Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Post-Rock - The Wire and Melody Maker articles (1994 / 1995)

POST-ROCK

The Wire, May 1994

by Simon Reynolds

 
Like a clapped out stretch limo cranked in reverse, today's 'alternative rock' is synonymous with a retreat to one of a number of period genres from rock history. For Primal Scream think Exile On Main Street-era Stones. For Suede think Ziggy-phase Bowie. In 1994, just six short years from a new millennium, this is where the money is at: in the musical equivalent of reproduction antiques.

Recently, however, a smattering of British groups, energised by developments in electronic studio based musics such as Techno and HipHop, as well as free improvisation and the avant garde, have started venturing into a more financially precarious, but aesthetically vital hinterland-without-a-name. The roll call of futurist honour includes Disco Inferno, Seefeel, Insides, Bark Psychosis, Main, Papa Sprain, Stereolab, Pram and Moonshake, along with such prolific figures as Kevin Martin (Ice/Techno Animal/God/EAR) and ex-Napalm Death drummer Mick Harris (Scorn/Lull).

What to call this zone? Some of its occupants, Seefeel for instance, could be dubbed 'Ambient'; others, Bark Psychosis and Papa Sprain, could be called 'art rock'. 'Avant rock' would just about suffice, but is too suggestive of jerky time signatures and a dearth of melodic loveliness, which isn't necessarily the case. Perhaps the only term open ended yet precise enough to cover all this activity is 'post-rock'.

Post-rock means using rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes, using guitars as facilitators of timbres and textures rather than riffs and powerchords. Increasingly, post-rock groups are augmenting the traditional guitar/bass/drums line up with computer technology: the sampler, the sequencer and MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). While some post-rock units (Pram, Stereolab) prefer lo-fi or outmoded technology, others are evolving into cyber rock, becoming virtual.

*          *          *

The best way to get a handle on how these groups depart from the 'rock process' is to work from a rigorous model of how the traditional rock 'n' roll group operates. And there's none more rigorous than Joe Carducci's Rock And The Pop Narcotic (published in 1990 by Redoubt, with a revised edition planned for later this year). Carducci may be a bit of a reactionary, but his theory of rock is grounded in a precise, materialist definition of it as music, rather than 'attitude', 'spirit', 'rebellion', or any other metaphysical notions. Rock's essence, says Carducci, is the real time interaction of drums, bass and rhythm guitar. A group should be a rhythmic engine creating kinetic energy; 'breathing' as an organic entity.

Carducci valorises the strenuous, collective physicality of performance. His ideal rock process is opposed to the Pop Method, which is studio based and elevates the producer over the musicians. Modern music is a sterile, frigid wasteland because the producer/studio ('cold') has triumphed over rock ('hot'). With a typically American prejudice, Carducci favours the 'presence' of live performance over the increasingly 'virtual' nature of studio music, and prefers the 'documentarian' recording techniques that characterised early 70s hard rock, which were revived by Spot, house producer at SST, the seminal 80s hardcore punk label that Carducci co-founded.

If Carducci has a polar opposite in rock theory, it's that archetypal boffin in the sound lab, Brian Eno. In fact, the art rock tradition that Eno stands for an which is crucial to the development of today's post-rock, is something like an egghead version of the Tin Pan Alley pop process that Carducci detests; there's a line running from Phil Spector and Brian Wilson that leads to Eno as clearly as it does to, say, Trevor Horn. Both the Spector and Eno approaches to soundscaping involve using musicians as a sort of palette of textures, as opposed to the rock band's collective toil. Increasingly, the post-Eno approach involves dispensing with musicians altogether in favour of machines.

Another way in which Eno is the prophet of post-rock is his elevation of timbre/texture/chromatics over riffs and rhythm sections; the desire to create a 'fictional psycho-acoustic space' rather than groove and thrust. When he was invited to produce U2 (a group that Carducci reviles as the very model of non-rocking fraudulence) Eno warned Bono: "I'm not interested in records as a document of a rock band playing on stage. I'm more interested in painting pictures. I want to create a landscape within which this music happens." As it turned out, this subordination of the aural to the visual was perfect for Bono's 'visionary' vocals, The Edge's stratospheric guitar and the inert rhythm section.

Throughout Eno's own oeuvre, there's a gradual eradication of kinetic energy, beginning with the early solo LPs (with their limpid, uneventful water colours and lyrical imagery of treading water) and culminating in the entropic, vegetative bliss of Ambient. The difference between the Carducci and Eno aesthetics is the difference between 'manly' manual labour and 'effete' white collar brainwork. Carducci actually calls his tradition (the blues-bastardising lineage that runs from Black Sabbath through Black Flag to Soundgarden) "new redneck". By defending the aesthetic of 'heavy' (heavy rock, heavy industry) against studio-concocted 'lite', Carducci wants to protect traditional artisan skills from being usurped by machines (which, in studios as much as factories, are more reliable and cheaper than humans). By contrast, the Enoites embrace technology that empowers the musically incompetent.

