Thursday, June 26, 2008
by Simon Reynolds
Jarvis Cocker’s solo debut is not so much a curate’s egg as a game of two halves. The first “side” triggers a sinking sensation reminiscent of hearing Morrissey’s Kill Uncle for the first time: has our hero truly lost his touch? From the cursory intro-instrumental “Loss Adjuster” through the 70s plod-rock of “Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time” to the clumsy corn of “Heavy Weather” (Jarvis in “timeless power of cliché” mode) and “I Will Kill Again” (Jarvis in “MOR with a heart of darkness” mode), it’s all dismayingly unconvincing and lacklustre in execution. Aiming for third Big Star-style wrecked majesty but ending up closer to half-finished Nilsson, “Black Magic” does at least feature some clever production touches. Whereas the plinky glockenspiely arrangement of “Baby’s Coming Back To Me” is worthy of, ooh, Side Two of 'Til The Band Comes In.
Then something changes. “Fat Children” is the pivot. Unpromising at first with its club-footed indie stomp-rock and opaque lyric about psycho youth (redolent again of shite-period Moz), the song blossoms with the dreamy coda’s wordless wails and incandescing guitars. A hilariously mordant whinge at humanity’s worthlessness, “From A to I” predicts the fall of Western civilization and points the finger at every last one of us: “Evil comes from I know not where/But if you take a look/Inside yourself?Maybe you’ll find some in there.” Its shimmery epic-ness not a million miles from the Verve’s “The Drugs Don’t Work”, “Tonight” also argues that change starts with the individual: “you cannot set the world to rights/but you could stop being wrong/oooh, tonight”--this wracked “oooh”, mingling contempt and compassion, anguish and hope, being something of a Cocker trademark. “Disney Time” recalls Milan Kundera’s contention that kitsch is “the refusal to admit shit exists”. It’s the shittiness of the world, Cocker notes, that makes us take shelter in feel-good movies and infantile happy endings.
“Julie” is prefaced by the opening sentences of Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding, a novel about a 12 year old girl undergoing a existensial-sexual crisis triggered by the wedding of her elder brother (who just happens to be named Jarvis, an unlikely moniker for the 1940s South). In Cocker’s “remix”, a troubled teenager with a developing body fends off sweaty lads and lecherous adults, protected by the feeling of invincibility granted her by pop music.
Best comes last, with “Quantum Theory”, which sounds exactly how everyone, deep down, wishes The Drift did: Scott IV: the Sequel. A lambent ambient-orchestral arrangement, teeming with tingling sublimimals, frames Cocker’s dream of a parallel-dimension paradise where “everyone is happy… fish do not have bones… gravity can not reach us anymore… you are not alone.” When he croaks the closing refrain, “every thing is gonna be alright” Jarvis sounds broken but a believer despite himself; the cynicism and misanthropy, tinged with shame and self-loathing, that’s belched forth elsewhere on the record evaporated clean away.
There’s such a distance, such a journey, between the first song “Waste Your Time” and this luminous closer, it’s almost like two different albums, two different artists even.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
The Observer, 1991
by Simon Reynolds
With this book Fredric Jameson sets himself a daunting task. His aim is to define the postmodern Zeitgeist - arguably a contradiction in terms, since one defining characteristic of the "postmodern condition" is its lack of a sense of itself as 'zeitgeist' or 'era'. Jameson manfully seizes these and other contradictions with both hands: his project is to root a rootless culture in its economic context, to systematise a condition that is hostile to systems, and to historicise a phenomenon whose main effect is the waning of historical consciousness. But then, as a Marxist, Jameson retains an oldfashioned commitment to lucidity and overview. "Closure" (coming to conclusions, actually saying something) holds no special terror for him.
What Jameson has to say is of an analytical rather than judgemental nature. He doesn't take sides because he doesn't see postmodernism as an option, a fad or genre to affirm or repudiate. Rather, it's the unavoidable condition of late Twentieth Century existence, the cultural air that we breathe. In Marxist terms, postmodernism is the "superstructure" generated by the economic base of "late capitalism," (multinational corporations, mass media, information technology). Modernism was the "emergent" culture of an age when modernisation was still incomplete, and there remained a backdrop of peasant simplicity and aristocratic decadence against which a cultural vanguard could dramatise itself, with its idea of the artist as prophet and the work of art as a monument to the future. Postmodernism arose when the modernisation process was complete, and nature was superceded by the media. The new no longer seems that new; a sort of nostalgia without anguish (inconceivable to modernism) becomes possible, as exemplified by the rapid turnover of period revivals in film, fashion and pop music.
For Jameson, postmodernism represents a seismic shift in our very concepts of space, time and self. Modernism was the expression of the bourgeois subject (the grand auteur, the angst-ridden individual). Postmodernism creates a new kind of decentered subject, "a mere switching center for all the networks of influence" (Baudrillard). The media's "endless barrage of immediacy" destroys perspective, invades our consciousness and erodes the individual's ability to formulate a point of view. In art, modernism's themes of authenticity and meaning give way to pastiche and a fascination for the surface image; emotional affect is superceded by freefloating euphoria and sublime vacancy. Van Gogh is replaced by Warhol.
Jameson's provocative argument is that this new decentered subjectivity is a kind of schizophrenia. Unencumbered by past memory or future projects, the schizo inhabits a perpetual present that is intensified to an unbearable degree. The experience of space and of the vivid materiality of the world is enhanced at the expense of temporal consciousness. This heightened sense of here-and-now has been long the goal of the mystic or drug fiend, but for those who can't return to focused, productive consciousness (the schizophrenic and, increasingly, postmodern man), the experience is one of ego-shattering disorientation.
But this postmodern "hyperspace" is, argues Jameson, precisely the emergent terrain of late capitalism, with its fax machines, cable TV, satellite link-ups and data networks. To apprehend our place in this new totality of global capitalism, we need to evolve a new kind of consciousness, which he likens to that of the alien in The Man Who Fell To Earth, who can watch 50 TV channels at once, or SF writer William Gibson's cyberpunks, who inhabit a computer-generated "virtual reality". Despite his guarded enthusiasm about much of postmodernism's cultural output (video installations with their flow of images that resist being reduced to a single meaning, buildings like Los Angeles' Westin Bonaventure hotel), Jameson sheds Marxist tears for some of the casualties of postmodern theory. In particular, he mourns the postmodern rejection of "totalizing" theories, and of the notion of a "lost totality" (the alienation-free existence which Utopian politics seeks to recover). Advocates of postmodernism claim that these concepts lead ineluctably to totalitarianism (the Gulag, Pol Pot, the hubris of social engineering). But Jameson clings to the conviction that without totalizing concepts, the individual cannot understand his relationship to the system of late capitalism, and thus loses any political agency.
Jameson's solutions are suggestive if somewhat sketchy. He deftly turns the TV addict's practice of "channel-switching" into a metaphor for what he calls "transcoding". A sort of postmodern version of the dialectic, this involves pick-n-mixing world views and combining their partial glimpses of the Big Picture. Jameson also calls for a new science of "cognitive mapping", whose task is to plot the disorientating globalism of late capitalism (financial speculation in Tokyo or London can wreak havoc on peasant life in Paraguay), and coordinate local struggles against it. In other words, before you can do anything, you must first get your bearings. Postmodernism might be a calamity for oldstyle revolutionary politics, but Jameson concludes that the globalisation of capitalism will spawn a new international proletariat with forms of resistance we can scarcely imagine.
This "light at the end of the tunnel" is tentative and hard-won. Throughout Postmodernism, Or, The Cultural Logic Of Late Capitalism, Jameson painstakingly follows every lead and takes on every conceivable objection to his ideas. He really works for the few glimmers of hope that he allows himself. Oscillating between the intoxication of the latest postmodern theories and the sobriety of the Marxist tradition, Jameson confirms my belief that the most lucid and productive analyses of postmodernism have come from those who are hostile or at least deeply ambivalent about its implications.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Thursday, June 19, 2008
HAPPY MONDAYS, The Rock Garden, London
Melody Maker, May 2nd 1987
by Simon Reynolds
Happy Mondays is where the repetition repetition repetition of post-Velvets jangle-drone meets the repetition repetition repetition of Seventies funk. Imagine a cross between The Blue Orchids and Hamilton Bohannon, The Fall and The Fatback Band, James and JB. The wah-wah on ‘Freaky Dancin'‘ cues memories of both The Stooges' ‘Ann’ and Isaac Hayes' ‘Shaft’ simultaneously. I'd like them to take this hybrid further still, bring in a clavinet and some John Cale viola...
What Happy Mondays do (quite unintentionally, I'm sure) is take the steamy stupor of the dancefloor and, through some cryogenic process of alchemy, create an unearthly frost-funk; a sound that seems newborn and yet ancient as a fossil. With its granite basslines and guitars that twinke like stalactites and icicles, it's a sound that's streaming with glistening rivulets of the stuff we rock critics call ‘magic’, when we're at a loss for words.
Shaun Ryder is like a goblin in the midst of this enchanted ice palace, unsavoury, snarling like a hobo – you can practically see the flecks of spittle in the corners of his mouth.
However, as a good reporter, I feel duty-bound to tell you that this was not, in fact, a great gig. Happy Mondays lumbered when they should have shimmered. The burnished precision of Cale's production was traded in for a coarse and sloppy tumult. The band seemed to apply themselves to the task in hand with an offhand listlessness. The percussionist's spazz dancing was a perfect representation of their stiff untogetherness.
It was not groovy. It was not dreamy. Happy Mondays came across as shabby and awkward, when they should have come across as grave and intense apostles of the cryptic beauty that has somehow come into their possession. Buy the record, and keep your fingers crossed for next time.
Melody Maker, November 1988
by Simon Reynolds
HAPPY MONDAYS, Wembley Arena, London
Melody Maker, April 21st 1990
by Simon Reynolds
A gig at Wembley Arena is generally a hollow demonstration that a band has reached a certain statistical stature. But everything about tonight has been set up to proclaim, loudly, that this is an Event, a crucial benchmark indicating that Happy Mondays are a bona fide "phenomenon", in the ascendant. The tickets and ads enthuse that "the rave is on"; the Arena's stagefront seats have been removed, leaving a giant mong-pit swarming with the herds of expectant ravers and fashion casualties; dry ice pumps out of vents and lazers spell out the bands logo; stars of the lustrous calibre of Boy George, Sonic Boom, Bobby Gillespie and Jona Lewie are to be spotted. And a grizzled, paunchy roadie who looks like Peter Hook's elder brother keeps coming on and brandishing a cardboard cut-out Number One figure at us meaningfully. Presumably this is meant to suggest that if we all went out and bought three copies of "Step On" it might top the charts. Quite why this would be such a triumph, in aday and age when being Number One in the Hit Parade means less than ever (the present occupants are a German rap group) is not made clear.
Finally, after much heralding from Gary Clail and the On U Sound System, and a fanfare of fireworks, Happy Mondays shamble on. Shaun Ryder greets the crowd with the cryptic query "where's me pickled herrings?". It's in this kind of lapse into bathos that Happy Mondays' "significance" has come to reside. They've come to be esteemed merely for unprepossessing details: for Shaun's refusal to trim his untamed nose hairs and bum fluff, for Bez's glazed vacancy. Similarly, the Mondays' gatecrashing of the Top Of The Pops party has been celebrated in
terms suspiciously reminiscent to the approbation meted out to The Wedding Present and The Pogues. The Mondays are reprobates soiling pristine pop with their warts-and-all anti-charisma, making a mess on the carpet and vandalising the fittings.
I say: Happy Mondays the indisputably magnificent underground band, make for a piss-poor pop group. No sex appeal, no style, no melodies, bar the one by the dodgy South African, and the chunk of "Ticket To Ride" in the middle of "Lazy-Itis". At the same time, the crystalline proto-funk of Squirrel And G-Man and Bummed has declined into a right dog's dinner of a quasi-pop sound, a garbled and gurned confusion of pop tinsel, Acid house production and rock grunge, with Ryder's scabby gibberish bobbing about queasily amidships.
I saw Happy Mondays' live once before, in '87, when Melody Maker was practically alone in heralding them. They were crap. Nothing has changed, except that they have more technology and more volume at their disposal. The Mondays still can't funk to save their lives, but what they can do is set up a lobotomised groove somewhere between a scuffed and shabby House and the deadbeat stomp of The Fall: a rhythm simple enough for white people to shuffle about to. And shuffle they do, sluggishly and earnestly, willing this to be the Event it's cracked up to be.
