Friday, July 29, 2022

Electronic Panorama and the Prospective 21e Siecle series

THE INNER SLEEVE: Electronic Panorama 

The Wire, March 2009 

by Simon Reynolds 

It's tempting to pick a favorite record sleeve based on what a group or genre represents to me. 

For instance, I could point to the two grubby-looking photocopied paper inserts enfolding a 7 inch that is Scritti Politti's 2nd Peel Session EP. The first sheet carries the group's standard wodge of typewritten data about recording costs (demystify the means of production, to help others do-it-themselves), while the second is pages 179-180 of an imaginary book, Scritto's Republic, containing a lucid exposition of what were then (1979) pretty fresh and pretty mindblowing (to sixteen year old me) ideas about the relationship between language, power and the construction of self.

Equally, I might brandish an early '90s rave sleeve such as DJ Trax's 1 Man I DJ or 2 Bad Mice's Waremouse/Bombscare Remixes, both Moving Shadow EPs. Here, the goofy montaged snapshots of the teenagers responsible for the tunes exude a charming amateurishness that suits the made-in-two-minutes spirit of Ardkore.

With both Scritti and Moving Shadow, the sounds are fabulous and the movements--postpunk and rave--mean the world to me; made me, in a sense. 

But these sleeves aren't really things of beauty: graphic designers would frown, while I don't exactly gaze at them in aesthetic rapture. So I feel beholden to pick something that's both lovely-looking and personally meaningful. 

Which brings me to the series of albums released in the 1960s by Philips under the imprint "Prospective 21eme Siecle," which featured musique concrete and electroacoustic luminaries such as Francois Bayle and Bernard Parmegiani. All the albums are clad in futuristic-looking metallic gloss sleeves with abstract patterns. 

I picked up my first one (Pierre Henry's Voile d'Orphee I et II, Oxford jumble sale, 1983) unaware that it belonged to a series. To me, it was an eye-catching one-off, competitively priced at just one quid. I vaguely knew who Henry was, the fact that he was important, but my attraction was literally superficial, like a magpie greedily swooping down for a glittering foil wrapper. Which is pretty much what the cover is. (No one seems to know who the series designer was). I confess that at the time I only listened to the record once or twice. The sleeve, however, adorned the walls of my various digs for years (and as a result is BluTak-blemished on its back side).

It wasn't until 2003 when record-fiend/ blogger/Wire contributor/musician (and good friend) Matthew Ingram a.k.a. Woebot wrote a post about "The Silver Records" that the penny dropped. The hunt was on. I've now got thirteen from the series (only 22 to go). But which to nominate here? The obvious choice would be the initiating LP, Voile d'Orphee. But as sleeves I prefer Henry's Variations Pour Une Porte et un Soupir and Xenakis's Persephassa. Yet in those cases the music inside the packaging doesn't appeal as much.

Perhaps the solution is to nominate one I've not got but most covet: that collector's holy grail, Electronic Panorama, a box of four platters each dedicated to music from a different city (Paris, Tokyo, Utrecht, Warsaw). This beaut turns up on Ebay and Gemm regularly, priced way out of my league. One day, maybe… 

As a smashing-looking artifact and an assemblage of astonishing sounds, Electronic Panorama stands in for the entire Prospective series. It also says something to me about the pathos of collecting, its fetishism and folly. (See, I "have" all of Panorama's sonic contents, they're not hard to find on the web---why then do I crave the music's husk, gorgeous as it is?). Panorama speaks to impulses petty and lofty, childish and superhuman. On the one hand, the seriality of collector desire, the sadsack compulsion to get the complete set (coins, cards, stamps, or in this case, a label catalogue, even though the music can never be all gold--and there's definitely some duds in the Prospective series). On the other hand, Prospective 21eme Siecle embodies with supreme stylishness the awe-inspiring ambition of that post-WW2 drive to open up a new frontier for music. In some ways, the black-and-white sobriety of the back covers--portrait shots of the suit-wearing, bespectacled composers and sleevenotes about complex methodology and grand themes--resonates with me as much as the shiny-shiny fronts.