*          *          *

Carducci can't make sense of the pop present, which is based in the soundsculpting innovations of dub, in disco's remixology and HipHop's sampladelic sorcery. His version of rock history also downgrades psychedelia, which was the first music to use multi-track recording to conjure fictional headspace. 'Phonography' (a term that author Evan Eisenberg coined, in his book The Recording Angel, to describe the art of recording) bears the same relation to live music as cinema does to theatre. With most rock records, the studio is used to create a simulacrum of live performance, although multi-tracking makes it more vivid and hyper-real than 'live'. But multi-tracking and other studio techniques can also be used to create 'impossible' events, which could never possibly take place in real time. The sampler, transubstantiating sound into digital data, takes this even further - different eras, different auras, can be combined to form a transchronistic pseudo event. You could call this 'magick', you could call it 'deconstruction of the metaphysics of presence' - either way, today's post-rock groups are absconding into this virtual, ethereal realm.

*          *          *

Post-rock draws its inspiration and impetus from a complex combination of sources. Some of these come from post-rock's own tradition - a series of moments in history when eggheads and bohemians have hijacked elements of rock for non-rock purposes (think of the guitar based late 60s music of The Velvet Underground and Pink Floyd, and a subsequent lineage that includes New York's No Wave groups, Joy Division, The Cocteau Twins, The Jesus And Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and AR Kane; or the so-called 'Krautrock' of Can, Faust, Neu, Cluster and Ash Ra Tempel; as well as the late 70s/early 80s post-punk vanguard of PiL, 23 Skidoo, Cabaret Voltaire and The Pop Group). Other impulses arrive from outside of rock: Eno, obviously, but also the mid-60s drone-minimalism of Terry Riley and LaMonte Young, as well as musique concrete and electroacoustic music, dub reggae and modern sampladelic genres like HipHop and Techno. Most of the British post-rock groups also explicitly define themselves against Grunge, which was Carducci's dream come true: the fusion of punk and Metal into an all-American nouveau hard rock.

*          *          *

For the post-rock groups, Sonic Youth's idea of 'reinventing the guitar' really means un-rocking the guitar; sometimes the next step is ditching the guitar altogether. Disco Inferno's Iain Crause says he always wanted to make his guitar sound like "actual physical things", such as waterfalls, but in DI's early days (when the group sounded closer to Joy Division and The Durutti Column) he had to do it with masses of effects. It's been said that DI decided to go digital after seeing those samplin', rockin' Industrial muthas of invention The Young Gods live. But according to Crause, the real Damascus experience was hearing Hank Shocklee's Bomb Squad productions for Public Enemy. Inspired, Crause traded in his rack of pedals for a guitar synth, which he now rigs up to MIDI so that each string triggers a different sample.

The results can be heard on the astounding LP, DI Go Pop. "A Crash At Every Speed" samples Miles Davis's "Bitches Brew" and Industrial Improv unit God; "Starbound" samples U2 and children's laughter; while the gorgeous "Footprints In Snow" samples Saint-Saens's "Aquarium". Not that you can tell, since Crause 'plays' these sample-tones rather than merely quoting them. Because he's using a fretboard rather than the usual keyboard, he can use all the guitarist's traditional devices - bending the strings ("It literally sounds like you're twisting the samples", he says), jamming and improvising. This results in unearthly ninth dimensional noises that bear no discernible link to the physical acts that generated them. (Perhaps even more disorient ating is the group's approach to the drums. They use a MIDI-ed up kit whose pads also cue samples. On "Footprints", for instance, the tom-toms reproduce the sound of footfalls.)

Crause sees Disco Inferno as a "virtual reality band". But what's really inter esting about them is the way they haven't totally abandoned the rock process: they combine the physicality of live performance with the wizardry of sampling. (Crause claims that DI Go Pop was recorded live, and that the group's future plans include using Marshall amps!)

*          *          *

Other post-rock groups are more affiliated to Techno. Insides compose on Cubase, a widely used computer music program that functions as a sort of "virtual tape recorder", according to the group's J Serge Tardo. "Cubase allows you to 'play' things you couldn't physically play," he says. Like a sequencer, it 'remembers' a riff, motif or beat and reiterates it in any timbre, whether sampled or derived from a module (a sort of digital library of sounds, no bigger than a Kelloggs Pop Tart).

