Monday, October 16, 2017

synth gardener

Here's my profile of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith for Village Voice.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Tale of Two Simons

Now here is a piece I've been wanting to write for a good while now.

I was delighted to get the opportunity to do it for RBMA.

It's the story of  the first decade of Virgin Records.

And it's a profile of Simon Draper, A&R Director and later Managing Director - the man whose vision and taste made Virgin a contender for coolest label of the Seventies.

Not that other chap, the one with the beard.

(Lol inventing here the industrial / Cosey Fanni Tutti style of trumpet-through-fog  four years ahead of schedule)

(Viv G on the vocals there)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


An old mate I've recently reconnected with, Matthew Worley - now a Professor of Punk - has his magnum opus on 1976-and-all-that-followed out now on Cambridge University Press.

Here's my blurb for No Future: Punk, Politics and British Youth Culture, 1976-1984:

"No Future cuts through the stodgy crust of nostalgia, self-serving memoir and fan-boy facts that conceals punk and reveals the truth of youth culture in late Seventies / early Eighties Britain: the internecine battles fought over issues of sound and style were inextricably linked to the political conflicts and dilemmas of that era. Digging deep into the fanzine squabbles and music press controversies that raged across the punk community, Matthew Worley brings to keen life the urgency of a period that felt at once like a terrifying crisis-time and the dawn of a new epoch delirious with radical possibilities. Giving Anarcho and Oi! the serious attention they’ve long deserved, and analysing this tumultuous time through perspectives that range from anti-consumerist boredom and feminist personal politics to media-critique and dystopian dread, No Future is an essential read for punk scholars and punk fans alike."

Next week there is a London book launch for No Future - on Tuesday October 17th at the Brick Lane Rough Trade, starting 7 pm, with Worley in conversation with Steve Ignorant and Cathi Unsworth. 
Something that Worley has been cooking up for next September at the University of Reading - a conference on music writing in which I'll be participating.

nifty groovers

What do these songs have in common?

1/ They come from a time when the gap between rock and black music was really small, compared with the gulf that now exists

Such that you almost wonder what the point of postpunk's vaunted embrace of funk and disco etc was as a gesture -  given that the funk was already so deeply imbricated with mainstream rock music. It didn't need to be added or restored, it's there

So you can  see - if you shove to one side the rhetoric and the clothes and the theory and the adversarial positioning - a continuum of Seventies rock that runs from beginning to end of the decade and that is steeped in black music - following its changes, absorbing its innovations (like the Larry Graham-esque slap bass bit in "Slow Ride" by Foghat... essentially no different as a musical move than scores of postpunk guitarists trying to copy Nile Rodgers )

They loved their Free after all, Go4

Old Wave / New Wave - the difference collapses as more and more time goes by

2/ The other thing they have in common - well, most of that first batch up top  - is that they are used in movies. Something about this kind of groove-oriented early Seventies rock seems to move the action along. These feel-good tunes are a perfect fit for the "up" phase of a film like Boogie Nights e.g. the scene when things are going swimmingly by the swimming pool (they use the Three Dog Night and "Spill the Wine" in that sequence) or the more fraught but still thrillingly kinetic climax to Goodfellas (the soundtrack jumping from "Monkey Man" to "Jump Into the Fire" in a way that will never cease to electrify).

3/  They are all nifty groovers


liberation-through-energy artifacts

It's the mundanity of the liberation-through-energy...  its sliced-white-bread, staple background to the times quality that I find interesting.... Most of the above are second-division acts, solid radio providers,  one-or-two hit wonders .... the liberation and the nifty grooviness is a general condition of the era... Even if (as per the kids in Dazed and Confused) the inhabitants of that era feel that the Seventies has fallen from the heights of the Sixties....  They don't know how good they got it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

some of my favorite tunes of the last few years gathered into an (unmixed) mixtape for NERO