What's the Mondays have lost is readily apparent. An early song like "Tart Tart" is still an irrestible surge of glacial trance-rock, somewhere between The Velvet Underground and The Fatback Band. But the new tracks are, at best,an endearing shambles, at worst, a bloody, boring mess. "Hallelujah" remains a real sow's ear of a song. On "He's Gonna Step On You Again", the Mondays guitarist can't manage the moderately sublime, fuzz-boogie riff of the original, so emits a feeble, doodled gesture at same, that's completely lost in the turmoil. For "Lazy-Itis", a silver-haired and bewildered Karl Denver is wheeled on, to duet inaudibly with Ryder. Through it all, Bez who looks like Hugh Laurie after three years in a concentration camp) continues the endless, moronic traipse that is his dance, his feet retracing
the same listless steps as though he's crushing grapes.
Somewhere along the line, a distinction has to be made between the radically mindblowing, and the merely mindless. That's what the Mondays have degenerated into: a massive levelling down of consciousness, a bovine pleasure, pop music to masticate, like chewing gum or cud. Only the closing "Wrote For Luck" lives up to the hype: the tumultuous avalanche of cultural garbage that is the Mondays' sound suddenly escalates to 'white light white heat', and what we have is the "Sister Ray" of Acieeed. By the end, it's reached a transcendent plateau of sheer de-evolution, with Bez and the saucily attired backing singer rolling about like protozoan creatures in the primordial soup. But then it all fizzles out like a damp squib, with the Mondays snubbing the audience's calls for a
second encore, and punters exiting disgruntled.
So wherein lies the Happy Mondays' "significance"? They are significant,
but largely because they've been willed into a phenomenon, pushed from the hip by the Hip. There are other factors, of course: the perennial con of Manchester mystique, plus various sociological vectors. The Mondays have been proclaimed as the first, truly working class band to emerge since punk: real kids in possession of the truth that's "only known by guttersnipes". But it's closer to the truth to call them lumpen-proletarian pop. This was Marx's term for the underclass who've
lapsed from dignified labour into a lifestyle of shifty shiftlessness, petty crime, conniving, and other opportunistic means of survival. Not for nothing did Marx regard the lumpen-proletariat as a counter-revolutionary class, a sewer spawning illiberalism and sometimes support for tinpot dictators. Indeed, a crucial element of the Thatcher programme is the systematic debasement of the proletariat (bound together by solidarity and the discipline of labour) into a lumpen proletariat (indigent and faithless, except to kith'n'kin and mates).
Where Mark E. Smith's lyrics are oblique observations of Northern underclass grotesquerie, Shaun Ryder's drivel is more like the Id of the lumpen-proletariat speaking its bloody mind aloud: discredited knowledges, warped notions, bigotries and balderdash. This is fine up to a point, a sign of the times, a new thing in pop (the revenge of the plebeian upon pop's aristocratic pretensions). But when I listen to Happy Mondays now, I don't think otherworldly like I once did, I think: eating at the Golden Egg, acid casuals, terrace anthems, dog-fights and hunting rats with air rifles, Hofmeister, betting shops, people eating with their mouths open. Pickled herrings. Reality, for sure, nose hairs and all. But who needs it?
New Statesman, 1990
by Simon Reynolds
In 1990, Happy Mondays were everybody's favourite anti- heroes. The year began with the Mancunian group's first hit, the "Rave On" EP, still lingering in the charts like a stubborn gatecrasher. By mid-Summer, they'd cracked the Top Ten with "Step On You", a revamp of an obscure, early Seventies boogie hit, and packed out Wembley Arena. They end the year with a solidly successful LP Pills 'N' Thrills And Bellyaches. But Happy Mondays have a media profile that's quite out of proportion to this merely respectable commercial showing. Partly that's because their debauched exploits have turned them into the music press' mascot, reassuring proof that rock still has the capacity to scandalise. And partly it's because Happy Mondays are considered, correctly, to be a "phenomenon" - the first group to emerge from the ranks of this country's working class "rave culture".
Happy Mondays and their ilk are Thatcher's illegitimate children. Thatcherism's assault on the defences of the old working class (the unions, Welfare safety nets, etc) was intended to inculcate the middle class values of providence, iniative, deferral of gratification in favour of the long term dividend. But a significant number of working class youth responded to the challenge of "enterprise culture" in a hand-to-mouth way: not by becoming opportunity-conscious but by resorting to all manner of opportunistic means of survival (drug dealing, bootlegging, organising illegal warehouse parties and raves). Not a black economy so much as a blag economy, where success depends on having a eye for the main chance and being a fast talker.
This lumpen milieu has its own nefarious take on the "work hard, play hard" ethos. Its skills are reactive (the sharp quip, the quick killing) and its pleasures short-term and intense (the buzz, the crack). Rave culture's combination of trance dance and hallucinogenics superficially resembled Sixties counter culture. But there was no "politics of ecstasy" here; getting brainblasted and "going mental" was the goal, not opening the doors of perception. It's a culture of consolation, an analgesic/amnesiac respite from the alertness of workaday survivalism. "Skin up and mong out" was the rallying cry.
The story of how Happy Mondays became the figureheads for this scene involves a fair amount of chance and contingency. Until mid-1988, they were a critically-lauded but obscure gang of Mancunian reprobates whose music was a bizarre fusion of rock and funk, somewhere between The Velvet Underground and Funkadelic. Their two albums Squirrel And G-Man... and Bummed were completely at odds with both the pop mainstream and the indie rock state-of- art. But during 1988 and 1989, the Mondays began to pick up a substantial following of Ecstasy-guzzling "love thugs", as much for the fact that the Mondays were big time E-dealers as for their dishevelled dance sound. By mid-1989, Happy Mondays were being pinpointed by the press as prime architects of the "Madchester" scene. And when the "Rave On" EP cracked the charts at Christmas, they were welcomed as a kind of Aciiied Pogues; gutternsipes upsetting the decorum of Top Of The Pops and vandalising the fittings. The Happy Mondays trailblazed the current resurgence of laddish rock bands (e.g. soccer-obsessed, "scally" rockers The Farm, or Flowered Up, London's "answer" to the Mondays) and the reintroduction of the concept of "street credibility" to rock critical parlance.
If the "brains" behind the Mondays is singer Shaun Ryder, in many ways the focal point and font of the group's anti-charisma is a character called Bez. Strictly speaking, his contribution to the group is negligible: he dances onstage, shakes his maraccas desultorily and out-of-time, regularly gets into trouble with the police. But for the Mondays hooligan following, he's clearly their representative: proof that anyone of them could be up there if they'd lucked out, enjoying all the unearned drugs and ardent birds. Bez is their role model, the ultimate chancer. Anthony Wilson - TV presenter, owner of Manchester's Hacienda club, and founder of Factory, the group's record label - claims that Happy Mondays are the "new Sex Pistols". Doubtless Ryder is Rotten, Bez is Vicious, and as for Wilson - he's Malcolm McLaren, doing his best to kickstart a "folk devil/moral panic" furore in the media. At the beginning of the year, Wilson was to be found in The Face opining that he wouldn't be bothered in the slightest if one of the Mondays died as a result of pharmaceutical excess: notoriety never hurt record sales, after all. And throughout the year he's always been on hand to offer credulous journalists his own potted version of the last four years of UK pop history.
According to Wilson, white working class youth discovered Ecstasy and Chicago house music in Ibiza, the Meditteranean holiday spot. E loosened up British bodily uptightness and taught white people how to dance for the first time*. Eventually groups like Happy Mondays and Stone Roses started to emerge from the hitherto DJ-based scene, rock groups who had incorporated a house feel into their sound. And the next development (and here Wilson's distorted history turns to wishful thinking) must surely be the exporting back to America by British groups of a dance sound originally invented by Black Americans (the obvious parallel being the way The Stones and Beatles sold R&B back to white America). At a music industry seminar in New York this summer, Wilson lambasted representatives of the American record business for failing to notice the "revolutionary" music on their own doorstep, in a talk entitled "Wake Up America, You're Dead".
But despite the crude shock tactics and cynical hype of Wilson, despite the vortex of voyeurism and vicarious fascination spun around them by music press and fans alike, Happy Mondays have somehow managed to avoid being simplified and classified. They are simply too wayward, unruly and incorrigible to "represent" an ideology, stance or even a constituency. No one really has a grip on what Happy Mondays are "about". Shaun Ryder's lyrics are like the Id of the lumpen-proletariat speaking its bloody mind aloud, an E-addled stream of semi-consciousness. And the group's sound is a lumpy slurry of motley influences and plagiarised pop memories, a regurgitation of all the junk culture that's been shoved down their throats. Unfathomable, instinctively post-modern, committed to nothing but the pursuit of pleasure, Happy Mondays were what pop was all about in 1990. But with the waning of the Thatcher era, could it be that the Mondays' "pills 'n' thrills and bellyaches" worldview is already beginning to look a little dated?
HAPPY MONDAYS / JANE'S ADDICTION, Madison Square Garden, New York
Melody Maker, May 11th 1991
by Simon Reynolds
It must have seemed an inspired notion to pair these unabashed champions of drug culture, but inside sources tell me that it's turned out to be a marriage made in hell. Happy Mondays stroll casually onstage half an hour late (a misdemeanour for which Jane's Addiction's manager exacts hefty financial revenge), Ryder exhaling huge clouds of wacky tobaccy, Bez loping back and forth across the stage like a Gumby, his face contorted by a stark staring grimace of brain-blitzed glee. I expected a culture clash, bemused and derisive silence from the arena horde, but, happily, droves of college radio Manc wannabees have turned up. Having studiously learnt their raver moves from seeing the Mondays videos on MTV's "alternative" show 120 Minutes, these kids bob and lurch in feigned E-blasted gormlessness, but rather touchingly get it ever so slightly wrong.
The Mondays' sound is a slick shambles, an immaculate hotch-potch that sounds remarkably close to the records, suggesting – knock me down with a feather – a substantial reliance on tapes. But who cares, when they sound this good? "Loose Fit" is a magnificent mirage, its golden riff shimmering forebodingly over sultry, low riding rhythms. A new song is in the same Seventies vein; synths that spume and froth as obscenely as World Of Twist's Moog ejaculations, bubbling swamp-funk pulsations, boogie guitar. It's like the primordial soup from which terrestrial life emerged. Then, like William Hurt in Altered States, the Mondays regress still further, beyond the protozoan to the sub-atomic "white light" state of pre-consciousness, with 'Wrote For Luck': a raga-house mantra for a state of mindlessness, like 'Sister Ray' crossed with 'I Feel Love'. The band exit one by one, as the beat slows down in sync with a strobe, and isolated pockets of jeers and boos are drowned out by a thoroughly merited ovation.
Jane's Addiction are another twist to the rock/dance collusion, but their thing is fission/fusion rather than the Mondays' pilfered pick 'n' mix, hacking freneticism rather than groovy brain-death. The sheer funk of Jane's Addiction's sound is startling. Perry Farrell jerks and spasms like he's the human fuse wire in Patti Smith's equation "art + electricity = rock 'n' roll". His helium-high peal of petulance careens across Navarro's cascades like a surfer riding the Mother Of All Waves. One side of Jane's Addiction is all about back-to-nature primitivism (the rhythm section is as tumultuously tribal as Bow Wow Wow, my absolute favourite group of 1981), but they have an equally powerful drive to revolt against nature, weird out. Where Happy Mondays are degenerate, Janes Addiction are decadent – a sublime fusion of excess and elegance, not a wallow in stupefaction. Although Farrell gives us the pagan blessing "good sex", and declares that "God is in your scrotum," most of the songs aren't about carnality but transcendence; the refusal of limits and the aspiration to god-head (the grandeur-lust of 'Wish I Was Ocean Size'). This self-aggrandisement/self-annihilation complex is the thread that connects rock shamanism with Farrell's other great releases, heroin and surfing.
Ironically, Farrell looks set to spurn the real power that's now his for the grasping. The fervour of the 14,000-strong coalition of subcultures here tonight underlines the impression that Jane's Addiction have become the focus for the disparate disaffected. The group's upcoming Lollapalooza tour of the USA, a kind of mobile rock festival, looks set to resurrect the idea of counter culture. Farrell could actually turn the twenty something generation's "those were the days" defeatism into "these are the days" pride. But apparently he's already decided to end Jane's Addiction. If he does, it'll be an act of sheer willfulness comparable with Big Black's premature hari-kiri, except that so much more is at stake. I hope he changes his mind, but I'll admire the heroic perversity if he does pull the plug.
