Monday, February 29, 2016



Melody Maker, November 12th, 1988

by Simon Reynolds

'Black Sun' is perfect, too perfect. Loop's sound is the gravity's rainbow cast by a black hole — it's just that it's not a star that's collapsed under its own mass, but rock itself. Loop music consists of infinite refractions of black, it's a contoured void: ridges and troughs of moribund sound, like the sastrugi of deep space (sastrugi are the wave patterns left in snow by the wind). 'Black Sun' says it all: Loop are an inferno that emits no light, a pyre for "the end of me". Catch me in the right frame of mindlessness, and I can think of no greater liberation than to be mired in the entropy of their endless end, sucked under and eclipsed. Loop have me vegging out. On the cusp of coma.
The irony is that the phrase "black sun" is the perfect evocation of everything in Loop music with the solitary exception of the song 'Black Sun' itself. It's the most dazzling and elevating record they've made so far, as exhilarating as surfing on the solar wind.

In person, naturally, Loop are not the Thanatos-worshipping cosmonauts you might conceivably hope for. Robert is a curious mix of crap-cutting matter-of-factness and intensity. John chips in occasionally with the odd, sleepy but telling comment. Neil is apparently mute.
Loop have a constituency, what I would call the headfuck contingent: that punky/hippy confluence, leatherbound long hairs, the kind of people who live in squats, are into comix, horror, drugs, the mindblowing in general. The kind of people you rub shoulders with, with subtle variations, at Spacemen 3 shows, or World Domination/Mutoid Waste events, or the Adrian Sherwood/Tackhead axis. Have Loop connected with a scene and its desires, or helped to bring it into being?
John: "Who knows? Chicken and egg, innit?"
What you do seems to be what people want, now. It seems right for 1987/88. Why?
Robert: "It's hard for me to say, because the things I was involved in before Loop were on similar lines. Bit more art-oriented, less rock'n'roll based, drawing on stuff like Can, Faust, Cabaret Voltaire, 23 Skidoo. But I was always into the repetition element. It's just that until Loop I was never the instigator, I just played bass or sang."
Isn't it the case that the kind of acid rock elements in what you do, only became permissible again in the last two or three years?
"But you see, I don't think psychedelia ever went away really. Even during punk, when liking Pink Floyd meant you were a boring hippy, people still listened to garage punk, which is where acid rock came from."
And do you see the artschool avant-funk you were into as having the same aims as psychedelia?
"Yeah, cos it's all based in repetition, and what some people would call a trance-like effect."
It sounds like you ought to be in sympathy with the Acid House scene.
"Oh no, that stuff's just nonsense. Sure, it's repetitive, but in a bland way. We like to think we build on our repetitiveness. With Acid House, they just sit on a synthesizer for half an hour and make squiddly-diddly noises. That scene is basically just a small diversion for the beer boys. In three months they'll be back listening to Level 42. It's just a fad, not a musical movement. All the trendies are turning off it already, they're now starting up Minneapolis bars dedicated to Prince-type music."
Who do you feel are your peers, your spiritual kin?
"Tackhead. The On-U sound. Apart from that, I don't listen to a lot of new stuff."
John: "Maybe stuff like Glenn Branca."
Robert: "Branca, Steve Reich, all that lot. Stuff we've been listening to for a quite a while. Reggae too."
There does seem to be a dub-derived spatial awareness to Loop.
"I've learned a lot from listening to Adrian Sherwood's production, the way he structures sound. Lee Perry too."
Do you feel any kinship with the American noiseniks — Dinosaur, the Buttholes, Sonic Youth...?
"We like 'em. A lot of people bracket us with them, but that seems kind of lazy. I think a lot of that comes down to the fact that those bands have all been influenced by the same things as us. But we're all trying to do different things with those influences. I think the big similarity is the attitude to volume: using volume as an instrument."
For a while I had difficulty with Loop: the attention to what seemed like period detail — the wah-wah, the Detroit '69 hair — got in the way of my recognising something new.
"That all came out of the music I was into. Hendrix and that. But just because we use a wah-wah, doesn't mean we're Sixties kids. We are influenced by a lot of bands from the Sixties, but we're also influenced by Seventies bands, and even a few Eighties ones. I just wish people would look a little bit further than saying 'Oh, they're stuck in the Sixties'. Sure, we draw on The Velvets, and The Stooges, but we also draw on later stuff like Faust and Can and Neu, and we've got a whole load of modem technology, and we're doing it NOW. I was a really big Birthday Party fan, and there's probably some of that in there as well."
If there is a link between the Birthday Party's bacchanalian seizures and Loop's seized-up mantras, it's that both are indebted to The Stooges. If Cave took Iggy's chaotic exhibitionism and hammed it up to the limit, Loop work from The Stooges more downered, inhibited side. Loop take the desperation of the first Stooges album, abstract it from the specific teen kicks and aggravations that fired it, and turn it into an inchoate, cosmic howl.
Asheton's bastardised, barbiturate blues is abased even further: a piteous, infantile wail, wah-wah as primal screams. Sometimes the guitar on Loop songs is an endless sub-blues solo, but paraplegic, stunted rather than expansive. The Stooges' ballad 'Anne' could almost be the Loop prototype, in its limpid stupor and strange inertia of love ("floating in your swimming pool" — the lover's monstrously dilated pupils?)
Robert: "When The Stooges and the other Detroit bands like MC5 and SRC got going, the hippy thing was very strong still. Everybody wanted to love one another. The nihilism of bands like The Stooges was almost a statement against all that dippiness and mellowness. There was probably the same kind of feel there and then, as there was in London in 1976. In fact, punk drew a lot on The Stooges and MC5. Those groups and a few others, like The Velvets, were all punk could draw on, cos those were the only groups during that whole time when everyone was tuning in, turning on and dropping out, who said: 'Fuck this!' The only ones who resisted the hippy self-indulgence, all those 25-minute solos and fuck kissing the sky. (Which Hendrix could do better anyway and do within a three, four-minute song.) But at the time, all those groups people respect nowadays — The Velvets, Iggy, Suicide, New York Dolls — they sold fuck all!"