Laurel Halo – «Like An L»
Big Sean – «Bounce Back»
D’Angelo – «Prayer»
Young Thug featuring Birdman – «Constantly Hating»
Schoolboy Q – «Collard Greens»
eMMplekz – «Gloomy Leper Techno»
Rae Smemmurd featuring Nicki Minaj and Young Thug – «Throw Sum Mo»
Future – «Fuck Up Some Commas»
Future – «I’m So Groovy»
Naomi Elizabeth – «The Topic Is Ass»
Travi$ Scott – «Goosebumps»
Travi$ Scott – «Antidote»
Migos – «Bad and Boujee»
Aphex Twin – «Original Chaos Riff»
Jeremih – «Oui»
Let’s Eat Grandma – «Eat Shiitake Mushrooms»
Hybrid Palms – «Pacific Image»
Tinashe feat Schoolboy Q – «2 On»
Assembled Minds – «Morris Horror»

Friday, October 06, 2017


Here's a piece by me for 4Columns on Franco Battiato, three of whose early albums - Fetus, Pollution and Sulle Corde di Aries - have just been reissued by the Superior Viaduct label.

Grazie molto to Valerio Mattioli - author of Superonda: Storia Segreta Della Musica Italianaa book about the experimental rock scene in which Battiato was a central figure - for filling in the background to his bizarre career. And cheers to Jon Dale for his revelatory tips on further listens  from within Battiato's close-knit community of associates and accomplices.

Attenzione Londoners! Mattioli dialogues with Rob Young about the Italian art-pop freak-out scene of the Seventies on October 22, 5 pm, at the Coronet Theatre. More details here

Saturday, September 30, 2017


One of the highlights of my recent book tour of Argentina was a visit to an exhibition dedicated to the early days of electronica and la música concreta in that country.


Klang is showing at Centro Cultural Kirchner, or CCK - a vast building in Buenos Aires that was once Argentina's central post office, and later was where Eva Perón based her fundación. 


Klang curator Laura Novoa kindly gave me a guided tour of the exhibition. And of the the building itself, among whose features is La Gran Lámpara - a glowing glass-sided construction (inside of which are two exhibitions halls) that is seemingly suspended in the air, and is situated in this central voluminous shaft of space that goes from the roof to the ground floor.


Argentina was heavily involved in electronic and tape music experimentation from early on in the music's history. It had strong links with similarly minded composers throughout Latin America. Some, such as Peruvians César Bolaños and Edgar Valcárcel came to work in Argentina for a period, as did the Colombian Jacqueline Nova and composers from Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Chile, and Bolivia.   



Conversely, Argentine pioneers like Edgardo Canton, Beatriz Ferreyra and Horacio Vaggione would move to France to continue their explorations at GRM (Groupe de Recherches Musicales). 


Another important avant-garde emigre was Mauricio Kagel, who moved to Cologne, while the Argentina-born Mario Davidovsky went to work at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. 

The exhibition's span goes from the earliest forays into tape music and electronics made by Argentine composers like Francisco Kröpfl....


... through the work done at of El Estudio de Fonologia Musical (founded by Kropfl) c/o Universidad de Buenos Aires


... then onto the wonderfully 1960s-in-vibe sound design / graphic design developed by the advertising agency Agens, as part of an integrated corporate identity project for the manufacturers SIAM Di Tella



... before winding up with CLAEM aka el Centro Latinoamericano de Altos Estudios Musicales, the most advanced electronic music laboratory in South America thanks largely to the innovations of fellow called Fernando von Reichenbach.


As well as the main room with its timeline and walk-in sound-booths with hyper-spatialized audio and often equally disorienting visuals, there is a separate room displaying a variety of  early synthesisers and sound-generating contraptions, scores, and documentary footage on loop.








Muchas gracias to Laura for a fascinating time travel trip to el futuro perdido latinoamericano!


For further information about Argentinan and Latin American electronic music, check out this essay by Ricardo Dal Farra. It comes with an enormous playlist of compositions which I have so far only managed to get about one-fifth of the way through - revelatory stuff. 


Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Shock Doctrine

Coming out late October on Zero, Punk Is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night is an anthology of punk texts edited by Richard Cabut and Andrew Gallix. Participants include Simon Critchley, Judy Nylon, Tony D, Tom Vague, Jonh Ingham, Penny Rimbaud,  Barney Hoskyns, Nicholas Rombes, Jon Savage....  our lost dear boy Mark Fisher ....  and yours truly. My contribution is an essay looking back at punk, but not from the present: "1976/86" was written in spring 1986 for the final issue of Monitor and simultaneously participated in the spate of 10th Anniversary retrospection (mostly hand-wringing: what happened, where did we go wrong?) while also examining the retrospective discourse itself. Far from punk being something long-long-ago and absent, I felt it still loomed over the landscape of British music, which if anything was over-determined by punkthink. In a way that essay is the acorn that after a long interval grew into Rip It Up and Start Again, although "postpunk" as currently understood was just one of  many after-punk pathways traced in the piece. 


"Punk as outrage" was another of the trajectories pinpointed and dissected - the vileness and Vicious-ness lineage, a/k/a "I killed a cat" = Doing It My Way *. Thinking about that reminded me that I've been remiss in not flagging up here another very interesting Zero publication -  Angela Nagle's Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan And Tumblr To Trump And The Alt-Right -  although it's got so much attention this summer you've almost certainly heard of it already. Indeed it's rather a controversial book, with some on the hardcore edge of the Left seemingly viscerally offended by its thesis, which asserts that there is a commonality of psychology in the desire-to-shock, whether manifested on the far right or far left of the political-cultural spectrum. 

In Nagle's words, "the ideologically flexible, politically fungible, morally neutral nature of transgression as style" - tactics of outrage and taboo-testing provocation - gradually migrated from the old counterculture to the new   contra-culture of far right trolls. That shift represents both "the co-opting" and "the triumph of 60s left styles of transgression." The scabrous truth-telling and refusal to self-censor of the Yippies, Lenny Bruce, counterculture publications from The Realist to Oz,  and pretty much everybody in that entire Fifties-Sixties gang, which then evolved through punk (especially the Malcolm McLaren wing) to become the Sixties-turned-inside-out of industrial culture - these attitudes and techniques have found a new home on the far right. The target is the same as it always was - the prudish / prudent bourgeoisie - but the nature of the taboos and the ideas of what is bad conduct have shifted: there are new norms to break, new normies to appall. As the most infamous exponent of the new style - now disgraced for going too far - has put it, the dominant culture to be countered is "the nannying and language policing and authoritarianism of the progressive left - the stranglehold that it has on culture." **

In the horrendously polarized, high-stakes moment that is now, you can kind of see why Nagle's thesis might offend; it does slightly resemble the old wet-liberal canard "you can go so far to the left that you end up on the right".  But I have actually had a couple of conversations in the past year with online strangers who claimed that they know people on the radical left who have switched to the right - not because they shared the values particularly but because that's where the new cutting edge was, in terms of irreverence and iconoclasm. The buzz of shocking, the rush of causing offence - this was more important than the actual political positions and their real-world implications. This is the punk of today, in other words.

Nagle references The Sex Revolts a couple of times during her thesis. That book is a bit of an orphan in the oeuvre, indeed there have been quite long periods when I've completely forgotten that Joy and I ever wrote it.  While I can't quite reconstruct the head that came up with the over-arching thesis on which the thing is scaffolded and which I'm not certain stands up anymore (that was the peak / swan-song of my infatuation with French theory), whenever I've looked back at a specific portion or patch of it  - the stuff on grunge, or Siouxsie, or the whole section on psychedelia - it still seems on the money. 

Probably the sharpest part is the stuff that relates to Nagle's book - which apart from anything else is a very handy quick-read recap of recent history / guided tour through the online sewers of discourse, from the social injustice warriors of the alt-right to the anti-feminist virulence of the manosphere (or should that be men-of-fears?). That is the Revolts chapter that dissects the masculinism of all the immediate precursors to rock rebellion - the Beats, the Angry Young Men, James Dean, Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, et al - during which we bring up "Momism", a concept coined by Philip Wylie in his 1942 book Generation of Vipers.  Wylie identified a form of new American decadence in the growth of consumerism, mass media entertainment like radio, and suburbia, which he linked to matriarchy and domesticity: American virility, the frontier style of rugged martial masculinity on which the nation was founded, was being smothered and enfeebled by over-mothering, comfort and niceness.  The Sex Revolts mentions Robert Bly's Iron Man as a modern-day, therapeutically tinged and New Age-y resurgence of the Momism critique, a sort of Jung Thug Manifesto. But, published in 1995, our book was a year too early for Chuck Palahniuk's  Fight Club: angry young men reacting against metrosexual consumerism and sensitivity, an insidious decadence weakening them from within, and coming up with solutions that recall Nietzche's "in a time of peace, the warlike man attacks himself."

