Thursday, June 25, 2009

Steven Wells RIP

Saddened to hear of the death of music press legend Steven Wells. My earnest teenage self was infuriated by his demolitions of whiney indie bands, but I eventually saw the funny side and realised that he was often right. As he says in his final column, why do society's most privileged feel their story is one worth telling? This rant for the Quietus may pick on an easy target (the egregious Los Campesinos) but the wider point about twee's political and cultural conservatism is bang on the money.

While Britpop/Cool Britiannia was in its ghastly back-slapping, self-deluding pomp, he was one of the few NME writers calling bullshit on the whole enterprise. He understood the importance of politics to culture, and his punk rock socialism and impassioned championing of multi-culturalism has had a big impact on me. Only last year, he wrote this funny, but angry, defence of immigration. In the light on BNP election gains, his piece is sadly all the more relevant and necessary.

While it's probably true he ran out of new things to say about music, it was still entertaining when one of his rants would wind up morons on the Guardian blog. I recall an amusing anti-guitar piece he wrote recently that suggested that the world's greatest guitarist was Richey Manic, 'cos his guitar wasn't plugged in. Cue "that doesn't even make sense" comments from humour-bypass idiots.

His accounts of his cancer treatment stand as his finest achievement: brutally honest, funny and touching. RIP Swells. Hope you're enjoying a ginger ale in heaven with Joey Ramone and Joe Strummer.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Stopgap, or a few notes on the state of Noise and the Glasgow underground

The final Beard radio of the term should be with you soon. Just waiting on the Subcity IT bods to fix some technical issues. We're going to be doing the odd podcast over the summer, however, so watch this space for further information.

I had a lovely time at Le Weekend. The hottest weekend of the year so far, expeditions up Dumyat, and some damn fine sets from Evangelista, Trembling Bells and the improv trio of John Edwards, Steve Noble and Alex Ward. Full review to follow this week.

This is a good opportunity to share some links. David Keenan doesn't quite declare Noise dead, but his impressions of the No Fun festival in New York are of a scene that is split between power electronic fundamentalists and more inventive artists who are taking Noise off in different directions. This has been going on for some time, with some quarters denouncing the post-Wolf Eyes wave of Noise, or even latter-day Whitehouse (laptops? How could they?). I enjoy a bracing Noise onslaught as much as the next man, but it's probably true that the all out approach of power electronics has had its day. And personally, I find that scene's nihilism and obsession with "transgression" to be tedious at best. In my Plan B review of Glasgow Implodes I barely mentioned any of the power electronics acts, simply 'cos they were pretty shit. A bloke sticks one hand down his pants and gropes the audience with the other, while his mate grimly crouches over some pedals = zzzzz. Vomir's set at least stuck to its anti-music/anti-performance principles - we were given black bin liners to put over our heads while a static scree played out - but other than make us feel a little claustrophobic, what was the point? Some sheep skull wielding doom metallers went down well, but I found them to be generic and uninspired, neither heavy nor seething enough. Doom acts like this are to Sunn 0)) and Asva what Slaughter & The Dogs are to PiL and The Slits. The stuff I did like at GI was the least power electronics oriented. While Atomized's set up was essentially power electronics, their twisted takes of 80s pop hits, where dying synths could be heard crying out amidst the blast furnace roar, made for a funny, but unsettling experience. Glasgow's Vom do heavy, hypnotic space rock better than most, while Skullflower, although very much part of the original noise/industrial scene possess a heady, psychedelic sensuousness that's a million miles from the stunted grunts of your power electronics conservatives.
At the risk of raising the "our music always had a dance element" spectre, one of the more interesting developments in noise is the incorporation of electronic music. Louis Pattison's review of No Fun in the current Plan B describes Carlos Giffoni's set as bordering on acid house, while Frances Morgan, in the same issue, wonders if the laptop damaged cut ups of John Wiese have more in common with Venetian Snares than orthodox noise. Meanwhile you have Astral Social Club's psychedelic techno excursions (this year's Octuplex is a monster) and Leslie Keffer tentatively dropping in a thumping house beat to her set at Colour Out Of Space last year. While some noise fans will no doubt turn their noses up at such notions, noise and electronica share an interest in texture, dynamics and repetition, so these mutant strains make perfect sense. Another interesting development is where noise sidesteps aural assault to focus on atmosphere and disorientation: Aaron Dilloway's tape manipulations being an outstanding example. All this is to me is far more exciting than grotty noise tapes with black metal artwork. Bring on the noise/techno/bass music mutations!