Insides' non-rock approach dates back to their earlier lo-fi incarnation as Earwig. "[In Earwig] we all played hermetically sealed patterns that overlapped but didn't gel. We'd play separately, in a sense," explains Tardo. Like systems musicians, Insides weave a tapestry of sound-threads, where Tardo's guitar features as just another iridescent filigree. In fact, he says the greatest influence on his guitar playing is Kraftwerk!

Tardo prefers "the godlike position of manipulating the soundscape from the outside [the classic Spector/Eno role] as opposed to being in the mix, like a guitarist." When the group play live, improvisation figures only in the sense that "you can have a husk of sequencer patterns that you can mutate, like in a dub mix" (an approach which has direct parallels with the live performances of such Techno operatives as Orbital and Mixmaster Morris). Performance isn't strenuous in the Carducci sense, but it's mentally draining - "Like doing somersaults in your head," says Tardo.

*          *          *

Like Disco Inferno and Insides, Seefeel are one of those groups whose Year Zero coincides with the arrival of Joy Division and The Cocteau Twins, and whose aesthetic is shaped by the late 80s dreampop of My Bloody Valentine and AR Kane. The latter awoke Seefeel's interest in sound-in-itself, which gradually led them to club based musics such as Techno and House. Of all the post-rock units, Seefeel have most avidly embraced Techno's methodology appropriately, they've found a commercial niche in the 'electronic listenin g' genre (recently performing alongside Autechre and u-ziq), and a home on its premier label, Warp.

Seefeel use a lot of guitars, but only as a source of timbre (all cirrus swirls and drone drifts). If it's mostly impossible to distinguish their guitar tex tures from the sequenced/sampled material, again it's because of Cubase, which, says Mark Clifford, allows them to "take two seconds of guitar and chop it into 1000 pieces, loop it, string it out for ten minutes, layer it, and so on." Similarly, Sarah Peacock's voice is not deployed expressively but used as material; the title track of Seefeel's imminent Ch-Vox EP (a one-off for Richard 'Aphex Twin' James's Rephlex label) is composed entirely of her treated and timestretched vocal drone.

Live, the Techno process means that Justin Fletcher drums to a click-track, while the rest of the band must keep in sync with the pre-recorded parts. Not surprisingly, this is unrewarding and they'd prefer to dispense with gigs altogether. Clifford's fantasy alternative would involve Seefeel creating an aural environment but not actually being the focal point on stage, which is closer to the process of club DJing than being in a rock 'n' roll group.

*          *          *

A similar fantasy appeals to Robert Hampson of Main, who reckons "these could be the last days of gig-going." He imagines organising "a live mix scenario, where we'd be hidden out of sight, behind a desk"; a sort of avant rock sound system, in other words. Unsurprisingly, Main are primarily studio based, a sound laboratory. With Main, Hampson has returned to the experimental music he made before he formed the mid-80s indie group Loop, which was based around tape loops and layers of processed guitars. Main have progressively shed Loop's vestigial rock traces, dispensing first with human drums, then with the drum machine. The percussion on their new LP Motion Pool is all sampled, and even this may eventually be replaced with pure ambience.

Hampson is a longtime foe of the sampler, he says, and resorted to it reluctantly. Sometimes he prefers to physically play Main's most monotonous, uninflected, one chord riffs, because of the minuscule differences in attack and tone this produces. "To sample the chord and sequence it," he says, "would iron out the character, flatten the sound." As Main drift away from the rock process and the rock mainstream, they inevitably move closer to the avant garde, finding allies with contemporary improvisors and droneologists like Jim O'Rourke, Paul Schutze, AMM's Eddie Prevost, Thomas Koner, KK Null and J im Plotkin. A recent North London live showcase for Motion Pool made this connection explicit, with Main's two sets split by a free improvisation featuring O'Rourke, Plotkin and Prevost.

*          *          *

Another key player in this area is Kevin Martin. He runs Pathological Records, leads the post-rock outfits God, Techno Animal and Ice, and participates in the 'supergroup' EAR (along with Sonic Boom, Kevin Shields of MBV and Eddie Prevost). From his own experience as a producer and bandleader, Martin reckons that "working with technology, you become fond of machine time and fed up with the fallibility of human time." God is his most traditional project, since it's about combustive improvisation and physical effort, "the sparks and flashpoints that come from human elements. I see God as a relic of another time, which is why we have images of burnt out locomotives on the covers."