Fight Club was the book that coined the term "snowflake," and the novel has proved to be a prophetic parable. The ugly contorted face of anti-Momism today is the paranoid impatience with political correctness, safe spaces, trigger warnings, etc - the new proprieties that are felt as intolerable constraints, restrictions on the male right to spite. Hillary Rodham Clinton, with her uncatchy catchphrase "America is great because America is good," is Momism incarnate for the new angry young men, the symbol of a stifling virtuousness, a tyranny of good behaviour. So instead of Nurse Ratchet, they elected Andrew Dice Clay as President, on a ticket of Tourette's as a style of governance, reactive as much as reactionary.  

Underlying it all is the crisis of a masculinity that doesn't know what it's for anymore, in a demilitarized and post-industrial era where women provide for themselves or are the high-earning member of the family. Hence the fixation on imagined threats to gun ownership, on rapacious extraction industries like coal and the removal of protections for Mother Earth (always struck by how "fracking" sounds like the violating act that it is - how's that for "libidinal economy"?).... hence the hankering for macho foreign policy postures (waving that big "stick" around) and Theweleit-on-the-Freikorps redolent Walls and dams against contaminating floods.....  these and so many other psyche-fortifying issues are all of them proxies, props, displacements, compensations for an eroding and increasingly irrelevant style of manhood.   


* The really acute essay on punk in that issue of Monitor is the piece by Hilary Bichovsky (then writing as Hilary Little) on a recent retrospective exhibition of Jamie Reid's art, including his work for the Sex Pistols, in the course of which she wryly but implacably picks apart the impulse-to-outrage from an unsparing feminist perspective. One of the things she comments on is the "Who Killed Bambi" artwork - the slain deer, an actual living thing sacrificed for an edgy concept, for a image that will shock. As with Vicious's "to think / I killed a cat", as with names such as Stiff Kittens and Kill My Pet Puppy, the underlying idea is that softy furry things made you soft inside.  Killing soft weak things, even symbolically with sick humour, makes you hard.

Sex Revolts actually started with a sick joke. We went out for dinner with a friend - this is early Nineties, East Village NYC - and he'd brought along a friend, someone who'd been in various noise bands (including this one).  During the meal, the musician told a joke:

Q: What's the worse thing about raping a child?

A: Having to kill her afterwards.

I guess it was a cool test - if you laughed, you passed. We flunked the test. Later, walking home, Joy and I started talking about why, at that time, there were such a lot of underground-rock bands with songs about killing women. Three hours of fevered discussion later, we had a book mapped out.   

**  For further Nagle reading, try this Baffler essay about the breakdown of manners and self-restraint in public discourse.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Thursday, September 14, 2017

RIP Grant Hart

for a couple of years there, Husker Du were my favorite band

Sunday, September 10, 2017

naughty naughty

There is this - "Hello, Hello Daddy (I'll Sacrifice You)" - which is ripped off of this

(Which I heard on this fab Woebot mix of Brazilian)

And then there is this

which is ripped off of this

and then this (although Western copyright says you can't copyright a beat)

Wonder what else they pilfered?