Consider that evocative imprint name. A French friend informs me that "prospective" is a philosophical term to describe the study of possible futures. It fuses "perspective" and "prospection" (as in a prospector exploring a new territory, searching for gold, or indeed silver). Here we are now, some way into the actual 21eme siècle, and there's an "after the gold rush" feel. And I wonder, will we ever again witness anything with that same Eureka!-like spirit of discovery and quest?

You can hear Electronic Panorama in pristine glistening flac at Avant-Garde Project 13 and 14

For a text for the exhibition Futur Anterieur, I wrote about the Prospective 21e Siecle covers and how the look inspired similar covers for the French science fiction publisher Ailleurs et Demain (which translates as Elsewhere and Tomorrow)

"In 1969, the publisher Robert Laffont launched the literary equivalent of Prospective 21e Siècle: the imprint Ailleurs et Demain, dedicated to science fiction and under the direction of Gérard Klein. Over the coming years Ailleurs et Demain would publish translations of works by giants of the genre such as Philip K. Dick, John Brunner, Frank Herbert, and Arthur C. Clarke along with novels by French s.f. writers like Jacques Sternberg, Michel Jeury, and Klein himself.  Klein was an admirer of the Prospective series and decided to package A & D fiction using the same process, called Héliophore and originally developed in the 1930s by Louis Defay to transform aluminum paper for printing. 

Some of the Ailleurs Et Demain designs closely resemble specific Prospective 21e Siecle sleeves, while others are new but clearly inspired by the series. (With both the albums and the novels, nobody seems to know the identity of the designers, who were in-house and uncredited).  The design style, which eventually extended beyond silver to gold and copper book covers, was maintained for over 20 years, before being abandoned."

More about the Heliphore process at Grapheine

Mine mine finally all  mine (thanks to the generosity of a dear friend). Ailleurs et Demain paperbacks picked up in Lyon. 




Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Island and Chris Blackwell

I had meant to link to Matthew Ingram's interview with Chris Blackwell for The Quietus, which was pegged to the recently published Island boss's memoir (co-written with Paul Morley). Well, here it is... and while I'm about it, reposting the piece I did for the Graun in celebration of Island and the role once - and still sometimes - played by record labels in our musical/cultural lives.  

Island Records

blog for The Guardian, 23rd March 2009

by Simon Reynolds

I had some issues with 24 Hour Party People, the Tony Wilson/Factory Records biopic, but there was one touch I found rather lovely. It's 1976 and Anthony H Wilson and crew have returned home after the Sex Pistols' Manchester debut. So what do Tony and his future Fac-heads do after witnessing this insurrectionary performance? Put Funhouse or Horses on the turntable? No, they roll spliffs and get stoned to the dreamy drift of Solid Air by John Martyn.

A lovely touch, I thought, and an acute one. First because it communicated, subtly, the fact that Factory's founders were actually hippy-ish sorts (think of Martin Hannett's long hair and drugginess) who were associated with Manchester's bohemian milieu of Didsbury. And also because it conveyed another truth: the majority of hip listeners in the pre-punk period weren't pining for the back-to-basics barbarianism of the Pistols, they were quite contentedly listening to a diffuse, eclectic array of "progressive" (as opposed to prog) music. Virtuosity, sensitivity, maturity — all these were at a premium until punk reversed the rules.

A UK hipster's musical diet from 1973 to 1976 would have included bearded folky-bluesy minstrels like Martyn, Roy Harper and Richard Thompson, post-Soft Machine sorts like Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers, some krautrock, a bit of reggae, and from America figures like Little Feat, Steely Dan and Joni Mitchell (the emphasis here being less "progressive" and more "sophisticated", maybe). This audience wasn't waiting for punk. Which is precisely why it came as such a surprise. A nasty one, for many; for others (the Anthony H Wilson types), a revelation.