This then, is the lineage you feel part of — the Lester Bangs' tradition of wilfully "moronic" monotony and minimalism. What do you think repetition repetition repetition can do for people?
Robert: "It's very much a form of psychological music. It's something you either get into or you fuckin' hate. Some people prefer verse/chorus songs that 'go' somewhere. The drugs thing has been totally overblown, though: you don't have to be out of your face to get into repetitive music."
John: "It can either totally relax you, or totally aggravate you. We did some tape loops for the album, and when we played them at a very quiet volume they were soothing, but when we turned the volume to max, it put you on edge. That's the psychological element."
You seem to be keen to downplay the acid connection, but there does appear to be a link between the effect your music has on the listener, and the acid experience.
Robert: "Yeah, but our music's very psychological, and acid's a very psychological drag. I can only really repeat what I've said previously: yeah, we're into it, but there's no way it's necessary to take it in order to get into our music A lot of our stuff is based on the more nightmarish experiences in life. No bad-trip experiences, cos that's already closeting it and pigeonholing it. You can have a bummer trip whether you're on acid or not.
"Everyone's got their own personal phobias, stuff that really gets them. And that's what I'm interested in. The psychological aspect of human life. Why are there such things as madness? You can read all the books, and yet no one has any real conclusion as to why there's madness, or paranoia."
John: "I like to know why people do the funny things they do. Not just murderers, but the really banal, the weird things people do."
Robert: "It's been said in medical chronicles that taking LSD is the closest you can come to madness. But how do they know? No one really knows. They can do x number of interviews, but they still don't know what it's like."
John: "Physically, the effect of acid is supposed to be very close to schizophrenia."

Some psychoanalysts see schizophrenia as a kind of language disorder, in that identity — one's sense of continuity extending from past into future — is an effect of language. Indeed, time itself is an effect of language, of syntax. The schizoid experience is said to involve a loss of memory, and a blindness to the future. Instead the schizophrenic lives in a perpetual present tense, which is vivid to an often unbearable degree; the doors of perception are open wide to the insupportable dazzle of The Moment, whereas normal people always have some kind of focus (their minds partially occupied by forward planning or retrospection).
The parallels with acid are obvious: what for some is a highly sought after "trip" (timeless, beyond words, transcendental) is for the schizophrenic a living hell of exile from language and any sense of purposive continuity. Reality can no longer be interpreted, managed by being made meaningful; instead, its materiality is overwhelmingly intense. But this effect is felt as a numbing loss of reality — as Loop put it, "too real to feel".
Robert: "Ever seen a programme called The Mind Machine? One week it was all about this composer who had really severe amnesia. His memory could only extend to a couple of minutes previous. When his wife visited him at the hospital, he said: 'This is the first time I've ever seen you, but I know I love you'."
John: "If you're into that kind of thing, a brilliant book to get is The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, by Oliver Sachs, with all these case stories of people with strange neurological and perceptual disorders."
Robert: "That's what I'm into, not the fictional stuff but the factual, which is fuckin' strange enough."
It seems to me that one of the effects of repetition in music is this heightened awareness of The Moment, this complete immersion in NOW — something both alluring and perturbing.
John: "They've been doing that for thousands of years."
Robert: "You listen to Steve Reich or to John Cage in the Sixties. And he was an influence on John Cale. And before that there was Erik Satie, who'd write a two-minute piece and at the end put: 'repeat ad infinitum'. But the repetition thing goes way back, to tribal rhythms..."

Is Loop in some way a reaction against the idea of rock being about narratives — both small (the song as story) and large (rock as the Way Forward to a better world)? The very name Loop seems to lock into a different strand in rock history — the repetition axis — and a different idea of what music is for: rock as a (locked) groove that takes us nowhere (to a Utopia, literally no-place, outside language.
"Well, the reason we chose the name was because it fitted what we wanted to do perfectly. People say we pinched it off a John Cale track, and I make no bones about it, yeah, we did. It's a very rare flexi from 1967. Cale has said that it's where Lou Reed got his Metal Machine Musicidea from."
Are Loop a "good night out"? Or is it a bit more massive than that?
John: "Some people are quite disturbed by it. But then a lot of people like being disturbed. Like us!"
Robert: "I like a lot of films that disturb your sense of reality, and prey on you."
I ask the question because you've said before that you'd like to close down the bar when you come on stage, and have the audience locked in, their minds unable to wander. Seems kinda sadistic, or at least megalomaniac.
Robert: "That's my perverse side coming out. That remark was a stab against the trendiness of people saying, 'oh yeah, let's go see Loop', and then spending the whole evening in the bar. I hate that, especially if it's a sell-out gig and people are still queuing out there hopelessly who really want to see the band, and there's people in there who only came to be seen."
John: "But if I went to see a band, and they locked the audience in, I'd really get into it, I think."
It's almost as though the response you expect from your audience is a submission.
Robert: "Oh yeah, but a lot of people don't want that at all. But I think there should be more things like that in music. Music is my biggest passion, and the way I really get into things is almost a submission to music. It's not as though we would dictate to people, but it'd be nice if there no diversions from the music."