I tend to point the figure in Malcolm's direction, considering that he fancied himself a voleur  and recycled some Soweto tunes - copyrighted to himself - on Duck Rock.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Sunday, September 03, 2017


This week I'm heading down to Argentina for the publication of the glam book, published through Caja Negra under the title Como un golpe de rayo. That translates as Like A Lightning Strike


I'm doing two events at the Córdoba Book Fair (Sept 8 + 9) and a presentation in Buenos Aires (Sept 12). 


la Feria del Libro de Córdoba

Viernes 8 de septiembre, 11 to 13 hs

Primer Piso, Sala 1

Crítica musical: Cómo y por qué hacerla. Enfoques históricos y tendencias actuales 
(a historical masterclass on rock criticism and music journalism from the start to the finish) 

actividad gratuita con inscripcion previa

Sábado 9 de septiembre, 19 h 

el Patio Mayor del Cabildo

Conferencia - "Todo el mundo está en el showbiz: el glam y el anti-glam de los setenta al siglo XXI” 
(Everybody's In Showbiz: Glam and Anti-Glam from the Seventies to the 21st Century)

entrada libre y gratuita

Buenos Aires

Martes 12 de septiembre,  19hs

el Centro Cultural San Martin 
Sarmiento 1562

Con presentación a cargo de Pablo Schanton

Conferencia - "Todo el mundo está en el showbiz: el glam y el anti-glam de los setenta al siglo XXI”

entrada gratuita con inscripción   más información

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Friday, August 18, 2017

A piece by me on instrument-builder / robot-maker / sono-historian Sarah Angliss and her spooky-lovely London-themed debut album Ealing Feeder, written for the latest issue of online arts magazine 4Columns

mouth music (C81 selection)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Thursday, August 10, 2017

post-rock / post-rock-rock / pre-post-rock

Well, how bizarre is that - now there's not just one but two really good books about post-rock. 

The first came out a year or two ago: Jack Chuter's Storm Static Sleep: A Pathway Through Post-Rock, which I discussed here.  

And now there's Jeanette Leech's Fearless: The Making of Post-Rock, on Jawbone Press. 

They are both strong in different ways. Chuter's is a bit more vivid when it comes to sonic evocation; Leech is more encompassing (it covers a LOT of precursor type stuff - late Eighties bliss-rock and dream pop etc) and has a sharper polemical edge to it. 

Indeed, Leech is much more dismissive than Chuter of the later stages of post-rock, i.e. the stuff that 97 % of current fans + practitioners reckon post-rock is all about (whereas we early-adopter types / Lost Generation fanboys + girls are of the opinion that the Point verily has been badly missed). 

Leech has quite the cutting term for all this point-missing activity: post-rock-rock.  That extra "rock" and the implied sense of reversion conveys the way that an open field of possibility in which genre barriers were dissolving every-which-way has gradually turned into a fairly fixed genre of instrumental rock that - for my taste - tends to be overly dramatic and epic. Certainly it's not at all what I had in mind back when it was all about Seefeel Insides Disco Inferno Main Techno Animal Laika Moonshake Bark Psychosis....  

For a sample taste of Fearless, check out this extract at the Quietus, prefaced by an essay written by Leech in parallel with her book that examines "how post-rock stopped dancing." Well, I don't know if there was ever that much post-rock that made you dance, but certainly there was a time when post-rockers were nearly all of them listening to and learning from dance music...

For a current and lonely example of  "true path" post-rock, check out Rage Coma, the new album by Sam Macklin, a/k/a connect_icut

Although its means-of-construction is much closer to post-rock by my definition than Explosions in the Sky and all those other post-rock-rock bands with big-guitar sounds,  this new record of Sam's has an attack and a scale - a gnarly rawness too - that is markedly different from his earlier more glitchy and subdued excursions. I'd almost say it "rocks" - but only in the same way that No U Turn records rocked. 


It's no secret that having minted the theory (if not coined the word itself) I soon cooled on post-rock in practice, as the music itself seemed to cool down and becalm itself into nu-fusion / soundtrack-looking-for-a-movie-ism. 

Covertly I even started to sympathise with the aversion and affront felt by those among my professional peers who felt  - and occasionally caustically argued - that all this talk about being "post" was to piss on the sacred memory of the Stooges or the Stones....

Because, when push came to shove, I'd usually be more up for hearing a piece of pre-post-rock like this 

than this

(courtesy of YouTubers Worldhaspostrock !!)

In some of my writings on the subject I explicitly talk about the removal of the rebel-teenager-with-raised-middle-finger as  the putative stage center protagonist of the music...  replaced by a diffuse un-body, an ego-less and attitude-less spirit of adventure that didn't require the focal figure of the vocalist acting out as proxy for the audience.

