Monday, December 14, 2015

Off White (Infinite Zero/American)
Lost Chance (ROIR)

Mojo, 1995?

by Simon Reynolds

     After the nihilism and noise of  No Wave came the era of mulatto mutant disco. For one short moment, England and New York were in sync.On both sides of the Atlantic the sharpest ex-punks were cooking up piquant hybrids of funk, punk, freeform jazz and dub. A Certain Ratio, Pop Group, Gang of Four, Bush Tetras, Defunkt, ESG--all briefly belonged to an international
avant-funk movement.

Sick muthafunker James White was a key player in all this miscegenated mayhem.  Swiftly following up the 1979 debut Buy, White changed his band's name from the Contortions to the Blacks, and released Off White on the ultra-hip Ze label.  The opener Contort Yourself encapsulates White's sonic and lyrical shtick. Over brittle funk guitar, neurotic bass and a hissing hi-hat disco beat, James spurted the infantile squall of his bebop sax and rapped nihilistic nursery rhymes: "now is the time/to lose all control/distort your body/and twist your soul".  Next came the vile misogny of Stained Sheets, a duet juxtaposing Stella Rico's needy, orgasmic whimpers with White's sadistic contempt. A blankly ironic cover of Irving Berlin's (Tropical) Heatwave segues into Almost Black, the most dubious homage to blackness-as-primitivism since Norman Mailer's 1957 essay The White Negro.  That said, Off White's febrile funk remains queerly compelling, even if you're left feeling so soiled you have to take a bath afterwards.

Lost Chance was recorded two years later, when White had changed his name to Chance and hooked up with a brand new bunch of sidemen. Live and lo-fi, this 1981 set showcases Jimbo's unhealthy James Brown fixation, with covers of I Got You (I Feel Good) and King Heroin, alongside Contort Yourself rehashes like Melt      
Yourself Down.  As with ACR, Pop Group et al, funk figured in Chance's white bohemian imagination as voodoo possession, a cold-fever compulsion, which in turn made it the ideal vehicle for the avant-funksters themes of addiction, obsession and control.  

Of course, nobody noticed that Michael Jackson was at that exact same moment working the fascist groove thang in far more convulsively thrilling and spooky fashion, with Off The Wall, Triumph and Thriller, and in a million-selling pop context to boot. Now, that's really sick...

[2015 note: some errors here - he was Chance before he was White; Buy and Off White were simultaneously released, if I recall right, same say - to make some kind of statement]

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Fred Vermorel, Vivienne Westwood: Fashion, Perversity and the Sixties Laid Bare
contribution to Bookforum "lost classics" feature, 2013

by Simon Reynolds

Fred Vermorel achieved both renown and notoriety for his unorthodox approach to pop biography and as a theorist of fame and fandom. But 1996’s Vivienne Westwood: Fashion, Perversity and the Sixties Laid Bare was his most eccentric statement yet.  

For a start, the book was as much about Westwood’s partner Malcolm McLaren as the legendary designer herself.  Her story was ably chronicled in an imaginary interview weaved together from magazine quotes and half-remembered ancedotes stemming from Vermorel’s long association with the punk couture duo and the Sex Pistols milieu. 

But the book really came alive with the central section: Vermorel’s memoir of Sixties London, when he and McLaren were art-school accomplices. The longest and most vivid part of the book, it’s packed with fascinating digressions on topics such as the semiotics of cigarette smoking and the atmosphere of all-night art cinema houses. Among Vermorel’s several provocative assertions is the claim that pop music back then simply wasn’t as important as made out by subsequent false memorials to the Sixties, but was regarded as unserious, a mere backdrop to other bohemian or artistic activities.  

Posing as a profile of a fashion icon, Vivienne Westwood presents the reader with an outlandish blend of cultural etiology (it doubles as an autopsy on the Sixties’s impossible dreams and analysis of its perverse psychology) and  triangular love story. Vermorel and Westwood emerge as both still besotted with the incorrigible McLaren, despite having each “broken up” with him long ago.