Loop have the most perfect, ultimate song titles around — 'This Is Where You End', 'Fade Out', 'Fix To Fall', 'Torched', 'Heaven's End', 'Burning World', 'Crawling Heart'... Looking at the imagery, I can see a preponderance of negatives — imagery of annihilation, immolation, terminal experiences, apocalypse, falling...
"Yeah, but falling can be a totally orgasmic experience. Falling can be a good experience, not a bad one. But you're probably right. It sounds corny, but I am interested in the darker side of life. Why? Because a lot of people are really consciously trying to switch off from that.
"Life is full of ups and downs, and a lot of people can't accept or face the downs. All they want is the highs all the time. They want to avoid anything bad happening to them, or avoid even considering that bad things could happen to them. It's a mental block. In a roundabout way, the songs are about how you may well live this comfortable life, but someday things are gonna prey on you."
And why the recurrence of fire imagery...
"It's the greatest destructive force, ever. Death by fire... I mean, I'd rather drown than burn to death, put it that way."
Isn't there a perverse attraction to fire, in a metaphorical way: the desire to be consumed by something — music — as though by flames? A conflagration to relieve people of their self-consciousness and abolish the borders between things. Is that what you experience when you play live?
"When we're playing, all I think about is trying to play the same song as everyone else. It's so nerve-racking being on stage that you've no time to think about the effect it has on you or anyone."
Tell me some more about your ideas about falling...
"If I could get over my phobia about planes — cos I just don't trust them — more than anything else I'd love to jump out of a plane with a parachute. But to freefall. I reckon that must be the most free you can ever be, and it must be overwhelming. You can either be totally petrified, or think: 'This is the best thing that's ever happened to me.' I'll probably force myself to do it, one day."