God LPs (a new one, The Anatomy Of Addiction, is imminent) straddle jamming spontaneity and studio mixology. By contrast, Ice and Techno Animal were both conceived with no thought of live performance. For those units, Martin was (like Disco Inferno's Iain Crause) heavily influenced by Public Enemy, specifically the way Hank Shocklee's production situates a song's dynamic in the vertical, not the horizontal: "The shifting layers of frequencies, not the development of verse-chorus narrative," says Martin. "Of course, you could say the same about Jeff Mills or Stakker Humanoid. But Shocklee, on Fear Of A Black Planet, was the first to use sampling to pile on the intensities, rather than just quote obvious riffs; he took the peaks of other songs, like trumpet solos, and layered them densely."

Many of his kindred spirits on the avant rock peripheries - Robert Hampson, Mick Harris, Justin Broadrick (Godflesh/Final) - are embracing digital technology, and Martin thinks that's because digital sound appeals to control freaks. "[These musicians] are a bit solipsistic, they like to control all aspects of what they do. Also, as the audience for adventurous music c ontracts, they get less interested in playing live, it doesn't pay, and instead retreat to their home fortresses and surround themselves with machinery. I think that connects to what's going on in society as a whole - a process of atomisation and disconnection. Digital also appeals because it allows you to break down structure."

Despite the 'cold' accuracy of digital sound, Martin sees post-rock retaining some kind of primal energy. It's not physical in the Carducci sense, but "a different kind of friction, the kind that comes with people wanting to interface and integrate themselves with machinery. It's like Lee Perry saying he wanted the mixing desk to take him over, or Can talking about machines having souls. People feel outdated by machinery. So they're taking on technology, but using it to unleash primal energy."

So perhaps the really provocative area for future development lies not in cyber rock but cyborg rock; not the wholehearted embrace of Techno's methodology, but some kind of interface between real time, hands-on playing and the use of digital effects and enhancement. As Kevin Martin points out: "Even in the digital age, you still have a body. It's the connection between 'Techno' and 'Animal' that's interesting."





POST-ROCK 
Melody Maker
late 1994 or early 1995

by Simon Reynolds

Imagine, if you will, a scene without a location, a 
community of misfits, a loose confederation of exiles and 
prophets-without-honour. Bands--like Main, Disco Inferno, 
God/Ice/Techno-Animal, Moonshake, Laika, Seefeel, Bark 
Psychosis, Papa Sprain, Scorn, Orang, Pram, Stereolab, 
Insides--who are gradually linking up into a network as they 
drift further out from the indie mainstream. 

     For want of anything snappier, I call this phenomenon 
'post-rock' because, technically and ideologically, that's 
precisely what it is.  Post-rock bands use rock 
instrumentation, guitars/bass/drums, for non-rock ends. 
Guitar is deployed not to generate riffs, but as a source of 
timbres, drones, effects-treated textures etc.  Post-rock is 
music that happens along the vertical (layers) as opposed to 
horizontal (dynamics); music that opens up space (aural, 
imaginary) as opposed to developing through time 
(verse/chorus/solo).  Increasingly, post-rock bands resort to 
technology like samplers, sequencers, MIDI etc when they 
can't take 'reinvention of the guitar' any further. 
Examples: DISCO INFERNO wiring up their guitar, drums and 
bass to MIDI-computers, so that each string, each part of the 
kit, cues different samples; SEEFEEL embracing the 
soundsculpting and remixology techniques of dub and techno. 

     As well as a musical break with rock methodology, post- 
rock severs itself from rock'n'roll ideas like 'youth', 
'community', populism. Post-rock bands have responded, 
consciously or unconsciously, to the industry-sponsored 
monolith of mediocrity that is "alternative", by reviving the 
old ideals of 'independent music' (back before indie labels 
became merely a farm-system for the majors).  They have given 
up the idea of mass success or even indie cult-hood, and 
accepted the idea of being marginal, forever.  Drifting, 
disgusted, from the disgrace of grunge, they now find 
themselves comrades-in-arms with avant-gardists who've always 
been out there on those cold and lonely perimeters where 
there's honour but no profit.  An example: back in 1989, 
Loop's Robert Hampson would play on the same bill as bands 
like Walking Seeds and Thee Hypnotics, whose grungy acid-rock 
wasn't far from Sub Pop heavyweights like Tad. Five years 
later, Hampson's band MAIN plays with improvisers like Paul 
Shutze and Eddie Prevost, while Hampson has collaborations 
planned with dronologists Jim O'Rourke and Thomas Koner. 

     All this might seem rarefied, even elitist, except that 
post-rock has found an unexpected re-entry point into the 
mainstream via the post-rave phenomenon of ambient techno. 
Ambient has provided a context in which all kinds of weird 
shit gets played to receptive ears (the drugs help a lot.) 
Hampson even has a flourishing sideline as an ambient DJ, 
while the parallels between the 'ambient noir' of Aphex 
Twin/Toop & Eastley/Locust et al and the 
isolationist/environmental soundscapes of Koner/Zoviet 
France/Main etc have been noted on both sides. 

