench revolts can more easily be effective. And with backbenchers themselves in some cases having smaller majorities, they may be more likely to be panicked into revolt by belligerent constituents. And slim majorities by their nature tie governments down in logistics. But… call me a perfectionist, but… couldn’t we hope for more than that?

But Corbyn may yet be proved wrong. Politics could fairly easily go back in the box. The Tories initially did well in polls, suggesting what did it for them was their crap campaign more than their crap policies. In particular, it may be May’s haughty and imperious personality which sunk her. The media did their best to portray Corbyn as a champagne socialist quoffing from Islington. But it was May who visibly considered herself too good for the rest of us. (Calling a snap election after repeatedly promising not to, after voting for a bill supposed to ban them, then saying you’re too busy to meet the electorate... that turns out to not be a good look. Who knew?) But the Tories are now likely to ditch her and go for a more populist figure, possibly Boris Johnson.

And another significant factor was Corbyn rocking the youth vote. Which has a peculiarity. People will often tell pollsters they’ll definitely be voting, but haven’t decided who yet and might even wait until they’re in the voting booth. But there’s a section of the youth vote which does the exact opposite, adamant which way they’d vote but ambivalent about voting in the first place. (This is a large part of the reason why polls can get things wrong, even if it’s fashionable to assume that pollsters are just stupid.) Such a precarious section of the vote could easily sit back down on the couch again, if tuition fees aren’t abolished straight away (which of course they won’t be) or simply when the novelty wears off. (Voting on-line, as some other countries do, would almost certainly strengthen the youth vote. So we can be pretty sure we won’t be seeing that.)

On the other hand, we have got to the point where not losing so badly starts to seem like a victory. New Labour had managed to establish a political consensus around neoliberalism, which pushed questioning austerity off the map. The financial crisis, which some assumed would mark its end, actually cemented it. It became widespread for people to deny the deficit was anything to do with the banking crisis, like one of those ‘Doctor Who’ episodes where everyone forgets what happened five minutes ago.

With the previous election anti-austerity finally came back, but that was a change tied to the rise of smaller parties. (And I remain convinced the Scottish National Party became anti-austerity simply because it saw a market gap.)

But this time the vote swung back from the smaller parties, yet with Labour picking up the anti-austerity mantle. Like it should be concerned about the lot of those who labour after all. (Though, interestingly, it was the UKIP vote which fell the most. Which should really have benefited the Tories more than anyone else.)

The Blairites proved unable to depose Corbyn through their standard dirty tricks. So they figured they’d give him his head, let him lose an election with his loony left rants, then strike. And right now, their gambit’s looking about as smart as May’s. They won’t be able to directly challenge him again for a while.

Of course it’s legitimate to ask – does any of this really matter? Austerity hits us in our workplaces and communities, and so of course that’s precisely where it should be resisted. And ultimately what we’re struggling for is control over our own lives. That’s not something you can vote for by definition. My attitude to political representation is what it’s always been – I’m against it.

And the Left can be worse than irrelevant. Let’s not forget that when austerity first hit, there was a groundswell of public opposition to it. Which was almost entirely successfully channelled by the accursed Trade Union bosses, marching us up to Hyde Park and down again. And Corbyn’s personality or conviction doesn’t matter here. We’re talking about what the Left does institutionally.

But to argue all that now would seem to overlook us being in a place where a lesser defeat looks like a victory. Some folk, it’s true, are doing good groundswell campaigning. But mostly when I read political stuff that should be from my side of the spectrum it seems to have fallen back on abstract calls for revolt. Which don’t seem terribly useful to me. At times they completely mirror the worst kind of mainstream arguments. If someone else is insisting that its your patriotic duty to vote in our great free nation, they’ll be claiming anyone who votes is conforming to the rule of the British state. (Guys, I go to work five days out of every seven. Its a bit late to start arguing that one.)

This is the truth of it. We’re in a situation where most either bought the far-right narrative where asylum seekers are responsible for the crisis in the NHS because they pray funny, or succumbed to heads-down individualism. This is an event which has some potential (I put it no more strongly than that) to turn the tide that’s currently drowning us. It would be absurd to respond by retreating into ideologically pure splendid isolation.