I thought of the Solid Air moment in the film not because Martyn has been on my mind (although I am still in mourning and playing his music a lot), but because it's Island Records' 50th birthday this year. All kinds of celebrations are planned for May and already there's been some commemorative coverage.

Inevitably with Island, the first impressions are of Bob Marley and the label's historic relationship with Jamaican music. The second thing, typically, is U2 and how the biggest rock band of the last three decades made Island their home (until 2006). What tends to get passed over (sometimes sidelined altogether) is the basis of Island's cult reputation: that late-60s/early-70s period when it was the world's leading label for progressive music. John Martyn, the first white solo artist to sign to Island, kicked off this era with 1967's London Conversation. And in a strange sort of way he bookended it with One World, which may actually be even better than Solid Air, but whose oceanic funk and ambient ethereality was gloriously out of step with the UK rock scene in 1977. ('Small Hours', funnily enough, anticipates Durutti Column, so maybe Factory's hippy-dippy side crept back in soon after the rupture of punk).

Even though I've long since jettisoned my punk-reared prejudice against all things prog, when it comes to this era of Island — the Pink years, they're sometimes called, after the pink labels around which their platters revolved — it's still the case that a fair amount of the label's output eludes me. I'm not sure I'll ever fully understand why Traffic were so highly rated in their day (psychedelic ditties like Hole In My Shoe are lovely, but the John Barleycorn-type stuff?!) or Spooky Tooth (although admittedly the riff on 'Lost In My Dream' rocks mightily). Nonetheless the breadth of the music released on Island during its heyday is breathtaking: from Fairport Convention to Free, Mott the Hoople to Sparks, Blodwyn Pig to Roxy Music, Quintessence to John Cale.

Island's big Five-O got me thinking about what makes certain record labels iconic. It's clearly something to do with a flexible A&R policy that still manages to be coherent, held together by a certain hard-to-tag sensibility. Another crucial factor to label "aura" is the record design, the packaging and the way promotional campaigns are conducted. This kind of thing is now retrospectively sullied by the coinage of "branding" as a concept, such that it's difficult to recall how fresh and innovative "hip(py) capitalism" of this sort was in its original context (i.e. an unbelievably square, corny, and clumsy record industry). Beyond these specifics of aesthetics and market positioning, though, what we're really talking about here is a larger issue: the knack that certain entrepreneurs have for reconciling the opposed agendas of art and business (for a while, at least). After all, there are loads of labels who just do the pure art-for-art's thing but never make an impact; it's the easiest thing in the world to be uncommercial and obscure. (We're back to my first blogpost here, on the cultural function and value of "middlebrow" as an inbetween space).

When it comes to balancing the bottom line with an Arts Council-like indulgence of maverick creativity, Island's only peers were Elektra and the early Virgin. (I'm not suggesting, by the way, that any of these companies were especially enlightened when it came to deals and contracts, just that they did, at that point, treat their artists like… artists). Later on, you'd consider Rough Trade and Mute and, yes, Factory; later still, Warp (who coincidentally are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year).

Another thing that makes labels achieve legendary status is a degree of longevity. They need to have survived at least one major upheaval or musical "all change!", as opposed to being tied to a single trend or period. The Bob Marley story and U2 overshadow Island's "Pink era", but then again, isn't it impressive that a single record label has several claims to fame, several successive and overlapping phases of being relevant? One way that Island kept its cool for so long was by forming alliances with other labels or production/management companies. Label founder Chris Blackwell never relied entirely on his own ears or sense of what was happening. That started in the Pink years with Chrysalis (originally part of the Island family, they brought acts like Jethro Tull and Steeleye Span), Witchseason (Joe Boyd's folk-rock production company) and E.G. (who brought King Crimson and Roxy Music, which in turn led to Eno's solo career and experimental imprint Obscure being launched through Island). Effectively, Blackwell was outsourcing taste and aesthetic judgment to others, and a highly effective strategy it proved to be. In the 80s there were fruitful partnerships with New York mutant disco label ZE and ZTT.