     The post-rock vanguard is torn in two opposed 
directions.  Some bands--e.g. Main--are abandoning rock's 
kinetic energy altogether, losing the backbeat and 
dissipating into ambience. Others--SCORN, LAIKA, ICE--are 
looking for a different, non-rock form of dynamic, and 
finding it in the grooves of hip hop, techno, dub and, soon, 
jungle.  This music is physical in its impact, but not in its 
playing--it's constructed from programmed rhythms and sampled 
loops--and so can properly be considered post-rock. 

     But even when it's danceable, post-rock is still 'head 
music', in so far as its defining attribute is 'space'. 
All the origins and influences that led to today's post-rock 
--psychedelia, Krautrock, Eno, dub reggae, post-punk 
vanguardists like PiL, Cocteau Twins, the blissrock and 
dreampop of MBV and AR Kane, hip hop, techno--have been forms 
of spatial music.  Compare that to the lineage that runs from 
mod through punk to the Manics and New Wave of New Wave: 
music based around compression and instantaneity, whose prime 
format is the 7 inch single rather than 12 inch soundscape, 
designed to sound good blaring through your tiny tinny 
transitor rather than a boomin' stereo system. Populist 
rabblerousing for the kids (that's 'kids' as in 'The Kids Are 
Alright', 'If The Kids Were United' etc). That's not a value 
judgement, just a description.  Honest. 

     Post-rock didn't come out of the blue, it has a history, 
moments when eggheads diverted rock ideas for non-rock ends. 
Here are some key moments in the evolution of spatially- 
oriented post-rock. 

1/ VELVET UNDERGROUND: Post-rock because not based in the 
sexual dynamism of R&B, but the drone-minimalism of Cage/La 
Monte Young/Terry Riley, and Spector's Wall of Sound. 

2/ KRAUTROCK: Can combined VU-drones with James Brown/Miles 
Davis grooves.  Faust and Cluster just droned. Neu! invented 
motorik, an unsyncopated proto-disco pulsebeat. 

3/ ENO: influenced by Cage, Steve Reich, VU, Can, et al. 
Invented 'ambient', which is the sound of rock turned to 
stone.  Eno is thus the polar opposite of The Rolling Stones, 
who are the very essence of rock'n'roll. 

4/ POST-PUNK ANTI-ROCKIST VANGUARD: Pil, Pop Group, Cabaret 
Voltaire, etc,  drew on all the above and invented dub metal, 
death disco, avant-funk--all genres that today's post-rockers 
are extending (they were all teenagers at the time). 

5/ JESUS AND MARY CHAIN: the iconography was pure 
rock'n'roll--leather, speed, solipsism, cool-verging-on- 
autism--but the sound was not: Spector-meets-Velvets wall of 
feedback over a rudimentary unsyncopated beat. From the Mary 
Chain's anti-kinetic noise came MBV/Loop/Spacemen 3, all of 
whose psychedelia turned ambient eventually 
("Loveless"/Main/Spectrum/Spiritualized). 


^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ 

LAIKA 

     "Repetition is like a machine... If you can get aware of 
the life of a machine, then you are definitely a master... 
[Machines] have a heart and soul--they are living beings"-- 
Holger Czukay of Can. 

     LAIKA was formed by Margaret Fiedler after her 
un-amicable departure from Moonshake. Erstwhile partner Dave 
Callahan kept the name; Fiedler kept bassist John Frenett, 
then recruited Guy Fixsen (who'd produced Moonshake and 
engineered My Bloody Valentine) and drummer Lou Ciccotelli 
(who also plays in God).  Judging by Laika's debut EP 
"Antenna", though, if anybody should have kept the name 
Moonshake (the title of a song on Can's "Soon Over 
Babuluma"), it's Fiedler. For while Callahan's Moonshake have 
veered off in a harsh freeform jazz direction with the recent 
"The Sound Your Eyes Can Follow" LP, Laika are renovating the 
fizzy flow-motion funk of Can at their mid-'70s peak circa 
"Babaluma" and "Future Days". 

     Although "everything starts with bass and drums", Laika 
don't jam out their lithe'n'luscious grooves like Can did, 
but assemble them in '90s state-of-art fashion, using looped 
beats. Their sound is a mix of programmed material and hands- 
on playing. This blend of machine-music and flesh-and-blood 
funk is one way forward for rock, combining the 'magical', 
superhuman effects of sampling with the 'warmth' that comes 
from real-time interaction between players. Fiedler's faves-- 
MC 900 Ft Jesus, MBV, Beastie Boys--all operate at this same 
interface between hip hop and rock, sampling and live. 