Melody Maker, September 1992
by Simon Reynolds
God, doesn't Madchester seem an aeon ago? When Ian Brown comes back, is he still going to be doing all those baggy body-moves? And right now, here's Happy Mondays, two years after the heyday, and provoking similar curiosity and concern about the Moment having passed. I've no particularly axe to grind: I loved the Mondays' first two magical LP's, detested their brief stint as pop stars, was won over again by the brooding shimmer of "Loose Fit". Basically, I'd be glad if Yes, Please was a great album.
It's actually pretty good**, but it has this strange air of irrelevance to what's goin' on. The UK is ruled by the two hardcores: American(ophile) slacker grunge, and the techno/hip hop mutant known as 'ardkore. Compared with these two scenes, Yes, Please lacks urgency, menace and above all, resonance. The Mondays, when they mattered, derived their rhythm and resonance from rave culture. By defacing and disfiguring rave music, they provided the scene with Faces and Figureheads; they rockified house with their rough guitars and ruffian anti-charisma. But since 1990, the Mondays have disconnected from the ever-evolving dancefloor. Obviously, they aspire to be a Great Band with their own self-sufficient aesthetic impervious to trends. But do they have enough stuff to sustain them?
Well, Happy Mondays were never gonna be the new Beatles (no great melodies). The Stones analogy was closer (black rhythm, orgiastic drug abuse, bad boy allure), but the Mondays' hedonism has never had a spiritual dimension like the Stones. They don't have it in them to write Nineties equivalents to "Gimme Shelter"; good as it was, "Loose Fit" was no "Let It Loose". The Mondays share rave culture's boorish celebration and excessive lust for kicks, but their music doesn't deal with the comedown and complications of the crash-and-burn lifestyle.
Like Pills N' Thrills, the title Yes, Please captures perfectly their gimme-gimme-gimme, "more E, Vicar?" attitude. The conditions surrounding the making of Yes, Please were bacchanalian; Shaun Ryder developed a serious crack problem, spending days in Barbados drug dens where hyped-up natives played reggae at an insane 78 rpm. If only some of that mania and derangement could made it into the Mondays music. Instead, Yes, Please has the Caribbean stamped all over it. At best, we're talking about the oceanic funk of late, late Can or John Martyn's One World; at worst, a typically tropical soundtrack to the Mondays' expensive vacation. The album's sun-baked mellow-yellow vibe is a culmination of the Mondays fantasy of life as an endless holiday, an eternal Ibiza. But most people have to come back to grim workaday reality, which is what gives the weekender lifestyle its special intensity and poignancy. Happy Mondays can now live the life of Riley in perpetuity, which makes it a bit meaningless. And that's where The Stones comparison really connects, as in the late Stones and the dull sterility of being no-work-and-all-playboys.
Happy Mondays are still a ways from that, but Yes, Please is really more of the same only better-produced (and at half-a-million quid, so it should be). The emphasis is on groove, hardly surpising since producers Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz (ex-Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club) were, in their day, one of the best rhythm sections in the white world. The album kicks off well with "Stinkin' Thinkin'", all bubbling bass, spindly rhythm guitar and squelch-amatic keyboards, with Ryder cast as the irresistible rogue; "kiss me for making you wait/kiss me for screwing everything in sight/kiss me for never getting it right". "Monkey In The Family" is pretty fab too: reggaematic techno-funk that packs a fair old wallop, spangly, bubblegum sitar-rock and tingling tablas filling up the Sly & Robbie chasms between the beat. The doubtless drug problem inspired lyric is one of the few times Ryder acknowledges the costs of excessive hedonism.
Thereafter, Side One degenerates into bumptious jubilation. "Sunshine & Love" is brisk, amiable, tuneful, and turns me off like only happy-go-lucky music can. I'd venture that no great art has come out of pure affirmation or unproblematic joy, unless it's joy so convulsive it's close to madness (which is where Happy Mondays lose out to the manic rush of 'ardkore). "Dustman" has boogie guitar, simmering, summery percussion, and that's about the size of it. "Angel" is almost ominous, a tensile throwback to the early Eighties (ESG meets "Walking On Sunshine"), with another addiction and/or rehab blues lyric: "when did the pain start?/When did the symptoms begin?" (slurred so it sounds like "The Simpsons begin").
Side Two resumes the sunny side upful vibe, with the sweltering, horn-powered, vaguely Latinate "Cut 'Em Loose Bruce". The near-instrumental "Theme From Netto" is, on a purely musical level, the best track on the album: sublime flecked rhythm guitar, succulent bass, brimming keyboards - gorgeous, the Barbados Tourist Board should employ it in their ad campaigns. "Love Child" is good fun too, a Seventies disco up-and-down-the-scale bassline, a raunchy riff, and a dub-spacious production -the first time Weymouth & Frantz really let rip on the console. It's striking that for all their huge intake of psycho-active substances, the Mondays music rarely sounds druggy, never simulates or induces disorientation, delirium, or a hyper-real kinetic feeling, rather sounds a bit stoned, to say the most. Thereafter, Yes, Please tails off with "Total Ringo" and "Cowboy Dave": apart from Ryder's drivel, these could be Island Records jet-set funk-rock a la Steve Winwood or Robert Palmer. Yuk-ola.
So. Yes, Please is baggy growing up a bit, but not really evolving. It's hard to fault, it's as good as Happy Mondays get, but perhaps not good enough to matter. To recoup a half a million quid outlay a record has to be laden with potential hit singles or to strike some kind of chord with a sizeable faction of the populace. Yes, Please, unless I'm very much mistaken, will fail on either count. In the end, Happy Mondays are too self-absorbed and un-driven to create anything that really resonates. They're having fun, living it up, but whereas in 1989/90 that was the whole point (they represented a lumpen underclass of chancers, were Thatcher's illegitimate children, etc), in 1992 - who cares?
* possibly the most egregious myth peddled by Wilson, Factory (Steve Morris: "it takes Ecstasy to make a white man dance") and many others involved in Madchester (Mani: "Whitey could dance, with a pill in 'im"). What's most amazing is that many of the Mancs peddling this myth that no white people danced before MDMA/house were either aware of or actually involved in.... NORTHERN SOUL, ferchrissakes. But what about the Southern jazz-funk scene with its rave-like all dayers and soul weekends, what about the warehouse funk culture of Eighties London and the many flavours of metropolitan club cutlure? What about 2-Tone, whose ska-sploitation movie was called Dance Crazy? What about postpunk's ideas of "dangerous disco"? What about the original Sixties mods, the R&B obsessed precursors to the Northern soulies? What about trad jazz, which was all about reviving the pre-WW2 function of jazz as a dance music, music to get drunk and go wild to, and a scene where the word "raver" even had some currency? True, house/E brought in a different kind of dancing, more fluid, ecstatic and tranced out; with different kind of body-moves and a tribal-vibal synergy that was new (if prefigured in gay club culture and the original 70s disco). But what they're really talking about, if anything at all, is that a bunch of indie-dance types who'd never been into dancing (at least to dance music) got turned on to it.
* * I was way too kind to this bland-beyond-belief album, wasn't I?
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
WORLD OF TWIST, interview
Melody Maker, November 2nd, 1991
by Simon Reynolds
"When I went to see Hawkwind as a 14 year old kid," recalls Gordon King. World Of Twist's guitarist, "I was awestruck. I thought 'where the fuck do they live, what kind of people are they?!' I was fascinated. Seeing Nik Turner walking around with someone's head on a axe, behaving like a twat, or Bob Calvert narrating some of his drivel - I just thought it was a really heavy trip. 10 years later, you listen and you have a really good laugh."
That's as good an evocation of the confused drives behind 'kitschadelia' as you'll get. Kitschadelia is what happens when an aspiration to the monumentalism of pre-punk, is checked by post-punk irony. Seen through the primal gaze of the quintessential pop kid, The Sweet's plastic insurrection, Gary Glitter's barbarian bubblegum, Marc Bolan shrouded in Top Of The Pop's cheapo purple haze effects, were truly apocalyptic, genuinely alien. In retrospect, you have to laugh at the crass sensationalism, the naff, over-stated effects; at the time, your eyes were blown.
World Of Twist aren't alone in hankering for the lost innocence of what Nik Cohn called SUPERPOP. There's St Etienne, with their dreams of gold lame, limousines, and a Phil Spectoresque empire of puppet-proteges. There's Teenage Fanclub, whose Bandwagonesque is virtually a concept album about Seventies glam'n'metal. In the States, Urge Overkill's ironic-yet-awesome anthems like "The Kids Are Insane"
resurrect the stadium rock of their adolescence. Partly, bands are playing with the idea of superstardom, as a way of coming to terms with the insignificance of being a rock band in 1991. Partly, it's a genuine envy of the days when rock was titanic, hysteria-inducing, before punk demystified the process, enabled/obliged us to see through the spectacle.
"The finest age you go can through with pop is when you're thirteen," avers drummer Nick Sanderson. "It's all totally fresh, you're so obsessed."
"You can be so snobby about everything," adds Gordon. "You can be at school and everyone's into Gary Glitter and Slade - which I did like, I admit - but I'd sneer and say 'I like progressive'. I had long hair, an Afghan coat and a gas mask bag. I was three years ahead of my contemporaries, and hated by everyone. I didn't have a girlfriend til I was 18! You forget that that still goes on - there's probably some 13 year old kid with the modern equivalent of a gas mask bag with World Of Twist's logo on it, and he's sneering at the kids who like Carter".
Like Gordon, Nick was obsessed with Genesis, Bowie, Roxy Music, Peter Hammill of Van Der Graaf Generator. "If I'd known then, aged 13, that one day I'd be doing an interview with Melody Maker, the progressive paper, I'd have cried tears of absolute joy. It was my first music paper."
Gordon: "It's got the best name as well. Born in a different era. But I've got to pick you up on one thing, Simon - Melody Maker seems to have dropped the folk rock coverage. Why is that? There was some lovely, lovely bands on that scene. What happened to Gryphon?"
From their unlikely beginning as prog rock fiends, Nick and Gordon moved on to Northern Soul - all nighters, spending forty quid on rare singles. Then came punk. "When punk happened, I had to hide half my albums when people came round," remembers Gordon. "All the prog stuff."
Nick: "You had to rewrite history. It was very Stalinist. Me, I had to put all my albums at the back of the collection, make out I didn't listen to music."
Gordon: "During punk, the band that finally drove my dad into a fit of rage was XTC on So It Goes - the most innocuous of the lot. All his pent-up fury went on them".
Perhaps the most long-lasting effect of punk was irony; after the Pistols, you could never quite return to the life- and-death seriousness of imagining rock as a world-changing force. In some ways, the spirit of punk lives largest and most visible in Vic Reeves, who's as much a part of the kitschadelic sensibility as any of the bands. As it happens, Gordon's turn of phrase (lots of arch expressions like "super", "hopping mad", "slap-up nosh") is tres Vic.
Post-punk irony is both curse and blessing. Pre-punk, rock stars took themselves seriously to the point of madness.
"We recorded the album at Real World, Peter Gabriel's studio," says Gordon. "And he's a classic case of a man who's lost touch with reality. The title of the studio's so ironic. He was a childhood idol of me and Nick, and we were dead keen to meet him. But he was really shy. Worse thing is, he makes such strenous efforts to stay in contact with the real world. It's almost touching. Like he kept making cups of tea for everybody in the whole room. It's little gestures like that, where he's trying to say 'I am normal'. Yes all went mad, too."
Punk's more immediate effect, though, was to discredit the idea of spectacle, of the performer as superhuman or otherworldly. Apart from a few shamanic, glam-influenced figures like Siouxsie and Adam Ant, the main thrust of punk was demystificatory, icon-oclastic. The first group to break ranks and reinstate the idea of spectacle was The Human League - a big influence on WoT.
"The best gig I've ever seen was Human League at the Lyceum, just before the girls joined. It was just so strange. I used to go all the big, progressive shows - Hawkwind, Genesis, all the dinosaur groups - so I wasn't aware of the irony involved in the League. I just thought, after four years of sweaty pogoing and ordinary blokes onstage, that this was the kind of SHOW I'd secretly always wanted."
In fact, Human League were the first kitschadelic group, the first to go back to yesterday's idea of the future. They even covered Glitter's "Rock'N'Roll". WoT hate "politically motivated pop", bemoan the recent overdose of drab realism, lament the fact that TOTP is a barren zone, devoid of aliens and freaks. Acid house, great as it was/is, has only contributed to the new facelessness. Like the League back in '79, World Of Twist stand almost alone against the resurgence of "ordinary geezer-ism" (Carter, drongo bands, knob-twiddling rave technicians). WoT want to bring back awe, fascination, a gulf between audience and band.