That seems to be a big clue to what Loop are all about — either an excess or an absence of gravity, either way a loss of orientation...
"Yeah, I'm very into disorientation. That is the overall effect we aim for with Loop."
And the effect of that topsy-turviness, and the unrelenting repetition, I can only describe as stultifying. In the best possible sense. It seems that's the most intelligent thing music can do — reduce, or perhaps, elevate the listener to a state of holy stupor.
John: "Emptied. I feel empty when I'm doing it. I do! That's what I like."
Robert: "It's like those old Tibetan geezers who chant the same thing over and over again. You see, there's a romantic beauty about death. A lot of people are scared of death, but I'm not. I'd hate to die a violent death — by immolation, say — but to slowly slip into whatever death entails... If I go, I wanna go in my sleep. Or at least, let it be quick. Cos I think death can be beautiful; you read about all these people who've had astral projections, and to me it just sounds like the most beautiful thing you can experience. We're very much into beauty, and we're very much into ugly things. And certain ugly things can be very beautiful."
Listening to Loop I feel wombed (or is it entombed?) This is regressive rock, in a very literal sense. But Loop don't evoke the pearly, lambent glow of AR Kane's amniotic Utopia; Loop are a darker, more shuddery backwards fall through the mesh of language, the circuitry of power with which we administer ourselves as productive adults, back back into the primal abjection from which we're shaped. Loop are immense but primitive. If U2 are rock as clarion call of the super-ego, Loop are rock as siren-song of the Id.
Sometimes Loop's music reminds me of a nameless feeling that can invade you when insomnia has brought you to the end of the night: a sensation of surging further and further away from everyone, accompanied by a simultaneous expansion and attenuation of the self, as though the grotesque swelling of your mind was wiping out the entire universe.
Where did the image of the 'Black Sun' come from?
"The 'black sun' is the 'heart of darkness'. It's a heart. Anytime anyone talks about the 'heart', you have this radiant imagery. But to me, there's this very, very dark side to it. They say 'follow your heart', but your heart can take you to the most dismal places ever. 'Black Sun' is about the darker side of a love for someone, where it's almost schizophrenic. One minute you feel totally radiant with the thought of someone, the next you feel very destructive about someone."
"Follow your heart" means put yourself in thrall to stupidity, which can be glorious, or indecently asinine — like contemplating suicide when a phone call doesn't materialise...
Robert: "Some people's passions can verge on the ludicrous."
So 'Black Sun' doesn't refer to black holes or anything astrophysical...
"In a way, yeah, cos a heart can collapse in on itself. Your true feelings can totally disintegrate. You can explode into violence, or implode into self-destruction. 'Black Sun' is a love song in a bastardised kind of way. But it's not personalised, it's just my thoughts on love, not a specific love affair. Just another angle on the old story of how love can tear you apart."
Is there anyone you've encountered who you feel is on the same wave-length as Loop?
"Only one person: Mark Stewart. But then I've heard horror stories about him. I mean, I'm sure there's a lot of bands who are into it for the sake of music, and not self-glorification or money. But we don't run into them so much. Stewart is the only obvious example of someone with the right attitude.
"It's still on the cards that we might do a Loop vs Tackhead collaboration. We had the Tackhead Sound System with us the last time we played ULU, and Sherwood was saying that there were things we did that they'd never thought of. So it would be a genuinely interesting collusion. They haven't really influenced our music, but they have influenced our production values, how we structure sounds."
The second Loop album, Fade Out, is now scheduled for release in the first week of 1989. Has it lived up to Robert's claim earlier this year that it would be much heavier than Heaven's End?
"I think so. On the first album, there was a load of subtleties, but I don't think anything on this LP is subtle, It's all pretty brutal. It's a step forward, I think. Maybe in two albums time we'll get it right."
How can they take it further?
"A lot of people expect us to do the bog-standard Sixties cover version, but I don't want us to rely on that. That's why we did 'Thief Of Fire' on the EP, and that's why we're doing Can's 'Mother Sky' on the B-side of 'Black Sun'. With 'Thief Of Fire' we got rid of The Pop Group's bastard funk and just looped it up. But with 'Mother Sky' we're actually pretty close to the Can original. It's uncharted territory for us.
"That whole Seventies Krautrock thing — Can, Faust, Neu, even early Kraftwerk — were treading on very similar territory to what we're into. You can definitely tell they were influenced by a lot of psychedelic music, and they just exaggerated the repetitiveness."
John: "Their music was very simple, very intoxicating."
Robert: "Can are definitely an influence. Can's 'Mother Sky' is a lot more mellow than ours, but it's still close."
Faust, I can see easily — there are parts of So FarThe Faust Tapes and IV that sound incredibly similar to Loop's warp and weft of distortion. Can struck me as being rather too whimsical for you to tolerate...
"People say that Damo Suzuki's singing is very up in the air and lighthearted, but we're more influenced by Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit, the rhythm section. Everything they did was totally stripped down. Can is definitely where PiL came from, Jah Wobble. And we're influenced by Metal Box. PiL is what turned us on to Can and Faust, in a roundabout way. What I think about the Acid House scene is, if only people were adventurous enough to play a Can track... cos the people would go fuckin' apeshit."
One way Loop could go forward is to relinquish the beat altogether. At the start of the Fade Out album, there's a 25-second interlude, what sounds like a symphony of drones, as portentous as the distant trembling in the air the citizens of Dresden must have heard on the eve of the firebombing. The mosaic of almost ambient guitar noise in the middle of 'Straight To Heart' suggests another direction for them, one that Loop indulge singlemindedly for the first time on 'Circle Grave' (also on the B-side of 'Black Sun').
Robert: "I love doing that stuff, but to me it's soundtrack music. I'm very interested in ambience, but I'd like to combine it with visuals."
John: "Do you ever listen to any ECM stuff? Some of it's brilliant. I'd really like to work with someone like Keith Jarrett or Egberto Gismonti."
Robert: "There's so many things you can do with this format, it's knowing which way to go. Originally, I had the idea of making the second album totally subversive of the first one. Just do weird, almost unplayable stuff. But there were still some things I wanted to do with the basic Loop sounds. We can save all that for the 'difficult third album'. But all the stuff you mentioned is on the horizon. No boundaries. We haven't scratched the surface yet, we've only brushed against it.
"There's so much you can do with technology. Like on the track 'Fade Out', we use an effect on my vocal called 'preverb'. You turn the tape over and add reverb on it, so that when it's played back the right way round, all the reverb comes before the vocal. On the next album, we want to use a holophonic system for 3D sound. A system of mikes geared around how people's hearing actually works. We like to abuse technology, take it as far as it can go.
"Sherwood has the same attitude. Like stereo, people don't even exploit stereo today. They don't abuse stereo, make sounds swim around a venue like we do. That's why I say people should really listen to Loop. They should have no distractions, just immerse themselves in it, cos there's a lot in there."
No distractions, just let yourself be driven to distraction. If that's what Loop demand from a listener, what do they give?
"The right to choose. To find out why they like our music. We're not forcing anything on anyone."
Then, as we go on into extra time, Robert launches into a tirade about the music press, as gargantuan, circular and potentially interminable as a Loop groove. The Press always gets it wrong, it seems. It either arbitrates what it is people are supposed to see in Loop, thus ending the flux of indeterminacy that Robert claims is was what Loop offer, or it misrepresents what the band are about, falsifying quotes in order to sensationalise certain aspects (eg: drugs). Or it claims too much for Loop, its ardent garlands of hyperbole proving to be embarrassing millstones round the neck that the band find it hard to live up to. Chris Roberts' mind's eye fantasia, and Paul Oldfield's astrophysical/apocalyptic delirium have been a source of discomfort.
Roberts' confusion (he wants people to surrender themselves to Loop, but believes that in the process they've granted the freedom to see whatever they like into Loop) is actually spot on.
For Loop do comprehend the two poles of pleasure in rock today: the Rorschasch Blot (AR Kane-ish illegibility in which you can read whatever you fancy) and the Richter Scale (the more overpowering arsequakin' end of things). They do impose freedom. And Loop are a loop; a Moebius strip history of rock repetition, running from garage punk, psychedelia avant-funk, dub, to the present, and back again. A continuum of continuum rock, spinning on its own axis, going nowhere faster every day.
For some, all this will have been too clinical. But in all honesty I can say I'm not arrogant enough to imagine I can simulate in words what Loop do. I can just take stock of the damage, gather the clues to how they got there, and give you directions to the brink. Maybe the only tone humble enough is that of an autopsy, an inquest into "the end of me". And believe me, they did it, Loop punched a vast crater in the fabric of this paltry discourse. I fell. I was void. It can happen for you too.

Paul Oldfield reviews Loop for Melody Maker singles column, November 26 1988


A Gilded Eternity 

(Situation Two)