By the late 80s, though, the Island "brand" had lost some of its lustre. Attempts to do with African music what the label had achieved with reggae were admirable but not nearly as successful. There was a misguided attempt to pull off a similar trick with Washington DC's go go, with the movie Good To Go (starring Troublefunk and… Art Garfunkel!). The steady erosion of identity continued after Blackwell sold Island to Polygram for £272m in 1989 (even though he stayed on as CEO for another eight years). But when Polygram was in turn bought by Universal, Island was dispersed amid a corporate welter of amalgamations and restructurings. In the UK, it merged with Mercury; in America, it became Island Def Jam; in Germany, Polydor Island. Which is not to say that today's Island isn't successful in record-industry terms. But it's hard to connect the emptied-out signifier of its name with the legendary Island of the pink-labelled progressives. Then again, you could trace a line that connects John Martyn to Amy Winehouse: that archetypal British projection towards the music of Black America, that hunger for "the real stuff" to satisfy our hollow souls. That, and a monstrous appetite for intoxicants.

Thinking about record labels also got me wondering about this decade: which were the 2000s labels that really mattered, that contributed to defining our time? Was there anybody operating at the same level as Island? Not really. But that may fundamentally be a structural issue, the withering of that threshold between underground and mainstream. The closest counterpart today might be Domino, who started out in the early 90s largely linked to lo-fi indie, but really came into their own when they signed some of the biggest bands in the land while continuing to produce esoteric music (they are currently the home of Animal Collective). Other labels that have a certain "aura" seem to be more boutique-like and niche-oriented, like DFA, Kompakt or (in a different, archive-raiding way) Soul Jazz. 

I'm sure we all have our favorites. One of mine is Ghost Box, with their merging of record design and sound, their guiding vision, their close-to-flawless discography. But then Ghost Box operates on the remote periphery of the mainstream. They can tightly control their output and release records as infrequently as they wish, because it's simply not a business for them (the label is not how its founders or artists earn their living). Small is beautiful, but it's rarely bountiful. Making bohemia pay, which is what Island in its heyday managed and other "large independents" (like Factory) also pulled off, is a whole different game. 

Sunday, July 17, 2022

John Lydon's Jamaica jaunt 1978 / Dennis Morris interview

Film by Don Letts of Johnny Rotten in Jamaica (look out for a glimpse of the lovely Vivien Goldman) 


Another Man magazine, 2012

by Simon Reynolds

“I was at the forefront of a new black British generation who had a double identity, a double culture,” says Dennis Morris, the legendary photographer whose 1970s camerawork gave equal time to reggae and punk. “One minute I’d be hanging with the Sex Pistols, the next I’d be on a plane to Jamaica. Bob Marley would ask me, ‘what you think about these punks, mon?’ and I’d go, ‘they cool’. He’d say, ‘but the swastikas?’ and I’d be, ‘nah worry, mon. It’s just for the shock value.’

Sixteen years old, armed with a Leica, Morris first met Marley and the Wailers in 1973 and was invited by the then barely-known group to accompany them on the Catch A Fire U.K. tour.  A few years later Morris made his professional breakthrough when his shots of the Wailers appeared on the front of several music papers in the wake of their epochal July 1975 show at London’s Lyceum.  Reggae fan John Lydon noticed Morris’s gritty reportage-style work and when the Sex Pistols signed to Virgin Records the singer asked for him to handle their first photo session. 

