Sunday, March 30, 2014

"it's a middle-aged rampage now"

Kind of amazed nobody in the last almost three years since Retromania came about pointed this tune out to me..

From 2006, around the same time as my "A Past Gone Mad" posts at Blissblog, so me and Haines must have been picking up on the same vibes....

The lyrics to "The Heritage Rock Revolution":

Heritage rock, heritage rock
Can't get enough of heritage rock

It's been twenty-five years since you had an original thought in your head
I don't want to know about the records you own or all the books that you've read
We got a message straight from the top
From the guys in heritage rock
They're going to recognize their age
It's a middle-aged rampage now

I love rock & roll
I hope it never dies
Put it in a time-capsule, and bury it alive

Cryogenically frozen, an unfinished masterpiece,
He's got his own meltdown
He's a bona-fide legend, a credit to his rest-home
Who let him out
He's going to play all the hits that we knew
All of the new album, too
It's good to have something in these times to look forward to

I love rock & roll
I hope it never dies
Wrap it up in cotton wool, and bury it alive

Heritage rock, heritage rock
Can't get enough of heritage rock

Crosby, Stills, & Nash, the legacy of The Clash
I can't take much more
Northern soul and Stax, the evolution of rap
Will have arrived fully-formed
But mutated along the way
Like a bubonic plague
Now if all of the world is a stage
God help us if there's a war

I love rock & roll
I hope it never dies
Put it in a chocolate box, and bury it alive.

Friday, March 14, 2014

but, but, April 1st isn't for another two weeks....

"Unthinkable? A tax on dinosaur rock -Rock dinosaurs clog up the festival stages and airwaves – why not take a cut of their earnings to fund new music?"

A Guardian editorial published today and so wishful-thinking, I had to check the date to make sure it was really in earnest:

"The music industry has a long history of repackaging its former glories and presenting them as new: David Quantick coined the phrase "pop will eat itself" to describe the phenomenon as long ago as 1986. The news that Led Zeppelin, a band that split 34 years ago, are releasing previously little-heard tracks is, then, but the latest example of what the music journalist Simon Reynolds has called the "rising tide of the historical past [that] is lapping at our ankles". Other contributors to that tide include innumerable Beatles releases, reunions by Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, the Beach Boys, the Stone Roses and Blur, and the annual Rolling Stones world tour. This endless pop revivalism follows its own inexorable financial logic: back in 2005 the Rolling Stones were reckoned to have made more than half a billion dollars from their world tour. But it has its costs for the culture: one of the knock-on effects of these superannuated millionaires refusing to fade away is that they suck oxygen from the new talent. Rock dinosaurs clog up the festival stages and the airwaves with their safe, old repertoire, and even new bands are often picked by conservative music executives because they sound like the old. So why not redistribute this creative capital? Take a small cut from the next never-before-released Tupac track or Sex Pistols reunion gig and use it to fund innovators who are trying to push for something genuinely new? Even Led Zeppelin's most diehard fans could surely appreciate that."

Thing is, this is how the record industry used to work, kinda. The blockbuster successes, the steady back catalogue sellers, the resold golden oldies whose recording costs long since recouped the first time around -- this cash-flow "subsidised" the more speculative or low-profit-margin investments of the big companies: A&R taking a punt on something new, untried, or weird, on the grounds that you never knew, it might take off; the support to "mid-list"artists, yer Kevin Coynes or John Martyns, who might never get beyond cult-ceiling sales, but added lustre to the roster, integrity to the brand....    That's how the record industry worked (book publishing too), not out of idealism particularly (although there's always been real 'music heads' working within the heart of the Machine) but as a sound business strategy: diversification, fingers in many pies, risky punts offset by guaranteed play-safe bets...   Rather like how a hedge fund operates, I should imagine.

That all got blown to fuck by a bunch of things, not just filesharing and collapsing sales, but also conglomeration and amalgamation, labels getting bought up for huge amounts and then to yield a return on the over-investment, effectively having whatever they stood for in terms of A&R sensibilty / image / brand / reputation gradually eroded (what happened to Island).