"We're trying to do something a bit larger than what everyone else does. But it's not like we're really arrogant. It's just that, from when I used to go and see bands as a kid, the ones I remember are the really massive groups."
Quality Street, World Of Twist's debut album, sounds larger than life. At the risk of labouring the Human League analogy, I'd say it's a Dare for the Nineties.
"It's the only pop album available, isn't it?" says Nick.
World Of Twist dwell on a most peculiar planet of sound. The album ranges from monumental moog-mantras like "Sons Of The Stage", "The Lights" and "On The Scene", to glutinously saccharine love devotionals like "Jellybaby" and "Speed Wine". The stand-out track, "The Spring", cuts between mock- orchestral lavishness and seriously cosmic trance-rock, while cryptic lyrics conjure an Ecstasy-addled vision of pop utopia. Bubblegum sitar, corny horn flourishes, Northern soul beats, Dave Gilmour/Loop guitar curlicues, mucoid spurts of synth, aciiied frenzy - it ought to be a mess, but the absurdly motley inputs come together like a dream.
"We're all fired up by such different things, we're too old for that unity thing," says Nick. They're an absurdly motley crew. Visual technician and Catweazle-lookalike Adge's ideal night, says Gordon, would be a rave; "my ideal night would be a Northern Soul all-nighter." Nick's would be a weeekend in pre-glasnost East Germany. He used to be morbidly obessed with the late, unlamented DDR - with the dimly lit drabness, the all-pervading misery, the surly restaurant service. "Everybody wore crap versions of Western clothes, Finnish jeans - they all looked like Mark E. Smith. I went so many times, they wouldn't let me in anymore."
And then there's crooner Tony Ogden, who (according to Gordon) listened to things like MC5 "way back when they weren't cool like they are now", but who is now more enamoured of mid-Sixties pop cabaret like The Honeycombs. "They had very peculiar sound for the time, the vocals were recorded on ten tracks, sped up and slowed down". A jittery, cagey fellow, Tony's contributions to the interview are coded and evasive. Asked where the obsession with sweets (Quality Street, "Sweets", "Jellybaby") comes from, he replies "it's a purely accidental, confectionery connection." Nick adds "'cos, personally, I'm more of a savouries man."
A lot of songs about are the exhiliration of pop, the thrill of neon-blitzed Saturday Nite, being "on the scene". Does World Of Twist music come out of your life or out of a love of pop?
Tony: "We're a celebration of pop, no doubt about it. We're a celebration of everything - except life! It's a celebration of celebration as well. There's so much celebrating going on, you wouldn't credit it. Serious!"
What's your ambition for World Of Twist, your dream state of total achievement?
"We want to make both the best and the worst record of our time."
WORLD OF TWIST
Melody Maker, April 6th 1991
by Simon Reynolds
World Of Twist are fascinated by yesteryear's quaint ideas of the futuristic: Tomorrow People typography, obsolete synthesisers and man-made fabrics, astro-lamps, fiber optic ornaments and other long-lost fads - all the drek
that Victor Lewis-Smith's Buygones used to rake up. This kind of penchant usually leads to negligible whimsy of the Half Man Half Biscuit ilk. But World Of Twist have somehow evaded the belittling gaze normally associated with camp'n'kitsch, the odious trait of looking down on pop culture's preposterous excesses from a position of superiority. World Of Twist's music is of a different order of magnitude: it seems to look down on you.
Their songs are monumentally absurd, ziggurats of tinsel and tack. World Of
Twist are sublime (original meaning: an experience so vast and unmanageable it inspires speechless, humbled awe) and ridiculous.
Let the bubblegum apocalypse unfurl... A bedlam of flanged bass, phased cymbals, dry ice and stroboscope mayhem, then it's straight into the single, "Sons Of The Stage".
Those obscenely fartacious moogs spurt like spume from a whale's blowhole, then percolate in sensurround like a man-made sargasso sea. Tentacles of dralon, rayon and orlon enfold your limbs; the chorus "the floor's an ocean/And this
wave is breaking/Your head is gone and your body's shaking/There's nothing you can do and there is no solution/Gotta get down to the noise and confusion" is
Dionysian doggerel to ignite teenybop bacchanalia. The closing pseudo-orchestral coda is like a symphony for perspex instruments.
The folk responsible for this kitsch-adelic fantasia are a motley bunch: singer Tony Ogden looks like a malnourished Bryan Ferry, a cut-price fetishist in that hideously
inorganic, black gloss shirt; wizened techno-wizzard Adge really does seem to come from some 1971 timewarp; guitarist Gordon King looks and plays like a fugitive from Loop; blowsy Julia Vesuvius is a bird and no mistake. But this is fine:
they have the blemished and decidedly mortal look that pop groups had before the video age. And World Of Twist are not rock'n'roll, not soul, not even "dance" (although they partake of elements from all the above), but pop in the
purest and most bygone sense of the word. Their domain should
really be the discotheque, if such places still existed, rather than the nightclub or the rock venue. World Of Twist's "roots" are those phases when pop has been most rootless and inauthentic (glam, Northern Soul, Hawkwind), when subcultural
styles have been co-opted and travestied by bubblegum mimicry. It's so right that they should cover "She's A Rainbow", from that period when The Stones shamelessly jilted authentic R&B to hitch a ride on flower power's coat tails. And their version of MC5's "Kick Out The Jams" reveals the counter culture anthem to be pretty much on the same level as The Sweet's "Teenage Rampage": a gloriously vacant blast of
insurrectionary hot air.
"The Storm" is a neon kaleidoscope, a planetarium fallen into the hands of acid freaks. One mesmering miasmic mantra (possibly entitled "On The Scene") makes me momentarily imagine them as The Velcro Underground. "Life And Death" has
the most epic, life-and-death bassline since "Keep Feeling Fascination" (the Human League are a righteous reference point for WoT); future schlock-waves of glutinous moog engulf us in plastic bliss. The kitsch-quake cometh, and it'll blow your
WORLD OF TWIST
"Sons of the Stage"
singles review column, Melody Maker, March 23rd 1991
by Simon Reynolds
Camp is all about a belittling delight in the quaint artificiality and over-stylisation of bygone pop culture; an aesthetic response wherein affection is mingled with contempt. Camp in pop has meant--Pet Shop Boys, Transvision Vamp, all that sorry school of shite.
But now here come World Twist, with an astonishing single that reconciles these opposites and offers the dizzying possibility of a “camp sublime”.
“Sons of the Stage” is a bugger to describe, which is always a good sign. Imagine a sound somewhere between Can and Vic Reeves, oceanic rock and a lava lamp. It’s camp and it’s cosmic. Kitsch-adelia is the best term I can find to evoke the flatulent fanfares of symphonic Moog, the spirograph curlicues of acid rock guitar, the monstrous, stomping beat. Yet underneath the arched eyebrows and laconic Northern irony, World of Twist are obviously fired up by an ardour for the imposing idiocy of pop, its vacant menace and preposterous splendour, as manifested by bubblegum barbarians like Glitter, the Sweet, David Essex. The lyrics set up a fantastical scenario of communal freak-out, joining the dots that run from acid rock through Northern Soul to Hawkwind and “Teenage Rampage” right up to rave culture. After this camp bacchanalia, the final coda--a fake orchestral fantasia of phased guitars and babbling Moogs--is a plastic apocalypse worthy of Prince, at once tacky and sacramental.
Monday, June 16, 2008
1979, UK; BFI DVD, 2008.
director's cut (boom boom), Sight and Sound, June 2008.
by Simon Reynolds
In the interview accompanying this new edition of Radio On, director/writer Chris Petit uses the word "autistic" on three separate occasions to describe the mood he was aiming for. Embarking on his debut screenplay while still Time Out's film editor, Petit wasn't concerned with plot or character, dialogue or drama; his real interest was "buildings and weather". Watching Radio On almost thirty years after it was made, you do get the sense that more creative energy was invested in location scouting than psychology and motivation. The minimal narrative--a man, Robert B. (David Beames) drives from London to Bristol to investigate his brother's mysterious death--is a mere ploy to set the movie in motion and introduce the principal character: the urban landscape of late Seventies Britain.
Somewhere between Martin Parr's Boring Postcards and Anton Corbijn's Control, the movie has, as Petit notes, a documentary value first if not foremost. These clapped-out vistas of service stations, fly-overs, industrial estates, and business hotels rarely made it into UK cinema of the period. Radio On is not picturesque, then, but it is superlatively filmic, thanks to Martin Schafer's B/W cinematography, so high-contrast that glossy darkness frequently swallows up almost the entire screen, while during night scenes electric lighting burns through the murk with magnesium ferocity.
Radio On was an Anglo-Germanic production, jointly funded by the BFI and Wim Wenders' Road Movies company. Interviewing the German director for Time Out, Petit had plucked up the courage to say, "actually, I've got this script". Amazingly, his hero not only part-funded Radio On, he loaned Petit his cinematographer Schafer plus his wife, Lisa Kreuzer, as female lead. Even more remarkably, Petit ended up in the chair despite being a first-time director.
The influence of Wenders' road trilogy is a strong presence in Radio On, but equally important is another crucial mid-Seventies trilogy: J.G. Ballard's Crash/High-Rise/Concrete Island. The latter, a short novel about a modern-day castaway trapped on scrubland beneath the Westway flyover after being injured in a car crash, leaps to mind during the long aerial shot of Robert driving out of London, the camera lingering lovingly on the gash-ugly industrial wasteland that surrounds the fly-over. Another literary reference point is Margaret Drabble's The Ice Age, a novel often aligned with punk as a document of the climate of malaise and bunkered-down anomie in mid-Seventies Britain. Filmed in the month of January, Radio On exudes a coldness both physical and emotional. One song on the marvelously apt and evocative soundtrack sings plaintively about being "free from the frozen years at last".
Petit uses pop songs to externalize the feelings that his taciturn and blocked characters can't or won't express. That's not especially radical in itself, but music is deployed in an unconventional way that hovers ambiguously midway between diagetic and non-diagetic. A tune, ostensibly played on the in-car stereo, might abruptly dip down in volume but continue to play without fading away; Devo's stilted subversion of "Satisfaction' is made even more disjointed and alienated by being chopped into shards with sizeable chunks of silence in between. In the interview, Petit says he consciously reversed cinema's vision-over-sound hierarchy, aiming to make "sound with pictures". Hardly surprising that dance culture's terminology features in the title radio on (remix) , the 1998 mini-movie included with this DVD that "stalks the past" by revisiting the movie's original locations--places like Silbury Hill and Heston Services--to see how they've changed, while also subjecting the original film to computer-editing processes of deceleration, freezing, and zoom.
You could almost imagine the original Radio On as a series of unofficial promo videos made by a director responding to the mind's eye triggering potency of the era's vanguard pop: the experimental end of glam, German electronic, New Wave. Bowie's "Heroes" and "Always Crashing in the Same Car" are brilliantly deployed, as are Kraftwerk's "Radioactivity" and "Ohm Sweet Ohm". But oddly, British postpunk--seemingly, the obvious Ballardian musical analogue--is absent. Joy Division's "Transmission" and "Shadowplay' would have been a perfect fit. Still, postpunk does appear to have determined Robert's look: he wears Ian Curtis's Eastern Bloc overcoat and physically looks like the 5th member of Wire.
Radio On's title itself comes from The Modern Lovers' proto-punk anthem "Roadrunner", a hymn to the American dream of perpetual mobility. Jonathan Richman sings "I'm in love with the modern world", but Radio On's vision of modernity is unlovely and loveless. Robert's motto could be "only disconnect". A New Wave hit single used repeatedly on the soundtrack spells this out: Lene Lovich's "Lucky Number", where the singer goes from aloof autonomy ("my lucky number's one" ) to discovering that "two" (coupledom) is better by far. But Robert keep on looking out for number one.
There's a series of brittle interactions with aggrieved-seeming English women, from Robert's live-in girlfriend (always seen shivering and swaddled in layers of clothes or a duvet) who moves out without him even noticing, to the dead brother's lover (a bony, raven-haired girl with a striking resemblance to postpunk ice queen Siouxsie Sioux). Even doing his job as an all-night deejay at a biscuit factory, Robert lacks empathy. Reading out a female worker's request for "Help Me Make It Through the Night," he says "here's something better" and plays Ian Dury's "Sweet Gene Vincent" instead. His (im)passive aggressive demeanour eventually triggers female violence: in a pub he keeps getting in the way of a snooker game, provoking one of the women players to kick over the stool he's sat on.