Morris and Lydon immediately clicked: not just because of the shared passion for Jamaican musics but because of an affinity between Irish and Caribbean immigrants as victims of discrimination in the U.K. Lydon would go on to title his memoir Rotten: No Irish, No Black, No Dogs after the sign that racially prejudiced landlords put in windows. Dennis and Johnny also frequented the same parts of East London: Morris grew up in Dalston, Lydon attended the nearby Hackney Technical College, and unbeknownst to each other they’d gone to many of the same clubs. Morris spent much of 1977 following the Pistols around, at a time when “God Save the Queen” made the group lightning rods for rage from the great British public. “For me it was a dream scenario, the equivalent of photographer heroes of mine like Larry Burrows documenting the Vietnam War, or Don McCullin’s work in Northern Ireland.”

At the end of a chaotic American tour in early 1978, the Pistols split in bitter disarray and Lydon returned to London with no idea what he was going to next. “He was pretty distraught, the Pistols meant a lot to him,” recalls Morris.  Around that time Morris was asked by Virgin Records supremo Richard Branson to come on a trip to Jamaica. Reggae was at the peak of its creativity and spiritual militancy and Branson planned to scoop up the cream of roots’n’dub talent for a new Virgin imprint, The Front Line. Morris would photograph the signings for album covers and promotional shots. “I said to Branson, ‘why don’t you take John too? He loves reggae and knows a lot about it. And he’s looking for something to do’.”

Within days, Branson, Morris, and Lydon, plus DJ/film-maker Don Letts and music journalist Vivien Goldman, arrived in Kingston, Jamaica. “First thing that happened at the airport was this group of Rastas saw us and they were, like ’hey Johnny Rotten mon! God save the Queen!’. And we looked at each other and smiled and were like, ‘we gonna be cool here’.”

Life in JA slipped into a luxurious and leisurely rhythm: Branson had booked an entire floor at the Sheraton, Kingston’s flashest hotel, and Lydon and his companions lounged by the pool, where they chatted with visiting reggae royalty while gorging on lobster. (Much to the distaste of the devout Rastafarian musicians, for whom shellfish—“anything that crawls or creeps”—was forbidden by ital, Rasta’s dietary laws).  The reggae greats—U Roy, The Mighty Diamonds, The Heptones, The Abyssininans–trooped to the Sheraton because word got out that there was a crazy Englishman offering big money for their music, cash in hand.   “I think it was Big Youth first. He comes to the hotel with a cassette player and we’re all sitting around the pool listening to his tape. Richard Branson says, ‘Yeah, l like it... but what do you think, John?’ And Lydon goes, ‘yeah, yeah, it’s great’. So Richard says, ‘okay, what do you want for it?’ Big Youth says, ’20 grand’. And Branson, says ‘Fine... Come back tomorrow and I’ll have it for you’. Off he’d go to the bank. After that we had people coming to see us every day.”

Jamaica in the 1970s was a land of crazy mixed-up contradictions: deep mystical vibrations coexisted with fast-money hustling, sun-kissed upfulness clashed with life-is-cheap bloodshed.  The island was “under heavy manners”, the state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Michael Manley to suppress violence between the ghetto gangs that supported the country’s rival political parties. “One time we went up to this mansion in the hills at night. Then coming down the hill we hit a roadblock. This was a time when it was like martial law in Jamaica, with curfews. Up in the mansion, we’d all been acting like bad boy Jamaicans, smoking spliffs. But when these soldiers started poking guns in our faces, demanding ‘what you doing in these streets?’, we were like [Morris puts on a posh, super-polite, tremulous voice] ‘we’re English, we’re English, we’re just going back to our hotel’. We were terrified. Saw our lives going down the pan. They searched the car and then said ‘get out of here’.” 

Another occasion when Morris and Lydon were made painfully aware they weren’t in Blighty anymore was at a big sound system in Trenchtown. “All the reggae dances in Jamaica are open air, unlike in the U.K. where the clubs and ‘blues’ parties were indoors.  And in Jamaica, when the selector drops a good tune, all the gun men point their weapons up and fire into the air. But we didn’t know that, so first time that happened—BANG BANG BANG--we were on the floor, cowering! Scared shitless, we were.”