     There are techno elements to Laika's sound, too. 
Discreet sine-waves of synth weave through the effervescent 
pulse-lattice of bass/percussion on "Lyin' Goat"; "Squeaky" 
is Aphex-style toy-music made out of sampled breath and 
creaking, rubbing sounds; "Marimba Song (Boo Boo's Gone 
Mambo)" juxtaposes Orbital-style sequencer motifs with 
fusion-flute twirls.  But on the whole, what's appealing 
about Laika is that they're making trance-dance that doesn't 
sound like machine-music, that feels like a live band 
'breathing' as a single musical organism. 

     "We've gone through the 'wow, technology!' phase", says 
Guy. "Now it's integrated organically with what we do." 

     Trance and electronica may not be influences or even of 
interest ("I've been to Megatripolis twice, I've been bored 
twice," says Margaret), but Laika are intrigued by jungle. 

    "We like the stuff on the pirate stations," says 
Margaret, "Especially the juxtaposition of fast and slow, 
the way they'll have spacey sounds over manic beats.  There's 
one track on our LP that's kinda like our take on jungle." 

     When I ask Laika if they feel they're part of avant- 
rock's outward-and-onward drift towards the margins and away 
from the easy money (ie. pillaging rock's archives), the 
response is typically self-effacing. 

     "I dunno", says Fiedler. "We just get bored easily." 
("Antenna" is out now on Too Pure. An LP "Silver Apples Of 
The Moon follows this autumn) 


 ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ 

SCORN 

     SCORN are a prime example of the post-rock syndrome. 
Mick Harris and Nick Bullen used to be in Napalm Death, who 
took a certain form of rock extremity--velocity--to its 
furthest limit.  When a band reaches such an aesthetic 
impasse, it can either persevere (at the risk of grotesque 
self-caricature), or veer off in the opposite direction in 
search of a different kind of extremity (like the Swans going 
quiet and folky), or it can get to grips with technology in 
order to push beyond those limits.  Scorn combined the last 
two strategies, swapping Napalm's epileptic thrash for 
slow'n'low dub tempos, and augmenting the guitar/bass line-up 
with programmed drums and samplers. 

     "I didn't really want to leave Napalm," says Harris, 
"but I was the only one who wanted to bring new ideas in. 
I'd always listened to loads of different music--everything 
from Crass to the Cocteaus.  Metal was was actually the last 
thing I got into." 

    Harris argues that Scorn are still "a Rock'n'Roll band", 
but it's hard to see how. The biggest influence on their 
sound is the avant-dub of 'Metal Box' era PiL, John Lydon's 
fervently anti-rockist and increasingly studio-bound outfit. 
Scorn's new LP "Evanescence" is basically Public Enemy 
Limited, ie. PiL filtered through the Bomb Squad's 
terrordrome sample-scapes and looped hip hop beats. 
Accordingly, the album has gotten rave reviews in metal rags 
like Kerrang AND black dance mags like Echoes.  Scorn are 
capitalising on this dancefloor connection with an EP of 
remixes by Andrew Weatherall, Jack Dangers (Meat Beat 
Manifesto) and, hopefully, Richard H. Kirk and Seefeel. 

     Scorn are no strangers to the art of mixology--their 
1992 EP "Deliverance" consisted of five progressively more 
devastated remixes of the same dirge. At 40 minutes long, it 
hijacked both the longest single record (held by The Orb's 
"Blue Room") and the concept of 'ambient dub'.  Instead of 
the womb-muzak usually associated with that term, Scorn's 
ambient is strictly twilight-zone, haunted and disquieting. 

    "My favourite stuff of Eno's is 'On Land' and 'Apollo,'" 
says Harris. "At low volume, it's late night relaxation 
listening. But at extreme volume, ambient creates a totally 
different mood, the dark side comes through." 

     Harris ventures deeper into this ambient noir hinterland 
with his solo project Lull. On the forthcoming LP "Cold 
Summer", titles like "Long Way Home" and "lost Sanctum" 
perfectly capture the music's aura of exile and desolation. 

Like a lot of dark ambient and isolationist music, Lull is an 
attempt to create imaginary space in a world that's 
verminously overcrowded. The misfit's anti-social hunger for 
wilderness has to be redirected towards inner space (as in 
another title, "Slow Fall Inwards").  Lull is beat-free; 
Scorn's music, ever more groove-oriented, combines funk's 
restlessness and ambient's entropy, paranoia and paralysis. 
A big input is Nick Bullen's obsession with the noir 
soundtracks of Bernard Herrmann ("Psycho", "Taxi Driver"), 

    Perhaps what makes Scorn still 'rock'n'roll', even a 
'metal' band in some sense, is this sombre mood: a doom-clad 
despondency that's very Sabbath.  (Could it be a Midlands 
thing, Scorn being Brummies?)  Just check song-titles like 
"Light Trap", "Blackout" and "Black Sun Rising", the latter 
originating in the poet Nerval's metaphor for the abyss of 
melancholy.  Musically, Scorn ought to be filed in the hip 
hop racks next to New Kingdom; emotionally, they belong with 
Alice In Chains in 'Metal'.  Scorn's methodology is 
absolutely '90s, but Harris is right, they're still "heavy". 