Melody Maker, January 20th 1990

by Simon Reynolds

It's clear now that Loop peaked with their magnificent brace of EPs in 1988,Collision/Thief Of Fire and Black Sun/Mother Sky. Last year's Fade Out was just a consolidation of the first album (some would say, a reiteration). And lost month's drab, ungainly 'Arc-Lite' obviously heralded the proverbial "traumatic third album". Here it is.
The title, A Gilded Eternity, is at once perfect and predictable: it actually sounds like one of the more cumbersome metaphors dreamt up by we here at the MM branch of the Loop Fan Club. A Gilded Eternity is another gesture at what Loop were aiming at with the phrase "heaven's end". Heaven is an "endless end" to the anxiety and restlessness of fleshly existence. The "apocalypse now" that Loop, the Spacemen et al, yearn for is an end of history and an end of geography: an escape from the shackles of time and place. Some radical psychoanalysts believe that it's time itself that is the source of Man's alienation.
A Gilded Eternity also suggests to me what Loop should be doing musically. By now, they should have transcended the riff, transcended rhythm, and disappeared in a nebula of originless sound. Their black energy should have turned to lustrous entropy. They should have reached the nirvana of "heaven's end". We've seen glimpses of this sublimated meta-rock before, in the coda to 'Forever' (off the first LP) and with 'Circle Grave' (off the Black Sun EP): dislocated drones that circle each other endlessly, like gravity ripples round a black hole.
New songs like 'Valour' and 'Afterglow' seem to promise the final coming of this rock afterlife. But put the needle in the groove, and it's instantly clear that Loop are still stuck in the garage. Only this time round they've lost the gargantuan, irresistible momentum of yore. Their riffs no longer sound primordial so much as underdeveloped. Where once Loop were about goingnowhere fast, now they just seem to be going nowhere. With 'Nail Will Burn' they even get there, only to find it's like the area between East Croydon and Selhurst. And 'Breathe Into Me' trundles grey like Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry, of all people.
There's a couple of tracks on A Gilded Eternity where Loop get beyond themselves. 'Blood' is a brilliant dub-scape clearly influenced by Mark Stewart: a radioactive wasteland, dust-plumes of Can guitar, and radio static crackle vocals like Mayday signals from survivors trapped beneath the glowing rubble. 'From Centre To Wave' is very Joy Division: glazed bass drones and slash after slash of guitar, superimposed into a glare of sound.
The closing 'Be Here Now' is the best excursion here through Loop's traditional terrain. Magnificently pregnant, impending chords are repeated for what feels like an eternity (not quite a gilded one) before the entrance of Robert's listless vocal. The verses alternate just a bit too neatly with an absolutely beautiful solo, which rears up to raze the upper echelons of the sky in identical fashion on each of its appearances. The song finally blazes true just before the end. But at nearly 10 minutes, 'Be Here Now' sounds like a sketch for a really overwhelming track.
A Gilded Eternity, then, is a disappointment. Loop are letting themselves, and us, down. Better to have risked reinventing themselves (even at the cost of producing a calamity of indulgence), than to give us more of the same, only less so.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Trux on tykes

Royal Trux
The Wire, October 1993

by Simon Reynolds

Sunday, February 21, 2016

ambient archaeology

Details, 1991 or 1992

text by Simon Reynolds

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Slowdive - Levitation - Blur - live, 1991

Levitation / Slowdive / Blur
Melody Maker, late 1991?

by Simon Reynolds

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

dreampop a/k/a shoegaze

director's cut, New York Times, December 1 1991

by Simon Reynolds

This year, the most happening phenomenon in British alternative rock has been a wave of hazy neo-psychedelic guitar groups, for which the UK rock press has yet to settle on a label. Some critics call them "shoe-gazers", because of the groups' onstage bashfulness. Others prefer the tag "The Scene That Celebrates Itself": groups often fraternise together at each others'  shows or at London's Syndrome club. But perhaps the most useful term is "dream-pop", as it evokes these groups' blurry, blissful sound and "out of this world" aura. Currently, the key dream-pop groups (My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Lush, Chapterhouse, Ride, Swervedriver) have US major label records already released or in the pipeline. As yet, records by rising bands (Pale Saints, Boo Radleys, Moose, The Catherine Wheel, The Telescopes) are only available as British imports, but may soon be picked up by American labels.

Like all UK pop 'movements' (e.g. 1989/90's Manchester scene), the groups in question tend to resent being lumped together. But sufficient similarities exist to show that dream-pop is not a media hallucination. Dream-pop groups combine nebulous, distorted guitars with murmured vocals mixed so low that they're sometimes completely smudged into the wall of noise. This dazed-and-confused style was pioneered by US groups like Husker Du and Dinosaur Jr. But compared to their American forebears, the British groups tend to be more fragile and androgynous, their swoony harmonies reminescent of The Byrds or Love. Other influences include the ethereal soundscapes of the Cocteau Twins, and the fractured "avant-garage" rock of Sonic Youth.

Lyrically, dream-pop celebrates rapturous and transcendent experiences, using drug or mystical imagery. Disorientation and loss of self are both desired and feared. Love is either presented as a purely halcyon experience, or as a "chaos of desire" (My Bloody Valentine), in which subconscious undercurrents of violence surface. Other songs deal with bewilderment, desperation, and despondency. A common theme is the desire to transcend the drab confines of everyday life, by "going nowhere fast" (Ride's "Drive Blind", Swervedriver's "Sandblasted").

This yearning for escape or oblivion relates to the groups' socio-political environment. After 12 years of Conservative government, idealism and constructive political involvement seem futile. At the same time, dropping out is an increasingly unviable option. Struggling indie bands used to live off unemployment benefit. But during the Eighties, the government waged a war of attrition against this bohemian "dole culture",  harassing claimants in order to pressurise them into join government training schemes. Now Prime Minister Major's government is attempting to make squatting (another refuge for impoverished musicians) illegal. As well as deteriotating living conditions, young indie bands suffer the "twentysomething" malaise that was widely discussed in the USA earlier this year.

Having grown up in the aftermath of punk, they're making abrasive guitar rock at a time when the mainstream is dominated by baby-boomer music. Confronted by a climate of circumscribed options, both politically and in terms of youth culture, dream-pop groups retreat from public life and long-term goals in order to look for transcendence in their private lives and the here-and-now. They're dreaming their lives away.

