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Give me music and give me noise....

Sunday, 29 May 2011

What you looking at?

I've mentioned before being surprised that so few bands use interesting visuals when playing live.

Hardly any of them do - at least not at the gigs I go to.

At most performances it's either nothing at all, a rubbishy corporate-style bit of branding from the venue (or the same from the band, which may or may not involve some half-decent artwork).

Bor-i-ing. OK we're there for the music not to watch films, but why don't they do more to capture our attention when we're ... er, ready to have it captured? Watching a band is all well and good. And I do. Watch. Not like some people, indifferently hanging back, seemingly preferring to talk to their mates than watch the band (why not just go to the pub?)

But watch what?

In about 1986 I saw Cabaret Voltaire and was, for the first time I think, struck by the power and potential of films at a gig. The years have gone by and it's still a rarity. Some multi-media age ...

A few honourable exceptions. Crass, with their grisly agit-veg abbatoir film in 1981 (more innovation from this amazing band). The stuff they used to put on the walls at the Hacienda in the pre-House days, c1987-8 - cartoons from the thirties and scenes from silent films. Skateboarding films I recall seeing at the Blue Note club in Hoxton during one of their drum and bass nights. Last year Parliament Of Bats had some pretty groovy visuals at their gig in Leicester, accentuating the gothic gloom and grandeur of their music. Nice.

And ... last night! The London band Gertrude were complemented by a sound man pretty much doubling as a full-on VJ. Each song had a separate treatment.  The looped films were all interesting: dole queues and job centres, soldiers from decades ago at some colonial dancing event, jiving 60s Pop Art-style space-suited characters, a Buddha-style figure out of whose mouth appear a variety of objects. And with each mini-film the guy on the laptop was doing some stop-start stuff and introducing colour washes and other tricksy bits and pieces.

This writer thoroughly approves.

C'mon, give us something to look at! Otherwise we're stuck with the ugly lead-singer and his horrible sweaty face.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Shut up and play!

As regular readers of this blog will know - both of them! - I’m never slow to find fault with performers for their behaviour at gigs.

It’s what this blog is for!

While I most definitely do appreciate the skill, nerve and downright unglamorous effort* that goes into gigging, especially at the lower-end venues, I’m still going to grouch when I feel like it.

My latest beef is with the people who thank all the preceding “brilliant” bands. Yeah, please give it up and show your appreciation…. Half the time I haven’t even seen the earlier acts and even if I have the tedious ritual of soliciting applause for performers who have … er, already been on and had their share is thoroughly redundant.

Applaud for this, applaud for that – I think we can decide when to clap our own hands. Doubtless the people who do this think they’re showing due “respect” for their peers. In fact it’s thoroughly dull and only pulls down their own performance.

Oh, the longeurs induced by some microphone ramblers. The worst rambler in my experience (so bad he holds a gruesome fascination that goes beyond the mere music) is Jeffrey Greene of the (now-defunct?) Butterflies Of Love. Listening to his excruciatingly over-extended - and generally pointless - monologues would regularly derail the BOL's otherwise excellent gigs. I heard him do this during his solo appearances as well. American football, the weather, Scotland, anything rattling around his head.  Blimey Jeff, just play a song will you…?

Those that say nothing to the audience might seem “rude” but actually they’re often in a different league to the over-polite appreciation-harvesters. The Jesus And Maychain’s famous backs-to-the-audience routine was obviously partly a gimmick, but it also added to the impact of their music. I saw them do this in the mid-80s and found it far more effective than their late-90s festival-pleasing shows.

Overall, I’d much rather have the in-the-zone effrontery of (say) David Thomas Broughton than any number of “nice” people saying thank-you every five minutes.  

So I say: shut up and play!

*By the way, even my dad once commented on the "hard work" put in by some bands when he saw the tatty old decommissioned ambulance that the Buff Medways were using to cart their kit around in. (Yes, my dad once attended a gig from Billy Childish and the boys. He did retreat to the back of the room to escape the volume though ….).