Radio On's permafrost thaws slightly only a couple of times. Intimacy of a sort develops between Robert and Ingrid, a German woman (Lisa Kreuzer) searching for her five year old daughter. The movie's first smiles are cracked and Robert tags along on Ingrid's quest for a while. The other moment involves male bonding kindled through music. At a derelict petrol station in Chippenham, Robert meets a rockabilly-obsessed singer (a cameo from the then not-very-famous Sting) and the two men duet on another love-by-numbers song, "Three Steps to Heaven" (originally by Eddie Cochran, who died in a car crash on the nearby A4--how J.G.B. is that?) But these are ships-that-pass encounters. Ingrid ruefully notes, "last night I hoped we would sleep together… but we won't". About to drive off from the petrol station, Robert cheerily says "see you around Eddie", only for Sting's character to snap "no you won't" with unexpected bitterness.
In Radio On, the automobile is an ambiguous symbol, representing less autonomy than autism, promising not the freedom of the open road but the emptiness of a life unmoored from emotional ties. The road movie, as Petit knew from the off, wouldn't translate to the UK's spaghetti junctions and landscape-scarring bypasses, but that was the point. Just compare the word "motorway"--as dourly, phlegmatically British as "mustn't grumble"-- with "highway" and "freeway": it simply doesn't set off the same utopian resonances of transcendence and liberation. Robert's vaguely American-looking 1950s beaut of an automobile is out of place, a relic. Along with Wenders road movies, Petit admired Monte Hellmann's Two-Lane Blacktop. His equivalent to the latter's nihilistic closing image--the celluloid catching fire in the projector as the race drivers hurtle to nowhere--could easily have been when Robert steers his car to the edge of the precipice above a grim quarry. (Unconsciously or not, an echo of the denouement of another anti- road movie, Spielberg's Duel). But suicide would be cheap resolution and catharsis of the kind Petit determinedly avoids and the movie doesn't end there, not quite.
Radio On shies away from a political reading. Petit was adamantly opposed to social realism, studies of the fine gradations of the class system, and other hallmarks of 1970s British cinema (he singles out Abigail's Party as his antithesis). Nonetheless, political reality leaks into Robert's bubbleworld, forming an ambient backdrop of dislocation and tension. The radio drip-drips endless bad news from the IRA and Baadher-Meinhof to a West country porn ring that (it turns out) might have some connection to his brother's death, along with heavy snow that paralyses much of the country and the perennial bathos of no-score draws on the football results. There's a 'Free Astrid Poll' slogan spraypainted on a London wall and a tiny hint that Ingrid originally left her daughter with her estranged husband when she got involved in some kind of radical wildness. Society is falling apart but Robert is all uncomprehending detachment: as he tells an unbalanced hitchhiker, a squaddy gone AWOL from his Northern Ireland tour of duty, "I never understood what the problems were".
When Robert strolls past an industrial park en route to his car, a sign on a warehouse wall advertises Shock Absorbers. Cars have them, but they can also be them, insulating their occupants from the Real and the Social. "Here in my car/I feel safest of all," sang Asbergers sufferer Gary Numan in 1979's "Cars". "I can lock all my doors/It's the only way to live." Is there a glimmer of hope at Radio On's end when Robert abandons privatized transportation (as favored by car ownership fan Margaret Thatcher) for the shabby, inefficient, but resolutely collective British Rail? Perhaps that's to read too much into this resolutely oblique, brilliantly opaque movie.
A.R. KANE, mini-feature
Melody Maker, early 1987
by Simon Reynolds
A.R. KANE, live
Melody Maker, early 1987
by Simon Reynolds
A.R. KANE, interview
Melody Maker, July 25 1987
by Simon Reynolds
Each week we hurl a batch of New Names at you. Perhaps it’s not surprising that you wilt under this constant attrition, cease to believe we can really mean it. Easier to shelter from this endless barrage of hosannas and extravagant claims, to shrink back into the rut of skepticism, and stick with what You know--the tired and trusted post-punk dinosaurs.
I’m going to tax your credulity again, today, by suggesting that rock--at this late hour--has, unaccountably, entered a New Golden Age. At the forefront of this scattered maverick tendency, right up there with Throwing Muses and Young Gods, is a virtually unknown group called A.R. Kane. And I’m going to ask you, beseech you: do yourself a favour. Shake off this faithless despondency. Move forward. My estimation of this group is not the result of considered assessment. I listenened and was stricken. I fell for them. I believe you will fall too.
The initial impression was of a black Jesus and Mary Chain. It dind’t take me long to realise how lazy, how small, a tag this was. Rock noise is a GREY affair, generally: the sound of concrete, pig iron, swarf, silt. Maybe this is a malingering hangover from the industrial aesthetic, maybe it’s just the ineradicable taint of New Wave. Even the Mary Chain at their best could only produce a kind of mildly trippy smog. Coming from a different place, fired by other, jazzier ambitions, A.R. Kane have a more vivid spectrum--an iridescence that makes me think of Hendrix. A.R. Kane themselves were amazed at being compared with the shambling bands. “We’d never heard of any of these bands until we released our first single, and people started to play us the records. There’s something very trimmed about that sound, we’re not impressed by it.”
“When You’re Sad”, released in January on One Little Indian, streams over the ears, a dazzling cataract: not so much a wall of noise as a hanging garden. “Haunted”, the B-side, was more spell-binding still, shimmering like the sparks beneath half-closed eyelashes on a summer’s day. Now A.R. Kane are on 4AD, and their new Lollita EP spells out their difference even more clearly. “Lollita” is a gorgeous haze that slowly enfolds the body body, turning your nerves to frost.
a lullaby split apart at the seams by a column of noise, a crystal spire veering up into the heavens. "Sadomasochism Is A Must" opens like a sandstorm on Venus, then turns into a jagged, poisoned ballad, each chord lash showering you with shards of amethyst. "Butterfly Collector" is an icy thrash, culminating in total white-out, a saturated overload of splintered signals.
And there’s more. For all the fevered fleshiness of pop today, how many songs are there about falling in love? AR Kane are one of the few groups that convey the vertigo of rapture rather than the solid earthiness of need. The bastardized soul that is the sound of Planet Pop is all breath, exertion, the burden of passion; AR Kane are about the breathlessness, the numb suspension of enchantment. Pop desire is brazen, brassy, a Wide Awake Club; with AR Kane, love is narcotic, a drift into reverie, oblivion. Alex’s voice is gut-less, fey even, roaming listlessly in some indeterminate region between languour and languishing. It’s the voice of someone vanquished, about to give up the ghost, a ghost of a former self. Steve Sutherland reckons he can hear the ghost of Arthur Lee.
A good notion, because, with AR Kane as with Love, sweetness and sickness, fragility and violence, adoration and loathing, are alternate sides of the same coin. The Lollita EP follows the course by which desire undoes itself, pursues the phantasm of possession to the point of madness, Mutually Assured Destruction. “Lollita” is the idyll--“love to go on down and kiss your curl”, “when I touch your skin/something spins within”, “when I kiss your lips/oooh my head/slides and slips”. But already there’s the incongruous appearance of the word “bitch”, a hint of what is to come. By “Sadomasochism Is A Must” , the desire for total absorption of or by the Other has degenerated into perversion. And with “Butterfly Collector”, the dread of losing the loved one (to the outside world, to Time) has blossomed into psychosis: “I’m gonna pin you down/I’m gonna keep you/I’m gonna kill you”.
Alex expains, “We didn’t intend there to be a narrative when we recorded the songs, but afterwards we realized it was about the development of a relationship, from adoration through sadomasochism to complete possession and destruction. All the songs, even “Butterfly Collector” are love songs. I suppose I’m quite cynical about love. I don’t think there’s a pure love anymore. All love is tainted. “Butterfly Collector” is about when you love someone too much. You put her on a pedestal, you don’t want her to go out in case someone else gets interested, you end up tying down and destroying the thing you love. I think there’s an inherent violence in everything, even the sweet things.”
Maybe that violence at the heart of love is the very process of idealization itself, the living flux of being-in-process is frozen into a series of static, consecrated images. When the flawed, fickle, changing reality of the loved one starts to play truant from the image--that’s our first taste of grief, our first intimation of loss, of death.
Rudi: “But it’s not just as male/female thing, it informs people’s relations to objects too. The guy with the motorbike he never rides but just keeps in the garage, cleaning over and over. People who buy paintings and keep them in private vaults, for their eyes only.”
Alex: “The subject’s huge… people are bound to call me misogynist, but the subject’s bigger than that. But if you’re narrowminded you won’t see that.”
WHAT made them pick up guitars for the first time, only a year ago?
Rudi: “No one was making the kind of music we wanted to listen to.”
Alex: “We listen to a lot of jazz, stuff like Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way and early Weather Report. We don’t aspire to that, but we wanted to produce something with that kind of feeling--spontaneity, freshness, creativity…”
Rudi: “Something more abstract than the verse/chorus/verse/chorus formula. Our songs emerge out of total chaos, which we then strip back in order to bring out a melody. We want to use melodies to suck people into the chaos.”
Can you pinpoint the feeling in Bitches Brew and Weather Report that you like?
Rudi: “It’s too big, you can’t pinpoint it… which is what’s good about it, that it’s abstract. it gives you the chance to let your imagination loose, whereas with modern indie music all you hear is a conventional structure. You listen to your preconceptions, you don’t really experience the music.”
Is it a kind of psychedelic, dreamlike feeling you’re after?
Alex: “Dreamlike, yeah. It’s when you remember one of your dreams you can never really explain it to anyone else. It’s really vivid, really haunting, but abstract. An ambition for us would be for people to have dreams in which our music was the soundtrack”.
Rudi: “A lot of the time we’re trying to transform dream imagery into sounds, which is hard to do!”
ALEX and Rudi are from the East End and have known each other since primary school. They refuse to tell me anything more about themselves “because we don’t’ want people to come to the music with preconceptions. What we do or what we’re like as people isn’t really relevant.” They also say they don’t want to slag other bands or other kinds of music--“if people like something it’s valid.” But they soon forget this resolution.
Alex: “People don’t really listen to music anymore, they put it on as a reflex, as a background to a lifestyle. The supreme example of that is the Sixties soul and Levin jeans thing.”
But you’re not entirely innocent of this subordination of pop to consumer lifestyle thing, having been the person who dreamt up the idea of using “Song to the Siren” [This Mortal Coil’s cover of the Tim Buckely song] as the soundtrack to the Thompsons’ Freestyle holiday ad (Alex is a copywriter).
“That was the furthest thing from my mind! ‘Song to the Siren’ fitted the mood of the commercial, it wasn’t linked to a particular lifestyle. The Levi thing was much more of a case of a two-pronged commercial campaign, where the song sells the product, and the product sells the song.”
You could still argue that the song has been tied down, that people’s freedom of imagination has been irreparably interfered with. The irony is that 4AD were seriously pissed off by the ad, but now have the person who thought it up on their label.
Alex continues: “I think music’s really potent, but most people making it don’t know what they’re doing with it. It’s like handing out guns to children. Like sampling--people are using technology that’s potentially really mindblowing, but in a really cretinous, gimmicky way. There’s sampled stuff on our first record, but you can’t tell because it’s been done in an AR Kane way. With most people it’s like sticking different kinds of wallpaper together. What’s that group? Something Mu Mu--they’re like retarded toddlers messing about.”
Rudi: “To me, most pop today is like cabaret. All these indie bands doing impersonations of Fifties and Sixties bands.”
So far from everything being “valid if someone likes it”, you do seem to think it’s a moral issue that some people are wasting other people’s time?
“Oh no, we wouldn’t say that. I mean, far more people like Duran Duran than will ever like us, and if they’re being moved, then you can’t knock that, it’s valid.”
But are they being moved, to new places or in new ways? I mean--who do you actively respect?
“Anyone who’s out there on their own. The Cocteau Twins. Azymuth. I think there’s a better atmosphere in Europe, people are more open. You’ve got labels like ECM over there.”
Alex: “I don’t think people listen to music anymore. I like to lie down and concentrate, tune in. We like to have a lot of things going on in the music, so you can lose yourself in it. The thing about pop is that the Star Vocal, the singular melody is foregrounded, and everything else in the music gets subordinated to that.”
Whereas your records are a blur, there’s a kind of democracy between sounds.
“The amount of trouble we’ve had with that idea! Trying to explain to producers that the voice isn’t important, that we want to submerge it into the mix.”