     ("Evanescence" is out now on Earache. An EP of dance 
remixes is due sometime in July. Lull's "Cold Summer" LP will 
be released in July on Sentrax). 

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ 

GOD 

     KEVIN MARTIN is what you'd have to call a 'prime mover'. 
His business is making musical connections and finding gaps, 
apertures through which a future can be glimpsed and maybe 
grasped.  Firstly, he's singer, sax-ist and band-leader of 
not one but three groups--GOD, ICE and TECHNO-ANIMAL.  He 
also runs the Pathological label, catalysing one-off 
collaborations like E.A.R. (Martin + Sonic Boom + Kevin 
Shields + Eddie Prevost) and an as yet untitled mega-jam, 
loosely inspired by early '70s Miles and organised by Paul 
Shutze, that will feature Rudi from A.R. Kane, Jim O'Rourke, 
Jah Wobble and Tim Friese-Greene (ex-Talk Talk). If all this 
wasn't enough, Martin produces bands, writes for The Wire, 
and has masterminded a compilation of 'Isolationist' music 
for Virgin's 'Short History of Ambient' series. 

     Despite their freeform/noise-rock squall God is in some 
ways Martin's most trad outlet, since it's based around real- 
time improvisation. God sound organic, pulsating, primal. 
Martin values God for the way friction between a gang of 
individuals (11 on their latest LP "The Anatomy of 
Addiction") combusts in the form of chance ideas, although 
the ideal is to "sacrifice our individuality within a group 
sound that's overwhelming". 

     God's studio LPs "Possession" and "Anatomy" have been 
affected, however, by the production techniques Martin's 
explored through Ice (50 % sampling, 50 % live) and Techno- 
Animal (wholly sampladelic). In God, this takes the form of 
sampling their own playing, whereas Ice and Techno-Animal use 
external samples.  Martin enthuses about the "revolutionary" 
potential of 'hard disk editing', where sound is converted to 
digital data and mixed, processed and edited inside a 
computer. Hard disk editing makes it much easier to do the 
kind of intricate tape-splicing once done manually by Can or 
Miles Davis' producer Teo Macero, where long improv sessions 
were chopped up and condensed into compositions.  Ice's 
"Under The Skin" LP is a prime slice of cyber-rock, combining 
the ferocity of real-time playing with the hyper-real effects 
of digital technology. 

    Techno-Animal is the most studio-bound of the three 
bands, being based entirely around samples. Martin and his 
collaborator Justin Broadrick from Godflesh were intrigued by 
"what happens after you've taken music to the extreme, as 
we'd each done with God and Godflesh. At that point, 
extremists like Nick Cave, Swans, Einsturzende Neubauten, had 
reverted back to traditional genres--blues, folk, MOR.  We 
didn't want to take the 'irony' route, and decided that 
there's an extremity in silence, or slow motion, or 
minimalism, that's equally effective as full-on assault. 
It's all about finding where the polarities--noise and 
silence--meet. Techno-Animal is meditational, about 
recapturing lost memories, whereas God is physical, trance- 
inducing, ritualistic". 

    Techno-Animal and Ice are on-going projects, having both 
recorded tracks for the fourth instalment of Virgin's best 
selling series of ambient anthologies.  Compiled by Martin 
himself, this 2 and a half hour double-CD is an essential 
guide to the dark ambient zone he calls 'isolationist'. Along 
with avant-rockers like Main and drone-ologists like Thomas 
Koner, the compilation includes offerings by Aphex Twin and 
Seefeel.  Some kind of unexpected convergence is occurring 
here. Avant-rockers have felt at once encouraged by and 
resentful of the success of Aphex's "Selected Ambient Works 
Volume 2", when they've been making the same kind of sinister 
soundscapes for years with minimal reward; at the same time, 
proto-ambient units like Zoviet France are puzzled and 
pleased that, after years in the wilderness, their tracks are 
slipping into sets by chill-out DJ's. 

    "People are questioning musical structures, the ambient 
boom has made them open to stuff that isn't song-based", 
reckons Martin.  "But it needs to be taken a lot further. 