That wasn’t Morris’s only up-close encounter with fire-arms during the trip.  After a photo session with The Gladiators, the band quizzed him about the record industry and told him about their management contract. “I said, ‘that doesn’t sound too good, you should really be getting this, and that...’  Few days later there’s a knock on my hotel suite door and two guys burst in: one holds me down, the other puts a gun to my head and snarls ‘don’t come down here telling my group what to do’.  I remember telling him ‘Go on then, pull it, pull it’.  The two guys look at each other and I can tell they’re thinking, ‘this guy’s got some balls’. So then I say, ‘Listen man, I wasn’t trying to take your group away from you..... ‘. We worked it out in the end. But that was what it was like those days in Jamaica—dodgy contracts and dirty deals left right and centre, between bands and their managers and the labels, just like in The Harder They Come.”

Meanwhile Johnny Rotten was having his own problems with a conniving and unscrupulous manager.  Former manager, to be precise: Malcolm McLaren was trying to piece together his movie project The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle and sent a minion, John “Boogie” Tiberi, to Kingston to film the ex-Pistol being confronted with the cryptic question “Who killed Bambi?” When Lydon refused to cooperate, Boogie was reduced to snooping around the Sheraton poolside area and trying to shoot footage of the singer surreptitiously. “We saw the bushes moving and realized we were being watched,” laughs Morris. “So we pushed him in the pool.”

The Jamaica trip wasn’t all stoned shenanigans, though. During the three week stay, Lydon began to formulate a sound-and-vision for his future. “John was picking up a lot of information, a lot of vibes,” says Morris, pointing in particular to times spent hanging out at Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s famous studio The Black Ark, where legend has it that Lydon recorded a vocal for a track that never saw the light of day. “Scratch was the most charismatic figure we met in Jamaica, a total genius.  And I think it was at the Black Ark, and going to sound systems, and just hanging out in Jamaica, that led John to conceive the idea for Public Image Ltd.”  Immediately on his return to London, Lydon hooked up with his reggae-fiend pal Jah Wobble, who taught himself to play bass. He also recruited ex-Clash guitarist Keith Levene, who has said that “the whole reason PiL worked at all was that were all just total dub fanatics.”

Morris was virtually a member of the group, serving as its unofficial in-house art director. He designed the PiL logo, punningly intended to resemble an aspirin. He did the photos and cover art for the debut album, which saw Lydon jettison the stereotypical punk look for zoot-suit sharpness. And he came up with the radical packaging of Metal Box: three 45 rpm discs encased in a matt-grey tin canister.  During this period Morris also worked as an Art Director at Island Records, where he oversaw the careers of The Slits and Linton Kwesi Johnson. Then he got signed to Island himself as the guitarist in Basement 5,  often described as the black PiL.

Throughout this period Morris was the court photographer at King John’s house in Gunter Grove, Chelsea. Here Lydon entertained a rotating retinue of guest luminaries--ranging from punk chanteuse Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex to reggae stars like Gregory Isaacs--with Guinness from kegs stowed in the living room and the bass-thunder of the latest Jamaican imports played through his  massive hi-fi system. Documentation of this golden period for postpunk music can be found, along with shots of Lydon’s working holiday in JA, in the photographer’s new book A Bitta Pil. “Gunter Grove was this massively creative hub, just buzzing,” Morris recalls. “And I was there, taking pictures.” 

Thursday, July 14, 2022

D-Generation - Mark Fisher's first stirrings

Yes, that's the young Mark Fisher staring piercingly out of the picture!

As I  discussed in the foreword to k-punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher, I had a meeting of  minds with Mark  several years before I actually met him in person, or indeed even knew of his existence. In 1994 I wrote two pieces about D-Generation, an ideas-packed groop whose press-release spiels caught my fancy. They sent me a press release / letter and a demo tape for an EP titled Entropy in the UK.