Rudi: “With “Haunted’ on the first record, we wanted to destroy the vocal, echo it out completely. We wanted to put so much reverb on the drums they’d turn into pure pulses. And the producer said, ‘you don’t do it that way’. I mean, exactly! That’s why we want to do it like that! So when we do our LP we’re gong to have to produce it ourselves.
Alex: “I think the way music will progress is the listening as much as the playing. We want people to look at music in a new way, not just as a blasé thing that’s just there. It should be like when you see a tree and suddenly it’s as though you see it for the first time. You’ve lived with trees for 25 years or whatever and it’s got so you don’t see them, and suddenly you think: ‘Amazing!’ Biggest shock of your life, when that kind of thing happens. I think music can help you see things freshly and can make you want to experience everything like that, as though you’d just been born.”
So there is a kind of innocence to A.R. Kane, in the sense of not being worldweary?
“Well, I think it’s pretty important to have a degree of cynicism, because the world is bad, but yeah, you have to have that naivete, where everything around you seems full of significance.”
A kind of strong innocence, perhaps.
A MONTH after the Lollita EP, 4AD release a one-off collaboration between A.R. Kane and Colourbox, under the rubric M.A.R.R.S. The A.R. Kane composition, “Anitina”, is a dub-noise collision, a lurid fog of echo and distortion, like children running riot with paints and crayons. Are they prolific?
Alex: “The stuff is practically coming out of our ears! We’re probably the kind of people who’d go mad if we couldn’t make music. We’ve been doing soundtracks for fashion students’ short films, things like that. We’ve got an enormous amount of material. Really we’d like to release two or three more singles and an LP this year--but Ivo won't let us.
“We couldn’t have gone to a better label than 4AD, at this stage. There aren’t many labels who give their groups that much freedom and have the capability to support what they do with that freedom. They’ve done far out stuff, they’re not pandering, but they can also sell the stuff.”
So are you aiming to establish yourselves at a kind of Cocteaus level--doing exactly what you want , but making a reasonable living out of it?
“No, the aim is to do exactly what we want, and forget the ‘good living’”
Rudi: “Living schmiving!”
“Any money we get we’ll just plough back into the music, working on the idea that the more freedom we have, the better the music will be. We want our own studio ultimately.”
Rud: “We find the recording process as it stands really stupid---all that technology going to waste. You’ve got to push the studio to its limits. We abuse our amplifiers and equipment to the point where the sounds were create are just new. Then the producers come along and put that iinto a box. We want to smash the box as well. Some of our ideas with what to do with the studio, well, I just can’t talk about them--otherwise we’ll never be allowed in one again!”
Alex: “Like if I was a drummer, the last thing I’d do is buy a drum kit, I’d buy a drum machine and sampler and play them live. We tried to get Martyn in Colourbox to play drum machine live, but he wouldn’t have any of it. That’s the trouble--people get to have too much respect for their machines, they start to worship their tools. You have to abuse them, and take them as far as they’ll go.”
Rudi: “It’s the same problem with anyone that’s trained. There’s a lot to be said for the argument that it’s only peole who aren’t formally tutored in music who can break through to new ways of seeing and feeling. We want our music to be a rush of things coming at you through the speakers, so many that the mind doesn’t have time to assimilate them and manage them. It should be like a baby being confronted with a rattle for the first time, seeing it as it is, without preconceptions.
“There’s one song we do live whchi completely takes us over, swamps us. You get sucked in, you lose control and you think you’ll never come out. That kind of thing affects you very physically, brings on a new awareness, something you feel in your guts, a new motivation, a letting loose.”
Alex: “It’s very liberating when you lose yourself, start to operate on a purely subconscious level. And when you’re coming back and you’re losing it, it’s like coming back from a brilliant dream which you know you’re never gonna be able to get back to.
“Our music’s like sculpture--there’s this chaos that we chip away at until there’s this beautiful shape. We love chaos, you can lose yourself in it. That’s why so many people hate chaos and won’t let it in. It’s too vast, you can’t tie it down. Which is why everyone tries to tame it, make a system over it.”
Putting a grid over a flux--we’re back with “Butterfly Collector” again.
“Oh yeah, everything correlates, everything we talk about comes back and joins up. It’s like a vicious circle. A gentle circle.”
There's two impulses in rock today. One is to make systems; the other is to dissolve them. One is to bolster the self and its mastery over the world; the other is to dissipate "I", blur the borders between the self and the
world. On one side, clenched-arse agit-pop didacticism; "punkies" like Age of Chance and Win, with their lippy attitude, their triumph of rhetoric over both form
and content; hip hop's tyrannical amplification of the self. Everybody eager to Tell It Like It Is (and noneof that “gurly cack”*).
On the other side, groups like A.R. Kane, Meat Puppets, Husker Du, R.E.M., suspicious of words, reluctant to spell it out, eager to be spellbound, to succumb to oceanic feelings, to go with the flow.
Two different universes: one logocentric, a world of rigid definitions; the other, a world of ambiguity, nuances, contradictions. Two different politics of sound: one starkly produced (lots of definition) with "in your face" vocals and a premium
on clear diction; the other an illegible blur, with the voice smudged and submerged in the mix.
Maybe it's all crystallised in that line that goes: "oooh my head/slides and slips". Maybe that is the thrill, that moment of teetering on the brink of oblivion is complete immersion in the Other.
* sample from Steven Wells
A.R. KANE / Single Review
Up Home! EP(Rough Trade)
Melody Maker, April 23 1988
by Simon Reynolds
SINGLES OF THE YEAR
A.R. Kane return, with an impossibly total vindication of one’s hopes: not so much living up to the rhetoric as burning it up, leaving it exhausted and impoverished. “Baby Milk Snatcher” returns to the deep, deep dub-sway and heavy reverb reaches of “Anitina”, the hideously under-exposed B-side of the M.A.R.R.S. smash/scourge. But the other three tracks on this EP are the real deal.
I don’t know how Alex and Rudi get these sounds: they seem to be playing not guitars but stalagmites and stalactites. “WOGS” is a vortex of refractions, an overload of colours canceling each other to produce a dazzling white-out. You think of Arthur Russell, subaqua reef worlds or the dreamscapes uncovered by explorers of the underworld: the kind of grottos we haven’t encountered since Garlands, maybe even Bitches Brew.
Alex’s voice is the human heartbeat at the core of this miasma, listeless and withdrawn, carrying the melody as though nearly borne under by its heavy burden of wonder, then dissipating into whispers and cries through all the secret, silent spaces in this sound. “One Way Mirror” is almost dancey but for the near unbearable magnesium radiance of the sound. “Up” has an intolerably lovely melody that slowly, slowly paces an endless spiral “stairway to heaven”, while all around the ice cathedral resonates like a giant bell.
Up Home! is the slow supernova of rock: not its burn-up in velocity, rather the supercession of riffs and even chords by a shapeless radiance of sound seemingly without origin (certainly not in the human touch), conceivably without end.
This is rock’s Ice Age, its Antarctica, its final petrifying spell. The chiming of a million icicles.
Melody Maker, June 18th, 1988
by Simon Reynolds
And yes, I did get the name of the album wrong! Excuse: I reviewed it while on holiday in the U.S. off an advance cassette. Plus, not a soul at MM caught the error either!
A.R. KANE, interview
Melody Maker, October 7th1989
by Simon Reynolds
Rudi: "It's our own fault, really, for being so obscure. It's fun really... I don't know if you've ever played that game where somebody draws a squiggle and you've got to make a picture out of it in thirty seconds. It's quite funny to see what people make out of our stuff."
A.R. Kane's music is the Rorsasch Blot, and this is writing is just my psyche splayed out on the page, just one of myriad interpretations....
If The Young Gods' "L'Eau Rouge" is the greatest album of '89, then A.R. Kane's "I" is the loveliest. Originally titled "Supercallafragilisticexpealodocious", until Disney threatened to sue, "I" is four sides of sprawling invention (and at one point, they wanted to release a double double!)which sees A.R. Kane's exploratory verve oozing out every-which-way and anyhow.
The first side is dance inflected: "Love From Outer Space" has a Sun Ra-ish menagerie of synth chatter Housed within a contemporary beat, "Crack Up" has the dub-quake pulse of the M.A.R.R.S. record, while "What's All This Then" returns to the galactic acid dub of "Anatina" (the neglected B-Side of "Pump Up The Volume").
Side Two is lush, tropical, songs like "Conundrum" or "And" rearing up like Aztec or Mayan temples in the jungle, with Alex' voice like a little pink cloud floating in between the colonnades.
The second record flits between the Sixties ("Pop" is like Stax heard from Eight Miles High) to ROCK (the tingling, tremulous dawn-scapes of "Spook" and "Down" are
almost stadium fist-waving stuff, like U2 if they'd turned out mystics rather than demagogues), before closing with the gorgeous "Catch My Drift", cosmic skank with a sample of Pavarotti swan-songing across from a distant, dejected asteroid. The cascades of halcyon guitar chaos are still there, anxious fans worry not, but are now more intermittent, peeping through chinks and cracks in the song structures...
structures that are like ziggurats or haciendas next to the Barratt homes of your bog-standard chart song. But if anything the moonwalking wooziness, the helium-for-blood languor and lassitude, is more intoxicating and enfolding than ever.
"THE OCEAN IS HER MAGIC POTION"
Alex clears up a misconception: "'Pop' wasn't a manifesto about pop, or a statement of intent. It's the sound when the bubble bursts. The song is about the end of a
A lot of your songs seem to be about relationships running aground... Is your experience of love as something generally disastrous and doomed?
Rudi: "I've not yet experienced love..."
Alex: "They're not that personal... but it's just this general idea... that if love is that fragile, like a bubble, so fickle that it can burst at any moment, then is that worthy of being called love?"
Rudi: "It's usually just sexual attraction followed by... habit, and 'I'm comfortable with this person'. 'Love' hasn't got much to do with what happens between people who've only known each other for a few years. Love takes a
Alex: "You can say that the Sun loves, and that the sun's love isn't the kind of love that's going to burst. It feeds us, doesn't it? All life in the solar system comes from the sun. That love is just... real. That's what I call love. So what I'm saying in that song is that the love we experience as couples, on that level, is just a little bubble that can burst at any minute ...
For A.R. Kane, "the sweetest girl" is a mirage, luring you to your doom, ego-death by "drowning in her shifting sands". Like Scritti's Green, their game is pop
deconstruction: seducing you into Love's labyrinth of illogic, then stranding you there, in its inner void. "I" oscillates between the bewilderment of the "Love-Sick" EP ("this ain't love this is just an evil mindgame/ my mind is confused like I just sucked in some bad blow" ) and the virulent misogyny of "Butterfly Collector": there's the rage of "Supervixons" ("killing her was the best thing I ever
done", the nausea of "Insect Love"... Women really seem to bear the brunt in your songs...
Rudi: "Well, that's cos we're men. If we were women, I daresay we'd be saying that stuff about men. Or if we were gay. We're children of the Eighties, man. We grew up
listening to pop songs."
Do you think pop creates unrealistic expectations of love..
"I think life in general is geared towards giving people strange expectations. And people believe that they should get all this from a relationship. Simulataneous orgasms. Happy ever after. Anyway, what's all this about oral sex? We're
not obsessed with oral sex! We were reading that Miles Davis review before you came round, to check out what you'd be writing..."
Come on, chaps - the first album was called "69", you've got a new track called "Honeysuckle Swallow" , "Baby Milk Snatcher" had a line about "suck my seed", there was 'Sperm Travels Like Juggernaut' - there's a theme here, boys...
Alex: "The theme is your dirty mind, hahhaha!"
Rudi: "You old pervy".
And '69' had those weird sea creatures in suggestive positions on the front...
Rudi: "Crustacean people from the planet Zarg... But they weren't having sex... They didn't have sex organs, for a start."
So am I on totally the wrong tack?
Alex: "You can take it at that level, certainly... It's an angle. To be honest, most of the song titles we don't think about. The title seems to connect at the time, and it's not until later that we think: 'oh dear, we mentioned sperm
again'. And then it's too late, it's printed on the record.... But I like the idea of people inputting stuff into the music. I mean, there's only so many things that can happen, right, and if you leave enough room, then they all happen.
Rudi: "It's like the ECM philosophy, "the most beautiful sound next to silence', that's something that has total potential. And the opposite is something that is totally rigorously dead and straight, a noise which does not leave any room for any imagination. And we try to occupy a middle ground between the two. And that's the hardest area to work in. We want a pop music that has at least enough space for
the listener to go somewhere with it... "
"Voice: inexhaustible milk. She has been found again. The lost mother. Eternity: it is the voice mixed with milk." - Helene Cixous.