     Martin decided a long time ago that "as soon as you 
start relying on making a living out of music, you begin 
making compromises." And so he lives to make music, rather 
than makes music to live. So compulsive, so almost biological 
is his drive that he breaks out in a strange, virulent skin 
disorder whenever he produces a record! 

     "The Virgin compilation and Pathological are ways for me 
to chase dreams, really. The fact that such a concentrated 
bloc of stridently uncompromising music is going to released 
via a major label is a victory for the hard of head! " 


     (God's "The Anatomy of Addiction" and Ice's "Under The 
Skin" are out now on Big Cat. The "Isolationist" anthology 
will be released by Virgin in September). 

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ 


RECENT PINNACLES OF POST-ROCK 

PAUL SCHUTZE: "New Maps In Hell" (Extreme). Ambient-improv 
nightmare-scapes. Check out also imminent LP "The Surgery Of 
Touch" and techno alter-ego Uzect Plaush. 

JIM O'ROURKE: "Remove The Need" (Extreme). Top-notch drone- 
ology using 'prepared guitar'. 

KAZUYUKI K. NULL AND JAMES PLOTKIN: "Aurora" (Sentrax). 
Jap-core improv colossus + cyberthrash guitarist = unearthly 
drones derived only from guitar. 

EINHEIT BROTZMANN: "Merry Christmas" (Blast First). Ex- 
Neubauten percussionist + neo-Hendrix axe-tormentor = 
wonderfully ruined noisescapes. 

ZOVIET FRANCE: "What Is Not True" (Charrm).  19th LP of a 15 
year undersung career at the brink between ambient and 
musique concrete, this has all the usual wraithes and 
apparitions.  The "Vienna 1990" LP shows they can do it live, 
too! 

LABRADFORD: "Prazision LP" (Kranky).  Krautrock, without the 
'rock', dissolved into a delicate, drum-less chamber music, 
all serene expanses and distant drones. 

FLYING SAUCER ATTACK: LP (via Cargo distribution). Lo-fi 
pastoral ambience under the spell of Krautrock obscurities 
Popol Vuh, and pretty spellbinding too. 

BIOTA: "Almost Never" (Cuneiform/ReR). Indescribable sound- 
mazes full of trompe l'oreille acoustics. 

THOMAS KONER: "Nunatak Gongamur" (Baroni). Breathtakingly 
desolate recreation of Antarctica in sound, all receding 
reverberations and slow-mo shock-waves. 

7 comments:

Kieran said...

I think this appeared in the 23rd July 1994 issue, with JAMC and Hope Sandoval on the cover.

Arturo Calderon said...

Hi, Simon. Apart from the last record by These New Puritans, can you mention some other examples of a "post-rock band" in this decade?. Greetings from Peru.

SIMON REYNOLDS said...

Arturo, can't really think of any modern post rock outfits as I would define the term

Arturo Calderon said...

I was thinking about Go Tell Fire To The Mountain by Wu Lyf. They branded their sound "Heavy Pop" but it was like a Factory-in-their-prime-band through the filter of Mogwai/Sigur Ros. A postmodern version of Big Music alá Echo & The Bunnymen would be a fitter description. However, they weren't into the "black avant-garde" as you mentioned was vital for "rock bands" if they wanted to go beyond rock. (I remember one of your articles in which you mention The Cantebury Scene, POst-Punk and The Lost Generation as examples). Would Trap be the "black avant-garde" of today? I'm not really sure about it. What do you think? Thanks for taking the time to reply.

SIMON REYNOLDS said...

that Wu Lyf LP sounds more like "epic rock" - it's got the big beat, the hoarse heart-felt vocals, the grand-sounding guitar and keyboards. i'm not sure where i'd place it - the Flaming Lips/Mercury Rev zone?

anything that sounds rocking, is by definition, i think not sufficiently post- the rock to be post-rock. so all of that Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai stuff, i think of as high-drama instrumental rock rather than that what i had envisaged originally, based on the inspiration of early 90s things by ie seefeel, disco inferno, main, etc etc. but the term has obviously taken on a life of its own.

SIMON REYNOLDS said...

if trap means Future, Rae Sremmurd, Migos, the better DJ Mustard stuff - then yeah it's the black pop vanguard. Without necessarily thinking of itself as avant-garde particularly, although i think Future wants to do new shit - that's why he calls himself "Future Hendrix".

it is hard to see though how a current rock group could incorporate trap ideas, in the same way that 90s post-rockers could use elements of dub, hip hop, jungle, techno, etc quite effectively without simply being imitations of dub/hip hop/jungle/techno. but i'm not a musician, and maybe there are musicians right now who are melding trap or footwork or whatever ideas into rock format in ways that will be astounding, or at least interesting.

Ajay said...
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