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Give me music and give me noise....

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Agggghhhhhhhh! Why songs are better with screaming

This blog is about noise and it’s about time I starting writing about NOISE.

Actually, screaming. For a long time now I’ve really liked songs that feature screaming. In my opinion piercing, pane-of-glass-shattering screams in a tune generally improve it (as is also the case with yodelling, whistling or animal noises …). Screams = serious, searing emotion. That's a powerful ingredient in a mere piece of music. Use it with care kids ... 

My favourite scream tune is probably the most obvious - Ralph Nielson & The Chancellors’ amazing Scream. Its screams are great. Very sustained and genuinely quite disturbing. But the rockabilly tune itself has a semi-demented and hurried-to-the-point-of-toppling-over quality which combines to turn it into a sort of frenzied fairground ride of a song. Kinda brilliant.

It’s not the only good screamo song though. One good modern one is by Codex Leicester, called (I’m guessing) Composition. I only know it as a live tune, but what I like about it is the way that the entire minute and half of the song is basically constructed around bursts of full-throated Aggghhhhh’s. (When this came on in the car the other day my mother apparently thought we’d driven past "an animal in distress” in a nearby field. Yep, it was that good).

The Beatles - not, I must admit, one of my favourite bands - probably helped popularise screaming with their (rather tame) quasi-scream harmonies on tunes like I Want To Hold Your Hand, but I much prefer the out-of-control screaming of the early "Beatlemania" teenyboppers themselves. Now that's screaming. Fab screaming!

Meanwhile, a lot of contemporary grindcore-type stuff is heavily based on guttural vocals that are, as it were, the subwoofer version of screaming. It’s not the real thing but it’s not bad and can be excellent when it works (“I bet his throat’s really going to hurt in the morning”, is my girlfriend's usual response to this music). I’ve said before that I think the grindcore growl sometimes becomes a little predictable and I quite like it when a band like Gurt vary things by switching from a dalek-throat voice to a normal one (or when a band alternates between the throaty stuff and grunge-type melody, as do the rather good Heck Tate for example). But I digress …

At the risk of taking this blog down a rabbit hole of self-referentiality, I want to end by mentioning how I recently caught a good “noise” band called Kind Eyes (the noise genre is obviously one I’ll have to try to do justice to in a future post). Suffice it to say that Kind Eyes had a good line in the strained-voice, near-screaming that’s fairly typical of the genre. I think some actual in-your-face Psycho-style screaming would have improved them though. 

Thursday, 19 July 2012


Two colours red and blue. Codex Leicester: Bugbar, Leicester 3/6/12

Thursday, 12 July 2012

I said the hippies don’t know nothing: Joan Didion’s bad trip

“Janis Joplin is singing with Big Brother in the Panhandle and almost everybody is high and it is a pretty nice Sunday afternoon between three and six o’clock, which the activists say are the three hours of the week when something is most likely to happen in the Haight-Asbury...
This is about as sunny as it gets in Joan Didion’s account of hippies in 1967 San Francisco. Most of her - very readable - essay Slouching towards Bethlehem is clouded by dark passages about deluded drug addicts or sinister hippy-activists who go about making public pronouncements like “How many times you been raped, you love freaks?” and “Who stole Chuck Berry’s music?” (There’s a particularly nasty bit where a bunch of “so-called Mime Troupers” in black-face surround a black man at a public gathering and start goading him with questions like “What did America ever do for you?”)

I’m no big fan of the late-60s “hippy” scene, music or anything else, and only picked up the Didion book today because it was raining and … er, I was waiting for it to stop (yeah, true enthusiasm for reading, I know). But, it kept me going well into the post-rain weather …

Didion's Slouching towards Bethlehem

If you haven’t, I’d say check it out. Ignore the recent-years hype over Hunter S Thompson (bozo, not gonzo), and yes, dive into Didion’s little misery-fest. It’s worth reading for the authentic-sounding period language alone, eg: 
“She was living in this crazy house … There was this one kid, all he did was scream. His whole trip was to practise screams. It was too much … But then she offered me a tab …”
It’s packed with people rhapsodising about their “trip” or acid “flashes”, and characters (apparently real, possibly embroidered) say things like “I found love on acid. But I lost it. And now I’m finding it again. With nothing but grass.