Finally, an article I've been meaning to post for a while: Craig Woods on the Glasgow Underground from the excellent Paraphilia Magazine. The Scottish media has a tendency to root for anything Scottish. On one hand this is understandable - it seems mean-spirited and counterproductive to shit on new acts - but on the other it can lead to a frustrating lack of debate. So it's refreshing to read Woods write of:

the lamentable status quo that has paralysed and debased Glasgow‘s underground music scene
to the extent that the term ―avant garde is now applied (evidently without irony) to the flaccid
fetidity of Frightened Rabbit and the terminal tedium of The Twilight Sad.

Good to see somebody finally putting the boot into Frightened Rabbit and Twilight Sad's dreary "anthemic" indie rock, as well as the glut of maddeningly conservative indie-pop bands that seem inescapable (on that point, how utterly pointless and charmless is Stuart Murdoch's God Help The Girl? Belle & Sebastian's magpie tendencies used to be cute - Dog On Wheels steals from Love's Alone Again Or with Nancy & Lee's Summer Wine to delightful effect - but they've long since descended into immaculate but characterless soft pop pastiche) Just in case you think he's dismissing Glasgow music outright, he cites a number of fine bands from the past few years (Park Attack, The Royal We, Errors et al) but points out they are too disparate to constitute a "scene" or "wave". Until now...

With a combination of experimental originality and a frisky passion for original Punk values, these
few acts have worked swiftly and indefatigably to redraw the margins and assault Glasgow with an
enthralling trash-art sensibility which has finally given this city the kick up the arse it has long required.

He cites the ferociously good Divorce, and young bands like Ultimate Thrush (spazzed out noise punk) and Plaaydoh (noisy Deerhoof Casio pop) as examples of raw, trashy and playful bands who have been fuckin' shit up. Having also attended the Megafest event at the Flying Duck in February (wish I'd blogged it!) I don't think it's too much of an overstatement to say that this night felt like the start of something, as well as a culmination of the previous few years of underground DIY. As Woods writes, "This is the night that Glasgow‘s revitalised underground unites and coalesces before a suitably awestruck audience". Discussing the article with Craig, we agreed that DIY promoters Nuts & Seeds have played an essential role in cultivating the new scene by bringing weird, noisy and fun underground acts to Glasgow and getting local acts to support, and presenting it all with great artwork and ethical ideals. They've helped create an atmosphere where incredible, uncategorisable bands like Tattie Toes (still my favourite local act) can reach new audiences. There is of course more to Glasgow than guitar bands, and what makes things particularly exciting just now is the vibrancy of its club scene. Numbers and Lucky Me have blurred the boundaries, both musically and socially, between hip-hop, bass music and techno, while Curious Curious continues the eclectic spirit of Optimo, albeit with more of a cosmic disco bias. The more all these different scenes communicate the better.

I'll end on a little music. Wonderful LA psych/drone/dub duo Pocahaunted are on tour this week, playing Glasgow tonight. Here's a jam from their magical Island Diamonds platter.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Beard Radio 25 May

After much delay (technical difficulties, no fault of my own) last week's Beard radio is finally online!

Featuring a lovely new jingle recorded by my granny!

Lindsay Buckingham & Stevie Nicks - Crying In The Night, Buckingham Nicks (Polydor)
The Thing - Hidegen Fujinaka Szelek, Bag It! (Smalltown Superjazz)
Betty Harris - Mean Man, Saturday Night Fish Fry (Soul Jazz)
Evangelista - The Blue Room (Constellation)
John Prine & Iris Dement- In Spite of Ourselves, A Date With John Waters (New Line)
Lindstrom & Prins Thomas - Note I love You + 100, II (Eskimo)
Link Wray - The Swag, Pink Flamingoes Soundtrack (Vomit)
Mount Vernon Arts Lab - Hobgoblins, Seance At Hobbs Lane (Ghost Box)
Afrirampo - Track 1, Sutto Breakor (P Vine)

Back next week with our final Subcity show of the term. However, we have plans afoot for some Beard podcasts throughout the summer. Watch this space...