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

That's cool. The AC/DC t-shirt, not the videos

[Back on!]. A quick extra thought to go with the last post on music TV. A friend mentions Beavis and Butt-head (tx AD). To me that's a good example of music TV where the framing is way better than what's actually done with the music. Of course it was an MTV series and, I'm presuming, only featured videos that were MTV staples. I always found the vids the boring parts, especially if the boys kept fairly quiet during them. (Imagine B&B ... er, without B&B, then you'd basically have ... horror of horrors, MTV).

On the other hand the running commentary from the evil duo during some of the music slots was a nice idea and it sometimes gave the music-watching experience a bit of edge. Now, if you read the Wikipedia entry on the show you get a bizarrely reverential and intensely detailed account of their musicial likes and dislikes, as well as precise observations about how they behaved while watching particular videos. Just reading it brings back some of the inspired humour yet it's strangely over-serious about their musical connoisseurship. Weird.

A point I was trying to make in my TV music post was that online is where it's at in terms of creativity. The Rammstein video is definitely only so-so (here just as a little B&B tribute, and also because I like the way someone has posted the dunderheaded remark "show some respect for beavis and butt head you ass hole"!) But, to take two quick and pretty random examples, I reckon this pair of visual treatments of two Scientist tunes (one done by the excellent kerrichter) instantly oustrip years' worth of crappy Chart Show-style output.


Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Switch that rubbish off

A side-effect of reading John Eden’s (excellent) post about a dire-sounding “history of indie” programme for BBC4, was the thought: has TV ever done music well?

I’m honestly doubtful. Top Of The Pops? Bad to the bone. OK, fun when you’re 14 (just), but now exposed to the ironic gaze of a 2011 audience scoffing at a 1976 dog’s dinner of tunes, it’s good for no-one. Actually wasn’t it always just tacky Jimmy Saville-fronted stuff?

If TOTP was essentially Smash Hits TV, where was the more serious music and the programmes to showcase it? Er, nowhere. The Old Grey Whistle Test? Nope. Another enervating format: smug presenters, TV studio, band playing to the presenters and technicians. Dull. So It Goes? The knowing Vonnegut reference and Tony Wilson’s access to genuinely good acts aside, it was still dullsville music television. Check it out. Even the Sex Pistols doing Anarchy is a poor watch (except the edited Rotten glare at the end).

After this I don’t think there’s anywhere to go. The Tube once ruled the roost but its format was no advance whatsoever and it was always going to expire because of it. And Jools’ “mature” stuff? Well, the least said about that the better. Later, as they say.

Meanwhile, getting away from the ancient band-in-studio format, there was a time when video looked like it could be going places. When I was young there was a relief in catching a music video on Tiswas - a moment of escape from Spit The Dog into the mini-world of Elvis Costello or something. Then, better still, Max Headroom let the videos themselves do the work. In one sense this was not a bad idea. Cut out the middle-man and get to the music + images. But this too was still an artistic dereliction really. Where was the creative fusing of the media, of sound and vision? You’re left with just record company-produced video fodder, rarely rising above the band-as-heroes/sex symbols level.

To me this is why music has often been most satisfying visually in the cinema. Two random examples: Popul Vuh’s electronic-ambient-cum-krautrock soundtracks for Herzog’s early films or Aphex Twin’s low-key pastoral sounds for Sleep Furiously.

(By the way, I think there’s a whole other area to be thrown into all this: how bands have chronically under-exploited visuals - especially video/film - when playing live, but I’ll leave that for another time …).

Before I reach for the Off switch I’ll just say that I think TV long ago lost the plot over working creatively with music-makers (in fact I don’t think it ever did). Now, when you revisit some of TV’s time-warped musical embarassments (a Rock Goes To College or, further back, a Ready Steady Go), you also stumble upon YouTube videos put together by amateurs and other enthusiasts who’ve done what 50 years of TV never managed: to match interesting music to new visuals, often with amazing skill. Meanwhile, from what I've seen, recent breakcore artists (like Piotr Rosztajn) have been doing some interesting things with their videos, which, I assume, are rarely or never shown on television. (Who does show them, I wonder? Presumably we're talking about websites and the odd left-field club night).

Along with the standard-issue (but to me still fascinating) iTunes Visualiser, I think the new era of web-based music-visual artistry has left music on the TV for dead. By me at least, it will not be missed. [Off].