Monday, March 15, 2021

Living for Oblivion

Living for Oblivion


Village Voice, May 23, 2000

By far the most exciting part of the recent U.K. club-culture movie Human Traffic is the opening documentary-footage montage of illegal street parties, joyous protests against the British government’s anti-rave legislation. Jon Reiss’s documentary about the American rave scene, Better Living Through Circuitry: A Digital Odyssey Into the Electronic Dance Underground, similarly thrills with its tableaux of overexcited crowds doing the swirly Mandelbrot-limbed dance known as “liquid.” But when it comes to making you understand the culture rather than just feel the vibe, Better Living is less successful, featuring platitudes about “positive energy” from a middlebrow selection of DJs, producers, and bands (Atomic Babies? Electric Skychurch?!). Still, its dancefloor orientation makes it a useful complement to Iara Lee’s Modulations, which focused on home-oriented electronica and lofty auteurs rather than having-it crowds.

Highlights here include an amusing appearance by ex-Kraftwerk percussionist Wolfgang Flur and producer BT discoursing fascinatingly on “photic and auditory driving” (tribal techniques of inducing an alpha-wave trance through flicker patterns, unwittingly reinvented by ravers with strobes and oscillating keyboard vamps). Rave DJ stalwarts Frankie Bones and Keoki are charming, and a couple of paramedics outside a rave confess that they’ve started getting into the music despite themselves. On the minus side, Genesis P. Orridge repeats the self-serving myth that Psychic TV catalyzed the U.K.’s acid-house revolution and drops his well-worn rave-as-nouveau-tribalism insights like they’re mind bombs.

Better Living‘s cursory segment on drugs is something of a whitewash (possibly out of a forgivable desire not to give the Enemy any ammunition, what with the major crackdown on raves from Toronto to Florida). The film comes through in its home stretch with interesting stuff on rave’s utopian spirituality and “implicit politics”—kids who “make for themselves some of the things that are missing from their lives,” according to one talking head. By the end, I was even feeling a little teary-eyed.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Je Regrette Rien (Faust 1996)


Artforum, August 1996

by Simon Reynolds

“Krautrock”—the early-’70s Kosmische Musik of German bands like Can, FAUST, Neu!, Cluster, Amon Düül II, Ash Ra Tempel, and Popol Vuh—is currently hipper than it’s ever been. What with the boom in CD reissues, the publication of Julian Cope’s idiosyncratic guidebook Krautrocksampler, and pledges of allegiance from current bands like Stereolab, the Dead C, Flying Saucer Attack, and Telstar Ponies, now is the right time for Rien, Faust’s first studio album in two decades.

Formed in 1969 at the instigation of journalist Uwe Nettelbeck, Faust created four albums of peerless postpsychedelic/protopunk mayhem—Faust, Faust So Far, The Faust Tapes, and Faust IV—before disintegrating in 1974. Oscillating between zany absurdism and cosmic grandeur, Faust’s music was permeated with the Zen/Dada/LSD spirit of the late ’60s. But it isn’t so much the band’s hippy maximalism as its Velvet Underground–influenced minimalism and its penchant for loose ends and rough edges that have created its abiding postpunk legacy, as heard in contemporary genres like lo-fi (Pavement), postrock (Tortoise), and Japanese neopsychedelic noise (Keiji Haino).

For many, the band’s greatest achievement was The Faust Tapes, a collage of 26 segments, full of jarring stylistic jump cuts between tracks and of incongruous juxtapositions within them. Lautréamont’s famous line about the beauty of a “chance meeting of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table” could have served as Faust’s motto. Released by the American independent label Table of the Elements, Rien returns to Tapes’ cut-up mess-thetic: the album was pieced together, by producer/experimentalist Jim O’Rourke, out of a studio session and live tapes of the band’s 1994 reunion tour of America. Nominally divided into seven tracks, Rien is a montage of noise, song fragments, random vocal interjections, feedback gusts, disjointed piano motifs, John Cale–like violin scraping, and found sounds. One sequence juxtaposes the din of road drills with the swell of symphonic strings; another layers the idiot mantra “Listen to the fish” and a woozy, heavily processed trumpet over a stealthy, pulsing trance-rock groove.

Rien enshrines one side of Faust—the noise-and-Dada band that screwed with form and structure—and does it well. What’s absent from this comeback record is the band’s more listener-friendly side, as heard on Faust IV’s “Jennifer” (one of psychedelia’s most eerie and poignant love songs) and “It’s a Bit of a Pain” (twilight beauty redolent of the third Velvet Underground album). Even Tapes had its share of gorgeous folkadelic tunes amid the chaos. It might seem perverse to celebrate Faust for something as prosaic and trad as songwriting rather than for its avant-rock extremism. But it’s precisely that element of sheer loveliness that’s missing from Rien, and that I miss.