And if the Left inherently tries to scab us out, that doesn’t mean they can automatically succeed. What we need is for this to galvanise a widespread popular movement against austerity. We must march behind them, not out of support but to block out the possibility of their making a U-turn. We may have been finally let out of the box. So let’s make it hard for them to put us back in it again.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

MELT-BANANA/ ROYAL TRUX/ OOIOO/ THE COSMIC DEAD/ BRITTEN SINFONIA + BRIGHTON FESTIVAL CHORUS (GIG-GOING ADVENTURES ON OVERLOAD)

MELT-BANANA
Patterns, Brighton, Thurs 1st June



Between buying my ticket and attending the gig, I discovered longstanding live favourite Melt-Banana had slimmed down to a duo. I tried to imagine how that might change their sound, and concluded it would either inhibit them or take them somewhere new. Perhaps further into the power electronics direction they’d embarked on in recent shows.

Turns out, 
I’m a total know-nothing. The power electronics section was gone and they were, if anything, back to the classic Melt-Banana of old. And about as awesome as ever. Singer Yako operated some brightly coloured console, often brandishing it like a Harry Potter wand, from which the back-up instruments were triggered. (I later discovered this to be a MIDI controller. Gotta control those Midis, I guess…)

And classic Melt-Banana, if we were to reduce it to a formula, is a melting down of noise, punk, no-wave, metal and… yes, really pop. Yako might fire her vocals like a machine gun with a stuck trigger, but there’s strong tunes amid all the noise. And I’m not the only one to think so. Frank Mojica of Consequences of Sound has noted that “beneath the cacophony… were delightful pop melodies.”

Except I’m not even sure about ‘beneath’. Some noise music does have buried melodies, which take awhile to find, like a file with a cake in it. But with Melt-Banana tunes effectively ride atop everything, as if surfing a tsunami of noise. You get the exhilaration of noise combined with the sugar rush of pure prop.

As said over Lightning Bolt, noise music isn’t all angsty or aggressive – in fact it can be joyous and celebratory. John Lydon nailed it many years ago, when he sang “We like noise, it’s our choice/ It’s what we want to do.” And perhaps precisely because there’s more of a punk element to the sound, that’s even more noticeable with Melt-Banana.

And you can see that in the audience response. I’ve never known a mosh pit not to open up at a Melt-Banana gig, and I’ve never known it to become macho or aggressive. It’s souped-up good time music on steroids, but good time music still. You would need, I think, some term which portmanteaued ‘riot’ and ‘party’ to describe the Melt-Banana experience.




ROYAL TRUX
The Haunt, Brighton, Wed 31st May


Royal Trux were one of those Nineties bands who were fellow travellers with Grunge. There was the same desire to get rock music its bad name back, to get back to a time when music was made by and for reprobates and degenerates. Once, a street kid with his arse hanging out his jeans wasn’t ever going to get a record deal. Then, about a week later, he was the only one who was. Trux, only recently dropped by their indie label, were suddenly bunged a million dollars by Virgin. (As a sign of the times, check out this vid of them playing on ‘The Word’. Those scuzzy louts were never going to be allowed among that studio audience without Security intervening. Yet they could be on stage.)

In particular, they shared with Grunge the ability to make music that was both aggressive and languid, which swaggered and stumbled at same time, music you were never sure whether it was intent on fucking you up or fucking itself up. And if rock music’s about capturing the teenage experience, then that’s pretty much it.

Some seventeen years after their dissolution, it doesn’t look like they’ve cleaned up their act any. The set list seems to be decided upon on the spot. Jennifer Herrema is quite unashamedly out of it, slurringly rambling between songs. Some frontmen affect effortless cool, others come across as crazy outsiders and others just look like audience members arbitrarily placed onstage. Herrema seems have all three going on.

As the last time I saw them (pre-dissolution), Neil Hagerty seems both more together and more unassuming. Notably, as they come on it’s Herrema who gets the applause. (From their stage personas, you’d imagine them as having a Chuck D and Flava Flav relationship, striker and team mascot, though that doesn’t seem to be the way they actually worked.)