    *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

It was a London-based quartet called My Bloody Valentine who pioneered the dreampop sound. My Bloody Valentine rose to prominence in 1988 with two EP's, "You Made Me Realise" and "Feed Me With Your Kiss", and the album "Isn't Anything", which featured a self-invented technique the group's leader Kevin Shields calls "glide guitar". This involves "modulating the tone directly, using a tremolo arm, rather than processing it through effects". Instead of distinct riffs, the technique produces an amorphous drone that seems to swarm out of the speakers and envelop the listener, with an effect that's at once visceral and disembodied. The normal, direct correspondence between the players' physical gestures and the sounds produced is severed, to the extent that the group seem to disappear in their own music.

My Bloody Valentine developed this sound further on 1990's "Glider" EP. On the track "Soon," ghostly guitar harmonics and backing vocals hovered over a churning funk groove influenced by rap and acid house. ""The weird sampling on hip hop records was what encouraged us to attempt to create eerie effects on the guitar in the first place," says Mr Shields. "Soon" won the admiration of Brian Eno, who described it as "the vaguest music ever to have been a hit". Appropriately, their next EP "Tremolo" ventured even closer to Mr Eno's ambient music. On the blissfully disorientating "To Here Knows When", My Bloody Valentine sampled their own guitar feedback and played it on a keyboard. "Soon" and "To Here Knows When" both appear on the group's new album "Loveless" (Sire 26759-2), an ear-baffling tour de force of symphonic chaos that wholly justifies Mr Shields contention that "the electric guitar still contains an unexplored universe of noises."

Of the groups that emerged in My Bloody Valentines' wake, Slowdive are probably the most distinctive. Unfortunately, their debut album "Just For A Day" set for US release next January on SBK Records, doesn't display that originality as effectively as the British import-only EPs that precede it. Slowdive's sound is more serene than MBV. Relying heavily on effects pedals, the group unfurl billowing wafts of gauzy sound, amongst which nestle the pallid, demure vocals of Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell. Songs like "Shine", "Catch The Breeze" and "Morningrise" have an idyllic, pastoral air, doubtless inspired by the Oxfordshire countryside around the group's hometown. "Just For A Day" is suffused with an elegaic, sepia-tinted melancholy. Lyrically, there's a yearning for lost innocence. On their first EP, "Avalyn" turned Avalon (the Edenic "isle of apples" of Arthurian legend) into a girl's name. Mr Halstead confirms that many of the songs are about "evoking certain poignant moments that you hark back to nostalgically".

Slowdive belong to a new generation of British groups too young to remember punk rock. Mr Halstead talks of being more influenced by Pink Floyd than The Sex Pistols. Slowdive's formative pop experiences involve post-punk groups like The Cure and Siouxsie and The Banshees, whose arty approach was closer to Seventies progressive groups than punk's angry minimalism. Mr Halstead says Slowdive avoid social comment, hoping rather "to create something big and beautiful and sort of timeless." This art for art's sake approach has led some to dismiss Slowdive and other dreampopsters as apolitical, middle class aesthetes. 

Two other groups, Ride and Chapterhouse, offer a neat-and-tidy, classical structured version of the My Bloody Valentine sound. Chapterhouse's "Whirlpool" (RCA/Dedicated 3006-2-R13) blended clinically layered guitars, fey vocals and groove-oriented rhythms, to become a US college radio hit  this summer. Ride's slightly more abrasive "Nowhere" album (Sire 26462-2) and EP releases have enjoyed chart success in Britain. Fronted by two female singer/guitarists, Lush are a London quartet whose second Reprise album "Spooky" is set for January release. Lush's iridescent mosaic of spangly guitars and frosted harmonies owes a lot to the studio techniques of their producer Robin Guthrie from the Cocteau Twins, but is captivating nonetheless.

At the opposite end of the spectrum lies Swervedriver, the most Americanophile and least androgynous of the dreampop groups. Rooted in the "raw power" of Detroit group like The Stooges and MC5, but filtered through the innovations of My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth, Swervedriver's sound simulates the exhilaration of pure speed. Songs like "Pile Up" and "Son Of Mustang Ford", from the debut album "Raise" (A&M 75021-5376), are steeped in the mythology of the American freeway.

The problem for the first wave of dreampop groups is that as their style has become increasingly identifiable and marketable, they're having to compete with an onrush of opportunistic imitators. Pioneers like My Bloody Valentine are obliged to reinvent themselves again and again, in order to preserve their uniqueness. It's the oldest story in rock'n'roll.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The House of Love

The House of Love
The House of Love 

Melody Maker, summer 1988

by Simon Reynolds

The House Of Love's Guy Chadwick

Melody Maker, 19 October 1991

by Simon Reynolds

Did you, like me, forget all about Guy Chadwick? Did the "godlike glow" of ‘Christine’, ‘Destroy The Heart’, ‘Love In A Car’ — pop so brilliant it burned your eye — fade from your vision too? We can hardly be blamed. Somewhere along the way, The House Of Love, paralysed by expectation, developed a death wish. Somehow, all the magic was worried out of their music.

But suddenly, just as Chadwick seemed to be slipping irrevocably into the ‘forgotten men of pop’ category, here comes a new EP, brimming with songs like ‘The Girl With The Loneliest Eyes’ that bring back the primal rush, the glacier up the spine, that made us care in the first place. And here’s Guy Chadwick to talk about how he came through his ‘dark night of the soul’, and got back on the right track. "What happened, even before Terry left, was that I lost my belief in the group — and I don’t know why it all escalated. It just didn’t seem to be as important as when I started out."