 I tried the three numbers listed and got through to one of them, Simon Biddell. And it was he who I interviewed. In the proper mini-feature on the group, the second of the two pieces, Biddell is identified as D-Generation's ideologue. It never occurred to ask about the other members of the group - it was a total ideas-oriented, polemic-oriented discussion. Zero factual information! Not untypical for me in those days....   

But Mark was certainly co-ideologue with Biddell - his mindprints are all over the group's self-framing, the titles, choice of samples etc etc. (I don't know what the role of Lee Thompson, the third member of D-Generation was). Prefigurings and portents of K-punkian obsessions limn the D-Generation manifesto.

The first piece I did on D-Generation was a side-bar to a one-pager I contributed to  Melody Maker's "New Wave of New Wave" cover-story feature package, March 26th 1994. This was the side panel to an interview I did with Jon Savage about the NWofNW, groups like SMASH, These Animal Men, and Fabulous. Here no member is identified, the quotes are just D-Generation's collective voice. 

The New Wave of New Wave versus d-generation

The great failing of the nouveau punk bands is their willful denial of the music of the last six years. The Sex Pistols had a relationship with both their era’s chartpop (glam’n’glitter like the Sweet) and its underground rock (The Stooges). Any band hoping to have the same impact today would have to take on board the innovations of sampler-based music, from rap and rave to ambient and avant-rock. A Nineties Pistols would be something like a cross between The Prodigy (this era’s Sweet), The Young Gods (this era’s Stooges) and Public Enemy (the black Clash).

Another big failing is that the NWONW’s refried Who riffs lack any kind of relationship with contemporary black music. Although the influence of roots reggae and dub really came through musically in 1979, punk had a spiritual kinship with reggae: both punk and Rasta were about exile and alienation. A Nineties punk should also have at least an awareness of - if not outright alliance with -  today’s black British subcultures. And that means ragga and jungle techno, music of pre-political rage and urban paranoia. If These Animal Men are really into speedfreak music, they should be making 160 bpm ardkore jungle, which is driven by a rage-to-live that’s pure punk. THIS is the sound of youth today, whereas These Animal Men’s “This is the Sound of Youth” is the sound of youth yesterday: 1966, or worse, that year’s dismal replay in 1979, with neo-mod bands like Secret Affair and Squire.

We need real modernism, not mod revivals. So let me introduce: d-generation. As the name suggests, their music is informed by, but also a swerve away from, the music of the E Generation: “the corrupt modernism” of dark techno, jungle, ambient and ragga.

“We would have been punks in ‘77”, admit d-generation, “but today we can’t see why anyone would ignore modern music.”

They call their sound “psychedelic futurism, techno haunted by the ghost of punk”. It sounds like Ultramarine gone noir: ambient drones, lonesome dub-reggae melodica, stealthy junglist breakbeats. Like Ultramarine, d-generation deploy imagery of “Englishness”, but instead of pastoral quirkiness, the vibe is urban wasteland, influenced by “the dark, expressionist, deviant tradition” of Wyndam Lewis, The Fall and Michael Moorcock.

On their yet-to-be-released EP Entropy in the UK, ghostly allusions to punk are omnipresent. “73/93” turns around the sampled phrases “eroding structure, generating entropy… no future”. “The Condition of Muzak” (the title is from a Michael Moorcock novel) goes even further, using Johnny Rotten as a stick to beat the rave generation. A sample from the Pistols’ last performance at Winterlands is turned into a techno riff: Rotten’s famous “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated” and mirthless cackle “ha ha ha”. Perfect: if this was played at a rave, it would start a virus of disaffection that would undermine the whole subculture. So many ravers have a cheated look on their faces, sometimes cos they’ve been sold dodgy E, mostly cos they’re burned out and can never get as high as they used to.

Rave is full of submerged utopian longings (“living the dream” etc). But because they aren’t articulated, the culture ultimately functions as a safety valve, releasing frustration at the weekend then returning you to workaday drudgery.