Thursday, March 13, 2014

this wasn't tomorrow #4

1957, in 1972


and 1957, in 1969:

Classical Music versus Classic Rock

"It’s only lately, now that pop and rock has become the status quo, less a home for possible radical sentiments and creative surprises and more an insular venue for nostalgia, processed hipness and banal emotional comfort, that I have been attracted to classical music, and the idea of the orchestra." -- Paul Morley, keynote speech at the  2014 Conference of the Association of British Orchestras 

 "My recent move into the classical orbit seems like the classic clichéd middle age move from rock and pop ...  For me, though, it has been more a move to where the provocative, thrilling, actually adaptive ideas are, more because rock music and pop culture have themselves settled down and become the status quo. The majority of pop and rock musicians have run out of ideas....  Rock has become predictable, ordinary and obvious, increasingly recycled and narrow in its concerns and expression, its stars more and more slick and shallow.... Rock music, the festival culture, the repetition and rehashing of poses, riffs, rhythms and ingredients seems more closely related to the future fearing sentiments and sentimentally that have led to a revival in baking that anything socially and culturally revolutionary....  

"I find myself in my disturbing mid 50s bored and frustrated with all this glittery orthodoxy, these old fashioned values crudely disguised as rebellion...  I reached the stage where I decided, if I was listening to pop and rock that was up to and over 50 years old, I might as well listen to music that was up to and over 100, 200, 300 years old. I found that the music from the 17th, 18th and 19th century, let alone the 20th, made a lot of the rock of the 60s and 70s sound very quaint and dated...  

"When I was younger, orchestral classical music seemed to be all about the past, it was a museum, collecting and freezing culture, routinely recycling repertoire, adrift from ideas and the future... It is pop music that is now about its past, about anniversaries and retrospection, and more and more about its revered dead or nearly dead icons, and from where I listen and think, it is classical music, whether from the 18th century or last week, that seems to be more about challenge, mystery, metamorphosis and the essence of what it is to be human.  At a time when what it is to be human is threatened by the emergence and speedy mutation of machines and the provisional emergence of an unfathomable machine consciousness, it seems increasingly important, if just for old time’s sake, that the human isn’t completely lost...

"… But the music we look towards for this human presence should not sound as though it has been made to serve machines, and complete their mission to turn reality into a tightly coordinated  sequence of pulses, rhythms, patterns, clichés, climaxes and abbreviations – or, to give them the benefit of the doubt, into an explosive utopian paradise where all our unruly needs our instantly catered for… 

"To those of us paranoiacs resisting the shift into a compressed, spaced out utopia constructed by engineers, game makers, publicists and statisticians,  classical music, with its emphasis on patience, imagination, privacy, progress, wonder,  paying attention, layers of meaning, making connections, epic historical detail, seems part of the alternative, seems to represent a better form of the idea of progress..."

There is a small paradox buried within the argument of the whole piece: it is the collapse of linear time (past/present/future) that allows classical music to seem no less new than anything else, certainly no more dated than 99 percent of rock .... As Morley put its: "as we are breaking free, for better or worse, from traditional, modernist notions of distinct, easily measured progress...  the orchestra is freed from the museum - or everything else has joined it in the museum, otherwise known as the internet"

YET  classical music and the mental-cognitive-perceptual skills it requires to understand and enjoy as long-form abstract narratives, is all aboutsustained attention, development through time, ie. linearity.  And this linearity, this depth and difficulty, work towards the preservation of our humanity, in the face of the  attention-span shrivelling info-blitz, the anti-culture of instant-gratification and digital twitch.  This music and its culture educates us cognitively but also emotionally - teaching us how to feel, rather than just be prisoners of sensation and affect.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

this was tomorrow #24 ("chronosickness" and "Cosmism" text 'n' pix edition)

                                                      images from Cybersyn

"Cybersyn, a Chilean project cybernetic simulator developed between 1971–1973 (by Stafford Beer for Salvador Allende’s government) aimed at constructing a distributed decision support system to aid in the management of the national economy. The project consisted of four modules: an economic simulator, custom software to check factory performance, an operations room, and a national network of telex machines that were linked to one mainframe computer.