You’d probably drive yourself mad trying to figure out how much it’s meant to sound that way, and how much its just coming out like that. It is uneven. (And YouTube suggests other nights might have been still more uneven.) But that’s kind of the point. Rock music is supposed to be volatile and unpredictable, something you don’t do right by doing correctly. (Or it least it was before it became a heritage industry celebrated by Tory MPs.)

For a band who always manage to sound just like Royal Trux, there’s quite a variety to their music. Rip-roaring punk anthems co-exist with out-there noise guitar and, at one point, a trance-out groove with mantra vocals.

It’s generally considered that the weight of rock history got too much and snuffed out the creative spark. Bands became merely citational, concerned with keeping a tradition intact, like the worst kind of folk music. Keeping things vibrant meant wiping all that from your mind and just striking your guitar.

Yet perhaps the most interesting thing about this band, formally speaking, is that they quite openly took up rock history, often sounding unashamedly like ’Exile’ era Stones, and even releasing a trilogy of albums which represented the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties respectively. And it never seemed to dampen them down.

From Manchester, a couple of days before...



OOIOO
Patterns, Brighton, Mon 29th May


Yoshimi is the only perpetual member of Japanoise ensemble the Boredoms, already acknowledged as a Lucid Frenzy fave, save main man Yamatsuka Eye. For which, given their great musical switches and leaps, there is probably some endurance award. Perhaps it was being made the heroine of the classic Flaming Lips album ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots’.

But pedigree though that is, you should put it all aside, really. As OOIOO are very much their own outfit. Though chiefly known with the Boredoms for playing drums, here she trades in guitar and, on occasion, the trumpet. Reviews suggest they were previously more a solo project with some hired help. But tonight they couldn’t be a more focused live band.

There’s the post-punk of the Slits and Raincoats; the off-kilter rhythms and scatter drums, the songs which seem to construct and deconstruct themselves. There’s also the deranged funk of the Talking Heads’ more out-there moments. But there’s also abundant girl-band harmonies and pumping pop hooks. Better hooks, in fact, than any pop band you’ve heard lately.

Like Deerhoof, there’s the sense that left-field sonic exploits and pure pop aren’t being brought together, but were only ever separate in your mind. As Thrill Jockey say, they’ve “subverted expectations and warped perceptions of what constitutes pop and experimental music”. But more, there’s the same exuberance, the feeling they’re making music for the sheer joyous pleasure of playing it.

But there’s less of the naivete of Deerhoof. In fact the melodic yet skittering instrumental breaks are more reminiscent of what prog did after post-punk had happened by and unplugged it’s mellotrons. Think if ‘Discipline’ era King Crimson had become a Deerhoof covers band. Or possibly vice versa.

And that weird name which sounds like binary notation, apparently based on some doodle of Eye’s, barely pronounceable to the rest of us, Yoshimi manages to say it like it means something.

OOIOO gigs are quite literally a delight.



THE COSMIC DEAD
The Green Door Store, Brighton, Thurs 25th May


Let's start by conceding the point. Yes, the Cosmic Dead is a crap name. Mashing up the name of a couple of classic psychedelic bands is akin to calling a soul group Sly and the Family Tops, or a punk band the Buzz Pistols. But don't judge this book by the cover, okay?

The… polite cough... are a self-styled “psychonautal cosmodelic buckfaustian quartet from Glasgow”. And after seeing Mugstar and entertaining the prospect of the map being bejewelled by numerous Hawkwind-styled bands, the Hertfordshire Hawkwind and the Huddlesfield Hawkwind and so on, it seems there really is a Glaswegian Hawkwind. Okay, alliteration would compel them into becoming the Glasgow Gong. But they sound more like Hawkwind, and when was that ever a bad thing? (Extensive research reveals they've even released a split record with Mugstar.)

Arriving late after being held up mid-Channel tunnel, and sound-checking hurriedly before us assembled folk, they launch straight into their out-there space rock. There's scant regard for song elements to let us in gently. It's all cosmic jams, and cosmic jams today, no stodgy sandwich parts to chew through. There's occasional vocals, but more spacey chants than singing. In fact when they speak, it's easier for them to eschew the mikes and avoid all their assembled effects and delays. (Fortunately their tonsils are at Glasgow decibels, so mikes prove superfluous.)