It’s not a culture of refusal, but an anti-culture that defuses. d-generation suggest one way that a true successor to punk (rather than a mere replay) could operate: as spies in the house of the loved-up, sowing seeds of discontent, making a grim dance of our national decay.

 Some of my colleagues at MM simply assumed that I had made up the group to fit my polemics of the time. So I did a proper introductory featuretteon them as the 'new band of the week' in the Advance section of MM. Possibly this was a kind of rejoinder -  "see, they are real!". But more likely I just wanted to get the most use out of an interesting interview and also encourage the band / [propagate their ideas. A photographer in Manchester was dispatched to take a shot, but again I had zero idea then that the central figure in the shot is the young Mark Fisher. Indeed I still had no notion that a Mark Fisher existed. 

Melody Maker, 1994
by Simon Reynolds

D-Generation are highly influenced by '60s mod and freakbeat. This Manchester trio took their name from The Eyes' "My Degeneration", a parody of The Who's anthem. D-Generation love the psychedelic/psychotic intensity of freakbeat bands like The Eyes, John's Children, The Creation, but they don't want to recreate it. Psychedelia means abusing technology, they argue, and today that means fucking with samplers and sequencers, not guitars.

Unlike These Animal Men and Blur, D-Generation haven't forgotten that mod was short for modernist. The original mods wanted to fast-forward into the future, not replay lost
golden ages. So D-Generation's "psychedelic futurism" draws on ambient and jungle--music that's absolutely NOW, absolutely BRITISH. And instead of the usual iconography of swinging London or English whimsy, D-Generation pledge allegiance to a "dark, deviant tradition"
of Englishness that includes The Fall, Syd Barrett, Wyndham Lewis, Powell/Pressburger and Michael Moorcock.

D-Generation's atmospheric dance is like a twilight-zone Ultramarine--lots of English imagery, but instead of bucolic bliss, the vibe is urban decay, dread and disassociation. On
their EP "Entropy In the UK", "73/93" rails against the "Nostalgia Conspiracy", using Dr Who samples of "no future". D-Generation call their music "techno haunted by the ghost of
punk" and on 'The Condition Of Muzak' that's literally the case, as it samples Johnny Rotten's infamous taunt: 'ever get the feeling you've been cheated?". Originally, the target was
rave culture itself, but this has widened out, says band ideologue Simon Biddell, "to implicate the entire culture of cynical irony." Then there's "Rotting Hill", a stab at "a 'Ghost Town' for the '90s"; Elgar's patriotic triumphalism is offset by samples from the movie Lucky Jim--"Merrie England? England was never merry!".

D-Generation, says Biddell, are dismayed by the way "young people are content to embrace a rock canon handed down to them, and seem unable to embrace the present, let alone
posit a future." But they're optimistic about the emergence of "a counter-scene, bands like Disco Inferno, Bark Psychosis, Pram, Insides, who are using ambient and techno ideas but
saying something about the 'real world', not withdrawing from it".

Add D-Generation to the list of this nation's saving graces.


The second - but unreleased -  EP from D-Generation - Concrete Island

Although I have two pre-release cassettes with D-Generation on the spine in my possession still, in the event they only put out just the one vinyl EP . That's because they were forced to change their name on account of the existence of a fairly dreadful NY trad-rebel-raunch'n'roll outfit of the same moniker - if I recall right, they got sent one of those cease-and-desist type letters from the management or the record company. But D-Generation did continue under a different name, The Lower Depths, and released at least a couple more EPs. One of the Concrete Island tunes appears on the first Lower Depths EP. Press releases below - again, spot the proto-K-punkian elements!

Interesting to see the reference to Steampunk there (having recently given a talk about the connections between steampunk and hauntology - this is one connection I didn't pick up on in terms of a steampunk / music crossover). Also the Nigel Kneale / Quatermass reference with "Hobbs End". 

While he was co-formulating D-Generation, Mark was also doing some of his first published (or widely published at any rate) writing about music, with this 1994 piece for New Statesman