Alex Williams, "Escape Velocity", e-Flux issue on Accelerationism: " It is only a post-capitalist sociopolitical model which is likely to be capable of launching a robust cosmist imperative. The first two thirds of the twentieth century saw astounding leaps forward in technology and political and social consciousness, with the era immediately after the Second World War (running up to about 1979) the apogee of future-oriented thought in scientific and popular culture. But these futurological visions of the revolutionary intersection of techno-scientific development and social transformation, after the advent of neoliberalism, were quickly replaced by a yearning for kitsch retro-futurism. This is the story of modernism and early postmodernism collapsing into what might be termed a generalized chronosickness: a loss of the thread of techno-social Enlightenment. This is encapsulated especially in the loss of space as “final frontier.” Starting in the 1970s, the huge Soviet and American space programs collapsed under the strain of political pressure and budget cuts. The resumption of a serious and ongoing exploration of space is perhaps the ultimate expression of freedom imaginable to present minds, what the design theorist Benedict Singleton refers to as a maximum jailbreak...."

From the same issue, see also: 

Benedict Singleton's Maximum Jailbreak, on "Cosmism", via the late 19th Century Russian thinker Nikolai Fedorov, author of The Philosophy of the Common Task, whose subject was:

"the articulation of a plan for the entire human race, a project that can readily be sloganed as storm the heavens and conquer death....

"It seems obvious that we are confined in space to the surface of the earth, and in time to the length of a life. Fedorov’s imaginative achievement revolves around refusing to mistake the ubiquity of these constraints—for all the great hold they exert—as inescapable necessities we have no choice but to accept. Those who point to the huge expanse of the earth and the whole terrestrial history of life—this is nothing but myopia, squalid provincialism. In isolated form, this is the characteristic gesture of cosmism, what we might call the “cosmist impulse”: to consider the earth a trap, and to understand the common project of philosophy, economics, and design as being the formulation of means to escape from it: to conceive a jailbreak at the maximum possible scale, a heist in which we steal ourselves from the vault...."
"... Technologies must loosen the grip of gravity, not eradicating it per se but meaning we would no longer be forced to obey it without question, no longer subject to its necessity. Epic and unexpected, the creativity of Fedorov’s vision extended to its detail:
He speculated that someday, by erecting giant cones on the earth’s surface, people might be able to control the earth’s electromagnetic field in such a way as to turn the whole planet into a spaceship under human control. We would no longer have to slavishly orbit our sun but could freely steer our planet wherever we wished, as, in the phrase he used as early as the 1870s, “captain and crew of spaceship earth.”5
"This complex of ideas, which by the 1900s had been dubbed “cosmism,” was capable of inspiring peculiar devotion in the few who were exposed to it....

"The Common Task played a central role in the formation of cosmonautics. Chief among the devotees of Fedorov’s thought was his protégé, Konstantin Tsiolkovski, a frequent visitor to Fedorov’s library as a teenager, who was to go on to configure the mathematical basis for space travel, from a series of vital rocketry equations to the calculation of optimal ascent, descent, and orbital trajectories for spacecraft; and who put these to use in the design of the first multistage booster rockets, an extraordinary technological innovation that stood among many others in his work, including designs for airlocks and moon bases..."

Singleton examines the notion of the trap, and the cunning of the creature who can design a way to  escape it. Then ventures:

"As an event in this alternative history of design, cosmism arrives as a kind of absolutization of its basic principles into a project of generalized escapology.... 