What does a band need if it's going to get really unhinged? A hinge, right? Tracks are rooted in a powerful rhythm section however far they wander, which keeps things compelling rather than meandering. Rather than float and morph, they tend to shift between quite well defined sections. The result is a set which feels absolutely out of control and entirely driven at one and the same time. Proceedings ends with the guitars looping and everyone bashing at drums. Bar the keyboardist, who adjusts the sound via dials, balanced precariously on an alarmingly teetering stack of amps.

I start to seriously consider that holding a band back from the stage till the last moment, perhaps by 'forgetting' their dressing room key, might actively encourage them to let rip when they finally get there. So we may partly have Channel Tunnel stoppages to thank for such a blistering set. If so Southern Rail could be a gift to the Brighton gig circuit.

Their other remarkable feature, besides being such a good band with so bad a name, is the keyboardist's uncanny similarity to a young Robert Wyatt. I'm not such what the market value of Robert Wyatt lookalikes is, but should there be one this guy could be away.



BRITTEN SINFONIA + BRIGHTON FESTIVAL CHORUS
Brighton Dome, Sun 28th May
Part of the Brighton Festival



This programme, bringing together works by Aaron Copeland and John Adams, was officially about the combining of words and music. Pieces were written around both poems and speeches. But my mind became more fixed on a phrase of Adams’ from the programme. On writing ’Harmonium’ (1980), he said “those of my friends who knew both [my] room and the piece were amused that music of such spaciousness should emerge from such cramped quarters.”

And that very American sense of spaciousness seemed to infuse the works. Someone hatched the ingenious idea to stage Copland’s ’Fanfare for the Common Man’ (1942) with two brass sections placed up at either ends of the circle, granting it a natural stereo effect. But it also gave a sense of physical space to a piece with great musical space, like one of those drawings where little is actually drawn, but large expanses are still somehow suggested.

It was followed by his ’Lincoln Portrait’ from the same year. Now we at Lucid Frenzy towers are less than entirely convinced by the whole ‘Lincoln freed the slaves’ narrative, as perpetuated here. (Brief summary of argument – don’t believe the hype.) Yet a Lincoln quote, if said in 1862, does seem to describe his music: “the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present… As our case is new, so we must think and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves.” To this day Copland sounds bold, new and expressive, something like Berenice Abbott’s dynamic New York photography.

Copland may be a rare example of a genuinely successful Modernist. If we were to take Modernism at its word, it aimed to rid art of its cultural baggage and just speak directly. Yet most found it challenging, if not indecipherable. To find a value in it, we often have to reject seeing it in its own terms. Yet Copland’s music feels like it’s aimed straight at your heart. It was populist in the positive sense of the term, and even became popular. Both pieces being conceived of as contributions to the war effort suggest art with a social purpose.

’Harmonium’ was written when Adams was still breaking away from Modernism proper, and with it’s sinfonia and full choir must have seemed something wildly different. In fact the choir is dominant for long sections. The brass in particular seemed indebted to Copland, yet also making an appearance is Terry Riley’s ’In C’… in fact, its actual C! In my favourite section the double basses took up a low thrum, which slowly spread through the other instruments before finally sparking the full-throated choir off again. A crescendo, about the thing you least expect from a Minimalist composer.

Had Adams asked my opinion before composing this piece, I’d have probably told him he was attempting to pull together the irreconcilable and could only end up with the most jack-of-all-trades post-modern slop. Fortunately for us all he didn’t, and the piece works superbly.

As with the previous programme of American music, these dark and orange days seem the most important time to remind ourselves of what is positive in American culture. How much of it came from an immigrant/ New World perspective, of recombining and making new what had come before. And how much it then contributed back to the rest of the world.

This has been not just a great week’s run of gigs, but one where each event has it’s own unique character. You might not expect Copland to sound much like Melt-Banana, and he didn’t. But then neither were Melt-Banana much like Royal Trux, or either like the Cosmic Dead. Everything was best at being itself.