Sunday, 26 August 2012

How Channel Four did not change the world

Channel Four tried to be innovative and cutting edge this bank holiday weekend, offering up an eight hour spectacle of ‘house’ music and telling us how the whole thing had changed the world and then having six deejays play one hour sets [without advertisements – radical, I know] with ‘twisted visuals’ and a ‘clown’ shouting out shit and sexist remarks in between as deejays changed places, swapped position and sounds.  Whilst I wanted to admire the broadcaster’s spirit  - it all felt very flat. Well perhaps not completely flat – but there was a documentary before the DJ sets presented by ‘an actor, deejay and clubber’ that was lamentable in every sense. Another countdown of the arbitrary 40 ‘pivotal’ moments that typify and extend our understanding of how ‘clubbing’ changed the world. It ended with ecstasy. When that was where it should have started.

It was out of sync and out of place.

When you have a detailed, analytical [in places] and well researched book in ‘Altered States – The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House’ by Matthew Collin – it would seem a logical starting point to make a ‘documentary’ about the social and psychological impact of the 303 and 808 on our mindset, play and morals using that as a reference guide. But instead we got the usual fair – the talking heads and random sequences taking in Chicago and New York cityscapes, queues for Studio 54, a touch of travellers, swaying masses, The Hacienda, da police and The Sun, strobe lights, lasers and smiley faces. Yeah, just like I remember it. Okay – I didn’t watch it all – but I think I could fill in the gaps between number 37 up to number 5 – it was hardly rocket science was it? I guess my only thrill came from seeing DJ Pierre turn on the actually 303 used on Acid Trax and let it bubble and squelch in what seemed to be a record store – but was more likely his own collection in his house.

Funny that the documentary was the actual product of how ‘clubbing’ changed the world, a shortened attention span and lack of depth, anecdotal musings, devoid of politics and meta-narrative and pretty much vacant. Also this substitute of the word ‘clubbing’ as opposed to ‘House’ or ‘Rave’ or ‘dance’ – you know people where fairly wild before Atalantic Ocean released Waterfall [ironic ] I do believe my mum and dad went to clubs – they danced to Elvis and Eddie Cochran. The masses frightening the establishment –oooh scary maaan. Commodification and consolidation – take it under your wing my friend and exploit it for all it’s worth. Make a documentary about it and reduce it’s edge – package it up – put a logo on it [I don’t know – something ‘ministry’ like – sort of official] and sell it back for late nights in lounges and car rides, or nostalgia trips and fancy dress [School Disco – anyone?]

That’s what pop music is. It is a package of this and that – sold to us all.
It does what we want when we want it to. As Adorno said all those years ago popular music exists to fulfill the needs of the ‘emotional listener’ quickly – a hit for the moment.  This standardization of popular music means that we have already pre-accepted it even before we have heard it. Our ears are trained to hear the music in a standard form whether it is pop, rock, dance, drum and bass or death metal, we already have an expectation of the music, it is ‘pre-digested’ through the structure of the songs. Thatcher must have rubbed her hands together as we ‘put our hands together’ as the music which radiated defiance and difference was slowly reigned in and accepted. Rendering it redundant.
I was wondering round Hirst’s exhibition this week – with the kids – they wanted to see the shark and it was the same there. Empty, devoid of comment and all about the money. That should have been number one – in the C4 doc – how ‘clubbing’ changed the world – it made a lot of people rich at the expense of camaraderie and equality we all thought we were having in the queues and on dance floors as we embraced and gurned our way through the night and emerged ever ready to right the wrongs through euphoric songs and repetitive beats.
I remember when suddenly you weren’t welcome in clubs – you know ‘promoters’ wanted you to ‘dress up’ - pay twenty pound for a ticket – because ‘house music’ was only for a certain swathe of the masses. These ‘strictly’ sounds were strictly for certain kinds. Clubbing changed the world by ghettoizing the sounds and shutting the doors. By subsuming the boredom and frustrations of 1980s Britain it did the Tories a favour – it took us all off the streets and made us sleep through the day.
Now don’t get me wrong. [or do – it doesn’t really matter]
I don’t want all my music challenging but I do want to be challenged. I’m only here once. I want to think. And ‘house music’ can make you think – it can ‘open up’ the mind [body and soul] Through hearing those manipulated beats and synthesized sounds in Orbital, Black Dog, Luke Slater, Beaumant Hannett, Mark Broom, Carl Craig, Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Marshall Jefferson, Todd Terry – you understand – the list goes on and on and on – brought me to ‘musique’ concrete, Cage, Glass, Ligetti, Satie and Stockhausen. To Can, Neu!, Tangerine Dream and Eno and  other musical forms beyond the four on the floor. It made me listen to news reports about space, developments in science and technology. It made me question post modernism and the rethink Marx. It politicized and spoke with understanding.
It changed the world a little bit. 

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Me, John and the masses

Last week I ventured to Kentish Town with old punks and grey haired romancers to watch a taut and well voiced Lydon sing with gusto and energy. I pogoed at one point, wrapped up in a moment of realization that this would, most likely, be my one time with John and me in a room.

I wanted that memory.

I created it amidst the mosh and the mass. Bespectacled and beered – well singing with cider that anger is an energy as I pushed myself on the shoulders of older men to ‘rise’ in the air and be part of it….maaaaan.

It was an odd concert to be honest. As I get older I tend to obsess more about train times than set lists – about routes and changes. I had met a friend early – soaking up the [unpretty] vacant Hirst exhibition [and we ‘should’ care – there was nothing pretty about his empty money grabbing greed and lack of style and grace – what a fucking rotter – next question.] We had settled near London Bridge  where the Shard stands like an intruder in the city and talked about this and that – but my mind was half on the clock and working my way up the Northern line to be on time for show.