"Fedorov’s cosmism is a project, ultimately, of freedom, commissioning an assault by practical reason on the things that bind us, irrespective of their historical ubiquity; the perception that a life subjected to 1g gravity is inevitable is among the casualties already listed. The conception of the world as a field of nested traps renders this vision of freedom quantitative, a series of practical achievements, proceeding by degree"

The distinction between escapism and escapology seems suggestive:

"...In order to be free of a trap, it’s of less use to the trapped to decide upon some holy condition of freedom than to understand how one is implicated in the mechanism of one’s entrapment. To engage in the former is mere escapism, as we’ve noted. The designation of this limit as sacrosanct is alien to the very logic of traps and of escaping them, to its abstract insurrectionary force"

"explode into space"

"it flies sideways through time"

"I've seen the future and I've left it behind"

Sunday, March 9, 2014

This was tomorrow #23

Started watching this recently aired paean in two parts to modernist architecture and urban planning in the U.K, written and presented by Jonathan Meades: Bunkers Brutalism and Bloodymindedness: Concrete Poetry.... 

... Initially found the verbosity rather bracing, a flashback to a more challenging era of British broadcasting....

.... But then the mandarin hauteur, the tone of voice, the fact that this was language that might work on the printed page but was never meant to be spoken aloud, it all became quite unbearable and we had to turn it off. 

Wish Owen H had done it. 

Or that this chap could be resurrected:

Love Ian Nairn's edge-of-weepy, plaintive tone of voice, so perfect for the elegaic mode.

Or indeed, if we're allowing Lazarus-presenters, then wish it was this fellow (who apparently is subjected to a real dick move by Meades later on in his  doc, despite the fact that Reyner Banham was celebrating modernist / Brutalist architecture  and the poetics of concrete in real-time, as it was being built. "Despite" - perhaps more like  "because of"?  Belatedness-induced resentment on the part of JM?)  

this isn't tomorrow #1

Simon Price surprisingly indulgent of period accuracy fetish crew Temples:

"Temples don't do things by halves. This isn't a band using psychedelia as merely one of many colours on their palette: Super Furry Animals or the Flaming Lips they ain't. Nor is there any apparent ironic intent whatsoever: frontman James Bagshaw doesn't have an insincere bone in his skinny body. The Kettering quartet's ultra-literalist take on 60s acid rock, which has earned them a Heavenly record deal, the endorsement of trad rock grandees such as Johnny Marr and Noel Gallagher, and support slots with everyone from Suede to the Stones after a handful of tracks were anonymously and enigmatically uploaded to YouTube last year, is all about period accuracy.
Baroque, "cosmic" lyrics such as "painting ourselves on a stained glass floor" (Colours to Life) are typical of their debut album, Sun Structures. Their videos, typically, are drenched in the sort of kaleidoscopic effects you'd associate with early footage of the Pink Floyd at Middle Earth. Even their stage gear looks the real deal: the smoke is purple, the amps are Orange, and when Bagshaw switches his electric 12-string for an F-holed semi-acoustic after just one song, you boggle at what sort of vintage guitar museum must surely be lurking backstage....

"The majority of the short 10-song set is mined from the same psychedelic seam and, as a result, the Temples live show is lacking in dramatics and dynamics: it's a flood when it needs to be a fountain.That said, when the strobe-lit overload of finale Mesmerise hits its peak, it attains the kind of surging tidal force that hit Aberystwyth last month. And this 60s shtick is serving Temples well for the meantime. There's a moment during Shelter Song when the entire venue goes nuts, an eruption of flailing limbs and flung lager, and one can almost see the light bulbs flickering into life over a few hundred long-haired heads who've never before heard a rock band playing quasi-Arabic scales drenched in a 10-inch layer of reverb".

You're saying Temples might actually be influential, Pricey? The horror, the horror....