This honeysuckling intimacy, this carnal cradle of sound, this langorous lullaby lilt... where does it all come from? And then this bitterness, this poisoned love? Here's my diagnosis. Every wound of love is a re-enactment of our first
loss, our exile from the maternal h(e)aven. The beloved is a glimpse of heaven-on-earth, a paradise that's always already lost. Which is the pre-Oedipal phase, before we have any idea of a gap - between ourselves and the world, between desire
and fulfilment. Just limitless plenitude and proximity, in which nourishment, nurture and eroticism are indivisible at the nipple.
This ache, left by the memory of "the deepest, most ancient and adorable of visitations", is what we call the heart. The beloved fills the wound that is the heart, but never fills it completely. Love is fetishism: a part stands in for the whole (for the lost possibility of being whole). And that ache of incompleteness is what we call poignancy.
So forget oral sex, here's another theme. The first song, originally titled "You Push A Knife Into My Womb". "Baby Milk Snatchers". "The Madonna Is With Child". The
statue of the Madonna in the video for 'Pop'... Aren't we looking at your classic Madonna/Whore dichotomy, your typical male split in attitude to Woman....
Alex: "The reason that we used that image... it's an image of love. The whole song's about the love that we could have, rather than the bubble. The Madonna personified that in my mind. And yeah, we've got a song or two where I sing about a mother ... but you can't take things out of their context. It's very easy to do that, and produce some theory... If I was to look at A.R. Kane objectively then, yeah, there's definitely a sexual, female ambiguity/ambivalence thing there ... which we're not going be to responsible for! If it's part of our subconscious, then it's just come out."
If it all comes from the subconscious, is music a kind of therapy for you?
"It's more like elimination, waste products being expelled."
The reason I used the word "therapy" was that most art isn't about venting what happened to you that week: it's dealing with things that happened to you in childhood, longlasting stuff, that has to be continually exorcised.
"It's not therapy unless it's conscious and clinically undergone. Otherwise, it's just sublimation. Which is just as valid."
INTO THE MYSTIC
Rudi: "I think anybody whose mind turns that way, they tend to cover all the ground, from drugs to mysticism to all kinds of weirdness...
Are you interested in mystical ideas?
"I'm interested in practical ideas, actually. Practicality... the key word for the Eighties."
"Oh yeah. You hit the nail right on the head there. Make your own drugs... But what are you into Simon? You're so enigmatic!"
That's a bit rich, coming from you two! The most cryptic pair I've ever come across.
"Hahahahaha! Also known as bullshit. Anyway, what what are you into? You like books don't you?"
Yeah. I read all these books, by French theoreticians, and filch their ideas and bring them to bear on music like yours... Their ideas verge on the mystical: they're
intellectuals who've thought their way through to the idea that... thinking doesn't really get you anywhere. That the important enlightenments are ones you can't achieve through logical thought...
Alex: "You can go in any one area, and if you go far enough, you'll end up being mystical. Look at science; if you delve into quantum mechanics, chaos theory, you end up with mysticism... But it's got to be practical."
But your ideas about the Sun radiating us with Love are kinda mystical...
Rudi: "No, it's very practical. It's real. Things that are really practical, really common sense, are ignored. And things that should be thought of as mystical and unreal, like love, are regarded as daily and commonplace... And that's the dilemma. Cos the fact is the sun is the provider of all things, but to say that sounds a bit mystical, but it's not, it's practical and bloody obvious. The sun blinks
out, it's the end. That's why I think books on things like mysticism, seem a bit absurd, in a way. My impression is that they think there are all these mystical states that are difficult to attain, and are somewhere over there, outside
the normal realms of life. But the fact is that everything that we need is here, now, within reach."
SPIRIT OF EDEN
Do you have a low estimation of human beings?
Rudi: "I've not met a human being. I've met lots and lots of monkeys in clothes. My belief is that every so often you get a few dudes who have some really great ideas, and they progress the rest of so-called humanity. Because we drive cars and watch TV we get to think we were responsible for those things... Cos we're born into, we think it's ours. But it's just a few geniuses, and the rest is on a pretty low
level. These guys pop up every so often, not that often considering the number of people on the planet. And because we can talk about these things and repeat 'em like parrots, we think we're clever. We're not. We're dumb. Dumb animals.
Because if you look at the mass of things we do, all we do is destroy. Look at the practical reality of it. You walk down the street, and it ain't... that... cool. Everything that Man's hand comes into contact with tends to get soiled rather
than made special..."
But there's Art...
Alex: "Well yeah, art is what calms us down and reminds us of our higher possibilites... it's definitely there to remind us of what we could be. If you look at nature, it's quite harmonious, it has its own rhythms, and art aspires to
the same things."
I can see the seeds of religion in all this talk: it sounds like you think Man has fallen, exiled himself from the Garden of Innocence.
"We've exiled ourselves from everything really... everything that could help us. Through our own greed."
Rudi: "You were talking about walking through Brockwell Park, but in Britain right now, that's not the kind of world people are interested in creating."
But to tie things up, your music sounds like heaven, like paradise, but there's always the sense of something evil stirring, hints of the impending Fall...
Rudi: "That's us. We're the shit stain on the white porcelain. We are incapable of creating pure, harmonic music, so if it seems tainted, that's cos we're involved. We
believe that there's a certain fraction of our soul that's pure, but the rest is mush. That's what we mean when we talk about trying to refine it."
Do you find the whole business of everyday life, the striving, the insistence of bodily appetites, is that all part of the mush?
"No, that's all life. We're all animalistic in that sense, we have to eat, wrap up warm. It's not a problem."
Alex: "But the spirit is the nugget, yeah. It applies to everything we do, now. Somewhere between our fingers, our guitars and our minds, there's a nugget, and it's a process of finding it. One way of finding it is letting everything come out..."
Rudi: "We listen to our music and try to understand what it's saying to us, what we're trying to say to ourselves. If we are what we think we are, if we make a piece of music we should know exactly what it's going to be like, there should
be no surprises. But when we listen back, it shocks us sometimes. I think: 'how can I like this so much, I don't like me that much... I don't like him that much... I don't even like Simon Reynolds' write-ups that much.'
It surprises you, cos there's more to you than what you thought."
Would you say the music's the best thing in your lives, then? A glimpse above the squalor of everyday life....
"Nah, I think everyday life - my everyday life - is great. I can feel just as good as washing up, as playing music. I can feel a lot playing music, and I can feel a lot
just watching TV. To put music on a pedestal, to think it can transport you to other dimensions ... Well, it can do, but anything can."
Alex: "Once I would have said music is the most important thing in my life. But to look back at me even contemplating saying that, seems silly."
supercolourfragilelipsticksexyallahdosehush a/k/a "i"
20/20 (?), 1989
by Julie Kristeva a/k/a Simon Reynolds
Americana (Luaka Bop compilation)
Entertainment Weekly, February 7th 1992
by Simon Reynolds
Feb 07, 1992
Details Genre: Rock
New Clear Child
by Simon Reynolds
A.R. Kane are a Black British duo, Alex Ayuli and Rudi Tambala, who became cult stars in the late '80s with a sound they called 'dreampop'. Influenced by Miles Davis, Cocteau Twins, Can and dub, they concocted marvellous albums like "69" and "i", in which fragile, haunting melodies drifted through a hallucinatory haze of fluorescent feedback and effects-addled guitar. A huge influence on 'shoegazers' like Slowdive and Lush, A.R. Kane's legacy endures with today's 'post-rock' bands (Bark Psychosis, Disco Inferno, Papa Sprain, et al).
After a four year hiatus, they return with "New Clear Child", and one's initial reaction, as a die-hard devotee, is that they've stripped away all the good stuff--the overloaded, iridescent guitars and uncanny acoustic spaces (what would now get them tagged 'ambient'). But "New Clear Child" is actually your classic 'grower': a handful of plays in, the consternation fades, and you awaken to the exquisite intelligence of their multi-faceted arrangements, the warp-and-weft of the backing harmonies, the subtly insidious melodies. Most of the album is languid, jazz-tinged pop-funk, gently propelled by deliberately quaint drum machine beats. 'Gather", with its programmed percussion and cosmic Santana-ish guitar, is vaguely reminiscent of Prince oddities like "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker", while "Pearl" showers 12-string cascades over a crisp machine-beat that again recalls Prince circa "Sign O' The Times" (this time, "Hot Thing" ).
If there's a flaw with their third album, it's that lyrically A.R. Kane seem to be operating on auto-pilot. Their blissed-out titles --"Tiny Little Drop of Perfumed Time", "Sea Like A Child", "Cool As Moons"--verge on self-parody, and the lyrics occasionally resort to auto-plagiarism ("Grace" quotes the title of "Up Home!", their 1988 EP). When the relentlessly beatific imagery is combined with Ayuli's trite rhyme-schemes--"the ocean is a sea/and it's coming for me"--the result is New Age nursery rhymes. The album's opener, "Deep Blue Breath", starts with children's laughter and surf lapping the shore, immediately reinvoking A.R. Kane's twin obsessions with lost innocence and oceanic mysticism. But where earlier songs like "The Sun Falls Into The Sea" were magical evocations of a subaquatic Eden, and boasted vivid imagery like "I can see your breath/like cirrus", now A.R. Kane's self-consciously naive poesy veers a tad too close to Seal's New Age-isms. Still, in the grand tradition of Symbol, Kravitz, D'Arby and other black mystics, Ayuli offers a rejoinder to the sceptics: "people think I'm crazy... but I don't care".
A.R. Kane have always had space-cadet tendencies (they once told me that sexual love couldn't compare to the self-less, nurturing, endlessly-giving love that the Sun provides the Earth!), but the music effortlessly melts your defences and seduces you into their loopy universe. At its best, "New Clear Child' does just that.
A.R. KANE, discography
Lollita EP (4AD import, 1987) 
Up Home! EP (Rough Trade import, 1988) 
69 (Rough Trade, 1988) 
Love-Sick EP (Rough Trade, 1988) 
"i" (Rough Trade, 1989) 
rem"i"xes (Rough Trade, 1990) 
Americana (Luaka Bop, 1992) 
New Clear Child (Luaka Bop, 1994) 
"Pump Up The Volume/Anitina (Every Time I See She Dance) (4AD, 1987) 
Spin Guide to Alternative Rock, 1995
by Simon Reynolds
A.R. Kane describe their music as "dreampop", and once claimed that "a lot of the time we're trying to transform dream imagery into sounds." At their best, these Black British art-rockers confront the listener with a matchless aural equivalent of the Rorschach Blot: a hazy maze of halcyon chaos that coaxes your unconscious to come out and play. You can read anything you like into the mirage-like fantasia of their sound--because A.R. Kane designed it that way.
They were always a highly unlikely band. When they first emerged, Alex Ayuli and Rudi Tambala wielded guitars and distortion pedals but cited only late '60s Miles Davis, Cocteau Twins and the European 'chamber jazz' of the ECM label as touchstones. Closer to a guitar-based experimental sound-laboratory than a live rockin' band, A.R. Kane nonetheless initially bore a faint resemblance to the Jesus and Mary Chain. Except that their sound (on their debut single "When You're Sad/Haunted" single and the "Lollita" EP) was less a wall-of-noise than a hanging garden, all prismatic feedback and crystal-shatter chords. Ayuli's fragile, lovesick vocal recalled Arthur Lee, with similar dark hints of morbid obsession and psychosis.
4AD seemed like A.R. Kane's obvious home but the alliance was shortlived, ended by the acrimony engendered by the success of their collaboration with Colourbox, M/A/R/R/S' "Pump Up the Volume"--a global dance smash thanks to its pioneering sampladelic groove. "Pump" was mostly Colourbox's work, Rudi & Alex adding a few cosmic guitar-trails, but "Anitina", the neglected AA side, was a Kane gem--gorgeous psychedelic dub-disco, anticipating moves made by the likes of Primal Scream, Stone Roses and Saint Etienne several years later.