Arriving only to be greeted by bouncers and barcode scanners. Like a supermarket where the staff wear tuxedos. Check your ticket -  that you printed – further saving costs – I used to keep hold of my old tickets – they had been designed – thought about – already providing the first steps of anticipation for an impending night,  sometimes weeks in advance. Don’t get me wrong – I do anticipate a night out – in fact I had done since I was given the ticket in a card on the morning I turned 41. Slowly clutching at middle age and tales to tell round the meeting table – not the public houses. But ticket design is a thing of the past. Perhaps it will help the hoarder in me.

So I arrived early – I wasn’t the first  - the place was filling up as men surveyed t-shirt prices and looked at flyers or simple wandered around holding carrier bags and looking lost. I had my bag over my shoulder – I knew where I was. Then randomly snapping photographs of empty stages – to capture and collect our moments – our nights out on iphones and apps to announce our attendance through digital means to all our other ‘friends’ on pages and sites.

The rituals. The motions.  All of us going through them.

There were no ‘special guests’ as promised. Just the incessant chug and fug of bass of the dub variety welcoming our hot bodies to relax and sway. I have always found the irony of the dub workout  - the slow and [rock] steady rolls and rimshot – as a means to generate anger and edge in confined spaces as bass shakes walls and floors and minds become ever more frayed as the subsonic shifts moods and moves. And on and on it played. I could feel that filling room filling up with the feeling that they’d been cheated – if it says guests – then give us some – because we knew that this PILzone wouldn’t be in effect until 9pm. But somehow through the fleeting appearances of ‘guitar techs’ we knew that something would ‘appen. So we beared with. We waited.

And then – once his manager/ guard was in place – stage right, PIL towel down – ready for the masses and the bass –there was John – all Carharrt camouflage and caterwaul. Not pantomime villain – but well rehearsed singer. The sounds were shrill and dense – echoing and reverberating off walls. I had gone fearing that the chorus and shine of the guitar would distract from the heavy bass bottom end. It didn’t. With Lydon’s scowl and growl, his scream and shout sitting and swirling in the mix. This was not for the faint hearted. This is not a long song. This was no easy trawl through the greatest hits, so far – this was confined space and bass in your face. You could see the whites of his eyes but we knew he would do us no harm – it’s the politicians who do that – as he took us out to deeper water and we were happy to bathe in it. Right until the final electronic sounds of Open Up he meant it. For real – as it where. There wasn’t a shout for a Pistols tune – we were there for PIL. For this public image of John.

I guess I got lost in all of that – and found myself bouncing up and down. Wild abandon in North London. No one got hurt. We police ourselves.

On the tubetrain on the way home – Johnny Cash arrived to serenade the midnight marauders with his Folsom Prison Blues as two young punks drank bottled beers and shared their wonder with one another. And as the train stopped and the Olympic hoards jumped on board  - I was struck by the fact that John still scares people. Clocked by a Team GB aficionado all indignant and self righteous – he looked at me and cursed in his suburban sounds that ‘he hadn’t seen anyone like those two fucking wastes of space on the Olympic field’ – trying to draw me in with a nod and a wink. All Daily Mail headlines – and leader columns – ‘Punks not Patriotic’. It’s if he wanted them to swap anarchy for Team GB. So he bristled and postured and muttered and he moaned all the while thinking I agreed but was just less confident to say it. What did he want me to do – lynch the fuckers?

I simply nodded. See as that other John said – the one who was vicious (so vicious) 'I’ve met the man on the street – and the man on the street is a cunt'.

I am an anarchist. Simple as that really. So is Lydon. It was good to be in his company. It was good to be with like minded people.

This is me jumping up and down. And this is a link to a wonderful Mayor in Spain. I think these things go together.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Sounds from the overground - solitary rants from the listening man No.4

I have finished 'Don't Rhyme for the sake of Riddlin'. It was about Public Enemy. It could have been better - but it got me listening to Chuck and Flav again.

I made four compilation CDs for a drive up North.

I read a review of Camp Bestival and how the Happy Mondays were a triumph.

I was offered the chance of a ticket to the closing ceremony Hyde park concert with New Order, The Specials and Blur. I turned it down.

I played Show Biz Kids by Steely Dan to my brother.

I looked through a whole heap of old concert photographs including Primal Scream, The Cure, The Groove Farm, The Pastels and My Bloody Valentine.

I heard Adam Ant in the distance.

I continued to to create more lies about George Harrison.

I further lost touch with modern pop music.

I looked up where the HMV Forum was in preparation for going to see P.I.L. I also read the Mojo article with Lydon and his band and kind of got excited.

I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated that an article in Mojo had included No UFO's over Strings of Life as the most  seminal and important 'electronic' records from Detroit and don't get me started about the inclusion of Selected Ambient Works II and no sign of The Orb'd first long player in it's Top 50 records. Easy journalism on the rise again.

I wondered,with Emma, why the Stone Roses didn't feature in Danny Boyle's opening ceremony musical interlude. Clearly a Blur fan.

I noted that the ongoing transformation of Alex Turner into Bono continues at a pace.

I got my brother to copy a load of music for me - which he had already done but I had lost the discs. It happens on a frequent basis.

I recorded the first two Sha La La flexi discs to computer and an single from a Manchester band called The Weeds.

I started several posts for this blog. I have yet to finish them.

I did watch this again though. Public Enemy rockin' the spot at the London DMC awards 1989 - the video says 88. But don't believe the hype. What makes this is the way that Flav makes this happen - the record will get played and the audience will get entertained. Hip Hop as rock n roll.