Simon also mentions all the earlier back to the Sixties Psych Era moves - or rather not all (doesn't mention the Soft Boys, and Hoodoo Gurus, and  Mood Six, and Prince circa Around the World, and baggy, and Ocean Colour Scene), but many of them, enough to underline the utter exhausted, done to death, spirit-killing-even-to-think-about redundancy of what Temples are doing.  One thing he points out - the non-irony of Temples versus the comedic/parodic nature of  the early neo-psych (Neil the Hippie doing "Hole In my Shoe", Dr and the Medics, Dukes of euuch Stratosphear that XTC side project), reminded me of a good point I read recently in Linda Hutcheon's A Theory of Parody.  Which is that parody's humorous intent is the justification, the get-out clause,  for what would otherwise be  merely derivative: empty and redundant copying, pointless and sterile formalism.  With parody (a good example is ex-Bonzo Neil Innes, solo and with The Rutles) you enjoy the craft of it in the same way you enjoy the skill of impressionists in the Mike Yarwood/Rory Bremner mold, but that is a secondary aspect, a smaller component, of what is primarily about making fun of something. 

 Retro, then, could be defined as parody without the laughs. 

this wasn't tomorrow #3

Valiant revisionist effort from Man Like Joe here but - 

It will never not be too early to revisit, reappraise, or God forbid, revive electroclash

Or to put it another way, it will always be too early to revisit, etc etc...

The recorded legacy is thin.  The influence is not-legion.

It was fun enough to pontificate about at the time, or go to the clubs, but....

Come off it...


Seems like it's part of the structural economy of music media now - all of them, but particularly webzines -- to have these look-backs... these 20 Years On, 10 Years On, at this rate soon it'll be 5 Years On, pieces on "Iconic Albums".... the oral histories ....    I suppose it's the same logic, applied to clicks rather than ticket sales, that causes promoters to pack their festival line-ups with legacy acts and aging cults.The drawing-power logic of the known quantity, the thing you lived through and think of fairly fondly, or perhaps half-wonder you might have missed something by missing out on the first go-round.

this was tomorrow #22

Thursday, March 6, 2014

so hauntological it's not true

Programme number: EFE1112K Date: 02/02/1969  
Children from infant, secondary modern & comprehensive schools apply methods of contemporary music, including demonstrations of simple tape & electronic techniques. The children discuss with teacher how different sounds may be produced and experiment with electric circuits and loops on the tape recorder.
with: Peter Fletcher - Brian Dennis:

Can't post it here for some reason, but go here

Like a Ghost Box sleeve come to life

"So hauntological, it's not true" -  hmm, is it actually true?

It came out this Creative Archive project. 2006-7, BBC and Arts Council England, discussed at BFI

"When he took on a Creative Archive placement, artist Chris Dorley-Brown became fully ‘embedded’ in the BBC – with a staff pass, a desk and support from archive and legal staff.
Chris decided to focus on a specific geographical area – the East End of London – and explore its representation in the BBC’s programme output. This study of the BBC’s East End could become a model for others to follow elsewhere. He tapped into the output of Lime Grove, the famous current affairs studio, and uncovered some of the very first ‘open access’ projects set in the East End."

So far so good. But wait a minute

"Chris tracked down both producers and participants in documentaries made in the late 1960s and early 1970s. By recreating interviews and locations he tapped into their emotional resonance, and at the same time offered key questions about representation and motivation."


Perhaps this Michael Bracewell piece from Frieze can help... 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Is Bruno Mars the most emblematic pop star of the 2010s?

Defining the era by not sounding of the era, but other eras?

I first wrote "most influential of the 2010s" . But you can't really say Bruno is "influential", because he's so influenced by other things - what could he be actually transmitting to others! But his approach to pasticherie, and its peculiar blithe weightlessness (discussed further below) has been widely adopted. His success has been noted.

Evidence exhibit #1

Invasion of Mars-tian vibes into the world of teenybop! Yet in its clumsiness flashes me back also to the f(l)ailed poptimism of U2's "Discotheque".

(Incidentally, I seem to remember the Pogues were originally called Pogue Mahone, which translates to "kiss my arsehole", right?  Or "arse" - I can't remember.  Does that mean Austin's surname mean translates to....)