Post-rock, at its best, offered a kind of nerd version of a musical heroics - a way to be, yes, fearless - crossing boundaries of the mind....  breaking the laws of genre.

Heroism without ego-drama.... grandeur without self-aggrandisement.  Paraphrasing Stubbs on Krautrock, the artists submit themselves as a speck on a landscape of their own creation - an exploding skyscape.

But ultimately as the Nineties rolled towards its close, it all got a bit too mild...   pulled along with the general tide in the culture towards a new kind of self-repression... the neurotically implosive detail-work of what Woebot called audio-trickle.

It learned the production technicalities of rave and hip hop - and put them to clever, complicated use - but it rarely picked up on the core energies in those musics: what  - in this sister post - I characterise as the impulse to brock out...

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Hauntology Parish Newsletter - summer 2017 : Genteel Decay; The Focus Group; A Year in the Country; Ekoplekz

Genteel Decay is an alter-ego of Moon Wiring Club's Ian Hodgson. Some while ago Ian was propositioned by the gentleman behind cassette-label Illuminated Paths with a view to him crafting a side release for pseudonymous emission. As it happens, Ian had already been poking away at a pet project, involving "just vocal sounds and echo / delay / reverb effects."  As you know, mouth music is something of a fancy of mine, so my ears immediately pricked up when I learned about A Crumpet or Two. And it's a right treat: a lovely dollopy portion of mashed-and-slurried speech. The original textual fragments are themed around an afternoon tea but as they're glutinously distended, like strands of treacle spooling from a wooden spoon, they degenerate into oozy nonsense. As Ian aptly puts it, "the end result sounds somewhere between a female HAL9000 having her memory chips removed and the thought processes of an Edwardian UK Stepford Wives." 

Ian mentions in passing that a bunch of MWC releases are now available for the first time as downloads via Bandcamp, including the special vinyl-only and cassette-only editions of A Fondness for Fancy Hats, Leporine Gardens, and Today Bread, Tomorrow Secrets.


Four years after The Elektrik Karousel, there's finally a new long-player from The Focus Group - and it's a superb one too. Stop-Motion Happening with The Focus Group is Julian's most disintegrated and dream-like work since hey let loose your love, but the previous album's Anglo-psych fairground feel still flickers through in places.   


Out next week from the prolific A Year in the Country label is what I believe is their first release that isn't a themed compilation - a solo effort titled Undercurrents by the gentleman behind the label, aka, er, A Year in the Country. Excellent moody n' twinkly stuff it is too, with the usual exquisitely intricate packaging. 

Release rationale: 

"Undercurrents was partly inspired by living in the countryside for the first time since I was young, where because of the more exposed nature of rural life I found myself in closer contact with, more overtly affected by and able to directly observe the elements and nature than via life in the city.

"This coincided with an interest in and exploration of an otherly take on pastoralism and creating the A Year In The Country project; of coming to know the land as a place of beauty, exploration and escape that you may well drift off into but where there is also a sometimes unsettled undercurrent and layering of history and culture.

"I found myself drawn to areas of culture that draw from the landscape, the patterns beneath the plough, the pylons and amongst the edgelands and where they meet with the lost progressive futures, spectral histories and parallel worlds of what has come to be known as hauntology.

"Undercurrents is an audio exploration and interweaving of these themes - a wandering amongst nature, electronic soundscapes, field recordings, the flow of water through and across the land and the flipside of bucolic dreams."


Although he dwells on the outskirts of this parish, it should be noted that after a low-key patch Ekoplekz has a new album out on Planet Mu:  Bioprodukt. Excellent stuff, as always, as expected - but differently excellent. There's a clean glisten, a cold 'n' bouncy feel to much of the album, quite unlike the grainy monochrome of the torrential release-flow of first-phase Eko (something matched by the gaily coloured album artwork). Hints and traces of Pole, "Macau"-era Monolake, perhaps even solo Czukay...  a industrial-goes-tropical sinuosity to the rhythms and balminess to the atmospheres.