Alex & Rudi's golden years were with Rough Trade. "Up Home!" is A.R.Kane at their most concentrated and elixir-like, finding their quintessential art's core in the ear-dazzling rush of "One Way Mirror" and the spangled vastness of "Up". The latter namechecks Zep's "Stairway To Heaven" and Marcus Garvey's Black Starliner as it sketches a vision of a lost motherland-in-the-sky. The debut LP "69" was a druggy drift of swoony sensuality, narcotic reverie and polymorphous desire, Alex's frail vocal wandering through labyrinthine sound-grottoes. "Spermwhale Trip Over" and "The Sun Falls Into The Sea" ache with an oceanic mysticism that recalls Robert Wyatt's "Rock Bottom" or Hendrix's "1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be"), while "Baby Milk Snatcher" and "The Madonna Is With Child" mourn the lost pre-Oedipal paradise of maternal succour and suckling. This era of A.R Kane was hugely influential, siring (with extra chromosones from My Bloody Valentine) both the ill-starred 'shoegazing' bands (Lush/Slowdive/Pale Saints etc) and the 'post-rock' experimentalism of Disco Inferno and Bark Psychosis.
After the confused, transitional EP "Lovesick", A.R. Kane made a stab at pop with "i", but happily their instincts were too wayward, resulting in a sort of never-never pop, chart music for an alternative universe. Alchemising house, lover's rock, Motown, ska and even U2-style stadium rock, "i" is a treasure trove of weird bliss. The duo then dispersed for a couple of years: Rudi set up the H.ARK! label, home of Kane disciples like Papa Sprain and Butterfly Child, while Alex went off to live on the West Coast. During their 'semi-retirement' phase, Americans were granted their first taste of 'dreampop', thanks to David Byrne's Luaka Bop label, who put out "Americana"--a solid anthology that avoided A.R. Kane's outlandish extremities in favour of dancey ditties like "A Love From Outer Space".
In 1994, A.R. Kane returned with their proper Luaka Bop debut, "New Clear Child". If they'd been at all calculating, they could have exploited their knack for Eno's "fictional psycho-acoustic spaces" and trompe l'oreille soundgardens by making a bid for the post-rave ambient market. Perverse as ever, A.R Kane's came back with a jazz-tinged pop-funk that dismayed diehard devotees with its dearth of iridescent guitarhaze, but pleased Americans because the gauzy stuff had cleared and you could now hear 'good songs'. The New Age nursery rhyme lyrics ("the ocean is a sea/and it's coming for me") had some worrying if Alex had gone seriously Cali. Still and all, A.R. Kane's magick abides, albeit in somewhat muted form.
[grades corrected to what i originally gave them before the rationing of 10 out of
10s exerted downward pressure]
Biography for the One Little Indian anthology The Singles Collection
It is tempting to describe A.R. Kane as the great lost group of the 1980s.
“Great” is spot-on. And “1980s” is more or less accurate (they did release some stuff in the Nineties but the late Eighties was A.R. Kane’s recording prime). No, it’s the “lost” bit that is misleading. It gives the impression that this was a group that was neglected, overlooked... if not utterly unknown, then certainly marginal in the scheme of things. And that is inaccurate.
Not only were A.R. Kane renowned and revered, but, in certain quarters, they were regarded and written up as one of the central groups of their era. The singles and albums received rave reviews (and when I say “rave” I mean frothing at the mouth, purple-prose-drooling paeans). Their faces appeared on the front covers of the British music weekly papers. But A.R. Kane weren’t just critics’s faves either. Sixty nine, their debut album, topped the independent charts in the summer of 1988.
But wait, there’s more: bizarrely, A.R. Kane actually made it to Number One in the UK pop charts, via M/A/R/R/S, their short-lived and fraught collaboration with Colourbox. Okay, it was “Pump Up the Volume”, the mostly-Colourbox side of the double A-sided 12 inch single that got the radio play and the club action. But A.R. Kane could take consolation from the fact that the all-our-own-handiwork flipside “Anitina”--included on this collection-- is by far the more remarkable and enduringly captivating piece of music. (Not that they need consolation, really, what with all the money they earned from M/A/R/R/S).
Still, the “lost” bit of “great lost group of the 1980s” does apply, in so far as A.R. Kane are now the stuff of cult memory. As often happens, the passing of the years resulted in History shaking out and settling into a shape that doesn’t necessarily reflect how things were seen at the time. So some late Eighties groups (My Bloody Valentine, Pixies) have maintained a high profile, while others, considered their contemporary equals, have faded into the background (A.R. Kane, Throwing Muses). Hopefully this long-overdue collection of A.R. Kane’s EPs and singles, which has arrived—funny coincidence—the same year as MBV’s own EPs compilation, will serve to redress this injustice.
Other players came and went but the core of A.R. Kane was always Alex Ayuli and Rudy Tambala. From East London, they had known each other since primary school. Released on One Little Indian in 1986, their debut single “When You’re Sad” reminded reviewers of The Jesus and Mary Chain: the template of sugarsweet melody juxtaposed with scouring wall-of-noise that in the wake of the J&MC’s early Creation singles was widely adopted across the British indie scene during 1985-87. But in their early interviews, Alex and Rudy adamantly insisted they had nothing to do with indie rock and cited as their true inspirations jazz-fusion figures like Miles Davis and Weather Report, ECM Records outfits such as Azymuth, along with the (genuinely lost) black postpunk group Basement 5. The only vaguely indie-land outfit they expressed admiration for was The Cocteau Twins.
Probably a truer indication of where A.R. Kane’s heads were at was the flipside of “When You’re Sad”, the drifting, gaseously gorgeous mood-piece “Haunted”. It fit the way that Alex and Rudy described their creative process: in early interviews, they spoke of how “our songs emerge out of total chaos” which “we chip away at until there’s this beautiful shape”. Alex declared that “our ambition is for people to have dreams for which our music is the soundtrack”.
Early in 1987 A.R. Kane signed to 4AD and in July they released the Lollita EP, produced by Cocteau Twins’s guitarist Robin Guthrie. Lollita starts dreamy, with the lilting, love-sickly title track, but quickly turns to nightmare with "Sadomasochism Is A Must" and “Butterfly Collector”, increasingly psychotic thrashes that seemed to shower the listener with shards of splintered crystal. In their first front cover story (for Melody Maker) Alex and Rudy talked about how the record had turned into a sort of accidental concept EP about the tainted-ness of love. But the darkness and violence had always lurked malignantly within even their most idyllic-seeming songs: “When You’re Sad” was originally titled “You Push A Knife Into My Womb."
Violence certainly came to the fore during A.R. Kane’s sporadic live shows of this period, squalls of abstraction in which Alex’s fragile vocals were buried deep inside the seething colour-swirl of feedback and FX-wracked texture, a barely-sculpted chaos almost impossible to correlate with the recorded versions of the songs. Despite their Hendrix-redolent love of electric guitars and effects pedals, A.R. Kane weren’t a rock band in the conventional sense, i.e. a group that gigs regularly and whose recordings offer a polished-up version of the band in performance. A.R. Kane were more like an experimental guitar pop unit who loved to push the recording studio to its limits.
Which is why 4AD supremo Ivo Watts-Russell thought it would be a smart idea to team A.R. Kane up with another bunch of studio boffins on his label, Colourbox. The resulting collaboration M/A/R/R/S (the name is based on the first letters of the first names of all the people involved) proved to be a paradoxical blend of triumph and fiasco. One the one hand, “Pump Up the Volume” reached Number One in the U.K. and dominated dance clubs worldwide all through late 1987. It spearheaded the “DJ record” craze for sample-collage cut-ups (Bomb the Bass, Coldcut, S’Express, et al). On the other hand, Colourbox and A.R. Kane couldn’t find workable common ground, and as result “Pump Up the Volume”/”Anitina (The First Time I See She Dance”” was more like a split single than a real collaboration. On “Pump,” all you hear of Rudy and Alex is a single trail of lustrous feedback; Colourbox, for their part, only supplied a basic drum machine undercarriage to the delicious soundclash of lover’s rock reggae and “Third Stone From the Sun”-style kaleidoscope-guitar that is “Anitina”. The latter track anticipated directions later pursued by everyone from Saint Etienne to The Stone Roses. But in the acrimonious wake of the unexpected mega-success of “Pump Up the Volume”, all the parties involved decided there would be no follow-up single or album.
A.R. Kane then jumped ship from 4AD to another of the era’s mighty independents, Rough Trade. In April 1988, they released the Up Home! EP, arguably their most concentrated slab of iridescent awesomeness and a true pinnacle of an era that abounded with astounding landmarks of guitar-reinvention (Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation, My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything and their two 1988 EPs, releases by Butthole Surfers, Dinosaur Jnr, Spacemen 3, Loop, The House of Love, and more... ). The clanking dub-sway of “Baby Milk Snatcher” combined an oblique jab at Margaret Thatcher (in the title) with the languid erotica of lines like “suck my seed”; “One Way Mirror” induced snowblindness of the ears with its dazzling rush of supersaturated textures; “Up” was A.R. Kane’s most glorious expanse of sound yet, the winding, slowly ascending melody like a spiral stairway veering up from a plateau of mirrors.
The album that followed, sixty-nine, saw reviewers going verbosely ape-shit. Perhaps sensing that they’d taken the Niagara-of-noise aesthetic as far as they could, sixty-nine saw Alex and Rudy attempt some different directions (stripped-down and groove-oriented, ambient and meditational) along with the expected glistening grottos of abstraction. Continuing this move away from the “classic” A.R. Kane sound, the Love-Sick EP (October 1988) was a transitional affair, with tracks like “Green Hazed Daze” and “Sperm Travels Like Juggernaut” moving towards a cleaner, sharper-defined sound that faintly recalled the lush ‘n’ lurid Goth-psych of the Banshees circa Kiss in the Dreamhouse.
Then came the remarkable reinvention that was “i”. Originally titled Supercallafragilisticexpealodocious until the Disney Corporation took exception, this 1989 double album was a bold stride in the direction of pop. This shift to clarity and accessibility seemed to be signposted by the first single off the LP, “Pop”, but the band insisted that the word “pop” referred to the bursting of a romantic bubble, the end of a relationship and its attendant illusions. (The “short version” of the song, included here, starts with a sample from Martin Luther King: “I have a dream”). Once again, A.R. Kane were probing one of their favorite sore-spot zones of inspiration, the dark and twisted side of love.
Some of the best tunes on “i” can be found on this collection, because they popped up on various EPs and singles over the next few years. Rough Trade’s 1989 Pop EP included “What’s All This Then” (an off-kilter skank-house groove trailing a wake of hallucinatory after-images) and “Snow Joke” (a delightful hybrid of bouncy electro-bop and M.O.R. orchestration abruptly split apart by samples from ECM artist Norma Winstone and 2001, a Space Odyssey’s computer-gone-crazy HAL). The following year Virgin France put out “i” highlight “Crack Up”, a mixture of jittery paranoia and pump-and-pound club energy that seemed to have assimilated some groove-science from the whole M/A/R/R/S misadventure. Then, in 1992, to accompany their A.R. Kane anthology Americana, David Byrne’s label Luaka Bop released “A Love From Outer Space” as an EP with four different mixes of the title track (“Solar Equinox”, “Lunar Eclipse” and “Venusian Dub” along with the “i” original) and threw in “Sugarwings”, also from “i” and one of the group’s most beguiling broken-heart ballads.
In the early Nineties, Alex and Rudy set up their own label H.ark! and released a series of wondrous EPs by outfits like Papa Sprain and Butterfly Child, groups that had clearly been shaped by A.R. Kane’s vision. And you could see the influence of their late Eighties music popping up in all kinds of places by the early Nineties. Along with My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins, Alex and Rudy had contributed a hefty quotient of DNA to shoegaze’s blurry-guitar sound, particularly with the movement’s more idiosyncratic groups such as Pale Saints, Moose and Slowdive. They had also been an influence on the UK branch of post-rock, operators like Seefeel and Bark Psychosis and Disco Inferno, while the brilliant west country neo-psych outfit Flying Saucer Attack explicitly and fervently cited A.R. Kane’s early singles and EPs as a formative catalyst.
But when A.R. Kane released their next (and, as it turned out, final) album New Clear Child in 1994, they had abandoned the very aspects of that their sound that had been most inspirational: the halcyon guitar-haze. A confounding move as far as many fans were concerned, but possibly a shrewd one, given the total overload of shoegazey miasma that had blanketed the British music scene in recent years. New Clear Child, represented here by the Sea Like A Child EP and the America-only single “Honey Be (For Stella)”, embraced a jazz-tinged pop-funk that in places recalled positivity-era Prince or the New Age R&B of Seal and PM Dawn. For some fans, this was a step too far towards the mainstream, but really it was A.R. Kane pursuing the same goal as ever: just a different version of what they called “dreampop”, the merger of song and space, the deep inside and the far out-there.