Similarly Bruno-y (with a bit of Plan B too, maybe) is "Love Me Again" by John Newman. Like Austin Mahone I saw this on  TeenNick's Top 10 countdown, watched with my precocious  7 year old (  in the process of swapping A.Mahone for One Direction, just like she swapped OneD for Justin B).

Sports bags with patches, talcum powder, whey-faced Brits in Fred Perry's twirling on the wooden dancefloor, a mise en scene more like a 1970s youth club than a modern night club  - this is meant to be a Northern Soul nite, right? Even though the music is as much piano-rave as retro-soul.

All means nothing to Tasmin, of course, which makes me wonder how many kids pick up on the retro-vintage signifiers? Even if they do, what do they signify to them, beyond a vague old-timeyness?

Evidence exhibit #2

Pharrell's "Happy" and G I R L, described thus by the FACT reviewer:

"If Pharrell’s recent success has taught him anything, it’s that you rarely score big by being original. 2013’s most monstrous hits, from ‘Blurred Lines’ and ‘Get Lucky’ to Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience, were all shameless in their retro-fetishism and pushed units by keeping one eye on Baby Boomer nostalgia and the other on the bank. Is it any surprise that G I R L follows the same template? From the orchestral string intro of ‘Marilyn Monroe’ to the funk-rock jam session that ends ‘It Girl’, G I R L is 45 minutes of warmed-over retro-pop pastiche, cribbing from Michael Jackson and Chic, from disco and yacht rock. Mostly, Pharrell is content to approximate dance floor fillers from the ’70s and ’80s; at his worst, he rehashes the more soulful and innovative material he made a decade ago."

FACT-man Chris Kelly could have, probably should have, shoved Bruno's Unorthodox Jukebox and its run of hit single in that "Blurred"/"Lucky"/20-20 list .

I don't mind "Happy", actually -- it's not retro I can stand by (as with Tame Impala's mighty "Elephant") but it's retro I can stand  - tolerate, perhaps even sing along to in the car. Reminds me of the better Style Council tunes. Or Mari Wilson / Compact!  Sixties retro with an Eighties overlay. Doubled nostalgia.

Here's what I said about Bruno in that Finland lecture:

"Bruno Mars is apparently 2013’s most played artist on US pop radio. “Locked Out of Heaven” - despite coming out in 2012 - was 2013’s most played song. Although “Locked Out” is a clever update of Police-style New Wave into a post-Timbaland, post-"Umbrella" world, the video is the true retro-fiesta, from the foregrounding of vintage technology like the old skool hip hop era machine the  Akai MPC  to an oldfashioned camera, and the  overall filtered and glitchy, image-wavery look to the promo that has a Instagram / Hipstamatic pre-fadedness. Or as Mars put it, “very VHS-y”

In fact nearly all his promo videos have some kind of analogue-fetish, shabby chic or period flavour to them. For instance, “Treasure”  has Mars and  his band done up as a 70s disco troupe. Even when he went to collect an award at a pop video awards ceremony, he did in a period-stylized way, as if his gratitude had air quotes around it!

But what Mars represents, I think, is a kind of naturalization or normalization of retro. By that I mean that there  is no gestural weight to Mars’s stylistic choices musically or those of the video director. Unlike earlier revivalists like the mod revival or ska revival in the Seventies, this is not a rejection of  contemporary  music, nor is he affiliating himself in any committed way to the  bygone style, It’s not the expression of feeling born too late to participate in a lost golden age. Rather the title of Mars’s album Unorthodox Jukebox suggests a sort of post-iPod, post-Spotify eclecticism, taste unconfined by genre or period.  

That "unorthodoxy"  is actually the emerging orthodoxy of the present - post-ideological pop, a mode of pop consumption and pop pleasure that is uninformed by identity politics, that does not involve identity-formation, of cathexis between the self and a style that engages the depths of an individual's being and directs its path through the world.