Forty-five years on, I don’t reckon Didion’s “new journalism” exposé of the summer of love’s dark side would surprise many people. What mass youth movement has ever been free of exploiters and egomaniacs? In the not-especially-beautific scene Didion describes, there are stories of the mafia muscling in on LSD supply, adulterating it with the amphetamine Methedrine (lower quality acid apparently). And meanwhile a superior and smug-sounding local police force have the “District” under tight surveillance and make remarks about how “The kids aren’t too bright”.

Slouching towards Bethlehem shows rather fucked-up teenagers running away from homes all over the USA to go and hang out in San Francisco. It’s the American Hippy Dream. They might seem clueless in Didion’s account, but I still quite like the sound of them. Since punk it’s been fashionable to mock hippies, but as Mark Perry once noted, naïveté and out and out stupidity have been common to hippies, punks, straights, and just about everybody else over the years …

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Chain-slipper, Podcast #83 (June 2012)

The new podcast has slipped its chain ...

1: Fergus & Geronimo, Roman tick
2: Cove, Druid mix (extract)
3: Punjabi language
4: Black Hunters, Brillcream (Leo)
5: Chicken Diamond, Bones
6: Chra, Black summer blues vs II
7: Codex Leicester, Composition (Bug Bar, Leicester 3/6/12)
8: Bing Crosby/Paul Whiteman Orchestra, My Angeline
9: Jali Musa Jawara, Foto mogoban
10: Freddie McGregor, I’m a rasta man
11: The Orwells, Mallrats (la la la)
12: Qkcfose, Polymorphous rose bonnet
13: Azealia Banks, Jumanji
14: Element Orchestra, From dusk till dawn
15: Isle Of Pine, Coat of arms (farther away)
16: He said to them
17: Marat Bisengaliev/John Lenehan, Hungarian dance (no2, D minor) (Brahms)
18: Bailterspace, No sense
19: Rohane, ? (Biscuit Factory, Bermondsey, London
20: Slipped his chain
21: Muddy Waters, Rollin’ and tumblin’
22: Pandercakes, André Breton
23: Television, Fuck rock and roll
24: Zani Diabate, Super djata
25: Lee Morgan, Gary’s notebook

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Metal postcards from an exhibition

What to make of Simon Barker's Punk's Dead photo exhibition? Well, it's interesting. Photos of punk - photos of anything - are often evocative, moving, sad. TIme lost, time frozen. People trapped in their youth and gawky beauty.

These are like that, then overlaid with three and half decades of cultural commentary. It's a wonder they're not more crushed. Generally, though, they're not. The smiley photos of Susie Hickford, Tracie O'Keefe and the ever-likeable Poly Styrene suggest an un-punk breeziness. And, as others have noted, the rich colours also depart from the more usual punk-era black and white template (of both the contemporary press photos and the typical choice of record sleeve).

In this sense the best of the photos show Jordan in a sunny outdoor setting with a bank of green foliage behind her. It's so un-punk and "exotic" that, paradoxically, it reminds you of the anti-normalness of original punk. By contrast, a look-at-me shot of Billy Idol at The Vortex shouts "classic punk" and is instantly forgettable.

The costumed vampery of Siouxsie is a key part of this little show (it's a snapshot of punk comprising a few pix from a small number of occasions). She's stern, apparently self-conscious, probably short of confidence (I've always read her Grundy appearance that way). But she looks great and knows how to try out styles. But the star of the Barker photos is clearly Jordan, whose geometric face paint - almost wine-stain deforming in its application - is still amazing and provocative a third of a century on.

Jordan, putting on the style

So, yes, check it out (though it ends on 7 July in its current location). And yeah, revel in the punk pix nostalgia if you must (well, I did). But not too much. Every time you go to a photo exhibition about musicians you could, er, go to see a bunch of real-life in-the-present musicians instead (well, if they're both on on the evening but ... oh, you get the point).

And a funny thing happened on the way to the gallery...

The exhibition is in a part of Spitalfields that's the equivalent of Carnaby Street for the modern generation: money, leisure, youth (shades of the Bromley Contingent perhaps). I saw Gilbert (of Gilbert & George fame) pacing by in the street and mentally (re-)registered its new status. It's not a particularly appealing area. But shortly before this I'd also seen a young woman outside an art-cum-music event in a converted Shoreditch brothel and got a glimpse of her striking make-up. In particular, a deep-blue clown-type painted mouth. Pretty good! As Simon Barker says, punk's dead - killed by money, fame and the media - but it also lives on. Jordan's and Siouxsie's legacy is everywhere. Keep painting those lips blue ...