This was rather unfortunate, considering the huge amount at stake — critically, and not least, financially.
"Musically, it just wasn’t happening. We’d stated everything on the first album. I would present a new song, and we kept making the same noises. And that inertia carried away through right to the end of 1990. I needed time to get away from the group, to write and listen. I’ve spent almost a year listening to music, rediscovering my passion for music. I was determined to have enough time to finish the work.
"But we were broke, and the only way to get more money was to start recording the next album — that’s the way contracts work. But we weren’t ready. I wanted more material to choose from, and for the group to be much better than it was. So we bought time by going on the Continent and playing a lot of lucrative shows. And we developed as a band. Then the money ran out again, a month ago, so we started work on the album. It’s the first time we’ve ever been in the position of having 30 or 40 songs. ‘The Girl With The Loneliest Eyes’ was the first song I completed last year that made me think I could still do it."

Was it the classic rock ’n’ roll crisis: the first album is a life’s anguish released in one cathartic, incandescent burst; the second album lacks inspiration because, instead of living, you’ve been gigging, ligging and doing business?
"Kind of... I was very aware of the way I was perceived. With the first album, I hadn’t got a clue what the songs were about, they were just words. And being interviewed and interpreted made me very aware of how angry that album was, how much frustration was in it. And I realised exactly where each song came from. It’s almost like a diary. The record documented a long period; some songs dated back a long time before The House Of Love.
"I hadn’t learnt the craft of songwriting. Through so much listening in the last year, I’ve tuned into so much music that I was never aware even existed. From Scott Walker to Public Enemy to Sonic Youth to The Beach Boys, I’d subsisted before on a staple diet of Velvet Underground, Stones, The Doors, The Beatles. I’ve always liked things on the radio. I’ve never kept a grip on what’s been happening. I’ve always been uninterested in what one is supposed to be aware of. I don’t know whether it’s ignorance or just a childish rebelliousness. At the end of last year, when I hadn’t got an ounce of confidence, my publisher started chucking records at me every time he saw me. He was a catalyst."
So you lost it — confidence, the knack — when people hailed you, and started expecting things from you. And then as soon as people started to write you off, you got it back? Paradoxical! Wasn’t the praise what you’d always dreamed of?
"It was and it wasn’t. All singers and writers want recognition, whether teen adulation or serious consideration. I think what happened was that my head exploded, I couldn’t cope with it. A year just went."


It must gall you, the way people have seized on the brilliance of Levitation as proof that Terry Bickers was the real genius in The House Of Love.

"I’m really glad that Terry’s got a group together and they’re doing well. I haven’t seen them and I’m not really interested in seeing them. I’m just glad that he’s not some mess in a squat somewhere. But I was just as on the verge of falling into that as he was at the time. I was gone. We’d spent a year drifting apart musically, and we’d never socialised. He got in the band by answering an advert, so it was never like we were friends. The only person I knew as a friend was Pete, the drummer. And it just became apparent that Terry didn’t want to be in the group and I didn’t want him to be in the group. And he’s gone on to form a group that completely justifies his decision to leave. And apparently he’s really happy, which is great, cos he was miserable as f*** while he was in the group."
By all accounts, the pair of you went over the edge with ye olde chemical indulgence.
"It’s a phase a lot of groups go through. Self-discovery through drugs. Money has a lot to do with it. In 1989 Ecstasy was really widely available and if you had the money, you could spent 200 quid a week on it. Seriously, it happens to a lot of groups. It just had to stop. I think drugs are brilliant, but it’s a boring subject cos it’s been so heavily talked about. I like the way Shane McGowan talks about it, in a really matter of fact way that doesn’t seem to glorify it. I think the whole drugs issue is so old hat now really. It’s been going on for years."
How did you recover your muse, after the debacle of the second album?
"I had no problem writing tunes, but a lot of trouble with words, so I decided to just write whatever streamed through my head and not worry about what it meant. And afterwards, sure enough, a picture emerged, all these subconscious thoughts. And it was really seriously angry. We’ve got a song called ‘Cruel’ and it’s just about sado-masochism. It wrote the lyrics completely randomly, and they had a great thread running through them. I was just feeling arrogant, and I really liked the song and I wanted to write a lyric that I considered to be dangerous. Something that would challenge people.
"I want to affect people, and recently my approach has been that I want to shock people. My approach on the first album was the same: it had to be ambiguous and it had to be potentially shocking.
"‘The Girl With The Loneliest Eyes’ began with this line I heard in a conversation I was having. I was with Alan McGhee and I was describing a girl we both knew, a groupie. The song is a really random take on the way I perceive groupies.
"And before you start fretting about that, I consider myself to be a groupie. All people that are drawn to bands are groupies. Whether they’re the managers or publicists or whatever. Some people just love being with groups. They love basking in the glory. This particular person is just like that. She’s quite a character."
Do you think that’s a dismal, inadequate way to live?"
"No. I tend to think, these days, that if people are happy it doesn’t matter what the f*** they do. Whatever the motives are, that’s just the way they are. A lot of the second album is about the rock ‘n’ roll life, about the way I felt. And it’s so confused. ‘Hannah’ is this pathetic statement about how I wasn’t into being a star. Then it segues into ‘Shine On’, an MTV-friendly recording of the catchiest track on the LP. It’s quite maudlin really."
Chadwick has talked before about this "fear of being an icon". In retrospect, that whole idea of Chadwick as some sort of seer, of The House Of Love as successors to The Smiths, was a bit of a red herring. A calamitous misconception (mea culpa). He’s not a Morrissey-esque statesman articulating the zeitgeist, nor is he a fruity exhibitionist in the Ian McCulloch godstar tradition. The House Of Love are a much more private, introverted experience.
"I think the big problem, and it probably resulted in the split, was that the whole idea of the Morrissey/Marr comparison was misconceived. I wrote the songs and arranged all the music. Terry was basically this machine I got to play my guitar parts. It really irritated me because I wasn’t being recognized as a musician. And that’s how I see myself. I’m not a guitar hero. Terry was very aware of it, and he really got into the way he was perceived as this guitar god. And when it came to recording the second album, I just squeezed him out of the studio. Just because I felt he was trying to impinge on my territory. It was very self-destructive. But it goes on.
"For instance, I’m glad you like the new record, but in your single review you refer to ‘Bickers-style torrents’ of guitar. And other people have referred to how there was a songwriting partnership between me and Terry. And it never existed. Look at that label, every single song is written by me."
For a while, The House Of Love were touted as the inheritors of The Smiths’ mantle — the new white guitar saviours. But that didn’t last too long. The Stone Roses took the pressure off you, by stealing the initiative. Then they in turn got crucified by the pressure to articulate the Manchester vibe. They lost it.
"They still are the ones, as far as I’m concerned. I went to see them at the Powerhaus in late ’89, with only 300 people in the audience, and it was incredible. Like U2 meets The Monkees or something. They had it and you could see they knew it. I actually followed them round for a couple of months. I was obsessed. I was off my head one night at Heaven, and I went over and sat on Ian Brown’s lap. I told him, ‘My God, you’re just amazing’. The problem with them, I reckon, is that the music they made was so easy. It created a genre overnight, you got all these groups like The Charlatans and Blur. And it’s so generic. You know it can’t go anywhere, it’s so stifled in its conception. And I think The Stone Roses must be really pissed off."
After ‘Fools’ Gold’, the Roses were expected to come up with the goods, articulate the moment, and all they delivered was ‘One Love’, that limp, garbled pseudo-manifesto.
"I think the thing with The Stone Roses is that they’ve never done what anyone had expected them to do. And right now they’re doing exactly what people don’t want them to do."
What, destroying themselves? Failing ignominiously?
"Well, I don’t think they have. They’re still the most important group to emerge in the Nineties. The talent in the group is so obvious, as musicians and songwriters. And they don’t have the constraints that Happy Mondays have in terms of progression. You can see the possibilities in Stone Roses, in the same way that you can see the possibilities in Ride."
Ride?! For me, they’re the epitome of the pale and uninteresting...
"I see Ride blossoming into their own. They just get better and better. I see Ride as a modern blues band. Home Counties blues!"


