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Give me music and give me noise....

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Dylan dog

Meanwhile, in another place ...

Hating the overrating

Here's another post based on a tweet (I really should put Twitter down and listen to some music or something ...).

But, somebody tweeted the other day that The La's are one of the great overrated bands. The La's. Hmm. Dunno. There's just so much competition. Almost every famous, semi-famous or just "talked about" musical outfit in history is overrated if you ask me. They're all over-praised, over-photographed, over-ridered, over here, over there ...

Most obviously, the Beatles are surely the most ridiculously overrated band in All Musical History, but all the other big names are praised beyond their worth as well. Really. Even when they were good, the biggies have eclipsed dozens - hundreds, thousands - of other interesting bands, receiving a massively disproportionate amount of attention and praise. They've sucked it all up!

And because the music world is - and always was as far as I can tell - infested by hype, at any one time we get a surfeit of stuff about the same roughly 15-25 artists (the over-praised of today). It's stultifying. Now it's The Black Lips, The Maccabees, White Denim, The Horrors, Lana Del Rey et al. Over and over. A total bore.

Oh shucks, I'm just sticking up for the little guys here. In the absence of a John Peel figure - someone positioned in the mainstream who could play dozens of little-known artists to large audiences every month - it's now left to specialists such as The Wire magazine, its radio show Adventures In Modern Music, the likes of Rinse FM and, increasingly, bloggers and good online sites, podcasts, net radio, net labels etc. (Or what about Xfm or BBC 6Music? Er, no. In the interests of research, I've been checking them out. Blimey. Middle-brow music and all the same old names). 

So it's the specialists or bust, I reckon. I welcome the depth of knowledge and dedication to excellent music on show here. Anything that can challenge the hegemony of the newspaper music critics/style mags/big venues/pluggers' empire is good in my book. Whether they'll ever smash down that citadel of hype ... I'm not sure.

Anyway, I reckon the La's were definitely overrated. But not by me. I never liked them at all.

Meanwhile ... staying with hype, here's a little tune from Hype Williams, themselves the subject of a little, ahem, over-praising in some circles. But at least not too much ... 

Friday, 27 January 2012

Everybody’s watching TOTP2

I saw a tweet the other day which said something like “If the 1977 me could see the 2012 me now, he'd say ‘Why are you lying on the floor watching the same Top Of The Pops as me’?”

Hmm. Interesting thought. I suppose it’s a “retromania” kind of question.

To judge by Twitter (or at least my Twitter feed, admittedly not representative of very much), people do seem to like watching old episodes of TOTP. I guess it's got “crap TV” value (value-less to me, but anyway) and the “deeper” pop-historical appeal of seeing Dave “Kid” Jensen or Kenny Everett or whoever presenting (“Oh brilliant, it’s Peter Powell” = immediate scoff-factor pleasure, but probably accompanied by a frission of something more sincere: “Wow, he looks so young …”). And, oh yeah, it’s got some music.

You can obviously get a lot of the TOTP music clips from YouTube any time you like, but I imagine the bulk of Top Of The Pops 2 watchers are 30-50-somethings who like a nice big dollop of “fun” TV. Stuff that they can, if they’re so inclined, “Event TV” tweet about for a few extra kicks. It’s an hilarious win-win situation, with added Abba. 

OK, maybe I’m indulging in a bit of supercilious smuggery myself. (Heaven forbid). Yes, I’ve got to admit I do dislike the idea of these programmes (the knowingness - probably the cynicism - of the programmers who schedule them). “Let’s put a whole load of Top Of The Pops from the 70s on. All the ‘middle youth' types! They’ll lap it up.” Lap lap.

But this is a music blog (if it’s anything!) so I’m not going to totally diss a programme featuring music, some of it even reasonably OK music (though not much). Yeah, fine, you can get to see three minutes of The Rezillos or something, and that’s worth seeing.

Seeing it 35 years after the fact, though, is a whole different thing to seeing it when the song was actually new. Strip away the supposed pleasure of looking back at these shows “ironically” - or at least with decades of hindsight - and all you’ve really got is a bunch of middle-aged people watching mostly mediocre music from when they were teenagers. It’s like your mum and dad in the 1970s barging you out of the way so they could switch TOTP over to watch a programme about Glenn Miller or the Joe Loss Orchestra. But somehow worse. It’s now being done behind the protective veil of 21st-century jokiness.

Years ago, when I worked in a record shop, a CBS Records company rep once complained, in all seriousness, about The Clash’s policy of refusing to appear on Top Of The Pops. “It’s ridiculous”, he said. “If they just went on once this [their new record] would get into the top 20. No-one cares about being a ‘sell-out’ now. No-one even knows that they refuse to go on”. Blimey - it’s all raw commerce, innit? (And fair enough, at least the decades-later re-runs are not the crude marketing tool of the original shows).

My 20-year-old self was, I have to admit, vaguely impressed by Strummer & Co’s CBS-bothering intransigence, but now I couldn’t much care either way. Not going on TOTP? Wow. Revolutionary. Actually, the fact that you’re apparently safe from stumbling upon The Clash during TOTP re-runs almost makes me want to watch them …

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

DJing Housewives' Choice

At the start of the (excellent) film Billy Liar there's that opening credits scene with Housewives' Choice and the dedication of records for listeners (Mrs Beryl Heseltine from Derby, who's requested Kenneth McKellar's The Song Of The Clyde and so on). It's quaint. To say the least. Actually it all looks so stylistically ancient that you almost lose your bearings. Blimey, when's this? It turns out to be the Mod age: the early 60s coffee-bar jive era but with lots of older overlaps. Old and new, etc. This scene in the dance hall where Billy Fisher/Liar has a vaguely "hot" song ("Twisterella") played by a smooth orchestral combo neatly sums it up - a clash of ages and outlooks but all under one roof.

Anyway, I'm guessing the radio dedication would also, at the time, have been one of those old-and-new things - different generations enjoying the "thrill" of the namecheck. It still goes on now of course ("shout-outs" to various posses on a - pirate? - station I sometimes listen to in east London for eg). But do people still want a record played at their request? Actually, probably so. I regularly listen to Radio 3's (cunningly-titled) Jazz Record Requests and ... yep, they play listeners' jazz record requests. You know the old saying: with these shows, it's all about format, format, format.

Getting your "favourite" tune played on the airwaves has always struck me as slightly bizarre (just play it youself at home), but I guess people can't resist the micro-fame that comes with a radio name-check. But - and this brings us, thrillingly, to my point - why would you bother asking a DJ to play stuff you already knew and had heard many times before? That you probably have on your phone or personal music player, probably right there in your hand ...

Hmm. OK maybe there's some extra "value" in hearing it played loudly in the room there and then. You can tell your mates etc. But ... it's a pretty feeble reason really.

I bring this up because my recent DJing adventures have featured a pushy woman demanding her particular brand of post-punk ("Have you got any Killing Joke? Have you got The B52s' Planet Claire? Have you got ...?") and a pushy man demanding "something more heavy metal, not this techno stuff". Given that on both occasions there was already a lot of their desired music (broadly speaking) being played by bands on stage and by the humble DJ, it was hard to see what exactly it was they wanted. Maybe they just wished to be crushed by obviousness. Floored by the familiar. Stunned into immobility as the piercing tones of the already-known made them gasp, look into the mirror and see ... themselves. Or maybe they just wanted something played on Housewives' Choice.

With that in mind, this post goes out to ... absolutely no-one.