What's great about The House Of Love’s new songs is that the music has a flow to it. The second album felt like it had been worked on too much, perhaps to compensate for the lack of an initial spark.
"The thing that I needed was a really good group. And it started to gel only recently. We’ve now got the capacity, which I need for my writing, to go from the gentlest kind of thing to sounding like Sonic Youth or even Glenn Branca."
That side of The House Of Love comes through on the EP’s ‘Purple Killer Rose’, a fulminating downpour of guitar approaching the first album’s torrential ‘Touch’. Guy sounds very fraught indeed. At the opposite extreme, there’s ‘Tea In the Sun’, Guy’s fragile, bereft vocal cocooned in a cascading myriad of acoustic guitars. Then there’s the cover of The Chills’ classic ‘Pink Frost’. A daunting song to trespass upon, surely, since it’s about watching a friend die?

"I love that record, and the rest of that Kaleidoscope World album — it’s like early Cure, very simple. It was Chris’ (bass) idea to do it. He’s a New Zealander. I was very much aware that we could do it justice or fail terribly. I approached it from the point of view that it was a kind of folk song. We could have The House Of Love-d it up. But we just loved the way it was. Chris tried to get me to sing it with an Antipodean accent. There was an element of me mimicking the original vocal. I thought the ‘pink frost’ image referred to dead flesh. Either that or it’s a New Zealand drink! It was a really difficult song to cover, cos musically it’s really primitive, there’s no logic to the form of it."
So Guy Chadwick’s relaxed again, he’s eased out of the creative constipation. But he’s still under enormous pressure. Phonogram want big, big sales. Chadwick claims he’s glad of their bluntness.
"They want us to be superstars. When we signed, we took them for a lot of money. And you can’t just turn around, three years later, and say, ‘We’ve decided we’re a cult band after all’. I like a lot of extremely popular groups. And I guess I’d hope to be their musical peers." Like who?
"R.E.M. To me, they’re the epitome of everything good. That last LP is one of the best I’ve heard for years. ‘Losing My Religion’ — it’s classic bedsit, pimpledom stuff, yet it was a huge hit. A group I love and who I think are extremely neglected critically are Depeche Mode. Have you every listened to Violator? Every single song is a classic, and the lyrics are so devious. It borders on genius. The sampling is outrageous. ‘Personal Jesus’ is based on a John Lee Hooker song which they’ve Kraftwerkized. For me, that’s one of the most important records I’ve discovered in the last two years. And I saw them at Wembley and they just blew me away. They’re so arrogant. Martin Gore in his tutu cranking out the riff to ‘Personal Jesus’!"
Guy says he’s really disappointed with the way the English music scene has developed since 1989. "There’s so much laziness." Does it piss him off that people have criticized him for ‘failing to transcend his influences’, when there are droves of groups (the most fatuously feted examples being Blur and Chapterhouse) who are so far from transcending their influences, it’s a case of them being welded to, and assembled out of, their record collections? Limited, unimaginative record collections, to boot?
"It does. Or rather, it used to. I’ve stopped paying attention to the press now. It’s nice at first, but it does your head in eventually."
In summation, then, it seems like it was only when we started ignoring him that Guy Chadwick got back in touch with his muse. Presumably, now that he’s back in critical favour, he’ll be f***ed up for the next two years! Strange man.